random thoughts • coming attractions • euphoric visions • misc ephemera

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chiller Cha Cha

Okay, there's surreal and then there's surreal.

I made my first ever appearance yesterday at a Horror/Sci-Fi convention - the Chiller Theatre Expo at the Hilton in Parsippany, NJ. I came prepared with an eye-catching banner and a large pile of 8x10s to sign. Given the huge roster of celebrity guests, I figured I would be tucked away in one of the many small rooms the attendees wander in and out via a long corridor.

Well, as it turned out, Tracy Lords couldn't be there on Sunday. So Kevin Clement ( aka Mr. Chiller and the producer of the event) generously put me at her table. It was in the A-List staging area. Going around the room sitting to my left was Nancy Allen, Kimberly Brown and Patty Duke-Astin. To my right was Patricia Quinn (Magenta), Charlotte Lewis, Theresa Russell, Appolonia, Cheryl Tiegs, Ralph Macchio, Leslie Ann Warren, and John Astin. Opposite my table across the floor was LeVar Burton, Richard Roundtree and Linda Blair.

And then there was Sean Hannon... LOL!

Needless to say, I didn't really belong in that lineup (much as I would have liked), and I ought to have been in the back rooms with the cast of the original "Night of the Living Dead" or alongside the guy who played Mike Tee Vee in "Willy Wonka".

As you might guess, many of the attendees on a celebrity hunt who passed by my table looked at the banner, the photo and me and walked on, not at all sure who I was or what "Fire & Ice" was. Oh, and if you are one of them, go to my earlier blog entry of Oct 14, "Return of the Ice Lord". It will 'splain everything.

Anyway, it was a little disheartening, and with a small shrug, I was prepared for a long day ahead. But the few fans who knew I was going to be there, bringing with them a copy of the film on Blu-ray for me to sign, really made my day. Two of them were eager to start a campaign to get me in the Robert Rodriguez remake. And one guy completely floored me when he walked up and said "You did 'Deja Vu', right?" He was referring to my 3D thesis film. He apparently googled my name and found the link to my 3D work and watched it.

Yeah, it was a strange and wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about how to do this more effectively in future. One of the attendees suggested that I also consider doing the Comic Cons, as there might be more recognition and appreciation of Frazetta's name in that crowd.

But what a cool adventure (thanks again Kevin!!!) and what better way to spend Halloween than chatting with Magenta from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"?! My friend James was just getting used to the camera when he took this blurry shot, but I still think its great because it looks... well, time-warped!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Micro vs. Macro

It's a uniquely challenging experience to explore character animation from two extremes at the same time. I'm talking about the wide chasm between intricately noodled Animation Mentor projects (student work) and the demands of television production deadlines (professional work).

The "Team Umizoomi" work at Curious Pictures that I've been at for two months is now done. I contributed character animation to the two specials for Season Two, and it was a very satisfying experience. I worked alongside lead animator Katherine Vargas, a generous artist whose expert eye helped me nudge each shot to a fine polish. The word we were getting from the DIGI department and the animation director was that everyone was very pleased with how the cg characters were playing. Ask any little ones in your family to keep an eye out for the two-part episode titled "The King of Numbers". My shots involved a pirate, a crocodile, a flying dragon, and runaway mine carts.

Meanwhile, I am more than halfway through the Animation Mentor program where I am currently being mentored by Kenny Roy. We're in the fourth term "Intro to Acting". I'm in the polishing phase of a shot where Stewie is waxing his car.

So, how has it been a challenge to be doing both? Let me give you some numbers:

At Curious, I worked for 36 days on 43 shots totaling about 5,515 frames.
At Animation Mentor during the same time period, I was working on two shots, 250 frames apiece.

Quite a difference in how much time you have to design and develop a shot. It was a challenge to figure out how to adapt the luxurious time we have with AM shots to the time constraints of production.

I reached out to my predecessor at Curious, Jane Nechayevsky (who has gone on to work at Sony Imageworks in Culver City... go Jane!), and I asked her advice. Essentially it was to take about ten minutes to thumbnail your idea, then take the plunge and dive in. No time for arc tracking, just do it by eye. After all the careful planning we do at AM, I felt a bit disoriented. But after awhile, it got to feel like musical improvisation. And it was looking good.

