The Wrong Rock – New Short Film

2017 approaches and I’m back at it, making another short film. After Devils I was adamant I’d not be taking on such a huge (unpaid) pet project again for another decade. Well, life evolved in ways I couldn’t have predicted and I ended up helping out on two other short films for friends, both of which worked out great (The OceanMaker and Napoleon). I also had a lot of wonderful adventures in my professional working life. But once again I find myself with that craving to make something outside of work, and there’s only so many small projects you can do before the big ones come calling. There’s another project I actually could have started that’s been in development for some time but it needs more time to be the best version of itself. In the mean time ‘The Wrong Rock‘ came to me in a moment of soul searching where I brushed aside everything I’d learned about building IP and focused on the issues I felt the most connected to. Then I worked out how could I explore those issues and send a strong message out into the world worthy of the time it takes to make one of […]

Unreleased Rare projects

Over the course of your career you touch on lots of projects that never see the light of day. Usually no-one in the public gets to learn about them but a good decade later a bunch of projects I worked on at Rare have had mini documentaries made and released as part of a collection of games. Kameo 2 Fast and Furiest Black Widow

Tips for Making Films with a Remote Team

I contributed some tips to the Artella Blog. Advanced Tips Recruiting – Depending on your own strongest skills it might not be worth recruiting for some skill sets. Recruitment is a commitment in itself and it can be very time consuming reaching out, filtering, vetting and introducing new team members. That might be time better spent working on the project yourself. While some areas are easy to recruit for and benefit the project greatly. Choose wisely. Communication – This is key to every team member, especially when you’re operating a remote project. If a team member lacks the language skills, can’t write responses or even read your notes…. it’s going to be a struggle. Partnership – Find out what your team members want to get out of their involvement in the project, then make sure they are getting it. If people realize they aren’t getting what they want and they’re paid they won’t last long. But if they realize they’re not getting what they want and they’re volunteers, they’ll drop the project so fast, you often won’t even hear about it until you’ve wasted a lot of time chasing them. So make sure both sides are meeting their goals, or […]

The OceanMaker Insider Part 5 – Pixar

Continued from Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. It’s the Summer of 2014… a Friday and I was working on the Fox lot in Los Angeles for Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb when I got a call from my friend, Lucas Martell. We were invited to screen The OceanMaker at Pixar, and while we’re at it could we do a Q&A for them too. Pop! …. that was my brain exploding. Oh, and can we do it on Monday? Argh! So after begging my supervisor, Eric, for a day off, I drove up to San Francisco on Sunday and stayed with some friends ready for Monday morning (thank you Paul and Maria… big hug). I was lucky I was close enough to drive. Not all of the team could make it. Luckily Lucas and Christina Martell were in the area at the time. However Henning Koczy, had to go above and beyond to get there from New York. But there we were at Pixar, with thanks to Colin for setting it all up and giving us the tour (on his day off, I might add. How much does he love that place?). The OceanMaker crew arrives at […]

Fast and Furious 7 – Trailer

The first trailer for Fast and Furious 7 is out. I worked on this for about seven months in 2013. It was a highly creative project, and I got to create entire action sequences. This trailer features clips from several of them, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the final film. After Paul Walker passed on, I became involved in another project so I never had to deal with the challenges that would have followed. But I left it in very capable hands and I’m curious to see how everything was accomplished in the final product.

