Thursday, June 30, 2011

Communication: The Foundation of Production

For those of you just discovering the joys of production milestones, the nuances of production communication might baffle and confound you during your indoctrination to the process, especially in an academic environment. In academia, we are all learning the workflow, and our responses to the various behavioral mechanisms in the client/artist relationship are not yet at the professional level.

Trust Your Training

In order to reduce erroneous and repetitive and aged miscommunication, the key is to keep your communication flow through established channels. I drilled you guys on this over the past three years. Here are the basic production roles and the communications throughput associated with each. This is a mirror of the professional production workplace, so make a note of it.


The producer handles ALL communication with the client. This means everything that goes before the client, from dailies notes, to meeting setups, to deadline discussions, all communication between post-production and client MUST go through one channel: the show producer.

This is essential for several reasons.

1. Establish a Single Voice

If the client is confused about who to contact because they are getting input/feedback from various post-production sources, they will lose confidence in the production team. This is the cardinal rule: the show producer must present an overwhelming grasp of post-production shot status. This overwhelming grasp will establish a one-stop buck-stops-here presence that will help calm the client when things get hot, especially around 911 delivery time.

2. Consistency

Direct contact by artists, leads or supervisors with the client will de-stabilize the show dynamic, and will undermine the client relationship with the show producer. The show producer must know everything that is happening in the show, therefore, direct communication with the client by the post-staff not only erodes the one-voice rule, but it also surprises the show producer, especially when post staff begin setting unreal expectations up between client and artist directly.

No show can succeed if individual artists are brokering deals directly with the client. The producer's job is to balance client expectation with production assets and budgeting. Since the producer's job is to plan and manage the production corps, they will always know how to manage client expectation in balance with overall production milestones.

3. Trust Basis

Sending three emails from production to client will most likely confuse the client and derail any confidence that has been established between the two entities from show production start. Communications must be managed. I cannot stress the importance of this, especially as you are learning your workflows. You cannot bail yourself out of a tight jam in a 911 situation by calling on more artists from your overhead pool. You are it. If you have a show artist that promises something directly to the client, the show producer will be hard pressed to undo that expectation, and only at a trust loss.

Trust is supreme here. Overlapping communication and miscommunication at cross-purposes will destroy trust.

4. Established Role

The expectation of the client is that the show producer IS in communication with the entire show staff. When emails go out from these disparate entities, that expectation is lost and the show trust is lost. This is not production. This is chaos. The expectation is that the post-production producer is gathering information and preparing it in hallway meetings (exec-staff meeting prior to show dailies) and presenting it to the client.

The client only wants to see progress. The client could care less about in-house show workflow or production issues. They WANT to be protected to the day-to-day of post-production efforts. This is why you have a producer!

VFX Supervisor

The VFX Supervisor MUST work with the show producer to manage client expectation. If a shot requires additional second unit footage, if an edit point needs clarification, if a process or a result needs presentation, testing and the requisite client feedback, the VFX Supervisor MUST allow the producer to handle the traffic.

Directions like, please find out if our latest green-screen replacement tests are working for the client, or please see if the client has additional takes of shot 3, are all acceptable. Directly contacting the client, even if done in a cc fashion, completely takes the voice of your producer out of the equation. Whether or not it makes visual sense, aesthetic sense or any other sense, it most likely WILL NOT make production sense, especially when balanced with the complex equation of established budget and delivery. Just check with your producer first.


(See VFX Supervisor above.) If you have an idea, if you see something that everyone has missed in dailies, please inform the VFX Supervisor, DPS (Digital Production Supervisor) or your show producer. Contacting the client in any way is PROHIBITED, no matter how informal or how great your relationship is with the client.

Many young artists arriving in the post-production arena are so eager to prove their merit that they try to blast their awesomeness to all within earshot, especially in dailies. DO NOT DO THIS. Not only does this derail the presentation tempo, but it again circumvents the established communication flow/approval process.

Make a Note of It

So, again, here is the entertainment project production chain of command:


Artist -> Lead -> VFX Supe -> Producer -> Client


Client -> Producer -> Team

In Summation

Please keep the aforementioned chart handy. Draw it on your forearm. Tack it to your 1950s fridge stocked with old Diet Pepsi's and Boost protein shakes. Nail it to your corral out back near the shed. Follow the rules and the production will flourish and live to take on more projects.

Break the rules and prepare to abandon ship.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Use of Assets For Your Reel

The issue of asset use is a frequent topic in the academic environment. In order to build a competitive portfolio, especially if you are an online-only candidate, you'll need nearly 90 seconds of unique collaborative shot material to get your first line production job.

