Category Archives: motion graphics

Updating the long-running Ford F-150 campaign

Giving a decade-long very successful campaign a bit of a goose presents unique challenges, including maintaining tone and creative continuity while bringing a fresh perspective. To help with the launch of the new 2018 Ford F-150, Big Block director Paul Trillo brought all of his tools to the table, offering an innovative spin to the campaign.

Big Block worked closely with agency GTB, from development to previz, live-action, design, editorial, all the way through color and finish.

Trillo wanted to maintain the tone and voice of the original campaign while adding a distinct technical style and energy. Dynamic camera movement and quick editing helped bring new vitality to the “Built Ford Tough” concept.

Technically challenging camera moves help guide the audience through distinct moments. While previous spots relied largely on motion graphics, Trillo’s used custom camera rigs on real locations.

Typography remained a core of the spots, all underscored by an array of stop-motion, hyperlapse, dolly zooms, drone footage, camera flips, motion control and match frames.

Premiere was used for editing. CG was a combination of Maya and 3ds Max. Compositing was done in Nuke and Flame with finishing in Flame. 

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.

Dell 6.15

Behind the Title: Artist Jayse Hansen

NAME: Jayse Hansen

COMPANY: Jayse Design Group

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I specialize in designing and animating completely fake-yet-advanced-looking user interfaces, HUDs (head-up displays) and holograms for film franchises such as The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman: Homecoming, Big Hero 6, Ender’s Game and others.

On the side, this has led to developing untraditional, real-world, outside-the-rectangle type UIs, mainly with companies looking to have an edge in efficiency/data-storytelling and to provide a more emotional connection with all things digital.

Iron Man

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Designer/Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Mainly, I try to help filmmakers (or companies) figure out how to tell stories in quick reads with visual graphics. In a film, we sometimes only have 24 frames (one second) to get information across to the audience. It has to look super complex, but it has to be super clear at the same time. This usually involves working with directors, VFX supervisors, editorial and art directors.

With real-world companies, the way I work is similar. I help figure out what story can be told visually with the massive amount of data we have available to us nowadays. We’re all quickly finding that data is useless without some form of engaging story and a way to quickly ingest, make sense of and act on that data. And, of course, with design-savvy users, a necessary emotional component is that the user interface looks f’n rad.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
A lot of R&D! Movie audiences have become more sophisticated, and they groan if a fake UI seems outlandish, impossible or Playskool cartoon-ish. Directors strive to not insult their audience’s intelligence, so we spend a lot of time talking to experts and studying real UIs in order to ground them in reality while still making them exciting, imaginative and new.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Research, breaking down scripts and being able to fully explore and do things that have never been done before. I love the challenge of mixing strong design principles with storytelling and imagination.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Paperwork!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Early morning and late nights. I like to jam on design when everyone else is sleeping.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I actually can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s what I dream about and obsess about day and night. And I have since I was little. So I’m pretty lucky that they pay me well for it!

If I lost my sight, I’d apply for Oculus or Meta brain implants and live in the AR/VR world to keep creating visually.

SO YOU KNEW THIS WAS YOUR PATH EARLY ON?
When I was 10 I learned that they used small models for the big giant ships in Star Wars. Mind blown! Suddenly, it seemed like I could also do that!

As a kid I would pause movies and draw all the graphic parts of films, such as the UIs in the X-wings in Star Wars, or the graphics on the pilot helmets. I never guessed this was actually a “specialty niche” until I met Mark Coleran, an amazing film UI designer who coined the term “FUI” (Fictional User Interface). Once I knew it was someone’s “everyday” job, I didn’t rest until I made it MY everyday job. And it’s been an insanely great adventure ever since.

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT FUI AND WHAT IT MEANS?
FUI stands for Fictional (or Future, Fantasy, Fake) User Interface. UIs have been used in films for a long time to tell an audience many things, such as: their hero can’t do what they need to do (Access Denied) or that something is urgent (Countdown Timer), or they need to get from point A to point B, or a threat is “incoming” (The Map).