I wondered how the one way of working would affect the other, and I am now confidant that the strengths of each approach add up to being able to deliver quality work faster. I can't post any of the Team Umizoomi work until it airs, and no one knows when that will be. I'll get my latest AM work up here soon. Now I'm packing up to go to the Chiller Convention and do my best Nekron snarl.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Return of the Ice Lord

Looks like my fifteen minutes of Warhol fame just got extended a few seconds longer. I've been invited to be a "celebrity guest" at the Chiller Theatre Convention in New Jersey this Halloween. My so-called celebrity stems from my performance as the evil Ice Lord Nekron in Ralph Bakshi's animated film, Fire & Ice, made in the summer of 1981. Seems it's become a cult classic now, and the film has more than a few fans. You live long enough, stuff like that happens.

The invitation came about last year when I went to visit Frank Frazetta at his art museum in Pennsylvania. I hadn't seen him since doing the film and we both enjoyed the brief reunion. (I am very fortunate to have visited when I did, as Frazetta passed away this last May)

While I was there, I met his associate Kevin Clement who managed Frank's museum and is the producer of the Chiller Theatre event. Kevin invited me to participate at his convention, and it seemed like a fun thing to do.

It is a little strange how that brief episode in my life back in '81 is reinstating itself. I not only met Frazetta again last year, but also Ralph Bakshi, the film's director, when he appeared at SVA to promote his book "Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi".

I had some fun surprising him from the audience during the Q&A, and he played along, directing me in a line-reading from of the film, which he of course critiqued unmercifully. Ralph is no longer making films, but is creating works of art on canvas, living in New Mexico.

Finally, I read recently that filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids) has negotiated with Bakshi to get the full rights to "Fire & Ice" to remake as a live action feature. That by itself has extended the shelf life of the original, and if this convention experience is as fun as it sounds, I could be doing them for awhile. Here's the URL of the convention:


If you are in Parsippany, NJ on Halloween day with nothing to do, come by the Hilton and say hello. And I'll commiserate with you over being in Parsippany, NJ on Halloween day with nothing to do. Look for me under this 6' banner...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

A lot of work goes into the development of our thesis films made at SVA. A two-year process starts out with kicking around story ideas, followed by preliminary sketches, then storyboards, animatics, early modeling, pre-vis renders... it's a lot of material that usually ends up stored in the closet when the final film is made. Apparently this is not to be the fate of my project.

I was just contacted by a college professor I met at the Santa Fe Film Festival last October, where "Deja Vu" was part of the lineup. He teaches screenwriting at Santa Fe University, and I had the opportunity to share some of my storyboard materials with him.

He just emailed me with a request to include all my development materials - script, storyboard, and pre-vis for "Deja Vu" in a textbook he is writing for 2011 publication!

I said yes.

(you can be sure I'll work in a credit for SVA and Jeffrey Lerer)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yo Ho!

Took the #6 subway to Astor Place all last week, working at Curious Pictures animating characters on a Nick Jr. show called "Team Umizoomi". This is a show in the Blues Clues genre geared for toddlers. An additional perk to working here is enjoying the company of Angelo Collazo, a friend who shared the SVA experience with me.

This is my first NY job working with character animation in Maya, and it's great to be able to play with performance. I always knew that my prior acting experience would assist me with my animation work, but it's funny how direct it is right off the bat. While I probably shouldn't say what characters I am working on ( I don't recall signing a non-disclosure agreement, but who knows how many 3-to-5 year olds are reading this, and I don't want to throw out any spoilers ;^), so here are two pics from past acting and puppeteering roles that are proving to be useful reference for them.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tennis Tantrum à la McEnroe

Here are some of my latest exercises being done at Animation Mentor. I'm doing the "AnimJam", where you create three related shots that can be strung together.Here are the first two sections...

Part 1:

Tennis Tantrum Part 2 from Sean Hannon on Vimeo.

Friday, August 6, 2010

When Work Is Play, Is It Still Work?

I am now home from Siggraph and catching up on my honeydew list. As I said before, I had intended to blog throughout my week of Siggraph, but my duties there kept me too busy to write, and when I actually did have a moment, well...

Before I continue, I want to explain to my friends who do not live in 3D computer land what Siggraph is: this is an annual convention where professionals and hobbyists involved in the creation and development of computer graphics come to celebrate their work. It features something for everyone... eye-popping presentations of behind-the-scenes work on major 3D films, to over a hundred in-depth panels with computer scientists and engineers on their latest innovations in this field.

