Saturday 27 August 2011

Trent Correy Interview

In July 2010, Arthur Gil Larsen won the 11 Second Club competition with a 2d entry. Its been a while, but exactly a year later, Trent Correy won July 2011's competition with his beautiful entry about a Spaniel named Harry. Through this interview, I had the wonderful opportunity to find out more!

I would of course like to thank Trent for this opportunity. Very indepth a providing beautiful insight. I have enjoyed every word. Thank you.

(Reboot Animation Series)
What was your favourite cartoon series as a child?
As a child, I loved the show Reboot. I used to rush home from school just to watch it! The actual animation was simple and at sometimes pretty crude, but the story line was great and I guess that’s what got me hooked. I generally grew up watching the Disney movies of the 90’s (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, etc.) but I was also really inspired by live action movies such as Jurassic Park or The Terminator; basically anything Stan Winston. At that point, I was fascinated by practical effects and visual make-up in live action movies.

How did you get into animation? Was it your goal as soon as you began to draw, or did the enthusiasm for animation come later?
This question leads to quite the unusual and rather funny story… Let’s put it this way: I failed high school art. When I was a child, art always came easy to me, whether I was finger painting, scribbling, or drawing a picture. I grew up in a somewhat artistic environment: My mom was always painting at home and took time to teach me. In grades seven and eight, I won the Art Award and was chosen to paint a giant mural for my school, with the help of my mother. High school came around, and I was enrolled in grade 9 art class. Unfortunately, the teacher I had that year was narrow-minded and prevented me from pursuing the “art of animation”. I was instantly turned off of art, failed the class with a 49% and never took another art course in high school. Graduation was right around the corner; I was determined to pursue professional Volleyball and hadn’t picked up a pencil or thought about art since my terrible experience in grade nine. When Algonquin College offered me some scholarship money to play Volleyball, I needed to choose a program to study…this is where my mother comes back in. It was my mom that found the Animation program at Algonquin. I had no idea of its existence, and hadn’t even thought of pursuing art as a career. In a matter of weeks, she helped me throw a portfolio together, and I slowly started to get reconnected with my artistic side. Once I was accepted into the program, my passion was still in Volleyball and other sports, however, my enthusiasm for animation came with time. The first year of school was a struggle. Time management and many hours of hard work were very important for me to balance varsity Volleyball and the animation program. I had a great teacher named Keith Archibald who really nailed the basics into me; he shared a similar passion for art and athletics. My wonder and excitement for animation continued to expand. However, I always felt that it was an unreachable goal, a constant challenge. In the middle of second year I made the decision to quit Volleyball and give my full attention to animation, thus how it became such a huge part of my life. It’s still “An unreachable goal” and every day is a challenge, but that’s what keeps me passionate and enthusiastic about this crazy art form and career in animation.

Talk about your career so far?
My career has only just begun, and I still feel like I am a student learning more about animation every single day. Nonetheless, I have had some wonderful career opportunities in the past couple years. In the summer of second year, I was given my first job in animation at Mercury Filmworks in Ottawa, Canada as a character animator on the TV series, Toot and Puddle. I spent four months trying to figure
out what the heck I was doing! I was just happy to be a part of the studio and contribute to a series that was pioneering a new way to animate TV shows. ToonBoom Harmony was the program used to produce the animation in the show; it was a hybrid of 2D/3D/paper cut-out animation. As far as the studio was concerned, animation was to be completed in “feature quality”. The studio really pushed the limits of both the quality of production and its animators. It was a terrific environment to learn in. Despite the amount that I was learning at Mercury, I was determined to return for my third and final year at Algonquin, in order to complete a short-film. I am happy with this decision as it was my third year short film that helped point me in the right direction, towards working as a professional animator.
Charged, my third year film, was completed in collaboration with fellow students, Collin Tsandilis and Mayrhosby Yoeshen and mentor, Ian Jeans. If I had advice for students, it would be to work in collaboration, as you learn just as much from your peers, as you do from your teachers. I was challenged year-long to keep up with the talent of my collaborators, and it was our continuous and healthy competition that helped us complete a film with a high production level. Watching it now, of course, I cringe… perhaps even shed a tear... but it was the experience that I took the most out of, not the outcome.

