We're excited to introduce you to Ken Bielenberg, a talented animation veteran who's credits include Shrek, ANTZ, Monsters vs Aliens, The Simpsons and many more! Ken has worked in both live action and animation, and has directed, produced, and was a VFX Supervisor on several projects. Not only are we excited to discuss Ken's career on our blog this week, but we are happy to announce he will be taking on an advisor role for Eric Miller Animation Studios. Ken will will be advising Eric on a variety of business and creative areas.
What was your path to get into animation?
I went to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for computer science, but what I really loved was film and animation. So, I used all my electives to take as many film and traditional animation classes as I could. After 2 college co-ops at IBM, I realized that I didn't want to be a computer programmer, so I decided to combine my interests and pursue computer animation. This was in the early days of CG -- it was a risky move. But, my parents were really supportive so I went for it and eventually landed a production assistant position at PDI in 1990. I was SO excited to be at PDI and practically lived there to soak it all in.
What do you think the major differences in the animation industry today are from when you first got into the industry?
Oh boy! Everything is different. When I started at PDI, flying logos were still state-of-the-art computer animation! Five years later, TOY STORY came out, proving it was possible to make a feature length animated film. That was huge! Then, the next two features were ANTZ (which I worked on) and A BUG'S LIFE. At that point in time, the power of the computers and the state of animation technology really did limit the stories that were feasible to produce in CG. Toys and bugs were what we could handle at the time. Now, there's really no limit.
What do you feel will be the next big breakthrough in the animation industry?
Computer Animation is getting closer to being able to create believable, photorealistic humans, but we're not there yet. The "uncanny valley" is still very much an issue, but it's a holy grail challenge that will get conquered at some point.
What has been your favorite/most rewarding animation project you worked on thus far?
There are so many! But, I'd have to say SHREK 2. It was a perfect combination of a great team super excited to push the envelope and a great story.
Are there any little known fun facts about any of the projects you've worked on?
I worked on the Simpsons segment where Homer goes into the 3rd dimension for the Tree House of Terror VI episode in 1995. It was the first time Homer would be realized as a 3D CG character. We were nervous about translating this iconic 2D character into 3D. I wasn't sure how things like his hair (he has big Ms on the side of his head!) would translate. Would that look weird? But, it worked and the Simpsons team was a dream to work with. So much fun.
We're excited to have you as an advisor for Eric Miller Animation Studios, what are you most excited to share your expertise on?
I'm excited to help in any way I can. When Eric left Dreamworks to start his own animation studio, I thought "that's incredibly ambitious and a little bit crazy." And lo and behold, Eric's successfully launched his studio, is producing excellent work and is consistently adding new clients. I'm especially excited about the next chapter for BINK. He's such a cute character with a ton of potential.
What is your dream job, or what do you want to work on next?
My dream job is really simple. It sounds corny, but it's all about working with great people. I love creating an environment where insanely talented people can produce their best work.
Thank you to Ken for sharing his experiences and thoughts with us!