random thoughts • coming attractions • euphoric visions • misc ephemera

life is getting real interesting lately, isn't it?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Unforgettable SIGGRAPH, Unforgettable Team

I have just returned home from an extraordinary SIGGRAPH 2013 conference in Anaheim. It was a success on so many levels, and was by far the best SIGGRAPH I have experienced in all the years I have been involved with this organization.

Nothing like what took place last week happens in a vacuum. This powerhouse of activity was the result of a year’s worth of hard work and careful planning by many people.  It would have been impossible to achieve without the support, trust and guidance of a solid team.  I was fortunate to have all of that serving on the Student Volunteer Subcommittee led by Gracie Arenas Strittmatter. She assembled the perfect team and we worked to support each other at all the critical moments.

The six of us charged with building the Student Volunteer program this year – Jeremy, Callie, Megan, Gracie, Carlin and I – each had our strengths in different areas that came on full force at just the right time. Any weaknesses were compensated for by the others and were effectively nulled out.

I’m sure I was the least useful member of the team in the early building phase of the program. Anything to do with coding complex databases and troubleshooting our SIGGRAPH Information System (SIS) was not my area of expertise and the others on the team tackled that with Left Brain elan.  My hat is off to Gracie in particular for managing the construction of this solid foundation.

It was really interesting to me to observe when the individual strengths of each member of our team really shone. This is highly subjective, of course, but as I saw it each one of us had their so-called “sweet spot”.

Callie Holderman was our high-caliber Marketing lead, and she was consistently busy lifting our profile on Facebook and Twitter, raising the SVSC’s profile with elegantly produced Intro Videos, handling the Student Status verifications and partnering with Megan on the SV Handbook. Her key strength was the antennae she kept out (yes, she is part alien) to catch whatever was in need of bolstering; a natural born multitasker.

Megan Mohler was our Communications lead, and she was adept at responding to the multitudes of emails from eager SVs wanting to know who-what-when-and-where (I don’t think she ever explained why). She created wonderfully fun pre-conference games online to help in SV training. Once we arrived at the conference, boy, did “Mama Hen” come out! That was her key strength, and she was there for every SV. She was also there for the five of us working behind the front desk with bags of throat lozenges.

Carlin Yuen, a joy to all of us with his unique life observations and his prodigious appetite, was the Systems Development lead and he was truly our tech guru. Tackling SIS to the ground, his ability to come up with useful database solutions quickly was astonishing at times. His solutions kept getting more creative as we went, such as the onsite Master To-Do Spreadsheet that dynamically changed color coding for entries made by specific people and for levels of completion. Incredibly helpful and fun stuff!

Jeremy Kenisky, our Program Manager, was our dapperly-dressed “silent partner” at the weekly meetings, shadowing Gracie’s steps as he prepares to take the helm in 2014. He took on all the Team Leader training, helping them with Jury selections and understanding their roles onsite. For me, his key strength came to the fore during the conference as he maintained a cool approach to all crises that arose. He used that cool to diffuse, mediate and calmly resolve any difficulty. I picked up on those cues and learned a lot from him.

I was the Industry Relations lead, and I had the enormous pleasure of reaching out to top companies and artists to request their participation in the Special Sessions for our SVs. I created the SV Pamphlet guide for those sessions, organized an SV Social (and learned what a delivery of 75 pizzas looks like!), coordinated post-conference tours, and worked with the Donations Committee to collect and catalogue the wonderful prizes we gave away to our hard working students at week's end. If I had to choose a key strength, it would be the ability to stay open and adapt to all contingencies with a trust that it will somehow all work out.

Finally, our fearless and ebullient leader and 2013 SV Chair, Gracie Arenas Strittmatter, was the grand orchestrator of all these things. She set the tone and pace of our weekly meetings which were always fun and productive. She partnered with each of us to help keep things on track, and I found out when I submitted my outreach letters for approval what a sharp editor she is. I feel her key strengths lay in her ability to keep this massive juggernaut in focus and under control, and in her ability to delegate and let us run with our initiatives. Good work, Gracie!

