One of my two shots that made it into the final version of The Avengers. Not much animation I know. But I’m glad I got to work on it for a few weeks. I’m a big Joss Whedon fan, but I’m still shocked at how well people have received the movie.
Ten years ago today I left Austin, Texas to start a new career in the world of animation and visual effects. I sold my house, left my successful job, and said a fond goodbye to my fantastic co-workers and best friends to move to Los Angeles to attend the Gnomon School of Visual Effects as a certificate student. Back then they only admitted about a dozen students per term, so I felt pretty fortunate to have gotten in. I loved learning how to create digital imagery and motion. And I loved meeting all the teachers and students that came from all over the country and world to pursue their dream. Before I even finished the program, I had gotten my first job, and I’ve been working in the field ever since.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the experiences I’ve had so far. I thought I’d be working for a few months here and there, scrounging for gigs. Instead, I’ve actually worked at only a handful of places in the last decade. Starting with a 5-week job at Halon Entertainment, I then worked 14 months on Spider-Man 3, almost 3 years on Avatar, and now over 4-1/2 years at Weta Digital.
I’ve seen some amazing things because of this career. Massive and beautifully convincing sets that occupy huge sound stages. The streets of New York City littered with props and extras. Exploding fireballs. The Hollywood hills burning with fire at night. A fifty foot tall silo of water emptied in a handful of seconds. Towns built on indoor artificial lakes. Hobbit holes. Comic-Con. Movie stars, iconic directors and visual effects superstars. Amazing stunt people who are the unsung heros of action movies. And I’ve met so many incredible artists with more talent than I could possibly have.
A lot has changed since 2004. There was no Facebook. There were only bits of online lessons for animation and visual effects. There were still people around making the transition from 2D to 3D animation. Many people, even in the film industry, had never heard of the term previsualization which I had found an interest in. Since then, multiple online schools have started. Virtual production and previsualization have emerged from obscurity to become common tools. VFX companies have come and gone. People I’ve gone to school or worked with have scattered all over the world looking for work. I’m now a resident of New Zealand, a country about as far away as you could get from where I grew up in Kansas. And I’m now married with two children.
Looking back now, I have to say I’m still glad that I went into this industry. I work with super-heroes, aliens, apes, robots, magicians, dragons and monsters! When I was a geeky teenager reading comic books and being a Dungeon Master I never would have imagined being where I am right now. But while I love what we can create, it’s by far the most frustrating and stressful work that I’ve ever had to do. Some situations can make it real ugly at times. Sometimes I miss the assured stability of a “regular” job with only 40 hours a week. Sometimes I miss my paid vacations and holidays. But for now, there’s no other career I’d rather be in. Hopefully, I can stay in it for the long haul. If the next 10 years are anything like the last, there’s no way I’ll be able to predict where I go from here.
Wow, once again, I’ve been neglecting ye ol’ blog. <sigh> Well, last year I mentioned that I had stopped doing previs on The Hobbit and was helping with final animation. That has turned out to be a permanent move, and I am now officially an animator at Weta Digital. Unfortunately, there was a lot of hand wringing on my part because I had initially been told I was being let go in November with little chance of being rehired. So, for several weeks my wife and I were completely stressed with the thought of having to leave the country when we had just bought a house and shipped all of our stored items from the States. Luckily for me, Iron Man 3 came in and I was able to hire back on in the animation department at the start of 2013, thus leaving the previs world for now.
Below: Hobbit Previs Crew
Below: Hobbit Animation Crew
It was a great experience working with the Weta previs team for almost three years. And kind of a crazy ride, with the original director leaving, and then my original supervisor leaving, getting a new supervisor, the movie being split from 2 to 3 movies, having my old supervisor come back onto the movie, then me leaving the dept to do final animation. But all’s well that ends well. Our previs team even contributed to winning a Visual Effects Society award for Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture for The Hobbit.
During my time off, I had several weeks to enjoy the summer with my family and catch up on house renovations. We also got to experience the premiere of The Hobbit in Wellington with a red-carpet event and the Hobbit Artisan Market set up in the center of town.