(click here to watch charged and also to visit Trent's blog)

That year, as a fresh graduate, I returned to Mercury Filmworks, as a storyboard clean-up and revision artist on the Disney XD show, Jimmy Two Shoes. I worked under the talented co-directors, Sean Scott and Kyle Marshall. I spent eight months working on Jimmy Two Shoes, refining my drawing skills and posing for animation. It was still a struggle every day; posing and drawing still seemed very challenging, not to mention understanding the graphic style of the show. I had great mentors Kyle Marshall and Steve Lambe, and learnt a great deal working on Jimmy Two Shoes.
(Jake and the Neverland Pirates)
I was then asked to animate on a Disney production at Mercury Filmworks, called Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which is produced in the same style as Toot and Puddle, using ToonBoom Harmony. This was a great project, working with well-known characters such as Hook and Mr Smee! I spent about six months animating on the show and learning a great deal about character animation. At the same time, I made sure to be constantly working on personal projects and my portfolio. Although I had only had about ten months of professional animation experience, I was itching to push my limits further! My goal had always been set on feature film, and when I heard that Sony Imageworks was hiring, I sent in my demoreel. I knew that my work was not yet up to par, but I took a leap of faith and sent it anyways… Low and behold, weeks later I was on an airplane heading to Vancouver and to a new position as character animator on The Smurfs 3D!
Aside from working at Mercury Filmworks and Sony, I worked on commissions such as creating illustrations, caricatures, and portraits. I also taught Perspective Drawing at Algonquin College for a semester and continued working on personal projects.

I understand you have recently completed work on the Smurfs. Many traditional cartoons for instance Yogi Bear and Alvin and the Chipmunks are being remade into 3d features. What are your thoughts on classic cartoons being transferred to 3D?
Smurfs 2d to 3d
Tough question… Previous to working on The Smurfs, I looked at these films (Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks, etc.) and laughed. Personally, I did not find them entertaining and did not completely care for them. However, after working on the Smurfs, my perspective has done a complete 180! A lot of hard work, dedication, and talent go into making these films, and I have gained a new respect for all types of film. I think the idea of classic cartoons coming back as 3D animated films is a subjective topic. For children, who didn’t grow up with the series, it is a great way to re-introduce great stories and capitalize on the properties. For “die-hard” fans, reactions can be mixed: it can either ruin a childhood memory, or rejuvenate their inner child. I will have to let you know how I feel, once they’ve remade Reboot!

When you joined Sony Animation Studio you had very little experience in 3D. How did you find the change from 2D to 3D?
I am extremely open-minded when it comes to animation. I love it all, be it 2D, 3D, stop-motion, you name it! During my interview with Sony Pictures, I was told that I would mainly be working on Crowd shots, and assisting in other scenes. Upon arrival, I was basically thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim- I was given a shot of my own. Although I was intimidated, it was the best way to learn, and Sony gave me the chance to do so. The change from 2D to 3D had its turbulence, and it was definitely not a walk in the park. It involved a lot of hard work, long hours and dumb questions, but it was everything that I wanted!

Do you now find you have a different process when approaching the two different forms of animation?
My process remains the same: extensive research, detailed thumb nailing, and a lot of blood and tears (and coffee)! From a technical side, I still approach a 3D scene with a very traditional perspective, key-framing on 2’s and 4’s, working in stepped mode 80% of the time and allowing the computer to do as little as possible. From an artistic side, I learn different things from each medium which have a synergistic effect, as opposed to conflicting with one another. I feed off both mediums and therefore, my process and approach is continuously changing and adapting in order to achieve a better workflow.

Your blog is full of wonderful character designs, yet this summer you still attended Stephen Silver's character design course. How important do you believe it is to find new ways to practice and improve your art skills?
(Design for Used Car Salesman)
I am constantly looking for new ways to improve; I found that once I started working, I was learning less and less due to deadlines (TV animation). Drawing appeal and character design have always been my biggest weaknesses, and they definitely still are. That is why I decided to take Silver`s course. If you love something enough, you’ll find ways to improve and practice without even realizing it. I do the courses because they’re fun and I enjoy them, the improving is just a nice perk! I always have time for cafĂ© sketching, it’s something that I love doing and I think it’s a great way to improve your art skills and observation skills. Something I don`t do as much is experiment with different mediums, it is definitely something I need to do and I think it is very important.

How much time goes into designing your characters?
(from google to animation)
It really depends on how clear my vision is…95% of the time I am drawing the character over and over again. Designing characters is a real challenge for me; it involves a lot of trial and error, research and critiquing from close friends and colleagues. For me it`s the biggest challenge of the 11 sec club, I dread the first week because it means I`ll have to attempt to create something appealing…and learn how to draw it perfectly on model. I`m stressing out just writing about it! Once in a blue moon I`ll have a clear vision and be able to transfer that to paper. For July`s entry I more or less went with the first drawing I did which was based off a picture from Google images…and refined it a little bit to be more ``animation friendly``.

