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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Heather and Disney

So proud of Heather this month. She has TWO amazing Disney projects being released!

First of all is the release of Moana in theaters. Heather worked on some of the very first sequences in production on this film. We finally got to take our two boys to it this week, and it's a stunning and beautiful film. I'm so excited my wife got to contribute to this film - one that joins the family of such classics as The Little Mermaid (in fact, they had the same directors).

The second project is the debut of Mickey's Most Merriest Celebration at Walt Disney World. Heather helped create the imagery that is projected on Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom. It's part of a night-time stage show during the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party special event.

I have to admit being extremely jealous. To be able to have worked on a Disney animated musical and contribute to an attraction at Disney World are probably the two greatest reasons I got into this industry myself. I'm so proud of my wife, and that she has been able to make her dreams come true.

Friday, December 2, 2016

More DreamWorks Layoffs

News finally broke this week of additional layoffs happening at DreamWorks Feature Animation.  This actually occurred several weeks ago, the day I flew into Burbank for the CTNx Conference - so I heard about the news that night (appropriately over several beers).

This round is 170 employees, notable hitting the production artists hard, who had been spared in the last round or two.  Overall I'm told the company has reduced it's staff by about 400 in the last several months.  Even the Animation Dept, which usually is the last to get hit, is taking some losses - including the notable voluntary departure of several supervising animators.

Some major news that is the direct cause of this is that Croods 2 has been cancelled, and possibly other film in production going back into development mode.  Also, some big unspecified changes seem to be happening for the studios in India and China.  I actually really dissapointed that we won't be seeing Croods 2.  The initial story pitches I saw looked really fun and already there was some great animation tests under James Baxter being done.

I remember how stressful times like this are in the company and the industry.  It was very bittersweet to be back in Burbank the other week and see all the old friends, co-workers, neighbors and hangouts.  But this waiting-nervously-for-news cycle seemed to be coming more often and more dramatic each year.  It was an interesting weekend to visit, and reminded me of all the stress I've left behind in that world.  It was also interesting at the conference to see what all the amazing artist that were let go when they closed PDI have done.  Many are working on their own projects, and VR studios in Silicon Valley have sucked up most of them.  At the studio it always felt like there was nothing outside those walls, which amped up the stress level among everyone.  But honestly, most artists are thriving post-DW and creating amazing work.  It's just a shame such a talented pool or artists was broken up.

Rumor is more layoffs might hit in January and I'll be hoping for the best for my remaining friends and DreamWorks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Annie Awards Jury

Today ASIFA announced it's list of nominees for it's annual Annie Awards.  I'm very proud to have served on the jury for this years Best Student Film category.  The jury narrowed it down to five shorts to be voted on by the whole ASIFA professional membership.  So many amazing and strong films - it's incredible to see the work being created by students today.

You should check out the nominated films.  Many have trailers and making-of blogs you can find online.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

CTNx Conference Weekend

The artists booths in the giant (and not waterproof) tent

This weekend I was able to attend my first CTN Animation Expo conference back in Burbank.  It was my first time going back to visit since we left California 16 months ago.  The conference was a lot of fun - about half the conference was panels and speakers and the other half was a big artist floor where people had tables selling their arts (alongside studio recruiting booths).  I got the chance to talk to artists like Brittany Lee, Goro Fujita, Bobby Chiu, and The Bancroft Brothers.  It was a last minute trip, so I wasn't able to get into the big panels, but was still able to hear Ian McCraig, the ASIFA-Animation Educators forum with Tom Sito, and even our friend Shannon Thomas.

The best part was being able to catch up once more with friends and co-workers that I haven't seen for over a year.  That's the toughest part about leaving California was leaving a decade of amazing friends behind.  So it was wonderful to see everyone.  I even had the chance to meet my old mentor from college Tad!

The ol' crew meeting up for drinks

Floyd Norman live demo
Tad!  It's Tad!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Heather & Lemony Snicket

It's been a while since I've had a post about Heather, but man has she been busy with the freelance life.  Feature films, video games, theme parks, VR, and now a new category - Netflix TV.  She got to spend several weeks helping out with several matte paintings for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Her painting shows up a few times in this trailer that was just released today!

Pretty excited to see the show as a whole.  Before the film version came out years ago we both binged on the book series - and this looks spot on in tone and performances.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

FLASHBACK: Zombie Prom & Skywalker Ranch

Today I ran across THIS article in Variety, about a full-length feature film version of Zombie Prom being developed.  Which is the first news of Zombie Prom in a loooong time, ever since I worked on the proof-of-concept short back in 2006.

