Tag Archives: animation

Behind the Title: Neko founder Lirit Rosenzweig Topaz

NAME: Lirit Rosenzweig Topaz

COMPANY: Burbank’s Neko Productions

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are an animation studio working on games, TV, film, digital, AR, VR and promotional projects in a variety of styles, including super-cartoony and hyper-realistic CG and 2D. We believe in producing the best product for the budget, and giving our clients and partners peace of mind.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Founder/Executive Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I established the company and built it from scratch. I am the face of the company and the force behind it. I am in touch with our clients and potential clients to make sure all are getting the best service possible.

Dr. Ruth doc

I am a part of the hiring process, making sure our team meets the standards of creativity, communication ability, responsibility and humanness. It is important for me to make sure all of our team members are great human beings, as well as being amazing and talented artists. I oversee all projects and make sure the machine is working smoothly to everyone’s satisfaction.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I am always looking at the big picture, from the macro to the micro, as well. I need to be aware of so many of the smaller details making sure everything is running smoothly for both sides, employees and clients.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED OVER THE YEARS ABOUT RUNNING A BUSINESS?
I have learned that it is a roller coaster and one should enjoy the ride, and that one day doesn’t look like another day. I learned that if you are true to yourself, stick to your objectives and listen to your inner voice while doing a great job, things will work out. I always remember we are all human beings; you can succeed as a business person and have people and clients love working with you at the same time.

A LOT OF IT MUST BE ABOUT TRYING TO KEEP EMPLOYEES AND CLIENTS HAPPY. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THAT?
For sure! That is the key for everything. When employees are happy, they give their heart and soul. As a result, the workplace becomes a place they appreciate, not just a place they need to go to earn a living. Happy clients mean that you did your job well. I balance it by checking in with my team to make sure all is well by asking them to share with me any concerns they may have. At the end of the day, when the team is happy, they do a good job, and that results in satisfied clients.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
It is important for me that everybody comes to work with a smile on their face and to be a united team with the goal to create great projects. This usually results in their thinking out of the box and looking for ways to be efficient, to push the envelope and to make sure creativity is always at the highest level. Working on projects similar to ones we did in the past, but also to work on projects and styles we haven’t done before.

Dr. Ruth doc

I like the fact that I am a woman running a company. Being a woman allows me to juggle well, be on top of a few things at the same time and still be caring and loving.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I have two. One is the beginning of the day when I know I have a full day ahead of me to create work, influence, achieve and do many things. Two is the evening, when I am back home with my family.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT CLIENTS?
Sega, Wayforward and the recent Ask Dr Ruth documentary.

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

UK’s Jellyfish adds virtual animation studio and Kevin Spruce

London-based visual effects and animation studio Jellyfish Pictures is opening of a new virtual animation facility in Sheffield. The new site is the company’s fifth studio in the UK, in addition to its established studios in Fitzrovia, Central London; Brixton; South London; and Oval, South London. This addition is no surprise considering Jellyfish created one of Europe’s first virtual VFX studios back in 2017.

With no hardware housed onsite, Jellyfish Pictures’ Sheffield studio — situated in the city center within the Cooper Project Complex — will operate in a completely PC-over-IP environment. With all technology and pipeline housed in a centrally-based co-location, the studio is able to virtualize its distributed workstations through Teradici’s remote visualization solution, allowing for total flexibility and scalability.

The Sheffield site will sit on the same logical LAN as the other four studios, providing access to the company’s software-defined storage (SDS) from Pixit Media, enabling remote collaboration and support for flexible working practices. With the rest of Jellyfish Pictures’ studios all TPN-accredited, the Sheffield studio will follow in their footsteps, using Pixit Media’s container solution within PixStor 5.

The innovative studio will be headed up by Jellyfish Pictures’ newest appointment, animation director Kevin Spruce. With a career spanning over 30 years, Spruce joins Jellyfish from Framestore, where he oversaw a team of 120 as the company’s head of animation. During his time at Framestore, Spruce worked as animation supervisor on feature films such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Legend of Tarzan and Guardians of the Galaxy. Prior to his 17-year stint at Framestore, Spruce held positions at Canadian animation company, Bardel Entertainment and Spielberg-helmed feature animation studio Amblimation.

Jellyfish Pictures’ northern presence will start off with a small team of animators working on the company’s original animation projects, with a view to expand its team and set up with a large feature animation project by the end of the year.

“We have multiple projects coming up that will demand crewing up with the very best talent very quickly,” reports Phil Dobree, CEO of Jellyfish Pictures. “Casting off the constraints of infrastructure, which traditionally has been the industry’s way of working, means we are not limited to the London talent pool and can easily scale up in a more efficient and economical way than ever before. We all know London, and more specifically Soho, is an expensive place to play, both for employees working here and for the companies operating here. Technology is enabling us to expand our horizon across the UK and beyond, as well as offer talent a way out of living in the big city.”

For Spruce, the move made perfect sense: “After 30 years working in and around Soho, it was time for me to move north and settle in Sheffield to achieve a better work life balance with family. After speaking with Phil, I was excited to discover he was interested in expanding his remote operation beyond London. With what technology can offer now, the next logical step is to bring the work to people rather than always expecting them to move south.

“As animation director for Jellyfish Pictures Sheffield, it’s my intention to recruit a creative team here to strengthen the company’s capacity to handle the expanding slate of work currently in-house and beyond. I am very excited to be part of this new venture north with Jellyfish. It’s a vision of how creative companies can grow in new ways and access talent pools farther afield.”

 

Behind the Title: Legwork director of production Chris Grey

NAME: Chris Grey

COMPANY: Denver-based Legwork

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Legwork is an independent creative studio combining animation and technology to create memorable stories and experiences for advertising, entertainment and education.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Production

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I touch almost all parts of the business, including business development, client relationships, scoping, resourcing, strategy, producer mentorship and making sure every project that goes out the door is up to our high standards. Oh, and I still produce several projects myself.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
It might be cliché, but you still need to get your hands dirty producing things. You just can’t escape it, nor should you want to. It sets the example for your team.

Dominos

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The problem-solving aspect of it. No matter how tight your project plan is, it’s a given that curveballs are going to happen. Planning for those and being able to react with smart solutions is what makes every day different.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Anxiety isn’t fun, but it comes with the job. Just know how to deal with it and don’t let it rub off on others.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
First hour of the day for emails. I do my best to keep my afternoons meeting-free, unless it’s a client meeting, My last job put a lot of emphasis on “flow” and staying in it, so I do my best to keep all internals in the morning so the whole team can work in the afternoon, including myself.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’ve always wanted to own a cool bodega/deli type of place. We’d specialize in proper sandwiches, hard to find condiments, cheap beer. Keeping this dream alive…

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I knew in college. Crispin Porter + Bogusky was moving to Boulder during my junior or senior year at Colorado University. I read up on them and thought to myself “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.” I was lucky enough to get an internship there after graduation and I haven’t really looked back.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Can I take credit for the team on these two? Cool, because we’re super-proud of these, but I didn’t “produce” them:
Rise: Hope-a-monics
Pandora: Smokepurpp

Yeti

Some stuff I worked on recently that we are equally proud of:
https://www.yeticycles.com/
https://ifthisthendominos.com/
L.L.Bean: Find Your Park

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
More than a project, our relationship with YouTube has been super rewarding. The View in 2 series is now on its fifth season and it was one of the first things I worked on when I got to Legwork. Watching the show and our relationship with the client evolve is something I am proud of. In the coming months, there will be a new show that we’re releasing with them that pushes the style even further.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
1. This is a cheat because it covers music, my calendar, email, etc., but one is my iCloud and Google accounts — because 75 percent of my life on there now.
2. My Nest camera gives me peace of mind when I’m out of town and lets me know my dog isn’t too lonely.
3. Phonograph records — old tech that I love to collect.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Besides friends and family? Lots of food-related ones (current favorites are @wdurney and @turkeyandthewolf), sports/sneakers (@houseofhighlights, @jordansdaily), history (@ww2nowandthen) and a good random one is @celebsonsandwhiches.

I also like every @theonion post.

That was all for Instagram. I save Twitter for political rants and Liverpool F.C.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
We have a Sonos at the office and more often than not it forces me to put on my headphones. Sorry, Legworkers. So it might be a podcast, Howard Stern, KEXP or something British.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’m a new dad, so that helps keep everything in perspective. That and some brewery visits on the weekend, which are totally socially acceptable to bring infants to!

Behind the Title: ATK PLN Technical Supervisor Jon Speer

NAME: Jon Speer

COMPANY: ATK PLN (@atkpln_studio) in Dallas

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a strategic creative group that specializes in design and animation for commercials and short-form video productions.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Technical Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In general, a technical supervisor is responsible for leading the technical director team and making sure that the pipeline enables our artists’ effort of fulfilling the client’s vision.

Day-to-day responsibilities include:
– Reviewing upcoming jobs and making sure we have the necessary hardware resources to complete them
– Working with our producers and VFX supervisors to bid and plan future work
– Working with our CG/VFX supervisors to develop and implement new technologies that make our pipeline more efficient
– When problems arise in production, I am there to determine the cause, find a solution and help implement the fix
– Developing junior technical directors so they can be effective in mitigating pipeline issues that crop up during production

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I would say the most surprising thing that falls under the title is the amount of people and personality management that you need to employ.

As a technical supervisor, you have to represent every single person’s different perspectives and goals. Making everyone from artists, producers, management and, most importantly, clients happy is a tough balancing act. That balancing act needs to be constantly evaluated to make sure you have both the short-term and long-term interests of the company, clients and artists in mind.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
Maya, Houdini and Nuke are the main tools we support for shot production. We have our own internal tracking software that we also integrate with.

From text editors for coding, to content creation programs and even budgeting programs, I typically use it all.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Starting the next project. Each new project offers the chance for us to try out a new or revamped pipeline tool that we hope will make things that much better for our team. I love efficiencies, so getting to try new tools, whether they are internally or externally developed, is always fun.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I know it sounds cliché, but I don’t really have one. My entire job is based on figuring out why things don’t work or how they could work better. So when things are breaking or getting technically difficult, that is why I am here. If I had to pick one thing, I suppose it would be looking at spreadsheets of any kind.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Early morning when no one else is in. This is the time of day that I get to see what new tools are out there and try them. This is when I get to come up with the crazy ideas and plans for what we do next from a pipeline standpoint. Most of the rest of my day usually includes dealing with issues that crop up during production, or being in meetings.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I think I would have to give teaching a try. Having studied architecture in school, I always thought it would be fun to teach architectural history.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We just wrapped on a set of Lego spots for the new Lego 2 movie.

