GW: Hi Manny, why don’t we start out with you telling us a little bit about yourself, and where you are working now?
MF:Sure thing. Basically I’ve been working in the animation industry for just about 9 years now. Upon graduating college, a couple friends and I were fortunate enough to start our own animation studio- MindjuiceCG -right out of school. It was a great learning experience, for all of us, in terms of running our own visual effects shop. Really… there’s nothing quite like it.
While there as a Producer, I was responsible for everything from bidding on projects, to creating show schedules or establishing project deadlines (along with catering to all client needs). This role required an intimate understanding of the many different aspects of the production cycle- and how they relate to one another -while also finding ways to continuously streamline the process. In all, our group did commercial work for a number of local advertising agencies (and various production studios along the way). Eventually we ended up working on some music videos on top of a couple national and international spots.
Before MindjuiceCG , I did a slew of freelance work (most of them while simultaneously heading up/running the comic strip section for a local collage newspaper).
After doing the whole company thing for such a long time, I decided it was time to take a break and move to Los Angles. Since then, I’ve worked on several feature film projects (in addition to a couple well known video game titles). Currently, I’m a senior 3D artist at DreamWorks Feature Animation, in Glendale California, and I am also a Producer- with The Gnomon Workshop -on the Behind the Scenes Educational DVD Series among other things.
GW: You have produced a series of DVDs with The Gnomon Workshop, “Behind The Scenes”. Can you give us a summary of these titles?
MF: Well the concept for the Behind The Scenes Series (BTS) is drawn from my years of experience as a commercial Producer; for short form productions. I really valued the concept and service the Gnomon videos offered. Unfortunately, these types of offerings were simply not available when I went to college. Nevertheless, I believed full heartedly that the idea of making training videos was simply too good a thing to pass up. So that’s when I decided to come up with a collection of my own. I knew I wanted it to be similar to the tried-and-true methods/format developed at Gnomon, however I wanted it to be unique and reflective of my own sensibilities (basically a concept or a series that strings all of its individual titles, into an actual production form). It is from this framework that the idea of “Behind The Scenes” was born.
As noted before, the key element that this series tries to emphasize to viewers is what it feels like to be involved with a real production. To do this, our film crew recorded some of the actual production meetings that we had with each artist. This gives the viewer a look at what it’s like to meet with an Art Director and get a firsthand look of what these types of conversations consist of. Another aspect covered in the DVDs as well was the gathering of various reference material. One example of this process is shown in a scene when our very own vehicle Texture Artist goes to the air museum "Planes of Fame", in Chino, California, to research and collect texture material references for the vehicle he is going to be texture painting. We also have a similar movie of the character modeler doing task like this as well. Once again this is to give viewing artist a really good overview of the entire process; from start to finish, while actually illustrating how they all relate.
This is why for the character concepts part, you will see me and the Animation Director, Raphael Pimentel, guiding Peter on Geo’s character and planned mannerisms (or more or less explaining what we want from this character and what he was all about). Again, we also have shots of the different artist going out and gathering all kinds of reference material, in order to aid them in producing the caliber of work that is featured in this series installment. It’s really a great tool to show artist the “Behind the Scenes” process of creating the type and quality of work industry employers are looking for.
GW: Who would you say benefits the most from this kind of series? Would you say they are geared more towards professionals or students?
MF:In general I think both groups benefit obviously, but the primary focus is of course mostly geared towards students. Yet (as with most Gnomon DVDs), I think our series is created by professionals- for students -with professionals in mind. But more importantly, with BTS, everyone gets the overall idea and concept of how each department transitions from one stage to another. There are times even when professionals like to bury themselves in their own task, and don’t seem mindful or aware of what happens to their model or character as it makes its way through “the pipe”. But through BTS, viewers receive a birds-eye-view of sorts, of the entire process- from start to finish -and get to see how it all gets filtered. Further still, this series demonstrates team work at the professional level, for all viewers to see.
For several years now the major trend plaguing graduating students has been one of isolation. That is: going through school completely isolated in creating their own characters and or animations (for a demo-reel, mostly) and not understanding what will be required of them by the different departments in a studio environment. Oftentimes, this means not even understanding their own role, within a production. This includes the specific knowledge of what ways other departments are affected by their work (whether it be proper layout (topology) for a Character TD, animation controls for animators, or specific render passes needed by compositors). It all goes hand in hand. I also think that this series will give students a proper insight of the terms these types of productions are created under and, most importantly, the various issues and concerns that might arise while working on a production of this type.
GW: As with any production, there were snags along the way. What have you personally learned from this BTS experience?
MF: Well, I think the most important thing about any production is communication. Period. With this project, it was even more difficult because most of the artists worked at different studios. I’m not going to lie, it was quite a mission on my end to make sure that everybody was on the same page. It was a major juggling act in terms of schedules and trying to make sure that everyone was working with latest and greatest assets (a role usually handled by dedicated people specifically charged with that task). Besides that, there were always the typical production confines of quantity vs. quality. At the end of the day the series is designed to educate people about the overall process for creating a 3D sequence in a production like setting; not necessarily creating a short film. So at times there was a lot of struggle between myself and the team- concerning creating a really amazing narrative and accompanying plot, or simply focusing on and creating the educational content. But I think what we ultimately ended up with is a good balance of the two.
GW: Thank you for talking with us today
MF: You are welcome