Interview - Kim Lorang
Contact: Santa Clarita, CA, USA
Contact: Santa Clarita, CA, USA
Hello Kim, tell us a bit about yourself...
Hi all, it's great to be talking with you today! I am a 2D and 3D generalist artist who is loves all forms of creative works and creative people. I started drawing at 2 and writing at 5. I love animation, films, sculpture, drawing and painting. I have a love/hate relationship with golf. I try to experience all of life's gifts to the fullest. I love my family, friends, and animals the most.
When did you discover 3D? What programs do you use?
Well, As a kid I was a traditional draftsman and presentation specialist for a contractor for the Navy, then somebody I worked with came up to me and said, “Do you know that you are the computer?” I said “Wha..?!” and they showed me an illustration of an isometric exploded view that I had just completed and sent over to the Navy base, at the bottom were the words “computer generated”. I laughed and went to my boss and said, “Hey, if you are going to give credit to these folks for my illustrations, can I at least go and work with them?” In those days it took 8 hours just for “the computer” to plot the intricate illustration (it had a ton of ellipses). It took me 8 hours to use my micrometers and draft out all the intricate parts to scale as a complete exploded assembly, so the bottom line was that I was cheaper than the computer and was happy to do the work. That work helped launch their computer program at China Lake. Soon, Silicon Graphics got into the picture and I was completely obsessed with the prospects. I wish I could tell you about some of those projects we worked on but, “I have to shoot you”as the saying goes. There were so many cool projects and it was awesome working with such brilliant engineers and scientists. Many of them couldn't match a shirt to a tie, but could come up with a solution for just about anything and were absolutely great to work with! The artists and producers were great to work with too! A couple of the artists that I worked with still meet at Siggraph every year. Some have gone on to be sups at major entertainment companies. Anyway, I got into cartoons because the Navy thought our visualizations “looked like we spent money” and needed to be toned down a bit. About that time, we were using Wavefront, Dynamation, Alias Power Animator and vector drawing programs like Illustrator, Canvas and paint programs like Fractal Painter and Photoshop, there was even a renderman package for the Mac! The famous Pixar shorts started showing up, and I was so inspired! I thought wow, the possibilities are really endless with this media so I started my own company and eventually worked for Disney Feature animation and Sony. I believe that many wars could be won by dropping DVDs of artistry and inspiration instead of bombs ..Lolz. Plus the pay was better and a great way to educate and entertain children and adults alike. I have a knack for picking up software quickly and use Maya, Ncloth, Houdini, In house proprietary cloth software, Mtor, Shake, Mental Ray, PhotoShop, Gimp, Studio Max, Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Avid Xpress, Zbrush, Flash, mel, Python, HTML and more.
What was the biggest challenge you faced since you started your company?
I would say that the biggest challenge is finding trusted investors with vision in our flailing economy. Knowing all the convoluted hoops, chutes and ladders that are necessary to get a legal small business off of the ground. Thank goodness for Internet communities and all the like minded people I have met. Could you imagine if Obama gave stimulus packages to people like me that can hire other artists and create intellectual property that can inspire and thereby supply banks with money? Perhaps even create new business with marketable characters and inventions that promote peace, prosperity and jobs for all people? Okay, stepping off of the soap box now, hope you are listening Obama!
How involved was the interview process at Sony Pictures Entertainment?
I had a really great time at Sony, I only interviewed with one guy, Rodrigo Ibanez through Recruiter Aaron Tankenson. It was awesome, the questions were relevant and the team sounded really great! “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was a great film, headed by truly great people.
How about Walt Disney Animation?
Disney had me go through what seemed like legions of people before they hired me. I think they finally hired me when I told them that I had a six month contract as a freelancer that I was about to sign. In those days I was an instructor and the team was wonderful and helpful to the production artists. Then I went on to work with the production teams as a character finaler and technical animator. I worked there for over eleven years and most of the experiences were wonderful and truly inspiring.
Your experience covers character design for animated films and children’s book, animation and teaching. Which one is more rewarding?
I have to say that I reeeeally enjoy the book and teaching. I look forward to everyday with a renewed creative joy. People likeBobby Chiu (Portfolio)and many other helpful sharing and collaborative people fill my day with joy and inspiration. The character design for the book and subsequent animation is just added gravy and I feel lucky and happy to have that opportunity to share and inspire every day. I really love teaching and being taught, I think there is no better way to establish camaraderie and get the very best out of creative teams. I posted a simple request on LinkedIn to share and connect with honest people. I can't tell you how many artists that wrote to me who had been burnt out, wings clipped and stomped from their experiences with bulldogs in the industry that don't want to share a bone. I think these artists are ready to revise the system and dine with fellow artists at a lovely potluck and leave the bulldogs to their corner with their bones. I can see some truly great projects happening on a global scale, and I think that has to be one of the most rewarding things I can think of right now!
