The Narrative Theory Course is a part of the New York Film Academy’s Game Design curriculum. The class focuses on storytelling methods in gaming. Virtual Reality (VR) provides an entirely new way of looking at how to tell stories. Without the control limits of a two-dimensional screen the ability to direct a player’s eye-line is no longer an option. A whole new set of rules has to be developed. This new frontier of technology brought NYFA students to the IMAX VR Centre in Hollywood, CA.
For many students, this was their first experience with VR. “I had a really great time at the VR Center,” said student Kamen Marinov. “The moment I put those Oculus ‘goggles’ on my head I felt this strange feeling — that I was inside someone else. It was like I was seeing through another person’s eyes. It felt odd at first, but when I got used to the visuals and the game mechanics I had an amazing experience.”
Students were able to experience a ton of games that are new to the market. The new “Justice League” game based on the Warner Brother’s film allows players to drive the Batmobile or take out Steppenwolf’s lackeys with Cyborg’s arm cannon. This is just one of the many games currently on display. Set up in an arcade style, students can could jump into several cinematic worlds including “John Wick,” “The Mummy,” “Deadwood,” and the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises.
Some students choose to play two first-person shooters “Raw Data” and “John Wick.” Jeffery Lay found the experience both taxing and informative: “In ‘John Wick,’ I was hiding behind a bar, watching my six, as enemies come from everywhere. A big vase covering an area of my view-making forced me to me lean around it, or jump to shoot over it, even though in reality, nothing is there.”
“VR had a lot more movement than I expected,” said Lay. “I probably changed between standing and crouching about 50 to 100 times in a row.”
Nathan Hales wasn’t just having fun. He learned a lot. “The level of immersion offered by virtual reality is really something that one cannot explain but must be experienced,” said Hales. “I felt like I was living within these virtual spaces. I was cutting down robots in ‘Raw Data,’ instead of the usual extra degree of separation offered from a traditional TV or computer monitor setup. Moving forward with the knowledge I gained from experiencing the capabilities and limitations of virtual reality, I can now envision games for the medium.”
This is important because VR is a hot commodity in the entertainment industry. Since Nonny de la Pena’s VR project in immersive journalism entitled “Hunger in Los Angeles” premiered at Sundance 2012, there’s been a lot of buzz around the future of VR, yet there were many unanswered questions about the possibilities the new technology held at the time. Facebook set a new precedent when it acquired Oculus Rift in 2014. Since then, we’ve seen the development of both VR recording technologies and creative endeavors rapidly accelerate.
Overall, the day was a rousing success. The New York Film Academy would like to thank IMAX VRfor giving our students an opportunity to glimpse the future of gaming.
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) was excited to welcome one of the hottest writers on the animation scene, Mike McMahan. McMahan is currently one of the lead writers for “Rick and Morty” on Adult Swim. A funny kid from Chicago, he originally made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles to become a feature film comedy writer. Luckily, he fell into the world of animation, and television may never be the same. He spoke with NYFA Instructor, Eric Conner, about how to become a Writer’s Assistant, the secrets of the Rick and Morty writer’s room, and his journey from Chicago to Hollywood.
Like the vast majority of comic writers and performers from Chicago, McMahan began his career at the Second City. While still in college studying drama, he would do basic things for the Second City Theater like help set up the stage before a show. From that experience, he was able to get a P.A. job at Scott Rubin Productions, which led to him being hired on Comedy Central’s “Drawn Together.” When the plug was pulled on the show one of his superiors was able to recommend him for “South Park.” From there he went to Fox Animation where he met Justin Roiland.
Roiland is now known as the voice of both Rick and Morty, but back then he was pitching pilots. “They were just as good as Rick and Morty,” McMahan said. He knew right away he wanted to work with Roiland in a professional capacity. “I know you’re going to have a hit show one day, like, you’re brilliant. ” he told Roiland, “Can I, please, just work on it in some capacity when you do?” A couple of years later, when Adult Swim picked up two scripts to prove it should be a series, Roiland asked him to come on as a writer’s assistant. The rest, as they say, is history.
