Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Racing Legends LA Times Article


Today the LA Times had an interview with the Creative Director at Mousetrappe behind the Ferrari Experience attractions.  They also posted a few photos of the rides.  The stills aren't from the scenes I worked on, but it's fun to finally see some hi-res images of the actual footage.  Here's a description of the experience from the article:

Racing Legends, Mousetrappe’s other Ferrari Land attraction, combines Universal’s Simpsons simulator ride experience with the test drive conceit of Epcot’s Test Track in Florida. Built by Britain-based Simworx, the domed screen and motion simulator attraction features wind, water and aroma effects.
Riders climb into one of 10 Ferrari F1 race cars arrayed before a 75-foot diameter domed screen.  The backstory places riders in a Ferrari racing simulator used to train up-and-coming drivers on race tracks from any era. 
The journey starts in present-day Spain behind the wheel of a Ferrari F1 on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Traveling back in time, the car company’s founder, Enzo Ferrari, battles up a bumpy and muddy 1919 hill-climb race in Parma, Italy. The time-traveling race continues in 1960 on the banked corners of Italy’s Autodromo Nazionale Monza, hopping over perilous hills at Germany’s Nürburgring in 1975 and ducking and weaving on the Circuit de Mónaco course in present day. Graphics-heavy computer transitions call up each new course. 
Theme park fantasy takes over near the end of the trip with a Formula 1 car speeding through several scent-centric near misses on the streets of Rome and a futuristic concept car trek on a Speed Racer-like looping course. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

FLASHBACK: Ray Harryhausen


Enjoying the start of summer, today I finally cracked open my DVD of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.  I love this movie and can still remember the first time I saw it - actually, it's among my earliest movie-watching memories...along with Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  It was a summer night and my family had just returned to the house at night.  Coming up from the garage, my dad and I stayed in the basement and when we turned on the TV "The Beast" had just begun.  I was instantly sucked in and stayed in the basement glued to that television set till the last minute of the movie.  It was such impactful film for me that I even referenced it and showed a clip during my initial interview/lecture at APSU.

So naturally, one of the more amazing moments I've had in my career was being able to meet Ray Harryhausen, the man responsible for animating the stop-motion Beast along with dozens and dozen of classic movie creatures.  Back in 2006 Heather's boss at the time was Craig Barron at Matte World Digital.  He was friends with Harry and hosted a night with him at the San Rafael Theater screening The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.  Joining the two of them on stage was Phil Tippet, the also-legendary stop-motion animator from ILM and owner of Tippet Studios.  It was a great night - Ray brought one of the famous and original skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts and afterwards we got to meet him and get his autograph.

That's one of the biggest advantages of living in a big city where (at least at that time) a thriving vfx/animation industry is happening.  There's many opportunities to meet people who helped shape your history to the movies.  Being able to see them in person and shake their hand really brings the movies home.  You feel part of the history.


Monday, May 22, 2017

"Racing Legends" Ride Footage


There was a few articles going around about the company that built the vehicles for Racing Legends.  I've also seen a few videos getting posted of the ride footage.  I worked on the first scene, the Rome one, and the final futuristic one.  It's fun to see the final footage in context.  Apparently in additional to the vehicles moving, they also have "4D" effects like wind and water mist during the ride.  Pretty fun to get an idea of the omni theater setup.


I also ran across some promotional posters that a design company produced for Mousetrappe for use in the attractions.  It was a series of travel posters for many of the areas visited over the course of the attractions.  It's just fun to see all the peripheral design that goes on with any attraction.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Heather's "Happily Ever After"




Heather has been able to once again work on a theme park show - this time its the brand new nighttime fireworks show at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.  Called Happily Ever After it premiers tonight!

Check out more of the behind the scenes clips below - it looks like it's going to be one hell of a show. They are bringing in just about every disney character ever and creating original 2D animations for the show.  Heather has been helping Mousetrappe create the background projections that will be displayed on the castle.  This is as close as you can come to traveling back in time and getting the chance to work on Aladdin, Lion King, or the other classics of the "Disney Renaissance"

I'm so damn proud of her!








Wednesday, May 10, 2017

End of the Semester and 2nd Year


Well, another semester (and year) at APSU has wrapped.  I'm still getting used to the idea of having months off of work in the summer!  It was quite the transition year - literally transitioning to our new building.  I think we all had a form of senior-itis trying to wrap up the semester in the old building knowing this awesome facility is empty and waiting just a few yards away. The last week of finals and the following week consisted of moving the equipment from the old Mac labs to the new ones.  My sons came with me one day and we played frisbee outside the new building - the quintessential college activity.

One last thing to share - something I ran across while cleaning out the old computer lab.  Drawn on the white board was this cartoon (yes, that character is me). As you can see, my students first semester diving into Maya was met with....a few technical hurdles and learning curve.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Golden Moose & Gaming


At the end of last year I had a wonderful time working with the new Golden Moose Studios on a game prototype.  It was going to be a stylized narrative-driven PC game.  While it was an amazing concept and looking great, for a variety of reasons it was put on hold.  Karin, the CEO, has posted a couple of insightful and fascinating blog posts about the development process and the subsequent shelving of the game. It's been interesting to be a part of this while also reading on the reflections and insights after the fact.

Read the posts HERE (Part 1: Prototype) and HERE (Part 2: Reboot)

I can't say enough wonderful things about working with them.  I'm excited to see where they go next and encourage everyone to follow their blog.  Speaking of which, Karin also posted another great blog post about applying for jobs and their thoughts after looking through over a hundred applications in just a few days.  I think it's essential reading for anyone in the video game, animation, or vfx business!

Check that one out HERE (Job Application Tips)

Friday, April 21, 2017

New Art & Design Building Move-In

The Main Entrance
Well, it was a long wait, but at last we have moved into the new Art & Design Building!  It's the last week of the semester, so we're only moving our offices right now.  But already we had our last faculty meeting of the academic year in the new conference room - everyone had a hard time not just staring out the window the whole time.

We just look more professional in this room
The second floor main hallway
A campus-side view of the building.  Grass coming soon.
The Animation Lab is starting to come together!
My first solo office

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Heather's Moana Test


There's some great behind-the-scenes stories about how Disney did a "water test" early in preproduction on Moana.  This is when Heather was put on the show.  The test had been seen early at a D23 convention, but this is the first time we get to see it.

Apparently this scene was cut early in the process, but everyone loved it so much they found a way to get it back into the movie.  It's fun to see the differences between this version and the one that ended up in the film.  Either way, I have to share any video clip that starts with a matte painting done by my wife!


Friday, April 7, 2017

"Racing Legends" Theme Park Attraction


This is the main show building at PortAventura World's new Ferrari Land expansion that opens today.  I had the chance to work with Tau Films to animate multiple racing scenes for the attraction Racing Legends.  The ride, which is an omni dome simulator experience, is located in the main Ferrari Experience show building seen above.  From the press release:
Racing Legends allows visitors the opportunity to put their driving skills to the test. They can drive a Ferrari through the streets of Rome and along the most famous racing circuits in the world. They can even drive around imaginary futuristic scenes. The Omnimax simulator experience begins with a call for ‘drivers of the future’ who will experience the adventure on one of 10 mobile platforms.
Starting from a previs, I amped up the action with the animated the cars and camera animation.  I took on the initial track of Barcelona, Rome, and the futuristic Tron-like final course.  You can read more about how Mousetrappe and Tau Films approached the ride HERE



I have always been a big nerd and fan when it comes to theme parks, so I loved the opportunity to work on one!  I just need to get to Spain now to go see it in person....



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.


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!