Sunday 11 September 2016

Sergio Martins Interview

Hello guys and gals.

For June's competition, we were treated with a beautiful entry by Portugese animator Sergio Martins. On Anim School's blog, they interviewed him about his workflow and use of Malcolm. This allowed me to us to dig into other aspects of his work as both an animator and director.

I hope you all enjoy!


To begin, I must ask, can you do an impressions?
It's funny you ask that, in my teens I used to do some impressions of teachers and people that I knew in person, it would get a good laugh from my friends at the time, but nowadays I can't do it no longer, I lost the ability I guess, ahah.

Can you tell us a little about balancing your ambitions  as both a director and animator?
That is a good question. 

The initial motivation I had to became an animator was more about being able to tell stories I had in my mind, or share images/ideas I thought were interesting. When I started studying the work of animation masters though, I became in love with the art of character animation itself. 

As soon as I started working in animation, on the most part of the projects I've been, the thing that would define my position as a director or as an animator was the necessity that the specific project had at the time. For that reason, I have been obliged to share my time between both areas, if that wasn't the case, I'd probably be more advanced in one of the positions in terms of career. 

At the end of the day I think the most important thing is to be part of good projects, either by being part of a project where the Director has a great vision and I feel good about helping him bring his vision to life exclusively as an animator, or if I can manage to direct a project where I can trust the animation team. Both options will give me experience and will, hopefully, make me grow as an artist. 

For The Dream Walker, the  project was several years in production.  What was it like committing yourself to a project for this duration?     
It is a bit scary at first, It is like committing to run a marathon that goes for a couple of years, haha. The struggle is not so much about the initial sprint or energy you put into it as it is about perseverance and keeping track of your initial goal in spite of all the obstacles in the way, which are ALWAYS showing up. To dedicate 2 years to a 15 minute animation short keeps you constantly measuring the importance of each decision and can be extremely overwhelming sometimes, but once you get close to the final stage, it feels like you accomplished something meaningful, even if just for yourself.  

Was it the first time collaborating professionally with your brother?
Fortunately, we have always worked on the exact same projects since we started. The first time we didn't work together was at the beginning of this year (2016), more than 10 years after working as a team, and, right now, we are working on the same project together again.  

I can't stress enough the importance of his contribution in my animations, he's input and extremely honest and direct feedback is definitely the main reason why my work gets to the level it gets, whatever that level might be.  

I feel that my animation reel, for example, is also in part his reel, he was the storyboard artist and layout artist for a big amount of the scenes I have there.  

On the  short film, you worked alongside Tom Delonge  (frontman of    Blink182). Can you tell us a little bit about the Blink 182 animation on your account?     
At the time when I did that animation, the studio I was working at was in a tough moment and a lot of artist were being laid off. So, even though I had other job offers, I decided to use my free time to animate something that would direct me towards the type of project I would like to be working on. I'm a big fan of Tom Delonge's art, and since he is such a prolific artist in different mediums, I felt he could be interested in doing animation. So I started to look for something that could catch his attention, and ended up choosing Blink 182's mascot, mostly because it has such an “animatable” design to it. Luckily enough he was actually interested in bringing an animation project he had in mind to life. I can't thank him enough for the trust he put in me at the time.

Being introduced to your reel, reminded me of Disney's  Andrew  Chesworth's. By this, I mean a beautiful emphasis on traditional animation AND a character poking something up their nose... please talk a little about your reel and the role this shot plays.
First off all thank you so much for even mentioning Andrew Chesworth when asking about my reel, he is an awesome animator that I can only aspire to be, and it is a pleasure to know my reel reminded you of his, even if it is for the ”character poking something up their nose” part, ahah. When I was putting my reel together I basically picked up some of the scenes I felt good about, from what I had animated in the last couple of years.
That scene is from a short film I also co-directed that is coming out soon, but I can't really say too much about it yet. I did wondered a lot about putting that specific shot in my reel, since he is picking up his nose and swearing, and some people could not feel so comfortable with it. But I ended up choosing it because it gave a relaxed and a natural light-hearted feeling to it in contrast with the intense fighting scenes. 

