Ales Mav

Interview conducted by Eric Scheur

In April of this year, the 11 Second Club released its first audio clip without any dialogue at all. The response was surprisingly positive, and although the initial thought was that a sound-effects-only clip might be reserved for once per year, it was clear that the 11 Second Club community was up for the challenge and eager for more. The second audio clip without any dialogue was released only three competitions later. Based on the entries in July's competition, the animators had heaps of fun deciding how each little crash, creak, chuckle, and snort would figure into their final pieces.

After a fierce round of voting, the top choice went to first-time entrant Ales Mav, who set his scene high atop a construction site in New York City. Congratulations to Ales and all of the other 61 entrants who took on the daunting task of lending a completely original idea to a scene suggested only by a few sounds. All of your work made voting super fun, and I can't wait to see what the community turns out the next time (and you can be sure there will be a next time) a sound effects clip shows up on the first of the month!

Until then, please enjoy this interview with July's winner, Ales Mav, as he shares his thoughts about animation and what it took to craft his winning entry.

- Eric

Growing up in Slovenia, what were the influences that got you interested in animation?

There were many influences that steered me in this direction. First there were Italian comic books that I absolutely loved reading as a kid. Computer games were also a huge source of inspiration: at first good old ZX Spectrum games and in the 90s I was a huge fan of PC graphic adventure games published my Sierra and Lucas Arts. Then of course there were books and movies that I still enjoy watching. My first contact with 3D animation was 3D studio version 3 for DOS back in 1993 and straight away 3D in general became a hobby of mine.

You taught yourself animation (and other aspects of 3D) and became a professional before you were able to attend Animation Mentor.   Having gone through both experiences, is there any advice you could offer to someone who is trying to learn animation on their own?

Being a self taught 3D generalist for many years I came to realize that animation is probably the hardest thing to learn by yourself. You have tons of tutorials on modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering, etc. And by sitting down and practicing you can get pretty far just by yourself. But animation, at least to me, was the most elusive of all aspects of 3D. Now I know why: because I needed guidance. I did some character animation work before starting Animation Mentor, but now I wouldn't call that animation anymore :)

When I started Animation Mentor I decided to leave everything I thought I knew about animation behind and just start with a bouncing ball. This enabled me to take one step at a time, soaking in all the basics and most of all it made me aware how many things you have to pay attention to while animating. One of the aspects I struggled the most with was twinning and texture. I still do. 

Your short film, Daphne's New Broom, has been getting a lot of positive attention at festivals around the globe.   Talk a little bit about your intentions in creating the film in the first place, and what it has been like seeing it take on a life of its own in front of audiences. 

For my AM short I decided I want to do something that would allow me to engage all my abilities as a 3D artist. Of course choosing a theme that would keep my spirits up until the very end was of utmost importance. As a fantasy/sci-fi fan, something like Daphne's New Broom was a natural choice. I took a month off between class 4 and 5 to model, texture and rig the main character and all the props necessary for layout, because I wanted to make sure that once I start class 5 I will concentrate only on animation and nothing else. I took class 6 twice to polish my animation as much as I can. After that I spent about 3 months for rendering and sound and in March 2008 Daphne was thrown on the web. I have to admit it far exceeded my expectations. I am happy that it has a festival life as well and also surprised that it was so successful at online competitions. I really didn't expect it to receive attention for more that a month or two and receiving the feedback after almost a year and a half later is unbelievable.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I believe life itself is the biggest inspiration of all. We just need to open our eyes and look around. Art exhibitions, movies, books (I love those "Art Of..." books. I turn to them for inspiration many times), art magazines, Internet, comics, even people walking down the street. It depends what I wish to be inspired for.

Now for the "Out Of The Blue" interview question: Do you have a favorite cover song?

I love  the three Nouvelle Vague albums. They're bossa nova style covers of famous songs.

Okay, on to your winning entry! Am I just imagining things, or was the setting of your piece inspired by the famous 1932 photograph "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper"?  

Yes, you could say I was inspired by skyscraper construction photos of the 30s. I was looking for those on Internet while doing some research for my shot. "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper" is an amazing photograph, especially if you have a fear of extreme heights like I do :)

Just for fun, have you seen the awesome Lego reconstruction?

Ha, ha, no, I haven't seen that before! I love this remake.  Thanks for pointing it out.

This is the second time the 11 Second Club has offered a sound clip with no speaking parts.   What was your reaction when you first heard the sound clip?  

Most of all, my goal was to do something logical with the sounds and that it would appear as if the sound was laid down after animation and not vice versa. That it would involve exaggerated physical actions was obvious.

