Category Archives: Animator

Sijia Huang shows the importance of music in animation

When Sijia Huang animates a film, she sees herself almost like a choreographer. She aims to make every movement as seamless and fluid as possible, almost like an infinite tide. This is her priority with every project she takes on. She always ensures she has the perfect balance between tension and looseness, generating the ideal rhythm for all of her films. She does not limit herself to one type of animation, and as long as the audience is moved by her work, she is happy. It is this mantra that makes her one of China’s best animators, and why she is taking the industry by storm.

Huang’s style is evident in every one of her films and is perhaps best displayed in her award-winning film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil, a film conveying the struggles of humanity. Since then, Huang has seen continued success. Quitting Brave Victory, a film about warrior who begins a journey to find his strongest opponent, has over 2.6 million views online. BoxHome, is a story of a couple who live in a box, went on to win several awards. Breakfast, a fun film about a child’s imagination, made its way to several prestigious international film festivals.

“As an animator, I work for a variety of fields including film, television and commercials. I animate characters based on designs and stories. I would like to say animators are like magicians who bring things to life,” she said.

Huang’s flair for animated choreography is exemplified in the collaborative film for the event Measures & Frames. A partnership between a group of filmmakers and a group of composers, Measures & Frames featured the internationally renowned Pendrecki String Quartet performing five pieces of contemporary classical music paired with original visuals projected against a three-screen display for an unforgettable pairing of image and sound.

Measures & Frames aimed to create a conversation between the pictures and the music. They made something more like a painting: a world that embodies a story-like idea or emotion. It’s an audio-visual experience that gives the audience a new entryway into the music. Suddenly, audiences see structure and form that we couldn’t see before. What seemed impenetrable and unfamiliar can suddenly become inviting and enjoyable, especially with a very conceptual, sophisticated piece like Arcadiana, the film that Huang worked on for the event, which was a main part of the entire production. Music is a large part of Huang’s life, and this project gave her the opportunity to showcase this passion. It was also her first opportunity to animate to the music of a strong quartet.

“I was so happy that I could be the animator for this project. It made me want to make more music related projects. If an opportunity comes up to work on a music video in the future, I will jump all over it,” she said.

When the Director of the project, Michael Patterson, was looking for an animator to bring such a unique film to fruition, he thought of Huang’s work on her film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil and knew she was just who he needed, knowing she was capable of choreography, which was very important to Arcadiana. He invited her to take part, and she immediately said yes. Patterson is famous his work on the animation for the famous A-ha music video “Take on Me” as well as creating the characters Stray Mob and MC Skat Kat, who appeared in Paula Abdul’s music video “Opposites Attract”.

“Music is abstract and invites the audience in—the visuals have to do this too,” said Patterson when speaking of why Huang’s animation was vital to the project. “The multi-sensory experience invites the audience to understand the form of the music in an expanded way. If you’re depicting the music too literally, you’re limiting the freedom to personally engage.”

Huang designed the main character that was used in the film and did the stop-motion animation. At the beginning of the production, she wanted to shoot the animation using the down shooter with paper cut puppets. When she showed the director her work, he asked me if she could also try to animate another 2D version using After Effect. In order to create a more defined looking for the skeleton puppets, she used the latest character pin and created the dance for two skeletons. With each revision, Huang got closer and closer to their vision, until finally she achieved perfection.

“I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sijia on a project titled Measures & Frames Sijia created the portion of the show that featured two skeletons dancing with one another. This part of the production was crucial to Measures & Frames, and Sijia was the only animator capable of combing choreography and animation to make our vision a reality. Her mastery of a variety of animation techniques made her indispensable to the project. Specifically, her utilization of Adobe After Effects, a digital visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing post-production application, was key to finishing the animation on the project. Sijia’s high skill level in using the latest animation techniques, as well as her remarkable versatility and distinct style, vastly elevated the visual portion of Measures & Frames,” said Michael Patterson, Grammy Award-winning filmmaker and Director, specializing in TV spots and music videos.

Huang stands by famous composer Veronika Krausas, who once said, “For some audiences not familiar with new music and it’s their first time hearing not one but five new works, it’s tough. I think that the added dimension of the video helps smooth that out a bit. This is a way for audiences to actually experience the music more and become more familiar with it. The video helps acclimatize people to the sounds, and then they’re more able to appreciate them.”

Those who attended Measures & Frames on March 28th, 2015, were wildly impressed with both Huang’s animation and the event as a whole. Experiencing music in a visual way was captivating, and Huang thinks it is of great importance.

