Meet the Artist: Jason Schleifer

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  06 June 2005
lol...Now that was a fantastic little story... very much fun
  06 June 2005
When I heard you were leaving WETA to go to PDI/DREAMWORKS, I thought you would work on some realistic animations for visual effects ..

Nah, that's one of the reasons I wanted to come to PDI/Dreamworks.. I wanted to work on cartoony stuff, and that's definitely the style I saw in Madagascar! It was the perfect vehicle to try and get as cartoony as possible!

As you worked in both production pipeline which kind of job do you prefer? Cartoon or VFX ?

There are things I like about both types of production.. Cartoony stuff you get to just go crazy and try things because they're funny. With VFX you have that added challenge of matching the live action world which the director creates. However, right now I'm really loving the cartoony land I've been enhabiting lately. There's nothing that I enjoy more than making people laugh in dailies.. and Madagascar was an awesome opportunity to do that!

For somebody searching a job in CG what do you think is most important ? The demoReel or the competences (a huge amount of software and a very expensive diploma in a considered art school :eek ?

I think the most important thing, if you don't have contacts in the firm, is your demo reel. It's the first thing that the employer will look at.. if your reel is great, then it doesn't really matter where you went to school. Once they like your reel, they'll then look to see what software you know. If you know the software they use.. then bonus! If not, then it's a little bit tougher sell.. but if your real really kicks serious butt, then they'll give you a shot if they have the room!

What's next now Jason ? Are you staying at PDI/DREAMWORKS or will you travel again around the world ?

For now I'm staying at PDI/Dreamworks to work on the next film here. After that, who knows? I'd love to continue learning and pushing, and I like the idea of moving further along here. PDI's treating me really well, and I'm happy to be here.

would u show us some exclusive images of ur workshop or models,or anything cool,which hasnt been showned?!

Unfortunately, I can't show anything which hasn't already been approved by the companies I work for.. part of the whole NDA thing.
1. How did it felt to see LOTR movies first time on big screen? (must have been rewarding )

It was AWESOME!! The first time seeing your work with an audience is so amazing.. especially since the movies were so good. It was really inspiring to get an idea of what the movies were going to be.. and it kind of renewed our faith in how just damn good they were. It's so easy to get insulated in your own little world when working on shots. I mean, you stare at teh same 100 frames of film for a week, and you begin to obsess about little things.. but the you see what it's all coming together with, and it's like.. "WOOOO!!"

2. Do you have any ultimate goal/s in your career? ..if so, have you achieved it/them yet? OR are you just riding along with the waves, waiting bigger and better ones?

Kind of a combination of both. My goal ultimately at this point is to keep learning and eventually be an animation director if possible. But for now, I'm really happy where I am, and I just keep picking up opportunities as they become available. Like I said earlier.. it's important to focus on what you want, and work towards it (w/out burning bridges on the way there!)

3. What would be the one beer to rule them all?
Tui, mayte!
1. Just want to see what you experience with has been like so far?

It's a blast!! It's been really exciting seeing how much the students are learning, in so short a time. It's also been a great learning experience from my end to get more confident in giving concise direction. So instead of going "oh.. hmm.. well, maybe if you put the ball here..." now I'm saying things like "if you put the ball here, then over here, you'll get a better arc which will help sell the shot". The amount of enthusiasm that everyone has just makes me go... WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

jason schleifer
Animator -
Co-Founder -
  06 June 2005
Hi Jason, just wanna let u know that I'm quite a fan of yours. :P You have really done superb work with LOTR, and I've learned a lot from your Fast Animation Rigs. It's really cool to have someone like you talk with us! Thank you for your time.

A few questions if you have time...

- Can you give us any tips regarding rigging a quadruped, that can also stand on 2 feet. Like a bear.

- What do u not like about your work?

Greetings Benny

Last edited by CoolDuck : 06 June 2005 at 08:41 AM.
  06 June 2005

What is the personal computer configuration you are now using to work in your project? In detail if you can?

