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  • “Rick and Morty” Writer Mike McMahan Visits New York Film Academy Los Angeles

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    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 A funny kid from Chicago, he originally made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles to become a feature film comedy writer.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.

    "Rick and Morty" writer Mike McMahan answers questions from students at the New York Film Academy

    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.”

    Mike McMahan answers students questions about screenwriting

    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.

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    November 30, 2017 • 3D Animation, Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 758

  • NYFA Students Attend “Doctor Strange” Screening at Disney Animation

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    Last week, New York Film Academy Los Angeles students were offered 50 seats to see Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” at Disney’s theater in their animation lot. After the screening there was a Q&A with the film’s sound team: Juan Peralta, Doc Kane, Jesse Torres and Daniel Laurie. The fifty available spots filled quickly, with students eager to experience this unique opportunity

    As student’s pulled into the lot the first thing they saw was the original Burbank animation building, built by Disney in 1935. Emerging from the garage they could see the seven dwarves looking down on them from their pillars. Security escorted them through the lot, past the water tower and the neon Disney castle sign to the theater.

    Above the entrance, a “Star Wars” banner covered an eighth of the building. Once checked in popcorn and bottled water was handed to each patron before they selected seats.

    There was a slight anticipation in the air. After all, this is the theater where animators screen future classics. This is literally where the magic happens. A smattering of applause as the projector winds up and the curtain is pulled back.

    After the film, chairs are brought out and the guest speakers begin to take questions from the audience. New York Film Academy Animation student Ala Abdelbar said, “I really wanted to see a movie on the Disney Lot,” and after the Q&A, she felt she learned a great deal about the sound design that goes into the film.

    Other students remarked at what a great opportunity the Q and A was to hear from an entire sound design team instead of just a single voice. This event was also a great networking experience since film students and professionals from all over Los Angeles were in attendance.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Disney for this opportunity.

    To learn more about “Doctor Strange” click here.

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    February 3, 2017 • 3D Animation, Community Highlights • Views: 1453

  • NYFA Animation and VFX Students Visit California Science Center

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    Last week, with stops in Santa Monica and downtown, a group of New York Film Academy Animation and VFX students got to go behind-the-scenes at SideFX Software and take in the sites at the California Science Center.

    california science center

    If you don’t know SideFX, well, it’s rapidly taking over the VFX and interactive world with its powerful procedural cg animation and VFX tool Houdini. Gabriel Fernandez and Ujala Saini are one year students in the Animation and VFX program and they made the most out of meeting the people that know Houdini best — the people that make it and use it everyday — and asked lots of great questions.

    Tiffany Victor, a student in NYFA’s Animation VFX BFA program, jumped at the chance to be the first to beta test a new UNITY game built with the powerful Houdini Engine in the Htc Vive Virtual Reality System. Big CG thanks to Ben Mears, Rob Stauffer, Genesis Lee and the rest of the team at SideFX for opening their doors to the NYFA Animation and VFX students here in Los Angeles.

    space shuttle

    After that, the trip headed downtown to the California Science Center with its Science of Pixar Exhibition, and the Space Shuttle Endeavour for the cherry on top. The Pixar show was full of over-sized interactive learning stations that brought the nuts and bolts of CG animation to life. The exhibition gave everyone a chance to see how the tools they use for homework today are the same tools they will use in their careers tomorrow.

    With only time for one last stop, the group took the opportunity to check out NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavor.

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    January 13, 2017 • 3D Animation • Views: 2792

  • NYFA Animation Alumna Works on FX for “Suicide Squad” and “Fantastic Beasts”

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    alex lorussoSince graduating from the Animation School at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles, Alexandra LoRusso has worked on the visual FX for major Hollywood movies like “Suicide Squad,” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” She currently works for the VFX company MPC Montreal, where she is now working on two other films.

    While the animation alumna has admitted she’s extremely busy with her work, she took the time out to answer a few questions about her career in FX.

    Which film would you say is the reason you chose this profession?

    It’s hard to pick just one. I will always remember the first movie I saw and it was also my first Disney movie. “Dumbo” inspired me to want to work in the world of Animation/VFX, and in films in general.

    Which area of 3D animation and VFX has been your focus since graduating?