McMahan gave the students the skinny on working as an assistant in a writer’s room. “It’s kind of different depending on what room you’re in. It’s an insanely amazing job to get, particularly if you want to be a comedy writer.” A day breaks down like this: the assistant arrives about thirty minutes early. All day they sit on their laptop and take notes as the writers pitch ideas. The assistant is the keeper of all knowledge.
In the “Rick and Morty” writer’s room, they use a program called Pear Notes, which records all the dialogue in the room. The recording is then sent to the writer assigned to that particular episode. This recording is vital because it doesn’t just serve as a reference for the writer. In a show that uses improvisation heavily, it captures those magic moments, like Dan rapping a song off the top of his head. The writer can add those lyrics verbatim to the script, but it might not capture the cadence or expression of a word. Luckily, the audio can also be played in the recording booth when an actor is doing their voiceover, too.
At the end of the day, the assistant throws out all of the trash in the room and gets it ready for the next day. “You’re kind of like their babysitter. You’re going to spend the entire next day in that room.” The assistant then organizes all the notes and pulls clips from films and television that were referenced during the meeting. Traditionally, writer’s assistants work for a year and then they’re given an episode to write. “On an Adult Swim show, this is a chance to prove your voice as a writer.”
McMahan got his first chance to write for Rick and Morty with season one episode nine, “Something Ricked This Way Comes.” This now iconic episode featured an ending where Summer and Rick get buff and beat up cruel people like a man who strangles his dog, and a Nazi. It earned him a new title in the show’s second season, Story Editor. By the third season, he had earned the position of Story Producer and written a total of four episodes for the show: “Rickshank Redemption,” “The ABC’s of Beth,” and “Total Rickall.”
McMahan warned students that as incredible as these jobs are they are also difficult to come by. “They usually go to the assistants of the lit agents because they know the job exists in the first place. If the creator doesn’t have someone they’re already interested in usually the answer is yes because the agent’s assistant tends to be responsible. They set up meetings and manage the calendar so they should be able to handle the responsibility.” Another way to get in is to be the writer’s PA.
Connor asked McMahan, “What do you think you learned as a Writer’s Assistant that you couldn’t have learned in a classroom?” McMahan responded, “I think you learn that every room is going to be different. There’s no manual you can read that is going to teach you how to be chill and do a good job.”
He goes on to explain that nobody remembers the job that was done; they remember the person who did the job. “A lot of advice I give to first time writers who are moving out here is, it doesn’t matter what job you get, it matters that you’re the best at doing the job.” A writer’s room is like a family. Integrating one’s self into that family is how people stick around.
One student, Nigel Robinson, asked, “What are some of the techniques you use to reverse audience expectations to make the show re-watchable.” McMahan contributed a large part of the show’s success in this area to Reddit. “If somebody guesses something we were planning to do on Reddit, we all get together and say ‘We’re not doing that anymore.’” If somebody tweets ideas at McMahan, he lets them know that they won’t use it.
“If a thousand people guess an ending then that means a thousand people will watch and think that’s’ just an okay episode.” So they stretch themselves to come up with something completely different. “When I tell other writers how many weeks we spend on these shows they’re in awe.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Mike McMahan for taking time to speak with our students. There’s no word yet on whether the show has been picked up for a fourth season, but keep watching Adult Swim for more information.
On Wednesday, November 15th, students at the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy were invited to a special animation presentation of “Coco” led by Character Shading Lead, Byron Bashforth. Chair of Animation, Craig Caton-Largent, played host for the evening.
Bashforth brought several clips from the film. Crowd favorites included an inspiring musical number and an overconfident child fighting with their family. Students were also able to view the stages of animation.
One of the main challenges of making “Coco” was how to make a convincing skeleton that wouldn’t scare the children in the audience. Creators went back and forth making a lot of little decisions such as should the skulls have eyes, what’s the best way to give a skull mouth shapes, and how to distinguish personalities out of the basic bone structure. All of these decisions added up to make for some pretty creative solutions.
The choice to add cloth to bone was one such challenge. The skeletal system is attached to ligaments and muscle tissue. Without them, there are large spaces between the bones. When the characters in “Coco” would walk around, their clothes would get caught in these notches. The animators were tasked with finding a way to keep the integrity of the look of the skeleton, but get the clothes to fit like they were on a flesh and blood body. The answer was to digitally sew cloth around the joints. It can’t be seen in the movie, but it works incredibly well.
