Crew Stories: Mark
HI MARK! TO KICK THINGS OFF, WHAT PART DO YOU PLAY IN CREATING BLUE SKY ANIMATED FEATURE FILMS?
Hi There! I'm the supervisor of the crowds department. We take care of populating cities, stadiums, traffic, swarms of bats, birds and more. Basically any shot that requires a group of animated assets, we're there!
As the supervisor, I prioritize development, help to upgrade and keep the pipeline in tact and make sure everyone on the team has the support they need for the tasks at hand.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE ON YOUR TEAM? WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HAVING A CLOSE-KNIT TEAM LIKE YOURS AT BLUE SKY?
The number of people on our team can fluctuate depending on the needs of the show. On Ferdinand, we expanded to our largest so far! Having such a close-knit team like ours is great. It allows us to stay flexible and adapt quickly to changes in assets, shot work and anything else the show sends our way. It also builds camaraderie, which is a huge part of how we get so much accomplished.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE IN CROWDS? WHAT IS YOUR BACKROUND AND HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
When I was young, I wouldn't say that I specifically wanted to be a crowds supervisor, but for the longest time, I knew I wanted to make movies. Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park both came out within a couple of years of each other and turned my world upside down. I had no choice but to somehow, someway, create dinosaurs and evil liquid metal robots. I went to the University of Tennessee and studied film. There I did stop-motion animation on 16mm film. It was during this time when the Lord of the Rings came out, and in particular, The Two Towers. I probably watched that movie 50+ times, studying the Battle of Helms Deep. This was the first time crowds animation was featured at such an unbelievable scale. It was fantastic.
I later went to the School of Visual Arts for graduate school and studied computer animation. After I graduated I got a job as a runner at a commercial studio in NYC. The main tasks were getting coffee and snacks for clients - but there was also so much talent and projects happening all around me, that I was learning tons from just being in that environment.
It wasn't too much longer until I started working at Blue Sky as a Lighting TA on Horton Hears a Who! (2008) I then moved over to the FX department for about four years creating smoke, dust and oceans. Then the studio started working on the movie Epic, which demanded many shots with simulated crowds. I knew I had to get on that team. I thought, "Here's my chance to control hoards of armies at the flip of a switch!" so I went for it. It turned out that there were a lot more switches than I had originally thought, but it ended up being awesome. I've been CROWDS ever since!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT WORKING IN CROWDS?
What I love the most is our team's ability to add scale and integration to a shot. Adding the hustle and bustle of a city or the roaring crowd of a stadium really helps give a believability and context to the main action.
I also really love the challenge of the work. We combine so many aspects together, from asset creation to animation to simulation, then gathering all that data into the renderer to produce thousands of fully articulate characters - it's really a lot of fun!
DO YOU FEEL AS IF YOU HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING THAN MOST PEOPLE OF THE MOVEMENTS AND PATTERNS OF PEOPLE IN LARGE GROUPS? I'M SURE YOU DO A LOT OF PEOPLE WATCHING AT CONCERTS AND SPORTS GAMES! WHAT IS YOUR INSPIRATION?
My biggest inspiration is definitely nature. You look at the groupings of fish and how they move in swarms, how bats dance around at dusk, even NYC sidewalks in Times Square - it's really something to see; how these large groups behave almost like a single unit. Even when individuals leave the pack they come back, reform and reshape. It's a very fluid type of motion. Traffic is also a really good source of reference because one car's action can create a butterfly effect that ripples down the highway. We implemented some of those patterns in Ferdinand and it was a lot of fun to see in action!
Another place I get inspiration from is other movies. It's really great to see what other people are creating in the industry.
...AND SPEAKING OF OUR INDUSTRY, WHAT IS SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO A STUDENT WHO IS TRYING TO PICK A CAREER IN ANIMATION?
The best advice I could give is to never stop learning. And I know that's a very overused statement but its so useful. You never know where or when you'll find inspiration and staying in this mode really helps keep an open mind and welcomes the possibility of new ideas.
The more you explore, read, discuss and dig deeper into subjects you're interested in, the more you'll be able to bring your ideas to the table.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT WORKING AT BLUE SKY? WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES BLUE SKY SO UNIQUE?
There are two big things that I love about working at Blue Sky. First and foremost, the people. The people that work here are so inspirational, artistic and excellent in their craft. I'm very proud to be a part of such a great studio.
The other thing I love about Blue Sky is its ability to adapt to the ever changing film environment, while still staying true to its core values and dedication to its people. I think over the 11+ years I've been here, I've seen the crew more than double and take on larger scale projects at such a high level, all while staying true to itself. That is what makes us Blue Sky.
THANK YOU MARK, FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH US! WE'RE LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOUR WORK IN BLUE SKY'S NEXT FILM SPIES IN DIGUISE IN 2019!