rhythm&hues

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I encourage everyone to watch this heartbreaking documentary about the dissolution of the accomplished and lauded visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues (where some friends of mine worked), yet another high-profile casualty of the collapsing VFX industry due the turbulent, ill-structured quagmire that is the movie business. My old buddy Scott Leberecht did a wonderful job directing and editing this story. Definitely worth 30 minutes of your time, particularly if you make your living where art and commerce overlap.

All things have the capacity for speech – all beings have the ability to communicate something of themselves to other beings. Indeed, what is perception if not the experience of this gregarious, communicative power of things, wherein even ostensibly ‘inert’ objects radiate out of themselves, conveying their shapes, hues, and rhythms to other beings and to us, influencing and informing our breathing bodies though we stand far apart from those things?

Not just animals and plants, then, but tumbling waterfalls and dry riverbeds, gusts of wind, compost piles and cumulus clouds, freshly painted houses (as well as houses abandoned and sometimes haunted), rusting automobiles, feathers, granite cliffs and grains of sand, tax forms, dormant volcanoes, bays and bayous made wretched by pollutants, snowdrifts, shed antlers, diamonds, and daikon radishes, all are expressive, sometimes eloquent and hence participant in the mystery of language. Our own chatter erupts in response to the abundant articulations of the world: human speech is simply our part of a much broader conversation.

It follows that the myriad things are also listening, or attending, to various signs and gestures around them. Indeed, when we are at ease in our animal flesh, we will sometimes feel we are being listened to, or sensed, by the earthly surroundings. And so we take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than a merely human meaning and resonance. This care – this full-bodied alertness – is the ancient, ancestral source of all word magic. It is the practice of attention to the uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world’s unfolding.


― David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Animator Interview - Disney Animator, Daniel Klug

Name: Daniel Klug

Tell us a little about yourself. (We know there is more to people than being an animator.):

Well, I’m more nerd than anything else - a child of the internet, video games, and Saturday morning cartoons. I love all forms of media and I have an unending thirst for storytelling and entertainment. Animation in 3D is a perfect blend of engineering and artistry, so naturally I was drawn to it. For fun, I’m usually programming or playing games.

Reel:

Daniel Klug - Frozen Animation Reel from Daniel Klug on Vimeo.

This is my Frozen animation reel. You can find more of my stuff on my Vimeo page.

Where do you work and how long have you been there?

Walt Disney Feature Animation. Almost 3 years now. I started working here on Wreck-It Ralph.

What are some of your past jobs?

Previous to Disney, I joined Rhythm&Hues in 2010 for their Animation Apprenticeship program. I got my start in film working on Hop and Alvin & the Chipmunks 3. Before that, I was in the commercial industry doing motion graphics, FX, and design work.

Where did you do to school?

Self taught up until AnimationMentor in 2008. From there, while at R+H, I continued my education with iAnimate and then Animation Collaborative. Collab was in-person, which meant I had to drive from LA to Emmeryville every Friday night for 15 weeks to take that class. Believe me, it was worth it.

What made you decide to be an animator?

Storytelling is my biggest drive. And no part of the process gets closer to telling stories with emotional beats than animation. Once the characters start moving, the story is alive.

What is your favorite part about being an animator?

The work is absolutely rewarding and extremely difficult. I thrive on challenges. I love solving problems and I have a fascination for acting. Animation is the perfect blend of technical and artistic expression.

What’s your favorite kind of animation?

I love going to the theater to see giant robots fighting - it’s my guilty pleasure. But my number one would be that perfect blend of cartoony and hyper-natural movement. Somewhere between Tangled and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs would be the sweet spot for me. But seriously, Pacific Rim is pure ambrosia.

What’s your software preference?

Maya is such a powerful tool if you learn how it works. And I mean, deeply. In the past 2 years, I’ve been teaching myself Mel and Python and learning the Maya API. I’m able to write tools to help the entire pipeline. Other studios tend to use proprietary software, so I’m not sure how customizable they can get. Maya is a fantastic framework to build upon.

What does your workflow look like?

It’s very reference heavy with a huge push toward caricatured physics and posing. I use ref for nuance and natural, proportional timing. But then everything else is pushed into the style of the character and film.

