We sat down for a chat with Axis VFX Supervisor and Co-founder Howard Jones, to discuss how he developed his award-winning career, his Natural History work and his advice for budding VFX artists.

Tell us about your professional background?

I did a degree in fine art, specialising in sculpture but moved into filmmaking for my degree show. After my degree I worked as an editor for 5 years, before starting at Avid, who made the editing software. Whilst there I worked on Avid’s visual effects software and that’s where my interest in VFX started. In 1998 I left and got a job at the BBC in Bristol and I’ve been down here ever since. My first show at the BBC was Supernatural, a Natural History project full of visual effects, for which we got our first set of awards. In 2002 I left and freelanced for a number of years on various TV series and films. I met Grant Hewlett working on The Pirates! Band of Misfits at Aardman Animations and we carried on working together before setting up the VFX arm of Axis Studios in 2013. 

How did you go about getting work when you first started?

It wasn’t easy, it helps if you have contacts in various areas but also it’s based on reputation and your showreel. Having been based in Bristol since 1998 a lot of my contacts are local and hence we do a lot of Natural History work and animation films. However between all of us we have a broad range of work we can attract. Ultimately though you have to get a good reputation, it's a chicken and egg thing. 

How do you approach Natural History work and what do you find most interesting?

It's very important to understand the genre and how difficult it is filming in the wild. We approach the project knowing that it can fluctuate and change, depending on how the animals behave. There could be unexpected behaviour which can be great. Also you have to be very sensitive to the subject matter. It’s a very different challenge compared to drama. One of the things I like about Natural History is the production value, which is outstanding, there are always amazing images of wildlife and landscapes. 

What else influenced you growing up?

I’ve always loved the cinema and photography. But I also love Art. I have been fascinated by objects that are in one way incomplete or basic and the other, polished objects. Michaelangelo did a sculpture, ‘Atlas Slave’ which has a figure half carved out of rock. Initially I thought I would work on set design, because I liked the way that one side of the set could be a space ship, and the other side just a bunch of wood stopping the whole thing from falling over, but during my degree I really enjoyed editing so started there instead. Ultimately, I always knew I wanted to work in the film industry.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow a similar career to you?

One of the key things is don’t enter an industry like this if you’re not willing to work hard. If you’re not able to put in the hours there’s no point, you’ll never enjoy it. Deadlines have to be met and invariably you end up working to the wire. 

These days there are plenty of ways to self train on different software and it will let you decide on what you want to do. 3D and 2D are very different beasts. But in the end if you have the passion and the drive, and ideally the skill then you will make it into the industry. Keep banging on those doors!