3D Animation

Eric Miller Animation 2017 Year in Review!

Wow, what an exciting year it has been, and hard to believe the year is coming to an end.  Eric Miller Animation Studios is in its 3rd year it has been an amazing year! We would like to take this opportunity to look back on all we accomplished this year, so sit back in your chair with your hot cocoa and holiday cheer to take a trip down memory lane with us.  

 

Bink

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Bink has come a long way from his initial inception.  Our original plan was to create multiple 30 second shorts with a fun lovable creature to show potential clients.  After all the exciting work we did for Toys'R'Us we had a good amount of visual effects work to add to our portfolio.  The thing we were missing was some high quality 3D animation. 

In an effort to get more 3D animation work we started to work on Bink.  We soon realized he had a much bigger purpose, and his story began to take shape.  After the first 30 second teaser we realized we wanted to create a longer more complete short. 

Eric, and Jared White have spent this year really digging into who Bink is, why he has been captured, and what are these tests for.  We have been working on creating a fun, heartfelt story for our lovable little creature. 

This has taken us a lot longer then we expected for a couple reasons.  One is we want to make sure his story is great, and the other is we are not able to work on it full time.  As you will read below we have had a very busy year, and finding the time to work on Bink is often challenging.  We are committed to making 2018 Bink's big year, and plan to release the next short.  

 

Client Projects

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With our client work we often have to sign non-discloser agreements, so we can't always share the work we have done for them.  Sometimes we can't even share who the client was, but here is what we can share with you.  

This year we got to work on our first feature film when we did the visual effects to bring the creatures to life for Donkey Universe Films' horror movie "Island Zero". They are currently making the rounds in the film festivals, so if you get a chance to see it keep an eye out for our work.  We are holding on sharing the work on our website until the film has been sold.

We worked on a live-action pilot for a production company who is developing a TV series for Amazon that has talking animals.  We were brought on to make the farm animals talk.  This required taking the live action footage and animating a CG face over the animals.  Its actually a lot harder then it sounds.  We hope the project is picked up, and hope we get to continue working on it next year.

We got the opportunity to work with LoomAI on a project they are working on.  While we can't talk about the project we can say how great it was getting to work with some of our old friends.  We worked with a few of the LoomAI team at DreamWorks Animation before we all left to go our own ways.

Our biggest project of the year(in terms of the amount of work) was working with Operation Hope doing 2D animated explainer videos to educate people on how to start a business.  So far we have created around 20 animated videos for them each ranging from 2-6 minutes in length.  We hope to continue helping them with more animated videos in 2018. 

Just when we thought the year was over we were awarded two more projects which we are currently finishing up.  One is an animated logo for a production company, and the other is a visual effects project where we are creating a magical growing tree for a couple shots in a music video.  Once we are able to share these we will let you know.

 

IP Development

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One of the most exciting parts of the year has been working with a team of creative geniuses on developing our own animated shows.  We have a few ideas we are developing, and then pitch them to the networks and broadcasters.

Eric has been meeting with executives at Netflix, DreamWorks TV, Paramount, Jim Henson, and many other places to make the connections we will need.  When we have a few ideas ready we plan to pitch them sometime early in this coming year.

 

Moonward Studios

Another big announcement this year was the creation of Moonward Studios. We realized some of the work we have been doing, like the visual effect for a horror film, did not match the branding we want for Eric Miller Animation Studios(EMAS).  With EMAS the plan is to be an animation creation studio where we are creating our own original content. Our focus is establishing ourselves as a creative studio, and building fans.  Our main source of income, right now, is the service business where we function as a work-for-hire providing animation services to our clients. Our messaging on our website and social media needs to be talking more to those potential clients to win their trust and win new projects. 

It made sense to create a new division of the company with a different name, website, and social media channels which will speak more to our potential clients. Moonward Studios will handle our visual effects and VR/AR service work, and eventually take on all the animation service work.  This will allow EMAS to focus on original animation ideas we develop, and produce.  We have been working on a new website as well as building its own social media accounts to target our potential clients. We still have a lot of work to do, but you can check out our progress at www.moonwardstudios.com and let us know what you think.

