Dec. 7: DreamWorks Animation

Join us for an evening with the creative talent behind DreamWorks Animation “How to Train Your Dragon.” Director / writer Dean DeBlois, producer Bonnie Arnold and development executive Chris Kuser will share their experiences in the development and production of this twice Academy Award(r) nominated 3D animated feature that has grossed approximately $500 million worldwide. The team is currently producing “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” set for release a 2014 release. The panel session will be moderated by Professor Jed Dannenbaum. Seating is very limited, so arrive early.


Bonnie Arnold, Producer

Bonnie Arnold is currently producing How to Train Your Dragon 2, the sequel to the Academy Award®-nominated original film from 2010, of which she also produced. An accomplished filmmaker in nearly every genre, she also a produced the Sony Pictures Classics release The Last Station, which garnered two Oscar® nominations as well as award nominations from the Screen Actors Guild; the Golden Globes; and the Independent Spirit Awards, including a nomination for Best Picture. In addition she produced the 2006 DreamWorks Animation release Over the Hedge, the Disney blockbuster Tarzan and the history-making film Toy Story, which combined have earned more than $1 billion in worldwide box office revenue.

Arnold’s previous production credits include a list of titles, among them the Oscar®-winning epic Western Dances with Wolves and the hit comedy The Addams Family. Arnold’s interest in journalism led to her first entertainment industry assignment as the unit publicist for American Playhouse’s debut production, King of America. Following that, she worked with several independent filmmakers via the American Film Institute and the Atlanta Independent Film and Video Festival. Her work in promoting independent films influenced her decision to pursue a career as a producer. Arnold is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as the Producers Guild of America.

Dean DeBlois, Director / Writer

Canadian-born Dean DeBlois is a film director, screenwriter and animator who is equally at home in the worlds of live-action and feature animation filmmaking. Although already an accomplished animator and writer at the time “How to Train Your Dragon” became a worldwide hit, DeBlois is well known for co-writing and co-directing Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Lilo & Stitch.” He later stepped behind the live-action camera to direct the indie critical darling “Heima,” which documents alternative/postrock band Sigur Rós’ series of free, unannounced concerts performed in their home country of Iceland. He also previously served as head of story on the Disney hit “Mulan.”

DeBlois once again collaborated with Chris Sanders (co-writer/co-director of “Lilo & Stitch”), to write and direct the 3D animated fantasy adventure comedy “How to Train Your Dragon” for DreamWorks Animation. He is currently in pre-production on the sequel to “How to Train Your Dragon;” he will write and direct the film. Dean is also set to write, produce and direct the live-action comedy “The Banshee and Finn Magee.” In addition, he has several live-action projects in development at Universal Studios and The Walt Disney Studio, on which he is serving as writer, director and producer.

DeBlois started his career at Hinton Animation Studios and worked as animator on the television series “The Raccoons.” He then joined Don Bluth’s, Sullivan Bluth Studios in Ireland and worked on the animated features “Thumbelina” and “A Troll in Central Park.”

Chris Kuser, Senior Development Executive

Chris Kuser is a Senior Development Executive at DreamWorks Animation. In January 2000 Chris began his career at DWA as an intern in the development department. He was promoted to Executive in January 2001. Movies he helped develop at DWA include: Shark Tale, Flushed Away, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens, How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind, The Croods, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Chris earned an MFA in film producing at the American Film Institute in 2001. Prior to that, he was the Managing Director of the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV, and an Executive Project Manager at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Chris earned an MA in dramatic literature and criticism at Catholic University of America in 1994 and a BA in history at Fordham University in 1990. He is a former member of the acting company at Hedgerow Theater – a super-crunchy theater commune (true story!) – in Rose Valley, PA. Now he, his wife Mary, and their two children, Anna (8) and Teddy (5) live in Studio City.


Nov. 30: Mike Fink

Many students choose to attend film school because of the amazing worlds they experienced in the movie theater growing up. Chances are, visual effects artist and new SCA adjunct faculty member Michael Fink had a hand in creating them. Fink has visual effects credit on over thirty films including Tropic Thunder, X-Men, Mars Attacks!, Braveheart, and Blade Runner. In 2008, Fink won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects for The Golden Compass, and was nominated for the Oscar in 1993 for Batman Returns.

Fink will begin teaching CTAN 432, The World of Visual Effects, during the upcoming spring semester. He spoke to us by email about the “wars” he’s been in on set and what students can expect as the world of visual effects transitions into the CGI age.

