Studio Necessities Essential office items for keeping your mind and body on track toward reaching your goals.
Here is a list of valuable assets that no independent animator should be without. Extra mouse and keyboard: Always keep an extra mouse and keyboard handy. If you’ve ever had a mouse or keyboard break on you in the middle of a major project, the level of panic and feeling of utter helplessness that you experienced has probably never been matched before or since.
Long-use rated office chair: Not only do you need to find a chair that is comfortable for your height, but it needs to be a long-use or extended-use rated chair to help avoid achy necks, backs and arms after pulling long shifts.
Massage pad for your chair: People typically store their stress in the neck at the base of their skull and in their lower back. And when it comes to animation, long hours and stressful schedules tend to go hand-in-hand. There are an assortment of affordable massage pads available that are more than worth the price.
4K monitors: For those of you in the digital animation world, investing in 4K monitors will literally instantly increase your productivity. With four times the digital work space of a common 1080p monitor, after using a 4K monitor for the first time, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.
Diffused keylight: The main source of light in your studio should not be searing down on you and your desk, but rather a softer, diffused light that is bright enough to keep everything legible yet soft enough to be pleasant and free from glare.
Atmospheric lighting: Whether you prefer a lava lamp, disco ball or plasma globe, keep a kitschy light handy for when you feel like adding an extra spark to the mood of your studio.
Good speakers with subwoofer: Animators are often required to produce and deliver a final product that means working with sound. It’s a must to have a good quality sound system to adequately proof and experience the audio tracks.
Nice set of headphones: The only way to truly hear all the subtleties of a soundtrack is with a nice set of headphones. In addition, this provides a more immersive experience if you simply want to block out sound waves from the rest of the world.
Musical instruments: Chances are, if you’re an artist, you may have musical tendencies, as well. Keep a guitar, violin, drums, harp or instrument of your choice handy for much-needed relaxing breaks, It’ll help you get your mind off work momentarily while still keeping the creative juices flowing.
Energy drinks: Green tea, coffee or Mino- taur, you may need to have your preferred liquid boost available for those long nights.
Art desk: If you’re stuck and can’t seem to get unstuck, try getting away from the computer and sitting down at an actual art desk to draw, sketch, doodle and write ideas out by hand.
Whiteboard: Keeping important notes, ideas and plans highly visible and easily editable is key for any independent animator. Invest in a large whiteboard and nevermore lose notes scrawled on Post-It pads. Take a clear photo of the board before erasing.
Wall calendar: Being constantly aware of the current day, what’s planned in the upcoming week, and future key milestone dates is essential. Buy a wall calendar and hang it on the wall above your monitors for easy reference.
Family and friends photos: Nothing warms up a studio space like photos of family and friends. Besides, that Waterworld poster is getting a little worn.
Email and digital office calendar: In addition to a wall calendar, using a digital equivalent is a must. Having your email or scheduling software of choice filled with reminders is an excellent way to keep you on track and on top of multiple projects and tasks.
Books: The Illusion of Life, by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston; Cartoon Animation, by Preston Blair; Animation: From Script to Screen, by Shamus Culhane; Warner Brothers Animation Art, by Jerry Beck; an assortment of Christopher Hart books; an assortment of marketing books; and Rebel without A Crew, by Robert Rodriguez.
Vision board: A vision board should always be, well, highly visible. But it also needs to be accessible so you can easily add or modify the photos of your life and career goals as needed. During that 11th hour push when your last nerve is wearing thin and you’ve just run out of coffee, a quick glance at your vision board may be all it takes to give you enough motivation to regroup and march onward. [ Martin Grebing is president of Funnybone Animation and can be reached via www.funnyboneanimation. com.
Unlike a group of explorers and soldiers surveying an unchartered island filled with monsters, Industrial Light & Magic senior VFX supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum ( Avatar) and visual effects supervisor Jeff White ( Transformers: Age of Extinction) were wellaware of the presence of a giant ape when collaborating with filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts ( The Kings of Summer) on Kong: Skull Island.
“The thing that we were the most worried about was honoring the incredible film legacy of King Kong,” says White. “We wanted to make sure that this iteration did something new but at the same time was a nod back to the original 1933 incarnation.”
