Monday, February 18, 2013

Newer, Cheaper T-Shirts!

This is the last week to place your order for the new Tea Time T-shirts! Comment here, e-mail us or make a note in the Facebook group with your name, desired design and shirt size to order. We accept cash, cheque, and Paypal (Search

Shirts are $15 each.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mike Midlock - Reader's Digest Style

Due to a severe lack of acceptable meeting space, we didn't do much to inform the general public, but we had our first guest speaker this past Friday! Known for working on everything from the Lucky Charms commercials of our youth, to Rango, to the yet-to-be-released Pacific Rim, Mike Midlock kicked off our spring semester regaling Tea Time with his amazing journey to ILM, and gifting eager ears with tokens of advice as we push forward into our own careers in the animation industry. Here's a little bit of what he had to say...

*Note - writing in first person, but totally paraphrasing...

"I want you to look around your classrooms - look around at your peers and realize that even if your goals are the same, no two of you will take the same path to where you want to be."

Unlike many animators I know, I started young. I knew from a very young age -- about 4 -- that I knew I wanted to be an animator. My grandfather was a sign painter, and while he would be working, my relatives and I would be sitting and doodling on the corners of the paper, and it was through him I learned to draw all the classic characters like Mickey, Bugs, and Popeye. 

I was also fortunate enough as a child that my Aunt and Uncle were Disney fanatics! They take a LOT of vacations, and when they do, they only ever go to Disney World. They extended that love on to me because they would always take me to go see all the old movies. My passion for animation came about because even as a kid, I was clever enough to put two and two together; "What I see on the screen are drawings...and I like to draw!" So I got my hands on a Preston Blair book and started from there. 

The next big turning point in my life was in 1977 with the release of Star Wars. When that was released it just...changed my life! It became my life for the next three years, really, up until high school. All though high school I was known as the artistic guy, but due to budget restrictions, they had to cut the art program. Then, when it came time, I had to make the big decision of "what do I want to do with my life?" I loved art, but it didn't seem like a viable way to pay the bills, so I decided that I would be a graphic designer. You know, it was still art, but it was in-demand and it seemed like a worthwhile way to make a living so I went to Purdue. Growing up in Chicago, it was pretty convenient. 
So I did that for a while, but it never quite hooked me. Then, the release of Roger Rabbit, the Little Mermaid and Terminator II, I was sucked right back into animation and completely reminded of what I loved about it in the first place. Roger Rabbit, especially! I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I mean, it was there in front of me, so I know it was real, I know that they'd done it, but I just couldn't fathom how and I craved to know more.

It was then that I decided to have the difficult conversation with my parents -- to tell them that after my time at Purdue, that I wanted to go elsewhere to pursue animation. Luckily, I have amazingly supportive parents, who truly believe that I should follow what is going to make me happy (though I believe it's no small part due to the fact that my father wanted to be an artist but was discouraged by his own parents and I think he was vicariously living through me a bit,) but I truly hope you, as students, have all the love and support that I received!

Through a friend of mine in graphic design, again, I was lucky enough to make a contact  in LA who was currently working at Disney, and through him I was mailed a list of 9 schools -- the only schools in North America at that time who were teaching animation. (That, in itself, should tell you a lot about the times, considering now you can't walk out side and throw a rock without hitting one.) You know, there was Cal Arts and Art Center, and some of the ones you'd expect, but one in particular -- Sheridan College, up in Toronto, Canada -- was the only one to provide a summer program. It was limited to 30 students, but it was super important because that meant you didn't have to go back and re-take another 4 years. So I spent time time, made myself a portfolio and applied.

3 months later and I received one of, if not the most life changing letter in the mail that I'd ever received. I don't think I'd ever been so happy in my whole life! I was accepted, and, three days later, I was packed up, across the border and starting my first day of class.

I don't have much to say about school in particular, but I do want to emphasize how important it is to build a support system with your peers. Not only are these the people who are going to be your future co-workers, but getting through school can be tough and it's good to lean on and learn from one another in order to get through things together.

Anyways, coming out of school, I wanted to be an animator.

"I still, to this day, don't have that urge to tell the world something profound that hasn't already been said before. I wanted to be an animator."

So, I got to work finding work and eventually found my way back out to Chicago. I was at one studio doing some freelance work, but after about a week and a half there, I left for a full-time gig at Calabash Animation. It was amazing there and I stayed for about seven or eight years animating for Lucky Charms, Trix and we even got to some work on Space Jam! We also worked on a short that was nominated for an Academy Award. But, as I always am, after seven or eight years of the same thing, I started to get that itch, that hunger for something new and decided it was time to move. 

I have always been a firm believer that one of the best ways to get a break to be where the action is. Thus, I made the move from Chicago to San Francisco. Compared to Chicago, in San Francisco, the opportunities for work seemed endless and eventually I ended up at a place called Mondo Media -- most famous for Happy Tree Friends. I must say, it was some of the most fun I've ever had at a workplace. Everything was so loosey-goosey -- it was just a blast. Unfortunately things started to turn sour. They started some huge layoffs, and although I made it through the first few waves, I decided that it was again time for me to find myself another professional home. 

