About Me: (the quick version)
I am currently a Character Modeling/Rigging Supervisor at Pixar Animation Studios. I started at Pixar around 2006 and have worked on films such as Up, Brave and The Good Dinosaur.
Previously in August of 2004 I moved to Dallas, Texas. I worked as the Character Rigging Supervisor at DNA Productions for their second feature film entitled "The Ant Bully". During this time I had also started my own software company "Comet Digital, LLC" and wrote a muscle and skin deformation plugin for Maya called "cMuscleSystem". This was later sold to Autodesk and is now a part of Maya known as "MayaMuscle".
Prior to that I was at Blue Sky Studios in White Plains, New York where I worked on the movie "Robots" and a little bit during pre-production of "Ice Age 2". I did character and prop rigging and numerous tools, scripts and plug-ins.
Before then I was at Big Idea as CG-Supervisor of the Video Team, as well as Video Team Lead Rigger and an animator. I left before they fired the entire studio, due to out-sourcing production to Canada which happened in early spring of 2003.
Prior to all of that, I worked as lead animator with the PC video game company Volition Inc.. When I started there it was a crew about 12 guys all working on "Descent: Freespace" and "Summoner". I believe they have expanded to several hundred now. It was a lot of fun being on a small tightly knit crew.
I was born in Cleveland,Ohio and graduated from Case Western Reserve University also in Cleveland. I actually have a computer science major, but have managed to work my way over to the art side of computer animation and graphics, which is a great blend of things I love to do.
Some of my interests (besides animation and art) include playing the drums, celtic and medieval stuff including period music (I play the hammered dulcimer), flying RC-Helicopters, dachshunds, and singing out loud for no apparent reason. I am also very into sports and exotics Cars and fun driving. I owe much of that to my fathering owning lots of fun cars as I grew up, plus California has some great roads. I currently attend AutoCross events several times a year and plan to track at some point in the future.
Here on the left we have an old picture of me when I was a kid pretending I was an Indian, without the bow and arrow amazingly too....hmmm....
How I got started in 3D Graphics: (the long version)
I was always interested in both computers and art. I started programming and drawing even before middle school. By the 5th grade I was teaching myself BASIC, and was also playing with TRS-80's and basic graphics and programming at school and computer camp. In 7th grade I got a Super 8mm animation camera and started doing claymation, cutout animation, cel animation and things like that. I also started programming little graphics apps like little video games and paint programs. I had always wanted to do computer graphics work but never really looked into where to go to school or how to get into the industry. Since I gew up in the midwest I really didn't know much about the film or art industry.
Sometime around 1991 my Dad was thinking about starting a new buisiness doing video production. We stopped into an Amiga shop to check out this new (it was new then) computer and video editing card/software called a "Video Toaster". Though we didn't buy one right away, I saw a demo of a 3D animation on one of the Amigas. I had wanted to do 3D stuff before but never knew it was possible on a PC. Upon realizing I could actually ray trace on a home computer I was hooked. I was VERY excited when I saw a ray traced space ship fly around a chrome sphere when I had wawlked in.
I ended up getting an Amiga 3000 and a Copy of "Imagine 1.0". (Also brand new at the time). I started making animations and working on basic 3D skills. I did some graphics for my High School talent show as well as a logo here and there, but for the most part I just did it for fun. A few years later, Imagine 3.0 came out for the PC. So I picked up the PC version and switched to that platform. While my Dad had gotten a toaster, it was in a slow A2000 and I never really did much more than look at it for video editing (and Lightwave) a little bit. Also during this entire time I had been programming on the PC doing things like that VGA Paint programs and games, and starting my own 3D modeler and renderer for Windows.
I had learned BASIC programming myself and in camp, but I knew I had taken it to it's limit when I made my own version of a Choplifter game. I walked into a bookstore for any programming book that seemed to be one I could follow and use, and had information on graphics. The one I ended up taking was 8080/80386 assembly language. I had no idea what I was getting into then, but I ended up reading and learning it. It actually helped me quite a bit as I next learned C/QuickC and by that point due to my now understanding assembly language, things like pointers and linked lists were totally easy and sensible. My initial goal was to make a video game, but I kept working on things related to it, like the VGA paint programmed mentioned all to have my own proprietary format and tools. That's a screen grab of "AnimaPaint" above left which was my VGA paint program that also did sprite animation. To the right is my 3D modeling and scanline renderer "Spectrum3D" which I wrote after college.
Eventually, I was off to college. I met this person on campus, "TJ", who was doing a SciFi magazine on CDROM and ended up doing some graphics and animations for them with Imagine 3.0 PC. The CDROM never got published (TJ landed a fulltime job doing CDROM work in Florida) but I got some experience. In addition to all my computer classes I enrolled in drawing and painting. I also bought a PAR board so I could output onto tape. (PAR stands for Personal Animation Recorder, and was basically at the time one of the few ways or only way to play animation off of a dedicated SCSI drive and out to video/video tape in realtime) By that point I had graduated and had started working at the University as a network software engineer.
I started looking around for graphics jobs around this time. I found I could get a job as a technical director since I had both good graphics and programming experience. However I wasn't sure if it was what I really wanted to do. So I decided to hold off and try to work on more animation work and character work.
