Last week mega-corporation Comcast purchased my old employer, Dreamworks Animation for 3.8 billion dollars. It marks the end of an era in feature animation. Whatever criticism there is for Jeffery Katzenberg, one thing cannot be denied: Dreamworks had a dream culture. I say this from the perspective of having spent nearly six years there and at both campuses (at the main hub in Glendale and at PDI in Redwood City). Looking past all the perks, there was a feeling of creative safety coming from top-down that's hard for me to describe, except in comparison with other work places that operate either on fear-based tactics or mindless corporate jargon. You could feel the difference there, and see many of it's consequences day to day. I won't go so far as to say it was perfect- it wasn't- but it was pretty special. With hope, Comcast will be wise enough to preserve this unique feature of a unique studio!
Here I am in 2009 outside the main gate in Glendale, just before starting there.
I worked on this film for two and a half years (!) and although it was a box office dud and not a great film story-wise, I am nonetheless very proud of how it came out visually. This is simply due to top notch art directors and concept artists, one of which I would like to feature here. Priscilla Wong was responsible for coming up artwork that we, as 3d modelers, would use for inspiration, and in many cases direct reference. I highly recommend that you take a look at her post showcasing the amazing work she did for our project at Dreamworks.
Some big news today: I've accepted a management position at the world's largest toy maker, LEGO! I'll be joining a small team of talented artists and designers, working in the company's growing digital division. Since the success of the Lego movie last year, sales have gone through the roof and they are now expanding in all directions, digital included.
It marks the start of a new era for me as for the first time in ten years, I'm going to be working outside of the feature animation industry. I guess you could call me a digital toy maker now. It also means the Lyman family will be moving abroad again- Lego is headquartered in the beautiful countryside of Denmark. We got a little taste of it when the company flew my wife and I out for the second interview... we fell in love pretty quick. I'll be starting in a few months, and I couldn't be more excited. Onward!
Today at 1:15 in the afternoon I attended an all hands meeting along side several hundred of my co-workers at PDI Dreamworks. A small stage had been put together in our commissary area with a blue background covered in Dreamworks logos. After a few moments, Jeffrey Katzenberg stepped in front of a microphone, and in a down cast voice, proceeded to explain that in order to get our feature animation division back on track, the company has to layoff 500 employees and completely shut down it’s northern California Dreamworks branch in Redwood City, PDI.
News that a layoff was headed our way had already reached most employees by the time they came in to work on Monday, but nobody really expected things to go this far. We had weathered large layoffs in the past- after our film ‘Rise of the Guardians’ flopped at the box office in 2011, we were forced to reduce staff in similar numbers, but our presence in Silicon Valley was never in question.
PDI has been around for a long time, much longer than Dreamworks has been. Founded in 1980, it was one of the early outposts in the CG world alongside other pioneering houses such as Pixar and ILM. By 1982 they had begun actual production work with 3d graphics- mostly in the form of flying 3d logos. You can imagine how cool it was back then.
By the late 80’s PDI’s technology had evolved to the point where it was taking on commercials and visual effects for feature films, which included character animation. One example is the Pillsbury Doughboy, which up to that point had been a stop motion puppet (which I had heard about when I worked at Laika, apparently whatever that old doughboy was made of was super toxic and had to be handled sparingly!). They also did work for the “Bud Bowl”, super bowl intermission / cut-scenes featuring Budweiser bottles playing football. Here’s a spot from 1989:
Something I think we all remember is a specific sequence from the Michael Jackson music video, “Black or White” in which a dozen actors morph into one another. This was cutting edge stuff back in 1991, and I have to say it still looks great today:
Another one you might remember is that weird Simpsons episode where Homer gets sucked into a bizarre 3D environment, and becomes a 3D character himself:
Around this time PDI was very interested in working in 3D animation for film. The opportunity came in 1995 when another company with very similar interests, Dreamworks Animation, tapped PDI to produce “Antz”. Remember that by this point PDI was sitting on about 14 years of computer graphics IP, and there was a huge barrier to entry for anyone that wanted to get into 3d animation. Dreamworks working with PDI made perfect sense as up to that time, Dreamworks was only a 2D animation house. Dreamworks bought a 40% stake in the company and the film was made (released in 1998).
