Thursday, December 3, 2009

Interview with Alina Chau. (Technicolor Senior Animator and Animation Professor)

Alina is a super talented animator who has worked on many popular games.

CG Animation:
- Gear of War (Epic/2008)
- The Incredible Hulk (Sega/2008)
- Lead CG Animator/Storyboard Artist - Spyro Eternal Darkness Cinematic (Sierra/2007)
- Pre-Visualization CG Animator - Saint Row Cinematic (THQ/2007)
- Spyro 2006 & 2007 TV commercial
- God of War II In-Game Cinematic (Sony/2007)
- CG Animator/Storyboard Artist - Spyro Beginning (2006)
- Silent Hill Cinematic (Konami/2006)

2d Animation/Concept Work
-Operation Valkyrie DVD (2008)
-Battlestar Galactica DVD (2008)
-The Bourne Supremacy DVD (2008)
-The Tale of Despereaux DVD (2008)
- Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe DVD (Disney/2006)
- Toy Story III Feature Film DVD (Disney/2007)
-2D Animator/Background Painter - Land Before Time 13 Animated Feature DVD (2007)


1) Could you tell me a little bit about yourself Alina? Where are you from and when, and how did you get started to have interest in this field?

Alina: I grew up in Hong Kong. I stumbled into animation a bit by accident actually. I always love drawing since I was a kid barely knowing how to hold onto a pencil. To me drawing is always one of my favorite hobbies, but I didn't take art seriously until college. My undergraduate major is Digital Graphic Communication, in which I was introduced to graphic design, web/interactive design, and animation.
After I graduated, I realized I would like to learn more about animation. So I decided to further my study in animation at UCLA Film School as a graduate student. That starts my career as an animator.

2) I know you love to sketch a lot. Do you think it helped you in terms of modeling or animation when working in 3d?

Alina: Drawing definitely helps a lot. In fact, I sincerely believe drawing is the foundation of learning any visual arts forms. 3D in a way is a lot like sculpting. The idea has to draft and polish on the drawing board first, before it can be put in production. Drawing can help artists to be more observant; understand anatomy and the mechanic of movement. It's also one of the most efficient ways to write down your visual idea.

3) How hard is it for an animator or modeler to break into the business? Is there a difference for a reel for games, animation, and live action models?

Alina: Getting into the industry could be challenging, doesn't matter what job you are applying. The key is to be persistent. If it's the job you want, chase after it. As long as you are constantly improving and learning, you will achieve your dream. There is different between game, animation and live action reel. Even among the same genre, you need to tailor your reel differently, say if you are applying for a
cartoony project versa a hype real style project. Always research on what the particular studios you are applying for is seeking at the time they are hiring, and edit your reel to fit their requirement. If
you know anyone work at certain studios or the HR hotline, no harm to ask them for more information.

4) How is it like working? Is it an intimidating work environment at Technicolor and/or EA? I am thinking about applying to the Vancouver EA as a modeler but I don't really have any connections.. I was recently talking to someone today actually.. He said he has connections with the Singapore LucasArts Animation Studio. He told me they are desperate for people.

Alina: People are usually very friendly and cool. Beside tight deadline and often stressful schedule, usually the work environment are fun and nice.

5) I was wondering what sort of animation work flow you had? Do you act it out in person, and do thumbnail sketches? Or do you dive right into the program and pose stuff out?

Alina: In a production, after the storyboard process; before a scene hand down to animation, there are pre-visualization (Preiz) and 3D layout. This process may be slightly different from studios to studios and
different type of production (ie. game, TV and Film). Previz is pretty much a 3D animatic. Some places may call this process rough layout. The idea is to block out the action, camera and present the story in a
movie format. Very often the elements in a previz file are temporary or rough work in progress models or rigs. The idea of previz is to design the overall cinematography and story pacing of the show. Once
the rough layout is approved by the director, it will hand down to 3D layout. A 3D layout file usually contains the actual camera and assets which are going to be used in production. This file will then
given to animator for animation. At this point, when the animator receives the assignment, usually he/she already see the rough layout of the show, and have a good idea of what the scene is about. Plus the lead animator or director of the show, usually will give the animator acting description of the scene as well.

