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Category Archives: Animation

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.

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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


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.

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.

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.

The new Tom and Jerry Show score combines vintage and modern sounds

By Jennifer Walden

Tom and Jerry have been locked in conflict since the 1940s when animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera pitted cat against mouse in a theatrical animated series for MGM’s cartoon studio. Their Academy Award-winning Tom and Jerry short films spurred numerous iterations over the years by different directors and animation studios.

The latest reboot, The Tom and Jerry Show, produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Renegade Animation, and directed by Darrell Van Citters, started airing on Cartoon Network in 2014. It didn’t really come into its own until Season 2, which began airing in 2016.

Vivek Maddala

Vivek Maddala is co-composer on the series. “The storytelling is getting better and better. Ostensibly, it’s a children’s show but what I’m finding is the writers seem to be having a lot of fun with allegorical references. It features layered storytelling that children probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate. For example, Tom’s love interest, a cat named Toodles, is an aspiring dancer by night but her day job is being a spot welder for heavy construction. Obviously, this is a Flashdance reference, so I was able to thread oblique references to Flashdance in the score.”

New episodes of The Tom and Jerry Show are currently airing on Cartoon Network, and Maddala will be composing 39 of the episodes in Season 3.

As with Hanna-Barbera’s animated theatrical shorts, the characters of Tom and Jerry rarely talk, although other recurring characters are voiced. Music plays an essential role in describing the characters’ actions and reactions. Maddala’s compositions are reminiscent of composer Scott Bradley’s approach to the original Tom and Jerry animations. Comfortable cartoon tropes like trumpet blasts and trombone slides, pizzicato plucks and timpani bounces punctuate a string-and woodwind-driven score. “Scott Bradley’s scoring technique is the gold standard. It is beautiful writing,” he says.

In their initial conversations, director Van Citters regularly referenced Bradley’s scoring technique. Maddala studied those scores carefully and frequently revisits them while writing his own scores for the show. Maddala also listens to “music that is completely unrelated, like Led Zeppelin or Marvin Gaye, to help jog my imagination. The music I’m writing for the show very much sounds like me. I’m taking some of the approaches that Scott Bradley used but, ultimately, I am using my own musical vocabulary. I have a certain way of hearing drama and hearing action, and that’s what the score sounds like.”

Maddala’s vintage-meets-modern compositions incorporate contemporary instrumentation and genres like blues guitar for when the cool stray cat comes onto the scene, and an electro-organ of the muziak persuasion for a snack food TV commercial. His musical references to Flashdance can heard in the “Cat Dance Fever” episode, and he gives a nod to Elmer Bernstein’s score for The Magnificent Seven in the episode “Uncle Pecos Rides Again.”

Each new musical direction or change of instrument doesn’t feel abrupt. It all melts into the quintessential Tom and Jerry small orchestra sound. “Darrell Van Citters and Warner Bros. are giving me quite a bit of autonomy in coming up with my own musical solutions to the action on-screen and the situations that the characters are experiencing. I’m able to draw from a lot of different things that inspire me,” explains Maddala.

Instruments & Tools
His score combines live recordings with virtual instruments. His multi-room studio in Los Angeles houses a live room, his main composing room and a separate piano room. Maddala keeps a Yamaha C3 grand piano and a drum kit always mic’d up so he can perform those parts whenever he needs. He also records small chamber groups there, like double-string quartets and woodwind quartets. The string ensembles sometimes consist of seven violins (four first and three second), three violas and three cellos, captured using a Blumlein pair recording configuration (a stereo recording technique that produces a realistic stereo image) with ribbon mics to evoke a vintage sound. He chooses AEA N8 ribbon mics matched with AEA’s RPQ 500 mic pre-amps.

Maddala also uses several large diaphragm tube condenser mics he designed for Avid years ago, such as the Sputnik. “The Sputnik is a cross between a classic Neumann U47 capsule with the original M7 design, and an AKG C 12 mic with the original CK12 capsule. The capsule is sort of like a cross between those two mics. The head amp is based on the Telefunken ELA M 251.”

Maddala’s composing room.

Maddala uses three different DAWs. He composes in Cakewalk’s Sonar on a PC and runs video through Steinberg’s Cubase on a Mac. The two systems are locked together via SMPTE timecode. On the Mac, he also runs Avid Pro Tools 12 for delivering stems to the dub stage. “The dub is done in Pro Tools so they usually ask to have a Pro Tools session delivered to them. Once the score is approved, I copy the stems into a Pro Tools session so it’s self-contained, save that and post it to the FTP server.”

Maddala got his start in composing for film by scoring classic silent films from the 1920s, which Warner Bros. and TCM restored in order to release them to today’s audiences. He worked with recording/mix engineer Dan Blessinger on those silent films, and Blessinger — the sound designer on The Tom and Jerry Show, recommended Maddala for the gig. “A lot of the classic silent films from the 1920s never had a score associated with them because the technology didn’t exist to marry sound and picture. About 10 or 15 years ago, when TCM was releasing these films to modern audiences, they needed new scores. So I started doing that, which built up my chops for scoring something like a Tom & Jerry cartoon where there is wall-to-wall music,” concludes Maddala.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer.

Behind the Title: Artist/Creative Director Barton Damer

NAME: Barton Damer

COMPANY: Dallas-based  Already Been Chewed

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
AlreadyBeenChewed is a boutique studio that I founded in 2010. We have created a variety of design, motion graphics and 3D animated content for iconic brands, including Nike, Vans, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Marvel Comics. Check out our motion reel.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Owner/Founding Artist/Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My job is to set the vibe for the types of projects, clients and style of work we create. I’m typically developing the creative, working with our chief strategy officer to land projects and then directing the team to execute the creative for the project.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
When you launch out on your own, it’s surprising how much non-creative work there is to do. It’s no longer good enough to be great at what you do (being an artist). Now you have to be excellent with communication skills, people skills, business, organization, marketing, sales and leadership skills. It’s surprising how much you have to juggle in the course of a single day and still hit deadlines.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Developing a solution that will not only meet the clients needs but also push us forward as a studio is always exciting. My favorite part of any job is making sure it looks amazing. That’s my passion. The way it animates is secondary. If it doesn’t look good to begin with, it won’t look better just because you start animating it.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Dealing with clients that stress me out for various reasons —whether it’s because they are scope creeping or not realizing that they signed a contract… or not paying a bill. Fortunately, I have a team of great people that help relieve that stress for me, but it can still be stressful knowing that they are fighting those battles for the company. We get a lot of clients who will sign a contract without even realizing what they agreed to. It’s always stressful when you have to remind them what they signed.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Night time! That’s when the freaks come out! I do my best creative at night. No doubt!

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Real estate investing/fixing up/flipping. I like all aspects of designing, including interior design. I’ve designed and renovated three different studio spaces for Already Been Chewed over the last seven years.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I blew out my ACL and tore my meniscus while skateboarding. I wanted to stay involved with my friends that I skated with knowing that surgery and rehab would have me off the board for at least a full year. During that time, I began filming and editing skate videos of my friends. I quickly discovered that the logging and capturing of footage was my least favorite part, but I loved adding graphics and motion graphics to the skate videos. I then began to learn Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D.

At this time I was already a full-time graphic designer, but didn’t even really know what motion graphics were. I had been working professionally for about five or six years before making the switch from print design to animation. That was after dabbling in Flash animations and discovering I didn’t want to do code websites (this was around 2003-2004).

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently worked with Nike on various activations for the Super Bowl, March Madness and got to create motion graphics for storefronts as part of the Equality Campaign they launched during Black History Month. It was cool to see our work in the flagship Niketown NYC store while visiting New York a few weeks ago.

We are currently working on a variety of projects for Nike, Malibu Boats, Training Mask, Marvel and DC Comics licensed product releases, as well as investing heavily in GPUs and creating 360 animated videos for VR content.

HOW DID THE NIKE EQUALITY MOTION GRAPHICS CAMPAIGN COME TO FRUITION?
Nike had been working on a variety of animated concepts to bring the campaign to life for storefronts. They had a library of animation styles that had already been done that they felt were not working. Our job was to come up with something that would benefit the campaign style.

We recreated 16 athlete portraits in 3D so that we could cast light and shadows across their faces to slowly reveal them from black and also created a seamless video loop transitioning between the athlete portraits and various quotes about equality.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE MOTION GRAPHICS SCOPE OF THE NIKE EQUALITY CAMPAIGN, AND THE SOFTWARE USED?
The video we created was used in various Nike flagship stores — Niketown NYC, Soho and LA, to name a few. We reformatted the video to work in a variety of sizes. We were able to see the videos at Niketown NYC where it was on the front of the window displays. It was also used on large LED walls on the interior as well as a four-story vertical screen in store.

We created the portrait technique on all 16 athletes using Cinema 4D and Octane. The remainder of the video was animated in After Effects.

The portraits were sculpted in Cinema 4D and we used camera projection to accurately project real photos of the athletes onto the 3D portrait. This allowed us to keep 100 percent accuracy of the photos Nike provided, but be able to re-light and cast shadows accordingly to reveal the faces up from black.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s a tough one. Usually, it’s whatever the latest project is. We’re blessed to be working on some really fun projects. That being said… working on Vans 50th Anniversary campaign for the Era shoe is pretty epic! Especially since I am a long time skateboarder.

Our work was used globally on everything from POP displays to storefronts to interactive Website takeover and 3D animated spots for broadcast. It was amazing to see it being used across so many mediums.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A computer, my iPhone and speakers!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m very active on Instagram and Facebook. I chose to say “no” to Snapchat in hopes that it will go away so that I don’t have to worry about one more thing (he laughs), and twitter is pretty much dead for me these days. I log in once a month and see if I have any notifications. I also use Behance and LinkedIn a lot, and Dribbble once in a blue moon.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? IF SO, WHAT KIND?
My 25-year-old self would cyber bully me for saying this but soft Drake is “Too Good” these days. Loving Travis Scott and Migos among a long list of others.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
First I bought a swimming pool to help me get away from the computer/emails and swim laps with the kids. That worked for a while, but then I bought a convertible BMW to try to ease the tension and enjoy the wind through my hair. Once that wore off and the stress came back, I bought a puppy. Then I started doing yoga. A year later I bought another puppy.

Behind the Title: Director/Designer Ash Thorp

NAME: Ash Thorp (@ashthorp)

COMPANY: ALT Creative, Inc.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
ALT Creative is co-owned by my wife Monica and myself. She helps coordinate and handle the company operations, while I manage the creative needs of clients. We work with a select list of outside contractors as needed, mainly depending on the size and scale of the project.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I fulfill many roles, but if I had to summarize I would say I most commonly am hired for the role of director or designer.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Directing is about facilitating the team to achieve the best outcome on a given project. My ability to communicate with and engage my team toward a visionary goal is my top priority as a director. As a designer, I look at my role as an individual problem solver. My goal is to find the root of what is needed or requested and solve it using design as a mental process of solution.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I believe that directing is more about communication and not how well you can design, so many would be surprised by the amount of time and energy needed outside of “creative” tasks, such as emails, critiques, listening, observation and deep analysis.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
As a director, I love the freedom to expose the ideas in my mind to others and work closely with them to bring them to life. It’s immensely liberating and rewarding.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Redundancy often eats up my ambitions. Instructing my vision repeatedly to numerous teammates and partners can be taxing on my subconscious at times.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The late evening because that is often when I have my mind to myself and am free of outside world distractions and noise.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Nothing. I strongly believe that this is what I was put on earth to do. This is the path I have been designed and focused on since I was a child.

SO YOU KNEW EARLY ON THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I grew up with a very artistic family; my mother’s side of the family displays creative traits in one media or another. They were and still are all very deeply committed to supporting me in my creative endeavors. Based on my upbringing, it was a natural progression to also be a creative person.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
As for client projects that are publicly released, I most recently worked on the Assassin’s Creed feature film and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare video game.

For my own projects, I designed and co-directed a concept short for Lost Boy with Anthony Scott Burns. In addition, I released two personal projects: None is a short expression film devised to capture a tone and mood of finding oneself in a city of darkness, and Epoch
is an 11-minute space odyssey that merges my deep love of space and design.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
With Epoch being the most recently released project, I have received so many kind and congratulatory correspondences from viewers about how much they love the film. I am very proud of all the hard work and internal thought, development and personal growth it took to build this project with Chris Bjerre. I believe Epoch shows who I truly am, and I consider it one of the best projects of my personal career to date.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON FOR EPOCH?
We used a pretty wide spectrum of tools. Our general production tool kit was comprised of Adobe Photoshop for images and stills, texture building and 2D image editing; Adobe Bridge for reviewing frames and keeping a clear vision of the project; Adobe Premiere for editing everything from the beginning animatic to the final film; and, of course, our main staple in 3D was Maxon Cinema 4D, which we used to construct all of the final scenes and render everything using Octane Renderer.

We used Cinema 4D for everything — from building shots for the rough animatic to compiling entire scenes and shots for final render. We used it to animate the planets, moons, orbits, lights and the Vessel. It really is a rock-solid piece of software that I couldn’t imagine trying to build a film like Epoch without it. It allowed us to capture the animations, look, lighting and shots seamlessly from the project’s inception.

WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THIS WORK?
I am personally inspired by so many things. Epoch was a personal tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Carl Sagan, my love of space and space travel, classical sci-fi art and literature, and my personal love of graphic design all combined into one. We put tremendous effort into Epoch to pay proper homage to these things, yet also invite a new audience to experience something uniquely new. We hope you all enjoyed it!

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Internet, computers and physical traveling devices (like cars, planes).

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I try and limit my time spent on social media, but I have two Facebooks, Instagram, Twitter and a Behance account.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I frequently listen to music while I work as it helps me fall deep into my mentally focused work state of mind. The type of music varies as some genres work better than others because they trigger different emotions for different tasks. When I am in deep thought, I listen to composers that have no lyrics in their work that may pull away my mind’s focus. When I am doing ordinary tasks or busy work, I listen to anything from heavy metal to drum and bass. The scale of music really varies for me as it’s also often based on my current mood. Music is a big part of my workday and my life.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I actually let the stress in and let it shape my decision making. I feel if I run away from it or unwind my mind, it takes double the effort to go back in to work. I embrace it as being a part of the high consumption industry in which I have chosen to work. It’s not always ideal and is often very demanding, but I often let it be the spark of the fire of my work.

Digging Deep: Helping launch the OnePlus 3T phone

By Jonathan Notaro

It’s always a big deal when a company drops a new smartphone. The years of planning and development culminate in a single moment, and the consumers are left to judge whether or not the new device is worthy of praise and — more importantly — worthy of purchase.

For bigger companies like Google and Apple, a misstep with a new phone release can often amount to nothing more than a hiccup in their operations. But for newer upstarts like OnePlus, it’s a make or break event. When we got the call at Brand New School to develop a launch spot for the company’s 3T smartphone, along with the agency Carrot Creative, we didn’t hesitate to dive in.

The Idea
OnePlus has built a solid foundation of loyal fans with their past releases, but with the 3T they saw the chance to build their fanbase out to more everyday consumers who may not be as tech-obsessed as their existing fans. It is an entirely new offering and, as creatives, the chance to present such a technologically advanced device to a new, wider audience was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.

Carrot wanted to create something for OnePlus that gave viewers a unique sense of what the phone was capable of — to capture the energy, momentum and human element of the OnePlus 3T. The 3T is meant to be an extension of its owner, so this spot was designed to explore the parallels between man and machine. Doing this can run the risk of being cliché, so we opted for futuristic, abstract imagery that gets the point across effectively without being too heavy handed. We focused on representing the phone’s features that set it apart from other devices in this market, such as its powerful processor and its memory and storage capabilities.

How We Did It
Inspired by the brooding, alluring mood reflected in the design for the title sequence of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we set out to meld lavish shots of the OnePlus 3T with robotically-infused human anatomy, drawing up initial designs in Autodesk Maya and Maxon Cinema 4D.

When the project moved into the animation phase, we stuck with Maya and used Nuke for compositing. Type designs were done in Adobe Illustrator and animated in Adobe After Effects.

Collaboration is always a concern when there are this many different scenes and moving parts, but this was a particular challenge. With a CG-heavy production like this, there’s no room for error, so we had to make sure that all of the different artists were on the same page every step along the way.

Our CG supervisor Russ Wootton and technical director Dan Bradham led the way and compiled a crack team to make this thing happen. I may be biased, but they continue to amaze me with what they can accomplish.

The Final Product
The project was two-month production process. Along the way, we found that working with Carrot and the brand was a breath of fresh air, as they were very knowledgeable and amenable to what we had in mind. They afforded us the creative space to take a few risks and explore some more abstract, avant-garde imagery that I felt represented what they were looking to achieve with this project.

In the end, we created something that I hope cuts through the crowded landscape of product videos and appeals to both the brand’s diehard-tech-savvy following and consumers who may not be as deep into that world. (Check it out here.)

Fueled by the goal of conveying the underlying message of “raw power” while balancing the scales of artificial and human elements, we created something I believe is beautiful, compelling and completely unique. Ultimately though, the biggest highlight was seeing the positive reaction the piece received when it was released. Normally, reaction from consumers would be centered solely on the product, but to have the video receive praise from a very discerning audience was truly satisfying.


Jonathan Notaro is a director at Brand New School, a bicoastal studio that provides VFX, animation and branding. 

Alkemy X adds creative director Geoff Bailey

Alkemy X, which offers live-action production, design, high-end VFX and post services, has added creative director Geoff Bailey to its New York office, which has now almost doubled in staff. The expansion comes after Alkemy X served as the exclusive visual effects company on M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.

Alkemy X and Bailey started collaborating in 2016 when the two worked together on a 360 experiential film project for EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and brand consultancy BrandPie. Bailey was creative director on the project, which was commissioned for EY’s Strategic Growth Forum held in Palm Desert, California, last November. The project featured Alkemy X’s live-action, VFX, animation, design and editorial work.

“I enjoy creating at the convergence of many disciplines and look forward to leveraging my branding knowledge to support Alkemy X’s hybrid creation pipeline — from ideation and strategy, to live-action production, design and VFX,” says Bailey.

Most recently, Bailey was a creative director at Loyalkaspar, where he creatively led the launch campaign for A&E’s Bates Motel. He also served as creative director/designer on the title sequence for the American launch of A&E’s The Returned, and as CD/director on a series of launch spots for the debut of Vice Media’s TV channel Viceland.

Prior to that, Bailey freelanced for several New York design firms as a director, designer and animator. His freelance résumé includes work for HBO, Showtime, Hulu, ABC, Cinemax, HP, Jay-Z, U2, Travel Channel, Comedy Central, CourtTV, Fuse, AMC Networks, Kiehl’s and many more. Bailey holds an MFA in film production from Columbia University.

Behind the Title: Audiomotion managing director Brian Mitchell

NAME: Brian Mitchell

COMPANY: Oxford, UK-based Audiomotion

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Audiomotion has been around nearly 20 years, providing motion-captured character animation to video games, film, TV and a whole host of other applications.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Managing Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The job consists of many disciplines. All the usual forecasting and planning requirements, working closely with the management team to ensure we maintain the quality of service. I also get involved with the day-to-day running of the studio itself when time allows. I enjoy being part of the team especially on location shoots. We have a wide range of regular clients who are based all over the UK, Europe and beyond. I also like to get out and pay them a visit from time to time to maintain the relationship and make sure we’re aware of any new workflows and of any new opportunities for evolving our collaboration.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m not sure if it’s a surprise but as a small company we all get to wear several hats, which means there might be an odd occasion when I can sneak off to the workshop and help build some crazy props. Last time it was a full-size “mocap-friendly” helicopter.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The thing that gives me the most pleasure is the wide variety of characters, creatives, sports celebrities and actors that we work with. Whilst on screen the workflow appears very similar, the final results are pretty amazing. I have to say that on most occasions no two shoots are the same.

We have worked with the likes of Liam Neeson, Brian Cox and Andy Sirkis. Sport stars such as Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and Harry Kane, as well as Robbie Williams, Take That and Will.i.am to name a few, and I have to say that every one of them has been a pleasure to work with. We make it our business to ensure every client, actor and crew are supported and looked after from pre-production through the whole process to delivery and beyond if necessary.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I would say the admin. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good spreadsheet, I’m just not a fan of spending lots of time wading through a flood of emails or coming up with answers to this type thing!

From a shoot perspective, packing up from a horse capture location shoot. There’s a lot to do even though the party is over and you never know what you might step in!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I think for me it has to be first thing in the morning because I can get in early and get the jump on the day. I achieve far more that way.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I constantly have a list of alternative ventures floating around that occasionally get discussed over a beer with friends. I’m sure I would pick one of these to develop into something. There’s no shortage of ideas and opportunity, just a lack of time.

Liam Neeson, on set.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I had no idea until the opportunity presented itself some time back. I had shared the running of the company with one Mr. Michael Morris since 2003. Now I’m flying solo.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A Monster Calls, which opened in the US in October, 2016, was a great production to be a part of. We had Liam Neeson in the studio for two weeks and he was great to work with. There’s a real buzz when everything is in full swing: streaming realtime characters on screen and having the director, JA Bayona, exploring the virtual world with the virtual camera.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
Our in-house tracking software is very cool, my damn phone is a love-hate relationship, although I’d be lost without it, and the Bluetooth in the car makes life easy.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
The “usual suspects” — LinkedIn, Twitter and a little bit of Facebook

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
The tunes get cranked up during studio set-ups and location shoots, and my dancin’ trousers get pulled on for an after party. Other than that, I resort to an audio book in the car, which has become commonplace.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I enjoy a spot of golf now and again, and heading off to the coast as much as possible. I play FIFA with my 11-year-old son who beats me every time! I’m quite fond of a charity run followed by a charity beer. Happy days.

The A-List: Lego Batman Movie director Chris McKay

By Iain Blair

Three years ago, The Lego Movie became an “everything is awesome” monster hit that cleverly avoided the pitfalls of feeling like a corporate branding exercise thanks to the deft touch and tonal dexterity of the director/writer/animator/producer team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Now busy working on a Han Solo spinoff movie, they handed over the directing reins on the follow-up, The Lego Batman Movie, to Chris McKay, who served as animation director and editor on the first one. And he hit the ground running on this one, which seriously — and hilariously — tweak’s Batman’s image.

Chris McKay

This time out, Batman stars in his own big-screen adventure, but there are big changes brewing in Gotham City. If he wants to save the city from The Joker’s hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up (somber introspection only goes so far when you’re a handsome billionaire with great cars and gadgets, who gets to punch people in the face with no repercussions).

Will Arnett voices Batman, Zach Galifianakis is The Joker, Michael Cera is orphan Dick Grayson, Rosario Dawson is Barbara Gordon, and Ralph Fiennes voices Alfred.

Behind the scenes, production designer Grant Freckelton and editor David Burrows also return from The Lego Movie, joined by editors Matt Villa and John Venzon. Lorne Balfe was composer, and feature animation was, again, by Animal Logic. The Warner Bros. film was released in 3D, 2D and IMAX.

I recently talked to McKay about making the film and how the whole process was basically all about the post.

The Lego Movie made nearly half a billion dollars and was a huge critical success as well. Any pressure there?
(Laughs) A lot, because of all that success, and asking, “How do we top it?” Then it’s Batman, with all his fans, and DC is very particular as he’s one of their crown jewels. But at the same time, the studio and DC were great partners and understood all the challenges.

So how did you pitch the whole idea?
As Jerry Maguire, directed by Michael Mann, with a ton of jokes in it. They got on board with that and saw what I was doing with the animatic, as well as the love I have for Batman and this world.

Once you were green-lit, you began on post, right?
Exactly right, because post is everything in animation. The whole thing is post. You start in post and end in post. When we pitched this, we didn’t even have a script, just a three- to four-page treatment. They liked the idea and said, “OK, let’s do it.” So we needed to write a script, and get the storyboard and editorial teams to work immediately, because there was no way we could get it finished in time if we didn’t.

It was originally scheduled to come out in May — almost three years from the time we pitched it, but then they moved the release date up to February, so it got even crazier. So we began getting all the key people involved, like [editor/writer] Dave Burrows at Animal Logic, who cut the first one with me, and developing the opening set piece.

You got an amazing cast, including Will Arnett as Batman again, and such unlikely participants as Mariah Carey, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes and Apple’s Siri. How tough was that?
We were very lucky because everyone was a fan, and when they saw that the first one wasn’t just a 90-minute toy commercial, they really wanted to be in it. Mariah was so charming and funny, and apart from her great singing voice, she has a really great speaking voice — and she was great at improv and very playful. Ralph has done some comedy, but I wasn’t sure he’d want to do something like this, but he got it immediately, and his voice was perfect. Michael Cera doesn’t do this kind of thing at all. Like Ralph, he’s an artist who usually does smaller movies and more personal stuff, and people told us, “You’re not going to get Ralph or Cera,” but Will reached out to Cera (they worked together on Arrested Development) and he came on.

As for Siri, it was a joke we tried to make work in the first movie but couldn’t, so we went back to it, and it turned into a great partnership with Apple. So that was a lot of fun for me, playing around with pop culture in that way, as the whole computer thing is part of Batman’s world anyway.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller have been very busy directing the upcoming, untitled Han Solo Star Wars movie, but as co-producers on this weren’t they still quite involved?
Very. I’d ask them for advice all the time and they would give notes since I was running a lot of stuff past them. They ended up writing several of my favorite lines in this; they gave me so much of their time, pitched jokes and let me do stuff with the animation I wanted to do. They’re very generous.

Sydney-based Animal Logic, the digital design, animation and effects company whose credits include Moulin Rouge!, Happy Feet and Walking With Dinosaurs did all the animation again. What was involved?
As I wanted to use Burrows, that would require us having an editorial team down there, and the studio wasn’t crazy about that. But he’s a fantastic editor and storyteller, and I also wanted to work with Grant Freckelton, who was the production designer on the first one, as well as lighting supervisor Craig Welch — all these team members at Animal Logic who were so good. In the end, we had over 400 people working on this for two and a half years — six months faster than the first one.

So Animal Logic began on it on day one, and I didn’t wait for a script. It was just me, Dave and the storyboard teams in LA and Sydney, and Grant’s design team. I showed them the treatment and said, “Here’s the scenes I want to do,” and we began with paintings and storyboards. The first act in animatic form and the script both landed at the same time in November 2014, and then we pitched where the rest of the movie would go and what changes we would make. So it kept going in tandem like that. There was no traditional screenwriting process. We’d just bring writers in and adjust as we went. So we literally built the screenplay in post — and we could do that because animation is like filmmaking in slow motion, and we had great storytellers in post, like Burrows.

