Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays, and to a Happy 2012!

Dear friends and family,

This year was yet another year of dramatic change for us. We spent the early weeks of 2011 working on the east coast: Laura had another contract with SpeakeasyFX to help animate a second season of "Abby's Flying Fairy School" for Sesame Street, and Naveen was continuing as a game programmer at AMI Entertainment. Every day Naveen would drive 45 minutes to an hour down to his job in Pennsylvania, and Laura would commute by train an hour and a half up to north central New Jersey to her job. But soon our lives would change.

We knew Laura’s contract would end in July, so the race began. Where would we go next? It wasn’t long before Naveen scored a really nice position at Twisted Pixel Games down in Austin, Texas. That’s right, Texas! So our journey began... again. As you know, when we got married on September 6, 2008, we thought we were going to be living in Chicago for a while, but it was only a week later that Laura got her first contract for the Sesame Street project and had to move, separating us for our first year of marriage. We overcame that and Naveen eventually moved out to be with her. However this time was Naveen’s turn to take the leap, which he did in mid-March. If anyone thought it was an April Fools joke when we told you Naveen was working in Texas on April 1st, we were telling the truth!

We visited Texas a couple of times to secure a place to live. We ended up at Iron Rock Ranch on Slaughter Lane, believe it or not! Sounded like Texas to us. Even before starting the job, Naveen was welcomed out to a co-worker’s bachelor party the night before he started work. His new company was a lot of fun, with a great atmosphere, challenging work, and great people. For Laura, it was an end of an era - she finished her work at SpeakeasyFX by early summer and had to quickly pack up the apartment all by herself! In true “Laura” fashion, she whirled through the apartment like a tornado to get most everything done in the final 72 hours. She flew our kitty Sully down to Texas over July 4th weekend, and made the final voyage with a loaded van at the end of July, first stopping for a few days with family in Indiana, then driving with her mom to Memphis and finally Austin. It was a great road trip and Mom seemed to really enjoy it too!

We spent the summer acclimating to our new Texan environment - tubing down the Comal River with friends, enjoying some great ribs at Salt Lick, gazing out over Lake Travis, hopping around on South Congress to the various food trailers, and more - all with the great folks we’ve met at Twisted Pixel. They even have a “wives” club, no joke, where the women together for brunches and bake-offs and such, which Laura loves. She has also stayed very busy since the summer, getting freelance projects here and there, and supervising layout and animation on an independent animated short film, which will likely come out next summer. Naveen has been working hard since the release of his first title, “Gunstringer,” for Xbox Kinect. His company was just acquired by Microsoft, which is a great deal for everyone - TPG gets to continue generating creative projects, Microsoft gets to exclusively publish their great games. It’s a win-win!

In the final months of the year, we are busier than ever. But we wanted to take a moment and wish you a very happy holiday, and a happy, healthy 2012!

Originally posted on LauraSko.com/holiday

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Going on hiatus from freelancing and the short film this coming week (22nd-29th). Hope you all have a wonderful thanksgiving!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Greetings, GDC Online!

So you met me at GDC Online in Austin, and you wanted to check out my blog.

That’s nice! Thanks! Now let's work together!

What's in it for you?

    • Adaptive, enthusiastic, easy-going, loyal employee
    • Animation skills as well as an awareness of technical constraints, big picture perspective

About me:

Professsional Skillset

    • Strong eye for detail and consistency in linear storytelling as well as ability to anticipate user interactions in nonlinear storytelling scenarios
    • Collaborate well with other animators, whether working alongside them or leading them
    • Thorough, thoughtful, effective communicator
    • Readily accepts criticism and eager to help others with constructive feedback
    • Good Experience using XSI, Maya, Photoshop, Illustrator, among other tools for animation, graphic design, video editing, and motion capture cleanup

It was a pleasure meeting you, and please keep in touch!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Loving Life in Austin, TX

Wow. It occurred to me that I have gone quite some time without posting on my blog what is going on in my life. Work on season 2 of "Abby's Flying Fairy School" with SpeakeasyFX wrapped in July, and in the days following I packed up our apartment and moved everything to Austin, TX - stopping overnight with my folks in Indiana for a few days, then overnight in Memphis, then finally to be with my hubby again in Texas. It was a long haul getting here but we love it here so far.

