Series Interview: Simon Danaher

1. How many years have you been in the business? It’s been over 20 years now.

2. Are you self-taught or university/college/photography school taught? I am self-taught, yes. I’ve never adapted well to structured learning environments, which I didn’t fully appreciate until after I left school. I’m most comfortable when I’m free to follow whatever interests me. It’s a cliché but I really do feel like I’m learning new things every day and I set aside time at work specifically for that kind of exploration.


3. When did you take your first photograph, film, video, art, character, animation, etc. First rendered image was on an Apple II FX in about 1995 using Alias Sketch! (note the exclamation mark in the name, it was the early 90s and this was new and exciting tech). I can also remember using Photoshop 2.5 which was the version before it had layers, which meant you had to become a master at creating and manipulating selections. I have my selection-creating chops to this day.

4. Why did you choose your craft, what led you to it? I saw a BBC Horizon documentary about computer graphics in the early 80’s and was enthralled. It seemed to combine two subjects I loved; science and art. Thing is when I was a kid the kind of 3D graphics we have now was distant-future tech and completely out of reach so it was not something I ever really expected doing back then. I fell into computer graphics much later by accident via tech journalism: I had become a reviewer of 2D and later 3D software for magazines such as MacUser, PCFormat and 3D World in the UK. I was very prolific and wrote a few introductory books on the subject too. That part of my career culminated in being invited to give a lecture to ‘high-level US Government and CIA officials’ on the use of 2D and 3D graphics in global terrorism propaganda, believe it or not. I eventually jacked writing in to do cgi ‘for real’. It was a fairly big risk and it took a lot of hard work, but it paid off.

5. What is your greatest professional achievement? I’m amazed every day that I’ve got this far! Winning the grand prix at Cannes Lions was pretty good too.  (imagery follows)

6. Who do you admire from your profession, past or present, and why? I’ll be cheeky and include photography here, as there are so many great photographers I admire, past and present. I’d have to say Karsh if I had to pick one. I also admire cinematographers like Roger Deakins and Jeff Cronenweth, and the stop motion animators The Brothers Quay. Their film The Street of Crocodiles is about as far from what I do now as you can get aesthetically but it had a big effect on me growing up. It was utterly unlike anything else I’d seen, very odd, very dark.

7. If life were “as good as it gets” – what’s there? If your career were “as good as it gets” – what’s there? A perfect life is one filled with the most interesting of problems.

8. What’s missing from your career that you could add to make it complete?  Animation! It’s coming along though.

9. Can you tell us about your state of mind when you are shooting/creating? There’s a strategy that I follow which is all about efficiency – I focus on planning all the technical details of production so that the actual process can be as much about the creative part as possible. CGI complexity can rapidly spiral out of control if you’re not totally on top of it, so I’m manically focused on that initially. When I know the plan is in place I can relax and get on with things.

10. Could you describe how you create your imagery/art? What do you look for? I’ll sometimes make sketches with pencil and paper but not always. I might get a conceptual idea that motivates me to find a visually interesting execution but in all cases I’m going by the feel of it rather than knowing definitively how it will look. I’m naturally quite technically minded, but not when it comes to the execution of a creative idea, for me, it has to be founded on an intuition and not a calculation. It’s very common for me to end up with something visually quite different to what I intended when I start on a personal piece.

11. What is the ideal relationship for you with your clients? It’s always great when it feels like a proper collaboration for the time a project lasts, a team working to achieve a common goal.

12. What is the toughest feedback you’ve ever received and how did you handle it? I don’t take work feedback personally at all, it’s part and parcel of production: the reason you’re hired is to be professional and there’s no room for being precious. The way I look at it, there’s an endpoint and you’re trying to reach it, so I never begin a job if I’m unsure what that vision is. However, for personal work, I enjoy being more experimental.

13. What’s your advice to handling rejection? There is no point dwelling on anything that is out of your control. Of course, I don’t always follow my own advice.

14. How would you describe your brand? Elegant, detailed, clean, photographic.

15. Where do you seek inspiration? I’m absolutely focused on creating work where the tool I use is incidental. So, I tend to take inspiration from fine art, photography, cinematography….and recently set design. I love set design! I’d love to do that if I wasn’t doing CGI.

16. What are you passionate about, gets your blood pumping, or gives you joy? Of course, my family. But other than that, I love learning new things. I think that’s where my real skill lies, my work has been a consequence of that. I love getting obsessed with a new skill or subject and I get a bit lost when I’m between obsessions. I built my wife a studio in our garden a few years ago, that was fantastic fun as I’d never built anything of that size before. It’s like Lego for grown-ups. I’d love to build a house or be involved in some other large-scale practical project. I enjoy problem-solving, and the process of making stuff.

17. How do you approach your down time? I used to ride and tinker with motorbikes, sports bikes. Riding fast is all-consuming, you can’t afford to be distracted so it’s like having a total and complete break from everything that’s currently going on in your life. I even considered going amateur racing at one point, but I had a few crashes which included a broken shoulder, so I no longer ride bikes. I go hiking now, it’s safer.

See More Imagery