You can't do that with canned exercise material, the same material (especially online) that hundreds of other candidates have already used in their reels.

When can you use your collaborative footage? Here are some guidelines:

1. Sign an NDA

If you are working on a project that has involved another department, namely Motion Pictures and Television, or on an outside project (independent filmmaker) you'll need to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that explicitly prohibits a release of their materials in any form before express permission.

Why is this important in Academia?

If the Director wants to enter his or her film in an exclusive festival, that festival typically prohibits the public viewing of the material in any way BEFORE the festival screening.

Why is this important to an Independent Filmmaker?

In order to control publicity in advance of a film's release, the Producers of an indy film NEVER want their material released in a manner that is not consistent with their marketing plan.

Why is it important that you follow these rules?

If you don't, there is a likelihood that future filmmakers will avoid working with you, your program, and/or your school. Trust is the MOST important aspect of our professional creative relationships. Without the independent filmmaker and/or film student, the visual effects candidate will have little unique material with which to use in his or her portfolio.

2. After DVD release

If you've worked on a project at a professional house, you won't have access to that material until the film it appears in is released on DVD. No exceptions.

3. By Permission

If you can obtain permission from the show's Executive Producer and/or Director, you might be able to include it in your demo reel. Consider that demo reels appear on the web today, as DVD demo reels are a thing of the past. Once you obtain permission for use, that material has a high likelihood of showing up on the web.

Please be responsible. Your desire to get good material in your reel is completely understood. We've all been in your position. Keep the trust. Don't use materials unless you've been granted specific access. If you are in doubt, ask.

If you play by the rules, everyone wins.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dragonboy Wins Gold at Student Academy Awards!

Congratulations to AAU's first Gold Medal Student Academy Award winning collaborative production, Dragonboy, co-written and co-directed by Bernardo Warman, Shaofu Zhang and Lisa Allen, and produced by Caitlin Satchell.

If you haven't seen the short yet, watch it here:

The department rallied behind this project as its first major collaborative, setting up a special workflow curriculum designed to help light, render and get the film out the door.

The Academy's only other Student Academy Award came in 2003 for Bert, written and directed by animator Moonsung Lee. Watch it here: By simply examining both films, you can plainly see how far the program has come in eight years.

See the June 11th presentation and acceptance speech here:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Legacy: The Production Track

Those of you who participated in the genesis of the production track at any point while I was at the AAU recognized the impact it had upon all aspects of the department. Every candidate, whether BFA or MFA, who joined this specialized (and unrecognized) sub-plan benefited with a series of high-profile internships and career placement at graduation. (For a full list of graduates, and current AAU producers, see this blog:


The complete history of the production program is detailed in a previous blog entry, but in a nutshell, this is how it came to be: Arriving in the classroom, having ten years of production experience, I quickly recognized that post-production project coordination, even at an academic level, needed production management. In my advanced visual effects course, a course based on multiple-project delivery over a short period of time (in an attempt to mirror the industry), I selected students to be production assistants (based on their resumes). The production assistants would help me run dailies, take notes, and for their efforts, received a small grade bump.

I selected students who either had production backgrounds, or those students who seemed outgoing, fearless under pressure, and well-organized.

After noting the successes in the class (75% Spring Show placement rate) and the beneficial effect it had upon the academic careers of the production assistants, we expanded the program to include Catherine Tate's Composting For Production collaborative courses. Catherine adopted the PA approach so well that the roles were expanded to other courses in the program later on, like Derek Flood's lighting/texture courses.

It just makes sense. All trade-based core courses should be structured in a way that mirrors the industry. Producers are part of the workflow. Why not at a trade school?


I loved my producers. In return, they loved the industry perspective their positions afforded them. Once they understood the system of bidding, client management, artist development, workflow design and pipeline assessment, they blossomed. Many of them had struggled as animation, modeling or post-production artists. When the word-of-mouth spread that they was a safe harbor in the program for those artists who loved the process and the industry, but didn't love the technical aspects so much, they came knocking, hesitantly, at my office door.


Because most of the producers that I developed were artists and designers first, they fully understood the workflow and technical processes involved with the respective programs in feature animation and visual effects. They understood both sides: from the management point of view and the artist's point of view. Few current producers in the industry have such clarity of perspectives.

These producers immediately found jobs outside. Having had some experiences with Shotgun and Basecamp helped, certainly, as well as having nearly a dozen small productions on their early resumes.


I am hoping that Catherine can manage the producers in the meantime. Executive MFA Producer, Lutz Wong should be able to run the weekly meetings, including the live broadcasts, through the Adobe Connect production office. The department may seek a Production Lead, inviting a retired pro to helm the program. That would be the best of all worlds, certainly.

