Category Archives: Animation

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.

Dell 6.15

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


Atomic Fiction hires Marc Chu to lead animation department

Atomic Fiction has welcomed animation expert Marc Chu to lead the studio’s animation efforts across its Oakland and Montreal locations. Chu joins Atomic Fiction from ILM, where he most recently served as animation director, bringing more than 20 years of experience animating and supervising the creation of everything from aliens and spaceships to pirates and superheroes.

Based out of Atomic Fiction’s Oakland office, Chu will oversee animation company-wide and serve as the principal architect of initial studio production, including the expansion of Atomic Fiction’s previs and digital creature offerings. He’s already begun work on The Predator and is ramping up activity on an upcoming Robert Zemeckis feature.

“Atomic Fiction is already well-established and known for its seamless work in environments, so this is an amazing opportunity to be a part of their journey into doing more animation-driven work,” said Chu. “My goal is to help grow an already-strong animation department to the next level, becoming a force that is able to tackle any challenge, notably high-level creature and character work.”

Chu established and built his career at ILM, creating and supervising work for some of the biggest film franchises of the last 20 years. For 2009’s Iron Man, he worked to define the characters and animation through the sequel and on the first two Avengers films. His extensive credits also include Star Wars franchise continuations The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, which earned Best VFX Oscar nominations, and won for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men’s Chest.

Chu also has two VES Award wins for his Davy Jones CG character work.


Speakers set for VIEW Conference 2017

This year, the VIEW Conference is once again taking place in Torino, Italy. Focusing on computer graphics, digital media and games, the conference spans five days (October 23-27) and features talks, workshops, panel discussions, interactive sessions, awards and more. An audience of 6,000 professionals and students is expected.

Here are the expected speakers so far:
Rob Pardo – CEO, Bonfire Studios. Videogame designer (World of Warcraft); Eric Darnell – chief creative officer, Baobab Studios. Co-director/co-writer all DreamWorks’ Madagascar films and projects including Invasion, Asteroids, Rainbow Crow; Phil Chen – co-founder, HTC Vive. Managing partner of Presence Capital VR/AR Venture Fund and partner of Horizons Ventures, which invests in VR/AR/AI; Joe Letteri – senior VFX supervisor, four-time Oscar winner, Weta Digital; Debevec – senior staff engineer, Google VR and Oscar winner; Kevin Lin – COO, Twitch.TV; Christopher Townsend – Overall VFX supervisor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; Vicki Dobbs Beck – executive in charge of ILM x LAB; Mark Osborne – The Little Prince and Kung Fu Panda, DreamWorks Animation; Kris Pearn – director The Willoughbys, Bron Animation and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 co-director, Sony Pictures Animation; Shannon Tindle – director/writer, Sony Pictures Animation, Disney, Laika, Google Spotlight Story On Ice; Cinzia Angelini – director, upcoming CG Animated short Mila; Hal Hickel – animation director, Rogue One, ILM. Oscar and BAFTA Winner; Rob Coleman – head of animation, Lego Batman Movie, Animal Logic. Two-time Oscar nominee for his work on Star Wars; Kim White – DP, lighting, Cars 3, Pixar Animation; Noelle Triaureau – production designer, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Sony Pictures Animation; Mike Ford – VFX supervisor, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Sony Pictures Imageworks; Carlos Zaragoza – production designer, The Emoji Movie, Sony Pictures Animation; Maureen Fan – CEOfficer, Baobab Studios, VR; Larry Cutler – CTO, Baobab Studios; Eloi Champagne – technical director, National Film Board of Canada, VR; Claudio Pedica – senior interaction designer, Sólfar Studios & AI researcher at Reykjavik University; Michael Rubin – founder/chief photo officer, Neomodern; David Putrino – director of rehabilitation innovation, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Director of Telemedicine and Virtual Rehabilitation Medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College. Chief mad scientist, Not Impossible Labs; Victor Perez – VFX supervisor, Gabriele Salvatores Invisible Boy sequel; Francesco Filippi – director, Mani Rosse (Red Hands), Studio Mistral; and Ed Hooks – mMulti-faceted theatrical professional, actor, author and acting teacher.

