Sunday, September 28, 2008
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
Sure! After high school I attended the Art Institute of Seattle. I really had no idea as to what kind of artist I wanted to be as a professional, I just knew I wanted to draw (even if all I could draw was graffiti in sketchbooks). I ended up in the Animation Art & Design program despite not knowing the slightest thing about animation going in. My first couple of quarters I slacked off a lot, and didn't really take anything seriously.
I was about halfway through that just 2-year program, and Disney Animation released Tarzan. I was completely taken by it! I even remember being blown away by just the trailer! Why ?! Well I think on the surface, I was amazed by the way that character moved, the draftsmanship of his design. It was fresh and dynamic, I'd never seen anything like it. But what actually sealed it for me was hearing Glen Keane talk about animating that character, how much of himself and his experiences that he put into the animation, what made these characters real to him. Hearing someone speak about the medium that way made a big impression on me. Drawings that are alive? Thats incredible and there is nothing else like it.
Long story short, I became obsessed with traditional animation, and I went back and looked at all the films in a new way. I studied everything about it, and it tapped into a part of me that actually wanted to work hard! When I got out, I was fortunate enough to get a job at a startup PC childrens’ game company doing 2D animation, as well as storyboards character designs, the whole deal. So that was a great learning experience. And although it’s not a cool thing to admit, I think most of my career so far has been driven by economics. So after that work started to dry up, jobs for traditional animators were becoming slimmer . So out of necessity, I had to teach myself 3D to survive out here. Which, if you’re doing it all on your own, is completely frustrating at first! But once you get over that hump, and you’re not fighting the program anymore, you actually feel like your animating again and then it’s a blast. And all things I learned doing traditional completely transferred over to 3D. I actually got so caught up in 3D animation that I didn’t draw for a while and I started to really miss it! So I started an art blog as an outlet for my personal work. It’s great therapy when I’m starting to feel a little burned out in the 3D interface.
And so that’s where I am today. Of course, since I started my interests have since expanded to include more than just traditional Disney animation, but that’s where it started for me. I dont really like to think I "switched over" to 3D, but that I expanded out to different techniques. I still have plans to animate traditionally in the future, even if just for myself!
Not only are you an animator, but your drawing skills are top notch. Could you please talk about both animating, and drawing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
In the very beginning, I usually just sit there and try to think of the best idea for the character or situation. Whether its an attack animation for the game or a new acting piece, I’ll jot down ideas bullet form. Then when I come across an idea that I like, I’ll draw layout thumbnails and misc notes on how to best to stage or present the idea. (For AM I was just doing little animatics to sell the idea on the shot.) Then I’ll go and shoot video reference(which more often than not is ridiculous, but it gives me a great starting point) or find some online. If I’m doing an acting exercise, I’ll splice together the best takes of, say, a line of dialogue. I'll then thumbnail again, cherry pick certain poses from the video ref and try to clarify them, seeing how they play together in sequence. So that becomes my map really. My plan of attack!
And with all of that , I’ll start out by just executing attitude poses, and see how they play together. Although, I’ve used stepped mode before (which essentially mimicks the 2D pose test), I prefer to go the copied pairs method. Because I like to get an idea of the real pacing in which a character is literally moving in and out of the poses. Anticipation and follow-thru poses I consider keys as well. Its easier for me to pose out the arms in IK. At this stage, anyone should be able to look at it and get the idea of what’s going on, and on every pose I key the whole body so they’re treated like drawings. I then go through and turn all of the ‘holds’ into slowins, slowouts, & overshoots. This further fleshes out overall pacing & timing. Once that is working , I begin to separate the actions buy offseting body parts. Hips from spine from head from arms ,etc. The tricky thing here is to separate the extremities while still maintaining the integrity of your main poses you started out with. Then once that’s working I’ll hide the arms, and begin to polish up the root of the character. Ironing out and accentuating arcs, making sure the weight feels right. Then I do the same thing for the spine, then the head, then the legs. I unhide the arms and begin to polish them. I then convert the IK arms to FK because its easier for me to track the arcs on the hands/elbows/shoulders, and get rid of the marionette arm feel. After that comes eyes/lids/brows. Then lip sync. I’m not even sure if anyone is listening anymore…
… But I’ll try to somehow segway all of that into character design. I'm still a newbie but I'd say my thought process is almost the same. I read about the character, jot down notes, find some reference and actually try to hold off on the actual sketching for as long as I can. I just try to make sure the idea of the character is clear to me first. If not, I just tend to scribble aimlessly and no one is happy!
How has having a good artistic background helped you in animating?
On the front end, I think it helps me visualize what I want to do before jumping into the actual execution of animating. Usually in the form of thumbnails plotting out poses, expressions, and how they play in sequence.
As for the actual execution, I think it's just helped me develop an eye for making the overall graphic design of a shot as appealing as it can be. That includes the character’s expressions, poses and how they sit in the shot, how they relate to other characters in the shot and the overall composition. This can even apply to interactive animation for games. One of the interesting things to think about is even imbuing the motion with a strong sense of design. So, if you're tracking your arcs for instance. That to me, is a form of graphic design in your motion.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
I end up coming into work around 10AM. I check my email, and make sure I'll have the latest iteration of everything in our game on my computer to work with. I'll then consult with my art lead on my tasklist if I am not working on something already. That can be anything from finishing up animation for the main character, or concepting out character depending on how far along in production we are. I spent a lot of time in the
beginning doing equal parts concepting and animating , but now that we are further along I mostly animate. I try to grab lunch quick so I could spend the rest of my lunch hour sketching. After lunch I continue on what I was doing. Once a week our whole art team gets together to touch base on what everyone is working on and the status of the game. There are roughly about 11 artists/animators on our team. 3 full time concept guys, 3 animators, 2 level design, 2 modeler/ texturers and the art lead. So a pretty small team, but that makes it easier not only to interact with everyone else but one can easily do more beyond their job title to help out on other sides of the art.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
When I got out of school I was working on Children’s PC games doing 2D animation/storyboards/character designs. Then when I learned 3D, I was an animator at a company called Arena Net working on the Guild Wars franchises. I then left Arena Net to take a position at Gas Powered Games as an animator/ character designer. So this is my first gig in a while where I’m get to design some characters as well as animate so its been great getting my feet wet again in that area. That’s kind of where starting an art blog really paid off for me, I think I was hired for dual disciplines based off the work on I was posting.
