Meet the Artist :: Markus Manninen

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Old 06 June 2008   #31
Hello Markus!

First and foremost congratulations on a phenomenal piece of beauty you and the Dreamworks team have created. It was an honor seeing such a wonderfully orchestrated project take form and breathe life into the hearts of the viewers. A rare gem.

I particularly enjoyed the beats and timing of this film. The rhythmic pace kept the story line from encompassing too many elements and guided the viewer gracefully, something which a lot of CG films tend to fail at. The animation was, of course, executed spectacularly with dazzling effects and gorgeous backgrounds leaving you wanting more.

My questions for you are:

1. This film had a tremendous amount of inspiration and references from China and other Asian Cultures. Was this difficult in transferring over to CG? What challanges were faced when bridging two cultures amidst one film and how has this experience honed your story telling ability?

2. A lot of the beauty in this film lies within its color palette and lighting. What steps were taken to insure that each scene worked harmoniously under these two departments? Did the Matte Painters collaborate with the lighting directors? And did the animators participate within this process to get a feel for the scene?

3. Were you involved within the early stages of the production during the character concept/design stage? How much input did the cg artist give and what if any were some of the changes recommended by you or your team? Was the vocal talent established at this point?

4. The Chor Ghom prison escape scene was one of my personal favorites! As the VFX supervisor, what particulars in this scene posed the most challanges and if given the task to fine tune (more than already) the scene, what aspects would you change/improve?

5. And finally, what particular character would you say you relate to the most? Personally I enjoyed Oogway the wise master turtle the most with Mantis coming in at a close second .."this soup is really good! I wish my mouth was bigger!" Wow that brought tears of laughter.....

Forgive me for the numerous amount of questions but I have not been inspired or touched by a film of this caliber in such a long time. Probably since the Lion King! I truly enjoyed viewing the passionate work everyone contributed towards and have high hopes to one day be a part of a production as successful and beautifully designed as this one. Many blessings to you and thank you for sharing your experience.

Regards,

Julian

Last edited by jcatlanta : 06 June 2008 at 04:56 PM.
 
Old 06 June 2008   #32
Originally Posted by MarkusM: Hi Iwan,

I hope you like the film when you get to see it.

As the Visual Effects Supervisor for the show my job is to over look the whole production to make sure the Directors get the film they want, as I am responsible for the technology, process and work flow choices we make, and I am also responsible for the look of the film together with the Production Designer. (edited....)


Thank you very much Markus,

Your answer is both inspiring and fulfilling
Hope to see a lot more of your touch on future masterpieces

Regards,
Iwan
 
Old 06 June 2008   #33
Originally Posted by Hellgaurdian: Hi markus, Great to c u here.. but dreamworks fans in India r greatly disappointed.. The movie hasn't released here and i dont think it ll release here for another month and a half.. so v have to wait a long time.. But its ok.. Coz i am sure the movie is worth the wait.. anyway i want to ask u abt the aspect of the movie that interested me the most when i saw the trailers.. the backgrounds are mindblowing... just amazing.. i want to ask u how u went abt choosing wat kind of backgrounds u wanted to use and who were involved in creating such great and inspiring work.. thanx for all ur time and sharing with us ur experiences and great advice..


Hi Hellgaurdian,

Sorry, I can't do much about the release schedule. I spoke to Paul and told him that I am more than willing to have the forum keep going (since I am a CG Society member myself) if people have more questions when they [finally] do get to see the film.

I am not sure how to answer the background question fully.

The design of the world came out of the Production Designer and Art Director, and their team in the art department. From the point the Directors had signed off on the design and the color concept for the sequence or location, the work went into production where our modeling, surfacing, effects and lighting departments dealt with the geometry based location.

The world beyond the geometry that we rendered through lighting, was established in our matte painting department. They worked based on a rough model of the world to create "correct" spatial relationships to make sure that the world was believable, but also used the geometry to add some depth cues.

A lot of our large locations went through a process where the world was created roughly in a software called Vue (e-onsoftware) by our matte painting lead Scott Brisbane. Then the renders out of that were painted on by our matte painters to define the finished detail and push the look and lighting further than what was done in Vue. The final matte paintings were then projected back on geometry by our matte painting compositors and rendered on the farm. Initially we used Maya for rendering, but late in the project we were able to switch to our own renderer.

The matte paintings on our film were the most advanced and the most shots that we'd done to date. Even larger than some of the live action films that depend heavily on them. I was truly inspired by their work. The Production Designer and I had planned to rely heavily on matte painting on the film, and we were extatic when the process worked out so well.
__________________
Markus Manninen

My opinions are my own, not those of my employer
 
Old 06 June 2008   #34
Originally Posted by jcatlanta: Hello Markus!

