Category Archives: Animation

Behind the Titles: Something’s Awry Productions

NAME: Amy Theorin

NAME: Kris Theorin

NAME: Kurtis Theorin

COMPANY: Something’s Awry Productions

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a family owned production company that writes, creates and produces funny sharable web content and commercials mostly for the toy industry. We are known for our slightly offbeat but intelligent humor and stop-motion animation. We also create short films of our own both animated and live action.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Amy: Producer, Marketing Manager, Business Development
Kris: Director, Animator, Editor, VFX, Sound Design
Kurtis: Creative Director, Writer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Amy: A lot! I am the point of contact for all the companies and agencies we work with. I oversee production schedules, all social media and marketing for the company. Because we operate out of a small town in Pennsylvania we rely on Internet service companies such as Tongal, Backstage.com, Voices.com, Design Crowd and Skype to keep us connected with the national brands and talent we work with who are mostly based in LA and New York. I don’t think we could be doing what we are doing 10 years ago without living in a hub like LA or NYC.

Kris: I handle most of production, post production and some pre-production. Specifically, storyboarding, shooting, animating, editing, sound design, VFX and so on.

Kurtis: A lot of writing. I basically write everything that our company does, including commercials, pitches and shorts. I help out on our live-action shoots and occasionally direct. I make props and sets for our animation. I am also Something Awry’s resident voice actor.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Amy: Probably that playing with toys is something we get paid to do! Building Lego sets and setting up Hot Wheels jumps is all part of the job, and we still get excited when we get a new toy delivery — who wouldn’t? We also get to explore our inner child on a daily basis.

Hot Wheels

Kurtis: A lot of the arts and crafts knowledge I gathered from my childhood has become very useful in my job. We have to make a lot of weird things and knowing how to use clay and construction paper really helps.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Amy: See above. Seriously, we get to play with toys for a living! Being on set and working with actors and crew in cool locations is also great. I also like it when our videos exceed our client’s expectations.

Kris: The best part of my job is being able to work with all kinds of different toys and just getting the chance to make these weird and entertaining movies out of them.

Kurtis: Having written something and seeing others react positively to it.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Amy/Kris: Working through the approval process with rounds of changes and approvals from multiple departments throughout a large company. Sometimes it goes smoothly and sometimes it doesn’t.

Kurtis: Sitting down to write.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Amy: Since most of the companies we work with are on the West Coast my day kicks into high gear around 4:00pm East Coast time.

Kris: I work best in the morning.

Kurtis: My day often consists of hours of struggling to sit down and write followed by about three to four hours where I am very focused and get everything done. Most often those hours occur from 4pm to 7pm, but it varies a lot.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Amy: Probably helping to organize events somewhere. I am not happy unless I am planning or organizing a project or event of some sort.

Kris: Without this job, I’d likely go into some kind of design career or something involving illustration. For me, drawing is one of my secondary interests after filming.

Kurtis: I’d be telling stories in another medium. Would I be making a living doing it is another question.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Amy: I have always loved advertising and creative projects. When I was younger I was the advertising manager for PNC Bank, but left the corporate world when I had kids and started my own photography business, which I operated for 10 years. Once my kids became interested in film I wanted to foster that interest and here we are!

Kris: Filmmaking is something I’ve always had an interest in. I started when I was just eight years old and from there it’s always something I loved to do. The moment when I first realized this would be something I’d follow for an actual career was really around 10th grade, when I started doing it more on a professional level by creating little videos here and there for company YouTube channels. That’s when it all started to sink in that this could actually be a career for me.

Kurtis: I knew I wanted to tell stories very early on. Around 10 years old or so I started doing some home movies. I could get people to laugh and react to the films I made. It turned out to be the medium I could most easily tell stories in so I have stuck with it ever since.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Amy: We are currently in the midst of two major projects — one is a six-video series for Hot Wheels that involves creating six original song music videos parodying different music genres. The other is a 12-episode series for Warner Bros. Scooby Doo that features live-action and stop-motion animation. Each episode is a mini-mystery that Scooby and the gang solve. The series focuses on the imaginations of different children and the stories they tell.