The guy in charge of wrangling the vfx for the short was David Manos Morris, who I was introduced to by my current boss at the time Marjolaine Tremblay at elementFX.  They were old friends and co-workers from ILM.  David was putting together volunteers to work on the film, and it was that stage of my career where you have to take a leap or two to start getting work experience.  Plus, David is a huge musical theater nerd and we were going to trade early versions of some musicals we geeked out over.  Fair enough.  I did only a couple of shots - one matte painting and comp of Johnny driving up to the nuclear power plant and extending a shot of balloons for a wipe transition effect.

The best part was attending the screening.  David used his contacts as ILM to secure the big screening room at Skywalker Ranch for the night.  Ever since I was little and had the George Lucas: The Creative Impulse book, I had known about the Ranch.  The secluded pastoral patch of land nestled around wine country that was Lucas' artist enclave.  The place where pre and post production on everything from Star Wars to ET to Indiana Jones happened.

Heather and I dressed up nice and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge for Skywalker Ranch, ironically located on Lucas Road.  It's just as stunning as you would think.  Heck, even the parking lot is next to the vineyard - which is the only point I was willing to take a quick photo, less I seem too starstruck.  The main building and screening room were also gorgeous - an arts and crafts style comfy environment that felt just perfect.  It was a unique night and a great chance to experience Skywalker Ranch.

The Skywalker Ranch parking lot vineyard

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Trolls Opening Weekend!!!

It's here!  The last film I will have worked on at DreamWorks (well, unless they resurrect B.O.O. or Me & My Shadow...which is likely and a possibility).  It will be for sure the last DreamWorks film I'll be credited on (see below!)

I can't wait to see the finished film.  My two boys are going crazy to see it after listening to the soundtrack for the last month or so (including it on constant repeat on a two day drive to Nebraska). And DreamWorks seems to have FINALLY figured out marketing for one of their movies.  So we've been eating Trolls cookies and gummies, playing with Troll dolls, reading Trolls books...you name it.

Hopefully it'll have a nice weekend and some solid legs.  I'm sure Dr. Strange (which you may have heard of) will take first place - but I feel like this damn little optimistic movie is just what the world needs right now.

Friday, November 4, 2016

APSU (Future) Animation Lab

The future home of the Animation Lab
Chair Barry Jones showing off site of conference room

The Art + Design faculty today got to do a walkthrough of our new building still under construction.  It was great to finally get a sense of the place - now that it has sheetrock walls up!  The other great development is that I'm getting my very own space for an Animation Lab.  It'll be a dedicated space with our Mac workstations, some Oculus machines, a huge teaching station and monitor, and hopefully some leftover space so we can set up placed to film reference, etc.  Pretty excited.  The completion date is still set for Feb, so fingers crossed we can move over in the spring!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Trolls Breakdown of A Scene

This is really great!  This was one of my favorite scenes in Trolls (back in the storyboard form I last saw it in).  It was hilarious and was a great exposition of character for Poppy, and set the tone of the movie in general.  Hopeless optimism.  So I love that the directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn break the sequence down for the NY Times.

I talk in class all the time about how things that work in storyboards don't always translate into CG animation.  It's an idea I first heard from Mike Mitchell back on Shrek 4.  Then I had scene it personally with moments that were hilarious in boards, and just fall flat or feel a bit gruesome in the more tangible world of CG. Bits like Mort throwing up cake in Madagascar 2 was always a big laugh in boards - and it just felt wrong in CG.  Well - imagine the insane freak-flag-fly world of Trolls.  It all worked wonderfully in the story reels.  But I had my doubts how it would translate - one that things wouldn't get "softened" by the executives over the course of production, and two that that'd have to stylize the hell of out it to pull it off.  It looks successful in all the clips I've seen so far.  I'm just so happy that this weird little movie was able to stay weird.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bink at DreamWorks!

In a fun twist, Eric Miller gave a presentation at DreamWorks this week on his startup company.  I love seeing this image of Bink onscreen in the review room in my old stomping grounds.  A handful of the Bink team are still at DreamWorks and attended the talk.  Eric's been keeping his company pretty busy, which hopefully will fund the next round of Bink shorts.  I'm also scheduled to help him out on a public-service project in the next year.

Check out Eric Miller Animation Studios full post on the DW talk HERE

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Featured in APSU Alumni Magazine

It was great to see this article in the APSU Alumni Magazine this week.  Barry and I got to trek onto the construction site this summer for the photo shoot.  It's great to see the excitement we're getting already with the animation classes.  This also publicly confirms that Animation is getting it's own lab in the new building!

