Love is in the Air… and in Theatres Today

Love it or hate it – it’s Valentine’s Day today! Just in time for this very special occasion is Winter’s Tale, a time-travelling, supernatural, fantastical story of True Love, featuring Colin Farrell.

Classical Animation and Digital Character Animation (then known as Maya) grad Adam Yaniv was Animation Supervisor on the film while 3D Animation & Visual Effects grad Elena Topouzoglou was a Compositor.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Classical Animation Grads Land a Pilot Deal with Nickelodeon

Congratulations to Classical Animation grads Pedro Eboli and Graham Peterson, whose animated short Monster Pack was recently selected by Nickelodeon for pilot development! Monster Pack was submitted to Nickelodeon last year as part of their 2013 global Animated Shorts Program, which is designed to identify and develop new and up-and-coming animation talent.

Those looking to submit their work this year, Nickelodeon has just announced a call for submissions for 2014.

Read the article on Cartoon Brew for more information.

“Never Let Anyone Tell You It’s Just a Student Film.”

Henrique Barone, a VFS Classical Animation and Digital Character Animation grad, lives by wise words: “Never let anyone tell you that you’re doing ‘just a student film.’ Some of the best shorts are made by students.” And his advice paid off. Tough West, a short Henrique made while studying at VFS, was accepted into the 2013 Adobe Design Achievement Awards and was selected as one of the top three finalists from thousands of entries. Henrique was generous enough to chat with us recently and talk about animation at VFS, life after graduation, and what it was like being in NYC for the ADAAs.

Where are you from? What were you up to before coming to VFS?

I was born in a city called Ribeirão Preto, in the countryside of São Paulo, Brazil. As a kid I used to cut out cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Tom and Jerry from a TV guide magazine and put them in a folder so I could draw them anytime. My passion for drawing led me to choose to study Design, where I found out about animation. My graduation project was a pilot for an educational TV series, which won a grant back in Brazil!

Were you always interested in this kind of work? What made you want to pursue a career in animation?

I started being aware of animation as a career when I visited the Anima Mundi Animation Festival for the first time in 2005. The thing that impressed me the most was the variety of stories and especially the use of different techniques. Because I had no idea how to do animation, I was really fascinated by techniques that seemed possible for me to do, like cut-out and clay.

So, with this motivation, I started doing independent shorts! In my opinion, the coolest thing in animation (and especially short films) is the fact that it incorporates different skills and areas into one single product. By doing a short film you need to think about a script, storyboard, art, animation, compositing, sound, and everything else. Being in touch with all those steps is incredible.

I believe, however, that in the end, it doesn’t really matter if the visuals are amazing, the animation is smooth, or the music is great. People may even like it, but I believe a film has a bigger and amazing potential when it has a strong story, and that’s what drives me to continue doing films and pursuing a career in animation. Some films really touched me, some made me think, some made me talk about it with friends, some made me laugh, some made me cry. If I can do this with my short films then I will be humbly fulfilled.

Why VFS? How did you find out about the Classical Animation and Digital Character Animation programs? Why did you decide to take DCA after CA?

Coming to Canada was both a personal and professional decision, made together with my fiancé (and also a Classical Animation alumnus) Fernanda Ribeiro. Though we had already worked in Brazilian productions and also as freelancers for different clients, we felt it was about time to invest in concrete training, not only in animation but also in storytelling and the cinematic language as a whole.

On the personal side, we wanted to stop for a while and have some time to explore our own styles by doing an animated short. Professionally, we wanted a chance to live and work outside the country to learn from a culture with a bigger and more established animation market than the Brazilian one. Choosing the Classical Animation program seemed to mix these two aspects perfectly. And it did!

Although I had wanted to eventually learn 3D animation, the Digital Character Animation program wasn’t part of the original plan—it just came along one year after I graduated from Classical Animation. I’m very glad I took Classical Animation before and that would be my advice to anyone.

What was your experience like in the programs? What was the hardest thing about them? What was the best thing?

The thing that definitely makes the Classical Animation program unique is the amazing team of instructors and mentors like Moose Pagan, Dieter Mueller, Andy BartlettMarv Newland, and Jim Inkster, who are amazing at giving feedback on your film and listening to your ideas. In the end, you not only feel like you learned from the best, but also that you made some good friends!

