Head of Character Animation
Join Date: Apr 2002
thanks folks! Wow.. I log on thinking that there's going to be, like, maybe 2 or 3 questions and BAM! 3 pages! oy vey! I'll do my best to catch up & answer as much as possible!
I look forward to spending the next week wearing out my fingers typing away! heh
oh, in case you couldn't find it.. here's a link to my demo reel, so you can see some shots moving! it doesn't have anything from Madagascar in it, 'cuz mad's not out on dvd yet.. but you can at least see some stuff from LOTR.
** REEL TEMPORARILY DISABLED DUE TO BANDWIDTH LIMITS **
Okay, now on to the questions!
Thanks very much! I feel really lucky to be in the position I'm in & to have had such sucess. My wife likes to say "the sun shines out of my butt", which I think means that I'm just a really lucky person.. heh either that, or it's warm back there.. <shrug>Vormav:
q-1. What education background do you have?
a. my "official" education is from the University of California, Santa Barbara where I graduated with a degree in Art Studio. What that really means is that I spent a lot of time in the art department taking courses like life drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, etc.. and then spent even more time sitting in front of the computer in the art lab learning photoshop, director, pagemaker, and various 3d animation software. However, at the time i went to school, most teacher's didn't know very much about 3d animation software, so I was extremely fortunate to get a chance to go to the Alias\Wavefront offices in Santa Barbara and take courses in Wavefront software and Alias software from the developers themselves. My animation education comes from a lot of books and self-study. I've only taken two animation courses in my life.. one was a history of animation course while in Santa Barbara from Dana Driskell. The other was a 3 day seminar from Richard Williams, which was AWESOME. Other than that, I've learned everything through trial and error, and from watching others and getting good critiques.
q-2. What are somethings that can get stressful in a 3d modeling, texturing and animation lifestyle of works?
a. There are different levels of stress. The first stress is whether or not you can actually do the work which is assigned to you. With every shot I get my first fear is that I've been faking it all along, and that people will soon find out that I'm a total hack, that I can't animate at all, and they'll go "what were we thinking???" and kick my butt to the street. Then there's the stress of showing your first pass of the work to your co-workers. Will it make sense? Will they understand what I'm trying to do? Will the blocking read? Then, you stress about the timeline you have to get the shot done in. A lot of money is being spent based on certain assumptions about your ability to get work done in a certain period of time. So there's always stress knowing that you HAVE to finish by a certain date.. no matter what. Then there's the stress of showing the work to an audience and seeing if THEY like what you've done. The other big stress with a lifestile like this is knowing when to put the work asside and focus on your family. Sometimes it's important to realize that work is only that.. work, and family is more important. Family should ALWAYS come first. But because we all love the industry and what we do.. sometimes it's hard to juggle the love of family and the love of work. That can get stressfull. Then there's always the stress about where to sit in the caffeteria. Do you sit with the animators? the riggers? the new people? aaagghh!!
q-3. Can you describe what a good cg artist would be made of from your point of view?
a. A good cg artist is someone who is able to focus on their art with extreme passion, but also knows a lot about the world outside the cg world. they should have a good idea about how to approach solving a problem, even if they don't know how to solve it immediately. What that means is, CG is always evolving. The solution which worked for something yesterday, may not work tomorrow. The technology changes, bugs appear in the software, the bar is continually raised. A good CG artist will be able to approach problems from different directions, and be able to try various things in order to come to a solution. My favorite CG artists like to share ideas and grow and come up with new things, and don't hide techniques and solutions because they're "afraid" of letting others know their secrets. They haev a well rounded knowledge of art AND technology, and get excited by learning new things. They're always striving and pushing and working towards something fun.. but they can also go out and talk about things non-cg related.
q-4. What great choices did you make to get to were you are today?
a- I made so many choices throughout my career, and had so many lucky things happen, it's hard to say which choices in particular put me where I am. The main thing I've done, however, is always been honest with myself as to what I want. I take an active role in determining where my career path will lay. For example, when I went to work at Weta, I knew that I wanted to be an animator and not just a rigger. So I worked towards that goal by using my spare time to animate the rigs i was building. This allowed me to build better rigs (good for the company), learn more about animation (good for me), and proved to the company that I cared about the film and how it was doing (good for me and for the company). I'm a firm believer in actively persuing what you want, as long as it doesn't hurt others. If you want to get to a certain position, find out what it is you need to do and go for it. Just thinking about it won't make it happen. The only way to get there is to take the first step.
