Creative Lives — Well-timed emails and helicopter photoshoots: Associate creative director Mark Lee’s road to Uniform

Posted 15 August 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Uniform were gearing up to hire their first intern when an email from Mark Lee landed in their inbox. Mark, then a fresh-faced computer animation graduate from Teesside University, swiftly joined the Liverpool-based studio in 2005, where he’s remained ever since. Working his way up to become associate creative director, today Mark’s job is a true juggling act between balancing up to six projects at any one time, all the while supporting his team, and curating the studio’s architecturally-focused Instagram page. But when he’s not in “creative director mode” Mark tells us that he’s still keen to “get my hands dirty, creating CG images.” Here he talks about his early love of Pixar, making millimetre accurate models of chairs and organising helicopter film shoots.

Mark Lee

Job Title

Associate Creative Director, Uniform (2005–present)

Based

Liverpool

Education

BA Computer Animation, Teesside University (2002–2005) 

Website
Social Media

Mark at work

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
As associate creative director, I’m responsible for the creative, conceptual and stylistic approach for client projects. I develop and deliver inspiring image and film work and support the creative director in managing the architectural visualisation team and delivering against both the department and company strategy. 

What does a typical working day look like? 
My day usually starts at 5.31am when the youngest of my three children lets out a battle cry. From then on it’s zero to 100 mph in a whirlwind of breakfasts, coffee, school uniforms, coffee, hair bobbles, and one last coffee. Then I find a quiet spot on the train, get my head down and catch up with a handful of the 107 unread emails I’ve got in my inbox. 

Luckily, the journey is only 20 minutes. My typical day is split between the projects I’m overseeing, which on average is between five and six at any one time. The bulk of the day revolves around briefing the teams on new projects, planning upcoming projects, producing concept proposals, and giving direction for ongoing work. I also try and keep our AV-focused Instagram feed ticking over with new content. Oh, and drink more coffee.

What do you like about working in Liverpool?
The North West – especially Liverpool – is fast becoming a huge creative hub. I love it up here! I would thoroughly recommend Liverpool to anyone as a great place to work, live, settle down and start a family. It’s very affordable, and the city is growing rapidly. There are always new exhibits, events and plenty of ways to fuel the creative fire happening around town. 

“The North West – especially Liverpool – is fast becoming a huge creative hub. I love it up here.”

Outside the Uniform studio in Liverpool

How did you land your current job?
I was lucky enough to send a speculative email to Uniform, exactly at the time they decided to hire their first-ever intern. Right time, right place I think! 

How collaborative is your role? 
Very! I work closely with our creative director Nick, the various project managers and the different CG Artists on each project. We’re a unique company as I also get the opportunity to collaborate with the wider studio and mix with a huge pool of creative talent from illustrators, animators, directors, filmmakers, graphic designers, through to coders, UX designers, developers and more! On some film and animations I’ll work closely with external directors and agencies, and my role also involves me getting out and about with valuable face-to-face time with clients. 

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
One of the most exciting projects of the last year was working with Knight Dragon on the marketing collateral for Greenwich Peninsula – the £8.4 billion, 20 year vision for 150 glorious acres of land in London. From a pioneering interactive online 3D world, photo-real CG images, films and animations launched by the Major of London himself, through to websites, virtual reality, and augmented reality, it’s been quite a journey! Pretty much all disciplines in the company have been involved, with the architectural visualisation team spearheading the bulk of the work. I led the team on the CG animation side of things, organising helicopter film shoots, our CG artists, and liaising with the director of the film, Steven Fisher. 

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

What skills are essential to your job? 
My role requires two sets of skills. As we’re a niche industry, I primarily need to have an understanding of the architecture and property market in order to deliver compelling imagery and films that, at the end of the day, sell property. I need to understand photography, lighting, composition, colour and mood; how to evoke emotion; and bring visionary places, spaces and ideas to life. All of this helps to give shape, context and reality to the world’s most inspiring architectural projects. On top of this, as a director, I need to be able to get the best out of our artists, guiding and encouraging them, mentoring our juniors, and inspiring the team to produce the award-winning work we’re known for. Juggling, and spinning plates is also pretty handy. 

What tools do you use most for your work? 
I’ve got a few different set-ups, depending on the varying parts of my role. For example, I still get my hands dirty with creating CG images, and so I use a high-end PC together with 3ds Max and V-Ray as the core toolset. I also have a beefy Wacom Intuos Pro for Photoshop and post-production. When I’m out and about meeting clients or presenting work I rely on my 11” MacBook Air for its portability. Finally, when I’m in creative director mode I tend to use an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil to sketch over images, test ideas and give feedback to artists. 

Greenwich Peninsula overview film

Work for Greenwich Peninsula – an interactive CGI paper cityscape

Work for Greenwich Peninsula

Work for Greenwich Peninsula

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? And, if you went onto university, did this have any impact on what you studied? 
My dad runs his own graphic design business, so I spent many weekends in his studio drawing on an early iteration of a Mac, or creating art with Letraset. I loved special effects in film, everything Pixar, and my older brother and I were avid gamers growing up, too. So this field was inevitable for me, I think. When my brother started studying games art at university, I was introduced to the world of 3D modelling. From there, my love of film and animation lead me to their computer animation course, with hopes of becoming the next John Lasseter.

What were your first jobs? 
I was lucky enough to go straight into work from university. Although I did have a brief internship at Sumners in Manchester, working on the 3D graphics for the TV series Most Haunted. This proved to be super-useful as it was architecture-based and gave me more assets for my portfolio on the road to Uniform. 

“We actively pursue clients who want mist and rain; who want to spark intrigue and move beyond the ordinary.”

Inside the studio

Was there a particular person that helped your development at the start of your career? 
Not long after starting at Uniform, my manager at the time Laurie Jones (now creative director of our film team) handed me a set of Vernier calipers [a measuring device] and told me to model the chair I was sitting on (an Aeron chair by Herman Miller) to millimetre accuracy. This was both the most daunting project I’d ever embarked on, and the most fulfilling in terms of what it taught me. It completely changed my perspective of scale, the intricacies and subtleties of detail, and the impact all this had on the realism of the final result. It’s still something I look back on now with feelings of pride (and horror!).

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
A huge challenge for us has always been to convince our clients to try something different, challenge the norm and evoke emotion through our images. We’ve tried to steer clear of the clients that want the wide angle lens, back to the wall, seeing everything type shots, and actively pursued clients who want mist and rain; who want to spark intrigue and move beyond the ordinary. Our philosophy at Uniform is to ‘imagine the impossible’ – it’s why we all get up and walk through those doors every morning, but it’s also what challenges us in everything we do. 

Product visualisation of the outstanding Aeron Chair by Herman Miller.

Product visualisation of the outstanding Aeron Chair by Herman Miller.

Product visualisation of the outstanding Aeron Chair by Herman Miller.

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Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work? 
A few areas I’d recommend to start with are; photography, drawing and inspiration. Getting a thorough understanding of photography, camera settings and the principles of light and composition are fundamental to our work and they should be the basis for everything we do. The ability to draw, paint and sketch over work from initial concept studies through to final matte painting is another area that sets one artist apart from another. Lastly – get inspired! Find things you love, immerse yourself in art, fashion, photography, nature and more – not just architecture (although this helps!). Once you know who you are as an artist, you'll find becoming an artist is much easier!

Posted 15 August 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Pete Carr
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Animation, Film, Digital
Mentions: Mark Lee, Uniform

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