Laika

The Boxtrolls Review

This was going to be about the Animation Show of Shows since I was planning on going to that but I had a last minute invitation to see The Boxtrolls, hosted by ASIFA, and there was a great Q&A with the directors, Graham Annable and  Anthony Stacchi, and producer/animator Travis Knight after. Loved it! The animation was ridiculously amazing and the movie itself was deep yet with all the right elements of comedy.

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The Boxtrolls is a heartfelt story about finding out who you are and making yourself to be who you are. Amid all that is an adventure of Egg saving his family and stopping the villain, Snatcher, from obtaining power all for the sake of cheese. From the trailer, the original beginning seemed to be about The Boxtrolls finding an unwanted child in the trash but that's changed somewhat and I really like the change as it gives the characters more association and relation with each other.

The animation is ridiculous. In stop motion, everything that moves have to be manually moved frame by frame by an animator. There were a lot of little inflection in the face and auxiliary acting choices which just means more frames that the animator would have to animate through. Just as impressive is that animators are assigned to scenes instead of characters so there is a whole ballroom dance sequence that was done by a single animator. There is a giant robot with detailed pistons and cogs that all had to be animated on top of having a character giving a full performance.

Loved the artistic style of the film. It was interesting to hear that various oil painting artists such as Lucian Freud. They really liked the various contrasting colors that would be used on skin. One thing that I would be interested in if Laika could develop is accurate specular highlights on eyes. Currently the eyes are doll-like with everything painted on instead of having an actual cornea to catch the highlight on. It may be strange, as the shape of a cornea and the iris may look strange in certain angles and unlike in CG a bump map can't just be used to cheat the effect.

The Q&A after was great. There was getting to know about the behind the scenes process which was neat but I loved hearing about how Laika is evolving their workflow and keeping up with the current technology.  Rapid prototyping has been used since Coraline but the way it's used has evolved. First of all, rapid prototyping is typically used for quick concepts that someone can print out, look at, and throw away; however, Laika is using it to print their thousands of faces to create the facial replacement animation. Back in Coraline, the faces were printed to be plain gray and an artist would have to go and paint each one. In Paranorman, Laika was able to get color into the prints. Now in Boxtrolls, not only were they able to advance the colors but they found out, through an accident, that they could print on top of prints and create what would look like a classic 2D animated smear frame. Also, make sure to keep a close eye on the ballroom sequence as Laika was able to get a capillary system under the face so the characters actually blush!

Make sure to stay through the credits. As per usual, there's a small sequence at the end as the movie makes a nod towards animators and stop motion animation. It really gives an idea to how stop motion is "an obscene way to make a film" as every little movement has to be created manually from hand gestures to a single blink and since the movie was shot in stereoscope the vfx artists would have to paint out rigs and facial seams twice.

Academy of Art University Spring Show 2014

Monday, May 19th was the opening of Spring Show! Spring Show this year is being hosted at 2225 Jerrold Ave. San Francisco, CA 94124 and will be open during the week from 10am to 6pm (closed Sundays and Mondays). It's a time where the school displays the best of the students' work from all the different departments which is an amazing sight to see. I never even knew that there was a paper sculpture class. More important than the Spring Show opening is that prior in the day is when Career Day happens and all the graduating students anxiously wait in line to interview with many various companies, such as Disney, Laika, Blizzard, Dreamworks, Method Studios, etc., that come. Since I'm not graduating yet I'm not actually allowed to be interviewed but I volunteered as a runner partially in hopes of being able to speak briefly and get to know more recruiters. Apparently the Laika recruiter, Anna Kvorning, saw my work in the show and liked it and asked for me in person so when I arrived ready to volunteer I was immediately whisked off to wait in line for an interview. I was freaking out while waiting in line as I was prepared to be volunteering and running around so I was not dressed formally enough as I usually would for an interview and I had no tablet to show my work on. Everything ended up goig well though and I guess I was allowed this one interview since it wasn't actually for hire but Ms. Kvorning just wanted to talk and tell me about the fall internship opportunity.

