Supervising Animator at DreamWorks Animation.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Sprinkler trench digger, Nordstrom Café busboy, parking garage number painter.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Kung Fu Panda and Panda 2, Turbo, Animatrix: Final Flight of the Osiris.
I grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains in Los Gatos, CA. I always loved animation- the idea that these draftsmen and women could move drawings to create life was completely mystifying to me. Looking at rough Disney pencil tests put me over the moon. And in the medium of film, you could create worlds, anything you could imagine you could share with people and make them feel something. When I was young my Dad set me up with a Super8 camera and a bunch of clay and I went to town, making oodles of pointless, out of focus, poorly lit stop motion movies. Then I upgraded video where I did the same, and finally went into computer graphics around the time chrome spheres and checkerboard planes were all the rage. My first real job was as a storyboard artist at Pacific Data Images, then I got into games, where I learned 3D working in Alias/Wavefront, then into TV and finally movies.
There are no typical days. Every day in animation is something exciting and different. I’m 100% positive I work with the most artistically/technically gifted people in the world and it’s a joy getting up to go work with, and learn from, these people. A fabulously eclectic mix of talent from all over the world, all of whom do amazing things on a daily basis.
Working at DreamWorks is exactly as the name suggests, a dream place to work. I can’t decide if the best part is the place, the people I work with, or the work itself. We have silly meetings about how to make things funnier or more heartfelt or thrilling. We’re required to watch lots of cartoons. Our daily tasks, down to the most minute ones, are all driven by new ways to excite audiences and keep kids and parents entertained. The free food is pretty awesome too.
When I’m unhappy with my work in a particular shot, and it leaves my hands, it’s forever engraved into the annals of time. I go and watch the movie and that shot plays and it’s like an air horn goes off: “Attention movie goers! Feast your eyes on this turd!” Your mistakes are distributed worldwide.
We work mostly with the studio’s proprietary animation tools, including EMO, Premo, and occasionally Maya. Hardware-wise our setups typically include dual monitors, very fast multi-core Linux workstations and Cintiqs. Speed of computing is probably the most notable change in the technology, and refinement in our toolset. Multi-threaded Premo allows us now to manipulate high-resolution, textured, lit characters in real-time, where only a year ago we had none of this. Obviously the devices through which we enjoy movies have changed drastically in past years, which is inspiring a sort of revolution in how content will be consumed.
I suppose like most jobs there can be real pressure to get things right. Often in a very short period of time. There is a lot of money on the line making these movies and you don’t want to be the guy that drops the ball.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I can honestly say I’m surrounded by animation greatness on a daily basis. Famous directors, actors, animators, creators are a staple here. I’ve had the privilege of working with and/or meeting many of my personal idols.
Early in my career when I was first trying to get into the movie business, ILM was the place to be. Like most kids my age I grew up on Star Wars and could imagine nothing better. I managed to get an interview too, and they told me it went well and that they liked my stuff. “We’ll call you.” they said. I pranced all up and down the halls of my current job telling anyone who would listen that I was going to leave this dump to go work at ILM. But call they didn’t, and when I finally got a hold of them, they said, “You’re on the top of a very short list of potential new hires”. “How long will I have to wait? A day? A week? Six weeks?” I asked. “Probably more than six weeks,” she said. Of course, they never called again. Moral of the story is, don’t act like an idiot until you’ve signed on the dotted line. Then you can go ahead and act like an idiot.
I do have a pretty fun side project but hopefully you’ll hear about it later.
A buddy of mine just endorsed me on LinkedIn for new skills: Demolition, Weapons & Tactics, Surgical Instruments, and Baby Showers. I’m officially claiming those. When I’m not distributing onesies, I’m usually playing ice hockey. I also really dig cosmology, because truth is stranger than fiction!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
If you know you’re good, persevere. If you get turned down don’t let it crush your spirit. Keep pushing, keep angling. Explore areas outside your comfort zone. Polish your presentation until it’s pristine. If you stick to it, and want it badly enough, eventually you’ll be in the right place at the right time. If you’re not sure if you’re good, and you really want to do this and believe you can, throw yourself into it. Be passionate about getting better. Don’t be content with the current status of your skills. Animation takes years to learn. How badly do you want it? Someone highly motivated can go as far or farther than someone loaded with raw talent.
Sweet interview…dreamworks ‘a dream place to work’…really like that sentence…
I remember Ben in high school. He used to talk about making movies later in his life. While killing some time one day, I decided to google Ben. I was really excited to see that his dream did happen. Though I wasnt close to Ben, I had a feeling he would be successful.