Practical answers to real questions from readers about taking the next step in the animation industry.
The short answer is, you can’t. But thankfully, you don’t have to. Don’t feel the need to lower your standards and your fee just to get work. All this does is cause untold headaches for you and lowers the bar for the entire industry. Truth be told, there is an abundance of work to be found by well-paying clients all over the globe. You just have to find them and do what it takes for them to be able to find you. Once found, you need to offer them a benefit they can’t get anywhere else. Find your niche and your differentiating factors and shout them from the mountain top. I say let the bottom feeders feed on the bottom. It is your duty as a professional (not a “freelancer”) to elevate your brand — not drop it in the mud — by working only with other professionals that value your expertise and what you have to offer. Take the time you would have spent working for peanuts with a toxic client, which would have only taken you further down the rabbit hole, and instead use that to find quality clients.
I think a good place to start would be to make an objective list of things that are problematic and contributing to your temptation to throw in the towel. Are you working too much but making too little? Try raising your rates. Not working enough? Try doubling your marketing efforts or even hiring someone to help with sales. Does money come too inconsistently for your comfort? Focus on finding more clients and checking with existing clients for more opportunities. Offer payment plans for certain clients so money comes in consistently over a period of time instead of all at once in a single check. The good news is, if you are truly passionate and determined to make a go at the independent lifestyle, all of your obstacles can be hurdled, crawled under, or simply walked around. Also, you should forever retire the word “freelancer” from your dictionary and replace it with “professional.” To best answer this question I think the most important thing to consider is your passion. Not having worked in the field at this point, it may be difficult for you to know exactly what you want to do, but for starters you can pose this gut-check question: Am I most interested in focusing on one aspect of animation (such as character animation, modeling, lighting, etc.), or am I more interested in having a broader range of experiences?
Larger companies tend to fill positions based on specific, specialized production needs more so than small studios. For example, they may be looking for a 3D landscape modeler. When you apply for and subsequently land this job, you can be certain that almost every moment of your tenure at this studio will be modeling 3D landscapes. If you really like the sound of specializing in one area and becoming very adept at it, and having your name in the credits for major films and games, then a larger studio may be the best fit for you. Plus, larger studios tend to have deeper pocketbooks and can afford bigger and better toys, i.e. custom software, in-house motion-capture rigs, sound stages, and more.
On the other hand, if you enjoy having a broader range of experiences and would like to contribute in multiple areas of production and have your creative input on projects more likely heard, your best bet is finding a small but reputable studio to hang your hat for a while. A smaller studio is more like a close-knit family where everyone knows each other. While there are usually more opportunities for advancement and contribution on multiple levels in a small studio, you may not see your name in the credits of a summer blockbuster film, but if notoriety on a global scale is not your motivation, a small studio might be just the place for you. Martin Grebing is president of Funnybone Animation and can be reached via www.funnyboneanimation.com.
With Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios enters a supernatural realm that requires a new set of visual effects tricks. The filmmakers not only found inspiration in comic-book artist Steve Ditko’s psychedelic tropes but also in Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning Inception effect of bending and folding buildings.
“For director Scott (Derrickson), it was about creating new worlds and magic,” says VFX production supervisor Stephane Ceretti. “And there’s a huge range of magic, going from the simple ring shields to portals opening to other dimensions to entire cities being bent to time going backwards.”
There are three major dimensional worlds — Mirror Dimension, Dark Dimension and Astral Realm — each requiring different looks. And Stephen Strange’s introduction was called “Magical Mystery Tour” (with VFX created by Method), a film within the film’s psychedelic journey, where Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) gets pushed out of his body into worm holes and various kaleidoscopic shapes. The sequence was heavily inspired by the comic-book artwork of Ditko, who co-created Doctor Strange with Stan Lee in 1963.
“Charles Wood, the production designer, came up with key points, which we did with concepts and previs (by The Third Floor),” Ceretti says. “And Scott responded to constantly evolving and moving worlds almost as one long shot, inspired by fractal worlds, macro photography and kaleidoscopic animation.”
Bending New York But the biggest set piece — the most visually complex in any Marvel movie thus far — is a confrontation between Strange and Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) in New York, which was inspired by M.C. Escher, who also inspired Inception.
“We looked at ( Inception)
says. “We were trying to convey a cat-andmouse chase where the fractal environment serves as the mousetrap.”
ILM created a 3D city, mirrored the edges and then rotated them 360 degrees to put the audience in the center of a tube where all the walls were mirrored versions of a New York City. Marvel pushed the notion of mirrored im- agery, which, combined with kaleidoscopes, resulted in a visual design language for the rapidly changing fighting arena. Fully Animated Environments
Framestore, meanwhile, worked on the complex, kaleidoscopic Mandelbrot design of sets (led by animation supervisor Nathan McConnell), among other VFX.
