Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My experience in Bit Film's Tower 37

The Incident at Tower 37, a student film I was on the production crew for one semester, is up for some awards at Siggraph. The following is an email of the experience I sent to Dan Inkeles, the producer for the film about my experience (hey he asked for it!).

To those who don't know about Tower 37 (or Uprising as we called it), it's a 3D animated short directed by Chris Perry, a Rhythm & Hues director turned Pixar TD turned Hampshire College animation professor. We used professional standard software (Maya, Shake, Renderman) as well as some in-house (house? school would be more accurate) file management software called HELGA (which is now being used by some local animation studios for their own file management).

But the fancy software doesn't really matter- what DID matter was that this class was an actual production. To my knowledge, no other school teaches students of different backgrounds how to work together as a group-- yes that's right-- Just about all the footage in Tower 37 was produced by students, and it looks pretty darned good (if I do say so myself).

I still can't get over how great of an experience it was and if the professional world is anything like this, I still have much to look foward to


As the absolute newbie of the group, I stepped into Chris’s Animation 3 class with absolutely no experience in the field of 3D animation, and the little I did know (character animation and acting) didn’t prove to be much help when I was assigned animation and paint fixes. I didn’t know anyone in the class either, so the first couple of weeks I sat in my little corner, huddled over the graph editor doing my own work, regretting the fact that I was taking Computer
Animation 3 without having taken Computer animation 1 or 2.

And then disaster struck. Chris, for reasons unfathomable to my mind, was suddenly busy with other work and now I couldn’t pester him to look at what I was working on! What would I do? Per the suggestion of Dan, I timidly creeped up behind one of my classmates and managed to stammer out if they’d be willing to look at my anim fix.

Lo and behold- they actually stood up and looked at my work and actually gave me feedback. This sort of interaction was unfamiliar to me; so far in my art classes, classmates would often just sit and look at a piece I was working on and say “Cool” or “Neat” never anything I could REALLY use, but now suddenly I was receiving useful feedback.

Suddenly I found myself peering over the shoulders of my peers, learning the lingo of compositing and lighting, asking how to do this and if they could show me that thing they were working on. The best part about it were the many, many different perspectives I was getting, since, as an artist, I normally never get to work with programmers or technicians, especially in classes.

By the time the class was finished, I had actually taken part in a PRODUCTION as part of a team. It was at that point I learned the importance of cooperation and that being a one man show was neat and all, but having a bunch of specialists come together, attacking the goal from different angles, would turn out a better product. And, as if to drive the point home, the next semester I worked on a music video with a class back at UMass; Sure, the whole team was talented, but because of a lack of diversification in our training, we were all hacking away
inefficiently and ineffectively at the same problems, and production soon fell into a free for all, with the final product being visually incoherent and drama arising between crew members due to a lack of communication. The entire time I was working with that team, I could only think back to the prior semester where I was actually working with other students.

The biggest thing I learned from Chris’s Animation 3 class was how essential the team was to any production and how all these seemingly unrelated perspectives and backgrounds can come together to produce an awesome film. It was an honor to have worked on this film and I can only hope to spread the joy of community that I found in that lab.

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