2024 Hot New Things: Neil Bhat and Michael Malbog | AUT
Each summer DA profiles a selection of the top design graduates coming out of our tertiary institutions. We welcome these talented emerging professionals to our industry, learn about their passions, final projects, developing creative confidence and ambitions for the future.
Today we speak with Neil Bhat and Michael Malbog, who both recently graduated from the Bachelor of Digital Design programme at AUT. You can find out more about Aotearoa NZ creative study options by visiting our design schools page.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
M: My name is Michael Malbog, I am a graduate student from AUT with a Bachelor of Design majoring in Animation. I was born in the Philippines, moved to New Zealand when I was 4 years old, and since then I lived the majority of my life in New Zealand. I have been fascinated with animation since I was little. From cartoons, animated movies, video games, and indie animation. I was inspired by them whether it’s the designs, movement, or storytelling. This developed my passion for creating animation as I got older. I really like drawing, whether I am doing it in my spare time or at work, I always love to draw things I like or love drawing concepts on my head.
N: I am Neil Bhat, I recently graduated from AUT with a Bachelor of Design where I majored in Animation and minored in Motion capture. I was born in Auckland and when I was 3 moved to India. I spent my childhood in India and only came back in 2019 when I received admission to Media Design School for their 1-year foundation course. As my tertiary education wasn’t in New Zealand I needed to complete this course to apply for a bachelor’s degree. I have been passionate about 3D since I was a kid. I was inspired by animated films like Cars and Toy Story and games like God of War and Fifa. This passion developed into a career choice when I interned at a local film studio in India which helped me dive deeper into the world of 3D animation and Visual Effects.
What did your graduating projects focus on?
Our graduating project, Counterpart, is a short animated film about a robot surviving in a post-apocalyptic world by finding batteries worldwide. The robot finds a dog as it searches for batteries. The dog wants to play fetch with the dog. However, the robot doesn’t want to as it’s desperate to find a battery that has more power than its current battery. The robot and dog form an unexpected friendship. The film is a 2D and 3D animation hybrid. Our goal is to blend both styles seamlessly while telling a compelling story through it.
Can you walk us through your design process for the project? Did any challenges come up? If so, how did you both navigate them?
It all started with coming up with a story. After 2nd Year was finished, we had to develop stories on our capstones before the 3rd Year started. The stories that we came up with involves post-apocalyptic setting, robots, and the themes of hope. This made us realize that combining these ideas created a vision of what the art style was going to be. So much so that we created mood boards to find that style. Since it’s a post-apocalyptic setting we think of ruined objects and buildings being taken by nature like the modern-day Chornobyl or the ancient ruins of famous landmarks. This is when we went for a more “painted” art style. It’s to reflect what took place what used to be before and what it is now, much like how paintings are used to reflect a historic event.
Technicality was the biggest challenge as we were finding ways to achieve the painting style in 3D and finding the right software. We even considered not doing it and just focusing on being fully 3D animation. However, we decided to go for it as we believe that we can do something interesting with it. Having a stylized 3D render helps to blend 2D animation together.
The software we were thinking of originally used Maya for rendering and creating stylization. But we ended up using Unreal since it creates more complicated stylized renders and doesn’t take up lots of time to render. As for 3D animations we just stick with Maya. The biggest challenge is how can we import Maya animations into Unreal Engine, which we figured out a way to do it. Surprisingly importing the animations to Unreal took a longer time than the rendering.
We did many tests on attempting the stylized render. There were many errors and failures along the way such as the paint effect being too rough and the outlines being too thick which we had to scrap, but with lots of adjustments it worked. Though it’s not perfect we do wish that we added an outline, but having the subtle paint effect blends the 2D animation.
Why did you choose to study at AUT?
M: I choose to study at AUT because I like to try out creative endeavours such as Game Development, Animation, and Visual Effects. I am fascinated with the process of how creative endeavours came to be. This is why I had a tough time deciding which one to take before I came to university. AUT’s first year was very helpful in finding out what endeavor I love to pursue and it’s Animation. In AUT, I have so much creative freedom to experiment with animation styles, allowing me to try out other forms of animation that I haven’t done, such as Stop-Motion, Motion Capture, Motion Graphics, and 3D Animation. This allowed me to shape the idea of my capstone project as it’s a combination of all the skills I learned through experimentation.
N: I did my foundation at Media Design School as I needed more points to apply for a bachelor’s degree. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time there it was shifting to a new location which was far from my house. Additionally, I was Intrigued by the work coming out of AUT and felt like it had more experienced professors. I already had made up my mind as to which specialization I wanted to undertake as I had explored various pathways at Media Design school. I found the vast selection of software at AUT really helpful as It helped me experiment with different styles and workflows. This is all reflected in the final capstone where we used industry-standard techniques and workflows to achieve our desired results.
What did you enjoy most about your course, or what do you feel you can take away now that you’ve completed it?
M: I would say I enjoyed learning new styles that I haven’t tried before such as stop motion, motion capture, 3D animation, and motion graphics. As mentioned before I am very fascinated with the process of how animations came to be. What I can take away from the course is that I wish I had enough time to learn more about the styles. As our course only briefly teaches us in a short period.
N: It was an overall fun experience. Although the start was a bit rocky due to long lockdowns, we quickly adapted to the online lectures. When we were back to offline lectures things moved really quickly as I made the most out of the time I had. There were a lot of individual and group projects that helped me learn various animation techniques along with motion capture technology. It was really fun to interact with students from other pathways and work on a wide variety of projects each teaching something new.
What’s next for you?
M: The next chapter of my life is to hopefully find work in the Industry and be a part of exciting projects whether it’s an animated film, advertisement, or TV show. I want never to stop improving as an animator, and my well-being. I am always willing to learn from the best people in the industry and create connections with people. As well as create passion projects to express more of my creativity, experiment with more styles, and expand my skills even more.
N: I will be focusing on improving my skills and learning more about new software and workflows in this ever-evolving field. I would like to complete some personal projects that I wanted to do since last year but simply lacked time. Additionally, my goal is to build a solid resume and portfolio that reflects my strengths in Animation, Environment Design, Character Design, and Modelling. Getting to work at a reputed studio would be my main goal but to reach that I would have to create a solid foundation.