Heroes by Night
IThe nocturnal adventures of the superhero team
f you spend any time around preschoolers, you’ve likely heard all about the PJ Masks: Catboy! Owlette! Gekko! They transform at night from normal kids into superheroes and head out into a Paris-like city to solve problems, stop villains and learn some lessons along the way.
Debuting in September on Disney Channel and Disney Junior in the U.S., PJ Masks was a surprise runaway hit that peeved more than few parents upon learning that the show is still too new to have the shelves of merchandise their kids were wishing for. That situation is going to change in a big way next year, as the show rolls out in territories across the world.
“It’s been quite surprising to see how quickly the show has caught on,” says Christian De Vita, director and storyboard artist on the series, which is animated at TeamTO in France.
Based on author Romuald Racioppo’s Les Pyjamasques series of children’s books — a hit in France with 15 titles released since 2008 — the TV rights were scooped up by Entertainment One and Frog Box, which pitched it to Disney and brought in TeamTO to produce the animation.
“We developed the show with the idea of making like a cool superhero show for preschoolers,” says De Vita. “It seems like there is a place for it
surprise with high-quality animation and runaway success. By Tom McLean.
on TV. I was already working at the studio at the time and was asked to restart it at the time based from the books into something that was more akin to contemporary superhero culture.”
A longtime fan of DC and Marvel comic-book superheroes, De Vita says TeamTO tried to retain the best elements of the book series, but had to make some adjustments for the jump from a painted, 2D illustration approach to CG animation.
“We tried to use (the books’ art style) as a springboard into color schemes and the nocturnal settings of the show,” says De Vita. “The books are very preschool in the look so we tried to age it up and make the superhero characters fit in with the sort of comic book genre that the PJ Masks fall into.”
TeamTO splits work between its studios in Paris and Valence, France. Paris handles designing and building 3D assets, storyboarding, compositing, rendering and final edits, while layouts and animation are done in Valence, where TeamTO recently opened a new facility to house its 200-plus artists.
Mixing Dimensions De Vita says he successfully pitched using 2D effects on the show. “I felt that the visual combi- nation of 3D with hand-drawn effects would marry quite well,” he says. “I wanted to have a slightly different look to the effects. I’d like it to be more comic book-y in a way, so we set up a small 2D effects team specifically to work on PJ Masks here in Paris.”
The writing staff is split between France and Canada for production reasons, with the head writer being London-based Marc Seal, whose credits include Mike the Knight.
While superheroes have become extremely popular in movies and television, De Vita says PJ Masks stands out as one of the few shows in the genre aimed at younger viewers. “So what we do with PJ Masks is whenever the characters have a confrontation with the bad guys is to resolve it in a comedic way or a heart warming way which at least gives a positive message to have within the show,” he says.
With the first season of 52 11-minute episodes almost complete, De Vita says he’s found working on the series satisfying and fun. “Being able to design something that’s so close to my likes in terms of a director and an artist, and proposing to a new audience a whole new world of superheroes — but with a nice heart-warming center to the stories and the characters — that’s a nice, fresh aspect that’s interesting.” [
Jymn Magon, your Emmy-winning writing career started with a gig in college radio. Seems like a bit of a meandering path.
Jymn Magon ( DuckTales, Winnie The Pooh): Yeah, but it did the trick. As a kid, I made 8mm movies, did stage plays, wrote skits and produced college radio shows. Just anything creative I could figure how to do. I didn’t know it, but all that self-training made me ready for when the door opened at long last.
It went like this: From college radio, I got a gig recording vinyl records for Disney, including Mickey Mouse Disco, which caught the eye of Disney president Michael Eisner. At the time, he was thinking of starting a TV animation division. So he invited me and a handful of miscellaneous creative types to his house one Sunday to talk about it.
With no experience in TV, I found myself developing a show for him based on the popular Gummi Bear candies. When NBC bought the series, they asked, “Who’s going to story edit?” My boss pointed to me. It was the old joke; “Two weeks ago, I couldn’t spell ‘story editor,’ and now I are one.” But if it wasn’t for making a lot of entertainment stuff as a kid, I can’t imagine I could have pulled it off.
So there’s a pinch of “right place, right time,” but some hard work beforehand made you ready, sounds like. Dave Benjoya, what was your approach to getting in the game?
Dave Benjoya ( Rocket Monkeys, Angry Birds Toons): I always write what I’m interested in first. And I find collaboration has been a huge help in many ways. This is useful for letting you think out loud and having another set of ears, of course, but I also like to collaborate because it’s like joking around with my friends — what could be better?
Just as important, if any of those writing buddies gets work or sells an idea, then we all stand to benefit. Because, as it’s happened on Rocket Monkeys and Angry Birds, those writers want to work with their favorite other writers, the ones that they’ve had the most fun together with, that they’ve gotten good results with. So you might get yourself in the door that way. And if not, hey, you had a great time coming up with some cartoons together.