 

Growing Team

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This year has been a year of growth, and we have been fortunate to work with some amazing people. Earlier this year we announced Ken Bielenberg would be serving as a member of our Board of Advisors.  Eric and Ken worked together at DreamWorks Animation. Ken was actually one of the people Eric needed to interview with when he was first trying to get the job at DWA. It has been great having Ken's expertise, and his advice has been invaluable.  We look forward to continue working with him in 2018 as we continue to grow the company.

Mary Lou started working with us in July as the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator.  She handles all the postings on our different social media channels, and has been writing most of the weekly blog posts. Ruby came on as an illustrator creating concept art for Firefly Woods, images for marketing, and the cute Bink illustrations.  We recently brought on another blog writer, David Gouldthorpe, to add even more great animation content to our weekly posts.

We also worked with a lot of project based freelancers who came on to help us with the different projects we have done this year.  This includes people like Joe Castillon, Rich Draper, Hayden Patterson, and many others.

Our goal this year was to grow our team, and find more amazing people to work with.  We have also been able to cultivate a great list of very talented artists, animators, voice actors, writers, directors, storyboard artists and talent with many other specialties who we look forward to working with on our future projects. If you are interested in getting on our list please create a profile on our Crew Portal.

 

Animation Events

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This year we have attended a good number of animation related events. At the beginning of the year Eric attended some of the award shows.  As a voting member of the Producers Guild and ASIFA he went to both the Producers Guild Awards, and the Annie Awards. This is a great opportunity to meet some of the best in the animation and entertainment industry, and also a lot of fun to get all dressed up.

He also went to learn more about the tech side of animation, gaming, VR, AR and computer graphics at SIGGRAPH.  Eric tries to make it to this event any year it is held in Los Angeles.

One of the most exciting events for us this year was CTNX because we had a table in the exhibition hall for the first time. This gave us a chance to get Eric Miller Animation Studios out in the animation community to meet talented artists we hope to work with in the future.

 

Networking

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The Creators Society celebrated our 2 year anniversary this year. If you don't know, The Creators Society is a networking group Eric started in 2015 to bring producers, artists, and others working in different areas of the animation industry together for networking.  The Creators Society has mixers every month in the Los Angeles area, and is a great way to meet other creative people.  If you are interested in coming to one of our events be sure to sign up on the website www.thecreatorssociety.org.

Eric has also been attending other networking events each month like the Producers Guild Thirsty Thursday, Woman In Animation Mixer, The Crux Social, and Ready Set Go.  We feel it is so important to be active in our community, and networking helps you make great connections.

 

Giving Back

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We know how difficult this industry is, and getting started in the industry is even harder.  Our animation industry is great at helping each other out, and this is one reason we love it so much.  We feel it is important for us to give back, and help those new to the industry when we can. 

Throughout the year Eric has phone calls and meetings with students looking for advice, guidance, or sometimes just encouragement.  Earlier this year he met with the animation students from The University of Utah who were visiting Los Angeles.  He also participated in the career day for his high school alma mater through a remote video chat, and attended events like the CalArts Portfolio Day and the CalArts Producers Show.

 

The Numbers

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For the fun of it here are some interested numbers for this year.

This blog post is our 52nd post for this year, so it seems we managed to write a blog post every week. Our website has had 12.4k visitors this year which is a 8.2% increase over last year, and 36.5k page views which is a 12% increase over last year. We have had visitors to our website from 128 different countries with the top 5 countries being The United States(70%), Canada(3%), India(3%), United Kingdom(3%), and the Republic of Korea(2%).

The highlights on our social media is we grew our Twitter followers by 3,283, and our Instagram by 1,869 followers.  

 

Looking forward to 2018

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We hope to continue to grow, and learn in the coming year. Thank you for making it to the end of our 2017 year in review, and for letting us share our excitement with you throughout the year.  Thank you for support and encouragement, and we can't wait to continue to share with all of you.

2018 is looking to be an exciting year for our industry. Click here to get a little taste of animations coming our way, and of course stay tuned with us on Eric Miller Animation Studio's social platforms for a daily dose of news in animation!

Jared White Shares His 1st Experience Directing An Animated Short, MagicMeeMees

Director Jared White discusses his first experience directing for animation, and the differences he noticed from directing live-action.  Jared worked with Eric Miller Animation Studios by writing and directing the MagicMeeMees 3D animated web series for Future of Play. 