Through some effective networking (a friend of mine seriously stuck his neck out for me to convince the manager that  I would know all the software in no time), I managed to get a new gig at Maxis ( eventually bought by EA) working on the Sims videogame. I was there for four years and helped to ship 14 different Sims games.

"Eventually it got to the point where I was thinking: "How many Sims games can one really do?" When I started going to bed at night and see all those little characters, I decided enough was enough."

So, I took some time, put together a reel on 40 DVDs and made my way around Siggraph. I was fortunate enough to get some interviews with Tippett, PDI, and LucasArts! Lucas had just laid off almost the whole company and was under new management, so I was hired on to work on another childhood favorite of mine -- Indiana Jones the video game! And, I was recruited as a Senior Animator, no less. Unfortunately, after 3 years the project got canned and I moved on to working on Star Wars: the Force Unleashed and the Force Unleashed II.

You would think that I would be thrilled! Working on some semblance of Star Wars in beautiful San Francisco, but -- maybe it was because I was having some mid-life crisis, (I had just turned 40) or maybe it's because I'm just not a gamer -- I just wasn't happy. After working there for so many years, I had vacation time and sick days piled up, so, for the next month and a half or so I got "sick" all of a sudden, and I spent some time putting together new pieces to apply for gig in film. In July, I applied to ILM, and the next day I got a call to meet with the lead on Rango, but unfortunately, I never heard back from them. 

Then, in October, out of the blue I got an e-mail from HR inviting me to take part in animating for Rango! Without hesitation I gave up my full-time staff position (which is hard to come by these days), and all the benefits for contract work at ILM. I've been working on and off -- After Rango was Pirates, Super 8, Avengers and most recently Pacific Rim -- ever since. 

Between teaching and working, have you ever struggled with time management? If so, how did you deal with it?

For me, discipline is key. For example: I don't have a facebook and I never will have a facebook because I know I have one of those personalities where I will probably spend 12 hours a day doing that instead of 12 hours a day doing what I need to get done. It's important to tune yourself out from the temptations that computers offer you.

I also, and I stress this to all of my students, find it super important to keep some sort of date book. For me, a standard calendar where I can write what's due and what notes I have to address works the best, but really just some form of record taking -- particularly one away from a digital device -- has always helped me keep on track.

If you had to choose one thing that you see so often from incoming students that you think needs fixing, what would it be, and what remedy would you suggest?

First things first, HONE IN on what you want to do. And, if you can, figure it out early! If you know where you're trying to go, even if it's just a temporary goal, it's important to tune your portfolio to the job you're trying to get. It's even better if you can be in tune with yourself and know exactly where your dream job is and tailor to that.

Fundamentals are great exercises, and a great way to learn the principles, but if you're applying to, say, Pixar, they are looking for acting, or even something deeper than that. The importance of finding subtext and meaning in a scene. That's why it's so important to look beyond clips from the 11 second club and find a dialogue where you can find a lot of subtext.

Take Wreck-it-Ralph, for example. That whole movie was cute, but what is the most powerful scene?(spoiler alert) Obviously that scene where he smashes her car. I can remember we had a screening at work, and at that moment, it was so profound, and the juxtaposition of Ralph's malevolent act vs. Ralph's true intent (and all the while Vanelope crying!)...the audience was just silent. You know? If that's what a studio is looking for - can you find something deeper - a jumping exercise simply won't cut it.

One of my favorite stories you've told was about overcoming a challenging shot you were working on in Rango. Would you mind telling it for us now?

I would love to! 

When I jumped into working on Rango, I was assigned a bunch of shots, but I had a couple within the sequence where (spoiler alert) Rango is first confronted with Jake the Snake on the front porch of the Sheriff's office. Jake is there to prove Rango to be a big phony, and goes so far as to snatch Rango's pistol out of its holster, shove the gun in Rango's hand and put the barrel up to his own head - telling Rango to pull the trigger. 

Now, this is a moment in the movie where we realized that this was never supposed to be a kid's film. Gore Verbinski (the director), kept telling us that this is the moment he wanted kids to start crying and turn to their parents to say "I don't want to watch this movie anymore!" It had to be scary, and emotional -- it had to be just the right moment.

I turned in a couple different sets of blocking, and although I had a gear-change in there -- Brave to sad -- for some reason, it just wasn't feeling right. Something in me just couldn't quite connect to that moment.

Finally, after a few attempts, Gore sat down with me and he said to me, "This moment isn't about Rango, alright? This is about you! Think about that moment, that time when you were in primary school and they had every body line up in a great big, long line in gym class while two students were up at the front as the team captains. That moment where selection after selection the line up dwindles and you realize that you're the last one to be picked for either team -- this is that moment. This is how Rango feels."