As for animating a scene ... I usually try to understand the character's motive; listen to the soundtrack a few times, try to relate to the emotion of the character; consider the story as a whole
and what's the character thinking ... Then I will block out the key pose, pay extra attention to the storytelling pose etc.. After the key poses, then do the in-between pose etc.. To me the thinking and
planning process is very very important. Unfortunately in game production, the animators don't always have as much time as they like to think and plan. Very often in game, they require animators to
complete 8 sec animation in a day. This is a much quicker turn around then say feature film production. It forces the animators to think and animate very quickly. The pro is the animator learn a lot of clever
short cut of doing things; good at improvise ideas; develop board efficient acting style. The con is the level of detail usually suffer due to the fast turn around and short deadline.

6) Do you have any suggestions for a recent graduate when constructing the reel, and applying to studios? I am focusing in modeling.. but I am looking at alot of reels... It seems like most modelers know how to texture very well, and also know how to rig their own stuff... It seems much cooler to see the model rotate and move at the same time instead of in a static T-pose. What do you think?

Alina: Keep it short and sweet. Try to keep the reel with title cards within 1 min. Some places would say 3 mins, but I have seen even those places only have the attention span for 1 min. Show only your best
work. Unless you are applying for generalist job, you don't have to show animation, texture or lighting for a modeling position. The most important thing for a modeling job, is the quality of the models. Rigging and animation is not necessary.

7) It seems like there are lots of modelers who are going for character modeling as oppose to enviromental judging from all the reels I see on youtube. Do you think it's harder to get into character modeling? I focus in mainly hard edge modeling, would it be best to do organic as well or should I keep modeling objects the rest of the semester?

Alina: Both jobs are challenging in their own way. However, it's nice to have a modeler who can model both hard surface and character model. It makes you more marketable and give you a wider opportunity to pick up different kind of projects. But there is nothing wrong to be specialized in one area. Someone who is an expert in their specialty can be a valuable talent to a production team as well.

8) Do you have any other 3d artists who inspire you? Could you list their website or reel if possible? I am very curious to see as many talented people as I can.

Alina: My inspiration come from everywhere. It's hard to pin point ... There are so many inspirational and remarkable figures ... let's see ... on top my head, they are more traditional animators and artists ...

My all time favorite piece of animations or animator is Frederic Back. His films has inspired me profoundly on a philosophical level beyond arts. Animation could be a powerful voice to communicate social
consciousness to the audiences, and make the world a more beautiful place. Frederic is a humble down-to-earth animator with masterful artistry. I am very luck get to talk to him at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screening event, and see his original paintings and animation arts. When I ask Frederic about his paintings, the gentle quite man becomes very lively and talkative. He
starts telling me stories - when he was younger, he love to ride bicycle around his home town, stop at places which inspired his imagination or capture the characters of the local culture. He would
paint the scenery on spot. He did all the beautiful elaborate painting in his sketchbook. It seems to me that his intension isn't merely create a perfect painting, but to capture everyday life in its
sincerity and true form. Don't get me wrong though, each of his sketchbook painting is easily a museum piece. Growing up seeing the urbanization of his beloved home town, he becomes very environmental
conscious. His works often reflects his love and care towards the beauty of nature, traditional culture, hope and care towards humanity. Anyone interested to learn more about Frederic's works, you can visit
his site:

There are many other animations which I can watch a millions time over - Michaƫl Dudok de Wit's Father and Daughter - a beautiful and touching animated short; Alexander Petrov's oil on glass animation,
simply stunning!! Miyazaki, Pixar, Disney etc ...

