Revolting!

For the past year I had the great pleasure of serving as animation supervisor on Jan Lachauer and Jakob Schuhs’ delightfully irreverent adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.

For those of you not familiar with the book, it’s Dahl’s take on the classic fairy tales, often told with an adult edge or a grim twist. Naturally, it was a delight to animate! Here is a sequence that I supervised:

Quentin Vogel and I lead the Cape Town team while Jacob Frey (whose graduation film The Present, took the internet by storm) and Tobias von Burkersroda lead animation in Berlin. Together we managed to pull of 50 minutes of animation with a team of around 20 animators of varied experience/background. Everyone put their heart and soul into their shots and I’m really proud of what we managed to pull off together!

The Revolting Animation team in Cape Town.

A bonus for me was to be reunited with fellow Goblins Summer School alumni Nadya Mira who’s exquisite production design gives both films wonderful flair and punch! You can see some of her original artwork on her website:

http://nadyamira.com/

Revolting Rhymes hugely popular when I was growing up in South Africa, and we performed the Cinderella story at our school in Nelspruit. I was a guard to Prince Charming, and got to chop the head off one of the Ugly Sisters (we used volley balls as heads, with party streamers as wigs).

Amazingly, I found myself animating this very sequence on the official film years later, it’s the first time I’d ever felt:  “I’ve been preparing for this moment my entire life!”

A huge thanks to the team at Magic Light Pictures in London and Berlin, as well as the Triggerfish team for making this project possible!

 

 

 

 

We won the Cristal for best TV production at Annecy!

It was a huge honour for the team and myself to accept the Cristal for best overall TV production at the Annecy International Animation Festival this year. We were up against some truly excellent pieces so it is a real pat on the back for our team from the international animation community!

triggerfishatannecy_01

I was also proud that my friend Naomi van Niekerk won the Jean-Luc Xiberras Award for Best First Film for “n’ Gewone Blou Maandag Oggend”. Naomi and I were both art students at Wits back in 2003 and it was a huge pleasure to be reunited and getting to represent South Africa at the world’s largest animation festival.

You can read more about the awards at: Cartoon Brew.

 

How we put together the “Animation SA Student Awards”

 

Two years of work and preparation finally paid off the other night, as Animation SA held its very first Student Competition at the Bioscope Independent Cinema in Johannesburg! David Whitehouse and myself have been working hard for 2 years pulling together funding and support for the competition, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about why, and how we did it.

In 2009 David and I were doing the rounds, visiting the animation schools and studios, trying to find simple, achievable ways to make a positive impact on the Johannesburg animation industry. The idea of a competition between animation schools was originally suggested by Christo Doherty, the head of the Wits School of Digital Arts, as a way of creating a touchstone between the schools and the industry. We took the idea to the other schools and studios and it received a lot of support.

In a brainstorming session with other Animation SA volunteers, we came up with a format for the competition, suggested prizes that would help further the careers of the winners, and started putting together proposals for funding the relevant agencies that we knew would be interested in supporting the competition.

The proposal to the NFVF took about 3 drafts with a lot of feedback from friends who had worked for NGOs (many thanks to Lucy Downs, Jacques Le Roux and Anna Fatti for the great input!) and had experience in applying for funding. It also took about 6 months to process as it did fit into any specific category of funding for the NFVF, being neither a film nor a festival. In the end though Lerato Mokopanele and her team got back to us, and gave us a grant that would cover most of the costs of the event, for which we are extremely grateful! Out of interest, and to save you time, here is a copy of the successful proposal. It should give you an indication of the level of detail that is required in an application.

Many thanks to the additional sponsorship that came from the local animation industry: Tim and Candice Argall of Bugbox Animation offered a year’s paid internship at their award winning animation studio, Shaun Froneman and BFX offered the generous prize of R5000′ worth of tutoring from FX PHD, and Judd Simantov offered a seat at his next workshop through his company Imaginari Animation.

Our next step was to put out a call for entries, which we did at an Animation Exchange at AFDA in November, and organize a panel of Judges for both Cape Town and Joburg. Many thanks to Shannan Taylor and David Hecker for organizing and managing the judging process, and to the two teams who selected our winners! Once the winners were selected, we put together montages of the best work that was entered, and fellow Triggerfish animator Stuart Coutts and I made a short intro for the competition.

The awards ceremony itself was fairly easy to organize. After talking to leading cinemas in Johannesburg, it was clear that the Bioscope was our first choice, as we were able to hire not only the cinema, but the Chalkboard Cafe for the same price as 1 cinema at one of the chains.

