Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interview With Emily Tse.

Andrew: Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? What made you want to get into this industry and focus into lighting? I understand you went to Ringling, but what classes did you study and challenges did you face that helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today? Was there any special training over at Ringling that produces such top quality students? Roughly how many hours a week did you polishing your skills to reach the level you are now, and maybe how many hours do you usually work now that you're in the industry?

Emily: I started out as a very traditional artists. Figure drawing and painting. I think traditional skills are what really helped me get to where I am. At Ringling, they have a set of classes that everyone in the major takes. You do traditional animation, CG animation, figure drawing,concept art, and storyboarding. They basically train you to be a generalist,but focus on animation. They're definitely an art school and not very technical. At Ringling, you're basically working non-stop. In the industry, at least I get to go home and rest...except during crunch. Which you still get to rest, just not as much. Normally we just work around 45 hour weeks, but crunch is definitely much more.

Andrew: Could you walk me through your hiring process for the internship Pixar,and Disney which lead to scoring a Lighting position? Did you just apply to Pixar or did the school provide connections to employees currently there? How long did it take from the time you applied, to the interview, and awarding the position? Did you do anything special with presenting your portfolio, and were you nervous when they called you for an interview?

Emily: For both Pixar and Disney I applied when they came to our school. Ringling has a great career services program. With Pixar they were fast. They came, gave interviews, left, gave phone interviews, then soon told us the results. I don't think I did anything special really. And yes, I was definitely nervous. When Disney called me, they didn't even know that I was at Pixar until I told them. So It was all just really good timing.

Andrew: Was it challenging to keep up with the internship program? After interning at both Pixar, and Disney, were you offered the apprentice position or did you have to apply for it?

Emily: They were pretty different programs. Pixar was just the internship, and was more of a classroom setup. Disney was more of an apprenticeship, where we each had our own mentors. Pixar didn't have any openings after the internship, but Disney was ramping up for Tangled, which is what I'm working on now.

Andrew: How is the environment like over at Pixar and Disney when you were there? What do you think other companies and schools can learn from these two companies with the way they train their interns?

Emily: Both environments are pretty different, and they're both great places to work at. It's interesting, cause you don't really know what it means to work there as an intern. Nothing compares to what you learn when you're actually in real production.

Andrew: Who are some of your favourite lighters? Do they have any website or show reel online?

Emily: I'm not sure if I have favorite lighters. Since I'm more of a painter, I have favorite artists. Lindsey Olivares, Sharon Calahan(who is a DP at Pixar), Bill Cone, Paul Lasaine, Ben Plouffe, and WassilyKandinsky, and Mark Rothko.

Andrew: Looking back, would there something you would change with your demoreel to better meet their expectations? Do you have any tips for students, and industry professionals who have their hopes to break into the animation feature film business?

Emily: I don't think I would change anything. I think most importantly, have passion for what you do. There's always going to be tough times, and I've been pretty lucky, but love what you do, and always strive to get better and learn more.

Andrew: I went to a school called Seneca where they offered an 8 month 3d program. After failing to get into the Pixar, I was working at a small company doing 3d work for documentaries which eventually lead to me scoring a position to work on Tron. It's cool, but my passion is really cartoons! If you can provide any feedback on my show reel and direct me as to how I can improve on it that would be super!

Emily: Congrats on the job! That's great you're working on Tron. So many people are excited about it. If you want to get more into cartoony things, you should light cartoonier. In terms of colors, you could use more variety. Not go crazy, but really look at your color contrasts. You have really nice work, but instead of the darks going more grey, you could have it going to a color. Also what's important, is lighting a scene with a character in it. And try to make sure your lighting sets a mood and tells the story,making sure the audience knows where to look.

I hope that was helpful!  I'm sure you've learned much working on Tron! Goodluck!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Interview With Kevin Edzenga.

Kevin was at Framestore since graduation and is now a cloth simulation artist over at Bluesky. We both graduated the same year but he's been able to climb the ladder much faster. Here's an interview I had with him.

Andrew: Could you walk me through your hiring process at Bluesky? How long did it
take from the time you applied, to the interview, and awarding of a
position? Did you do anything special with presenting your portfolio? Were
you nervous when they called you for an interview? What was your initial
reaction when Bluesky awarded you a position? Did you apply specifically for
cloth simulation artist or were you going for another position originally? I
noticed on your Youtube channel, it's mostly crowd simulation, particle, and
mel scripting reels! Do you also have a cloth simulation reel hidden away?

Kevin: The hiring process with Blue Sky was rather out of the blue. A recruiter found my reel and resume link online. He was acting like he wasn't sure where but out of all the places I put up links and my reel it had to have been found at youtube/vimeo.

