Monday, November 23, 2009

CTN Expo 1st Annual. Burbank, Ca.

The short film production is ongoing, this week I will final the last half. Since this is not really a blog about each and every step of my learning process (or so it turned out to be), I thought I'd share this milestone event with some pictures. On Friday morning, Nov 20, 2009, I drove down to Los Angeles to attend the first annual Creative Talent Network Animation Expo. It was my first animation related expo and I went simply to take pulse of events like this. I had no intention of making contacts with any studios since I didn't even have a demo reel to show, but it was great meeting some of the industry legends and recharge my batteries with their positive statements and technical hints.

Meeting with the legendary Don Bluth and Gary Goldman on the first day pretty much summed up the positive experience of the entire trip. They had a booth in the back promoting Don's tutorial DVDs. I applied at Don Bluth Studios back in the early 1980's when I was fresh out of junior college and Don had just opened his studio. Starry eyed with dreams of making it in the industry, I had hoped that they (or any animation studio for that matter) would give me a chance and hire me. Although the dream was not realized, meeting him for the first time had a positive impact mixed with a bit of nostalgia for days long gone. I told them a little bit about myself and that I was enrolled in upon which they both said "You'll make it". I wonder if they know how much their words meant to me.

Most of the booths were of various artists (comics, cartoonists, illustrators, painters) as well as booths for Disney, Blue Sky, Renegade etc. The weekend was filled with seminars by different artists, animators, directors and independent animation film producers. The highlight was a short chat with animation legend Eric Goldberg.

At the expo were also booths for Disney, Blue Sky, Imaginism, renegade as well as Digicell FlipBook, Corel, and many artists from comics to traditional paintings. The energy was intense and I was pleasantly surprised by the increasing amount of artists applying for 2D animation jobs.

I also met school mate Margherita Premuroso from Italy. She is an accomplished character designer and a great student at It also happened to be her birthday so celebrated at the Burbank Bar & Grill in downtown Burbank with her boyfriend Luca Da Rios owner of Playstos Entertainment, an apps development company.

Saturday and Sunday were filled by attending events, lectures by leading animators, producers, directors, and artists of all types related to the animation industry. My mentor Kevin Koch and school mate Harry Porudominsky bumped into me, it was nice seeing them again. Many animationmentor students were present, not a surprise, but I was surprised when animator Tony Bancroft (one of the directors on Mulan) gave good mention to animationmentor students that their work stands out from the rest because they focus on performance (acting). These are very encouraging words from a respected personality.

The high light of the trip was meeting the legendary Eric Goldberg. A friendly, unassuming and an engaging fellow. Schoolmate Miurika Valery took this short clip of myself and Mr. Goldberg chatting about his work on a Schweppes commercial where he animated Nagel-esque style characters.

The proverbial cherry on the cake was meeting my Class 4 mentor Nicole Herr. A beautiful, smart, and talented lady who has contributed tremendously to animation and to advancing my quest to become an animator. She left me with great words of wisdom about making it in the industry. I feel fortunate that I had her as my mentor and have her as a friend.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Class 6

Class 6, the beginning of the end for the Animation Mentor journey with mentor Greg Whitaker. Greg is from Toronto, Canada and his first experience was with traditional 2D animation some 16 years ago with the Warner Brothers cartoons. After that he's been with DreamWorks working on their major hits and currently working on their lates production "How to train your Dragon".

I feel fortunate that Greg, who has mastered both 2D and 3D animation, will be mentoring me this semester. There is a lot to be said about animators with 2D background. There is a certain finesse about their work flow and attitude that I can relate being one who started with traditional 2D animation.

Some of my ex classmates are with me again, Sandy Sze and Jude Brownbill, both excellent animators by their own right and they motivate me tremendously to do better and attain higher quality from my work.

I also found some time during the semester break to participate in the 11 Second Club September competition. This is the first time that I participated since I started Animation Mentor 18 months ago. I don't expect to win it, but I'm glad I did it to see how much my work flow and confidence has improved since.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

End of class 5

What a class it has been! The story development part was most exciting with input from mentor and students alike, which helped shape the story into a more polished and manageble content. In this class there is a feeling of separation from the previous classes, not much nimation went on but also the impending last class and graduation probably added to the feeling of, not so much isolation, but a sense of maturation. Dealing with story, script, scene setup, and a production workflow, took most of my time. I never thought the intensity level would be so high.

Needless to say, Kenny Roy proved to be a wonderful mentor, his dedication, enthusiasm, trained eye and immense knowledge of film making were instrumental in shaping my workflow and film development.