You also used two other editors — Matt Villa and John Venzon. How did that work?
Matt’s very accomplished. He’s cut three of Baz Luhrmann’s films — The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge! and Australia — and he cut Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner as well as
the animated features Happy Feet Two and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, so he came in to help. We also brought in other writers, and we would all be doing the voices. I was Batman and Matt would do the side characters. We literally built it as we went, with some storyboard artists from the first film, plus others we gathered along the way. The edit was crucial because of the crazy deadline.

Last summer we added John, who has also cut animated features, including Storks, Flushed Away, Shark Tale and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, because we needed to move some editorial to LA last July for five months, and he helped out with all the finishing. It was a 24/7 effort by that time, a labor of love.

Let’s talk about the VFX. Fair to say the whole film’s one big VFX sequence?
You’re right. Every single frame is a VFX shot. It’s mind blowing! You’re constantly working on it at the same time you’re writing and editing and so on, and it takes a big team of very focused animators and producers to do it.

What about the sound and music? Composer Lorne Balfe did the scores for Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, the animated features Penguins of Madagascar and Home, as well as Terminator Genisys. How important was the score?
It was crucial. He actually worked on the Dark Knight movies, so I knew he could do all the operatic, serious stuff as well as boy’s adventure stuff for Robin, and he was a big part of making it sound like a real Batman movie. We recorded the score in Sydney and Vienna, and did the mix on the lot at Warners with a great team that included effects mixer Gregg Landaker and sound designer Wayne Pashley from Big Bang Sound in Sydney.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
I wish we had those extra two months, but it’s the movie I wanted to make — it’s good for kids and adults, and it’s a big, fun Batman movie that looks at him in a way that the other Batman movies can’t.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Project Arachnid short targets online images of child sexual abuse

Early this year, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) launched Project Arachnid, a new tool that detects and helps remove images of child sexual abuse on the Internet. The centre, which operates in partnership with police forces across Canada, recently posed questions to 128 adults who had been sexually exploited as children and whose abuse had been recorded on camera. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they were worried about being recognized years later, because the images continue to spread online.

To bring to life how Project Arachnid helps victims break the endless cycle of abuse, the organization enlisted agency No Fixed Address and Nice Shoes Creative Studio to craft a brief, but powerful animated short film that features a B&W hand-drawn look.

“It was very important to us to find a way to reflect the gravity of the matter, but not make people look away. We didn’t want the problem to seem insurmountable,” says Shawn James, creative director at No Fixed Address.

Nice Shoes creative directors Gary Thomas and Matt Greenwood, along with design director Stefan Woronko, developed style frames, taking the piece into an illustrative, textured direction inspired by Manga, graphic novels and the work of Frank Miller and Edward Gorey.

As the teams explored the concept, they quickly found they were on the same page, and worked closely to animate the dramatic and powerful story. “We felt the narrative should drive the visuals and presented a solution where only simple animation was needed to emphasize the story,” says Thomas, adding that they were brought in almost from the beginning. “We had reference from the creative team, but we really came back with the look and feel, and worked closely with the team to refine elements.”

Nice Shoes used Adobe Photoshop for all the illustrations in order to get a handmade quality. Everything was assembled in Adobe After Effects. “We composited the scenes and gave it a paper-like, distressed texture,” says Thomas. “We used Maxon Cinema 4D to do the spiders and globe sequences. We had a great character animator, Rob Findlay, come in for a few days and add the animated touches to the characters.”

In terms of challenges, Thomas says the only major one was a quick turnaround of three weeks. “The piece was tied to a big media launch for the CCCP, so we had a firm deadline to work with. It wasn’t really onerous, because we were careful at the outset to do as much as we could at the beginning to make sure the creatives at No Fixed Address were part of the process, and they in turn were able to keep their clients at CCCP in the loop.”

Photo: Mike Scott

Behind the Title: Flaunt executive producer Andrew Pearce

NAME: Andrew Pearce

COMPANY: Flaunt Productions (@flauntanimation)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Flaunt is a Scottish studio that creates high-quality animation for features, TV, commercials and games. Flaunt is part of the Axis group, which is made up of three collaborating studios with distinct goals, strategies and talent bases.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Executive Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As EP, I’m one of the first points of contact in the studio. That means attending events, making new relationships, talking to clients and creatives and pitching and planning projects. My next trip is to Kidscreen Miami in February.

The EPs take the “thousand-foot-view” of projects. First, that’s about helping to assemble the right team and working with the director to develop creative and story. Then it’s about making a solid plan. When a producer takes over, it’s about ensuring that we’re exceeding clients’ expectations, and following the studio’s general strategy.

PHOTO: MIKE SCOTT

Flaunt headquarters. Photo: Mike Scott

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
How much we have to adapt to the changing market. There are no right answers to where we place our efforts; it’s a tricky combination of research, intuition, creativity and strategy.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The magic part! When the team comes up with something brilliant. Everyone knows when you’ve got something special, be that a design, a piece of music, an iconic performance or a beautiful shot.

I would also say the sense of excitement: since starting at Axis seven years ago, there has always been a feeling that anything is possible. The founders continue to be supportive of artists and producers who’re keen to push the envelope.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
So much to do, so little time. We see a million opportunities, both in creative and market terms. Our main impediment to trying everything is lack of time and people to explore.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Random meeting time! There is no set time, but it’s often at the lunch table. We have around 150 people in the studio right now and are planning to peak at 200 mid-year. So there are lots of opportunities for meeting interesting folks and hearing new things.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
A lot of our games clients have great companies — I would love to be part of the casual games explosion.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think that for the most part, the profession chose me. I’ve always been keen on business development and strategy. I guess after about three years in the industry my path became clear.

Lost in Oz

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We’ve just wrapped up a second feature for Mattel’s Monster High brand, and we are looking forward to the release in spring. Season One of Amazon Studios’ series Lost in Oz is in production now, for which we’re taking care of design and art direction. Our current production is a super-high quality series, about 80 minutes, due for release in summer. We are doing design and animation for the BBC show Dixi and television commercials for Goodgame’s Goodgame Empire.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Almost every project has some aspect that stood out, but I’d pick our Monster High features. We worked closely with Mattel to create a fresh, bold interpretations of the new toy line. The challenge was in retaining the iconic look of the characters, while updating them to better suit animation.

Mattel was aligned with our goal to create fun stories, packed with humor and charm. The characters weren’t just dolls; we created real, breathing characters that could connect emotionally with kids. Watch out for our making-of video later this month.

Monsters High

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I’ll go for three research tools here, all of which I use daily: LinkedIn, IMDB and Vimeo.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
If I really have to concentrate, I listen to classical music on headphones.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Stupid fun projects that have no deadlines or client expectations — the last one was a wall-mounted Hot Wheels track for my four-year-old, which wraps around his bedroom. I play on it a lot more than he does.

Jim Hagarty Photography

Blue Sky Studios’ Mikki Rose named SIGGRAPH 2019 conference chair

Mikki Rose has been named conference chair of SIGGRAPH 2019. Fur technical director at Greenwich, Connecticut-based Blue Sky Studios, Rose chaired the Production Sessions during SIGGRAPH 2016 this past July in Anaheim and has been a longtime volunteer and active member of SIGGRAPH for the last 15 years.

Rose has worked on such film as The Peanuts Movie and Hotel Transylvania. She refers to herself a “CG hairstylist” due to her specialization in fur at Blue Sky Studios — everything from hair to cloth to feathers and even vegetation. She studied general CG production at college and holds BS degrees in Computer Science and Digital Animation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an MFA in Digital Production Arts from Clemson University. Prior to Blue Sky, she lived in California and held positions with Rhythm & Hues Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

“I have grown to rely on each SIGGRAPH as an opportunity for renewal of inspiration in both my professional and personal creative work. In taking on the role of chair, my goal is to provide an environment for those exact activities to others,” said Rose. “Our industries are changing and developing at an astounding rate. It is my task to incorporate new techniques while continuing to enrich our long-standing traditions.”

SIGGRAPH 2019 will take place in Los Angeles from July 29 to August 2, 2019.


Main Image: SIGGRAPH 2016 — Jim Hagarty Photography

Chaos Group and Adobe partner for photorealistic rendering in CC

Chaos Group’s V-Ray rendering technology is featured in Adobe’s Creative Cloud, allowing graphic designers to easily create photorealistic 3D rendered composites with Project Felix.

Available now, Project Felix is a public beta desktop app that helps users composite 3D assets like models, materials and lights with background images, resulting in an editable render they can continue to design in Photoshop CC. For example, users can turn a basic 3D model of a generic bottle into a realistic product shot that is fully lit and placed in a scene to create an ad, concept mock-up or even abstract art.

V-Ray acts as a virtual camera, letting users test angles, perspectives and placement of their model in the scene before generating a final high-res render. Using the preview window, Felix users get immediate visual feedback on how each edit affects the final rendered image.

By integrating V-Ray, Adobe has brought the same raytracing technology used by companies Industrial Light & Magic to a much wider audience.

“We’re thrilled that Adobe has chosen V-Ray to be the core rendering engine for Project Felix, and to be a part of a new era for 3D in graphic design,” says Peter Mitev, CEO of Chaos Group. “Together we’re bringing the benefits of photoreal rendering, and a new design workflow, to millions of creatives worldwide.”

“Working with the amazing team at Chaos Group meant we could bring the power of the industry’s top rendering engine to our users,” adds Stefano Corazza, senior director of engineering at Adobe. “Our collaboration lets graphic designers design in a more natural flow. Each edit comes to life right before their eyes.”

Reel FX hires Chad Mosley as senior designer

Chad Moseley has joined Reel FX as senior designer. Moseley brings with him nearly a decade of experience in motion graphics and design, spanning television, advertising and broadcast promos.

He comes to Reel FX, which has offices in Dallas and Santa Monica, from Starz Entertainment, where he spent two years as a broadcast designer, concepting and executing promotions for original programming on series such as Outlander, Da Vinci’s Demons and Flesh and Bone, including teasers, spots and graphics packages. His work for brands such as Enterprise, Nestle, Purina and Busch Gardens has earned him a Gold American Advertising Award (AAA), a Gold Addy Award and an AAF Best of Digital Award.

Texas native Moseley studied graphic design and 3D animation in Denver. He developed his career at a Texas news channel, handling the video and graphics for the channel’s website. While there he learned post production. He then worked as a video editor/animator at Denver-based ORCC, later relocating to St. Louis to take a position as senior motion graphics/VFX artist at 90 Degrees West. While there, he contributed to post projects from concept through completion for national brands including Anheuser Busch, Enterprise and UPS, among others. An opportunity as an in-house broadcast designer at Starz Entertainment led Moseley back to Denver in 2014, before once again returning to Dallas once again to join the Reel FX team.

Rogue One/ILM

VES nominees announced, Rogue One gets most nods for features

The Visual Effects Society has announed the the nominees for the 15th Annual VES Awards, which recognizes outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials and video games as well as the VFX supervisors, VFX producers and hands-on artists who work on the projects 

This year, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story received the most feature film nominations with seven; Doctor Strange and The Jungle Book follow with six each. Kubo and the Two Strings is the top animated film contender with six nominations. Game of Thrones leads the broadcast field and scores the most nominations overall with 11.

