In tonight’s feel-good #mochat, we all talked about what we were thankful for as motion designers. There were a lot of great responses and stories ranging from the tools we use to our families to the first person to give us a chance. Read on for the full transcript…
Last night on #mochat we discussed 2D animation workflow, process, and tools. On the tools side, Duik and Puppet Tools 3 came up pretty quickly. For process and workflow, the topics and techniques varied widely, but rigging, precomping, scaling AI artwork, and animating in Photoshop were all discussed.
Read on for the transcript…
Over two years ago, Nando Costa announced his ambitious animation project The New America on Kickstarter. The project was born out of an earlier set of illustrations engraved in blocks of wood. Nando had enjoyed the process so much, he wanted to produce an animation using it.
After successfully funding the project on Kickstarter, a technical hiccup or two, and a few discussions with neighbors over noise from the process, the final animation was released. Nando describes the story…
The abstract storyline showcased in this piece is a concoction of a variety of ideas and can perhaps be described as a union between concepts and experiments born during the Situationist movement and real life events experienced during the last few years in American society. Particularly the duality between the economic downturn and the shift in values and beliefs of many citizens.
The end result is an ethereal, often dark, and masterfully crafted animation. If this animation were simply rendered out in a more traditional manner, it would still hold up. However, the process behind the animation—and the resulting physical imperfections and variances—somehow enhance the story and emotion evoked from the piece. Seeing photographs of unique blocks of wood in a physical setting at a lower frame rate (6fps) grounds the animation and more strongly ties it to recent events. It is almost as if we are in the future, viewing the records of a long-lost civilization. To be perfectly honest, my reaction to the finished piece surprised me.
I’ve made little secret of the fact that I believe process is normally irrelevant to the audience, or at least should be. If an audience is too aware of process, they spend less thought on story, on emotion. Awareness of process can be a distraction. Instead, process should fall away, only maintaining importance to those involved and who wish to study and learn from it.
I became a backer of The New America. I received the updates from Nando. I eventually received my finished frame. I was more aware of the process than for most films and animations I view. Upon viewing the finished piece, I was prepared to be so focused on the process I would somehow enjoy it less. However, The New America seems to benefit from its process in a way I rarely see. Being aware of the process actually enhanced the viewing for me. I somehow saw Nando’s struggles and passion in the society portrayed in his animation. If I had just seen his raw renders on a screen, that would not have come through.
I still maintain process should usually be invisible to the audience. Yet I have learned from Nando Costa that when used carefully, process can be art not only beneficial to those who wish to study it, but to a general audience as well. I guess my values and beliefs are shifting, like those in the society in The New America.
Last night on #mochat, Mike Florio lead a discussion on working more limited hours instead of the increasingly common 10+ hour days that many of us see. From the discussion it sounds like most of us are okay with the occasional long schedule to get things done in crunch time, but that it’s not sustainable, regardless of trends. There’s a lot of ground covered in this chat and several differing opinions, so I encourage you to take the time to read the transcript below.
Packing up and moving half-way across the country to chase a dream is crazy—so crazy that sometimes you succeed, as long as you work for it. One person to make such a journey is Ryan Summers, now creative director at Imaginary Forces. “My girl moved out first to work in VFX and I followed her. I never would have made the leap if she didn’t first. I owe a lot to her ambition.” says Summers.
After a marathon Q&A on #mochat the other evening, Summers was kind enough to go in-depth on a few more questions for Motion League. The interview follows…
Motion League: Describe your first job.
Ryan Summers: Character animation for a direct-to-video kids cartoon. Still the hardest job but best people I’ve ever worked with. I’m constantly chasing a team to work with like that again.
ML: You mentioned MK12, the Gorillaz, and Happiness Factory being triggers for you starting in design. What was it about them that inspired you?
RS: I had just started playing w AE when I found MK12 – and they were a studio who valued doing their own content as well as client work. That was big. Happiness Factory and Gorillaz were two big indelible marks on my brain because it proved you didn’t have to be Pixar, Dreamworks, or Disney to do character animation that moved to people.