And he was right. I knew exactly how that felt because I was that kid who was picked last. So how did I feel? I was scared, sad, lonely, embarrassed -- and that is exactly how Rango felt. So I went and shot some reference. I think the next day I threw together some blocking and the shot was done by the end of the week. 

How did you make the transition from 2D to 3D?

Not by choice, that's for sure!

Like I said, I love to draw, but I saw the writing on the wall and got myself into the 3D world out of necessity. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about being where the action is. I think it's important to be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond.

I know a lot of you are scared, but to put things in perspective, when I started, there was, like...three companies -- and that's it! Nowadays there is animation in everything. I have lots of friends who made it and are working at various studios, but I also have plenty of friends who make a living doing like...those medical training videos and are very happy. Again, and I can't stress this enough, the opportunities are out there! You can't just rest your laurels in the big studios.

One of my favorite sayings is, "Luck is when the crossroads of preparation and opportunity meet." I've gotten so many of my jobs simply by being the most prepared when the time comes! 

What is your favorite shot, either that you've done or that you prefer to do?

I would have to say any shot that gives me the opportunity to try something new. Anything that's a little challenging, it's a nice puzzle to try and solve. It's like people who enjoy doing crosswords! It's no fun if you're sitting there with a device where you punch in letters and it gives you all the possible words, but it's exciting and satisfying when you take the time, dedicate yourself and finish it on your own.

What did you find the most challenging about working in games? The most rewarding?

One of the biggest struggles was the time constraints. It was difficult to have so little time, some times as little as 30 frames to make something read. You never get to do any really beautiful, complete animations.

That being said, looking back, I learned a lot -- and still retain a lot -- about the importance of posing! Even in those 30 frames, it's fast, but it always come back to how clear your poses can read.

On that note, what do you find most challenging about film?

For me, I always struggle with making things look too cartoony (Maybe it's all the Lucky Charms stuff) -- even on Rango, it was still fairly contained, but definitely the most cartoony thing they've done so far.  There have been scenes with the Hulk, though, whereI put my shot up for dailies and the room is going "OH MAN, HE LOOKS LIKE BUGS BUNNY UP THERE!"

Any closing words of advice?

Again, really identify where you want to go, but more importantly, don't be discouraged when it doesn't happen right away. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there! Pick up the phone -- the HR department exists to pick up your call and answer your questions. 

Be adaptable and flexible -- be willing to go where the work is at! Right now, and I hate to say it, but California is sort of losing it's name as the leader in animation jobs right now. Vancouver right now is booming, London, and even places like Singapore. 

Yeah, nine out of ten times it's not going to be your dream job, but don't shy away from opportunity.

Besides, it's really nice to get paid.


A big thank you to Mike Midlock for talking to the club, and don't forget to join us next week for our very first improv workshop!

See you Friday.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

And the Nominees Are...

Don't forget to check out all the Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Short! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Opportunity Knocking

Prepare yourselves for the first
Townhall meeting of the Spring Semester!

Townhall meeting? What is that!

The Townhall meeting is the rare opportunity to have students, faculty and high-ups from HQ all in the same room together in order to discuss department related news and concerns.

Why should I care?

Although there are other avenues available to students to have their cries heard, this is one of the only chances we get to tackle them face-to-face with almost everyone it could possibly concern. Class sizes too big? No meeting space available? Unsatisfied with an educator? Come tell somebody about it! As much good as whining behind closed doors does (which is none), there is no reason to let your voice go unheard! So please, join us on Thursday and help your school work for you!*

Not in town? Feel free to e-mail your suggestions to us at

Is there something else I should care about?

There certainly is! Tea Time animation takes pride in giving back to our local and global community though volunteering our helpful hands at Clean Team. Please refer to the following poster for dates, and follow us on Facebook for pickup times and locations!

*Note: If you've got a problem, do try and also come up with a plausible solution to propose! Simply whining about it to teachers won't do a lot. Ideas, suggestions and critique should be brought up in a calm and professional manor. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Spring Semester's First Meeting

Lana, Frank and Cody at the AAU Club Mixer

With a surprising amount of room to spare in our new home of room 349, the first meeting of the spring semester went off without a hitch. Although we covered a lot of the basics,we also brushed up on a few of the principles while getting to know each other a little better. (Lots more where that came from, so stay tuned.)

So what's in store for next week? That's right -- our very first guest speaker! Mike Midlock most recently finishing up some work on ILM's Pacific Rim will be joining us in club this Friday. Don't miss this opportunity to listen, take notes and get your questions answered.

Finally, in the wake of the meeting, there were a few, quick, tutorials I thought could use a bump for those who haven't been to tea time before. Check them out, and feel free to ask any questions:

Weighted Tangents and Motion Trails 
Digital Tutors
Exporting from Quicktime Pro

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spring Awakening

This Friday, the only way to spend your Tea Time is at 3:30 PM in room 349 @ 180 New Montgomery.