Andrei Riabovitchev was born in Apsheronsk, South Russia. He moved to Moscow to study engineering then found his way into the animation industry, working initially as a traditional animator on movies including Prince Vladimir. In 2008, Andrei moved to the UK and began working in the film and VFX industry, including periods as senior concept artist at both MPC and Framestore on movies including Wrath of the Titans, The Wolfman and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2. He is currently working as a freelance artist. Below, Andrei tells us about his journey from traditional to digital art, and about Vampire Hunter, his own personal IP.
Tell us about your journey
I was born in the south of Russia near the Black Sea, then moved to Moscow to go to [Moscow State] Forest University. After that, I was in the army for two years doing national service.
In the army, I’d been an unofficial artist – mainly portraits and propaganda posters, but it was still good practice – and when I left, one of my friends saw my work and asked it he should pass it on to the animation studio where he was working as a night security guard.
At the time, I was mostly doing A2 pencil drawings on large sheets of card folded in half. I can’t even remember what I drew; copying things, mostly. The director had a look at my portfolio and said: “I like this and this. You can try out for us.”
My first test was a doll that had just fallen down. The animator drew key poses, and I drew in-betweens to connect them. It was rough, and I spent a whole day doing it; then I carried on the second day, then the next. After two weeks, I wasn’t sure if I’d passed the test or not, so I asked the manager, “Am I still on trial, or am I working for you?” and she said, “Oh, you’re working.”
I went through pretty much ever job in the animation industry, first at Classica, then at Studio DA. I’ve been a rough in-betweener, in-betweener, clean-up artist, layout artist, animator, character designer, production designer, and even directed animated commercials.
My first film as a character designer was Prince Vladimir, which was quite big in Russia. [It became Russia’s highest-grossing animated feature – Ed.] Around that time, people started connecting to me through LinkedIn and asking if I had a website. One of my friends did a site for me, and I began meeting other people, production designers, character designers, from all round the world.
At the time, my first child was five years old, and my wife was pregnant with our second, so we decided to move away from Russia for my son’s education, and to make a new start. My wife is English, so we moved to Ascot, where my in-laws live, seven years ago. My friend Uli [Meyer, founder of Uli Meyer Animation] said he’d help me find a job and get a visa.
My first job was at MPC, working on The Wolfman. The first week was a nightmare. My English wasn’t so good, and I was having all sorts of technical problems. I couldn’t log in to the system. Also, I hadn’t used Photoshop much, since the work I was doing in Russia was traditional animation: pencil on paper. Now I’m more of an advanced user, but then I used Photoshop like a painter.
I spent four years at MPC, then I worked at Framestore, then I decided I wanted something different. So I did what all freelance artists do and opened a limited company, and started working for myself.
Since then, I’ve done work with various VFX houses, including ILM and Framestore, and I helped on the production for X-Men: First Class. It was good experience, and I got to work with John Dykstra, who’s an industry legend. Right now, I’m working on a project in China.
How do you want to impact the world?
I’m at a stage in my career when I feel that I need to share my knowledge. Because it’s not mine: I received it from other people, over a period of many years. So I’m doing some teaching. I’ve been doing various workshops. I’ve been to Zagreb, to Vienna, and soon I’ll be doing one in London.
I’m also working on my own IP. It began when I was working in London. I’d been doing a lot of photobashing stuff at work, and I started to feel I needed to do something different. So I started to do pencil drawings on the train while I was commuting in each day.
Initially, I was just copying photos from the paper, but I began to push it more and more: instead of copying, I began to create some ideas. And through that, I started to understand that [working on other people’s projects] just wasn’t interesting any more. I needed to do something myself.
I call the idea ‘Vampire Hunter’, but the story isn’t about vampires: it’s about someone trying to find his family. At the beginning, it was set in the Viking era, but it gradually evolved, gathered more details, became a whole universe. Now it’s more like a sci-fi, but a gritty sci-fi, not shiny spaceships.
Gradually, the project became more solid and real, and I started to receive emails from different people asking me about it; comic artists and writers started following me online. From the art work, they feel there could be something there.
Some people have said it would be a fantastic comic book, others a film. I’d be happy if it was just an art book. I’m not in a rush, and I don’t want to neglect my family. So it’s definitely happening, but I don’t know when. It could be tomorrow, if someone calls me and says they have some money.
What are you passionate about?
I really love fine art, and I want to develop these skills more myself. But I want to be practical; I don’t want to spread myself thinner and thinner. I’ve got two kids, so if I get two hours in the evening to draw something, it’s a big deal.
In the past, I also used to play music a lot. I recorded three or four albums, one of which was published on an indie electronica label in Russia. It was quite cinematic music. The friend I did it with was a professional musician – he recorded music for films in Russia – but I did it more for fun.
The album was called 3:42, which was the time my son was born. It was also the number of the apartment we bought in Moscow, and the local bus was the 342. It’s spooky.
What would be your #1 advice to other artists?
To be passionate. And patient. Young artists have no patience. They look at other artists and they want to be at the same level straight away. And that just doesn’t happen.
The other thing that’s important is to socialise with people, and to communicate. Be an open person, and listen to other people.
And practise, practise, practise. I started work in the industry in 1991, so it’s been 24 years, but I still practise every day. I’m not like a robot; I’m still a person. I still need to practise.