Fallout 76

We also did an E3 piece for Fallout 76 this year that was a lot of fun. We are currently helping out with a spot for the big game this year that has been a blast.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I think I am most proud of our Lego spots we have created over the last three years. We have really experimented with pipeline on those spots. We saw a new technology out there — rendering in Octane — and decided to jump in head first. While it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, we forced ourselves to become even more efficient in all aspects of production.

NAME PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Houdini really makes the difficult things simple to do. I also love Nuke. It does what it does so well, and is amazingly fast and simple to program in.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Mainly I’ll listen to soundtracks when I am working, the lack of words is best when I am programming.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Golf is something I really enjoy on the weekends. However, like a lot of people, I find travel is easily the best way to for me to hit the reset button.

London’s Jelly opens in NYC, EP relocates

London-based Jelly, an animation, design and production company that’s produced for many US-based agencies and direct clients, has opened a full-time presence in New York. Their senior creative producer Eri Panasci will relocate to lead the new entity as executive producer.

Launched in 2002, Jelly functions as both a production company and artist management agency. On the commercials front, Jelly represents a global roster of directors and creators who’ve produced animation and motion graphics for brands like Lacoste, Apple, Samsung, Adidas and others. In the latter role, it represents a roster of illustrators and designers who regularly collaborate with brands on print, digital and outdoor ad campaigns.

Panasci’s move to New York is also a homecoming. This Connecticut native and graduate of Boston University has worked in New York, San Francisco and London for McCann and Vice Media. She joined Jelly in London in 2016, overseeing design and production assignments for such clients as Virgin Media, Google, Nespresso, McDonald’s and Bombay Sapphire.

“One of the things I’ll be able to do is provide a deeper level of service for our US clients from New York versus London,” says Panasci, “and meld that with the Jelly model and culture. And being able to put a face to a name is always good, especially when you’re dealing with someone who understands the American market and its expectations.”

The studio has lined up US representation with James Bartlett of Mr. Bartlett, whose initial brief will be to handle the East Coast.

Coming from the UK, how does Panasci describe the Jelly approach? “It’s playful yet competent,” she says with enthusiasm. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but on the other hand we get shit done, and we do it well. We’re known for craft and solutions, and famously for not saying the word ‘no’ — unless we really have to!”

Recent Jelly projects include Hot House, a zany TVC for Virgin Mobile, co-directed by Design Lad and Kitchen; Soho, an animated short for the shared workspace company Fora and London agency Anyways, directed by Niceshit; and Escape, a spot for the outdoor clothing company Berghaus, directed by Em Cooper for VCCP that uses the director’s unique, hand-painted technique.

Panasci says the focus of Jelly’s US operations will initially be motion work, but adds their illustration talents will also be available, and they’ll be showing print portfolios along with show reels when meeting with agencies and clients. Jelly’s head of illustration, Nicki Field, will accompany Panasci in March to kick off the New York presence with a series of meetings and screenings.

While based in London, the studio is at ease working in America, Panasci says. They’ve produced campaigns for such shops as 72andSunny, Mother, Droga5, BBH, Wieden + Kennedy, Publicis and more, working with both their US and European offices.

Most recently, Jelly signed the New York-based animation team Roof to a representation agreement for the UK market; the team played a leading role in the recent “Imaginary Friends” campaign from RPA in Santa Monica.

Logan uses CG to showcase the luxury of the Lexus ES series

Logan, a creative studio with offices in Los Angeles and New York, worked on the new Lexus ES series “A Product of Mastery” campaign with agency Team One. The goal was to showcase the interior craftsmanship and amenities of this luxury sedan with detailed animations. Viewers are at first given just a glimpse of these features as the spot builds toward a reveal of the sedan’s design.

The campaign was created entirely in CG. “When we first saw Team One’s creative brief, we realized we would be able to control the environments, lighting and the overall mood better by using CG, which allowed us to make the campaign stand apart aesthetically and dramatically compared to shooting the products practically. From day one, our team and Team One were aligned on everything and they were an incredible partner throughout the entire process,” says Logan executive producer Paul Abatemarco.

The three spots in the campaign totaled 23 shots, highlighting things like the car’s high-end Mark Levinson sound system. They also reveal the craftsmanship of the driver seat’s reverse ventilation as infinite bars of light while in another spot, the sedan’s wide-view high-definition monitor is unveiled through a vivid use of color and shape.

Autodesk Maya was Logan’s main CG tool, but for the speaker spot they also called on Side Effects Houdini and Cinema 4D. All previs was done in Maya.

Editing was done on Adobe Premiere and they color graded in Resolve in their certified-Dolby Color Studio.

 According to Waka Ichinose and Sakona Kong, co-creative leads on the project, “We had a lot of visual ideas, and there was a lot of exploration on the design side of things. But finding the balance between the beautiful, abstract imagery and then clearly conveying the meaning of each product so that the viewers were intrigued and ultimately excited was a challenge. But it was also really fun and ultimately very satisfying to solve.”

Promoting a Mickey Mouse watch without Mickey

Imagine creating a spot for a watch that celebrates the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse — but you can’t show Mickey Mouse. Already Been Chewed (ABC), a design and motion graphics studio, developed a POV concept that met this challenge and also tied in the design of the actual watch.

Nixon, a California-based premium watch company that is releasing a series of watches around the Mickey Mouse anniversary, called on Already Been Chewed to create the 20-second spot.

“The challenge was that the licensing arrangement that Disney made with Nixon doesn’t allow Mickey’s image to be in the spot,” explains Barton Damer, creative director at Already Been Chewed. “We had to come up with a campaign that promotes the watch and has some sort of call to action that inspires people to want this watch. But, at the same time, what were we going to do for 20 seconds if we couldn’t show Mickey?”

After much consideration, Damer and his team developed a concept to determine if they could push the limits on this restriction. “We came up with a treatment for the video that would be completely point-of-view, and the POV would do a variety of things for us that were working in our favor.”

The solution was to show Mickey’s hands and feet without actually showing the whole character. In another instance, a silhouette of Mickey is seen in the shadows on a wall, sending a clear message to viewers that the spot is an official Disney and Mickey Mouse release and not just something that was inspired by Mickey Mouse.

Targeting the appropriate consumer demographic segment was another key issue. “Mickey Mouse has long been one of the most iconic brands in the history of branding, so we wanted to make sure that it also appealed to the Nixon target audience and not just a Disney consumer,” Damer says. “When you think of Disney, you could brand Mickey for children or you could brand it for adults who still love Mickey Mouse. So, we needed to find a style and vibe that would speak to the Nixon target audience.”

The Already Been Chewed team chose surfing and skateboarding as dominant themes, since 16-to 30-year-olds are the target demographic and also because Disney is a West Coast brand.
Damer comments, “We wanted to make sure we were creating Mickey in a kind of 3D, tangible way, with more of a feature film and 3D feel. We felt that it should have a little bit more of a modern approach. But at the same time, we wanted to mesh it with a touch of the old-school vibe, like 1950s cartoons.”

In that spirit, the team wanted the action to start with Mickey walking from his car and then culminate at the famous Venice Beach basketball courts and skate park. Here’s the end result.

“The challenge, of course, is how to do all this in 15 seconds so that we can show the logos at the front and back and a hero image of the watch. And that’s where it was fun thinking it through and coming up with the flow of the spot and seamless transitions with no camera cuts or anything like that. It was a lot to pull off in such a short time, but I think we really succeeded.”

Already Been Chewed achieved these goals with an assist from Maxon’s Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects. With Damer as creative lead, here’s the complete cast of characters: head of production Aaron Smock; 3D design was via Thomas King, Barton Damer, Bryan Talkish, Lance Eckert; animation was provided by Bryan Talkish and Lance Eckert; character animation was via Chris Watson; soundtrack was DJ Sean P.

How to use animation in reality TV

By Aline Maalouf

The world of animation is changing and evolving at a rapid pace — bringing photorealistic imagery to the small screen and the big screen — animation that is rendered with such detail, you can imagine the exact sensation of the water, feel the heat of the sunshine and experience the wilderness. Just look at the difference between the first Toy Story film, released in 1995, up to Toy Story 3’s release in 2010.

Over 15 years, there is a complete world of difference — we progressed from 2D to 3D, the colors are poignant, we visualize changes from shadows and lightness and the sequences move much more quickly. The third film was a major feat for a studio, and now either years later, the technology there is already on the cusp of being old news.

Technology is advancing faster than it can be implemented — and it isn’t just the Pixar’s and Disney’s of the world who have to stay ahead of the curve with each sequence released. Boutique companies are under just as much pressure to continually push the envelope on what’s possible in the animation space, while still delivering top results to clients within the sometimes demanding time constraints of film and television.

Aline Maalouf

Working in reality TV presents its own set of challenges in comparison to a fully animated program. To start, you need to seamlessly combine real-life interaction with animation — often showcasing what is there against what could be there. As animation continues to evolve, integrating with emerging technology, such as virtual reality, augmented reality and immersive platforms, understanding how users interact with the platform and how to best engage the audience will be crucial.

Here are four ways using animation can enhance a reality TV program:

Showcasing a World of Possibilities
With the introduction of 3D animation, we are able to create imagery so realistic that it is often hard to define what is “real” and what is virtually designed. The real anchor of hyper-realistic animation is the ability to add and play with light and shadows. Layers of light allow us to see reflection, to experience a room from a new angle and to challenge viewers to experience the room in both the daylight and at nighttime.

For example, within our work on Gusto TV’s Where To I Do, couples must select their perfect wedding venue — often viewing a blank space and trying to envision their theme inside it. Using animation, those spaces are brought to life in full, rich color, from dawn to the glaring midday sun to dusk and midnight — no additional film crew time required.

Speeds up Production Process
Gone are the days where studios are spending large budgets resetting room after room to showcase before-and-after options, particularly when it comes to renovation shows. It’s time-consuming and laborious. Working with an animation studio allows producers to showcase a renovated room three different ways, and the audience develops an early feel for the space without the need to see it physically set up.

It’s faster (with the right tools and technology to match TV timelines), allows more flexibility and eliminates the need to build costly sets for one-time use. Even outside of reality TV, the use of greenroom space, green stages and GCI technology allows a flexibility to filming that didn’t necessarily exist two decades ago.