This year I was working as a Team Leader in the Student Volunteer program. The venue that Victor Leung and I were assigned was West Hall B, a gigantic space that was host to the Computer Animation Festival, Electronic Theater, Real-Time CAF, and Papers Fast Forward. It held upwards of 3,000 people and featured all the spectacular "Making of.. " sessions that included "Avatar", "Alice in Wonderland", Pixar's "Day & Night", and the upcoming "Tron:Legacy".

Our task throughout the week was to smoothly move the eager hordes in and out of the venue, passing out thousands of 3D Glasses, handling lines that stretched from one end of the convention center to the other, and genially answering all the questions that came our way. It was a real pleasure to do, and I think all of the Team Leaders and the Student Volunteers this year helped every attendee to an exceptionally positive experience. Of course, the leadership of the SV Committee, helmed by Jason Jerald, made it all possible. We would have all walked off a cliff like lemmings if they told us to. They were a remarkable team.

When I did have some breakaway time to enjoy the rest of the conference, I managed to take in Emerging Technologies, where the future of 3D interactivity is revealed in its nascent form. The Exhibition Hall had some fun demos going on at the Autodesk and Pixelogic booth.

But if I saw nothing else (and this includes all the events in West Hall B!), I couldn't have been more thrilled than I was to be at the "Animation Blockbuster Breakdown" panel talk. This event, sponsored by Animation Magazine and Animation Mentor, featured four world-class animators showing how they each developed a specific shot in films like "Up", "Toy Story 3", "Princess & The Frog". They started with the initial notes they got, what research they did to develop the character, on to their blocking pass, getting director's feedback, their adjustments to the notes, and the final version.

The first to speak was Eric Goldberg, one of the best traditional animators working today, showing how he developed the alligator in "The Princess & The Frog".

He didn't just tell us, he SHOWED us as he drew out the character as he spoke, illustrating the subtle changes he made to the physical attributes of the character based on his observations. He stepped through key pose sketches of Louis as he is playing the trumpet, and he made the entire room marvel aloud at the masterful audacity of his most extreme poses.
(this one is mild by comparison)

Aaron Hartline outlined how he developed a shot from "Toy Story 3" when Mr. PotatoHead (running around with a tortilla for a body) has a run in with a hungry pigeon.

Finding reference for how a tortilla moves was his big challenge, and he says he found it in a popular YouTube video of an extremely drunk man trying to get more beer out of a convenience store refrigerator.
Brilliant choice for reference!

Michal Makarewicz is masterful at nuanced, subtle character animation, and he proved it with his description of how he handled a shot in "Up" with the character Muntz, the mysterious explorer. He had to carry the scene forward with the character in almost complete stillness, communicating everything in Muntz's face.

He was also told not to move the prime light source, a lantern close to his Muntz's head. But there was one short section of the scene that he felt strongly about moving the lantern to a lower position, and he showed how it was sometimes possible to develop an idea you feel strongly about and win approval for it. His main message to us was "Aim for truth, not glitz"

Finally, we wrapped up with the amazing Carlos Baena, whose work on the Spanish Buzz Lightyear in "Toy Story 3" was pure inspiration as we watched his hilarious reference videos of him flamenco dancing around a hapless office mate.

Yes, he did get genuine Spanish dancer footage off the internet, but it was his own homegrown reference footage that really made the sequence fly! Ole!!

That was absolutely the pinnacle for me as events went.

But as wonderful as taking that session in was, my main reason for my attendance at Siggraph this year was to meet new people and network. And this turned out to be a very fruitful event on that score. And that's all I need to say about that.

Finally, when the days were done, we had the parties at night. Alas, I didn't make the notorious Blur party this year (eh, you've seen one fire dancer you've seen them all, lol) but I did get to some great ones. My favorite was the Animation Mentor party at Boardner's, a nightclub in Hollywood. That was a shoulder-to-shoulder high octane affair where I got to meet some of my fellow classmates, and a few moments of conversation with AM maestro Bobby Boom Beck! Siggraph was an exciting milestone and portent of great things to come!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I'm sitting down in the Student Volunteer office catching my breath with just a few minutes to try to blog some moments of my SIGGRAPH adventure. I thought I'd try doing this throughout the conference, but as a Team Leader shepherding SVs to their work venues I have almost no time to sit down to do this. It's been a fantastic experience overall, and I couldn't be happier doing what I am doing, which is facilitating the smooth flow of attendee traffic into the Computer Animation Festival and Electronic Theater events. And the incredible people I am meeting and having conversations with is making my head spin a bit.