“If the diverse crowd that delivered a standing ovation at the evening’s conclusion is any indication, this type of visual music experience has opened the doors of classical composition to a newer, younger crowd than the form has seen in quite some time,” Huang concluded.

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Art is life for Iran’s Tooba Rezaei

When Tooba Rezaei picks up her pencil, she feels her sense of purpose. For her, art is much more than simply making something pretty. Art is about creating. It is a sense of escapism for both herself and the people that see her work. Every single thing she paints or draws tells a story, whether it is abstract or not. She shares herself with the world with each stroke of her paint brush, and is not afraid by this notion. Originally from Iran, Rezaei captivated her country with her talent, and now, she is taking the world by storm.

As both an artist and an animator, Rezaei’s work is both stylistic and intricate. In animation, she is a leader in the field. Her award-winning contributions to SilverFit, a virtual therapy system to train gross motor skills and ADL tasks during rehabilitation sessions or supervised exercise programs specifically for older people, revolutionized the company. After having the roles of background designer, background painter, character designer and character animator, her style was adopted by the company for all of their future endeavors. She even ventured into filmmaking with her animated short A Sweet Dream, which tells the bitter-sweet allegorical look at the desires of little girl who wants the world to see her talents shine through the difficulties of her life. The film went on to win several awards at many prestigious international film festivals, and Rezaei’s versatility was known to the world.

Despite this success, it was her work as a visual artist that started Rezaei’s career, and where her passion that she has had since her childhood lies. Her creations have seen public praise, and she was even selected to paint a display for Westland City Hall in Holland. The painting, titled Variety and Unity, displays symbols from various countries and cultures incorporated into Rezaei’s own style. It has gone on to receive acclaim not just from the employees of the City Hall, but all those who see it.

“Without art, life would be very hard for me,” said Rezaei.

Rezaei’s artwork has garnered so much attention throughout her career that she has been published in several books. One of these was the book Gods and Goddesses, published by Michael Publishing. The book contains 126 paintings from 23 different mythologies, as selected by the participating artists. Each mythology is arranged with a summary write-up of the culture and followed by the subject write up of the painting, artist’s biography and artist’s discussion of the art; the facing page displays the painting. Each artist had to select a god from ancient mythology to portray in their work. Rezaei’s work, titled Anahita, is in the Gods and Goddesses gatefold of the book.

Rezaei was contacted by the owner of Michael Publishing, Michael C. Phifer, to participate in the book. Very few artists were selected by the publisher. As the artwork started to come in, Phifer immediately recognized Rezaei’s style in her piece. He believes her work greatly improved the quality of his entire book, directly contributing to its commercial success.

Tooba made an incredible painting for the book, and it is easily one of my very top favorites of all them. The color pallet is exquisite; the pose is tantalizing and the image is breathtaking,” said Phifer. “Tooba delivered a knockout piece well ahead of our deadline and it was one of the pieces that helped inspire other artists raise their game. Her piece delivers a very sensual feeling without being blatantly sexy. That is a difficult thing to do and do well. Craftsmanship is an art form in itself that is partly learned and partly instinctive. Tooba is a craftsman.”

Rezaei was also selected to create a piece for the book Inner Vision. The Inner Vision book is made for the Inner Visions show called Contemporary Imaginative Realism at the Abend Gallery in Denver. Rezaei’s painting Anahita shows the ancient Iranian Goddess of water and fertility. It was displayed in both the show and the book, and was a great honor for the artist.

She was also selected to create a piece for The Journal, a collection of masterful international artists from various genres and industries. This book goes beyond a simple art description, as it reveals the creative process and genius of each of the artists themselves. Rezaei was contacted by Jon Schindehette, the owner of ArtOrder to participate. ArtOrder is curator of fine limited edition prints for Beautimarks, educator with Bethany School Applied Arts, and creative director for ThinkGeek Denver and GameStop. Schindehette has more than 30 years of experience in the creative industry and has worked for such companies and brands as: Disney, Fox Entertainment, Warner Brothers, Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast, Harley-Davidson, Microsoft, Kodak, Price Waterhouse, Atari, Activision, Sony Entertainment, Bioware, Bethesda SoftWorks, Crystal Dynamics, and many more. He clearly recognizes an exceptional artist when he sees one, and he saw that in Rezaei.

“I am so honored that my artwork has been published next to all the amazing artists in the industry, such as Ian McCaig, who is an artist, writer and filmmaker. He was involved in the Star Wars franchise and many other iconic film and book projects,” said Rezaei, when speaking of being published in The Journal. “Seeing my work printed next to wonderful artists whose work I admire is a great feeling.”