Mockingjay Part I

As audiences are getting more tech-savvy, the potential for screens to act as story devices has developed, and writers and directors have gotten more creative. Now, entire lengths of story are being told through interfaces, such as in The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Part I where Katniss, Peeta, Beetee and President Snow have some of their most tense moments.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The most recent projects I can talk about are Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, both with the Cantina Creative team and Marvel. For Guardians 2, I had a ton of fun designing and animating various screens, including Rocket, Gamora and Star-Lord’s glass screens and the large “Drone Tactical Situation Display” holograms for the Sovereign (gold people). Spider-Man was my favorite superhero as a child, so I was honored to be asked to define the “Stark-Designed” UI design language of the HUDs, holograms and various AR overlays.

I spent a good amount of time researching the comic book version of Spider-man. His suit and abilities are actually quite complex, and I ended up writing a 30-plus page guide to all of its functions so I could build out the HUD and blueprint diagrams in a way that made sense to Marvel fans.

In the end, it was a great challenge to blend the combination of the more military Stark HUDs for Iron Man, which I’m very used to designing, and a new, slightly “webby” and somewhat cute “training-wheels” UI that Stark designed for the young Peter Parker. I loved the fact that in the film they played up the humor of a teenager trying to understand the complexities of Stark’s UIs.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the one I was most proud to be a part of. It was my one bucket list film to work on from childhood, and I got to work with some of the best talents in the business. Not only JJ Abrams and his production team at Bad Robot, but with my longtime industry friends Navarro Parker and Andrew Kramer.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON?
As always, we used a ton of Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe’s After Effects and Illustrator and Element 3D to pull off rather complex and lengthy design sequences such as the Starkiller Base hologram and the R2D2/BB8 “Map to Luke Skywalker” holograms.

Cinema 4D was essential in allowing us to be super creative while still meeting rather insane deadlines. It also integrates so well with the Adobe suite, which allowed us to iterate really quickly when the inevitable last-minute design changes came flying in. I would do initial textures in Adobe Illustrator, then design in C4D, and transfer that into After Effects using the Element 3D plugin. It was a great workflow.

YOU ALSO CREATE VR AND AR CONTENT. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?
Yes! Finally, AR and VR are allowing what I’ve been doing for years in film to actually happen in the real world. With a Meta (AR) or Oculus (VR) you can actually walk around your UI like an Iron Man hologram and interact with it like the volumetric UI’s we did for Ender’s Game.

For instance, today with Google Earth VR you can use a holographic mapping interface like in The Hunger Games to plan your next vacation. With apps like Medium, Quill, Tilt Brush or Gravity Sketch you can design 3D parts for your robot like Hiro did in Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6

While wearing a Meta 2, you can surround yourself with multiple monitors of content and pull 3D models from them and enlarge them to life size.

So we have a deluge of new abilities, but most designers have only designed on flat traditional monitors or phone screens. They’re used to the two dimensions of up and down (X and Y), but have never had the opportunity to use the Z axis. So you have all kinds of new challenges like, “What does this added dimension do for my UI? How is it better? Why would I use it? And what does the back of a UI look like when other people are looking at it?”

For instance, in the Iron Man HUD, most of the time I was designing for when the audience is looking at Tony Stark, which is the back of the UI. But I also had to design it from the side. And it all had to look proper, of course, from the front. UI design becomes a bit like product design at this point.

In AR and VR, similar design challenges arise. When we are sharing volumetric UIs — we will see other people’s UIs from the back. At times, we want to be able to understand them, and at other times, they should be disguised, blurred or shrouded for privacy reasons.