So build your relationships, and keep making stuff. Joe Vitale, you had a problem that’s familiar to many — being in one part of the industry but wanting to move to another. How did you make that sideways leap?
Joe Vitale ( Angry Birds Toons, Felix the Cat): I’d been working in feature animation at DreamWorks but on the production side. What I really wanted to do was write — but dump trucks full of Hollywood writing contracts were in short supply. So I decided to just make my own animated show for myself that would make me laugh. Problem was, I had no idea how.
What followed were a few years of selftaught stop-motion animation, experimenting, writing, recording and, finally, creating a web series. It got me a few animating gigs on commercials. Then, finally, when a story editor I knew saw my web stuff, I was hired to try some punch-up writing. And then more writing … and more … and I’ve been doing it ever since! So that’s my advice, kids: Make something.
So there you go, readers, three pearls of wisdom to help dress you for success:
1) You never know where one job will take you.
2) Keep your friends close and your collaborators closer.
3) And if you still can’t find a job, just go make your own damn cartoon!
Hey, it worked for these guys. See ya next issue! Baboon Animation is a U.S.-based collective of Oscar-nominated, multi-Emmy winning animation writers with credits on dozens of the most iconic animated shows worldwide.
Filmmakers detail the making of the 10 films chosen by the Academy to contend for one of the five Oscar
nominations for Best Animated Short. By Karen Idelson.
Widely praised at dozens of film and animation festivals, this bittersweet CGI short explores the story of a melancholy bear telling his sad tale through a mechanical tin diorama. As we watch, we see that this
As the song “Que Sera, Sera” lilts over various scenes of cars bouncing, singing, having sex and ultimately being destroyed, we’re left to ruminate on our own senseless use of the Earth’s natural resources as we proverbially fiddle while we burn oil. This clever, dark take on the subject took the filmmaker more than three years to make, since he was the only animator on the project, which was produced by Canada’s National Film Board.
“I was trying to say there’s something wrong with the way we live, the way we treat the environment, that we’re not taking care of it and we’re causing climate problems,” says Claude Cloutier. “The song says we’re not caring the way we should, we’re just letting things happen.”
Cloutier managed to keep with the project – which was conventionally done with about 4,000 drawings done by hand later colorized by computer — for so many years because he was committed to the ideas behind the film. old bear was once captured and made to join a circus and perform tricks for audiences. We also learn how he came to be the free bear that is now able to tell others about his tragic past.
Director Gabriel Osorio spent about a month working on the texture of the hair of the bear because he was looking for something distinctive – a type of hair that was not so realistic and more suitable for a bear in a type of fairy tale.
“The software had a default to hair that was more typical of a real bear,” says Osorio. “But it wasn’t what I wanted, so I spent a lot of time working on it to get it to look like I imagined it should look.”
Osorio, who made this film with a tiny crew of about eight animators, decided on the bear as a way to tell part of his history. Osorio’s own grandfather was taken from his family in Chile and forced to work for years without any contact from the outside world. It was a period of tremendous sadness that only lifted when Osorio’s grandfather was finally able to return home.
“When you take someone away from their family, it’s the worst thing you can do,” says Osorio. “I wanted to talk about this, to say something positive, that you can survive this, that you can come back to your home as my grandfather did.”
An insightful story about the space program, here we follow two cosmonauts as they take part in mission training and try to make their common dreams come true. The award-winning film was more of an obsession than an inspiration for its maker.
“It’s something like self-therapy,” wrote Konstantin Bronzit in an email to Animation Magazine. “Every time in my head there is some thought or feeling, which starts disturbing me. Sometimes it turns into torture. And then there is only one way out – to do the film.”
Bronzit spent four and a half years making the film and is uncertain he’ll continue filmmaking because it’s such an arduous and complicated process, but he’s still thankful for being shortlisted for the Oscar, which he calls a surprise though he acknowledges he worked very hard on this film.
“I felt like seventh grade was kind of a dividing line,” says Cordell Baker, explaining why he chose to set his film in the dicey world of junior high school. “You’re not quite a kid anymore but you’re not really grown up; but you’re really trying to be grown up, so it’s a confusing time.”
Baker, a Canadian filmmaker and two-time Oscar nominee, also stages some hilarious and charming moments when the mind of his main character wanders while dissecting a frog in biology class. As the boy imagines he has godlike powers and that he can create one fantastic day for his girlfriend, Lily, we see that he’s ultimately distracted by the possibilities those powers contain to the point of forgetting about Lily altogether.