To keep my animation appetite satisfied I did this quick gag for fun and keep the animation juices flowing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Story - Robert McKee

Robert McKee's Story seminar couldn't have come at a better time just as we're beginning the pre-production semester at Animation Mentor where story development is the assignment. Robert McKee's book "Story; Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting" is one of the recommended reading material at AM and this timely seminar helped me purchase the book (in hard cover only per Mr. McKee's specific instructions because this is a reference book and not some book to be read once and discarded), CD audio (since I don't like to read) and the script to the movie Casablanca because it was being offered as part of a package at the seminar. The seminar was three days long, 12 hours a day event at the Gateway Holliday Inn on Van Ness in San Francisco. 12 hours a day of sitting in an auditorium that Mr. McKee requested the temperature be lowered so that we won't fall asleep was brutal but his entertaining style of delivery kept everyone's attention. However, this is the last of the three day seminars for Mr. McKee has opted for the 4 day seminars that he used to gve in Italy where they cherish their longer lunch break.

There is not much I can say about the content of the seminar since no recording was allowed but I did come away with greater appreciation of what makes an entertaining story and how to apply the principles of great stories to my own work. The information in the seminar was overwhelming in their quantity and quality, but having the book close by makes it easy to keep the principles I learned accessible. I have already changed my short film story based on the lessons I learned and I am glad I did.

If there is anyway you can attend Mr. McKee's seminar, I highly recommend that you do. It will be worth it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Animation Dream Tour

Monday, 7-13-2009 Animation Mentor students and alumni tour the 3 major animation houses in the Bay Area. This is a most motivating event in my animation journey. Planning the tours was a collaborative effort between myself and Heather Kilber and it began the day after the AM BBQ event.

Meeting the legendary animator Victor Navone, who was also our tour guide, is an honor. His modesty and good nature hide the fact that he is one of the most talented and innovative animation artist of our time

No pictures were allowed inside the offices but the atmopsphere at Pixar felt like a play pen for adults. To encourage the creativity of the artists the work stations have been decorated with different themes that are more suitable for Disneyland than a working studio. But, it sure made for a fun working environment.

After lunch at Pixar we headed to PDI Dream Works half an hour away. Rachel Hanson, a fellow student who arranged the tour couldn't be with us but she did manage to have her fellow animator Hoyt Ng to give us a most informative tour an lecture about the rich history of this animation house. The atmosphere at Dream Works leaned towards the professional working environment but not without the fun events that are part of the company's policy and culture.

By shear coincidence we ran into Jason Schleifer who has a number of lectures at Animation Mentor that all of us have watched and learned from. He is as funny in person as he is in those lectures.

The "No Pictures" policy is a standard at ILM as well. Tuesday 7-14-2009 we toured the previously secret birth place of Star Wars. ILM is housed in what was previously the Digital Arts Center and also houses Lucas Arts and Lucas Film. The place has the feeling of a university where art and science are pushed beyond the limits by a spirit of innovation and experimentation. Many great minds have come from this place.

Shawn Kelly, senior animator and the man to whom I am indebted for pushing me into Animation Mentor (which he co-founded) was our gracious host for this tour. He wanted to work for ILM since he first watched Star Wars as a little boy, and here he is. I admire him for knowing what he wanted to do with his life early on and getting it. This is where he wants to be and do and there aren't many people I know who have accomplished that. I am honored to know him.

This tour is not a usual event. It is the result of the determination of simple people who share a great passion for the art of animation and for the animators who inspire them. We all are grateful for this opportunity to see first hand the work environment where dreams are made that inspire millions around the world. It has been a truly magical tour.

Animation Mentor BBQ

7-12-2009 Attended the Animation Mentor annual BBQ in San Francisco.This event is usually held shortly after the graduation ceremony the night before. AM students from all over the world attended this event. It is a special thing to meet face to face with people you usually communicate with via the internet with nothing more than an avatar as the visual reference to their person. Everyone was genuinely excited when they met everyone else, especially their mentors (here I am with Kenny Roy, my class 5 mentor)

or any one of the Animation Mentor founders Bobby Beck,

Shawn Kellyand Carlos Baena, as well as Maya guru extraordinaire Kevin Freeman.

Classmates (Eddie Villegas)
ex-classmates (Madhur Chopra)
and acquaintances (Ghaydaa Sleem and Sabah Yazaji) who came all the way from Dubai were also in attendance. Ghaydaa is an accomplished artist and animator which makes her a rare talent in the Middle East.

Finally met Heather Kilber who communicated with me via my blog page before she joined AM, she is as bubbly in person as she is on the net but her magic is her student weekly news when she was in the Maya Springboard class where her talent of showmanship and editing really shined.This event has brought people from all walks of life, backgrounds, ethnicities and ages where passion for the art of animation is the single common denominator. It was like a large gathering of one big family, which is rare to find these days with this much excitement and positive attitude.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Class 5

I have no idea what to expect in Class 5. I do know its about story development for the short film we're supposed to produce, that's about it. However, since I have visited Class 5 students' workspace in the past, I have been coming up with story ideas and concepts for the short film and am excited to pitch them in class and see how things go. Now the short film criteria is not that it has to be 30 seconds long, that's unrealistic because the length of the film is (should be) dictated by the story, so, the rule is that only 30 seconds of the film will be polished at the end of Class 6 with the intention to add it to the demo reel for presentation to prospective employers. That is good news because the more I tried to shrink my stories to fit 30 seconds the more they ceased to be entertaining. I will, however, try and have an entertaining short film that is approximately 30 seconds long.