The nominees in the 24 categories are:

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE

Doctor Strange

Stephane Ceretti, Susan Pickett, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, Paul Corbould

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Christian Manz, Olly Young, Tim Burke, Pablo Grillo, David Watkins

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Frazer Churchill, Hal Couzens, Andrew Lockley, Jelmer Boskma, Hayley Williams

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

John Knoll, Erin Dusseault, Hal Hickel, Nigel Sumner, Neil Corbould

The Jungle Book

Robert Legato, Joyce Cox, Andrew R. Jones, Adam Valdez, JD Schwalm

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Allied

Kevin Baillie, Sandra Scott, Brennan Doyle, Viktor Muller, Richard Van Den Bergh

Deepwater Horizon

Craig Hammack, Petra Holtorf-Stratton, Jason Snell, John Galloway, Burt Dalton

Jason Bourne

Charlie Noble, Dan Barrow, Julian Gnass, Huw Evans, Steve Warner

Silence

Pablo Helman, Brian Barlettani, Ivan Busquets, Juan Garcia, R. Bruce Steinheimer

Sully

MIchael Owens, Tyler Kehl, Mark Curtis, Bryan Litson, Steven Riley

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory

Angus MacLane, Lindsey Collins- p.g.a., John Halstead, Chris J. Chapman

Kubo and the Two Strings

Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner, Steve Emerson, Brad Schiff

Moana

Kyle Odermatt, Nicole P. Hearon, Hank Driskill, Ian Gooding

The Little Prince

Mark Osborne, Jinko Gotoh, Pascal Bertrand, Jamie Caliri

Zootopia

Scott Kersavage, Bradford S. Simonsen, David Goetz, Ernest J. Petti

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE

Black Mirror: Playtest

Justin Hutchinson-Chatburn, Russell McLean, Grant Walker, Christopher Gray

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

Joe Bauer, Steve Kullback, Glenn Melenhorst, Matthew Rouleau, Sam Conway

Stranger Things: Demogorgon

Marc Kolbe, Aaron Sims, Olcun Tan

The Expanse: Salvage

Robert Munroe, Clint Green, Kyle Menzies, Tom Turnbull

Westworld: The Bicameral Mind

Jay Worth, Elizabeth Castro, Bobo Skipper, Gustav  Ahrén 

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE

Black Sails: XX

Erik Henry, Terron Pratt, Aladino Debert, Yafei Wu, Paul Stephenson

Penny Dreadful: The Day Tennyson Died

James Cooper, Bill Halliday, Sarah McMurdo, Mai-Ling Lee

Roots: Night One

Simon Hansen, Paul Kalil, Theo le Roux Preist, Wicus Labuschagne, Max Poolman

The Man in the High Castle: Volkshalle

Lawson Deming, Cory Jamieson, Casi Blume, Nick Chamberlain

Vikings: The Last Ship

Dominic Remane, Mike Borrett, Ovidiu Cinazan, Paul Wishart, Paul Byrne

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A REALTIME PROJECT

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Brian Horton, Keith Pope, David Johnson, Tobias Stromvall

Dishonored 2: Crack in the Slab

Sebastien Mitton, Guillaume Curt, Damien Laurent, Jean-Luc Monnet

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Virtual Reality

Andy Rowans-Robinson, Karen Czukerberg, John Montefusco, Corrina Wilson, Resh Sidhu

Gears of War 4

Kirk Gibbons, Zoe Curnoe, Aryan Hanbeck, Colin Penty

Quantum Break

Janne Pulkkinen, Elmeri Raitanen, Matti Hamalainen, Ville Assinen

Uncharted 4

Bruce Straley, Eben Cook, Iki Ikram

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A COMMERCIAL

Coke Mini; A Mini Marvel

Vincent Cirelli, Michael Perdew, Brendan Seals, Jared Simeth

For Honor

Maxime Luere, Leon Berelle, Dominique Boidin, Remi Kozyra

John Lewis; Buster the Boxer

Diarmid Harrison-Murray, Hannah Ruddleston, Fabian Frank, William Laban

Titanfall 2: Become One

Dan Akers, Tiffany Webber, Chris Bedrosian

Waitrose: Coming Home

Jonathan Westley -Wes-, Alex Fitzgerald, Jorge Montiel, Adam Droy

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A SPECIAL VENUE

Dream of Anhui

Chris Morley, Lee Hahn, Alex Hessler, Kent Matheson

Pirates of the Caribbean; Battle for the Sunken Treasure

Bill George, Amy Jupiter, Hayden Landis, David Lester

Soarin’ Over the Horizon

Marianne McLean, Bill George, Hayden Landis, Dorne Huebler, Thomas Tait

Skull Island: Reign of Kong

John Gibson, Arish Fyzee, Sachin Shrestha, Anshul Mathuria

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience

Dan Glass, Brett Harding, Tom Debenham, Brian Delmonico, Matt Pulliam

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PERFORMANCE IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURES

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Niffler

Laurent Laban, Gabriel Beauvais-Tremblay, Luc Girard, Romain Rico

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Grand Moff Tarkin

Sven Jensen, Jee Young Park, Steve Walton, Cyrus Jam

The Jungle Book: King Louie

Paul Story, Dennis Yoo, Jack Tema, Andrei Coval

The Jungle Book: Shere Khan

Benjamin Jones. Julio Del Rio Hernandez, Jake Harrell, James Hood

Warcraft: Durotan

Sunny Wei, Brian Cantwell, Brian Paik, Jee Young Park

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PERFORMANCE IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory: Hank

Jonathan Hoffman, Steven Clay Hunter, Mark Piretti, Audrey Wong

Kubo and the Two Strings: Kubo

Jeff Riley, Ian Whitlock, Adam Lawthers, Jeremy Spake

Kubo and the Two Strings: Monkey

Andy Bailey, Dobrin Yanev, Kim Slate, Jessica Lynn

Moana: The Mighty Maui

Mack Kablan, Nikki Mull, Matthew Schiller, Marc Thyng

Outstanding Animated Performance in an Episode or Real-Time Project

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare; Omar

Bernardo Antoniazzi

Aaron Beck

Jason Greenberg

Chris Barnes

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

John Montefusco

Michael Cable

Shayne Ryan

Andy Rowan-Robinson

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards: Drogon

James Kinnings, Michael Holzl, Matt Derksen, Joeseph Hoback

Game of Thrones; Home: Emaciated Dragon

Sebastian Lauer, Jonathan Symmonds, Thomas Kutschera, Anthony Sieben

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PERFORMANCE IN A COMMERCIAL

John Lewis: Buster the Boxer

Tim van Hussen, David Bryan, Chloe Dawe, Maximillian Mallman

Opel Motorsport: Racing Faces; Lion

Jorge Montiel, Jacob Gonzales, Sauce Vilas, Alberto Lara

SSE: Neon House: Baby Pixel

Jorge Montiel, Daniel Kmet, Sauce Vilas, Peter Agg

Waitrose: Coming Home

Jorge Montiel, Nick Smalley, Andreas Graichen, Alberto Lara

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Deadpool: Freeway Assault

Seth Hill, Jedediah Smith, Laurent Taillefer, Marc-Antoine Paquin

Doctor Strange: London

Brendan Seals, Raphael A. Pimentel, Andrew Zink, Gregory Ng

Doctor Strange: New York City

Adam Watkins, Martijn van Herk, Tim Belsher, Jon Mitchell

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Scarif Complex

Enrico Damm, Kevin George, Olivier Vernay-Kim, Yanick Dusseault

OUTSTANDING CREATED ENVIRONMENT IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory: Open Ocean Exhibit

Stephen Gustafson, Jack Hattori, Jesse Hollander, Michael Rutter

Kubo and the Two Strings: Hanzo’s Fortress

Phil Brotherton, Nick Mariana, Emily Greene, Joe Strasser

Kubo and the Two Strings: Waves

David Horsley, Eric Wachtman, Daniel Leatherdale, Takashi Kuboto

Moana: Motonui Island

Rob Dressel, Andy Harkness, Brien Hindman, Larry Wu

OUTSTANDING CREATED ENVIRONMENT IN AN EPISODE, COMMERCIAL OR REALTIME PROJECT

Black Sails: XXVIII: Maroon Island

Thomas Montminy-Brodeur, Deak Ferrand, Pierre Rousseau, Mathieu Lapierre

Dishonored 2: Clockwork Mansion

Sebastien Mitton, Guillaume Curt, Damien Laurent, Jean-Luc Monnet

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards; Meereen City

Deak Ferrand, Dominic Daigle, François Croteau , Alexandru Banuta

Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter: Citadel

Edmond Engelbrecht, Tomoka Matsumura, Edwin Holdsworth, Cheri Fojtik

The Man in the High Castle: Volkshalle

Casi Blume, David Andrade, Nick Chamberlain, Lawson Deming

OUTSTANDING VIRTUAL CINEMATOGRAPHY IN A PHOTOREAL PROJECT

Doctor Strange: New York Mirror Dimension

Landis Fields, Mathew Cowie, Frederic Medioni, Faraz Hameed

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

Patrick Tiberius Gehlen, Michelle Blok, Christopher Baird, Drew Wood-Davies

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Space Battle

John Levin, Euisung Lee, Steve Ellis, Barry Howell

The Jungle Book

Bill Pope, Robert Legato, Gary Roberts, John Brennan

OUTSTANDING MODEL IN A PHOTOREAL OR ANIMATED PROJECT

Deepwater Horizon: Deepwater Horizon Rig

Kelvin Lau, Jean Bolte, Kevin Sprout, Kim Vongbunyong

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Princess Leia

Paul Giacoppo, Gareth Jensen, Todd Vaziri, James Tooley

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Star Destroyer

Jay Machado, Marko Chulev, Akira Orikasa, Steven Knipping

Star Trek Beyond: Enterprise

Daniel Nicholson, Rhys Salcombe, Chris Elmer, Andreas Maaninka

OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE

Alice Through the Looking Glass; Rust

Klaus Seitschek, Joseph Pepper, Jacob Clark, Cosku Turhan

Doctor Strange; Hong Kong Reverse Destruction

Florian Witzel, Georges Nakhle, Azhul Mohamed, David Kirchner

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Jedha Destruction

Miguel Perez Senent, Matt Puchala, Ciaran Moloney, Luca Mignardi

The Jungle Book: Nature Effects

Oliver Winwood, Fabian Nowak, David Schneider, Ludovic Ramisandraina

OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory

Stephen Gustafson, Allen Hemberger, Joshua Jenny, Matthew Kiyoshi Wong

Kubo and the Two Strings; Water

David Horsley, Peter Stuart, Timur Khodzhaev, Terrance Tornberg

Moana

Marc Henry Bryant, David Hutchins, John M. Kosnik, Dale Mayeda

Zootopia

Nicholas Burkard, Moe El-Ali, Claudia Chung Sanii, Thom Wickes

OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN EPISODE, COMMERCIAL OR REALTIME PROJECT

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

Kevin Blom, Sasmit Ranadive, Wanghua Huang, Ben Andersen

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards: Meereen City

Thomas Hullin, Dominik Kirouac, James Dong, Xavier Fourmond

John Lewis: Buster the Boxer

Diarmid Harrison-Murray, Tushar Kewlani, Radu Ciubotariu, Ben Thomas

Sky: Q

Michael Hunault, Gareth Bell, Paul Donnellan, Joshua Curtis

OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE

Doctor Strange: New York City

Matthew Lane, Jose Fernandez, Ziad Shureih, Amy Shepard

Independence Day: Resurgence: Under The Mothership

Mathew Giampa, Adrian Sutherland, Daniel Lee, Ed Wilkie

The Jungle Book

Christoph Salzmann, Masaki Mitchell, Matthew Adams, Max Stummer

X-Men: Apocalypse: Quicksilver Rescue

Jess Burnheim, Alana Newell, Andy Peel, Matthew Shaw

OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE

Black Sails: XX: Sailing Ships

Michael Melchiorre  , Kevin Bouchez, Heather Hoyland, John Brennick

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards: Meereen City

Thomas Montminy-Brodeur, Patrick David, Michael Crane, Joe Salazar

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards: Retaking Winterfell

Dominic Hellier, Morgan Jones, Thijs Noij, Caleb Thompson

Game of Thrones: The Door: Land of Always Winter

Eduardo Díaz, Aníbal Del Busto, Angel Rico, Sonsoles López-Aranguren

OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING IN A PHOTOREAL COMMERCIAL

Canal: Kitchen

Dominique Boidin, Leon Berelle, Maxime Luere, Remi Kozyra

John Lewis; Buster the Boxer

Tom Harding, Alex Snookes, David Filipe, Andreas Feix

Kenzo: Kenzo World

Evan LangleyBenjamin Nowak  , Rob Fitzsimmons, Phylicia Feldman

LG: World of Play

Jay Bandlish, Udesh Chetty, Carl Norton

Waitrose: Coming Home

Jonathan Westley -Wes, Gary Driver, Milo Paterson, Nina Mosand

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A STUDENT PROJECT

Breaking Point

Johannes Franz, Nicole Rothermel, Thomas Sali, Alexander Richter

Elemental

Adrian Meyer, Lena-Carolin Lohfink, Denis Krez, David Bellenbaum

Garden Party

Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon, Théophile Dufresne, Lucas Navarro

Shine

Mareike Keller, Dennis Mueller, Meike Mueller

ESPN’s NBA coverage gets a rebrand

The bi-coastal studio Big Block recently collaborated with ESPN to develop, design and animate a rebrand package that promotes their NBA coverage. With nearly a year of design development, the studio’s role expanded beyond a simple production partner, with Big Block executive creative director Curtis Doss and managing director Kenny Solomon leading the charge.

The package, which features a rich palette of textures and fluid elegance, was designed to reflect the style of the NBA. Additionally, Big Block embedded what they call “visual touchstones” to put the spotlight on the stars of the show — the NBA players, the NBA teams and the redesigned NBA and ESPN co-branded logo.

Big Block and ESPN’s creative teams — which included senior coordinating producer for the NBA on ESPN Tim Corrigan — collaborated closely on the logos. The NBA’s was reconfigured and simplified, allowing it to combine with ESPN’s as well as support the iconic silhouette of Jerry West as the centerpiece of the new creation.

Next, the team worked on taking the unique branding and colors of each NBA team and using them as focal points within the broadcasts. Team logos were assembled and rendered and given textures and fast-moving action, providing the broadcast with a high-end look that Big Block and ESPN feel match the face of the league itself.

Big Block provided ESPN with a complete toolkit for the integration of live game footage with team logos, supers, buttons and transitions, as well as team and player-based information like player comparisons and starting lineups. The materials were designed to be visually cohesive between ESPN’s pre-show, game and post-show broadcasts, with Big Block crafting high-end solutions to keep the sophisticated look and feel consistent across the board.

When asked if working with such iconic logos added some challenges to the project, Doss said, “It definitely adds pressure anytime your combining multiple brands, however it was not the first time ESPN and NBA have collaborated, obviously. I will say that there were needs unique to each brand that we absolutely had to consider. This did take us down many paths during the design process, but we feel that the result is a very strong marriage of the two icons that both benefit from a brand perspective.”

