Friday, March 31, 2006

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It’s not just me

In my previous post I lament my growing exasperation with the idea of realism being the driving factor in most big budget CG productions these days.

Seems I’m not alone in this (not that I ever thought I was). Andreas Dejas expresses similar thoughts in a recent interview with the Albequerque Tribune. To quote Mr. Dejas…

But while computer animation has become more realistic, he noted, the medium is due for a change. It needs “more of a vision than just realism.”

“In this industry, you have to constantly re-invent,” he said. “You have to surprise people; otherwise, they won’t come to the theater.”

He sees the future of animation as a “fusion” of cutting-edge computer animation and classic hand drawing. “I see big possibilities in the blending of the two mediums.”

While I don’t necessarily feel the need to have my opinions validated by others (I’m enough of a grump not to really give a rip if folks agree with me or not :) ), it’s nice to know that animators of far greater accomplishment, skill and talent than little ol’ me are thinking along the same lines. It bodes well for what we may see in the coming years, I think.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The grass is green… and the audience yawns.

Is it just me, or are we stuck in a rut?

I can’t help it, but I’m a sucker for bold, adventuresome design. I love Sleeping Beauty, not because the story is all that great, but those backgrounds make me smile! I think the animated feature film game is getting a wee bit boring to look at these days. The wonder of the Cg-ness has worn off for me. Seeing cool looking fur, or fantasic particle or fluid simulations has lost it’s lustre. 7 years ago that was like “Wow! Did you see that?”. But now… great realistic lighting, rich deep hyper real textures… it’s all so….ehh. Maybe that’s why despite it’s obvious story troubles I found Madagascar appealing. They at least tried to look at the world through the artist’s interpretive lense.
Are we losing our sense of artistic adventure? Have the pixels sucked them from us as we chase after the siren song of representing reality with a level of versimilitude that heretofore has eluded us? Where is this CG generation’s Mary Blair or Eyvind Earle? I hope we don’t lose our imagination in how to look at the world.
In CG it seems we love to show everything as it is on a normal noon day as captured by the cold snapshots of a digital camera. Thus the green grass lament. *yawn*

Maybe there will be some pleasant design surprises coming out this year. I sure hope so, before we calcify into this way of looking at things. And yes, I know I’m way oversimplifying things and there are specific examples of this artistic adventure still making it to the screen. But I guess it’s just an overall feeling I have about where things are.

Somewhere along the way here I think the next step in Cg is for us to have our own style revolution, the same way that UPA started pushing things in the 50’s after 15 years of growing “grass is green-ism” in animation. Something tells me it’s just around the corner and it’s gonna be pretty interesting to see.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ant Bully Imax Trailer


This IMAX trailer for the Ant Bully is more trailer like than the first teaser. More trailer like in that it actually has real shots from the film and not just teaser fluff. Ahem.
Anyhow, it’s small, but it has some nice looking stuff in it. I don’t think I animated any of the shots in this trailer, but perhaps that’s just as well. They do want people to come see the movie, after all.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The end draws near…

Word has gotten out recently that DNA is going to do some rather significant (dare I say “massive”?) layoffs at the end of the Ant Bully production. Well, yeah, seems that is true. After a nice 5 or 6 year run with the Jimmy Neutron film, then the TV series and now Ant Bully, they’ve come up against the realities of the entertainment business. If you don’t have another project lined up & ready to go into production (and it seems they don’t) then you don’t have any money coming in and so everybody must go. It’s like the clearance sale at the furniture shop- everything must go! Heh.

By the looks of it this is as major a shutdown as I saw at Big Idea a few years ago- as in even supervisors and department leads in the studio will be going once the film is delivered in June. Those are the people you usually hold onto if you can because they’re considered your core team. Even when Fox slashed Blue Sky down after Ice Age they kept their core leadership and core competency people with the expectation that they’ll need them again. Your core team holds your institutional experience and knowledge on how to make shows. Production artists can be replaced (although not without difficulty), but leads, supervisors, the leadership of the “we know how to get it done” crew… that’s a tougher pill to swallow. Here’s hoping DNA can get another project going enough by June to keep their core team.
So lots of folks who have been at DNA for lots of years are now enjoying the singularly fun experience of looking for work and moving to chase their next gig. Ahh, the life of the digital nomad. Til just before the layoff news folks were being led to believe that just as years before they’d be retained as another project was due to roll in. Whether or not those messages were sent by management or were the flawed assumptions of hopeful minds is difficult for me to discern. Personally I learned a while ago not to believe such rhetoric. Yet the shoe has been dropped and now many people are suddenly thinking about updating their websites, dusting up their resume’s, checking into their visa status. For the first time in years some folks are dealing with how to put together a demo reel- one that can’t use their best footage because their best footage is for a film that hasn’t been released yet.

(side note: why can’t all the HR departments for the major studios in this business- what, there’s like 7 total?- get together and just sign a group NDA? That way people can use footage from their film for their demo reel so they can find work. The way it works now you usually have to find your next job before you can even use footage from your old job due to the delay in film release dates, etc. And a typical film gig lasts more than a year, so your reel has to rely on work that’s older and not truly indicative of your current skills. I dunno, seems to me that’s a bit of a pinch for folks. Thanks for helping us make our movie. Best of luck in getting your next job, but oh, by the way, you can’t use any of your footage on your reel. Sorry. Yet another reason to keep doing stuff at home, kids. Anyhow, end side note..)

So like I was saying. for many it is quite an adjustment to make after you have tried to make the dream come true for so long. I remember when we went through this at Big Idea. For many of us there it was quite the schock to realize that our hope of staying here in the midwest where raising a family, good public schools, low taxes and affordable housing are the norm will be lost as we end up having to give in and move to expensive, crappy school California to make our living while getting used to life in an apartment again after owning a home for so many years. So it’s a bit of a tough time for many folks here who are coming to terms with this reality.

I took the job at DNA last year knowing that it was a temporary gig. I had a “permanent” staff position, but I know enough to realize that the difference between staff and contract isn’t the permanency of the position so much as the nature of the benefit package during employment. When there’s no work and no money to pay you it doesn’t matter if you’re staff or contract, you’re gone. Heh. So for me this is all business as usual. I’m just reminded of the similarities between this deal and the stuff we went through at Big Idea a few years ago. It’s kinda sad to see others struggle in the same way again.
Anyhow, my last scheduled day at DNA is May 20th. Give or take. It’s been a fun project. In some ways I think folks will be a bit surprised with how the movie turns out. It’s not quite the Antz/Bugs Life rip off it’s been called. The folks here are great and this is a wonderful animation team. Tons of talent. It’ll be sad to see it all fall apart, but such is the way things go in this crazy animation business. Oh well. We’ll all land on our feet someplace. That’s usually how it goes, too.

As for me, I have my own plans. Some pretty exciting stuff, Lord willing. More on that as the day draws nearer…