Moving in three dimensions

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Published:  January 22, 2010
Moving in three dimensions

Founded in the year 2000, Sydney-based three-dimensional art house and studio, ProMotion is now in the enviable position of having its work appear on the global stage. No longer limited to its own backyard, ProMotion has the world in its sights with a number of very cool animated projects in the works that, with a little luck, we’ll all be seeing more of soon. James Neale is one of the guiding lights behind ProMotion’s success and, with his wife Kim by his side, he can only see better things to come.

Copyright ProMotion

Copyright ProMotion

Please tell me a bit about yourself, your education and background?
I started in 3D after finishing a degree in robotics engineering that had exposed me to a variety of CAD and computer based drafting systems. I was more interested in making funny motion than the accuracy required of engineering, so took a year off to study 3D animation and entered the workforce as an animator in 1997.

Copyright ProMotion

Copyright ProMotion

How did you get into animation/ post-production and what drew you to it?
Like a lot of my colleagues, I saw Toy Story around that time which was such an incredible visual leap from the simple line-drawing CAD work I’d was used to in engineering. It fired me up to find out how it was done, and I soon realised I really had no idea of the complexity of the newly emerging field.

Copyright ProMotion

Copyright ProMotion

How did ProMotion get started?
While working as an animator, I started teaching basic character animation at a local Sydney college. After a while I quit my fulltime job to build a portfolio of illustrated work together using 3D tools. In and around freelance gigs, my wife Kim and I slowly built up a folio of about 10 different illustrations, which we took to various agents around the world for representation. We began getting commissions in that style and as one thing led to other, we also started animating some of those characters we made. It wasn’t long before we took our first employees and opened a studio.

Copyright ProMotion

Copyright ProMotion

What tools/ equipment do you use?
We use Windows or Linux based PC that I’ve hand built. That way I know what can go wrong and how to fix it. Bit of a rod for my own back when lots of things pile up, but it seems to work so far. We mostly use Windows although I’m pushing the studio toward completely opensource software and we’re slowly adopting Linux as our operating system of choice.

Copyright ProMotion

Copyright ProMotion

What does rendering actually mean?
In the 3D world, ‘rendering’ means the actual computation phase of an image. We treat 3D like photography. You build your models then paint them up nicely, pose them in your scene environment, put in correct lights and camera and then press ‘click’, there’s your picture. The actual ‘click’ or taking of the ‘photo’ can take the computer a fraction of a second or more than a whole day to calculate, depending upon how complicated or prepared the 3D scene is. For example, with computer games, the rendering of a single picture is almost instantaneous because the graphics have been set up to render quickly (in real-time) using many tricks and hacks to make an image look reasonably real at an incredibly low-render time. This kind of 3D scene has been long planned to be used in real-time, so the artists work towards optimising or ‘pre-baking’ an awful lot of the calculation into various aspects of the image, and so when the time comes to press ‘click’, the computation is super fast.

Other 3D work takes a lot more calculation. Usually the computation increase comes from the calculation of how light bounces around a scene, or how may objects are in the scene, be it from having 50,000 Orcs as in Lord of the Rings, raiding a castle or a massive field of trees all casting nice shadows and light rays onto endless beds of glass refracting flowers. The search for reality takes loads of computer processing time.

Can you tell us about your Jellibots project – how it got started and where you would like to see it go?
Jellibots is the most developed of our series work. It came from a love of all things robotic and was conceived in 2000 as a completely different animal. Working with Kim allowed me to see the possibilities, and her sketch and design work basically reshaped the idea into what it is today. In between paid work and day-to-day business and after a few years hiatus, Kim and I decided to massage it up some more, and thought we could really have something. We then decided to create a short animation to test it on our kids (now age 3 and 5). They just loved it, so we slowly came up with a full piece and developed a series bible to take to market. The great thing about the Jellibots is it’s simplicity and I’m sincerely hoping that it is the key to its success. The market will soon speak and we’ve been getting a lot of positive encouragement already.

We’re also working in our more-adult series ‘Kajimba’, which is harks back to the halcyon days of Aussie pub humour. Basically Kajimba is about a group of Australian animals stuck in a long forgotten Outback pub with nothing much else to do except drink and talk shit. It’s been a long form project based on well-known Aussie stereotypes and has attracted quite a bit of interest already. We’ve started a production blog at www.kajimba.com where we’ve released about 20 clips to date, mostly tests and jokes. We’ve already animated about a third of the first episode, which has been such a great fun project. The scriptwriter and voice actors have been fantastic so now the onus is on us to get it done. If only regular paid work wasn’t needed so much, we’d work on these projects fulltime!

Copyright ProMotion

Copyright ProMotion

What can we expect from Promotion next?
As I mentioned before, we’ve formed a new studio called RedCartel, which is a collaboration between ProMotion and Twitch Studios. It was formed to meet the increasing in demand for animated serial content, which both teams will now be equipped to tackle seriously. We’ve come together with skills in different areas and to date there has been a fantastic synergy between us, resulting in some great work and fun work environment. We’re taking our series ideas to market together and have been pushing into SE Asia and US advertising where we’re getting a great response. We all aim to make this venture the next phase in our careers and to put some of our home-grown Australian animated content out onto the worlds insatiable TV, phone and computer screens.

www.promotionstudios.com
www.jellibots.com
www.redcartel.com.au

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