Bent Image Lab believes that animation is a collaborative process, and that teamwork is essential. It is no surprise then that when we approached them to take part in our Interview Series they gladly volunteered—and made it a collaborative effort.
For the last decade Bent Image Lab has been producing high-quality productions in Portland, Oregon. Their collaborative process allows them to meld together art, design and storytelling—a process that has garnered them work from The Cartoon Network, Mastercard, Coca-Cola, Guitar Hero, TLC and many more. Their work has earned them recognition by international award festivals, including SXSW, Cannes and Sundance.
Throughout our interview with the folks over at Bent Image Lab, they had some great insights into the industry, and how aspiring animators can break into it:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Bent Image Lab focuses primarily on both CG animation and stop-motion. Animation is a natural focus for Bent, as our three founders David Daniels, Chel White and Ray Di Carlo have strong backgrounds in animation and production. Their experience and knowledge of the industry gave them the insight into building a successful company that today produces animated and live action commercials, long form animation projects, visual fx, motion graphics and music videos.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
Growing. The gaming industry and the Internet have opened up so many platforms for animation to be seen; more and more people are interested in it and have access to it. There are also more animated feature films in production then ever before and opportunities growing in television and commercial work.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best aspects – Animation is highly collaborative and attracts great creative minds. There are many layers to producing an animated project such as story, lighting, editing, art department (building of sets and puppets in stop mo), or building the models in 3D, not to mention the animation itself. It’s a great team effort that brings together the work of multiple individuals. The worst aspects – Animation can be an isolated, time-consuming job for the animators – especially in stop-motion. Animation takes an extreme amount of focus, lots of energy and the hours are often long, but hey, if the animators didn’t love it they would do something else.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
We are very proud of “Jingle All the Way” our first long-form animated project that we just completed for the Hallmark Channel. We also have produced some great commercials in CG for Koodo Mobile (Canada), Tetra Pak (Germany) and Raley’s grocery stores and in stop motion for Diet Dr. Pepper (USA), Fruity Pebbles (USA) and Rankin/Bass themed spots for Bing (USA) among many, many others. Bent has also produced visual fx work for directors Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes and for television programs such as NBC’s “Grimm” and IFC’s “Portlandia”.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
We look for people who are passionate about animation and have great ideas but also have the ability to collaborate and follow direction. Animation is a team effort that involves several moving parts; understanding that process is a huge skill in this industry. It also helps if you know a bit about animation! What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from?
If none, where do you recruit new hires?
We recruit from the Art Institute of Portland and Animation Mentor. We also utilize sites like Oregon Film and Video, LinkedIn, Creative Heads, Autodesk, Creative Cow, VFX Talk, VFX Recruit among others. What advice would you give to aspiring animators? Learn how to animate well. A lot of people know the software employed in animation but are not as well versed in animation itself. Study different forms of animation and find the one you love and do it best. In addition to studying animation, look closely at live-action one frame at a time. So much of posture, weight and movement can be gleamed from the “real world”.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
This year we completed our first long form animation project “Jingle All the Way” and a group interactive installation experience for World of Coke both of which were new frontiers for Bent. We did research and development on both projects and learned so much!
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
Chel White graduated from Antioch University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual Arts. David Daniels graduated from Cal Arts with a Master of Fine Arts degree. Ray Di Carlo graduated from Humboldt State University with a Masters in Theatre Arts Film.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
We use 3D Studio Max for 3D Animation, Flash for 2D animation and Dragon frame for stop motion. We recommend students become proficient in all animation software including Maya and Toon Boom.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
Chel White: One funny experience for me was on my very first job in the animation biz. I was a junior animator on the Paul Simon music video, “Boy in the Bubble,” directed by Jim Blashfield in 1986. I was hired to do a lot of object animation—basically things rotating in space. Early on, Jim asked me to go out and collect a bunch of rocks, sticks, weathered pieces of wood, and such. I found what I thought was some really great stuff, but when I got back, he liked everything except the rocks. He said they weren’t “rock-like enough.”
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
There is definitely an increase in demand for animators. There are so many platforms utilizing animation: Gaming, Internet, medical imaging, military simulation, mobile platforms, film, TV, etc. The explosion of these markets has really broadened the industry and made animation ubiquitous.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.