“I don’t think he does anything out of the ordinary,” says Baker. “He does what we’d all do, he makes things the way he wants them, he wants to use them to impress a girl and punish the ones who bother him.”
Though many of us have been through the trials and tribulations of dating, it’s fair to say very few of the women have passed through the gauntlet at a height of 6 feet 4 inches. Melissa Johnson, who hit that height before she entered high school, quickly became a powerful basketball star and the source of some genuinely hilarious romantic anecdotes. This short handily expresses the embarrassment and awkwardness of being different while touching on what makes us all the same in our quest for love and romance.
“I thought her stories were so funny and relatable because everyone has been through this in one way or another,” says co-director Robertino Zambrano, who was introduced to Johnson through colleagues. “Her stories about trying to find love and dating shorter men immediately interested me and it’s pretty fun because I’m so short – only about 5 feet 8 inches – that when we’re together it looks pretty funny.”
As a CalArts student, Seth Boyden was expected to make several short films, and Object At Rest was initially inspired by some conversations with his father and designed to fill that requirement.
“We were walking along and we started talking about time and how it must be experienced differently for something like a rock as compared to a person because as people our lives are so much shorter and the rock is going to be changed by these major kinds of events over a much longer period of time than we could ever live,” says Boyden, who now works at Blue Sky Studios.
Boyden designed the story strictly as a kind of exploration from the point of view of a rock passing through time, becoming different things, being ground down and encountering other creatures, and didn’t intend for it to be anything other that that, though he understands how some would read more into it.
“I really just wanted to get into experience of the rock and how it would see time in comparison to us,” says Boyden, who is pursuing other project ideas with fellow CalArts grads at Blue Sky. “That’s where the fun was for me.”
Told from the perspective of a six-year-old boy, this short attempts to touch on the strange but poignant relationships that come together in blended families. In this case the boy is examining a stepfather, who is shown as a man with a bird’s head.
“I found this interesting to talk about how people who didn’t chose to live in the same home manage to recompose a family, despite their different natures and difficulty to communicate,” says Phuong Mai Nguyen, a Vietnamese filmmaker living in France, in an email to Animation Magazine. “I didn’t want to make a ‘bad’ stepfather but an awkward one.”
Nguyen wrote from personal experiences and deliberately kept the ending vague because the filmmaker wanted the audience to have its own experiences and find its own answers.
Created by legendary animator Richard Williams, this short has been described as pushing the boundaries of what was previously thought possible for hand-drawn animation. The film tells the story of two Spartans and two Athenians who fight to the death while observed by a small girl. The girl is horrified as she watches the fighters’ bloody battle, which seems unavoidable and relentless. This tale of war emerged from Williams’ own experiences.
“I’ve been thinking about this since I was 15 years old,” writes Williams in an email to Animation Magazine. “I grew up under the shadow of world war and after Hiroshima everybody thought that was finished. We still live in a world where man endlessly fights man.”
Williams started drawing at age two, like many children. But unlike most of us, he became one of the most admired animators of all time after studying with greats such as Ken Harris, Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick, Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl. He later went on to work on films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Thief and the Cobbler.
At work now on a feature animation project with his wife, filmmaker Imogen Sutton, who was the producer on this short film, Williams also counts another legend as a powerful inspiration.
“I saw Snow White when I was 5 years old and it changed me forever,” wrote Williams.
After years of pursuing his cultural history through the books he wrote while working at Pixar, Sanjay Patel thought he could avoid directing a film if he just kept ignoring the studio’s requests to develop something.
“I thought that if I kind of kept pushing it away they’d leave me alone,” says Patel. “But John Lasseter saw my artwork at an employee art show and said I had to make a movie and then they started coming to me and asking me to put something together.”
When Patel was asked by Pixar why he hadn’t started developing something, he said he wanted to tell the kinds of stories he’d been exploring – tales of his culture and its deities – and that he didn’t think Pixar would want to make that kind of movie, based on what it had done in the past.
To the studio’s credit, it pushed Patel to move forward with a short film based on Patel’s own childhood, in which a young Indian boy drifts into a daydream about Hindu gods and finds a way to connect with his father when he wakes up.
“It was amazing to be supported by such a talented group of artists in making this film, which was so personal for me,” says Patel. “Being able to pursue something like this really was a dream come true.”
Lauded as one of the finest short films ever made, Don Hertzfelt scooped up the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for his sci-fi short that follows a little girl named Emily and her genuinely odd trip into the future.
The voice of the little girl in the film belongs to Hertzfeldt’s niece, Winona, who was only four years old when she was recorded for the movie. The filmmaker admits he was naïve enough to think he could direct a four-year-old at the beginning of the project.
“I quickly learned that you just sort of have to let the four-year old happen,” wrote Hertzfeldt to Animation Magazine via Twitter. “So I threw out the lines I thought I might get her to say and instead recorded her naturally being herself, as we drew pictures and played and talked about the world.”
