What I’m Thankful For

Posted: January 31, 2019 in update
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It’s been quite a while since I last posted, but I certainly haven’t been standing still. Things have been full speed ahead, and I am grateful for every moment. I missed posting during the Thanksgiving break, I thought I would still take some time and talk a little about everything I’m thankful for as we move through the beginning of 2019.

As fate would have it, I ended up back in the VFX Department at Stoopid Buddy after my contract in the Puppet Department ended. I had a wonderful time in there though, and managed to stay there through the completion of the Buddy Thunderstruck build. As you may or may not know, depending on if you have read any of my other posts, I originally started in Puppets after attending classes in both stop-motion animation and puppet fabrication at Buddy. That happened to open up an opportunity for me, and is the first thing I am thankful for.

I took a risk on those classes, coming out from the Chicagoland area (and paying for extended stay housing) so I could attend them. I knew that it would be a fantastic learning experience in a real, working animation studio, so I couldn’t pass it up. What I didn’t necessarily expect, though, was for it to turn into a work opportunity. I was already a pretty big fan of Robot Chicken, but I felt like I really connected with the studio and my instructors. So much so, when I got back home, I felt confident enough to make the leap and finally move to the LA area.

That, of course, was another huge risk. I had some savings, but knew I would go through them quickly in the LA area. Fortunately, I was offered my first short gig at Buddy not too long afterwards, which turned into a much longer one almost immediately thereafter. That was the start of my current path and the next thing I am thankful for.

Fast forward a little bit to more recent times. Like I mentioned, I have been working in the VFX department for almost the last 3 years. As my other speciality, I moved there after projects wound down on the Puppets side. I am supremely grateful to the studio and the department heads for allowing this mobility. I am glad they allowed me to prove myself and my abilities, even without knowing a whole lot about me besides what others told them and my work samples. That openness led me to where I am now.

And where am I now? A couple of Emmy certificates (Robot Chicken) and an Annie Award nomination for VFX (SuperMansion S3) later, I am really thankful once again for all the opportunities I’ve been given. The only dark cloud is the fact that I am currently laid off due to a project slowdown, but I know that will change. I know new opportunities will come around, as long as I am open to them.

But I will always remember and be grateful for everything and everyone that helped get me to this point. I did work really hard, yes, but I also recognize the fact that it didn’t all happen in a vacuum. And I’m thankful for that, too.

Not to brag, but working full-time at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios as a Puppet Fabricator has been fantastic. It has been a lot of hard work and the 10-hour days took a little getting used to, but the fun and creativity can’t be beat. I am incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity.

I have already handled quite a few materials and helped construct a pretty diverse selection of characters, both human and not. I have painted, glued, shaped and sculpted everything from clay to fur, assembled and repaired puppets, helped rig armatures and now I am starting to mold and cast. I came in with some good knowledge, but between the variety of projects and the vast amount of experience in the studio, I seem to learn something new every day.

And now that the studio has acquired a high quality 3D printer, things are about to get even more interesting. I am familiar with RP and creating models for prints, but working with one on a daily basis can be a whole other thing. The resolution of these prints is amazing, too. I am excited for the potential in the area and look forward to seeing what comes out of it.

On the topic of things coming out, I still can’t reveal anything specific, but a couple of the projects I have worked on have either been released or announced. So awesome! The first thing I worked on, an unusual little commercial for the Indian mango fruit drink Frooti, is here:

I painted some of the tiny people (who were 3D printed, by the way), which was truly an exercise in patience. The finished commercial looks great, though! A tremendous team effort that makes it all worthwhile.

The next thing I worked on – and still am – is a new show that was just announced at the Crackle Upfront event: “SuperMansion”.

  

The above image is the first promo shot of the lead character, Titanium Rex, released by the studio. I should mention that I personally did not work on this specific character – that was left to more senior artists – but I have worked on plenty of others. Again, I can’t share anything else beyond what has been authorized just yet, but I can say that this show is a must- watch, and that’s not just because I am biased. 🙂

Then, of course, Robot Chicken Season 8 is also starting up for us as well. Proud, sweet times.

