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PaulHellard
12-15-2006, 03:30 AM
http://features.cgsociety.org/stories/2006_12/brad_blackbourn/blackbourn_banner.jpg



Brad Blackbourn
CG Cinematographer


Brad Blackbourn is a Director & CG Cinematographer who has been working in the CG industry for over ten years. Brad started out in Australia in the early nineties as a self taught CG artist, earning a living doing graphic design during the day & learning 3D at night. His first taste of 3D was a copy of 3D Studio (the old DOS version) that a CAD magazine loaned him on the condition he did reviews of related plug-ins & updates. Knowing he wanted to focus on character animation, he then spent a year cold-calling post-production houses & small studios volunteering his services in return for access to an SGI & a copy of Softimage|3D. He finally convinced a software reseller to let him use their system at night & a few months later got his first paying job in CG - a CG butterfly for a TV commercial. A lot more TV commercial work in Australia followed.

Since then he has set-up and supervised an animation department in Malaysia, pre-visualised & animated on several live-action feature films in Australia, consulted on cinematography/animation pipelines for a number of feature animation studios around the world. He directed CG commercials in Italy, directed animation & camera for a stereoscopic ride film and prior to moving to the USA he directed a CG series in Germany.

For the last few years he has been based in Los Angeles where recently he was Head of Layout/Pre-vis at DreamWorks Animation SKG where he worked on the animated features "Sharktale", "Flushed Away" & "Kung Fu Panda" as well as the CG series "Father of the Pride".

Brad's focus for the last few years has been on directing CG projects or supervising the cinematography/layout/pre-visualisation. "It's all about focusing on the cinematic story-telling," he says. "When I'm directing, the layout process is my visual blue-print for the film. It's like having a rough-cut of a live-action film without having finalised any sets, got the actors on-site or in fact spent any of the production budget! Once a good 3D layout (with rough lighting/acting information) is edited and it works, the film is kinda done. You know it will work as a cinematic story. The visual structure is set and any potential audience member should be able to watch the layout version of the film and understand it without any caveats except that it will get better. From this point forward, you are exploring acting choices and fleshing the film out. The film evolves and improves as new ideas are incorporated, the real acting is incorporated and subtle (or dramatic) lighting enhances the mood (and hopefully some happy accidents happen along the way!), but it is all built on the cinematic foundations of the layout."

Please make welcome, Brad Blackbourn.


http://www.cgnetworks.com/cgtalk/meettheartists/brad_blackbourn/racers1w.jpg
'Lego Racers' - stereoscopic ride film. Brad directed animation & camera.





http://www.cgnetworks.com/cgtalk/meettheartists/brad_blackbourn/sq550-s7-rlo.47w.jpg

http://www.cgnetworks.com/cgtalk/meettheartists/brad_blackbourn/sq550-s24-rlo.55w.jpg

http://www.cgnetworks.com/cgtalk/meettheartists/brad_blackbourn/FLA_sq500_s154_f173w.jpg

'Flushed Away'. Images Dreamworks Animation 2006
Brad was Head of Layout during the production of this feature.

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andy_maxman
12-15-2006, 04:11 AM
Hello Brad,

A very warm welcome to the 'Meet the Artists' feature..

- It would be great to receive some suggestions, tips for students beginning work on their short film.

- On finalising an idea for the short

- On the amount of time to be spent on layout, previs before jumping on to the pc

- Things lacking in today's student films

- And any general tips for people wanting to do their own shorts.


Thanks a ton for taking time out to answer our questions. Wish you a Merry Christmas and a great New Year in advance...

:)

Icarus
12-15-2006, 04:30 AM
Hi Brad.

- Being self taught, do you have an opinion on the current topic of Being Self Taught Vs CG Schools?. Many new people into the Cg World today seem to be wondering if Going to a CG School is worth the investment.

did this issue ever come into your thoughts while you were learning in the early days?

Cheers

Adam

Stefan-Morrell
12-15-2006, 04:39 AM
hi Brad
-do the rules of traditional cinematography play much of a role in cg cinematography?,while your obviously not bound by the same rules(you can make a cg camera do things a real one could never) ..I wonder if you still try & restrain yourself from going overboard with all that cg can offer?

Cheers
Stefan

EricLyman
12-15-2006, 07:12 AM
Welcome Brad, and thanks for doing the Q&A.

I'm interested in hearing more about your work on 'Flushed Away', was it easier or more difficult working with the Aardman crew, and was there as much collaboration on cinematography as there obviously was in modeling / sculpting?

FabioMSilva
12-15-2006, 09:33 AM
hi braD =)

I currently am on a film directing school, and teachers say that the more actors you have on set, the more difficult it is to direct and make Cinematography. I believe the same applies to cg, right?

And what was the most difficult scene you had to plan for a cg movie?

cheers

thedoc
12-15-2006, 12:10 PM
hey there,

I'm checking out from the screen shots that flushed away was cg??? i thought that it was stop motion all this time...

How big was the team that worked on it?

MinaRagaie
12-15-2006, 02:01 PM
Hi Brad.

- Being self taught, do you have an opinion on the current topic of Being Self Taught Vs CG Schools?. Many new people into the Cg World today seem to be wondering if Going to a CG School is worth the investment.

did this issue ever come into your thoughts while you were learning in the early days?

Cheers

Adam

Hi Brad,

I quoted Icarus question because my question is related...
- which do you think is more important in landing a job in the CG industry (especially feature films) having a degree, or having a portfolio / show reel that shows what you can do??

Just in case it makes any difference:
-I have a degree in architecture and I have some lighting in production experience (which I'm not quite proud of)

thanks in advance Brad

xervia
12-15-2006, 02:41 PM
Hi Brad,

I quoted Icarus question because my question is related...
- which do you think is more important in landing a job in the CG industry (especially feature films) having a degree, or having a portfolio / show reel that shows what you can do??

Just in case it makes any difference:
-I have a degree in architecture and I have some lighting in production experience (which I'm not quite proud of)

thanks in advance Brad

hey brad!
its a pleasure having the ability to talk to you. I'm also interested in your view on this topic cause i'm trying to get admitted into graduate school to study computer graphics, interactive design to be specific, and i keep wondering if the $37,000:00 i need to fund my first of two years in school should not be used to start up my own studio...... he he.