Afterwards, the director rewrote much of the film to fit with what he’d recorded while talking with his niece. Hertzfeldt’s niece lives in Scotland and he only sees her once a year so, he had to work with those recordings, as it would have been even more difficult to try to cull conversations over so long a distance.
“It sounds maybe like a difficult way to make a film, but it actually took a lot of pressure off me as a writer,” says Hertzfeldt. “In the end, it was a lot like working with an improvisational actress, who is maybe half insane, and then disappeared.” [
• Chex Party Mix: “Holiday
Magic,” Stoopid Buddy Stoodios • Man and Dog, Psyop • Michelin Total Performance: “All
the Performances In Every Tire,”
• We Are All Farmers, Animated Effects in a Live-Action Production “Sokovia Destruction.” Marvel Studios. Michael Balog, Jim Van Allen, Florent Andorra, George Kaltenbrunner.
“Animated Effects.” Universal Studios and Legendary Pictures. Raul Essig, Roman Schmidt, Mark Chataway, Ryan Hopkins. • Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, The Gotham Group and 20th Century Fox. Ronnie Menahem, Pavani Rao Boddapati, Francois Sugny, Leslie Chan, Nicolas Petit.
• The Good Dinosaur
• Minions • Anomalisa • The Peanuts Movie • Shaun the Sheep Movie • Avengers: Age of Ultron • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies • Home • Hotel Transylvania 2 • Boy and the World • Extraordinary Tales • Jurassic World • Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet • The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water • When Marnie Was There • He Named Me Malala • Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials • The Revenant
Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas • Dragons: Race to the Edge • Pig Goat Banana Cricket • Disney’s Mickey Mouse • Gravity Falls • Wander Over Yonder • Adventure Time • The Adventures of Puss in Boots • Bob’s Burgers • Breadwinners • Dawn of the Croods • The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show • Pickle and Peanut • Puffin Rock • Star vs. The Forces of Evil • Steven Universe • All Hail King Julien • Archer • Armikrog • Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem • Evolve • Fresh Beat Band of Spies • Harvey Beaks • Invisible, Inc. • Lost Treasure Hunt • Niko and the Sword of Light • Peter Rabbit • Phineas and Ferb • Sanjay & Craig • Sheriff Callie’s Wild West • The Simpsons • Turbo FAST • Uncle Grandpa • The Venture Bros.: All This And Gargantua-2 • We Bare Bears •
Like most of the globe’s animation industries, newspaper cartoons and political strips heavily influenced Greek animation. But the political, social and economic situations Greece has experienced have added unique layers to animation projects produced in the country’s 70 years of animation history.
Greece’s first animated film, Duce Narrates, by Stamatis Polenakis, an anti-fascist film about the Italian occupation of Greece, was produced in 1945. In retrospect, this short can be seen as a base for the way Greek animators have often used their projects for political statements and satire in short films.
Greece does not have a tradition for producing feature films — only a few animated features have been made there. The first one was the 1979 release Corpus, by Thanassis Rentzis. The Dogs, produced in 2010 by Dinos Theodosiou, is the most recent one.
Important examples of Greece’s animated political statements — both of which are about the period between 1967 and 1974 when the junta occupied Greece — are the 1971 animated short Sssst, by Thodoros Maragos, and 12.410 and One Roses, produced in 2010 by Jordan Ananiadis. The latter is about the night of Nov. 17, 1973, when students rose up against the dictatorship of the colonels.
“The junta attempted to prohibit Sssst from screening at festivals, but they did not succeed,” says Maragos. “I felt that my animation workmanship had just been justified.”
Ananiadis has produced almost a dozen satirical shorts, with the most famous being his 1971 debut Zachos the Masochist (1979), The Circle (1981), The Hole (1983) and We
12.410 and One Roses
Dinner for Few Greeks from 1996. He says he respects Maragos’ work. “Thodoros was tip touching a line,” he says.
Ananiadis himself was heavily criticized for using a cat as the main character in 12.410 and One Roses. “The situation with the junta was very sad, people were upset I used a funny animal like a cat,” he says.
Animated shorts still are produced today to criticize the government and make fun of the country’s economic troubles, with the 2014 series VKtoons — available on YouTube — a prime example.
Toon Moonlighting Due to the weak economy in Greece, many animators have day jobs and do their projects on the side. This is nothing new — even pioneers of Greek animation had to work on TV commercials to fund their own animated
A Letter - A Story shorts.
Ananiadis, Maragos and Stratos Stasinos, who died in 2009, are considered the top three icons of Greek animation and they all worked solo. “Despite the people did not take animation seriously, we continue to make shorts,” says Ananiadis. “We were stubborn — making shorts felt like a duty.”