Showing my portfolio at Disney Florida

I was visiting Disney World Florida, with my family when I was a kid. It was my first time in America and the first time being that close to an animation studio. They had a fully operational animation studio in Florida back then and you could take the tour from Disney World as if it was part of the park. It was a major draw for me, and I was pretty excited. My parents were being very supportive in taking the family in the first place. I’d long ago stopped taking family holidays with them in order to focus on making my own films instead. But I wasn’t going to miss this one (they were very cunning). During the tour you end up in a room with one of the experienced 2D animators at his drawing desk talking to the crowd and showing them what he does. We watched his demonstration. My parents, not knowing anything about the process of getting work in the industry, encouraged me to walk up to him and ask him if I could show him my portfolio and ask about a job. I (kind of) knew that it wasn’t the way to do it, but […]

IK vs FK

Most debates (or arguments) inside an animation studio have a correct (or at least) best case solution and eventually end. But there’s one type of debate that never ends, and it continues to come up project after project. Essentially, every time a different combination of people starts working together the battle between FK and IK will rear it’s ugly head… every time. It doesn’t usually start out as an IK vs FK debate, but once you’ve peeled away the layers that are concealing it… and it continues to keep going, it becomes obvious that’s what you’re talking about. Every time it happens it makes me smile. Because once you realize that’s what you’re talking about, you won’t be able to end the argument by selling the virtues of your preferred method. You realize you’re all wasting time repeating the same argument and you have to change tactics to find a way to end it. This is where I tend to lean on my experience, and reach back into my archive of projects to highlight the pros and cons and their end result on the final product. Only then do people realize they’re in a holding pattern and there’s not much […]

Interviewing the Devils Team

It’s been a little over two and a half years since ‘Devils Angels and Dating’ was released on YouTube. It’s recently enjoyed a spike in popularity and passed two million views. To thank the team I wanted to touch base with them, give them a chance to showcase their work and let us know where they’ve been with their careers since then. Many have gone onto do great things and built up quite strong credits. That’s probably more an indication of their tenacity and talent than the success of our film, but it’s still very encouraging. In particular it says good things about collaborating on other short film projects in the future. If nothing else I’m grateful for getting to know these talented people, because without the film I wouldn’t have known. Read the interviews here: http://devilsangelsanddating.ning.com/profiles/blog/list See the film here:

Panda Pander on Crackle: 2,572,030 Views

I made a random discovery today…. my old student film, Panda Pander, was on Crackle before they changed their business model, and it gathered a lot of views back then but I never had any evidence… until now. I found an old feed that showed a few view counts. I don’t know if the highest one was the final count before it went offline but it’s a nice little memento from the past. I was working in Scotland when this was happening, it was quite incredible and I had no idea what a high view count could do for you. These days a high count on YouTube or Vimeo can get you noticed, but (at least for now) those counts generally stay visible. This one disappeared and I wish I’d taken a screen shot. It was the second highest viewed piece of animation on their site all the way up to it’s disappearance. 2,572,030 Views  

Finish your Film

Kenny Roy’s book ‘Finish Your Film! Tips and Tricks for Making an Animated Short in Maya‘ features ‘Devils Angels & Dating‘ several times. It discusses the making of an animated short film. It’s available at all the usual book retailers.

How to Cheat in Maya 2014

Kenny Roy’s book on ‘How to Cheat in Maya 2014’ features an interview with me. It’s available at all the usual book retailers.

DSM Mobile App: Storyboard

Alongside the art direction for this product demo commercial, I was working on the storyboards. This turned out to be the fun part. I recently bought myself a secondhand Wacom Cintiq. It’s been on my wishlist for a decade, but they’ve been prohibitively expensive until recently. It’s also hard to justify a purchase of a grand or more for something you’re not sure you’ll use regularly. I’d walk up to them every time I saw one in person and doodle to see how good they’d gotten. Usually I was disappointed with the disconnect between the tip of the pen and the actual line being drawn.. i.e. the space between the surface and the screen, and the lag in the responsiveness. That hasn’t been entirely solved but it has gotten better as computers get faster and the screens get better. Recently tablets have become popular (finally!), and Wacom has made a stand alone tablet with their pen technology in it. This is essentially the device I’ve been dreaming of for my entire career (seriously? it took that long?), but still…. it’s too expensive. It has, however, had the effect of driving more second-hand units out on to the market. So for […]