I hope to be able to share more of what I have personally done in the near future. In the meantime, let’s all keep making cool stuff!

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted again, but that’s because I have finally moved to sunny Burbank, California! That’s right kiddies, I’ve packed my bags, loaded up all of my crap and left Chicagoland just in time for the brutal winter to set in. The timing was not planned that way – it just happens to have been when our lease was up. Really. You won’t see me complaining, though. 😉

It has taken some effort to become acclimated to this new environment and I do have my gripes, but from what I’ve seen, they’re the same things most people take issue with (bad drivers, anyone?). The lack of refrigerators took me completely by surprise, though. That’s right, you read that correctly. If you’re from another area and you plan on coming out here, consider this your fair warning: be prepared to buy, rent, borrow, steal etc. your own refrigerator. 99% of the places out here do not come with one. Neat, eh?

The thing I do absolutely love, though, is the amount of creativity and industry surrounding us. Besides the studios, art and artists are everywhere, and although we have not seen anyone we recognize, we have overheard some interesting film conversations in restaurants. The energy is thick and it makes me inspired and hopeful for my future career. It’s exciting and it’s the REAL reason I came out here in the first place.

The other interesting thing I came across in the process of packing were some of my old (and newer) stop-motion armatures. Just for kicks, I decided to line them up and take a pic.

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Now, from left to right we have one of the characters from “In The Park” that is a block type, single wire with resin feet (some body foam still attached). Next is ball-and-socket Grandpa, who’s looking a little skinnier these days. ;-P. His silicone head and a silicone foot are still there, but the rest has been stripped down for future recycling. After that is the first wire bundle armature I made for Caterpillar, when I was playing around and testing out the decidedly non-human design (see previous posts for the final piece). And then lastly we have my current piece in its very early stages. Another wire bundle, I am combining a couple of techniques I have learned from Stoopid Buddy and the Chiodo Bros. to create this decidedly large, humanoid character. I will dedicate another post (or two) to that when it is further along, but for now, I just found it curious to lay them out and have a look at them.

Different styles, different characters. It made me reflect a bit on where I was when each one was made and where I am going. I like to think my skills are evolving and growing with each new piece, but it also feels like they are adapting to the different challenges in my work. That’s another reason why I came out here – to change things up.

So, now it is time to embrace another challenge. See you soon!

So as you may know from my previous post, Learning From Stoopid Buddy, I am learning puppet fabrication and animation from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios. If you haven’t read that post yet, you may want to give it a read first.

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Here are the casts de-molded. The jewel cut is a little hard to see, but it’s basically a zigzag pattern cut into the silicone. The castings now need to be cleaned, sanded, and primed with the flashing removed (those little pegs you see).

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Photo Jul 18, 6 37 18 AM

Once that’s done, I painted the head and jaw and attached them. The flappy jaw is imbedded in the head with a pair of lashed wires attached with Cold Weld. If it breaks, it will be fairly simple to fix. The eyes are going to have “floating” pupils (flat discs attached with sticky wax). The whites look creepy though, I know.

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So this is skipping ahead a little as I didn’t have time to take pics of the bare foam body buildup, but here is her body after it was covered with colored latex and painted. The liquid latex was laid over the foam in layers on top of a covering of foam tape.

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And here she is with more costuming details. The body has also been flocked at this point to give her more of a “fuzzy caterpillar” look. You will also notice the head off to the right side. Her antennae (wires with foam and latex built up like the rest of the body) have been attached, along with her funny “mohawk” of yarn hair, which is stiffened and attached to dense foam.