In 2000 Dreamworks purchased the remainder of the studio and officially renamed it PDI/Dreamworks, after which time it worked alongside the LA branch of Dreamworks in Glendale, CA. on feature animated films. The studio started with a base in Sunnyvale, then moved to Palo Alto, and finally to Redwood City as pictured below:
I started work at Dreamworks in mid-2009, in Glendale, but was transferred to PDI at my request in 2010. It’s hard to believe that I’ve already put in 5 years there. The time went by too quickly. The people, the campus, and culture is unique, and it’s hard to believe that it’s all going away. I can only imagine how some of the long-time PDI employees feel today, those who have 10, 15, hell even 20 or 25 years of work history at the studio under their belts.
As it happens this is not the end of the road for me personally at Dreamworks, but it is the end of the road for an iconic and historic studio, one which helped trail blaze an entirely new form of media.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman came out of Blu-ray recently and so I took some time to add a few choice clips in to my demo reel. Going through it reminded me of just how much fun it was to work on this highly stylized and beautiful film! Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcU3wME8Yks
Here's a short video I made that goes over my favorite rope building technique, which was developed by my friend and co-worker Cristian Dumitriu:
I posted a 3d modeling video series on YouTube. It's about five hours long... and it's also in the "Library" section of this website now. Here's the scoop
Intro to Maya and 3D Modeling is a series of videos (five hours total) that covers the basics of using Maya and some of the fundamental principals of 3d modeling. I created these videos in the spring of 2013 with the intention of using them in an online course that I was putting together under my own brand. Unfortunately life got in the way and I ended up being much too busy to follow through. I discovered the videos on my laptop recently (after almost completely forgetting about them) and figured they might be helpful to some aspiring 3d artists. Please forgive any false starts and/or lack of editing, they're pretty raw. The first video in the series is embedded below, to view the full playlist use the link at the start of this paragraph.
It's hard to believe five years have already flown by since I started working at Dreamworks Animation. Back in 2009 I had no idea how much I would learn from all of the talented artists that I'm lucky enough to call co-workers.
Here's something I finished recently, a pre-pinup era "Ziegfeld Girl", probably from the late 1920's. I've had the idea for this project for a while, and decided to go for it as a way further my experience with Zbrush. Later on I plan to do some lighting and rendering. I'll post an update once I do.
A little history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziegfeld_girl
"Ziegfeld Girls were the chorus girls from Florenz Ziegfeld's theatrical spectaculars known as the Ziegfeld Follies (1907–1931), which were based on the Folies Bergère of Paris. These showgirls followed on the heels of the "Florodora girls", who had started to "loosen the corset" of the Gibson Girl in the early years of the twentieth century. These beauties, of similar size, decked out in Erté designs, gained many young male admirers and they became objects of popular adoration. Many were persuaded to leave the show to marry, some to men of substantial wealth. The Ziegfeld Ball in New York City continued as a social event of the season for years after the last production of the Follies."
I received a very nice gift from Dreamworks today, a laser etching of Peabody and Sherman sitting inside the WABAC machine. It's a crew gift given to everyone who worked on the movie. I especially appreciate that the time machine was included as it was one of my major contributions to the film. The exterior was tricky, because it's basically a shell of hexagon tiles. We couldn't create this effect with a texture because the tiles needed to move and flip around (during the cloaking effect). Along the way, we realized that you can't make a sphere out of hexagons alone- it's mathematically impossible. Fortunately what you can do is strategically place 5-sided tiles so that all of the tiles are able to seamlessly connect. For a complete sphere, you need 12 pentagons. For a half sphere like the WABAC we just needed 6.
I worked on this movie for over two and a half years! Beginning in 2011 before modeling even got started (I was doing conceptual modeling in the art department), all the way through 2012, and ending in 2013 as one of the "skeleton" crew members in modeling. I learned a ton and grew tremendously as an artist working alongside talented concept artists and modelers alike. When the DVD is released I'll be posting more images from Peabody in the gallery.
For a larger image, click here