Sunday, November 24, 2013

Being Insecure

As a warm up for the post-Neth Nom lecture post, I thought I would share this tasty tidbit of TEDx enthusiasm from Riot Games' Animator Tomáš Jech. (Thanks, Alicia Schaffer.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An Intimate Evening with Glen McIntosh

This past week, Tea Time was proud to be involved in the Fall Festival 2013 and managed to weasel our way into hosting three of the 5 lectures planned for the week.

With the amazing and endless support of Becky Johnson, we were thrilled to have an intimate Inside the Actor's Studio style of evening with the great Glen McIntosh, directing animator at ILM (Jurassic Park III, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III, Transformers, and Battleship and many more). The event was MC'd by Tea Time’s own Frank-Joseph Frelier and gave us some insight into Glen’s life in production.


In the bright stage lights of the 620 Theater, Glen takes his seat at a table for two set front and center of the unusually small crowd gathered for the event ahead. While I had been looking forward to the Monster Mash panel all week (to say Glen's a bit of a dinosaur buff would be a vast understatement), nothing could have prepared me for what Mr. McIntosh had in store for his audience that evening; Charming, witty, incredibly informative and laugh-out-loud funny - with a pinch of some fantastic original artwork to boot - it's needless to say he surprised me.

Before going on to study traditional animation at Sheridan College, Glen initially majored in Film Studies. He got his first "Aha!" moment after taking a figure drawing course between the plethora of film history classes and the rest was history; Glen had found his calling.

After school, he moved out to Ireland and started out at the Sullivan Bluth Studios as an in-betweener and fix animator. He was thrilled - he loved the grittier feel of Secret of Nimh and couldn't wait to get his hands dirty with some Don Bluth goodness - until he was thrown onto Thumbelina and Anastasia: By no means a bad thing, but cute, cartoon bugs was not what he had initially hoped for.

During his time in Ireland, his second "Aha!" moment struck him with the release of Jurassic Park. He immediately fell in love, and was inspired to traverse into the realm of 3D. Much to the envy of all the students in the crowd, Glen jumped straight from working on Anastasia, directly onto Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. "When I arrived at ILM I didn't even know how to turn the computer ON," Glen says, "I'm sure the woman helping me set up thought I was joking, but I told her 'no, seriously, I'm not sure how, and I want to make sure if I'm going to do this, then I better know how to do this.'" and thus he jumped in head first and started learning all the new technical aspects from the ground up. One of the largest hurdles Glen found in his transition from 2D to 3D was that 3D animation could not be cheated as much as in 2D animation. Traditional animation gives you a lot of leeway in poses. It's easy to throw in a smear frame here or there, and poses could hide certain elements of animation (an arm behind the body is an arm you don't have to worry about).  Meanwhile, in a 3D character, a pose has to look good from every angle. If poses are cheated - such as an arm intersecting the body - the pose may look fine from the view of the camera, but it may cause issues further down the pipeline during cloth/water simulations and lighting.

One of the things Glen is quite known for is his work as the Raptor lead in Jurassic Park III. Despite his phenomenal work, Glen tells us that he was pulled off of Star Wars Episode II and it felt terrible. "At the time we were seeing all of these amazing concepts for the arena and it sort of hurt to think that I wouldn't get a chance to be a part of this incredible space-gladiator sort of battle." In the end, however, he was satisfied with the decision as it lead to his chance to take on a larger role. "Being a lead of any sort wasn't something I actively pursued, I was just really enthusiastic," He tells us. "And I happen to love dinosaurs more than anything." It was simply nice to be able to be more immersed in something he was already so passionate about. One of the biggest perks about being a Directing Animator is the amount of time Glen gets to spend on set. He spent some time regaling us with stories about the set of Battleship and his brief time as both an 'acting coach' for Rihanna and a stunt double for...a stunt double.

When it comes to setting up a shot, Glen told us a bit about his animation process - particularly the importance of knowing the capabilities of your rig. When he first gets a rig, Glen makes sure that he tries out specific actions (and asks his team to do so as well) which the rigger may not have taken into account.  "By doing your homework before you even begin, the rig has a chance to be kicked back to rigger and changed making your life easier!" Glen also mentioned that as an animator - just like an actor - it's pretty easy to get type cast and it's important to avoid becoming pigeonholed into a single role. "While working on animation, don’t just become the robot person or the dinosaur person; Broaden the spectrum of your work! Take a look at your real an try to break it up into binaries such as male vs female, comedy vs dramatic, cartoony vs realistic, organic vs inorganic."

One of the most unique pieces of information Glen gave to us had to do with some of his interactions with the film directors.  "It is important to show directors only the animation in which they will be critiquing." He tells us. "While it may look cool to turn on all the textures or use some cards to show splashes or explosions, if the director sees something that already looks so far along, they get the impression that their opinion doesn't matter and you've carried on with making the film without them." Glen and his team switched to using simple geometry as placeholders for simulated actions - plus it gave them a more straightforward evaluation.

Frank-Joseph ended the night with a fun final question: What are three movies that you feel are so important (or at least important to you) that you think everyone should go out and watch them?

Jaws was easily the first movie that came to mind: While there were inconsistency issues from shot to shot due to the technicalities of being shot out in open ocean, the acting and music and the story of the movie is so powerful, that as an audience, we don't really notice. The two other movies weren’t any particular titles but Glen recommends anything from Stanley Kubrik, (Full Metal Jacket, The Shining), and anything Steven Spielburg, (notably War of the Worlds).

All in all, the evening was a smashing success, ending with some show and tell from Glen's personal portfolio (he still works traditionally! Markers and ink; no Wacom). A big thank you to everyone who made it out.

Tea Time Animation 'Monster Mash' Panel
Fall Festival 2013
Guest Post by Andy Wu
Edited by Lana Bachynski