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KXB Interview Series: Owen Neuberger

Owen Neuberger is an animator and CG specialist. We met at the Charles River Creative Art Program in Dover, MA where he taught kids music, art, and video. This year Owen is finishing his final year of college at Hampshire University. He’s preparing to make a move to Los Angeles to begin a job at Pixar. This interview was conducted via email so Owen could devote time to his thesis film, Union. You can see that film (very soon) and other work on his Vimeo channel (https://vimeo.com/oneuburger).

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Still from Union.

KXB: What is your favorite animation?

ON: That is a really tough question! This fluctuates a lot, but right now I would say my favorite animation is Loom (https://vimeo.com/24069938), created at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg. It’s a beautiful animated short about a spider eating a moth. One of my favorite things about it is the way it seamlessly transitions from a photo realistic style to very abstract imagery, and back again. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I will always love The Triplets of Belleville, an animated feature film that everyone should see.

KXB: Who/what inspires your work?

ON: I feel the most inspired when I see animated work that makes me wonder “How the heck did they do that?”. As someone interested in animation and visual effects, I usually try to decipher the ways people produced their work. The more confused and challenged I am when doing that, the more it gets my creative juices flowing. Strangely, ever since I took an interest in CGI, it has made modern action feature films really thought provoking because of all the insane high budget visual effects that are present.

KXB: What type of animation do you specialize in?

ON: I specialize in computer generated animation. Specifically, 3D animation and the technical work that goes into a 3D production and the entire pipeline of creating a 3D movie from start to finish. I consider myself a “generalist” which is someone who has knowledge of most aspects of CG production, and doesn’t specialize in just one thing.

KXB: What does your work space look like?

ON: I love workspaces! I have two desks, one I consider the “main” desk and the other is the accessory, and is usually perpendicular to the right of the main. I have a computer with two large monitors on the main desk, a keyboard and mouse, a drawing tablet hooked up to the computer, and a giant stereo facing me on the main desk. On the second desk I keep a pen and paper for taking notes and making lists, something I find indispensable when I am working. Besides those objects, I keep the surfaces of the desks as empty as possible. Also, keeping the room well-lit with soft warm lighting is key for me.

KXB: What was the interview/application process like with Pixar?

ON: To be honest, I think it is a lot like interviewing for most jobs. I submitted a resume, cover letter, and a demo reel with my best work. They review all that from the applicants, and set up interviews with the ones that they find most promising. I was lucky enough to get an interview. Over the course of the process I interviewed with a few different people at different times, all on the phone. The main goal is for them to learn a bit about who you are and where your expertise lies.

KXB: What will you be doing there?

ON: I am going to be a Technical Director Resident, in the Rendering Group. Despite the title including “director”, I’m not actually in charge of anyone. Depending on where the production cycle is, I am either developing tools to make the rendering process more efficient and robust, or helping other departments render successfully. It is something I studied a lot in college and have a great interest in. If you are curious what exactly rendering is, the Wikipedia entry on “Rendering (Computer Graphics)” sums it up pretty well.

KXB: Do you have any advice for other animators?

ON: This is classic advice for anybody doing anything, but if you love it, do it and work hard at it! I always struggle with watching other incredible animations and feeling like my work will never meet that level of quality. Don’t let that discourage you, because it isn’t a competition, it’s just about learning, enjoying yourself, and creating something that means something to you!

Thanks, Owen!

Setting Up Your Home Animation Studio

So you’ve just finished an animation workshop with KXB Studio. Understandably, you’ve fallen in love with animation and want to animate all day long. Here’s some important info for you to get started with your own home animation studio.

Software

Dragonframe ($295): I use Dragonframe exclusively. Dragonframe is easy to use for simple and complex projects. You can make high quality animations, play back your footage as you animate, and use the Onion Skin tool. It’s the same software that Laika Studios uses to make films like Coraline or Paranorman. They offer great educational discounts too. If you’re serious about animation then this is the software for you.