How do you design when your UI can take up the whole environment? How can a UI give you important information without distracting you from the world around you? How do you deal with additive displays where black is not a color you can use? And on and on. These are all things we tackle with each film, so we have a bit of a head start in those areas.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I love tech, but it would be fun to be stuck with just a pen, paper and a book… for a while, anyway.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m on Twitter (@jayse_), Instagram (@jayse_) and Pinterest (skyjayse). Aside from that I also started a new FUI newsletter to discuss some behind the scenes of this type of work.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Heck yeah. Lately, I find myself working to Chillstep and Deep House playlists on Spotify. But check out The Cocteau Twins. They sing in a “non-language,” and it’s awesome.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I chill with my best friend and fiancé, Chelsea. We have a rooftop wet-bar area with a 360-degree view of Las Vegas from the hills. We try to go up each evening at sunset with our puppy Bella and just chill. Sometimes it’s all fancy-like with a glass of wine and fruit. Chelsea likes to make it all pretty.

It’s a long way from just 10 years ago where we were hunting spare-change in the car to afford 99-cent nachos from Taco Bell, so we’re super appreciative of where we’ve come. And because of that, no matter how many times my machine has crashed, or how many changes my client wants — we always make time for just each other. It’s important to keep perspective and realize your work is not life or death, even though in films sometimes they try to make it seem that way.

It’s important to always have something that is only for you and your loved ones that nobody can take away. After all, as long as we’re healthy and alive, life is good!


Heidi Netzley joins We Are Royale as director of biz dev

Creative agency We Are Royale has added Heidi Netzley as director of business development. She will be responsible for helping to evolve the company’s business development process and building its direct-to-brand vertical.

Most recently, Netzley held a similar position at Digital Kitchen, where she expanded and diversified the company’s client base and also led projects like a digital documentary series for Topgolf and show launch campaigns for CBS and E! Network. Prior to that, she was business development manager at Troika, where she oversaw brand development initiatives and broadcast network rebrands for the agency’s network clients, including ABC, AwesomenessTV, Audience Network and Sundance Cinemas.

Netzley launched her career at Disney/ABC Television Group within the entertainment marketing division. During her seven-year tenure, she held various roles ranging from marketing specialist to manager of creative services, where she helped manage the brand across multi-platform marketing campaigns for all of ABC’s primetime properties.

“With our end-to-end content creation capabilities, we can be both a strategic and creative partner to other types of brands, and I look forward to helping make that happen,” says Netzley.

When Netzley isn’t training for the 2018 LA Marathon, she’s busy fundraising for causes close to her heart, including the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for which she was nominated as the organization’s 2016 Woman of the Year. She currently sits on the society’s leadership committee.


Red Giant Trapcode Suite 14 now available

By Brady Betzel

Red Giant has released an update to its Adobe After Effects focused plug-in toolset Trapcode Suite 14, including new versions of Trapcode Particular and Form as well as an update to Trapcode Tao.

The biggest updates seem to be in Red Giant’s flagship product Trapcode Particular 3. Trapcode Particular is now GPU accelerated through OpenGL with a proclaimed 4X speed increase over previous versions. The Designer has been re-imagined and seems to take on a more Magic Bullet-esque look and feel. You can now include multiple particle systems inside the same 3D space, which will add to the complexity and skill level needed to work with Particular.

You can now also load your own 3D model OBJ files as emitters in the Designer panel or use any image in your comp as a particle. There are also a bunch of new presets that have been added to start you on your Particular system building journey — over 210 new presets, to be exact.

Trapcode Form has been updated to version 3 with the updated Designer, ability to add 3D models and animated OBJ sequences as particle grids, load images to be used as a particle, new graphing system to gain more precise control over the system and over 70 presets in the designer.

Trapcode Tao has been updated with depth of field effects to allow for that beautiful camera-realistic blur that really sets pro After Effects users apart.

Trapcode Particular 3 and Form 3 are paid updates while Tao is free for existing users. If you want to only update Tao make sure you only select Tao for the update otherwise you will install new Trapcode plug-ins over your old ones.

Trapcode Particular 3 is available now for $399. The update is $149 and the academic version is $199. You can also get it as a part of the Trapcode Suite 14 for $999.

Trapcode Form 3 is available now for $199. The update is $99 and the academic costs $99. It can be purchased as part of the Trapcode Suite 14 for $999.

Check out the new Trapcode Suite 14 bundle.

