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 ...