DSM Mobile App: Commercial

I spent a few weeks working on this interesting project. On paper it could have been a potentially dry product demo/commercial, but actually the script had a little spark to it and the client had an interest in keeping things engaging. So with the same spirit I took to creating the visuals. It was supposed to be two minutes or less. But when I got the script at two and a half pages long, I had to challenge the length and see if we could trim it. But ultimately this was about conveying specific information, rather than abiding by any fixed time slot. So the video ended up being 25% longer than it was originally planned for. Take note… one page of script is roughly one page of screen time. Of course it can vary wildly depending on how it’s written and what the content is. But if you start there you’ve got a good guide. I’ve been on other projects where the producers didn’t know this and it’s come back to bite them in the butt later when, for a fixed bid, they’ve found themselves producing a lot more screen time than they anticipated… for free. So be careful […]

Free on Amazon – Guardian of the Highlands

You can now watch Guardian of the Highlands, or at least the first ten minutes of it free on Amazon streaming. This is a film is worked on way back in 2006 and 2007. Don’t expect too much, lower your expectations… no… lower, lower… that’s about right. Limited means, and a crew filled with fresh graduates. Neither was really a problem. In fact I’d say we pulled of mini miracles, but nothing could save the material. At least we’ve all gone on to do much better things. Today there’s a strong comradery amongst the ex-team members for this film.

Annie Awards 2014

I went along to the Annie Awards with Julie and my buddy Dan. It’s the biggest awards ceremony for the animation industry. Still very US-centric but there is some international representation there. It’s still quite an under-appreciated event. Just as glitzy as many other awards ceremonies but you can still buy reasonably priced tickets to get in and watch from the balcony. We met quite a few interesting people in the party afterwards.

Love in the Time of Advertising

Love in the Time of Advertising is online. The fascinating thing is how many people I have come across over the years that had a hand in making this film. It’s been a long time coming, and I was lucky enough to see several early versions. But even then it was really strong… and really knew what it was. It just had to go through production. I guess the earliest versions I saw were in the last few years of production, but I’d have loved to have seen some of the versions way back when it was still in story development. That would have been fascinating, as it’s such a wild idea and getting the tone, the world and the rules of the world working would have been quite challenging. Anyway, it’s well worth checking out. An inspiration to short filmmakers.

2 Years Online – The Stats for ‘Devils Angels and Dating’

It’s been just over two years since Devils Angels and Dating premiered online on YouTube. In the full spirit of disclosure, that we’ve run this project, I wanted to share the statistics behind the people viewing it. As you can see we’ve passed 1.4 million views, most of which came in the first summer. You can learn much more about the making of the film at the development site, http://devilsangelsanddating.ning.com/

Musicals Un-Frozen

Frozen comes out soon and with it, I think, a reboot for Musicals. I liked Tangled a lot but the songs in Frozen are, to my taste, much stronger. Growing up with Aladdin and The Lion King… animated musicals have a lot to live up to with me, but I think Frozen was definitely a step in the right direction and it’s comparable with Beauty and the Beast. I love animated musicals… not for every single animated feature, it’s great to have seen the medium pull away enough to try other things, but there’s plenty of room to go either way now that we’ve cleansed the pallet for a few years, if they’re done properly. (Actually there’s even room to diversify further in animation but that’s a different blog post.)   The songs in Frozen were largely memorable, well performed and integral to the story. I didn’t know much about the film when I arrived in the theater so it was a bit of a shock when the first story based songs started. But once you realize what you’re watching it’s pretty good. The film does skew towards a young female audience, but that’s ok. This is definitely feeding the […]