Digging into your clip, do you have a canine companion who helped inspire your entry?
(Trent's pet Spaniel)
I love this question! Yes I most certainly did: I have 2 Springer Spaniels (Turner and Sydney) back home in Ottawa. I didn`t sketch them or anything like that, but they were in the back of my head the entire time I was animating. They`re part of the Hound dog family and share a lot of the same traits, the howling and dog point came directly from growing up with Springer Spaniels.

Please talk about your animation process for this clip
When I first heard the dialogue I wanted to keep it simple and the dog idea was the first thing to pop into my head. I immediately started thumb nailing a basic storyboard. I always brainstorm at first, take notes and do scribbles. I tend to do most of my brainstorming with my girlfriend, she doesn`t work in animation so she usually has a different perspective on things. Thumbnailing is huge for me, I work best when it`s already visually planned and I have a clear vision of what I am doing. For this animation I did not film any video reference, I wanted to challenge myself to working with strictly thumbnails and my imagination. Doing thumbnails really help me nail the character and character design, it gets me comfortable drawing the character from different angles and with different expressions.

(please click to enlarge)
By the time it hits the animation paper, I`d have figured out the most appealing pose and expression. I am big on getting outside opinion, sending a rough test to friends or even family to get different perspectives. Most of my keys are figured out while thumb nailing, so it`s just a matter of syncing everything up, pushing poses and working out my timing for the scene. My rough keys are usually quick and dirty…but mostly dirty. I find 11 seconds is A LOT to do in one clip, I`ll often get lost and I personally find that it`s best to split up the animation into 2-3 sections to focus on timing and acting better. Once my keys are timed out (after a lot of trial and error, crumpled paper and rethinking ideas), I begin to put them on model and tighten them up. I then rough in my breakdowns…always on 2`s and 4`s…and sometimes 1`s if it`s a fast action. Again, I rework timing, acting and usually contemplate quitting animation and giving up…at this point I`ve looked at it too much and send it off to friends for feedback. Then comes inbetweening, it`s a really hard stage for me because I feel like I`ve already worked out all the problems in the scene, I feel like it`s done! I push on and start to see how bad my timing is…I rework stuff again and again, throw out a lot of drawings and start to tighten up breakdowns and put everything on model. Then it`s done! I submit it, don’t look at it again…and drink my pain away…only joking. I have such a huge respect for guys like BJ Crawford and Matt Sheperd I don`t know how they do what they do, I look up to their drawing and animation abilities. I was just trying to finish the animation, that`s the biggest obstacle for me…trying to get it all done in the time allowed and with the quality that I want. My process is far from perfect, but I am slowly starting to figure out what works best for me. I think it`s very important to figure out a personal workflow and to be constantly building on it.

Your drawings have been able to maintain consistent volume through the piece. Any personal tips and advice?
Like I previously wrote, thumb nailing and planning helps me to explore the character and learn it`s construction and design inside and out. Before I started animating I created a layout pose. I spent about 3 hours drawing it over and over until it was what I wanted. It was basically a pose of the dog, on model and staged where I wanted him to be for the scene. I kept this paper on my pegs, behind my animation at all times and constantly flipped back to it. When I was tightening up my keys, I was constantly checking the volume and model of the character. Unfortunately the majority of my time goes into drawing my keys and breakdowns on model, it`s a challenging stage for me, but once you`ve nailed those drawings, the in-betweens do themselves.

The inclusion of wrinkles in the dog's body increases the complexity of the character handling. I love that you have chosen to do so, as it really adds a lot of appeal and character. Please talk about this.
I don’t want to talk about it! I tried to simplify as much as possible, but the wrinkles were definitely a challenge. Without the wrinkles, it wouldn’t be a bloodhound…so the character needed them! The layout pose I did was a big help in tracking them, the body more or less remained stationary…which I did purposely to simplify the animation as a whole. This is one of the benefits of doing a 2d animation…you can design a character however you like…and do whatever you like to him. Once again it was a challenge and kept the animation interesting for me.

Within the voter's comment section shown under your animation, you wrote: “I'm a little surprised with the win; when I was voting, the top 5 all blew me away, so great job to those guys/gals!”
Please share some thoughts on one or two of these fellow entries.
So many great entries in July, and when I was voting the ones that came 2nd and 5th stuck out to me. The 2nd place one, made me laugh…and that’s hard to do when you’ve heard a dialogue so many times. It had some great staging, some nice animation and appealing designs with the Morpheus rig. I thought it would win for sure. The 5th place one was the other favourite; I liked the fact that it was simple, direct and had some solid acting choices. The animation was smooth, not over animated and the poses and gestures were appealing. Then I found out the animator had just graduated high school! Most of the time any of the top 5 could win, in July I don’t think any of the entries (including mine) stood out as sheer winners…I feel fortunate to have come out on top. Congratulations’ to everyone in the competition.

