James Curran is not afraid of the bleeding edge. As an animator, he’s always been drawn to emerging software and new forms. He dabbled in Flash as a teenager, and learned to use Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects at university. He’s worked in video games, orchestrated month-long GIFathons in foreign cities, and collaborated with major brands including Samsung, T-Mobile and Disney XD via his SlimJim Studios and Partizan/Making Pictures. His latest career evolution has taken him into the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which provides new opportunities for artists to share and monetize their work. Today, he creates NFTs as part of the Random Character Collective, an incubator for NFT talent that includes animators Lucas Zanotto and Markus Magnusson, and has more than 233,000 followers on Discord.
While Curran has primarily worked in 2D animation throughout his professional career to date, he began inching back into 3D a few years ago, which required a new approach to rendering. To get scalable compute power on demand that he could access from his MacBook Pro on the go, he began researching cloud-based solutions and found Conductor cloud platform. “Some of my work was taking way too long to render locally, and Conductor was the first render solution that worked in the way I wanted and expected it to. It’s truly made things so much easier for me.”
Conductor has proven key for Curran’s latest NFT collection, a 3D version of his sold-out SlimHoods collection. Featuring 5,000 randomly generated, hoodie-wearing characters minted as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain, the SlimHood collection was created using a generative colorblock design that pulls from 10,000 possible color combinations, as well as from various accessories, hair styles and facial feature options for millions of unique possibilities. After Curran designed and animated the base character in After Effects, he used logic coding to pull together variations of the animation elements. Each SlimHood was purchased blind through the dedicated website using cryptocurrency and a smart contract, then minted from a unique combination of individual traits with literally billions of possible iterations.
“Ultimately, I tried to create characters that would represent anyone and the hoodie is pretty ubiquitous,” shared Curran. “The coding for the combination generation wasn’t as hard as people might think; I found the most challenging aspect to be figuring out how to actually release an NFT collection.”
Curran enlisted developer Mikkel Malmberg to build the smart contracts to mint the NFTs. When customers made a purchase, they received a link with the asset and all important associated data. He also had a technical artist build the initial character rig. For the SlimHoods 3D NFT collection, Curran rebuilt his designs in Maya, and is using what he’s learned in the NFT space thus far to help other artists.
“After my SlimHoods collection sold out, I talked to Lucas and Markus about forming a collective,” Curran explained. “I wanted to help them sell their NFTs as well, and it made sense to combine our efforts and share it all through social media channels. We restructured our community on the Discord app, brought on additional moderators, and things have really taken off from there.”
The Random Character Collective launched in November 2021, and its first NFT drops included Zanotto’s Mood Rollers, followed by Magnusson’s Invisible Friends. Having a scalable rendering solution like Conductor has helped the collective prepare to grow its capabilities and mentor artists that want to create for the NFT market. It also helps Curran keep his setup relatively simple. “I travel a lot, so I’ve usually got the highest-spec MacBook available and use Conductor for the heavy lifting when I need,” he explained. “The Conductor submission tools in Maya can be easily accessed, and if I need to render Invisible Friends in Blender and SlimHoods in Maya, I can run it on one account and keep track of everything more easily.”
Curran got into NFTs, from both a creation and purchasing standpoint, because he happens to like them. “Beeple (aka Mike Winkelmann, a graphic designer from Charleston, SC) definitely started to make the concept of NFTs more mainstream, which helped all of us,” he noted. For young animators who want to leap into the world of NFTs, Curran’s advice is to take your time and simply do what you enjoy.
“People feel like they’re going to miss out on an opportunity, especially with something so new and of the moment. But if you don’t first figure out the best way to approach your concept, it’s not going to work. Don’t rush something out,” Curran emphasized. “When I got into NFTs, I was still creating the same artwork, not changing what I was doing completely. The NFT world is just a different way of releasing what all of us in the collective have already been good at and working on every day.”
For the latest on the SlimHood 3D NFT collection, follow twitter.com/SlimHoods or check out opensea.io/collection/slimhoods-3d. The latest Random Character Collective updates can be found here: twitter.com/RNDMCHARACTERS.
To learn more about rendering on the cloud with Conductor, visit: www.conductortech.com/
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