Sunday, December 29, 2013

My path to the Director's chair

I never stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons as I grew older. I was graduated from high school and still looking forward to the new season of cartoons to air on the big three networks at the time. I'm now much older and still haven't stopped watching cartoons. So there is very little surprise that I've been employed working on animated television and films for over 20 years now as of this writing or since 1994.

However, I did sidetrack my artistic venues for a while in my early college years. It was a bit shocking to most of my family that once I had graduated high school I choose to take science courses in the field of kinesiology instead of pursuing an art career due to my love of animation. Kinesiology being the study of human kinetics - or movement - seems a similar path of the study of human movement for animation. Just one filed is science and one filed is arts. I suppose I really started taking kinesiology because being a sports therapist seemed more of a tangible career path as opposed to the starving artist route. BUt it seems my fate was still destined to be in the arts. After two years of taking kinesiology I was in a car accident that gave me severe headaches and I just couldn't concentrate on the mathematical equations in my courses. I was forced to drop out and after a year of recovery I started to re-think my future career.

I was informed of the Vancouver Film School that was teaching animation by industry professionals who where actually in the work force. I was also intrigued that this course was only a year long program so I would be able to get into the work force quickly. I signed up and within two weeks I was starting in their next class. Only a few classes had started before me so it was a little bit of a learning curve for the school's curriculum as well. For instance, they were still teaching how to do everything traditional. This is the hand drawn stuff - 2D - plus everything was to be shot under a traditional camera. But they realized doing a final film under the camera takes too long. Digital paint was extremely new technology and we were one of the first classes to use it instead of the traditional camera. But still all of the techniques and principles we were taught and used still reflected on doing our animation as if it were to be shot under the camera.

I took a strong liking to special effects animation in particular while I was at the Vancouver Film School. And the digital ink and paint tools helped my portfolio considering I was able to add colour to a lot of assignments and add on special glows and highlight treatments on my effects. The stuff I was doing was beyond what the application was meant to do and a lot of stuff I was doing in the digital ink and paint program I was consistently told by the instructor that it was impossible to do what I wanted to do. And yet I was able to do it without his help.

I got my first job immediately from graduating from the Vancouver Film School as a Key Animator and Layout Artist. They knew I liked special effects so they gave me a lot of scenes that involved complex effects. While my first job in animation started winding down Walt Disney was about to open their doors in Vancouver, Canada. I applied to be a special effects artist. I was very thankful of the Vancouver Film School for allowing me to create such a wonderful portfolio filled with coloured special effects animation on a demo reel due to their digital ink and paint setup. That really put me at the top of the list to be hired on at Disney. The interviewers were extremely impressed with my understanding of special effects, my use of the digital tools and my draughtsmanship of the artwork. That and the fact they told me out of all of the applicants I was the only person to apply for a position of special effects artist. So I was in and was part of the original crew at Walt Disney Canada from day one of their opening.

Walt Disney brought so many opportunities for my learning curve as an artist. I'm very grateful for that.  Although my title on all of the Disney projects remained as an effects artist I was given the opportunities to help out where my skills and talents where needed in character animation, in layouts, BG paint - this was paint on paper. Nothing digital for this BG paint - and I even got to help out doing some storyboarding on a Winnie the Pooh Valentine's special.

But all good things come to an end and Disney was dwindling down production soon to close up shop. I invested in a personal computer around this time. Most people where playing video games on their PCs at the time and if they played together it would have to be physically linked together via LAN parties. People weren't even connected to the internet back at this time. I was looking at a very intriguing Mac that had built in video editing capabilities. It was this investment that helped propel my career in the next leap forward. A lot of artists around town heard that I could create demo tapes for them. So that became a side project as I was soon becoming known as an editor.

But I wasn't an official editor quite yet. As Disney closed up shop in Vancouver, I moved onto a Dreamworks project that Bardel was working on. This was my first time working with Bardel studios. They gave me a very senior position in the effects department. I was in charge of training new animators and assistants in the special effects department. I was also, in charge of assessing the difficulty of each scene to be animated by the effects department as well as determine how long each scene would take to be animated and how long each scene would take to be completed by an assistant. I was in charge of distributing work to the artists as well. On top of that I was still required to animate my footage quota of 10 feet a week - keep in mind this was still the hand drawn stuff. Aside from the show "Reboot" and a few scenes in high end films no one was really doing CGI animation yet. It was a lot of hard and very rewarding work on that Dreamworks project. I really enjoyed my time on it.