But after submitting my resume and ncloth / nucleus related work to Blue Sky, through that recruiter, it took maybe a week or so before they set up an interview and got me in there the week after that. (figure about 2 weeks to get my work in to the date of my interview. Mainly because there was a nasty snow storm and kinda destroyed wed-friday of the first week.)
I was asked by the recruiter to put up a single page related to the job I was going for. The page had some stills from a few vids including ncloth and a few youtube vids that I would be able to show real easily. Definitely a good idea to make things streamline and sleek for people to view.

As for being nervous, I've had such good luck with getting contacts and getting call backs that I don't know that I've ever been really nervous. Even when I meet "famous people" has happened only a few times. I don't really care, they are people like any of us, and the last thing they need are more people falling head over heals at the sight of the person.... not like I'd do that anyway. Can't think of anyone I might do that to, maybe les claypool, stephen hawkings, and Michio Kaku(a great physicist teaching at NYU right now.)
I got in and showed my other reels to Stich (Keith Stichweh), my lead, and he watched it all, told me to say some stuff about my work as it showed (too much to say in only 2 minutes hah). He got a few of the guys in to ask me questions about my work, then put me on the spot and showed everyone in my dept. That was pretty cool, but was afraid of what after math might occur from all my stuff just being put out there in the open. Had a little bit of a waverly voice, but not really that nervous, kinda more like all these great 3d guys and I didn't know where I stood compared to them, thinking, hey, this is Blue Sky after all. Turned out I had something I could add to their dept.

As for hidden nclothness, my newest reel has one bit of ncloth but nothin crazy. I had shown a few screen shots from my friends thesis that I set up snow on the ground so as the characters would walk they would press in the snow and that was all ncloth. I also told them about some RND stuff I couldn't show because it was locked down at Framestore because the movie Salt is yet to come out.

Andrew: How is it like working at Bluesky? Did you have to do any training or
test when you started, or were you thrown right into fire? Was the learning
curve a difficult hurdle to overcome coming straight from school or was it a
smooth transition? What are the work hours like, and how is the work
atmosphere? What are some of the neat things you have learnt from other
artists that you have worked with or seen?

Kevin: Blue Sky is a blast, although the major crunch work has yet to really hit, the work I have is setting up sims and then having like 30min-an hour to play ping pong or pool. It gets really tiring, I must tell ya. Ha.

Well, the first week there was getting used to the pipeline and an hour training once a day till I got used to all the tools. Everyone here is so knowledgeable it was well worth it to expand my knowledge base.
The training was a definite help to a smooth transition into the burning hot kitchen at the time, that since has cooled to luke warm.
But I can't really mention what neatness I learned. But I can say everyone has a diverse knowledge base and can contribute a lot in their own areas, and have in situations.

Andrew: Are there any learning resources or tips you can give to students who
want to become a cloth simulation artists when the school only offer 3d
training in all the fields except dynamics?

Kevin: Uhhhhhhhh, hmmmmmm, cloth sim takes a lot of time to get processed, soooo ... learn to have patience with the definite need to rerun sims of the same thing multiple times, hah. Frankly, just try to jump into messing with settings on the ncloth shape and you can begin to see what the different settings do.
But that is what my school was like, character / animation driven. That they'd rather a nice story rather than a cool looking design and feel. There were some specialty classes, but when you go up to a teacher and ask "Should I take your class?" for them to tell you "You know, if you took my class, it might just be a waste of your time, you already know more than what I go over in the class." That was from a teacher by the name of Vic Fina II, a true generalist, modeling, animation, FX, dynamics
My teacher, Vic, who I wanted to take that class with was a great resource, having worked at CBS, NBC, CNN, and now hes at the John Stuart show now as the resident lower third, any graphics really at all guy. I would go to him to ask about dynamics and we would go into a lot of ideas, both of us learning off each other and the other like ... two students that were willing to learn things outside of the curriculum. (Both of which are now staff at Psyop and Rhino FX in NYC, great commercial companies)

Andrew: Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go
to school, and what classes did you study? What challenges did you face, and
what helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today? Roughly,
how many hours a week did you spend polishing your skills to reach the level
you are at now?

Kevin: This question is a book in and of itself. I'm not an average learner. I didn't meet the standards of my public school system for reading(since I would rather be on the computer playing games or writing stories and what I called poetry) and was forced into these classes to wax me into reading more but it just pushed me more and more into my computer work at home. Starting web design when I was about 6 and level design for games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3d when I was 4-5. Which from that point turned into Bryce around age 8 or 9 before my parents bought me Ray Dream Studio 5 when I was about 10-11. That is when my crazy creations started turning into virtual life, filming things and trying to overlay 3d with video (pretty poorly I might add, having no patience for what I later found out was rotoscoping, but what do you expect I was a middle schooler). Then into highschool I took a set of classes in a Communications University Program, getting to use Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, and everything broadcast and non. This was a great help to me, cause there was a film appreciation class, a public speaking class, philosophy class, and a few others that made it worth wild outside of just film and sound.