We also have two short animations currently on the festival circuit. One is a hybrid of Lovecraft and a Scooby-Doo chase scene called Mary and Marsha in the Manor of Madness. The other is dark fairytale called The Gift of the Woods.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Amy: Although I am proud of a lot of our projects I am most proud of the fact that even though we are such a small company, and live in the middle of nowhere, we have been able to work with companies around the world like Lego, Warner Bros. and Mattel. Things we create are seen all over the world, which is pretty cool for us.

Lego

Kris: The Lego Yellow Submarine Beatles film we created is what I’m most proud of. It just turned out to be this nice blend of wacky visuals, crazy action, and short concise storytelling that I try to do with most of my films.

Kurtis: I really like the way Mary and Marsha in the Manor of Madness turned out. So far it is the closest we have come to creating something with a unique feel and a sense of energetic momentum; two long term goals I have for our work. We also recently wrapped filming for a twelve episode branded content web series. It is our biggest project yet and I am proud that we were able to handle the production of it really well.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Amy: Skype, my iPad and the rise of online technology companies such as Tongal, Voices.com, Backstage.com and DesignCrowd that help us get our job done.

Kris: Laptop computers, Wacom drawing tablets and iPhones.

Kurtis: My laptop (and it’s software Adobe Premiere and Final Draft), my iPhone and my Kindle.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Amy: Being in this position I like to know what is going on in the industry so I follow Ad Age, Ad Week, Ad Freak, Mashable, Toy Industry News, iO9, Geek Tyrant, and of course all the social media channels of our clients like Lego, Warner Bros., Hot Wheels and StikBots. We also are on Twitter (@AmyTheorin) Instagram (@Somethingsawryproductions) and Facebook (Somethingsawry).

Kris: Mostly YouTube and Facebook.

Kurtis: I follow the essays of Film Crit Hulk. His work on screenwriting and story-telling is incredibly well done and eye opening. Other than that I try to keep up with news and I follow a handful of serialized web-comics. I try to read, watch and play a lot of different things to get new ideas. You never know when the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone might give you the idea for your next toy commercial.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Amy: I don’t usually but I do like to listen to podcasts. Some of my favorites are: How I Built This, Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad and Fresh Air.

Kris: I listen to whatever pop songs are most popular at the time. Currently, that would be Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Kurtis: I listen to an eclectic mix of soundtracks, classic rock songs I‘ve heard in movies, alternative songs I heard in movies, anime theme songs… basically songs I heard with a movie or game and can’t get out of my head. As for particular artists I am partial to They Might Be Giants, Gorillaz, Queen, and the scores of Ennio Morricone, Darren Korb, Jeff Williams, Shoji Meguro and Yoko Kanno.

IS WORKING WITH FAMILY EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT THAN WORKING/MANAGING IN A REGULAR AGENCY?
Amy: Both! I actually love working with my sons, and our skill sets are very complimentary. I love to organize and my kids don’t. Being family we can be very upfront with each other in terms of telling our opinions without having to worry about hurting each other’s feelings.

We know at the end of the day we will always be there for each other no matter what. It sounds cliché but it’s true I think. We have a network of people we also work with on a regular basis who we have great relationships with as well. Sometimes it is hard to turn work off and just be a family though, and I find myself talking with them about projects more often than what is going on with them personally. That’s something I need to work on I guess!

Kris: It’s great because you can more easily communicate and share ideas with each other. It’s generally a lot more open. After a while, it really is just like working within an agency. Everything is fine-tuned and you have worked out a pipeline for creating and producing your videos.

Kurtis: I find it much easier. We all know how we do our best work and what our strengths are. It certainly helps that my family is very good at what they do. Not to mention working from home means I get to set my own hours and don’t have a commute. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay motivated when you’re not in a professional office setting but overall the pros far outweigh the cons.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Amy: I try to take time out to walk our dog, but mostly I love it so much I don’t mind working on projects all the time. If I don’t have something to work on I am not a happy camper. Sometimes I have to remember that not everyone is working on the weekends, so I can’t bother them with work questions!