You can't go back to how it was done before. You shouldn't erase all the progress we've made in the last six years. It was a struggle to find good producers while I was there. Without clear leadership, your recruiting classes will dwindle and the program will die.

Get out there and talk to your colleagues about the program. Keep it alive!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

VFX Guild?

I wanted to get back to what Alex F., Steve Wright, Steve Kaplan (TAG), Scott Ross and others are saying about the state of the post-production visual effects industry.

Let's be clear: post-production visual effects is not Feature Animation. Post-production is not an IP (intellectual property) derived trade. It's workflows and pipelines may be protected by trademark, copyright and NDA (non-disclosure) agreements, but those systems are simply designed to make the IP-owner more competitive within the post-production marketplace.

(Digital) feature animation and those companies that service (digital) feature animation production are not part of this discussion. As long as America's ability to design story, music and games remain our top intellectual property export, this area will remain largely domestic due to its ability to bear the cost difference between domestic development and overseas development. The specific production workflows involved in a story-based project require significant daily modification, from beats to layout, to such a point that the necessary choreography between story teams in multiple timezones would harm the process.

So we're talking about a bid-based service center that provides a contractual delivery of a set of shots. Much like a general contractor, a VFX company will provide a bid, project management, milestone delivery and often, change orders along the way. Toss in up to two years of free bid-related proof-of-concept tests, wink-and-nod overage forgiveness, horse trading, and studio pressure linked to potential future business, and the general contractor paradigm is obliterated. No GC in the world would still be in business today if they ran their construction business like a visual effects house.

And yet this is the model. No wonder why we're seeing drastic cost saving strategies in the New VFX Era. I'm curious to see how the IPO (initial public offering) goes for a major visual effects house in 2012. Sure, Pixar made it work. They own their product. I just can't see a publicly-held visual effects house trading in Pixar numbers given the market today.

The Tail Wagging the Dog

So in order to be competitive in the marketplace, in order to be low-bidder, you need to find a way to cut costs. In the Renaissance of VFX, back in the late 90s, ILM could call the shots, adding a sizable percentage to the bid to offset potential workflow overruns. Sony Pictures Imageworks, underwritten by parent, Sony USA, had underbid their competition to take the loss, knowing they had the deep pockets of their parent to keep them in payroll.

In the New Era, to survive, companies must find a way to keep the bid and deliver the product without 911 bail out. 911 work is sometimes shared by the client and the initial contracting studio, sometimes not. In all cases, 911 work is expensive.

Here's the thing about contract work: it's like getting to the check out counter with only fifty bucks in your wallet and sixty dollars worth of groceries on the conveyor belt. You simply toss items back to the store until you're under budget. Same deal with VFX. Can't do a 3D fluid sim? Make it a 2D solve with some canned smoke elements. No one will notice. Done.

I mean, we notice, right? We can tell if show effects are crap. Sure. But to the studio, it all about the bottom line. What if first and second unit production costs were greater than expected? What budget gets cut? Do you want simulated digital creatures or 50/50 animatronic puppeteering? Maybe we rewrite to get rid of the creatures entirely.

The tail doesn't wag the dog. That's just an illusion.

VFX Guild

The only (and this is a long shot) way this industry can command the attention of Hollywood is to form a guild, much like the Screenwriters Guild or the DGA (Directors Guild of America). The only way.

Why is that so difficult? Nobody wants to be the only guy in the guild. I have seen talk about IATSE 16 at ILM. Yeah, so George was the only kid in that sandbox. I'll talk about that in a future post. Basically same issue there, though. ILM was operating with a CBA through the Local and felt that it was unfair in that the CBA added financial obligations to their compensation packages that other companies did not have to adhere to, like paid overtime, guaranteed yearly raises and other benefits.

If one company does not join the VFX Guild, and therefore, is not bound to the statutory obligations set forth in that guild, the whole deal blows up due to market forces. I can't think of a company that would risk that, and certainly not in the name of the poor VFX artist who typically makes more than 100K annually.

For a guild to work, everyone needs to be in.

This general topic is currently being discussed among the active membership of the VES (Visual Effects Society). How do you fix the VFX industry? Where are we headed?

I'll keep you updated. Stay tuned.

The Trade Education Model

The term liberal arts denotes a curriculum that imparts general knowledge and develops the student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities, unlike the professional, vocational, and technical curricula emphasizing specialization. The contemporary liberal arts comprise studying literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science.[1]

-- Wikipedia

I believe that the best candidates for the new entertainment marketplace are those candidates that can easily communicate their design capabilities through written, verbal and technical communication.