First and foremost congratulations on a phenomenal piece of beauty you and the Dreamworks team have created. It was an honor seeing such a wonderfully orchestrated project take form and breathe life into the hearts of the viewers. A rare gem.

I particularly enjoyed the beats and timing of this film. The rhythmic pace kept the story line from encompassing too many elements and guided the viewer gracefully, something which a lot of CG films tend to fail at. The animation was, of course, executed spectacularly with dazzling effects and gorgeous backgrounds leaving you wanting more.


Thank you Julian, I am glad the hollistic "experience" was to your liking. It's particularly rewarding for me to hear as I am responsible for the hollistic execution of the film.

Originally Posted by jcatlanta: My questions for you are:

1. This film had a tremendous amount of inspiration and references from China and other Asian Cultures. Was this difficult in transferring over to CG? What challanges were faced when bridging two cultures amidst one film and how has this experience honed your story telling ability?


The work of finding the artistic version of "pre-historic" Chinese culture came out of research done by the art department. The directors were particularly passionate about the pursuit of this. We did discuss at length how much the characters and their behavior would be "westernized" so to speak. It was important to make Po, the panda, stand out in the environment, making him funny and different. This "contrast" actually helped make the world more Chinese in many ways.

The work the art department did was a great bridge between finding a new fresh take on a world, yet having it inspired by Chinese art and culture. The feel of this world allowed the story work to find it's "tone" in many ways. We had the look of our world much earlier than the story. A lot of the art work actually inspired the story telling.

Originally Posted by jcatlanta: 2. A lot of the beauty in this film lies within its color palette and lighting. What steps were taken to insure that each scene worked harmoniously under these two departments? Did the Matte Painters collaborate with the lighting directors? And did the animators participate within this process to get a feel for the scene?


Lighting and Matte Painting were both supervised by the Production Designer and myself. The Art Director worked closely with the matte painting department for the design process to work as smoothly as possible. The Production Designer and myself were responsible in making sure that the two departments would "align". The CG Supervisors for each sequence communicated with the matte painting lead to make sure that the creative vision would translate.

The animators worried very little about the lighting of our scenes. Nor did layout. We did plan for the original staging to work with the lighting scheme that the Production Designer and I had been planning. After that we really had to make the lighting work shot-by-shot more or less. Most of the time this was not a problem.

Originally Posted by jcatlanta: 3. Were you involved within the early stages of the production during the character concept/design stage? How much input did the cg artist give and what if any were some of the changes recommended by you or your team? Was the vocal talent established at this point?


Yes. I was fortunate enough to start only a few weeks into the design process. Early on it was really about thinking about the scope of the film. When we started in 2003 we had a different schedule. It was important for me to work closely with the producers and directors to figure out what was important for them and try to work out a scheme for the production. Once we had that concept worked out, the Production Designer and I discussed it and we would then start applying the theories to the design of the film. Some of these decision included using only short non-dynamic fur in the film, only doing simulated clothing on our characters (we didn't do any procedural wrinkling on the rigged clothing), developing a feather system, building "localized" environments.

As the designs came together we got Head of Character Animation, Character TD Supervisor and Character Effects Supervisor to look at the design to make sure we were able to achieve the design purpose in 3D. There was a lot of discussion about facial design, motion capability, neck design.

I don't think we had any vocal talent established at the point when we started. I know Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman signed on while we were in the process of creating the characters in 3D.

Originally Posted by jcatlanta: 4. The Chor Ghom prison escape scene was one of my personal favorites! As the VFX supervisor, what particulars in this scene posed the most challanges and if given the task to fine tune (more than already) the scene, what aspects would you change/improve?


Hm. Difficult question. The Escape was actually our first action sequence into production. We had some "growing pains" while we were doing it. We were establishing the action in the film doing this one. One of the key concerns for me was POV (point of view) and the level of "cool" we could achieve. We did some previz work that was really inspirational, but completely lacked POV. It set off a process of finding the character in the action (a story based process), which was really helpful. Once we came out that process and we had the idea for the "why" and "how", we got into production. At this point the sequence was coming together, but to me it just wasn't elevating the film. So that's what I pushed. I thought the team really stepped up and delivered.

What would I change?
Hm. We actually made the sequence on a fairly tight budget because we wanted to leave more "gun powder" to the later sequences. If we could have spent a little more time on finessing what we started I would have been an even happier camper.