Kris: It really helps that I don’t often get stressed. At least, not after doing this job for as long as I have. You really learn how to cope with it all. Oftentimes, it’s more just getting exhausted from working long hours. I’ll often just watch some YouTube videos at the end of a day or maybe a movie if there’s something I really want to see.

Kurtis: I like to read and watch interesting stories. I play a lot games: board games, video games, table-top roleplaying. I also find bike riding improves my mood a lot.

Renegade Animation ups Brittney Jorgensen, focuses on original programming

With 12 series in its development pipeline targeting demographics from pre-school through teenagers, Renegade Animation has promoted Brittney Jorgensen to the newly-created post of head of marketing and development. Jorgensen will work with creators, writers and animators in developing concepts for animated television series and features, and serve as liaison with studios, broadcasters and streaming services.

Jorgensen, who joined Renegade in 2012 on the production side, also recently served as production manager on Being by Yourself, an animated short for the Imaginary Friend Society designed to help children with cancer cope with hospitalization. Previously, she was a production manager at Bento Box Entertainment. She also served in a production role at Disney Animation on Tron: Uprising.

Demand for quality, animated content is strong, says Renegade Animation creative director Darrell Van Citters. “With the growth in television and streaming production, now is the right time to focus attention on original programming.”

Renegade Animation has the resources to take shows from concept through delivery in-house. “We love to be involved from the very beginning,” says Jorgensen. “Talent may come to us with a script, a storyboard, a show bible, or just the germ of an idea. We work with creators to develop ideas so that they conform to our style and fit market demand.”

Dell 6.15

Behind the Title: Postal director of operations Jason Mayo

NAME: Jason Mayo

COMPANY: Postal

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Postal is a VFX and animation studio made up of artists and producers that like to make cool shit. We experiment and push the envelope, but we’re also adults, so we get it done on time and on budget. Oh and we’re not assholes. That would be a cool t-shirt. “Postal: We’re not assholes.”

Postal is a creative studio that believes everything starts with great design. That’s our DNA. We believe that it’s always about the talent and not the tools. Whether it’s motion graphics, animation, visual effects, or even editorial, our desire to create transcends all mediums.

Postal’s live-action parent company, Humble is a NY- and LA-based home for makers —directors, writers, creatives, artists and designers — to create culture-defining content.

Coke Freestyle

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Operations

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I spend a lot of my time on biz dev, recruiting interesting talent and developing strategic partnerships that lead to new pipelines of business.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably picking up garbage. Creatives are pretty messy. They leave their stuff all over the place. The truth of the matter is, it’s a small company so no matter what your title is, you’re always on the front lines. That’s what makes my days interesting.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Definitely competing for projects we’re passionate about. I love the thrill of the chase. Also I love trying to keep our artists and producers inspired. Not every project needs to win awards but it’s important to me that my team finds the work interesting and challenging to tackle.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Probably the picking up the garbage part. I’ve ruined a lot of shirts. I also hate seeing content on TV or on the web that could have been produced by us. Especially if it turned out killer.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I have two daughters and a puppy so by 8am I’m basically a broken man. But as soon as I hit the office with my iced coffee in hand, I’m on fire. I love the start of the workday. Endless possibilities abound.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Probably a cool middle school English teacher. The kids would call me Jay and talk to me about their problems. Honestly though, when I’m done working I’ll probably just disappear into the woods or something and chase possums with a BB gun.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
It was an accident. I wanted to be an actor. My mom’s best friend’s, ex-husband owned a small post house and he hired me as a receptionist. I was probably the greatest receptionist of all time. I thought being in “entertainment” would get me to Hollywood through the back door. I still have about 500 headshots that I never got to use.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We’ve had such a crazy year. We’ve done projects for Pepsi, Coke, Panera, Morgan Stanley, TED, Canon, Billboard and Nike.

