We had another brilliant speaker come by last week for the Emergent Landscape Speaker Series. Michael Eringis, former senior director of Blue Sky Studios, stopped by to talk to us about computer animation, collaboration, and the history of his career at Blue Sky Studios.
Michael began with the history of computer animation starting in the 1960s which began with a group of rocket scientist that really wanted to make cartoons. It is important to trace technology down to its beginnings, to see the rough prototypes and think about the individuals who had the imagination to create something before there was even an infrastructure to support it. Seeing the hours spent just to make a ball move by a rag tag group of rocket scientist if anything, should give you courage to try whatever project you’ve got cooking on the back burner.
I didn’t realize it before we met but I am a big fan of his work. Ice Age (1-3) and Robots are still in heavy rotation around my house and as any parent will tell you: there are not enough well made intelligent children’s movies out there. Especially ones you can sit through a few dozen times without wanting to run our the door. Thank you Blue Sky Studios! I have a hole new appreciation for computer animation now.
It was really fascinating to get an inside look at the production pipeline of these movies. From the writing and scripting all the way through to the final render times (80 hours to render one frame x 24 frames per second) (Ice Age was 81 minutes long x 60 seconds in a minute) = 9,331,200 hours of render time! That would be on one machine of course but still! Nuts!
One of the more relevant takeaways of this event is how directors of these films get passionate about an idea and then get others to get just as excited about it. People rally behind the cause, compromise “every individual let’s go a little” and “everybody is free and accepting of other people opinions.” All of these are fundamental of collaboration. Collaboration, sometimes watered down as a buzzword, is actually very hard to do well. You can tell when a group gets the formula right when they don’t mind putting in hours and hours to make something magical happen. Like fur bouncing along on a tail as a creature made only of 0’s and 1’s bounces across an ice drift. Hours and hours of people’s lives made that possible, all to make children laugh. Makes your inbox seem a little less daunting doesn’t it?
Michael was very gracious in thinking that we, as grad students, probably already knew how to organize a project correctly. But he gave us all a great gift when he showed us how he does it:
Set a Plan:
Make a pipeline with half way point.
How much time do you have?
What are your strengths?
Know Your Resources:
What are your hardware/software capabilities?
Teachers – they are smart, utilize them.
Tweak, but don’t turn back.
Finally, I was relieved to hear him speak about his departure from a 16 year long career to spend more time with his family. It takes courage to walk away from a job you’ve fused your identity too and dedicated so many years of your life to. When he started doing less art and more administrative work he found himself less and less involved in the creative process while left to manage production in a way that can be really draining day in and day out. It is a cautionary tale to us artist of the world.