Unfortunately the work at Bardel dried up too so I was back making demo reels for people. Around this time Studio B - now known as DHX - needed an animatic editor. Since word spread that I knew how to do editing I was asked to help out on one of their shows which of course I was delighted to do. Back at this time being an editor was still a very exclusive club to be in and somehow I was able to get into it. I was very fortunate for the work since a lot of the artistic jobs were starting to dwindle away. This was around the time that Flash animation was about to emerge and become mainstream in around three years.

So I became a freelance editor. Working for shows at Studio B as well as working as an editor on "Ed, Edd n Eddy" for aka cartoons. While I was editing I was still squeezing in some time as an animator for Carbunkle cartoons on the new "Ren and Stimpy" show that was created for the Spike network. Also, due to my timing sense and animation background I freelanced as a Sheet Director giving timing notes on shows for DIC Entertainment, Studio B, aka cartoons as well as Bardel.

Eventually work became very steady where the studios where becoming more demanding of my time and wanting more exclusive rights to them. I decided to become exclusive with Studio B on their project "Being Ian" they were just developing. This was a very exciting project for me. I was getting to work with Marv Newland and I was helping define the look and feel of the show in the early development stages. I designed all of the special effects for the show. I created all of the key poses and timing which was then built and animated in FLASH animation. The lib ray I had created for Studio B for "Being Ian" was used extensively on all of their other FLASH shows at the time. Once the Bible was created and the designs were complete I stayed on the show for the first season doing special effects design and helping out with the character work.

On season two, Studio B was reminded that I was an editor so they asked if I could be the animatic editor on Being Ian. So I left the drawing table once again and sat myself behind an Avid to start editing. Oh yeah, Avid's weren't cheap back then like they are now - currently you can get an Avid for 2000 bucks which yes that is cheap. Studio's didn't trust anyone using their equipment back then. You had to be a part of that exclusive club to use this. Avid's back then cost around 100,000 bucks. Perhaps you could get a used one for 80,000 if you were lucky. But also around this time Apple came out with their Avid killer - Final Cut Pro so prices in Avid were dropping fast every year and the editing world was getting filled up with more and more people willing to do the job for less and less. Fortunately for me I was very versatile. I was an editor yes, but I was a designer, a sheet director, and animator - now in both classical animation as well as Flash animation. This kept me very well employed at Studio B.

The end of season three of "Being Ian" brought some changes in a lot of ways. They wrote the episode "Hurry For Hollywood" where Ian Kelley goes to Hollywood and wins a movie competition. That was supposed to be his way of getting to the big leagues and that was intended to be the end of the show. However, the network - YTV - ordered another season of "Being Ian". Studio B was stumped in two ways. One, they didn't know how to write another season bemuses they thought they wrote the perfect ending. And two, they no longer had a director for the series since the director left for another show. This was my chance to step up to plate. It was my shot at becoming a director. I was a very strong candidate considering I was one of the remaining few that had been working on that show right from the development stage and I had worked on every single episode in one form or another.

I never saw the last season as being the be all and end all of the series. I like story arcs. We just finished one chapter in Ian Kelly's life so I decided to pitch his next story arc. My pitch was successful. They liked my vision on taking Ian through a journey on his final season in a story arc over all of the episodes. I had the knowledge of all of the shows and I was strong in the design and colour of the show as well. So I was made the Series Director which started my career in directing.

Once this season ended I made one last Movie of "Being Ian" and that was the last goodbye. I moved on to helping a studio start up a show based on "1001 Nights". I assembled the studio, the staff, developed the look and style of the show. With no advertising at all the show premiered at MIP as the number 6th show. For the first season I was the show runner and creative head of the studio. Due to some conflicts of interest I left after the first season and the studio left soon after that.

But I went back to Bardel. I started directing on Nickelodeon show called "Planet Sheen". It was the first time I was at the helm of a CGI animated show but it was very natural for me. I was also happy that I was still able to manage all of the creative aspects on the shows I directed from scripts, design, colour, animation, lighting and compositing.

From that I moved forward to Directing two seasonal films. One being a Halloween Special and the other being a Christmas special. Both films were under my creative control from concept to delivery. They where both made simultaneously. It's was definitely fun watching them with my children around the holidays this past couple of years.

Once this films were finished I once again found myself back at Bardel. As of the start of 2014 I'm working on Nickelodeon's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". I've really enjoyed working on this incarnation of turtles. It's the first time to me that they actually feel like teenagers. I like how they've aged down characters like April and Casey Jones to be teenagers as well. It ties the stories together more tightly and helps fit the turtles in their teenage world.

I've been having a great career in animation so far. I have been very fortunate and am very thankful to all of the people I have worked with and have supported me. I hope to continue on my career pushing my skills and talents further than I have in the past to grow even more as an artist.

- chad van de keere -