Prior to coming to Singapore, I worked professionally in the animation industry for almost 25 years on animated and visual effects feature films, and at major game studios. Most of the feature films that I worked on have won major movie awards. These include an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and an Academy Award nomination for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. These projects won a BAFTA Film Award for Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects; the 2004 ASCAP Film and Television Music Top Box Office Films Award; the 2004 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Award for the Best Animated Film; the Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Theatrical Feature and numerous other awards. Before entering the feature film industry, I worked in the game industry and created a game that received the 1996 PlayStation Game of the Year Award by PS Extreme Magazine, I was the artistic lead, level designer and animation lead on the project. This project was the first to use motion capture in a game.
With a successful career in animation, I decided to try doing things a little differently and pursuing research opportunities in industry established a company called CLONE3D, LLC. With this company, I begin experimenting with novel approaches to animation authorship looking at automated personalities that I put up on the web. This technology was not quite mature so I began looking for opportunities to pursue further research in automated animation technology and to share and expand upon my expertise and interests within an academic setting. At that time, while at work on “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe” I was recruited into my current position. Spotting a unique and tantalizing challenge, I left that project for work in Singapore becoming a founding faculty member in Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media, the first school to offer a professional Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Animation in the region.
As a university professor, I wish to infect my students with my own enthusiasm for research in animation. My goal is to encourage the development of independent and critical thinking, promoting a lifetime thirst for intellectual growth and personal development; to sustain a learning and research environment that supports self-advocacy and problem solving skills. With digital art making as pertains to animation, the interactive industries and other related creative activities, in addition to the aesthetics needed for clear expression there is a requirement for the artist to become proficient at the technical processes that are rooted in the medium. With every project potentially a prototype and the techniques used ever changing, it is imperative that the students learn how to find solutions to solve their creative problems. They must know what their goals are and pursue the knowledge needed to find it. In an industry where each creative project is a prototype, the one important objective I try to teach is that it is imperative for students to become problem solvers. In teaching as in practice, to actualize a creative vision one must have a thirst for knowledge that only self-motivated discovery and resultant successful achievement can realize.
I strive to teach students what it takes to succeed in the animation profession, emphasizing the technical and emergent nature of the field and how it allows one to create new, exciting and novel works. My ultimate goal is to gain an understanding of what contemporary and popular animation design is in today’s global society, while pushing the medium into a more viable and global scene. By teaching through example students come to understand more deeply the processes involved in expressing difficult artistic concepts. I attempt to teach the fundamentals of digital animation incrementally, incrementally introducing creative challenges with more complicated tasks by designing assignments that build upon the previous in complexity. This encourages the student to create their works to the capacity and degree of which they are able. By fostering an understanding of a complex idea or technique in a simple way, students learn creative concepts that go beyond the ever-renewing techniques demonstrated to them. They learn to reform their approach and to solve problems with the most elegant solutions. I believe in the assertion that students learn best through active experimentation, critique, peer assessment and collaboration. With the end goal of encouraging students to explore the creative act, and learn to function outside of the instructional environment without the aid of a teacher; thereby becoming lifelong learners and innovative artists.
In my research and teaching, I explore the theory and methodology of contemporary artistic creation and attempt to understand and teach what the dominant trends are in execution, delivery and conception. Why is it that some ideas succeed and others fail? Development of a successful idea bearing international appeal holds many rewards. Developing artists, animators, filmmakers and game designers that can reliably author creative content with unique and popular charm is a difficult goal to achieve and is something that holds the interest of many artists working in popular media. My future and current research tackles these issues in an attempt to create genuinely “Made in Singapore” creative animation IP.
In research, I try to understand through practice, active experimentation, review and revision the qualities that form comical appeal in animated characters. Because animation is such a labour-intensive art form, designers must take careful and strategic pre-production measures when visuals, sound and narratives are part of the production of complex works. My research utilizes platform-based development focusing on conversational characterizations as a vehicle to test ideas in a rougher less developed stage. In this way we are able to make the necessary revisions updating the materials for further testing. Bringing these observations to my teaching allows me to explore with students the narrative structure of design.
In research, my approach to establishing a firm direction for IP development in Singapore is to incubate animation concepts by developing a simple though robust pipeline for the development of content. Using a fixed process, we are able to focus our efforts on creating and testing a diverse range of content. With industrial partners that are already in place, my research team is launching tests to evaluate our material directly in the open market. With this facility, my research will gauge the popularity of our work and appropriately target our IP development. This work has had an impact on my former students who have gone forward to set up companies and help make Singapore a creative and vibrant place for animation.
In a content development model where a culture of innovative and collaborative relationships match and propel the larger goals such that I have now in my current research, creative ideas result in unique and entertaining ideas ready for the market with tested outcomes. With established partners our efforts are having an immediate impact on the Interactive Digital Media environment here in Singapore. With proven outcome as demonstrated by the awards received on work conducted in earlier funded research and with subsequent local industrial engagement I believe that my teaching, research and service to the local industry will continue to result in tangible successes. Artistic thinking is the brains of innovation. Having our research surrounded by people with their own innovative ideas and enthusiasm guarantees our success.