So, that’s about it really. After pulling overtime for the first three months of the year, I’m back to “regular” hours and trying to relax before work picks up again. There seem to be some really big projects looming on the horizon. Speaking of…It’s been interesting keeping tabs on the recent turmoil in the visual effects business. I feel we’re very far-removed from it, but also like in the eye of a hurricane. And because of all the online chatter this year, I’ve suddenly become a Twitter convert (@jerryin3d). So, if you want to follow my more daily mundane musings, you can check me out there.
So, I can’t even begin to tell you all that has happened in the last few months. But I’m currently in the animation department helping to finish up The Hobbit. My three years in previs on the newly-extended trilogy appear to have come to an end for now. But we’re hoping I can stick around for more adventures after the release of the first movie. We really feel like we just settled into our house (which I keep meaning to post pics of but don’t have any time for right now). I mean, we just started hanging artwork! So we need some time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Anyway, enjoy the trailer that came out this week!
My family and I are now officially New Zealand residents! We started the application process with an Expression of Interest last December, and I just got our passports with our Resident Visas. The big deal about this is that we do not have to renew our work visas every time I have to renew my contract with Weta (which is every 6 months to a year). The work visa renewals were not cheap, particularly when we had to do medicals for each member of my family. Now, with the resident visa, we can stay in the country with or without a job. We still have to get permanent residency, which, with luck, will be in 2014.
So our last rental house was on Marine Parade in Worser Bay, which I think has to be one of the most picturesque places to live in Wellington. I ended up taking my digicam with me on dog walks because there always seemed to be another beautiful sunrise or sunset. I collected my favorite snap shots (and one shot Lynda took of Gidget looking over the water) into our shutterfly family album. A few samples are below. Enjoy!
Seems to be some more attention on previs and virtual production because of FMX. Thought I’d share some videos regarding the latest.
VFX Studio Profile - Halon Entertainment
fxguidetv #146: FMX - The Third Floor
fxguidetv #147: FMX – Virtual production
Seems like people are finally understanding what we do and how it adds to production!
So, lots going on with our lives here in NZ. We just submitted our application for residency, and are hoping for a quick acceptance. We would still be U.S. citizens, but with a residence visa we would be able to live and work here at any time, thus allowing us to go back and forth from the U.S. and NZ.
We also bought a house! It’s currently undergoing renovations like: some floor leveling, new kitchen, new french doors, replastered walls, refinished floors, new carpet and new laundry room. Lynda and I have been stripping wallpaper for days now (fun!). It’s been a learning process as to the different terminology that’s used here. e.g. gib = drywall, plasterer = the guy that only muds and tapes the drywall, etc. I could do a whole post on translating house terms. Here’s our new kitchen and dining room to be.
Speaking of houses, I have to mention that buying a house here is almost completely different than buying one in the States…and I do not like it at all. The realtors are pushy and only work for the seller. So, you can never trust the realtors here. The standard house here has no insulation, no central heating, metal roofs with limited life spans, little storage space, and tiny garages (if any at all). And most of the houses for sale here were either too small, or large enough but out of our price range. Usually I find house-hunting fun. It was just plain frustrating.
Anyway. We’re still excited about the new house. It’s right next to a beach and playground, and really close to the Maranui Cafe, which we go to at least every other weekend. It’s got some great character to it, and we’re looking forward to moving in after the Easter holiday here.
I’ve been really busy over the last few months…with everything but work. We packed, moved houses to a tiny house near the beach in Seatoun, had a birthday party for my daughter, then flew to the US for a 4-1/2 week visit. That was filled with some real fun stuff like my sister’s wedding, the Texas State Fair, my wife’s 20 year high school reunion, Halloween, and visiting all sorts of friends. But it was exhausting trying to manage the kids, schedules and luggage. Man, our luggage. We bought so much stuff we had to bring back a total of 8 bags! More than when we first moved to NZ. We also missed all the TinTin festivities that Weta held - both a party at the Te Papa Museum and the crew screenings. So, that was disappointing. Currently, what’s occupying my time is work and house hunting. Because, honestly, there’s no good reason to leave NZ. :)