Interview conducted by Eric Scheur
It's been a while since the February competition was rocked by Matt Meyer with his aging Guitar Hero hero, and you might have expected that this interview just wasn't going to happen. How wrong you would be--it's just that we had to wait a little while to do it good and proper. You see, Matt has been having a pretty busy life lately. Go ahead and ask me why.
("Hey Eric, why has Matt's life been so busy lately?")
I'm glad you asked. Get this: Matt has recently been hired to the feature division of Rhythm and Hues! That makes, like, the third winner of the 11 Second Club who is working over there. At this rate, they're going to have to start a special 11 Second Club wing before too long. Congratulations to everyone who is finding success at R+H and elsewhere after their 11SC fame, as well as to all of the competitors who keep entering month after month to improve their skills and one day reach their dreams of working in a big animation studio!
First things first: Do you have a favorite Guitar Hero song?
I actually never got into Guitar Hero all that much. I played the first one a little bit. I do have Rock Band 2 though, and would have to say in that game “Alive” by Pearl Jam is my favorite track. That end solo is just insanely fun to embarrass myself with.
Looking at the resume on your website, I see you've been a professional animator for a while now. Why enter the 11 Second Club competition?
I think the reason I entered the competition is probably the same reason anyone enters it. To practice and to learn. I learn something new about animation every time I work on a new shot. There are always different problems to solve, or better ways to go about solving problems you've already faced in the past. What's more, when you are working on shots for a director or client, you are working under the restrictions set upon you by the project at hand. With this competition you are free to interpret the dialogue in whatever way you desire. It's a fantastic way of exercising your own artistic judgment. Did I get everything I wanted to get out of the exercise? Yes and no; there are always things that you wish you could spend a little more time on, but in terms of learning from the experience, it was quite satisfying.
You've been animating at Rhythm & Hues for a year and a half now. Can you talk a bit about the jobs you had leading up to that, and then your experience within R&H?
I've been very fortunate to work at some really great studios over the years, and it's kind of funny how, for the most part, each job led to the next very fluidly. It really exemplifies how important networking really is in this business. When I was in college, my instructors would often talk about how important networking was. That idea terrified me. At the time, I thought of networking as getting into industry parties and schmoozing and trying to sell myself to strangers. Not really my forte. While that approach can work for some people, the real valuable networking comes much more naturally. Just get your foot in the door somewhere, and it all branches out from there. Get that first job, work hard, show people your value, and they will remember you. When I was starting out, I never really thought that working at a few smaller shops in Minnesota was going to help me break into the LA scene, but it really did. This is an extremely small industry, and many of my friends in Minnesota went on to work at studios all over the country. That's networking. When I decided I wanted to make the move out to LA to try and find work, I called my buddies. Within about a week, I had a job lined up. A few months later, my boss from Minnesota helped me get my foot in the door at R+H. He is friends with the Director and Producer of a videogame cinematics/commercials unit at R+H called, the boX. He put in a good word for me, which helped me get my interview. They liked my work and I got the job. Now, after a year and a half with the boX, I'm moving on to my next adventure. I've just accepted a position over in the feature film department at R+H to begin work animating on my first movie.
I should emphasize the fact that networking only opens up doors, but your work and attitude is what gets you through that door.
Did you draw as a child, or was it something you came to later?
I did, I can remember drawing from a very young age. It wasn't until Junior High that I started thinking about art as a possible future career. My older brothers are both creative, one in music and the other in art/design. I think sharing creative interests with them really pushed me to be a better artist myself. My interest in animation grew from that. In the 7th Grade I did a report on Special Effects for one of my classes. For reference, my mom got me the ILM: Art of Special Effects book from the library, and it rocked my world! All the secrets to the movies I loved where spilled out in front of me, and I was hooked. From then on I knew what I wanted to do with my life. That's what eventually lead me to animation.
Do you have any animation heroes?
Oh sure, there are lots of them. It's hard to just pick a few. Of course there's John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Frank and Ollie,etc. I think Doug Sweetland is brilliant, and "Presto" was just amazing. Andrew Stanton is a huge one for me, and I got to see him at a screen-writing panel discussion a month or two ago, which was really cool. Actually, I was really stoked to see that Mike Walling did my eCritique, because he has been under my “Inspiring Artists” links page on my website for a long time. There are a lot of amazingly talented animators out there that are incredible open to sharing there knowledge with anyone that wants it. I can't really thank them enough for that.
Finish this sentence: If I weren't an animator, I'd be __________
“unemployed!” Just kidding. I'd probably try and do something else in the film industry. There are so many aspects of film that I really enjoy. Either that, or I'd probably like to go work with my brother at his Custom Design/Build studio, in Milwaukee. (Shameless plug: www.thinkflux.com)
On to your winning entry. I don't believe this is a rig that I've seen available for free out there. Is he one of your own?
He's mine. I've had that model kicking around for a few years, but had just finally gotten around to putting a decent rig in him. I just finished rigging him in the middle of February, and wanted to do some animation with him. I had been meaning to do the 11 Second Club competition for quite some time, and despite the fact that I only had 2 weeks to finish an entry, I decided to go for it. It was close, but I got it done.