Originally Posted by jcatlanta: 5. And finally, what particular character would you say you relate to the most? Personally I enjoyed Oogway the wise master turtle the most with Mantis coming in at a close second .."this soup is really good! I wish my mouth was bigger!" Wow that brought tears of laughter.....


I probably see myself mostly like Crane. I am somewhat confused by situations at times but try to make the best of them.

To my crew I probably come across like Po's dad, constantly optimisitically running towards the next disaster, telling them to hurry along, telling them stories from the past they've already heard a million times.

Originally Posted by jcatlanta: Forgive me for the numerous amount of questions but I have not been inspired or touched by a film of this caliber in such a long time. Probably since the Lion King! I truly enjoyed viewing the passionate work everyone contributed towards and have high hopes to one day be a part of a production as successful and beautifully designed as this one. Many blessings to you and thank you for sharing your experience.

Regards,

Julian


Thank you. I hope my answers did satisfy your curiousity, and I hope you get the opportunity to work on something as magical as the show we all worked on. My philosophy is that a great process can/will lead to a great product. Or maybe that's just Po's dad talking within me.
__________________
Markus Manninen

My opinions are my own, not those of my employer

Last edited by MarkusM : 06 June 2008 at 06:52 PM.
 
Old 06 June 2008   #35
Hi Markus,

Watched the movie with my son, and we both love it! Great piece!!

My quoestion is, how did you (and your animator teams) maintain the "feel" of the aniamtion during the production time? I mean, if I've been doing animation over and over for a some time, it sometime looses some of the right thing, because after that repeating process, the animation tends to look the same.

Thnx
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Old 06 June 2008   #36
Wink

Hello Markus,
great to have you here. I enjoy it every time when a new Meet the artist thread opens!

Iīm 26 and from Germany ,and the movie will Hit theatres on 07.03., which means i had no opportunity to see it yet (except downloading, but thatīs unacceptable for me, i want to see this piece of art on the big screen!). I canīt hardly wait to see it!

I did al little 3D about 5 years ago, i was really interested in getting a job in the industry, but i didnīt know how to do it bvack then. I had to take a job directly after school and that left me only a few time left for my hobby. However, i tried to learn by myself with Lightwave and i was starting to get better. But somehow, while i was checking cgsociety or renderosity, i became the feeling that most people were evolving much quicker than me.
Do you think somepeople are like, born to do this stuff, and otherīs arenīt? I usually thing thereīs nothing i canīt learn or accomplish, but thinking about back then, it makes me wonder if i lack a specific understanding. Iīm curious about your opinion on that!

3 Years ago i started Photography as a hobby, and thus i had much experience in Photoshop from my past, it soon became my first love. I actually quit my day to day (too boring and stressfull) job 4 weeks ago and startetd as a professional Photographer Fulltime. Taking me back to the "specific understanding". It seems i would have that rather in Photography than in 3D.

I intend to mix up,i want to learn Maya and use it for my Photographs, i know there are a few Photographers out there that do this, but most of the time,these are split in teams, One for Photography, one for maya,and sometimes even one person for Photoshop. I think having all the work done by one person would be a little diffrent !

Can you give me some advice how to learn more effective than i did before? Iīm really busy starting my business so i donīt want waste to much time. Right now i have Maya 7 and bought the book Maya from Keywan Mahintorabi and the Maya Reference Book.

I donīt have the money right now to invest in workshops or something like that, so i would be thankfull if you have any advice for me.

If you interested to see some of my Photographs you can see a Portfolio on my website www.designforst.de

Iwill have a new website in a few months. But for now itīs stil lthe old version.

I hope my Questions are not too much off topic! And thanks for your time!!!
__________________
Professional Photographer
www.designforst.de
 
Old 06 June 2008   #37
Originally Posted by MarkusM: Hi Hellgaurdian,

Sorry, I can't do much about the release schedule. I spoke to Paul and told him that I am more than willing to have the forum keep going (since I am a CG Society member myself) if people have more questions when they [finally] do get to see the film.

I am not sure how to answer the background question fully.

The design of the world came out of the Production Designer and Art Director, and their team in the art department. From the point the Directors had signed off on the design and the color concept for the sequence or location, the work went into production where our modeling, surfacing, effects and lighting departments dealt with the geometry based location.

The world beyond the geometry that we rendered through lighting, was established in our matte painting department. They worked based on a rough model of the world to create "correct" spatial relationships to make sure that the world was believable, but also used the geometry to add some depth cues.