Your show reel has some superb fight sequences  (I have mentioned to your how much I loved the spinning of the umbrella).  How did you approach  some of the fight choreography? 
For the fight sequences of Poet Anderson I would discuss it with Edgar and we would choreograph the whole scenes in our heads and talk it out. After that he would do the storyboard, and once we were happy with it, I would do some very rough animation testing to see how the action worked from shot to shot. All of the fight scenes in the reel, except for the one you are mentioning, were done with no reference at all, but before I started doing the actual animation, a lot of problem solving and overall timing was already sorted out in a 2D rough previs pass where I could try out different things much easier. On the umbrella scene  specifically, before I jumped into animation I searched a bit for fighting references, and I found a gif that I used as inspiration, what I remember I liked at the time was that the character was kind of still compared to his weapon that was moving around a lot. Also, his weapon was very blurry almost just suggesting the movement through the blur. Those two details were the starting point on how to approach that shot.

And what about the vehicle shots? Were any particular films used as inspiration? 
For the bike sequence we were very influenced by the Final Fantasy type of action. But tried to give a less crazy and more plausible feeling to it. 

Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children

Digging into your winning entry,  for me, I see your characters as two male lovers. The transition complicates this choice in that they are contained within the same body. This is a little like Smeagol and Gollum, from Lord of the Rings. What is your interpretation of the two characters?         
They started by being a guy and a girl, but due to some trouble, I had to keep working with the same rig for the whole scene. I thought about having the character geometry changed, and even did some tests, where he looked like a girl (tiny nose and chin, bigger hair, etc) it worked pretty well, but, suddenly, the scene was feeling less interesting.

I thought about it for a few days, and one day, by accident I stepped on a youtube video about multiple personality disorder and realized it would be way better to assume it is indeed the same person, to the extend of not even cutting from one shot to the other, and keep the character on screen the whole time.  The challenge as an animator, was to make the same body have different personalities in a way the audience would accept it and, hopefully find it interesting.

You spoke of the maya difficulties you had producing your entry.    These steered you away from your original idea of a 'Life of Pi' audition. What were these challenges?     
The biggest problem I had was with the girl's arms, that kept twisting around all the time for no reason. It was an option in Maya 2016 that was not checked, but at the time I was not being able to solve it. The reason why that made me change the story is because I started animating the male's part and had very few days to do the whole animation for the girl's part. As soon as I spent  a full day not being able to make her rig work I decided to not waste my time searching for another rig and simply start animating the girl with the male rig I had that was working fine. At first I simply made some geometry changes to the male character, to make it look like a girl, but as I explained, it was not very interesting, so I kept animating until I decided to have it being the same guy with some sort of different personalities.

How do you feel your final entry compared to what you originally had in mind?     
I feel it came out more interesting and less cliche than what it would have been, unfortunately it is also a bit less funny. The idea I originally had in mind, had an extra wide shot at the end where we would see that the male character was actually standing on top of a mini boat on a really cheap set wearing only pants with all the lights pointed at him and holding a plush tiger.  But I do think the way it turned out is a bit more original and fresh.

In your ecritique, Keith Sintay was particularly impressed with the    transformation from    one character to the next, is achieved through the transition of a blink. I must ask the magician to reveal his trick. Can you tell us a little the execution of this idea and what inspired it?     
It's funny you mention the blink, I usually use blinks when I want the audience to know the character is changing it's thoughts, there are tiny nuances on the character's voice that imply the character is changing their feeling towards the situation even if a tiny bit and I usually put a blink on the thought transition. In this case I just exaggerated a lot more the blink on that part since he is not only changing his thoughts but he is actually changing his personality.  

The blink is definitely important, but I think the eye expression changing right after the blink is what brings the necessary contrast to help sell the different personalities. Before the transition, the character is kind of looking up and right, and is  always looking at the other character a bit through the corner of his eyes, kind of in a arrogant/suspicious way, which changes dramatically after the transition. Right after the blink he has a much more clear and open/honest eye direction, which I hope helps sell the idea that it is indeed a very different personality with different thoughts going inside his head.