From this idea, sprung another. Without any body fat, clothes just drape over the body. Belts, shoulder pads, and heavy fabrics were implemented to give shape to all of the exposed-bone characters.
The walking-test of the characters showed the way in which personalities are given to each person. The sway of their hips, how much their bones jiggle, and a pronounced and defined brow ridge truly helped distinguish one skeleton from another.
Bashforth seemed most excited about discovering a way to make authentic non-scary bones. Disney Studios is a treasure trove of the exotic. So he put the call out to everyone in the office that might have a piece of real animal bone. The best response was a whale vertebra, but they also received cow bones and other animals of varying shapes and sizes.
After each piece of bone was scanned into the computer they experimented with layering the different textures over one another until finding something that looked like bone, but not too much. Then, they created a program where they could control how fresh or deteriorated the bones looked. This ended up being massively helpful because the city of the dead has a lot of skeletons. It also has a lot of lights, “Some of the shots had well over a million lights,” Bashforth said.
One student asked, “How much of the animation is based on the performance the actors give and how much is based on the artist’s own imagination?”
Bashforth answered, “The voice recordings are done first and then the animators animate them as much as possible. The animation performances are really centered around the actors.” The animators would set up cameras in the recording booths and study the performances.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Disney and Byron Bashforth for taking the time to speak with our students. Go see “Coco,” now in theaters nationwide.
On Saturday, October 14th, 2017 Cartoon Network opened a gallery of stills from some of their most popular shows at the Paley Center for Media, in Beverly Hills. “25 Years of Drawing on Creativity” gallery featured images of some of the network’s best shows.
New York Film Academy student Tiffany Victor attended an early press viewing of the exhibit. “Incredible,” is the word she used to describe the two floors of photography, sketches, sculptures, and interactive art installations.
Rebecca Sugar’s “Steven Universe” took the first floor. The walls were lined with early character designs of the three aunts, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. There was even a visual layout describing the musical instruments that define each character. Many fans were excited to see some of their favorite ships (the romantic pairing of characters on the show) drawn by Sugar herself.
Photo by Imeh Bryant/The Paley Center
Upstairs, “OK KO!” and “The PowerPuff Girls” had life-size statues of the main characters from the show on display. There was even a model of the girls’ Townsville home. The walls were lined with artist’s interpretations of themselves as PowerPuff girls. On the opposite wall were dramatic photographs of the claymation episode of Adventure Time! The exhibit even included several of the faces used to animate the character of Finn.
Also included in the exhibit were interactive games and videos. Victor was able to play one of the “Ben 10” games on an iPad. Face-tracking software followed her face and turned her into one of the aliens from the show.
The interactive and eye-opening experience is a fun way to spend an afternoon. This weekend, Tiffany Victor will be going back to the Paley Center to hear Rebecca Sugar and other show creators discuss their process and the upcoming seasons of their shows.
Photo by Imeh Bryant/The Paley Center
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Cartoon Network for giving us a sneak peek at this incredible exhibit and photographer Imeh Bryant of The Paley Center for providing us with the photos used for this article. “25 Years of Drawing on Creativity” runs through October 22nd, 2017 at the Paley Center for Media.
It seems that while earning his MFA in Filmmaking at NYFA Los Angeles, Anthony Falleroni took one of the New York Film Academy’s most cherished values to heart: the commitment to learning by doing. With his background in filmmaking, Falleroni had no formal training or experience in animation, yet that didn’t stop him from creating his own original animated short, “Jumpy” — a beautifully executed story that recently snagged the attention of Vimeo Staffers to become Short of the Week, and was also featured by Vice Creators, Gizmodo, Riot Nerd, Digg, and more.
We had a chance to catch up with Falleroni to hear about what inspired “Jumpy,” and how he mastered his doubts to take on the challenge of learning by doing in the real world.
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?