Makes Viewers Part of the Program
If animation is done well, it should make the viewers feel more invested in the program — as if they are part of this experience. Animation should not break what is happening in reality. In order to make this happen, it is essential to have up-to-date software and hardware that bridges the gap between the vision and what is actually accomplished within each scene.

Software and hardware go hand-in-hand in creating high-quality animations. If the software is up to date and not the hardware, the work will be compromised as the rendering process will not be able to support the full project scope. One ripple in the wave of animation and the viewer is reminded that what they’re seeing doesn’t really exist.

Opens Doors to Immersive Experiences
Although we have scratched the surface of what’s possible when it comes to virtual reality, augmented reality and generating immersive experiences for viewers from the comfort of their living rooms, I anticipate there will be a wave of growth in this space over the next five years. Our studio is already building some of these capabilities into our current projects. Overall, studios and production companies are looking for new ways to engage an audience that is exposed to hours of content a day.

Rather than just simply viewing the animation of a wedding venue, viewers will be able to click through the space — guiding their own passage from point A to point B. They become the host of their own journey.

Programs of all genres are dazzling their audiences with the future of animation and reality TV is right there with it.


Aline Maalouf is co-founder/EVP of Neezo Studios, which has produced the animation and renderings for all six seasons of the Property Brothers and all live episodes of Brother vs Brother, in addition to other network shows.

Sony Imageworks provides big effects, animation for Warner’s Smallfoot

By Randi Altman

The legend of Bigfoot: a giant, hairy two-legged creature roaming the forests and giving humans just enough of a glimpse to freak them out. Sightings have been happening for centuries with no sign of slowing down — seriously, Google it.

But what if that story was turned around, and it was Bigfoot who was freaked out by a Smallfoot (human)? Well, that is exactly the premise of the new Warner Bros. film Smallfoot, directed by Karey Kirkpatrick. It’s based on the book “Yeti Tracks” by Sergio Pablos.

Karl Herbst

Instead of a human catching a glimpse of the mysterious giant, a yeti named Migo (Channing Tatum) sees a human (James Corden) and tells his entire snow-filled village about the existence of Smallfoot. Of course, no one believes him so he goes on a trek to find this mythical creature and bring him home as proof.

Sony Pictures Imageworks was tasked with all of the animation and visual effects work on the film, while Warner Animation film did all of the front end work — such as adapting the script, creating the production design, editing, directing, producing and more. We reached out to Imageworks VFX supervisor Karl Herbst (Hotel Transylvania 2) to find out more about creating the animation and effects for Smallfoot.

The film has a Looney Tunes-type feel with squash and stretch. Did this provide more freedom or less?
In general, it provided more freedom since it allowed the animation team to really have fun with gags. It also gave them a ton of reference material to pull from and come up with new twists on older ideas. Once out of animation, depending on how far the performance was pushed, other departments — like the character effects team — would have additional work due to all of the exaggerated movements. But all of the extra work was worth it because everyone really loved seeing the characters pushed.

We also found that as the story evolved, Migo’s journey became more emotionally driven; We needed to find a style that also let the audience truly connect with what he was going through. We brought in a lot more subtlety, and a more truthful physicality to the animation when needed. As a result, we have these incredibly heartfelt performances and moments that would feel right at home in an old Road Runner short. Yet it all still feels like part of the same world with these truly believable characters at the center of it.

Was scale between such large and small characters a challenge?
It was one of the first areas we wanted to tackle since the look of the yeti’s fur next to a human was really important to filmmakers. In the end, we found that the thickness and fidelity of the yeti hair had to be very high so you could see each hair next to the hairs of the humans.

It also meant allowing the rigs for the human and yetis to be flexible enough to scale them as needed to have moments where they are very close together and they did not feel so disproportionate to each other. Everything in our character pipeline from animation down to lighting had to be flexible in dealing with these scale changes. Even things like subsurface scattering in the skin had dials in it to deal with when Percy, or any human character, was scaled up or down in a shot.

How did you tackle the hair?
We updated a couple of key areas in our hair pipeline starting with how we would build our hair. In the past, we would make curves that look more like small groups of hairs in a clump. In this case, we made each curve its own strand of a single hair. To shade this hair in a way that allowed artists to have better control over the look, our development team created a new hair shader that used true multiple-scattering within the hair.

We then extended that hair shading model to add control over the distribution around the hair fiber to model the effect of animal hair, which tends to scatter differently than human hair. This gave artists the ability to create lots of different hair looks, which were not based on human hair, as was the case with our older models.

Was rendering so many fury characters on screen at a time an issue?
Yes. In the past this would have been hard to shade all at once, mostly due to our reliance on opacity to create the soft shadows needed for fur. With the new shading model, we were no longer using opacity at all so the number of rays needed to resolve the hair was lower than in the past. But we now needed to resolve the aliasing due to the number of fine hairs (9 million for LeBron James’ Gwangi).

We developed a few other new tools within our version of the Arnold renderer to help with aliasing and render time in general. The first was adaptive sampling, which would allow us to up the anti-aliasing samples drastically. This meant some pixels would only use a few samples while others would use very high sampling. Whereas in the past, all pixels would get the same number. This focused our render times to where we needed it, helping to reduce overall rendering. Our development team also added the ability for us to pick a render up from its previous point. This meant that at a lower quality level we could do all of our lighting work, get creative approval from the filmmakers and pick up the renders to bring them to full quality not losing the time already spent.

What tools were used for the hair simulations specifically, and what tools did you call on in general?
We used Maya and the Nucleus solvers for all of the hair simulations, but developed tools over them to deal with so much hair per character and so many characters on screen at once. The simulation for each character was driven by their design and motion requirements.

The Looney Tunes-inspired design and motion created a challenge around how to keep hair simulations from breaking with all of the quick and stretched motion while being able to have light wind for the emotional subtle moments. We solved all of those requirements by using a high number of control hairs and constraints. Meechee (Zendaya) used 6,000 simulation curves with over 200 constraints, while Migo needed 3,200 curves with around 30 constraints.

Stonekeeper (Common) was the most complex of the characters, with long braided hair on his head, a beard, shaggy arms and a cloak made of stones. He required a cloth simulation pass, a rigid body simulation was performed for the stones and the hair was simulated on top of the stones. Our in-house tool called Kami builds all of the hair at render time and also allows us to add procedurals to the hair at that point. We relied on those procedurals to create many varied hair looks for all of the generics needed to fill the village full of yetis.

How many different types of snow did you have?
We created three different snow systems for environmental effects. The first was a particle simulation of flakes for near-ground detail. The second was volumetric effects to create lots of atmosphere in the backgrounds that had texture and movement. We used this on each of the large sets and then stored those so lighters could pick which parts they wanted in each shot. To also help with artistically driving the look of each shot, our third system was a library of 2D elements that the effects team rendered and could be added during compositing to add details late in shot production.

For ground snow, we had different systems based on the needs in each shot. For shallow footsteps, we used displacement of the ground surface with additional little pieces of geometry to add crumble detail around the prints. This could be used in foreground or background.

For heavy interactions, like tunneling or sliding in the snow, we developed a new tool we called Katyusha. This new system combined rigid body destruction with fluid simulations to achieve all of the different states snow can take in any given interaction. We then rendered these simulations as volumetrics to give the complex lighting look the filmmakers were looking for. The snow, being in essence a cloud, allowed light transport through all of the different layers of geometry and volume that could be present at any given point in a scene. This made it easier for the lighters to give the snow its light look in any given lighting situation.

Was there a particular scene or effect that was extra challenging? If so, what was it and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge to the film as a whole was the environments. The story was very fluid, so design and build of the environments came very late in the process. Coupling that with a creative team that liked to find their shots — versus design and build them — meant we needed to be very flexible on how to create sets and do them quickly.

To achieve this, we begin by breaking the environments into a subset of source shapes that could be combined in any fashion to build Yeti Mountain, Yeti Village and the surrounding environments. Surfacing artists then created materials that could be applied to any set piece, allowing for quick creative decisions about what was rock, snow and ice, and creating many different looks. All of these materials were created using PatternCreate networks as part of our OSL shaders. With them we could heavily leverage the portable procedural texturing between assets making location construction quicker, more flexible and easier to dial.

To get the right snow look for all levels of detail needed, we used a combination of textured snow, modeled snow and a simulation of geometric snowfall, which all needed to shade the same. For the simulated snowfall we created a padding system that could be run at any time on an environment giving it a fresh coating of snow. We did this so that filmmakers could modify sets freely in layout and not have to worry about broken snow lines. Doing all of that with modeled snow would have been too time-consuming and costly. This padding system worked not only in organic environments, like Yeti Village, but also in the Human City at the end of the film. The snow you see in the Human City is a combination of this padding system in the foreground and textures in the background.

Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter adds subsurface scattering

Allegorithmic has released the latest additions to its Substance Painter tool, targeted to VFX, game studios and pros who are looking for ways to create realistic lighting effects. Substance Painter enhancements include subsurface scattering (SSS), new projections and fill tools, improvements to the UX and support for a range of new meshes.

Using Substance Painter’s newly updated shaders, artists will be able to add subsurface scattering as a default option. Artists can add a Scattering map to a texture set and activate the new SSS post-effect. Skin, organic surfaces, wax, jade and any other translucent materials that require extra care will now look more realistic, with redistributed light shining through from under the surface.

The release also includes updates to projection and fill tools, beginning with the user-requested addition of non-square projection. Images can be loaded in both the projection and stencil tool without altering the ratio or resolution. Those projection and stencil tools can also disable tiling in one or both axes. Fill layers can be manipulated directly in the viewport using new manipulator controls. Standard UV projections feature a 2D manipulator in the UV viewport. Triplanar Projection received a full 3D manipulator in the 3D viewport, and both can be translated, scaled and rotated directly in-scene.

Along with the improvements to the artist tools, Substance Painter includes several updates designed to improve the overall experience for users of all skill levels. Consistency between tools has been improved, and additions like exposed presets in Substance Designer and a revamped, universal UI guide make it easier for users to jump between tools.

