Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Conclusion

I graduated! The Animationmentor journey comes to conclusion with festivities akin to an Oscars award. It has been an exciting 18 months full of challenges and new learning experiences. The Animationmentor program is a success. I feel that I had gotten my money's worth, but more importantly, the new friends I made there is what is truly special about this program. My approach to animation has certainly risen to a much higher level, I have learned to appreciate the importance of planning and of entertaining performance.

The graduation ceremony was held at Fort Mason in San Francisco. The Animationmentor crew have done a fantastic job of transforming the theater to not only accommodate everyone and their guests, but to decorate it and plan it to make us feel as though we're receiving our Oscar awards. Carlos Baena's opening entrance as a quasi-Na'vi character from the blockbuster movie Avatar was funny and unexpected. Shawn Kelly gave a heart warming speech on the importance of support of family members to the aspiring animator. Bobby Beck directed his speech to the amazing accomplishment of not only the graduates but also the hard work of his AM team members, and deservedly so.

Awards were handed out for different categories that the students and mentors voted on. I'm proud to say that many of the recipients well deserved it and that I had the honor of sharing a class or two with many of them. After that we lined up as rehearsed and each one received a Diploma of Advanced Studies in Character Animation.

Afterwards we left the theater to the lobby area and congratulated each other and mingled with everyone. Everyone was on a high of excitement and the sense of accomplishment of something desired and sought after. Seeing so many of my classmates and fellow students for the first time face to face was truly special. My wife and son were also present and they seem to have enjoyed the show. I also got to see my mentors from classes 3, 4, & 5 Kevin Koch, Nicole Herr, and Kenny Roy.

At 8:00pm sharp the theater was emptied and many of us took the party to Gordon Biersch where AM had reserved the upper floor for us till midnight. I think we stayed past midnight. No one wanted it to end.

Monday and Tuesday a group of us graduates went on studio tours of ILM and PDI DreamWorks that I had arranged a couple of months earlier. It was fantastic! And a great way to end an exciting journey.

All that is left now is to gain some professional experience in the field of character animation and to create something truly special and memorable. In this field, success truly lies in the journey rather than the destination. I am looking forward to embark on this journey confident that my arsenal of knowledge, commitment and passion will take me farther than I have imagined.

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.