TED Zipline

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I really love the TED stuff we do. They are a dream client. They come to us with a challenge and they allow us to go away, come up with some really imaginative stuff and then present them with a solution. As long as it’s on brief, it can be any style or any execution we think is right. We love that type of open collaboration with our clients.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
If we’re talking about apps, as well as hardware, then that’s easy. Sonos because it’s all about the music, Netflix because… zombies, and ride sharing apps because cabs are dirty and they make me nauseous.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
In general, I’m pretty active on social media and we actually just launched Facebook and Instagram pages for Postal. In a parallel universe I’m a dad blogger so I’ve always been big on community via social media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the standards for me, but I’ve been Snapchatting with my daughter for years. I do have a Pinterest page somewhere, but it’s devoted solely to Ryan Gosling.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I’m a heavy metal guy so pretty much anything heavy. I do also love me some Jackson Browne and some Dawes. Oh, and the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, of course.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I try not to let it get to me. It’s way tougher raising two daughters and two dogs. The rest is a cakewalk. I do binge eat from time to time and love to watch horror movies on the train. Always a good way for me to decompress.


Quick Chat: Creating graphics package for UN’s Equator Prize ceremony

Undefined Creative (UC) was recently commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to produce a fresh package of event graphics for its Equator Prize 2017 Award Ceremony. This project is the latest in a series of motion design-centered work collaborations between the creative studio and the UN, a relationship that began when UC donated their skills to the Equator Prize in 2010.

The Equator Prize recognizes local and indigenous community initiatives from across the planet that are advancing innovative on-the-ground solutions to climate, environment and poverty challenges. Award categories honor achievement and local innovation in the thematic areas of oceans, forests, grasslands and wildlife protection.

For this year’s ceremony, UNDP wanted a complete refresh that gave the on-stage motion graphics a current vibe while incorporating the key icons behind its sustainable development goals (SDGs). Consisting of a “Countdown to Ceremony” screensaver, an opening sequence, 15 winner slates, three category slates and 11 presenter slates, the package had to align visually with a presentation from National Geographic Society, which was part of the evening’s program.

To bring it all together, UC drew from the SDG color palettes and relied on subject matter knowledge of both the UNDP and National Geographic in establishing the ceremony graphics’ overall look and feel. With only still photos available for the Equator Prize winners, UC created motion and depth by strategically intertwining the best shots with moving graphics and strategically selected stock footage. Naturally moving flora and fauna livened up the photography, added visual diversity and contributed creating a unique aesthetic.

We reached out to Undefined Creative’s founder/creative director Maria Rapetskaya to find out more:

How early did you get involved in the project, and was the client open to input?
We got the call a couple of months before the event. The original show had been used multiple times since we created it in 2010, so the client was definitely looking for input on how we could refresh or even rebrand.

Any particular challenges for this one?
For non-commercial organizations, budgets and messaging are equally sensitive topics. We have to be conscious of costs, and also very aware of Do’s and Don’t’s when it comes to assets and use. Our creative discussions took place over several calls, laying out options and ideas at different budget tiers — anything from simply updating the existing package to creating something entirely different. In case of the latter, parameters had to be established right away for how different “different” could be.

For example, it was agreed that we should stick with photography provided by the 2017 award winners. However, our proposal to include stock for flora and fauna was agreed on by all involved. Which SDG icons would be used and how, what partner and UN organizational branding should be featured prominently as design inspiration, how this would integrate with content being produced for UNDP/Equator Prize by Nat Geo… all of these questions had to be addressed before we started any real ideation in order for the creative to stay on brand, on message, on budget and on time.

What tools did you use on the project?
We relied on Adobe CC, in particular, After Effects, which is our staple software. In this particular project, we also relied heavily on stock from multiple vendors. Pond5 have a robust and cost-effective collection of video elements we were seeking.