 


Maxon debuts Cinema 4D Release 19 at SIGGRAPH

Maxon was at this year’s SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles showing Cinema 4D Release 19 (R19). This next-generation of Maxon’s pro 3D app offers a new viewport and a new Sound Effector, and additional features for Voronoi Fracturing have been added to the MoGraph toolset. It also boasts a new Spherical Camera, the integration of AMD’s ProRender technology and more. Designed to serve individual artists as well as large studio environments, Release 19 offers a streamlined workflow for general design, motion graphics, VFX, VR/AR and all types of visualization.

With Cinema 4D Release 19, Maxon also introduced a few re-engineered foundational technologies, which the company will continue to develop in future versions. These include core software modernization efforts, a new modeling core, integrated GPU rendering for Windows and Mac, and OpenGL capabilities in BodyPaint 3D, Maxon’s pro paint and texturing toolset.

More details on the offerings in R19:
Viewport Improvements provide artists with added support for screen-space reflections and OpenGL depth-of-field, in addition to the screen-space ambient occlusion and tessellation features (added in R18). Results are so close to final render that client previews can be output using the new native MP4 video support.

MoGraph enhancements expand on Cinema 4D’s toolset for motion graphics with faster results and added workflow capabilities in Voronoi Fracturing, such as the ability to break objects progressively, add displaced noise details for improved realism or glue multiple fracture pieces together more quickly for complex shape creation. An all-new Sound Effector in R19 allows artists to create audio-reactive animations based on multiple frequencies from a single sound file.

The new Spherical Camera allows artists to render stereoscopic 360° virtual reality videos and dome projections. Artists can specify a latitude and longitude range, and render in equirectangular, cubic string, cubic cross or 3×2 cubic format. The new spherical camera also includes stereo rendering with pole smoothing to minimize distortion.

New Polygon Reduction works as a generator, so it’s easy to reduce entire hierarchies. The reduction is pre-calculated, so adjusting the reduction strength or desired vertex count is extremely fast. The new Polygon Reduction preserves vertex maps, selection tags and UV coordinates, ensuring textures continue to map properly and providing control over areas where polygon detail is preserved.

Level of Detail (LOD) Object features a new interface element that lets customers define and manage settings to maximize viewport and render speed, create new types of animations or prepare optimized assets for game workflows. Level of Detail data exports via the FBX 3D file exchange format for use in popular game engines.

AMD’s Radeon ProRender technology is now seamlessly integrated into R19, providing artists a cross-platform GPU rendering solution. Though just the first phase of integration, it provides a useful glimpse into the power ProRender will eventually provide as more features and deeper Cinema 4D integration are added in future releases.

Modernization efforts in R19 reflect Maxon’s development legacy and offer the first glimpse into the company’s planned ‘under-the-hood’ future efforts to modernize the software, as follows:

  • Revamped Media Core gives Cinema 4D R19 users a completely rewritten software core to increase speed and memory efficiency for image, video and audio formats. Native support for MP4 video without QuickTime delivers advantages to preview renders, incorporate video as textures or motion track footage for a more robust workflow. Export for production formats, such as OpenEXR and DDS, has also been improved.
  • Robust Modeling offers a new modeling core with improved support for edges and N-gons can be seen in the Align and Reverse Normals commands. More modeling tools and generators will directly use this new core in future versions.
  • BodyPaint 3D now uses an OpenGL painting engine giving R19 artists painting color and adding surface details in film, game design and other workflows, a real-time display of reflections, alpha, bump or normal, and even displacement, for improved visual feedback and texture painting. Redevelopment efforts to improve the UV editing toolset in Cinema 4D continue with the first-fruits of this work available in R19 for faster and more efficient options to convert point and polygon selections, grow and shrink UV point selects, and more.

Liron Ashkenazi-Eldar joins The Artery as design director  

Creative studio The Artery has brought on Liron Ashkenazi-Eldar as lead design director. In her new role, she will spearhead the formation of a department that will focus on design and branding. Ashkenazi-Eldar and team are also developing in-house design capabilities to support the company’s VFX, experiential and VR/AR content, as well as website development, including providing motion graphics, print and social campaigns.

