Talent Spotlight: Carl Johnson

We'd like to introduce you to Carl Johnson, a talented Emmy-winning composer of music for film, TV, stage and new media. He's spent much of his impressive career working on animated projects, which we wanted to explore further in this blog post. Enjoy!

How did you become interested in music/composing music?

I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old, and from the very beginning I picked out little tunes that I made up for fun. I also played trombone in marching band at school and several times in high school I wrote arrangements for the band to play. I always treated music as a hobby, and never took it that seriously until I was in college. I had been taking some music classes at the University of Kansas just for fun (I was a pre-med major) but soon found I was spending all my time on music-related activities and finally decided to change my major to music half way through school.

My first interest in film music definitely started when I got the original Star Wars album as a kid. I remember wearing out the “Cantina Band” track because I thought it was so cool. I played it over and over.

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What was the first project you composed music for?

I didn’t plan it, but I really started my freelance career in animation. The first project I was hired to compose for was an animated series called Goof Troop by Disney TV Animation. The head composer was Mark Watters and he was looking for people to help him out. I got a nice recommendation from Bruce Broughton, who was an instructor of mine at the USC Film Music program, and Mark brought me on board to be part of his team. I worked for Mark on a few series (Goof Troop, Bonkers, Raw Toonage, Marsupilami) for Disney, then met Richard Stone and Shirley Walker who invited me to help them on their projects at Warner Brothers (Taz-Mania, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Batman: The Animated Series). That whole period in the ‘90s was such a booming time for animation and animation music. We got to work with live players several times a week. The studios were really putting a lot of resources into their shows.

Was it a hard industry to break into? What were the biggest challenges for you to break into the industry?

I was lucky, in that I got some really nice recommendations early on. It used to be a tradition in town that the more established composers would really make an effort to help out the newer ones trying to break in. I had some wonderful mentors in Rich Stone, Shirley Walker, Bruce Broughton and Mark Watters.

But really the industry has evolved to the place where you’re constantly trying to break in. The biggest challenge is trying to make an effort to meet new filmmakers, and constantly re-invent yourself. I find that I spend much more time marketing than I do actual composing!

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What is your process when creating music for animated projects?

Animated projects are different from live-action ones in that you often don’t see final picture until the final mix of the film. It’s not uncommon to start composing music to very early drawings that only approximate the timing of the final film. Before animation was done digitally, they always started out with hand-drawn storyboards that were filmed and edited into a rough assembly of the project and synchronized with the recorded dialog. I would often start with these “Leica Reels” or sometimes just a script. And begin coming up with themes from those.

Once an initial creative meeting is held with the creative team, I go home to my studio and start work, either sitting at a piano or in front of a computer. I’ve had to learn to be very organized about getting the music written and ready in time to deliver it. I usually figure out how many total minutes of music I have to write, divide it by the total days I have available and come up with a minutes-per-day number that is my daily goal when I’m writing. I’ll start working at 4:00 am and finish around 5:00 pm so I can have dinner with my family, where I’ll complain about not meeting my daily quota.

Congratulations on your Emmy! How has winning an Emmy changed your career?

Thanks! Actually two Emmys. :-) It’s hard to say what would be different without them, but it’s a nice marketing tool. Sometimes it will get you in a door that would otherwise be closed. The best part is being in the TV academy and getting screener videos for that year’s Emmy Awards. It’s a good way to see the best of what’s going on without having to spend days watching TV to find it!

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

There are lots of little quirks and challenges with every project. One experience that sticks in my head is writing the music for the end of the Hunchback of Notre Dame II. There’s a scene where Quasimodo is ringing a bell for something like a minute and fifteen seconds while dialog and action happen over it. I had to come up with a piece of music that supported the action, stayed out of the way of the dialog, and matched the exact tempo and pitch of the bell that was ringing away for 76 consecutive tolls during all that time. It was certainly a challenge!

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What project are you currently working on?

I’m currently helping put together music for an animation-inspired theme park in the UAE. I’m also actively writing several works for musical theater (www.bagelsthemusical.com, www.marymariemusical.com) and doing short films and projects as I can. This year I helped orchestrate music for the features Finding Dory and the Magnificent Seven as well as wrote the score for an independent feature called “Price for Freedom.” There’s always something interesting going on!

Conducting the Magnificent Seven. Photo Cred: ScoringSessions.com

Conducting the Magnificent Seven. Photo Cred: ScoringSessions.com

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

I’d love to keep working in animation, especially recording scores with an orchestra. My favorite experiences in this business have been conducting in a big recording space surrounded by dozens of expert musicians all working to create emotional, dramatic music. As a composer it just doesn’t get any better than that! 

We'd like to thank Carl for taking the time to let us interview him, and we are so lucky we are able to collaborate with such a talented musician on our projects. Carl did the scores for both Bink, and the MagicMeeMees web series for us, and we look forward to continue working with him in the future!

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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.

Bink in 3D World Magazine... Again!

We are very excited to once again have Bink be featured in the 3D World Magazine.  In this article Bink's animator Scott Raymond shares 10 Animation Tips and Tricks to help us all become better animators.  We have been very humbled by all the attention Bink's first episode has received, and it is thanks to the very talented crew members like Scott.  

Scott Raymond

I had the privilege of first working with Scott at DreamWorks Animation on Madagascar 3. After 8 years at DreamWorks Animation Scott left, and started teaching and developing a new animation program at Austin Peay State University.  When I was looking for an animator to help with Bink I reached out to Scott, and he agreed to come on board.  Scott was recently featured as one of our Talent Spotlights, so to learn more about him check out the post here.

To read the Bink article click the image below or to read other great articles in the September issue of 3D World Magazine you can purchase issue 211 at the 3D World Magazine's website.

Click image to see the full article.

Click image to see the full article.

After reading the Tips and Tricks watch Bink to see Scott's advice put into action.

 
 

Best regards,

 

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! 

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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.

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.