Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Misfit Magician - Final Submission

Wow, Animation Mentor is over. I'm flying home tomorrow afternoon, and in the evening I'll have my last AM Q&A Session ever. How sad.. and yet, how promising. I really love this program and would recommend it to anyone going for animation. Feel free to ask me about it at any time - I'd be happy to share my experience.

Here's how I finished the class (below). Note: I wouldn't call this final yet because I still have a lot of work to do on facials and hands and hips, and then lighting and rendering of course, before putting it on my reel. I was nervous about this at first, but actually most students don't completely finish their shorts in 3 months - they just get the film as close to final as possible. So, here's what I turned in at the completion of the course.



Comments and criticism still very much appreciated. Thanks again for taking an interest. :) Safe travels and happy holidays, everyone!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Misfit Flirting With Disaster


Misfit Magician, Flirting With Disaster


Tonight is the last official night of production on Misfit Magician. The deadline is at 3pm tomorrow, and while I'm feeling pretty confident about finishing, I've experienced 2 crashes in the past half hour and decided to take a break. I might pull an all-nighter for old time's sake, if I can manage the energy. It isn't completely necessary, but it might be fun and more relaxing that way.

I'm pretty psyched about finaling these shots. Despite the deadline tomorrow, I'll most likely continue to work on this piece through the next couple of weeks to get more facials and overlapping action in there. That stuff kinda got rushed this past week, and stuff like shoulders and hips are also lacking in interest. Camerawork too needs some help, especially at the end.

Tomorrow I'll post whatever I have, and I'd love to hear your feedback.

Good luck to all my buddies out there finaling their pieces as well. :-)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Refining Stage - Misfit Magician

Hi everyone,

Until now I've been linking you to videos off of my portfolio site, but to conserve space there I think I'm going to start using YouTube for my videos.

Here's a look at the refining I've done on Misfit (see below). Most of the splining is done now except toward the end, where I'm still figuring out some blocking and camera issues. Overall, I still have a ton of work to do with eye direction and facials, shoulders, hips, and fingers, to name only a few. So at the moment I'm only looking for any comments on body mechanics, overall style and timing, and things like that.

Thanks for your interest! Hope things are going well for everyone.

Monday, December 03, 2007

FREE LILLY

In the true Laura Skowronski style, another small story has reached epic proportions.


Over a month ago, now, we had discovered a lizard in our apartment that scampered off into the kitchen and took shelter underneath our dishwasher. For weeks I was obsessing with setting up boxes with spinach leaves and bottlecaps of water, trying anything to coax it out safely. I saw it usually once or twice per day when things were quiet (either in the morning or after Naveen had left for class). I almost managed to catch it once (see past posts 1 and 2), but failed and felt horrible about it, especially since I wasn't sure if I had hurt its tail. I stopped seeing it for weeks, and by Thanksgiving I had (almost jokingly) spoken a little lizard eulogy while putting dishes away. Surely it was dead by now, or managed to find a crack in the foundation, or something.

This morning (December 3) I woke up and was walking toward my desk to check mail before eating breakfast (because that's the kind of nerd that I am). As I wheeled out my desk chair - I saw a quick little flash and immediately knew it was my lizard. Naveen was just waking up too and was coming out of his bedroom when I told him to go back and give me 5 minutes - so he did. I barracaded the hall with a floor-length mirror, blocked off the kitchen with some boxes, and set up a clear path to the open porch door. Quite the obstacle course - and not the easiest thing to manage when you have a screwed up knee. Still, I was able to see the tiny lizard in the back-right corner under my desk. I had the poor thing cornered. I piled up a stack of printer paper in front of it, and reached behind the stack to grab the lizard - but she quickly scurried in a tiny little space left between the paper packages and my desk. So instead I laid a cardboard box on its side at the back wall, and I slowly pulled the paper stack away from the desk. The lizard was riding slowly on one of the packages as I was moving it. It looked pretty confused that I could change the world's geography with a slight of hand.

Now it only had two ways to go - either toward me and my scary self, or toward the box at the back wall. So it hopped back into safety, not realizing that it was standing on the inside of a box. I laid down on the floor and quickly folded up the box flaps to trap it. I could hear it scurrying around inside - but meanwhile I was ecstatic - I got it! I finally got it!

I took it outside onto the porch. Even then, it didn't leave the box just yet - it looked stunned that it was back outside after almost two months. It gave me a minute to take this quick snapshot (above) - which also shows how small this thing was - it's in a Hefty Cinch Sak box, and as I labeled, the side is about 4 inches, which is about the length of the lizard from nose to tip of the tail.



Let me just say, I know what you're thinking. And yes, I'm crazy. But I got a huge thrill out of saving this one tiny lizard, and I'll definitely remember that.

The End

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving was as atypical as they get - making it one of the most memorable in recent years. I flew home to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to celebrate there because my fiance's brother was getting married over several days, with a Hindu wedding on Thursday (Thanksgiving) and a Catholic ceremony taking place on Saturday. My whole family was invited - that is, anyone coming to Fort Wayne for the holiday weekend was welcome to come. That meant my parents, my sister, my grandparents, and my uncle, and I, all got to take part in a long weekend of festivities.

It all started Wednesday with a groom's ceremony at my fiance's house. I had to be there around 9am to get into a sari garment and mingle with the family. Naveen unfortunately had to miss it because he couldn't fly in until the evening, whereas I was able to come in town the previous Friday. His brother (Praveen, or Prav for short) was the center of attention for the morning, while family came before him with rice and various traditional signs of blessing and good fortune. In the afternoon it was Jenni's turn to have a bridal ceremony at another house where people came to offer her the same signs. I also got henna designs painted on my hands afterwards, which stains your skin for a week or two. It was a full day - and when I went home we celebrated my sister's 22nd birthday at Logan's Roadhouse, complete with cake and presents.

Thursday was another long day of celebration - we had sort of a Thanksgiving lunch at the house, with turkey, potatoes, stuffing, veggies, cranberry apple salad - the works. But it was a lunch - which I actually liked better because I didn't completely stuff myself. Then, off to my fiance's house to get into another sari and all kinds of jewelry. We headed to the hall where the wedding was to take place, took lots of photos, and prepared for a 4pm wedding... when all of a sudden, I re-injured my knee. I was bending down in a sari with heels on, trying to help one of the kids get their shoes on, and I just collapsed. Naveen was right there to help me get into the bathoom so I could pour out my miserable pain in private. However I have to be thankful that this wasn't as severe a re-injury as I've had in the past, where I haven't been able to even move my leg without excruciating stabbing throbs of pain. At least with ibuprofen and a cold compress I was able to hobble around and enjoy the ceremony and reception. And I wasn't the only one - my whole family got into it, which was awesome. Even my grandpa got up and danced with everybody, which was a huge surprise and I was so happy.

Friday I worked on my animation, napped through some pain (and through family holiday shopping), and went to Prav and Jenni's rehearsal dinner, which was fantastic. We got to meet friends - Yaz, Ryan, and Kara - and a lot of the extended family and wedding party. It was great - appetizers, wine, and great italian food (and desserts!) - at our table we each got a different dinner and passed around our plates so we could try different things. It was delicious and lots of fun. When I got home we celebrated my grandma's 80th birthday, which was fun - by the way, my grandpa also turned 85 a month ago.

Saturday then was the Catholic wedding ceremony and reception, which was also a big event with loads of great people to meet and wonderful food. I was honored to say the prayer in the beginning of the dinner, which was nice. And it looked like Jen and Prav had a blast with old friends on the dance floor. I even snuck up there for a little while, although I couldn't move around too much. It was a great time.

And of course Sunday morning, after church, I scrambled to work on my animation, which has taken a back burner to all of these events - but I'm happy to put my family first. Besides, I knew once I got back to Orlando, I could really concentrate and get a lot done. Naveen flew back in the evening with a stop in Detroit which ended up in an overnight stay and a bump up to first class because something was up with the plane.