My favorite Miyazaki is Howls' moving castle. He is an animator grow very close to my heart as I get older. Growing up in Hong Kong, part of the summer fun is to watch the new and latest Miyazaki. So beside associating Miyazaki with happy childhood memory. I think he has a uncanny talent capture the innocent and complexity of a child's mind and emotion. As a kid watching his movie - Totoro for example, I tend to take that quality in his film for granted. It's like what's the big deal ... the characters are so easy to relate to, they pretty much think and act like me - a kid. But when I become an adult, I realize it's actually very challenging to capture the spirit of a child. Adult think and feel very differently from a kid. Say a kid may cry over losing a favourite pencil, to an adult ... losing a pencil is not big deal. Experiences adults see it as an everyday routine; to a kid, it could be a big deal. For example, to a kid, a train ride could be the highlight of fun and excitment ... but to an adult, we may enjoy the ride, but wouldn't get giddy over it.

Favourite concept designs ... all these animators are great artists themselves. Let's see, my inspiration sources are usually all over the place ... on top of my head ... illustrators ... Lisbeth Zwerger, David Wiesner, Oga Kazuo, Tekkon Kinkreet, Craig Thompson, David Shannon, Alexandra Boiger etc.. And there are many amazing artists in the industry ... like Hans Bacher, Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle, Marcelo Vignali, Armand Serrano ... the names can go on and on and on ...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interview with Dice Tsutsumi. (Pixar Art Director)

Today is all about Dice Tsutsumi. He's one of my favourite artists in the industry. I first became aware of him from the Robots film and followed his work since.

Dice started his career at Lucasarts, then went to Bluesky, and now is at Pixar! He was at Bluesky Studios on the visual development team and worked on such film titles as Ice Age, Robots, Horton Hears a Who. He recently went to Pixar as the art director. He did a bit on work on Wall-E, and is now on production on another title.

To check out his work click this link.

1) Could you tell me about yourself Dice? How were you first interested in this field? You love painting but did you know you wanted to be working in the animation industry when you first started?

Dice: I studied very traditional oil painting. When I graduated, my visa didn’t allow me to stay in the States unless I got a full time job. That’s how I got into a video game company as a concept artist. Immediately, I fell in love with my job where I collaborate with many other talented artists. I soon made a shift to concept design for animated films.

2) I know that you are born and raised in Tokyo. I am curious as to why you traveled to study art across seas? Was there something here driving you to come here to study like Pixar?

Dice: Like I said above, I never thought of animation until my senior year in collage. I left Japan only because i wanted to experience something different. Wanted to look back to see my own culture from outside. I spoke no English and did not know what I wanted to study.

I always loved Miyazaki films growing up. Never thought I'd work in the same business but that might have affected me a bit.

But my coming to the US was only for life experiences at first.

3) From your blog, I always see that you are doing traditional painting, but in the artbooks, and when it comes to work are they mostly done in Digital? Do you like one over the other, or both are about the same feeling for u? Was it hard to translate traditional painting to digital? Your digital art the painterly brush stroke feel that is really unique in my opinion!

Dice: I have to say i love both just as much. But I do warn every student who is focused on developing their fundamental skills about the digital media. I'm more and more convinced that students these days rely way too much on the convenient side of digital media. While it's very convenient and impressive on the surface, it really allows shortcuts.

I even don't wanna get into a situation where I only paint digitally. I have to paint traditionally to still brush up my skills. I learn way more painting from life traditionally.

4) I read on your info that you first started at Lucas and then moved onto Bluesky! That is amazing! For a recent graduate do you have any tips on applying to studios? Should we start off at a small studio and gain some experience, or go for the big fish? I have a few connections with LucasArts in Singapore so I may try to get into there to gain some valuable experience on bigger projects but I just worry I'm not strong enough considering there's so many professionals out there!

Dice: That's a good question. I'm not sure.

I can see either way works. I started at a small studio. Lucas video game was a very small company. That allowed me to do lots of things I probably didn't qualify for. Same thing with Blue Sky. When I worked on Ice Age 1, their first feature film, they were still in process of figuring out the way to make films themselves so they ended up giving young kids like me lots of responsibility.
Now, after 9 years of experience, I came to Pixar as an art director. I'm not sure if I had been able to get the position if I started at Pixar to start my career. I might have but I don't know.

I think in the end, if you are self motivated, and always looking to improve yourself, you will take advantage of whatever environment. And you will probably know what would be the best environment for you at the time. (I had to change my environment twice to seek my challenge)

5) There has been something bugging me about Wall-E for a long time although I loved the technical and storytelling aspects of it.

I was wondering how come Pixar decided to use a live action footage of the president? I didn't notice it at the beginning but near the end when the captain is watching a video of the president in live action felt like it broke the continuity for the human was a different species or something. Maybe it's just me!

Dice: I have no idea why they did it. (I really was involved with WallE production for very short time)
I personally felt the use of live action footage was a mistake. It stood out too much and made it look less believable.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Interview With Billy Butler.

1) Could you tell me a little bit about yourself Billy? Where are you from and when, and how did you get started to have interest in this field?

I was born and raised in Byron Bay, Australia with a true passion in drawing, art and design since a very early age. When I got my hands on MSpaint (lol) then photoshop for the first time i figured that this was the future.. so i studied more into the digital medium side of things.

This eventually lead to 3d map design & creation (for half-life-counter-strike & quake 2) for fun & eventually i got my hands on a copy of 3dsmax during highschool and then converted over to Maya when i found out that was the industry standard for film and television vfx.

After high school i moved onto study a 3d animation course in Byron Bay SAE. This was quite a waste of money as the course was not structured very well and the teacher had no idea what he was supposed to be teaching!

It did however open the door to my first job in the industry hearing about Photon VFX only 1 hour drive away.I built a good enough generalist reel to get a junior position on the film 'Day Breakers' as a Rigger / Generalist then moved onto the television series 'Animalia' for a good 2 years.

They were going to employ me on that project as a Rigger but my passion was in modeling - so they assigned me a junior position as a 3d Character modeler instead.

2) How hard is it for a recent graduate to break into the business as a modeler? Is there a difference for a reel for games, animation, and live action? Do you have any tips? Maybe volunteer or intern somewhere first?

To be honest its quite difficult to tap into the industry. It really comes down to a good strong reel, a professional attitude and presentation.

If your reel was to be for a games position, i'd demonstrate low-poly character, prop or set modeling but with a detailed normals map finish.

[I haven't worked in games but im assuming thats what it would be like.]

As for film and television you dont have to worry about polygon or detail limitations as such. But as a modeler its good to provide examples of clean topology on your mesh. An understanding of Rigging and texturing helps a modeler get the position alot easier also as the understanding of the right topology layout (flowline), UV's and providing a test animation or pose of your model helps also.

3) How is it like working? Is it an intimidating work environment when you start off? I was wondering how many models is the quota for a modeler?

Its awesome! At first it can be quite intimidating because not only are you working with geeks with no real social skills allot of the time, but you are working with professionals who have been in the industry a while who tend to have quite an ego on their shoulders.I think a good social environment helps the production alot. Good social skills and being easy to get along with helps you get further faster.

The money is quite rewarding, but you have to get used to doing long hours. As for a modeler on say a television series - you would probably get given 2 - 4 weeks to complete a character.

For film - maybe more than a month..? Iit really depends on the model, the concept art, what rigging need it to do and how detailed its supposed to be. We churn out characters in less than a week though then spend the rest of the time bouncing back and forth from the rigging & texturing departments getting it to work best for them so it can then continue down the pipeline.

4) Do you have a specific workflow that works best for you when it comes to characters? Would u ever reuse models and modify it with deformers to save on time? 

