Leigh Rens

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Leigh Rens, I’m an animator, a mentor at animationmentor.com and a previz camera guy.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation? 
First job out of college was as a layout artist at a sticker factory, was on the print floor inhaling thinners all day, my clothes smelt so flammable that no-one would sit next me when I got home. Also worked as a grip for an industrial video company. setting up camera and lights in the most amazing places, from coal mines to furnaces and even a Twinkies factory and my last gig before getting into animation was at an art gallery, selling miro’s and picasso’s.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ve had fun on so many but I guess my most recent ones’ …..camera and animatic blocking on “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” for PLF at fox studios, also some spots for Oakley which I produced with my own crew for the winter X-games this year and a supergraphic for 2k10 a year or so ago that covered the side of Figeroa hotel opposite the staples center in downtown LA. also my work at rhythm and hues, on the Narnia, Scooby Doo and Garfield movies.
How did you become interested in animation? 
theres three moments that stand out. remember going crazy for Tom and Jerry when I was four, kept begging my dad to rent all the 8mm prints from the local rental store, drove him crazy. also when I was a kid, there’s is a memory of hanging out on this giant flat rock with our bikes next to this drive-in theatre watching “Wile-E Coyote and the Road Runner” thinking one day I wanna do that. but the moment that made it a serious pursuit was the Dire Straits Mtv video “Money for Nothing”. it was the first time I realized that 3d cartoons were gonna be the future and I wanted to be a part of that.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? 
Originally from south africa . after 15 years of working in LA I’m now a US citizen……. used to visit a friend I knew from college helen silverman at this post production house every spare moment I got. took a year or so before a spot opened up. they asked for a portfolio and the following day I was hired.http://vimeo.com/26403691
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
the usual – ………..answer e-mail. regroup and tweak notes from the previous day.  dailies at 11am, do some more tweaks, jump on the internet a bit, plan a little for whats coming up. lunch at around 12:30. after lunch I get into my changes for my shot so I have something to show for rounds at 4pm. after rounds keep working on turning the shot around for the next day. sometimes I wil get thru it and get them to look at it again. then its hometime.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Inventing a performance. I enjoy a good narrative sequence, a run of stuff happening.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The unspoken fear of staying employed. ever since the “minority report schedule” the studios have got us all playing musical chairs, its all contract work now’
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Mostly Maya on all platforms (and a bit of after effects when I’m doing previz).  still thumbnail in pencil if I have something difficult to work out’
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Its hard not to get jaded, It’s a huge fight to stay fresh and passionate about the craft’. teaching AM has been awesome,  the energy of the students  keeps me going’

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Sure , I’ll namedrop a few’ Con Pederson I first met years ago at Metrolight studios, been over to his house a few times, extremely grateful to him, taught me how to think like a film maker, tons of stories about working as Ward Kimballs assistant. the Space Race with Wernher Von Braun, his time as art director on 2001, his relationship to Stanley Kubrick as friend and his story go to guy, he was also part of  the robert able legacy, even wrote his own 3d modeling program back when cgi started out. I’m guessing, but i’m sure that quite a few people owe their careers to Con’ also had the privilege to work with Bill Kroyer and have been to a few of his famous animator christmas parties. can’t forget to mention Tina Price who I’m also super grateful to for allowing me to be part of CTN. still see my self as on the fringe, but I guess I get around.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
The deaths of my mom, brother and dad have been the big ones, mostly sad, more than tough. The toughest was losing my job back in 2001 a week before my son was born, luckily I got hired almost immediately, so it all worked out.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’m working on a personal piece for my reel to balance out the cartoon side of things and to have some fun. also like everyone there’s a script or two under the bed. racing anyone?
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can juggle, play drums, windsurf and I’m also a car guy so I love to follow F1 racing
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Manage your expectations…….understand the three things needed:- to prove you can do the job(reel)…- that you’re a member of the human race (you can comunicate in a normal fashion and you’re not crazy)…..- that you’re a team player, a good fit for their team.(i.e. any recommendation or something to show that you’re not a loner).

….the easiest way in is a recommendation from a member on the animation team, but being a student you more than likely will not have that yet, so you’re gonna go with the reel first. a reel equals the job you are applying for, if you going for an a-list studio it has to be an a-list reel, so ask yourself if what you have on your reel is at the same level with what that studio produces, in this way you can manage your expectations. if the answer is no then you’ll end up at a studio that has the same quality as what your reel represents.(water finds its own level) not a bad thing, but the reality is its just where you are at. so it might take a two or three studio jump to get your reel up to that level where you will be able to break into your dream studio…for your reel to resonate with a recruiter it must have weight and performance(persona), if you are not sure if your reel has those two qualities then a brush up course at an online school like animationmentor.com will get you there.

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