Because of the quantity of movement within the whole set, nearly everything needed to be animated. Even if Framestore didn’t strictly need to animate a prop, they had to make it available to the animators in case certain surrounding elements within the scene needed to move in a different way.
A new pipeline was introduced to provide the animation team with a rigging tool of its own. This tool included all of the levels of movement and pivots. The animators were able to rig everything themselves, and had the power to duplicate the geometry if needed.
Once animation had all of the assets, the effects team then placed additional Mandelbrot sponge fractal patterns inside it, using Houdini to drive a proprietary Arnold procedural surface shader at render time to give mathematical organic growth. The effects artists changed parameters for each object individually, and combined different surfaces in one scene.
“The process was very difficult,” Ceretti said. “We had less than six months to do the post on this film. But it’s like Guardians of the Galaxy, which I also worked on. There is so much in the Marvel universe and the genres that we can play with.” Bill Desowitz is crafts editor of IndieWire (www.indiewire.com) and the author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com).
J.K. Rowling’s standalone Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, introduces audiences to the adventures of Ministry of Magic Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards in 1926.
Directed by Potter veteran David Yates, the fantasy contains an assortment of colorful characters that escape from Scamander’s suitcase, animated by Framestore (based in Montreal and London), Double Negative (London), MPC (Montreal), Image Engine and others, overseen by production VFX supervisors Christian Manz and Tim Burke.
Yates wanted the creatures to be relatable and only slightly anthropomorphic, so they relied on distinct animal reference for inspiration.
Initially, the supervisors thought of environments for each creature inside the case, but Rowling suggested that Scamander would have to be as powerful as Voldemort to pull that off, so they scaled it way back, but that gave them a good impetus for escaping.
Unusual Critters The Niffler, a badger-like creature with a penchant for stealing treasure, was done by Framestore. “He was always going to be a cheeky character that’s always trying to get out to steal stuff and embarrass Newt,” says Manz.
“We knew he was going to rob a bank and a jewelry store, but it was coming up with colorful and inventive ways,” says Manz. “He’s feathered and we found great reference of a honey badger raiding somebody’s house for food on the internet and that insatiable, animalistic behavior became a great inspiration. And like a lot of the creatures on set, we had puppeteers led by Robin Guiver, who was part of the team that did Gravity and the War Horse stage play.”
The Erumpent, also from Framestore, is an enormous beast that resembles a rhino. Al-
though she was nailed early during the design phase, the director wanted her re-worked because she looked too dull. Unfortunately, she then became too fantastical, so they went back to the original design.
“It was important that all of the creatures had to be believable,” says Burke. “Referencing bison, actually, she became a fun thing to animate, with the internal flow of her (lethal) fluid lighting that gets more and more intense because she’s in heat, and getting the jiggle to work with elasticity.”
Image Engine’s Swooping Evil is a large bat-like creature that resembles a butterfly with blue and green wings. “The challenge was first coming up with the look and texture of the cocoon and then, when fully grown, the iridescent, thin wings and the skull for a head,” Manz says. “And there again, it was about coming up with a choreographed rhythm of its swoops in previs and postvis by The Third Floor. It had to wrap its way around people’s heads and suck people’s brains out, so we designed something for the purpose it had to do.”
Blending In MPC was responsible for the Demiguise, a cross between an orangutan and a sloth with long silver hair that can become invisible (and serves as the basis for Potter’s Invisibility Cloak); the dragon-like Occamy, which can expand or shrink itself; and the Billywig, a fast Australian insect with its wings attached to its head.
“We looked at an artist called Veruschka, who paints people so they disappear into the environment ... a wall or the front of a shop,” Burke says. “So we developed this idea how he could turn from solid to invisible. And David’s inspiration for the Demiguise is that he’s a wise, little, old man like Jim Broadbent, who chatters away to himself.
“When they get to the attic they discover that he’s been babysitting the Occamy. The tricky thing of the Occamy was the design of her body, which was part serpent, part bird. We found a picture of a hummingbird with individual feathers that when fit together almost form a serpent-like pattern, so MPC used that as their inspiration. It was a massive digital set, so she was animated in pieces.”
Framestore’s Bowtruckle, a tiny tree dweller used for making wands, is the only creature that lives inside Scamander’s pocket. They went through 200 different designs before the director was pleased. “We originally made him older but David wanted him young, who wants to be with Newt,” Manz says. “He has a lot of character without a lot of expression and we got to play with his physicality.”
It took five VFX facilities to create the elaborate goblin action sequence inside The Blind Pig speakeasy (designed by Stuart Craig, including jazz band instruments), highlighted by gangster Gnarlak (voiced by Ron Perlman and animated by Framestore).