In terms of tools, the studio called on Adobe’s Creative Suite and Maxon Cinema 4D. Final renders were done in Cinema 4D’s Physical Render.

The Famous Grouse

Putting The Famous Grouse into CG environs for holiday spots

By Randi Altman

Flaunt Productions in Glasgow teamed up with the Leith Agency on a two-spot campaign for the Scottish blended whisky brand, The Famous Grouse. Heading the effort was director Ben Craig and Flaunt’s head of lighting, Jon Neill — they were tasked with putting the iconic grouse into a CG version of his natural environment for these holiday-themed ads.

The first spot, Perfectly Balanced, was released earlier this month and takes the viewer on a flight through the Scottish Highlands to reveal the Grouse with his chest puffed out and feeling proud of his environment. The second commercial, called Smooth, which aired the week of Black Friday, starts as the camera spins through the snowy Scottish Highlands.

flauntTo create the cinematic photoreal landscape, Neill and some of the team shot drone footage in Glencoe, which allowed real-life textures to be applied to the CG world.

In order to create a realistic grouse, Flaunt applied a feather system based on a fur and procedural shader that gave on organic look to the model. When it came to movement of the body and wing feathers, specific movements had to be animated to give a sense of realistic movement and the personality that is associated with the Famous Grouse.

We reached out to executive producer Andrew Pearce about the project and its workflow…

Photo:Mike Scott

Andrew Pearce

How early did you get involved in the project? Was the agency up for suggestions, or did they already have a specific plan locked in?
Director Ben Craig worked with Flaunt on a creative treatment, based on scripts from The Leith Agency. Their central idea was to bring the much-loved Grouse into his home environment: the epic, sweeping Scottish Highlands. Previously, all ads had been set against an infinite white background. With that in mind, we worked collaboratively with the agency to bring the ads to life.

The first stage after treatment would normally be storyboard. However, because our camera move was so extreme, we felt a 2D animatic would be misleading, so we proceeded straight to previs.

You used drone footage for the Grouse’s environment. How did you go about turning it into CG?
We drove up to the Glencoe ski resort and jumped onto the ski lift to get as high as possible. After a 30-minute walk, we attached a camera to the drone and sent it up into the sky — 360 overlapping stills were taken at three different heights.

We merged the images together to create a 360-panorama and applied this to geometry in Autodesk Maya. From there we rendered out the shot with this background, making creative decisions on what to add or take away. Next, we made simple 3D hills on which to project the images, thus providing parallax and a three-dimensional feel.

Was Maya your main animation software? Did you write your own particle systems off of that? What other tools were used?
Maya was used for animation, Side Effects Houdini for FX, Houdini Mantra for lighting and Nuke for compositing. We also had to write a feather system for the Grouse, which worked inside Houdini.

Can you talk about giving the Grouse personality in the CG world? What about facial (or beak) expressions, and his eyes and movements?
For these adverts, the Grouse was in a real-world environment. With that in mind, we didn’t want to go over the top with cartoony animation. The realism of the Grouse asset wouldn’t support that style, but we needed to give the Grouse some character beyond that of a real one.

Real grouse faces don’t move that much, and we didn’t want to change the anatomy too much. So we used the eyebrows and eyes as much as we could. Our rig also enabled us to exaggerate the shape of the eyes and eyebrows beyond the norm. These subtle anatomical exaggerations were enough for us to push the facial animation enough to engage the viewer.

When it came to the motions of the Grouse, we had to tread a fine line between realistic and anthropomorphic — fans of this brand love how it has moved in previous campaigns. We created various versions of all the actions as we honed in on the motion we wanted. The Grouse’s wink at the end of one of the adverts was the product of many iterations, having explored head tilts, nods, lifts, raised eyebrows and so on.

Before we leave you, anything you would like to add?
We had to strike a balance between a look that was both realistic and magical. This was partly achieved by mashing up some of the most incredible landscapes in Scotland. To augment the magical feel, we added lens flares and camera lens aberrations in the compositing. Subtle pollen particles were also added to give a sense of space as we flew through the environment.

Check out the making of the video here.

Splenda Naturals gets the stop-motion treatment in new spot

Production company 1stAveMachine worked with J. Walter Thompson Toronto and Splenda to create an integrated marketing campaign that promotes the Stevia-based, calorie-free sweetener Splenda Naturals.

Coffee, a fully stop-motion animated spot, features an office scene where a gruff boss (a coffee mug) is laying off a packet of sugar, telling him that “sweet ain’t enough anymore.” The sugar packet figures out it’s that new “Splenda Naturals gal” who is replacing him. The boss explains that not only is she sweet, she’s healthier than sugar. The piece ends with a box of the product and the tag “Hello New Splenda Naturals Sweetener.”

Production companies Tronco and 1stAveMachine worked together to provide production and post production on the piece. The directors of the spot were Becho Lo Bianco and Mariano Bergara, and the production director was Anuk Torre Obeid. 1stAveMachine has represented Tronco and Mab and Becho exclusively worldwide for the last seven years, each year doing more work in the North American and international market.

“Mab, Becho and Anuk are directors and storytellers first and foremost. They own a stop-motion studio in Buenos Aires and have been experimenting in and perfecting this craft for over a decade, but perfect craftsmanship is only a tool to tell the story. We worked in a very collaborative way with the agency and were lucky enough to be able to be a part of the films from the ground up. We designed and built every character as well as the set,” reports 1stAveMachine executive producer/partner Sam Penfield. “As we work with agencies from around the world, many times remotely, we have built many tools in order to collaborate from a distance. Many in our business have not worked in stop-motion, and it is has some peculiarities in regards to process. The first step when we begin a job is to educate anyone on the team who is not familiar with stop motion — how to exploit its natural charm and what limitations that one should be aware of. Once there is an overall understanding of process, we build and previs in CG in order to work on pacing, camera and, most importantly, acting. In stop-motion, even inanimate objects ‘act.’

“For each frame, we build a visual hierarchy so that the viewer follows the story easily and then we fill each frame with interesting details that make for a richer experience on each viewing thereafter,” he continues. “In the case of Splenda, the pre-production was done remotely and the agency/client attended the shoot. Having a great pre-production process meant the shoot went smoothly and we had plenty of time to enjoy being in Buenos Aires.”

The editor was Nicolas Rivas and Alejandro Armaleo provided the color grade. The sound mix was via Pirate Toronto.

Behind the Title: Broadcast Designer/3D Artist Sophia Kyriacou

NAME: London-based Sophia Kyriacou

COMPANY: I’m a freelancer, but split my time working for the BBC in London as well.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE KIND OF WORK YOU DO?
Mostly broadcast design creation, but I’m looking to branch out into features as well.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Broadcast designer and 3D artist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I design everything from opening titles, content graphics, 3D explainers to program designs and program branding projects. I design for a variety of genres and age groups.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Directing shoots for opening titles sequences or content work. Some clients think motion designers only sit in front of a computer all day working digitally, and for some, that is the case and it’s absolutely fine. However, our work does also include directing or co-directing, especially if the work you are creating is footage-based — a combination that needs heavy post or simply making sure you have the required shots you need from your client approved storyboard.

It is essential for designers to be part of the process and work with everyone on the shoot, especially the director of photography, to discuss lighting and composition and make sure you get all the shots you need. Decreasing budgets over the years has naturally impacted this valuable skill and, sadly, some designers have never even had the chance to experience directing, forcing creation to be computer-based from start to finish.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I’ve always enjoyed seeing the creative process through with my client. They are key to the process and should always be made to feel part of it. While everything I create is for a client and their audience, there is no denying that what the customer needs must always be paramount.

Understanding your target audience is very important, and as a designer you must always bear in mind that while you want to create a strong body of work, you are never designing for yourself.

Looking for Safe Shores

“Looking for Safe Shores” courtesy of the UNHCR.

What I also love about my work is the variety and the creative satisfaction I get from bringing visually engaging sequences to life. While I am always learning something new, I will never let myself be dictated by faddy design trends and popular plug-ins. For me, the concept is my focus — strong ideas with appropriately strong execution.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Having to make a call when tweaks are beyond what is considered as acceptable. With any project you take on, one to two reasonable tweaks are very much part of the process, and it’s a good thing as projects can dramatically improve. If clients want endless tweaks beyond the initial budget for free, that’s not good at all. Nobody should be expected to keep tweaking endlessly for free, so I am very firm with that.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The morning! Working sensibly is very important, and I find that not only do I create my best ideas at the earliest part of the day I am at my most productive as well.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
This is a tricky question, as the creative world has been very much embedded and a part of my life for an incredibly long time. There are many areas I have an interest in, but possibly a career in science and technology… an inventor perhaps?!

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I was always been interested in art, way before my age hit double figures. For me, painting and drawing was natural and something I wanted to do and learn out of my own choice. My interest in art then grew into design and photography.

One thing started to influence the other, and once I started my training, that expanded to include advertising and animation as well. It was my passion for studio photography that inspired me into the moving image. I simply wanted to make my photography move, so one day I took the Super 16mm Bolex film camera out of retirement from the photographic studio and took it to the Film Stock Centre in Wardour Street, which sadly is closed down now. I held it up and asked the staff, “What film do I need?” I then loaded it up and off I went.

I never believed in rules. I always wanted my film graded my way so that it was aesthetically pleasing and not the way that was considered technically correct. This was simply because I wanted my film to look a certain way and play a role in the concept. I was, and still am, a firm believer that if you know less about something, it has a bigger influence in your end result because you never have pre-conceived ideas of where you are heading. There is something incredibly tactile about film that digital doesn’t give you.

As my work became more motion-based, I started to write scripts for animated shorts. I had hideously long journey’s traveling to and from art college every day, so I would write scripts on the bus and tube, sometimes laughing to myself as I read through them. I became very interested in narrative. Telling a story along a timeline is essentially what I do now, whether it is an opening title sequence for a show or an explainer for a variety of subjects and audiences; I’m essentially a storyteller using imagery and sound, and I love it.

Paper Town

Paper Town – Courtesy of BBC News

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
It’s hard to choose any one favorite, as they are all so different. A piece of work I created for the BBC, commissioned by the BBC Business Unit called Paper Town is probably one of my favorite BBC sequences. The overall process of modeling to the animation was so enjoyable and an effective technique too. It was also nominated for a PromaxBDA Global Excellence Award, and it changed my career path in a very positive way.

Another project I recently finished was for one of my private clients at Noon Visual Creatives. Called The Human Rights Zoetrope, it was an amazing project in many ways. It gave me the chance to get absorbed into the concept and build a fully functional 3D zoetrope, which is something I’ve always wanted to do in 3D. The Human Rights Zoetrope also recently won Gold at the Muse Creative Awards 2016

The Human Rights Zoetrope.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It has got to be The Human Rights Zoetrope. While I have not been freelancing very long, it was the first project I was awarded as a creative independent. That aside, I am very proud of all my achievements, including the BBC, but this was a special moment for me. It’s about getting the recognition on your own and that really does taste very sweet.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPhone. I love my phone, keeping track of my emails and social media is incredibly important, especially when you are self-employed and have to constantly market yourself.

I love my Mac Pro and my new rendering PC. Having reliable kit is essential. I will most likely add another PC workstation to my rendering family soon, but for large-scale processor-heavy rendering, I would use an external renderfarm.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I have a Facebook page that I use to plug anything new and reinforce projects I feel proud of. I have a steady stream of followers, which is great.

I have started using Instagram again. I like Instagram because I’ve found that generally audiences respond immediately to eye-catching imagery. In a world where everything is becoming more and more fast paced, it is easier to like a strong static image than a video… unless you are a potential client. They would want to see my latest reel and other supporting motion sequences.

I really like Vimeo and Behance. YouTube is great, but because it’s so vast in scale it does have the tendency to attract some undesirables.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Sometimes I do, yes. It all depends what I am creating. Music naturally influences art and design, so it can dramatically have an effect on an overall design at the concept stage.

I sometimes find playing uplifting music, like dance or R&B, while 3D modeling very therapeutic and it makes me work to a regular pace. Within my work I am mostly choreographing to sounds or music anyway, so music does play a huge part within the whole creating and building workflow.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I enjoy spending time with family and close friends. Stepping back is essential, not only for the sake of individual well-being, but who wants stale ideas? Everyone should take a breather to recharge physically and mentally. Giving yourself that timeout will only help promote the best creativity and outcome. Working when fatigued does not help anyone and only hinders the whole creative and production process. Even screen breaks will help you look at your work differently when you return to your workstation. When you stare at the screen too long you stop seeing what isn’t working. Screen breaks not only help rest your eyes, but also help to improve the whole design and creation process. I can’t stress how important it is, and it’s something I do take seriously.

Check out my reel!

New Wacom Cintiq Pro line offers portability, updated pen, more

Wacom has introduced a new line of Wacom Cintiq Pro creative pen displays: the Cintiq Pro 13 and Cintiq Pro 16. The Wacom Cintiq Pro features a thin and portable form factor, making them suitable for working on the road or remotely.

Cintiq Pro’s new Pro Pen 2, according to Wacom, offers four times greater accuracy and pressure sensitivity than the previous Pro Pen. The improved Pro Pen 2 creates an intuitive experience with virtually lag-free tracking on a glass surface that produces the right amount of friction, and is coated to reduce reflection.