AF: From a very young age, I’ve always been attracted to storytelling, especially visual storytelling. I was always drawing, playing video games, or wearing out VHS tapes from constant use. When I reached high school and the question of “what do you want to do with your life” really starts being presented to you, filmmaking really seemed like the only right answer — and my mom and stepdad and family were always completely supportive. I decided to study history and psychology at Carnegie Mellon as an undergrad because a) those topics interest me and b) I felt they were important back-bones to better telling stories about being human. When I neared the end of the undergraduate study, moving to Los Angeles and pursuing an actual course of study in film was the natural next step … which lead me to NYFA.
NYFA: Why animation?
AF: All through my study and NYFA and for many years after that, I was always focused on live-action. As much as I’ve always loved animation and loved to draw, making animated films never really entered my mind because I didn’t have any training (or any concept of how to go about it). I certainly didn’t think of animation as something I could just “do.”
Then, in around 2013, I had an idea for a story that was all about imagination, that seemed best suited to animation. So I decided to just give it a try and taught myself as I went, along with watching old documentaries of Walt Disney explaining their process, and eventually my short “Blurry” was complete.
In the process I realized that animation allows for a direct translation of my ideas to the screen. There’s no excuse to be made if the story isn’t told in the absolute best, most efficient, and most engaging way because anything is possible — it can’t be blamed on camera issues or inclement weather, etc. And I like that because it forces me to execute, both technically and conceptually, at the highest level I can. Also, paper and pens are cheap.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your film “Jumpy,” what inspired it, and how you worked on it?
AF: “Jumpy” was inspired by many complex emotions, which I tried to convey in the short. Ideas of feeling unsuccessful, of comparing yourself to others, of determination, etc. And so, in thinking about these ideas, the concept of a frustrating video game came to mind. It seemed to be a fun and unique way to explore those themes … and I’m a nerd, so I was excited to create something in a world that I’ve loved since I was two years old (which is when I got my first NES). I had never designed a whole video game world from scratch and the thought of that challenge excited me.
NYFA: Is Vimeo your primary platform? Can you tell us about your process in distributing your work?
AF: Vimeo is my primary platform, but I also release my work in waves on other platforms. Being primarily on Vimeo also allows me to have “premieres” on other platforms with bigger brands — for example, Vice Creators premiered “Jumpy” directly on their Facebook, which has over a million subscribers and got a much larger audience on Facebook than if I had just uploaded it directly to my own page.
Vimeo also gives you the chance to be selected as a Staff Pick, which I am grateful/lucky that “Jumpy” was selected for — and that brings in a significantly larger audience. In terms of broader distribution, it’s all about messaging people and blogs that would be interested.
With something like “Jumpy,” the video game aspect allows for a really large pool of potential sites that tend to feature gaming-culture stories. So I submitted to many of those outlets (places like Gizmodo and Film School Rejects), and thankfully many of them are responding positively and are featuring “Jumpy.” I also made a BTS video explaining some of the broader concepts I used to make “Jumpy,” and that’s also a really smart strategy to make your content more shareable.
NYFA: Was there any particular challenge in making this short that you overcame?
AF: As I mentioned, I’m not a trained animator, so anytime I start a new animated project it’s a challenge. And again, since having not done a video game-styled animation before, that medium in and of itself was an obstacle.
My main concern was achieving a balance between feeling authentic as a video game and also being emotionally engaging. It can be hard to illicit a connection between the audience and a character made up of a small number of pixels (and who thus can only be so expressive). Overcoming it was just trial and error — playing around with Jumpy’s design until I felt the character worked the way I needed it to and then trusting that instinct.
Animation allows for constant perfecting and you can get stuck never completing something because it can always be better … at a certain point, you just have to trust it and get going.
NYFA: How did you find out that you had been selected as the Vimeo Short of the Week?
AF: When the Vimeo Staff start liking your video, following your profile, and one or more of them comments positively on your video, it’s a pretty good indicator that a staff pick is coming. I noticed all those checkpoints occurring in the morning, so I just kept refreshing Vimeo during the day, suspecting that it was coming and sure enough, it eventually popped up. It’s definitely a rewarding feeling because you know it means more people will see your work, and that’s what it’s all about.
NYFA: What advice can you offer to fellow NYFA animation students aspiring to bring their concept for a short to full realization?