“It was a real group effort to come up with something new and unique for the Potter universe,” says Manz. Bill Desowitz is crafts editor of IndieWire (www.indiewire.com) and the author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com).
Animation vet Eric Darnell reveals the inspiration and execution behind Baobab Studios’ hit VR animated film. By Trevor Hogg.
After directing Antz and the Madagascar franchise, Eric Darnell had a fateful encounter with Maureen Fan, VP of games for Zynga. “Maureen had a VR headset with her, and I put it on,” he says. “It blew me away. It was something simple, like underwater fish swimming around you. I just knew that VR had huge potential.”
Darnell and Fan co-founded in 2015 Baobab Studios, where he is chief creative officer and she is CEO. The VR startup raised $6 million for a series of projects. “Our main focus is creating original content and storytelling in VR,” says Darnell. “At the same time, we want to create stories and characters that people love and want to come back to, and have value that could extend beyond a short six-minute movie like Invasion! If that leads to other things, like a book, then great, because that’s where we ultimately see the value of the company coming from.”
Baobab’s first VR animated film, Invasion!, was released in July and has successfully screened at the Cannes market, Toronto International Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival, and yielded a partnership with Roth Kirschen- baum Films for a big-screen adaptation.
Invasion! revolves around a bunny named Chloe who encounters two alien invaders on a frozen lake.
“The whole idea of the story came from me watching the original The War of the Worlds (1953),” says Darnell. “This great, unstoppable force goes up against the tiniest living things on the planet and the tiniest things win! I said, ‘We’ll do something like that and upgrade the tiny things to fluffy bunnies and downgrade the aliens into cartoon caricatures.’”
Mac and Cheze were the names affectionately given to the hapless blue space invaders. “I thought of the two characters as Laurel and Hardy because, despite all of their screw-ups and arguments with one another, they were always a team,” says Darnell. “I wanted to keep them simple and likable, and find ways to distinguish them. One is a little shorter. One is more like a leader.”
An organic quality was required for the otherworldly mode of transportation. “I just told the designer to imagine that the ship wasn’t built in a factory but grown in a vat. So we ended up with this great big avocado,” says Darnell.
Bunny Changes “For those who saw the teaser, the bunny wasn’t nearly as appealing as the one that ended up appearing in the final piece,” says Darnell. “We did things with the eyes to get the highlights working, as well as the iris and pupil. For the surface of the bunny we didn’t have a way to make her literally furry.”
Famous Disney animator and company adviser Glen Keane offered this advice: You have to animate the bunny soft. The solution was derived from the motion of the creature, which apparently knows karate.
Despite the light-heartedness, Mac and Cheze had to appear as a real threat, which is reflected in a shot where a bird is disintegrated into a mass of fluttering feathers.
“What helps with that is the hawk tried to kill the bunny earlier, so in a way the hawk gets its comeuppance for its arrogance,” says Darnell, who originally showed a trailer at Oculus Connect in which the predator suddenly swoops in and flies off with its prey.
That concept was altered after an encounter with a viewer at a conference. “She said, ‘That was great, but I would never show this to my 5-year-old
Red Giant is known for its array of compositing tool suites for After Effects, Premiere, Final Cut and Avid, providing tools for generating effects, keys, particles ... and color grading through the Magic Bullet Suite.
The latest release has a bunch of cool new things, but the biggest and best is that the entire suite has been rewritten to take advantage of the GPU on your video card to accelerate the calculations. And, on Adobe products, Magic Bullet taps into the OpenCL code driving the Mercury Playback for near real-time feedback (depending on the power of your card, of course).
Magic Bullet Looks, the tool to quickly dial in different grades for your footage, makes auditioning different looks even faster and quickly saves favorites and custom presets (on top of the multitude of packaged presets). You can literally slide your mouse over the sample and view the results. And if you sort of like the look, but maybe it’s a bit too heavy, you can adjust a universal slider to tame down the entire look.
Colorista provides tools from a professional grading suite, but in case you aren’t an expert colorist, there is a guided color process to take you through the tried and true stages to get you where you need to go. But even though less experienced users can use it, the pro stuff isn’t excluded. Colorista will import LUTs (LUT Buddy will be phased out), and allow for point-controlled RGB curves. But most significant, in my opinion, is that Colorista supports Log colorspace, and the tools adjust their effect to behave appropriately.
Magic Bullet has always had Denoiser for removing grain from film and noise from digital sources. Like everything else, the Denoiser has been rewritten from scratch to use the GPU and is powered by tech developed by wrnch — a game/computer vision/AR startup funded by Mark Cuban. But that’s not the best part. New to the suite, Renoiser, puts grain back into the footage to provide a controlled film look with a small set of presets that I’m sure will grow.