With the book Spectrum 24, the selection process worked a bit differently for Rezaei than in the past. Previously, she created a specific piece for each book she was published in. However, with Spectrum 24, Rezaei submitted a piece she had previously created from her imagination for her own enjoyment. Only after finishing the piece did she think to submit her work to the book’s contest. Among thousands of entries, her piece was one the few artworks that was selected by the judges.

The book is part of the best-selling Spectrum series, which continued with this twenty-fourth lavishly produced annual. Challenging, controversial, educational, and irreverent, the award-winning Spectrum series reinforces both the importance and prevalence of fantastic art in today’s culture. With exceptional images by extraordinary creators, this elegant full-color collection showcases an international cadre of creators working in every style and medium, both traditional and digital. The best artists from the United States, Europe, China, Australia, South America and beyond were gathered into the only annual devoted exclusively to works of fantasy, horror, science fiction, and the surreal, making Spectrum one of the year’s highly most anticipated books. Rezaei’s artwork Sunset at the Dragon Breeder’s Castle was recognized by the judges as one of the best. These judges included Christian Alzmann, who has worked as an art director on numerous film projects including Star Wars, Star Trek, Pirates of Caribbean, and more.

“It is very important to have your work published as an artist, especially being published alongside among other famous artists. People who already know these artists see their artwork next to mine and they realize that my work is at the level of these other artists. Familiarity and notoriety are very important for an artist. They are a big part of how much work an artist gets and how much recognition they receive,” Rezaei advised.

There is little doubt that Rezaei is one of the world’s most talented contemporary artists right now. Be sure to check out the aforementioned books to get a glimpse into her extraordinary style.

 

Cover Image “Sunset at the Breeder’s Castle” by Tooba Rezaei, featured in Spectrum 24

Designer and animator Cynthia Larenas is happy to do what she loves every day

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Animator and Designer Cynthia Larenas

Now that Cynthia Larenas is an internationally successful designer and animator, she looks back at her childhood and sees the signs that she was meant to do what she is now doing. She always had a passion for art, creating her own greeting cards and food packaging at a young age. She would design logos for her imaginary companies and hassle her mother to get her craft materials. It took her until her early twenties to fully realize creating was a part of her, but once she did, she never looked back.

Now, Larenas has worked with some of the world’s largest companies and helped define smaller businesses. She has created artwork and user interfaces for eBay and Citi, as well as boutique, socially conscious start-ups. As an animator, she has worked with Old Spice and Jack Daniels, and as a designer she has produced content for Ray-Ban and Dyson. There is no limit to what she can do.

“I create beautiful, engaging, and bold visual pieces both in static and animated formats. As a designer, I create solutions for clients that not only look visually stimulating but serve a function as well,” said Larenas.

In addition to working for companies like Electric Studios and Nectar + Co, Larenas has had her own independent practice for over four years. With her own company, she has been able to help other businesses build their brand, and has largely contributed to the success of many.

As Lead Animator for the video Elevate that was part of an immersive installation piece shown at the Vivid 2014 Festival and Sydney’s Ambush Gallery, Larenas’ talent was evident to all that got to experience the film. The piece draws upon the idea of elevating to a higher level of consciousness through a dream-like, rain cleansing, hypnotic experience. For the Ambush Gallery exhibition, this video was projected onto the ceiling under a staircase further adding to the idea of ‘rising’ or ‘elevating’. The viewers sat underneath the screen on bean bags and listened to binaural soothing beats as they watched various elements from the video coming down towards them. The final scene of the video shows rain falling down on the viewer as a symbol for a cleansing and renewal. This video was adapted and modified to be a projection mapping piece shown as part of the Vivid Festival. Vivid Festival features many of the world’s most important creative industry forums and has over 2.3 million visitors each year.

With her independent practice, she was also the designer and animator for Local Measure, a Sydney start-up with clients such as Qantas, Virgin, Village Roadshow and Hard Rock Hotel. In her position as Lead Designer for Local Measure, Larenas was responsible for all creative output for the brand including branding, product development, UX design, interface design, marketing material, website design, video direction and animation.

“I had lots of fun working at Local Measure and was so thankful that I got to use my variety of skills whilst I was there,” said Larenas.

Larenas first became involved with Local Measure when she was working at a Sydney start-up called Roamz. Having analyzed the market, the leadership team decided to take their findings from the Roamz app and apply it to a more unique and targeted market. The Roamz app then became Local Measure, a social analytics platform.