VIEW has also announced the opening of submissions for the show’s VIEW Awards. Celebrating the best in animation and video games, each year this competition receives hundreds of entries, vying for recognition in four categories for animated short films or videogames.

The VIEW Conference’s awards competition recognizes animated short films and videogames created between January 1, 2015 and September 15, 2017. Entry is available online here.

The awards categories are:
Best Short– category for those creating and animating shorts, music videos or commercials using 2D/3D animation.  The contest is open to students and professionals with a maximum length of 30 minutes. The best short will be evaluated based on design, environments and best character. First prize is 2,000 Euros.
• Social Contest – a short video clip or commercial focusing on social themes. First prize is 500 Euros.
• Game Contest – an award recognizing the best gameplay, design and mechanics. First prize is 500 Euros.
• ItalianMix – dedicated to the work of Italian artists, the work can be animated, experimental or documentary. Maximum length of 30 minutes. First prize is 500 Euros.

FMPX8.14

Behind the Title: Flavor LA director/CD Jason Cook

Name: Jason Cook (@jcookerama)

Company: Flavor LA

Can you describe your company?
We are a narrative-driven company that uses design, animation, CG, visual effects and live action to tell stories for our clients. Flavor LA serves the West Coast territories for our parent company, Cutters Studios in Chicago.

What’s your job title?
I am both a director and creative director for this office.

What does that entail?
It really depends on the project, but I tend to wear many hats. From a creative direction perspective, I am involved with the cultivation and management of all of the creative that we do here in LA. I have a strong design background, which helps me lead our team through pitching, production and finish. We pride ourselves on highly conceptual and thoughtful storytelling in our work, so I spend a large part of my days with the headphones on writing treatments. I love when the job involves live-action opportunities. Here, I can use a completely different medium and skill set to accomplish our creative goals. My sensibility is very design-driven, so most of the stuff I shoot tends to have a CG or VFX component, which is always so exciting.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
It’s funny. As I came up as a designer, I always swore to myself I would never stop designing, and I kept that promise up until the last couple of years. I love designing, but as I get busier, my bandwidth gets smaller. I have grown into a true leadership role and have come to accept that my time is better served looking at the bigger picture instead of being consumed by the intricacies of the process. This allows me to manage projects with greater quality control and leaves my brain and creative flow available for new things as they come in. As a leader, I’ve found that giving artists space, and not micro-managing their development, brings me greater results.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Seeing a plan come together is the most gratifying part of this business. It’s exciting when we are given a brief, we pitch an idea, and we win. There’s also a moment of, “Ok how to do we pull this off?” For me, putting my head together with my team, allowing for experimentation, encouraging outside thinking and following the creative where it leads us is such a fun part of this process. When all the elements start to coalesce and you see the first dailies comped and your previs edit starts to get replaced with real shots… that’s when things get awesome.

What’s your least favorite?
I try to work very efficiently and sometimes communications break down, which can be frustrating. This is for any number of reasons, but it gets in the way of the process and that can slow momentum.

What is your favorite time of the day?
Not the morning! I’m more of a night owl. I tend to stay up a bit later and write when it’s nice and quiet.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I think my internal drive to tell stories would have translated into straight-up filmmaking. I chose a graphic design path, but I also focused my intention on motion graphics, which incorporates live action a lot of the time. I really believe that everything I’ve done up to this point has led me to where I am today.

How early on did you know this would be your path?
It seems so trite now because so many people have a similar story, but I remember watching the film title of Seven and it blew my freaking mind. I was just graduating high school at the time, and I knew right there that I wanted to do that, even though I didn’t really understand at the time what “that” was.