What are you working on now? (if you can tell us)
I animate and design characters at a company called Gas Powered Games. Working on an unannounced console title.
Who are some of your favorite artists and animators out there?
Everyone knows the heavy hitters down in Hollywood, and they’re obviously a big influence on me! But a lot of the local artists up here in Seattle games industy I’ve worked with or met are also very inspiring. Edward Pun is a great artist and was my first mentor in the industry. Daniel Dociu, Kekai Kotaki, Aaron Coberly, Doug Williams, Xia Taptara, Katy Hargrove, Jaime Jones, Chris Turnham are just some of the fantastic artists I worked with at ArenaNet. More recently guys like Rafael Calonzo, Ray Lederer, & Derek McCaughan are daily inspiration where I work. I know of guys like Augie Pagan and Jamaal Bradley are more guys doing great work up here. These guys are all about the idea of getting better and growing as artists. What’s more inspiring than that.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
Lately I’ve been doing my character designs and personal work all in Photoshop. Right now my work tends towards a more flat, graphic aesthetic and my colors are kept simple. But it's constantly changing. Hopefully evolving for the better.
For my animation thumbnails, it literally is pen on scrap pieces of paper or napkins.
What part of animation is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
It’s all hard really! But the most challenging part for me is just the planning phase. Is it clear without being cliche? Did I do enough study or am I just way over thinking this? Doing sufficient research and still making it feel spontaneous is always a fine line to walk for me.
The fun parts are actually different in 2D and 3D. In 2D, I loved doing that really scribbly, frenetic, rough first pass! You're just concerned with the energy of the scene, how it feels, and you're just flyin through all these sheets of paper, it is so much freaking fun.
In 3D, the most fun for me is when you've gotten your keys poses approved, and you really get into animating! I love breaking down keys, and working in and out of them is really fun and for me that's when it really begins to come alive! Then once polish time, it gets hard again, haha. Or I should say time-consuming. Then thats another hard part. That vulnerable state where, you've looked at something for so long that it ceases to look like anything you can make a solid judgement call on! Ha I hate that! Obviously the remedy to that is just showing other people to get their thoughts.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
I love going to music festivals & shows. Seeing a great band perform, they’re artists! Have you ever seen someone so good at their respective craft that it makes you want to be that much better at what you do? I do all the time.
What are some of your favorite pieces of art work that you have seen?
Unfortunately I haven’t been to many of the major museums, but there have been a few traveling shows that have passed through Seattle. John Singer Sargent had a traveling show that came through when I was a student, and seeing his work up close is amazing. A little after that, I caught a “Post Impressionist” show with drawings and paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, which I really geeked out over. But my bucket list of pieces to see is Guernica & Les Demoiselles D'avignon by Picasso, the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, and Las Meninas by Velazquez !
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
People! They’re what I most respond to even in art that I admire. That and I'm horrible with backgrounds.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
A few years before his new book came out, handout notes by Eric Goldberg popped up on Animation Meat where he broke down his approaching timing, spacing, and working in and out of keys. He just made it click for me. In that same handout , he talked about thinking like a good comic strip artist when choosing your initial key poses. Think of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes. He would draw just enough panels so that you get the point of the scene. There are definite beats in his strip. Taking that idea even further, tutoring with Stephen Gregory, he would ask me to try to encompass the idea of the scene with one iconic pose, when starting out. Not unlike what Norman Rockwell does with his illustrations.
In an AM Doug Sweetland lecture. He'd take a simple line of dialogue, and most people would do this where they write it out on paper, figuring out the musicality of the line. But he'd take it a step further and write down a different line of dialogue as the subtext. Of what the character was thinking versus what he was saying. And for that one line, he continued to jot down several different alternatives for subtext, with thumbnails for unique acting beats corresponding with the different lines. I had never heard of anyone approach it that way! It's more in tune with the work of the best actors, where you're trying to find what the character is saying beyond the surface aspects of the literal dialogue.
My last mentor , Brett Coderre, taught me the importance of "working within the pose". Taking your main storytelling poses, and working within them, instead of coming up with a bunch of different ones. You could equate that to a strong life drawing, where you solidify the main gesture, and all of your details; anatomy,drapery,etc work with that foundation.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?
It's a given that artists’ blogs are a great resource of inspiration. In addition to that though, sites like Fubiz, a great site for anything visually inspirational. One I still frequent is the Artchive , with galleries on a lot of the old masters.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Animator? Do you have any tips you could give?
I'm not an industry vet by any means my biggest piece of advice to give to someone just starting out would be to spend most of your time mastering simple mechanics. And by simple, I mean bouncing ball/ vanilla walk simple. Because once you got a good hold on mechanics, it'll free you up to do the more complex things. A spinning triple-flip attack or a subtle acting scene. James Baxter said that his goal is to "Combine good performance with strong technique. And that it is only with strong technique that you can deliver the good performance with maximum impact." And I think that that's worth repeating here. It's almost like that martial arts mentality of mastering technique first so you could forget about it later.
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbooks, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
I actually dont have any of my art for sale but maybe if in the future, if I think I have anything worth selling!