How did you become a visual effects artist and supervisor? I was a studio artist, creating tableaux that referred to what I hoped were universal difficulties in life and then photographing them. I got my first job in the business as an attempt to find some way to make more money for my art, but was swept up in the collaborative artistic effort that is filmmaking. After about 2 years, the hook was set, and I left my art studio behind. The demands of finding creative, technically challenging ways to solve thorny problems was invigorating. In late 1981 or early 1982, I started on the film WarGames. Actually, I would hang out in the WarGames offices, and go to meetings to offer up whatever I could to help. But, I hadn’t been hired, and only got involved because I had a friend in the art department. After a few weeks the producers figured I was worth keeping around, so they offered me a job. In the discussion, they asked me what I should be called, and I said “Visual Effects Supervisor” (I probably made sure the capital letters were felt).

What are some of your early and/or continuing influences as a visual effects artist? Early influences in visual effects were Bud Abbott, Linwood Dunn, Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, and Peter Ellenshaw. Directors were/are Cocteau, Hitchcock, Capra, Sturges, Huston, Coppola, Ridley Scott, Zemeckis, and Weir. Beyond that, Pre-Renaissance and Renaissance art, the Futurists, Ernie Kovacs, Bob Clampett and Stan Freberg, Etienne Marey, and Harold Edgerton.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? Any war stories you can tell? The most challenging part of my job is clearly communicating what I want and what is needed to an incredible band of characters – and then getting them to do what is needed. Whether it is dealing with producers, directors, cinematographers, writers, actors, special effects, visual effects artists, computer scientists, or craft service, communication is the most challenging part of my job. War stories? You are joking! I think there are people in this business who do it just for the stories they can tell. Way too many to relate here…Of course there was the time when I was dangling in a basket 1000 feet above the Colorado River…Or the writers on one film who told me that they were waiting for me to finish animating the pre-visualization so that they could write the script…Or the director who said “What’s this vision s–t?  That’s your job!”

Talk about the class you’re teaching. From the description, it seems that you’ll be talking a lot about the history of early visual effects. Why is that important? The class is about way more than early visual effects. We will discuss this, of course, but we’ll also discuss current effects as well. I hope to have guests – my compadres who will do short talks featuring one shot, or one sequence, on a film they have worked on. But your question is a good one. I think it’s important for students to learn about the kinds of creative problem solving that went on early in film history, and still goes on today. The truth of the matter is that as much as the technology of film has changed, the things we do are much the same as those that were done decades ago. Sometimes going back and looking at these early efforts is not only fun (and funny), but is also incredibly revealing of the creative process.

VFX are dominated now by CGI, but you seem to have an affinity for, as well as a background in traditional techniques. How did that background affect your work with CGI, and how do traditional techniques still apply today? What we think of traditional techniques were state of the art techniques when I started. So, that part of my background was unavoidable. And actually, I don’t have an affinity for traditional techniques. I do have an affinity for techniques that work to tell the story. I’d as happily shoot a plate for an original negative matte painting as I would create the same shot with photographed and painted elements projected onto geometry. Well…except for the fact that you can’t find a good o-neg painter anymore whose paints haven’t dried up in storage. What I took away from traditional techniques and applied to CGI was a knowledge of lighting. Years building and shooting miniatures, and matching model photography to live action plates gives you a real appreciation for good lighting. The traditional techniques still hold up in many instances. Miniatures are still a part of filmmaking, even if not as prevalent as before. But, more than anything, you have to keep in mind that we are still just combining different elements into one shot to form a convincing whole. The concepts behind the combination of these elements are essentially identical in traditional visual effects and contemporary visual effects. It is the technology that makes them seem wildly different. The first pre-multiplied elements were bi-packed elements in an optical printer. The math is the same.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for students or young people who are interested in pursuing VFX as a career? Learn as much as you can about the creation of beautiful images. Study art, film, and architecture. Spend hours contemplating how the things you like to see become the things you like to see. Learn to trust your sense of taste. Don’t decide before you start that you want to do a specific job. Get whatever job you can, throw yourself into it, and find your way from there, always playing to your strengths. Get involved in the kind of projects that capture your imagination, even if it is a low level job. Then keep your eyes and ears open, ask lots of questions, and watch how the people around you do their jobs. I learned more about filmmaking from watching Ridley Scott while I was working on Blade Runner than from any book. And at that point in my career, I was many levels down from daily contact with directors. Be willing to take risks, be persistent in your efforts to succeed, and never say no to a job you don’t know how to do (yet). Within reason, of course.

