Friday, March 24, 2017

FLASHBACK: Hans Zimmer Parking Garage Concert

One of the more surreal and amazing nights while I was working at DreamWorks was the Hans Zimmer Parking Garage Rooftop Concert.  It's a strange setup, so a bit of backstory to what led to this crazy circumstance....

At the time, 2009, DreamWorks was expanding like crazy.  We were trying to go from releasing 2 films a year to 3.  We were still working on DVD bonus shorts and even some holiday specials.  It was busy.  And we were running out of space...especially parking space.  The solution was to expand our 5 story parking garage (complete with helipad) over onto the neighboring surface lot.  For most of a year, this made parking even more crazy during construction.  By the end they had to enlist valet parking to fit everyone into the remaining space.  You can see the new addition in the google-map view below (it has different colored concrete and no ivy growing up the sides).

So, Katzenburg wanted a way to celebrate the completion of the parking garage expansion, as a way to make up for all the inconvenience to the employees over the past year.  For some glorious reason I can't imagine they thought up - they held a rooftop concert after work one summer night.  Leading the charge was the film composer Hans Zimmer (who scored Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar for us).  Joining him was fellow composers (also for DreamWorks films) Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell.  Also, a bunch of other musicians covering everything from drums, winds, to ancient chinese instruments.  And a host of extra singers, including the gentleman who does the voice of King Julien now for the TV series.

So we all spent a night, sitting at tables drinking beer and wine, watching the summer sun set behind The Valley, listening to a greatest hits of DreamWorks music on the roof of a parking garage.  They played the DreamWorks intro music (also the opening to Shrek), Hallelujah, themes from KFP and Madagascar, and of course finished with a group dance to "I Like To Move-It Move-It"

An epic once-in-a-lifetime night.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Heather and LOTR

After months of rumors, WB finally announced the new Middle Earth: Shadow of War video game with an Announcement Trailer.  Heather was able to contribute to the big final shot you see above.  I'm so excited for Heather - to work on a Lord of the Rings property is just insanely fun.  We are the vfx generation that was in undergrad as these films came out and it really felt like a rebirth of the industry.  Also she got to work with Blur, doing some kick-ass cinematics work.  That's several pretty impressive accomplishments in one fell swoop!

Check out the game site HERE and see the whole announcement trailer below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

FLASHBACK: Invincible

Today I saw that Invincible, or as I refer to it "the-Mark-Wahlberg-football-movie" is on Netfllix.  This was my first paying job in the VFX industry.  It was with a small boutique in San Rafael that I had done a summer internship with called ElementFX.  I got a call from the founder Marjo that they would like to bring me in to help with a big 3D establishing shot they had been awarded.  It's also a special movie for me because my wife was working on the same film over at Matte World Digital - marking the only time we both worked on the same film.  We would both commute up to the North Bay together, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and the amazing Marin Headlands.  We were both still students but getting our first real industry experience at some great companies.  It was an exciting time.

ElementFX originally brought me on to do backups and watch the renderfarm.  Not a glamorous job, but of course I took it.  Starting out in this industry you take the entry level jobs and prove yourself.  I saw too many fellow students who waited for more impressive jobs (that never came).  My wife was doing rotoscoping and I was going to be a render wrangler.  And we were successful because we took those and it lead to bigger and better roles at each company.

In fact, ElementFX ended up needing more help.  It was a small team - 3 people other than me, plus one person who came in after hours - more on him in a second.  They needed someone to take on creating the digital crowd inside the stadium.  We had a bunch of footage of spectators on cards, but needed to populate the stadium with all this footage.  They asked me if I wanted to take that on in my role as Assistant Technical Director, to which I of course said yes.  I would work up a method and the head TD Alex would write up some code for me to run.  We were using XSI, which was interesting to learn on the fly.  It was a great time and I learned tons from the team.  ElementFX was a great, albiet short lived company.  There's a great write up about them from CGSociety HERE

ElementFX:  Alex, Marjo, and Yannick

So, a funny story from my time on Invincible.  When I left at the end of the work day, this guy would come in and use my workstation.  We never crossed paths more than a few minutes and I just knew he was Yannick, this buddy of theirs from ILM.  We needed a matte painting for our shot, so I offered to Alex that I could take that on - after all, I had just taken an intro matte painting class at college that semester.  Alex assured me that Yannick was doing it and could handle it.  I tried to make the case, but they stayed with Yannick.  Turns out, he is a huge art director at ILM and was spending his workdays doing matte paintings for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.  So, at least once, I tried to steal a matte painting from a big shot.