“While we’ve been well established for many years in the areas of production and VFX, our design team can now bring a new dimension to our company,” says Ashkenazi-Eldar, who is based in The Artery’s NYC office. “We are seeking brand clients with strong identities so that we can offer them exciting, new and even weird creative solutions that are not part of the traditional branding process. We will be taking a completely new approach to branding — providing imagery that is more emotional and more personal, instead of just following an existing protocol. Our goal is to provide a highly immersive experience for our new brand clients.”

Originally from Israel, the 27-year-old Ashkenazi-Eldar is a recent graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts with a BFA degree in Design. She is the winner of a 2017 ADC Silver Cube Award from The One Club, in the category 2017 Design: Typography, for her contributions to a project titled Asa Wife Zine. She led the Creative Team that submitted the project via the School of Visual Arts.

 

FMPX8.14

Nutmeg and Nickelodeon team up to remix classic SpongeBob songs

New York creative studio Nutmeg Creative was called on by Nickelodeon to create trippy music-video-style remixes of some classic SpongeBob SquarePants songs for the kids network’s YouTube channel. Catchy, sing-along kids’ songs have been an integral part of SpongeBob since its debut in 1999.

Though there are dozens of unofficial fan remixes on YouTube, Nickelodeon frequently turns to Nutmeg for official remixes: vastly reimagined versions accompanied by trippy, trance-inducing visuals that inevitably go viral. It all starts with the music, and the music is inspired by the show.

Infused with the manic energy of classic Warner Bros. Looney Toons, SpongeBob is simultaneously slapstick and surreal with an upbeat vibe that has attracted a cult-like following from the get-go. Now in its 10th season, SpongeBob attracts fans that span two generations: kids who grew up watching SpongeBob now have kids of their own.

The show’s sensibility and multi-generational audience informs the approach of Nutmeg sound designer, mixer and composer JD McMillin, whose remixes of three popular and vintage SpongeBob songs have become viral hits: Krusty Krab Pizza and Ripped My Pants from 1999, and The Campfire Song Song (yes, that’s correct) from 2004. With musical styles ranging from reggae, hip-hop and trap/EDM to stadium rock, drum and bass and even Brazilian dance, McMillin’s remixes expand the appeal of the originals with ear candy for whole new audiences. That’s why, when Nickelodeon provides a song to Nutmeg, McMillin is given free rein to remix it.

“No one from Nick is sitting in my studio babysitting,” he says. “They could, but they don’t. They know that if they let me do my thing they will get something great.”

“Nickelodeon gives us a lot of creative freedom,” says executive producer Mike Greaney. “The creative briefs are, in a word, brief. There are some parameters, of course, but, ultimately, they give us a track and ask us to make something new and cool out of it.”

All three remixes have collectively racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, with The Campfire Song Song remix generating 655K views in less than 24 hours on the SpongeBob Facebook page.

McMillin credits the success to the fact that Nutmeg serves as a creative collaborative force: what he delivers is more reinvention than remix.

“We’re not just mixing stuff,” he says. “We’re making stuff.”

Once Nick signs off on the audio, that approach continues with the editorial. Editors Liz Burton, Brian Donnelly and Drew Hankins each bring their own unique style and sensibility, with graphic Effects designer Stephen C. Walsh adding the finishing touches.

But Greaney isn’t always content with cut, shaken and stirred clips from the show, going the extra mile to deliver something unexpected. Case in point: he recently donned a pair of red track pants and high-kicked in front of a greenscreen to add a suitably outrageous element to the Ripped My Pants remix.

In terms of tools used for audio work, Nutmeg used Ableton Live, Native Instruments Maschine and Avid Pro Tools. For editorial they called on Avid Media Composer, Sapphire and Boris FX. Graphics were created in Adobe After Effects, and Mocha Pro.


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.

