Brad Bird interview

"Quality is the best business policy."

 This is an old interview with Brad Bird, around the time of Pixar's release of the film that inspired me to move into animation, "Ratatouille".  Brad Bird's sensibility and talent focus has aligned with mine since I've heard a word from him, and his films and work have consistently hit me with a resounding sense of 'correct'.  He inspires me and has an artist's sensibility, yet understands the function and commitment of teamwork and 'big picture' needs.  This is a great listen.


A lucky photograph

Today I snapped this photo of the smallest bird I have ever seen! At first I thought it was a brightly colored dragonfly, but when I crouched down I saw it had feathers. It was flapping around, but didn't seem too scared, so I extended my hand and it eventually hopped onto my thumb!  Thankfully, I had my DSLR with me, but even that couldn't produce a very good photo, as the wind was blowing and I didn't have it in the right macro setting.

What do you think -- have you ever seen a bird this small before?!   (click photo for larger version)

(did I get ya?)


EXCLUSIVE Chipotle 'Scarecrow' production art!

At Moonbot Studios, we are fortunate to be small, nimble, and versatile.  I am blessed to get the chance to conceive ideas, create concept art, storyboard and lead the story team, design characters, paint backgrounds, do character design, color keys, and much more.  It is an opportunity to really have hold of a project, and have your fingerprints all over it, which is rare at other places.

There are dozens of images and clips I'd love to share, but for now I'll just pop a few up here.  Click any image for a larger version.  Enjoy!


Character design and development 

One thing I truly adore about animation and film is character.  Naturally, I am drawn to character design (you predicted it nearly 10 years ago, Steve Silver!). At Moonbot, I'm also lucky enough to be the primary character designer for most of our projects, and even if I'm not on a project I tend to consult, as I just can't keep my hands off it or my mouth shut!  (hehe)  

With Scarecrow, director Brandon Oldenburg had a great production design pencil drawing of a scarecrow from behind.  Once we decided upon a scarecrow for certain, we had lots of silhouettes and doodles from the directors as a jumping off point - but I realized after a few days that the initial drawing by Brandon was charming and felt right.  The geometry, simple proportions, and innocence was what we needed.  So I used that as a jumping off point to do some exploration and posing.  

Our initial direction was to have more physical comedy, pulling from Charlie Chaplin.  These poses and expressions are more broad than we went with in the end, but you can see the silent film physicality in these, and how much we were thinking of that era.

These are just some of the sheets done while evolving this character.


The CrowBots

Once we had a scarecrow in place, it made a ton of sense to have little drone crows as "surveillance" and "management".  The first issue we tackled was, "How does a robot crow fly?"

When we started storyboarding, there were a lot of flapping metal wings, ending up looking like a hummingbird, or honey bee.  This didn't really work.  So one day I tried a new approach while doing the animatic for the sequence where we first see the bird lead our hero to a broken facade.  In an attempt at that physical comedy, I had him jump off, spread his wings as if he'd flap... then.... a little chopper popped out and caught him.  It was well-received with the group, so we explored that route and Chipotle just loved it.  Those are the organic creative moments that I live for, here at Moonbot.

Here you can see an evolution of the CrowBot, after we made that helicopter drone leap.  We also worked to incorporate a menacing aesthetic - similar to a stealth bomber, blackhawk chopper, or other modern military arsenal.

Matte paintings

We decided early on that our artistic focus and unique look at Moonbot can be really flexed for this short film. Mixing CG, miniatures, and paintings calls for a more detailed backplate design, so we used some photo ref and textures for things like ground planes and building surfaces (at times), but most of these were painted from scratch, digitally.  We had some great artists do a lot of matte paintings - I was lucky to do a large amount as well, but for now I'll share just one example.  Images like these must be clear, clean, and well done, even though they are only visible for 2 seconds in the film.

 Color and Light keys 

These are used to take the color script further, calling out special shots or something that represents a lighting scenario for a scene, and giving a very specific target for our lighting and compositing team.  From these rough paintings, we can target values, hues, light sources, atmosphere, etc.  

With Moonbot being so nimble and versatile, these often double for concept images.  A shot like the cow-boxes was not fully fleshed out yet.  While the cow and box design were there, and the storyboards were in place for that moment, the shot layout, composition, and other decisions were left to be solved.  Here is where the color keys were doubled as concept and layout ref for the shot.  The same goes for the factory designs, once our hero pops onto the conveyor belt - the "what do we see in the factory?" was answered through these color & light keys.