As I mentioned last night, working in teams that are not necessarily within your local office space, building, city or country will become the norm, and therefore communication skills which identify you as a design leader will play a role in your ability to find a senior position down the road.

Frankly, it's too early to tell for many of you how far you will go in the business. Many of you will work for five years and find linked careers in human resource management, production management, scientific connective industry, telecommunications, and education. Production, unless to traverse the ladder quickly, tends to burn you out on long 80 hour weeks after about five years.

The key is traversing the supervisory ladder quickly, and those skills that will best serve you are rooted in the liberal arts.


Most trade-focused baccalaureate programs allow for at least 45 units of liberal arts study. Masters program do not, providing just a handful of units designed to provide you with critical or analytical thinking related to your specific field.

Missing most notably in the liberal training core is mathematics, physics and programming languages. I truly believe that in order to float on the technical sea of the New VFX Age, you must be fluent in at least two non-English languages (Mandarin!) and two computer languages (C++, Python). I have seen many modeling and rigging candidates turned away because they failed
Python and Linux tests at the door.


I think it behooves you to get that training any way you can. You can learn Mardarin, C++ and Python through fairly inexpensive commercial means. The downside is that you won't have a mentor. Sometimes having a mentor in the initial stages of your learning process is essential to get you past the unknown and into the known. Once you're comfortable with your goals, you'll move along your path with pace.


After working for nearly seven years in an accredited program, I found that onsite candidates far outpaced their online counterparts. For years I searched for an answer, assessing the delivery model (the learning management system or more commonly, the LMS), demo video quality, and lecture content of the online courses.

Having taught a very successful advanced VFX course on campus, I had a pretty good idea of what was missing from the online experience. Every year we had nearly a thousand entries from campus students in our departmental show. Every year we'd get a handful of successful online entries, and ALL from the illustrative side, in visual development.

Why? As Director of the program, I'd tear my hair out trying to figure out what the essential differences were.

The idea of working from your home for four years in a degree-seeking trade track has always been mind-boggling to me. I would routinely encourage my online-only candidates to start online, but leave and come to San Francisco to study. There is no substitution for studio collaborative training. There is a dynamic between artists and supervision, the kind of culture that you see in the market, training that you cannot get alone, by yourself, in your bedroom.

The idea that the part-time artist, working full-time, raising a family, keeping their own schedule seemed at cross-purposes to the amount of training necessary to dedicate in order to enter the MOST competitive marketplace in the world. I would observe that the average festival winner would spend nearly 1,000 hours on a project, in the lab and at home at night after lab closure.

The ability to dedicate clear time to a project was one of the keys in the disparity. If you can't find a clear creative space, both physically and emotionally, you can't truly find a path to design solution, not to mention technical troubleshooting.

There was one clear reason. Here is another.

Artists observe. We push one another to achieve greater understand of our craft. This synergy allows for rapid growth in artistic collaborative areas, like animation and post-production. Without the synergy, you simply have a series of unlinked exercises.

So what was the biggest difference between online and onsite?
Synergy. Plain and simple.

Surely, if you are a painter or a photographer or a trainee in one of the classic
beaux-arts, you can get by in an online training universe. A classic sculptor might need to see his colleague's material in order to assimilate competitive skills acquisition, for example, but unless his or her work is installation-based, requiring a team, a sculptor might grow in an online training environment.

Not so with a collaborative studio environment. A modeler must work with a surfacing artist and a rigger in order to solve for a particular shot or character design in an entertainment/story-driven project. A compositor must understand how the matchmove will serve the set-extensions in the digital matte painting to be inserted in a sequence of shots. A set of "live", dailies-based, collaborative communication skills must go hand-in-hand with the technical training in order to be ready to join the market at the finish of any degree plan.

Synergy. That's what's truly missing. Sure, dedicated time is essential. You must have calendar space in order to provide the 15 or so hours per week per core course. Beyond that, you need the studio culture benefit of synergistic observational experience. Just seeing the best of the best work around you is key to inspiration and success. The ability to incorporate valuable approaches, approaches that you had not thought of, approaches that your instructor did not reveal, is absolutely part of the studio culture.

Dodging the larger question of how you find the enormous amount of clear time to dedicate to your project training, how do you go about adding synergy to any training path, whether online, hybrid or onsite?

This question answered in my next installment.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Importance of Collaboration

The industry has entered a New Age.