The end of July was spent getting used to the new apartment and a brand new city (region, really) with tons to do, places to go, things to see, people to meet. Right off the bat we have made friends with his whole office at Twisted Pixel Games. We have had house parties, lazy river tubing, baby showers, dinner and movie outings at Alamo Drafthouse venues around town (fantastic!!), and quite notably, the Gunstringer (for Xbox Kinect) launch party on a boat up at Lake Travis. We've eaten at the famous trailers, visited the capitol building, hung around downtown, and most importantly have just hung around together, enjoying daily life in one place again.

Recently we enjoyed a full day of Austin City Limits music festival, which was a big deal for us. We had only ever been to Summerfest up in Wisconsin, which was fun (probably more family-oriented with craft activities for kids, etc), but this was a great fun time with some great new music to our ears, as well as our primary reason for attending - Arcade Fire! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves but completely burnt out exhausted from 10am-10pm in 100 degree heat. We may do a 3-day pass next year, especially since it will take place a month later in the year (hopefully slightly cooler, although in Texas, a "cool" day seems to be 90 degrees so far).

Fun things coming up include a wine trail tour, since it was rumored to us that Texas wineries are second in the country to Napa in California! We'd like to plan a bed and breakfast getaway out there as well, as a belated 3-year anniversary trip. Of course, we still have to plan our honeymoon too (is that getting old yet?) and had thought about doing that over Thanksgiving, but we are apparently really bad planners when it comes to vacations. We seem to do fine for seeing people, specific events or conferences, etc, but we're really bad at planning getaway times. Something we'd like to improve while we are enjoying our time here.

Professionally speaking, Naveen has been loving his job at TPG, very excited about the release of Gunstringer (his first big title!) and about working with such a great team of people.

I have been working at home toward an independent short film slated for release in March 2012, hopefully in time for the festival circuit. It's a collaborative project with a 45-member team working remotely, even internationally. I'm proud to have contributed layout work this summer, and will be supervising animation on it in the coming weeks. We have some great minds and talents working together on this, so it's pretty exciting to see it grow right now.

Oh, and finally, Sully has been enjoying it here too. He loves having all the stairs and windows at the townhome, and is learning to be a little more independent of us, although we are still thinking about getting him a buddy next year. We're just not sure what kind of buddy yet. ;-) We'll keep everyone posted!

Hope you are all well. Happy autumn!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Austin-Bound in Three Weeks

Hi friends and family!

I'm wrapping up my time here in New Jersey very quickly. As most of you know, Naveen took a job in April as a tools and gameplay programmer at Twisted Pixel Games in Austin, TX, and soon I will be joining him down there. I plan to drive to Indiana in one day, spend a few days with my parents, and then drive to Austin over two days. If anyone wants to carpool with me, let me know! :-) Free road trip, anyone? :-)

So the details: I only have 3 weeks until I'm scheduled to be out of my apartment. In one week, I'm traveling to Austin with our kitty Sully, who should love the heat and sunshine more than any of us. So after July 4 weekend I will be kittyless in New Jersey. Then two weeks from now, SpeakeasyFX (where I work) is wrapping up season 2 of "Abby's Flying Fairy School" for Sesame Street, which is likely going to be an emotional moment in my life. My last day at SpeakeasyFX will be July 8. It will be a really short week due to the holiday, plus I'm taking a day off on Tuesday for travel back from Austin. The weekend of the 9th-10th is really my last weekend in my apartment in its current state, because by the 13th the movers could show up and move me out. I had to give a 4-day window, so it could happen anytime between the 13th-16th. The 17th is my last day in NJ no matter what as I will turn over my keys by that date and will be en route to Indiana to stay with my parents for a couple of days. There is a chance I would leave on an earlier date if I'm out a few days before then, but it just depends how things are looking at that point and what's going on in NJ/PA/NY area. :)

I have selected a mover - North American - and did not realize the initial quote I was given during the in-home estimate included full packing service, so I might just go ahead and put the money down for that rather than recruiting friends to help me do it. Many of my friends are also moving, and regardless, I'd much rather spend the time enjoying their company than wrapping up my stuff.