When ever we can - we recycle models or bits of models to save time. (depending on time and budget of course) As for the movie im working on now - most of the characters are birds, so we have to create different characters using the same mesh and point order. its quite tedious.

If i were to be given a fresh piece of concept art and a reasonable deadline then i'd usually create the thing from scratch. using all primitives and tools available i prefer to patch model rather than hacking away at a giant cube. this provides a faster, more accurate workflow. as a modeler you aren't just restricted to the polygons menu I also use deformers, joints, dynamic simulations etc etc to help get the look im after.

5) Do you think its good to be multiskilled as a modeler? Should we also be masters at texturing and lighting too? Modeling seems like the beginning of the pipeline and when the work is done we're out of a job unless we have other skills?

It helps alot to be a generalist or multi skilled but not many people are as 3d/2d is so big and department specialized. texturing or rigging contracts usually start around the same time as modeling contracts start. lighting, compositing and animation however start a bit later. so yes. It could be a good idea to learn those fields in order to stay on that same project a bit longer.

Depending on the company's success, how well you did on the last project and how much the company likes you, they will try and transfer you over to a new project when your contract is up. Company's don't like losing people, because recruiting new people is such a big job. so if you want to settle down and not travel much - make a good impression in a good company and you shouldn't have much trouble staying.

I like modeling because its at the start of the food chain (pipeline) which means less stress, longer deadlines and a more fun relaxed environment.

6) Do you have a favourite experience at a place? And would u prefer working on feature films or on tv shows?

My favourite so far is working at Animal Logic in Sydney. Not only is Australia my home country, but the people here are fun, out going, love to party and we get to work on big awesome projects such as Happy Feet, 300, Australia, Knowing, Television Commercials and the current 'Guardians Of Ga'Hoole'.
Its the first company I have worked for that encourages socializing (e.g friday afternoon/night drinks in the office).

Personally i'd prefer to work on Television commercials i think. i guess that depends on the project really.
Film is lots of fun, but i tend to find it very slow and picky. I like to be busy and work on projects with a fast turn around (TVC).

7) When creating a reel.... is it a disadvantage if u show all objects, and environments as models instead of characters and vice versa?

Not quite. But always remember this.
When creating a reel - you dont want to bore the recruiter to tears. they have to look at boxes and boxes of reels every day so the last thing they want to see is: another shiny porche/Lamborghini rotating 1080 degrees, a half nude girl in skimpy ripped medieval clothes holding an oversized sword, a cheezy dragon with a lens flare in the back ground or any character model rotating in T pose.

A reel is about presentation, showing you are professional and love what you do. its like an animated business card. if you hand over a black and white business card with 'comic sans' font then its an epic design fail and the person you gave it to is instantly going to throw that thing in the bin. so make sure you take time to present your work professionally so you grab the recruiters attention. A good selection of music is essential (no lyrics!!) if you chose a piece of music that has lyrics then you are taking half of the attention away from your work and into the song. which is a bad thing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Interview With Tiffany Wang.

1) Could you tell me a little bit about yourself Tiffany? Where are you from and when, and how did you get started to have interest in this field?

Tiffany: I was born in Taiwan and lived in Australia since I was 5 years old. My interest in animation first came when I saw The Lion King at the movies, I bought a book on how to draw The Lion King from Disney world and I started drawing the characters from the film. I became so into drawing the characters I woke up at 5am to do some drawings before school. That's when I decided that animation was for me :) I love movement and these drawings can move. I did a few short courses on animation during highschool, then I went to university to study computer animation. Since then I've worked at 3 studios (Photon VFX, Flying Bark Productions and Ambience Entertainment) working on 3 different children's tv series (Animalia, Zeke's Pad and Erky Perky).

2) How hard is it for a recent graduate to break into the business? Is there a difference for a reel for games, animation, and live action(VFX animation)?