At the end of your interview with Anim School, you share a link to your  Pininterest    account, showcasing animation pencil tests. Do you have any particular favourites? 
That is an extremely tough question to give a short answer to, but here is  a list of the ones I keep going back to check from time to time, all of these artists have a lot more of pencil tests out there, this is just a selection to keep it simple: 

Some from James Baxter - link

 From Sergio Pablos. - link
 I love, above all, the acting, the drawing and the timing on Sergio's animations, it keeps demanding your attention as you watch it. His characters have such a specific personality and maneirisms that they become unique. 

Nik Ranieri –  link
I always have fun watching Nik Ranieri pencil tests. Even though I wanted to be an animator before, Hades was one of the first characters that made me start thinking seriously about acting in animation. 
Milt Kahl - link 01, link 02

It's impressive how clear and well presented his animation is, it makes it look so effortless it can trick you into thinking it is easy to do ahah.

Glen Keane - link 01, link 02
Even though he is a terrific technical animator, what I love the most about his work is how much heart he brings to his drawings, his characters feel like they have such a depth, something hard to find on any other animator. 

Marc Davis - link 01
I just like Marc Davis simplicity and beautiful drawings. 
There are so many awesome animators I'm leaving out, but the list can't go on forever ahah.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Max Loubaresse interview

Hey guys and gals,

April's competition saw the top three entries all feature Malcolm from Anim School. They final ratings were so close, but Max Loubaresse pipped top spot!

I loved the cinematography, the snappy timing and certainly the comedy. My favourite moment was when Malcom's eye opens on playing dead.

I had to grab the opportunity to talk through his diverse portfolio of work. His work is loud, fearless and full of appeal. C'est beau!

Artist portfolio  
Winning Entry 

Growing up, when did you know you wanted to become a professional artist?  
As a kid I didn't like to draw. I was bad at it. 

At 14, I got a bit jealous of another guy who was popular because he was good at drawing. I had good grades and no friends. I asked him to give me one of his drawings. I copied it, came up with my own drawings from that. My grades went down but my popularity went up... a little :)   

As a teenager I was the nerdy type, no friends, playing video games, watching lots and lots of movies, reading comics and mangas... and I liked drawing. So you would think that going into an Animation school is an obvious choice. And still it took me several years to figure that out. I don't know exactly why. I just had a very limited vision of the world I guess.  

I knew I wanted to make movies when I was 17-18 yo. I had these CDs from the french Playstation magazine with short movies from the french school Supinfocom. I loved these so that's how I discovered I wanted to work in Animation. 

Is Supinfocom the school you attended? 
Supinfocom is a CG Animation school from France. They've got two buildings, one North and one South where I studied. The South Supinfocom changed its name and is now called MOPA. 
While I was there I rediscovered the joy of having good grades and also the pride of doing good work. The best part of a school like that is the students,  50 people who love what they do, influencing each other, challenging each other. It's something that is missing in the professional life I think.  

So, the Supinfocom degree takes 5 years to get with a graduation short movie to present at the end. Except I left school at the end of the 4th year. I failed to convince my teachers to let me do the kind of graduation movie I wanted. Because of my past work, they envisioned for me something serious and dramatic when I wanted to do something light-hearted and fun. I left and so did two of my friends. We made our own "graduation" short movie, called "Salesman Pete", outside of school during what was supposed to be our 5th and final year of studies. 