Boinx iStopmotion ($49.99): This software is very similar to Dragonframe. It has the essential Onion Skin feature that makes stopmotion easy and fun. This software is only compatible with apple products but can be used on an iMac, iPhone, iPad or iTouch. It has great features that Dragonframe does not like Chroma Keying and an option to convert your projects into a flipbook!

Eclipse Stopmotion Pro ($75-$185)

This is the PC equivalent to Boinx. An easy to use software that let’s you record sound effects directly into the program as you playback your animation. You can get the Standard Definition version for $75 or the Regular version for $185. They even have a monthly subscription option for just $18 a month.

Quicktime Player 7 Pro ($29.99)

If you have a camera you can easily make an animation using the Image Sequence Feature of Quicktime Player 7 Pro. Just set up your camera on the tripod and use a remote to capture your frames as you animate. Then you can upload all the images to a computer and use Quicktime to create an Image Sequence. This method is more challenging because you can’t playback your footage as you go. Animating “blind” gives you a great understanding of movement and the Principles of Animation.

Cameras

Web Cameras: You can often use the built-in webcam on your computer with most animation software. An external camera gives you more control of the scene and freedom to compose interesting shots. I recommend a webcam that has a manual focus feature like the Microsoft LifeCam series and Logitech Quickcam.

DSLRs: If you want that crisp cinematic look then use a DSLR camera with your software. I like Canons because they work well with most animation software and are less expensive than a Nikon. KXB Studio uses Canon T3i or T3.

IMPORTANT: Make sure your camera is compatible with the software before making any purchases!!!

Animation Stands

A tripod will work for any stopmotion project. If you’re interested in capturing your drawings on camera then you can try angling your tripod down. OR you can build an animation stand. Check out the Resources page for a construction diagram.

Happy Animating!

Animation as an Educational Tool

The New Year started out with a trip to the Boston area to teach at the Charles River School. Teaching in a school environment illuminated the possibilities of using animation as a powerful tool in the classroom.

My class included kids in grade 2nd to 5th who had never animated before. They were excited to help each other operate the cameras, computers, and programs. The stopmotion puppets they made inspired under the table battles and complex stories. They were learning problem solving tactics, communication skills, and basic cinematography all while having fun and making friends.

Animation does that naturally and beautifully. It can invigorate a lesson, inspire research, and build a community. There’s a whole network of online animation tools that help teach math, science, and language arts skills. But they don’t offer the tactile satisfaction that comes from traditional animation techniques or the tech skills to operate outside of the online platform. Imagine a traditional diorama becoming a stopmotion project. Or a chemical reaction explained with a flipbook. The possibilities!

In 2016, KXB Studio is researching and developing animation tools to be used in schools. There will be more info on this to come. If you, or someone you know, would like to learn more feel free to contact us at kxbstudio@gmail.


“Both video and writing are methods through which students are able to express themselves, and by doing so, share their ideas, thoughts, and are an essential component of learning and growth. The best way to foster creativity is to show students what the human mind is really capable of imagining.” –GoAnimate

“Animation is a brilliant and innovative new way to encourage children to communicate stories, ideas and concepts in a creative and original way. It can be particularly useful as a tool to encourage the creativity of students who find spelling and grammar a challenge, because it liberates them from the anxiety of always worrying about technicalities and enables them just to concentrate on the story instead.” -Laura Bates, Fractus Learning

“I think the beauty of animation is you are really not limited by the physical world around you” -Doug Cuthand, Blue Hill Productions

Wolfing it Down While Working

When I work from home it’s hard to remember to eat properly. I get in the work zone and don’t realize my hunger and dehydration until it’s too late. Here are some easy, fast, and cheap cooking ideas and recipes that help me get through the day. I’m not much a cook and I don’t like long complex steps. If you feel the same then you’ll like these recipes.


1.) Soups!

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Lentil Lemon Garlic
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Butternut Squash
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Cauliflower Tomato

Soups are great. You can make a whole batch and eat for days or share. They’re usually very nutritious and can be paired with sandwiches. And, if you do it right they’re so cheap to make.