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All that was left was to put it all together, so there ya go! I really enjoy the “Muppety” look of her. I could hide the sides of the jaw with some foam tape and latex, but I am rather fond of the obvious hinge. I think it adds to the charm. She WILL, however, be getting some hard-cast eyelids with the eyelashes to make them animatable. Right now, there is just colored sticky wax there with the lashes stuck to it as a placeholder. Also, her dress needs more work. Admittedly my sewing skills could use some pointers, but I can make it look better with a little more time.

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Stoopid Buddy Stoodios is awesome, but I’m sure you knew that. If not, here’s proof.

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Now I just have to clean up my mess – in preparation for the next build, which will most likely be Bookworm. 🙂

The Animation class is continuing for a few more weeks, so I am still producing material for that and will be discussing it in another update very soon. The videos are still private, but I will see if that changes at any point. It’s been super fun and educational and I’ve loved every minute of it!

It’s been a little bit, but here I am with what I think is an exciting update. I haven’t gone into it yet, but I am spending my summer studying both stop-motion animation and character fabrication with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios in Burbank, CA! I am actually about halfway through the sessions, but I’ve been so busy between traveling out here and doing the actual work, that my update had to wait a while. That, and I wanted to have something solid to show when I did.

Unfortunately, I did have to sign a NDA, so I have limits on what I can share publicly. As much as I would love to show and tell you about all of the very cool things I’ve seen behind the scenes, I can’t. Suffice it to say that Stoopid Buddy is neck-deep in lots of REALLY nice and fun stuff! Actually, if you haven’t seen the tour that Wil Wheaton did on his show recently with Seth Green, you should check that out. It will give you some idea.

In character fabrication, we started out with planning our original character puppet while learning the basics of Stoopid Buddy’s process. For our puppets, we are going with the build-up technique. Built on a wire armature bundle derived from the Stoodio’s developed method, we are then going to sculpt the body from foam and coat that with latex. My character, as you might imagine if you’ve been following along, is one of the main characters from my thesis. It is the Caterpillar here and here. I felt that she would present a true and proper challenge while standing out in her own, unique way.

Here is the armature build. It is a combination of various gauges of aluminum and steel wire for flexibility, strength and memory, bound together and wrapped/lashed tightly with string and adhesive. Body blocks are formed from epoxy and contain the tie downs at the ends, also bonded to the wires contained within. It is still pre-hands here, but they will be formed from another bundle of steel wires lashed to the wrist loops. The neck and leg wires are intentionally left long at this point to allow for working room while forming and adhering the foam body. The legs were a bit tricky and took a previous test to settle, but this form should work fine. There is actually a ‘notch’ at the top of each leg arch encased in the epoxy to help prevent the wire from coming loose and shifting back and forth or side to side.

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So I did not get a picture of my head sculpt before it went in, but these are the silicone box molds before they are cut open. Just a bunch of foam board cut to size and hot glued together. The silicone we used was Mold Max, a pretty common one for this purpose. The pins you see sticking out of the sides are to mark the position of the sculpt inside. Unfortunately, my sculpt didn’t make it out in one piece (not unusual), but it was done in Chavant NSP.

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And here are the molds cut open. This involved literally cutting the silicone with a surgical blade slowly in what is known as a “jewel cut” until the sculpt is reached. The jewel cut pattern/texture helps seal and hold the mold together when the head is cast. This was an interesting process, as I’ve never quite attempted it before. An interesting alternative to the two-part molds I used for “Grandpa”. Of course the silicone molds are a “soft” mold, which is more suitable for our heads, which are going to be cast in hard plastic. In my case, the Caterpillar will have what is known as a “flappy jaw”, which means she will have a hinged jaw that can be animated. That is why there are two molds here instead of just one, as the jaw naturally needs to be cast separately.

At this point, the heads have been cast and we will be de-molding them next week. Then the real fun of painting and finishing them begins. As you can see, there is much more work to be done before a finished puppet emerges, but I am enjoying the ride!

As far as the animation class goes, I am restricted from sharing the majority of the work as we are using actual Stoopid Buddy puppets to animate. However, if you are interested in seeing it, I would be happy to give you the password to view it privately. We started out with some general exercises to get the fundamentals down, but now we are getting into performance-based material, which is really fun! The current collection is on Vimeo here, but keep in mind you need the password from me to watch.