Additional updates include:
• Alembic support — The Alembic file format is now supported by Substance Painter, starting with mesh and camera data. Full animation support will be added in a future update.
• Camera import and selection — Multiple cameras can be imported with a mesh, allowing users to switch between angles in the viewport; previews of the framed camera angle now appear as an overlay in the 3D viewport.
• Full gITF support — Substance Painter now automatically imports and applies textures when loading gITF meshes, removing the need to import or adapt mesh downloads from Sketchfab.
• ID map drag-and-drop — Both materials and smart materials can be taken from the shelf and dropped directly onto ID colors, automatically creating an ID mask.
• Improved Substance format support — Improved tweaking of Substance-made materials and effects thanks to visible-if and embedded presets.

SIGGRAPH conference chair Roy C. Anthony: VR, AR, AI, VFX, more

By Randi Altman

Next month, SIGGRAPH returns to Vancouver after turns in Los Angeles and Anaheim. This gorgeous city, whose convention center offers a water view, is home to many visual effects studios providing work for film, television and spots.

As usual, SIGGRAPH will host many presentations, showcase artists’ work, display technology and offer a glimpse into what’s on the horizon for this segment of the market.

Roy C. Anthony

Leading up to the show — which takes place August 12-16 — we reached out to Roy C. Anthony, this year’s conference chair. For his day job, Anthony recently joined Ventuz Technology as VP, creative development. There, he leads initiatives to bring Ventuz’s realtime rendering technologies to creators of sets, stages and ProAV installations around the world

SIGGRAPH is back in Vancouver this year. Can you talk about why it’s important for the industry?
There are 60-plus world-class VFX and animation studios in Vancouver. There are more than 20,000 film and TV jobs, and more than 8,000 VFX and animation jobs in the city.

So, Vancouver’s rich production-centric communities are leading the way in film and VFX production for television and onscreen films. They are also are also busy with new media content, games work and new workflows, including those for AR/VR/mixed reality.

How many exhibitors this year?
The conference and exhibition will play host to over 150 exhibitors on the show floor, showcasing the latest in computer graphics and interactive technologies, products and services. Due to the increase in the amount of new technology that has debuted in the computer graphics marketplace over this past year, almost one quarter of this year’s 150 exhibitors will be presenting at SIGGRAPH for the first time

In addition to the traditional exhibit floor and conferences, what are some of the can’t-miss offerings this year?
We have increased the presence of virtual, augmented and mixed reality projects and experiences — and we are introducing our new Immersive Pavilion in the east convention center, which will be dedicated to this area. We’ve incorporated immersive tech into our computer animation festival with the inclusion of our VR Theater, back for its second year, as well as inviting a special, curated experience with New York University’s Ken Perlin — he’s a legendary computer graphics professor.

We’ll be kicking off the week in a big VR way with a special session following the opening ceremony featuring Ivan Sutherland, considered by many as “the father of computer graphics.” That 50-year retrospective will present the history and innovations that sparked our industry.

We have also brought Syd Mead, a legendary “visual futurist” (Blade Runner, Tron, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Aliens, Time Cop, Tomorrowland, Blade Runner 2049), who will display an arrangement of his art in a special collection called Progressions. This will be seen within our Production Gallery experience, which also returns for its second year. Progressions will exhibit more than 50 years of artwork by Syd, from his academic years to his most current work.

We will have an amazing array of guest speakers, including those featured within the Business Symposium, which is making a return to SIGGRAPH after an absence of a few years. Among these speakers are people from the Disney Technology Innovation Group, Unity and Georgia Tech.

On Tuesday, August 14, our SIGGRAPH Next series will present a keynote speaker each morning to kick off the day with an inspirational talk. These speakers are Tony Derose, a senior scientist from Pixar; Daniel Szecket, VP of design for Quantitative Imaging Systems; and Bob Nicoll, dean of Blizzard Academy.

There will be a 25th anniversary showing of the original Jurassic Park movie, being hosted by “Spaz” Williams, a digital artist who worked on that film.

Can you talk about this year’s keynote and why he was chosen?
We’re thrilled to have ILM head and senior VP, ECD Rob Bredow deliver the keynote address this year. Rob is all about innovation — pushing through scary new directions while maintaining the leadership of artists and technologists.

Rob is the ultimate modern-day practitioner, a digital VFX supervisor who has been disrupting ‘the way it’s always been done’ to move to new ways. He truly reflects the spirit of ILM, which was founded in 1975 and is just one year younger than SIGGRAPH.

A large part of SIGGRAPH is its slant toward students and education. Can you discuss how this came about and why this is important?
SIGGRAPH supports education in all sub-disciplines of computer graphics and interactive techniques, and it promotes and improves the use of computer graphics in education. Our Education Committee sponsors a broad range of projects, such as curriculum studies, resources for educators and SIGGRAPH conference-related activities.

SIGGRAPH has always been a welcoming and diverse community, one that encourages mentorship, and acknowledges that art inspires science and science enables advances in the arts. SIGGRAPH was built upon a foundation of research and education.

How are the Computer Animation Festival films selected?
The Computer Animation Festival has two programs, the Electronic Theater and the VR Theater. Because of the large volume of submissions for the Electronic Theater (over 400), there is a triage committee for the first phase. The CAF Chair then takes the high scoring pieces to a jury comprised of industry professionals. The jury selects then become the Electronic Theater show pieces.

The selections for the VR Theater are made by a smaller panel comprised mostly of sub-committee members that watch each film in a VR headset and vote.

Can you talk more about how SIGGRAPH is tackling AR/VR/AI and machine learning?
Since SIGGRAPH 2018 is about the theme of “Generations,” we took a step back to look at how we got where we are today in terms of AR/VR, and where we are going with it. Much of what we know today couldn’t have been possible without the research and creation of Ivan Sutherland’s 1968 head-mounted display. We have a fanatic panel celebrating the 50-year anniversary of his HMD, which is widely considered and the first VR HMD.

AI tools are newer, and we created a panel that focuses on trends and the future of AI tools in VFX, called “Future Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Tools for VFX.” This panel gains insight from experts embedded in both the AI and VFX industries and gives attendees a look at how different companies plan to further their technology development.

What is the process for making sure that all aspects of the industry are covered in terms of panels?
Every year new ideas for panels and sessions are submitted by contributors from all over the globe. Those submissions are then reviewed by a jury of industry experts, and it is through this process that panelists and cross-industry coverage is determined.

Each year, the conference chair oversees the program chairs, then each of the program chairs become part of a jury process — this helps to ensure the best program with the most industries represented from across all disciplines.

In the rare case a program committee feels they are missing something key in the industry, they can try to curate a panel in, but we still require that that panel be reviewed by subject matter experts before it would be considered for final acceptance.

 

Jamm hires animation supervisor Steward Burris

Santa Monica-based visual effects house Jamm has added animation vet and longtime collaborator Steward Burris as animation supervisor.

Burris has been working with Jamm in a freelance capacity since its inception four years ago, and this position makes the partnership official. Burris has been animating and supervising on feature films, television, commercials, games and VR since graduating Vancouver Film School over two decades ago. His resume includes a variety of projects from The X-Files and Breaking Bad to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Harry Potter and the famous dancing Kia hamsters.

Burris specializes in character performance and photoreal creature work. A recent job was for a Universal Parks and Resorts Grow Bolder spot, where Burris and VFX supervisor Andy Boyd led the Jamm team to seamlessly integrate CG into live action and further enhance the in-camera elements with additional atmosphere and texture. Recreating King Kong and Transformers sequences was a top favorite for the CG team. Other examples of Burris’ skill for injecting warmth and personality into animated creations can be seen in the KIA Hamster spots, and in the awkward interactions between robots and humans in the Kohler Never Too Next commercial.

“There’s often a belief that to handle a giant CG character job, you need a massive team,” Burris says. “Jamm has shown time and again you can achieve this with a small but highly skilled crew. If you give the best tools to the most talented people, you’ll get fantastic results — in half the time.”

Behind the Titles: Something’s Awry Productions

NAME: Amy Theorin

NAME: Kris Theorin

NAME: Kurtis Theorin

COMPANY: Something’s Awry Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Wheels

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

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

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

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

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

Kurtis: Sitting down to write.

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

Kris: I work best in the morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lego

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

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

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

Kris: Laptop computers, Wacom drawing tablets and iPhones.

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

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

Kris: Mostly YouTube and Facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Title: Postal director of operations Jason Mayo

NAME: Jason Mayo

COMPANY: Postal

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

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

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

Coke Freestyle

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TED Zipline

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

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

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

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

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

Tobin Kirk joins design/animation house Laundry as EP

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

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

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

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

More speakers added for Italy’s upcoming View Conference

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

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

Newly confirmed speakers include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quick Chat: The making of Big Chicken Small Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MTV International’s Flanker Channels get graphic rebrand

LA-based animation and design studio Laundry has rebranded MTV International’s Flanker Channels, seven music-themed channels that broadcast in international markets and complement the MTV flagship channel. They worked closely with MTV World Creative Studio, the network’s international creative unit. The new brand identity is now on-air and online.

The MTV Flanker Channels offer viewers a wide variety of choices across seven different subsets of programming: Live, Hits, Classic, Rock, Music, Dance and Base. While the new branding package has a unified look, each channel’s theme is tailored for that type of music. Within the package there is a series of genre-inspired “party animal” characters that dance, shake and move to the DNA of each channel.

“We were faced with the challenge of finding a conceptual and visual thread that connected everything,” says Maximiliano Borrego, creative director at MTV World Creative Studio. “Something unique and identifiable across the channels that would, above all, entertain our audience. It was a big visual creative puzzle.”

“Adhering to MTV’s ‘Kill Boring’ mantra was a welcome license for us to make bold, creative choices that the network can own,” says PJ Richardson, partner/executive creative director of Laundry. “All seven Flanker identities reveal something distinct and unexpected, yet holistically fit within the larger brand ecosystem of the MTV family of channels.”

Laundry developed a graphics system for the rebrand based on “Wireframe + Skin,” MTV’s visual framework to branding. This conceptual and modular design approach dictated how they composed and arranged graphic content to interact. Assets included IDs, bumpers, key art, on-screen graphics, end boards, background animations, invaders (loopable animated elements), 3D logos (on-air and online), container boxes and crawls for each Flanker Channel.

They called on Maxon Cinema 4D and Adobe’s Creative Suite.

“We pictured MTV as a virtual reality planet where each sub-channel is a genre-specific continent — inhabited by party animals,” says Anthony Liu, partner/executive creative director of Laundry. “They’re the perfect visual metaphor for the diverse music genres and fans of the world; different in their influence and location, but the same in their fandom and human spirit.”