Your adventures in the animation industry have taken you from France, to Australia and to England. What was it like working in these countries?  
- My professional experience in France is not very common so it would not reflect anything relevant about the country itself. Let's just say I don't see myself working there anytime soon.  
- Working in Australia was awesome for me. I spent two years there and one day, I'd like to go back. Sydney is an awesome place to live in - People are very friendly, open-minded, talented  definitely more relaxed and less superficial than in Europe. I am a very shy person and It was a lot easier for me to make friends in Australia than in Europe. 
The downside is that interesting companies and projects are more rare. Budgets are much lower too in Animation. So the quality suffers. Australia deserves more animation opportunities and backup from its government.  
- I've been working on "The amazing world of Gumball" at Cartoon Network London for more than a year now. Great experience, great people, very talented artists. I'm learning a lot and I love the show I'm working on so it helps :)  

Did you experience any language barriers and if so, how did you overcome?  
I had a decent level of English before going to Australia. So even if the first days were more stressful and exhausting because of that, it got better very quickly. Now I instinctively swear in English when I lose at video games :) 
One of my friends who came to Australia had a pretty bad level of English but he managed perfectly. People in our industry are often patient and understanding so it helps a lot. 

I enjoy the graphic nature of your work, illustrated through your personal art and also your animation. Who were your early influences?  
Random blogs, some from artists working in big companies, other from art students around the world. Cartoon network shows, Nickelodeon, stuff from Tartakovsky. My favorite style of Animation comes from Sony Animation. Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs, Hotel Transylvania. The upcoming "Stork" movie looks good too !  
 As a kid I was watching what was on French TV :  Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones's stuff then later the Simpsons, Family Guy.. not South Park.  

The Road Runner is probably still my favorite. I also liked Tom and Jerry, especially the episodes where they become monsters. I loved that. 

But to be honest my biggest influences come from live movies and tv shows. There is no animated movie in my top 10 movies.  

My favourite animated movies are : The first 10 minutes of Wall-E, the first 2/3rd of Paranorman, Nightmare before Christmas, The first half of Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, Spirited Away, Wallace and Gromit and the Wrong Trousers.  

I really liked some of the latest Disney movies. Big Hero 6, Tangled, Zootopia have the best animation ever and are fun movies to watch. Zootopia especially is a smart movie. But like I was saying to a colleague, each time I watch a Disney movie I have this wish that another studio did it instead, someone who would bring something strong and different.  

A while ago I read an interview of Tartakovsky on Cartoon Brew and he said great stuff about creating Comedy through movement, not letting CG dictate how realistic your animation should be...It's stuff I felt strongly but was not able to put into words. Brad Bird is an interesting guy too. According to him, Animation is not a genre, it's a medium. It's something that everyone seems to forget easily, even studios that I love like Laika.  

I want to see a really well done adult animated movie some day... but instead we have Sausage Party... 

(for more on  Tartakovsky's work, see here)
How was the idea of Muffin Jack conceived?  
My friends and I did two short movies called "Salesman Pete" and "Meet Buck". These movies got the attention of the boss of ANKAMA in France. He hired all of us to work on the pre-production of an animated TV series he wanted to do. We assumed he wanted us to provide the same style and tone that we had on our short movies. Except he didn't. Because of this artistic misunderstanding, the project failed. Except instead of firing us, he had the generosity of giving us a second chance : We had one afternoon to come up with an original idea for an animated show and pitch it to him. If he liked it, he would keep us and we work on it. If not, we would all be fired.  

We came up with Muffin Jack, a super spy transformed into a ridiculous muffin by his worst enemy, who has to hide inside a bakery and mentor a young clumsy baker so they can fight crime together. The boss liked it.  

"Muffin Jack" is an idea influenced by the movies and tv shows my friends and I love : Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, The incredibles, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon's tv shows...  

But mostly "Muffin Jack" is an idea my friends and I found during an afternoon of intense stress and fear of losing our job. And it's by far the best idea we ever had. I guess It tells you something about creativity :) 

Checking your career path, your first listed position was working as a 3d animator in March 2009. From September of the same year, you have worked in directing, storyboarding and visual development, until March 2015 where you returned to 3d animation. How have the experiences of these positions, influenced your taste as a character animator? 
Actually I also did some Modelling and texturing supervision, a lot of lighting and rendering too. I had a very diverse Professional experience so far, almost never doing the same thing twice. I liked it but also I realized that it is an issue. It means I don't know what I want to do because I want to be involved in everything. and I am not a specialist. I am great at nothing. I am average at everything. If I had to pick, my favorite jobs are Animating and Storyboarding. I like writing too...  
I think this diverse background helps me think about my animation as a tiny part of a whole process. I think about the sequence, the joke, the characters, the visual mood... The animation needs to serve everything else, while still feeling spontaneous.  

