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13 Years. 10 Films. The End. (?)

July 9, 2016

It was Friday, May 20th, 2016. The day had finally arrived. The day I would log off from my workstation, and drive away from Blue Sky in my Blue Sky  for the last time.

Thirteen years ago, I was hired into the lighting department at Blue Sky Studios as a Lighting Technical Assistant (TA); which means I started at the bottom. That's ok, because before that, I had never lit a shot in my life. I had never even worked on a linux-based computer (nearly all Blue Sky's workstations run on Linux). I had,  though, done a lot of green screen and compositing work in After Effects, and had a strong art background. So I guess that, and a little help from a former Skidmore classmate already working there, was enough to get me in the door.

The TA work I was initially responsible for was technical, tedious, and not something I was very good at. But it was a stepping stone to doing more creative work. I ultimately wanted to be a lighter, so I began to teach myself how to light. I remember digging through all the lighting scripts of all the really great-looking shots trying to glean anything I could from them. I stayed late practicing, testing, reading Maya books and watching various tutorials trying to learn as much as I could. Blue Sky was a great place to learn, because most everyone there is always willing to share their knowledge and experience with anyone who asks. But, eventually, I got the chance to do some actual lighting on Robots. I believe the image below is from the one of the first (or maybe the first) shot I ever lit.

One of the (if not the) first shot I ever lit at Blue Sky.

By the next feature, Ice Age: The Meltdown, I was being given several entire sequences to light by myself. In fact, I believe there's a solid 2 minutes of uninterrupted footage in Ice Age 2 (towards the end) that consists of shots lit only by me. Quite a big step forward, considering it was only my second feature film.

Over the following years, I'd go on to work on 10 animated features at Blue Sky. Aside from lighting, I also worked in the fur dept for a bit. I created the fur grooms for several minor Ice Age characters, and 2 characters in Horton Hears A Who, including Morton Mouse.

While on loan in the fur dept, I go the chance to create the fur for Morton from Horton Hears A Who.

I was also the Ice Age beaver groomer.

So, it had been a long, difficult journey, but I had made it. I was working at a major studio making feature films. The work I did would be seen on big screens in theaters across not only the country, but the world. I actually got to see Ice Age 2 while overseas in the Netherlands. More recently, I saw ads for Peanuts while on vacation in Switzerland. And just the other day, while I was out for lunch, Rio was on TV.

So, why did I leave?

Well, that would require a series of blog posts to answer. For now, I'll just say it was time to try something new.There was so much going on outside of Blue Sky that I felt I was missing out on. And over time, being limited to just one singular part of the film-making process was starting to suffocate me creatively.

What's next?

As of now, I don't plan on taking another (paying) job until the end of the summer. But this will by no means be a vacation. I plan on spending my time on things I want to do. I'd like to take one (or more) of the many little side projects I'm always working on and really take the time to do it right. I've got some ideas I'd like to develop...maybe produce a trailer or a pilot for a series. Maybe get some writing done. But at least whatever I decided to produce, I want to be sure I give it the time it needs.

I'd also like to take some time and learn new things. I'm currently doing some lighting on a short, La Noria, and getting to know the Arnold renderer a bit better. I've gotten some great results with a simple, yet surprisingly powerful 3rd party plugin for After Effects called Element 3D, which I'd like to play with more. I have been playing with the Unreal game engine too. I'd also like to start to learn how to create textures using some of the powerful tools like Quixel, or the Substance tools from Allegorithmic.  I'd love to play with ZBrush a bit more... There are so many great tools out there and now I should have more time spend on a lot of these things.

Some images I've created in After Effects for fun. Rendered using Element 3d.

Stay tuned…

Whatever it is I end up doing, I'll be posting about it here, on this blog. I'll be (hopefully) making one blog entry per week. Mostly to keep myself honest about staying productive, and not just sitting around on the couch all day with no pants on playing Uncharted 4. I'll document my progress, my achievements, my successes, my failures, and share what I've learned along the way. So for anyone who has any interest at all in any of this, feel free to check back in each week for updates!

Logged out for the last time as a lighter at Blue Sky Studios.

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