The party animals are 3D characters rendered to look graphic. Each one distantly references a real animal representing the music styles of the specific channel: an eel reflects the smoothness of electronic music like a glow stick, and a crab with a speaker-like shell is a nod to Jamaican dance-party vans. The creatures were designed to provide a lot of latitude across different moments in animation. For MTV Rocks, a 24-hour alternative music channel, Laundry built a frenetic mosh pit-inspired character made of drumsticks and guitar picks. While the animation is not specific to any one band or type of rock music, it captures the overall wild energy of the genre.

In total, Laundry created more than 300 elements for the MTV International Flanker Channels. The team also developed insanely vibrant layouts that reinforce MTV’s “Kill Boring” mission statement by combining the invader graphics with off-the-wall logo treatments and color palettes. Once the entire rebrand was brought to life, Laundry created a style guide with templates, so MTV teams across the world could use the assets consistently, but with enough flexibility as to not be repetitive.

“The MTV World Creative group really understood viewers’ shortening attention span, but increased appreciation of creativity, which was a vision we shared,” concludes Richardson. “Challenging in all the right ways, what made the collaboration so spectacular was the process of evolving the look and feel of the rebrand to nail both of those things and make a final package we’re all super stoked about.”

Laundry adds James Sweigert as managing director

Animation and design house Laundry has a new managing director in James Sweigert, who brings extensive experience in marketing, brand strategy, design and TV and film production to the studio, which recently moved into a new creative space in the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles.

Working closely with Richardson and ECD/partner Anthony Liu, Sweigert will oversee all creative and production management and operations for the studio, which encompasses animation, design, VFX and live-action production. He is also tasked with nurturing existing client relationships and cultivating new opportunities with brands, services and technology partners.

Sweigert arrives at Laundry following a tenure as executive producer of TV and Streaming at mOcean. Other previous positions include EP/partner at Nathaniel James, head of production at Brand New School and assistant EP at Fuel/Razorfish. He’s produced notable projects, including the main titles for the Emmy Award-winning documentary Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau, which was featured on ESPN Films’ 30 for 30; IDs for the NFL Network’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, as well as work for HBO’s Game of Thrones and Sport in America.

Also a filmmaker, Sweigert has just completed producing and directing a documentary titled N-Men: The Untold Story. The film takes a look at the Northern California skateboarding scene from 1975 through today, featuring interviews with Tony Hawk, Tony Alva and the N-Men who inspired them. The film is scheduled for release in 2018 with Laundry playing an instrumental role in the post production.

“I’ve known James since arriving in Los Angeles 18 years ago, and the moons have finally aligned for us to work together,” says PJ Richardson, executive creative director and partner of Laundry. “What I’m most excited about is his fresh enthusiasm for design-driven animation and production, but also his understanding of how it is all evolving. Like us, he understands creativity comes down to having fun, so it’s a perfect fit.”

“Laundry has a sophisticated creative infrastructure, which I’m excited about bringing to new heights,” says Sweigert. “We can achieve great things with our clients by tapping deeper into the existing strengths of this company across the board, and implementing systems that allow us to become more of a strategic partner early on. I’m also keen on what the future holds for Laundry with respect to VR/AR, 360 and experiential work, as well as expanding our live-action bandwidth.”

 

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.

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.

Last Chance to Enter to Win an Amazon Echo… Take our Storage Survey Now!

If you’re working in post production, animation, VFX and/or VR/AR/360, please take our short survey and tell us what works (and what doesn’t work) for your day-to-day needs.

What do you need from a storage solution? Your opinion is important to us, so please complete the survey by Wednesday, March 8th.

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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.

Bill Hewes

Behind the Title: Click 3X executive producer Bill Hewes

NAME: Bill Hewes

COMPANY: Click 3X  (@Click3X) in New York City.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a digital creation studio that also provides post and animation services.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I am an executive producer with a roster of animation and live-action directors.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing everything from the initial creative pitch, working closely with directors, budgeting, approach to a given project, overseeing line producers for shooting, animation and post, client relations and problem solving.

PGIM Prudential

One recent project was this animated spot for a Prudential Global Investment Management campaign.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably that there is no limit to the job description — it involves business skills, a creative sensibility, communication and logistics. It is not about the big decisions, but more about the hundreds of small ones made moment to moment in a given day that add up.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Winning projects.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Losing projects

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Depends on the day and where I am.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
A park ranger at Gettysburg.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I didn’t choose it. I had been on another career path in the maritime transportation industry and did not want to get on another ship, so I took an entry-level job at a video production company. From day one, there was not a day I did not want to go to work. I was fortunate to have had great mentors that made it possible to learn and advance.

Click it or Ticket

‘Click it or Ticket’ for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Two animated spots for Prudential Global Investment Management, commercials and a social media campaign for Ford Trucks, and two humorous online animated spots for the NHTSA’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A few years back, I took some time off and worked with a director for several months creating films for Amnesty International. Oh, and putting a Dodge Viper on a lava field on a mountain in Hawaii.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The wheel, anesthesia and my iPhone.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I share an office, so we take turns picking the music selections. Lately, we’ve been listening to a lot of Kamasi Washington, Telemann, J Mascis and My Bloody Valentine.

I also would highly recommend, “I Plan to Stay a Believer” by William Parker and the album, “The Inside Songs” by Curtis Mayfield.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Jeet Kune Do, boxing, Muy Thai, Kali/Escrima, knife sparring, and some grappling. But I do this outside of the office.

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.

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.

Behind the Title: Reel FX editor Chris Collins

NAME: Chris Collins
 
COMPANY: Reel FX (@wearereelfx) in Dallas
 
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Reel FX is made up of directors, editors, animators, VFX artists, audio engineers and more. We work on everything feature length projects to commercials to VR/360 experiences.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Editor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
What it means to be an editor depends on what kind of editor you ask. If you ask me, the editor is the final director — the person responsible for compiling and composing the hard work of production into a finalized coherent piece of media. Sometimes it’s simple and sometimes there is a lot of creative problem-solving. Sometimes you only cut footage, sometimes you dive into Photoshop, After Effects and other programs to execute a vision. Sometimes there is only one way to make a video work, and sometimes there are infinite ways a piece can be cut. It all depends on the concept and production.

Now with VR, a whole new aspect of editing has opened up by being able to put on a headset and be transported into your footage. I couldn’t be more excited to see the new places that VR can take editing.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think people look at editors and think the job is easy because they sit in a cozy office on the computer… and sometimes, they’re not wrong. But there is a lot of hidden stress, problem-solving and creativity that is invisible within a finished piece of media. They may watch a final cut and never notice all the things an editor did or fixed — and that’s what makes a good editor.

WHAT DO YOU EDIT ON?
I cut on Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere but I also use Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop in my work.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PLUG-IN?
Right now it would have to be Mettle’s Skybox VR Player because it allows me to edit and view my cut of 360 footage within the Oculus headset — so ridiculously cool!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Screening a cut to someone for the first time and watching their reaction.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The fact that the majority of people will never see or know all the unused footage and options that didn’t make the cut.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I’d have to say those first few hours in the morning with my coffee and late at night after hours because that is when I am the most creative.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Photography.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’ve been shooting and editing videos since I was a little kid. It carried on into high school and then into college, since that’s really what my hobby and passion was. It was one of the only things I was good at besides video games so it seemed like a no-brainer.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
TGI Fridays Countdown, Ram Division of Labor, Jeep Renegade campaign, Tostitos Recipe Videos and Texas Health Resources.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A video I cut called Jeep Legendary Lives. It started out as a personal project of mine that I was cutting after hours, and eventually became part of a presentation video that opened the Detroit Auto Show. It’s also one of the first things that got my foot in the door as an editor.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Phone. Computer. Camera.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Facebook. Instagram. Twitter.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? 
Only if the footage does not have audio and I am in the organization and melting phase. It’s usually some sort of chill electronic — typically instrumental.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Playing video games or taking photos really helps to distract my brain, but typically all I have to do is remind myself that I am getting paid doing something I love and something that I’ve been passionate about since I was a kid. With that thought, it’s hard not to be anything but grateful.

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.

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.

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.

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.’”

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.

Guru Studio on animated content, growth spurts and adaptability

Toronto’s Guru Studio creates characters and tells stories through animation. Its first original production, the Emmy-nominated Justin Time, has become a Netflix Original and a favorite among young children around the world. Another preschooler favorite is Paw Patrol, which is a creative production with Spin Master Entertainment.

Guru has several original programs in various stages of production, as well as other creative partnerships with the likes of Mattel and Nickelodeon. Guru’s programming airs around the world on Netflix, Disney Junior, Nickelodeon and other distribution channels

Over the past few years, Guru has gone through a major growth spurt. While growth is welcome, it comes with its own set of challenges. To find out more about the studio, its content and recent growth, postPerspective reached out to the Guru team — EVP of content & strategy Mary Bredin, director of IT Jason Burnard and post production manager Chris Sandy — to learn about what led up to the growth, how they handled it and how they remain successful.

Paw Patrol

You create your own content — or collaborate with others — and provide your post services. Which came first? Post services or content?
Bredin: We’re an entertainment company specializing in animation. We do post production on our shows and others, so content has always come first, but we don’t offer post as a service. Until recently, post was left to the producers to handle, but the bigger we got the more we really needed someone to focus solely on post. So last year we brought in Chris Sandy to do just that. With companies like Netflix needing 20 different language versions, it was critical to have someone in-house to do as much of the post as possible.

Are there parts of post that you don’t handle in-house?
Sandy: We take post as far as we possibly can under our own roof, further than a live-action studio could because it’s animation. We do the color correction in-house so that we have full control over the final look. Essentially, we finalize the picture and then go outside of Guru for sound design and packaging.

Tell us more about the production and post services you offer and the tools you use.
Bredin: Our services are all about creating stories and characters for our clients. The most important thing is understanding the creative vision. We view the technology as the means to that end, the tools that help us do our best work. Having said that, we use some amazing tools and we have amazingly creative technical directors.

Burnard: We use a whole gamut of software, including Maya, Harmony, Photoshop and Premiere. Houdini is a new one for us and it’s working out well. We also use Shotgun for 3D productions to help track our assets in the database. We use all types of software in different combinations at various stages of a project.