How do you start the mechanics of an animation (cloth or hair)? Do you use exact references or just imagine the movement?
Our teams for Disney's “Bolt” had reference to live action movies and the incredible artistry of folks like Byron Howard and Jeff Ranjo and other artists who designed what they wanted to see in the cloth. Suzi Polk Little and Pete Megow had brilliant ways of managing the details of how to manage the cloth pipeline and created awesome tools for the animation and technical teams. At the heart of the effort was the amazing cloth solver developed by Murilo Coutinho. At first the cloth was to be done all with Posed Spaced Deformers, but John Lasseter did not approve of the look, so our cloth team pulled a rabbit out of our hat at the eleventh hour and came up with brilliant and beautiful results for “Bolt” in record time. The hair setup was mainly handled by Avneet Kuar and Sean Jenkins as well as other folks in the look department. Myself and other TDs used proprietary software to wrangle the hair and the effects of wind and such. At Sony, I was tasked with the team to run shots and did very little setup work. I was absolutely thrilled that they were using Murilo's cloth solver and to see his subsequent hair solver. I helped their crew with some things that I had learned from my previous experience with his solver on how to get the feel of the cloth for different shots. They in turn helped me understand their methodology for sending shots through and it was a beautiful thing! On Disney's Bolt, I would be tasked with a character, get the character drawings of what they wanted to see, get the model from the modeling department, and set out to create a suitable triangular cloth mesh. Then I would set ball park figures for the mesh, wedge several parameters and see how the cloth draped on the model. I would then tailor the cloth to achieve art direction and customize the collision object as necessary. Then I would check that the modeled clothes were skinned properly to the cloth mesh, lastly I would attach all the buttons, lapels and other adornments. I used this same ideology on “Glago's Guest”.
On Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I am not sure how their setup folks came up with the initial look of their cloth, you could probably ask someone on their setup crew.
As an independent artist, I would say that Qualoth would be a good bet for someone who wanted to do cloth without the benefit of all the proprietary tools, and Autodesk's Ncloth is a good choice too. I think it really helps to have a feel for tailoring and fashion in general. I love clothes!! As a kid I wished I could design my own outfits. I was raised by young parents and didn't get the opportunity to have a lot of new clothes, so I would take in or customize handme-downs from the neighborhood kids. I never dreamed it would lead to creating clothes in a virtual world, but I am truly grateful for the opportunities. A loving “Thank You” goes to the teams at Disney and Sony for the experience. I highly recommend cloth and hair to artists who geek on those things because you get to play with clothes for all kinds of shapes and sizes or come up with fantastic hairdos. Sure the parameters can be tough to come up with a functional solution that gives you everything you want, but it's like a portal through the eleventh dimension, “real world” values don't necessarily apply and by running wedges and being familiar with your solver's bend, stretch and shear models you can come up with hours of entertainment as well as
exciting and robust solutions.
How long does it usually take?
That all depends on the methodology, solver and setup that the artists come up with. Also, it depends on the director and how well you can give him or her what they want to see. All cloth and hair solutions require some hand holding to get through particular shots. If your animators understand what the cloth needs to be successful, this can be extremely helpful and save time. If you test your cloth rigs on calisthenics animations, this can save you a ton of fixes and problems down the line. It helps to have generalist and artistic skills to tailor and create constraints or dynamic effects with as little fuss as possible. Certain shots take longer than others, there's just no getting around it. You as the simulations artist have to come up with the best methods for getting them through in the shortest amount of time, with special attention to the idiosyncrasies of the solver that you are using. I know that sounds ambiguous, that is because it really is. Only accurate times can be calculated based on the size of the cloth mesh, the amount of hairs, the setup, the collisions, the effects and the length and complexity of the animation or shot. It also depends on the solver you are using and the processing power of your computer. Programmers at Sony and Disney try to take advantage of multi threaded capabilities for their systems. On a good team, your artists will share what works and what doesn't for their particular show or shot. Parameters and settings can be shared amongst the teams, this will help make things more streamlined. It really helps to have access to your solver's developers for questions and to experiment and share what you learn with the solver's developers.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to specialize in hair and cloth setups?
Besides what is offered above, I would say “Pay attention”. I mean pay attention to the look and feel of your director's vision. Pay attention to the way hair and cloth moves and reacts to external forces. Pay attention to good and bad tailoring and patterns, even if your tailoring is simply accomplished with animated restlengths. Look at worn clothes and notice tension and wrinkle lines. Look at the differences between curly and straight hair, or intricate hairdos. Look at the animation you are tasked to do, does your cloth enhance the animations? Or detract? The bottom line is, if you want to do cloth or hair, you really got to love it, even on the frustrating days. A lot of times it's like wetting yourself in a dark suit, it gives you a warm feeling but nobody notices. That's a good thing for the shots you are working on! Weird or unnatural movements detract and say “look at me! Not the acting!” and that can be a real bummer. The better you get as a hair and cloth artist, the happier the animators and directors get about it's usage, and that is a truly rewarding experience. Other cloth and hair artists will notice your fine work too!