Additionally, the new optical bonding process reduces parallax, providing a pen-on-screen performance that feels natural and has the feedback of a traditional pen or brush. Both Cintiq Pro models also feature multi-touch for easy and fast navigation, as well as the ability to pinch, zoom and rotate illustrations, photos or models within supporting 2D or 3D creative software apps.

Both high-resolution Cintiq Pro models come with an optimized edge-to-edge etched glass workspace. The Cintiq Pro also builds on its predecessor, the Cintiq 13HD touch, offering the ExpressKey Remote as an optional accessory so users can customize their most commonly used shortcuts and modifiers when working with their most-used software applications. In addition, ergonomic features, such as ErgoFlex, fully integrated pop out legs and an optional three-position desk stand (available in February), let users focus on their work instead of constantly adjusting for comfort.

The Wacom Cintiq Pro 13 and 16 are compatible with both Macs and PCs and feature full HD (1920×1080) and UHD (3840×2160) resolution, respectively. Both Cintiq Pro configurations deliver vivid colors, the 13-inch model providing 87 percent Adobe RGB and the 16-inch, 94 percent.

Priced at $999.95 USD, the Cintiq Pro 13 is expected to be available online and at select retail locations at the beginning of December. The Cintiq Pro 16, $1499.95 USD, is expected in February.

Behind the Title: Iloura lead animator Dean Elliott

NAME: Dean Elliott

COMPANY: Iloura (@iloura_vfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ILOURA?
Based in Melbourne and Sydney, Iloura houses a collective of animation and VFX artists.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Lead Animator

THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role can change depending on the project that I’m working on at the time. On a production with only a small scope for character animation like Mad Max: Fury Road, I will work purely as an animator producing shots for the film, whereas on a larger character-based film like SpongeBob SquarePants I would work as a more traditional lead — helping other animators to hit required notes, communicating direction and working as a sounding board for any performance ideas they may have.

Then on a production like Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards, l spent most of my time supervising the complex crowd system we developed to extend the scope of our hero keyframe animation.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Somehow l seem to have ended up spending a lot of time in the mocap suit over the past 12 months. This isn’t something l had intended, but it does make it a lot easier when l can plan and generate complex performances that would be otherwise very difficult to achieve directing other actors, or purely by keyframing.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I’ve been working as an animator for over 15 years now at various studios.

HOW HAS YOUR PART OF THE INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? 
As an animator, I haven’t seen any great advances in the technology we use to do our job. At the end of the day, animators only really have to deal with timing and poses. The biggest change has been the career becoming more accessible as a profession, and it’s been a good one. The tools have leveled the playing field, and now when we look for animators we don’t need to look for traditional art skills like drawing. As long as they understand performance and movement they can produce amazing work.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
Like most people in the industry I had a lot of influences that led me in this direction, but the main film that finally tipped me over was A Bug’s Life. I could see a very strong future for 3D animation watching that film; that was when l thought l could make a career out of a hobby.

DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL FOR ANIMATION?
Not for animation. There were no courses available for animation when l left school. So instead l studied illustration to build my creative skills, and in my spare time researched animation on the Internet and taught myself at home.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I really enjoy the start of each production. Doing motion tests to establish how a character will move and looking at the storyboards or previs for the first time.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
When you’re getting close to the deadline and the schedule becomes more important than reworking the shot because you came up with a better idea for the character.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d love to say l would be a pilot. But then again, l spent so much time drawing in school that my grades weren’t very good, so l doubt anyone would have let me fly 50 tons of metal across the sky. (Which is probably best, now that l think of it.)

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently finished production on Underworld 5, and before that we completed the Battle of the Bastards sequence in Season 6, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones.

The Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

WHAT IS THE PROJECT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I think Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards has been the most rewarding. We set out to greatly improve our crowd animation for the sequence, and it’s probably the only project l’ve worked on where the final result looked as good what I had imagined it would be when I started.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
Along with a number of in-house tools, we rely on Maya day to day for all of our keyframe animation. We have also recently started using Massive for crowds and iPi Motion Capture in a small in-house mocap space.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Many places. It’s very easy to find your way to a lot of very impressive work on the Internet these days. I’m probably most inspired by work in other films, and I follow a lot of illustrators and artists as well.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Leave work and go home.

Super Hero music video gets Aardman Nathan Love treatment

The Aardman Nathan Love animation studio recently finished design and animation work on director Kris Merc’s music video for Super Hero, the leadoff single from Kool Keith’s new album Feature Magnetic that is a collaboration with MF Doom.

The video starts with a variety of hypnotic imagery, from eye charts to kaleidoscopic wheels, with Doom’s iconic, ever-rotating mask as its centerpiece.

“Being a huge fan of both Kool Keith and MF Doom for years, and knowing our studio had capacity to help Kris out, we couldn’t not get involved,” recalls Aardman Nathan Love (ANL) founder/executive creative director Joe Burrascano. “Kris was able to let his imagination run wild. ANL’s team of designers, 3D artists and technical directors gave him the support he needed to help shape his vision and make the final piece as strong and unique as possible.”

According to Merc, who’s helmed notable projects from music videos for hip-hop pioneers De La Soul to spots for HTC during his lengthy career, the Super Hero production afforded him the space to realize his vision of bending and manipulating pop aesthetics to create something altogether mysterious and otherworldly. “I wanted to capture something that felt like a visual pop travesty,” explains the director. “I wanted it to visually speak to the legacy of the artists, and Afrofuturism mixed with comic book concepts. I’m a fan of the unseen, and I was obsessed with the idea of using Doom’s mask and the iconography as a centralized point – as if time and space converged around these strange, sometimes magical tableaus and we were witnessing an ascension.”

To help develop his concepts, Merc worked closely with Aardman Nathan Love in several key stages of production from the idea and design stage to technical aspects like compositing and rendering. “Our specialty lies mainly in CG character animation work, which typically involves a lot of careful planning and development work up front,” adds ANL CG director Eric Cunha. “Kris has a very organic process, and is constantly finding inspiration for new and exciting ideas. The biggest challenge we faced was being able to respond to this constant flow of new ideas, and facilitate the growth of the piece. In the end, it was an exciting new challenge that pushed us to develop a new way of working that resulted in an amazing, visually fresh and creative piece of work.”

Zbrush was used to create some of the assets, and Autodesk Maya was Aardman Nathan Love’s main animation tool. Most of the rendering was done in Maxwell, aside of two or so shots that were done in Arnold.

Stop-motion director Anthony Farquhar-Smith joins Not To Scale

Film and animation production company Not To Scale has signed stop-motion director Anthony Farquhar-Smith, who will work across all of their studios in London, New York and Amsterdam.

In addition to working with feature film directors like Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox and Tim Burton on Corpse Bride, Farquhar-Smith has directed TV commercials in the UK and internationally.

Before joining Not To Scale, Farquhar-Smith worked with clients such as Kellogg’s, HSBC, Cadbury, Samsung and Audi. A two-year stint working in the industry in Los Angeles also led to commercials for Barbie, Intel, Xbox and Alamo. He is currently working on a short film called Drawer. He also lectures at several animation courses around the country.

“We’ve been looking for a stop-frame director of Anthony’s experience and caliber for some time,” says Dan O’Rourke, founder and chief executive producer at Not To Scale. “We were delighted to meet him and sign him onto our roster and even more delighted to get him working with St Luke’s and Very in his first week.”

Capturing the Olympic spirit for Coke

By Randi Altman

There is nothing like the feeling you get from a great achievement, or spending time with people who are special to you. This is the premise behind Coke’s Gold Feelings commercial out of agency David. The spot, which aired on broadcast television and via social media and exists in 60-, 30- and 15-second iterations, features Olympic athletes at the moment of winning. Along with the celebratory footage, there were graphics that feature quotes about winning and an update of the iconic Coke ribbon.

The agency brought in Lost Planet, Black Hole’s parent company for graphics, editing and final finishing. Lost Planet provided editing while Black Hole provided graphics and finishing.

Tim Vierling

Still feeling the Olympic spirit, we reached out to Black Hole producer Tim Vierling to find out more.

How early did you get involved in the project?
Black Hole became involved early on in the offline edit when initially conceptualizing how to integrate graphics. We worked with the agency creatives to layout the supers and helped determine what approach would be best.

How far along was it in terms of the graphics at that point?
Whereas the agency established the print portion of the creative beforehand, much of the animation was undiscovered territory. For the end tag, Black Hole animated various iterations of the Coke ribbon wiping onto screen and carefully considered how this would interact with each subject in the end shots.

We then had to update the existing disc animation to complement the new and improved/iconic Coke ribbon. The titles/supers that appear throughout the spot were under constant scrutiny — from tracking to kerning to font type. We held to a rule that type could never cross over an athlete’s face, which led to some clever thinking. Black Hole’s job was to locate the strongest moments to highlight and rotoscope various body parts of the athletes, having them move over and behind the titles throughout the spot.

What was the most challenging part of the project? Olympics projects tend to have a lot of moving parts, and there were some challenges caused by licensing issues, forcing us to adapt to an unusually high amount of editorial changes. This, in turn, resulted in constant rotoscoping. Often a new shot didn’t work well with the previous supers, so they were changing as frequently as the edit. This forced us to the push the schedule, but in the end we delivered something we’re really proud of.

What tools did you use?
Adobe After Effects and Photoshop, Imagineer Mocha and Autodesk Flame were all used for finishing and graphics.

A question for Lost Planet’s assistant editor Steven san Miguel: What direction were you given on the edit?
The spots were originally boarded with supers on solid backgrounds, but Lost Planet editors Kimmy Dube and Max Koepke knew this wouldn’t really work for a 60-second. It was just too much to read and not enough footage. Max was the first one to suggest a level of interactivity between the footage and the type, so from the very beginning we were working with Black Hole to lay out the type and roto the footage. This started before the agency even sat down with us. And since the copy and the footage were constantly changing there had to be really close communication between Lost Planet and Black Hole.

Early on the agency provided YouTube links for footage they used in their pitch video. We scoured the YouTube Olympic channel for more footage, and as the spot got closer to being final, we would send the clips to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and they would provide us with the high-res material.

Check out the spot!

Behind the Title: 3D artist Trevor Kerr

NAME: Trevor Kerr (@kerrmotion)

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I am a freelance 3D Generalist.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Most often a generalist like myself will tackle anything from layout to composite and everything in between. Lately, I’ve been focusing on environments and effects to ultimately specialize in one or the other.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think that it can be surprising how much one person can tackle on their own. I’ve finished some fairly intricate shots for a single artist pipeline.
My latest Star Wars short film was made almost completely by myself in under two months. Of course, working with a team has incredible multidisciplinary benefits as well.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I’ve been in 3D since 2012, and started pursuing visual effects in late 2014.

HOW HAS THE VFX/GRAPHICS INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? 
One difference of note in day-to-day life, in my short experience is the arrival of the IPR for many render solutions. I think learning 3D without an IPR forces you to think about efficiency which is, in many ways, a good thing. Instant feedback and progressive rendering is a massive time-saver, but I’m curious to see what long-term effects it has on the communal rendering psyche.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
As a child I was most certainly inspired and motivated by Star Wars and Jurassic Park. I was very interested in figuring out how to take the audience on a journey in the same way that these films did.

DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL FOR VFX/GRAPHICS?
I went to school for music and art history, but I ended up taking a job for a studio before I finished my bachelors. My drive to work in entertainment and film always motivated my personal learning and continues to do so every day!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is seeing everything come together. I have a massive appreciation for each step of the process — from concepting and layout to assembly and composite. Seeing the final frames in motion is always a thrill.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I think it’s hard to really nail down a least favorite, per se, because of how double-sided so many aspects of this industry are. A good example of this would be at the start of a job — what looks like an impossible task staring you in the face also doubles as extreme excitement and motivation to get started. To me, the subject is too nuanced to simply say, “This part is no good.”

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
This is a fantastic question, because I really cannot see myself doing anything else. I dabbled in audio engineering for a little while, so maybe something along the way of sound design — but is that so dissimilar from what I do now? It would certainly be something film-related, I’m sure.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Well, I currently have the pleasure of working on a project for League of Legends. I was also recently at Siggraph presenting for both Maxon and Autodesk on my recent Star Wars personal project. Prior to that was a piece for Disney’s Jungle Book and presenting for Maxon at NAB.

possible-mainWHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Well, from an overall execution standpoint, I think I’m most proud of my recent Star Wars personal project. The timeline was a little under two months — so for the timeline I think it is my best work. The layout, shaders and composite could use much more work — but I’m still happy to have learned everything I did along the way.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I mostly use Cinema 4D and Houdini for 3D work. My preferred render suite is primarily Arnold, but am also versed in Octane. Compositing is typically handled in Nuke or After Effects. Lately, I’ve been learning Clarisse, as well as specializing further in Houdini.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I hate to pull out some super-cliché answers here, but my girlfriend, my three year old, and love for feature films and the technology we’ve created over the past century to make them. I feel very strongly about good production design and story, especially when it comes to environments.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Well, I try to spend all of my time as efficiently as possible — but every now and then you just have to just do nothing and unwind. I find that going back to the source of my inspiration can help remind me why I got into the work I do when things get hard. Sitting down in my living room and taking in a favorite film of mine will often put me at ease.

Atomic Cartoons helps bring Beatles music to kids for Netflix’s ‘Beat Bugs’

Vancouver’s Atomic Cartoons was recently called on by Netflix to help introduce kids to the music of The Beatles via its show Beat Bugs.