Mojo, which is kind of a streamlined mash-up of Looks and Colorista, gets your footage to “Hollywood”-style grades faster with fewer controls (and consequently less control). Along with presets and a few new controls like vignette, temperature, tint and a universal strength, Mojo still abides by the color science under the hood and adjusts its math for Log or Flat footage.
Cosmo also has been sped up along with getting better results to smooth out and “beautify” your actors. An updated skin sampler acts as a keyer to identify and isolate skin tones so that you can control those features without affecting the other aspects of the frame.
Everything is revamped. And what’s kinda cool is that you can use each in isolation as their own plugins, or you can use them within Looks to bundle them together as a preset that you can retrieve and reapply. The whole suite is pretty fantastic to add punch to your footage, and I’d say essential for those budding filmmakers who don’t have a budget
Since its debut in 1998, Yoshihiro Togashi’s manga Hunter X Hunter has enjoyed a devoted following: The 33 volumes have sold more than 65 million books in Japan alone. Togashi, who had scored a big hit with Yu Yu Hakusho, claimed he came up with the name Hunter X Hunter while watching the popular TV variety show Downtown. The hosts would repeat their lines to provoke laughs from the audience, so Togashi says the “X” in the title is silent.
Hunter X Hunter was first adapted to animation in a 62-episode broadcast series by Nippon in 1999, followed by 30 episodes of OAVs, two animated features, several video games and two musicals. VIZ is releasing the highly praised second animated version (148 episodes) that Madhouse produced in 2011.
Twelve-year-old Gon (pronounced “Gohn” with a long “o”), the irrepressible hero of the series, wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Hunter, an exciting position that can lead to adventure, treasure and discoveries. To obtain the necessary license, Gon (voice by Erica Mendez) and thousands of others must undergo a challenging and potentially deadly series of tests. Only a tiny fraction of the applicants will succeed.
What Gon lacks in physical size, he makes up in speed, goodwill and enthusiasm. While on the ship to the testing site, he risks his life to rescue a sailor swept away in a storm. Two other applicants grab his legs to keep him from going overboard, and Gon makes his first friends. Medical student Leorio (Matthew Mercer) is considerably older. Volatile and impatient, he yells and fusses; but he also provides expert first aid when anyone needs it. Kurapika (Erika Harlacher) is the same age as Gon, but much quieter. Intelligent and analytical, he sizes up the situation and ferrets out tricks. They’re soon joined by the innocent-looking but deadly Killua (Cristina Vee), the scion of a clan of elite assassins.
While Gon is excited about the adventures the life of a Hunter offers — and the chance to follow his father’s example, Leorio wants the money the job brings so he can finish medical school. Kurapika wants to bring the gang that killed his family to justice; Killua is on the outs with his family and wants to take action against them.
A Familiar Hero With his spiky hair, wide eyes and outsized boots, Gon embodies the eager half-pint who appears in many manga and anime series — Shoyo Hinata in Haikyuu!!, Nagisa in Free!: Eternal Summer or even Ash Ketchum in Pokémon. From some angles, he even looks a bit like Astro Boy. But there’s more to Gon than meets the eye.
As the qualifying exam begins, an old woman tells Gon, Leorio and Kurapika they have a few seconds to answer a question correctly: If your son and daughter had both been kidnapped and there was only time to rescue one, which one would you save? Outraged, Leorio shouts that it’s not a fair question and there is no right answer. Kurapika tells him to shut up: he’s solved the puzzle — there is no correct answer — so stay silent.
When the woman replies Kurapika is right and they can proceed, Gon remains deep in thought. He realizes that although the question is hypothetical, a Hunter might face a comparable ethical dilemma in the real world: He needs to be prepared to deal with problems that have no easy answers. This moral sensitivity gives Gon an appealing depth his relentlessly upbeat counterparts lack.
The first episodes in the series follow the manga very closely. Gon bids farewell to the aunt who raised him after his father disappeared and sets out for the testing site. The challenges he faces with his new friends range from the silly — catching and cooking enough giant wild boars to satisfy an examiner built like a gigantic Sumo wrestler — to a grim series of one-onone matches against a cadre of hardened criminals.
Director Hiroshi Koujina keeps the action moving while slowly developing each of the four main characters. Hunter X Hunter may not be a particularly challenging or ground-breaking series, but it’s an entertaining adventure. Anyone looking for a holiday gift for an elementary school boy can be sure of getting “excellent relative” points with this set. The limited edition comes in a tin box with an assortment of postcards from locations Gon and his friends visit. [
Developed and produced by Warner Animation Group with sparkling CG animation from Imageworks, Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland’s crowd pleaser reinvents the age old question “Where do babies come from?” In this era, storks deliver internet orders instead of infants. But