Thomas Schelesny

In the afternoon of Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Tony Chen’s 3D Animation Workshop in Gastown. The special guest for the evening was Thomas Schelesny. Tom is a Visual Effects Supervisor at Tippet Studios. He was the VFX Supervisor for Disney’s Enchanted and is currently supervising the FX for Sam Rami’s Drag Me To Hell.

Tom gave us a quick summary of his career, starting with Northwest Imaging in Vancouver, where he received his first experience at 3D animation on Softimage, working on X-Files & The Outer Limits.  While at work, Tom received an incoming call which he initially thought was a prank and promptly hung up on the caller.  The caller was a recruiter from Tippet.

Needless to say, he got the job at Tippet and was brought in as an Anima…er… a Lighting TD. After having the TD position for 1 week, Tippet quickly moved Tom to a more appropriate position, in animation. Tom spent 3 years as an animator and followed that up with 2 years as an animation lead, working on Starship Troopers and Virus.

Eventually, Tom was surprised by a visit from Tippet, who was showing a client around the studio. Tippet whispered to Tom, “So, you want to be VFX Sup on this show?” to which Tom replied, “Yes.“. Tippet immediately introduced Tom to the client as the VFX Supervisor that would be working on his film.

During our talk, Tom couldn’t stress enough how important it is to take risks. He said how rewarding it was to be confident in yourself, to not care what other people think. If you know what you need to do… DO IT. For example, when onset with an actress who needed to react to a monster that wasn’t there, Tom took his shirt off and started towards the actress, snorting and snarling. Throw on a dress? Sure. Pose for life drawing? Why not? He says that he’s willing to take take it all off, if it needed to be done… and he proved it. This is a point that resonated strongly with me. I’ve lost track of the number of missed opportunities due to shyness or stressing about making an ass out of myself. I mean, the entertainment industry begs for people like this, so  give em what they want!

I keep thinking of the song by The Kills, Cheap and Cheerful – “I want you to be crazy cause your stupid when your sane.

Speaking of being confident with your work, one thing that has surprised me since I came into this industry, was the lack of animator reference. I’m not talking about book or video clip reference, I’m talking about STANDING UP AND ACTING IT OUT. Tom told us how animators are treated at Tippet Studios. In the animation area, you’ll commonly find animators crawling and snarling. If other artists are making discouraging comments about an animator who’s acting, that person will usually get double the criticisms fired right back at them. At Tippet, they do whatever they can to encourage live reference. I know this doesn’t need to be said, but everything is sculpted before it goes digital. Reference is key and the closer to real life, the better. Tom pointed out, “This computer monitor, it’s 2D, not 3D.” This is something we all forget, too often.

Tony Chen @ Tom's talk

Tony Chen

He spoke of his preference to work with rubber suits. The experience is more organic, as your are directing the action, in the moment. If it’s purely digital creatures, a director will usually just shoot the set then save the footage to be dealt with later. However, if you’re working with rubber suits, “…you want a creature to look more wet, you walk up and spray on some water…” I should note that Tom does not dislike digital effects, it’s more a preference of the process.  He also stated that he feels that some 3D animated films are as perfect as you can get, simply because of the control you have over every single element. In a world of film that seems to be driven by digital effects, these comments were a breath of fresh air. Too often does the process oriented work seem too planned and not dynamic enough. It’s hard to pick out sometimes, but we can usually feel when it just doesn’t look right. A rubber suit looks more real, well… because it is real.

Thanks to everyone, especially Tony Chen @ CGMovement, for putting this together.  It was a very inspiring evening that will not be forgotten.