Written by Jared White

Jared White  Writer/Director, MagicMeeMees

Jared White
Writer/Director, MagicMeeMees

As a live action writer and director, but also a lifelong animation fan, working on the computer animated MagicMeeMees web series has been a thoroughly rewarding creative challenge.

MagicMeeMees are a new line of toys from Future Of Play, a Los Angeles-based toy company. Future Of Play approached Eric Miller Animation Studios about creating a web series to help introduce the characters and worlds from the toy line. I worked as writer/director of the web series, in addition to contributing to the storyboarding and editorial processes.

MagicMeeMees are cute, little creatures – 100 millionth the size of you, in fact – who live around your home, quietly making the world a better place. There are differently themed lands that the various MagicMeeMees reside in which correspond to their actual location in the home: Berryland takes place inside of a fruit bowl, and Holidayland takes place in a trunk full of decorations, to name two examples. Their motto: "No matter how big or small, we all have a purpose in this world." We were tasked with making four episodes of a web series, with each episode running two minutes long and focusing on one of the worlds and its respective characters.

This presented some challenges on its own. Typically in a series, be it for television or the web, the pilot episode establishes all of the main characters of the show and sets the premise of the series into motion. This frees you up in future episodes to explore the characters, relationships and conflicts without getting caught up in introducing everything. But here, each episode takes place in a new location with three completely new characters to introduce. In effect, each episode is its own self-contained pilot, making the writing process more similar to writing multiple short films, or an anthology TV series such as The Twilight Zone.

Episode 2: Sweetsland

Episode 2: Sweetsland

Another challenge was that, aside from the occasional buzz or purr, the MagicMeeMees don't talk. This meant that the show had to be written without the aid of any dialogue. I'm actually a big fan of this type of visual storytelling, and had previously made a few dialogue-free short films that went a long way to prepare me for this project. Animation is certainly a visual medium, and the more the story can be told visually, the stronger it is. But introducing three characters, showing what function they serve within their world, and establishing and resolving a conflict all within the span of two quick minutes is no easy task. One big lesson I learned over the course of this experience has been to keep things simple. The last thing you want to do is lose a viewer because they can't understand what's happening. And in working with Producer Eric Miller as well as the client, we discovered that keeping the plots simple made them that much more effective, and allowed us more freedom to explore fun visual gags and character moments.

This is my first time writing and directing for animation, and it has been quite the learning experience. One of the biggest differences has been the editing process. On a live action film, there are three main stages to the process: pre-production, where the script is finalized and the schedule and budget are worked out; production, in which the actual filming takes place; and post-production, in which the film is edited together, music composed, and sound and picture finalized. So the editing basically takes place in the last stage, after principal photography has completed. But in animation, editing starts at the beginning. Even while still in the writing process, the episode will be storyboarded, and those storyboards will be turned into an animatic. An animatic is essentially the boards edited together onto a timeline to see how they're cutting together and working for timing. Because animation is such a time- and labor-intensive process, it's important to work out as many of the problems upfront as possible. The storyboarding and animatic stage is a great place to do that.

Episode 4: Iceland Storyboard

Episode 4: Iceland Storyboard

Now, storyboarding is not unique to animation. I storyboard at least part of every project I direct. It's an essential tool to work out problems before arriving on set, clearly communicate a day's shots to all of the various departments, and streamline complex live action shoots. Storyboards in animation differ in a couple key ways: first, storyboards are both far more extensive (everything needs to be storyboarded in animation, whereas not all live action shoots require it); and secondly, as mentioned above, storyboarding actually kicks off the editing process of an animated film. Once edited into an animatic, the boards are then swapped out with shots from layout. Layout is the stage in which the character staging and camera placement are worked out before animation begins. After that, the layout is replaced with rough animation shots. Then those, in turn, are replaced with the final animation. And so on, through lighting, compositing, and final renders. Put simply, editing in animation takes place throughout the entire process, which is very different from traditional live action editing.