Dating for Animation and VFX Artists

It’s hard to openly talk about the topic of dating, but as the guy that developed his short film around the topic, ‘Devils, Angels and Dating‘, I felt it was my duty to expand on it for all the past, present and future lovelorn creatives it was aimed at. The Animation and Visual Effects Industry has been plagued with issues for some time, and many of those issues are only now being exposed and discussed. There are a lot of problems that have compounded over time and there are no solutions that address them all quickly. There are plenty of other better writers out there that you can read up on to find out more on the industry. But I wanted to talk about something that makes a huge difference to an individuals life, that we all can do something about. When I started my first job as an animator I had a 9 to 5 job. To many that sounds wrong. That’s because most jobs I’ve worked in recent years the core hours are either 9 to 6, 10 to 7 or even 10 to 8. This may be a big city thing, a US thing or I suspect… […]

Off-Site vs On-Site

Working remotely requires a strong capacity to trust other people. By default, meeting good reasonable people in person builds trust. Getting to know someone immediately in front of you will generally result in much stronger bond of trust than working remotely. I’ve noticed that the further away from ‘in-person’ you are from a relationship the more people instinctively demonize each other, or ‘them’. Regular video chat can be helpful, talking on the phone is almost as good, instant message is the next step, email is convenient but its the absolute limit of a modern day working relationship. Anything less and the other person becomes the enemy. What’s alarming is how two sets of reasonable people with the best of intentions assume flaws, fault, laziness, selfishness, and all kinds of other issues upon each other as the communication methods reduce down to email. Cultural differences throw up defenses even faster. I’ve caught myself making the same assumptions at times, but I push through it and try to see the other side’s perspective. The less you know about the other person though, the harder it gets to relate to them, so it’s only natural for us to demonize the unknown. Different personality […]

Kickstarter vs IndieGoGo for Animation

Kickstarter is not suited for most animated short films. Ok that is a little bit of an over simplification. What I want to say is that Kickstarter isn’t the right platform for raising money for projects you aren’t prepared NOT to make. Kickstarter is really just generating drama for it’s audience and animated filmmakers are providing the fuel for that drama for free. What do I mean by this? Animation is a staggeringly labor intensive medium so when someone finally gets to the point they are ready to spread the word about a project and potentially impress someone enough to give them some money…. they’ve usually invested so much time, effort and resources that there is little chance they are going to abandon that concept if they don’t make the money they would like to get. This is a pitfall I’m seeing far too many short animated filmmakers going into. They post their projects on Kickstarter because that’s the current popular buzzword and assume their idea is so strong that they will meet their target. But you have to remember that Kickstarter doesn’t take the money if you don’t meet your goal. So you can put in a lot of effort attracting […]

Parkour for Layout and Previs

Some time ago I animated this Parkour piece as a one off exercise and it’s been in my animation reel for a while. You can read about it here. But as I was thinking about doing new pieces for my layout / previs reel I realized it would be a great piece to build on. Originally I kept the camera very plain so that the focus of the piece was the animation on the character. There were no cuts, as that could have been perceived as a way to hide cheats in the animation. But for this new piece that wasn’t important. So I could cut as often as I liked, explore angles and even use slow motion. It’s a work in progress and I intend to come back to it. I want to spend some time playing with the layout of the buildings, improve the textures, add motion blur, depth, focus, foreground elements passing the camera and possibly even light and render it. I had fun playing with Maya’s new Camera Sequencer to put this together which made speed changes very easy. It has a great tool for batch playblasting what ever shots you select in the sequence which […]

The Ocean Maker – The Insider Story – Part 4

Continued from Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. The first screening went very well and over the coarse of our production we had a lot of similar screenings. My memory of all the screenings on the island blend into each other. But ultimately there was a lot of cheering, respectful compliments and constructive feedback. Note giving is an art into itself, and so is taking notes. The results can be very different in different settings and mediums. We sent out versions of the film through Dropbox links to key filmmaking friends of ours to get feedback. You get very different responses that way. The remote feedback ranged from solid filmmaking notes to complete mis-understandings of certain concepts, and this was the best feedback of all as we could make sure to address big oversights. If something important was missed by even one of our friends you can bet that a much larger number of people with no knowledge of the animation process will fail to understand the same things, so it was crucial to find those oversights and make sure they were clear.The team feedback was really good as we could see exactly what they did and didn’t understand. Standing in […]