ML: What is the first professional piece of work you would say you were proud of and why?
RS: Pacific Rim, because we worked so hard and so smart and made one of my favorite directors happy. Getting a bear hug from Guillermo del Toro because of your work is pretty amazing.
I’ve been burning daylight in every way possible to get to the position I’m at in the industry, and I still have a long way to go.
ML: What brought you to Imaginary Forces?
RS: It’s one of the top three places I always wanted to work at, including Dreamworks and Blur. They touch just about every type of creative project there is — from live-action commercials, to screen design UIs, to character animation and film titles. If you’re ambitious you can find yourself next to Guillermo Del Toro or Duncan Jones. All I’ve ever wanted to do is work with and for the best artists I can find. IF let’s you get there.
ML: You mentioned seeing most over 40 move beyond simply designing to owning their own shops or slowing down. Where do you see yourself in 10–15 years?
RS: I’m directing now but I still find myself “on the box” quite a bit, which is an eternal struggle for most designer/animators turned directors. I love building teams and seeing momentum build by getting people who would normally never work together in the same room. There’s a huge gulf in my knowledge on how to finish a show versus how to pitch, bid, and win a show — I’ve got my work cut out for myself there. I used to teach quite a bit back in Chicago and I’m dipping my toes back in those waters with fxPhd. Somewhere in there I could see having my own shop, or at least helping run an umbrella company/boutique under another studio. I look to people like Brad Chmielewski and what he is doing with Loose Keys as an incredible point of inspiration for artists to run their own show. And with cloud-based rendering and collaboration tools getting faster and cheaper, I would love to be able to put some of my friends from all over the world to work on cool projects!
ML: You mentioned a couple personal projects (web comic, TV show, animated short) on #mochat. Would you talk about them and why they’re important to you?
RS: I’ve been burning daylight in every way possible to get to the position I’m at in the industry, and I still have a long way to go. Sometimes you need a pressure valve from what’s going on in your day job, so I develop ideas to give my brain some space. You really need to nurture your creative energy in this industry, and grinding on high pressure projects can get really dangerous to your creative life. If you start working long hours on one job, when you come up for air you can feel completely lost, or worse, burnt out. If you give your self the luxury of daydreaming, there’s always another idea firing off in the corner of your mind that you need to keep active.
I’ve had an animated short idea floating around since I graduated from school — I’ve had storyboards and character designs on paper for at least 10 years. So that’s always there. When I was in high school I made two xerox-copied comic books and I recently revisited those and started writing up some ideas to turn those into an animated series pitch. And really recently I started writing a web comic that I need a couple quiet weekends to break the structure.
Nothing may ever come of them, but they’re the guilty pleasure I afford myself so I’m more than just the stuff I make for other people. It keeps me sane.
ML: You often seem to pull long-hours. Is that self-initiated, just the way life is in the industry, or a combination of both?
RS : Probably a mix of both. I was a science major before learning 3D animation, so it was a really big move to go for a career in art. I always would draw and loved animation and film, but I never considered it a possible career. As soon as I decided that I was going for it, I knew I was going to work just as hard as I was when I was studying chemical engineering. Probably even harder. It’s a lot easier when it’s truly something you love.
We need respect. VFX supervisors need to be treated with the same importance as cinematographers.
ML: How would you describe the current state of VFX as an industry?
RS: Abysmal. My ex-wife is a Nuke compositor and we’ve been through the ringer of this industry together. From the intolerable hours, to the lack of recognition, to the unsustainable grind of a migratory work force — there is very little to be positive about with the VFX industry as a business.
As a creative endeavor, it’s an absolutely amazing time to be a consumer of VFX! Gravity blew my socks off, and it was made for less than $100M. I think there is a storm surge of VFX savvy directors on the cusp that could bring upon a Spielberg-Lucas style rebirth of cinema around the corner. When you get people like Neill Blomkamp or Gareth Edwards, both VFX artists, making movies like District 9 and Monsters, there’s a movement building. When you can responsibly make amazing looking films for less than a $300M bet, lots of slop in the industry can change.