An extremely cool feature at the animation and vfx exhibit is that some of the posters have been augmented with an "augmented reality browser app" called Aurasma. It is available on both iOS and Andriod. Download the app, and search for the AAU channel and follow the channel. Use the app on the poster and it will sync with the camera and begin playing the video on top! You can move around and the video will be tracked to the poster.

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Slew of Trailers!

There has been so many trailers of animated movies being posted on the internet this week and it is so exciting as I am looking forward to them!

I was so excited when I saw this. Laika has released the trailer for their new movie, set to come out September 26, 2014! It has taken me forever to watch puppet animated movies such as Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride as they were creepy and not something that I was particularly interested in at the time before I got into the animation field and my perception of stop motion animation was extremely choppy. I did finally watch those movies and fell in love along with being amazed at how fluid the animation was. I loved Paranorman, and even more so when Laika came to give a talk at AAU about the movie and the VFX, so I have been looking forward to the new movie that Laika had under production but was being very secretive about until now. The trailer is beautiful with the textures, animation, and lighting and adorable but sad and then cute and happy all at the the same time.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMCSXHEFtx8&w=560&h=315]

Frozen has an actual trailer now! It is in Japanese though which is a bit strange that it got released there first but still, so exciting!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcRzQOPxcqI&w=560&h=315]

Sunny with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has a new trailer out! I love the animation style of Sony as it is hilarious and amazing. Look at those limbs of the characters, they're all jiggly and wiggly without any bones.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QCJTbHU60U&w=560&h=315]

Turbo has their third official trailer out. What I find most interesting is the difference of this third trailer to the first one as the render has changed. I remembered that there was a lot of subsurface scatter on the snails in the very first trailer and there's not as much now in this third trailer. I wonder what the animation would be like though, particularly since I loved the animation of the snail and slug in Blue Sky's Epic.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSsCj8yXUU0&w=560&h=315]

Internships!

With March coming to an end, many summer internship deadlines are looming close. I hope you have your resumes and reels ready!Laika has some great opportunities listed and they don't have an exact deadline for their internships, but rather it depends on the volume and quality that they get, so get your work in fast! I don't know if it is my love for their recent film, Paranorman, or missing the Northwest, but I am looking forward quite a bit, hoping to be accepted, to this internship Pixar unfortunately does not seem to be looking for any technical artist interns. There's a listing for animation and art (the description seems like it means visual development) but there is nothing for texture artists and lighters. Sad face.

Blue Sky internship, Acorn Academy, is due April 12th. They're a bit out away from California, all the way over in Connecticut, but would still be a great opportunity. They do require two letter of recommendations though so it might be somewhat awkward to ask for one this late as it is usually proper to ask for letters at least 1 or 2 months in advance.

Disney's internship is right after on April 16th and they have lots of great opportunities! Look dev, layout, lighting, producing, rigging, both 2D and 3D animation, vis dev, modeling, effects, TD, and story. I will be looking to apply for the look development internship and maybe also lighting.

Dreamworks unfortunately has no summer internships available at either their Glendale or Redwood location.

Bright Ideas Design (頑石創意), for any international students is the Taiwan company that made Katz Fun and made their name creating an animated scroll depicting the life and culture of ancient China for the Taiwan National Palace Museum. Unfortunately when I asked, they are not offering any internships in the animation department but they are looking for interns to help at an event at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. The internship lasts from July 4th to September 30th and is unpaid.

These are just some of the big names that I know of and that everybody applies to. There are plenty of small studios that are still great opportunities. As I don't know a lot of them, please contact me, or leave a reply and I would love to learn more about them! If there are companies out there that you would also be interested in but nothing specific is listed on their website, don't be afraid to e-mail then and ask! There's no harm in asking and at worst they say they don't have anything but you get to make a contact with someone in the industry.