You can read the whole publication HERE

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Words" Exhibition Animation

So this is a fun development.  I created a little animation for an art call by the Art League of Lincoln out in central California.  The only requirement was that the work somehow involve the use of the written word.  This idea came from a Facebook post.  I had posted an update about having trouble making a decision - a common situation for me.  And my Aunt posts that she has that, as does my dad and grandfather.  Apparently my dad calls it being "flexibly indecisive"

I actually was planning an entirely different animation...a very complicated one that needed me to create and rig some 2d characters in Toon Boom Harmony.  Over a very long and unproductive weekend, in my sketchbook where I was trying to think up some animated monsters, I was frustrated and drew a little sketch of myself and how I was feeling at that moment.

When Heather got home from the weekend, and I had basically no progress, she saw my little sketch and loved it.  She said that's what my animation should be.  I thought back to that Facebook post, and it all clicked into place.  I often tell my students that sometimes it's the tangental ideas, the ones you sketched out in a flash and discarded, that become the best projects.  That also shows the importance of having a sketch book, and exploring your ideas on paper first.  The computer sucks the soul of out ideas and it's too easy to get tunnel vision when you're staring at a monitor looking for that flash of inspiration.

The show has been running about a month and today is it's last day.  I wasn't able to see it in person, but hopefully the Art League will post some photos online.  It's a fun first dip into this new world of art exhibitions.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Heather Interview with The All State

One of Heather's former students at APSU writes for the school paper, and interviewed her for a feature article.  Check it out at:  http://www.theallstate.org/2016/09/21/qa-with-heather-abels-matte-painter/

Begin by introducing yourself and giving a brief summary of what you do professionally, your educational background, your time at Austin Peay and what you’re doing now.   
My name is Heather Abels.  I’ve worked as a visual effects matte painter for the last 10 years.  My educational background begins at East Tennessee State University where I earned my BS in Animation, Illustration and Digital Media.  After working for a few years in graphic design and print pre-production, I moved to San Francisco to earn my MFA at The Academy of Art University.  From there, I had a really great internship at  Matte World Digital that set me on my path professionally as a matte painter.  Last semester I had the opportunity to teach Electronic Imaging in the Art & Design Department at Austin Peay.

I currently work remotely as a matte painter and concept artist from my home in Clarksville, TN as well as teaching an online Advanced Matte Painting workshop at CG Society/CGMA to students all over the world.
 What does a matte painter do? What are the main types of media you work for (commercials, movies, TV) and where have you worked?   
Matte painting is the creation of virtual sets or environments using digital painting techniques with baked in lighting, 3d geometry, and projections.  It’s also known as set projection, set extension, or digimatte.  Matte paintings are used to create worlds or backdrops where they do not exist in real life, or would be too expensive to create as a fully built set either practically or digitally.  My experience in visual effects can be seen in feature and animated films, commercials, television, game cinematics, and on virtual reality platforms.

How long have you worked for Disney? Describe what your work is like, where you work and how long you typically work on a project.    
Before I left California, I got to work for Disney Feature Animation for a year and a half on films like Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana.  Working on animated films was an exciting change for me, since every single element in every shot is created virtually by artists (there are no live action plates on an animated film).  Set Extension is a step that occurs after the sets are built, cameras are created, and lighting has been started.  Disney films themselves take years to complete, but Set Extension might be the last 6-9 months of production. The wonderful thing at Disney was that if we didn’t have any set extension work to do, we got to expand our skill set by doing some basic modeling, and look development, so we were always being useful in production even if there was downtime in “set extension” production needs. 
 The most recent project you have worked on that will be released in cinemas is Disney’s “Moana.” What was your contribution to this film, and how would you describe the experience? 
My work on Moana was very brief, and was primarily helping paint and project some skies and clouds on test shots.  Before I left I tried to develop some tools to simplify some of the technical work of projecting our paintings.  Moana itself really has a magical feeling to it, and even with my brief time working on it, I knew I was contributing to something really special.  The work I did was used in a digital teaser short created for D23 last year, and was in the first public trailer released for Moana.