The first thirty years showed us the growth of a new digital entertainment industry and the reign of domestic production units. Companies like Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (1975), Rosendahl's Pacific Data Images (1981), Edlund's Boss Film (1983) , Hughes' Rhythm and Hues (1987), and Ross/Cameron's Digital Domain (1993) epitomized the early production paradigm: single bonded, sole-source post contracts providing head to tail production design and delivery.

Proprietary software required a technical artist that was more engineer than cinematographer or painter. As workflows improved, due in part to the vast improvement in off-the-shelf software (starting with the release of Side/FX Houdini (Prisms) in 1994 and Alias' Maya in 1997), production efficiency increased. Digital dailies allowed for an increase in creative iteration during the production week, allowing supervisors more control over what they could provide the client. Landmark effects films like Jurassic Park and Twister proved that the heyday of the analog model and miniature set was over and digital effects would predominate, driving blockbuster film costs to new heights.

Fast forward 1999. The release of the Matrix marks the end of the Great VFX Renaissance. (The feature animation industry was as yet dominated by Disney, soon to be overtaken by a young Pixar, helmed by ex-Diseny animator, John Lasseter.) A double Academy Award Winning three-quel and highest grossing set of blockbuster VFX films at that time would prove to Hollywood that the old-line production companies need not be involved in the process. Offshoot companies led by defectors from the majors would set up veritable forced labor camps, running 24 hour non-benefit shops in order to cuts costs and keep bids.

In 2003, the mighty Industrial Light and Magic was forced to lay off nearly a hundred artists over a two-year period, many ending up in new start-ups and small boutiques. Those companies, like the Orphanage, would in-turn grow to accept small sub-contracts from larger companies. In 2004, The Day After Tomorrow, a project started at Digital Domain, would be finished by more than three dozen credited and non-credited sub-contractors.

If 1999 was the end of the VFX Renaissance, 2003 was the beginning of the Dark Age.

No longer would sole-source projects survive from turn-around through release printing. The norm would become an outsource partnership model (ILM/Singapore) or the increasingly cutthroat practice of underbid/change-order 911 sub-contracting (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe, Rhythm & Hues). 911 refers to emergency work: when the project goes south, the client takes the work away from the troubled contractor and sub-contracts it to a proven company -- at a premium.

Today, large production houses are simply managing large outsourced projects conducted overseas. We're seeing the rise of international VFX companies that rival domestic work. (With the release of Kung Fu Hustle in 2004, Asia had arrived. Companies like Base/FX and Pixmondo are providing main production work for television (Boardwalk Empire) and film (I Am Number Four) in partnership with companies like Sony Imageworks.

Collaboration and Supervision

The Great Domestic VFX Era is over. Costs in California are driving large companies like Sony to develop facilities in less expensive locales, like New Mexico. Digital Domain has opened offices in Vancouver and Rhythm and Hues has been operating a sister facility in Mumbai for years.

Without experience in collaborative workflows, without experience in visual effects design, today's entertainment trade school graduates will be at a disadvantage. The jobs in roto and matchmoving still exist today... but these entry positions are fast disappearing as overseas outsourcing is demanded by ever tighter bids. Tiny domestic boutiques fight over smaller and smaller sub-contracts and the trending industry job for the near future will be in production and workflow design.


Knowing how to manage artists, design bids, understand the complex relationship between client and studio will be the most important skill set in the next VFX Era. Producers are absolutely key to efficient project models: without them, the complex sub-contracting system fails.

We'll talk about ways to collaborate, build workflows, design pipelines and make successful projects in an upcoming series of posts. Meanwhile, grab a friend and collaborate.

Join the AAU Collaborative group here:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Seven Years

Here is a concise history of the Renaissance of the Animation and Visual Effects School at the Academy of Art University under Directors Vince De Quattro (Online), Chris Armstrong, Sherrie Sinclair and Tom Bertino. It's important that the legacy of those that helped contribute to its new national pre-eminence is not forgotten after my departure.

Ancient History: 1994

After the industry-changing release of Jurassic Park in 1993, AAU reached out to then ILM digital artist, Steve Williams. Williams can be credited as the Father of the Post-Production Visual Effects Industry, as he was the computer scientist/graphic artist who worked tirelessly (and mostly in secret) to show Steven Spielberg the value of digital "puppetry." Williams put together a demo in his small office in the basement of "D Building" of a skinned, shaded, rigged and animated T-Rex digital maquette and left it running in a loop on his desk during a meet with the studio execs. Spielberg was convinced. The "chance" demonstration led to the award of several dozen digital hero shots, which in turn contributed in a large part to the wild financial success of the film, and eventually to Hollywood's embrace of an alternative to analog puppetry (Stan Winston, Phil Tippett), an art form that had been around since the 1920's.