Aardman creates short film, struts its stuff

By Randi Altman

All creative studios strive for creative ways to show off their talent and offerings, and London-based Aardman is no exception. Famous for its stop-motion animation work (remember the Wallace and Gromit films?), this studio now provides so much more, including live-action, CG, 2D animation and character creation.

Danny Capozzi

In order to help hammer home all of their offerings, and in hopes of breaking that stop-motion stereotype, Aardman has created a satirical short film, called Visualize This, depicting a conference call between a production company and an advertising agency, giving the studio the ability to show off the range of solutions they can provide for clients. Each time the fictional client suggests something, that visual pops up on the screen, whether it’s adding graffiti to a snail’s shell or textured type or making a giant monster out of CG cardboard boxes.

We reached out to Aardman’s Danny Capozzi, who directed the short, to find out more about this project and the studio in general.

How did the idea for this short come about?
I felt that the idea of making a film based on a conference call was something that would resonate with a lot of people in any creative industry. The continuous spit balling of ideas and suggestions would make a great platform to demonstrate a lot of different styles that myself and Aardman can produce. Aardman is well known for its high level of stop-motion/Claymation work, but we do CGI, live action and 2D just as well. We also create brand new ways of animating by combining styles and techniques.

Why was now the right time to do this?
I think we are living in a time of uncertainty, and this film really expresses that. We do a lot of procrastinating. We have the luxury to change our minds, our tastes and our styles every two minutes. With so much choice of everything at our fingertips we can no longer make quick decisions and stick to them. There’s always that sense of “I love this… it’s perfect, but what if there’s something better?” I think Visualize This sums it up.

You guys work with agencies and directly with brands — how would you break that up percentage wise?
The large majority of our advertising work still comes through agencies, although we are increasingly doing one-off projects for clients who seek us out for our storytelling and characters. It’s hard to give a percentage on it because the one-offs vary so much in size that they can skew the numbers and give the wrong impression. More often than not, they aren’t advertising projects either and tend to fall into the realm of short films for organizations, which can be either charities, museums or visitor attractions, or even mass participation arts projects and events.

Can you talk about making the short? Your workflow?
When I first pitched the idea to our executive producer Heather Wright, she immediately loved the idea. After a bit of tweaking on the script and the pace of the dialogue we soon went into production. The film was achieved during some down time from commercial productions and took about 14 weeks on and off over several months.

What tools did you call on?
We used a large variety of techniques CGI, stop-motion, 2D, live action, timelapse photography and greenscreen. Compositing and CG was via Maya, Houdini and Nuke software. We used HDRI (High Dynamic Range Images). We also used Adobe’s After Effects, Premiere, Photoshop, and Illustrator, along with clay sculpting, model making and blood, sweat and, of course, some tears.

What was the most complicated shot?
The glossy black oil shot. This could have been done in CGI with a very good team of modelers and lighters and compositors, but I wanted to achieve this in-camera.

Firstly, I secretly stole some of my son Vinny’s toys away to Aardman’s model-making workshop and spray painted them black. Sorry Vinny! I hot glued the black toys onto a black board (huge mistake!), you’ll see why later. Then I cleared Asda out of cheap cooking oil — 72 litres of the greasy stuff. I mixed it with black oil paint and poured it into a casket.

We then rigged the board of toys to a motion control rig. This would act as the winch to raise the toys out of the black oily soup. Another motion control was rigged to do the panning shot with the camera attached to it. This way we get a nice up and across motion in-camera.

We lowered the board of toys into the black soup and the cables that held it up sagged and released the board of toys. Noooooo! I watched them sink. Then to add insult to injury, the hot glue gave way and the toys floated up. How do you glue something to an oily surface?? You don’t! You use screws. After much tinkering it was ready to be submerged again. After a couple of passes, it worked. I just love the way the natural glossy highlights move over the objects. All well worth doing in-camera for real, and so much more rewarding.

What sort of response has it received?
I’m delighted. It has really travelled since we launched a couple of weeks ago, and it’s fantastic to keep seeing it pop up in my news feed on various social media sites! I think we are on over 20,000 YouTube views and 40,000 odd views on Facebook.