The Ocean Maker – The Insider Story – Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2. So the team set to work on the film. As the point man put in charge of documenting the production I was encouraging everyone else to take pictures and videos… to get coverage while I sunned myself in the corner and watched them work their socks off! … Ok, not quite… I actually set myself the task of interviewing each team member so that we got everyone’s initial impressions. Not an easy thing for everyone to do as we’re not all comfortable with the camera and it was something that we all had to get used to. But we got through it and captured a few great conversations as we got to know the team. While I was doing that, everyone else was setting up. Tray went to task setting up a way for us all to share files. Essentially his laptop acted as the server, and we each pressed a sync button on our laptops that sent all our changes to the server then downloaded any chances to our machines. It was a lot more data than we all really needed but on a local network it worked fine. A dirty but […]

The Ocean Maker – The Insider Story – Part 1

The Ocean Maker started it’s IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign and the Director, Lucas Martell, has been posting videos, news, interviews and much more related to the project giving everyone a sneak peak at the film and the unique production that created it. I thought I’d chip in and tell a little of my story surrounding the film. Way back in 2008, I first contacted Lucas when I was researching my move to Austin, Texas. He was not far from completing his short film Pigeon Impossible while I was simultaneously getting up to speed developing Devils, Angels and Dating. We got to know each other over the years and became firm friends.Jump to 2012 and Lucas was working in the same studio as me in New York. He told me he wanted to have a chat about an independent project and we met to discuss this outlandish concept of forming a team to make a short film in a remote location. He does a great introduction to the concept in his video for the crowd-funding campaign so I won’t go into too many details. Suffice to say, it wasn’t an easy sell initially and there were plenty of problems to anticipate. But he was pretty passionate about the […]

Orson Welles Award

I went to San Diego over the weekend to the California Film Awards to accept the Orson Welles Award on behalf of our film. It was a long ceremony with a lot of categories but it turns out the Orson Welles Award was way up there towards the most prestigious categories, so it was quite an honour. I asked someone to use my phone to shoot video of my speech but unfortunately I forgot to press record when i handed it over, and they didn’t either… so I’ll paraphrase roughly what I said: “This film was made for roughly… zero dollars, so I want to thank the Animation community for putting up with all the begging and grovelling we had to do to get this film made. But mostly I’d like to thanks the one hundred or so talents artists that volunteered their time to make this film. Thank you!” As a side note… the life of an animator isn’t compatible with an award like this. We often have to keep moving around, and this thing is soooo heavy!

Skylanders Giants

I had the pleasure of going to New York to work on the pre-rendered game cinematics for the new Skylanders Giants for all console platforms including some unique stereoscopic sequences for the 3DS. The games are currently being splashed all over the Disney channels ready for the Christmas season. I’ve written up a little about my experiences working on both sets of sequences here: Skylanders Giants Skylanders Giants 3DS

Production Tips – Recruiting Database

Continuing on from the last Production Tip blog about Tracking Production… The Recruiting Database This might seem creepy but I kept a spreadsheet with some basic information on everyone on the team… or anyone interested in joining the team. The key thing I used this for was to remember their strengths, up to years after I last had any contact with them. We had over 400 volunteers sign up and many more that I spoke to outside of our development site. It could get very difficult for me to remember every encounter, especially since most were only over email. I tended to remember shots in reels better than the specifics about my conversations with each artist. Some would be people that left the project and rejoined a year later, and it was key to remember their strengths and weaknesses. I would score them in a few very important areas: Talent (0 to 4) – The quality of their reel, this would be updated with each encounter and if their work on the film differed from the work in their reel. Communication (0 to 3) – Their communication skills including written English and responsiveness. A world wide project can have some severe problems with […]