These people are the reason that the SV Program shone so brightly this year. We were just one of many programs that made up the full SIGGRAPH experience, and we felt the full support of Mk Haley, the 2013 Conference Chair, and everyone in Conference Management who helped us keep things running so smoothly. I’ll go into more detail about my personal achievements in the blog entries to follow, but I wanted to first acknowledge my good friends without whom this dream event would not have been possible.     
--- Sean

Sunday, December 23, 2012


The Pivotvfx start date is now the 7th of January, so I'll have some time to explore my new neighborhood in Albuquerque. Thanks to a good friend, I've rented a casita near Old Town that is just perfect. It's 1 mile from work, and I'll have the use of a bicycle too. I'm checking around the neighborhood, and there do seem to be some interesting places to visit during my free time, including a live rattlesnake museum about five blocks away. As if I didn't have enough to keep me awake at night.
Nice to have this extra time to transition from home life in CT. The next four months should be so busy that I won't notice the passage of time, but I imagine there will be moments that take me by surprise and remind me how far away I am. Despite the distance and time apart, however, this is a journey that my wife and I are taking together. It is one that we have been working on for many years. Time to toast. To a Happy and Prosperous New Year!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vision Accomplished

This shot has taken me on quite a journey. And I feel that it has come very close to what I saw in my mind's eye. I loved the process of sharing it with my colleagues as it developed. You all helped me enormously, and I am very grateful to you. Because of your experience and input, I created a shot that is so much better than I would have been able to produce entirely on my own. And I also see all the remaining flaws. I know how much better it could be with more time and polish (and yes, fewer poses!), but it is time to put this puppy to bed. I have a new adventure to prepare for... in Albuquerque.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Game Changer

The Mayan's prediction of a cataclysmic change on Dec 21st, 2012 has been largely regarded as a portent of doom. But there are others who have interpreted the Mayans' message as one that signifies great change that doesn't necessarily mean bad stuff is coming. Just big stuff. Life altering stuff.

For me, that change just occurred when I was invited to join the animation team at Pivotvfx for a five-month feature character animation project in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It's been about a week since I was sent the offer, and I am only now emerging from a dream state. This is huge. Pivotvfx is a new company comprised of seasoned industry veterans who decided to stay in Albuquerque when Sony Imageworks closed their facility there. And I will be under the supervision of their Animation Director, David Tart, a man with extensive animation and directorial credits at Pixar, Blue Sky, DNA, and other studios around the world.

I know how hard I have worked for this chance, and I know how lucky I am to have been given it. I am overwhelmed every time I think of how much I will grow as an animator in this environment. Five months is going to go by very fast!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Home Stretch!

Well, despite a hurricane, and a job that disappeared on me after the hurricane (they were located in lower Manhattan), I managed to hunker down at home and push my shot to a satisfying conclusion. It's about to get some much needed polish. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share their observations and guidance. I learned more from doing this shot than I have in a long time.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Painful Progress

This shot has been merciless, and it has taken me to the mat like no other that I have worked on to date. All the limitations I have with my equipment, my spare time, and my abilities as an animator are being pushed to the edge.

Frustrating as this process has been though, I have found it to be one of the most exciting learning experiences in advancing my know-how for troubleshooting a shot, and despite the aggravating setbacks I inch closer to the kind of work I want to be achieving.

So, I'm halfway there, with Anne's performance splined fully, but only Malcolm's first shot has been splined, with the rest of his performance still in stepped mode. In the last shot, I moved Anne closer to camera, and I think that was a mistake. I need to move her back closer to where she was in the previous blocking. While I have adapted my usual workflow to these nasty roadblocks, I feel in control of the shot and on track to complete it.

I would mostly like to know from you all if the first two splined shots in this scene are working for you.

Click on the picture below to see the current playblast:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Second blocking pass "make 'em weep, Ann"

Here is the second blocking pass that I am sharing for any critique you have. I appreciated all the emails I got on the first pass, and they were enormously helpful! I incorporated suggestions for some poses, pushing for emotional clarity, and worked on refining the timing, spacing and adding breakdowns. I have more to do here, but I think I am close to moving into spline. And I can't wait to put in the lipsync and work on the facial animation!

By the way, I hit a technical limitation with my equipment that has made this shot my Rock of Sisyphus over the last two weeks. The shot is gobbling up all my RAM, and I've been crashing constantly with memory exceptions and runtime errors after spending even a little time on the shot. I believe this is due to the wrap deformers that both characters use, and I have now learned to employ routines like swapping out unwrapped references, and that has helped alot. But I need to tweak shirt lines and belt orientation as I go, so I have to bring the hires wrapped versions back in every now and then. I'm learning how to dance near the edge of the cliff and save before the crashes. When I have the performances where I want them, I can break out the characters into two separate shots, and that will get me to the finish line. Anyway, here's my second blocking pass: