Current Issue #488

Drawn to the City: Simon Scales, The Animator

Drawn to the City: Simon Scales, The Animator

Each month, illustrator Leo Greenfield sketches and profiles an Adelaide character who makes this city tick. This month: Simon Scales.

The Myer Centre in Rundle Mall was once home to a fantasy world, an elevated fairground called Dazzleland. A rollercoaster roared above shoppers, and toy shops were decorated by artificial forests. Today, level three of this building is a new site for the construction of impossible worlds: the creative and educational hub CDW Studios, School of Visual Effects and Entertainment Design.

Inside, CDW Studios is a hive of computerised action. The old shopfronts have been transformed into an evolving gallery; large-scale prints exhibit the work of students and instructors, showcasing characters and landscapes designed for the dynamic world of digital entertainment.

Simon Scales is the director of this studio and school; he is an artist, business owner and instructor. Scales sees his practice as “environmental concept design”. The work he creates for films and games is “digital landscape painting”.

After studying illustration in Adelaide, Scales worked as a book illustrator for 10 years before attending the Concept Design Academy, a school for training in animation, film and game design in Pasadena, California. Honing his skills in the US gave him a chance to work with iconic brands such as Lego, and develop a career as a freelance artist with international reach.


Freelancing in the world of digital networking allowed Scales to continue to develop his career while living in Adelaide. Inspired by what he experienced in the US, he began to conduct workshops with fellow artists. In 2011, the workshops were a sell-out success in Melbourne, Sydney and New Zealand.

“I had no intention of starting a school,” Scales says. But the popularity of his workshops led to the opening of CDW Studios as a private institution in 2012. Originally running just four classes a week, today CDW hosts 30 classes with 200 students attending the studios weekly and an expanding team of 20 staff. The CDW courses are now affiliated with Flinders University’s Creative Arts and Media degree.

Scales describes the school as “one of only five of its kind” internationally. With much interest from international students, its reputation sees leading artists such as Eytan Zana, Vaughan Ling and Kevin Chen giving masterclasses. The school’s success is also helping to retain artistic talent in South Australia.

A feature of CDW is its savvy links to new programming and digital techniques but Scales sees the studio as a traditional art school. The fundamentals of learning to draw using traditional methods are practiced at the school, including life drawing. “If you want to be good at drawing, you have to draw,” says Scales, illustrating how elaborate virtual worlds still begin with an artist’s understanding of anatomy, tone and shading.

“There is a very strong creative environment in South Australia,” Scales says, adding that he wants to continue fostering that through CDW, as the sky’s the limit for local creatives.

Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox