Animation Spotlight : Jerry Rees

Its time for another Animation Artist Spotlight! This month we'd like to introduce Jerry Rees, a talented animator and director who's work spans wide in the animation world. Read on to learn more...

jerry-Rees-Headshot-2015.jpg

What first got you interested in Animation?

Cracker Jacks. Okay that’s not entirely accurate – “Bambi”, “Pinocchio” and Cracker Jacks.

As a kid, I remember being blown away by the pure artistry and vivid emotion of “Bambi”. Someone had rented a 16mm film print for a local church social event. Even with the projector clattering along in the same room as the audience, it thrilled me. I was amazed that such a complete and beautiful world of characters could be brought to life by any group of artists.

And “Pinocchio” – it washed over me like a tidal wave. I remember riding sleepily in the back seat of our car as my Dad drove us home from a family outing. We were ascending a freeway overpass and as we climbed higher and higher, a nearby drive-in theater screen rose up into view. Across that big screen, Monstro the whale was crashing through the waves – the unstoppable demon leviathan intent on devouring Pinocchio, Geppetto and their little friends. I pleaded for my Dad to pull over to the side of the road so I could see more. He reluctantly pulled over, illegally parking at the top of the overpass for a few moments – the moment when Monstro heaved all his tonnage in a last terrible attack – the moment when Pinocchio floated face down and lifeless in the shallows. In our idling car all went silent – except for my small voice, asking dad for one more favor. Our trip home was detoured as we entered the drive-in for the next showing – my first viewing of that astounding classic.

Oh yes, Cracker Jacks. I liked them a lot. Not only for their crunchy sweetness. Each box had a toy surprise inside. Sometimes I’d get a decoder ring or a fake tattoo. But one time I got a flipbook. This flipbook showed a fisherman casting his hook into a small bucket. And out of the small bucket, he pulled a LARGE fish! It wasn’t Monstro large, but it was worth bragging about. As I laughed and flipped it again and again, a realization began to sink in; this whole animation thing – the seemingly unattainable artistry of hundreds of people co-creating a classic vision – it wasn’t beyond mortal reach if you started right here, with drawings on paper that seemed to come alive. The surprise inside that particular Cracker Jack box was the message, “you can do this”.

ADVERTISEMENT

What was your first animation project/job?

For me - In elementary school, I convinced my science teacher that I should do an animated film instead of all that test stuff. Miraculously, he agreed. My friend Scott and I created a stop motion film entitled “Battle of the Bloodstream”.  It was my first taste of directing. Science was never the same.

For real ­–­ I spent an unforgettable summer going through the Disney Animation archives to prepare materials for the inaugural year of the Cal Arts Character Animation Program. I had been made Teacher’s Assistant for that “guinea pig” year and took it very seriously.

For pay – After two years attending Cal Arts, Disney asked four of us to bail out on the remainder of school and start working full time. John Musker, Brad Bird, Doug Lefler and I gladly accepted and said farewell to our classmates. When we arrived at the studio, “Pete’s Dragon” was in full post-production deadline crunch. My first paying animation gig inside Disney was doing cleanup on Elliott himself for the combo live-action/animation segments.

What were the biggest challenges for you to break into the industry?

Wow… it was a whole different era. I was dreaming of Disney before any Cal Arts Character Animation Program existed, and way before I was college age. There was only one studio of real quality and they weren’t hiring. There were no animation classes to take in my town. In fact people in my town were saying there was no future in animation as a job, period. They wondered why would I even try. And there were no user-friendly animation tools. I went halves with my parents (who were always supportive) on a Super-8 film camera with frame-by-frame capability. I tied weights to a tripod to make an animation stand and put yellow tape around it to indicate when it was a “hot set” (this was the family living room mind you). I ordered acme pegs for registration. Pre-punched paper cost too much, so I snuck into an audio-visual department at the local med school to use their industrial punch from time-to-time. On one of those clandestine visits, I was caught by the supervisor. He wondered what this kid was doing there – and why I even needed punched paper.  When I explained that I was doing animation at home, he bluntly said “you can’t do that.” He went on to explain all the equipment I didn’t have and all the knowledge I didn’t have. Later, when my Mom was driving me home, she wondered if my faith was shaken. As she tells it, I calmly turned to her and said, “That guy doesn’t know what he’s taking about” and left it at that.

Ironically the same “you can’t do that” guy changed my life.

He became curious and asked to see some of my animation. I carted my little projector over and showed him. He was impressed. He said he’d heard rumors that Disney might start recruiting since the veterans were heading toward retirement. He wrote something on a piece of paper, tore it off and handed it to me. It was the phone number of Ed Hansen the Production Manager of Disney Feature Animation – in case I was interested. I was interested.