Tiffany: It really depends on perseverance, talent, connections and sometimes luck. In Australia, and I think most places, you are more likely to get into tv and games studios as a graduate. Film is definitely possible however rare. The reels are different especially when it comes to VFX animation, if you prefer to do cartoony animation then your reel should have cartoony characters, if you want to work in realistic animation then your reel should reflect that. Another thing I learned is, get into the industry even if it isn't exactly what you want, but always persevere with your chosen field. Make it clear what it is you're after but do a great job with what you're hired to do. You will eventually get there.

3) How is it like working? Is it an intimidating work environment when you start off? How many seconds of animation is the quota per week? And I was wondering if you know or would know someone who could tell me how many models are required for their quota since I specialize in modeling.

Tiffany: My first job at a studio was really good. Photon was a really great environment with a nice balance of juniors, mid level and really experienced people. My rigging lead was from Dreamworks and he taught me so much it was slightly overwhelming in the beginning. I would say a lot of my knowledge was learned on the job. In animation it really helped to ask for feedback and look at what other people were doing. Generally most people in the industry are willing to share. My quota varies with each job but I am currently doing 23 seconds per week. On my first job I did around 20 seconds per week. I dont know much about modelling quota, I think it depends on the style and detail of the character or set. I do however know an amazing modeller who I use to work with at Photon. His name is Billy Butler and his website is...

4) I was wondering what sort of animation work flow you had? Do you act it out in person, and do thumbnail sketches? Or do you dive right into the program and pose stuff out?

Tiffany: I am still working out my workflow, but I think my current one is working quite well. I do thumbnail drawings and use reference where possible, and then I block it out in Maya in stepped frames, pose to pose. After director feedback I usually do the fix, feedback, then go through and smooth everything out. There isnt much time to do much planning with a tv quota, but I believe planning has saved me from wasting the time that I have.

5) Do you have any suggestions for a recent graduate when constructing a modeling reel? I am focusing in modeling. I am looking at alot of reels... It seems like most modelers know how to texture very well, and also know how to rig their own stuff.

Tiffany: I think it's better to ask a modeller this question. However I do know that it's best to show as much work from your chosen skill as possible. It may help to have textures on your models to make things look better, however if you aren't confident with texturing and rigging then it's best to leave it off, otherwise it will affect your work. Unfinished, unpolished work can really distract a viewing. Personally I'm not so good at modelling characters, I do know how to rig and really want to animate, so with my first reel, I focused on the two skills and used blocks to represent my character. Apparently it worked. So if you are interested in modelling, I would focus on that rather than divide your time. Also, remember to show wireframes, as I see most modelling reels have that.

6) I noticed on your resume that you were a rigger for a while! Would you say its better to be multiskilled or still specialize in one area?

Tiffany: I would say it's best to have one really good skill but also do ok in other areas, especially in the beginning. When starting out it may be hard to find that perfect job for you chosen skill and it's likely you'll have to begin your career doing something else. It has certainly happened to me but doing rigging has gotten me close to animation and I've done animation ever since. I also find that this industry can be highly unpredictable, one year there may be a lot of animation jobs out there then the next year there isnt. In that case it's better to have skills in another area to stay employed. Rigging has been an eye opening experience, I've learned so much and I am a much cleaner animator because of it. I'm not sure if I will directly apply for a rigging job as rigging does involve a lot of programming (which I'm not good at) and there is a lot of problem solving however if I was offered a job in basic rigging, I wouldnt say no, who knows I may learn something new.

7) Do you have any other 2d or 3d artists who inspire you? Could you list their website or reel if possible? I am very curious to see as many talented people as I can.

Tiffany: I am inspired by the people I work with every day. I'm also doing the online course, Animation Mentor and the people there are constantly presenting new ideas and concepts. I'm not really the type to surf the internet and look at other people's work all the time. To me, I am really inspired by movement, by dance and watching animals move. However, if you are looking for websites, I like to look at Linda Bergkvist is an amazing digital artist and I love her work.