Many thanks Russel and Darryl at the Bioscope for the great venue, to Pippa Tshabalala from Vuzu’s “The Verge,” for hosting the evening.

A big congratulations to Jeanelize de Nys who won the grand prize of the trip to Annecy! Congratulations also to Kevin Van Den Oever who won prizes for Design and execution, and to Shane Marks for winning technical achievement!

Another big thanks Charl Smit who designed and built the floating trophy for the competition, currently being housed at The Animation School in Cape Town!

Going forward, we are planning to make the Animation SA Student Competition part of the Kunjani’mation festival, and extend the competition to professionals as well. Animation SA needs volunteers to make awesome stuff like this happen, so please get in touch with us through our website, the Animation Exchange events, or contacting us directly!

Workshop Weekend 2011

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending Judd Simantov‘s first workshop on character design and digital sculpting. Judd recently returned to South Africa after a 7 year stint as the lead character TD at Naughty Dog entertainment in LA, rigging and building tools for games such as Uncharted (1&2). The workshop was run over 3 days at Learn 3D in Randburg, and included a Skype conference with Rich Diamant, lead character artist at Blizzard Entertainment! The workshop was full, and attended by animators and designers from Luma, Bugbox Animation, Wits University and animation teaching professionals . The focus of the course was very much on the principles of character design, especially story and appeal. On the first day, we concentrated on drawing, and different exercises in exploring design concepts. Here are a couple of mine: Next we had to come up with an idea for a character by suggesting a specific story idea, something with some sort of conflict, or irony built into it. My idea was, “A little girl who hates animals, but can talk to them.” Here are some of the exploratory sketches: Judd was extremely encouraging and after looking at my thumbnails, told be to combine some of my ideas and we came up with this: Apart from being an extremely accomplished digital artist, Judd is also passionate about sculpting in traditional mediums. As character sculpting is something you don’t get to see a lot of in South Africa, Judd offered to give us a live demo, and we drew designs out of a hat to see which one he’d tackle. Through no funny business I swear it, yours truly won the draw =) Photo courtesy of Martin Sen After looking at design and drawing, we started to go over design principles in 3D, and how to try and get the appeal of a drawing into our sculpts. We looked at ideas around construction, shapes, anatomy, values and using simple planes to depict form and to evoke appeal. Here is what I managed to come up with in the few hours we had: After having watched Judd knock out an amazing, and appealing character in less than half an hour, it was very humbling to try and do the same! However, Judd urged us not to be too hard on ourselves and told us that what was important wasn’t to come away with an awesome, finished piece, but that we’ve engaged with the concepts and that we get a grasp on what makes certain designs and sculpts better than others. Everyone who attended the class was buzzing with excitement afterwards! Though there are many talented South Africans placed all over the world, it’s very rarely that those of us working in the local industry have the opportunity to learn from them, and to benefit from their knowledge. Judd is not only one of the best people in the world at what he does, he is also an extremely generous person, and was happy to answer all our questions, not only about design and sculpting, but about working in the games industry, what employers overseas value in digital artists, and what makes a great portfolio. A big thanks to Gustavo and the Learn 3D team for the venue, and to Judd and Rich for an awesome and inspiring  weekend!

Tips for getting hired in the South African animation industry.

As a director at Bugbox Animation, I was often asked to view showreels from both students and professionals who were interested in working with us. I’m afraid to say that in the 6 years that I was with the company, I only ever saw 1 reel (Zolna Minik’s) that convinced me outright that we couldn’t afford not to hire the applicant.

Despite there being a lot of good material already on the net regarding show reels (click here and here for Pixar’s Andrew Gordon’s fantastic reel tips), I thought that I would quickly share my experience, not only in hiring folk, but in trying to get a job myself beacause it’s scary out there! Just to kick things off, here is my reel that I used to get my first job at Bugbox:

It’s pretty clunky, and breaks a lot of the rules of a good reel, including not putting my best stuff first, mixing everything up to try fool the viewer into thinking I have much more material than I do, and “Licensed character animator,” what the hell does that even mean?! The reason I’m showing you this is to give ya’ll hope that someone will hire you. I hope a lot of you are looking at this and saying to yourselves, “I can do better than this!” However, it wasn’t only the reel that did it. Below are 5 strategies I urge you to employ in your job hunt:

1. Have context

Just like it’s easier to talk to the pretty girl/boy at the party if it’s YOUR party, it’s so much easier getting a job if everyone knows who you are and how you fit in. This is tough for students as most of them have had their heads down making animation, studying hard, being good students. This may work in high school, but in forging a career, it is only half the battle. Everyone says that networking is importing, but go beyond that. Don’t just go to industry events, visit companies and build relationships with them; get involved in film festivals; volunteer with organizations like Animation SA and ASIFA, interview people and stick it on a blog; email the people you admire and want to learn from, the worst they can do is not reply; most of all, start getting some context. Your goal: when you walk out of college, you’re already on a first name basis with the people you want to work with! I got my first job at Bugbox, not only on the strength of my reel, but because my good friend Derik van den Berg recommended me.