Edit: I know you change and you move and you use various systems, but which is the one you use more often and for what?
  06 June 2005
Breking in

Ok for those of us trying to break in to the animation business, what do you think the best advice you would have.. I know demo reel is a big one, but how would be the best way to do it.. IE create this Awesome reel, and send it to god and everyone, or call people, or only submit to places that are hireling.. How did you, and how would you go about getting into the business?

Kevin Porter
- Kaitlin
  06 June 2005
Hello Jason. Thanks so much for taking time to answer questions. You're definitely and inspiration and Im jealous of my friend Franky who's taking an AM class and being assigned to you.

And now for some questions.

1) Could you talk a bit about the facial rigs and controls you had on Madagascar characters? Are they morpher (or Blendshape) based? Is it anything like Jason Osipa's rigs in Stop Staring book?

2) I totally love Penguins and king Julien from Madagascar, can you tell us if you animated any shots with them and if so which once?

3) If there was anything you wish you had more time to do, and maybe change or adjust on Madagascar, what would it be and why?

Thanks allot

Last edited by harmonic01 : 06 June 2005 at 11:28 PM.
  06 June 2005
Originally Posted by jschleifer: I've also learned how to pour my heart and soul into my work, but not be destroyed when it has to change and someone critiques it. It's so important to be able to separate a critique of your work from a critique of YOU.-jason

( Thanks . I need to print this and glue it to my screen. )
  06 June 2005
Hello Jason, quick question

1) What do you think about the critics review of Madagasgar? Do you agree with them on some points?

I have the power of Grey Skull
  06 June 2005
Hi Jason,

Hoping to be a director someday (though at 15, I'm a long way off), I was wondering how much you interact with the director during the course of production? I'm especially curious to know if you were directly critiqued by Peter Jackson during LOTR, and if so, was he as nice as he seems on camera, or did he seem stressed? Thanks for answering all of our questions, I'm excited to be able to talk to someone in the business.

-Ben Smith
  06 June 2005
1) After working on LOTR which is highly regarded as one of the best special effects movies of all time, and now just finishing off an excellent feature animation film, my question is what have you found to be the most challenging aspect of your job in both or either experiences you have been apart of ?

Good question! The most challenging aspect of my job is trying to craft a believable performance out of an "inanimate" object. Our roles as animators is to try and convince the audience to believe that a bunch of pixels on screen have life & are full of emotion. It's so difficult to make something breathe, and by that I don't mean making the chest moving up and down, I mean making the audience think that the character would die if they DIDN'T inhale and exhale.. making them empathize with the characters.. it's not an easy thing to do! So that is extremely difficult, and is something I'm still learning more and more about every day.

another challenging aspect of the job is dealing with politics within a studio. In any high pressure situation, people's personalities and desires are going to come out, and sometimes some people have political desires which can cause you pain.. for example, if someone wants to climb the career ladder, your position may be in the way of theirs. That can be extremely frustrating, as not everyone cares about who they step on along the way. You have to learn to just let those people cary on doing what they do, and hope that someday their karma will catch up with them.

2) Who are some of your favorite character animators or artists and why?

Wow.. so many so many! Brad Bird, Glen Keane.. any of the mentors on there are some students out there at various schools I've been to who are AMAZING.. the 9 old men.. richard williams.. gah, I can't name everyone, I'll go crazy! As for artists, there are a ton of those, as well.. generally, I really love people who put passion into their art, and take the time to study and learn the basics so they can exaggerate FROM someplace.

3) What was your main influence in getting into the business and who do you owe alot of thanks to, if any?

The old warner bro's cartoons were a huge influence.. Tex Avery, Disney, Bob Clampett. I used to spend saturday mornings watching everything.. yes, even the Smurfs.

I owe everything to my parents, of course.. they believed in me enough to let me switch majors from Communications (social sciences) to Art Studio, even though it was going to take me an extra year to graduate. I owe heaps to Victoria Vesna, who got me the internship at Alias|Wavefront, where Gary Monheit first hired me to help learn Maya. I owe enormous amounts to Carol Flax, my art professor at the time who kept me sane through everything I was going through. Huge thanks to Dave Fisher, who let me travel around and support Maya even though I was the new guy at Alias|Wavefront.. Corban Gossett, Bubba Lombardi, and Adrian Graham who gave a new guy a chance to work with them on productions internally.. Mike Wilson, the boss who gave me my first "Animator" title.. Mark Sylvester, the head of Wavefront Santa Barbara who taught me how to demo.. Kyle Odermatt from Disney, who remembered my name and indroduced me as an "animator" to other animators when I was nuthin.. Dan Deleeuw who did the same & believed enough to give me an opportunity to come down to DreamQuest every week to learn more about production.. Charlie McClellan and Jon Shiels who first hired me at Weta, and Randy Cook who moved me over to the animation department.