So Monday was Travel Drama Day - I had a direct flight to Orlando (Sanford) from Fort Wayne that should have taken under 3 hours. I got to the airport around 2 (for a 3:45 Allegiant flight), and ten hours later I finally arrived in Orlando. There weren't any weather delays, despite rain in the midwest - instead, we got about two hours into the flight when the pilot came over the intercom and informed us that the plane was leaking oil from the left engine, and he might have to shut it off. So we had an unscheduled "emergency" landing in Columbia, South Carolina around 6pm. The pilot told us that we would be given pizza and drinks when we got off the plane, and that he had spoken to another pilot who was on his way with another Allegiant plane, which we were told might take an hour to get there. But then, maybe ten minutes later, the pilot told us that the other pilot was first then on his way to the other airport to get the plane. People were getting restless, and by 7pm Allegiant finally worked out something with Delta so that we could use their gate to get into the terminal. There was no food, but we were told food was on the way. Some people immediately gave up and went to the small food court. Soon enough it was 8pm and we were told that they found someone from Delta to work on our plane to fix the oil leak, and that if it was going to take less than 40 minutes, that we would get on that plane and not be served food (so apparently the whole other pilot story was a fib). If it would take longer than 40 minutes, Allegiant would be serving us food and drinks, but they expected we would be taking off around 8:45. It got to be 9pm and still no word - and no food. The restaurant bar and grill area was completely full, and the other small shop had only one cash register and a couple other employees scrambling to come up with new food because they were selling out of everything. I decided to grab a bite to eat and something to drink ($10 of course, for a sandwich and bottle of water). Finally at 9:45 someone came over the intercom saying that Allegiant was ready to board immediately, so we all scrambled on the plane, and around 10 we called our families to let them know they were closing the plane doors and we would arrive in about an hour. Phones went off. Moments later, the pilot informed us that now we didn't have enough gas. This started to seem fairly incompetent since we all started wondering why they didn't fill up while working on the technical problem. So they literally had to push the plane out of the gate while we waited for the refueling people to get there. And then we were notified that we were waiting on paperwork because a Delta employee had been working on our Allegiant plane, and we had used their gate, etc. Finally, around 10:45, we took off for Orlando. Mid-flight they said they were coming around with complimentary drinks (except two minutes later they announced a clarification that they meant soda - alcoholic drinks would still cost $5 or $7, and if we wanted we could also purchase snack packs). Finally we arrived around 11:45 and, along with many apologies from the pilot, we were told that we were going to receive care packages on our way off the plane. The care package was a $30 voucher toward a future flight with Allegiant (as long as you were booking by phone - it didn't count toward online bookings). By the time I got my one checked bag and hobbled out of the airport, it was midnight and airport security was turning lights off in the building.

Now, hopefully, I can catch up with my work, although I missed out on an evening to unpack and get going on the assignment. At least I can say, despite my knee and the craziness of holiday traveling, that everyone is safe and enjoyed a beautiful wedding weekend. I hope yours was wonderful too!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Keeping it Under a Minute

So I finally submitted my 606 work. I originally had plans to have the "saw-the-lady-in-half" trick to really get goofy: the rabid rabbit was going to jump up and chomp on her leg and dangle from it (I suppose I could still do that?), and the magician was going to freak out, and a cop was going to run up on stage and cuff the guy, and the magician was going to try to escape with a poof of smoke that would ultimately fail (the cop would shake his head and lead the magician offstage).

That all didn't seem overly ambitious until I realized I only have 4 weeks to finish this film before the end of class 6 - and actually, really only 3 weeks, because the 4th week is kind of a wrap-up goodbye week. Then Christmas, then New Year's, and then graduation.

So, please let me know if you think this works. Unfortunately the blocking gets a little sloppy at the end, but right now I really just had to get the timing down and see if I could keep the film under a minute. The current duration is about 57 seconds (minus credits), whereas the other ending would be around 83 seconds (minus credits).












Thanks!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Posing for Clarity

Hi folks,



I'm having trouble with my sawwing pose (sawing? sawwing?)... I've seen several videos and stills, and there doesn't seem to be one right way to saw something. Could you help me decide which pose is clearest, or if you have another completely different idea?

Thanks so much!

-Laura

(Edit - 11:15pm EST)
PS: Judging from the responses I've gotten so far, I need to make a clarification. Admittedly I didn't spend very much time on these - they're more "3d sketches" than actual poses. They're lacking weight, and certain body parts should be rotated so it doesn't appear so square. Let me just clarify that I'm more concerned about the legs right now. I did take some video reference of myself, and compared it with videos I found online. It seemed that the foot was either flat down on the right side (and knee down on the left), or foot flat on the left side (and knee touching down on the right). So it's the kneeling position I'm most concerned with (before I start making additional adjustments, adding weight, etc).

Thanks again very much you guys!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Blocking Plus Pass - The First Half of "Misfit Magician"

So, a lot of people are asking to see progress on my short film, and it's just reminding me that I really need to redevelop my existing website so that I can post my dailies. I'm starting to sketch out some new ideas, so I'll let you know when that's in order. It's long overdue...

Here's a quick look at my first half of blocking (plus).

"Misfit Magician - First Half, Blocking Plus"











The blocking passes always seem more challenging to start, because that's when I have to make all my decisions on acting, poses, etc - but, it's also very fun to see this film take shape. Supposedly this week I should be completely done with all blocking so that next week is just refining of the first third... I hope that happens! It's been really busy with my workouts (I hired a physical trainer to help get my waistline down a few inches before my wedding), and we've had company for the past few days which has been great, and that lizard is still under my dishwasher (I think)... So I just have to be diligent and stick to my dailies. It helps that I'm super excited about it.

Also, just a quick note on how awesome Animation Mentor is, again... yesterday afternoon I got a call from Suzanne who is a counselor with student care at AM. She was merely calling to see how I was doing (presumably because I took that LOA last month, and now we're halfway through the term, 6 weeks from completing the courses altogether). I can't believe how fast this time went. But I gave her all of my positive news, including how much better my mindset is this time around, and how glad I was that I took the LOA when I did. She was glad to hear it, and hopes to see me at graduation on January 12. Wow, that's coming fast! I'm so psyched.

Well - gotta get back to work! It's another beautiful day in Orlando - gotta use it well. :)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

When Opportunity Knocks, Wear A Glove

I'm kicking myself.

This is all going to be something to laugh at later, and you all can enjoy it now. But this lizard thing has really been bugging me. So today I put a chair in the middle of the floor and laid down a floor-length mirror so that maybe that lizard could see the outside world (from where it is under my dishwasher, I set it up so the mirror reflected the screen porch door around our kitchen corner).

As crazy as that may sound, it actually worked... the lizard came out, bobbed its little head up and down as if judging the distance (it probably thought the mirror was the way out), and came out about a foot and a half. I was right there, prepared with a box in hand, and I hesitantly grabbed its tail... I got it...

Except, in a fraction of a second, inches off the ground, it was so scared, it whipped around as if it were trying to get loose or bite me. Of course I know the thing probably can't bite, but I was so startled that I let go, and it scurried back under the dishwasher.

I have a feeling I would have kept my wits if I had just put on a latex glove, which I keep right there under my cabinet for cleaning with bleach. It was right there, and I was so close to freeing our little friend, and now I'm just kicking myself. I'm sure it will be hours, if not days, before it emerges again. Oh well.

So, if the opportunity knocks again, I'm wearing a glove.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lizard, Lizard, Go Away

Well, it finally happened.

After seven months of living in Orlando, always watching my steps and keeping doors and windows shut, a lizard has snuck into our apartment.

It looks as though it is a small brown anole, presumably female, and seemingly young. I feel horrible about it - I don't have a clue about what to do. It showed up last Wednesday while I was working at my computer.

Naveen had the day off and was playing Halo 3, and all of a sudden he shouted my name - I turned around, saw that he was looking at the floor, and when I looked down, this tiny little thing was looking back up at us and darted under our dishwasher in a flash. She (or he) has been there ever since. I've had small boxes lying around just in case I could catch it and get it outside, but I haven't had the chance. For the first day or so, I left a bottlecap full of water and a few spinach leaves on the floor near the dishwasher, hoping the little "guy" would come out. I didn't see it the rest of that day, but I saw it the following morning, standing motionless behind the stray leaves, as if frozen when I came into the room, and then scooted right back under its safe haven. It's been almost a week since I've seen it, and assumed it might have died or found a crack in the foundation to escape through - I even removed the water and spinach leaves.

But most unfortunately, I saw it again tonight as a dishwasher cycle was finishing. I heard the "click" of the dry cycle winding to a stop, and turned around to unload the dishes, and there she was, looking confusedly at the cabinets and walls around it. By now it must be so very hungry - unless it has managed to find any small bugs that might have snuck past us. I feel terrible - from the beginning I wanted to capture it and take it back outdoors, but it is so fast and tiny that I doubt that will happen. Either it will starve underneath my dishwasher, or we'll have to throw something at it or set traps for it, which doesn't appeal to me. I like lizards a lot - especially because they keep our nasty bug population down - so it's really sad knowing one is trapped inside our apartment and too scared to venture out more than a few inches into the kitchen.

I'm out of spinach as of this weekend, but I put another cap full of water down, just in case. If anyone has any ideas to help me avoid this poor thing's cruel death, I'd appreciate it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pat et Stanley

If you haven't seen the adventures of Pat and Stanley (French animation), you should probably check it out. They're quite cute. Go click on "Clique ici!" (click here) and check out some of the videos!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fumble Fixed

With much thanks to an awesome guy called Ryan Ellis (see website), I was able to solve my question about the rabid rabbit fur issue (which was, can it be done). Simply put, yes, and it took just one phrase in my command line:

performPolyAutoProj 0;

















Yup. That was it. Automatic Mapping. I knew deep down it was a UV issue; I'm just terrible with UVs, which is another way of saying I'm too lazy to really study it at the moment, what with all the animating I'm doing (when I'm not sleeping for 4-6 hours). Oh yeah, and checking Facebook, cooking, or watching lizards on my porch.