“Greek animators are also self-taught, because there are no animation schools in Greece,” says Maragos.
To escape the difficult animation climate in Greece, many animators moved to the United States or United Kingdom. Nassos Vakalis is considered the most successful Greek animator abroad. He has worked on animated features at Warner Bros., Paramount, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination Entertainment and Rovio. In 2006, Vakalis became the first Greek animator to win an Emmy — for his sto-
The Little Mouse That Wanted to Touch a Star ryboard work on Off Mikes, an animated adaption of the popular ESPN radio show.
In 2001, Vakalis returned to Greece to try to develop a new animation industry. “But instead I found large bureaucracy and no interest at all in animation,” he says. “I regret I came back.”
Despite his disappointment, Vakalis did produce, along with Panagiotis Rappas, Greece’s most successful animated production: a Christmas special titled The Little Mouse That Wanted to Touch a Star, which has racked up
Characters by Jordan Ananiadis
The Hole more than 1.4 million YouTube views.
“By exception, ERT financed it with a $250,000 ( 300,000 euro) budget, but after a change of management there was no continuation on animation,” says Vakalis. In September 2014, Vakalis made another short about his homeland, Dinner for Few, a critical view on the crisis, democracy and politicians. “A sad reminder of the situation in Greece,” he says. With more than 40 international animation awards it became one of the most acclaimed Greek animation projects ever. “A broadcast on ERT would be a recognition,” he says. Little Government
Support All Greek animators interviewed for this article share a critical opinion of the Greek government and public broadcaster ERT. “The state never has shown any interest, or understanding for animation,” says Vakalis.
Nikos Pilavios, former head of the children’s department at ERT and producer of the Sesame Street- style educational series Froutopia and The Storyteller, says: “Animation was not taken seriously. Money given by the government was not spent on animation or children’s programming.”
Animator Aristarchos Papadaniel, who grew up with Pilavios’ work, says there was little interest in the medium. “The public thought animation was a joke and childish.”
As such, Greek children have mostly grown up watching only foreign animation on TV.
Inquiries to ERT reveal the broadcaster has no one responsible for children´s and animation programming.
An exception to the dominance of foreign content is the 48-episode 2D animated series A Letter – A Story, made by Papadaniel and children’s book author Sophia Madouvalou in 2009. Funded by the Greek ministry of education, it was broadcast via ERT World with English subtitles for Greeks living abroad. Today, the series is successfully used in classrooms.
In June 2015, Papadaniel produced his short The Rains of Castamere, which is inspired by the hit HBO series Game of Thrones and its theme song, “Ice on Fire.” “I have used iconic scenes from eight episodes of the series,” he says. The short earned Papadaniel worldwide acclaim, including video of the week at Awardeo.
“For a long time it was a secret it was made by a Greek animator. Many people thought it was made by the Games of Thrones production team,” he says.
Papadaniel says he strongly believes the Greek animation industry has a bright future. “Despite the current problems, young animators have a creative flow,” he says.
A Brighter Future Animator and producer Angelos Rouvas agrees: “2016 will be a new beginning. In October 2015 we organized business workshops in Athens with European animation professionals from France and the United Kingdom, seeking co-production and finance opportunities within the European Media Program. We also want to hook up more with Cartoon, work on a Greek animators clusters with ASIFA-Greece and seek more co-operation with Canada, France, Switzerland and Belgium. Despite the crisis, animation in Greece is still alive. We need to work on co-productions – within and outside Greece.”
Rouvas was involved in many Greek animation projects, co-designed Pandora & Plato and co-produced The Little Mouse That Wanted To Touch The Star. He is the driving force
We Greeks behind GreekAnimation.com, which describes 70 years of Greek animation history in text and videos. “It took me six months to collect more than 1,000 movies, mainly because there are no serious animation archives in Greece,” he says.
Since 2009, Greek animators also have used the Internet to promote their shorts. On top of this list, with more than 2.4 million views on YouTube, is Mariza, produced by Constantine Krystallis, about a stubborn Zorba-dancing donkey and his owner, a fisherman. Unlike his mentors’ work, Krystallis’ short is not a satire on Greece. “It is a funny tribute to the islands and the Greek people — without any social comments,” he says. “I wanted to make something Greek people could smile about.”
In this difficult climate, animators are still making successful projects using such unorthodox techniques as keeping secret a produc- tion’s Greek origins. The first Greek animated series ever did just that and became a huge success: Pandora & Plato. Produced by Athens-based studio Artoon, it achieved ratings of
The Rains of Castamere 49 percent on the public channel ANT1 and later on commercial TV station STAR Channel, has more than 250 merchandise items and has sold 140,000 books in four months.
