This next instalment in our Job Spotlight series is on one of our Visual Development Artists, Sam Bailey. Sam specialises in Environment Design, having started his career in layout and storyboarding. Read on to find out more about Sam and the role, and for his need-to-know advice for anyone looking at a career in Environment Design!

Tell us a bit about yourself… 

My name’s Sam Bailey and I’m a Visual Development Artist specialising in Environment Design here at Blue Zoo. I’ve been working in animation for many years; when I first started the majority of the work was pre-digital and done with pencil and paper! I started working as an assistant on storyboards and layout for 2D productions such as Wind in the Willows for TVC and productions for Cosgrove Hall. I later moved onto Prop and Environment Design.

Design by Sam Bailey

What made you want to go into environment design originally?

It was a logical step from layout and storyboards, which gives you such a good grounding in the mechanics of filmmaking. I wanted to experience a different kind of creativity and help to design worlds, working more from a blank page.

Tell us about what it’s been like working at Blue Zoo.

Working at Blue Zoo has been fantastic - the breadth of work at the studio is really exciting. The bar is set really high in terms of quality at every stage, which creates a very fulfilling environment to work in. It’s also a very nurturing studio which encourages and supports personal development. I've learnt so much from so many great artists during my time at the studio.

Market environment design by Sam Bailey
Background by Lucy Munro

What are some of your favourite environments/backgrounds from It’s Pony?

I really enjoyed working on the market with all the details of the stalls, it was also one of the first that we worked on when we were creating the world for Annie and Pony. Also the Christmas special at the end of Season One, where we developed a new snow style and landscape based on the fantastic thumbnails by the Art Director, Jacques Gauthier.

Thumbnails by Jacques Gauthier
Snow background by Sam Bailey

What are some of the most challenging aspects of working on environment design?

Challenging yourself to break out of your comfort zone is really important, and thinking of ways to do things differently to push the boundaries of your work. Complex architecture can certainly be a challenge - I’m quite good with architecture software now which has been a great help.

What advice would you give to those looking to go into environment design?

Being knowledgeable in storyboarding concepts and the staging of animation is really important, as is perspective and composition. Spending time gaining confidence in those aspects will really help you a lot. If you can’t find a job specifically in Environment Design, explore other related studio jobs which can connect you with design departments and give you the opportunity to share your work. For example, Blue Zoo run a short film programme called BZ Shorts, and anyone from any department in the studio, artistic or not, is allowed to pitch their idea.

Design by Sam Bailey

Design by Sam Bailey

What actionable tips would you give to people to do now?

Keep rough construction drawings and thumbnails in your portfolio to demonstrate your thinking process and use of perspective. You’ll be working with directors in developing designs, and the rough stage is crucial in that dialogue and it’s something many forget to include. Resist overloading your designs and consider the aspects that help tell the story: what’s the focal point, who lives there and how do the characters work with the space? Learning some 3D software such as Blender or Sketchup can also be a great help in planning larger sets. Most importantly, keep drawing! It’s great to have a sketchbook at hand to record your ideas wherever you are.

If you’re interested in a career here at Blue Zoo, you can keep up-to-date with our current vacancies by following our careers page on Twitter or checking out our Careers website!