That’s it for now! Keep checking in! I will have much more to share on this and other topics soon.

This has been, in typical fashion, a very busy spring. In between work on my thesis, I have lended a PA hand on a short, worked very hard to help get our student org The Animation Lodge fully integrated, recognized and formidable, and started to experiment with 3D Dynamics in Maya. All of which has been challenging.

My thesis continues to chug along, although I do feel it’s time to step it up a notch. The rigging of the main characters is proceeding slowly, although I guess it is best to do it right the first time around. Weight tests should be doable soon, followed by animation tests. The backgrounds are floating in limbo a little, but I will bring on extra hands on for that soon as well. I am surrounded by talented and eager people at DePaul, and although production coordination can always be ‘interesting’, I never feel that anyone isn’t putting forth an effort.

As Secretary/Treasurer of The Animation Lodge, I have really been pushing to organize and lift it up to one of DePaul’s largest, most well-known student organizations within CDM. The org was rather quiet when I originally came on, which I felt was a huge shame. We went through one leadership change and had some great times, but when those folks started to leave for the ‘working world’, we went through another change and I got the jobs I have now, along with a new President and VP to work with. They were hungry to do something, so I jumped on the opportunity to really push our org with them. We are now building a website, having guest speakers and gaining publicity, collaborating within the school and organizing a program-wide animated short – dare I say feature-length? 😉 – production by the students and faculty! With continued guidance by the new leadership after I graduate, I have no doubt the Lodge will do great things.

And graduation is coming up on me quickly, but not just yet. So I took a class in 3D Dynamics this spring as well, since it is not something you see a lot of instruction on and I can foresee some applications for my thesis. I am amazed at how frustrating and fun particles, ncloth and fluids can be at the same time. They are very picky in Maya, but once you get them working, the effects can be fantastic. They are VERY system-intensive, though. I am grateful for the amped-up hardware I put in my self-built computer, since I don’t have access to a render farm. 😉

So here is a bit of what I’ve done with dynamics so far. Mostly pretty basic (although I would have to write a fairly long blog post to explain the process), and not stuff I would put in my portfolio, but fun nonetheless. Some have audio and some don’t. I will work to make my final project portfolio-worthy, so we’ll see about that one.


I think that’s it for now. More exciting stuff in the works, but I’ll have to comment on that later. Stick around!

Thesis Character CG Models

Posted: March 26, 2014 in modeling, thesis, WIP
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The CG models of the two main characters are progressing full speed ahead! They are being done in ZBrush, which I’m getting a hand with from a more experienced user. Most of my models have been done directly in Maya up to this point.

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The Bookworm with his book bag.

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Caterpillar in-progress shot.

Caterpillar with her wild "hair".

Caterpillar with her wild “hair”.

Unfortunately, I was not chosen for the grants I applied for, so I will have to reconsider my choice of stop-motion for the animation. I am now researching alternatives, specifically CG animation done in a style to emulate stop-motion. I recently saw the Lego Movie, and I was quite impressed with the look that they achieved with that film. I have not ruled out the possibility of creating physical models of the characters later for fun, though, if time and money allows. Might be neat conversation pieces for the finished short. 😉

Texturing and rigging are up next!

Thesis Environment Designs

Posted: February 24, 2014 in thesis, WIP
Tags:

Here we have, as promised, the environment designs for the house interiors in color! Created, once again, with the help of Juliet H. I think they reflect the characters’ personalities very well. What do you think?

Bookworm's bedroom.

Bookworm’s bedroom.

Bookworm's hallway leading to kitchen area.

Bookworm’s hallway leading to kitchen area.

Bookworm's hallway leading to front door.

Bookworm’s hallway leading to front door.

Bookworm's kitchen.

Bookworm’s kitchen.

