A big hand to Tea Time Animation for bringing in the amazing Glen McIntosh, directing animator at ILM who has worked on movies such as Jurassic Park III, Star Wars I, II and III, Transformers, and Battleship, to come talk about his work and experiences. MC'd by Tea Time's professional outreach coordinator, Frank-Joseph Frelier, we got to hear Glen's inside stories about being in production and see some of his original artwork!
Glen initially majored in film studies and then went on to study traditional animation at Sheridan College. He moved out to Ireland and started out at the Sullivan Bluth Studios as an inbetweener and fix animator with hand drawn animated movies such as Thumbelina and Anastasia. During his time while in Ireland was when Jurassic Park came out, which he fell in love with, and was inspired to traverse into the realm of 3D. He jumped from working on Anastasia, a 2D animated film, directly onto Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace which was interesting in that Glen mentioned he had no idea how to use a computer. He jumped right in and started learning all the new technical aspects from the ground up. Glen found his transition from 2D to 3D as an experience in that 3D animation could not be cheated as much as in 2D animation. While 2D animation allows additional stretch and squash to create motion blur and poses could hide certain elements of animation, a 3D rigged character, particularly for live action, is more similar to manipulating a puppet in 3D space and a pose has to look good from every angle. If poses are cheated, such as an arm intersecting to the inside of a body, while the pose may look fine from the view of the camera, it may cause issues further down the pipeline such as simulations where cloth dynamics keeps on falling off the character or lighting and various strange intersections and shadows show up.
As an animation supervisor, Glen got to go on set and work with the actors at times. We got to hear stories about how he was on set of Battleship and his interactions with Rihanna. One story that he had was how the stuntman for a shot was absent and so Glen got to step in. He was the stuntman for the villain and had on a helmet, a visor, and earplugs, and was expected to go through an exploding door where upon the other side were the actors who were crouching amid various debris. Glen couldn't hear nor see very well and if going through an exploding door wasn't already frightening enough, he was worried about tripping over Rihanna. He didn't and everything worked out well.
The next question asked about Glen's animation process. He talked about setting up a shot and then experimenting with a rig. It is important to find out what the rig can and can't do. Animators need rigs to do specific actions which the rigger may not always to take into account so by "doing your homework" first the rig can be kicked back to rigger and changed. The next step is blocking out the animation and while different people may have different definitions of what blocking means, it is important to show directors only the animation in which they will be critiquing. While it may look cool to turn on all the textures or use some cards to show splashes or explosions, it would be better to use simple geometry as placeholders for more straightforward evaluation. Pertaining to this, we got to hear some stories about working with Michael Bay. Directors know what they want but sometimes it doesn't always come through in the previs. However, the previs should still be matched first to show the director that it isn't working and then have a second version ready to show what the director actually wants.
Some suggestions that Glen has for animators is to not become pigeonholed into a single role. While working on animation, don't just become the robot person or the dinosaur person. To broaden the spectrum of your work, try to break it up into binaries such as male vs female, comedy vs dramatic, cartoony vs realistic, organic vs inorganic, and etc. It is important to study the world around you and see the little differences in it instead of assuming what you know and filling it in your mind. Glen told a story about an intensive figure drawing class where the model came in and he was missing a thumb but people were automatically filling it in their mind and drawing five fingers in their sketches. When looking at animal reference for creatures, notice how animals act differently than humans. Animals are reactionary, they don't stop first to think about their action; there are inconsistencies and fast jerks in their actions instead of smooth and steady arcs. Don't be afraid to act out reference and to feel the movement. Animators are actors so don't worry about your ego, instead think about how your acting helps you achieve the most desired end result.
A fun question to end the night with is Glen's three favorite movies that he would recommend everyone to watch. Jaws was the first movie that came to mind. While there were inconsistency issues from shot to shot due to being shot on the wide ocean but due to the acting and music the movie still comes across beautifully and conveys its purpose. The two other movies weren't any particular titles but Glen recommends anything from Stanley Kubrik, such as Full Metal Jacket, and Steven Spielburg, such as War of the Worlds, due to the beautiful photography and composition. Composition conveys meaning and Kubrik and Spielburg have such strong composition in their movies.