On the weight of the digital techniques he helped introduce, Williams was asked to lecture nationally about ILM's post-production work. Elisa attended one of his lectures and
expressed interest in bringing this new technology into an animation lab.

Steve put together an initial proposal for a digital lab, most likely comprised of a single SGI Crimson, and given the large investment involved (costs could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars at the time), Williams felt that his proposal was beyond the budget of the small beaux-arts college. He was surprised by a call from Elisa soon thereafter asking him when he could begin. The CEC (Computer Education Center) was born.

CEC: 1994-1997

Rob Gibson ran the CEC from a complex of offices in the basement of 79 New Montgomery. Rob left AAC in 1997 to helm the new digital facilities at Expression College in Emeryville. He would later come back to AAU as CTO of the CEC in 2001.

CEC: 1997 - 2001

CEC: 2001-2002

Ronn Brown assumed the role of MFA Director after leaving ILM's matte painting department where he had been working since 1993.


C. Andrew Nelson was asked to pick up the reins of the CEC after Brown's departure. In 2003, the CEC program was renamed Computer Arts (CA) after AAC became regionally accredited as Academy of Art University. The digitally animated short, Bert, (Moon Sung Lee) wins a Student Academy Award. It is the first time that an animation student at AAC/AAU is nationally recognized.


Lourdes Livingstone is named Interim Director. Livingtone's legacy is her suggestion that 2D Animation be moved from the Illustration School and combined with the School of Computer Arts. This partnership would later be called the School of Animation and Visual Effects. The only drawback is that 2D Animation stays in the Illustration Building at Powell and Kearny.


Chris Armstrong is hired as the Director of Animation and Visual Effects (3D) joining Director Sherrie Sinclair (2D). Doug MacMillan is hired as VFX Lead, but leaves after a semester to join a digital start-up, Element/FX, in San Rafael.


Vince De Quattro is hired as the Online Director. Tom Bertino comes aboard as the MFA Director. The ANM/VFX Program begins to rock.


The VFX sub-plan is expanded with the hiring of Catherine Tate as Compositing Lead. Sean Mitchell, VFX Cinematographer leaves for SF State.


The Production Track is introduced. The very first Production candidate, Elana Hokin, passes her final review. Tad Leckmann leaves AAU to assume the Chair of the Animation Program at SCAD. AAU is awarded WASC accreditation. De Quattro implements the fabulously intelligent BFA curriculum numbering system with some help from Denise Mackiewicz-Cottin.

Here is a brief history of the AAU Production Program, and the reasons why it came to be.

Further, inter-department collaboration wasn't supported at all; that is, students were not designing projects that required a group of sub-specialists that would provide models and others that would provide a rig and yet other that might animate, light and composite.

Instead, the program resembled a series of serial exercise routines, with one course covering some information and another some other information, often unlinked, often overlapping, but never consistent.

Worse, other departments that might link well with the curriculum (like MPT, ADV or ILL) were not mandated to co-mingle their BFA/MFA candidates in order to better represent the entertainment production model: a creative marketplace demand linked with creative production supply.

The Challenge

The solution was to create a network of student-volunteer producers in each of the departments which are interested in collaboration. The hope was that collaborative curriculum would follow. Once it was clear that student-based production overlays were the key to more realistic industry-style workflows and pipelines, projects would improve, student placement rates would improve, and the program would grow.

The other benefit would be that once AAU Production Track Graduates entered the industry, after several years working their way up the executive ladder, they would be able to influence the future hiring of more AAU graduates!

Recent Developments: 2006 - 2010

When I arrived in 2006, AAC had become AAU, and was granted University (MFA) accreditation, first through ACICS and later, through WASC. I argued for a collaborative MFA thesis project option, as this was my experience while attending USC Film School.

It worked this way: several dozen scripts would be presented to a faculty review committee, a few were chosen, the writers of those projects were assigned as Directors, and the rest of student community was then assigned roles on the remaining projects. Like the world.

However, after some discussion, it was felt that every AAU MFA candidate should be allowed to write, direct and produce their own project. Collaboration was put on hold in favor of the "one sculptor, one block of granite" model.

In the Spring of 2008, I began hosting informal production meetings in order to help support the many visual effects projects that we were bringing in from ADV and MPT through the curriculum in CA3D 626, the department's only MFA Visual Effects course offered at the time. Those meetings turned into impromptu VFX Club meetings and then later, in the Fall of 2008, I began providing basic production workshops to attendees.