From March 2015, you have worked at Cartoon Network, as a 3d animator on the Amazing World of Gumball. Can you tell us a little about the role?  
The Amazing world of Gumball is a mix media tv show. It's mostly 2D but there's plenty of 3D characters too. And they all have a different graphic style and therefore a very broad range of animation styles too :  
Very blocky à la "Pocoyo", some in 12 frames per second to imitate stop motion, some move like real hand puppets, some have more smooth and classic animation styles, some look and move like clay and some are fully realistic dinosaurs. But all of this is done in Maya, in 3D. 3D animators have to animate props and vehicles too. There's lots of car chases and action in this show !  

It's a lot of fun :) 

Please can you talk about your workflow for the piece? For a clip so stylized, did you shoot reference?  
I didn't record any references. I don't like watching myself. But I kept acting in front of my computer while animating. No mirror or camera. I was just repeating the movements and expressions of the character again and again in order to find what I wanted. 

I also storyboarded the sequence, with camera movements and key poses correctly timed in 2D before even opening a 3D software.  

 In December 2015, Anim School released Malcolm 2.0 to the public. The popularity of the rig's versatility, particularly for cartoony animation, is celebrated in its use by the top three entrants of this month's competition. Why did the rig appeal to you?  
It's free. It's very nicely done. It's got customizing options (male, female, clothing, haircuts.) and it's a human being, something that is really missing in my show-reel :) The only missing option would be to drastically change the morphology of the character in order to have a short, tall, muscular, fat, skinny guy or gal.  

What was your first reaction to the eCritique was provided by Dave Burgess, Head of Animation, on Dreamworks Trolls. 
Before watching the critique, I was surprised that I won the first place, or even that I was in the top three. I honestly still think some other animations were technically much better than mine. The people who commented on my video spotted its weaknesses immediately.  

So when I watched the eCritique, I was expecting a more harsh critique. In the end it wasn't that bad :) It was very very useful feedback about stuff that I felt was wrong but couldn't put my finger on it.  

I am immensely grateful for this. It's awesome ! 

 Do you plan to make any changes after your Ecritique? Some animators do, some like to move forward. But if you did, I'd love to share it. 
I did fix a few tweaks already but when I look back at my animation, I find it very clumsy. I want to work on something new and integrate from the start the feedback and experience I got from doing this contest. 

On your clip's description, you've noted that is ''Inspired by true events... probably.'' What is the inspiration behind this story?  
No story at all. It's just a bad attempt at being funny. Never again.  :)  

 One of your clip's strength your use of snappy timing. Currently working on a cartoony show myself, my boss emphasis's the importance of rhythm.  
He recently quoted Orson Wells ''Movies depend so much on rhythm. They are so close to music, closer to music than a drama of the theater, that if the sound, and the rhythm of the sound, above all the rhythm, is wrong, no image can save it.''  
What advice would you give to somebody learning to develop this in their work? 
Do you know this feeling when you watch a childhood movie and every dialogue and action seems like a melody to you ? Because you know this by heart and you can predict what's coming next. I think that's the feeling I'm aiming for when I animate. I try to know my shot or sequence so well that it becomes a part of my own experience, through repetition again and again and again. Like an actor learning its lines until they feel natural. 

I play drums. Playing music helps because it makes me want to be creative with the rhythm, experiment things I wouldn't do instinctively. The audience likes to be surprised by things that happen off tempo. I also sing the dialogue to myself like a crazy person. It helps with figuring out what's "loud" in the shot and what's "quiet". You dont want your cartoony animation to be crazy 100% of the time. It's too exhausting and superficial. You want to create contrasts, surprises, moments of pure fun and moments more subtle and sincere.