Grgeon
12-15-2006, 06:32 PM
Hi Brad, thanks for taking the time to do this. I only have one question at the moment and here it is. :)

1. Is there any training material out there that you feel are great for improving my layout/cinematography skills? (books, training dvd's, etc...)

Thanks,

George

siouxfire
12-15-2006, 08:13 PM
Hello, Brad. Thank you for taking your time to answer questions.

1. I'm working on a small project, but I'm at a point where I can see that my initial design sketches are going to make the cinematography something of a nightmare with cramped spaces. What techniques have you used to overcome obstacles in the set design? And have you ever used your influence to redesign sets to suit your vision of how the scene should be setup?

2. How often do you stray from the storyboards or experiment with ideas that occur further on in production?

djrovers123
12-15-2006, 09:42 PM
hellow sir,
can you answer a very little question of mine, its kinda killing me as i can see you have revolved around, most of the earths globe and i also wanna do so, but can you tell us your big secret that, how can a persone like me can go from nowhere to somewhere and somewhere to where you are right now,

one technical question : like i have directed two clay animated shorts and in both of them the story board was something else and our film was something else, most of the time. so the question is , what is the proffetional way to do things, like should we go with the storyboard strictly or take new ideas ,that feels great at the time of taking footage

bblackbourn
12-15-2006, 10:31 PM
Hi Everyone,

First up thanks to Paul for inviting me on here - I've enjoyed reading these these Q&A sessions in the past.

And thanks everyone for the interesting questions - let's get started!

(I'll break the answers into chunks!)


ANDY_MAXMAN:
If you're looking to make a mainstream narrative film (most people are, as it usually connects best with the widest possible audience) - it's all about story.
Not wanting to sound trite, but basically there's two parts to successfully making a great film,
1) create, adapt or obtain a great story
2) turn the great story into into a great film

For a student film it's fantatstic to have both of these, but unless you're expecting to be a writer/director in your first job it's more than enough to just have part two. That part shows your filmaking ability. Maybe the animation is funny, subtle, emotional - it connects to the viewers. Maybe the lighting is beautiful, moody, dramatic, subtle, clever. Maybe the art direction or modelling is wonderful. Maybe the camerawork & editing is clever, subtle or dramatic and above all is strongly supporting the narrative or point of view.

As I've suggested before, I think the film is made in layout/animatic (not the story mind - you should be convinced that working before beginning the animatic/layout/previs). Spend as much time as necessary until it works as a film - but keep it rough, don't fuss the details at this point. BTW a lot of this layout process will be in the editing of the shots.

Out of interest, one of the things that is rarely seen in student films is good camerawork & editing. I think that may be due to a lot of students learning how to "do CG" rather than film-making.

As a film-maker, always ask yourself these questions:

1) What is the purpose of this shot/sequence in my story? (Why is it in the film?)
2) How do I best convey that to my audience through the acting, dialogue, lighting, camerawork, colour scheme, framing, music etc etc

In summary, if someone was to ask you (about any facet of your film) "Why did you do that?", you should be able to anwer with the motivation or intention. Maybe the intention suceeds or not, but even having a clear intention is rare in most student films.

Here's some film-making homework for everyone:
1) Listen to some free podcasts of "This Amercian Life" at http://www.thislife.org/ Every epsiode contains incredible real-life stories that beg to be made into short films. It's inspires you to find your own stories from life.

2) Watch good movies with the sound MUTED! See how the story is supported by the visuals - the camera movement, framing, lens choice, staging, light, shadow, colours, acting, production design & editing. Why not start with "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane"?

3) Check out material on what filmakers were trying to achieve in their films & how they went about it: American Cinematographer Magazine, commentaries on movie DVDs, Documentaries about film - Visions of Light, Cinematographer Style etc

4) Go to the library & read up on film & story theory (you don't have to agree with any or all of it!): Bruce Block "The Visual Story", Robert McKee's "Story", Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey" etc


ICARUS:
It's hard to say about schooling, it gets back to your goals, timeframe & financial resources.

If you want to be a film-maker & can commit to a multi-year degree, a well recognised film school gives you a great base to work from and if you can obtain some practical CG abilities either at home or from the same (or different) school then you should be in killer shape to make wonderful short films.

If you are more focused on being a CG artist, then I think you can gain a lot from graduating from a well recognised CG course.

I can't recommend any specifically because I haven't done either, but I think it's an expectation from most employer's these days. The reel still gets you the job, but a well recognised school helps connect you & get you noticed. Back in the days I started (early nineties) there wasn't that expectation in Australia certainly, because there were virtually no courses in CG & any that did exist weren't very industry focused (more focused on "Multimedia") - I know because I spoke to virtually every educational institution in the country at the time before realising I had to do it on my own.


STEFAN-MORELL:
Definitely the conventions (rather than rules) apply in CG, you just have the freedom to break them more easily. But in the end it all comes down to the question - "How can the cinematography best support the narrative or intention of the shot/sequence?" If the answer is to break the conventions then go for it!

(More coming...)

bblackbourn
12-15-2006, 11:55 PM
ERICLYMAN:
It was really easy working with the Aardman guys, they are so laid back & enjoy making films. I collaborated very closely with one of the DPs from Aardman, Frank Passingham. It was a wonderful experience as we had a very similar taste in films & as I am a huge fan of the Aardman films I had a lot of fun adapting a specific type of cinematography that Aardman use as a result of their physical constraints & creative tastes to the CG world. In fact we used the same (virtual) lenses & similar apertures to what they would on the sets in Bristol, which resulted in similar depth of field in the renders to what you would see in an Aardman stop-motion film.


FABIOMSILVA:
I don't think it's as difficult for the cinematography in CG as in live-action as our actors don't get tired or bored or have to be constantly wrangled by the AD. Also you don't have to do the shot over if one of the characers gets it wrong. It gets more complex & time-consuming (read expensive) though, the more characters are in a shot. On a big production it's one of the budgetary advantages of doing layout/previs. It allows you to control & contain these sorts of complexities before putting the sequences/shots into production.

There are different types of challenges for different scenes/seqeunces. On one hand, for instance, the huge action sequences are very demanding & complex (eg The Boat Chase, Roddy Flushed). In layout we have to really flesh those out - most time defining the environment/set as we go. On the other hand intense character scenes with dramatic subtext require a lot of thought & subtlety (eg Meeting the Toad) where the devil is in the details - small & subtle changes in camera movement, framing, lens choices or lighting can enhance or change the meaning of a shot.