A lot of our large locations went through a process where the world was created roughly in a software called Vue (e-onsoftware) by our matte painting lead Scott Brisbane. Then the renders out of that were painted on by our matte painters to define the finished detail and push the look and lighting further than what was done in Vue. The final matte paintings were then projected back on geometry by our matte painting compositors and rendered on the farm. Initially we used Maya for rendering, but late in the project we were able to switch to our own renderer.

The matte paintings on our film were the most advanced and the most shots that we'd done to date. Even larger than some of the live action films that depend heavily on them. I was truly inspired by their work. The Production Designer and I had planned to rely heavily on matte painting on the film, and we were extatic when the process worked out so well.




Thanx Markus, now i really cant wait to watch the movie. I really appreciate u for taking some time off to reply to all our questions. I am sure all the other members also appreciate it as much as i do.. I have been hearing so much about the bridge fight scene thats its killing me with excitement..

And i hope you are enjoying ur holiday coz you and the rest of the dreamworks team deserve it..
 
Old 06 June 2008   #38
Questions for a project

Hello my name is Mark Gilbert I have a project for my animation class. I need to interview an industry expert. I am a big fan of your work and it would be an honor if you could answer these questions for me. 1) what do employers look for in hiring a new employee in animation

2)Do you have other experience in graphic design?
3)Is it better to be well versed in all types of graphic design or pick your area and work harder on that field?
4)What knowledge should a new animator have before starting work.
5)What challenges did you face while starting out as an animator ? If so are they common challenges that every beginner will face? Are they easy to over come?

6)What made you decide to start a career in the animation field?

Thank you.
 
Old 06 June 2008   #39
Originally Posted by holiwood: Hello my name is Mark Gilbert I have a project for my animation class. I need to interview an industry expert. I am a big fan of your work and it would be an honor if you could answer these questions for me. 1) what do employers look for in hiring a new employee in animation


There are a lot of variables. I assume that you are interested in learning character animation position, and entry level. This is not really my area to speak to. I don't think we often hire talent straight out of school for character animation positions. Someone who comes out of school with tremendous ability for acting and timing, and a reel that can show it may be able to land a junior position. On our show we did something unique and hired two junior animators to work as "crowd character animators". This meant that they animated the cycles for our crowds as well as what we call "hero background animation", where we want to keyframe animate one of the crowd characters to make the crowd as a whole feel less, well, "crowd like".

For other positions we actually do try to find talent out of schools. On the technical side we pursue finding technical directors. We actually collaborate with certain schools to make the schools aware of what we are looking for in their students.

In "asset creation" positions like modeling and surfacing, it's about what they can show us they know creatively. For Character TD's we look for very technically skilled people as our propriatery process demands that.

For students straight out of school it's also important to see their ability to function in a team environment. That they are positive about continued learning. Great personality. We often assume that they start almost from scratch with us, but that they've learn the process of learning so they will adapt quickly to a production environment which is very different from the educational environment.

Originally Posted by holiwood: 2)Do you have other experience in graphic design?


When I came into the industry the path of how people arrived was much more arbitrary than it perhaps is now. I had a dance background before getting my M.Sc. degree. I did some work in graphic design in Boston, yes, but that was temporary more than a career choice. What I wanted to pursue was animation. To be able to do character animation in those days I pretty much had to learn how to do it all. That's probably a big part of how I ended up doing what I do today.

Originally Posted by holiwood: 3)Is it better to be well versed in all types of graphic design or pick your area and work harder on that field?


Do you mean graphic design as in design, or are you generalising it to computer graphics?
On the question whether it's better to specialize or not in our industry I would say it depends on what you are talented at. I think a lot of companies look for people who they can see can arrive at their company and be useful fairly quickly. For that reason I think specializing is helpful early on. Knowing a little of everything may not help you.

If you are in an area where there are mainly small companies and everyone at the company pretty much has to do everything, well, then I think it's worth not only having one specialized area since it will be difficult casting you as an artist.

Also, depending on what area of computer graphics you will focus on - feature animation, commercials animation, feature visual effects, commercials visual effects, commercial still art work, product development/design, architectural visualisation, ... - they all have a slightly different focus and skill need.

My general advise is understand the whole, but get good at one part where a potential employer can see that you can be of benefit to them almost immediately.

Originally Posted by holiwood: 4)What knowledge should a new animator have before starting work.


Listening skills. You will learn how to take direction as part of being in a production environment, but you need to come to it with listening skills. That way you will be able to learn quickly.