The committee staff of the Student Volunteer program has gone to great pains to make the experience a rewarding one for the TLs as well as the SVs. We were treated to a tour of Dreamworks on Friday during the pre-conference period.

During our walk through this BEAUTIFUL campus-like environment I had a unique encounter.

We were being escorted through this plaza, and our tourguide said "Hi Scott!" to an employee walking by. I turned to look at him and said incredulously, "Scott? Scott Seiffert??" He looked at me and took five seconds to go from a look of "huh?" to a huge smile of recognition. You see, the last time I saw Scott was 23 years ago when we performed in a small musical in Santa Monica, CA. This was the same musical where I met wife Emilie (who played my wife in the show), and Scotty was at our wedding.

I was so taken aback by this random encounter I forgot to take a picture of the two of us there. I asked him what he was doing here, and he said he was working as a pitchman for Dreamworks. As he played the Jester to my King Mark in the musical, I could easily see him pitching the plot of the latest Shrek film, playing all the characters! And I told him of my getting started in my new career as a character animator. We were both astounded at this random and fun encounter. Hopefully I will catch up with him some more before I leave CA. More about my SIGGRAPH experience soon!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Heading into Round Three

Animation Mentor has delivered in a really big way. And I'm only in my third session.

Until you are working in a large production house like Pixar or Dreamworks, I doubt that there exists any other place where you can receive the over-the-shoulder guidance from as many top pros in the animation business as you do with this small online company. Every class has been illuminating, and something new has been learned with each exercise.

It isn't so much that they have some secret that no one else has. It's all out there in the many books by animator legends. It's simply that without the feedback and critical eye, you don't develop your own eye as fast as you might otherwise. In the short time I've been there, I know that I am seeing differently. I've had this reflected in the comments I am getting from TDs and producers who have viewed the progress. It's a good path, and a great followup to the excellent training I received at SVA.

Friends of mine who are not in the business have asked me why I felt I needed this training after my four years of college. I tell them that the college experience and class instruction was a thorough immersion in all the areas of our profession. We swam in some deep waters, and there was a level of intensity and energy surrounding all that we were taking in. And the totality of the experience certainly prepared you for any job in the field you were aiming for.

That said, there is a price to be paid for such complete exposure to every part of the animation pipeline. You don't get a lot of time to focus on any one thing and nurture it with your undivided attention. To really get animation into your bones and begin to see it and feel it, and force that 3D program to bend to your will and not the reverse, you need to make the time to practice, get feedback, and practice some more. That's what Animation Mentor is doing for me while I am working my day job as a commercial animator. Here's the latest compilation of my AM work, beginning with the latest project and working backwards:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Method Movement for Animators at SVA

I just came back from a fun visit to SVA today where the 3D Animator's Club was treated to a special four-hour movement class with visiting artist Jena Necrason, the Head of Movement at the Stella Adler Studio. She was invited by Jimmy Calhoun to do a special session with the student character animators there. It was an amazing workout. She put us in touch with our primary instrument as animators - our own bodies - and got us loose and limber in no time.

We did a series of physical movement exercises designed to quiet our minds of all the daily chatter, heighten our powers of observation and awareness of balance. We walked the space exploring inner states of mind and amplified them physically without losing the truth in the motion. We mirrored our partner's actions, trading off the lead, becoming more sensitive to the slightest impulses.

Jena then had us wear masks - neutral in expression - and that opened up some amazing behaviors in everyone. Jena called out key words and phrases, and we were asked to physicalize them spontaneously. I wish someone had a video camera to record it, because by this time, the expressions were uninhibited, rich and diverse - and excellent reference for an animator!

At the end of this session, we talked about the experience and what our take away from it was. We agreed that the most effective physicality occurred when it started at the core, the hips and spine, and emanated throughout our body. It was eye-opening to many who had never done this type of work what a great tool this is to get in touch with whatever character you can conceive. As an actor, I have experienced many classes similar to this, but that was quite awhile ago. I'm so glad I came in to share the class as I rediscovered the immense value of this preparation to my current work as an animator.

Kudos to MontaQue Ruffin, Jimmy Calhoun, and JMac for making this exceptional seminar happen.