Nikos Vergitsis and George Nikoloulias, founders of Artoon and creators of Pandora & Plato, say: “We have always sought a connection with European animation. With 20 percent European funding, Pandora & Plato was made partly outside Greece, but never broadcast outside the country.”
And the studio is looking to build on that. “We are optimists,” say Vergitsis and Nikoloulias. After finding some Greek investors, and getting the Greek Film Centre onboard as co producers, Artoon will release in February Magic Tears, the new feature film of Pandora & Plato. And that’s just a start.
“We have almost signed over 50 countries to distribute the film, and are also working on a new Pandora & Plato TV series,” say Vergitsis and Nikoloulias. [
The beginning of the year is laden with amazing opportunities. Use the new year as an excuse to make announcements to your clients, offer incentives, give rewards, follow up with old leads and set systems in motion to guarantee
exponential growth all year.
Show Gratitude Say thank you! Announce how great the year has been and how much growth has been experienced because of your amazing clients. As a small way of saying thank you, offer a discount on their first project of the new year in the form of a coupon or voucher. This rewards your clients financially while simultaneously encouraging new business for you. Announce Your New
Rates Why not ring in the new year with a raise? After all, you deserve it. The thought of increasing rates is often met with varying degrees of internal trepidation, but keep in mind many quality clients are willing to pay more than many service providers think, especially if the service provider has been doing a consistently great job over a period of time and is well-niched. Offering a teaspoon of sugar along with the medicine can help, as well. Explain the additional quality, benefits and service your client will be getting along with your new rates. Feel free to substantiate your new rates based on cost of living increases, inflation or even comparisons with other companies that offer similar services, but be cautious of over-explaining or over-justifying this increase as it will more than likely open up a can of worms you wish stayed closed. Announce New Services Have you been waiting for the perfect opportunity to offer your clients a new product or service? The opening of the year is just the right time to let your clients know that the same great team who has been taking care of them for the past X number of months or years is very excited to provide even more value in the form of new services. Give a brief overview of the need for your new services and how your clients will benefit from this addition to your already exemplary menu of solutions. compelling reason, so leveraging the opening of the new year may be just the tool you need. Rekindle Old Relationships The new year is also a great excuse to reach out to clients who have gone dormant. Send them a personal letter (hand signed by you, not an email), call them, and simply wish them a happy New Year. Based on their response you can get a good sense of where they stand as a client. Use this as an opportunity to follow-up and ask how things are going with their business and explain how excited you are to start working with them again.
What Not to Do By all means, avoid the generic and practically meaningless “Happy Holidays From ... ” email. There are few things less personal or more contradictory than a message that is supposed to be grateful and sincere which Martin Grebing is an award-winning animation director and producer who has focused his career on smaller studios and alternative markets. He provides private consulting and is the president of Funnybone Animation, a boutique studio that produces animation for a wide range of clients and industries. He can be reached via www. funnyboneanimation.com.
Industrial Light & Magic was instrumental in helping pull off The Revenant’s harrowing bear attack, a sequence that earned it an Annie Award nomination for animating “Judy” the bear.
It was a close collaboration between all of the departments, particularly director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays 19th century trapper Hugh Glass.
“What was interesting thinking back to the early discussions with Alejandro was really all about movement and planning and choreography, but always coming back to reality of motion and how an actual bear attack would unfold,” says ILM’s Richard McBride, the production VFX supervisor. “And the other thing was getting into the mindset that this was not a monster: it’s in its natural habitat and just behaving as a normal animal would.
“Alejandro wanted the attack to be sudden and they wanted us to feel close to the action and immersed in every detail,” says McBride, who was joined by animation supervisor Matt Shumway.
They met with Mark of the Grizzly author Scott McMillion and the bear team learned about all of the potential scenarios that can happen in the woods. It was all based on chance encounters, such as a bear protecting its cubs, which was the basis of attack in The Revenant.
It was also invaluable looking at online footage of an actual bear attack in a German zoo, in which someone drunkenly stumbled into the cage. What was most remarkable was the randomness of the attack, according to McBride. This formed the basis of the choreography.
“Initially, a stunt team worked out the choreography of how they were going to tug and pull the actor during the mauling,” says McBride. They shot the scene on location in Calgary, Canada, in freezing cold and rain, and staged the beats of the attack.
“For us, the VFX team, we wanted to keep Leo visible and also keep it kind of messy, so once we had the camera work there, we positioned our stuntman in a way that he was grabbing and pulling in all the right places where we thought the bites were going to be,” McBride says. “And keeping him at a distance where there would be a little less paint work in getting him in and out of the scene and having our bear on top of him. Ultimately, the paint work was extensive because of how close we were to the action.”
Deadly Pause The most interesting part of the attack was the quiet or stillness that occurred in between the vicious moments. The anticipation of what was going to happen next made it scarier, McBride says.