Kenny Roy is my mentor this semester and during the first class introductions I was positively overwhelmed by his high strung enthusiasm for a class that he has taught for many years at Animation Mentor. Kenny brings a unique talent to the mentor cadre in the fact that he owns Arconyx Animation Studios plus the fact that he animated on hits such as King Kong, Garfield, Scooby Doo2: Monsters Unleashed, and as a dustbuster on Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu. His enthusiastic attitude, experience and broad knowledge of the industry as a whole intrigues me immensely and I feel lucky to have him as my mentor.

There is not going to be much animation (if at all) in this class so don't expect any work. However, I may post some small projects here and there that I will be doing to hone my animation skills and Maya knowledge.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

End of Class 4

Class 4 has been intense in its content as well as the amount of concentration and detail work it demanded. Nicole Herr has been phenomenal in her approach to the work critique and informative Q&A sessions. The class covered subjects like animating dialogue, facial expressions, storytelling through cuts, animating multi characters, advanced dialogue work through, principles of entertainment, subtext and subtlety, design applied to animation, and a walk through with Victor Navone from dialogue to finished animation which was quite encouraging to watch.

Here is the two person dialogue exercise that I worked on. I had to make sure that my dialogue choice not be too long lest I do not finish it in time.

The polishing phase is ongoing, but I think experience is what I now need to hone my polishing skills and train my eyes to see the workflow in advance. The next class will be about pre-production of a short film, a very short film (30 seconds). In the meantime I am going to enjoy the one week break.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Class 410

June 1st, one month since my last post. The two person dialogue is in refining stage (one step after blocking). Time is fast becoming a rare commodity and in a couple of weeks will be the end of the semester. Nicole's Q&A sessions is something I look forward to because she fills it with useful and informative lessons. The time I enjoy the most is the "torture time" as she refers to it. That is when she'd randomly cam a student and gives him/er a line describing the start of a scene then the student builds the story from there. She then would cam the next student who must keep the continuity of the story and so on. This is an invaluable practice to exercise the imagination and story telling techniques in preparation for the next class.

Other happenings; watched the Battle for Terra, a CG animated feature that my Class 3 mentor, Kevin Koch and AM student Harry Porudominsky worked on. The movie was good but by no means a blockbuster. It is, however, a major accomplishment for the independent film house Snoot (toons spelled backwards). I think the story lacked a way to relate to the alien characters. A humorous situation or some drama that could bring the alien world to terms that we can understand could have helped establish an emotional link with the characters. The animation, as good as it was, felt restrained (a director's choice), to the chagrin of the animators who were working on it I'm sure. I find it strange, in this golden age of CG animated features, that story (or great story for that matter) can still be overlooked by some producers. An entire section has been dedicated to story in the animation bible The Illusion of Life. So how could an animation producer miss this fundamental part of movie making? PIXAR built its foundation on story and they make no secret of it. They are enjoying the same success that Disney enjoyed in their hayday. Just watched UP last weekend in theater and it is proving to be yet another hit. "A good story cannot be ruined by poor animation, but neither can a poor story be saved by the very best animation"; (The Illusion of Life, chapter 14, p. 367) It is that simple premise that makes memorable animated features. I can only hope that future production houses keep that as the minimum standard to adhere to, especially in today's society of jaded movie goers and skyrocketting production costs.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Ottoman

The Ottoman is a project of animator Mike Stamm. It is an 8-minute animated short with a visual design inspired by the works of Jean "Moebius" Giraud, Jake Parker, Pascal Blanché and many others. The production is being developed using Cinema4D and a team of artists from around the world.

Having heard about the project from friend and blogger Teresa Nord, I contacted Mike about the generic type set in this concept art

and that was the initial contact that started my involvement. I am now on board as a calligraphy consultant for this project. I am familiar with Mike's excellent animation work when we used to frequent the Animation:Master forum. I have done my share of learning Islamic calligraphy when I was in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, also as pupil of master Chinese calligrapher Haji Noor Deen Ming Guang Jiang, so this part feels like a natural extension for my artistic inclinations.

The first assignment that Mike gave me was to come up with a callig
ram for the word Al-Barzakh البرزخ in the shape of a scorpion that is to be the tattoo on one of the characters. Project designer, David Ward, did an impressive job for the final render of the tattoo and here is an interesting progression of the design as we exchanged thoughts and ideas;

The rider's machine is this awesome contraption

Final concept

I am very excited to be part of this worthwhile project and hope to see it finished and produced for all to enjoy.