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When Animation Career Review set out to do an interview series, we weren't sure who were the best people to interview. Now we know. Paul Kakert.
Paul, owner of Effective Digital Presentations (EDP), has successfully run multiple multimedia productions companies over the last two decades. He has produced hundreds of 3D animations and videos, including media for non-profits, the federal government, post-secondary institutions, and corporations.
If that didn't keep him busy enough he also founded Storytellers International, a non-profit organization producing full-length documentaries, and DocumentaryTV.com, a community website designed to help independent documentary producers. Paul's search for truth through film and animation has sent him exploring the world, beginning by seeing most of the United States, then to India, later, war-ravaged Kosovo.
Being a born visionary, entrepreneur and artist Paul was a must-have for our interview series. Luckily he jumped at the chance to share his decades of experience and cheery outlook for the animation industry with our readers:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Effective Digital Presentations started its animation work in the early 90s just as courtroom animation was gaining some attention in the legal industry. Our company was called “Forensic Media” and our work in the forensic animation industry gained us recognition as early pioneers in that field. The opportunities that presented included me being asked to author numerous industry articles and “how-to” books, including the popular series “Teach Yourself 3D Studio MAX” and “Inside 3D Studio MAX” from New Riders and MacMillan Publishing. After 4 years dedicated to legal animations, the focus of our company broadened to include other technically oriented animation fields such as architectural walk-throughs and concept design visualization for equipment manufacturers. In 2003, we broadened into video production, which is now our primary focus. Animation continues to be a integral part of what we offer, completing the overall service we provide to assist our clients in presenting their ideas and products to their audiences.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is ____________.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best aspect is that tools today (software and hardware) are so advanced compared to 10 years ago, that we have reached a point where you are limited only by your imagination (it wasn’t always that way as hardware was once a huge hurdle).
The worst aspect is that animation and motion graphics has become so commonplace that its value (by clients) is often overlooked, or taken for granted. Clients see so many amazing effects and animation that they undervalue the creative effort that it takes to create something incredible. It’s a conundrum that plagues every aspect of computer design and it is evident as we look back at industries such as desktop publishing, which gave the illusion that anyone with the right software could suddenly produce beautiful graphic designs for print. We cannot loose site of the creative talent it takes to use the amazing tools available today.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
More so than any single project, we are proud of our adaptability to the changes in the animation and motion graphics industry. We have constantly evolved our offerings to use the new tools and take advantage of new ways to help our clients tell their story through amazing graphics and visuals.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
You can’t replace the creative mind or the artistic ability of the individual. That is what we look for. Anyone can use the tools, but not everyone has the vision. We look for the vision.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
We focus on achievements in the real world. We don’t limit ourselves to any one pool of talent.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Open yourself to the possibilities and evolve with what the industry needs. Know your strengths and your weaknesses and pursue the job or project that best suits the areas in which you excel. And focus on the design and artistic side of your education just as much as learning the tools of the trade. Animators are visual storytellers and artists just as much as they are technicians that must understand highly technical aspects of the process.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
The most challenging projects always boil down to size and scope and managing a team to produce the animation. We have done large architectural walk-throughs of airports and new buildings that involve very complex and detailed CAD drawings. The coordination of the technical engineering side and the artistic animation side is a full-time effort for projects that can last as long as a year or more.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I started EDP after receiving a BA in Computer Graphics from a very small school in the Midwest in '91. At the time they were one of very few colleges offering a degree specifically for computer graphics and animation. But it was the willingness and ability to create an industry (forensic animation) and take animation to where it had rarely been used that lead to the success of my company.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
We have always used 3D Studio MAX, from its beginnings, and ours. That decision was based largely on the fact that I learned it early on in my career and it was a relatively affordable solution. It has matured and continues to fill our needs. If you students can work with a student edition, I highly recommend it. I’m sure there are other affordable packages out there but I’m not familiar with them enough to make any specific recommendations. My advice is look around.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
When EDP was doing business as Forensic Media in '94 or '95 I was asked to create an animation showing how a gas regulator worked. This is a device everyone has on the outside of their house where the gas line runs into their home. This case involved a gas explosion at a cabin and it was alleged that the gas regulator somehow led to the explosion. My job was to show how a gas regulator worked. The challenge for me was that I was a non-technical person and had no idea how it worked. This was my trial-by-fire for the forensic animation industry. You are tasked with rapidly learning about something in order to create easy-to-follow animations and visuals so you can tell a story to a jury and educate them on something you’ve just learned. The trick with this particular project was they needed it in one week. Within that week they shipped me a gas regulator and had me take it apart to model it. Working with their subject matter expert, I had guidance to the process. After the modeling was complete I had to create the simple model of the cabin and put the regulator in place to tell the sequential story on how it was improperly installed, how it became corroded with rust and then failed to work, allowing a gas leak which led to an explosion. With 1 day to go until the trial began in Texas (I am in Iowa) I realized the renderings would not be complete until the middle of the night. That being the night before the trial. So I stayed up all night, and at 6:00am I put the animation on videotape and put that tape on a plane and had it flown down to Texas. I had to also make arrangements for someone to pick it up and rush it to the courthouse. Everything went off like clockwork and the package was picked up at the airport. I received a phone call from my client when the package was just arriving at the courthouse. The case settled at the last minute, and the animation was never used. But I have used that experience ever since to showcase how EDP was willing to make the impossible, possible.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
As long as animators offer a broad set of skills that allow them to evolve with industry needs in animation and motion graphics, then the need will increase. We have reached the point where content is king. The Internet is so easily accessible and even the most complex animations and large videos stream with ease to every computer and mobile device out there. All that screams for more content, and somebody has to produce that content and meet that need.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.