You can see another matte painting in the market opening and the truck shot, as well as miniatures in the market.

These are all quick and rough, simply to meet those needs, and are done in Photoshop.

I'll share more production art, design, and concept work when I can.  Thx!



From Moonbot's "Sketch Tuesday":

Our friends over at the Center for Great Apes are celebrating their 20th anniversary! The center provides a sanctuary for apes that have been rescued from roadside zoos, research labs, the entertainment industry and the pet trade. To say congrats, here are a few sketches from the bots for Sketch Tuesday:

So here's a quick piece, done for fun!   (click to enlarge)


Chipotle SCARECROW press and ART!

It is just incredible how much attention and how many views (over 4 million in 4 days!) our short film with Chipotle and CAA has gotten.  We are so glad people are responding and a dialogue about both the food business and marketing/filmmaking is stirring.  

As some of the reviews and articles unfold, I'll share what art I can with you.  Here are a few images posted in this great (exclusive) interview with the directors, from TheWeek.com - more will come as I can share it!

(click images for hi-res)

Below: color key and matte art by Vanesa R. Del Rey


The Scarecrow

I'm so ridiculously proud of our entire team at Moonbot Studios.  Over the last year we've been working on many projects, and we can finally reveal to parts of those many!  THE SCARECROW is an iOS game and short film done with Chipotle Mexican Burritos.  Our team really kicked ass on this.  Check out the game ASAP -- it's incredible!

This is also very special to me, personally, because I got the chance to art direct, and with a small team.  This left room for more hands-on direction than normal, giving me the opportunity to contribute on character design, concept art, lead storyboards and animatic, create matte paintings, design props, paint color keys, and more.  Our art team really stepped up their game for this film.  I'm really proud of everyone.  A big high-five to everyone who worked on it.

I really really want to congratulate all Moonbots on this:

Lampton Enochs - Brandon Oldenburg - William Joyce - Limbert Fabian - Trish Farnsworth-Smith - Sulivan Parker - Wendell Riley - Barbie Cannon - Sara Hebert - Liz Maw-Naing - Stefanie Riegel - Adam Volker - Bohdon Sayre - John Durbin - Kevin Koch - Beavan Blocker - Nick Maw-Naing - Lucas Ridley - Scott McWhinnie - Jason Behr - Kevin Bradley - Ozan Basaldi - Brennan Chapman - Megan Deane - Gordon Pinkerton - Locan Scelina - Dylan VanWormer - Russell Smith - Kate McFadden - Kendra Phillips - Bethany Lo - Matt Krotenberg -  John Cannon - Nolan Baker - Kathryn Hardey - Heather Shrewsbury - Jackson Blankstein - Calvin O'Neal, Jr. - Patrick Long - LaShea Brittain - Christina Ellis - Christina Faulkner - Alex Beck - Tyler Schatz - Kenny Callicutt - Kim Kuchenbecker - Steven Vekovius - John Hunter - Brady Blade - Mike Martindale - Arthur Mintz - and -  Vanesa R. Del Rey.

This team is amazing, and I'm proud to be here with them.

(behind the scenes)


Morris Lessmore book awards!

I feel so honored and excited - in addition to being over 10 consecutive weeks opening as a top 10 on The New York Times Bestseller list for picture books (including a debut at #1!), Bill and I have been honored with a few awards.  Among them are the recently received COMSTOCK Award and CHRISTOPHER Award.

These are both very prestigious and heartwarming awards.  In addition, we have been awarded the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) Award for children's books.  This award is presented in September.

Morris also went on tour with the Society of Illustrators for their picture book traveling exhibition, as well as two selects from Bill's latest picture book, The Sandman (all images which I painted!).  It was such an honor to be a part of such great company.

Lastly, "Morris Lessmore" has been printed in nearly 40 editions, and about 30 languages (I've honestly lost count, since it changes all the time).  We are so damn proud of this book and the hard work it took to create something we love.  

I really look forward to the next book at Moonbot Studios, with Simon & Schuster, that I get to be a part of... and my first picture book... that I do on my own (whaaaaa???!!!....).  



Dog Portrait progress

Still painting my girl Olive - this is 3 short sessions (3-4 hours each).  I'm looking to complete a painting per week by end of August, and after that two per week.  It is more about comfort and efficiency of the idea.  But who knows, for some pieces it may be a 3 hr painting, and others it may be a 3 week or 3 month painting.  Either way, this is stupid-level fun!

I should have the completed and framed painting in a couple weeks (taking time off at the beach). 

Catch you soon!