A while later Lightwave 3D 4.0 stand-alone came out for the PC. I switched to that and started using it. At the same time I met this guy on the internet who was working on a PC video game, "Vicious Circle". He was looking for 3D animators to do some character animation stuff for the game. I decided to work on it in hopes I would get good royalties and good experience. I ended up designing and animating this mutant person and cyborg character for the game (which still hasn't been published as far as I know). During the same time I also did some logo designs and freelance for people I knew.
Now it happened that when I was using Imagine, I wrote the Imagine FAQ for the Imagine mailing list. One of the guys on the list, Doug Kelly, was also from Cleveland, though he lived out of town at the time. However, way back then he had visted and we got together and exchanged some models and things. After I switched to Lightwave (and wrote the FAQ for that) I found out he had moved back to Cleveland and actually now worked at the same University I graduated from (and now worked at myself).
So we got together and talked about graphics and things. It ended up he was writing a book about Character Animation and Lightwave 3D. He asked if I was interested in helping out with the book as well as this short film he wanted to make. I said sure and ended up helping him with Lightwave techniques for the book and modeling a character for his film.
Since I was helping with the book, the publisher paid for us to go to SIGGRAPH 96. I looked for some jobs there, and found while I had now started to do more character work, I was still mostly qualified as a technical director and not an animator. So I decided to work more on animation and joined the CG-Char list. I got a bit better and kept a lookout for other job openings.
A little while later I found some video game companies that were hiring for a jack of all trades type person who would specifically be good at the cinematic cutscenes. This is exactly what I was looking for since I could utilize my T.D. skills as well as work on character animation and things like that. I ended up getting a job at Parallax Software now called Volition Inc., where I worked from around 1997-2000. My primary focus was character animation and setup for cinematics and realtime.
While working fulltime, I continued to do some freelance as well as help with other books. For example, I have some sections in Doug Kelly's "Character Animation In Depth" book (that's my frog image on the spine there), and I've also written a chapter on Magpie in Bill Flemings "Animating Facial Features & Expressions" book. I also maintained the FAQ for the CG-Char mailing list.
After becoming lead animator at Volition and working there for 3 years, I left to become lead at Creative Digital Images where I was working on a direct to video childrens cartoon. After a brief period of time I decided to move on to something more stable, and started as a 3D Artist/Animator at Big Idea (makers of Veggie Tales, outside of Chicago, IL) where I worked on the first 3 video releases of the cartoons series, "3-2-1 Penguins".
I have been published in many books and articles, and have spoken at Siggraph 2001 in the Production Overviews Sketch, where I talked about our process and tools used on "3-2-1 Penguins".
Eventually, Penguins got outsourced to Canada. At that point I and the rest of the Penguins team moved onto doing Veggie Videos while the rest of the studio finished up Jonah, Big Idea's first feature film. I became Lead Engineer/Character T.D. for the Video Team as well as continuing to animate for the series. I worked on "The Star of Christmas" among other videos. Continuing technically, developing new tools and techniques as well as animating, I became the CG-Supervisor of the Video Team crew and started work on a few veggie video releases after the Christmas show.
In the beginning of 2003 I decided to join Blue Sky Studios in White Plains, New York to work as a Rigger/T.D. for their second feature film, "Robots". I worked on that film creating character and prop rigging, as well as scripting tools and plugins for rigging and animation.
Also at Blue Sky I delved into R&D work for Ice Age 2. I developed the initial versions of the trunk and tail rig script and tools, as well as designed new eyes rigs and related C++ plugins. I also did preliminary rigging on several of the characters. To be honest I left near the end of pre-production and am certain that other articulators took on a lot of the work I left, although I do have a credit at the end of the film.
In August of 2004 I moved to Dallas, TX to work at DNA Productions. I was the Rigging Supervisor where I helped develop a new rigging pipeline and related tools and plug-ins for DNA's second feature film titled "The Ant Bully".
It was a great project with some amazing people, and a great learning experience. In addition to supervising the rigging team, I was able to rig several characters such as the action-hero ant "Fugax" voiced by Bruce Campbell, the Frog which utilized my muscle system, and other background characters.
In July of 2006 I moved to the San Francisco bay area to work as a T.D./Generalist at Pixar Animation Studios which is now a subsidiary of Disney.
I worked as a modeling and rigging artist on the 2009 release of "Up" directed by Pete Doctor. My work includes Beta the rottweiler, the married life version of Carl during the montage sequence, the baby kevin birds, the garden hose/rope rigs, and several other characters and props.
I next worked on "Brave", modelling and rigging the Triplet boys, as well as doing code and plugin development for various rigging tools and scripts. In addition I did a lot of work developing a Muscle and Skin simulation workflow for rigging that including setting up Mum Bear and Merida's horse Angus for flesh and muscle sim coded by Ryan Kautzman and Jiayi Chong.
After Brave I was a Co-Character Supervisor on Pixar's film called "The Good Dinosaur" directed by Peter Sohn. I worked initially as lead creating master rigs and technical setup as well as managing to model and rig a few small characters. For most of Dino I supervised the team of modeling/rigging artists and helped to oversee character creation as well cloth work.
I am currently Co-Character Supervisor on Cars 3. I've been overseeing modeling and rig development for the film, including updating existing characters and helping to guide work for new characters and rigs. Being a bit of a car nut this has been a great film to work on.
For fun, I have an Old Image Gallery page that has a lot of old Imagine and AMIGA renderings from when I was first getting started. Might be funny to look at. Just be warned this is really really old stuff. But it shows that everyone starts somewhere.
That's a "not so short" description of how I got started in 3D animation. I probably should get back to rigging now...