Nov. 9: Paul Debevec

Paul Debevec leads the Graphics Laboratory at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, is a Research Professor in the USC Computer Science Department, and is the Vice-President of ACM SIGGRAPH. He earned degrees in Math and Computer Engineering at the University of Michigan in 1992 and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UC Berkeley in 1996. He began combining research in computer vision and computer graphics in 1991 by three-dimensionally modeling and rendering his Chevette automobile from photographs. At Interval Research Corporation he contributed to Michael Naimark’s Immersion ’94 virtual exploration of Banff National forest and collaborated with Golan Levin on the interactive art installation Rouen Revisited.

Debevec’s Ph.D. thesis under Prof. Jitendra Malik presented Façade, an image-based modeling system for creating virtual cinematography of architectural scenes using new techniques for photogrammetry and image-based rendering. Using Façade he directed a photorealistic fly-around of the Berkeley campus for his 1997 film The Campanile Movie whose techniques were later used to create the Academy Award-winning virtual backgrounds in the “bullet time” shots in the 1999 film The Matrix.

Following his Ph.D. Debevec pioneered techniques for illuminating computer-generated objects with measurements of real-world illumination. His 1999 film Fiat Lux rendered towering monoliths and gleaming spheres into a photorealistic reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica, realistically illuminated by the light that was actually there. Techniques from this research known as HDRI and Image-Based Lighting have become a standard part in visual effects production, used to dramatic effect in films such as the The Matrix sequels, The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonTerminator: SalvationDistrict 9, and Avatar. Debevec leads the design of HDR Shop, the first high dynamic range image editing program, and co-authored the 2005 book High Dynamic Range Imaging. Debevec’s 2004 film The Parthenon used 3D scanning, inverse global illumination, HDRI, and image-based lighting to virtually reunite the Parthenon and its sculptures, contributing to depictions of the Parthenon’s history for the 2004 Olympics, NHK televison,PBS’s NOVANational Geographic, the IMAX film Greece: Secrets of the Past, and The Louvre.

At USC ICT Debevec has led the development of several Light Stage systems that capture and simulate how people and objects appear under real-world illumination. The Light Stages have been used by studios such as Sony Pictures Imageworks, WETA Digital, and Digital Domain to create photoreal digital actors as part of the Academy Award-winning visual effects in Spider-Man 2 and King Kong, the Academy Award-nominated visual effects in Superman ReturnsSpider-Man 3Hancock, the Academy-Award winning visual effects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and most recently James Cameron’s Avatar. The most recent light stage process based on polarized gradient illumination was used in 2008’s Digital Emily project, a collaboration with Image Metrics which produced one of the first digital facial performances to cross the “Uncanny Valley“. Other recent work led by Debevec includes ICT’s 3D Display and 3D Teleconferencing systems.

In 2001 Debevec received ACM SIGGRAPH’s first Significant New Researcher Award for “Creative and Innovative Work in the Field of Image-Based Modeling and Rendering”, in 2002 was named one of the world’s top 100 young innovators by MIT’s Technology Review magazine, and in 2005 received a Gilbreth Lectureship from the National Academy of Engineering. In 2005 Debevec received the Special Award for a Distinguished Professional Career in Animation/VFX from the Mundo Digitales Festival in A Coruna, Spain and in 2009 received the “Visionary Award for VFX” at the 3rd Annual Awards for the Electronic and Animated Arts.

In February 2010, Debevec received a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award® for “the design and engineering of the Light Stage capture devices and the image-based facial rendering system developed for character relighting in motion pictures”, shared with Tim Hawkins, John Monos, and Mark Sagar.

Debevec is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Visual Effects Society, and ACM SIGGRAPH. He chaired the SIGGRAPH 2007 Computer Animation Festival and co-chaired Pacific Graphics 2006 and the 2002 Eurographics Workshop on Rendering.

Nov. 2: Evgeni Tomov

EVGENI TOMOV is an esteemed Production Designer, Conceptual Artist and Illustrator specializing in feature animated films, animated TV series and shorts.

Born in the former Soviet Union, Tomov studied at the Nikolai Pavlovitch University of Fine Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria from which he received a master’s degree in Fine Arts and Illustration in 1986. In 1990, Tomov moved to Montreal, Canada, where he worked as an Art Director and Illustrator for various Advertising Agencies, working on accounts such as Royal Bank of Canada, L’Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal (OSM) and Lotto Quebec.

In Montreal, his interest focused on the world of animation and he began work on numerous children’s TV series for the large Canadian studio CINAR Animation. Engaged as an Environment Design Supervisor for CINAR, he developed the series Animal Crackers and Mona the Vampire. During this time he also worked as a background painter for the Cactus Animation series Fennec le Détective. Tomov’s pursuit in art direction fanned out to encompass projects in computer games as well. In 1997 his role as Assistant Art Director on the animated short The Old Lady and the Pigeons saw his first collaboration on an Oscar® nominated film.