Why is this project important to you?
The majority of our clients are for-profit commercial entities, and while that’s wonderful, there’s always a different feeling of reward when we have the chance to do something for the good of humanity at large, however minuscule our contribution is. The winners are coming from such different corners of the globe — at times, very remote. They’re incredibly excited to be honored, on stage, in New York City, and we can only imagine what it feels like to see their faces, the faces of their colleagues and friends, the names of their projects, up on this screen in front of a large, live audience. This particular event brings us a lot closer to what we’re creating, on a really empathetic, human level.


Tobin Kirk joins design/animation house Laundry as EP

Tobin Kirk has joined LA-based design and animation studio Laundry as executive producer. Kirk brings nearly 20 years of experience spanning broadcast design, main title sequences, integrated content, traditional on-air spots, branded content, digital and social. At Laundry, he will work closely with executive producer Garrett Braren on business development, as well as client and project management efforts.

Kirk was most recently managing executive producer at Troika, where he oversaw all production at the entertainment brand agency’s 25,000-square-foot facility in Hollywood, including its creative studio and live-action production subsidiary, Troika Production Group. Prior to that, he spent nearly five years as executive producer at Blind, managing projects for Xbox/Microsoft, AT&T, ancestry.com and Sealy Mattress, among others.

As a producer, Kirk’s background is highlighted by such projects as the main title sequence for David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at Blur Studio, commercials for Chrysler and Gatorade at A52 and an in-flight video for Method/Virgin America at Green Dot Films. He also spent three years with Farmer Brown working for TBS, CBS, Mark Burnett Productions, Al Roker Productions, The Ant Farm, Bunim/Murray and Endemol USA.

In addition, Kirk collaborated with video artist Bill Viola for over six years, producing projects for the London National Gallery, Athens Olympics, the Getty Museum, Opera National de Paris, Guggenheim Museum, Munich’s E.ON Corporation and Anthony d’Offay Gallery.


More speakers added for Italy’s upcoming View Conference

More than 50 speakers are confirmed for 2017’s View Conference, a digital media conference that takes place in Turin, Italy, from October 23-27. Those speakers include six visual effects Oscar winners, two Academy Sci-Tech award winners, animated feature film directors, virtual reality pioneers, computer graphics researchers, game developers, photographers, writers and studio executives.

“One of the special reasons to attend View is that our speakers like to stay for the entire week and attend talks given by the other speakers, so our attendees have many opportunities to interact with them,” says conference director Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez. “View brings together the world’s best and brightest minds across multiple disciplines, in an intimate and collaborative place where creatives can incubate and celebrate.”

Newly confirmed speakers include:

Scott Stokdyk- This Academy Award winner (VFX supervisor, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) will showcase VFX from the film – from concept, design and inspiration to final color timing.

Paul Debevec – This Academy Award winner (senior staff engineer, Google VR, ICT) will give attendees a glimpse inside the latest work from Google VR and ICT.

Martyn Culpitt – A VFX supervisor on Logan and at Image Engine company, he will breakdown the film Logan, highlighting the visual effects behind Wolverine’s gripping final chapter.

Jan-Bart Van Beek – This studio art director at Guerrilla Games will take attendees through the journey that Guerrilla Games underwent to design the post-apocalyptic world of the game franchise, Horizon Zero Dawn.

David Rosenbaum – This chief creative officer at Cinesite Studios along with Cinesite EP Warren Franklin will present at talk titled, “It’s All Just Funny Business: Looking for IP, Talent ad Audiences.”

Elisabeth Morant – This product manager for Google’s Tilt Brush will discusses the company’s VR painting application in a talk called, “Real Decisions, Virtual Space: Designing for VR.”

Donald Greenberg – This professor of computer graphics at Cornell University will be discussing the “Next-gen of Virtual Reality”

Steve Muench – He will present “The Labor of Loving Vincent: Animating Van Gogh to Solve a Mystery.”

Deborah Fowler – This professor of visual effects at Savannah College of Art and Design/SCAD will showcase “Procedural and Production Techniques using Houdini.”

Daniele Federico: This co-founder and developer at Toolchefs will present “Make us Alive. An In-Depth Look at Atoms Crowd Software.”

Jason Bickerstaff – This character artist from Pixar Animation Studios) will present “Crossing The Dimensional Rift.”