Episode 3: Holidayland Layout

Episode 3: Holidayland Layout

The client asked us to do these episodes on a relatively low budget, so we took on the challenge to work within their budget. In computer animation, there are certain things that can really drive up the cost. Things like fur, liquids, clothing, reflective surfaces, and other visual effects can all be cost prohibitive on a project such as this. This meant that in an episode like "Penny Gwen and the Iceland Intruder," we had to stay away from things like showing ice forming or characters falling into a pond and causing a big splash. I'm of the mind that constraints can actually encourage creativity. It can encourage you to avoid going with your first idea, and instead come up with a better solution that you never might have otherwise. Here's an example: in our first episode, "Piney Apple Saves Berryland," there's one part when a very frustrated Piney jumps up and down over and over, until he jackhammers himself into the ground up to his neck. Originally I had planned to show him drilling into the ground, but then found out that it can be very costly to show the ground being churned up. So I came up with a solution: cut away from Piney while he's jumping up and down to show the other characters' reaction, then cut back to reveal Piney's head sticking out of the ground. This created a nice visual punchline that we wouldn't have had if we had just shown him going into the ground. Creativity thrives on these sorts of limitations, if you let it.

Episode 1: Berryland

Episode 1: Berryland

Another big difference was the actual process of directing. Rather than working on set closely with the actors, cinematographer, production designer, sound mixer, etc., everyone on this project worked remotely. This can have its benefits, in that it allowed me to take some time to think about a particular shot before responding with my notes. (On a live action set, many decisions need to be made quickly and on-the-fly). But it could also have its drawbacks, as some notes that could perhaps quickly be communicated in person might take several typed-up paragraphs. I learned to work around this by including illustrated mock-ups with my notes. For one particularly difficult-to-communicate camera move, I actually filmed an example shot using miniatures and my iPhone as the camera. It proved to be invaluable.

Since there weren't any voice actors on this dialogue-free project, the performances came down to the animators. Rather than discussing a character's motivation and arc with each actor, these discussions happened with the animators. What these animators are able to convey in the tiniest eye movement, or using a character's full body language, is just remarkable. It was a pleasure working with such talented artists, and that goes beyond just the animators. From layout, to modeling and surfacing, to lighting and sound, the artists who I had the privilege of collaborating with on MagicMeeMees truly brought this project to another level.

My background working in live action was a big help in preparing me for this project, while also illustrating some interesting contrasts. I've always been in love with animation as an audience member, but now I'm smitten by the process of making it, too. At the end of the day, the storytelling process is universal no matter the medium. It's all about telling a compelling story.

Attack of the Remakes!

Can you hear that? It’s the sound of contracts being signed as your favorite and beloved movies are being remade in Hollywood. Studios for some time now have been trying to get audiences back in theaters since streaming services like Netflix have taken a chunk of the industry.

With the latest remakes like Ghostbusters and Ben-Hur, audiences are torn between watching the latest flicks in the theater or watching retro movies in the comfort of their home. It’s getting tougher too, as it was announced that Netflix will be getting the entire Disney library streaming right to your phone this fall. Coupled with the fact, ticket prices have slowly been rising. Rarely can you catch a movie for under $20, topped with $15 worth of popcorn/soda, wasting gas driving to the theater and finding parking during a busy night. Before you know it, staying home doesn't sound half bad.

I remember when you could see a trailer for a remake and people were generally excited, you could hear murmurs of couples already planning their next movie date. Today, remakes are given the obvious sigh and chuckle as audiences want more from Hollywood. People are still debating whether 3D movies are even worth the cost. When 3D was introduced it was temporary, but now it’s become a permanent staple at the theaters that drives up ticket costs and drains consumer’s wallets.

Hollywood is always trying new things to draw audiences back and you can bet if it was popular then, they’ll try to make it popular now. Do you think remakes are the answer? Has streaming services like Netflix encouraged you to stay in more? Let us know in the comments section and be sure to share if you enjoyed this article.

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! 

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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.

Today's Animated Movies are Addressing the World's Larger Issues

Underneath the humor and cute animated characters in today's top Pixar and Disney Movies, we've seen a trend: these top box office films are also addressing some big issues. It's interesting to think about how these underlying messages may be subconsciously persuading us to think differently about some of the world's large issues. Today we're going to take a look at two top animated films that had prominent underlying messages and also look at how nonprofits may use animated films to raise awareness. 