Arrow Electronics

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I recently shot a few spots that I’m really happy with. Two for Arrow Electronics and a spec spot for water conservation that involves a cute CG water drop character that lightly shames people for wasting water. In April, I directed and creative directed a live, site-specific show for over 3,000 Detroit Lions fans to reveal the team’s new uniforms.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
I really love the Be Pro-H20 spec I shot. It was a complete labor of love and a self-financed production that I wrote, cast and directed. The Lions event was absolutely crazy and something I’ve never done before. Somehow I sold the Lions on creating a giant geometric lion head installation that we projection-mapped visuals onto. It was madness! I learned so much on that project and I hope to do more live events like that down the road.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
I think my phone is clearly one, followed by the Internet and cameras.

What social media channels do you follow?
I’ve been weening myself off of Facebook these days. I have a Twitter and Instagram account as well.

Do you listen to music while you work? Care to share your favorite music to work to?
It depends on the task at hand, but I have a hard time writing to music with lyrics. My go-to is the composer Cliff Martinez. Something about his scores just gets me so focused and the words spill out. If I don’t need to focus, my musical tastes span from hip-hop to house music. I’ll throw on some Motley Crüe sometimes, too.

This is a high stress job. What do you do to de-stress from it all?
It can be a very high stress job for sure, and sometimes it’s easy to take it with you when you leave the office. I try to make a conscious effort not to get pulled into the chaos of the process. Even when we are in the weeds, we have to remember it always works out in the end. To unwind, I love hanging with my wife and our two pups and watching a movie at home, going out with friends or traveling. My PS4 comes in handy sometimes too.


Nice Shoes Creative Studio animates limited-edition Twizzlers packages

Twizzlers and agency Anomaly recently selected 16 artists to design a fun series of limited edition packages for the classic candy. Each depicts various ways people enjoy Twizzlers. New York’s Nice Shoes Creative Studio, led by creative director Matt Greenwood, came on board to introduce these packages with an animated 15-second spot.

Three of the limited edition packages are featured in the fast-paced spot, bringing to life the scenarios of car DJing, “ugly crying” at the movies, and studying in the library, before ending on a shot that incorporates all of the 16 packages. Each pack has its own style, characters, and color scheme, unique to the original artists, and Nice Shoes was careful to work to preserve this as they crafted the spot.

“We were really inspired by the illustrations,” explains Greenwood. “We stayed close to the original style and brought them into a 3D space. There’s only a few seconds to register each package, so the challenge was to bring all the different styles and colors together within this time span. Select characters and objects carry over from one scene into the next, acting as transitional elements. The Twizzlers logo stays on-screen throughout, acting as a constant amongst the choreographed craziness.”

The Nice Shoes team used a balance of 3D and 2D animation, creating a CG pack while executing the characters on the packs with hand-drawn animation. Greenwood proposed taking advantage of the rich backgrounds that the artists had drawn, animating tiny background elements in addition to the main characters in order to “make each pack feel more alive.”

The main Twizzlers pack was modeled, lit, animated and rendered in Autodesk Maya which was composited in Adobe After Effects together with the supporting elements. These consisted of 2D hand-drawn animations created in Photoshop and 3D animated elements made with Mason Cinema 4D.

“Once we had the timing, size and placement of the main pack locked, I looked at which shapes would make sense to bring into a 3D space,” says Greenwood. “For example, the pink ribbons and cars from the ‘DJ’ illustration worked well as 3D objects, and we had time to add touches of detail within these elements.”

The characters on the packs themselves were animated with After Effects and applied as textures within the pack artwork. “The flying books and bookcases were rendered with Sketch and Toon in Cinema 4D, and I like to take advantage of that software’s dynamics simulation system when I want a natural feel to objects falling onto surfaces. The shapes in the end mnemonic are also rendered with Sketch and Toon and they provide a ‘wipe’ to get us to the end lock-up,” says Greenwood.

