Matthew Wade: Freelancing and Teamwork in Animation
Freelance Animator Matthew Wade gives us an insider view on what it's like to collaborate at a distance and at close quarters on a variety of animation projects.
I recently had the opportunity to work on a project for Rocket Lab Creative, based in San Diego – they had found me through some work I had done on a project at Buck a couple of years prior. The team were finishing production on Red Lips, a music video for a new single being released on Warner Bros. record label by the group G.T.A. I was contacted about doing animation over live action video of the group performing at a show, some shots they filmed in studio, and so on. Specifically, Rocket Lab wanted me to tackle the animation of the "red lips" that are singing the main lyrical sections of the song. I was totally into the idea right from the initial description.
Mixing live action and animation across a distributed team
The way this project worked was very unique, although it is becoming more and more commonplace as time goes on. I was located in Boise, Idaho working from home, they were shooting, editing, and compositing in southern California. Several people in different locations were doing all the animation and FX work, simultaneously. The web and file sharing has made this all the more possible. I do most of my freelance work from Boise but have never worked for a client or studio in Boise. I have only ever once done a project for a client in Idaho.
I have been fortunate to be able to work using a large variety of software (and paper, when the project allows for it) on both my personal projects as well as in my professional life. I've used Harmony, Animate Pro, Adobe Flash, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, TV Paint, and Dragonframe. All of the red lips animation was roughed, cleaned up, and delivered through Animate Pro.
Toon Boom is my go-to software for any kind of visual FX that needs to be done, even in place of After Effects if I can get away with it. There are a couple of reasons for this: one, I am very comfortable with it having learned it in animation school; and two, Toon Boom software is intuitive – which works well for someone like me who is visually and instinctively driven, and not very computer-minded. I even did the motion graphics segments and closing credits scroll for my feature film, How the Sky Will Melt in Toon Boom. It's more versatile than people may realize on the outset, I think.
Making stuff is more fun when you animate on a team
To be a part of the collaborative efforts of the G.T.A. music video was pretty fantastic. It showed how well a team could put something together from so many different places – and have it all unite in a singular vision. I was handling all of the FX, lip-syncing and red lips animation work, other animators were doing the face distorting "goons" and alternative FX animation, and still others were compositing all of the animation work onto the edited video. It worked like a snap. It was a genuinely fun project with a fast turnaround time that I feel would have been far less easy to meet had we all been in studio working in a group effort. Strangely, for the size of the team making this video I only ever talked to one guy, whom I know simply as a voice and a name: Justin.
That's not to say that there isn't something great about working in groups that are interacting in person day to day. I often prefer the company of someone other than myself. My favourite place to do this kind of non-schizophrenic work is at the Los Angeles-based studio Moving Colour, with whom I've done a lot of different projects of scope and team size over the last few years.
During the spring of 2013, I was working on one project when Moving Colour decided to move forward with a stop-motion promo/announcement video for a local music festival. I got pulled onto that project and we built the entire production from the ground up. The very edited list of some of the things we had to do included 10-15 visits to the hardware store, building the stage (from wood we had to measure, cut, glue, and drill together), creating a giant white overhang to filter the lights into a soft, milky white, building and painting a few blocks of the downtown LA Arts District (including telephone poles and street lights that would illuminate as the scene grew into night), and populate the streets with little peg people that we had painted. In stop motion, the team is always there together, without shoes and delicately climbing around the sets together. You pretty much get as close as people can get. You're contorting, bending and reaching in front of and behind one another, over the city you are animating to life. It's like Godzilla, Gamera and Mothra playing a game of Twister over a tiny town – sweaty, sweaty monsters.
Both these projects served the same goal: using a team to create a finished piece of animation with a singular, cohesive vision. Animation is a strange beast. With freelance work, it is constantly shifting and changing, presenting new and weird challenges. That is the fun part of it. Whatever the team size or the interaction you have with the other members, animation is about making stuff.
Hopefully, really cool stuff.