THEDOC:
Definitely CG dude!

I don't really know the whole crew count (I had about 6-8 in Rough Layout & 8-12 in Final Layout) but I think the it would be in the region of 200-300ish..? Don't quote me on that though!


MINARAGAIE:
Salaam wa-laykum. (Sorry - I don't know how to spell it best in the english alphabet.)
What an amazing city you live in!

Reel wins every time!

The point of the school is for you to learn the skills & get the support to produce a great reel. I've never heard of a person with a mediocre reel getting a job simply because of the school they went to and I've also never heard of someone with a great reel being passed over because they didn't have a degree or whatever. One benefit of a really well recognised school is that it may help get your reel looked more quickly - especially if they have a relationship with specific studios.

I have many friends with architectural backgrounds who are doing or have done great work in CG .
Here's a few:
Shane Acker, http://imdb.com/name/nm0009942/
Andrew Waisler, http://imdb.com/name/nm1234840/
Paul Westcott, http://imdb.com/name/nm0922514/



XERVIA:
I can't really give you advice for your specific situation. It's something you'll need to weigh up. As I mentioned to MINARAGAIE the reel gets you the job, but schooling never hurts your chances.



GRGEON:
I mentioned some of my favourite references earlier, but another one that is great for staging & camerawork is Per Holmes' "The Master Course In High-End Blocking And Staging" DVD set. You can check out some previews at his website & see what you think. I did a review of it some time ago for AWN.com - you may be able to track it down if you're interested.


SIOUXFIRE:
1. Another of the key benefits of layout/previs on a production is exploring your sets early on, when they're rough, simple & still flexible with the final design. Rough in some super-simple versions of your sets & scout about, set up your keys shots for the sequences that will take place there (ideally in one scene file) and then manipulate the set to get something htat works for all (or most) of the shots. Minimise your one-off shots & cheats! We always do this with the production designer & director & quite often we change the set during the session in order to better accomdate different shots or even create more interesting opportunities for staging.

2. We almost always explore ways to improve or "plus" the storyboards. Sometimes there's been plenty of time in story & everyone is convinced the boards have nailed it - in which case we're usually massaging things to work better as a cinematic sequence (board artists can't draw every panel with a correct lens & perfectly accurate staging.) However in most cases the boards contain the basic structure, but the sequence has been put together with boards from different versions, some with no backgrounds, characters looking in different directions, coming through doors that no-longer exist, the scale of the characters is nowhere near accurate in relation to each other or the environment...the list goes on. In these cases we rebuild the sequence, on-set, through camera, into something that works cinematically (& complexity/budgetwise!) whilst retaining the story & acting beats from the boards. We also come up with new ideas/approaches to pitch to the directors on most seqeunces - some are big, but most are subtle enhancements.



DJROVERS123:
Tricky question, a lot comes down to luck - being in the right place at the right time or perhaps more accurately in this industry, being known by the right person in the right place at the right time! On the other hand, I believe you make your own luck to a large degree. Be aware of what the industry demands are & where it's going. What are your strengths? Are your strengths in demand or probably going to be in demand in the near future? Can you deevlop strength in areas that will be in demand? Do you want to go in that direction? If so, want it more than anyone else. Never stop learning. It may be obvious but workwise - be reliable, have a positive attitude & work well with others (this is a combination all studios love when combined with good skills as an artist!)

Re: your films, once you "get-on-set" & look through the camera things change. That's what layout/previs is all about - you had an idea for a film, now you're making a film.

____________________________

Must dash, more later. I hope I didn't overlook anyone - if so it was un-intentional!
Thanks again for the great questions everyone!!

siouxfire
12-16-2006, 09:52 AM
Brad, thank you for the great replies. )I hope I'm not being presumptious or taking advantage by asking more questions.) I really love the craft and though I've read a lot on the subject and learned a lot by watching films (silent films like Metropolis are great/love Tonino Delli Colli), I'm still very much an amateur. Your insight is very much appreciated.

Leading on from my previous question and your response, what have been your most difficult pieces of cinematography? What stumbling blocks were faced and how did you resolve them?

And I noticed you mentioned Citizen Kane and Casablanca as some great examples of learning to tell the story through cinematography; what are some post millenium films that have impressed you in this regard and why?

What would say are the most common mistakes that you notice in cinematography?

brubin
12-16-2006, 07:14 PM
hi bradley,
what can you tell us about the tv-show in germany that is mentioned above in the introductory; is it any good?

cheers
s.

MinaRagaie
12-16-2006, 08:41 PM
Hi Brad
Wa alykom al salam wa rahmat allah wa brakatoh (Peace be upon you, God's mercy and blessings)
well... I'm Christian but it's considerably rude not answer you in the same way (from the Egyptians culture point of view)

First of all thank allot for your reply, it really made my mind up about the school I was planning to join.


Since you've noticed where I live, I'd say Cairo is an amazing City for a CG artist to visit, But it's definitely not the place for a CG artist to work.
There are too few companies in Cairo in the field of CG and even fewer doing high quality work. Not to mention there's only one school teaching courses in CG (and I won't call it a trusted course)
I'd say it sounds much like the early nineties in Australia (where you started)...
It's difficult to get production experience.
I've noticed that you traveled allot and worked in Malaysia, Germany and USA...
and I was just wondering how difficult it is to get a job in another country.
Especially the first time you traveled for work...
where you invited by a company to travel for work? What about work permits? How in general does one apply for a job in another country, and not get left out for the sole reason of living in "Far Far Away"??

PS: I know my question is a bit off, if you consider it irrelevant just let me know :)
and BTW great work for these friends of yours, Im wondering how they landed a job in the CG industry.

ThePhotographer
12-16-2006, 11:59 PM
I haven't seen the movie yet, but certainly will ! For what I have already seen from small spots on TV, it must be worth watching.

OK, we have to see the penguins and Arthur AND your movie - what a tight schedule ! But we'll make it !

bblackbourn
12-17-2006, 07:16 PM
Hi again everyone,

keep up these interesting questions!

SIOUXFIRE:
No problems, keep it coming! BTW I'm a huge Delli Colli fan, his work was amazing.

I draw the distinction between challenging pieces of cinematography & difficult cinematography. The former is usually when the intent of the sequence or shot is clear & there are creative challenges in how to shoot it best whereas the latter is usually when the intent is unclear (this is virtually always a sign that there's unresolved story issues to be dealt with) and you can go in circles trying to create motivated shooting.