AF: I’m not sure I’m the best person to give advice on animation since I just make it up as I go every time. I’m confident there’s far more I could learn from the NYFA animation students than they can learn from me. If I could say anything to them, it would just be to trust their instincts, make content and not worry about failing. I have done all the animation for my shorts myself thus far and I have no idea what I’m doing — so if they have a story/concept they want to realize, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t just go after it. And if it comes out horrible, then learn from that — examine what worked and what didn’t and start the next idea fresh. I am not endorsed by Nike, but seriously the best advice is just do it.
NYFA: What’s next for you — any projects or next steps you’d like to tell us about?
AF: I always have a million ideas swirling in my head, so simply picking what’s next is a challenge in and of itself. That said, my goal is to one day create an animated feature film. I’ve written a script that I’m very happy with, so my next project may actually be to animate a trailer from that script to give visuals and life to the words on the page — and potentially raise some interest/money/whatever to eventually bring that full story to life.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Anthony Falleroni for sharing a part of his story with our community.
NYFA instructor Craig Caton joined the NYFA Games team on an episode of “Schooled!” and held a crash course on Maya…and dragon physics. The key points of takes us through the steps of animating a dragon, putting it through a flight cycle and running it through Unity for a final polish.
Using a dragon rig from Skyrim, Craig animated an 18 frame loopable flight cycle. One of the keys to making the animation look natural is understanding how a dragon moves and the basic laws of physics. For example, when the dragon is flapping its wings upwards the outer wings would actually be pointed downward (dragon physics!). The technical term for this movement in animation is “overlapping animation” and becomes a fundamental element in making even basic animation look realistic.
Another useful tip we learned was that we shouldn’t be too concerned with symmetry when it comes to animating flapping wings. A common, novice mistake is to try to make the wings move in perfect symmetry when, in nature, birds do not flap their wings in perfect symmetry. A rule of thumb to keep in mind is that nature is rarely perfectly symmetrical.
You can learn more tricks of the trade by viewing the episode in its entirety here:
This September, New York Film Academy alumnus Jason Liles was the second guest for the Alumni Screenings taking place the first Thursday of every month. After a screening of Liles’ latest work, Netflix’s “Death Note,” there was a Q and A. The creature actor is playing the indomitable Ryuk, who was voiced by Willem Dafoe.
This is Liles’ first major motion picture and his enthusiasm for the craft of acting was tangible. He even stayed late, past the school closing, to speak with students about how to break into the industry.
Chair of Alumni Affairs Gabriela Egito and Chair of Animation Craig Caton hosted the evening. They kicked off with the question on everyone’s mind, “What was it like in the Ryuk costume?”
The outfit is skin tight leather, covered in sharp quills, and topped with bold purple hair. The costume came with a lot of restrictions. For one thing, common set etiquette requires crew yell, “Points!” when walking around with tripods, c-stands, or any object that could potentially impale another person. A common joke when Liles arrived on set was to yell, “Quills!”
According to Liles, the quills were the heaviest part of the costume, but not the most challenging part. “Death Note” was filmed over the summer in Toronto. This was not exactly ideal weather in which to be covered head to toe in tight black leather.
One student asked, “How do you, as an actor, take care of your health when you’re in the suit?” Liles gave a lot of credit to the makeup and wardrobe team, who he lovingly called “Team Ryuk.” At one point, a cooling suit was implemented: a system of tubes that run underneath the costume. The idea is that ice-cold water can be shot through the tubes to cool the performer down without taking off the costume.
Keeping on the costume is vital to the filmmaking process. When they first began filming it took about an hour and a half to turn Liles into the god-spirit Ryuk. Before the end of production, Team Ryuk was able to get the costume and makeup done in about 30 minutes, according to Liles. Unfortunately, the cooling suit only worked once for five minutes.
So, Liles was forced to manage his body temperature. The crew was helpful, setting up a cooling tent which was an air-conditioned reprieve from the summer heat. Cold packs were occasionally inserted into the suit between takes to help bring his body temperature down, which could reach over a hundred degrees. But it was staying hydrated that was the most important part.
Getting the right amount of water was tricky. Since taking on and putting on the suit was a complicated affair, Liles had to strike a balance between staying hydrated enough not to die, but not so hydrated that he has to use the restroom every 15 minutes.