Production Tips – Tracking Production

Kenny Roy asked me to contribute some anecdotes for a presentation he’s putting on, and I thought it would be a good idea to share them here. Tracking Production I’m a keen addict of a good Excel spreadsheet that tracks the progress of each project. My short film was no different and over time I was able to show the progress of each department across the duration of the film. I let Excel save out an image of two charts that were then synced to a public folder on Dropbox. The first just showed the progress level in the main categories  It was published to our development website and quickly allowed anyone to see how far we were. It was also embedded into the beginning of the animatic edit. The image simply overwrote each time I saved so it was always up to date and showed up in each export of the animatic that I published about once every two weeks. The second graph showed the progress over time. This was very useful as we could aim for a date and see roughly when departments were getting behind. It allowed me to respond by changing assignments, recruiting more or less in each skill […]

‘Best Animated Short Film’ – Burbank Film Festival

This is the Award our film won for ‘Best Animated Short Film’ at the Burbank Film Festival  

Guiding vs Micromanaging

This is a tough balance for any Director. You want to communicate your vision and give your team firm direction as they go along, but if you tell them how to do their job down to the finest detail there’s nothing for them to get any satisfaction from. They’ll quickly realize there’s no point in using their creativity, and problem solving skills, and they’ll lose their personal investment in the task. Then all you have is a clock punching drone, waiting to go home. But that’s in the work place. On a volunteer based film production it can mean you lose their interest entirely, and you lose a team member. Since ‘Devils, Angels and Dating’ was produced entirely online I can’t even be sure when that happened to my team mates. I’m positive it must have occurred on some level for some people, as we had plenty of turnover with team members, like any volunteer based project. But without dealing with them in person it’s hard to figure out where that line is with each team member. Usually in person you can tell. Body language, mood and tone of voice are going to tell you a lot about how someone is taking […]

The Layout Sandwich

I started my first full time job in animation and, along with another person starting the same day (later to become a close friend of mine), we found ourselves being taken into a large room with a cinema screen high up on one wall. We were sat down and told we’re about to see what we’re going to be making for the next six months. What we saw was (for its time) a very impressive action adventure role playing game filled with characters and cut-scenes (FMVs or cinematics as many prefer to refer to them). It was my first day at Rare, a 200 strong, growing company with a very strong pedigree working under Nintendo’s wing. My friend and I were given an outline of what we’d be expected to start working on. He was a software engineer so we weren’t going to be doing the same things but we were going to be working together a lot. I was fully prepared to be doing in-game cycles, when the Director turned to me and casually told me I’d be making the cutscenes. I forget now if it was verbal, but I know that in my mind I went “Wahoooooo!”. It was more […]

The right time to get story feedback

There’s mixed stories about when you should get feedback on your ideas. In animation it’s common for people to say that you should get feedback early and often but I’d argue that’s not always true. If you do that you risk ‘too many cooks’ and you can water down the elements that would make the film what it needs to be to make it resonate with a targeted audience. Better instead to protect the idea, and explore it fully for as long as you can, taking breaks so that you come back to it fresh and with other perspectives filtered through you. Only when you’re returning to it repeatedly from a fresh perspective and you feel it’s gone as far as it can, is it time to get feedback.       At this point it’s time to ask yourself if you have surrounded yourself with the kind of people that can give you valuable, constructive feedback. Whether you recognise it or not, your idea is still fragile and undeveloped and other people will see it. You need to be sure that the next person that sees it understands the fragile nature of an early idea and that they can […]

Devils Angels & Dating at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

I thought I’d kick off my official blog posts here on blogger by showcasing our short film, ‘Devils Angels and Dating’. It’ll be screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on the 16th of August at the HollyShorts festival. It’s been amazing to have two articles in 3D World, and two in 3D Artist. http://devilsangelsanddating.ning.com/photo/albums/press Here’s our official website where you can see lots of behind the scenes content. http://www.DevilsAngelsAndDating.com/