In addition to Moana, you have worked on films such as Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Life of Pi. How are you contacted to work on these films? Are you asked, or is there an interview process? 
Up until we decided to leave California, all my work has been done as an employee of the companies I worked for.  I was lucky in that I had long stays at many of the companies I worked for, and I didn’t start freelancing until I moved here.  To get hired, you have to have a good demo reel, and go through an interview, and from there you keep your position by performing your  job well.  As a freelance artist, I have a lot of experience under my belt, and I am occasionally approached for work, and often times reach out when I hear a company has a need.  My work these days has a much tighter turnaround time than the features I used to do back at Disney and Rhythm & Hues. 
 As a personal note, what have been some your favorite projects you’ve worked on? 
All projects have their ups and downs.  My favorite part of working with a large team of people has always been the people.  It’s always exciting to have a big epic shot to work on, but what really inspires me is having amazingly talented co-workers.  When you are surrounded by talented people, you strive to improve your work as well.  You can collaborate together, complain when things are difficult, but ultimately improve each other. 
 Your husband, Scott Raymond, is also an animator and a professor here at APSU. What is it like being married to a fellow animator, do you two ever work together or compare work? 
My husband and I met in grad school at AAU.  We got along so well that we decided to collaborate on our graduate thesis project.  After surviving that we decided to be lifelong collaborators.  It’s wonderful to be in the same industry, while each having our own speciality, because there’s no competition between us.  I rely on his feedback and advice, and we often work together on freelance projects, as we each take on different roles.

For our readers who are interested in getting into “the industry,” can you describe the steps you took to get where you are, what education and skills you think are necessary and your advice for getting your work out there? 
The “industry” is constantly evolving.  Finding your passion, being truthful about your skills, and perfecting your demo reel are the most important things.  I always suggest that people have a backup plan.  These days, it’s easy to find the information you need to pick up the skills required for a job, but each role is very specific.  There’s modeling, lighting, rigging, compositing, look development, matte painting, animation, fx and more!  Each and every one of these roles has a constantly evolving list of requirements as the technical demands of the industry grow.  I made it in the industry because I had really excellent instructors and mentors, so my solid advice would be to find the right mentor and really listen to their advice.

What are your plans or goals for the future? 
My goals are to keep working in the industry for as long as I can while trying to raise my family.  I also have a passion to teach others the skills I’ve learned over the years, and pay forward the advice and help my mentors gave me.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Battle of the New Trailers!

So, the last couple of years, it seems my wife and I have animated films competing head-to-head during the a movie season.  At first it was Heather's "Big Hero 6" against my "Penguins of Madagascar" - Heather's film arguably won that round.  Next was her "Zootopia" versus my "Kung Fu Panda 3" dragon warrior effort.  Since Zootopia is the second highest grossing original film ever, and highest grossing animated non-sequel ever, we'll give Heather that victory as well.

Now we come to Fall 2016.  Releasing 19 days apart will be Disney/Heather's "Moana" and DreamWorks/Scott's "Trolls"

It will mark each of our own last big contributions to animated films after a decade in the industry (although Heather did get the chance to do some work on Disney's next release).  But I see this as the door finally closing on that era for us.  It's always a huge rush seeing the film on the big screen, wondering what last minute changes happened, and even vainly and anxiously sitting through the credits to see if your name got included.  We each know the films each respective studio is putting out for the next three years or so, and we'll have a little investment seeing what's changed from those initial pitches to the employees, and we'll be rooting for a big success for all of our good friends still at the studios working hard on these films.  But it won't be a personal investment.  We (probably) won't have another head-to-head battle for box office and critical acclaim after this fall.  Honestly, I think Heather is going to be going 3 for 3 on that one, so I'm okay closing this door :)

Check out the trailers below!
(I'm docking the Trolls one several points because they felt they needed to have actors interviewed in the trailer AND it just gave away some giant plot points!)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bink on APSU Art Page and Blog

Our dept chair wrote up a nice blog post about my work on Bink.  Check it out at:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Starts and Endings

Old Art + Design building on left, new one under construction on right

APSU Fall Semester Starts

Well, it's a heck of a few milestones today.  I'm beginning my second year as an Animation Professor at APSU.  It's interesting that it feels normal now, not like I was just taking a vacation from the industry for awhile.  Speaking of vacations - having a summer off is pretty damn amazing.  We got a family trip to Walt Disney World in to cash in Heather's free passes from Disney that were going to expire.  I still taught an online class, but I spent almost all of each day hanging out with my two boys.  A rare and amazing and exhausting opportunity that I am so, so lucky to be able to indulge.  It also allowed for my wife to take on an insane amount of awesome freelance work.

It also marks the end of comparing everything to what we were doing "a year ago".  The past year all the big milestones seemed like ones showcasing the change we made.  How was Halloween different in Burbank than here, and the constant assurance to ourselves we made the right choice.  Marking the week that was our last ones at DreamWorks and Disney.  Thinking that it's been one year since any of us were on a plane.  Remembering all the anxiety of starting a new profession in those first few weeks exactly a year ago.  So, the transition is over.  This is our new normal.  And it's been a great life so far.