    Since completing the 1 Year Animation program, my focus has been in Effects Animation.

    Which films or projects most proud of, and why?

    Out of all the films I’ve worked on so far, I think I would have to say that I’m most proud of the work I did on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

    suicide squad

    still from “Suicide Squad”

    If you take a look at this still from “Suicide Squad,” I was tasked to do all the tracer hits, so all the sparks/debris/smoke.

    fantastic beasts

    still from “Fantastic Beasts”

    For the still from the final trailer of “Fantastic Beasts,” I was tasked to break the crate when it hit the Occamy, and added in splinters.

    When you’re working on the FX for a film, who are you typically collaborating with?

    I collaborate the most with my lead/leads and other FX artists on the film. We do also have daily review sessions with our FX Supervisors who give us feedback on the shot/shots we are working on.

    Would you say your experience at NYFA’s Animation School was useful in terms of the work you’re currently doing?

    The tools I learned while at NYFA were a great introduction to what I’m currently doing.

    Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

    Since finishing up on “Fantastic Beasts,” I’ve gone on to work on two other films, which I can’t really say anything about at the moment.

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    January 11, 2017 • 3D Animation, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4314

  • NYFA LA Welcomes Special Guest Eric Goldberg, Disney Animator: “Moana”

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    On Wednesday, Nov. 16, legendary Disney animator Eric Goldberg brought an exclusive preview of Disney’s latest project, “Moana” to New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. The chair of animation, Mark Sawicki, moderated the event.

    disneymoanaunnamed

    Goldberg’s career is extensive. He’s worked on classic animated television shows such as “Looney Tunes” and “The Simpsons.” His work at Disney includes supervising the dance sequences in Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” and serving as supervising animator for the Genie in “Aladdin.” His specialty is 2D animation. For “Moana,” he oversaw the animation of Mini Maui, the mobile tattoo of Dwayne Johnson’s larger-than-life Maui.

    The theater was filled with animation and game design students both eager to hear from someone with over 25 years in the business and excited to catch a sneak peak of “Moana.” Goldberg did not disappoint in either area, treating students to over an hour of behind-the-scenes footage — including messages from the cast and crew, works in progress, and clips from the film.

    Many students wanted to know how 2D animators could survive in a 3D animation world. Goldberg assured students that the fundamentals wouldn’t be disappearing from animation anytime soon. “I always encourage people to look at the principals,” he stated, “They’ve held together for 100 years.” Mock up, character design, and landscaping are still all animation jobs that are originally drawn by hand.  “It’s about creating characters people can identify with. It’s a blend of both sensibilities: theatric and artistic.”

    Walt Disney Animation Studios' artist Jin Kim showcases the look of the title character in the upcoming adventure "Moana." Says director Ron Clements, “Moana is a vibrant, tenacious 16-year-old growing up on an island where voyaging is forbidden. But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she can remember and is desperate to find out what’s beyond the confines of her island.” Directed by Clements and John Musker and featuring the voice of Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli'i Cravalho in the title role, "Moana" opens nationwide on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

    ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

    For those hopefuls trying to get into Disney, Goldberg had some additional advice. “Disney is always looking for talent.” He suggests going to the Disney website and looking at the portfolio requirements. He also suggests a tactic that he called “observe and caricature” to up one’s game. “How can you identify a friend in a crowd from behind and 20 yards away?” Goldberg asked.  “It’s their walk. You know how they carry their weight. How they walk when they’re sad or mad.” Goldberg suggests practicing nailing those walks and gestures in order to improve basic skills.

    _DSC0732-300dpi

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Goldberg for sharing his wealth of knowledge with humor and humility. NYFA would also like to thank Tova Laiter for bringing this presentation to the school.

    “Moana” will be in theaters near you on Nov. 23, 2016.

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    November 18, 2016 • Guest Speakers • Views: 3742

  • Two Animated Shorts from NYFA Alumni to Screen at NYC ACM SIGGRAPH’s MetroCAF

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    NYC ACM SIGGRAPH will be presenting the fourteenth edition of its annual metropolitan-area college computer animation festival. The organization aims to foster the synthesis of art and technology while promoting and educating the computer graphics and interactive media community through the exchange of printed and electronic information and innovative ideas.