But we need respect. VFX supervisors need to be treated with the same importance as cinematographers; look to how GRAVITY was made to potentially change this for the better.
And we need a union. It is a black mark and an embarrassment that nearly EVERY other department on a film’s credits has access to portable health care. It’s insulting — but all three parties are to blame. The studios, the artists, and the shop owners. There’s too much apathy, fear, and lack of communication to realize this can benefit everyone, and I don’t know what it will take to change the situation.
ML: Do you see motion design heading down a similar path?
RS: The only thing keeping motion design from the same fate is the number of clients we have. Unfortunately, there’s really only 5 or 6 customers to be split up amongst all of the VFX shops. But the plummeting cost of software & hardware, the availability of cloud-based rendering and collaboration tools, the growing labor force, and the readily accessible amount of training is going to have an effect sooner or later. Studios will have to change their offerings, differentiate their branding, and look for tighter partnerships with clients, agencies, and most importantly, their employees, to stay competitive.
It’s not enough to have an art director and a copywriter teamed up anymore. It will be about inventing, programming, partnering, and experimenting. Work is going to be more of a middle grey, not black and white — what I mean by that is you will need to have people of many more skill-sets mixing and iterating, and you may not even know what the outcome of some of your work will be when you start in on a project. It’s exciting and frightening, but then again, it probably always has been.
ML: Why is helping others in the motion design community so important to you?
RS: It’s how I learned. The mograph community is the opposite of what I felt when I was making video games. People had their hammer and they wouldn’t share it. I’ve never met someone who wouldn’t share what they learned. People like John Dickinson, Harry Frank, Aharon Rabinowitz, and Tim Clapham gave away hours of their time and so much of their knowledge to complete strangers, just because they could. When I didn’t know where to go after college, they showed the way. I owe it to anyone else in the same position to offer what I can.
There’s nothing more satisfying than giving someone their first break.
ML: How did you end up getting involved with FXPHD as a professor?
RS: I’ve been a charter member of FXPHD from the start, and that was because I was a fan of the work Mike, John, and Jeff did at fxguide.com. John Montgomery sent me out to LA on a mission to find great potential professors when I moved from Chicago to LA, and even though I didn’t turn up any prospects, he turned around and asked me to be one. It’s an honor and I hope I don’t disappoint.
ML: Can you describe your FXPHD class?
RS: It’s about production-proven techniques that I learned over the last 12 months on the job at FXPHD: I had a crazy run last year from Elder Scrolls to Stage 5 to Person of Interest, Pacific Rim, and Strife, and I learned a lot about working smart, fast, and flexible. It’s going to be about finding the right workflow, the power of Trapcode Particular, and all the tips and tricks for Cinema 4D I can cram into 10 classes. I hope it’s super conversational and very proactive in terms of addressing the post-grads questions.
ML: What would you say to young Ryan as he was just starting out professionally?
RS: You already are an artist — so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Draw more often, and take your daydreams as seriously as you take the work for other people.
Oh, and call Mom more often, she really misses you.
Photos courtesy of Ryan Summers
Dubai-based freelance motion designer and animator Nico Bolacha (aka: NEEKOE) recently posted a personal project on Vimeo titled PTEROIS. It quickly circulated the site and became a Vimeo Staff Pick, accruing lots of comments and buzz. Nico mentions that the purpose behind this project, was to step out of his ‘comfort zones’ and allow his skills and knowledge of Cinema 4D to grow and branch out to new levels. Nico loves to be part of a community of motion designers and was gracious enough to give some of his time for us to interview him about his recent work. In this interview Nico discusses the reasons behind this project, the challenges, the success, some news for up coming personal projects, and gives credit to sites and resources he used to develop PTEROIS.
One of the things Adobe promised with the move to Creative Cloud as a more rapid release cycle with important, but perhaps not blockbuster features. They are definitely coming through with that promise with the upcoming release of After Effects 12.1.