Set in an overgrown suburban backyard, Beat Bugs focuses on five friends as they band together to explore their environment. Iconic Beatles songs, including Magical Mystery Tour, Come Together, Penny Lane and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds are woven into the narrative of each episode, in versions recorded by such artists as Eddie Vedder, Sia and Pink.

Atomic Cartoons is creating the 3D animation for Beat Bugs in Autodesk Maya, with The Foundry’s Nuke being used to composite the render passes. The studio estimates that it has worked on over 10,000 shots for the series, comprising more than 100,000 individual frames — some taking only two hours to render.

To ensure that it made optimal use of resources during such intensive work, the studio relied on PipelineFX’s 400-node renderfarm Qube! to divide rendering for the show.

Rachit Singh, Atomic’s head of technology, says a big benefit of Qube! is the option to define custom job types — essential in a studio like Atomic, which uses its own proprietary asset-management system alongside off-the-shelf production tracking and playback tools like Shotgun and RV. The studio also uses Flash, Harmony and After Effects on its 2D animated productions, all of which require their own custom job types.

“Even the built-in job types are great out of the box,” says Singh. “But as these job types are constructed as open architecture scripts, they can be customized to fit the studio’s pipeline needs.”

Beat Bugs debuted on Netflix in early August. You can check out the show’s trailer here.

Wacom intros Intuos 3D for digital designs and characters

Wacom has introduced Intuos 3D, a complete a 3D solution that combines Wacom’s Intuos pen tablet with Pixologic’s ZBrushCore software for creating and sculpting print-ready digital designs and characters on a Mac or PC.

“While 3D design and DIY printing has become extremely popular, Wacom determined an opportunity existed to improve the front-end of the creative design process and deliver a complete solution,” says Jeff Mandell, EVP of Wacom’s Branded Business. “Wacom’s holistic approach delivers a complete customer experience, from ideation to visual creation to physical creation.”

“In order to ensure an all-inclusive 3D solution, Wacom brought together industry leaders Pixologic, Shapeways and Sketchfab to integrate hardware, software and 3D printing and publishing services,” reports Tom Kopinski, senior manager of creative market strategy at Wacom.

The Intuos 3D’s pen works seamlessly with Pixologic’s powerful ZBrushCore software, built from the same ZBrush foundation that top pro film and game studios have been using for their 3D creations for years. The battery-free, cordless and pressure-sensitive Intuos pen combines with ZBrushCore to emulate the same feel and feedback one gets when working with traditional brushes, markers or ceramic tools.

Users seeking on-demand 3D prints can send their completed models to the online service Shapeways for printing.

Intuos 3D ($199.95 USD) includes the Intuos 3D tablet, pen and downloadable Pixologic ZBrushCore software, as well as special offers from Shapeways and Sketchfab. Intuos 3D will be distributed globally to retailers and online resellers, including Amazon and the Wacom eStore, and available for sale in late October.

Designer Mitch Monson joins mOcean as creative director

Mitch Monson has joined LA-based mOcean as creative director/client partner. An Emmy-winning designer, Monson has collaborated with the likes of ABC, Al Jazeera, Canal+, Comedy Central, Fox, HBO, Showtime, Canon, IBM and Nike. He was also instrumental in creating the iconic Love Symbol for The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

Prior to joining mOcean, Monson was creative director at Trollbäck + Company in New York, where he led the rebrand of the BBC master brand; brand identities for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics for NBC Sports; and the original Mr. Robot show packaging for USA Network.

“I’m excited about my new role at mOcean and the opportunity to combine more filmmaking and in-camera work with motion design and animation,” says Monson. “It’s been amazing to jump right in with so many clients that represent the top entertainment brands in film and television. Plus, it is great to have the strength of mOcean’s directing, editorial, design and key art capabilities all in one team. There is just so much creative and executional depth to their narrative process and it’s inspiring to be a part of it!”

 

Alpha Animation formed in LA, Bob Bacon named CEO

Alpha Group has hired industry vet Bob Bacon as CEO of its LA-based Alpha Animation, a new division dedicated to the development and production of high-quality animated feature content. Alpha Animation will look to leverage Alpha Group’s various properties as well as create original fare with the goal of releasing their first feature in 2020 and to produce a film per year thereafter for the global market. In his new role as CEO, Bacon will oversee all aspects of development, production and operations.

Besides the new formation of Alpha Animation, Alpha Group also recently established an LA-based live-action feature film development company called Alpha Pictures. Alpha Pictures is focused on developing US-China co-productions based on the properties from U17.com, a large online comic book platform in China, which was acquired by Alpha Group last year. Additionally, Alpha Group also owns a kids’ TV network in Southern China called JiaJia Cartoon.

Bacon has a deep resume within the world of animation. Most recently he was executive VP of production for Paramount Animation, where he served as head of the animation division. While at Paramount, he oversaw the production and launch of the 2015 film The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water and helped develop a full slate of films for the studio to release through 2019.

Prior to his work at Paramount, he served as a production executive for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures on the 2011 animated feature release, Gnomeo and Juliet. Bacon started his career in animation at Disney in 1991, working on such films as Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Tarzan and Lilo & Stitch. In 2001 he was named SVP of production, as the studio made the transition from a traditional 2D studio to one focusing on computer animation. He was later promoted to EVP of Walt Disney Animation Studios, overseeing production, finance and technology and running the day-to-day operations of a crew of over 600 artists, technicians and production staff.

Behind the Title: State Design ECD/Owner Marcel Ziul

NAME: Marcel Ziul

COMPANY: Los Angeles-based State Design

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We’re a design, animation and live-action production company. We’re on the small-ish side. Some fancier people might call us a “boutique.” We just like taking on a few select projects at a time.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I’m the Executive Creative Director and Owner.

STATE_01WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Being the owner, I used to handle quite a bit of our business affairs, but now I mainly direct and oversee projects that come in our doors on a creative level. Along with a great team of artists and producers, I help ensure that our clients’ creative visions are fulfilled and surpassed.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably the balancing act of being an owner and creative director. It’s sometimes tough to separate the two. Early on, I used to be bogged down by business dealings during the day and then focused on creative after business hours. That was unacceptable.

In the last two years, we’ve grown up as a company, and I’ve hired the right staff to handle the majority of the business, so now I can focus primarily on the creative and strategy of the studio.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with a client that truly enjoys collaborating. When you’re in sync with your client it’s no longer just work, it’s fun. Also, I really enjoy working directly with my team of creatives. Our 3D lead Mauro Borba, for example, is always really excited about the projects, and his leadership makes my job more rewarding and creative.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The opposite of the above answer!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
When I have time to only focus on the creative direction and how to improve upon the projects we are currently working on. Most of the time, this is when I’m alone at the studio in the early morning or late evening.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d open a coffee store and probably drink coffee all day long. I also love cycling. That said, a bike shop wouldn’t be a bad idea either. But these are just entertaining thoughts. In reality, I wouldn’t do anything different than what I’m doing now.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
It’s actually because of my dad. One of his best friends had a production company and he thought it would be a good opportunity for me to intern there. I was 18 years old at the time. To me, it was the most amazing thing ever. From there, I went straight to college where I graduated with a degree in advertising.

FIFACAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Our recent work includes the History of FIFA Women’s World Cup web spot for Fox Sports, the “No Brainer” co-branded commercial campaign for IFC, and a beautifully animated commercial called Veteran’s Day for Syfy.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s hard to say because I’m proud of all our collaborations. As of today, I’d say it’s our self-initiated spot called “Statement.” It hits home for me because it’s kind of a culmination of my life’s work up to this point.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
iPhone, Nespresso Machine and my Fuji XT-1.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I love Instagram, but I also follow Facebook and Vimeo.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Of course! Anything by Sepultura and Queens of the Stone Age to Apparat and Moderat.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Besides cycling, I enjoying relaxing with my family and friends, going to concerts and watching UFC and soccer.

Shipping + Handling adds Luca Giannettoni as CD of motion design/animation

Luca Giannettoni has recently joined Venice, California-based visual effects house Shipping + Handling as creative director. He has been tasked with growing its motion design and animation business.

Shipping + Handling is a creative content studio — working in broadcast, TV, Web and mobile —that offers creative finishing services such as VFX, design, motion graphics and animation. S+H has offices in LA and New York.

“S+H is expanding and we are stoked to have Giannettoni join our team here in Venice,” says executive producer Scott Friske.

While at companies such as Elastic, Oishii Creative and Yu+Co, among others, Giannettoni worked on commercials, broadcast and main titles for brands such as T-Mobile, Toyota, Coke, Hyundai, Goodyear, McDonald’s and ESPN. Giannettoni is a native from Verona, Italy, where he worked in design and fashion prior to coming to Los Angeles.

Speakers set for Italy’s CGI-focused VIEW Conference

The VIEW Conference 2016, a large computer graphics and digital media conference in Turin, Italy is set for October 24. The conference spans five days of talks, workshops, panel discussions, interactive sessions and awards presented to an expected audience of 6,000 students and professionals.

This year, VIEW is headlined by three keynotes:
• Byron Howard – Co-director of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ animated hit Zootopia (our main photo). He will discuss the film’s five-plus year evolution.
• Dr. Donald Greenberg – Director of the program of computer graphics at Cornell University, with research supported by Pixar, DreamWorks, Microsoft, Intel, Oculus, Valve and Autodesk, and with government funding. Greenberg will address the question of what’s necessary to make VR real.
• Brad Lewis – Producer of Warner Animation Groups’ second animated feature, Storks, will discuss creation of the film.

The VIEW Conference has also launched, and is now accepting submissions for a competition of animated short films or videogames created during 2015 and 2016. Competition entry information and information about the conferences’ growing list of speakers, sessions and workshops is available at http://www.viewconference.it.

VIEW Conference 2016 will also include a host of talks and workshops:

Workshop: The DNA of Disney Character Design – Byron Howard
In addition to his keynote, Howard will present this workshop on creating appealing characters for animation, including for Tangled and Bolt, both of which he directed.

Workshop: Visual Imaging in the Electronic Age – Dr. Donald Greenberg
In addition to his keynote, Greenberg’s workshop will discuss where technology is going, where it comes from, the future of graphic environments and with much of the answers depending on how we see or how we interpret what we see, how the medium is dependent on recent research in perception psychology.

Talk: The Visual Design of The Good Dinosaur – Sharon Calahan, DP, The Good Dinosaur, Pixar Animation Studios

Workshop: Storytelling with Light – Sharon Calahan

Talk: Kubo and The Two Strings – Marc Haimes – Screenplay writer, Kubo and The Two Strings, Laika

Talk: Finding Hank – John Halstead – Supervising technical director, Finding Dory, Pixar Animation Studios

Talk: Virtual Reality – Jump Into the Story – Maureen Fan – CEO, co-founder Baobab Studios

Talk: Google Spotlight Stories – Rain or Shine – Luke Youngman, executive producer/deputy head of production and Felix Massie, director, Nexus

Talk: The Making of Open Season: Scared Silly – David Feiss director, Open Season: Scared Silly, Sony Pictures Animation

Workshop: Storyboarding in Feature Animation With Sony Pictures Animation Director David Feiss – David Feiss

Talk: The Power of Ambition as a Motivating Force in Creative Endeavors – Josh Holmes, franchise creative director – 343 Industries

Talk: Neuroscience and Video Games: A New Class of Medicine, Adam Gazzaley, co-founder, chief science advisor, Akili Interactive and Matt Omernick, co-founder, chief creative officer, Akili Interactive

Talk: The Emotions of Game Development – Daryl Anselmo – art & creative director, Zynga

Talk: ADR1FT and at Peace – Adam Orth – CEO, creative director, Three One Zero

Talk: Alice Through the Looking Glass – Troy Saliba – snimation supervisor, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Sony Pictures Imageworks

Workshop: Animation Posing and Composition – Troy Saliba

Talk: New Directions for Stylized CG – Chris Perry – Associate professor of media arts and sciences, Hampshire College

Workshop: Directing the Visual Story- Chris Perry

Workshop: Portfolio review with J.C. Cornwell – J.C. Cornwell – director of training and artist development, Sony Pictures Imageworks

Workshop: 3D Animation Taster – Alex Williams – Head of animation, Escape Studios

Talk: Crafting a Photoreal Jungle for Disney’s The Jungle Book – Audrey Ferrara

Talk: Clinical Imaging of the Human Body: For Health, Visualization and Predictive Analytics – Pratik Shak

VIEW AWARDS
The VIEW conference is now accepting submissions in four categories for animated short films or videogames created during 2015 and 2016.

VIEW Award – 2,000 Euro first prize will be awarded to the best short film with 2D or 3D animation or visual effects. The category is open to students and professionals. In addition, awards will be given for Best Short, Best Design, Best Character and Best VFX.

VIEW Social Contest – A Wacom Intuos Pro Medium will be given for a short film, music clip, or commercial with 2D/3D animation and VFX that focuses on social issues.

VIEW Game Award – 500 Euros will be given to the game with the best story, design and mechanics.

VIEWTube Video Award – 500 Euros for the best YouTube video in 2016 about recycling.

Italianmix – Wacom Intuos Pro Medium tablet for the best short film (30 minutes or less) focusing on Italian themes.