It was early elementary school that I started to begin to love math, to indulge myself in web scripting like html and java script. Anything logic based filled me with joy. I would play Myst for hours upon days, then got sick of it, moved to riven, got sick of that, moved to other MUDs and MOOs (respectively, Text based RPGs, text with images based RPGs) and odd other RPG / RTS(mainly starcraft, WOO! Starcraft!! hah) / Adventure games (Exile, Uru, D'ni). Then starting flash and actionscripting around age 11. Php and mySQL databases around 16-17. Doing freelance work since I was 13 for websites. A multitude of games and movie stories that have yet to come to fruition but I still strive to complete.
But even with the ill will toward reading, after going through my public school system I had found out once hitting college that my school system went over FAR more things than many many other school systems in america (from the people I've talked to). Needing to reread books in college that I read like junior year in highschool. It was as tho most of america stops where I was in sophmore year of highschool but as seniors.... it's kind of sad and made me understand why people from other countries think that americans are dimwits with no sense to even give respect to fellow men and women of the world. Many of my friends made similar assessments of their peers in college as well. I guess that is a reason they say there are good public school systems in New Jersey. Anyway, I digress to the point of your question.

I went into the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan NYC from 2005-2009 for a BFA in Computer Art; initially interested in modeling and perhaps animation having no real cocept of what was out there in this computer art field.
I was pretty much the only one doing 3d graphics in highschool and was far more interested in physics than art. But I was enlightened by the problems faced by riggers and FX artists from homework and classes in SVA; I also had no clue there was scripting in 3d, so I took to that like knats to someone standing in a field on a summer evening.
Why I chose art over physics alludes me now more than ever, welllll sorta. Initially I thought it would be more money quicker, but there are so many jobs that pay so well for physicists. Bahh, the thrill of logic problems, scripting workflows, particles / dynamics(the two closest things to real physics, yes, ncloth is just settings, no real physics work there) and coming up with awesome rigs I guess is the only things I can say now as a valid reason for being in 3d. This answer has pissed people off before, who's hearts are filled with everything 3d, sorry if you feel this way as well.

As preparation for my career choice, I used to overstep my bounds in classes. To a point where teachers almost and straight didn't like me. I'd do my own thing to mix it into homework. I thought it was pretty sweet, and only two teachers really thought it was cool what I was doing(Vic didn't like it, but took my insanity to heart and graded my work as it was rather than based around the assignment it was, Vic is soo cool). My thesis teacher liked my story ideas the first year but the second year began to dislike my work quite a bit, that I wanted my thesis to be entirely scripted, a particle and dynamic driven thesis. But he wanted a story. But I stuck to my guns and it got me an internship with Framestore 2 days after graduation (with the help of one teacher that I'll get into later in this email); then from there, even more work with them and many other companies now.

I would be working every day on new ideas. Try to come up with new things that look cool, that act with a life of their own, or tools to speed up workflow no one else has made before. I tried my best with what I knew to make the neatest stuff I could. Every day you learn something new, and I would make a point off learning something even if I slept from 9 am to 6 pm because I didn't sleep 3 days prior. For an hour span, boy, sophmore and junior year I'd catch myself doing my own work rather than school nearly 4-6 hours a day minimum. In a week I'd spend 70-80 sometimes maybe 100+ hours some weeks pure work. Literally not sleeping 3 days straight a multitude of times throughout school; living off of Chapotle burritos and energy drinks. Among some stuff I shouldn't mention, heheh.

Andrew: What inspired you to specialize in rigging, scripting, and fx? Do you
have any other ambitions or did you always know that you wanted to do that
when you were in school? Were the professors able to teach you what you
needed, or was it mostly self taught?

Kevin: Ya know, they taught us young to read all the questions before answering the first one ha, I'm sure some of this was answered above.

It was the logic problems. Figure out how to make this that or the other thing because an animator is going to need it to do this in this situation or that in the other situation. But that love of math was a good base for physics. But that is a story alone. My phyics teacher in highschool didn't like me much (also my math teacher, but again, another story) but he would teach us like we were morons because it wasn't the AP (advanced placement class) that I was forced to take because of class conflictions with that communications film/audio program in highschool. He would teach us an algorithm to do one thing and I would realize there was a far simpler algorithm to find the same answer in half the steps. He wouldn't mark me down but I can't tell you how many times I saw "Please use the math we learned in class to solve for variables in the problem."