2. Be non-threatening

This piece of advice was passed onto me by James Bihl from Marionette Animation, via Zolna Mink. Most small studios, like the ones we have in SA, are not in the position to offer full time employment if they have not put a call out for reels. Animators are by nature, a soft hearted bunch and hate to disappoint, so instead of cold calling people and asking them if they’re hiring (which is depressing) one of the best ways to ingratiate yourself to studios is to ask if they have time to see you and give you feedback on your work. If you are fortunate enough to get 10 to 15 minutes, try and get as much information as you can from them on what they’re looking for in a reel, what part of your own reel you should work on,what they’re looking for in a potential employee, what they want to do with their company etc. Take note of the information and….

3. Do another pass, and try again

The single biggest reason that we ended up hiring Zolna was that after her first interview with us, she took our constructive crits’, worked on her reel throughout December, and reapplied to us in January having implemented all of our suggestions! With large studios, I’m sure they have the same people applying and reapplying every year, but at Bugbox, this was a first! Below is the reel that Zolna won us over with, and yes, it’s much better than my student reel =)

4. Be professional at all times

Just a quick story: A guy came into Bugbox and wanted to show us his stuff. I didn’t look at it, I’m usually extremely nice and take the compliment sandwich approach to giving feedback (say what you like, say what you think needs work, end with reiterating what you think is good so that you leave the taste of hope in the person’s mouth. This works well with most artists, as they are sensitive and need to be affirmed to feel capable, though it is a little soft). On this occasion, my boss took the interview, and for what ever reason, he felt he needed to be a little more frank with the applicant, telling him he needed to go back to basics. He was right, this guys stuff wasn’t studio ready. Later that day, one of the people who worked at the studio, found through some mutual Facebook friends, that this guy had started a whole thread on how mean we are, and how much our studio sucks. Needless to say, we’ve told that story to other people in the industry, and for those who’ve heard it, they now know that this guy is someone who A. Can’t handle criticism and B. Will badmouth you publicly on the net. If you have a crap interview and you get mad, tell your wife, tell your mom, tell your BFFs, but on the net, and in industry circles, PLEASE keep it professional.

5. Put whole pieces on as an option

As there is a steep learning curve for most animation students, most of the reels I’ve seen are a mixed bag: some stuff is starting to look pretty decent, but a lot of it is sub-par. I would encourage you to have the option of showing full projects (your best ones) on your reel dvd. It was this clunky, floaty little lip-sync test that got me the job at Bugbox:

Good luck out there!

Podcasts that I love

For those of you out there who love animation, you probably have already stumbled across these podcasts, which I have found invaluable, not only in getting insight and inspiration, but in feeling connected to the greater animation world. South Africa’s pretty remote, and until the internet, we had been pretty isolated from the rest of the marvelous animation community.

The Animation Podcast by Clay Katis (who recently took the role of animation supervisor along with Glen Keane and John Kahrs on Tangled), has really fantastic interviews, mostly with Disney vets. As an animator, Clay asks great questions in his interviews, covering the histories, the acting techniques and philosophies of his subjects. He’s also an extremely generous person, and once replied to a bit of fanmail I sent to him:

“Hi Dan, thanks so much for writing. Hearing from people like you who are a little more removed than the average person in terms ofanimation is always a boost for me. You’re one of the reasons I do this, so that everyone can know the same info, no matter where they live. We never know where our next great animation talent will come from. South Africa maybe? Hmmmmm?
Keep it up as long as you love it!
Clay”

Go and check it out!

Spline Doctors is a combination of podcasts, competitions, articles and insights from a team of passionate educators at Pixar, lead by Andrew Gordon.

Toon In to Animation is a collection of interviews with animators, animation film makers and other people in the industry that aren’t strictly doing features. These are really great, especially to remind yourself that animation extends beyond the big studios…

And lastly, Elvis Mitchell’s The Treatment has a couple of great interviews with animation film makers and a whole host of fantastic interviews with live-action film makers. Check it out, it’s grand!