Depending on what happens schedule-wise, I think it might be fun to have friends over on the 9th-10th, or anytime that week of the 11th, but I know all of you are quite a drive away so I'm not expecting anything.

On top of my 9 hour day up in Westfield for work, I have 2 hours of commute per day, and then I try to spend my evenings mostly working on a private project (which is being called "OPP" for the time being). It was started by my friend Jac Piette and a colleague of hers almost a year ago, and over the last several months it has gone through dozens of story iterations and simplifications. They have gathered together about 30 of their industry friends from Disney, Dreamworks, Rhythm & Hues, Blue Sky, ReelFX, and Digital Domain, among other studios, and we are creating an animated short film together. This past week we finally got the first rough editorial cut of the storyboards and this weekend we officially start layout. Also exciting is that Jac has asked me to supervise animation with Brian Carney, and we have our 9 animators currently working on character walks and other tests to build momentum toward animation kickoff, which will happen just about when I'll be moving. So between critiquing animation cycles and laying out shots, things are pretty busy right now! I'm very grateful to have this project going on, namely to have the chance to work with such talented people, but also to have an animation project keeping me busy while I'm transitioning into my new life in Texas.

I just thought I would keep you in the loop. Hope all of you are well, and I will be in touch! Love to all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Adventure is Out There!

The Incinerator

Man. I can't watch this part of Toy Story 3 (the Incinerator) without crying. So intense!!! :-p Just hits you in the heart the way they look at each other in the face of death. That sort of raw, instant empathy I feel for them is exactly why I love Pixar and their ability to tell stories.

I'm not sure what's next for me in Austin, TX when I move there this summer, except to say that no matter what I'm doing, I hope I'm animating something great. I don't have anything lined up just yet in terms of work, but there are two really amazing looking indie productions I'll be working on with others, and the viz dev is already blowing me away on one of them. So whether I find myself employed or not... I intend to find myself on an adventure.

A new kind of greatness yet to be defined.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Car vs. Train - April 2011

So, now that Naveen is in Texas and I'm still in NJ, I got to keep our vehicle and he got a new (well, used) Mazda 3, I think a 2010 or 2009. The vehicle in NJ? A 2003 Honda Odyssey. HA! So one of these days, hopefully in TX, I'll buy my own first car myself. But for now, I'm looking at all the ways driving is better than taking the train.

First, I love to drive. LOVE to drive. When we moved from Chicago to NJ, I drove us the ENTIRE WAY. Naveen offered to drive several times, but I took it on and loved it (until we nearly ran out of gas at 1am in NJ where the gas stations close at night.. but we still made it).

Secondly, I have learned to hate the trains. A part of me still remembers the wistful, distant chugga chuggas and woot woots with blissful, rose-colored nostalgia. However, the bigger part of me remembers being shoved around in the vestibule between cars when all the seats were full and "standing room only" on NJ Transit would equate to being married in some countries, as no part of yourself is any longer private in the mangled mess of limbs and briefcases and bags.

There is of course the memory too of being able to read, sleep, and converse with people while riding the train, but those occurred primarily during the wait for a train to arrive a half hour later than scheduled, or more, or while on a stopped train waiting to start up again.

A lot of time was wasted on NJ Transit in the past couple of years. My route cost me 1.5 hours or more each way, depending on one excuse or another about a train becoming disabled, blocked by another disabled train, police activity, or an unexplained cancellation, so anywhere from 3-5 hours per day had been spent on or waiting for trains. Even on the worst days when Route 1 is stop and go and the Garden State Parkway is more of a Garden State Parking Lot, a one way trip will at most cost me 1.5 hours; but on a normal day, one way is 45 minutes.