But in college, I got a great base from every teacher in each field. Making sure to take teachers of every kind in the industry to widen my knowledge base as much as I could. I wanted to know everything to be the best TD I could and will be. Oddly enough not taking a single rigging class beyond basic IK/FK switches from Vic, which I later figured out better switches on my own. I was going to take a rigging teacher, but some reason I dropped out of that class, something about getting given answers to a problem just doesn't bode well with me.... yeah I know, stupid, but was talkin with my friend in the class, realizing I covered most of what he was doin on my own anyhow. Latices to make squash and stretchable eyes, expressions to run math, nodes to process as equations. Stuff that is basic in math, but not for artists I guess (not all, but some artists obviously)

Andrew: Aside from portfolio pieces, is there a reason that you enjoy helping out
others with their short films? I really appreciate that your helping me out
on my short film!

Kevin: Haha, no prob man. Well, I've always enjoyed helping people. I'd help many people in my classes in college just because if it was something I didn't know already, we'd work it out and find a solution.
So if by helping you I may be able to show you something you didn't know about rigging, it makes me feel good that I'm helping you expand your knowledge base.
The way I see it, people that don't help those who need help, don't help because the tricks they hold are all the tricks they know. But if you can take tricks you have and turn them into something new and unique for more than one situation, then to show something a technique is simply a small part of a huge picture.

Andrew: Is there a project, company, or director that you'll want to work with in
the future?

Kevin: I know nothing about movies, tv, radio, commercials, broadcast, what ever. Should I even be in this industry? Probably not. Everyone in my dept talk about movies and tv shows and I'm sitting here reading this awsome book on Superstrings, Super Gravity and The Theory of Everything, a really cool book on sub atomic particles and it goes into the history behind theories along with the mathematics that I've been trying to find in these commoner books for a while. I may not be in physics, but I will keep my hobbies as they always were. (These books are one reason my physics and math teachers didn't like me in highschool.)
I guess what I'm trying to say is probably ILM because they have one kick ass RND dept there, that and imageworks has a pretty sick RND/FX dept. Although my dream may be comin true at Blue Sky, they might be moving more RND/FX stuff to the cloth dept because each dept here wants to do what they specialize in and cloth is a bunch of TDs from riggers to dynamics to fx to modelers/animators. Not to mention all of us program/script in this dept.

Andrew: Who are some of your favourite FX artist, and riggers? Do they have any
website or showreel online?

Kevin: I dunno, Miguel Salek from Psyop is pretty sweet at his houdini work.

But really, his work is simple but many layers of simplicity makes something beautiful, amazingly beautiful. The reason I say its simple is that Spencer Lueders from Framestore NYC taught me sooo much about Houdini. He taught me for a semester in SVA and got me a job with Framestore working along side him doing Houdini for a Tylenol commercial and for the movie Salt doing smoke, particles, dynamics, and more Houdini stuff. He knows his stuff, not to mention he was the guy testing out Houdini while he worked at Side Effects, so he knows that program pretty much inside and out. Which is now allowing me to possibly move to a crowd simulator spot in Blue Sky using Houdini to simulate the crowds, which isn't too hard remembering what Spencer taught me. (He doesn't have a reel yet, and he even mentioned while I was at Framestore that he needed to make one, that it had been yearsssss and he still didn't have one. But you have definitely seen his work around.)

I haven't seen to many riggers that have done work that I couldn't figure out some way of doing what they did (besides a few things that required the API to write a plug in for, which I'm yet to get into, but will be soon). I hope that doesn't sound like boasting; but I've tried long and hard to get my rigging skills up to industry standards and beyond.

But this doesn't mean people like James Dick, Andy Walker, and Theo Jones aren't great, Rigger, TD, TD respectively, at Framestore NYC. I learned a bit from them, but they were also cool enough to let me do my own methods to get jobs done, as long as the project met its deadline, everything was golden.

But like I said, I don't know this industry, there are people out there that are great riggers, but the names escape me.

Andrew: Looking back, would there something you would change with your demo reel
to better meet their expectations? Do you have any tips for students, and
industry professionals who have their hopes to break into the animation
feature film business?

Kevin: Well, if you see my fall 2009 reel and my spring 2010 reel, those were the changes I wanted to make. I guess looking at the 2010 reel, I want more transitional videos taking you from piece to piece. Or maybe some sort of particle based environment that builds up into each peace in a hologram style effect of some sort. But for me to say "I wanted to adds betterz workz!@!$%!" would be futile in that I will always be adding newer and I would hope ultimately better work.