Here are 3 of my favorite vegan recipes:

Lentil Lemon Garlic Soup- So good! I’ve been couch surfing for the past 5 weeks and have made this soup for my hosts. Everyone loves it and wants the recipe. Here you go. Thanks for your couch.

Butternut Squash Soup- This is a recipe from a The Art of Awakened Eating by Jennifer Lotus. This book was a gift from my mom and this recipe is so tasty that my definition for vegan food has been re-imagined.

Cauliflower Tomato Soup- This and the lentil soup recipe are inspired by Soup for Syria by Barbara Abdeni Massad. All the recipes are simple and delicious but these are my favorite.

2.) Smoothies!

Smoothies are a great way to get a bunch of vitamins and minerals into your system. All you need is a small food blender like a Magic Bullet. I have a favorite combination but the beauty of smoothies is their versatility and countless options. The Art of Awakened Eating includes some great recipes and information on special additives.

KXB Power Smoothie – 1 banana, handful or berries, tablespoon of honey, teaspoon of maca powder, almond milk.

3.) Drinks!

Drinking tea or hot lemon water reduces stress and bloating when I have to sit all day. Lemon water is not as boring as water, keeps me energized, and boosts my immune system (1 lemon has an average of 30.7mg of Vitamin C in it). Tea is my alternative to coffee. Try it if you get coffee jitters or poops.

As founder of a start-up, I can’t really afford to take a sick day. The competition in the animation world is fierce so everything, including my diet, can be used to give me an advantage. These foods help me stay happy, and healthy for my students, my clients, and self.

Operation Dancing Bears

KXB Studio hit the rode last week to continue work on the Polar Bear Project in Quebec City, Canada! I visited gallery owner, Jean-Robert Wilhemy, at the Inuit Art Zone to take pictures of his dancing bear sculptures.

IMG_6378I painted this in college from a photo I took about ten years ago. My dream of returning the painting to its origin came true on the first night. (Château Frontenac, Oil on Canvas)

This is a unique pink marble sculpture carved by Markoosie Papigatok. The bear symbolizes the link between the natural and spiritual world. When shamans wish to communicate with the spirit world they dance to the beat of drums and are believed to transform into a bear. I’ll be using this and 23 other sculptures to animate a dance by digitally replacing each photograph to create the illusion of movement.

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Jean-Robert was a very gracious host. He opened his gallery to me and taught me about the sculptures. The Inuit Art Zone is located in the heart of Old Quebec and has a beautiful array of Inuit sculptures. Here, Jean-Robert, Lulu, and I are doing the bear dance.

The Polar Bear Project

IMG_0682The Polar Bear Project was spawned from a dream about a drowning bear. The imagery of the bear dominated my thoughts, sketchbook, and google searches. I joined the International Bear Association student group and asked if any of the bear ecologists would benefit from using animation to illustrate their research. Dr. Thea Bechshoft, polar bear researcher and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, shared her research about the effects of pollutants and climate change on polar bears. This information led me to an article that made the whole situation viscerally painful. Boston based band Troll 2 felt the same and were able to synthesize and elaborate the information I’d gathered into a song. I’m working on animating the video using stopmotion, replacement, hand-drawn, and computer animation techniques. The goal is to raise awareness about the effects of pollution and climate change on everyone on the planet and give new breath to the plight of polar bears.

My Studio is Driving Me Crazy

“Staying in your own home can be corrosive and stifling, especially for creative work. The surroundings can smother you with the baggage of your past and the History of You.” – Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

It’s intolerable to not be making art right now. It’s equally intolerable to be in the studio this week. A conundrum that an artist is not allowed to express. A true artist would power through a creative block because art is their life. Not hide in fear of strange paralyzing emotional forces.

Working from home makes the “powering through” part more difficult. I can’t leave the studio and go home to mull things over. I can’t just ignore the deadlines or my mini polar bear puppet friends when they’re suspended in time… waiting until I play with them again.

My home studio has been directly in my bedroom, in common living spaces, and a separate guest room/shared studio place over the years. I’ve hit the creativity block many times and have handled it in all the wrong ways. Here are some strategies that have helped me break through.