Bredin: I often tell people who don’t understand how animation works that we’re a high-tech company because of what we do with software. We bend it, twist it, push it — because for the team to develop different and unique looks in a very saturated market, we have to be really innovative with the software and hardware. Besides that, our workload and staff quadrupled in just three years. Right now Guru has about 300 people in the studio, and we’re running four shows. So we have to be efficient in order to stay on track.Hon Michael Coteau, MPP + Guru Studio | Photo by // Photagonist.ca

That’s tremendous growth in a short time. Presumably you had some growing pains. What sort of changes did you have to make?
Burnard: One example would be our storage infrastructure. We had a NAS environment before, which was suitable for our size at that time, but as we grew, NAS really started to slow us down. It couldn’t serve the files to the artists quickly enough. Then, in addition to that, we had the renderfarm also bidding for time on storage. As the production process moves along, the assets get larger and require more resources. The NAS solution would slow everything to a crawl — to the point where we had to schedule time for the artists versus time for the render during work hours.

We looked at a variety of storage solutions. After extensive research we decided to build our system using Quantum’s StorNext Pro 4K. Now, we have about 300 artists accessing the Quantum solution consistently during the day, along with another 70 render nodes. In the evenings, a large portion of the artist workstations become part of the renderfarm, totaling 200-plus render nodes. To do this, we split the storage into two parts. One is dedicated to the artists so they can quickly access the files, make changes, and put them back into storage. The other part maintains the farm and makes sure that content can be created quickly without impacting the artists’ work.

Was there any part of the storage change that was especially helpful for post?
Burnard: There’s a feature Quantum offers called DLC (Distributed LAN Client) that really comes in handy during post production, when the files are at their largest. Editors can access content very quickly and make changes on the shared storage across an IP connection without having to download files onto their local machines.

Sandy: It really streamlines our day because we can just work off the server.

Justin Time

What about the rest of the ecosystem? Can you give an example of your workflow on a recent show?
Burnard: I’ll talk about Justin Time. It was actually the first project we ran on the Quantum solution from start to finish. For each episode, artists start by creating 3D models and assets in Maya based on storyboards and Leica reels. Then the animation and background artists take the models and create the backgrounds and scenes, then basically start animation using Maya. Once done, the animated and rendered scenes are moved to the compositing teams.

Sandy: Up to this point, the picture is flat. When it moves to the comp stage, artists use Nuke to light it, give it texture and add effects.

Burnard: Incidentally, this is the point where NAS would have hit a wall, because the comp files are pretty large. We’re probably saving the production team about 20 hours every week by just that one improvement.

Sandy: Once the comp is done, they hand it off to me for post. I work with composers and a sound design company on sound effects, music and sweetening of the dialog. We bring it all together for a premix, then mix. After that, I screen it with the creative team one last time to make sure nothing was lost in rendering, and then it’s ready for the post house to do the final output for the broadcaster. They add the opening and end credits, master the tapes or files for broadcast, and perform technical QC to make sure it’s up to spec. Then we send it off to the broadcaster.

What’s next for Guru?
Bredin: We’re gearing up to start our next show, True and the Rainbow Kingdom, which is another Netflix Original. Meanwhile, we continue to work with our creative partners and develop our own new shows to sell to broadcasters. It’s the cycle of production, but we’re well equipped for the challenge.

Foundry intros new procedural modeling system with Modo 10.1

With the launch of Modo 10.1, The Foundry has introduced a new workflow that is designed to make creating 3D content faster and easier thanks to a new procedural modeling system within 10.1 that works side by side with Modo’s direct modeling toolset.

The new toolset enables artists to iterate more freely, with the ability to manipulate modeling operations at any time in a flexible layer stack; create infinite variations using procedural operations that can be driven by textures, falloffs or dynamically changing inputs; and easily accommodate change requirements with the ability to edit selections and swap out input meshes after the fact. New curve tools, constraints, deformers and enhancements to the MeshFusion toolset complete the Modo 10.1 modeling updates.

Modo 10.1 is shipping now and is the second installment of three in the Modo 10 Series. Customers purchasing the Modo 10 Series will receive all three installments as they become available, including Modo 10.0, which offers enhanced workflows for creating realtime content for games, or other immersive interactive experiences like virtual reality.

Here are some details of Modo 10.1’s features:
Nondestructive procedural stack: Modo’s procedural modeling system allows users to model nondestructively. Each successive mesh operation — such as Bevel, Extrude, Merge, Reduce and Thicken — is added as a layer to a procedural stack, which can be modified, reordered, disabled or deleted at any time. Users can view the state of the mesh at any point in the stack, with future operations shown as ghosted. There is also the ability to freeze the stack up to any chosen point for improved performance.

Selection operations: Selection operations lets users control which mesh elements are affected by subsequent operations in the procedural stack. By default, elements selected are automatically added to a Select By Index operation. Elements can be added or removed from the selection at any time. In addition, users can define other operations to select elements procedurally. Selection operations allow selections to be rigged, animated and dynamically updated as the input mesh changes.

Procedural variations: Procedural modeling in Modo allows for creation of an almost infinite number of variations. For example, you could construct a procedural road, and then easily change the number of lights, the width of the road, or even the path that the road follows. Textures can be used as inputs to modeling operations — by changing the texture, an entirely different effect can be achieved, while all of the subsequent operations continue to be applied.

Animation and falloffs: Modo’s procedural system allows users to easily animate almost any parameter within the stack. Falloffs can be used to modulate the behavior of tools within the stack; the placement of the falloffs can even be animated for interesting effects. It’s also now possible to modulate the effect of a direct or procedural tool or deformer using a textured falloff. Textures can be connected to the falloff directly in the schematic or in the mesh operation stack.

Procedural text: Modo’s procedural system makes it easier to create a style for a piece of 3D text — adding thickness and bevels, for example — and then change the input string or the font to create new variations as required. Text can also be rigged in the schematic view, allowing the source text to be driven and dynamically changed. In addition, the Text tool can now directly output Bézier curves that can be used to drive a new Curve Fill operation, providing an all-quad mesh.

Curve enhancements: Modo now offers B-Splines as an alternative to Bézier curves. There’s also a new procedural Curve Fill operation that lets users fill a closed curve with quads; a Curve Particle Generator that lets you easily create and adjust duplicated geometry along curves; a Curve Rebuild operation that resamples a curve into an evenly spaced set of points; a Lacing Geometry operation that extrudes a profile shape along a guided curve; and an Edges to Curves operation.

MeshFusion enhancements: The advanced MeshFusion Boolean modeling toolset now offers better control of mesh topology and density for individual strips. Users can now intuitively create, edit and analyze simple Fusion models in the schematic with extended support for drag-and-drop editing, while enhanced placement options let you easily place and fuse multiple copies of preset meshes. Procedurally modeled meshes can be used as inputs to MeshFusion.

UV Transform, UV Constraint and Push Influence: Making a 2D shape accurately conform to a 3D mesh — for example, when attaching a decorative stripe to a shoe— is now faster and easier, thanks to a new UV Transform operation. In addition, a new UV Constraint makes it easy to constrain both the position and the rotation of objects to an arbitrary position on a 3D surface. Also, a new Push Influence deformer pushes geometry along its surface normal.

Black Forest Gummy Bears get CG treatment and own reality show

A lush green forest and colorful organic gummies — what’s not to love? Especially when these gummies are naughty! In a new “reality series” for Black Forest Organic Gummy Bears, these fat-free snack foods throw forks at each other’s heads, aren’t afraid to toss around a curse word or two, and like to go streaking (don’t worry, their gummy naked-bits are pixelated).

Ferrara Candy Company called on NYC-based Shuttlecraft and Chicago-based ad agency Tom, Dick & Harry, Co. to help bring the The Real Gummies of the Black Forest to life, The campaign, which combines CG and live action, debuted this month with a teaser and the first three 30-second episodes: Dinner, Enhancements and Streakers.

“Shuttlecraft really captured the aesthetic we were going for, in amazing detail,” says Bob Volkman, Tom, Dick & Harry, creative /partner. “These are bears of privilege and their chaise lounge chairs had to be certifiably Baker or forget it. They definitely put their snooty hats on when crafting our miniature Black Forest.”

Shuttlecraft, which specializes in detailed and refined animation and CG, jumped on the opportunity to help realize the crazy, fun and quirky shenanigans of the Organics.

“After reading the scripts, we immediately knew that Tom, Dick & Harry had developed a great hook and characters that are genuinely authentic and funny,” says Ronnie Koff, executive creative director of Shuttlecraft. “I mean, where else are you going to see gummy bears streaking? We also recognized that in order to bring their concept to life, we needed to create CG gummies that could move around and interact believably with each other, all while looking juicy and delicious.”

For the project, Shuttlecraft channeled their experience in creating photoreal food for such clients as Hershey’s, Yoplait and Kellogg’s. In the creation of the set, model-makers and puppeteers David Bell and Joe Scarpulla hand-molded and sculpted a 1/12-scale version of the Black Forest measuring over eight feet long. Shuttlecraft also used a 3D printer to create many remaining set elements as well.

They also called on Nuke, After Effects, ZBrush, Maya/Arnold, Cinema4D/Arnold and PF Track.

Once the forest and the bears were complete, Shuttlecraft seamlessly combined the CG elements with its live-action plates. Tom, Dick & Harry then hired voice actors to bring to life the stars of The Real Gummies of the Black Forest. It took two weeks for the set build and the shoot, with the entire process taking a total of eight weeks.

Design studio Spontaneous adds ECD Darryl Mascarenhas

Design and animation studio Spontaneous in New York City has hired branding expert Darryl Mascarenhas as its executive creative director. Mascarenhas, who has an Emmy nomination under his belt, is also a live-action filmmaker. He will work with Spontaneous managing director Cara Cutrone to continue the studio’s evolution into live action and strategic branding.

Over the last decade, Mascarenhas held senior roles at Loyalkaspar, MPC, Eyeball and Quietman. As a director/ECD at Quietman, Mascarenhas helped transition the company from a visual effects boutique to a full-service creative studio with a focus on direct-to-client production and agency collaborations. He has worked with companies such as AT&T, Disney, General Motors, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft, and recently created the opening titles for the 2016 AICP Show at MOMA. Additionally, Mascarenhas has creatively led and directed content for many broadcast networks, including the complete rebrand of Lifetime.

At Spontaneous, Mascarenhas will use the infrastructure in place as part of the Lively Group network of companies, which includes BlueRock, Rain, Scarlett and LivelyContent. As part of this group, Spontaneous can offer live-action, design/animation, VFX, and editorial services under the same roof.