Also, I loved the mood of the Classical Animation class environment, where you can have your references and drawings on the wall and be inspired all the time. People also pin up caricatures and funny things, which helps to never get the mood down in class. It was awesome!

The Classical Animation program is also not just about animation. It has some other amazing classes like Composition, Acting for Animators, and Film Theory. These classes truly helped me to overcome my biggest obstacle, which was coming up with a good story and to be able start my shorts Tough West and This Idea Is Not Working

A year after I graduated, I definitely used a lot of this knowledge and experience to create The Man Who Saw a Boat in the DCA program, which has a very tight schedule for learning a new technique (Maya) and, on top of that, creating a good short. But again, great instructors and a great mood in class are key.

What has life been like since graduation? What’s on the horizon?

After I graduated from Classical Animation I got the chance to work in Vancouver for companies such as Atomic Cartoons and Tiny Speck, and also as a freelancer for different projects. Then I took the DCA course, where I created my most recent short called The Man Who Saw a Boat, which I’m sending to festivals. And now I’m part of the incredible team at Giant Ant. There are so many different projects, styles, and techniques that are very inspiring to work on in Vancouver.

Your short Tough West was selected as a finalist from thousands of entries for the Adobe Design Achievement Awards. Congratulations! What was that experience like?

I like my three shorts in very different ways. This Idea Is Not Working was the first and I learned a lot during the process. I was very eager to explore all the possibilities of animation. I wanted to squash and stretch the characters as much as I could—morph, transform, and all of those things. Thanks to animation that was actually possible and super fun to do! The Man Who Saw a Boat is the most recent one and the one I’m the most connected to right now. But I think Tough West has something special because in many ways it wasn’t planned as much as the others, so it left a lot of room for very good surprises, like the words I came up with on the last day. Having a tight schedule was a good way to not overthink stuff and just simply let it be. That happened with Tough West and it was very special.

I’d say that this special quality came through for the Adobe Design Achievement Awards judges, because they selected Tough West as one of the top three animation finalists, from 3752 submissions in 11 categories. Each year the Winner Announcement Ceremony takes place somewhere different around the world, and Adobe brings all the finalists together to share ideas and learn! This year the ceremony was held in New York City, where I met some amazing and very inspiring people, visited design studios, and showcased my work. Unfortunately I didn’t get the big prize, but it’s hard to not see all this experience as a prize itself. The awards are a great opportunity for students animating with Flash like me, or using any other Adobe software. I’d really recommend everyone to apply for the ADAA 2014!

Do you have any advice to share with new students? For people thinking about a career in animation?

I think my main advice would be to never wait for the next opportunity. Never wait until someone has watched your short. Never wait for a position to open. Share your short! Having a short film in hand is a great way to introduce yourself to someone you admire and has inspired you. Ask for feedback, say what you like, and be interested.

The same goes for companies and studios you admire. It’s not because they don’t have positions that they won’t watch your short and reply to you. So don’t be afraid to share, to talk about your film, and to show who you are. In my opinion, a lot of times, knowing how to communicate is more important than knowing how to animate.

Also, some of the best shorts I’ve ever watched were made by students, so never let anyone tell you that you’re doing “just a student film.”

Wow, thanks for taking the time to share all this with us Henrique! Best of luck at Giant Ant and on future projects! 


When Technical and Creative Talent Comes Together

Andre LeBlanc is no stranger to being both right-brained and left-brained. As a child, he was drawn (pun intended) to filmmaking and graphics arts, but studied programming and computer science at school.  He eventually found a place where his artistic and technical talents could thrive: the VFS Classical Animation program. Andre took time out of his busy schedule recently to talk with us about his time at VFS, being an animator at DreamWorks, and what it was like writing and directing his first short.

Where are you from? What were you up to before coming to VFS?

I grew up in the small town of Riverview, New Brunswick. Before attending VFS, I was actually pursuing a degree in Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick! I was at a major crossroads, and was actually close to pursuing a masters in Computer Graphics instead of going to VFS. I’m relieved I didn’t go in that direction, because in retrospect it wouldn’t have been the right fit for me.

Were you always interested in animation? 