    Two New York Film Academy student animated films from this past year’s crop of animators have been selected for the MetroCAF Student Competition, with the screening held on Friday, September 23rd.

    The two films that will screen are:

    “Ravage” by Felipe Amaya

    Ravage from Felipe Amaya on Vimeo.

    Amaya says his film is all about the very plausible outcome of what will happen if we allow ourselves to continue producing and consuming en masse without environmentally friendly alternatives and practices.

    “There were two goals that I wanted to achieve with this project: I try to be a very environmentally conscious person and wanted to include a little bit of that aspect of my personality in this short film,” said Amaya. “I consider that humanity, being the dominant species of the planet, has a great responsibility to the environment as well as the obligation to change its practices in order to prevent mass pollution and global warming.

    I wanted to explore the technical aspect of rigging in more depth and in a more mechanical way, therefore the machines. My goal was to learn more about the virtual bolts and screws that hold everything in place and allows 3D objects to move.

    I combined these two goals and came up with the result you will see at MetroCAF.”

    Amaya is currently working at VRAM FX, a visual effects company based in NYC.

    “The Right Way” by Elena Zobak Alekperov & Flavia Groba Bandeira 

    The Right Way from Flavia Groba on Vimeo.

    This short story is about a mom trying to do the right thing raising her child, but sometimes things are not what they seem to be.

    “The inspiration behind this video was taken from my life,” says Zobak. “I wanted to share my experience of being a parent and trying to do the right thing with everyday life choices. And since sometimes we’re a little bit hypocritical with all this ‘right approach,’ this funny scenario just came to mind.”

    Flavia was responsible for environment design as well as the overall look.

    “I tried to fit the environment to the characters personality or, in the case of the girl, her imposed personality by the mother,” said Groba.

    “It sounds trite to ‘write what you know,’ but by doing so, this team was able to tap into the emotions—humor, frustration, love, contradiction—that make this mother-daughter relationship so relatable, and so funny,” said NYFA 3D Animation & Game Design Chair, Phoebe Elefante. “The high level of technical expertise exhibited in the production is seamless, so the audience can be completely immersed in the storytelling. That’s the kind of mastery to which we encourage all students to aspire.”

    “The Right Way” also screened at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

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    September 16, 2016 • 3D Animation, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 3448

  • Two Animated NYFA Shorts to Screen at Venice Film Festival

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    In addition to the two live action shorts and a documentary short, the New York Film Academy will be screening two animated short films at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

    Both films were created in NYFA’s 3D Animation program as collaborative projects.

    the right way

    still from “The Right Way”

    One of the films, “The Right Way,” was created by Elena Zobak Alekperov and Flavia Groba Bandeira. The short story is about a mom trying to do the right thing raising her child, but sometimes things are not what they seem to be.

    “The inspiration behind this video was taken from my life,” says Zobak. “I wanted to share my experience of being a parent and trying to do the right thing with everyday life choices. And since sometimes we’re a little bit hypocritical with all this ‘right approach,’ this funny scenario just came to mind.”

    Flavia was responsible for environment design as well as the overall look.

    “I tried to fit the environment to the characters personality or, in the case of the girl, her imposed personality by the mother,” said Groba.

    “It sounds trite to ‘write what you know,’ but by doing so, this team was able to tap into the emotions—humor, frustration, love, contradiction—that make this mother-daughter relationship so relatable, and so funny,” said NYFA 3D Animation & Game Design Chair, Phoebe Elefante. “The high level of technical expertise exhibited in the production is seamless, so the audience can be completely immersed in the storytelling. That’s the kind of mastery to which we encourage all students to aspire.”

    the perfumist

    still from “The Perfumist”

    The other animated film that will screen at the NYFA Showcase in Venice is “The Perfumist,” which was a collaborative effort amongst several animation students — Yukari Akaba, Shannon Lee, Daniela Lobo Dias, and Sandra Rivero Ortiz.

    “The Perfumist” is a dramatic story highlighting the battle of “Machine-Equipped Man” against “Cosmic Nature.” Seeking the perfect scent for his perfume, Benedict Malville runs into the consequences of trampling on sacred, natural ground.