“More and more, clients require beginning-to-end solutions,” says Mascarenhas. “Being agile has been a massive advantage in evolving Spontaneous’ new business model.”

Casimir Nozkowski: The challenges of editing a foreign-language doc

This English-speaking editor took on the Japanese-language in The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere.

By Kristine Pregot

I had the opportunity to reconnect with director, writer, producer and editor Casimir Nozkowski twice this year — first at Sundance and again at SXSW. Nozkowski edited the short documentary The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere, which played at both festivals this year, and recently aired as part of ESPN Films’ 30 For 30 series.

The short is a unique story about a Japanese racehorse named Haru Urara, who became a nationally celebrated hero and symbol of perseverance while enduring one of the biggest losing streaks in racehorse history.

Casimir Nozkowski

Nozkowski and I used to spend a lot of time together in the hallways of 11 Penn Plaza in NYC where he was a writer/producer for AMC and IFC promos, while I managed the post production of FUSE Networks. So it was great catching up with him and interviewing him about his work on this piece.

The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere is such a sweet little documentary. How did you get involved with the project?
Mickey Duzyj, the doc’s director and animator, asked me to edit it. Mickey pitched me the story of Haru Urara — a Japanese racehorse that lost all its races — and told me he wanted to make a documentary about her story and use animation to take it to the next level. I said, “Hell, yeah, let’s do that.”

As a former Yankee fan, I had grown weary of celebrating only the winningest winners, and I loved the idea of examining a “loser’s” experience — how the horse was still noble and still tried hard and this helped people identify with her.

Have you worked with the director before on other projects?
I cut his first film, The Perfect 18, which was nominated for an Emmy and also a Webby for editing. It was about a professional putt-putt player named Rick Baird who shot a perfect 18 —a.k.a. 18 hole-in-ones — in a tournament. Rick and his fellow golfers walked us through each hole. It was also mostly animated, which is a great weapon for an editor. Anytime you’re lacking a transition or some b-roll, you can put in a request for some animation and voilà, smooth sailing. Mickey’s animation is fantastic.

Getting back to Shining Star, how do you edit a film that was completely spoken in Japanese? How did that work with your edit workflow?
I’d actually never cut a film in a language other than English, and that made this film one of the hardest editing jobs I’ve ever had. But it was also a challenge I was excited to take on… and I had a lot of great support.

First of all, Mickey and Mona Panchal (the film’s producer) found this transcription software called InqScribe that was essential to our process. It allowed our primary translators Yurina Ko and Jin Yoshikawa to screen the interviews, plug in timecode to each line and then create a file in InqScribe that I could bring into Adobe Premiere (our editing software) and use to generate synced up subtitles! I actually couldn’t believe how well it worked. They did a great job on the translation, but I couldn’t believe the subtitles landed so seamlessly in the right spots, more or less, in our interview sequences. You’d have to go in and reformat them and do a little polishing but basically it was all right there.

Having said that, subtitles were still going to take up a huge amount of time, and that was something I had to get used to. I had to spend a bunch of days getting everything ready to evaluate it, so next time I’ll know to consider a bit more time on the prep end when working in a foreign language. On the plus side, once they’re in, you can quickly scan sequences because you don’t have to listen to audio each time; you can see the subtitles and plug them into pods or assemblies pretty quickly once you get a good rhythm going.

What did you learn from editing the project?
I learned a lot about Kochi, a small city in Japan. And I learned a lot about horse racing. And I learned a lot about Haru Urara — an incredible horse, now retired from racing and hopefully not too upset about never winning. I just learned a ton about editing a foreign language documentary. As I describe above, it was challenging. But I’m very proud of the end results. And our subjects were great — very generous with their answers and reflections.

Also, this was my first time really editing in Premiere. I had done a few small projects with Premiere, but this was the first beast I edited on it, so there was a lot of learning in that process. But it was great. I never had to render anything, I combined a lot of media formats in one timeline and really felt great about it. Still, I had to learn a few moves because before this I was primarily a Final Cut editor, but now that I’ve come out the other side post-Shining Star, I’m pretty high on Premiere.

The illustration and design were such a beautiful way to help tell the story. Can you explain how this was conceptualized?
Mickey Duzyj could speak a bit more to this, but the plan all along was to rely heavily on his art as a way to cover a subject where there might not be as much archival or the kind of archival we wanted.

There was footage shot of Haru — the horse — especially in her biggest race where she’s ridden by the great jockey Yutaka Take. We did use that footage to ground the story a bit, but that footage is also shot in a kind of medium, flat way that covers the whole race. We wanted to be able to look at the fans in the stands, the horses racing from different angles — we wanted to look into Haru’s eyes and speculate on how she felt. That’s the beauty of animation, especially Mickey’s incredibly elegant, emotive drawings — it lets you step further into a scene and evoke the feeling and stakes of these races. It lets you take what you know about Haru and tease out her character and personality.

Plus, for races where there was no footage (which was the great majority) we could use Mickey’s art to show scenes where we knew what happened, but didn’t know exactly what they looked like. Like when the prime minister comments on Haru. Or her legend causing a boom in merchandise sales. Or one of the times when Haru came in third place! She didn’t always lose spectacularly. She actually came close to winning a few times, and I’m glad we got to show that in the film.

What was your biggest challenge in the post process for you? The language issue?
I’m so used to working in English and being able to work a little editing magic on interviews where you’re not changing what someone’s saying but you’re able to kind of speed them up or help them say something more efficiently. With our subjects speaking Japanese, and the sentence structures being a bit different, I was often just guessing on which words I did or didn’t need to make a succinct point. I was often wrong. Doh! But luckily our translators were really with us throughout the process and kept us in the clear.

Nice Shoes was very happy to collaborate with you on your new short doc, IDAC. Can you tell our readers about this short?
I wrote and directed a short documentary that’s a very strange little story. Officially, it’s about a mysterious relative and her parallel life to mine and how and why I never met this relative — even though we were in close proximity to each other for over a decade. But really, it’s an examination of figuring something out and how sometimes figuring something out can happen in a flash of understanding or slowly dawn on you over years. That is to say, it’s a documentary about a very un-cinematic thing — a feeling — which I tried to make in a very cinematic, visual way. I like movies like that.

This is not a comparison, but it’s why I love movies like The Social Network, an incredibly cinematic, thrilling movie that’s actually about a website launching. Again, not a comparison to my movie, which is five minutes long and about a cool cousin of mine. I’m just saying I like subjects that aren’t immediately cinematic when you think of them. Nice Shoes did the color on IDAC, which looks phenomenal. I hadn’t been sure I’d do a color grade for it but then it got into Hot Docs and I’m so glad I worked with you and Phil Choe — he’s a genius colorist (who works on FilmLight Baselight). Phil really made it pop off the screen in my opinion.

What is next for you, personally?
I have a documentary crew called the Internets Celebrities and we just launched a website for our docu-series The Food Warriors, where we take the A train in New York City and get off at every stop and ask people where the best place to eat is. The website is thefoodwarriors.com. I directed the episodes and co-created the series with the hosts, Dallas Penn and Rafi Kam (who programmed the website) and a bunch of wonderful people (Bryan Galatis, Jesse Brown, Humu Yansane, Aaron S. Brown, to name just a few).

I’m also working on developing a fictional feature film and some new shorts, which will ultimately wind up at casimirnozkowski.com And last but not least, I’m on the board of Rooftop Films and we’re about to celebrate our 20th anniversary this summer in New York City. It’s going to rock. Come see some movies!

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.


Quick Chat: Aardman Nathan Love director/animator Sean McClintock

Animator and director Sean McClintock has joined NYC-based animation house Aardman Nathan Love. With nearly 20 years of experience in design, directing, illustration and animation under his belt, he brings a rich resume. McClintock has spent time at production companies, such as Psyop, Brand New School, The Mill, Hush and Buck, working with big-name brands including Nike, Google, Twitter, Coke Zero and Viacom.

According to ANL owner/ECD Joe Burrascano, McClintock’s diverse experience was a key factor in bringing him aboard. “Our studio has always been known for high-end character work, but Sean brings a level of sophistication that expands our reach further into the world of design. His experience with the top studios in advertising, combined with his strong and refined sensibilities are sure to bring new and exciting opportunities.”

“I’ve been a fan of both Aardman and Nathan Love for years,” he explains. “Both studios have some of the best animators, character designers and storytellers in the business. And on top of that, they have a great sense of humor that comes across in their work.”

We reached out to McClintock to find out more:

Did you start off as an animator?
I actually come from an illustration/design background. Interactive design led me to animation, which led me to motion design.

What led to directing?
It’s been a natural progression. I worked my way up to being a creative director at a small interactive studio years ago, but after switching to motion design I needed to take a step back and learn the nuances of the craft.

How does your background as an animator help directing animated projects?
Being a designer/animator helps you to see where a project can go and to see the steps that will lead it there. It also gives you first-hand knowledge of the potential and limitations of the medium.

Have you done live-action projects as well? Live-action and animated combined?
I’ve directed some stuff here and there. Mainly elements to be incorporated into animated spots.

What is your favorite and why?
I’d have to say animation for its limitless potential and, partly, because I’m more familiar with it. I am really interested in getting more into live action and seeing what’s possible.

As an animator, what tools do you prefer? What’s your process like?
I like all the tools. From traditional mediums like pen and paper, oils, gouache and macaroni art to digital painting and sculpting in Pixologic’s ZBrush.

My typical process looks something like: Information Gathering > Pencil sketching > More pencil Sketching > Style Frames > Final Design.

Raytracing today and in the future

By Jon Peddie

More papers, patents and PhDs have been written and awarded on ray tracing than any other computer graphic technique.

Ray tracing is a subset of the rendering market. The rendering market is a subset of software for larger markets, including media and entertainment (M&E), architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), computer-aided design (CAD), scientific, entertainment content creation and simulation-visualization. Not all users who have rendering capabilities in their products use it. At the same time there are products that have been developed solely as rendering tools and there are products that include 3D modeling, animation and rendering capabilities, and they may be used primarily for rendering, primarily for modeling or primarily for animation.

Because ray tracing is so important, and at the same time computationally burdensome, individuals and organizations have spent years and millions of dollars trying to speed things up. A typical ray traced scene on an old-fashioned HD screen can tax a CPU so heavily the image can only be upgraded maybe every second or two — certainly not the 33ms needed for realtime rendering.