Don't get down if someone says they don't like your work, because there will always be people who say that. One, because maybe they are simply better than you; two, you could still be progressing in the field and don't have the experience yet that they would want to see; three, that you are better than they are and they feel threatened by this and make themselves feel better by putting you down.

My friend does the latter of the three often. Man he was making fun of Avatar as much as he could, I simply responded, your skills can't hold a flames to the people at weta. Man that pissed him off, and retaliated with "and you think you could have made any of those rigs or effects?" I said "yes, most of them", knowing full well there are quite a few intense rigs in Avatar, but he did the classic "yeah whatever" and shut up.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Interview With Lindsey Olivares.

Lindsey graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2009. She's been at Dreamworks PDI working as a Visual Development artist ever since.

1) Could you walk me through your hiring process at Dreamworks? How long did it take from the time you applied, to the interview, and awarding of a position? Did you do anything special with presenting your portfolio? Were you nervous when they called you for an interview? What was your initial reaction when Dreamworks awarded you a position?

I had been in contact with some people from Dreamworks throughout my senior year. I was featured on the character design blog and a Dreamworks artist saw my interview and artwork and showed it to his production designer. This really got the ball rolling and when Dreamworks came to my school (Ringling College) for their recruiting visit they told me I had a job offer during that interview. I found out the details of that offer in the week after and accepted the position officially a few days after. I was incredibly excited and called up family and close friends to let them know the good news.

2) How is it like working at Dreamworks? Did you start off as an intern, or were you hired fulltime? Did you have to do training or drawing test when you started, or were you given work to do on Madagascar 3 immediately? Was the learning curve a difficult hurdle to overcome coming straight from school or was it a smooth transition? What are the work hours like, and how is the work atmosphere? What are some of the neat things you have learnt from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

I started off hired full time. I had a day of basic orientation training, but I pretty much started work on the film immediately. Since at school I mostly worked in 3d and animating I haven't actually digitally painted a ton. So I'm still learning a lot and trying to improve constantly. Work hours are 9-6. I don't really put in overtime. Its relaxed and not a stressful work environment.

3) Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What challenges did you face, and what helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today? Roughly, how many hours a week did you spend polishing your skills to reach the level you are at now?

I grew up in San Diego California. I knew I loved to draw at a young age. I came from a very creative and supportive family. My father is a professional guitarist/musician, my older sister Brooke is a very talented painter, and my mom is the type of mother who'd let her kids paint murals all over the walls in the house. Growing up I was surrounded by people who encouraged my passion for creativity. Like most little kids I loved animated Disney movies; these movies made me want to be an animator. I didn't really know what that meant, but I knew those movies were all moving drawings…and that was too cool. I had my first real taste of animation at Cal Arts' summer program for high school kids called CSSSA. That sealed the deal for me as far as my decision to go into the animation world. Then I decided to take the 3D route. I ended up moving out to Sarasota Florida to study computer animation at Ringling College of Art and Design. At Ringling I took classes in concept, drawing for animations, 3d character animation, figure painting, landscape painting, graphic novel illustration, children's book illustration etc. I felt challenged in balancing my time. I spent most my time animating but wishing I was drawing. That was a big challenge for me and trying to find time to draw, paint, and create the type of work I wanted to be making. I worked nonstop, it's hard to say. At school It seemed like I was always working, unless I was eating or sleeping. But sometimes those overlap too :)

4) What inspired you to become a Visual Development Artist? Did you always know that you wanted to do that, or do you have ambitions to do other specialties like animating, modeling, texturing, etc? What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

Originally I wanted to be an animator. I wanted to be a traditional animator since I was a kid. When the industry went 3d I decided to go to Ringling College to study computer animation. I still thought I wanted to be an animator but didn't really understand the pipeline. In our first year we take two semesters of 2d animation. I really enjoyed those. But when we got into 3d I just couldn't find myself enjoying animation. I just craved to draw more. Drawing is really where my heart is. We had a concept class where we focused on story, character/environment design. I loved this class and started to learn of what visual development was. I realized this is what I wanted to do.

To stay creative I try to go out drawing. I like to go to malls, food courts, and cafes to people watch. Aside from drawing, I don't do a ton to go out of my way to be creative and get inspired. Inspiration seems to happen on accident when you're living life. It's hard to plan. I guess for me it's more about trying to see the artistic charm in our daily life experiences. My favorite ideas have come from personal experience, sometimes it's a character, memory, or story message that rings true to me. I love thinking in cars...driving around late at night, or as a passenger staring out the window.

5) What inspired you with the idea for your short film, Anchored? Were there any challenges you faced when doing the film, and how did you overcome them? I was wondering if you could talk about the shading style for your shorts; is this a diffuse map connected into a toon shader?