The final step during the production was to add a few frame-by-frame 2D animations (the splashes or car exhaust trail, for example) but Nice Shoes Creative Studio waited until everything was signed off before they added these final details.

“The nature of the illustrations allowed me to try a few different approaches and as long as everything was rendered flat or had minimal shading, I could combine different 2D and 3D techniques,” he concludes.

Exceptional Minds: Autistic students learn VFX, work on major feature films

After graduation, these artists have been working on projects for Marvel, Disney, Fox and HBO.

By Randi Altman

With an estimated 1 in 68 children in the US being born with some sort of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring, I think it’s fair to say that most people have been touched in some way by a child on the spectrum.

As a parent of a teenager with autism, I can attest to the fact that one of our biggest worries, the thing that keeps us up at night, is the question of independence. Will he be able to make a living? Will there be an employer who can see beyond his deficits to his gifts and exploit those gifts in the best possible way?

Enter Exceptional Minds, a school in Los Angeles that teaches young adults with autism how to create visual effects and animation while working as part of a team. This program recognizes how bright these young people are and how focused they can be, surrounds them with the right teachers and behavioral therapists, puts the right tools in their hands and lets them fly.

The school, which also has a VFX and animation studio that employs its graduates, was started in 2011 by a group of parents who have children on the spectrum. “They were looking for work opportunities for their kids, and quickly discovered they couldn’t find any. So they decided to start Exceptional Minds and prepare them for careers in animation and visual effects,” explains Susan Zwerman, the studio executive producer at Exceptional Minds and a long-time VFX producer whose credits include Broken Arrow, Alien Resurrection, Men of Honor, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guardian.

Since the program began, these young people have had the opportunity to work on some very high-profile films and TV programs. Recent credits include Game of Thrones, The Fate of the Furious and Doctor Strange, which was nominated for an Oscar for visual effects this year.

We reached out to Zwerman to find out more about this school, its studio and how they help young people with autism find a path to independence.

The school came first and then the studio?
Yes. We started training them for visual effects and animation and then the conversation turned to, “What do they do when they graduate?” That led to the idea to start a visual effects studio. I came on board two years ago to organize and set it up. It’s located downstairs from the school.

How do you pick who is suitable for the program?
We can only take 10 students each year, and unfortunately, there is a waiting list because we are the only program of its kind anywhere. We have a review process that our educators and teachers have in terms of assessing the student’s ability to be able to work in this area. You know, not everybody can function working on a computer for six or eight hours. There are different levels of the spectrum. So the higher functioning and the medium functioning are more suited for this work, which takes a lot of focus.

Students are vetted by our teachers and behavioral specialists, who take into account the student’s ability, as well as their enthusiasm for visual effects and animation — it’s very intense, and they have to be motivated.

Susie Zwerman (in back row, red hair) with artists in the Exceptional Minds studio.

I know that kids on the spectrum aren’t necessarily social butterflies, how do you teach them to work as a team?
Oh, that’s a really good question. We have what’s called our Work Readiness program. They practice interviewing, they practice working as a team, they learn about appearance, attitude, organization and how to problem solve in a work place.

A lot of it is all about working in a team, and developing their social skills. That’s something we really stress in terms of behavioral curriculum.

Can you describe how the school works?
It’s a three-year program. In the first year, they learn about the principles of design and using programs like Adobe’s Flash and Photoshop. In Flash, they study 2D animation and in Photoshop they learn how to do backgrounds for their animation work.

During year two, they learn how to work in a production pipeline. They are given a project that the class works on together, and then they learn how to edit using Adobe Premiere Pro and compositing on Adobe After Effects.

In the third year, they are developing their skills in 3D via Autodesk Maya and compositing with The Foundry’s Nuke. So they learn the way we work in the studio and our pipeline, as well as preparing their portfolios for the workplace. At the end of three years, each student completes their training with a demo reel and resume of their work.