What other supporting departments do you typically involve on an average project?
That depends on the studio, but generally you want to involve the creative leadership, the look department, modeling departments, and animation. You also want to involve any pipeline folks, and software folks as necessary. Effective communication with collaborative groups is essential, if you want to be as streamlined in your efforts as possible. If you are a small team, you might be all or some of those departments and it would be helpful to check in with your friends and fellow TDs that have a variety of experiences and get their take. I often call my friend Kent Martin, even though we haven't worked together in a while. I go to lunch with folks working on similar projects and scour the internet. Autodesk folks have some great bloggers!
You worked on "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"; can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?
Well, as a shot TD on that show, I can only offer so much. I know that they were going for a more simplified look for their clothes. And there were some pretty challenging shots with Flint's wild Hairdo. Overall I think it ran pretty smoothly and the team was really great! One problem tended to be with the generic characters. It is a balance to come up with fast solving and good looking cloth. Some of the shots were a real challenge to keep the generics from running right out of their clothes! I think in the future the team leadership decided to come up with a higher rez mesh option.
You also worked for “Glago's Guest" and "BOLT". Can you give us some details on what “cloth Setups” actually means?
Yes, “cloth setup” means that you as the artist come up with the solution of how the cloth will be handled for particular characters. This is subject to approval by your leads and there is often a period of review by your leads. You come up with a cloth rig, cloth mesh design, and fit it to the model you have been given to work with. You handle the skinning, constraints and ornaments like zippers, buttons, and pockets and such. You determine the tailoring, fitting and parameters to get the cloth to move as close to the art director and director's vision as possible.
Often there is some back and forth between the look and modeling departments to achieve the best possible solution. You can't be shy about doing shotwork, this is important feedback for you and your team. Sometimes, resolutions need to be discussed and improved, a good team will be supportive and welcome your suggestions. It was important on Glago's guest to create a higher resolution mesh for his sweater, so that it actually looked and “felt” like a sweater. I asked a particular look person if it was possible to uprez the mesh, that I needed to do that to improve my results. I don't know why he thought it was a big deal, but he did. So I asked him if that was a pipeline limitation, because if it was, maybe we could come up with a solution that could help in the future. He hasn't spoken to me since, I guess with some folks, you'll have that. The point being, that most cloth setups are a team effort. You as the cloth setup artist want to do your best to get the director his vision. A supportive director and leadership will help you get what you need to achieve that. I was directed that the blankets needed to be stiff and thick, and by contrast, the nightshirt needed to be thin, so that's what I did, using mesh resolution and skinning techniques to help. The coat had to feel heavy and the initial tests I showed the crew were happily accepted. It is a great compliment when folks want to show off your work and run with it or even take credit for it.
On “Bolt”, the banner shots had to be believable even though the animators positioning didn't always follow the laws of physics in their work. As a cloth setup artist on a “one off” (that is something where you generally have to rig and do the shotwork on the fly) like that, it is up to you to make the shot work, you can do it! You can use animated restlengths, volume axis fields and/or time scales, whatever it takes to keep the shot looking the way the animator and director intended. The “Martin” character had specific wrinkles and a feel that the lead artists really wanted to see. It was important to be able to set that up and make it happen using the tools available and I found that aspect of the assignment both challenging and rewarding. I think that being successful in those tasks helped Disney leadership to realize that simulated cloth was a great way to go, and it didn't necessarily add time and cost to the production compared with other methods of animated cloth. Soon, I and the other Cloth TDs were given a whole boatload of characters to rig and simulate. I think we were highly successful.
Did you use the same techniques from one project to another? What would be a golden rule?
Yes, pretty much, when you find a really successful method that gets consistent buy offs you want to keep doing what works. Each character and prop had its own sets of issues that required special handling. There were multiple layers of clothing, pockets, adornments, artistic interpretations, and physical properties to contend with for each of the characters. The golden rule, if there'd be such a thing would be to wedge, test on calisthenics animation, know your solver and work with your supporting departments and teammates as a well oiled machine. Any territorialism, jealousy and or insecure back-biting only serves to mess up or thwart the gift of serving the director's vision. If someone wants to use your settings, hand them over. If you have a great method of tailoring, hand it over to your team. Parameters that work, hand it over. You got a great volume axis field for wind, share the wealth. They want to take credit for your work, consider it a huge compliment. The bottom line is what do your artistic leaders want to show up on that big screen, it is his or her vision that you are trying to accomplish. It takes a team effort for a big project to push a big cloth project through successfully and make your artistic leadership happy. I found great joy in working with Byron Howard and the cloth setup artists, I'd be happy to do it again for them. The cloth setup folks at Sony were always supportive and they were fortunate enough to have Murilo there for support and software enhancements. The golden rule: Great teams and great folks make for a great project.