“When I first made the transition to work on Local Measure, the product did not even have a name yet,” she said. “It was an exciting time because I had the freedom to apply my wide range of skills to a multitude of creative outputs. I was really able to grow and feel like I was playing an integral part in building up the business.”

While working on Local Measure, Larenas worked alongside Aylin Ahmet. Ahmet says Larenas played a pivotal role in the successful pivot from consumer app Roamz into the B2B world, and overcame all expectations when she was tasked to design the brand, styling and product experience of Local Measure.

“Cynthia is a gem to work with. She possesses a unique blend of energy, creativity and discipline that exudes quality work in a consistent way. Cynthia is driven to make a positive difference for causes that she is passionate about. Her vast skill set beyond product design into animation, cinematics and photography makes her a truly unique, multi-faceted, talented and capable creative,” said Ahmet.

Another highlight for Larenas was working with Vince Frost as both an animator and designer, the founder and Executive Creative Director of Frost* Collective, in Sydney. She was first introduced to Frost through the Happy Billboard Project. The Happy Billboard Project is an initiative by Adelaide-based artist Sarah Connor. After taking to the streets with friends and holding up positive posters to passers-by, Connor noticed how much of a difference these simple posters made to the public. In 2014, Connor applied for a grant to take this concept to a large scale and put these messages in huge billboards around the most high-traffic areas in Sydney.

With this goal in mind, Connor approached Larenas to design these billboards. Larenas decided to create custom typography for these posters as she really wanted audiences to feel the human element behind the message. She provided Connor with two options; one colored by hand and one drawn on the computer. With the help of these posters, Connor won her $12,000 grant and made her dream a reality.

As part of the prize, Larenas was introduced to Vince Frost to serve as a design mentor for the campaign, and after seeing her portfolio, he invited her to work at his studio on a freelance basis. From there, she worked on projects such as City of Sydney, Dan Murphy’s and Green Square. In addition, while Frost was preparing for the promotion of his second book titled Design Your Life, he asked Larenas to do some visual effects and animation work for his promotional video for the book.

“Working with Vince Frost was an amazing experience because it gave me confidence to see myself as a great designer. Coming from such a respected and talented creative, who has been so highly successful is extremely humbling and rewarding,” said Larenas.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind why Larenas is considered one of the best at what she does. Despite having such success, however, she remains humble. For the artist, it is just about doing what she loves every day.

“I really love this type of work because you get to see, experience and sometimes hold a tangible product at the end of a process. As a creator you’re incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to contribute to the environment around you,” she concluded. “I’m very thankful that I get to do what I love doing and that I took the plunge to follow what felt right.”

And those that see her work are very thankful too.

DIORS SAMURAI IS ZHENG KANG’S ACTION/ROMANCE AT ITS NERDY BEST!

Doing your best and always giving one hundred percent are more important now than ever. Information is instantaneous these days and you can google anything in less time than it takes to yawn. Zheng Kang has always given his best and it is starting to supply dividends to his career. Belying his young age, Kang’s animation productions have already reached achievements like being used by faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts for graduate animation classes (Lion Dance, in which he oversaw a group of professionals spread across five continents), working on the Comedy Central’s TripTank (contributing to every episode of the entire second season), and others. As such a recognized part of the animation community, his diverse creations are receiving great attention. one of his earliest productions, Diors Samurai, shows a different side of Zheng’s sentiment and may soon be made into a series production at a US network. Diors (Chinese for “loser”), gives a hint to the humor found in this action animated show. One cornerstone of Kang’s work is that it is always different, thematically and stylistically. A viewing of the Diors Samurai trailer (http://vimeo.com/189854381) reveals how different it is from his other work (https://vimeo.com/190416387 Baby and Granny for example). It is not hyperbolic to state that each new film Zheng starts receives the respect of him breaking his approach down and starting fresh each time. As both a director and an animator, Zheng Kang has learned to give each story the opportunity to become its own entity.