How deep did you go into figuring out who this guy is, and how did that help you decide how he would act?
I didn't really have a back-story for the character before, but in the context of the dialogue I thought it worked in a pretty interesting way. Here you have this old guy totally delusional about the importance of his Guitar Hero “work,” and you begin to picture him living his life as some kind of perpetual slacker with grand excuses for why he is the way he is.
Your February entry was in the minority of those that only focused on one character. Because of this, you came up with some really entertaining listening/reacting in the first few seconds of the shot. Talk a bit about how you approached your character's thought process while his friend was nagging him.
I chose to only do one character mainly because I was starting pretty late in the month, and I wanted to focus on working with my new character. I wasn't too concerned about not having the other character visible because I knew it could create some interesting opportunities to focus on his reactions, and build on that.
Talk about your animation process.
It all depends on the shot. I will often do thumbnails to work out ideas, or shoot reference videos. Quite often I won't even follow those references very closely in the actual shot, if at all. They definitely give me ideas and help me get to where I know what I want do in the shot. Once I have a really clear idea in my head for the shot, I like to get in there and just start blocking the character out.
I work in either pose-to-pose style or the straight-ahead layered style depending on the type of action the shot is. When I want a more natural, realistic motion I'll layer it from the center of the character out. That is to say, I animate the hips in curved spline mode through the entire shot, then the spine, head, limbs, etc making adjustments as I go to make it all come together. Generally the more cartoony or broad the character's motion needs to be, the more likely I will work with the pose-to-pose, or stepped method. When I do pose-to-pose, I block out all the primary poses and timing of the character, but I don't generally do a lot of breakdowns in stepped mode. I like getting the overall blocking as tight as I can. At this point, I like to go in and start layering it out like I would in the straight-ahead method (I skip the linear spline step completely). Leaving the rest of the character in stepped mode serves as a great reference for the character's timing while I'm working on the other parts of the body in curved spline mode. I think this leads to an animation with strong posing and timing, but also the nice fluidity that you get with straight-ahead. I generally leave the facial animation until the body is nearly done. From that point on it's polish, polish, polish.
You have a great sense of the character's weight when he pushes himself up onto the arm of the couch. How do you approach something like this in the blocking stage?
One of the great things about working pose to pose is that you can really focus on making those key poses read clearly before any motion is brought into the equation. In this case, I just tried to pose the character so that anyone could glance at that single frame and tell that he was straining to hold his body up. Those key poses act as the foundation of the weight, but most of the true sense of weight comes during the later stages of refinement. Overlaps, secondary motions, bounces, secondary actions like the cushions compressing, etc. Those are the details that really bring it home.
Talk a bit about "working within a pose," and what that means to you. For example, the pose when your character says "by rocking" is very similar to when he says "okay?" only slightly modified--do you consider this the same pose, but a different gesture? How does this all help you work within the scene?
For me, I treat it as a key pose. It's important in establishing the tone and timing of the performance. It is a subtle change, but I think it's still just as important as the more broad pose changes. There are still plenty of small gestures that come out of the refinement process but generally if it's a movement that ties directly to the phrasing of the dialogue, it gets a key pose.
The longer I've been animating, the more I find that those subtle movements carry a lot of power. They seem to draw you into the thought process of the character better than a lot of those big moves do. It also adds a contrast point to the broad movements, making them stronger as well.
What are you most proud of in this shot?
I think that I have gone to a higher level of complexity in this piece than I have in much of my past work. I practiced more restraint in the posing, putting more trust in my acting choices rather than big funny movements. That's something I hope to continue to hone further as I move ahead in the future.
How have your peers helped you with this scene? Did you get advice from anyone on the forums or from friends? Please give specific examples of where other peoples' eyes may have guided you in a particular direction.
I didn't really show it to anyone. Professional animation is a very collaborative process in which you get a lot of input from you peers. I really enjoy that aspect of it, but when it comes to my personal exercises, I usually like to go off on my own and put all the things that I've learned to test. After I feel that I'm finished, I'm happy to take criticism from my friends and peers. I may then go back and adjust things or I may just move on, but those criticisms definitely stay with me and inform decisions that I make in the future.
I love the small detail of the couch cushion lifting up when he places his foot along-side it and pushes his body weight upwards. It really lends a sense of polish to the scene. How did this small detail come about?
It thought it was a good way to get a stronger silhouette for the push. It allowed me to separate the legs a bit, and do so in an interesting way that added to the level of detail. I love to look for those odd little ways of doing things that may not be the most obvious way to approach it.
Do you intend to return to this piece to incorporate the suggestions made in the eCritique?
I'm hoping to incorporate a lot of Mike's ideas into the piece. He pointed out a lot of great detail work that I think would definitely polish things up. I liked a lot of his ideas for enhancing some of the acting choices. I also agree that the end shot could use a better button to finish it up. In my blocking, I actually had him dropping down at the end, as Mike suggested. Sadly, I wound up removing it because I was running out of time to really do it right. Maybe I'll go and work that back into it.
- Matt Meyercomments powered by Disqus