So a big shout out to Ryan, who is awesome, and also to other friends (John especially!) who always manage to find time to help others. You guys rock!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Furry Fumbling

Update: This issue has been resolved - see Fumble Fixed. Thanks!


I have a technical question for someone to answer. Have you ever worked with Maya Fur, or know someone who does? I can very well apply and adjust fur settings to a generic polygonal model, but I can't seem to apply it correctly to this character I'm trying to create.

















You don't have to tell me - (I know!) - it's a weird model: it's actually a rigged dog model, with a human facial rig grafted onto that, with a rabbit ear rig grafted onto that. It is a working rigged model with separate geometry for body, head, and ears, and I've begun animating on it via reference in another file, so I can keep tweaking this model and rig as needed (whiskers come next).

















My idea was to apply some short fuzzies to this creepy little guy, but for some reason, when I apply fur to the body model, it covers the feet and a few spots here and there, and otherwise leaves bare skin.

















I can apply the same fur to the face and ears, and the pattern is even, so I'm guessing it's a problem with the body UVs... but I know very little about that (or how to fix it), and I'm not too sure if that's even the issue.

















Just a note to reiterate: it has been possible to apply fur to the face and ears.


















So has anyone out there ever done fur? Any thoughts on what the problem might be?

Thanks in advance!

Some Buzz about 'Bee Movie'

I'm a fan of Oprah, and yesterday afternoon she had Jerry Seinfeld on the show to talk about his new DreamWorks animated film, Bee Movie. Here are a couple things he had to say which I thought were kind of funny:



"There's no history in comedy. Just do the jokes."

-Jerry Seinfeld on 'Oprah', discussing her desire to develop and perform the character of Judge Bumbleden in the upcoming DreamWorks animated film, Bee Movie.

---

"It's like you bought a present for somebody that was way too expensive, you can't return it, and now they're going to open it. It's an awful moment. Because there's a chance they're going to go, 'Oh' (disdainfully) and 'lovely' (wincing). You know? And you go, 'Well, I'm out of money, I spent everything I had on this, you know.' But, it's nice to give presents."

-Jerry Seinfeld on 'Oprah', when asked if he was nervous about the opening of Bee Movie on November 2nd.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

AM Fall Showcase 2007

Definitely check this out, if you haven't already:

AM Student Showcase, Fall 2007

I was hoping to get in, but I really didn't have a finished piece to submit. Maybe I'll make the Winter 2008 reel. Gotta keep trying!

Meanwhile, I had to report to AM that this reel includes a tiny clip of a scientist running from a mummy (in the short film highlights section), which I'm pretty sure belongs to my friend David Clark - but his name isn't on it. I don't know if they meant to trim his clip out completely, or if his name just got omitted by accident - so hopefully they'll take care of it by the time more people watch it today.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Student Choice Awards

Just reporting on a news item I saw today at AM:

The Student Choice Awards are a way for students to honor excellence in their class here at Animation Mentor. They represent a unique honor in that they are completely student driven. Students make the nominations and students select the winners.

Awards for the following 8 categories will be presented at the graduation ceremony in San Francisco, CA on January 12, 2008.

If you would like to be considered for any of the following awards, please upload your work over the next week. A nomination survey will be sent to your email address next Thursday, October 11th.

How do I upload my work?
Upload your work in 2 places! First, upload your work under "PUBLIC REVIEW". Second, post your submission in the Student Choice Awards Forum Posting found in Short Film Discussion. This will make viewing work much easier for your fellow students to view your work.

Can I submit work for multiple categories?
Yes! Simply upload as one movie but with a title image at the beginning of each upload.

What are the Categories?
You will find a detailed description of each award in the forum posting mentioned above.
1) Most Improved Student
2) Most Entertaining Video Reference
3) Best Dialogue Acting Award
4) Best Silent Acting Award
5) Most Encouraging/Supportive Student
6) The Walk Cycle with the most Personality Award
7) The Forum Ninja Award
8) The Biggest Personality in a Live Q & A


I think I'll be entering for #3, #7, #8. Possibly #2.. not sure yet.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Maintaining Your Knowledge Base

Time and time again we hear from our dear AM crew exactly how important it is to expand and maintain your own personal knowledge base on animation (and in life, haha!), and of course, it is imperative. So, I don't know if anybody else does this, but throughout all of my work on my class 6 project so far, I've been building a knowledge base for myself: just a simple text file that I try to keep organized by topic, and update weekly with problems I ran into or solutions I found. It definitely helps me retain things I've learned. You're welcome to check it out here:

http://laurasko.com/files/AM/MisfitMagician/KnowledgeBase.txt

It isn't anything to brag about. It's just really helpful so I'd encourage everyone to try it.

Keep visiting forums, reading, and asking questions to get answers - but I'd highly recommend keeping a log of what you've learned. It's awesome to look back on later, too!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Class 6 News

So, here's just a tad of news for anyone who's curious.

My new mentor this term is a really cool guy, Greg Whittaker, who I'll meet via webcam tomorrow night (and every Wednesday night for 12 weeks) from 11:30pm - 12:30am. Here's some profile info on Greg:

About Me
I have worked in the animation industry for close to fifteen years. After graduating from Sheridan College, I worked for a brief period in studios in Toronto and Vancouver before accepting a position at Chuck Jones Film Productions. I spent 3 wonderful years there working on theatrical shorts starring classic Looney Tunes characters. I made the move over to Dreamworks in 1997 and have spent the last 10 years there working on both traditional and CG films. Most recently I completed work on Flushed Away and am currently working on Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie.

My Interests
Spending time with my family, sports, movies and music.


So that's pretty awesome. Also, I've updated my schedule so that it's not so daunting (the one I made in July or so was just ridiculous)! Here's the new version:



Also, some new character sketches:




Now it's definitely time to jump into Maya and get going on my first shot! I want to try to block it all out today, since it's only going to be a max of 4 seconds.

PS: Bruce Springsteen's new album comes out today. I'm so psyched...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bring It On, Misfit Magician!

So hi.

To those of you who might be wondering why I fell off the face of the planet for about a month: Thanks for visiting, but I've been on a leave of absence since SIGGRAPH so that I could pull together some wedding plans and marriage prep classes with Naveen. We're doing really well. We flew home for Labor Day weekend and spent most of the time with our families - Naveen with his brothers playing Bioshock, and I with my parents and sister looking at wedding gowns. After a few days, we came back to find his schedule much improved from the past 2 months of hell. Another week later, and our insanely irrational and insensitive neighbor downstairs (Sandra) finally dragged her enormous bass speakers to her car and eventually moved out (without notifying the main office, of course - oh, and there was one cooler, rainy day that her 9-yr-old son Javier was wandering in the parking lot for 5 hours in the evening because he had forgotten to get off at his new bus stop, and no one was bothering to look for him, so I took him to our neighbors who knew where his family had moved). Now I'm just watching my bank account to make sure my charitable $25 check actually goes to her daughter's school (for an entertainment coupon book that I'll honestly probably never receive), and not to some other mysterious account in the amount of $2500 or something.

Anyway. All that aside, I must say I'm really looking forward to starting Animation Mentor up again, especially knowing I'll have lesser distractions. Yes, crazy bass lady is gone, but also, we've settled on our wedding date next year, picked a church, and put a deposit down on the reception hall. Oh, and, I think I found my dress. Oh, and, we found out that marriage prep isn't going to take the 6 months we had been warned about, but instead only 3 or so sessions, and we've already finished one. It was really cool - sparked a lot of conversation, even though we thought we'd talked about everything in our 5+ years together.

Up until this weekend I was somewhere between psyched and nervous about the animation class starting back up. But tonight, I did a bunch of sketches, and worked on a new production schedule, and even captured some new video reference. Here, you can even watch it if you want (although you'll have to stretch your mind a bit to follow the story, if you haven't already seen my animatic).

"Misfit Magician"











So, sometime this week, I'll give a status report on how things are going. Till then, I've gotta bust my butt to get back in gear. Cya!

Friday, August 17, 2007

New Site

For those who've been asking, the new site is coming... for now I threw a MOV file up on the page to show you my progress. I'll keep you updated!

Monday, August 13, 2007

SIGGRAPH 2007 Was A Blast!!!

First of all - for those of you coming to my site to try to remember who I am (yes, I know those parties were crazy), I'm this chick:



Hopefully that helps! Haha...

Now, about SIGGRAPH!!!