Steve Beck – This VFX art director from ILM will discuss “The Future of Storytelling.”

Nancy Basi – She is executive director of the Film and Media Centre – Vancouver Economic Commission.

For a complete listing of speakers visit http://www.viewconference.it/speakers

 


Quick Chat: The making of Big Chicken Small Movie

Big Chicken Small Movie is an animated short film that pays homage to Marietta, Georgia’s beloved 56-foot-tall steel fowl. This iconic attraction is part of the local KFC franchise that recently underwent a massive renovation. In the film, a young boy, who is a bit of an outcast, finds a friend in the gigantic chicken and they go on an adventure in North Georgia.

We reached out to agency W+K, animation company Awesome Inc and music company Bluetube about this unique opportunity to honor the local monument in a charming, design-driven tale of friendship.

How did the idea for a film celebrating the Big Chicken come about? What was your inspiration?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: We wanted to celebrate the re-opening of the Big Chicken KFC with something that locals would love because they’ve given this big steel vaguely chicken-like structure a lot of love since it was built in 1956. It is such an imposing steel structure it seemed funny that it could come to life, befriend a boy and go on a fun adventure while inadvertently leaving a path of destruction in its wake. We were inspired by animation classics from our childhood and, of course, The Iron Giant was mentioned a couple times when we were developing the concept.

Why was animation your favored route to bring it to life?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: Our first plan was to bring the Big Chicken to life using artificial intelligence and Japanese robotics, but it turns out that an animated film was way more feasible and less dangerous for restaurant visitors.

How did you select Awesome Inc was the right partner for the project?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: While we did have an Atlantan on our team, we’re way up in Portland, Oregon, so we hoped we would find an Atlanta-based studio who would put some passion and local insights into the project. Awesome Inc really took ownership of the story, character design and all the little details that help the story feel like a celebration of Marietta and the Big Chicken’s place there.

Tell us a little about the style inspiration?
Craig Sheldon, Awesome Inc: With almost all of our projects, color scheme and style are the first things we begin to sort out. We knew that this was a simple story with a lot of emotion, so we chose a limited but bold color palette to bring it to life. Using basic shapes in an illustrative style seemed to aid in our storytelling as well, so we looked to examples with a like-minded philosophy for inspiration, some newer and some more classic.

What did you learn along the way?
Craig Sheldon, Awesome Inc: As far as animation technique, we learned a great deal. We tried out new methods of character rigging and integrating 3D in a seamless way that we hadn’t before. We learned some valuable storytelling techniques during the boarding and animatic phase that we’d not yet encountered on previous projects. We also learned that not only is the phrase “less is more” true in style, but also in storytelling, as we ended up deciding to take out a number of almost completed scenes that weren’t advancing the overall narrative of the piece. It is tough to see so many hours of work hit the cutting room floor, but in the end it made for a better film.

How did you decide on the style of music for the film?
Michael Kohler, Bluetube: I think with most scoring situations, the style of the composition is heavily influenced by the content, look and execution of a scene. With Big Chicken, the character design and animation really helped shape the story, and without any dialogue the music had to complement that feel. The only track that was written before seeing any moving animation was the one that plays as the boy and chicken go on their adventures — that track was the first piece created for this project, and it was started based only on the amazing storyboards.

Can you talk a little about your balance of traditional instruments to digital tools/plug-ins used for the soundtrack?
Michael Kohler, Bluetube: I’ve always been a fan of using both traditional and digital instrumentation when the opportunity presents itself. I think both have positive and negative aspects depending on the situation. For this particular genre of music I tend to start with and almost always incorporate guitar. That was my first instrument and still the one I’m most comfortable with. After that, the sky is the limit with the amazing digital instruments and tools we have at our disposal, giving us opportunities we didn’t have previously.