Personally I find subtle, emotional sequences the most challenging. It's easy to overdo things & distract from the interplay of the acting, but also easy to do nothing & leave it feeling flat. Especially when there's a sub-text to the scene - maybe the characters are thinking/feeling things that are unsaid, but that the audience needs to be aware of, or maybe, even, the characters are thinking/feeling something different to what they're verbalising.
For me, I like to kind of map the emotional arc of a sequence like this & find out the pivotal shot or moment where a character or a relationship turns in a new direction. Then I can visually ramp into & out of that moment. I like to look at the complete story of film like that - as a journey with a known starting point & a known destination. If you then identify the key landmarks & turning points (emotional or whatever) of your characters along the way, you end up with a detailed route plan of their journey. (Not unlike an online mapping/trip-planning function really!)
You can then look at your map & the key turning points on it & work out how you are going to use your visual story telling tools (angles, lenses, depth of field, framing, movement, light, shadow etc) to support the various stages & changes of direction during the journey.
BTW You can always deviate from the route plan & reconnect with it later!

Here's just a few recent films that I think had very clear & excellent cinematography that's easy to appreciate: Memoirs of a Giesha, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Three Colours:Red, Amelie, American Beauty, Gangs of New York...

It's hard to say what "mistakes" are - to me it's more like being distracted from the story or confused about the intent. Maybe I just don't understand what is trying to be done. But usually, that's the sign that something is not working well - when an audience member suddenly goes "huh?!", when you don't intend them to. Most times for me it's when too much is being done in a scene that doesn't seem to warrant it. Suddenly I notice the camera moving without any clear reason. Like salt it's better to use less rather than more, unless you're really clear about what you want to acheive. I suggest erring on the side of caution unless it's a hectic, intense action scene. I love Michael Bay's & J.J. Abrams' action scenes - they're intense!



BRUBIN:
The CG series was "The Adventures of Stevie Stardust". I was directing on that back in 1999/2000 I think. It was a pretty cool show with a young kid, Stevie, with a video camera, who was a huge movie fan. So much so that when problems or challenges occurred in the life of he or his friends he'd imagine all of them in some movie & we'd transition from their real lives into a his movie fantasy with them playing the role of Indiana Jones, James Bond, a Bogart-style detective, or galactic pirates & then as they resolve the issue we'd transiton back out into the real-life solution with them on their skateboards wearing a plastic tub on their heads or whatever. I had a lot of fun & the CG was pretty advanced compared to what else was on kids TV at the time.



MINAREGAIE:
I know what you're saying, it's tough when you feel isolated from what's going on in the industry. At least the internet helps these days - it was impossible to know what was going on in the old days, unless you were already employed on the inside.

It is tough getting a job overseas, not only in convincing a studio that they should bring you half way around the world (this is where the killer reel/short film helps), but (as you mention) also in the red tape of work permits/visas as well. The red tape is not usually a problem if a major studio wants you, but can be a major hurdle if a small place wants to hire you - they may not have the resources or knowledge to go through the necessary submissions, legal issues & wait times. Usually it helps to try to find outside work in your region and build from there (eg have you tried Rubicon in Amman, Jordan - I think they are doing a CG series or something like that?). In former times the easiest way was to work at one of the satellite branches of a big US studio eg Disney, Hanna Barbera, Amblimation etc. Then you could get transferred around to their other studios, but I don't think those kind of places exist much any more (I could be wrong!).
Another way to get some internationl experience is being very good & fast at TV commercial work. It usually easier to pick up 1-2 month contract jobs doing this type of work in nearby countries. It's usually easier with work visas & you don't have to pack up your life - you just live in a hotel for 6-8 weeks or whatever.

Good luck with your endeavours!


THEPHOTOGRAPHER:
There is certainly a feast of CG features around - enjoy them all!

___________________________________________________
Ciao for now....

siouxfire
12-17-2006, 08:42 PM
Thank you once again, Brad. I am very grateful for you replies once more. This is brilliant of you. Pleased to hear you're a Delli Colli fan as well. BTW - Last night I watched a brilliant film with some great cinematography called "The Proposition", highly recommend it as well as Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood For Love" in which the cinematography plays a big part. You've probably seen these, but I thought I'd mention them if only to get a response.

Once again, leading on from your last response, you've touched on an area that can be difficult and that's action sequences. "Flushed Away" hasn't opened where I am, but it looks like there are some pretty frenetic sequences from what I've seen in the trailer and you've mentioned a boat sequence. How do you approach action scenes differently? And which cinematographic tools do you use to enhance the action?

There are some techniques in traditional cinematography like the dolly zoom in Vertigo/Jaws and other techniques that are created within the camera; are there any techniques which you've either considered or used that are exclusive to a CG environment?

How did you move into your current specialisation of cinematography?

brubin
12-17-2006, 09:41 PM
Hi again everyone,

keep up these interesting questions!


BRUBIN:
The CG series was "The Adventures of Stevie Stardust". I was directing on that back in 1999/2000 I think. I had a lot of fun & the CG was pretty advanced compared to what else was on kids TV at the time.

well, it's xmas time, mr. cross!
here are some ghosts of christmas past!
ring a bell?
http://i2.rehostit.com/12172006/ghostofXmasPast.jpg

soriah
12-18-2006, 04:58 AM
Hi Brad,

I'm a 2D digital artist in adelaide australia I am teaching myself at presesnt to be a better digital artist as there are no courses in South Australia of where i can learn from... how can i put it.... i am having to learn how to swim in the deep end so to speak.

Being a self taught artist yourself and going back to your begining days I was wondering what helped you keep motivated in doing something where there was no courses available?

Are there any tips or hints or wise words of advice you can giver other artists who are having to teach themselves their art? eg how you kept motivated and keeping your passion alive?

Did you have struggling times where you wanted to give up?

And finally when did you start having enough confidence in knowing that you were good at what you do?

thanks

Omar.M
12-18-2006, 07:12 AM
Hey Mr.Brad! I've been wondering what was your first job for a 3D company or a commertial, maybe something else big? I would love to know how you started and what was your best way of learning 3D? and the hardest part '' Animation ''

Thanks alot

posmaker
12-18-2006, 10:48 AM
Hi Brad, and thanks a lot for answering all those questions!
Last year I finished a short film that took me two years to complete. Recently I posted it on the CGtalk forums so Im wondering I youd mind to review it and break it down in good and bad things about the film and why. I think lot of people have seen it, so your comments would help me as well as to everybody out there currently working on their own short films.
Here is the link
http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=438318

Thank you very much in advance

Edu

xervia
12-18-2006, 12:07 PM
hello brad,
thanks for the reply. I guess i would just keep on developing myself personally, and also looking out for the opportunities for schooling as they arrive.
I would like to ask a question concerning the business of CG. i actually am interested in producing tv commercials, and not necessarily film making. However, i have noticed that in my country (nigeria), the tv commercials are usually given to the advertising agencies, who usually have all the big clients. Our cg industry is also just evolving, so most tv commercials are not cg based.when cg is needed it is usually outsourced to foreign firms.
I was wondering if you could help me differentiate between an advertising agency, and a cg studio that produces tv commercials,print and web designs, and could also be into visual effects, short films and the like.
i hope this makes some sense? :-)

tokaru
12-18-2006, 03:27 PM
what do you think is the right path to become a producer?

also what do you think about piracy ? here in mexico city the movie flushed away was sell in the black market before the opening night in the movie theaters.

do you think this cost real money to the cinematografic industry?

have you ever think to work in video games?

wich one is your favorite movie director?

when i was in canada the food was a very paintful experience and i just lost a lot of weight. do you think food is a good source of inspiriation to your work?

by the way what is your favorite food?

sherorauf
12-18-2006, 06:30 PM
Thank you very much for the answers and hope you have time for my question too ,I saw Flushed away and it was realy nice movie ...



1- I was thinking how much time it need to make a all Cg movie [ 3D Animation ], can you tell us how much time it take to finish Flashed away ?

2- How many artist where involved for the movie ....? Specially Modellers and Animators?

3- What was the most difficult shot that you worked in ?


...........................

I am Shero I am from Iraq ...but I live in Bulgaria and I was a Visual Effects Lead Artist for the movie [ Gene Generation ] , It was a pleasure to ask you these question and have a nice time ...

www.sherow.net (http://www.sherow.net)

Grgeon
12-18-2006, 07:21 PM
Thanks for the reply Brad. I'll check out those dvd's.

Here's a few more when you get a chance:

1. Previz and Layout. Do they go hand in hand you think? or do you feel the skillsets are pretty different?

2. What is your favorite movie/s (cinematic wise)

3. What's your favorite movie (story wise)

4. I'm also curious who your favorite directors are.

5. Is your studio similar to the previz houses out there like PLF, Persistance of Vision, Halon Entertainment, Third Floor, Proof ? Or is your focus more on the layout side of things? Is your studio just you? or you have an elite team kinda thing?

6. Did you see the Monster House dvd? they should this analogue type contraption in the making of section that was hooked up to the computer and it manipulated the cg camera within motionbuilder. Ever used anything like that? and do you see digital camera work going that route( it seemed like a mechanism that is used for live action camera movements) Or how about motion capturing the camera?

7. You ever storyboard your own stuff? or do jump straight into previz/layout?

Thanks man. I really enjoy this aspect of the cg process. So as much info as you can put out the better :)

God Bless,
George

bblackbourn
12-19-2006, 06:47 AM
Hi all!

SIOUXFIRE:
I think "The Proposition" is that Australian film written by Nick Cave (from the band - Nick Cave & the bad seeds), right? I haven't seen it yet but have been looking forward to it. I love Wong Kar Wai's work too - wonderful!

Regarding action sequences, they tend to come to us more loose than dramatic or dialogue based ones. We tend to rough the whole sequence in to make sure the overall action/jeopardy beats are covered then go in & make sure we can get the key character moments that drive the story arcs. Depending on how frenetic you want the action there's a lot more short cuts & moving cameras to keep it dynamic. You tend to end up with coverage too (ie the same moment recorded through more than one camera) - which gives editorial better options to explore. One thing that allows you to quite a bit of flexibility in cutting is that with action you can tend to cut together any combination of shots that have cameras orbiting the main point of visual focus (the speed boat, the fleeing character etc). The Hong Kong directors are king of this type of action sequence - see it taken to extremes in "Final Fantasy VII" - love it.

Most times, on the projects I've worked on, I tend to avoid techniques that are exclusive to CG, mainly because we are working in an artificial environment & the audience is familiar with live-action cinematic limitations. That's why camera moves that we do with cameras constrained into "crane rigs" feel so much more "cinematic" that when we just translate & rotate the camera around it's nodal point. Like the way George Lucas insisted on a traditional orchestral (rather than synthesised) score for the original Star Wars - he wanted to ground it in some familiar or traditional approaches. Also I guess it's partly to do with people having been put off by a lot of "CG", "floaty", "unreal" or just plain unmotivated CG cameras flying around in the past.

I shifted into the cinematography/layout/previs role, because (as I mentioned earlier) when I'm directing a show, it's the place where I "make" my film. If I'm not directing, then heading the layout/previs/cinematography process is my favourite place to be. Supervising animation is fun & very rewarding, but I like being that bit closer to molding the visual storytelling while things are still pliable. Also, in the time it takes to animate 2 shots, you can rough in a whole sequence in layout. I find it keeps you really fresh and focused on the big picture. When you animate your vision narrows down to the frame level, when you layout your vision expands to 50-100 shots (maybe 2-3 mins of screen time). It's actually kinda nice to alternate from micro to macro.


BRUBIN:
Wow, that brings back memories! I haven't seen anything from that series in years.
I was lucky to work with some really talented folk on that show. A lot of them have gone on to work on films like LOTR, Kong, Shrek 2, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, The Wild, Open Season, Monster House, Surf's Up, the Harry Potters etc. Fun times, great people!


SORIAH:
Hmmm it's a tough spot to be in. It's great if there's someone else around who can encourage you - but these days I'd really encourage people who are learning outside a group environment to get involved in the various online forums, competitions & challenges - to commit to completing the task set. The point is not necessarily being good at them, the point is being part of them. I find you progress so much more quickly, while enjoying the progress more when you have feedback from others & get to share tip & tricks. Plus you don't feel like such a nerd sitting in front of your computer at 2am on a Sunday morning while your friends are out partying all night!