But the suit wasn’t the only thing the NYFA community wanted to know about. Many were curious about how an actor can project through big costumes and pounds of makeup. Liles said in order to prepare for Ryuk, he watched the anime series and read the manga created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. But this was just the jumping off point.
David Bowie and Prince were both wanted to perform the role of Ryuk before they passed, and director Adam Wingard wanted to use these musical geniuses as inspiration for the characters movements.
The audition was a simultaneously grueling and joyous process. See, the audition was a movement audition. The single camera was mounted with a wide-angle lens. The script described movements such as popping in and out of the scene in poofs of smoke. “At first I thought, this is impossible,” Liles said.
But he persevered, experimenting with different animal movements and eventually landing on a snake. He used his height to control the space. Sometimes he’d be crouching or slithering across the floor and then he’d stand up, his lanky body creating this skeleton-like creature. Liles even wore an all black leotard, employing his brief training as a mime, hoping the dark clothing would help him look more like liquid.
The casting director was so impressed she told him immediately that he had done a great job and that she hoped he would be cast. Even so, he wasn’t sure he’d land the role. He recalled he had been close to being cast as the titular “Krampus” a few years earlier.
“I was always so close,” he said, but his agent assured him he earned the part. “He told me the only way I wasn’t going to get the part is if I turned it down.”
Liles had quite a lot of wisdom to dispense. He encouraged students to, “…be the CEO of your life. I stopped waiting for somebody to do something.” He told stories of making international calls to Australia to figure out who was casting “Alien V. Predator” because he wanted to be a xenomorph, and walking into casting agents office in Canada and asking for a part.
“I never thought I would do this,” he shared. But Liles wouldn’t let fear stop him from pursuing his goal. “Just try stuff,” he encouraged the students. “There’s only so much prep you can do. When you get on set everything is going to be changing.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Liles for taking the time to speak with our students. Watch Liles in the movie “Death Note” on Netflix, and performing with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “Rampage” as his best friend, an albino gorilla named George.
This August, Head of Animation for Walt Disney Studios Amy Lawson Smeed gave a rousing Q and A at the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy, after a screening of her latest work “Moana.” Smeed’s work includes “Treasure Planet,” “Paperman,” “Frozen,” “Tangled,” and “Moana.” The event was moderated by NYFA Chair of Animation Craig Caton.
Students were excited to hear from one of the few leading women in animation. A recurring theme of the night was how much animation is accomplished by private performances no one ever sees. Smeed described working in an isolated room trying to capture the feelings and actions of a character. “I don’t ever want the character to look like me.”
The performance is less about being the character and more about finding the truth and nuance in the scene. As an example, Smeed spoke about the scene in “Tangled” when Rapunzel sings over a dying Flynn Rider. Smeed drew on a personal family loss and her favorite tearjerkers to study how the throat gets tight when a person cries and how their eyes widen and tear.
Smeed explained to the screenwriters in attendance that as an animator she does not often see a script. The collaborative nature and time intensive work requires a lot of planning up front. The workflow generally begins with a polished script, that is then storyboarded and screened (an animatic) for the entire studio. Everyone then has an opportunity to give notes on what they saw.
Those notes are considered, a new draft is written, and the new and improved animatic is screened. Scenes that work are then given to the voice actors to record the dialogue. The recording sessions are filmed as a reference for animators. Finally, the recorded dialogue is given to the animators and they go to work making their character walk and talk.
The reference tapes can be used to help define the character. Dwayne Johnson’s character in “Moana,” Maui, maintained “the people’s eyebrow” made famous during Johnson’s wrestling days. Smeed says the performance aspect is her favorite part of the job. Animating her first Disney kiss in “Tangled Ever After” was a particular highlight.
Smeed was asked to give the best advice to students getting started in the industry. She said the reel is the animator’s key to getting into the exclusive club of working creators. She highlighted three key elements to improve a reel. The first is to flip images of characters. If a something seems off about a pose, reverse the image. If it still seems off or if the pose becomes worse, it means something is wrong — perhaps the weight is distributed oddly or an angle of the limbs slightly askew.