My Dad drove me into the “big city” of Burbank and I showed my portfolio. Eric Larson (one of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men”) liked it. He showed me a desk, saying it would be mine whenever I had a chance to take a break from high school and drop in. He’d tutor me. I thought I was dreaming. I stopped in as often as possible.

As I graduated high school, Disney announced the new Cal Arts program and offered me the TA gig. Fortunately they also offered me a scholarship, since my family could never have paid my tuition at Cal Arts.

The takeaway lesson: always push yourself to be the best you can be, always keep the long view in sight, and always be ready to dance on off chance you get lucky.

What do you think the major differences in the animation industry today are from when you first got into the industry?

 There are more studios large and small doing quality work. And there are more storytelling formats than ever before, with games, features, television, web series, virtual reality experiences, etc. There are many more good animation classes and more user-friendly tools for creating animation. And there are more ways around the old distribution paradigms – a democratization of creativity if you will – allowing even one person with access to social media to get his or her idea seen the world over.

Conversely, there is much more competition for all these new potentials. But I’ve taken hope in seeing boutique-size and small indie teams co-exist with big industry studios. Groups of artists can effectively gather in virtual workspace, separated by geography, but united by shared vision, shared story and shared characters.

It’s a great time for non-purists. I happen to be one of them. I don’t have an allegiance to one style. I believe that style is born out of each new story. I celebrate stories giving birth to such different styles as “Kubo and the Two Strings”, “Moana”, “Anomalisa”, “Rick and Morty”, “The Simpsons” and even “Beyond: Two Souls” or “The Last of Us”.

I do believe that 2D animation will make a comeback. But instead of circling the wagons around a specific niche, I believe in pushing the boundaries for what may come next and blending old and emerging techniques for unpredictable flavors.

Let story be the driver. Find your soul mates.

What has been your favorite/most rewarding animation project you worked on thus far?

“The Brave Little Toaster”. Great team and the most creative freedom ever. No studio notes. Everyone cared about the characters and each other and wanted to be able to look back on it with pride. We only had slightly over two million for the entire 90 minutes and every day had to produce the same amount of animation that would have taken two weeks in the studio system. We are amazed and humbled by letters that come in saying that the film meant something special to quite a few audience members – even though we never got a theatrical release.

Rees_Toaster-Poster.jpg

Also dear to my heart is “Back to Neverland”, the live action / animation short I directed starring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite. I was working with a dream team, expressing a subject I felt passionate about.

Robin-as-Lost-Boy.jpg

Back to Neverland, Disney's demonstration of the process of animation that was originally hosted at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney Hollywood Studios) until the Florida animation studio was shut down, where Walter Cronkite puts Robin Williams into a Peter Pan sequel as a Lost Boy.

Are there any little known fun facts about any of the films you've worked on?

“Back to Neverland” led directly to Robin Williams being cast as the genie in “Aladdin”. At first the studio was wary of my desire to cast Robin. They were worried that his edgy adult stage act wouldn’t allow him to fit with the family tradition of Disney animation. I cited Walt Disney’s casting of Cliff Edwards for the voice of Jiminy Cricket as a precedent, since Cliff worked “blue” as a nightclub performer back in the day. So they cautiously let me experiment with Robin on our short film. Robin was warm and wonderful and hilarious.  Audiences totally embraced him as a Disney animated character. We even had a metamorphosis scene where Robin improvised wildly, then Frans Vischer animated him transforming into everything he described. I think this was a particularly “ah-ha” moment regarding his appropriateness as a potential genie for “Aladdin”.  John Musker and Ron Clements surprised me by embedding a sweet tip-of-the-hat to our short film in their feature.  Near the end of “Aladdin” when the Genie gets his freedom, he time travels and comes back wearing a Goofy hat, a Hawaiian shirt and shorts – the same outfit that the live action Robin wore at the beginning of “Back to Neverland”.

f you are able to share, what projects are you currently working on?

All I can say is I’m restlessly, passionately pursuing every potential always.

What do you still want to achieve, or what do you want to work on next?

The list is long, including untold stories, imagined characters, immersive human sharing and empowering new tools. Top of the list is changing the world for the better in tangible ways. It’s totally possible.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jerry!

ADVERTISEMENT

Animation Spotlight : Kathy Zielinski

Kathy Zielinski

We'd like to begin a new series where we spotlight and interview successful animation artists working throughout the animation industry. We're kicking off this series with Kathy Zielinksi, an impressive animation artist who's worked on a variety of projects.

1. How did you start becoming interested in animation?

I always loved drawing Disney characters and when I was in my senior year of high school, my art teacher Mr. Pelster, offered an animation class. While taking his class, he told me about the Cal Arts animation program and that I should apply to go there. I remember being so excited and never thought about a career in animation before. I was accepted and began in the fall of 1979.

2. What was your first animation project/job?

My first animation job was at Disney Feature Animation at the end of my sophomore year at Cal Arts. Every year, the Cal Arts would show the Disney executives the students work and based on the films they liked, they would ask them to come and work at Disney. The first assignment I had was to do in-between pixey dust for the theme park "Epcot" which hadn't opened yet.  After that I worked on "Mickey's Christmas Carol" and "The Black Cauldron".

3. Do you feel like it's a hard industry to break into?

For me, I was very fortunate because of being asked to work for Disney right out of school, but for some of my colleagues at the time,it was difficult because there weren't many animation houses around...just a few commercial places and Saturday morning cartoons where some of the work was being sent over seas.  Now I think it's a bit difficult because although there are a lot of studio's making animated product, there are 10 times more artists trying to get jobs at them. 

4. How has the animation industry changed throughout the years?

Job stability.  When I began working at Disney in 1981, it was more family oriented. Now it seems more about business and less about the people. Artists used to be able to have a longer career at one place but now they have to move around a bit more from job to job.  Of course the big change was from a predominantly hand drawn industry to an almost exclusively CG animated one. Other changes are better though, more opportunities for women in leading roles.

5. What has been your favorite animation project thus far?

Probably "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" where I was the Animation supervisor for the villain "Frollo". It was a wonderful opportunity to design him and get to animate some amazing scenes (I animated almost all of him in the song "Hellfire").  My other choice would be animating Ursula on "The Little Mermaid".  It was quite an exciting time in animation and that film was a resurgence for animation, plus I was giving some wonderful scenes to animate and it is really special to see that they used a lot of it for the Fantasmic show at Disneyland.  I collaborated with great artists on those films too!

Kathy Zielinski

6. Are there any little known fun facts about any of the films you've worked on?

When working on "Aladdin" I was almost 9 months pregnant and I burst my water while animating my last scene of the Jafar Snake. I went right from work straight to the hospital!  

7. What does your daily work-life look like?

Today, I am once again animating hand drawn animation at "The Simpson's" but drawing on the computer cintiq screen instead of paper.  It's for the most part very relaxing compared to the technical challenges of working in CG and it's so fun! I love coming to work every day to draw! 

8. What would you be doing if you weren't working in animation?

I would probably be working in travel somehow, perhaps leading cycling tours since I love the sport, and then also as a fine artist. I have always loved art and my mother once told me that from the moment I could pick up a pencil as a baby, I never stopped drawing!

Click Through the Carousel to View More of Kathy's Work!

ADVERTISEMENT

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Graham Cunningham

This week, we were able to sit down with Graham Cunningham who has been helping us with the lighting, look development, compositing, and rendering of Bink!  He also did the surfacing for the lab environment where everything takes place.

Graham was always interested in visual effects and animation from an early age. He found himself interested in classic VFX movies like Jurassic Park. In high school, he’d gravitated towards art classes and came to realize that he wanted to pursue something artistic professionally. Graham attended Seneca College for Computer Graphics Imagery. After working for 10 years at boutique visual effects houses as a 3D Generalist, Graham decided to make the move from Toronto down to California. He currently works at Blizzard entertainment specializing in lighting and compositing (Compositing has to do with taking multiple visual elements and rendering them separately to get a final product). 

Graham has worked on many television shows and feature films. One ofhis favorite projects he’s worked on was The Road to 9/11, which was nominated for an Emmy Award. He had the challenge of making downtown Toronto appear to be New York City.

Currently, Graham is helping us complete the Bink short by rendering the frames. There are 24 frames per second and right now rendering Bink takes about 30min/frame (wow!).

When he’s not hard at work, Graham keeps busy with his three-year-old son. Graham has always had a love for Legos and started collecting Star Wars Legos into his adult life. He is also passionate about photography and enjoys doing that in his free time.

We’re so happy to have Graham on board and thankful for all the hard work he’s put into Bink! To find out more about Graham and see his portfolio, check out his website

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Violette Sacre!

This week we got to learn more about the amazing look dev artist who’s been working hard on Bink’s Textures and Fur: Violette Sacre!

Violette always knew she wanted to work in animation but never knew it could one day come true!

She comes from a multicultural family and grew up in many countries : America, Belgium, Spain and France, but always had one constant passion wherever she lived: the love for Art.

At a young age, her mom put a pencil in her hand and encouraged her to Draw. As she grew, Violette enjoyed exploring all forms of Art, from drawing to sculpture, and would often find herself illustrating for her Mom and Community of Valbonne (small town in the south of France): illustrating such things as Poems and stories her mom wrote, articles for the local newspaper and holiday cards for the local school fundraisers. 

Like all 'kids' working in Animation today she was greatly inspired by Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks, 'The little mermaid', or 'La Sirenita' as Violette knew her while living in Spain at the time, would be the influence that really sparked her passion for Animation. But it was really when she saw 'Shrek' for the first time, with all of its rich texture and lighting work that she then fell in love with 3D Animation! With a computer Geek as a dad it also made sense to follow in his footsteps and study something that had 'computers' in the title and so, she decided to pursue a career in Computer Animation.

Violette was lucky to fulfill those dreams by getting into Ringling College of Art and Design's Computer Animation Program and landing her first job at Dreamworks Animation where she was privileged to work on films such as 'The Croods', 'How to Train your Dragon', and 'Madagascar2'.

When Eric Approached Violette about working on 'Bink', she immediately fell in love with the cute character and was excited to have the chance to help bring him to life! Originally, Bink wasn’t going to have fur but Violette was determined to make Eric’s vision of Bink having fur come true (and he looks incredible!). To Violette, one of the most rewarding aspects of Look Development is making people’s visions come true!

In her free time, Violette loves to spend time with her husband and three-year-old son. She enjoys gardening, developing characters and stories, and helping her husband expand his photography business.

One of her greatest wishes is to one day finish illustrating all her late Mother's prolific writings and to publish them in her honor.

To learn more about Violette, check out her website here!

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Rachel Wan

We chatted with Rachel Wan, who has helped in many different ways with the creation of Bink!  Rachel did the concept art for Bink, the character design for the mechanical hand, and the title design for Bink!  Rachel currently lives in Malaysia and as we were thrilled to learn more about her and her experience.

Growing up, Rachel had no idea that she would end up working in animation. In fact, she originally wanted to be a human rights lawyer. But Rachel loved to draw and her love for animated films and television eventually led her to pursue animation as a career.  She grew up watching Disney films, cartoons from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Sailor Moon. 

 Bink concept art by Rachel Wan

Bink concept art by Rachel Wan

Rachel Studied Digital Animation in The One Academy of Communication Design. Courses covered topics like 2D Animation, 3D Animation, Modeling, Texturing, Lighting, and Rendering. Rachel ‘s expertise falls into three different areas: Graphic Design, Concept Art, and Illustration.  In Malaysia, most animation companies prefer to hire employees with multiple skillsets, although being specialized in one particular skill also prove advantageous

 Early character designs of the mechanical hand.

Early character designs of the mechanical hand.

In Rachel’s free time she loves reading Manga and playing computer games. Her bucket list includes traveling, programming, and cooking. Rachel also hopes to one day be able to visit the US! 

For more information on Rachel, check out her website here

 Bink Title designed by Rachel Wan

Bink Title designed by Rachel Wan

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Nico Sanghrajka

This week we sat down with Nico Sanghrajka to find out a little more about his background in rigging and visual effects! 

07.JPG

Nico has been helping us with the rigging of Bink. He's also helping us on a client project; we're creating 8 episodes for a webseries. He is originally from Germany and studied computer graphics at a film academy in Germany while specializing in rigging and lighting. After graduation, he sent out his reels and was called to Berlin to work on his first feature film, Rudy- Return of the Racing Pig. This was a live-action movie about a pig.  The pig wasn’t doing everything the director wanted so they called on some animators to help replace the pig in a couple of shots. Shortly after, Nico moved to London to work on the Tale of Despereaux. Later, he received a job offer from DreamWorks Animation in Redwood city. He worked for DreamWorks Animation for 6 years on movies like Megamind, Kung Fu Panda, and Penguins of Madagascar. In July of 2014 Nico went back to London for 9 months to work on the Jungle Book which comes out later this year! He now lives in San Francisco and has recently worked as a rigging supervisor for Deadpool, the new Pirates of the Caribbean, and the new Startrek!

When he’s not busy working on rigging or visual effects, you can find him somewhere outside. Nico loves hiking, spending time at the park, and the beach. He also loves activities like snowboarding and riding his motorcycle. If you want to know more about Nico and his work, you can check out his website.

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Valerio Fabbretti!