“When Leo got involved, he added a whole other beat where you’re getting more sympathy for the bear,” McBride says. “There’s a moment where the gunshot has already happened and they’re both damaged: the bear is bleeding and Leo’s torn up. And the camera goes back to the bear and she’s torn: the cubs are on one side and this threat is on the other and she’s struggling to stand. She could walk away but goes for one last lunge in her dying moment to protect her cubs.”
In terms of the animation, ILM took advantage of its recent fur work on the upcoming Warcraft, but needed to up its game considerably. “One of the unique aspects was there wasn’t the customary separation between grooming and simulation,” McBride says. “This project pushed the pipeline so that it adhered to the initial look that you built into it. So there was the simulation of flesh over the bones and then a layer of skin that got another (round) of simulation and then the fur got simulated on top of that. This provided complexity to the motion. But we had to dial it back because if you looked at the reference, sometimes the shimmer on the fur looked too computer-generated the way it was blinking on and off.”
They used Zeno for simulation, Maya for animation and rendered with RenderMan. The modeling team built shapes and controls that provided a very naturalistic performance.
Other considerations included how wet the fur was going to be, how was it going to react to the light and how the audience was going to see the wound and the redness of the blood.
“These nuanced ticks and gestures and articulation in areas of the face, eyes, snout and mouth avoided the look of menace,” McBride says. Bill Desowitz is owner of Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com) and a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood and Animation Scoop at Indiewire.
FTrack This is why I love innovation and competition. As much as I adore Shotgun, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for other applications. And it doesn’t mean that Shotgun is the only way. In a world where production and asset tracking was becoming a must for productions of any size, the developers at FTrack saw a hole and decided it needed to be filled.
What I like most about FTrack is its feel. The UI design feels like you should touch and interact with it. I’d compare it most closely with Basecamp.
But obviously UI isn’t the most important thing about a product (even though it is important). Functionality is king. And Ftrack has that in bucket-loads. Producers are able to schedule projects in various methods, including my somewhat nerdy favorite, Gantt chart. But it also prints up reports of progress including projected costs and actuals, and a quick daily overview of the whole thing.
Artists work in an almost Kanban-Agile type of way, where they can drag flexible task cards to and from different states: waiting to start, in progress, complete. And producers and coordinators can drag artists onto task for assignments. So it’s not exactly Agile, where there is a cache of tasks and developers pick up the ones they want to work on and then move that task into “in progress.” I haven’t come up with a viable parallel in an artist-based industry. But this is a step in the right direction.
I am also a fan of how FTrack integrates software to create an asset-management system to supplement the production management system. Certainly, Shotgun has the functionality, but FTrack is more straightforward in its integration, especially for products from The Foundry: Nuke, Heiro, etc. Just like Shotgun is in bed with Autodesk, The Foundry seems to have an intimate relationship with FTrack. So while Shotgun acts friendly with Nuke, FTrack has a more natural relationship.
Recently, FTrack matched Shotgun’s Review software on the iPhone with its own mobile interface. Where Review leans a little more on the supervisor side to review shots in progress, FTrack Go is more about management. You can assign tasks or change task status. And as an artist, you can log task time and submit timesheets directly from the phone.
FTrack is filled with great tools to keep everything on track — and like Shotgun, it has an API so everything is customizable to how you want to work. It’s definitely strong competition for Shotgun and Autdoesk, and it’s priced at $10 a month per user lower than Shotgun. But this is good — they provide a motivator so that Shotgun doesn’t get all lazy in the arms of its corporate parent.
iClone Character development is not an easy thing. Just ask anyone who does it. Places like Bungie and Activision and Electronic Arts have fleets of artists just doing that. So what is one to do when one has an idea for a game and doesn’t have a fleet of character modelers?
Well, Reallusion (known for its tools for democratizing motion and modeling data, and which has been developing low-cost tools for capturing your own motion capture from readily accessible devices like a Kinetic or a Perception Neutron ... well, not as readily accessible, but you know what I mean) has developed a new system for creating custom characters that they have named the iClone Game Character Design Platform. I would have liked something that could have been a clever acronym, but at least it’s clear.
The idea is that you don’t want to have to worry about the technicalities of creating new characters. Reallusion uses a model with a base topology that has been tailored to work with motion-capture data and game engines like Unity, Unreal and Stingray. So you take that, and through a series of modules and slider systems, you customize the character, morphing it into a brand-new person. Since the topology is not changing, you can be confident that it will port over to your game engine with minimal fuss. And if you are a superstar, you can export the model to ZBrush or Mudbox for additional custom sculpting, or for detail map generation for normals and such. And then bring it back into the system. The low-level mesh still has the same topology (as long as you didn’t add or delete anything in the process), so it still works in the workflow.
