Crew Stories: Ilan
HI ILAN! THANKS FOR SITTING DOWN WITH US TODAY! TELL US WHAT YOU DO HERE AT BLUE SKY!
Hello! I am a member of the Effects Department here at Blue Sky. The Effects Department is responsible for designing and animating or simulating natural phenomenon, destruction, magic, etc.
In short, we are responsible for the motion of things that are difficult to hand animate, with the exception of hair and cloth. So if you needed to animate a jar full of marbles pouring down the stairs, that would be us!
As a Sr. Effects Technical Director I split my time between working with the FX Supervisor and FX Lead to figure out artistic and technical approaches for upcoming tasks, and working with my teammates on shots.
WE HEAR YOU GREW UP IN ISRAEL, COOL! WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
I was born in Philadelphia, PA, however, when I was eight my family and I moved to Israel, where my father is from. In Israel, I grew up surrounded by nature in a mountainous area just east of the International Airport.
But unlike here in the US, Israel is a tiny country. So even though I grew up in the "suburbs", I was really just 30 mins away from Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Ocean. I moved back to the US when I was 22, and a year later I began college.
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE AN EFFECTS ARTIST?
No, I wasn't really aware that a job like this existed growing up. I was, however, interested in animation. When I was a kid, I can't remember the reason, but my parents surprised me with an 'Etch a Sketch Animator' - Google it!
Better yet, watch this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj8xfyc-pD4
I spent so much time filling those 12 frames of moving images. I discovered effects animation in college and really fell in love with it, because it really piqued my interests. I love animating, and I love solving puzzles.
I also grew up in a home that embraced both art and technical thinking. My mom ran her own illustration business when I was younger, and my dad was a tech savy guy who spent time working at IBM and took apart things for fun to see how they worked.
So when I discovered that effects animation was a thing, I was naturally drawn to that.
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR JOBS & EDUCATION LIKE BEFORE BLUE SKY? HOW DID YOU EVENTUALLY GET YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR?
I went to Pratt Institute, in NYC. I majored in computer animation, but I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to take a range of traditional art classes there. I tried to diversify my education as much as possible and chose electives ranging from sculpture to painting.
During college I was an on-air graphics intern at MTV Networks and a VFX intern at The Molecule where I worked on the TV show Rescue Me. After graduation I got hired to work at The Molecule on an additional season of Rescue Me.
Following that, I moved out to L.A. where I began my career as a VFX artist for episodic television. At the end of 2009 and in early 2010 I was working on the final season of LOST. During that time, I applied for an FX position at Blue Sky. I believe my experience on the show led to my interview at Blue Sky.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT WORKING AT BLUE SKY?
The people. When I think about heading to work, I kind of think of it as going to see friends. Sure we work hard, but it doesn't really feel like work when you do something that you love with people who are just as passionate about it as you are.
One of my personal favorite parts of the day is when we gather in the screening room for Sweatbox (director showing), and we sit with artists from multiple departments to show progress. I get to see what everyone is up to, and everyone claps for each other. It's just a fun collaborative environment to be in.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE DURING YOUR TIME AT BLUE SKY?
This is a tough one. I've had many rewarding moments while at Blue Sky. I love being able to share the work that my team and I create here. I try to frequent events such as Siggraph, or lectures at colleges. But I think that as of today, the most rewarding presentation was in Bogota, Colombia. I was invited by the Bogota Siggraph chapter to present our effects work for The Peanuts Movie. I got to share our ideas and work to a crowd of over 1,200 participants who would normally not have this kind of exposure to the industry.
I got to meet many talented and ambitious artists while down there, and also made some new friends!
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART ABOUT BEING AN EFFECTS ARTIST?
I think that the most challenging part is keeping up with both your technical and artistic skill sets. Both require learning and practice. As an effects artist at Blue Sky, you are expected to be able to design workflows or tools, and be able to create appealing shot work.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT BEING AN EFFECTS ARTIST?
The thing I love most about being an FX artist is the variety of work we do. We are constantly being challenged with different types of effects work such as smoke, fire, destruction, magical or imaginary effects. I really enjoy developing a new type of effect that we have never done before.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU THE MOST?
So many things! My family, friends, this place! I am surrounded by so many talented people here. But when it comes to effects work, I am inspired by the beautiful patterns and forces that are constantly happening around us. Like the bark on trees for example, or ripples in water, or the motion within smoke. I find it amazing that very smart people have been able to build tools that mathematically simulate these phenomenons. Those are just some of the things that inspire me.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE BLUE SKY FILM TO WORK ON? WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING?
I really loved working on Peanuts because we had no idea how we were going to make it happen, yet somehow we did, and I think we did it well. For that same reason it was probably the most challenging film I have ever worked on. The kind of effects that we created for this film were far from physically accurate, an I found this to be a refreshing change from the effects in Rio 2. I was fortunate to be the first effects artist to work on the film, and had an early start to work on the look development. It was a very challenging experience, but it was extremely rewarding!
IF YOU COULD GIVE A STUDENT TRYING TO BREAK INTO THE INDUSTRY ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE AN ASPIRING EFFECTS ARTIST?
My advice would be don't ever stop! 1. Don't ever stop trying and 2. Don't ever stop practicing.
If you are interested in feature animation, then there are probably a few studios that you are dreaming to work at. But I highly recommend until you get a job at one of these studios, you be open to working at less dreamy places. There are things to be learned everywhere.
There will be times when you will feel discouraged, and when you do, keep in mind that we have all been there.
For effects artists in particular, our job requires that you use both sides of the brain. So if you come from a computer science or math background, try to work on developing your drawing and observation skills. I even recommend trying to hand animate, you may learn a thing or two about good timing!
If you come from an art background, buckle up and get your hands dirty with some scripting or programming. Learn how to build tools in your preferred 3D package and sharpen those technical skills.