Bookworm's living room area/study.

Bookworm’s living room area/study.

Bookworm's chair in the living room - different view.

Bookworm’s chair in the living room – different view.

Caterpillar's hallway area!

Caterpillar’s hallway area!

Caterpillar's living room area.

Caterpillar’s living room area.

Caterpillar's kitchen.

Caterpillar’s kitchen.

Caterpillar's bedroom!

Caterpillar’s bedroom!

I am still proceeding with the intention to complete this as a stop motion/CG hybrid film, although some of this is contingent on the ability to secure funding for the more expensive bits. I have applied for production grant money, so hopefully some of that will work out. I have also worked out a preliminary budget and begun production planning accordingly. It is amazing how much the Producing class I am currently in has been directly useful this quarter. 🙂

As always, constructive criticism/feedback is very welcome! Thanks!

I’ve started in with my thesis project, and although the script, storyboards and animatic are (almost) completely done, I am keeping the story to myself and a select few others for now. I do, however, have several character and environment designs to share. These were created in collaboration with a very talented freelance designer named Juliet H.

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This is my Bookworm character. He is very much what his ‘name’ implies. He is the main character in this little film.

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This is the Caterpillar. She is a bit of a free spirit who tries to enjoy life, but with a kind heart.

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The Bookworm’s house. I know the apple can be a little cliche, but I really like the style on this. I just feel it fits his personality, and it works well in their treetop home.

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The Caterpillar’s home. A little whimsical, like her. Also fits with her nature and the larger environment.

The interiors of the houses will be worked out shortly. We don’t actually see any of the inside of the Caterpillar’s house as the story is now, but it’s good to have it anyway. The more developed things are, the more real they feel, IMO.

I am honestly still debating whether or not to do this stop-motion or CG. I would love to do it stop-motion, but it would be a huge amount of work to complete on my own within the one year timeframe. The school would prefer I do it CG, but they are not forcing me to do so. Of course, I can combine the two, which is what I may end up doing. We’ll see. In the meantime, if you have any opinion on the matter or any feedback on these designs, fire away! I’ll be working on the color palettes and finishing “Grandpa”. 😉

CTN animation eXpo 2013

Posted: November 25, 2013 in update
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I’ve been to CTNx in previous years as an attendee, so I knew it would be filled with awesome, but this year I decided to step it up a notch. This year, I grabbed a table in the fairly new New Talent area of the eXpo. I figured it would be a great way to get some exposure and network with other artists. Boy, was I right.

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But let me back up for a minute. If you’re not familiar with the CTN animation eXpo, which you may not be since this was only its 5th year, you may want to check it out. It is a rapidly-growing convention dedicated to the art and artists of animation (and related media). It has a very strong studio presence, but at its core, it is about the creators. Where SIGGRAPH is more about the tools, CTNx is more about the people that use them. That’s my summary in a nutshell.

So, I had a table at XT32 and shared it with another talented artist, Kasey Amato (see above). We collaborated previously on “Treasure Dogs”, so I knew she had a lot to offer. Our table drew plenty of attention, and we had some great discussions with some really friendly and enthusiastic people. I was even asked to sign a few of my prints, which I found very flattering. A big thank you once again to those who enjoyed our work. I was published in the CTNx Sketchbook as well (below). Cool stuff.

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I had some fantastic conversations with some of the studio representatives, too. I got to show my “Grandpa” puppets to LAIKA and talk to Disney and Nickelodeon, which was all really exciting and fun. No instant hires, of course, but it was invaluable to get advice and feedback from people actually working at those high-profile studios. Worth every bit of my time in line.

I did have some technical difficulties, spent a part of the first day hunting down a power strip, had a Sharpie explode on me and didn’t find out the shipping services of the hotel were closed on Sundays until Sunday. However, when it was all said and done, I was exhausted but very happy and optimistic about the possibilities. I left with a little more understanding and knowledge of myself and my animation colleagues, which is what I think events like this should be all about.