Inside Out

While this movie tells a cute story about how Riley's emotions changed her life when they left their post at the "control center" inside of her brain, it also addresses mental health and how depression can affect someone's life very quickly. This film looks at the variety of emotions that a young girl might experience while growing up and also addresses the importance of talking about your feelings. It reminds us that's it's okay to feel emotional sometimes and that being sad is okay. This movie looks to start a conversation in our society about mental health and may even prompt parents to think more about their child's mental well-being.

Zootopia

This movie tells the story of how an adorable bunny proves to the world that she's capable of being a great police officer and solve some of Zootopia's biggest cases. On the surface it looks like this movie's message is to follow your dreams and that you can do anything you put your mind to. The underlying message is much deeper; throughout the movie you see multiple political references as well as examples of racial profiling and prejudice. An article from Screen Crush discusses how this is Disney's first overtly political movie. 

Unlike the older Disney films that skirted around harsher realities to uphold impractical messages, Zootopia shows a true evolution in the studio’s desire to tell young audiences stories that reflect the political zeitgeist. One classic contrast to Zootopia that reflects how far Disney has moved from outdated stories of divided identities is Disney’s The Fox and the Hound. The 1981 film uses two friends separated by their domesticated roles of the hunter and the hunted, showcasing a world where good and evil share no middle ground. Zootopia challenges that simplistic perspective, suggesting a world with varying degrees of right and wrong morals, one where the prey are just as susceptible to making hurtful assumptions as the predators are to discounting their worth.

The biggest strength of Zootopia is in how it acknowledges all identities are capable of carrying prejudice and wielding judgement, yet the first step toward change is awareness. And now more than ever, Disney is proving how aware it is. Hopefully Zootopia marks the beginning of a new era of bold, socially-conscious animated storytelling.

UNICEF's Unfairy Tales

UNICEF is looking to end discrimination toward child refugees with a series of PSAs called "Unfairy Tales". These short animated films will show the hardships refugee children have to face when leaving to get shelter from Syrian conflict. UNICEF's goal behind the PSAs is to "build empathy and promote kindness". UNICEF will be hosting a private screening of their newest PSA next week in Los Angeles. Below is the first video, which tells the story of 7-year-old Malak as she crosses the Mediterranean in search for safety.

The Take Away

It's important to think about how we, as animators, have the power to change the way the world views certain issues. As an audience, we should look for these underlying messages and be aware of how these studios might be trying to prompt us to think more in depth about what's going on in the world. Have you seen a movie recently that really got you thinking? Leave a comment below! 

Animation Throughout The Years

Technological advances have allowed us to make the quality full-length films and shorts you see on the big screen today. But have you ever wondered how animation first started and how it changed over the years? Today we’re going to provide you with a brief overview on animation and how it first started.

The Phenakistoscope and Zoetrope devices

The first animation devices were invented in the early 1830s. These animation devices involved a spinning drum with drawings that slightly differed from one another. When spun, it would appear as though the images were moving (Kehr, 2016).

Early Stop-Motion

In 1908, Emile Cohl created what is considered to be the first fully animated film, Fantasmagorie. This film lasts for around 1 minute and 16 seconds. From the early 1900s to the 1930s, many illustrators tried their hands at stop-motion animation using various techniques (Popova, 2011). 

Adding the element of sound

It wasn’t until Disney’s Steamboat Willie that animation was able to come alive by combining the stop-motion with sound. Disney later started to add in depth with his camera which made the stories and characters really come to life for an audience. Disney’s 1937 Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs was what really impressed audiences (Kehr, 2016). Although this film wasn’t the first animated film, it was definitely the first full-length animated film of such a high quality.

The 1980s changed animation forever

Computer animation technology was created in the 1980s, which allowed animators to create dynamic, interesting characters and give animated films a completely different look. The world went crazy over the first film that was completely computer-animated, Toy Story (Kehr, 2016).

Animation continues to Improve

Animation thrives today due to many of the technological advances we’ve had. Animation software has become more accessible and stop-motion has become relevant on social media as apps have been created for making stop-motion videos on your phone. Animation is still an incredibly powerful way of communicating and storytelling and can resonate with audiences of different ages and backgrounds. We’re looking forward to see where technology takes animation in the future.

Works Cited:
Kehr, Dave. "Animation." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2016. Web.

Popova, Maria. "Before Walt Disney: 5 Pioneers of Early Animation." The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 2011. Web.