Cheers! Yeah, I've been pretty lucky to be able to travel quite a bit. I think it's important to get out and see other cultures if you can.. nothing teaches you better than learning from others who don't have the same background you do!techdivine:
q1. Were you originally from New Zealand (the profile mentions some studios based in the US)? I know that Weta's policy is to initially look for local applicants, rather than to try and pull people from abroad. So how much of a struggle was it for you to get that job?
a. I'm from california, originally (actually, I grew up about 5 miles from where I work now! yikes!). Weta definitely looks for local talent first.. partly because they want to grow the industry in new zealand, and partly because in order to get a work visa for an overseas applicant, they have to prove that nobody else in NZ can do the work that the particular applicant can. I was very lucky (again!) in that I worked for the software company which made the 3d animation software that Weta was using (Maya). They needed someone with specific Maya expertise, who could also communicate their needs with Alias|Wavefront. I had their exact requirements.. someone who knew his way around the software, had worked with developers and other production companies (part of my job at Alias was to go around and work with companies like Disney, DreamQuest, Square, etc and help solve problems they were having with Maya), and I also had a desire to work in production. So for me it was relatively easy. Right place, right time!
q2, A lot of people would consider their dream job to be working at Pixar, but I've always had my eyes on Weta. The projects they handle are amazing, and New Zealand is just beautiful. On the otherhand, when I hear of people that worked at Weta, it always seems like they only worked their for a few years before moving on. Not to pry too much, but is there any particular reason why you left (work beginning to get tedious, perhaps)?
a. Weta does indeed get amazing projects, and you can learn a TON there. New Zealand is one of the most special places in the world. I love it there, and certainly look forward to moving back sometime in the future! The main reason I left was that I had been there for 4 and a half years, and I missed my family. I also wanted to expand into cartoony style animation, and see where that would take me. Most people sign contracts at Weta for 1 to 3 years, and at the end of those contracts if Weta doesn't have enough work for people, they do indeed end up leaving. It's a sad fact of the industry that a lot of jobs are short-term contract based.
q3. Of all of the different aspects to 3d, character rigging is probably what I have the least amount of experience with. So I'm curious, but how long does the typical character rig take for you to construct? Along those same lines, what would you say has been the most difficult or complex rig that you've taken on, if you can think of one? Certainly they all present their own unique challenges.
It's difficult to put a timeline on creating a rig. At Weta I focused on creating the animation rigs (not the skinning rigs.. another group did that). The first "humanoid" rigs I created certainly took quite a while to get right, as there was a lot of feedback, and I wanted to put a number of features in to make things easier on the animators.. ik/fk snapping without any popping, a stretchy back rig, orientation compensation, etc. I was developing the techniques while trying to create the rig, so some things took longer than others. In addition, while creating the first rigs I was creating a system for generating rigs which would make rigging faster on future creatures. Basically, I created a mel script "macro" system.. almost an object-oriented approach to rigging. I would have a script for arms, a script for legs, a script for backs, for fingers, for heads.. etc. Then I'd have a global script for Aragorn, Gollum, Frodo, Sam, etc. Those global scripts would call the individual "macro" scripts, and generate the rigs on the fly. So if there was a change to the foot rig, all I had to do was modify the foot script, then re-run the global scripts and it would update all the rigs in a matter of seconds. So the first rig took months.. each subsiquent rig took seconds.
The most difficult rig I built was the Watcher in the Water rig.. that one was tough because there were 12 arms on him, some of which had to be hero foreground arms, some background. Every animator wanted a different way to animate.. some wanted FK arms, some IK. Some wanted half IK, half FK. Some wanted 5 IK controls, others wanted 10. It totally depended on the shot. So I had to develop a system which would let the animator choose the type of control they wanted, per tentacle! It was simply a mel script that they could call up which would show them the tenticle they wanted and the style of rig it had, then they could change it from, for example, a 5 control IK tentacle, to a 3 control FK tentacle. That took quite a bit of time.. but it was totally necessary, since each tentacle had to do something specific.
4. What kind of dogs do you have?
a. haha! ah.. an easy question! I've got 2 dogs.. a Border Collie, and a Lab x Border Collie x Golden Retriever. They're bot from New Zealand, and are awesome (if a bit psycho).
Thanks very much!! The main thing I have to share is that it's important to follow your dreams but keep them balanced with the rest of reality! Know that you should work really hard.. but also play really hard. Focus with severe intensity.. but also relax. Work overtime.. but take time off. Watch everything around you. Never for a moment assume that you know the only way to do something, or that you're the best. There's always something you can learn from someone!
Okay, I've gotta get to work.. I'll be back later to answer more questions!
thanks again everyone!
Last edited by jschleifer : 06 June 2005 at 03:49 PM.