How do you prepare for a new shot?

I really try to understand the purpose of the shot first. What it means in the film and why the character is making the choices they are making. Once I understand things from the character’s point of view, acting choices tend to seem natural and easier to come by. It’s easier to know what is the right choice and wrong choice. Then I shoot a lot of ref, trying to get that nice timing and efficiency. Then it’s deep into blocking.

What is the aspect of animation that you struggled with the most and how did you move past that struggle?

I struggle a lot with the rigs. There tends to always be something I want to do that the rig doesn’t do naturally. So, I break the rig over and over again. Unfortunately, there isn’t an elegant way past this problem unless you remodel the character on the fly.

What are some of the ways you manage your time so that you can get everything done in time?

Sometimes, the shot is going to go longer than anticipated. It’s the nature of the beast. The best thing I can do is to keep the communication going between the supes and the producers about my predictions of when the shot is going to land.

What are some of the things you look for before you declare your shot complete?

I never declare my shot complete. That’s entirely up to the director and production. There is always soooo much more I would love to do to my shots before they are pushed downstream. I would love to take a fine-tooth comb to the whole thing and make sure all parts are moving in perfect concert; never starting or stopping at the same time, yet maintaining a relationship in movement and energy.

What’s your favorite animated movie, short, and game?

UGH, this is a tough question. There isn’t a king of the hill in my mind, but the top three would be: The Incredibles, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Wreck-It Ralph. Shorts-wise, I love Burning Safari and Octopodi. Game: Bioshock Infinite, Mass Effect 2, Half Life 2, and WoW (still recovering).

What do you do when you get animator’s block?

Take a walk, get Starbucks. Ask friends what they think of the shot. Watch some movies, surf the internet, procrastinate, then suddenly get a flash of inspiration. That seems to do the trick.

What do you use to get inspired?

My life is filled with art, movies, and video games. I’m never short of inspiration.

What is your favorite experience as an animator?

Every time I final a shot where the director sees it and says, “Wow. That’s awesome. Let’s watch it again.”

What are your favorite animation resources that other animators might find useful?

You can get a ton of helpful scripts and tools from a place like creativecrash.com And animal reference from rhinohouse.com

How do you take your Chipotle Burrito?

Burrito Bowl with no rice or beans, extra veggies, carnitas, sour cream, cheese, guacamole. Smothered in chipotle tobasco.

If you could direct a project, what would it be?

A Disney-Animated spin-off Star Wars movie. I don’t even care what character it’s about. A guy can dream.

Do you have any advice for students and animators trying to find their break?

There was a time I was working at R+H and I just knew that I wasn’t going to have a good enough reel to get me a job after the contract. So I enrolled into an online school to keep learning and keep growing - at a rate faster than I could at work. People told me I was crazy because I was already working. But here’s the thing: You don’t ever get to a point where you “deserve a job because you worked hard.” At the end of the day, if your shots aren’t entertaining, or your execution is lacking polish, your entire reel is easily dismissed. It’s a subjective industry and very difficult to pinpoint what exactly people want to see. Work hard to make shots that are special and appealing. My advice would be to keep learning and keep animating. Oh, and an easy point to make: if you are still learning mechanics or even how to polish, stick to shots that are short. Like 6 seconds max. You’ll learn just as much in a 100 frames as you will in a 500 frame shot. And you won’t be stuck for months working on the same shot. Finish short shots and move on.

vimeo

Kevin Jackson, an ex supervisor from Rhythm and Hues just put out his short.  It’s crazy fun animation in the Looney Toons style.  Check it out!

youtube

LIFE AFTER PI is a short documentary about Rhythm & Hues Studios, the L.A. based Visual Effects company that won an Academy Award for its groundbreaking work on “Life of Pi” – just two weeks after declaring bankruptcy. The film explores rapidly changing forces impacting the global VFX community and the Film Industry as a whole.

youtube

Life After Pi.

Please watch this to get a sense of what happened with Rhythm & Hues when they went bankrupt before winning the Oscar.
Also a great explanation of how the industry works and how fucking crazy the system is.
I’m a part of this :(
Seriously, guys.
Fucking heartbreaking.