GPUs can’t help much because one of the characteristics of ray tracing is it has no memory and every frame is a new frame, so the computational load is immutable. Also, the branching that occurs in raytracing defeats the power of a GPU’s SIMD architecture.

Material Libraries Critical
Prior to 2015, all ray tracer engines came with their own materials libraries. Cataloging the characteristics of all the types of materials in the world is beyond the resources of any company’s ability to develop and support. And the lack of standards has held back any cooperative development in the industry. However, a few companies have agreed to work together and share their libraries.

I believe we will see an opening up of libraries and the ability of various ray tracing engines to be able to avail themselves of a much larger library of materials. Nvidia is developing a standard-like capability they are calling the Material Definition Language — (MDL) and using it to allow various libraries to work with a wide range of ray tracing engines.

Rendering Becomes a Function of Price
In the near future, I expect to see 3D rendering become a capability offered as an online service. While it’s not altogether clear how this will affect the market, I think it will boost the use of ray tracing and lower the cost to an as-needed basis. It also offers the promise of being able to apply huge quantities of processing power limited only by the amount of money the user is willing to pay. Ray tracing will resolve to time (to render a scene) divided by cost.

That will continue to bring down the time to generate a ray traced frame for an animation for example, but it probably won’t get us to realtime ray tracing at 4K or beyond.

Shortcuts and Semiconductors
Work continues on finding clever ways to short circuit the computational load by using intelligent algorithms to look at the scene and deterministically allocate what objects will be seen, and which surfaces need to be considered.

Hybrid techniques are being improved and evolved where only certain portions of a scene are ray traced. Objects in the distance for example don’t need to be ray traced and flat, dull colored objects don’t need it.

Chaos Group says the use of variance-based adaptive sampling on this model of Christmas cookies from Autodesk 3ds Max provided a better final image in record time. (Source: Chaos Group)

Semiconductors are being developed to specifically accelerate ray tracing. Imagination Technologies, the company that designs Apple’s iPhone and iPad GPU, has a specific ray tracing engine that, when combined with the advance techniques just described can render an HD scene with partial ray traced elements several times a second. Siliconarts is a startup in Korea that has developed a ray tracing accelerator and I have seen demonstrations of it generating images at 30fps. And Nvidia is working ways to make a standard GPU more ray-tracing friendly.

All these ideas and developments will come together in the very near future and we will begin to realize realtime ray tracing.

Market Size
It is impossible to know how many users there are of ray tracing programs because the major 3D modeling and CAD programs, both commercial and free (e.g., Autodesk, Blender, etc.) have built-in ray tracing engines, as well as the ability to use pluggable add-on software programs for ray tracing.

The potentially available market vs. the totally available market (TAM).

Also, not all users make use of ray tracing on a regular basis— some use it every day, others maybe occasionally or once a project. Furthermore, some users will use multiple ray tracing programs in a project, depending upon their materials library, user interface, specific functional requirements or pipeline functionality.

Free vs. Commercial
A great deal of the raytracing software available on the market is the result of university projects. Some of the developers of such programs have formed companies, others have chosen to stay in academia or work as independent programmers.

The number of new suppliers has not slowed down indicating a continued demand for ray tracing

The non-commercial developers continue to offer their ray tracing rendering software as an open source and for free — and continue to support it, either individually or as part of a group.

Raytracing Engine Suppliers
The market for ray tracing is entering into a new phase. This is partially due to improved and readily available low-cost processors (thank you, Moore’s law), but more importantly it is because of the demand and need for accurate virtual prototyping and improved workflows.

Rendering in the cloud using GPUs (Source OneRender).

As with any market, there is a 20/80 rule, where 20 percent of the suppliers represent 80 percent of the market. The ray tracing market may be even more unbalanced. There would appear to be too many suppliers in the market despite failures and merger and acquisition activities. At the same time many competing suppliers have been able to successfully coexist by offering features customized for their most important customers.

Conclusion
Ray tracing is to manufacturing what a storyboard is to film — the ability to visualize the product before it’s built. Movies couldn’t be made today with the quality they have without ray tracing. Think of how good the characters in Cars looked — that imagery made it possible for you to suspend disbelief and get into the story. It used to be: “Ray tracing — Who needs it?” Today it’s: “Ray tracing? Who doesn’t use it?”

Our Main Image: An example of different materials being applied to the same object (Source Nvidia)

Dr. Jon Peddie is president of Jon Peddie Research, which just completed an in-depth market study on the ray tracing market. He is the former president of Siggraph Pioneers and  serves on advisory boards of several companies. In 2015, he was given the Life Time Achievement award from the CAAD society. His most recent book is “The History of Visual Magic in Computers.”

Production Rendering: Tips for 2016 and beyond

By Andrew C. Jones

There is no shortage of articles online offering tips about 3D rendering. I have to admit that attempting to write one myself gave me a certain amount of trepidation considering how quickly most rendering advice can become obsolete, or even flat-out wrong.

The trouble is that production rendering is a product of the computing environment, available software and the prevailing knowledge of artists at a given time. Thus, the shelf life for articles about rendering tends to be five years or so. Inevitably, computing hardware gets faster, new algorithms get introduced and people shift their focus to new sets of problems.

I bring this up not only to save myself some embarrassment five years from now, but also as a reminder that computer graphics, and rendering in particular, is still an exciting topic that is ripe for innovation and improvement. As artists who spend a lot of time working within rigid production pipelines, it can be easy to forget this.

Below are some thoughts distilled from my own experience working in graphics, which I feel are about as relevant today as they would have been when I started working back in 2003. Along with each item, I have also included some commentary on how I feel the advice is applicable to rendering in 2016, and to Psyop’s primary renderer, Solid Angle’s Arnold, in particular.

Follow Academic Research
This can be intimidating, as reading academic papers takes considerably more effort than more familiar kinds of reading. Rest assured, it is completely normal to need to read a paper several times and to require background research to digest an academic paper. Sometimes the background research is as helpful as the paper itself. Even if you do not completely understand everything, just knowing what problems the paper solves can be useful knowledge.

Papers have to be novel to be published, so finding new rendering research relevant to 2016 is pretty easy. In fact, many useful papers have been overlooked by the production community and can be worth revisiting. A recent example of this is Charles Schmidt and Brian Budge’s paper, “Simple Nested Dielectrics in Ray Traced Images” from 2002, which inspired Jonah Friedman to write his open source JF Nested Dielectric shader for Arnold in 2013. ACM’s digital library is a fantastic resource for finding graphics-related papers.

Study the Photographic Imaging Pipeline
Film, digital cinema and video are engineering marvels, and their complexity is easily taken for granted. They are the template for how people expect light to be transformed into an image, so it is important to learn how they work.

Despite increasing emphasis on physical accuracy over the past few years, a lot of computer graphics workflows are still not consistent with real-world photography. Ten years ago, the no-nonsense, three-word version of this tip would have been “use linear workflow.” Today, the three-word version of the tip should probably be “use a LUT.” In five more years, perhaps people will finally start worrying about handling white balance properly. OpenColorIO and ACES are two recent technologies that fit under this heading.

Otto_theLetter.01726    BritishGas_NPLH1
Examples of recent renders done by Psyop on jobs for online retailer Otto and British Gas.

Study Real-World Lighting
The methodology and equipment of on-set lighting in live-action production can teach us a great deal, both artistically and technically. From an aesthetic standpoint, live-action lighting allows us to focus on learning how to control light to create pleasing images, without having to worry about whether or not physics is being simulated correctly.

Meanwhile, simulating real-world light setups accurately and efficiently in CG can be technically challenging. Many setups rely heavily on indirect effects like diffusion, but these effects can be computationally expensive compared to direct lighting. In Arnold, light filter shaders can help transform simplistic area lights into more advanced light rigs with view-dependent effects.

Fight for Simplicity
As important as it is to push the limits of your workflow and get the technical details right, all of that effort is for naught if the workflow is too difficult to use and artists start making mistakes.

In recent years, simplicity has been a big selling point for path-tracing renderers as brute force path-tracing algorithms tend to require fewer parameters than spatially dependent approximations. Developers are constantly working to make their renderers more intuitive, so that artists can achieve realistic results without visual cheats. For example, Solid Angle recently added per-microfacet fresnel calculations, which help achieve more realistic specular reflections along the edges of surfaces.

Familiarize Yourself With Your Renderer’s API (If it Has One)
Even if you have little coding background, the API can give you a much deeper understanding of how your renderer really works. This can be a significant trade-off for GPU renderers, as the fast-paced evolution of GPU programming makes providing a general purpose API particularly difficult.

Embrace the Statistical Nature of Raytracing
The “DF” in BRDF actually stands for “distribution function.” Even real light is made of individual photons, which can be thought of as particles bouncing off of surfaces according to probability distributions. (Just don’t think of the photons as waves or they will stop cooperating!)

When noise problems occur in a renderer, it is often because a large amount of light is being represented by a small subset of sampled rays. Intuitively, this is a bit like trying to determine the average height of Germans by measuring people all over the world and asking if they are German. Only 1 percent of the world’s population is German, so you will need to measure 100 times more people than if you collected your data from within Germany’s borders.

One way developers can improve a renderer is by finding ways to gather information about a scene using fewer samples. These improvements can be quite dramatic. For example, the most recent Arnold release can render some scenes up to three times as fast, thanks to improvements in diffuse sampling. As an artist, understanding how randomization, sampling and noise are related is the key to optimizing a modern path tracer, and it will help you anticipate long render times.

Learn What Your Renderer Does Not Do
Although some renderers prioritize physical accuracy at any cost, most production renderers attempt to strike a balance between physical accuracy and practicality.

Light polarization is a great example of something most renderers do not simulate. Polarizing filters are often used in photography to control the balance between specular and diffuse light on surfaces and to adjust the appearance of certain scene elements like the sky. Recreating these effects in CG requires custom solutions or artistic cheats. This can make a big difference when rendering things like cars and water.

Plan for New Technology
Technology can change quickly, but adapting production workflows always takes time. By anticipating trends, such as HDR displays, cloud computing, GPU acceleration, virtual reality, light field imaging, etc., we not only get a head start preparing for the future, but also motivate ourselves to think in different ways. In many cases, solutions that are necessary to support tomorrow’s technology can already change the way we work today.

Andrew C. Jones is head of visual effects at NYC- and LA-based Psyop, which supplies animation, design, illustration, 3D, 2D and live-action production to help brands connect with consumers. You can follow them on Twitter @psyop