Welcome to the World of Animation
Jacob Sorensen graduated from Think Tank’s full-time program in 2010. Since then he’s been enjoying a bustling animation career that’s spanned the film, television and gaming industries. He started out at Rainmaker, where he stayed for two years and then moved to Bardel Entertainment for another two years. After that he had brief stints at MPC, Nitrogen and EA before ending up at Method Studios six months ago. We recently caught up with Jacob to hear how the animation world has been treating him…and here’s what he had to say.
You have worked in film, TV and games. How do those experiences compare?
I think it is a great idea to try all of these at the start of one’s career. I did feel bad for jumping around between the different disciplines, however looking back now I see that I was able to learn valuable skills from each.
In TV I learned how to be very fast, since there is no other option. After two years I was able to work quicker and have a better turnaround rate, which I could then apply to other projects going forward. I was on TMNT for season 2 and 3, and felt like I was part of a team. The group of animators on each episode really gel and come together as the work progresses. I came to respect the show and the fluidity of the shot ownership. It is less about your own shots and more about completing the episode as a whole. You may set up a shot and take it through blocking, but to get the show finished on time there ends up being a lot of movement between artists.
With games I learned how to deal with technical problems and fixing messy animations. I was on FIFA and the incredible amount of animation assets is quite daunting. Every single movement has hundreds of variations, and they all need to work together and have smooth transitions. What I learned most was dealing with mocap and seeing the problems with a rig baked on every frame. You start to look at the silhouette and velocity of the movements over where you place your keys. Looking at a shot in this way has made it easier to adjust ones that have been set up by other animators with different work styles. Games is a more relaxed work environment but definitely not easier. The constraints on your animation flow can be a very challenging task.
In film an incredible amount of detail goes into each shot. I have put two months into one of my current ones, and it’s now only just about done. It solidifies the fact that an animation shot is never ‘done’. You get it looking as good as you can in the time you are given and then send it off. It was quite a humbling experience to spend almost as much time on a single film shot as it took to make my third semester reel at Think Tank! I worked on an animated feature after graduating, and it was a crash course in learning the production pipeline. Since then, I have worked on Sausage Party and am currently on my fifth VFX show.
Your skills have grown substantially since entering the industry. What lessons have you learned?
One of the best skills is having a quick turnover with notes. Learning how to animate clean and constantly disassembling and reassembling a shot is crucial to getting the quick turnaround that a supervisor likes. I have learned that if a lead or a supervisor points out something they like, they HATE if that disappears from fixing another note. Another skill is the ability to let the computer help you. 2D and 3D have many of the same theories and workflows, but they are two very different mediums. I found that focusing on getting my timing perfect for my main poses and then watching it over and over before adding my in-betweens works well.
You have worked on some big shows and animated a number of very important shots. What does that kind of pressure feel like? Also, seeing those shots on the big screen must be very rewarding!
The best feeling in this career is sitting in the theatre and seeing something you worked on being enjoyed by millions of people. This makes everything worth it. The pressure mainly comes when you and whoever is judging your work are not on the same page. The most challenging part of the job is when you are animating something that has a direction that does not agree with your eye. You have to fight with your own internal instincts to get the result which will appeal to a different set of eyes. Deadlines are very tough but if you are constantly improving a shot, the pressure goes down because you are on the right track.
Do you still think about improving your skills on a daily basis?
I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect animator. Animation is an art, so there are different styles and opinions from every single person that looks at your work. Therefore, I don’t think I will ever stop improving. Outside of animation, I am also doing a project on my own time that involves producing all aspects of visual effects. From modeling to compositing, I am trying to learn it all. It is very challenging to go home from a long day and commit to opening up Maya on my own time to improve, but I believe that’s what it will take to get to the next level of success in this industry.
What happens when you hit a roadblock? A shot you just can’t seem to crack. Is there something that helps you get past this?
It is a hard mindset to be in, but you can’t let yourself get too attached to your work. Knowing when to give up on tweaking something, and when to pull the plug and restart another thing is really hard. My workflow is that I struggle with it until it frustrates me, and as soon as I notice this I just choose that section and start over. Although, I have found that watching a video of the old version against the new redone version can be a great confidence booster.
What does your dream company or job look like?
My dream job would be having my own animation or game studio. It would be nice to eventually be the one making the decisions, and I would be so proud to see the results of a studio that I started. However, a more realistic goal is to become a director or cinematographer. I love every aspect of film and want to learn how it all works. I would also kill for the opportunity to make sure that every shot in a movie was visually beautiful.
Is there a show you are dying to work on?
STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS!!! I am a HUGE Star Wars fan! With the recent reboot from Disney, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to add to the series. I even have an original Star Wars poster hanging in my kitchen!
Animation has been around forever and has many amazing role models. Who do you look up to?
I can’t think of many animation role models, but there are quite a few filmmakers who I look up to. Alejandro Iñárritu’s ability to pull you into a film is incredible. From a writing standpoint, I think Tarantino’s style is quite complex. Finally, I think so highly of George Lucas for starting ILM and using his imaginative capabilities to make VFX what it is today.
Is there someone who has helped make a difference in your career and changed how you see things?
Carlyle Wilson (my lead on TMNT) always let me know if any movements were hitting at the same time, which is so simple and just comes down to adjusting one frame. However, this stuck with me and has enhanced every shot I have worked on since. My director on Escape From Planet Earth, Adam Wood, is another. He took time to show me what I was doing wrong and how to properly work on a film. The curriculum at Think Tank made a difference too. I wanted to be an animator, so initially found having to take courses in all the different disciplines a waste of my time…typical teenager, I guess! But now I’ve used these skills at every job, so am very thankful for learning them.
Where would you like to be in five years?
I hope to be in a VFX lead or supervisory role. It is going to take some work but I believe I can get there. I would also like to give back and become a mentor at Think Tank. That or Star Wars. Please Star Wars!! 🙂