Matt Shepherd

Interview conducted by Eric Scheur

The 11 Second Club is a rare kind of competition. Most competitions exist for one purpose: to win. However, coming in first place is only a secondary goal of the 11 Second Club. As you can read many of our community members commenting over and over in the forum, the main goal for most competitors is to practice animation. This is why I am thrilled when I see former winners come back and compete again and again. They're not content to say "Alright, I won that competition. Been there, done that, what's next?" Instead, their post-win entries say "There's always more to learn. And I've come back to learn by doing!"

Matt Shepherd won our March competition and then came back to place respectably in April, and to once again take the prize in May. (and still went on to compete in June!) I love this kind of persistence, and the dedication it takes to return month after month to challenge yourself with new ideas. Congratulations to Matt, and to everyone who keeps coming back month after month to practice and improve. While I'm at it, I can't overlook all of the newcomers who say "You know what? I'm not gonna sit on the sidelines anymore--it's time for me to jump into the water with everyone else and swim around a bit. Look out animation world, here I come!"

Everyone who finishes and submits an animated piece for competition, no matter what your final ranking, has earned my respect. It takes courage to put yourself out there like that. Keep coming back for more, and who knows? You may find yourself rising to the top quicker than you thought possible!

- Eric

Congratulations on your second 11 Second Club win!   How have things been going since we last talked?  

Nothing really new has transpired since last we talked. Still animating and keeping busy trying improve my animations. As far as any new developments in my career, nothing exciting is really happening, I’m just finishing up animating on a tv show here in Halifax for a company called Copernicus Inc. I have noticed more people are visiting my blog since winning March’s competition, which is nice to see: thanks for the interest, folks!

In our last interview you said that you may go back to polish your shot with the comments from the eCritique incorporated.   Did you ever revisit your scene?

I have gone back to the scene I did in March! I find it a bit difficult trying to figure out where to start. I think for the time being I’m going to have to think about what I want to do, and how I want to go about incorporating what Jason Martinsen was suggesting. Once I can visualize how, and where to start, I’ll open the file and get to it, but for now, I’ll try to remember what he said for the next animation I do.

Are you looking for a job at the moment?   Is there any advice you could offer to anyone else looking for a job based on your experiences?

I’m not at the moment but will be in the near future--and by that I mean in the next month or so. Advice? I know there have been some tough times in tv animation over the past few months, so with respect to that, I’d say, stay positive and be prepared. Practice animating and stay sharp, update your websites and portfolios, and resume and cover letters. I know I will.

In our last interview, you mentioned that you've become a fan of Rune Bennicke.   What attracted you to his work?

My friend showed me one of his works, his straight ahead animations he has posted on his blog are fantastic. He’s got some new stuff up and it looks great, his work is very loose and has a lot of energy, I think that’s definitely the way to go, nice and loose gestures and energetic lines.

If there was one movie/television show/short film that would be your dream project to work on, what would it be and why?

Ha! Well first of all, any movie or feature quality short would be my dream project to work on. Honestly, I think working on a movie would be the tops. Disney, Pixar, Sony Imageworks, Dreamworks, Blue Sky, I think any of these places would be anyone’s dream job. Well, mine anyway.

Put your iPod on shuffle, list the first five songs that come up.

These were the first two songs, then I realized my girlfriend has her music on there too, I swear! For the sake of honesty and humor, I felt it necessary to include them. Feel free to judge, I know I would!

  • Wasted Time - Kings of Leon (my music)
  • Danse Macabre - Wintersleep
  • Damaged - Danity Kane (not my music, I swear!)
  • Idle Blues - Outkast (normally I’d be on the fence here, but she got this from the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, so I am going to say this is her music….)
  • Weighty Ghost – Wintersleep (my pick, I just picked it, I found myself skipping the songs until this one came up).

    In our last interview, you told me that you had created the detective character specifically based on March's audio clip.   Now you've made a new character for the audio from May.   What inspired the design of May's character?

    I listened to the audio track quite a few times and then tried to come up something that I could move around and was comfortable with. I have a few thumbnails, here they are:

    Character Sketch 01

    Character Sketch 02

    Character Sketch 03

    Talk about your animation process this time around.

    This time was much different than my last submisions, I animated this one on paper and then scanned the drawings in, then imported them into flash 8 professional. Because it was so time consuming I ended up only shooting a handful of tests.

    I researched the audio clip and found out it was about pigeons. The live action was sort of tame in my opinion, so I imagined him to be a fighter pilot reminiscing with his bunk mate, or his co-pilot. Because of this, I decided to have him lying down, then as he gets excited over his memories he sits up. I wanted him to lay back down, and making him hop back seemed like a good idea at the time, but for some reason I couldn’t really get it right.

    Bunk Sketch

    Final Set

    How do you plan out your lip sync and large acting gestures?

    When I start an animation I listen to the track quite a few times until I get a sense of the mood or what I think would be interesting to watch. Then I’ll plan out the overall actions accenting the highs and lows in the dialogue.