DreamWorks End of an Era

Interestingly, the other milestone happening the same day is that Comcast/Universal officially took ownership of DreamWorks.  It's ultimately a good thing, but one of uncertainty for all my friends back at the studio - and I can't help but think how I would be feeling if we had stayed the course in California.  It seems the new owners are keeping the status quo so far, but being part of a conglomerate is a double-edged sword in animation these days.  Even though out the downturn at DreamWorks, and seeing longtime friends and co-workers getting let go, I felt that Jeffery would have our backs better than a giant corporation that sees us as just another asset in the toolbox.

But now the man himself, Jeffery Katzenberg has also stepped down from his little-studio-that-could - the last remaining independent movie studio in Hollywood.  He apparently spent the last week meeting with all the departments at the studio and getting to say goodbye to everyone one-on-one.  Katzenberg was the reason DreamWorks was such an amazing home for all those years.  I always believed that he wanted the best for his artists and staff.  He was direct, honest, and would always drop a few f-bombs during company updates - he always remained an amazingly accessible CEO.  I could go on, but I'll defer to my ol' coworker from DreamWorks - Nigel Tierney (we did muppet class together!) He wrote an amazing piece on Facebook, that Cartoon Brew picked up that does justice to JK's influence on all of us.  I'll just leave my thoughts at this:

Jeffery will be remembered in the industry for the big things...us DreamWorkers past and present will remember him for all the smaller (and arguably more important and meaningful) things.

Nigel and JK 
“Thank You, Jeffrey Katzenberg”
by Nigel W. Tierney
Today, I watched from a distance as Jeffrey Katzenberg left the DreamWorks Animation campus for the last time as our intrepid and beloved CEO. There was no pomp and circumstance; just a lonely JK, who slowly meandered over to his Tesla with a backpack hanging loosely over his shoulder. Please excuse the emotional stream of consciousness to follow.
Tomorrow will kickoff our first "Town Hall Meeting" with our new NBCUniversal leadership. This new replacement for our old "JK D-briefs," makes it difficult to not feel uncertain of the changes ahead. The only thing that I know for certain, is that the NBCUniversal leadership has some very large, white sneakers to fill.
I initially started writing this wanting to write something brief to thank Jeffrey for all he has done for the movie industry, but I couldn’t talk about his accomplishments without selfishly personalizing it. For the past eight years that I have worked at DreamWorks; I have always known that Jeffrey fostered the most compelling environment that a corporation could offer.
Jeffrey was always accessible and it is his accessibility that I will miss the most. I appreciated it and tried to never took for granted. Whether it was from his daily JK Blog emails, to more impressively just being able to stop and talk to him in the cafeteria about anything that this silly Irishman could conjure. I still can’t believe that I would easily and often send one of the most influential men in Hollywood emails that would immediately be met with a personal response. Emails such as a poorly photoshopped flyer with Jeffrey as a Leprechaun for a St. Patrick’s day party I was throwing, gleefully asking if he found the flyer “too cheeky” and if he wanted to come? Even now on his last day, he happily obliged me by doing another snapchat with me using the puppy filter. (I know I should have did the face swap filter instead, but that puppy filter is a classic.)
DreamWorks has both directly and indirectly been responsible for some of my biggest life moments. Moments like marrying the woman of my dreams, becoming the father of the coolest son, and creating some of the strongest friendships I have ever had. I have been at my heaviest weight from eating so much free food and have been at my healthiest weight from on-campus bootcamp & the on-campus nutritionist (I'm currently somewhere in the middle). I helped organize one of my best friends engagement as Jeffrey let him fly a helicopter on campus. The fact that I could stay late after work with fellow DreamWorkers and subversively build a comedy club is not only a ridiculously exclusive perk, but is a true example of a “fun place to work,” hence why it is called the J/K Comedy Club (JKComedyClub.com).
DreamWorks has allowed me to learn and sculpt new passions, from taking my first improv class provided by artistic development program, to filming my first comedy sketch on campus with the film group. All of which sent me down a rabbit hole pursuing a life of Comedy. I dressed as "Burning Man" Jeffrey while hosting a Halloween costume contest. I have tasted some of the finest whiskeys in the world thanks to the on-campus Whiskey Society. I have worked alongside artists who shaped my childhood. I witnessed President Obama address us and the nation. I have met a plethora of heroes/icons through Jeffrey's hosted DreamTalks, Movie Premieres, Artistic Development Talks, and just directly working with them. I rocked out to Hans Zimmer on a parking lot roof. I walked the red carpet with Dustin Hoffman & Jack Black, and even stole one of Justin Timberlake’s cookies. All thanks to Katz. Speaking of cookies, I will miss looking at Jeffrey’s signature on the card that will accompany my future birthday cookies.
Now as a husband and a dad, the DreamWorks family spirit is what matters to me the most. Dreamworks provides me with far much more than the fundamental finances I need to support my family. The fact that I can take my wife and son on campus for a movie screening, to walk around exploring the koi pond, or just to grab a coffee and a cake-pop, has just been so important to me and growing my relationship with my family. Even the most recent moment of joy I experience with my three year old son this past weekend; where he didn’t want to turn off the Kung Fu Panda 3 credits until he saw his Daddy’s name appear.
This post couldn’t possibly contain all the moments that I cherish, nor would you want to read them, but if you made it this far; I would like to finish by saying that all of this is not only because Jeffrey allowed it to happen at DreamWorks, but because he pursued it to happen. JK cultivated this type of engagement and culture, for which I am sincerely grateful. Thank you very much Jeffrey Katzenberg, you truly are admirable and I will greatly miss having you around.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trolls at Comic Con