The inspiration came from my personal life experiences and what I believe. When thinking of an idea I was reading the Bible and looking for inspiring verses. I read, "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind" James 1:6 and "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" from Romans 15:13. I also wrote down notes from the parable of the lost sheep..."What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." Before I figured out my story I had written out verses like these. My sketchbook was full of verses, quotes, parables, song lyrics, and many loose pieces that I tried to sort together to find an idea. I wanted to make a film with a strong message, and I wanted to create a feel-good piece. I wasn't sure what message I wanted to share and felt stressed over trying to find something meaningful. When I put aside all the pressure of what I wanted my film to be and started naturally working out the story, the original meaning of the verses and metaphors were clearly revealed in my story. It worked out so smoothly that I really felt like it was a story from God, and I was able to use my art as a messenger.

A lot of the details are influenced by my life. While I was thinking of a story I was at a low point, feeling discouraged and doubting things I knew. I had some moments feeling adrift at sea. Also during this time, two of my really close friends were away for a couple years and the only form of communication we had was through handwritten letters in the mail. Sending letters was such a change from the instantaneous communication we have these days. I was interested in that type of conversation and really appreciated the meaning of receiving a letter from someone you don't see anymore. Some of the letters I received were so encouraging and hopeful. They really helped me gain perspective. I think that feeling shows through in my piece when the man adrift at sea is surrounded by all the origami crane letters. When I was working out the story, I didn't plan to put specific details from my life in the film. It's subconscious and natural. We do what we know, it makes our work honest and truthful. You need to share a part of yourself to really give a story that heart and emotion. I really don't feel like the message came from me. I think it was something that worked itself into my film, and something that I learned from while working on this project. I learned from the message in my film, it really spoke to me. I truly have felt like both my characters and have learned from the message in my film. The inspiration comes from God and how I've interpreted my life into story.

Just finishing the film was a challenge. When I think of a concept, I try to be practical about how much work I can take on, but at the same time I don't like to limit myself with worries about the things I don't know how to do. Taking on challenges is a great way to learn. This was my thesis film at Ringling College of Art and Design, so the curriculum was set up that we'd spend a semester in our 3rd year planning the film with story and art, and most of our senior year executing the film in 3d. There were so many parts of the film that I assumed I'd just figure out later..during the second semester of senior year "later" was approaching fast. I didn't know how I'd make the water, how I'd rig a rope of words that the characters interacted with, and how to transition between 3d and After Effects. Some things didn't seem like too big of a deal, but when it came to actually executing it, they were much more challenging that I had assumed. My film was experimental in style and combined several elements so executing the look of the film was a challenge. I had a lot of manual tracking in After Effects that was very tedious. I was working in full HD scale so it was slow and challenging to maneuver in After Effects at times. The shot with the cranes flying from the man in the boat across the sea to the woman was tricky. It's a mix of After Effects and Maya and was difficult to blend the two. In 3d it was too difficult to animate the words moving over such a large distance and have the camera tracking the words over such a distance while attempting to have words move by smoothly as if your reading them.

Smoothing up all the loose ends and tightening up the piece took a long time. There were a lot of pops in the animation's motion, pops when a 3d model of a crane switches to a stop motion After Effects crane, pops with the transitions come in too suddenly and etc. There were a lot of jarring sloppy pieces that interrupted the flow of the piece. Just cleaning up was hard for me, catching glitches, intersecting geometry etc and getting everything fixed in time. As a one man team making a 3 minute short in a school year, my time was so limited. There's still so many things I would've liked to do with the piece that I didn't get around to. I had to learn how to prioritize and keep everything in perspective. It was hard finding a balance in my priorities, working the piece closer to a finish as a whole and sacrificing certain aspects that remain very unfinished in my eyes. I overcame this challenge by keeping in mind that I was making this film to motivate and uplift people, The story was already working so I held on to the hope that my film would have that effect regardless of the unfinished cloth, various rough parts in the animation, or all refinement in the water, transitions, and effects that I never got around to.

The characters have exaggerated color maps for their textures. I exaggerated the colors in their faces and clothes, including variations in values. I wasn't relying completely on the lighting to show the form. A lot of the value and hue shifts are built in to the textures and shaders. The look was achieved in compositing my render passes in After Effects. I used a diffuse color pass which is the raw color without being affected by lights. From there, I manipulated a series of other passes in After Effects and composited them together to create a look with a watercolor/ hand painted sensibility.

6) Do you have any plans to produce more short films on the side?