I never reached a point when I felt like giving up - there were plenty when I was very frustrated though. These are the times when I think you need to get committed to a project (your own or someone else's) and that gives you a specific goal that gradually inches closer - and satisfaction when you finish it...

I never saw myself specificcally as "being good" at CG, as I'd learned everything in isolation (before the web days of seeing what everyone else is doing), but once I started doing a few paid jobs I was surprised to find there were others that were "less good" than I was at producing work that made the clients happy. That boosted my confidence quite a bit & made me realise, it's doesn't matter how "good" you are if the clients aren't happy. That goes from the company execs selling toilet paper in a TV commercial ("Can we make the pack-shot longer?"), all the way to the head of a hollywood studio.



OMAR.M:
After the CG butterfly mentioned in the intro, I think the next TV job was a full CG commercial for a computer show or the opening for the show "Australia's Funniest Home Videos". That was at Momentum Animations in Melbourne - I think we did the commercial in 3D Studio v4 & the opening in a beta of 3D Studio Max 1.0. On our own time, we were also doing pilot for a CG series in Martin Hash's Animation Master. That had character animation tools at the time that even Softimage, Power Animator & Max didn't have for years after - it was mad fun!
For me the hardest part of doing character animation was before I truly understood that you need to get inside the character, become the character & know what they're thinking & feeling before you animate. Otherwise you end up just moving body parts, that don't have a consistent motivation to them. It's an empty performance with no personality driving it.

___________________________________________________

Great questions as always..see you tommorrow!

Brad

siouxfire
12-19-2006, 07:28 AM
Thank you again, Brad for your considerate and thorough answers. By asking so many questions, I kind of feel like the guy at the wedding who eats all the snacks and cakes. Still, it's great to be able to dicuss something that's interested me for a long time. Brilliant.


SIOUXFIRE:
I think "The Proposition" is that Australian film written by Nick Cave (from the band - Nick Cave & the bad seeds), right? I haven't seen it yet but have been looking forward to it. I love Wong Kar Wai's work too - wonderful!
That's right. "The Proposition" is the Nick Cave-written film. There are a couple nods to Delli Colli in there. (I thought it was pretty unlikely that you hadn't seen Wong Kar Wai's work - he really knows how to use colour)

Most times, on the projects I've worked on, I tend to avoid techniques that are exclusive to CG, mainly because we are working in an artificial environment & the audience is familiar with live-action cinematic limitations. That's why camera moves that we do with cameras constrained into "crane rigs" feel so much more "cinematic" that when we just translate & rotate the camera around it's nodal point. Like the way George Lucas insisted on a traditional orchestral (rather than synthesised) score for the original Star Wars - he wanted to ground it in some familiar or traditional approaches. Also I guess it's partly to do with people having been put off by a lot of "CG", "floaty", "unreal" or just plain unmotivated CG cameras flying around in the past.
I see what you mean. In my own project, I was considering making use of saturation/desaturation to subtly emphasize elements along with light and shadow. Do you think that would work without being overly distracting?

You mentioned earlier, the difficulties in pinning down the subtleties of an emotional scene. Can you give some examples of problems and possibilities when working on these scenes?

Which scene are you most proud of from a cinematographer's standpoint and why?

animatedplayer
12-19-2006, 11:45 PM
Looks like it's going to be a great movie, I like how you discribed your creative process. I just graduated from college and can't wait to be a part of a major film. Any tips on how to really impress employers.

www.animatedplayer.com (http://www.animatedplayer.com/)

hellop
12-20-2006, 03:23 PM
hi Brad Blackbourn, i'm a great fan of ur stuff. i have some few questions here:

1) Since your in the cinematography/layout area!! what are the things you usually consider about when trying to give the mood and feel of a scene?

2) Do you have an active part when the story undergoes the stage of storyboarding?

3) Does one need to have a background in animation and illustration iin order to get into the job of layouts and cinematography?


thank you

bblackbourn
12-20-2006, 11:51 PM
Hi,

sorry for the delay, yesterday was crazy!

Back to it......
__________________________________________
EDU3D:
Wow, great job with the film. Lovely art direction & feel for the emotions. Well done! I don't know how many people that could stay focused for that period of time.

I think you've done a lovely job & I think it's more a question of taste at this point. Some things I might have explored are:
1) more asymmetric framing - there's quite a lot of single shots of the boys that have them dead centre rather than off-centre, which means when you cut between them there's not much of a visual difference between the shots.
2) break it up more - at 11 mins, it's a pretty long film & it seems to feel like the same pacing most of the way - like one long sequence, despite the temporal transitions.
It might have been interesting to try to break up the visual pacing more, & find more "sub-sequences" to allow slowing down, resting, then ramping up again. Then varying the types of framing & movement/speed of camera & the pace of the cutting in those different areas.

To me you've got 5 sections:
Prologue: history of the boys birth
Act 1: set up the growing conflict, climax with rooftop
Act 2: retreat of brother & meeting his mentor/friend, climax with approach to cemetery
Act 3: confrontation in cemetery & resolution of differences
Epilogue: End-story of the other brothers.

For each one of the sections, you could work out the arcs that runs through it & how to vary the pacing/intensity/colour temperature/framing etc compared to the others.
I think in a 2 min short film you can tend to keep a consistent tempo, but at 11 mins you might find it useful to treat it more like a mini-feature. At the moment it feels like several camera moves are repeated quite often throughout the film (eg crane-down-tilt-up) & I'm not sure if they are visual callback to other shots or there's a thematic connection between the specific shots? Again it might have been interesting to remove virtually all camera movement in one section & shoot much wider longer shots, then bring it back the movement & tighter shots later to connect or contrast against the beginning...


It's a good film, so really these are just a few thoughts that may or may not improve an already enjoyable story. In fact you might have already tried them & found them not appropriate. Again, congratulations, nice work!


XERVIA:
The way it tends to work with TV commercials is like this:
Most clients that are wanting a TV commercial have a specific advertising agency that handles there complete marketing campaign in the various media (print, radio, TV, billboards etc), so that everything is integrated & consistent. The angency generally comes up wiht the basic idea for the TV commercial (let's say a set of 10-20 story boards for a 30sec commercial) & gets bids from the production companies & post production house/studios. If it's all CG it might go direct to a post house, but if there's any live action shots it usually goes to the successful production house, they refine the idea & may choose the post house/studio to supply the CG elements & do the compositing etc. Depending on the content of the commercial, the agency creatives & the production house creatives, the artist/creatives at the post house/studio may or may not get to have much creative input - it all depends. I hope that answers your question.