It was absolutely fantastic. Every day brought something new to learn, someone new to meet, something memorable to see. I got there later than I usually arrive (this was my 5th SIGGRAPH) - well after the conference had begun, on Sunday night, after a crazy flight hiccup that left me with a very sore pair of feet! Nevertheless, it was great coming into San Diego again after four years. I love that city. And it was extra awesome getting to share a room at the most awesome W Hotel with two phenomenally fun Animation Mentor buddies, Elaine Wu and Alexiss Memmott, as well as my best friend Dorothy Snook who made the trek from San Francisco pretty much in the last minute, which was an awesome surprise!

Sunday night was pretty much spent chilling at the hotel after making acquaintances, and after a nice bite to eat and some good conversation, I was ready for bed (coming from a place that was 3 hours ahead, I was pretty darn tired at 11:30 pst)!!!

Monday was insanely fun. I got to the conference in the morning to register and immediately spent some time in the Guerilla Studios, which was very necessary since I hadn't had time to finish my reel prior to the conference. Stuff has been going crazy at home between wedding plans, family stuff, Animation Mentor, work, and then the day before my flight (which was supposed to be my catch up day) became the day to catch up with friends instead, who just returned from an Air Force base in Japan after time in Iraq and other places. It's been a mad rush kind of month and I did a mad rush job to get some kind of playblasted reel to show people my progress. Not the most professional looking thing, of course, but in terms of animation quality, this reel definitely trumps what I brought along last year. There were a couple decent acting shots, but they both could still use some polish. I tried to be brave with this reel even though it's very clearly a work in progress, even called it a QuickReel, which got Naveen to chuckle a little.

So after struggling with the Macs which kept eating my Sony DVD-R's, I managed to burn a couple reels which hopefully didn't fail on anyone's machines. I tried testing it out on a couple players and it worked, but it would have been a lot cooler if I could have tried it on more pieces of hardware. Not the most professional means, but it got the job done. All I wanted was a reel that would clearly show improvement on my 2005 reel (which I took around last year), and this one, although playblasted, is leaps and bounds better than my earlier work, thanks once again to Animation Mentor. What a brilliant program.

Speaking of which - I ran out of Guerilla Studios to arrive at the AM Graduation for graduating classes 3 & 4. What an awesome and emotional event. It really was inspiring to see everyone in person for the first time and know what they went through to get where they are today. I have Eric Stratte to thank for getting me into the event - wish I had more time to get to know him better in person, but he was kind enough to offer me one of his graduation guest tickets when I mentioned I wished I would be able to see it.

Afterwards, I met up with Dorothy again in the Guerilla Studio to see how she was doing. She made a nice big canvas print of one of her model magazine quality wedding photos. She and hubby Jeff Hatchel took great photos together, with their lovestruck eyes and the romantic, picturesque background scenery of the Sausalito harbor, north of San Francisco bay. Just stunning - I'm so glad she got to print it.

The only unfortunate thing about SIGGRAPH being so hectic and involving is that if you have to choose between catching up with a great friend and attending a session you paid a bunch of money to see, you're going to feel bad either way for missing out on something. I actually went back to registration to see if I could "buy down" (aka be refunded to a lower ticket level) so that I wouldn't have to choose, and I could just spend some time with my good friend. It wasn't possible, which I figured would be the case, but it was worth a try. Thankfully Dorothy's awesome and knows I will be seeing her up in SF shortly (upon graduation from AM in January), and she had a bit of her own agenda as well. So when we had to spend time apart, it was sad but understandable.

We made plans to meet up later at the Autodesk user group meeting and Steel Beach after party. I planned on getting there a little late because I was headed to a special session called "Happy Feet: Thawing the CG Pipeline." It was an early-evening, 2-hour presentation by Animal Logic (Australia) which talked about the evolution of the movie and the studio's workflow. Probably the most interesting concept was their use of a methodology they called "lensing" which was a specific blending of some previz techniques that allowed more flexibility than a traditional production process (that is, it enhanced the creative result and story pacing because the ongoing multiple iterations of various shots adapted constantly closer toward the director's vision). Probably the most humorous part, for me, was hearing about "calamarized" characters, in reference to segmented characters used to speed up the processing of playblasts and such. Not a new concept, but funny terminology.

It was interesting and relevant to me to hear about how the studio handled the continuous flow of creative input throughout the pipeline. I haven't made that many group films, but during the few team projects I did at Purdue University, it was always clear by the end that several visions had come to play and several un-unified results emerged. Also we had always been encouraged to stay the course despite new information merely so we could finish the project on time, whereas this company truly embraced creative input at all levels and stages and accepted the idea that iteration is exploration toward a better end product - and what was more fascinating, they were able to somehow automate the processes which were unchanged. Also, I could relate to their choosing to capture what they called "sacraficial mocap" - that is, beautiful, meticulous keyframe data collected with the intention to redo it - again for the purpose of freedom and immediacy to visualize the end result, then review the elements of the character in isolation, and then do whatever it would take to clean it up for the refined piece. Seems like such an expensive process, and rightly, a bit easier for a beginner like me to understand.

Also humorous: Ben Gunsberger (Lighting Super) took a witty stab at Justin Marshall (Story) and Aiden Sarsfield (Char Super), whose presentations ran somewhat long, saying, "Lighters are used to being handed something late and finishing on time." He got a lot of laughter and nodding of heads for that one.

I knew I was already running a bit late for the Autodesk meeting, but I really wanted to run my enormous bag back to the hotel first and avoid looking like a complete nerd baglady at the Steel Beach event. So I made the journey (roughly 15 blocks) back to the hotel, grabbed a sweater, and was about to head out the door when Dorothy came home. I was surprised to hear that although she (like myself) had a reservation, they weren't taking any more individuals into the event because they were overbooked. It was terribly unfortunate and she decided to stay in the hotel and relax while I switched gears and went downstairs to the 2nd floor of the W, where I made my way into the Animation Mentor graduation party on the protruding roof, which was covered in sand and deemed a beach party.

It was a tremendous amount of fun kicking back with these people and getting to meet friends whom I've spoken with online through AM for the past year, but first met them in person that night. I especially enjoyed catching up with Lauren Wells and Eric Baker, now with XLT, as well as Eric's brother, and some other awesome folks in Lauren's graduating class (Freddy, Matt, Brian, Ken.. there were so many, actually). Supposedly Eric was there but I don't recall seeing him, unfortunately. Would have been another great opportunity to say thanks for offering one of his tickets. Alexiss was there, and several others from her class that I got to know (I believe Jonathan and Jeff, among others), my friend Claudia who is also taking a LOA, and then of course Elaine Wu and some of her friends, and Arne... I'm searching through my fuzzy memory which was clouded by a few of Bobby's generous drink tickets! I didn't break any drinking records, but I literally did not eat anything aside from a couple granola bars the entire day, so my system was completely buzzed. It was a fantastic time, though, and I found myself talking to some really awesome people, like a guy named Rich who I found out used to work with my fiance's brother at Oddworld, and now he's at BlueSky, and his friend John (who I enjoyed talking to, and thought was only a fun-loving, very toasty surfer buddy), who ended up being an animator for Pixar. This wasn't merely networking, this was an extremely fun time with awesome people. By the time the clock hit about midnight or slightly after, I didn't mind that I wasn't headed for the Autodesk party, or the Chapters party on Broadway (which I've never missed) - I had my fun for the night!

Aside from the obligatory headache the next morning, I was psyched to get to the exhibition and see who would be there. I unfortunately never made it to Fjorg or the Women In Animation BOF Event as anticipated - instead I waited in a long line for a Ratatouille poster (duh) and hoped to make a slot to get my reel reviewed by AM founders Bobby, Shawn, and Carlos at the Animation Mentor 'Cafe' - but they were completely swamped, for good reason. I cruised briefly around the exhibition and job fair to get a feel for who was looking at animation reels, and continued on to an AM presentation upstairs. There they were holding a career symposium called "AM Presents: Animation Scene Planning, the Key to a Strong Reel." A lot of it was information I had heard throughout my time with AM, through online lectures and notes, but it made for another good opportunity to run into friends and get a little more inspired by these guys.

Unfortunately I missed out on the AM reel reviews and coffee mug giveaway, but I did spend a little more time burning some extra reels to take around the exhibition floor and job fair. I also made my way up to a room upstairs that was like a DreamWorks recruiting headquarters, where I ran into my old friend Josh Schpok (former Purdue student, now working in fluids R&D, etc), and had a wonderful time catching up with him. Then I spoke with a guy (Michael, I think) at the front of the room who eventually invited me to the DreamWorks cocktail social that evening. That was pretty spectacular in itself - I heard rumors about something going on, but I had just witnessed some random girl who had just gotten denied after walking in and simply asking for an invitation - kind of presumptuous, really, and I can see why they denied her. But it was great to talk with them about my reel and about how awesome Animation Mentor is, and anticipating the evening at a place called Stingaree.

So after making some new and awesome connections, I scurried back to yet another Animation Mentor BOF Event, which included a short but inspiring keynote by Mike Belzer (Disney), and continued with a panel discussion about reels and the animation industry, with the helpful comments of Robin (Sony Imageworks), Kim (DreamWorks), and Lori (ILM). What a great panel. They gave a lot of insight into the interviewing process and how they judge demo reels.