A significant departure was going from the traditional primate, which spends most of its time on all fours, to one that is bipedal. “Production designer Stefan Dechant had already done a tremendous amount of Kong’s design,” says White. “Kong was going back to being a movie monster, not just an oversized gorilla. We also had ILM art director Aaron McBride iterate on the design, which was then moved into modeling. Usually, you want to get everything solved in 2D before spending the time in 3D, but for this particular character it was important to start in 3D and to figure out how much a long or wide lens affected the shape of the space. That work was done by Krishnamurti Costa (ILM lead creature modeler) and was a key part of getting the Kong design over the line. But as soon as fur was put on, the model completely changed. It covered up so much of the anatomy, and altered all of the key action lines, that we had to go back and make sure that the fur worked with the design.”
Another challenge was conveying the scale of Kong. “It was real challenge because he’s never in a city environment,” says White. “One of the things that helped tremendously was that Kong spends so much time in the water between his battle with the squid and the fight at the end of the movie. The fact that he is splashing around in five feet of water provides a visual cue that enables you to understand the size of these creatures.”
Tricky Interactions Creating simulations was a major issue, such as having fur interact with water. “Kong’s hand or foot would be hitting the water at 50 to 60 miles per hour and our first pass simulations would essentially be a wall of white water covering the two characters, which doesn’t make for interesting shots,” White says. “We spent a lot of time directing and carving away the water simulations so we always left the characters somewhat clear but never in a nonphysical way. We put birds into the shot as well as a lot of debris and mud in his hair with the goal of making sure that the audience understands that Kong is 100 feet tall.”
A new monster serves as the main adversary for Kong. “Jordan had a solid idea of what he was looking for with the Skull Crawlers, but we did do several modifications as we got into production,” says White. “We were constantly posing the big Skull Crawler together with Kong to make sure that it felt like a worthy adversary. ILM animation supervisor Scott Benza spent a tremendous amount of time trying to figure out how a snake-like creature with arms would move. It was important to Jordan that the Skull Crawlers moved in a weird way that didn’t feel too awkward. The Skull Crawler had to be able to do interesting fight moves and in particular, utilize its tail as an advantage against Kong. There are almost some judo-like throw moves the Skull Crawler does with Kong that Scott came up with, which I thought were fantastic.”
Fire has a big role to play in the action-adventure. “There is a sequence where Preston
Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) lures Kong to this lake, and then sets the whole thing on fire,” says White. “It was inspired by some of the napalm imagery from the Vietnam War. A manmade lake was built in Hawaii so that we could shoot the foreground and Packard. Special effects supervisor Michael Meinardus put flame bars all over the lake and created a substantial amount of fire. We ended up needing to grow the fire quite a bit in order for it to feel big enough to stop a 100-foot tall creature. However, we wouldn’t have been able to get it to look as good without that practical effects component there.”
Kong Don’t Surf Real Huey helicopters were rotoscoped out of footage shot in Hawaii and placed over the background plates captured in Vietnam for an aerial scene that harkens back to Apocalypse Now. “It’s tough because by the time you’re down to a sun ball exposure, everything in the foreground is generally a black outline,” White says. “It was a lot of work to find the right balance to keep those helicopters looking real.”
The movie called for an otherworldly feel for Skull Island and the initial storm the explorers fly through. “It was done by a combination of our generalists, effects and animation teams,” says White. “Jordan let us push color to interesting directions. For example, some of the lightning is almost pinkish purple. It was good because so much of the movie is this orange warm sunset and green feel.”
Not all of the atmospherics were intentional. “We had about three weeks straight of no sun in Vietnam but rather than that being a deterrent to the project it was something we em- braced as this moody, stormy, dark weather patterns that you would get on Skull Island,” he says.
A large vegetation library was produced to assist with the integration of the CG creatures with the live-action plates. “We were always leaving room for them to have some impact on the environment, whether it’s knocking a tree over or having rocks break off of a cliff when they land,” says White.
“The squid sequence was one of the most difficult that we did on the film,” says White. “The Davy Jones-style squid has tentacles and suckers moving over Kong’s hair, which had to be simulated together along with all of the water. It took us several months to put together a close-up shot of Kong chewing on a few tentacles because of all of the interplay that was involved.”
The climatic battle needs to be seen on the big screen. “I’m excited for people to see the final fight between Kong and the Skull Crawler,” says White. “It’s incredibly unique, and the fact that we went to this real location with everybody wearing waders and got right in the muck to do the shoot adds a lot of texture to the scene and helped to keep it looking authentic.” [
To keep with the motion-capture theme, I revisited the Perception Neuron after first