If we are talking about a character animator I used to look for people who had the fundamental understanding of acting. They were able to have a conversation about what a shot delivered emotionally and why. I looked for the more traditional aspects, do they understand weight, do they use timing to their advantage. My personal preference for animation has always been a little off the beaten path, so I always looked for animators that didn't do the "traditional" poses or expressions. Who clearly were able to experiment themselves, using their own expressions and behavior as a guide. But that's just me personally.

Originally Posted by holiwood: 5)What challenges did you face while starting out as an animator ? If so are they common challenges that every beginner will face? Are they easy to over come?


Hm. When I started out I had real issues with the technology. There wasn't an easy way to generate character animation technically with the tools I was using at the time. So building a work flow/process was part of my challange. I don't recommend people to try to learn all that these days.

On the creative side I went through a process of learning character animation from the references I could find. I was a students many years after I left school (still am I would have to say). I gulped up any animation book, watch and re-watched, frame by frame every animated film I could get my hands on. Learned about the masters and the choices they made through reading and watching. I found myself particularly drawn to stop motion animation early on. Being on my own was probably the most difficult aspect of learning at that time. These days with AnimationMentor and the rich access to books and DVDs on the topics I had to learn by trying, well... I don't think it's quite the same. In a good way.

The best part of having to learn it myself is that I became very aware of every choice I was making. I didn't do anything arbitrarily or because someone else did it that way or told me to do it a certain way. I like that aspect of the challange.

One of the most difficult things to master is proper self-evaluation. The tendecy is that because you start with something so rough and it improves from there on, there's a potential risk that you stop at a point when you've seen the relative improvements and think it's great, when it really isn't good enough. Learning how to push your self is an invaluable skill.

Originally Posted by holiwood: 6)What made you decide to start a career in the animation field?


Having had my artistic aspirations more or less fail in my teens (I was an aspiring dancer/choreographer) I went to school to get a "proper" degree. My education was very challanging but I was tremendously bored. When I discovered animation at UMass Amherst it was if the two sides, the artistic and the technical, found a perfect mix. It inspired me to seek the opportunity to learn more, and I got lucky that a few people around me at that time thought it was interesting and, I assume, saw that I had some talent for it.

From then on it was a constant choice to keep focusing on animation, avoid the trap of "getting a real job" (at the time it was difficult at best to make a living as an animator in Stockholm, Sweden). Persistence and passion was what enabled me to keep doing what I loved. I am very ambitious.

Did I dream that I one day would be on the other side of the world, working in Los Angeles for a feature animation studio, having significant contribution in a feature animated film. It actually seemed almost impossible at the time, but yes, I did dream.
__________________
Markus Manninen

My opinions are my own, not those of my employer
 
Old 06 June 2008   #40
Thank you for you time I realy appreciate you taking your time to help me in my project. Good luck on your further success.
 
Old 06 June 2008   #41
How does someone get an advantage in the animation industry? As if I were just starting out, or anyone for the matter.
 
Old 06 June 2008   #42
Hello, Total congrats on the film i loved it!

i've been putting my work on the internet for a while now. And my question is, do you think having a web site or profile on a website a good way to get into the industry faster? like if your work is well known over a period of time until your ready to find a job?


i also have one more question, my teachers always suggest going to an actual collage, rather than a technical collage like Full Sail. personally from what i've heard you only need a collage degree if its required or you want to teach. but in your opinion, does going to a technical collage hinder your progress to move forward in the industry?

and lastly, what where some of your first job interviews like? or what was the progress of getting your first job?

thanks ahead of time...
__________________
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Old 06 June 2008   #43
Hi Markus,

Hi Markus,
congrats on your succuss with the movie,....i am surprised the way you guys have handeld the fur for panda itz so simple and looks cool...i have a problem with fur which i would like to ask you we are using 3dmax for our project and while rendering hair of the charecter we are geting flickering frames in between and as for the fur on animal it dosent have any depth ,......so i would like to know your expert advice on it,...once again kungfu panda rocks...
 
Old 06 June 2008   #44
Originally Posted by MarksmanCG: How does someone get an advantage in the animation industry? As if I were just starting out, or anyone for the matter.


If I only knew... that simple yet fool proof solution to a career.

I think it's a combination of talent, work ethic, networking skills, and ambition. If you lack in one area, you have to work harder in the other areas.

If there's one thing I've noticed in the people that "make it" is that they do understand their own talent very well, how to utilize themselves in a project, and how to get others around them to "complete the picture" for the best possible result. It's a rare talent.

Maybe you can be more specific if this is not the answer you are looking for.
__________________
Markus Manninen

My opinions are my own, not those of my employer
 
Old 06 June 2008   #45
Actually, that's quite helpful to me. Thanks a lot.
 
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