I also wish to ask you about your June entry. There was an abundance of crowns used within the clips. I like that you took a slightly different perspective and loved the beautiful character designs you uploaded to your blog. Please talk a bit about this piece.
(Image taken from Trent's June entry)
June's entry (titled 'Reciting his favourite movie!') was such a disappointment! I had just finished Smurfs, and was itching to do some 2d. I had been developing that character for a month or 2, he was for another project and I really wanted to test him out with a dialogue piece. I forced the dialogue on that character…and forced an idea that wasn’t really making sense in the early stages. I hadn’t done any 2d for almost a year, I was slow, rusty and constantly trying to make the idea work. Here’s what I learnt: a) if the idea isn’t working from the early stages, it won’t work in the end either, no matter the quality of animation. b) Don’t force things upon the idea, you have to be open to change and work with the information given to create a great idea. c) KISS- Keep it simple stupid…I tend to overcomplicate things; I am constantly reminding myself of this. I tried to incorporate what I learnt in the June entry to help improve my July entry.

Talk about one or two parts of the eCritique that enhanced or expanded on the ideas you had originally set out to animate.
Anthony Wong ecritique
Anthony gave an amazing eCritque. I am lucky to have received one from such a talented 2d animator. The thing he most expanded on was the planning of the scene and how important it is. I always try to plan, and get inside the character, but it never seems like enough. Watching him act out sections and choose poses based on the feeling of the character and not just the appeal was very cool. He also broke down the dialogue and reworked parts of the animation to fit the real meaning of this particular scene. I feel like I will probably watch the critique a few more times before taking everything in. The big thing I learnt from it was: Every pose chosen and movement made has to have a meaning…why is he moving like this? Why is the timing like this? Why did you choose this pose? I have to remember to constantly ask these questions while animating, to dig deeper into the character in order to bring it to life.

Do you intend to return to this piece to incorporate the suggestions made in the eCritique?
I will definitely return to this piece to tighten things up and make changes. I am going to incorporate as much as possible. I think a lot of what Anthony talked about is something that I need to practice applying to my future animations, especially when it comes to planning a scene. Once I have made some changes to the animation, I am hoping to clean it up and colour it. I am very much looking forward to getting back to the “drawing board” fresh with inspiration and ideas, thanks to Anthony Wong.

What advice would you give to others looking for a career in character animation?
I am 23 years old and not really in the position to be giving advice, but here is what I have to say: Whenever I am up late working long hours, or stressing out about a scene I simply remind myself…I make cartoons for a living…I have it pretty damn good. If you’re able to make a modest living, doing what you love to do, then you’re in a pretty small percentage of people in the world that can do so. I think I read this quote in the book “how to cheat in Maya” and it’s stuck with me for a while now: “Enjoy the process, not the outcome”. It’s hard sometimes to not think about the outcome, but if you truly enjoy the process, the outcome does take care of itself. For July’s entry, I enjoyed acting the scene out, it was a challenge to complete the 250 drawings but I enjoyed trying to get things on model and appealing. I truly enjoyed the process of making it move and act the way I wanted. I was never thinking, “I need to win” or “I need a new demo reel piece”…I was doing it because I love animating. If you’re pursuing a career in character animation it does take a lot of hard work and dedication, but there are lots of resources out there and if you truly love it, it won’t feel like work at all. If you’re desperately trying to get into feature animation, here is my theory: If you want it bad enough, it will happen, it has too…it’s just a matter of time. Your work will eventually get better; you’ll eventually catch a break as long as you keep working at it and show your passion. It’s important to be easy to work with and market yourself properly. This shouldn’t really be a conscious effort, as long as you are nice, pleasant to be around, willing to learn and work hard you shouldn’t have a problem. Something that I have been doing since graduation is attending conferences or festivals. I try to attend 2 a year if possible; it could be Siggraph, CTN, CG CON, the Ottawa animation festival or even a Pixar workshop. They do 2 things for me; the first is probably the inspiration. After attending one of these conferences, I usually feel a lot fresher and inspired. I learn new tips and tricks from lectures and it usually gives me a boost to work on some personal projects. The second thing is networking; animation has a very tight and small community and these festivals and conferences are a great way to meet new people including recruiters, fellow animators, and potential employers. I highly recommend trying to attend at least one a year. I hope this helps!!
Interview by Steven Hawthorne