TOKARU:
It's eally hard fo rme to say the path to producing, some artists turn producers, but most producers (in animation/commercials) tend to have started in the area of production management/coordination etc. The role of the producer can range from very creative to mostly admin & management to make sure the project can be finished.
I have considered working in games, as that side of the industry is ina very exciting place right now & should be doing amazing work over the next few years. However right now I'm enjoying doing feature films, as I like the focus on storytelling & filmls potential to tell (relatively) long, complex & compelling stories. I like the work of many different directors: Orson Welles, Sergio Leone, Frederico Fellini, David Lynch, Luc Besson, Martin Scorcese, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard...the list goes on.


SHERORAUF:
I think (roughly) that Flushed Away took about 18 months in the production phase & probably another 18 months in pre-production(???)

I'm not sure on the exact numbers of animators & modellers, as they are different departments & I didn't meet all of the artists in these areas. I'd guess overall (could be totally wrong on this!) there'd be 20-30 modellers who work on it at different times & maybe a similar number of animators.

I think the most difficult (& rewarding) shots were in "Meeting the Toad". Technically they weren't difficult but from a creative perspective they were extremely importnat in setting the tone for the rest of the film as our "hero" meets the "villian" for the first time. we put a lot of thought into these & did a lot of restaging of the scene to get it more dynamic & interesting.

GRGEON:
1. It's very dependent on the specific project & the studio. Sometimes you're doing exactly the same thing, other times very different. As a rule of thumb, a lot of previs work (in Live-action VFX films) is more focussed on how to acheive the shot, what CG will be needed versus what will be fabricated set/props, how it needs to be shot, how the set design will have to go etc. Again, as a rule of thumb, in layout (for animated features) it's more focused on the characters: how the character is framed, the basic posing, the cuts during dialogue, how the characters should be restaged, the camera movement to support the narrative & how the camerawork flows across the sequence & the whole film (remember in layout for animated films, you layout every single shot, not just the complex VFX/action sequences). Also previs tends to be about producing reference & material prior to production whereas layout nurses the shots all the way through until final render, fixing, changing things, adjusting cameras post animation etc along the way. In the past, previs has tended to be more about action, layout everything. These days however the lines are very blurred, what one place calls previs another calls layout. The basic talent you look for for both is good filmaking.

2. Tough question. Maybe, Three colours:Red (every shot seems to framed/lit etc for specific reasons, so much subtext - genius)

3. Hmmmmm. Perhaps Dr Zhivago (about as epic as it gets)

4. See above somewhere..

5. At DreamWorks there is a layout department (Rough & Final layout) of about 20 people. Although I've worked with people from most of the previs companies, at the moment I like to setup & supervise the layout departments & cinematography for feature animation studios.

6. I loved Monster House. As I understand it, the "wheels" system at Sony is used to layer hand camera movement over the top of the animated layout cameras. It looks wonderful on the trailer for Surf's Up. I can definitely see a lot more of that kind of camera work as the genre of animated films expands & more contemporary or edgy projects demand different styles of camerawork & cinematography. Exciting times eh!!

7. I do very rough, sketchy boards - just simple figures & eyelines to work out basic framing & graphic properties for key shots, then I quickly rough in the basic movement of the sequence as a master scene & then I put in shot cameras to work out all the individual shots. I keep it *real* loose at this point - just snap poses on characters etc - stuff you can delete & redo in minutes without thinking about it. Something like Hamish McKenzie's "zooShots" (check highend3d.com) is a great publicly available tool to do this kind of thing.



ANIMATEDP:
I can only speak for myself when I say the best thing after a good reel is a positive attitude. Things usually go wrong in CG production & I'd much rather have a decent artist with a can-do, no problems attitude than a great artist who huffs & puffs & seems reluctant to change or redo anything when the request comes in.



HELLOP:
1) Stealing from my other reply....

As a film-maker, always ask yourself these questions:
a) What is the purpose of this shot/sequence in my story? (Why is it in the film?)
b) How do I best convey that to my audience through the acting, dialogue, lighting, camerawork, colour scheme, framing, music etc etc

Different people make totally opposite choices. Maybe warm light, long lenses & tight framing means safety, happiness or maybe those same things mean heat, discomfort, danger. As long as you're consistent about it, it means what it means in your story. Sometimes you may have to look beyond the dialogue when working out the message of a scene. Sometimes characters lie or even unconsciously say things that are different to what they are feeling - sometimes you want the audience to be aware of that, sometimes not.

2) Depending on the show & the sequence I may be at the launch to story (to get invovled in discussion before the boarding starts). Mostly I don't get involved in the first pass of boarding, but once there's a rough pass I'll be involved in dicussing it, putting forward ideas, improvements, pointing out potential problems or what might look good on boards but won't work too well in 3D etc etc

3) Those things help, but aren't pre-requisites. I just look for good film-makers. I think it's much easier to find a good animator, good modeller, good lighter etc than it is to find a good CG film-maker as unfortunately most CG schools don't teach good film-making. Just good camera skills are very difficult to find in 99% of reels. That's why a good short film counts - even if it's 10 shots long. The film-making shows through. If just the camera work & editing shows motivation & thought then I'll be telling HR to put the person on the must contact list.

____________________________________________________

a domani, a demain, bis morgen, hasta manana....
Brad

siouxfire
12-21-2006, 06:38 AM
(Doh! I think I got missed out as my last post got stuck at the tail end of the last page - LOL - Anyhow, here it is again with some more questions - This is ending soon, isn't it?)

Thank you again, Brad for your considerate and thorough answers. By asking so many questions, I kind of feel like the guy at the wedding who eats all the snacks and cakes. Still, it's great to be able to dicuss something that's interested me for a long time. Brilliant.

