Pixars Brave Featured Artist: Mike Kane Avatar: Origins

3Dstudio Max Animation Artist

Mike Kane
//Avatar: Origins

Tell us about yourself Mike; where are you from and when and how did you get started in 3D animation?

I was born and raised in South Florida, and still live there to this day with my beautiful wife and children. My 3D animation started almost by accident when a friend of mine was showing off some work he did. I was curious enough to ask how he created it and it just took off from there. Also, I really don't consider myself a 3D artist. Instead, I am more of a storyteller that happens to use 3D animation to tell the story.

How serious are you about animation? Is it a career for you or is it just a hobby?

It is not a career since no one pays me to do this. But it is much more than just a hobby to entertain myself. If I wasn't creating in 3D, I would have to find another outlet. I love the creative process and I am very passionate about anything I create. And that passion lends itself to many late nights in front on a PC. Like most of my peers, I would love to tell stories and earn a living at it at the same time. Those that can are the lucky ones.

Are you a traditional artist turned 3D Artist or did you just jump right into the 3D Software?

Before I started experimenting with 3D software, I tried different things. I've dabbled in many different forms like oils and watercolor. I even tried some stop-motion animation once. But I always drifted back to pencil sketching. About 4 years ago I was fortunate enough to get access to an older version of 3Dstudio Max. And I took to it instantly since I already had a programming background and decent math skills. I'm also the type that will sit and go though those manuals so I had the basics down pretty quickly, but I'm still learning new techniques and features of the applications that I didn't know existed. It's a nonstop learning process.

Do you think that artists with a formal education in animation have an advantage over self-taught artists?

I guess both may have pro's and cons' depending on what the artist is trying to accomplish. I believe that everyone needs some help starting out. I know I did. I used both the MAX manuals and tutorials that came with the product. I also found a lot of help with the character animation from books by Jon Bell and Phillip Miller. I'm sure If I had formal training, getting acclimated with the software would not have taken as long as it did. But, at some point the training has to stop and you have to start creating and finding your own style. If you spend all your time learning how others do it, you will never develop your own style.

What Programs and Hardware do currently work with? And why do you choose to work with these software packages?

I use 3D Studio Max 4.2, Vegas Video, and Adobe Photoshop. Why do I work with these apps? Well, I learned on 3D Studio, and since it still gets the job done for me, I never had a need in starting over with another application. Photoshop is a tool that every artist should have. And Vegas is just a great application.

Who's work do you admire?

That's a tough question. I suppose that anyone who can take a character, or story, or image, or music and take it to a level where it becomes iconic and the thing transcends itself. I love the work of Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas. Their films were the first, big eye opener for me as a child. Others that come to mind: Kevin Smith, John Milton, Robert E. Howard, C.S. Forester. I really enjoy Genndy Tartakovsky's work, he is a great talent. Comic books were another big influence for me as a child and as an adult so I have to mention Stan Lee, Walt Simonson, Alex Ross, and the late, great Jack Kirby (Long live the King!).

Where do you get the inspiration for your art?

Inspiration can be found anywhere. An artist can see it and be talented enough to recreate it. I love reading mythology and philosophy. There is a lot of wisdom there and that just fuels my imagination.

Could you take us through your creative process when starting a new animation project.

The process starts long before I sit down at the PC. It begins with a good script or even just a good idea. I will take the script or idea and start sketching. Eventually I will end up with enough scenes to storyboard the action. Taking all the scenes I will edit together the still frames to time and create an animated storyboard. I found that this is very helpful when recording dialogue. Once everything is edited to time and I'm happy with the look, I start animating scenes, replacing the static shots with animated shots. This takes the longest time since I also tend to go back and redo scenes when I see room for improvement. Once all the animation is complete I send off for the music and sound effects, then to the final mix to get everything sounding right. Once everything comes back, its complete. It's a good workflow, I wish I would stick to it.

Could you tell us about your 3D animated short Avatar: Origins?