The new characters can be assigned with canned motions from the Reallusion online cache of data, or you can create your own motion capture or animation. And there is support for lip-sync
Since Masahi Kishimoto introduced him in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump in 1997, Naruto Uzumaki has become one of the most popular animated characters in the world, selling tens of millions of discs, video games, toys and character merchandise — plus more than 220 million volumes of the manga, (approximately half as many copies as the Harry Potter novels). The first TV series, Naruto (2002), ran for 220 episodes; the sequel, Naruto Shippuden (2007) ran twice as long.
The two newest features The Last: Naruto the Movie (2014) and Boruto: Naruto: The Movie (2015) suggest how a story can end, yet continue.
Years before the story opened, the Hidden Leaf Village of ninjas was almost destroyed by a monstrous nine-tailed fox-demon. The Hokage (chief) of the village died sealing the demon within the body of his newborn son, Naruto. Because he was linked to the demon, Naruto grew up shunned and lonely. He got back at the villagers by causing trouble and playing hooky from the Ninja Academy.
As the series progressed, Naruto grew up a bit. A classic come-from-behind kid, he mastered the most difficult jutsu (magical techniques) — and learned to use the chakra (spirit-energy) of the demon imprisoned inside his body. He remains a grinning goof-off at heart, but is also kind-hearted, brave and ferociously loyal to his friends.
In an interview, Kishimoto told me: “Perfect heroes are cool, but no one can really empathize or identify with them. Naruto often makes blunders, and he has weaknesses. Although he doesn’t think about it too much, he knows he hates to lose and we all know what that feels like. I think readers see themselves in Naruto: They can empathize with him and his weaknesses.”
Shippuden’s End The Last: Naruto the Movie (2014) serves as a finale to the Naruto Shippuden series. Naruto (voice by Maile Flanagan) has reached his early 20s. The problem child ev- eryone rejected now teaches classes to admiring students at the Academy where he used to bedevil the sensei (professors).
Even Naruto’s formidable skills are sorely tested by the ghostly Toneri (Robbie Daymond), who regards the Earth as a cauldron of corruption. He plans to destroy the planet by crashing the moon into it. Toneri alters the orbit of the moon, producing a rain of meteors that devastates the ninja villages.
But the completion of his scheme requires the use of a magical power hidden in the eyes of members of the Hyuga clan in Naruto’s village.
Toneri kidnaps Hanabi Hyuga (Colleen O’Shaughnessey). Naruto and Hinabi’s older sister Hinata (Stephanie Sheh) travel to the moon to rescue her with three warrior-friends: Sakura (Kate Higgins), a medical ninja; Sai (Ben Diskin), whose magical drawings become living creatures; and level-headed Shikamaru (Tom Gibis), who fights with enchanted shadows.
By combining their powers, Naruto and Hinata destroy Toneri’s weapons and schemes. Although the over-the-top battles are exciting, they’re really just a backdrop for the maladroit courtship between Naruto and Hinata. Hinata is too shy to express her feelings and Naruto is too dense to recognize his.
As scenes at the end of the credits reveal, they marry, a turn of events as surprising (and displeasing) to some fans as Harry Potter wedding Ginny instead of Hermione.
10 Years Later ... The Last concludes the original Naruto continuity; Boruto (2015), which had a brief theatrical release in the U.S. and will be out on disc next year, suggests a new direction for the characters. The film is set more than 10 years after The Last — and after the broadcast series ended. Despite everyone’s prior skepticism, Naruto has become Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village, just as he always boasted he would. But his duties keep him so busy, he neglects his family: He sends a magical clone of himself to his daughter’s birthday party. This neglect infuriates his hotheaded, talented teen-age son, Boruto.
Desperate to attract his father’s attention, Boruto cheats on his ninja exams with a mechanical device that deploys complex supernatural techniques. But the exams are interrupted by the arrival of the icy Momoshiki and his henchman Kinshiki, who have come to seize the terrible power of the Fox Demon.
The climactic battle, which takes up most of the last quarter of the film, is the most spectacular in any Naruto adventure. Director Hiroyuki Yamashita deploys a flamboyant mixture of drawn and CG animation to great effect. Not surprisingly, Naruto and Boruto have to join forces to crush the villain.
At a time when many American animated franchises feel like they’ve overstayed their welcome, Boruto shows how to preserve a continuity’s winning qualities while moving it into new territory. [
tv*gie (Miller) set out on an epic quest to rescue him. With the help of the ravishing half-human, half-demon Deema (Kunis), the buddies must brave runins with an emasculated Devil (Odenkirk), a smart mouthed angel (Susan Sarandon) and the mythical Orpheus (McBride), among others.
[Release date: Jan. 5]