What was the collaboration like with the W&K team?
Allison Sanders, Awesome Inc: W+K approached us with strong ideas and open minds, presenting an excellent platform for collaboration. They gave us a great deal of creative freedom while at the same time providing the bedrock concept that made this short great. They provided quality feedback if something wasn’t quite working, with the added bonus of positive encouragement along the way. With their understanding of the client’s goals and our first-hand knowledge of the surrounding area, we were able to create a film that sparked interest in the refurbished franchise, while evoking a fond sense of nostalgia for Georgia residents and Big Chicken devotees.


Behind the Title: Alma Mater EP/producer Ben Apley

NAME: Ben Apley

COMPANY: Alma Mater

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Alma Mater is a visual studio dedicated to design, live action and animation. Our work has a strong foundation in design, and includes projects in traditional commercial advertising, as well as entertainment, and often includes digital extensions, branding and experiential executions.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Executive Producer/Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As executive producer, I target new opportunities, work with sales reps to strategically figure out how to pursue new business and manage the overall flow of the office from a business and resource standpoint. As producer, I manage production workflow and communicate project goals, needs, etc. to our clients.

My primary responsibility is putting the creative team in the best possible place to succeed. If you do that, then everything else kind of falls into place.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
There isn’t an established “right way” to try to do this job. The role really does shift around a lot based on where you are in the sales and production cycle, and you have to be comfortable adapting to immediate needs while still planning for longer-term business strategies.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Closing on new business.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Turning down new opportunities when we’re too busy. That kills me.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
After my children go to sleep.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Pursuing a career as a professional basketball player.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
When I was in college, I had a journalism internship at a news agency based in Washington, DC, one spring, and then a production internship in Chicago later that summer. I realized during the production internship that everyone on the crew appeared to be pretty happy while the journalists I followed always seemed kind of angry. So I decided to pursue production.

Rough Night

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We just finished a campaign for Lennox, the title sequence for the movie Rough Night and a series of commercials launching the 2018 Ford F-150.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Early on in my career, I produced the original Marvel theatrical logo animation. I remember being so excited to see something I had worked on in the movie theater.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone, my computer, and my car.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Sometimes I like to play “Everyday I’m Hustlin’” by Rick Ross while I work on bids.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I have three children who bring me back to reality on a regular basis.


Calabash animates characters for health PSA

It’s a simple message, told in a very simple way — having a health issue and being judged for it, hurts. An animated PSA for The Simon Foundation, titled Rude2Respect, was animated by Chicago’s Calabash in conjunction with the creative design studio Group Chicago.

Opening with typography “Challenging Health Stigma,” the PSA features two friends — a short, teal-colored tear-dropped blob known simply as Blue and his slender companion Pink — taking a walk on a bright sunny day in the city. Blue nervously says, “I’m not sure about this,” to which Pink responds, “You can’t stay home forever.” From there the two embark on what seems like a simple stroll to get ice cream, but there is a deeper message about how such common events can be fraught with anxiety for those suffering from an array of health conditions that often results in awkward stares, well-intentioned but inappropriate comments or plain rudeness. Blue and Pink decide it’s the people with the comments that are in the wrong and continue on to get ice cream. The spot ends with the simple words “Health stigma hurts. We can change lives” followed by a link to www.rude2respect.org.

“We had seen Calabash’s work and sought them out,” says Barbara Lynk, Group Chicago’s creative director. “We were impressed with how well their creative team immediately understood the characters and their visual potential. Creatively they brought a depth of experience on the conceptual and production side that helped bring the characters to life. They also understood the spare visual approach we were trying to achieve. It was a wonderful creative collaboration throughout the process, and they are a really fun group of creatives to work with.”

Based on illustrated characters created by Group Chicago’s founder/creative director Kurt Meinecke, Calabash creative director Wayne Brejcha notes that early on in the creative process they decided to go with what he called a “two-and-a-half-D look.”

“There is a charm in the simplicity of Kurt’s original illustrations with the flat shapes that we had to try very hard to keep as we translated Blue and Pink to the 3D world,” Brejcha says. “We also didn’t want to overly complicate it with a lot of crazy camera moves rollercoastering through the space or rotating around the characters. We constrained it to feel a little like two-and-a-half dimensions – 2D characters, but with the lighting and textures and additional physical feel you expect with 3D animation.