Sure, "Avatar: Origins" is what I hope to be an ongoing series of adventures for the character, "The Avatar of Hope". It is a 13-minute film telling the Origin of the Avatar and his first encounter with the powers of chaos. It features an original score by the very talented Derek Devore. Andy Lee Robinson provided sound effects and mixdown. It is heavily influenced by my love for comics and anime as most could tell by watching the film. And, like a comic book, I really want the Avatar to have ongoing stories of adventures allowing me to develop the character further. Just wait until you see how I mess with him in the upcoming stories.

How was the concept of Avatar Origins conceived?

When I was much younger, I wanted to create comic books. Back then I used to write and sketch out stories on whatever paper I could find. So now that I am older, I wanted to create something that was a tribute to those same stories that I loved as a kid and as an adult. Avatar is the final result. Overall, I wanted a 'comic-book' style to the film. The storyboard looks like a typical page from a comic. The characters are inspired from traditional heroes from DC and Marvel comics as well as more mature works from Milton and Dante.

How long did it take to complete Avatar Origins?

The entire project took about a year to complete. The modeling animation process took about 4 or 5 months including the render times. I was very fortunate to meet up with Derek who wrote all the music for the film. He did an excellent job and got me a complete music track quickly too. When I heard the music and what he could do with C-sound, he just blew me away. Getting the sound effects and sound mix took the longest time.

What software packages were used in the creation of Avatar Origins?

Avatar was creating using primarily 3D Studio MAX, Vegas Video, and Adobe Photoshop.

Did you run into any major production problems during the creation of Avatar Origins?

There were some issues with the flow of work in post production. Nothing that really hurt the film, just delayed the completion. It's a learning experience for me and I'll know better how to deal with certain issues in the future.

What was the most technically challenging scene in Avatar Origins?

I'll be the first to admit I am not the greatest 3D artist out there. I am a novice judging by some of the work I have seen generated by my peers. Knowing that, I purposely kept the scenes simple. I didn't want to force myself into creating a scene that was beyond by skill level. Plus, I didn't want to take a month to model a background that would only be onscreen for a few seconds. I knew if I did that, I might never finish. Getting the scenes to a point where I could say, "Yeah, that looks good enough" was tough because a part of me wanted to keep improving on the models and the scenes. Even now I look at the film and say, "I really wish I would have changed.this or that". But this chapter is done, and instead of redoing this story, I want to take my improved skills to create something more visually appealing for my next project.

What other animated shorts have you worked on?

I love doing fan films. This year I was fortunate enough to make the finals in the Atomfilms Star Wars Fan film awards with the "Tie TV Spot". I also created another Fan Film called "Infiltration" featuring my favorite characters, Boba Fett and Darth Vader. I got to give a 'thank you' to all the artists at scfi3d.theforce.net who helped me with the Star Wars Projects. I've also done effects for other fan filmmakers, including "The Premonition" and "A Rising Threat". I do these scenes for people partly because I know the frustration of wanting to create a story, but not having the skills or time to bring that vision to fruition, but also because these shots usually give me the chance to try out a new technique and to work as a team member to create a visual that would be beyond my abilities working alone.

What's next for Mike Kane? Are there any new projects on the horizon?

Oh yeah, I am in the middle of "Avatar: Torment", the sequel to "Origins". This time, instead of telling an Origin story that's full of narrative, I can concentrate on creating something that is more visually appealing. Plus, after I finished Origins, I found myself fortunate enough to have very talented artists wanting to help create the next chapter in this series. After Torment is complete, I would love to create a version of Milton's "Paradise Lost". It seems there are always too many ideas and not enough time.

Do you have any advice for the aspiring 3D artist out there?

Just start. And don't stop. No matter what you end up with it's yours and you can have the satisfaction of knowing you created it. And that's a great feeling.

Thanks to Mike Kane(http://www.kanefilms.com/) for agreeing to answer the questions I had for him.

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