Afterwards they held a giveaway, and in the spirit of fun I wrote down my raffle ticket number in case I'd win anything. Seconds later, they were announcing their first raffle prize - a Pixar t-shirt - and they called my number! I was astonished. Out of the nearly 200 people in the room, they called me up to the front for this prize. They had several others, Ratatouille stuff, Shrek stuff, all kinds of nice things - but I was just shocked and delighted to have won the Pixar shirt. Perhaps it brings me hope in the pursuit of my dream. :-) I think any aspiring animator wishes they could work at Pixar. To be honest though, I'd also really love DreamWorks, or Sony, or Reel FX, or BlueSky, or pretty much anyplace where I could make a positive difference and (as my resume states) "to express my observation of life sincerely and empathetically through character animation."

(more coming tomorrow!!!)...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

SIGGRAPH 2007 Personal Agenda



Have I mentioned how psyched I am?

This will be my 5th SIGGRAPH conference. Thus, I am pretty organized regarding where I want to be and when. If you'd like to check out my personal agenda, feel free to check it out here.

It's pretty detailed but there are still quite a few things that need to be worked out (as always, tons of overlapping events I still have to juggle).

But I'm so psyched. :-)

Aim For Simplicity, Love, Taking Chances

Over lunch this afternoon, I decided to flip on the DVR and watch some of NBC's "Today Show" morning headlines which I record daily and watch occasionally when I have time. There was one interesting story about a man who is only alive due to a small, experimental device called the Heart Mate II Continuous Flow Pump (see MSN video). I watched the enthusiastic man, covered in medical gear that lasts only 10 years, as he practiced his golf swing on a radiantly beautiful day, stopping only to change his external rechargable batteries. They compared it to the Jarvic Heart 7 which kept Seattle dentist Barney Clark alive for 110 days in 1982, calling this new revolutionary model a longer-term destination therapy in contrast. This man, Yvan Provencher, is out of work, broke, and too young for any kind of pension plan, but he considers himself "on the right side of the turf - the game's not over yet."



Here's the kicker about this guy's ticker: although he smiled and praised his doctors, I found myself initially feeling deeply saddened as I watched and listened to his story. Perhaps it is because I recently lost a close family member to heart complications last year (due to a lifetime of smoking). Perhaps too I find myself questioning this experimental solution from some sort of subconscious unresolved religious standpoint (although I do accept and even reach out for science just as much as theology nowadays).



The real lesson in this for me was a look inward at how much I was analyzing this person, this medical solution, this choice - and having to realize that it's too much and too personal to make any kind of judgment. And as always, I'm talking about self-judgment: that is, what I would do if I were in his position, not what I think he should have done. I do that a lot. I observe all kinds of situations and I come up with all kinds of complex responses to what I've noticed and what I believe my choice would be, given the situation myself. A decent amount of friends and family have called it wise - while others suggest it's "thinking too hard." As much as I'd love to consider myself wise, I think I am too over-analytical for my own good. Lesson number one: I need to simplify my life wherever possible. I think about truth and deception, science and theology, history and future outcomes... and all this man thinks about is how he can play another round of golf, and he is content (now, a lesson in love, for me). And why shouldn't he be? After all, we only do have this one, short existence. We should have something to live for - and I should remind myself it doesn't always have to be this straight and narrow.



In fact, it probably shouldn't be. I don't have to dig very deep to remember that it was Robert Frost who said "I took the path less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." It was always one of my favorite quotations during my youth - so why not now? The straight and narrow way, as I've called it, is the shortest displacement between A and B, so all walks of life will travel that way at least once. Everyone at some point in their life listens to their parents advice, follows a teacher's instructions, acknowledges a doctor's recommendation. But the most interesting people have paved their own way at times to find out who they really are. What do I have to bring to a creative collective (the animation industry, or even life in general) if I don't veer off into a forrest of unexplored ideas once in a while? I know I've felt this way before; it has just been a very long time since I've been brave enough to really throw caution to the wind and go for it. Real passion is overdue! Time to kick into high gear (now, a lesson in taking chances, for me).



And although I started this blog knowing I needed some kind of animation progress journal, I also knew I would be using it for other things I'd be learning in the process. These lessons undoubtedly apply to my animation career path - but honestly, the first thing in my mind at the moment is my upcoming marriage, and how complex everything has become. After all, I can say that after 5 years of this special relationship, and almost a whole year of being engaged, and yet another year before the wedding, I'm not head over heels with butterflies in my stomach or sweaty palms. But I know in my heart that love exists here - there is a deep, subconscious level of attachment that can not be severed - a mutual dependency I have never before experienced. It simply is - it's there, without question. And I love that. And, I suppose I'd risk anything to maintain it.



It's difficult to use a principle such as Ockham's Razor when you're considering the matrimony of a 4th Generation Polish Catholic Caucasian Woman with a 1st Generation South Indian Hindu man. Two races, two religions, two cultures - there's nothing simple about all that. Two different ceremonies, two different cities, two different times of year. But inevitably, two ways to celebrate the love of our lifetime together.

Today Show Flowers

Can anybody tell me what kind of deep purple flowers & greenery is behind Meredith (NBC's Today Show) at the beginning of this video? (Ad first, then video shows)

http://video.msn.com/v/us/v.htm?g=2e2f00b7-a412-4b33-b590-19d68c84ba41&f=05&fg=rss

Gearing Up For SIGGRAPH 2007

It's that time of year again.



I am so excited. And CG Society has an awesome resource (aka Diary) which has been keeping me in the loop on various updates, events, and of course the ever-exciting after-parties.

Probably closer to the weekend I'll be posting which events I'll be attending, where I'll be staying, and who I'm planning on meeting throughout the week. Until then, I have a boatload of last-minute planning to do since I've been distracted with wedding and short film stuff lately. Please let me know if you're going to be there - we should meet up!!!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Harley-Davidson VS. My Wedding

Running into some trouble scheduling my wedding. We were going to do it next Labor Day weekend (Aug. 30, 2008) and have been planning on it - I just booked the church this week and we were drawing up contracts with the reception hall - no deposit down yet, thank goodness - and we just found out about this:



I'm keeping updates here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cat Senses Imminent Death

No joke!!!

Oscar The Cat Senses & Warns of Patients' Imminent Death


I find this utterly fascinating. This story has been making headlines everywhere recently. Check it out if you haven't seen it.

Purr of Death

There's even an official report in the New England Journal of Medicine:

A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat - David M. Dosa, M.D., M.P.H.

I just think that is amazing.

Excerpt from first link:

"He's a cat with an uncanny instinct for death," said David Dosa, assistant professor at the Brown University School of Medicine and a geriatric specialist.

When death is near, Oscar nearly always appears at the last hour or so. Yet he shows no special interest in patients who are simply in poor shape, or even patients who may be dying but who still have a few days. Authorities in animal behaviour have no explanation for Oscar's ability to sense imminent death. They theorise that he might detect some subtle change in metabolism - felines are as acutely sensitive to smells as dogs - but are stumped as to why he would show interest.

In any event, when Oscar settles on a patient's bed, caregivers take it as a sign that family members should be summoned immediately.

"We've come to recognise him hopping on the bed as one indicator the end is very near," said Mary Miranda, charge nurse on the surprisingly cheery floor that is home to 41 patients in the final stages of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, a stroke, and other mentally debilitating diseases. "Oscar's been consistently right."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Leave Of Absence

Well... unfortunately what I've been experiencing is a little more than short film jitters. It's finally that point, for me. Time for a short leave of absence (I plan to be back in about 8 weeks when the fall term starts). Sorry to say it guys, but between the technical difficulties, wedding planning, my uncle in the hospital having that tumor removed, family getting laid off and moving, and my own health issues... well you get the picture. I won't whine about it! I'm not giving up either, I'll surely be back and ready to go. I wish I could stick with the class but at least most of us will graduate together.

Keep in touch with me!
LauraSko (at) gmail (dot) com
LauraSko - skype name
Last Video Journal (AM members only)

It's been a great run here at Animation Mentor. I wish I didn't have to leave but such is the circumstance I have. It's been wonderful getting to know you all and witness our talents grow over the past year.

I'll be at SIGGRAPH if anyone would like to meet that week!

