Thursday, February 28, 2013

Joinin' Jamaroos!

It's funny...when I switched from 3D animation to technical development at Reel FX several years ago, I was pretty much ready to just let animation go and never do it again.  Even though several friends and colleagues responded to this change with comments like, "Once an animator, always an animator," I wasn't convinced.  I mean, animation at that time had sorta become an artsy synonym for "stress" in my book.  Why on earth would I want to pick it up again?

I bet you know where this is going.

Yup.  I'm animating again.

You know what else?

It's fun again!

Zap the zebra from Jamaroos
Early last week I sat down with Dale Carman, one of the co-founders of Reel FX, who had approached me about possibly contributing both creatively and technically to a side project of his called Jamaroos.  It's a series of interactive books for the iPhone and iPad (and related iDevices) that aims to entertain and engage young readers with fun stories and characters.  The first book in the series, Z is for Zap, is already available for the iPad on the iOS app store, with an iPhone version coming soon.

I quickly became interested in the project, and joined the Jamaroos team as a freelance animator/developer.  For now I'm helping to complete animation on the next book in the series, J is for Jag, but I hope to get a taste of the development side of things in the future.  And yes, I'll probably do a little voice work as well.  :)

So what makes animating on Jamaroos so fun?  After working on it for the past week or so, I think it has to do with simplicity: the characters are very simply designed and drawn, and the animation tool we're using has very simple controls for animating them.  This forces us to keep our animation simple, but don't think that simple means boring.  These books are all about rewarding kids' touches on the screen with entertaining moments, and I'm blessed to be creating these moments alongside my friend Barrett Lewis, one of my former Reel FX compadres and a creative lead on the Jamaroos project.  We're constantly throwing ideas back and forth, and are pouring all of our animation knowledge into these characters to make their performances as lively and whimsical as possible while working within the constraints of the animation tool.  I'm constantly amazed at what we're able to come up with using nothing but 2D images assembled into simple hierarchies, and animated mostly using position, rotation, and scale.  It's forcing us to think much more creatively, which just adds to the fun of it all once we see what we can actually pull off.

So yeah, I'm animating again, and I'm having a blast doing it.  What's more, I'm only doing it part-time, so I can do other work as well, like VO and acting...

...and maybe teaching?

More on that later.  ;)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Winnin' with minions, part 2

Dang, this just keeps gettin' cooler.  :)

Last night, another award was bestowed up on "Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem," the 3D ride film that was produced at Reel FX for the fine folks at Universal Orlando and Illumination Entertainment.  This one was from the Visual Effects Society, another of the major names in award-giving for the CG/VFX industry, and was for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project.

To win both an Annie Award and a VES Award in the same year may not be that big of a deal for some studios, but it's a huge deal for Reel FX.  Unless my memory is fading prematurely, the studio has never won an Annie Award, though several of its creations have been nominated in past years.  I'm not as clear about the VES awards.  I know the studio has submitted material in the past, and I think received nominations, but I don't recall if any VES awards have followed.  If someone at the studio sees this and can correct the record, I'll update the post accordingly.

Memory-fuzziness aside, to receive awards from both organizations in the same year is a major achievement for Reel FX, and I applaud my formerly-fellow studio minions for their amazing work on this project.  Even though I'm no longer with the studio, I was very deeply involved in the project while I was there, and couldn't be happier about this pair of awards.  While the bestowal of awards is never (or shouldn't be) the goal of any effort of this kind, it's wonderfully gratifying when one is received.  When that one becomes two, it's a double helping of awesomesauce.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Winnin' with minions

One of the final projects that I worked on at Reel FX before making the jump was "Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem," a ride film for Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios.  It was a blast getting to work with Gru, the girls, and of course the ever-present minions, but it was quite a challenge at several levels, and many of the technical hurdles came across my desk at various points throughout the project's production.  I specifically remember spending several incredibly-late nights at the studio, feverishly cranking on code or troubleshooting problematic playblasts.  To say that I've got mixed feelings about the project is an understatement, so it was quite gratifying to surface from fixing some elusive technical issues on a freelance programming job to find reports that "Minion Mayhem" won for Best Animated Special Production in the Annie Awards!

Congratulations to all of my friends and former co-workers who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the job.  Y'all done good, gang.  :)