And many many more..

4) Coke or Pepsi ?

jason schleifer
Animator -
Co-Founder -
  06 June 2005
Hi Jason.....First is great of you to be answering these questions.....your work has been a inspiration to alot of people.....

just a few quick questions if that ok.....

1) Did you always want to be an animator

2) What was the best piece of advice you were given...

3) What chalenges did you face when you started animating for a studio for the first time..

4) Im aware you used Maya for animating Gollum...did you use the graph editor alot...

thanks so much...Its SOOOO cool that your doing this dude.......
Animator at Double Negative VFX London..

Last edited by Vivec : 06 June 2005 at 07:30 PM.
  06 June 2005
Wow.. thanks for the kind words! On behalf of everyone who worked on the Lord of the Rings & Madagascar, thank you! Both films are what they are because of way more than what I ever put into them.. the thanks belongs to everyone.. so thank you thank you thank you.

whats next for u? are u staying at Dreamworks?

Yep, I'm here at least for the next production (shrek 3), and then after that we'll see how it goes! Can't make any guesses yet.. but if I can stay here and progress further in my career, than that would rock!

and *grrrrr why'd u steal ma name punk?

'cuz it was oh, so easy.
1) could you explain your rigging process briefly?

Sure! I dont' do much rigging anymore, I focus mostly on animation these days (woo! , but the rigging I did on the Lord of the Rings was focused on rigging for Animation. My general thought process is to make things as simple as possible for the animators. As an animator myself, I don't like to have to think about which control does what.. I want to just be able to grab the rig and move it where I want, and not get out of the "flow" of things.

I also don't put limits on my animation rigs.. stretchy backs, arms, legs, necks, etc. I want to leave it up to the animator to keep everything on-model. You never know what they'll have to do to get a shot to work, so my goal is to make it as painless for them as possible. I also want to allow them to not have to counter-animate.. so I add in controls to make sure the head can stay put while the shoulder and neck move.. etc.

I also like to build the rigs in an object-oriented mode, as I mentioned in an earlier post.. so if I have an arm I like, I can easily apply that same arm to any other rig I create simply by calling it from the mel script.

My goals are: ease of use.. portability.. convenient.. and fast fast fast!!

Thanks hhssuu! most of your props gotta go to Randy, Peter, Fran, Phillipa, Andy, Bay Raitt, the creature team, lighting, comp, and all the other animators, tho.. there were 18 of us animating, and another 6 or 7 or so dealing with the Mocap. Gollum wouldn't be anything he was w/out any of those folks!

1) what kinds of techniues was involved in gollums facial setup (apart from the eml interface, is the structure underneath bones, spines, morphs or mix), and what roles did you split with Bay Raitt and Tom Kluyskens.

Gollum's face was all sculpts.. blendShapes sculpted mostly by Bay Raitt himself (I think 99.9 % of 'em), and a whole crazy series of expressions to help control things and make them easier for the animators to work with.

Bay Raitt was definitely the head of the team, he developed the technique, sculpted things, and was in control of things. I wrote the facial animation interface, and made sure that we could get the animation data out and on to the creature system. Tom Kluyskens took over for me when I moved to the animation department & cleaned up my messy code & made things work a bit neater.

2) what would you think is the most felxible method for a facial setup for individuals at home? (If answering this question reduces sales for your DVD then don't answer )
I really like Jason Osipa's technique in his book Stop Staring! Not only is it a neat way to animate.. but he does a great job describing why he does things the way he does them. Good stuff!!

whew! more to come!
jason schleifer
Animator -
Co-Founder -

Last edited by jschleifer : 06 June 2005 at 12:56 AM.
  06 June 2005
big fan

Hi jason im a big fan (twirling a peice of grass) not only of your art but of such perseverance and dedication to a career which most of us struggle with day to day and I just want to thank you for taking the time always to critique all of our works. I've seen you post on a regular and I realy appreciate all youve done for this community, Its wonderful to see someone with such compasions. Thank you..