For those who will still be here in the fall term, I hope to see you then when I return - and for those who are finishing at the end of summer, I hope to see you at graduation in early January!!! Please do keep in touch. Catch you on the flip side!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Prayer Request: Rob's Surgery

Please pray for my uncle Rob, a dear member of our family who is going into surgery tomorrow morning to have part of his liver removed. Although normally a very healthy person, he has been suffering strange health issues lately and must now undergo this procedure to take out and diagnose a mass in his liver. We're hoping the surgery will be successful and without complication, and I'm asking all who believe in the power of prayer to have him in mind tomorrow morning. Thanks!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Relative Nightmare

So last night I had a very relevant, symbolic nightmare. It was about this amazing new ride that was a fairly tame glide up to the top - but the highlight of the ride was being dangled from the very top a few hundred feet above a small, empty ceramic pool. The ride arched the crest one row at a time, and certain people could sit in these contraptions and feel somewhat secure and strapped in, but about a dozen people (one per cart) would dangle from the front of the ride from a singular pole with no harness or safety net. The ride would stop at the top, and a few seconds to a minute later, when the timing was right, the music would stop and everyone dangling would have to let go and plunge toward this empty pool - but in the last several seconds, jets of water would spray upward and ease the freefallers down into the pool, which would be full of water by the time they landed in it.

My row of twelve freefallers were among the first to ever ride this attraction (or at least I hadn't witnessed the ride before going on it myself). We were like test riders, or guinea pigs - so of course, the first time the music stopped, and everyone else let go, I was too afraid and held on, thinking I would surely die at the bottom. But as I saw the water spray catch them all, I lost my fear and let go (although because I wasn't coordinated with the spray, I had no easement into the pool so it was a bit of a rough landing). We were all supposed to ride it again, and this time I was eager to do it the right way, so we reached the top, dangling from our poles, and the music stopped and we all fell. However, this time, one person did not fall quite right, and somehow they missed the jets and survived, but ended up breaking several bones because the water was too shallow for a proper landing. By the time the rest of us reached the pool we saw the condition this person was in and every single person vomited everywhere. It was a grotesque site.

Somehow despite this, the ride was deemed a success (I think we had to try it yet again after the cleanup, and all went fine), so there was a ribbon cutting with the corporate folks, and a large rock concert with some really famous band, and an open bar with these clever Cubans mixing really special drinks for the riders. As far as I know, I was the only one looking to ease my nerves with one of their drinks, at least at the moment, and I watched a guy shout to the back about the specialty drink, and then he reached through this small window where another guy behind the scenes handed through it the most colorful, iridescent, sparkling beverage you've ever seen, complete with a pink umbrella and fruit garnish. So I indulged in this drink and in no time, it was as if all of my cares left me - my brain tingled and all I could do was look down at the hazy, empty glass and the blurry pattern on the tiled bar, and I felt completely drugged and wavering, and at ease. The front of my head tingled and I was completely relaxed for a time that only felt like a few moments, but it must have been much longer. When I came out of it, many people had left (including the band), the bartender was wiping the inside of my glass with a rag and looking at me unremorsefully, and I noticed to my right that my purse with my money and ID and everything else had been taken. To my left, I discovered someone had taken the engagement ring off of my hand. And, most embarrassingly, they had pulled down my skirt and I had been on public display the entire time I was in this hallucinogenic state.

That's where the dream ended and I woke up in the middle of the night.

Why is that relevant? Last night I came to the realization that I didn't want to go any further with my short film in its current state. Earlier this week I figured out that I had created a situation that involved a lot of rework (based on my keying of the master control during the layout phase, and now trying to block everything by deleting the master keys and redoing the actions with all the other character controls). My scene file has become so riddled with errant keys that I'm almost certain I'd rather start over rather than to try to recover this file.

I haven't had this problem in prior animations and I can't explain it, other than to say I'm in the midst of planning my wedding among other things going on - but I'm trying to figure out the best way to 'work with the now' - and a lot of me wants to take inspiration from Brad Bird taking over the Ratatouille project and redoing a lot of things from scratch. I've set myself back three weeks with this realization, and my remaining options are to plunge forward with class with a new production schedule I'll have to create, or to take a short leave of absence for the remainder of the term, and come back armed and ready for steady production. Although a LOA is tempting for mentality and financial reasons, I don't want to be disconnected completely. Having recently moved away from family and friends, the Animation Mentor community is very important to me and I feel strongly about staying connected to my peers and continuing to give and receive feedback on progress.

To me, this dream directly correlates to how I feel like I'm embarking on a career quest that is dangerous; I've never been much of a risk taker, but somehow I've launched myself into a very risky industry with so much uncertain outcome (at least on the entry level). It's an enjoyable, thrilling ride, but when you're approaching the top, it becomes necessary to let go even if a gripping fear is causing hesitation. If the timing is right, you'll land okay. But if it's too soon or too late, you could end up breaking yourself. And after taking the plunge, if you turn to the wrong kind of comfort, you could end up broke, alone, and embarrassed of yourself.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pixar Stuff

So hopefully everyone's seen the glory of Ratatouille, right?
If not, check out these preview videos:
http://inbetweenthekeys.blogspot.com/2007/05/ratatouille.html

For those of you who haven't picked yourselves off your rear ends to go see it, do yourself a favor and go before it leaves theaters. The good theaters. See it in digital whenever possible.. and be amazed.

I'm serious!!! If you haven't seen the film yet... do it!!! What are you waiting for!??! It is sooo beautifully done and an excellent story - amazing considering Brad Bird took over and pretty much rewrote everything, redid the art style, the characters, the rigs, everything. He's just phenomenally amazing.

So, I went to this really cool event yesterday. Naveen sent me an email in the afternoon saying:
Open to All Staff & Students
Event: Pixar Studios Digital (Lighting) Artist/ FS Grad - Jeremy Vickery
Date: Thursday, July 19
Time: 5:30p.m.
Location: FS3B-106 (Auditorium)
Since graduating from Full Sail in 1997, Jeremy Vickery has traveled through the animation industry fine tuning his skills so that one day he could land the gig he always dreamed of, working for Pixar Animation Studios. Pointing to the Pixar classic "Toy Story" as the fuel for his love of animation Jeremy proudly states, "Pixar makes the best films in the world, and I wanted to be a part of that." With dedication and focus early in his career Jeremy achieved his goal in 2003 when he was hired on at Pixar as a Lighting Artist to work on the Oscar winning animated feature, "The Incredibles". His second Pixar animated feature was one of the most anticipated summer films of 2006, "Cars." And this year marks the release of his 3rd Pixar animated feature "Ratatouille". See this talented digital artist and Full Sail grad talk about his experiences in the industry. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. The event is open to all Full Sail students & staff.


So I decided to take a chance and get over there (lucky for me they weren't checking for school badges) - Naveen picked me up and I got there around 4:30 (the lines were supposed to be huge, so I went early and took a couple bridal magazines)!!! I didn't get back until about 8pm. Aside from a lot of waiting around, the lecture itself ran about 2 hours and was amazing.

I took about.. well let me count them... 12 pages of notes. I really do not have time to type them all out right now... not to mention a lot of this is more or less "confidential" and was a closed event that honestly I must admit I wasn't supposed to see... ;) But Jeremy was a great presenter and a lot of fun to listen to while he ran through his history (4 rejection letters from Pixar and some great experience working on Veggie Tales and Delgo before finally getting into Pixar to work on The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and now, Wall-E (see teaser video here).

So, briefly:
According to John Lasseter in a presentation to Disney corporate investors:

"WALL-E is the story of the last little robot on Earth. He is a robot that his programming was to help clean up. You see, it's set way in the future. Through consumerism, rampant, unchecked consumerism, the Earth was covered with trash. And to clean up, everyone had to leave Earth and set in place millions of these little robots that went around to clean up the trash and make Earth habitable again.

Well, the cleanup program failed with the exception of this one little robot and he's left on Earth doing his duty all alone. But it's not a story about science fiction. It's a love story, because, you see, WALL-E falls in love with [Eve], a robot from a probe that comes down to check on Earth, and she's left there to check on and see how things are going and he absolutely falls in love with her."

(source: Wikipedia)


I don't know about you, but I got chills when I saw the teaser before Ratatouille. I was really uneasy, scared even, because of the quality poured into this brief glimpse into Wall-E's world, and gazing into the stars. Everything about this teaser was magical, and knowing that Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo) is behind it, I just get chills. I think it will be great.. but right now I'm actually scared, I think it will be so great.

Jeremy spoke only a tiny bit about Wall-E, and showed a faux-commercial for the Wall-E robot (kind of like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did for the memory erasure procedure). I can tell you that, because the information is publicly available, again on the Wiki page: "A fake commercial based on the film is included in the Ratatouille video game. It shows that WALL-E stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth-class. and is sold by a fictional company called Buy and Large Corporation (Buy N Large). There is a 'disclaimer' at the end that mentions www.buynlarge.com, a web site for the fictional company featured in the movie."