Then there is the cost. I plan to save my receipts through April to determine my cost of travel. With the trains, a monthly pass for me to get from Jersey Avenue to Westfield cost me $248. From J-Ave to New York Penn is $361 per month. This of course doesn't count the 10-15 minute drive it takes to get to J-Ave, and of course it overlooks the fact that J-Ave is closed on weekends - I have to go farther up the line to New Brunswick to catch a train in that case, or if I am going by myself instead of getting dropped off, I have to go south to Princeton Junction for a chance at a parking space, which you pay for and then pay more for your ticket as well.

It's true, gas is expensive right now. I filled up on the night of 3/31 right near home so that I could start this experiment with a full tank of gas. The gas was $3.31/gal and my total was $45.22. I will not be counting this toward my April total, but I figure if gas is an even $50 per week, that's $200 per month and definitely cheaper than the train. We don't have car payments on this old thing (on April 1, I had 146,862 miles on it!), so that helps, and our insurance is pretty reasonable at $64 per month (both drivers and a variety of services), but keep in mind if you were actually making a cost analysis of train vs. car, you still need a ride of some sort from our apartment to the train station, so that can't be overlooked.

The roaring motor and whistle sounding in the distance beckons ("Stella!!!!!") -- but I've moved on!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Ain't No April Fools

Three months of 2011 are complete and no posts yet until now. You know why.


It's been a fairly crazy start to the year. After being unemployed for a large part of 2010, I got to enjoy a long-anticipated return to SpeakeasyFX for a stunning 5 or 6 hours before I became pretty badly sick and had to stay home for 2 days. Ha! But, illness aside, it's been a remarkable new season so far, with a 700-frame weekly quota and some fun new characters. I can't wait to show everyone.

Now for the real reason for this post, and no, it's not an April Fools prank (which I love)...

The bigger news of course is that Naveen just started as a tools/engine programmer yesterday at Twisted Pixel Games in Austin, TX. He got the offer back in January and since they didn't need him until April, we had to sit on it for a month while we figured some things out. We were finally able to make our public announcement on the week of March 1, so that he would give his two-week notice and have two weeks until starting at TPG.

First of all, Austin is great. The climate is particularly awesome right now, when the upper region is still dealing with snow and sleet and freezing temperatures. However, more impressive is the people. EVERYONE seems incredibly nice. And I think I'll be even more of a foodie there than I am here.

Secondly, toward the end of February we were able to schedule an apartment-hunting trip to check out different sides of town. After sifting through literally hundreds of apartments, we had only enough time and energy to check out a little over a dozen of them in person, and we were able to make a decision by the time we left, which gave us a little much-needed peace. Then toward the end of March, we scheduled the move in, but we decided to keep most of our stuff in NJ for now, shipping only his computer and two suitcases full of his clothes, a couple books, and dishware. We cleaned the apartment and had maintenance look at a few things, and got him an air mattress, computer chair, and other necessities. It is a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom townhome, which we are tremendously excited about -- at least 300 square feet more than our current 1-bedroom apartment, and $60 less per month. It's in a decent area, and about 10 minutes from his work.

Now begins my hunt, and a lot of personal decision making. I have a tremendous employer with managers who know my situation and have been extremely helpful and understanding through the ordeal. I have been doing my ultimate best at keeping my emotions at bay and focusing at work, but I am once again dealing with separation from my loving husband and it isn't easy. I am looking forward to joining him as soon as possible, and I am still deciding how and when that will happen. My animation contract doesn't exactly have an end date but our current project will complete animation sometime in July, so that is when I expect to move. It seems as though there are a lot of game studios in Austin, so I may find myself there as opposed to film or tv animation, but I have some other projects in the works as well, so we will see. Time will tell.

For now, we are so thankful for all our support from friends and relatives, and we continue to wish you all the very best. XO!