The deadline for submissions is September 15.

The A-List: The Little Prince director Mark Osborne

By Iain Blair

Two-time Academy Award-nominated director Mark Osborne has been telling stories with animation and live-action for more than 25 years.  His breakout film was the 2008 animated DreamWorks offering Kung Fu Panda — co-directed by John Stevenson — which has grossed over $630 million worldwide.

Osborne’s live-action directing credits include the independent feature film Dropping Out, the animated TV series Spongebob Squarepants, featuring Patchy the Pirate, and all of the live-action sequences for The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.

Mark Osborne and Iain Blair.

Now Osborne has directed and executive produced the upcoming first-ever animated feature film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved classic, The Little Prince, which premiered Out of Competition at Cannes and then won the French Cesar Film Award for Best Animated Feature. Using stop-motion animation and CGI, the film features the voice talents of Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Benicio del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Riley Osborne, Albert Brooks and Mackenzie Foy.

The film centers on the friendship between an eccentric old aviator (Jeff Bridges) and the very grown-up young girl who moves into the house next door with her extremely grown-up mother (Rachel McAdams). Through the pages of the aviator’s book and his drawings, the little girl (Mackenzie Foy) learns the story of how he long ago crashed in a desert and met The Little Prince (Riley Osborne), an enigmatic boy from a distant planet.

I recently met up with Osborne to talk about making the film.

I heard that when you were asked to direct this, your first instinct was to turn it down. Is that true?
Absolutely. Part of it was the way the question was asked; “Do you know the book? Do you want to make a big CG animated film of it?” I said, “I know the book very well, and it’s impossible to film. I don’t think CG’s the right way to deal with the book’s poetry.” I couldn’t see a way to stretch out this small, magical novella, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw it as this great opportunity, and that there was maybe a way to do — not a direct adaptation, but something more unconventional that captures the spirit and poetry of the book. I thought that I could tell a larger story that said something about the power of the book, and maybe I could use stop motion to protect the poetry of the book. So the same reasons that initially made me say “no” actually made me agree to do it.

How early on did you decide to combine CGI and stop motion?
It was one of the early ideas I had, but it took a while to present it to the producers — it was one of the deal breakers. I went back to them and said, ‘I think we can do it this way,’ and happily they loved the combination.

How tricky was it combining 2D and 3D?
It was tricky because, except for two transitions, we are hard-cutting between 2D and 3D. I just gave a talk at SIGGRAPH about the challenges. I was always designing the film as a whole, and we were constantly discussing how we’d make it all fit together. But, ultimately, we wanted the CG and stop motion to feel different. The three elements we used to make it all fit were color, light and paper. So the little girl is holding a piece of yellow paper and staring at it, and it becomes the sand dune. Everything in the stop motion frame is paper, and together with light, that makes the link between the CG world and the stop motion world.

My co-production designer Celine Desrumaux, who worked on Harry Potter, is an incredibly talented color artist and she took all the movie storyboards and did color and lighting layouts, which helped enormously. We’d talk a lot about how various scenes needed to dovetail and how to blend the colors and light the CG animation. In some ways it’s very realistic lighting in the CG scenes, but it’s falling on this very stylized look, so it maintains its storybook qualities as it’s not photoreal.

For the 3D did you originate in stereo?
Yes, so when Jamie Caliri did all the stop-motion sequences he shot in stereo — a left eye and right eye. So we didn’t add it in post. It’s true stereo.

This must have required a very complex digital pipeline. How did that work?
It was a lot of innovation and a lot of collaboration. My parent company partnered with French producers and we began work in LA and then moved to Paris for the development and storyboard parts. When we moved to Montreal we set up our CG pipeline with this French-Canadian company Mikros Image. So it was partly their in-house pipeline and partly the French one from Paris.

What about rendering? That must have been a critical part of the whole process.
It was, and we called on Guerilla Render, which is used a lot in VFX, but it’s now starting to be used more in animation. That gave us this unique lighting look for all our CG sequences. It did create a few complications because it was relatively new for animated films and the pipeline we were building was also relatively new. I came from the big-budget studio pipeline and I was coming into a more indie world, so there were some growing pains. But, ultimately, our CG pipeline gave us this unique element that we could work closely with in conjunction with our stop-motion pipeline, since they were both in Montreal.

The Little PrinceAnimation takes so long to edit, and you had two editors — Matt Landon and Carole Kravetz. How did that work?
You’re right — it took years to edit! It’s just the reality of animation. When you make a live-action film, you make it three times — you write it, shoot it and cut it. But in animation, you make those three versions simultaneously — we’re writing, shooting and editing as we go, so it’s highly collaborative. Plus, I’m working constantly with my writers and editors. I began with Carole in Paris, and she laid the basic foundations, then Matt cut with me in Montreal as Carole couldn’t move there. So it turned out to be a great opportunity to bring in a new collaborator and fresh set of eyes. I always knew the biggest challenge would be balancing the book and the film’s larger story. Getting that balance right was very tricky, but Matt really helped pull it all together.

The songs by Camille and music by Hans Zimmer must have been another crucial element?
Hugely important! In animation you have to create every single thing, every sound. Nothing is free. So from sound design to music, it’s all so important. The big key for me is that I treat animation like any other film. It’s not a cartoon; it’s not for kids. We’re making a real film for adults and kids. When I first presented it to Hans Zimmer, I was so thrilled when he said, “I don’t want it to sound like any other animated movie — or any other movie at all. I want it to sound French and unique. Then he partnered with French singer Camille and composer Richard Harvey, and the result is something very special.

Fair to say this was a true labor of love?
Completely. It’s taken over five and a half years from start to finish, and it changed radically over that time. But filmmaking for me is a process of discovery, and it’s been this amazing adventure.

What’s next? Another Kung Fu Panda?
No, I like to keep doing different things. I’m not sure what my next project will be, but I want to keep pushing the boundaries of what animation can be, using different techniques. I’d love to do a full stop-motion film.

Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Pixar open sources Universal Scene Description for CG workflows

Pixar Animation Studios has released Universal Scene Description (USD) as an open source technology in order to help drive innovation in the industry. Used for the interchange of 3D graphics data through various digital content creation tools, USD provides a scalable solution for the complex workflows of CG film and game studios. 

With this initial release, Pixar is opening up its development process and providing code used internally at the studio.

“USD synthesizes years of engineering aimed at integrating collaborative production workflows that demand a constantly growing number of software packages,” says Guido Quaroni, VP of software research and development at Pixar.

 USD provides a toolset for reading, writing, editing and rapidly previewing 3D scene data. With many of its features geared toward performance and large-scale collaboration among many artists, USD is ideal for the complexities of the modern pipeline. One such feature is Hydra, a high-performance preview renderer capable of interactively displaying large data sets.

“With USD, Hydra, and OpenSubdiv, we’re sharing core technologies that can be used in filmmaking tools across the industry,” says George ElKoura, supervising lead software engineer at Pixar. “Our focus in developing these libraries is to provide high-quality, high-performance software that can be used reliably in demanding production scenarios.”

Along with USD and Hydra, the distribution ships with USD plug-ins for some common DCCs, such as Autodesk’s Maya and The Foundry’s Katana.

 To prepare for open-sourcing its code, Pixar gathered feedback from various studios and vendors who conducted early testing. Studios such as MPC, Double Negative, ILM and Animal Logic were among those who provided valuable feedback in preparation for this release.

Aardman Nathan Love adds director/designer Ellen Su

New York-based animation house Aardman Nathan Love has grown its team with the addition of director/designer Ellen Su. This NYC native and School of Visual Arts graduate started her career as an intern at Pixar. She then went on to work as a designer, animator, director, illustrator and 3D/visual artist at The Mill, Psyop, R/GA and Moonbot Studios. Aardman Nathan Love founder/ECD Joe Burrascano knows Su well. He was her thesis advisor at SVA, and she has since served as a freelancer there.

While working at these many VFX/animation studios, Su cultivated her skills as a director with projects including her animated short film Spacebound, as well as the national education project The Great Thanksgiving Listen, which was featured on Google’s homepage.

“I think with any project you take on, you learn management skills,” says Su. “You become more aware of all the different things that you need to do to finish something. That’s why I think you should always be working on something. And when you finish, start something else. You learn from your mistakes and shortcomings on the previous project and you do better on the next one. It is also just really gratifying to say you want to do something, jump right in to do it, and come out the other end with a finished product like, ‘Wow. I did this.’”

Lobo opens NYC animation studio, EP Luis Ribeiro at helm

Lobo, a São Paulo-based design and animation studio, has opened an office in New York, its first US location. Industry veteran Luis Ribeiro has been named partner and executive producer of the New York office, where he will spearhead all of Lobo’s US operations.

Brazil native Ribeiro has a diverse resume that spans 25 years of work in the US. Most recently, Ribeiro was executive producer at Framestore NY, where he oversaw business development for the studio’s four main integrated advertising divisions. Prior to that, he worked as the US consultant for FilmBrazil, was new business developer at Whitehouse Post and VP of the Latin Division for Deluxe Entertainment. He also held MD and VP of biz dev positions at Speedshape, Method Studios, Beast and Co3.

Founded in 1994, by Nando Cohen and Mateus de Paula Santos, Lobo offers a range of media and techniques, including 2D animation, stop motion, 3D, VFX and live action.

Archion’s new Omni Hybrid storage targets VR, VFX, animation

Archion Technologies has introduced the EditStor Omni Hybrid, a collaborative storage solution for virtual reality, visual effects, animation, motion graphics and post workflows.

In terms of performance, an Omni Hybrid with one expansion chassis offers 8000MB/second for 4K and other streaming demands, and over 600,000 IOPS for rendering and motion graphics. The product has been certified for Adobe After Effects, Autodesk’s Maya/Flame/Lustre, The Foundry’s Nuke and Modo, Assimilate Scratch and Blackmagic’s Resolve and Fusion.  The Omni Hybrid is scalable up to a 1.5Petabytes, and can be expanded without shutdown.

“We have Omni Hybrid in post production facilities that range from high-end TV and film to massive reality productions,” reports Archion CTO James Tucci. “They are all doing graphics and editorial work on one storage system.”

SIGGRAPH’s 43rd Computer Animation Festival winners

The winners of SIGGRAPH’s 43rd Annual Computer Animation Festival have been announced. For 2016, submissions were evaluated by an expert jury of proS who span the visual effects, animation, research and development, games, advertising and education industries.

This 2016 award categories and winners are:

Best in Show
Borrowed Time (USA), directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, and produced by Amanda Jones. It runs seven minutes.

A weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.

Jury’s Choice
Cosmos Laundromat (Netherlands) submitted and produced by Ton Roosendaal.

In this short, Franck, a depressed sheep, sees only one way out of his boring life, until he meets with the quirky salesman Victor, who offers him any life he ever wanted. The piece was created as a pilot for a feature film project that, if it happens, will be the first free, open-source animated production.

Best Student Project
Le Crabe-Phare (France), directed by Mengjing Yang, Gaëtan Borde, Benjamin Lebourgeois, Claire Vandermeersch and Alendandre Veaux.

The Crabe-Phare is a legendary crustacean. He captures the boats of lost sailors to add them to his collection. But the crab is getting old, and it is more and more difficult for him to build his collection.Crabe-Phare © 2016 AUTOUR DE MINUIT

The 2016 Computer Animation Festival is comprised of two programs: the Electronic Theater and Daytime Selects. An evening event, the Electronic Theater will contain over 20 primarily narrative-driven short films from around the globe, showcasing technical excellence, art and animation.

In addition to juried pieces, this year’s theater will feature curated works such as Disney Pixar’s Piper and Disney Animation Studios’ Inner Workings.

The Daytime Selects program has been revamped for 2016 and will offer four varied sessions. They will include

·  Break it Down – A chance for attendees to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how movie magic is created, featuring demonstrations of visual effects from major studios and a glimpse at how standard techniques can be used in new ways. Participating studios include ILM, MPC, Framestore, Weta, Digital Domain, Pixar, Spin VFX, OLM, Mr. X, and many more!
·  The Arcade – An audience experience that focuses on games from concept art through technology to implementation in cinematic and realtime. The show touches on everything from look development through to the accomplishments being made today with modern realtime engines.
·  Demoscene – A representation of an international computer art subculture that specializes in creating self-contained programs that produce audio-visual presentations. It is designed for computer scientists, GPU lovers, shader architects, and extreme realtime graphics artists who exhibit programming, artistic and musical skills within highly constrained limitations.
·  Winners Circle – A celebration of Computer Animation Festival award winners from the past seven years for attendees who wish to revisit some of their favorite winning content from Electronic Theaters.

Click here to view the trailer for the 2016 Computer Animation Festival. To learn more about the festival and this year’s selections visit conference website.

Jon Neill joins Axis as head of lighting, rendering, compositing

Axis Animation in Glasgow, Scotland, has added Jon Neill as their new head of lighting, rendering and compositing (LRC). He has previously held senior positions at MPC and Cinesite, working on such projects as Jungle Book, Skyfall and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

His role at Axis will be overseeing the LRC team at both the department and project level, providing technical and artistic leadership across multiple projects and managing the day-to-day production needs.

“Jon’s supervisory skills coupled with knowledge in a diverse range of execution techniques is another step forward in raising the bar in both our short- and long-form projects.” says Graham McKenna, co-founder and head of 3D at Axis.