This week on #mochat, Steve Forde, Todd Kopriva, and Michelle Galina were kind enough to answer your questions on the upcoming release. The features which seemed to get the most attention in the chat were
- Rigid Mask Tracker
- Property Linking
- Center Anchor Point commands
- Spring Loaded Folders
- GPU usage improvements (OptiX 3)
There were also several feature requests made during the chat, including:
- Über-twirl (Timeline folders)
- NLE-based footage layer (think Premiere timeline, but editable in AE)
- KB shortcut for closing other timeline panels
- Better color swatch handling
All-in-all, another great chat! I’m very grateful to the Adobe team for helping out and taking everyone’s questions. Read on for the transcript…
What Once Was
A couple years ago, a few people on Twitter joked about having motion designer-based superhero identities. The jokes snowballed into the League of Motionographers, a group of like-minded designers hanging out and thinking about bigger things in motion design. This was later refined to The Motion League.
We started the site as an avenue for each of us to write about motion design and post interesting links and tutorials. We added a community forum to give others a voice and a new place to hang out. We wanted something less exclusive than Motionographer and less intimidating than mograph.net.1
Two things happened: we lost track of our original focus and we found ourselves with less time to devote to the site.2 That lead to a laps of both content and participation. That needs to change… and it is.
Welcome to the New Motion League
Today we start a new Motion League with a single focus: voice. We consider everyone to be in the league. We want everyone to have a voice both here and in the broader motion design community. We hope to accomplish this in two ways.
First, we are simplifying the Motion League: Unite forums. This should provide an easier way to just get to posting without having to think too much about where something belongs or fitting your thoughts into refined categories. We want you to be able to ask questions and participate without drop-downs and extensive clicking/tapping getting in the way.
Second, we are opening up the blog.
Part of having a voice is being heard. We realize not everyone has their own blog, or if they do it might not have the reach they would like. We want to provide people with an outlet for their writing, tutorials, or even interviews. Starting today, you can sign up to be a contributor on Motion League.
We won’t have quotas… no minimum word count… no contracts or complicated hoops to jump through. This won’t be a fully open free-for-all, though. We know all-to-well that systems can be gamed and spam just plain sucks. So there are a couple things we are asking.
First, we ask that people not to sign up to be a contributor until you have an article or tutorial idea ready. We’ll be approving these by hand and don’t want a flood of signups unless people are ready to write or record. This will also help us keep spam accounts out of the system.
In order to keep a certain standard of quality and as a second filter against spam, posts will be reviewed/approved by an editor. There might be revisions asked of or suggestions made to content. We want to avoid simple “Hey look at this cool thing” links and overly-blatent self-promotion without much more to say. There are more details on our signup form, but the main idea is to have substance to a post. Why is this a cool thing you found? How does this idea affect the industry? What makes this new and original?
Open registration will begin in a couple weeks once we get the logistics worked out. If you want to have your articles posted on the site sooner, reach out to me on Twitter and I’ll manually add you as a contributor.
So that is the new Motion League in a nutshell. We hope our changes encourage more participation both from us and from the larger motion design community. As with anything here, this is a work in progress and we will adapt, change things as needed, and respond to suggestions and criticism.
- We love both Motionographer and mograph.net and have nothing but respect for them. We just felt there was room for a different kind of community. ↩
- Everyone running this site has a full-time job or freelance, some of us have families as well. While we’d love to, none of us can run this site full-time. ↩
Last night on #mochat, Ryan Summers (Imaginary Forces) was kind enough to come out and answer your questions, and giveaway a term of FXPHD—congrats Dino!. The talk ranged from technical (favorite software/plugins) to inspiration and advice.
Some highlighted quotes from Ryan:
Being an artist isn’t a dirty word, and that it means hard work, collaboration, and always sharing what you’ve learned.
There must be a [VFX] union. It’s an embarrassemnt and a black mark on the VFX industry.
Overcommunicate. Be honest. Give yourself a first hold. Try not to double book. Don’t play companies against each other
On starting out…
If you can’t find work right away, make your own. You can always be developing your own brand in the down time.
Never stop asking questions. Always stay humble. Always be learning. Take time out when you can.