From 1999 to 2002, Tomov worked as the Art Director and Production Designer on the critically acclaimed animated feature film The Triplets of Belleville. The film was an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, and received acclaim at numerous other film festivals. Nominations and awards included an Oscar® nomination for Best Animated Feature. Following the completion of Triplets of Belleville, Tomov again collaborated with Director Sylvain Chomet in Scotland as Production Designer and Art Director for Chomet’s newly established Studio Django, working on the development of the CG-animated film Beaks!; 2D-animated film Barbacoa and the 2D-animated feature The Illusionist, for Pathé Pictures International.

From 2006 to the end of 2008, Tomov has worked in London, England as Production Designer on the CG-animated feature The Tale of Despereaux, for Universal Pictures.

Currently he is working in Los Angeles, US as a Production Designer on the CG-animated feature Arthur Christmas, a co-production between Aardman Animations and Sony Entertainment.

Oct. 26: 13th Annual Animation Show of Shows

Acme Filmworks & presents 13th Annual Animation Show of Shows curated and presented by Ron Diamond.

Featuring nine award winning and notable animated short films culled from the worlds leading 2011 animation festivals.

Ron Diamond has been involved in the world of animation for more than thirty years. He operated his own distribution company, Max Media, for six years, and later co-produced several Expanded Entertainment animation compilations, including the 20th, 21st and 22nd International Tournees of Animation, The Animation Celebration, The Second Animation Celebration and The Computer Animation Show. In 1990 Diamond founded animation production house Acme Filmworks to produce commissioned works by animators exploring unusual techniques and modes of storytelling. Acme’s directional roster is a who’s who of international independent animation, including Michael Dudok De Wit, Chris Hinton, Aleksandra Korejwo, Raimund Krumme, Caroline Leaf, Bill Plympton, Gianluigi Toccafondo, Peter Chung, David Wasson and Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbis.

Diamond has produced award-winning campaigns for Levi’s Women’s Jeans, Weight Watchers, Hilton Hotels, Charmin, AT&T and United Airlines amongst hundreds of commercials produced at Acme.  Diamond produced the Academy Award nominated short film Nibbles (2003) by Chris Hinton, two shots films for Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project with Janet Perlman and Jeremy Clapin, and the animated feature film Drawn From Memory (1995), directed by Paul Fierlinger, which was the first feature-length animated documentary to be featured on PBS’s American Playhouse. He was also the executive producer of Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show (2004), a 12 episode series for the WB Network. In 2010, Diamond worked with Ridley Scott to revisit the animation techniques employed by Gianluigi Toccafondo at Acme in the realization of the Scott Free Logo for Toccafondo’s new production of the main title sequence for Scott’s “Robin Hood.” Diamond also produced Michal Socha’s evocative main title sequence for the miniseries “Pillar of the Earth.” Diamond has lectured at leading animation schools in France, England, and the U.S., and has served as a juror and guest speaker at numerous film events including the New York Film Festival, the London Advertising Awards, the Clios, and film festivals in Ottawa, Brussels, Holland Animation Film Festival, Anima Mundi, Annecy, Hiroshima, Cinanima, Stuttgart, Anifest in the Czech Republic and Zagreb.

Diamond travels to multiple film festivals and universities annually to discover talented animators. Many animator’s first opportunity was through Diamond effort at Acme and in his annual touring program, the Animation Show of Shows, now in it’s 13th edition. Diamond is also co-founded and President of Diamond lives in the Los Angeles Area with his wife and two daughters, two cats and a dog.

Oct 19: Kenneth Hall

Associate Professor

Ken Wannberg Endowed Chair in Music Editing

Kenneth Hall has edited and completed over 950 films and TV productions. He has been associated with several Oscar-winning and nominated pictures including: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Amityville Horror, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Patton, Under Fire, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Hoosiers, Basic Instinct, L.A. Confidential and Mulan.

Hall received two Gold Records for E.T and Mulan and was nominated for the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Award for First Knight, L.A. Confidential, Executive Decision, Mr. Baseball, The Ghost & the Darkness, Star Trek: First Contact and Mulan.

Hall has worked with some of the most respected and talented film composers in the world including: John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, Henry Mancini, John Barry, Bill Conti, Maurice Jarre, Lalo Schifrin, Marvin Hamlisch, Lionel Newman and Miklos Rozsa. When time permits, Hall continues to work in the industry.