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




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.

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.

On the right:  Heather, me, and Craig Barron
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.

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 practically modeling tips.

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.

Class visit

Q&A after the lecture

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 (as seen above).  You can see the page HERE.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Trolls Animation


It's a new year!  It was a busy year of learning to balance teaching full-time, freelance work, and Heather's very active freelance gigs.  I ended the year working on a few new projects, so hopefully I will be able to show some of that work sooner than later.  I think this year will have a lot of new work to talk about - but in the meantime I wanted to post a better look at some last year's work from Trolls.

I was on the show during the production start up, so most of the work was doing initial animations with the generic trolls rigs.  There's a list of general movements we always do up front.  It's also a time we can see what's working or not and start exploring how stylized the crowds will be.  There's also testing the crowd rigs as well - you have dozens of different body types and when you copy the animation around once awhile the rigs don't all behave the same.  So there's a lot of up front work when getting started on a show.

The first sequences in production (the one most rock-solid to stay as-is in the show) were the opening musical number and the Bergen-crashing-the-party one.  I had a few one off special cycles for those to create - like coming out of homes and grooving to the song or catching envelopes.  The latter was suppose to be in multiple shots and I spent several weeks doing several variations and copying it to all the different body types.  In the final film it's in one shot for about 30 frames.  The glamorous life of an animator!

It was a fun last DreamWorks movie to work on.  We got to see it in the theaters with our two sons and have been singing the songs for months now.  Like the tagline for the movie said - find your happy place!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

FLASHBACK: Me & My Shadow


Today on Cartoon Brew they posted some leaked test shots from an abandoned DreamWorks film called Me & My Shadow - which of course got pulled down by Universal almost immediately.

I got to spend a very brief amount of time on this show helping the crowd head, Allen Stetson, do some cycle animation tests.  We were timing how long it took to keyframe a typical cycle animation.  Then we compared this to having to clean up mo-cap, and adding in face/hand animation on top of that.  It was only a few weeks of work, but it let me peek into the world they were making of Shadows.

It was....awesome.  I saw as much as one initial sequence that went through all the way to lighting and paint fix.  I think it would have been an amazing combination of 2D and 3D - and would have developed a fan base amongst those who love Roger Rabbit, etc.  Sadly, as was too often the case at DreamWorks, they couldn't nail down the story.  And an higher price tag for all the cool hybrid tech became the nail in the coffin for Shadows.  There's rumors of Edgar Wright coming in to revist this...so hopefully it'll see the light of day eventually.

Oh, and here's some leaked GIFs that have been floating around online for a few years to give you an idea of the film.  The shadows were all 2D hand drawn animation, then were cleaned up on the computer and projected into the 3D scene.  It wasn't just as simple as that of course, and I remember seeing a great and complicated demo explaining the processes they developed.