    I usually approach the subtle acting by animating straight ahead, large gestures like I said, are loosely keyed out. Much the same with the facial animation, I’ll key out the major accents for the brow and eyes, then straight ahead the subtle stuff and the low points in the dialogue.

    Gesture Sketches 01 Gesture Sketches 02

    I always do the lip sync last. I try to animate the mouth in a circular pattern, however I tend to forget a lot of the time; that’s what tv does to you, you short cut a lot to get the job done.

    Your character has a distinctively triangular mouth.  When you're doing lipsync, do you decide on general mouth shapes for each phoneme first, or do you draw whatever gets the mouth into its particular position when the time comes?

    For this lip sync I had a particular design already in mind, from there I tried to keep the shape as well as I could. I wouldn’t say I draw whatever, whenever, I try t give it some thought, even though it may not look like it.

    I like how excited your character gets when he sits up on the bed--particularly the little double bounce on the settle.   Where did that idea come from?  

    Thanks! Yeah, it seemed to feel decent in terms of weight, so I just went with it. I didn’t do any research for mechanics of the movement. I just animated it straight ahead. I tend to do that a lot, like I mentioned before. Like Rune Bennicke, he has some really nice, loose animation, which I find most enjoyable to watch.

    That’s why I rarely ink anything I do, and almost 100% of the time keep the drawings rough.

    Click to Play

    How have your peers helped you with this scene?  

    I show my peers my works in progress. I actually changed quite a few pieces based off the advice of a few friends, in particular, I changed the hop back and the first movement, when he says “go”. I had a bunch of smears originally, when he hopped back into the relaxed pose, but that looked awkward and too “tv” in terms of style and movement. The other spot had a bit of a hard hit, so I took some drawings out and retimed it based off of what my friend had mentioned. It looks better than what I had originally.

    Did you find yourself struggling with any part of the animation?    Talk about a specific obstacle you struggled with, and how you overcame it.

    I struggled a lot with the settling back part of the scene, when he says “dead” and jumps back into a relaxed pose, the timing and the mechanics of it were difficult for me to deal with, I reanimated and retimed it about 3 times and threw out a bunch of drawings. It was very irritating to try and make look decent, I feel like it works fine enough but its definitely something that I’m not happy with in terms of the amount of time spent versus what the end product looks like.

    This is your second eCritique that comes through the 11 Second Club. Did you find that similar issues were addressed in both eCritiques, or were there new issues in this eCritique that you were excited to learn about?

    I feel like the revisions/suggestions in this one were different than last time. I’d like to think it’s because I incorporated what Jason had mentioned into this piece. eCritique by Sean Sexton

    Sean Sexton had some fantastic suggestions/revisions! His drawings were spot on: you can feel the volume taking shape, and the drawings got a lot better. He addressed the section I had the most difficulty with, which was awesome, seeing as I was spent on that and clearly needed some direction.

    I had some arc issues again, and my timing was off a bit, but I think I improved a bit since last time. Jason Martinsen opened my eyes up to some new techniques (antics) and re-enforced the jaw movement during lip sync, and made me more aware of eye direction.

    Sean Sexton has really made me more aware of timing, hitting the beats before and not directly on, I sort of just felt that out before but now I have something more technical to fall back on. Also, to be more conscious of the volumes, when he’s talking, as well as usage of smears. Not to mention he showed James Baxter, which is absolutely tremendous!

    Thanks to Sean Sexton and James Baxter for taking the time to watch my animation! Also, thank you to Jason Martinsen for reviewing my animation back in March.

    Is there anything you'd like to add about your thought-process or experience in May's competition?

    May’s contest was much different than my usual animations, I hadn’t animated on paper in quite some time, so that in itself was very challenging. There are some early pencil tests, I probably shouldn’t even show anyone these ever. I usually throw down some quick loose sketches, sometimes I get caught tightening up bad drawings, which you can see.

    Click to Play

    After that I spend most of my time fixing and refining the movement I want. It’s not the most efficient way to animate but I often finish something before abandoning it, or keeping it, that is if I am unsure if it will work when I loosely rough it out initially. Try not to judge me too hard.

    Click to Play

    Do you plan on trying for the Hat Trick?  Winning a third 11 Second Club competition?

    HA! I’d love to win again, I recently submitted another piece for the June contest, I watched and voted, there are some very strong pieces this month, there are a couple that I have my eye on and think will definitely win. I’ll keep submitting, you can count on it!

    Imagine you have a time machine and can visit yourself at any point in your animation career or education.  What age would you visit, and what advice would Matt Shepherd of 2009 give to the Matt Shepherd of the past?

    I would go back to talk with Matt in the year 2006 and say, draw more, animate more, and learn 3d so you don’t have to do it later. However, I wouldn’t want to change anything, because the experience I have gotten since and the things I have learned are priceless, we all learn at our own pace and honestly, I don’t think Matt Shepherd of the past would have been ready for any advice I’d have to give him. His weak mind wasn’t ready for the animation knowledge of Matt Shepherd 2009! (joking!)

    - Matt Shepherd Discuss this interview in the forums

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