My interest in animation came a bit later in life, but I had been wanting to make movies by the time I was 10, after seeing Aliens. It was a defining moment, and one that began to shape my path. However, we didn’t have a camera at home, and nobody I knew had a camera, so I channelled that energy into drawing comic books. I had another friend who was also an avid comic drawer, and we would collaborate, and then sell our comics to our classmates. What’s funny is that he also became an animator, which is an incredible coincidence considering how small the town of Riverview is!

By the time I was in high school, I was teaching myself computer programming, and trying to translate my notions of comics into story-based video games. They were really awful, but I think this is where I started understanding that there was a fusion between art and science. I decided to pursue computer science because I thought it would be just like what I was doing at home—learning how to make cool comic-based video games. Was I ever wrong! So by the time I was in my third and fourth years of my CS degree, I knew I needed to make a transition. This was only a few years after Toy Story came out, so I knew there was a real career path for me using my technical knowledge. The problem was, I didn’t have any background in animation. So I began dusting off the old art skills and working on an art portfolio with the goal of actually studying 2D animation. This would mark a complete 180 degree turn from my computer science background.

What was your experience like in the VFS Classical Animation program? What was the hardest thing about it? The best thing about it?

It was a fantastic experience but it was also very challenging. First of all, I wasn’t at all prepared for the sheer amount of drawing that I would have to do. I also faced the harsh reality of no longer being the best drawer around, and many of my classmates were easily outpacing me. But I think I held my own, and in the end I had a very unique skill set: a very high tech skill (computer science) with a very artistic skill (classical animation).

There’s a couple of things I learned from VFS that I still use to this very day, and have defined my approach to moviemaking. The most important is the way I storyboard. Even after all the technical training and years at DreamWorks, I still storyboard my own projects by hand with a pencil and paper. I’ll often do computer previz for more complex stuff, but it all starts with the pencil and paper. The stuff that comes out this way is always more interesting than moving a camera around in some 3D application. I think it’s that direct extension of the hand to the brain—a process that’s ingrained in our DNA. VFS also instilled a great sense of frame composition in me. Because every frame in classical animation can be a certain amount of work to create, you start to give extra care to what’s in that frame. These are fantastic skills in all aspects of moviemaking.

What has your life been like since graduation? 

I’ve been doing visual effects professionally now for over ten years. I worked at PDI for two years in San Francisco as a junior FX artist on movies like Shrek 2 and Madagascar. I then moved down to Los Angeles to work at DreamWorks. My two biggest projects at the studio were as an FX lead on How to Train Your Dragon and then The Croods. I spent over five years on just those two movies!!!

But I was always working on short films on the side. A few of us at DreamWorks formed an unofficial group that acted as a live action filmmaking co-op (we called it Film Club). The way it worked was that anyone could pitch a short-film idea, and if people liked that idea, then they would have full access to the group as well as their equipment for making their short films a reality. It was a tremendous learning experience because the crew positions rotated, and required all of us to act in different roles such as director, director of photography, production designer, grip, etc…

I had also been working on my own short films over the years, mostly as a side passion. But as the projects became bigger, I had to devote more time to them.

You recently wrote and directed a short film entitled The Storm. What was the process like? What’s in store for The Storm

I completed The Storm while still working full-time on The Croods, so the process was beyond challenging! I would say that this was the one time where I overstepped my own workaholic boundaries. Luckily it worked out, but the process really made me realize that I could not pursue two full-time jobs forever. It took nearly 2.5 years to complete The Storm when you factor in pre-production, and this was with friends helping out. For any project that involves a fair amount of CG, you’re going to be spending a lot of time rendering and animating—and that’s exactly what I did. But it was worth it, and it’s such a great feeling to see something like this come together.

We screened The Storm at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival, DragonCon (which is a massive convention that attracts 50,000+ genre fans), and then finally at Screamfest here in Los Angeles. And we put The Storm on Vimeo at the end of October for everyone to watch and enjoy.

What’s life like for you now? What’s on the horizon?

I left DreamWorks in January 2013 so I could really take a stab at making a film (short, feature, webisode, whatever…) with the chance to focus 100% of my energy into it. I had begun work on a feature version of The Storm, but I’ve put it to the side to begin development on a new short. It’s a sci-fi drama I wrote in the summer, and deals with our notions of privacy—something I think is very topical at the moment. But it’s always possible that something different will sneak in at the last possible minute—which I welcome!

Many thanks Andre for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us and best of luck on your film!