With a surge in trained producers, collaborative projects began to get organized, succeed, and produce finished project work. Catherine Tate, VFX Compositing Lead, was able to accommodate more independent projects every semester, supported by producers trained from the ranks of the ANM/VFX study body.

Collaboration became possible, not only intra-departmental collabs, but independent film projects, AAU MPT and ADV projects, as well as MFA Thesis Projects! MFA Thesis collaboration became a reality.

In the Summer of 2009 I crafted the first ANM 499 Producing syllabus, and taught the class live for two semesters before handing it off to Gil Banducci, who implemented it for online and currently teaches it in-person. In addition to the Producing Course, I continued to meet with students every week during the semester to discuss basic production skills, producing concerns, internships, and other related issues.

Excerpted from "Painting the Roses Red," (c) 2011 Vince De Quattro. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic without expression permission of the author.

Excerpted from "Painting the Roses Red," (c) 2011 Vince De Quattro. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic without expression permission of the author.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Insider's Guide, Part 1

2D (Illustrative Animation) Online

Where do you go from here? Grab your artistic compass and print out this topological map to the rest of your academic careers.

Part One of this occasional series deals with the traditional (2D) illustrative tracks in animation, including drawn animation, vector-based (flash) animation, character design, visual development, storyboarding, story development, and experimental (stop-motion) animation.

David Nethery (
Associate Director

David is an incredible artist, Disney born and bred, working out of his office in Orlando, FLA. David is a traditional illustrative animator, and with his brilliant 2D faculty can craft a solid plan for your visual development and traditional needs. He's more than willing to help and will acclimate to the new demands placed on his time until he receives additional help. He is the most likely candidate to assume the overall Department Director role.

2D Faculty of Note:

Kathleen Quaife (

Kathleen is a traditional animator, more specifically, an effects animator. Her effects animation class is growing in popularity and has been running every semester. She teaches the 102s and 621s (History and Techniques of Animation) along with industry vet Steve Segal (

Charles Keagle (
Faculty Coordinator

Charles is the Faculty Coordinator, or more specifically, the 3D Char. Animation Lead. He will most likely be promoted to Associate Director (a position I originally wanted to hire him into, but for some unknown reason, he title was changed to Faculty Lead. I wasn't even sure what that meant.) Charles was a star trad animator at Cal Arts (Valencia, CA) and his BFA short film was a proven festival winner. He spent time at Pixar in story development.

David, Kathleen and Charles are superb story developers and anyone interested in crafting a collab story-based project should consult with them.

Terryl Whitlatch

Terryl is the enormously talented creature designer/zoologist who famously created and occasionally teaches ILL 639. If you can handle the pre-reqs for that course (ANM 610, ILL 625, ANM 633) you owe it to yourself to take this class. When Terryl is busy with industry projects, that course is taught admirably by Joe Weatherly.

Diana Coco-Russell
Associate Director

Jennifer Oliver

Speaking of fab trad character designers, Diana (Associate Director) and Jennifer O. hold their own with their respective teaches of 610, 611, and 633. Seriously, since Sherrie Sinclair (onsite Director of 2D Animation) brought David on, he's been able to grab all of the ex-Disney animators for our program, making it one of the best (if not THE best) 2D Animation programs in the country (certainly the best online 2D animation program).

Scott Caple

One word: Layout. Layout courses in any traditional illustrative curriculum are essential. We currently have one, built and taught by industry specialist Scott C. Fantastic course. If you're a 3D artist, take note: WE NEED A 3D LAYOUT COURSE. There is a pre-vis/layout course on the books, (ANM 203/ANM 649) but we haven't run them in awhile. Bug David or whoever takes the reins to get that course operational as part of the early 3D story development.

Suggested Program Progression

One of the most important roles that I filled while Director of the program was incoming MFA application triage. A candidate would write a letter of intent, and I would work with him or her to better understand the correct path to craft in order to place them in the right career at graduation. Because I could "hybridize" programs, I could use waivers/substitutions to tailor a MFA program to suit the artist depending on their career goals.

Curriculum Philosophy

If you are a story-based artist, you should be in a core development progression that looks something like the following path. Work with David or your Department Director to develop an approach that considers the following elements:

Tier 1
Foundational Illustration
Performance Analysis
Historical Analysis

Tier 2
Foundational Illustration
Performance Training
Story Development (3-act/4-act/short form)

Tier 3
Character Design
Workflow Analysis
Storyboarding/Beat Development

Tier 4
Visual Development (Advanced)
Respect for Production

Tier 5
Collaborative Application(s)

It's getting late. I'll get back to this in the morning! Good night, all.