Currently my greatest ambition is to make short films. I recently finished my thesis film "Anchored" It was the greatest project I ever worked on. Working on it was so stressful, exciting, and addicting. I loved making my own film. After completion, being able to share it with an audience was such a blessing. I received so much wonderful feedback and a lot of emotional response. It means the world to me to hear that someone can feel uplifted and happy from watching my film. I'm craving to do more work like that in the future.

7) What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?

I like drawing animals or funny looking people. Generally I don't like drawing kids and pretty people…I have more fun when things are chunky, droopy, wrinkly, aged, awkward, etc. It seems more real to me to draw unappealing things and try to give them appeal. Animals are fun because there's already a lot to work with when designing them. I think of God as the ultimate designer… he must have had a blast with the animal world creating so many interesting shapes, sizes, patterns and textures. Human shapes are more familiar but the animal world seems to have more unique elements to work with.

8) Who are some of your favorite artists?

When I was interning at Disney I gained such an appreciation for raw beautiful drawings. I was able to see collections of original animation drawings…they were incredible, I think some of the most amazing artists and draftsmen are the 9 old men and other Disney artists ranging from Mary Blair to Glen Keane. Some other designers and illustrators I enjoy are Charles Harper, Ronald Searle, Alice and Martin Provensen, Erich Sokol, Nico Marlet, Joe Moshier, Paul Felix, Tadahiro Uesugi, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Sterling Hundley, Norman Rockwell, Dean Cornwell, Chris Ware, and so many more than I'm leaving out.

9) Looking back, would there something you would change with your demo reel to better meet their expectations? Do you have any tips for students, and industry professionals who have their hopes to break into feature film business?

My advice is to show your best work and show a diverse body of work that will show the company that you can fit in there. That you have a diverse range so they trust you can take on the style of their film. And to show the type of work that you'd be doing there, so they can see if you'd be ready for production. For a visual development job that's usually a lot of prop design, and lighting/mood paintings.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Interview with Nate Wragg.

Nate Wragg is a talented artists who started his career at Pixar as a character designer, production design, and art lead while on Ratatouille! He is currently working at Dreamworks Animation doing Visual Development!


1) Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you go to school, and what classes did you take? What challenges did you face to help prepare you to become the artist that you are today? Roughly, how many hours a week did you spend polishing your skills to reach the level you are at now?

Well, I went to school at Cal Arts in Southern California. It's a great school for animation and animation design, I had a blast there. in school I tried to focus on a little bit of everything, animation, story, and design. As my time there went by, I grew more and more inspired by designing for animation, began to focus my studies there with classes in character design and back ground design, and since I left school, I have gone on to work as a designer in the industry.

The challenges I think we all face is finding our own artistic voice. In an industry where so much has been done, it can be hard to find where you fit in, so for me I simply focused on what inspires me, what I like in art and life, and let that mold me into the artist I am today. But believe me the process doesn't end, I still feel that itch of needing to get better, more balanced, constantly trying to learn more from those around me, it's never ending.

I would have to say I've spent hours on top of hours drawing to get better. It was usual for me in school to only get 5 hours of sleep at night, and today, even though I'm working full time at a studio, I wake up at 5 am roughly every morning to paint and draw for myself, work on my own projects and personal art goals, always trying to get better.

2) How is it like working at Pixar? What are some of the most rewarding moments working there, and what are some of the neat things you have learnt from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

Working for Pixar was great. It's where I got my first real start in the industry, and got the chance to be around and learn from some of the most talented people in animation today. Just getting the chance to walk the halls and walk by offices of legendary artists was awesome, you just feel like you draw better being around such talented people.

I would have to say, some of the most rewarding things about working there was being involved with some great people on some great productions. Working with Harley Jessup, Brad Bird, and Teddy Newton on the end credits was one of the highlights of my career. I went into work every day just feeling like the luckiest artist in the world.

One of the best things I learned when I was there was just from watching how my Production Designer Harley Jessup conducted himself as a lead designer on Ratatouille. Getting to see his crazy work ethic, how sharp he was in handling all the design issues that come up with designing a feature film, feeling like I needed to work as hard as I could, and then maybe, just maybe I could try and keep up with him. All that was a really great lesson in knowing that just because you have a good job, doesn't mean you can slack off and pat yourself on the back. You always have to keep working hard, keep striving to be the best you can be.

3) What inspired you to become a designer? Did you always know that you wanted to do that, or do you have other ambitions such as animating?

Well, growing up I always thought that I wanted to be an animator. Even when I started school at Cal Arts, my ambitions were to be an animator. And it wasn't until I started animating my film I first year, that I realized I actually enjoyed the process of designing my film more than I enjoyed animating it. So from then on, I really focused most of my studies in the design aspect of animation, focusing on character design, color and background design, and layout.

4) When designing, do you have a personality for the character in mind for animators to follow? Or would you hand off designs and hope for the best?