If the application involves an interview process, here are 7 questions you should ask in any interview, courtesy of Jessica Dickinson Goodman. Hopefully most of these questions will be answered as part of the introduction of the internship, so you would only have to ask a couple of them. Number 4, 5, and 6 seem to stand out the most to me and I will definitely be sure to keep them in mind.

  1. What is the best project you’ve seen an intern complete?
  2. How are conflicts resolved on your team?
  3. What is the approval process for new ideas?
  4. What are last term’s interns doing now?
  5. What skills do you expect me to have coming in?
  6. What skills could I expect to leave with?
  7. What project do you think I would spend my most time on?

Get working and good luck on your applications!

Laika - Paranorman Handcrafted Visual Effects

Laika came to the Academy today to give a lecture, presented by Andrew Nawrot, CG and look developmen supervisor, about the visual effects done in Paranorman. While Laika is a stop motion animation house, they do also have a VFX team that includes roles such as modeling, texturing, lighting, and compositing. I had a few friends who said they weren't interested in going to the lecture since Laika is stop motion and thus not in their field. Shame on them. What is particularly interesting about Laika is how small their production team is. They only have 50 some on production and something like 16 on VFX. Considering how many shots were in Paranorman and things like rig removal needed to get done, it's amazing what they were able to accomplish in the film. Laika feels that instead of having a large production team but in reality to only have a number of people who actually shoulders the weight of the group, to instead just hire those people. With this Laika boasts of having the top stop motion animators in the world. They really do as after all the rigs, scenes, and lights are set up, the animators go into the room and just do what they do best. There tends to be only one animator per shot, even with multiple characters, and while the animator may cut back a few frames if he or she doesn't feel like it's going in the right direction, very few times is a shot scrapped and have to be re-done. This is due to using a lot of references and having gone through rehearsals with the director prior to animating.

The rigs for the characters are amazing. Even more astounding is how Laika did the facial animations. It was a process of replacement animation, and what this means is that every time a face moved it was a different face mask on the rig. Thousands upon thousands of faces were created. The faces were additionally split in half horizontally, thus giving the animators more flexibility in cases such as if they wanted to raise eyebrows sooner or later than the lower half of the face.

As the VFX team is small, they like people who are not only specialists but also able to do multiple roles. Modelers who can texture, lighters who can composite. There was a lot for the VFX team to do. Not only were there cleanup work to do of rig removal, seam paint out, and set reconstruction, but CG characters and sets were also used on top of visual effects for the sky and Aggie's lighting witch form. What Laika needed was visual effects but still look like it was hand crafted and not the perfection that CG would generate. For this the team looked at a lot of real world references and sought to incorporate them into the effect. One such that played a big role from the effect of the ghosts to the clouds in the sky was using photographs of a tulle material as a base. From that there was a lot of cloth simulation to work on. For crowds, the VFX team created CG versions for what would be too time consuming to create physically. Such cases are crowds such as in front of the schoolyard and the mob. Within the group of characters, there would be 7 or 8 practical puppets actually in the shot with green screen while the rest would be created with CG. The team worked heavily with the puppet department in order to ensure that the characters looked like they all existed in the same world space.

During the Q&A at the end of the lecture, there were quite a few questions about internships and reels. Once again they also mentioned that they look for passion from people. As 3D animation has become a big thing, many people may not have puppet work in the reel, Laika does recommend to first have stop motion experience first if applying as an animator. As they are a small team, the don't have the resources to train someone up, and, as they say, they employ the top stop motion animators in the world so you have to know your stuff. Laika is adamant that in all positions that they want to see a fine art background with drawings not just of poses but with faces and hands are largely important. Having, what they call, "The Eye" is very important, and that is a sensibility into art and film. Finally, love what you do.

Laika is currently in production of another film that is set to release in 2014. The title hasn't been announced yet but 90% of the team of Paranorman has been hired back to work on it so it will be just as amazing if not more. Look forward to it!