I wasn't surprised to hear about Pixar having another couple films in the woodwork right now, Wall-E being one, Up being the next, and of course Toy Story 3. However, Jeremy shared insight that there are 7 (count 'em, 7) films currently in the works over there. He showed his own reel, discussed the Pixar production pipeline, and what they look for on their reels (emphasis on acting). It's no secret that lip synching should be more about body language than a jaw flapping. He showed this clip to prove it:
Fidel Castro Does a Beer Comerical


He also shared a lot of behind the scenes video about Brad Bird (IMDB) and top chef Thomas Keller who was a consultant on food preparation and philosophy for Ratatouille. Of the many inspirational tidbits I saw, I should share a few of my many scribbled notes...
"Commitment makes you great."
"Get people excited about what you're excited about"
"Love capturing moments that hit new standards... make the shot that no one has made"
"People have greatness in them: it just needs to be coached out of them"
"If you control the process, you limit the process; collaboration impactful"
"Sense of emergency - get tasks done quickly"


We also saw a Pixar computer commercial from 1986, which was humorous to say the least (seeing how the technology and company itself has evolved over the years); and we saw a sock puppet short bringing humor to San Francisco earthquakes, called 1906 (Brad Bird's IMDB page actually credits him on this) which I think is an Easter Egg on the Incredibles dvd; and yet another sock puppet short which was a Pixar-employee-created parody of Ratatouille's ending.

"It's amazing when you don't get a lot of sleep." - Jeremy Vickery



Finally, some Ratatouille inside jokes:

For those of you who have seen it, you can keep reading.

Yes. That was a disclaimer. Stop reading this if you haven't seen it... and come back when you have.

Ok are they gone?

It's just us cool people now right? We can joke around about the movie?

Ok.


  • Of course you may have seen the "coffin" room inhabited by critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole), but did you notice that his typewriter resembled a skeleton head? This was to symbolize how one of Ego's reviews could bring success or more likely death to any Parisian restaurant.

  • Linguini's full name is Alfredo Linguini.

  • When Linguini is trying to suggest where Remy the rat should hide to help him cook, he lifts away his pants awkwardly as if the rat would want to descend down there to control Linguini's cooking ability. Obviously he ends up using the hair on his head - but when Linguini shows his shorts, Incredibles underwear shows. Later he rips open his shirt to reveal a Superman "S" but this is a joking 3 frames that probably no one could see.

  • A cockroach appears in Linguini's apartment, and a dog's shadow appears later. Apparently we'll be seeing more of these characters in 2009.

  • The Pizza Planet truck from Toy Story makes an appearance on a French Riviera bridge while head chef Skinner (voiced by Ian Holm) chases Remy who is on the run with some secret information.

  • 611, the number of the animation room where Brad Bird worked hard at CalArts, apparently appears in all Pixar movies and in this case, was on a tough rat's tagged ear. Similarly, Sonya Struben hid her last name on a kitchen knife as the brand, and Michael Wasch hid his last name on a washing machine.

  • When Linguini feeds hungry Remy with some cheese, we are so focused on Remy's satisfaction that we neglect to notice he is sitting on a shelf with jars of Nemo Brand Caviar... which I think is horrible but hilarious.

  • Bomb Voyage character from The Incredibles makes an appearance as a street mime.

  • And finally - probably the funniest joke: the old woman who fires a bunch of rounds into the walls of her home reaches for a box of bullets. The box art reads "Cheney SportShot Shotgun Shells" - which is going to be removed when the film goes to DVD, for legal reasons. ;)


So hopefully you enjoyed that - and hopefully none of that is private information (I was careful only to include public information that you can find on the internet somewhere). There's lots more to tell but you'll have to ask me in person. ;)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Theology - Part I

I think if I were to "start over" any time soon, I'd have an eye toward Theology. I really feel drawn to it, enough that it is commonly a distraction from my everyday life as an aspiring animator and wife-to-be. If it's possible, I've been feeling somewhat spiritually starved for a while, and haven't known quite what to do about it. That's not to say I'm unhappy with life or love, it is really the opposite - the happier I get with those, the hungrier I get to explore personal and spiritual truths. It's just not something I'll readily talk about since it's a really deep subject that requires a lot of time, patience, and open-mindedness. And again, this is an exploration of something deeply personal, so it is one endeavor during which I tend to withdraw and form my own conclusions, although not always without the input of others.

I'll probably continue this here on my blog at some point. But for now I wanted to share a couple of links I stumbled on today.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Cayce
Recently some health issues have been re-emerging, and I was thinking to myself, wouldn't it be nice if someone could simply go to sleep and dream up some cure? And I remembered a story my mother and her mother shared with me once about a "sleeping prophet" who would apparently go under hypnosis and speak of unheard of cures of specific ailments, yet wouldn't remember his ideas upon waking. Of course it's controversial and I'm not trying to convince anybody. It's was mere curiosity that led me to this wiki page about him. An interesting read, shown in more skeptical light than stories I'd originally heard, of course.

However, it led me to something else: in the Major Themes section, Unknown Life of Jesus, "Cayce presented narratives of Jesus' previous incarnations, including a mysterious Atlantean figure called "Amilius" as well as the more familiar biblical figures of Adam, Enoch, Melchizedek, Joshua, Asaph, and Jeshua. Cayce describes Jesus as an Essene who traveled to India in his youth in order to study Eastern religions." This fascinates me. I recall meeting with Fr. Dan Davis at Purdue's St. Thomas Aquinas with my fiance as we were discussing our intentions to get married, and the various expectations we might have for our future having come from two very different pasts. A lot of the meeting addressed each of our personal beliefs, and I felt it was the first time I was really coming into contact with a new explorative side of my religious self. While I am heavily reliant on traditional Catholic doctrine, I also have questions and concerns, and possibly some disagreements. St. Tom's was far more liberal than my hometown church, which was a difficult adjustment in the beginning but by the end I loved it dearly.

Back to that quote: One thing that Fr. Dan brought light to in our meetings was the topic of the unknown life of Jesus during his childhood. I felt that he had shown me a common denominator to some previously unsolvable math problem. He talked about indications that Joseph and Jesus traveled during his childhood, as far as India, where a branch of Hinduism (centered on the concept of love) thrived during a time when a child named Esa came through the towns and villages with his father. Supposedly this child was revered as a reincarnated Hindu god who preached about loving thy neighbor, among other things. So one wiki site led to another, where I began reading about the Essenes:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essene

Since the moment I first heard the story of Esa (Jesus), I've been captivated by the possibilities, and dismayed by the lack of tangible historical evidence - yet somehow faithful that there is some underlying connective tissue to the major world religions. Naveen and I share that, I think - we have two very different belief structures, but we commonly believe in an overall, universal higher power, and that most if not all branches of theology stem from it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

About Animation Mentor

A lot of people have been asking me about Animation Mentor, so I figured I'd make a plug for it here. It's a bit lengthy, I know, but it's just how I feel about AM. ;)

I have nothing but positive comments about Animation Mentor as a school. When I left Purdue, I had decent beginners level skills in Maya and Max, and if you asked me then, I had a decent animation reel.. But I learned very quickly that I had definitely picked up more on the technology than the art and principles of animation while I was there. My reel obviously could not compete at studio level, so I went around looking at animation schools for a masters degree. I traveled to Vancouver Film School, Van Arts, The Art Institute, USC, Cal Arts, Academy of Art University, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Full Sail Real World Education. I studied others on the internet. However, none of those seemed as attentive to the detailed art of animation than Animation Mentor (AM).

First of all, it's hugely important that it's an online school. It's fantastic to be able to live and work wherever you want and still get amazing training. As far as the quality of the classes, you get video lectures each week, star-studded with animators who have worked in all kinds of studios (Pixar, ILM, Dreamworks, Sony, Tippett.. the list goes on). Each informative lecture addresses animation principles, studio work environments, theories, applications of the skill, etc. Along with the video lecture (roughly an hour long, sometimes 2), there are video assignment instructions, as well as written out key points and lecture notes, and at least once a week you participate in a live online Q&A session with a mentor (animator currently working in industry - you get a new one for each 3-month class; my current mentor has worked pretty much everywhere, the last one worked at Pixar and Blue Sky, the one prior to that worked on Ratatouille and Finding Nemo, etc.. so we're talking big experience). In your live session you use a webcam and meet with your mentor and classmates face to face and discuss the lecture, assignment, studio life, work the mentor has done, pretty much anything that comes up. Then of course the mentor makes a private video critique of your animation assignment every week which you can revisit at any time throughout the class (each class is 12 weeks long, there are 6 total so the whole program is a year and a half in duration).

It is intensive and requires a lot of determination - honestly I think it's a great way to get ready for the industry. Not only does it keep you on task and inevitably makes you a better animator, but it also keeps your finger on the pulse of the animation industry so that you're ready for the attitudes, the skill level, the dedication, the expectations, etc.

If it's in your budget, and if you are set on this career path, I think this is one of the best (if not the best) program out there. Actually, it's also a great way to see if animation really is the thing you want to do - you can pay by the class (that is, 3 month session), and even just class one should be a pretty good indication of what you can expect to learn, and the work ethic you must have. Other masters programs are great in their own way because of research, location, full contact to other human beings in the same room, etc... but short of the physical location, I think Animation Mentor keeps you all the more focused on the principles of the art, and pushes you to increase your skill level on a weekly basis.