“We spent a good deal of time with thumbnail boardomatics, a scratch track and stand-in music as it began to gel,” he continues. “Kurt searched out some piano music for the intro and outro, which also set tone, and we cast for voices with the personalities of the figures in mind. After a few conversations with Kurt and Barb we understood the personalities of Blue and Pink very well. They’re archetypes or incarnations of two stages of dealing with, say, going out in public with some medical apparatus you’re attached to that’s plainly visible to everyone. The Blue guy is self-conscious, defensive, readily upset and also ready to bring a little push-back to the folks who call out his non-normative qualities. Pink is a little further along in accepting the trials. She can shake off with equanimity all the outright insults, dopey condescension and the like. She’s something of a mentor or role model for Blue. The characters are made of simple shapes, so animator Nick Oropezas did a lot of tests and re-animation to get just the right movements, pauses, timing and expressions to capture those spirits.”

For Sean Henry, Calabash’s executive producer, the primary creative obstacles centered on finding the right pacing for the story. “We played with the timing of the edits all the way through production,” he explains. “The pace of it had a large role to play in the mood, which is more thoughtful than your usual rapid-fire ad. Also, finding the right emotions for the voices was also a major concern. We needed warmth and a friendly mentoring feel for Pink, and a feisty, insecure but likeable voice for Blue. Our voice talent nailed those qualities. Additionally, the dramatic events in the spot happen only in the audio with Pink and Blue responding to off-screen voices and action, so the sound design and music had a major storytelling role to play as well.”

Calabash called on Autodesk Maya for the characters and Foundry’s Nuke for effects/compositing. Adobe Premiere was used for the final edit.

Disney Animation legend Floyd Norman keynoting SIGGRAPH 2017

Floyd Norman, the first African-American animator to work for Walt Disney Animation Studios, has been named SIGGRAPH 2017’s keynote speaker. The keynote session featuring Norman will be presented as a fireside chat, allowing attendees the opportunity to hear a Disney legend discuss his life and career within an intimate setting. SIGGRAPH 2017 will be held July 30-August 3 at Los Angeles.

Norman was the subject of a 2016 documentary called Floyd Norman: An Animated Life from filmmakers Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey. The film covers Norman’s life story, also includes interviews with from voice actors and former colleagues.

Norman was hired as the first African-American animator at Walt Disney Studios in 1956 and was later hand-picked by Walt Disney himself to join the story team on The Jungle Book. After Walt’s death, Norman left Disney to start his own company, Vignette Films and produce films on the subject of black history for high schools. He and his partners would later work with Hanna-Barbera to animate the original Fat Albert TV special Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert, as well as the opening title sequence for the TV series Soul Train.

Norman returned to Disney in the 1980s to work in their publishing department, and in 1998 moved to the story department to work on Mulan. After all this, an invite to the Bay Area in the late ‘90s became a career highlight when Norman began working with leaders in the next wave of animation — Pixar and Steve Jobs — adding Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. to his film credits.

Though he technically retired at the age of 65 in 2000, Norman is not one to quit and chose, instead, to occupy an open cubicle at Disney Publishing Worldwide for the last 15 years. As he puts it, “I just won’t leave.”

While not on staff, Norman’s proximity to other Disney personnel has led him to pick up freelance work and continue his impact on animation as both an artist and a mentor. As to his future plans, he says, “I plan to die at the drawing board!

“I’ve been fascinated by computer graphics since I purchased my first computer. I began attending SIGGRAPH when a kiosk was all Pixar could afford,” he says. “Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working for this fine company and being a part of this amazing technology as it continues to mature. I’ve also enjoyed sharing insights I’ve garnered over the years in this fantastic industry. In recent years, I’ve spoken at several universities and even Apple. Creative imagination and technological innovation have always been a part of my life, and I’m delighted to share my enthusiasm with the fans at SIGGRAPH this year.”

Images courtesy of Michael Fiore Films