On the right:  Heather, me, and Craig Barron
Another nice moment was that Craig Barron, the owner of Matte World Digital invited the entire crew to a screening at the Rafael Theater.  It was a great afternoon, and afterwards he took everyone out to lunch.  I sat between him and Heather and we had a great time.  He shared a bunch of crazy stories from his time at ILM in the 80s.  I did embarrassingly get my car stuck in the parking garage afterwards in front of everyone, but still a great afternoon.

This little football film has so many firsts for me.  Watching it again years later takes me back to a very special time, when the career/life Heather and I were starting was getting momentum and this giant world was opening up to us.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Museum of Real and Odd

I'm very excited to share the art piece that Heather and I created that has been included in a new show at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art called The Museum of Real and Odd.

Our piece is entitled "Field Kit of the Cryptozoological Studies and Observations of Dr. William Oliver Raymond".  It includes about 20 specimens and several photographs, all documented in the accompanying Journal.  It was a lot of fun to create and we made a great team pulling this all together.  Heather brought her expert painting skills and overall concept (and quality control) to the work.  Meanwhile my own interest in the subject matter paid off in research and sculpting most of the custom specimens.  We already are planning what our next "kit" will be!

From the Press Release:
The truth is out there. And so is the art.  In partnership with the Big Car, we bring the work of 13 contemporary artists exploring the idea of UFOs and the paranormal to the Tube Factory at 1125 Cruft St.
iMOCA’s Museum of Real and Odd, curated by Jeremy Efroymson, is a commissioned exhibit with artists from around the country making new work for the show. After an open call for submissions received 250 proposals, Efroymson selected the 13 artists: Nayda Collazo-Llorens in collaboration with Ander Monson, Scott Raymond & Heather Abels, Jennifer Scheuer, Robert Thurlow, Katy Unger, Alex Grabiec, Julio Orta, Pato Herbert, Cassandra Klos, Josh Haines, and Michael Jordan, aka Alkemi.
Efroymson feels high-caliber artists are well poised to remove some of the negative associations with the unknown. “The folklore and mythology of the paranormal has really saturated our society,” he said. “Especially with the ghost hunter shows on television and the prevalence of the topic in movies.  I remember the movie Poltergeist from my childhood, which really scared me. While we still have scary movies, I think maybe we now have a more open view to paranormal experiences of a positive nature. I’ve seen shows and artwork that deal with these topics, but they are not always of the best quality. I wanted to curate a show on these topics with high quality art and artists.”

Find the iMOCA's site on the show HERE

 An article from the Indianapolis Star (with a slideshow of the exhibit) can be found HERE

Friday, February 3, 2017

Colie Wertz Visits APSU!

This week Austin Peay hosted Colie Wertz who spent a day on campus with a a public lecture in the evening.  I had never met Colie before, but we have a ton of mutual friends in the industry, including the fact that he was my wife Heather's supervisor back at The Orphanage in San Francisco.  He's still in the Bay Area, recently having worked on Star Wars Rouge One and Episode VIII.  He actually is flying out this weekend to London to help out on set with Episode IX.

Class visit
Colie was also generous enough to visit my Animation II class, where everyone is just starting to learn modeling and texturing in Maya.  He was a huge inspiration to the students and was an invaluable resource - talking about creative process, workflow, and practical modeling tips.

Q&A after the lecture

The lecture was great and the room was full a half hour before it even started.  Colie was an amazing speaker and just a joy to be around in general.  We had a great time going out to dinner afterwards and catching up.  I feel so fortunate that he was able to come out and share his art with everyone.

Michael Dickins, his son, Heather, and Colie

You can follow his awesome work at:

Friday, January 13, 2017

An Unfortunate Series...

Can't wait to watch this show tonight!  Heather contributed to several matte paintings for this Netflix series, getting the chance to work with the legendary Tippett Studios in the process.  They even feature her work on the project on their website (as seen above).  You can find the page HERE.