Yeah, I know, this is shameless, but if you'd like to let the world know about any contributions you felt I made to your better understanding of the industry, or your career as a whole, do it here:


Leave a recommendation!


I wanted to share with you guys some of the kind words that I am just now beginning to receive as the word gets out:

Vince I know nothing I can do or say can make what has gone down any easier, and I'm sure you were firm in your decision. As a student I want to thank you for everything you've done, and all the effort you put forth in to makeing us online students actually feel apart of not just the school, but that you alone were able to galvinize and captivate our attention and make us strive to do more as students.

I know my opinion my not sway either your choice or their's, but I feel obligated to let you know that I think what they've done is not only extremely misjudged, but that it also shows they, the other directors and those who've forced this situation have never once seen the positive effects of your actions.

I feel this constitutes a great loss for AAU, and has proven to me as a student that the department and the school do not have the online students interests at heart, despite what ever ridiculous claim they may have stated, I'd be hard pressed to find any student who would speak ill agains the effort and actions you've taken to both galvinize and inspire the online student body to begin networking and collaborating. You were our champion, no other department head could come close to your dedication and commitment to the students, both online and on campus.

As a student I'm deeply concerned about not only the ripple effect this may cause with faculty, but also how this shift will affect me and my academic integrity. I feel my degree will be worth less now, having not worked under you, and if the department flounders how this will affect not only me but the rest of the online students who've looked up to you as our guide.

I know my words my fall on deaf ears, but I have no problem sticking my neck out on the chopping block to voice my opinion to the department. Please let me know if there is anything I could possibly do, or whom I could address my concern to.

Thank you, for everything you've done.


As a student, I thought it would be wise to convey my gratitude for what you've done at AAU. Words cannot express the sorrow and rage I feel at what's been done to you and how you've been treated. I'm torn between punching a hole in my wall and crying my eyes out, because you did so much for the University only to be treated like nothing. You contributed everything you had, yet got so little in return, it's time you get something back. It's time people show you how much you've been appreciated by us students, and I thought I'd put in my two cents.

You were the backbone of my MFA candidacy. Without you, I'm considering withdrawing from the program and going back in to business and marketing. To me, there is no MFA program without you. You were the only Director who cared even an iota about the students, and it was felt by many students throughout your time at AAU. You tried bringing people together. You tried bringing collaboration and producing into the program. You tried your damnest to be the best Director you could be with availability to all students, on campus and online. Well, guess what?

You succeeded.

Collaboration is known and agreed upon throughout the department. Producing is increasing in numbers for those who can't quite make it as an artist. The loss of YOU is felt throughout those who know about what happened, and I do not sympathize with the Department, once the wrath and fury has been unleashed at the announcement of your departure.
I've edited out some of the fury.

Keep this in mind: the production must go on, with or without a specific principal artist. Productions are not based on the individual, they are based on the group. The stronger the group the less important the loss of a single artist.

I was a facilitator. I pushed the snowball down off the top and into the bottomless chasm. It's not about one person. Don't find anger in this. Find your passion. Find a way to make your work in a way that you never thought possible.

At the end of the day (nightlies!), we are still friends, you and I.

Episode VII: A New Beginning

The Future of Production Collaboration

As many of you are now discovering, I am no longer the Director of Animation and Visual Effects at the AAU. There are dozens of student productions in various stages of development which will require continued support. While what remains of the current department reacts to its new responsibilities, we are here for you.

The production staff and I remain dedicated to the vision that we started three years ago. (You can read more about the history of the AAU Production program here:

The Premise

Connections. In a competitive entertainment market, you cannot possibly create relevant work in a solo model. You are not sculptors. You are not painters. You are not photographers. These art forms are not inherently collaborative.

You ply a trade that is as multi-dimensional as it is complex, and the studio art university model does not serve it well... not without a collaborative support structure. We are storytellers and story artists and layout artists and actors and directors. We can only survive in an entertainment marketplace if we REPLICATE that market in our course work.

This has always been my mantra. This is the rationale behind adding online offices, online broadcasting, social networking, file sharing, blogs, twitter and the as yet, undiscovered ways that we can connect with one another.

Moving Forward

While we look around for another online forum, I want to assure each of you that you will continue to have my support in your project collaborative work.

Reach Out

The student reps need to get the word out to any students that need to get in touch with me. Frankly, David and Charles and Chad will be able to handle 99% of the questions that they have. Additionally, I have put some safety nets in place, but I'm sure that they won't catch every student that had been sending email to my now-defunct Academy address.


If you are not already a member of the Yahoo! Production Group, apply now.


Join the collaborative group on FB.