We’ve been lucky enough to work very closely with Valerio on the character design of Bink! Today we’re sharing a little more about this talented Character Designer!

Valerio grew up in Rome and moved to San Francisco after High School to study Illustration. He loved watching cartoons and reading comics growing up and the European masters were his main inspiration and unconscious teachers of anatomy, gestures, inking, and design.

Valerio has worked with Eric Miller Animation on the design of Bink. When asked what character design entails, Valerio gave us a great description of everything that goes into designing a character.

“Character designing is the magical translation of a character description into a white paper.  Shapes, lines, poses, expressions and clothing need to convey the personality of the characters. Getting it right is very hard and usually it's a team effort! With notes and suggestions from directors or other artists the character designer can succeed in the visual representation.”

In his free time, Valerio is very active. He loves to run and is part of a swimming team in Burbank where he trains every day. To fuel himself for that exercise he loves to eat pasta, pizza, and cereals!

For more information on Valerio and his work, check out his website

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Jared White!

We're lucky enough to work with the talented writer and director, Jared White! Jared has been working as an editor on Bink as well as writing and storyboarding for other projects we're working on! 

Jared was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and was always passionate about filmmaking. In addition to making home movies when he was younger, Jared would make his own animated stop-motion films! Although animation was always a love of his, he ended up going down the path of live-action films. After graduating from Cal State Northridge with a degree in Film Production he started working at Panavision. Jared was a workflow consultant on major feature films like Ted, Smurfs, Captain America, and more! Since Jared was so familiar with the equipment, he began making his own independent films on the side. 

Eventually, Jared decided to go out on his own and started working as a freelance writer and director. Two years ago, he decided to start his own production company, Squared Pictures. Jared has had the opportunity to work on various web series and work with reputable companies like College Humor and Funny or Die. His short films have been featured in festivals in the U.S. and internationally, and he recently won an award at the 48 Hour Film Project

It was so exciting for Jared to be able to return to animation once again when he started working with Eric Miller Animation. He enjoys keeping up with animation news and watching animated films in his free time.

When Jared's not working, he enjoys traveling with his wife. Recent travels include Europe and Costa Rica, and they're currently planning a trip to Japan.

Want to learn more about Jared and his production company? Check them out at www.squaredpictures.com!
 

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Scott Raymond!

We're thrilled to introduce to you one of the talented animators we work with, Scott Raymond! Scott has been working on the Bink short since the first of this year and we're so happy to have him! 

 Scott Raymond - Photo by Spencer Filichia

Scott Raymond - Photo by Spencer Filichia

Scott is originally from Nebraska and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before later attending the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study visual effects and animation. 

Growing up, Scott watched many animated movies and was always fascinated by animation. When Scott first started at DreamWorks Animation, he was doing crowd simulations, but his favorite aspect of the job was working with the animated cycles. He started animating his own cycles and then switched into an animation role full time. Scott spent 8 years at DreamWorks, where he was able to connect with Eric and many other talented artists. Although he no longer works there, he made many close friends who he keeps in touch with and works closely with. He's excited to work with Eric Miller Animation Studios because he gets to work with people who are so passionate about what they do and produce top-caliber work. 

He currently resides in Tennessee and teaches animation classes at Austin Peay State University. He's thankful that he has time to spend working in animation while also balancing life with his wife and two boys. 

For more information on Scott and the incredible work that he's doing, check out his blog here.  
 

Talent Spotlight: Introducing Linda Kurgpõld

We’re excited to introduce an extremely talented creative professional, Linda Kurgpõld! Linda has been working with Eric Miller Animation Studios on a few recent projects, including Bink. 

Linda specializes in surfacing and modeling, which means she creates everything you’re going to see on the screen during the pre-animation process. Coming from a long lineage of artists, Linda started out at USC as a fine art student. Linda had always been extremely artistic and had multiple creative outlets, like painting or playing the clarinet in the marching band. Her junior year of undergrad she switched over to the USC Cinema Program. She had always been fascinated by everything that went into creating a film and had decided that she was going to be a filmmaker. Soon after graduation, Linda realized that the aspect of film that she was most interested in was animation. She started the USC Master’s program in animation and it was during that time she found a passion for computer animation.

Linda’s always been amazed with how films are made and she still watches the special features on DVDs to find out how things work. To her, making movies will never lose it’s magic, which is why she’s been doing it for the past 20 years.

She’s spent the last couple of years taking advantage of all that LA has to offer. When she’s not working on a large project you can find her traveling, visiting with family, going to museums, or taking up photography.

Want to know more about Linda and her work? Check out LindaKurgpold.com