DreamWorks made their second appearance at Comic Con this year (the first being for Megamind awhile back).  They had a big celebrity panel for Trolls and showed about 20 mins of footage.  Of that, they've released this clip online of the "Sound of Silence" sequence.  This was freakin hilarious when the crew saw it in storyboard form.  It always fascinates me how things transition well (or not) from storyboard to final shot.

One of the best examples of this actually was told by this films director Mike Mitchell.  We had a few gags that just didn't translate well from storyboard to final render back on Shrek 4.  I remember one dailies Mike talked about a moment from Shrek 3 - there's a big sequence in a high school gym, and some student is shouting and gets shot with a bow and arrow, and then he calmly sits down.  Mike said it was one of the biggest laughs in the early screenings.  The storyboard drawings and timing were spot on.  But then it gets animated and lit and rendered - and now it's fairly more tangible and realistic (especially on the Shrek films).  And now the gag wasn't funny, it was just a bit grotesque and off.

So, with Trolls and all it's putting-it-all-out-there weirdness - I was very curious to see how it would survive the transition to 3D.  It looks like they're are hitting the mark perfectly, and I can't wait to see how the rest of it turns out.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Heather's Moana Short/Trailer

Here's a fun little sequence that Heather worked on during her brief stint on Moana.  It was originally shown at the D23 Convention a year ago.  I'm so excited to *finally* see what she was working on and so excited about!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Wrote a Tutorial for 3D World!

I'm very excited to share a glimpse of the 4 page "Tips & Trick" tutorial I wrote for 3D World Magazine in their Sept issue.  It was a nice chance to show a peek behind the curtain of creating the Bink short.  The hardest thing was trying to condense my tips down to the proper length!  I remember spending about a half hour once just talking about proper blinks to the crowds team at DreamWorks - and now I had to get that down into about 75 words!  I owe much of this to all my mentors from DW that showed me many of these same tips for the first time.

You can preview and buy a copy of the issue at 3D World

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Trolls Full Trailer

And here is the first big look at Trolls.  It's really our first good look at the environments, which were just going thru the first lighting tests when I left DreamWorks.  I remember being in the new-crew-touchbase meeting and having the production designer Kendall (which marked my 4th film with her) pitching her concept of everything feeling like it was made out of felt.  It's a crazy perfect idea for this film - and I love seeing the final look.

We were only about 2 sequences into production when I left, but a few quick shots of trolls dancing in place and running around look familiar :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bink: New Arrival

The first short of the web series Bink I animated on was released today!  It was really fun to get to work (virtually) with some ol' DreamWorks colleagues again.  I know Eric was using this as a way to show what his new company was capable of producing, and I hope it goes over well so we all get a chance to work on the next batch of shorts.

You can check out more thinks Bink-related HERE

Monday, June 27, 2016

Trolls First Poster

I love that Trolls doesn't seem to be losing it's freak-flag anytime soon.  Good for DreamWorks letting this baby be the insane rainbow-dipped madhouse it was meant to be.

Crazy to think this will be the last animated film released by DreamWorks as an independent movie studio.  Actually, as Katzenberg was always proud to remind us, the LAST independent movie studio in Hollywood.  End of an era I guess.  But just as Shrek was very subversive for it's time, I think it's appropriate that Trolls be it's swan song.  Find your happy place :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bink Promotional Poses

I got word today that Bink has wrapped in lighting, and just has a few last min details in editing - which means a premiere date has been set.  One week from today it'll come out on Eric Miller Animation Studios YouTube page.