Who helps with the reels and resumes?
Their teachers supervise that process and help them with editing and picking the best pieces for their reel. Having a reel is important for many reasons. While many students will work in our studio for a year after graduation, I was able to place some directly into the work environment because their talent was so good… and their reel was so good.

What is the transition like from school to studio?
They graduate in June and we transition many of them to the studio, where they learn about deadlines and get paid for their work. Here, many experience independence for the first time. We do a lot of 2D-type visual effects clean-up work. We give them shots to work on and test them for the first month to see how they are doing. That’s when we decide if they need more training.

The visual effects side of the studio deals with paint work, wire and rod removal and tracker or marker removals — simple composites — plus a lot of rotoscoping and some greenscreen keying. We also do end title credits for the major movies.

We just opened the animation side of the studio in 2016, so it’s still in the beginning stages, but we’re doing 2D animation. We are not a 3D studio… yet! The 2D work we’ve done includes music videos, Websites, Power Points and some stuff for the LA Zoo. We are gearing up for major projects.

How many work in the studio?
Right now, we have about 15 artists at workstations in our current studio. Some of these will be placed on the outside, but that’s part of using strategic planning in the future to figure out how much expansion we want to do over the next five years.

Thanks to your VFX background, you have many existing relationships with the major studios. Can you talk about how that has benefitted Exceptional Minds?
We have had so much support from the studios; they really want to help us get work for the artists. We started out with Fox, then Disney and then HBO for television. Marvel Studios is one of our biggest fans. Marvel’s Victoria Alonso is a big supporter, so much so that we gave her our Ed Asner Award last June.

Once we started to do tracker marker and end title credits for Marvel, it opened doors. People say, “Well, if you work for Marvel, you could work for us.” So she has been so instrumental in our success.

What were the Fox and Marvel projects?
Our very first client was Fox and we did tracker removals for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — that was about three years ago. Marvel happened about two years ago and our first job for them was on Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What are some of the other projects Exceptional Minds has worked on?
We worked on Doctor Strange, providing tracker marker removals and end credits. We worked on Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Pete’s Dragon, Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and X-Men: Apocalypse.

Thanks to HBO’s Holly Schiffer we did a lot of Game of Thrones work. She has also been a huge supporter of ours.

It’s remarkable how far you guys have come in a short amount of time. Can you talk about how you ended up at Exceptional Minds?
I used to be DGA production manager/location manager and then segued into visual effects as a freelance VFX producer for all the major studios. About three years ago, my best friend Yudi Bennett, who is one of the founders of Exceptional Minds, convinced me to leave my career and  come here to help set up the studio. I was also tasked with producing, scheduling and budgeting work to come into the studio. For me, personally, this has been a spiritual journey. I have had such a good career in the industry, and this is my way of giving back.

So some of these kids move on to other places?
After they have worked in the studio for about a year, or sometimes longer, I look to have them placed at an outside studio. Some of them will stay here at our studio because they may not have the social skills to work on the outside.

Five graduates have been placed so far and they are working full time at various productions studios and visual effects facilities in Los Angeles. We have also had graduates in internships at Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

One student is at Marvel, and others are at Stargate Studios, Mr. Wolf and New Edit. To be able to place our artists on the outside is our ultimate goal. We love to place them because it’s sort of life changing. For example, one of the first students we placed, Kevin, is at Stargate. He moved out of his parents’ apartment, he is traveling by himself to and from the studio, he is getting raises and he is moving up as a rotoscope artist.

What is the tuition like?
Students pay about 50 percent and we fundraise the other 50 percent. We also have scholarships for those that can’t afford it. We have to raise a lot of money to support the efforts of the school and studio.

Do companies donate gear?
When we first started, Adobe donated software. That’s how we were able to fund the school before the studio was up and running. Now we’re on an educational plan with them where we pay the minimum. Autodesk and The Foundry also give us discounts or try to donate licenses to us. In terms of hardware, we have been working with Melrose Mac, who is giving us discounts on computers for the school and studio.


Check out Exceptional Minds Website for more info.