Production I.G.’s Dead Leaves (distributed in Japan, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK) and Samurai Jack (the American animated series on Comedy Central) both inspired Kang’s approach for Diors Samurai. He wanted an Eastern influence, time travel, a love story, all augmented by his sense of humor and wit. The tale of Diors Samurai is that of a hero who falls in love with a beautiful princess and is heartbroken to learn that their love is forbidden. A chance encounter with a magical elder reveals that he may marry the princess if he travels through time to find her in the dystopian future. He jumps at the chance and finds her, only to learn that she is now a successful police officer with no memory of him! Yota (the samurai) must divide his time between saving the city from ruthless organized gangs, trying to understand this confusing modern world, and hopefully sweeping the princess off her feet! While the story is full of action and danger, it’s the characters who drive the story and interest viewers the most. Yota is a very strong samurai but very tiny. He grew up with his lord’s daughter and was in-charge of protecting her every day. Yota fell in love with her but never told her as society would not approve of this. When the princess is selected to marry another lord’s son, Yota cannot do anything about it and is beside himself. While he is adept at fighting and killing, he does not know how to express his feelings and show love. The “Diors” or “loser” facet of this character comes from his unrequited love as well as his inability to express himself (a modern view of loser for certain). The princess in Diors Samurai is perhaps one of the most positive and well-rounded female Asian leads accessible to viewers these days. In ancient time she is very elegant, like every traditional princess in our mind. In the future however, she is tough, strong, and highly proficient with firearms. The princess possesses qualities that appeal to every type of fan and contradict stereotypical female roles.

While Diors Samurai is definitely an action program, Zheng confirms that it shares a common thread with all of his creations, “It’s a love story. People search every day for love and to find their partner. That’s a basic human need. I know that people have an immediate thought in their minds that a samurai/warrior is very serious and not in touch with their feelings. Their mission is always to protect and serve their king. I wanted to create someone who is just like normal people, someone who feels loves and is eager to get love. Yota has some strength but also has drawbacks. He might be a winner as a Samurai but might be a loser in life. That’s a universal story no matter what part of the world you are from or what you might do in your life. We all struggle for love and we all want it.”

Perhaps the most striking and apparent aspect of Diors Samurai is the mixture of Eastern artistic style with a western based theme and emotion. The clash/combination of the two serves to heighten the impact of both in this production. Zheng states, “I grew up with comics and manga. I began to draw them when I was a little kid. So my drawing style is highly influenced by Japanese anime and manga, which looks very Asian. I also enjoy western storytelling like Pixar and Disney features because they always have a clear and simple storyline. They’re character-driven, there are three acts, and the motivations and conflicts for every character are easy to understand. I enjoy Asian storytelling very much but I have to say, sometimes it’s too cultural and you can get confused if you’re unfamiliar with that culture.” Caroline Hu (formerly the Character Artist at Warner Bros. Animation and Conceptual Artist at Walt Disney Feature Animation/now the Artist at Warner Bros Consumer Products) notes Zheng’s successful integration of these two cultural traits. She relates, “Zheng’s approach to storytelling is both collaborative and diverse, and is exactly what Hollywood needs right now. It’s very refreshing to see. His successful marrying of two cultures, Asian and Western, to create a number of globally successful projects, is no small feat. Zheng’s animation and direction skills are superior. As a member of the Animation Faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts, I often refer to his projects when addressing undergrad and graduate film students in my masterclass, even using Zheng’s materials as a teaching aid to show the students how things should be done!”

His role as director/animator has become commonplace for Kang these days but his work with composer Torin Borrowdale on Diors Samurai was one of his first entries into overseeing multiple facets of an animation production. Zheng understood that the mixing of cultures in his story, combined with the dichotomy of a Samurai in love, meant that he needed a soundtrack that would mesh with these ideas. Add to that, the need for intensity in the actions scenes and the music suddenly became paramount. Kang recalls, “I was always looking for high energy, with Japanese traditional instruments and elements in the music. Because it’s an action-comedy, high energy music can work very well with every sequence. Because the characters are Samurai, Japanese traditional instruments and elements can help build an authentic atmosphere. I found some reference music for Torin so he could understand what I wanted, but he also provided great ideas which made the final music much better than the reference music, suitable and unique! After this first cooperation with a composer, I understood how important music is for storytelling. I respect composers very much and would like to work with them to achieve great and unique music. For me it’s always a mind- blowing experience and learning opportunity when I work with my composers.”

The interest in Diors Samurai does not rely solely on the achievements of Kang’s more recent productions. With Official Selection Screenings at the: Trailer Fest Film Festival, London Monthly Film Festival, Direct Short Online Film Festival, Creation International Film Festival, and the Play Film Festival, Diors Samurai was highly noticed when it first was made available as a Short. Now, the industry that has become so captivated by this director/animator’s lauded animation productions has also rediscovered the time-travelling Samurai that began it all. Sword in hand and princess in heart, Yota is disproving his own moniker to his creator Zheng Kang.work-on-animation