Have you ever had to tell an animator that you envisioned him as a different type of character from what he/she animated and have them change it?

When I design a character, I always have their personality in mind. In fact, I would say it's hard to design a character without knowing what their personality is. So much of how someone looks is directly related to what type of person they are, what type of personality they have. So I always look to let my designs be inspired by the characters personality.

You know, before an animator begins on something that you designed, it's always good to make sure that you are both on the same page. Both parties have a clear understanding of who the character is, and how they should be animated. So I think any of those changes or notes on personality, are usually worked out before the animator begins.

5) What's the work process like for you when doing an illustration from start to end? Do you have a preferred medium to work with?

For me I always like to start with a small thumbnail sketch of what I'm going to be painting. I usually like to do several little test paintings over that sketch to help me plan what type of colors and mood I plan on using. Then I like to just go straight to painting. And since I paint with acrylic and paper collage, from then on, I usually just feel out the painting as I paint and either add paper collage, or add paint. It really changes as I'm in the process of painting. I may think I want to paint something, then I come across the right piece of paper that will do the job, so I decide to paper collage that part. I love how spontaneous mixed media can be, you just never really know what elements in the piece are going to be painted or collaged, and for me that makes every painting I do feel different and fresh.
I would have to say my preferred medium would be acrylic and paper collage for the reasons I just mentioned, spontaneous and always different.

6) What do you do to keep yourself motivated to produce creative and fresh concepts?

Well, I like to stay busy and constantly find new goals. I usually keep a list of things I want to do, things I want to draw or paint, and that comes in handy when ever things get slow, or I feel a bit lost, I can look back on that list and see that I always have something I could do.
I'm also constantly looking to collaborate with other artists, because I find that I get really inspired by surrounding myself with inspiring talent.

7) I was always curious about the background story/origin of Yeti! What was the inspiration behind that concept? And what compelled you to stick with the design all these years?

You know, a few years back, I started drawing this little monster with horns, and the more I looked at it, the more I thought " hey, this looks like a yeti." And from then on, the rest is history. I painted the design with white acrylic, and have loved drawing him ever since. I think aside from simply liking the design, I really enjoy injecting some mischievous personality into this character, so I guess you could say I live " mischievously" through him, causing trouble in fun ways.

8) I've noticed a lot of creature drawings on your blog! Are they your favorite subject to draw?

Yeah, I really love drawing monsters and creatures, because they are just plain fun to draw. You can really let you imagination run wild with the design of a creature, and try some crazy and fun things with them.

9) Who are some of your favorite artists? Was there an artist who influenced you in developing your style?

You know, I can't really say that one specific artist was instrumental in influencing my style, I find that I really like a lot of artists. Some of my favorites would include Paul Klee, Jim Flora, Pablo Picasso, Tim Biskup, Kiraz, Ronald Searle, and the list goes on. I try my best to be open to any kind of artistic influence. I'm always looking to find new inspiration in other artists work.

10) Looking back, would there something you would change with your portfolio, and/or work ethics to better meet the expectations of Pixar? Do you have any tips for students, and industry professionals who have their hopes to break into feature film business?

You know, the best thing you can do is really put your work out there for one. A lot of people are too nervous to send their stuff to studios and you won't get a call back if they don't have your work to look at in the first place. But I think the most important thing besides working hard, is to make sure you submit the right type of work in your portfolio for the right type of job. If you are applying for a character design job at cartoon network, odds are, you won't get hired if you submit a portfolio of artwork that would say be in the style of Avatar. The styles are both great, but they are different enough that a portfolio of realistic designs wouldn't fit into the style of animation and design they do at cartoon network. Now you never want to submit drawing of the characters of a show you want to work on, but you want to show the studio that you can draw in that style, you can stylize your designs in a way that you would be an asset to the company, and they should hire you.

11) If people would like to contact you for your artwork, how would you like to be contacted?
One of my classmates was really excited that you were available to be interviewed, and wanted to ask what are your rates like for an original commissioned traditional painting or do you only sell prints?

The best way to get in touch with me is through my blog or my online store. I have my email contact posted on both of those places and am always free to answer any questions anyone might have. Yeah I do commissioned paintings as well, I would encourage the student or anyone to contact me about a commission idea they may have so that we could discuss the rates privately, but just as a general note, my goal is not to make money, it's to give someone a piece of artwork that they can love for hopefully a very long time, so my rates are very reasonable.

12) Random question, but do you have a desk full of toys? :)

Actually, in my studio at home, I have a bookcase full of them. I like collecting cool toys and vinyl toys, but it can be a slippery slope, so I try not to get too obsessed over them, however it does make me feel like a kid again