At first I wanted to do a scene with only one character. But the laughing part of the clip made me realize I need a second character, because if the character was alone, he could only be laughing to himself, to the actions that he himself performed and that felt unnatural to me. For most part I just let my imagination tell me what I hear in the clip. For example - I asked myself  "Hmm... what could that squeaky sound at the beginning be? Sounds like some rotating thing that's not very well oiled to me... How about a wheel? A wheelbarrow? Ok, so if it's a wheelbarrow, what's that cracking noise then? A wooden board? Hmm... this sounds like we're on a construction site..." The yelling sound sounded like someone losing balance and the short whoosing sounds after that sounded like his arms swinging to catch the balance, so we could be somewhere high...

I guess it's subconscious interpretations that lead to ideas.  Basically I had ideas about different parts of the clip and then I wanted to connect these ideas into a story, into something that makes sense as a sequence of events.  

Talk about your animation process.

In this particular case, once I had the entire story (the series of actions that goes with each sound), I first started with timing to see how much time I have for each action. For example, the board cracks at frame 63, so the wheelbarrow guy has 63 frames to walk to the middle of the board. At F96 the board breaks and the guy falls down. As I wanted to start the shot in the middle of action I decided that the other guy will be eating a sandwich so that he's not just sitting there. At F115 the laughing starts and lasts until frame 183 when the character looses balance, at F233 he catches himself on the rope, etc. All crucial moments in the shot had to be represented by a pose, so those were created first.

Sketches01 Sketches02 Sketches03

I did a few thumbnails, but often (for example, with the sandwich eating guy) I tested the pose on my own body. I sat down, pretending I was eating a sandwich in a relaxed pose and then I translated this directly to character pose in 3D without any planning on paper. I observed my own body - curvature of the spine, position of the hands, orientation of the palms, fingers, it was all there. I do that quite often for animation as well if possible, especially if I am unsure how body mechanics works. I get up and try it out.

I love the facial expressions on the character with the wheelbarrow, particularly his first one.   What made you decide to start him off bored/frustrated? 

I just wanted to have a contrast on that part so that the expression change is obvious. Perhaps I wanted to have a bit of "being annoyed" feeling there, so we're not too sympathetic when he falls down. :)

Did you find yourself struggling with any part of the animation?  

There are a few places where the sounds for different actions are very close together, so I feel the actions are a bit rushed. For example I would like the laughing guy to get up a bit more slowly and a bit later, but I wanted the character to be standing when he starts laughing so I did compromise on that part.

Also when the wheelbarrow guy falls It was a bit hard to me to find a good path of action for the body and legs, but then the arc tracking tool helped me out. After watching the eCritique I see that breaking the leg joints so that the knee is bent backwards would work even better. 

The swinging on the rope was slightly tricky as well especially as I wanted to have nice arcs in all parts of the body - hands, head, hips..

Click to Play

Talk about one or two parts of the eCritique that enhanced or expanded on the ideas you had originally set out to animate.

The eCritique I received form Jay was really awesome! I am so grateful for his comments. eCritique by Jay Jackson

First there is a path of action on the falling wheelbarrow guy. I did plan to use that motion path for the body but Jay's suggestion to use the breaking of joints technique to actually have the entire length of the leg follow that path is brilliant. He just drew over a few frames in the critique and you can immediately see how the motion could be much more fluid.

Getting the laughing guy to get up a bit later and not competing for attention with the falling guy so much would improve the viewers focus. And at the point when the laughing guy slips off the rope Jay opened my eyes that the entire body drops at once. It would definitely work better if there was some delay on the legs.

Thank you, Jay!

Talk about any new concepts you were introduced to (or re-introduced to) through the eCritique.

Well, after going through the AM program and many books about animation there were no particularly new concepts that I have never heard of... But keeping them all in mind while you animate, that's the hard part!

This was your first time entering the 11 Second Club competition.   What inspired you to enter this month?

I decided to take the July competition at the end of June before I knew what the clip was. Currently I am waiting for a job, so I thought it would be a good idea to practice my animation skills. The 11 Second Club seemed like a great opportunity and you never know what clip to expect, so I just set myself up for whatever came my way for the July competition.

You've just moved to London.   What advice would you offer to someone who is looking for a job in animation, particularly if it means moving to a new country?

Well, perhaps I am not the right person for this question, since I am trying to find a job as well at the moment. Apart from a few freelance jobs I didn't have any luck with finding employment in any of the London studios for over a year. But I think that putting your name out there might help you with finding a job; having a website with your demo reel, keeping all your contacts alive, building your network, following the job forums, working hard on polishing your animation skills, doing competitions like the 11 Second Club. I am also finding that it is very important who you give your reel to and when, so keep your connections.

- Ales Mav

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