A fun aspect of working on Bink was the opportunity to also create some "promotional" poses for Eric.  I did around a dozen that he requested, such as the one you see above.  I remember all the scrutiny that went on at DreamWorks when they were creating promo poses for their films - so it was fun to indulge for a bit and really fine tune the poses to make the most appealing and interesting character possible.

Till next week...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heather's Interview with CGSociety

I'm super excited for Heather's interview and article with CGSociety.  She talks about her experiences at Disney Animation and some insight to the general world of being a production matte painter.

Check the full interview with some great production images at:

Heather is a senior matte painter with over 11 years of experience in the visual effects industry. Her work encompasses live-action blockbusters, animated feature films, national advertising campaigns, cutting-edge VR, and concept work. She has worked at top studios including Walt Disney Animation, Blur Studios, Weta Digital, Matte World Digital, The Orphanage, and Rhythm & Hues. We sat down with Heather to talk about matte painting and her role on Disney Feature films like Zootopia and Big Hero 6. 
CGS: To start us off, what inspired you to become a matte painter and work in entertainment?  
My passion for movie effects first started when I saw Jurassic Park at the age of 13 with my family. I was amazed by how realistic the dinosaurs were.  Not long after I caught some episodes of the tv show “Movie Magic” that aired from 1994-1997 on Discovery Channel. There were dozens of artists and craftsmen whose job was to create these amazing epic film moments! While I was completely fascinated by this world of movie magic, it wasn’t until Toy Story came out that I realized that these things were created with computers.Then I found an issue of Cinefex (featuring Small Soldiers on the front), and I realized that this could be a legitimate career path for me.  Having absolutely no computer experience, I sought out a school where I could learn how to create 3d art on a computer.   It took me many more years to realize that my passion was in matte painting. I knew that I loved creating environments. I loved looking at and creating textures, modeling and painting in photoshop, but it was at least 10 years after my initial interest in visual effects was sparked before I realized what matte painting was, and that matte painting was my true passion. 
CGS: What an incredible journey! For those of us who might be not be as familiar with the craft, what does it mean to be a matte painter in your industry today?  
The job title “matte painter” has evolved so much - even from the time I discovered what matte painting is. Back when I was watching “Movie Magic”, Matte Painting was done on glass and filmed in camera.  Now you’ll find a lot of different titles encompass the role of today’s matte painter. Digi-matte, Set Extension, Background Artist, Environment Artist, Matte Painter. The new names indicate a shift in the technical demands of the job. Today’s matte painter needs to be able to create backgrounds that hold up to modern camera moves and stereo films. Today we use not only photoshop, but projection software and 3d software to create full 3d environments. 
CGS: When people go to watch feature films the story and the characters take precedence, but what’s going on behind the characters is just as important. How does the world and settings you create in a film impact the film and what do you enjoy most about your role in bringing a space to life? 
There’s a reason that matte painting is called “the invisible art”. If we’ve done our job right, the characters on screen are transported to a new location or world. Matte painting can set up and transport the viewer to enhance the film experience. The background should never be distracting or upstage the actors.  That’s what I’ve always loved about matte painting. I’ve always loved researching and creating an environment of rich textures, studying how the light plays on different surfaces. I love how the lighting and color temperature of a shot can change the emotional impact of the scene. When you create a matte painting for a show, you are trying to execute someone else’s vision (the director or supervisors), but you really have a lot of creative control on the direction of that shot and the final pixels on the screen. I love seeing my pixels and painting up on the silver screen. I imagine that’s how broadway actors feel when they see their name up in lights. 
CGS: It sounds like your work requires you to be very versatile as an artist, what are the different positions a matte painter can take on in a production pipeline other than the traditional matte work? 
In our regular roles as matte painters, matte painters utilize concept painting skills, modeling, texturing, lighting and compositing. Depending on each particular matte painter, many roles could easily be filled when the matte work is done. In a lot of studios, it pays to at least be familiar with matte painting and projection techniques, because they are incredibly versatile tools that transcend matte work. In the past, I’ve helped out with modeling, lighting, concept art, look development and final layout. It’s really a great thing to be able to jump into different roles, and gives you a greater appreciation for all the other artists you work with. 
CGS: We understand that you held different roles between working on Big Hero 6 and Zootopia, can you tell us how you fit into the pipeline on each project and how your experiences varied? 
My role at Disney was the same for both shows, but the technical needs change. A Set Extension artist at Disney is part of the Look Development department. Matte painting (the set extension part), is a role that comes on later in the production pipeline after cameras and environments are built, and lighting has been started. Until that stage of the movie, set extension artists will help out by doing environment tests, modeling, and joining the look development team with environment assets. Every show is different - supervisors and art directors change, technology and environments evolve with the story, and we adapt along with all those changes to contribute to the final film. 
CGS: Can you tell us more about the importance of things like environment tests? How do the earlier stages of development, such as working on a test shot for Zootopia, shape the rest of a film? 
Test shots are particularly important for big animated features and vfx work using new technology. The work at big companies like Disney are always at the cutting edge of technology. There are teams of people devoted to overcoming technical hurdles to better support the story on screen. This could be creating a new renderer (Disney’s Hyperion), new hair and fur technology (Life of Pi, Zootopia), or finding a new way to populate a 3d city (Big Hero 6). Each and every visual effects film has its own set of hurdles, and sometimes the best way to test those challenges is with a test shot where some of the kinks can get ironed out early. Ask any supervisor working on a big animated feature or blockbuster vfx show how they are going to make that movie, and they’ll say “We’ll tell you when we are done”. 
CGS: I know that Zootopia, like a lot of animated feature films, went through many changes over the course of development, can you give us an idea for how many iterations an environment might go through over the course of creation? 
Sometimes with animated features, as the story develops and changes whole characters and environments are cut from the film. You read about it happening all the time in live action as well. I worked extensively on the background buildings in Zootopia for Sahara Square, and after seeing the movie in theaters realized that the whole sequence was cut. It’s all about supporting the story. As for how many iterations an environment might go through, it’s impossible to say. A lot of visual effects and animation work is about iterating until the final look is achieved. I’ve had matte paintings that were finaled on the first version, and then shots that have stretched out months and gone through story and lighting changes, camera changes, and indecisive directors and supervisors. In truth, I like to save a version of each one of my iterations so that I can remind myself when I’m tired of a shot that each version does indeed improve on the previous version.  
CGS: It’s our understanding that you are teaching a masterclass with CGWorkshops, how does the content you teach in your class compare to the work a professional would be doing in a studio like Disney Feature? 
The content from my class comes directly from my experience over the last 10 years. All the techniques and tips I teach directly relate to shots I’ve worked on, and techniques I’ve come up with to make working on shots easier. All the techniques I teach in this class are the same ones I taught to other artists at both Rhythm & Hues and Disney. There’s a subtle art to finding a 2d/3d matte painting hybrid solution. My class focuses on building a foundation for these hybrid techniques. 
CGS: Do you have any advice for students or peers that want to get into matte painting? 
Follow your passion.  Be versatile and humble.  Do your research and know what you are getting into.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Contributing to 3D World's "Bink" Article

