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Education n n n n "The Frost Giants are 10 to 12 feet tall. We needed to process the data on a different skel- eton." For the rig, Digital Domain leveraged tech- nology it had developed for TRON: Legacy that incorporates correct human skeletal dy- namics (see "Inside Job," December 2010). "We did our best to translate that onto an ex- aggerated human form," Petey says. A team of 16 animators, four of whom were interns, performed the background and fore- ground giants. Among the animators in Petey's group were two Animation Mentor graduates, Agata Matuszak, who keyframed foreground characters, and Magnolia Ku Lea, initially an in- tern but ultimately credited as an animator, who worked on shots with background characters. Breaking the Ice Matuszak graduated from Animation Mentor in July 2010 and started at Digital Domain in Vancouver in December 2010. The Pol- ish-born Canadian hadn't considered anima- tion as a career possibility until a friend told her about VanArts, the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts. "I was studying pre-med," she says. "Since I was little I always watched and drew cartoons. A friend told me about this lo- cal art school, so I thought this was my chance to follow my interests and take a path that was familiar to me. I completely fell in love with animation, and I can't see myself doing any- thing other than character animation and be- ing a part of the filmmaking process." Even before she graduated, Matuszak had received two job offers: one from Rainmaker VFX to work on the film Garfield, and another to work for Veda Games, an animation studio in India. She went to India. "A lot of people thought I was crazy, but the head of the stu- dio at Rainmaker understood and said to call when I was done there." And, she did. "India was an amazing opportunity, and it's a beautiful place, but the way they see things is different," Matuszak says. "There are many talented people, but the animation industry [there] still needs time to get to the animation quality of our North American standards." Back in Vancouver, Matuszak joined Rain- maker VFX, where she worked on Night at the Museum, Case 39, and Blades of Glory. Then, the company transferred her to another divi- sion. "I was feeling like I needed something more; that there were holes in my animation knowledge," she says. That's when she discovered Animation Mentor. "I wanted to take every opportunity to strengthen my skills and learn from anima- tors who are working in studios that I dream of working at," Matuszak says. "Going back to school was such a wonderful experience for me, and I am glad I took time off from work to focus 100 percent on school." For Thor, Matuszak keyframed the Frost Giants fighting Thor and his warriors. "I had never animated characters fighting, and that was a big challenge because I am not familiar with the body mechanics of fighting," she says. "I took a lot of reference, reference of myself, from martial arts movies. This helped me get familiar with certain fighting dynamics, like punching and stabbing. When you're doing realistic characters, you can't do a lot of squash and stretch. The principles are still there, but you use them in a different way—for antici- pation, not shape stretching. At Animation Mentor, I did a lot of cartoony animation, so coming back to visual effects, I had to tran- sition my mind-set from cartoony to realistic movements. The principles are still there, but you use them in slightly different ways." Motivated with Mocap Also working on the Frost Giants was Ku Lea, who began her internship in October 2010. "Digital Domain first familiarized me with the tools, then how they used motion-captured data, and then how to approach that within a shot," she explains. "I didn't get thrown in cold, which was nice. By the time my intern- ship ended, they had assigned me a few shots from start to finish, which was a thrill. I had no idea that I would get full shots by the end." Ku Lea had studied traditional animation at Concordia University in Montreal, but after working as a traditional animator for a short time, became a character designer. "I have loved films and storytelling since I was a child," she relays. "The entire world of film was my passion as a child, and I drew a lot. When I saw there was a program where I could draw and make a film, I thought, 'Wow, I want to try this.' " After several years as a character designer for TV series and games, Ku Lea wanted to return to her roots, "to bring things to life," she says. In the middle of Class Four, she was presented an offer to work on a visual effects broadcast movie. A game cinematic followed. And then, Digital Domain offered an internship. "I had touched motion capture when I was doing the cinematic, but this was completely different," Ku Lea says of her work on Thor. "The quality is hugely different. Definitely fin- er detail. The shots I worked on involved the Frost Giants, the henchmen for the main bad guy. So, they're often surrounding him, and these characters reacted pretty menacingly." For many of the shots, Ku Lea started with motion-captured data. "You're always chang- ing it," she says. "You never use it as is. Basi- cally, on top of fixing things that don't align and making movements more dynamic or smoother, often you'd have to throw out a whole section and hand-key a new animation because that's what is needed in the shot. Also, a huge part was that the Frost Giants had to have facial performance added, and that was entirely keyframe animation. All the emotions and facials were completely keyframed. Addi- tionally, one of the unique things on Thor was the size of the shots with the Frost Giants— they were huge. A shot could have up to 80 characters. A lot of time was spent on making each character different from the one beside him—each one is reacting but can't distract from the main guy who you're supposed to be focused on. You have to use a lot of animation principles. It's satisfying work." Before she started on a shot, Ku Lea sat with Petey, who explained what he expected from the performances. "The direction was very clear," she says. "He would say, 'This is the point. Make this character more aggressive. This is the approximate composition.' I also had animatics and notes. And, if I had a ques- tion, I could ask my fellow animators. It was really collaborative. I could go to dailies, even if I didn't have a shot up, and learn from seeing the senior animators showing their shots and getting feedback. Being part of that process was truly a big learning experience for me." Ku Lea credits her classes at Animation Mentor with helping her understand the work- flow. And, during the Q&A with the mentors, I learned how to take feedback," she says. "At Digital Domain, I found it interesting to ask my supervisor how he would approach a shot, and ask the more senior animators how they would [do so], to learn from their workflow." Next Up Both animators are fully committed to their careers in animation. After finishing her work on Thor, Matuszak now works at Prime Focus in Vancouver. And Ku Lea is preparing a new piece for her demo reel. "I'd like to work more in feature films be- cause I love the quality and the time you can have, which offers great possibilities," Ku Lea says. "I love character animation, whether it is for a full-CG film or for a visual effects film—the principles are the same. When I'm working as an animator, I feel lucky. I feel like this is the best job in the world." n Barbara Robertson is an award-winning writer and a contributing editor for August/September 2011 She can 27 Computer Graphics W orld.

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