-If you didnt have cg and all you had was the lump of plastercine would your heart still pound when you saw the accumaltion of quickly recorded frames play back on an old cam corder?

-do you find you study mythology? phsycology? the real drive behind the character and the story or is it just about the emotion?

-what is the meaning of life?

-How many questions can you answer before you regret agreeing to this?
:persevere: - even straight roads meander -

Last edited by eh : 06 June 2005 at 01:06 AM.
  06 June 2005
i'd just like to say your are one of the greatest animators of all time no Questions asked..

Pah! Hardly! haha thanks, for the kind sentiments, but there are tons tons tons tons tons of better animators than me! WAAAY more! I'd list 'em, but my fingers are already hurting.. needless to say, I'm just lucky to be where I am, and I'm learning more every day.

1.) having such a difficult task to animate a character that is also being played physically by a real person using mocap how well did you handle such a difficult task and how did you approach it?

The difficult part about that was keeping everyone happy when they were doing it. Obviously the animators wanted to do all of it.. and Andy Serkis wanted to do all of it.. and the mocap editors wanted to do all of it.. but Gollum wasn't a character that could be done with any one technique alone. We had to use the best technique for any given situation.. this included:
  • Using Andy's reference from his work on set
  • Animating straight ahead with no reference
  • Using the mocap with only minor tweaks
  • using the mocap but modifying it extensively
Each shot was different, so each shot took different techniques. If it was a crazy action shot, then we'd animate it.. if it was a far away motion shot, depending on the type of motion we'd use mocap or animate it. If Andy was interacting with the actors, we'd use his reference as much as we could. If it was a close up acting shot, we'd start with the mocap (or video reference) and then tweak from there as necessary.

2.) What other creatures in lord of the rings did you animate also? just wanna replay the movies a few times and admire and learn from reference.

Besides some Gollum shots, I animated the Witch King's death scene, two shots of the Watcher in the Water, a few Shelob shots, a number of shots where orcs got trampled by horses, a guy falling out of a tower,
Saruman's death, and the Balrog's whip (woo!) There may have been others, but I can't remember them all now.. it was so long ago!

3.) Madagascar being a short film for a CG produced film... its shorter then usual other films like Shrek and Sharks tale etc.. Did you concentrate alot more, on it being a shorter time frame, did you have a shorter time frame to complete your work? or was it still like 2 to 3 years in the making?

Mad actually went for quite a while, but it was a smaller team to start with. I believe it was 2+ years in the making.. probably longer including script writing, rigging, building the models, etc. The production and animation time was pretty short, but there wasn't much crunch time until the very end. And that was pretty minimal.. PDI/Dreamworks are really good about making sure we work normal hours and get home on weekends to be with family. Which is really nice.

4.) what software do you use and have knowledge of and if you were to create software for something specific what would it be?? and what would it do.??

At home for animation I use Maya, but at work we use inhouse software called EMO. If I were to create software for something specific? Hmm.. that's a toughie.. I'd write one which would extend the amount of hours in a day & allow me to spend more time with the family and less time on the computer.

Seriously, tho.. I'd love some animation software which would allow me to move even further away from having to think about the technology behind the animation, and focus on the art and the performance. I'd love to never have to think "ik or fk?" "what should this be parented to?" "Oh, I want to re-time this... do I save now or after..?" "where's my texture?" "how come I'm getting a weird pop here?" "why doesn't it go faster???" Real time lighting, hair, clothing, etc... now that'd be nice.
jason schleifer
Animator -
Co-Founder -
  06 June 2005
Say you are handed a 120 frame shot with dialog and the whole character in frame that you have to animate. Generally, how many work days would it take you to get a shot like that finalized.

Do you have a frames per hour or day completion rate that you strive for?

Brian Nichols
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