Sea Lion Ballet

Below the busy streets of New York City's Times Square, you could find an unusual tourist attraction called National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey. It featured interactive virtual underwater environments created by VFX studio Pixomondo where I was part of their design and animation team in 2016-2017. One of my favorite parts of the project was a pre-show event that visitors would experience while riding an escalator from street level down to an underground lobby. They would pass through a wall of mist onto which was projected an underwater scene starring playful Sea Lions and a menacing Great White Shark.

Motion Mixture

In 2016, VFX company Digital Domain in Playa Vista, California, contacted me about animating some cinematic sequences for the science fiction game Gears of War 4. The project was to use a mix of key-frame and motion capture techniques. Being an animation purist, I normally avoided such gigs that involved motion capture because the process is not artistically satisfying; however, this project was to be different. Not motion captured but rather animated, the faces of the characters required an animator’s touch, and the opportunity to create some emotional facial performances caught my interest. Additionally, the gig was scheduled for only six weeks, so I figured, “Why not?”

Spaceship Junkyard

Wrecked spaceship in futuristic junkyard


In 1986, visual effects company Introvision International was developing a movie project - an outer space version of the classic novel Treasure Island, entitled Treasure Planet. The company filmed a test sequence, most of which took place in a spaceship junkyard, to help attract financial backing for the project. The sequence utilized the "Introvision" process, a unique variation of the front-projection technique which allowed actors to be composited in-camera; accordingly, they were seamlessly integrated into an imaginary background without the need for post-processing.

Stop-Motion Chroma Key Compositing


Commercial with Saber-Toothed Tiger via blue screen!

Since the invention of motion pictures, many filmmakers have aimed to combine animation with live action. One successful method to achieve this is the chroma key technique. This process removes a color background, typically blue or green, by electronically cutting out the foreground subject, which is then composited over a different image. Chroma key works particularly well with stop-motion animation. Chiodo Bros. Productions in Burbank, California are experts in this technique. In the 1990s, I worked as an animator on several Chiodo Brothers projects, including a Cup-O-Noodles commercial featuring a saber-toothed tiger.

Nightmares Made Real

My first special effects job for a feature film happened in 1986 at Image Engineering, a mechanical effects company owned by Peter Chesney. The movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and Image Engineering was responsible for many of the creative ways that the maniacal Freddy Krueger disposed of his victims in the dream world. Unlike the computer-generated visual effects of today, which are completed in post-production, this was a pre-production project that required a performance with the actors during the live action shooting. Let's take a look at how we seemingly made a bathroom sink and a television come to life as the personification of evil Freddy.

Meet the Umblebums

Troll family in underground home greets their son arriving in a car made from a shoe

Introducing The Umblebums, who could have been one of television's weirdest families ever. I created this series of pictures to illustrate a potential stop-motion show for the now defunct Limelight Productions in 1991. Limelight then pitched the idea around Hollywood in an effort to find backing for the project. For me it was "spec work", as I made no money on it, under the agreement that I would direct the show if it was given the green light. The project never happened, leaving me to seriously examine if it was worth the trouble. At least I have some cool pictures to show, which have not been seen for 20 years!

Incident at Skellington Productions

Skellington Productions logo from the crew jacket

The Nightmare Before Christmas was created at a non-descript warehouse building in San Francisco known as Skellington Productions. It was a complete stop-motion movie production facility - a joint venture between Tim Burton and the Walt Disney Company. The studio was a “secret” since the building was unmarked with no sign to indicate the magic being created within its walls. There were several departments housed there. In front was the nerve center consisting of executive offices, art and editorial departments, and a screening room. The middle was the heart of the production and contained the stop-motion stages which were generally very quiet so the animators could concentrate. The back of the studio contained the model shop and set department - much noisier by comparison due to the use of power tools. Upstairs was the creature department where all the wonderful puppets were fabricated. The crew labored away like Santa’s elves with the goal of bringing Tim Burton’s ideas to life. Despite the film being a Tim Burton Production, Tim’s actual involvement was minimal as he entrusted it to both the crew and the director, Henry Selick. Tim only made rare appearances at Skellington’s front offices, so I never saw him when I was animating on the back stages; however, I did finally meet the famous Mr. Burton by accident, as the story continues.

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A look behind the scenes of art-making and other musings by .

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