I don't know if you've been to their website or seen their online animation showcase reels, but if you haven't, you should take a look. The work that comes out of AM is amazing. The biggest reason, in my opinion, is because I think you get more regular feedback at AM than anywhere else - comments from peers who are just as determined as you are, and critiques from the leading animation experts out there. These people know their stuff!

As far as applying there, for those who have asked - don't worry so much about it. I don't think it's changed much since I got in, and as long as you put your heart into the application and answer topics with your genuine intentions, it should not be difficult to get in. I don't know if there are waitlists or anything like that, now that it's getting so popular, so it might be to your advantage to do it sooner rather than later, but it'll still be there later too. ;) This program isn't going away any time soon - it just keeps getting better.

So hopefully that helps those of you who have asked. Definitely post about your school experiences, especially those who have gone on to places like SCAD, AAU, USC, etc - I'd love to hear how your experience has been!!!

-Laura

Friday, July 13, 2007

So What Season Is It? And I'm not talking about the weather forecast...

Just a disclaimer - this is merely a reminder to myself to just keep going and not analyze things to death. It's a thought process I went through this morning which had a bleak outlook, but grew into a more positive piece of constructive self-criticism, in the end.

I'm on a bit of a dangerous path. I'm not sure how exactly I've arrived here. Part of it is the loneliness of my disconnected situation, I'm sure - even writing has become a cruel friend who can not be trusted to help me in my time of desperate uncertainty. I feel as though I've always tried very hard, but I feel like a fraud - like I've never actually succeeded in getting anywhere, ever. It seems that I've gained a confusing mix of pity and admiration my whole life that has somehow sustained me with a peace of mind which has been steadily evaporating since last year. In one self-deprecating moment, despite all the time and effort I've spent on my animation projects in the past year, I can say to myself that all my so-called talents have been slipping away, my starry-eyed confidence has dimmed, and my motivation to chase my dreams has been spent somewhere else (that is, I feel it has been spent, even though in the arena of dream pursuit, I haven't exactly found myself fighting to the death). I think my expectations have been raised for myself (especially through the appreciated encouragement of others), and I have been hoping for something really big to just happen to me, when really I am a very small person, and with very small wants. I have been in denial of that small person. So this is a tribute to myself. I don't want to say outright that a person like me should not set their goals to the maximum, but rather that the bar needs to be lowered when you're taking your first leap. Or really - the bar should be set where it needs to be, based on your calculated ability to jump, and all the while fully realizing where you will land and what stance is best to catch your weight.

Actually, there is a lot of humor in that idea, visually - a close up shot of character charging forward, running triumphantly with a stick in hand, and plunging it into the ground, flying upward like a pole vaulter - and then reaching the peak of his arc in the sky, finally opening his eyes and realizing he hadn't looked ahead to see that he was launching himself off a cliff.

Again, this fits with my tendency to want to animate characters who ultimately fail, and usually in a way that is humorous to the viewer. However I have to define that further to say that it isn't for laughing at someone else (although that can be an effect) - rather it is about having empathy for that character's wants, and therefore seeing that character in yourself, and being able to laugh at it. So a lot of the conflict lies around man vs self, man vs circumstance, and man vs time. It is a very introspective body of understanding that works better with natural antagonism, vs a true villain character.

That all said, I love animation, and I want to keep trying for it, but I think inevitably I will revert back to the small person I am at heart, living a small life in a small house with plenty of time to raise small children and make small steps toward happiness. It's hard to make peace with big city dreams and small town ideals, and maybe I don't have to choose. Maybe to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Blog Tag

So here's something new...

(Part 1: Rules)

You've been tagged!

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

(Part 2: Eight Random Facts)

1. I am an aspiring character animator who loves facial and gestural performance.
2. I enjoy making faces at myself.
3. I love foreign accents and regularly make impressionistic attempts.
4. I'm a systematic popcorn eater.
5. I once sang karaoke very badly at an Irish pub in Rzeszow, Poland.
6. I've been in more bicycle accidents than car accidents.
7. I once had a dream that Steven Spielberg wanted me to leave school and animate a movie for him.
8. I am easily distracted by the presence of internet.

(Part 3: Synopsis)

From the first three points above, you should have a pretty good sense that I have a pretty strong appeal toward character, which is pretty much why I have chosen animation as a career. The popcorn thing is, in short, a 'saving the best for last' characteristic of myself in which I tend to eat plain kernels first and follow them with the buttery, salty, cheesy, or otherwise-flavored kernels toward the end of a snack session. This principle applies to pretty much all food intake. The karaoke thing is just one more thing I've done that tends to surprise people I know, and gives me an opportunity to think about that fantastic month I spent with 7 other selected peers and a couple profs, journeying to the other side of the world to teach computer graphics for a month. The bicycle thing is something that started happening throughout college, to the point that I wondered why there weren't any bicycle accident insurance salesmen on campus. Next - I am a dreamer. I dream, a lot. I used to dream a lot more, and then I was frequently starved of sleep for up to 3-4 days at a time throughout my college years, and now the dreams are returning. The Spielberg dream happened in my senior year of high school, however - before my confidence was knocked down by the reality that there are thousands of crazy awesome animators competing out there. And, finally, I am distracted by the internet: obviously I'm spending time writing this and I really should get back to working on my short film.

(Part 4: Naming Names)

1. Naveen Nattam
2. Will Kistler
3. Matt Koehl
4. Tuan Pham
5. Mike Bass
6. Eric Luhta
7. Deter Brown
8. Ares Deveaux

(Part 5: Finishing Touch)

So yeah, if I tagged you, you have been cursed by the nagging call of the blogging deities to fulfill your duty to absolutely no one. On the other hand, if I didn't tag you, do not feel lucky that you were spared - I may forward this to you at some point - and neither should you feel neglected - after all, this is really annoying. :-)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Back In My Element

Hey folks,

It occurred to me last night, as I was polishing my You've Got Mail animation (Meg Ryan's character denying being in love with someone online) that I am back in my element. Class 5 ended on Friday at noon Pacific Time, and as always it was a rush to finish watching lectures and copying workspace comments and buddy lists, etc. Seems like there's always something more to do in the last minute. As for class 5, I did learn a lot about story, which is SO important - yet I really missed animation, and by Saturday night I dove back into Maya and worked on my character's hands and arms, mostly tweaking arcs and poses to be more interesting.

I have a lot of work to do before SIGGRAPH. I think I may actually get to go this year, for the fifth time. I'll be going alone and possibly staying with two girls from my online class. Most likely I'll be holding the Exhibits Plus pass, or possibly Conference Select. So much planning and so little time. But I'm really excited and want to make the most of it - I don't know when I'll get to go again.

Aside from getting my resume updated and website back up and running (jeesh that has fallen on the backburner, sorry), I also want to get a new reel together in the next couple weeks. I think I've said this before, but it's RIDICULOUS how bad my first reel was. I hope that I can drop a new one off in various places so they can see how much I've improved. Larry, a guy I used to work with, was the person to point that out to me last fall: I mentioned how embarrassingly bad my first reel was (and that had only been done a year prior to that point), and he regarded that as a sign of vast improvement. And he's totally right - being embarrassed about your past work is a good sign that you're a lot better now, and that's what matters.

Obviously I won't have my short film done yet for this reel - that is due for completion in October (with polishing through December or longer, probably). Graduation from Animation Mentor will most likely take place the first week in January 2008 (although I'll be done with classes months earlier). What will be on my reel includes several animation tests while I've been at Animation Mentor. I doubt I'll include anything from my 2005 reel... it's so bad... Maybe the butterfly one, since that still holds up okay for an insect rig. Everything else is pretty awful, though! Even that macarena dude.. I don't think I even want to try to fix it.. I'd just want to start over, knowing what I know now. Purdue was great for learning the technical stuff and getting accustomed to Maya, but I really didn't dive into animation like I have been with this Animation Mentor program (and they have Maya training if you need it, by the way).

The biggest thing I have to improve now is workflow and timing. I know I still love animation (seeing how I was getting back into it last night until about.. well let's just say I was closing my eyes for sleep around 5:30am)!!! I'm really looking forward to this last class. I wonder what mentor I'll see next. They've all been great so far. I feel bad that I didn't work better with Ricardo this term, but I think it's because most of the time I had to be working on story and animatics, and that crazy layout process, I really wanted to be doing something else (and by that, I mean polishing real character animation). I think I was getting frustrated because I didn't feel like I was improving at my craft - but story is so important, and there were some really great lectures this term.

So, that all said, I'm going to dive back into Maya. We have 1 week off, and I'd like to polish up the YGM piece as well as another from America's Sweethearts that I was doing in class 4 (where Byron Allen is talking to Eddie and Gwen about being a couple again). If I get them looking decent, I'm submitting them to the AM Summer Showcase, and hopefully I'll get in. It would be great exposure. I think most of those people really get watched - and get the jobs! So... off I go!