Here's a preview of the nice writeup on Bink in the latest issue of 3D World magazine!  There's a few quotes and tips from your truly in there.  There's some nice insight from the creator/director Eric Miller on bringing Bink to life.  I enjoyed the chance to contribute and share some of my experiences on the short.  I also got to throw a handful of helpful maya/animation tips in there - looks like 4 of them were picked for the final article.  It's great to see Bink get some nice coverage before it debuts in the next few weeks...

You can preview and buy a copy of the magazine at 3D World 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Heather's "Moana" Shot!

So excited to finally see what Heather was working on for this film!  That's her shot above.

The whole movie is looking amazing.  Fun 2d animation, impressive 3d animation, amazing art direction, songs by Lin-Manuel Mirada - I can't wait to see how it all comes together.  Here's the whole teaser trailer:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Trolls" at Cannes Film Festival

A whole bunch of clips from Trolls came out today from a showing at the Cannes Film Festival.

It's fun to see the Cloud Guy clip in it's finished form.  He was always a big hit back in the storyboarded screenings I saw about a year ago now.  It's just so damn weird, and gives a good idea of the sensibilities of this movie.  The fact that Cloud Guy is still in gives me hope that this movie has been able to keep it's weirdness intact.

Interesting to see the True Colors performance.  It shows the nice range of insane and poignant that the film is trying to balance.  Now, of course, last time I heard it with a slightly different pairing...

And finally a new song from Justin Timberlake for the film.  It'll be interesting to see how much more music he brings into the final film.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Student Animated GIFs

I teach an art foundations class called Electronic Imaging.  This semester I decided to try a new project - creating an animated GIF.  Most the students used Photoshop, although two of the examples below dived into After Effects to incorporate more video style work.  It was one of the most fun projects of the semester, and I thought it'd be fun to share!

Grant Winters
Peyton VanHook
Asher Hawkins
Henry Kilpatrick
Andrew Moyers