    “I love this short film for many reasons,” said Elefante. “Its exquisite beauty, its dark humor, its depth. But I am most proud of this short because it is creative collaboration at its best. Each woman worked to showcase the others’ talent, and together they were able to produce something exceptional — even beyond what each could have done by herself. That embodies the spirit of ambition and cooperation I hope to see in every student.”

    The animated shorts will be introduced on September 1st by NYFA alumnus Giorgio Pasotti (“The Great Beauty,” “After Midnight,” “Salty Air”) at the brand-new Venice Production Bridge platform at the Spazio Incontri of Venice’s Excelsior Hotel.

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    August 30, 2016 • 3D Animation, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4023

  • NYFA Los Angeles Animation Instructor Highlights

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    Our award-winning faculty and instructors continue to shine in both the classroom and the professional arena. Recently, New York Film Academy Los Angeles Co-Chair of Animation and VFX, Matt Galuppo, and ace faculty member, Matt Sheehan, recently created a refugee awareness video for the Ad Council.

    Galuppo’s company produced the beautiful PSA that is both touching and timely in this time of derisiveness. One can truly appreciate the trials and suffering of our fellow humanity around the globe. Sheehan is featured in the PSA as one of the people chosen to engage in the “experience” of being a refugee.

    Meanwhile, NYFA LA Chair of Animation, Mark Sawicki, contributed matte painting work to the award-winning documentary “Inside the Garbage of the World” directed by Phillipe and Maxine Carillo. His work depicts hundreds of dead whales on the sea shore as a premonition of the ecological catastrophe that awaits if the issue of plastic pollution in our ocean is not addressed.

    The film is now available on Amazon Prime and will be distributed by Dreamscape to universities and public libraries. The film will also be translated into foreign languages and distributed internationally by Journeyman pictures.

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    August 16, 2016 • 3D Animation, Community Highlights • Views: 2126

  • Starting a Career in Animation Through Social Media

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    As a graduate of the 3D Animation program at the New York Film Academy, Eliska Podzimkova has utilized her skills and creativity through the emerging social media platform, Instagram. Since creating her account animateNY, Eliska has grown over 56k followers, who all check their newsfeed for Eliska’s unique take on both New York City and, currently, the world.

    Trap

    A photo posted by Eliska Podzimkova (@animateny) on


    The Prague native has loved New York City ever since she was a child and her pursuit of the arts at the New York Film Academy only furthered her love. To continue her stay in New York, Eliska was welcomed to NYFA’s social media team to liven its artistic brand and engage with likeminded artists. Her work was well received by students, alumni, and followers of the Academy.

    “The Story of New York”

    A video posted by Eliska Podzimkova (@animateny) on


    After nearly a year of working with NYFA, Eliska’s sense of exploration and desire to travel the world led her back to Europe where she continues to work, travel, and animate. Eliska has worked alongside British celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, and has been featured in numerous publications including Metro NY, Evening Standard, boredpanda, and others. Her short film Babl won Best Animated Short at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in Brooklyn.

    BABLS from Eliska Podzimkova on Vimeo.

    This summer, the New York Film Academy is reuniting with the animation alumna through its annual #NYFASummer Photo Contest. For the past few summers NYFA has held a photography contest on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) for our summer camp students to show off their locations, sets, and overall campus life at each of their specific locations.

    For more information on the #NYFASummer Contest, please CLICK HERE.

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    June 14, 2016 • 3D Animation, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 5355

  • Game Design and 3D Animation Graduation

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    The New York Film Academy’s 26 Broadway transformed into a miniature arcade last week as Game Design and 3D Animation students showcased their final games and thesis films to peers, friends and family.

    game design grad

    “I am immensely proud of our graduates,” said Game Design and 3D Animation Chair Phoebe Elefante. “They have stretched themselves beyond what they thought possible, and they have achieved so much in such a short time.”

    Visitors had the chance to play student-made games like Kramacus 2 and Climaniacs while 3D Animation student films were shown both during a screening showcase and on a rear projection at the graduation reception. It was quite remarkable seeing what each student had accomplished in just a year’s time.

    game design graduates

    “They have acquired all of the skills they will need to pursue their passions in the fields of animation and game design, and they have demonstrated the dedication to succeed,” added Elefante. “It has been my honor to help them on their way, and I wish them all good hunting.”

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