1. Deliberately power through. I’ll make a nice breakfast, shower, and then be in the studio. Commit to my eight-hour workday. Tidy it up first. Get rid of the extraneous mess to clear my mind. Then take baby steps. Make a one item to do list. Do it. Pat myself on the back. And do it all over again.

2. Succumb to the paralysis. It gets pretty dark and maybe I’ll pick up a journal and start writing furiously in it. Or curl up in a ball with fever dreams. Sometimes the most innovative problem solving comes from the darkest places. It may take a while but I’ll eventually get back in the swing of things. I’m grateful for the sadness when it finally passes.

3. Think of all the $$$ you’re saving. One day you and I will be famous and rich and have studios all over the world. But in the mean time, it’s ok to be scrappy. We’re learning all the life lessons. And when we finally do get that studio we’ll be so grateful for it.

4. Don’t binge watch. Netflix is the worst. They only give me 15 seconds to come out of my complacent grog and summon the strength to stop the next episode from playing. Netflix has never helped me out of a funk, it only indulged the dark voice in my head that says I’m a lazy and terrible artist. I like to go for a walk outside instead.

5. Talk to someone. It’s hard to admit when I’m having a problem. I don’t recognize it or even admit it to myself. I don’t want to look like a failure or a bad artist. But putting words to my feelings and sharing them with someone I love puts the situation in perspective. Always.

All of this is easier said than done, of course. Listen to your body, your art, and try to figure out what works for you. Good luck!

How to Survive in Your Home Animation Studio

When I realized that animation was my LIFE I decided to invest in and set up a home-studio. Over the years, I’ve had several home animation studios and have learned a few things that keep me sane as I create in the place where I live.

  1. Use External Speakers. When I’m working I usually have a constant stream combination of NPR, Pandora, or podcasts. Without a community of coworkers the soothing sounds make me feel like less of an animation hermit. I use external speakers placed at least 5 feet away when I listen rather than the computer’s external speakers. The sound is cleaner, softer, and doesn’t make me grind my teeth. If you get headaches or fatigued in your home studio try out external speakers!
  2. Make one improvement to your studio every week. This is essential when you’re first setting up. Notice the shortcomings of your space and fix it. Add a new shelf. Get the proper lighting. Vacuum your space. This is where you make your art so show it some love. Animators who work at home usually have a small space to work on big ideas. I find that the limitations of my space inspire inventions and create interesting stipulations for my projects. Your art is evolving so your home-studio needs to keep up.
  3. Go outside and exercise. Animators usually have to sit or stand in one place for hours on end. This puts a lot of stress on your body. Many animators revel in the pain and think that that is just the price you pay for your art. But that’s not true! Incorporate exercise into your routine. I do a round of sun salutations after I complete 1 or 2 seconds of animation. Do something that gets your blood moving and your muscles stretched. You’ll see a change in your animation endurance and you’ll feel (less) exhausted at the end of the day.
  4. Clean up at the end of the day. AFTER watching the progress you’ve made on your animation on loop for the hundredth time, BEFORE collapsing in bed with your favorite binge-worthy show, CLEAN UP your workspace. Just do a little tidying. Recycle the scrap paper, put the dishes in the sink, clear off some space for the next day. This process is therapeutic for me. I can take stock of the day and plan for tomorrow. Your morning bright-eyed self will thank your begrudgingly responsible butt in the morning.

What are your home-studio tips?!

New Animation Studio: Workshops, Services, and More!

Hello animators and educators, students and businesses, friends and fans. Welcome to my new online home. This blog is the official news source of KXB Studio. As the founder and sole employee of KXB Studio I’ll also be the author of all articles.

What you can find here, after subscribing to my rss feed, is the intersection of my art, teaching, and entrepreneurship. I’ll be posting about my works in progress, what’s new in art education, animation home-studio hacks, industry news, art-repreneuring tips, production anecdotes, and deals/coupons for KXB Studio workshops and services.

To christen this new digital home, I’m sharing with you the first animation I ever made. Thanks to my first animation teacher, Lorelei Pepi, and The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.