SIOUXFIRE:
I think "The Proposition" is that Australian film written by Nick Cave (from the band - Nick Cave & the bad seeds), right? I haven't seen it yet but have been looking forward to it. I love Wong Kar Wai's work too - wonderful!
That's right. "The Proposition" is the Nick Cave-written film. There are a couple nods to Delli Colli in there. (I thought it was pretty unlikely that you hadn't seen Wong Kar Wai's work - he really knows how to use colour)

Most times, on the projects I've worked on, I tend to avoid techniques that are exclusive to CG, mainly because we are working in an artificial environment & the audience is familiar with live-action cinematic limitations. That's why camera moves that we do with cameras constrained into "crane rigs" feel so much more "cinematic" that when we just translate & rotate the camera around it's nodal point. Like the way George Lucas insisted on a traditional orchestral (rather than synthesised) score for the original Star Wars - he wanted to ground it in some familiar or traditional approaches. Also I guess it's partly to do with people having been put off by a lot of "CG", "floaty", "unreal" or just plain unmotivated CG cameras flying around in the past.
I see what you mean. In my own project, I was considering making use of saturation/desaturation to subtly emphasize elements along with light and shadow. Do you think that might work without being overly distracting?

You mentioned earlier, the difficulties in pinning down the subtleties of an emotional scene. Can you give some examples of problems and possibilities when working on these scenes?

Which scene are you most proud of from a cinematographer's standpoint and why?

What cinematographic techniques do you use to emphasise crowds? Obviously it's best to keep the number of models to a minimum when working in this medium and I was wondering if you had any tips on how to exaggerate a crowd of people, swarm of ships, or busy traffic. Is it simply down to clever blocking and clever camera angles? Is it creating sets that hint at distant "layers"?

And that reminds me, is blocking within your control? And on Flushed Away, was the blocking planned in storyboards, some kind of topographic plan like stage productions, or was this the part of of previs?

Can you tell us anything at all about your future projects?

bblackbourn
12-21-2006, 05:19 PM
Hi,

this may be the last chance to reply to anything, so I wanted to take this chance to thank everyone for the fascinating questions. They were a lot of fun to answer. Good luck with your own projects & success in the industry - I look forward to working with some of you, someday, somewhere in the world!

cheers,
Brad
__________________________________________________


SIOUXFIRE:
Sorry I missed your last!

I think saturation/desaturation would work very well. It used all the time in live action via production design & costume design palette control & also grading in post.

Emotional scenes are mostly carried by the subtle acting. So, during layout on a mostly high-energy action-comedy, you're trying to serve 2 purposes:
1) you want to make sure you're not doing too much with staging & camera to distract from the acting (which doesn't exist yet!)
2) you want to do just enough with the staging, camera & rough posing of the characters to show the value of the shots. Otherwise there's a danger that when surrounded by much higher energy sequences, the emotional sequence will be perceived to be "too flat", "too slow", "too long", "needs tightening" etc. These are the situations where I tend to cast my most subtle animator, to help protect the sequence by clearly communicating (in very simple form) the emotions of the scene & therefore motivate the camerawork, cutting, staging etc.

BTW this brings up a good point about why I like to hire artists who can animate as well as have a good sense of timing, camerawork, editing etc. Somtimes layout functions as 3D story artists, camera operators, editors all in one. Different artists tend to have different strengths, some are great at action seqeunces others at intimate, emotional ones, a few are great at both, so that's where casting of the particular artists to particular sequences works much better creatively & budgetarily. Also, the more artists thrown onto a sequence the bigger the mess you have to clean up. I try to minimise the number of artists to help them keep a consistent cinematic vision running through the sequence.

I think two of the sequences that I'm most proud of are "Meeting the Toad" & "The Ice Room" that follows it. Both of these had a lot of key character moments & exposition, as well as set up the stakes of the film, establish the villian & the dangers to Roddy in this new world.
We did a lot of work with the board artists scouting for ways to stage the sequences & we used a lot of rough lighting in layout to motivate the staging & movement and add to the narrative. They came out very dynamic in general & I was very pleased by the marriage of the camera & light in the final renders.

For crowd work, the first thing to see is what you can get away with by using long lenses (75mm plus) & very little depth of field. That way you can narrow the framing to just a few characters/ships/cars etc & stick cards in the FG & BG to suggest more. Out of focus objects moving across the foreground do wonders to sell "crowds" of whatever.

Blocking: We did scout the sets with the story artists if the sets existed at that stage. Most blocking however is done in layout as many sequences are boarded before the sets exist, are drawn without much background info or are cobbled together out of many different versions of the boards, so that that the screen direction is constantly changing, characters are coming through doors that don't exist, walking around props that are way out of scale etc etc. So a lot of times on our first "blocking" pass we "fix" everything & work out better ways to stage the beats from the boards within the real set.

In the future I'll be going back to directing and I have 2 projects I'm developing in that area. But right now, my next immediate project that I'm very excited about is setting up and supervising a layout/cinematography department for "The Tales of Despereaux" at Framestore Animation in London. I've been working with Gary Ross (writer/director of Seabiscuit, Pleasantville etc). He & Allison Thomas are producing the film for Universal. Framestore Animation have got a wonderful bunch of really talented & super nice people there that I'm looking forward to working with. The book that the film is adapted from is *really* cool - so I'm pretty jazzed. Framestore Animation also have other very cool projects following Despereaux that will be announced in the next few months, so keep your eyes peeled!

_____________________________________

That's it from me, time to sign off. Thanks again to Paul Hellard for organising this & to everyone who contributed their stimulating questions. My brain aches, you've given me a real mentla workout! I hope the answers make some sense & are more useful than confusing. Good luck on your own journeys. I look forward to seeing your films!

Must dash, I think I hear London calling.... ;)

cheers & beers,
Brad

sherorauf
12-21-2006, 05:54 PM
Thank you for your answers and have a nice time ....

I love London too :-)

tleisher
12-21-2006, 06:23 PM
Thanks for doing this, it really helps me.

Anyway back to my questiosn:

1. Do you find being a cg artist and spending time with your family hard, or do you have a more relaxed schedule than most?

2. Do you think that being a cg artist or being a film director/producer is more time consuming and demanding?

3. Aside from the obvious different parts,is working in the film industry doing CG effects or 3D films very different from game 3d design or enviornmental design for video games?

Thanks in advance.

siouxfire
12-21-2006, 08:08 PM
Not too sure if you'll see this, but thank you so much, Brad. This has clarified so many things for me and I'm really looking forward to seeing your new work as well as (hopefully) getting the chance to work with you someday.

And thanks to Paul Hellard and the CGSociety for organising this as well - absolutely brilliant.

PaulHellard
12-22-2006, 01:29 AM
Thank you so much everyone for your questions. A solid round of applause for Brad Blackbourn, for answering the incoming questions so well.