Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 Opening Weekend

Well, Panda 3 is officially released today.  Everything I'm hearing so far is that it turned out to be a great movie.  My old co-workers who saw an early screening have all loved it.  It's currently at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (and critics rarely give DreamWorks a pass).  So it looks like a lovely end to the Panda trilogy.  Of course, if it does well at the box office, I'm sure we'll see more of Po in the future.  Actually, I'm positive of it - I don't think DreamWorks has their "new" franchise yet, so they will need to keep this property going for awhile.  But it's really nice to see this film getting such positive reviews, and I can't wait to see the final product for myself!

It's a little bittersweet this week.  It's the first release since I've left the company.  So I'm seeing everyone on Facebook post pictures of the crew screening, wrap party, the release day celebrations at the studio, and the awesome crew gift maquette.  Even seeing pictures of people in line waiting to get their Art of Kung Fu Panda 3 books signed - a time honored way to not work for about 2 hours in the middle of the day - brings back memories.  These were always the best weeks at the studio, and everyone looks forward to the next one.

But then...this week also marks the one year anniversary of that fateful company update where Katzenberg announced the closing of the PDI office up in Redwood City.  So I'm reminded of the studio mismanagement, of seeing some of the brightest and most creative co-workers being let go, and the general uncertainty that this industry breeds.  As I said, a bittersweet week.

But - did I mention my names in the credits?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trolls Trailer!

Yes!  The first trailer for Trolls is out - attached to KFP3.  It's as crazy and insane as this trailer makes it look.  Some fun animation Dave Burgess and his team are doing.  The "exploration" phase for the animation dept was to do crazy dance moves for the whole ensemble cast.  It's fun to see some of those early tests inspire this wacky trailer.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Bink Updates

My current freelance client keeps a weekly blog with updates.  I'm linking to a few posts that have updates on the short I'm helping on.

That first link also includes a peek at the initial shot of the short.  It's been a lot of fun so far, Bink is a great little character to work with.

Friday, January 22, 2016


PDI tombstone on San Francisco Bay shoreline. Notice the Shrek ears.
Today is one year since the all-company meeting was held at DreamWorks that announced the closing of the PDI office in Redwood City (where I had started at the company) and estimated layoffs of about 20% across the company.  We all knew things were going bad, and something had to give.  But we never thought that PDI - the studio that saved fledgling parent DreamWorks with Shrek, that built all the pipeline and tools used at the company, one of the pioneering CG companies that dated back to the 80s, would be on the chopping block.

Well, we had a slight idea.  Those few months at the company was rumor mill central.  Every day someone would have heard something from a supervisor, or an old friend in the Starbucks line, about films moving around, being put on hold, etc.  All things that would lead to a change in staffing.  The biggest one going around was that Spielberg himself was weighing in on one of the films - one that was just about to ramp up and need a massive staff.  Everyone felt like that was the saving grace, if that movie stayed green-lit we would all be spared this rough patch and hopefully the company could course correct in time.  Unfortunately, the rumor I heard is Steven stewed on it over a whole week and weekend, and came back with a solitary note that he couldn't solve the problem of that film.

Within about a week, an all-studio company meeting was set up on our calendars.  Everyone knew it wasn't good.  To ease the tension we all started taking bets on how many of us would be fired by the end of a given day.  But the day before the meeting, word started going around in Glendale that they might shutter PDI.  It was hard to believe, and I don't think anyone dared to reach out to our PDI friends to share the rumor.  Why stress out if it wasn't even possibly true?  But about 1 minute into his speech, Katzenberg dropped the news: PDI would close.  They would offer some of that workforce the chance to relocate to Glendale, the rest would be let go.  Glendale would also have the largest layoff in company history.  Two problematic and weak films were cut from the production schedule entirely.  To his credit, Jeffery took the blame, said he had turned his attention to other aspects of the company, and took too long to start course correcting it when he saw it going south.  But it's hard when that hindsight still means 500 employees being let go from one of the rare "safe" companies in the industry.

Eventually our Crowds Department, which had numbered 23 during production on Dragons 2, would be cut down to 11.  And we weren't even as badly hit as lighting and fx were.

I took this photo leaving the studio that week.  The near empty courtyard and the moody weather seemed to sum it all up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

FLASHBACK: Finding The Story

I first saw this screened over the lunch hour at DreamWorks several years ago.  We were all amazed that this even existed - the originally movie being many years released by this point.  I think all the employees were also so excited to see something that captured the creative process behind our movies.  It's always a struggle to describe to folks outside the industry how these things work - the last minute changes, the moments when the film comes together, the amazing number of people that it takes to get this off the ground.

As I prep my next semester of animation classes, I make this required viewing.  One of the best aspects of this documentary is how much time it focuses on getting the story right.  Usually these behind the scenes videos are all about the technology, or the hollywood voice talent.  But for us boots on the ground, all that is for nothing without a solid story.  All the tech in the world won't matter if you don't care about the characters.  It will also impact your enjoyment of working on the movie - when everyone is working on a common goal, it will be one of the most fun jobs in the world.  When everyone is scrambling to catch up to insane last minute story changes, and entire sequences are getting cut left and right, it will show in the crew.

I applaud co-director Dean DeBois took the time to record the process as it was happening, and props to DreamWorks for letting them assemble it all together into an insightful documentary.

Friday, January 8, 2016

"Trolls" Cast Announced

Today DreamWorks sent out via Twitter the cast of "Trolls" - along with a first look at the characters they're playing.  My guess is we might even see a teaser or full trailer before Kung Fu Panda 3 at the end of the month.  It'll be interesting to see what changes are in store.  At the time I left, many of these cast members weren't in place (including one big recast).

See the entire cast shots HERE

I love the director, Mike Mitchell. He is just a fun, smart, and hard-working director. I think that fun carries through into his movies.  It was a strong and wacky film when I left, and I can't wait to see what's he's done with it since.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bink - Freelance Animation

I have spent my winter break doing some freelance animation for Eric Miller Animation Studios.  I worked with Eric back at DreamWorks, and he's a great guy who has spent the last few years getting his very own company up and running.  He is keeping a very interesting blog about the experience, and if you're interested in the business side of animation and vfx he goes into some great detail.

The project I'm helping on is a web series he's creating to help showcase the company.  It's called Bink and features this adorable little alien captured in a testing lab.  The team Eric has put together is top-notch, full of folks I know from DreamWorks.  Which is to say, it's great to have nice proper rigs, and professional work going into this project.  The original animator on this was Jacob Gardner, who's a great guy I worked with as well.  He was transitioning from a cycles animator to full time character animator as I was helping out crowds on Shrek 4.  Jacob got busy with the Kung Fu Panda 3 crunch, and they needed to bring someone else on board.  Luckily it worked out schedule wise for me to join up.

It's been really fun to get some character animation time in.  Teaching (and the after effects of moving cross country) took up most of my time in the fall, and I really missed getting to spend some evenings back at the ol' graph editor tweaking animation curves.