Smeed also shared that incorporating entertainment value is vital to impressing a veteran reviewing your work. “This can be something funny, a line or a gag, or it can be a moment that moves you,” Smeed said. What matters most is that an emotional reaction is elicited out of the viewer.
Finally, students were encouraged to make sure the animated scenes in their portfolio include texture. Smeed defined texture as the way characters react to objects, tasks, and people when they are not speaking. Giving their hands and face definition is vital to making the character feel like a living being.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Amy Smeed for taking the time to speak to our students. Smeed’s next project is “Wreck-It Ralph 2,” and she noted that she’s excited to be animating the reunion of all the living Disney Princesses.
New York Film Academy Instructor Craig Caton has created a new plug-in on Autodesk Maya that may revolutionize the way digital puppetry in both independent productions and major motion pictures.
The new software is called Animservo. It is non-real time facial recognition software that allows a single puppeteer to craft and save a performance before ever arriving on set. The software records a performer using a go pro. Facial recognition software captures the performance, and it is then uploaded into the puppet. With Animservo, the nuances of facial recognition performance by the puppeteer are recorded and then uploaded to Maya. The performance is refined and then downloaded into the puppet.
Utilizing a GoPro and marker-less facial recognition software, the puppeteer does not even have to be in the same state as the production. A recent test allowed a puppeteer to give a performance in Texas for a puppet in Los Angeles.
Usually, crafting a performance with a puppet requires quite a few performers. For example, the T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” utilized five union performers: one controlled the eyebrows, another the mouth, a third the neck, and so on.
Animservo can save productions a ton of money on performers and allows directors to have a picture-ready performance with less rehearsal time. If a director changes his or her mind about the way a performance looks it will take the puppeteer just a few minutes to make adjustments and the puppet will be ready for the next take.
As great as this invention is both financially and on a time crunch Caton says he has “something even better on the horizon.” In the mean time, Caton will be previewing Animservo at SIGGRAPH, or the Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques in Los Angeles.
In order to get this new plug-in sign up for the training class here. The software comes free with the class.
NYFA college, conservatory, and summer camp students gathered at the Riverside Theater at the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus for a Q&A with DreamWorks chief technology officer, Jeff Wike. Mr. Wike has been with DreamWorks since before the renowned production company ventured into 3D animation. NYFA Chair of 3D Animation Craig Caton conducted hosted the event.
Caton, also a veteran of DreamWorks, reminisced with Wike on what it was like to work in a space where the employees were provided a free lunch: a seemingly simple gesture from one of the largest animation companies in the world means a lot more than just a nice meal.
“One thing that’s unique about DreamWorks is the artists and technicians work together,” said Wike. “We work together, we eat together; breakfast and lunch everyday. Which is brilliant, by the way. Let me talk about free lunch. If you think about it, it cost about $10 a day to feed an employee. You’re sitting with the people you work with. I eat lunch every day with my director of boards. Not just because I like them, but also I get to catch up with them. Yeah, we talk about what we did last night or this and that, but a lot of what we talk about is work.”
“It’s kind of a village and building a family,” Caton said, agreeing that eating lunch on campus fosters a sense of community. At DreamWorks, animators are hired to the company — not for a project. This means teams are working together for years, and every day they foster stronger relationships.
One student asked which operating systems should be mastered to help garner professional success in animation.
“We do use Maya for layouts,” said Wike, spotlighting the Oscar-winning software taught in NYFA 3D animation programs. “We have a system we built on top of it called the Tiber. It allows us to do really interactive set dressing. It does a lot of lazy coding. We do use it in some character effect systems. Mostly we’ve been migrating a lot of that stuff to Houdini over the past six or seven years.”
For rendering systems, DreamWorks has created their own rendering software, Moonray, used for feature films. A look at their logo might give insight to the inspiration for such a name. For TV the company employs Vray, while Maya is a go-to tool for a variety of other projects.
The takeaway, according to Wike, is that animators need to know a little bit of everything. “You want to constantly explore,” Wike said as he explained that DreamWorks has a license for nearly every type of animation software on the market.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jeff Wike for taking the time to speak to our students and the kids participating in teen and tween camps. DreamWorks’ “Captain Underpants” is in theaters now, while “Dawn of the Croods” and “Spirit” are currently streaming on Netflix.