Another golden rule: get as much direction up front from the people with the vision that you are trying to fulfill, offer them a look at your best creations for constructive input. Create point sets or maps for areas you want to bend nicely, and test, test, test your results as much as you can. Keep an open mind about physics, the best results are often not “real world” based.
Your next project is a book: "Avrael's Awakening" ©. What can we expect? Can we have a preview? What else do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
I am so excited that you asked about my book! I am very fortunate to have the time to complete a working draft and am tidying up some things as we speak. I am also very fortunate enough to have honest friends like Mike Blum and Allen Foster to give me great notes and honest feedback. It helps to bring about the strength of the characters and story. “What can you expect?” Well, I think you will be pleasantly surprised and whisked off to fantastic imaginary worlds with positive lessons from scary situations. I think that if you are a woman or teenage girl, you will feel empowered and inspired. I think if you are an adventurous person you will be mystified, entranced, given perpective and fulfilled. Most importantly, if you love your family, whether its your own, your community, and/or feel a kinship to peoples from all over the globe, you will feel “heart” and an inspiration to excel in the face of adversity. To support truth when given the opportunity with kindness and respect for one another. I think that maybe you will feel a closer kinship to all of your human friends and entertain the thought of intelligences and forces outside of our own dimension. I promise you a preview once I get more feedback from my trusted friends and colleagues. In the meantime you can see some progressive sketches on my b-uncut site. I hope you and your CG Advertising company will be one of the first people to preview the project and give a review.
As far as future projects, I am very excited about a story I am working on called “NanoLisa – a work of art” © a comedic thriller that involves nanotechnology and a genuine female superhero that starts out as an everyday average young gal (an artist) just trying to make it in our whacky world, and “The Last of the Fat Cats” © a comedic metaphor for our present global situation that inspires hope and ingenuity in a belly laughing sort of way. Of course I am always happy to talk to investors and major film companies about any of these stories. If I end up having to fund some of them on my own, that's okay too. I think there is huge potential with a web series or animated feature. So to would be investors, I say “call me” or you'll be sorry that you missed the boat. (Shameless plug, I know.)
We know the “ups”, but tell us about the “downs” in your career. Was it an easy ride?
Nothing that you love so passionately is ever an “easy ride” it just seems easy when you love what you do. On the “ups” side, I have thoroughly enjoyed people who are secure in their skills and honestly open to ideas, they are the very best! But contrastingly, on the “downs” side, dealing with pathological managers or people who just want to see you fail is the worst. I have a huge tolerance for this, some people won't tolerate it for a second. I can't tell you what to do in some situations because the logic of some situations is beyond me. I have dealt with insecure folks that crossed the line, and were so dishonest they couldn't even keep their own lies straight. I have dealt with people who are so pathologically narcissistic that there was nothing I could do to help the situation or keep them from feeling threatened while just trying to help them by doing great work. If it gets very bad you just have to stand up a little bit for your basic human rights.
I think that it is particularly important for women who are tread on by chauvinistic managers who thoughtlessly throw them under the bus while promoting fellow male chauvinists that are even worse than they are is a recipe for disaster. You should get out of that situation if you are in it. Women are equally as capable as men in 3D animation and should have reasonable opportunity to work in a pleasant environment. Not all women are saints either. Some women can be the worst to work with, with petty jealousies and crap. I think if you are a woman in this traditionally male dominated field, you owe it to yourself and others to help your little sisters up the ladder when you can, just as you would any other deserving person.
We all know the differences between right and wrong, and most of us try to do the right thing. If a company asks for honest feedback and then can't handle the honest feedback that is given, then they have unfairly subjected you to a double bind situation where you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. Some malicious people pride themselves on playing “ass protector” games and character assassination, I think this is an unhealthy situation for everyone involved and hurtful to the success of everyone, even themselves and their own companies.
My good friend Nicholas Hoppe once said as he was let go from Disney, “If the universe tries to force you out of a place, it is for your own good. The universe knows best in our times of need.” I have to tell you that I was so impressed by that statement and I have quoted it to myself and my friends in our time of need. In every bad situation there are many great things that can come from it. Opportunities come up out of the blue, friendships are strengthened and the quality of your character shines through. If your quest is honorable, your heart is true, and you are the type of friend, coworker and family member that you would want to have in your own corner, you won't be able to help being successful. I am not talking about money, I am talking about life. I have had a rough life, my family has had a rough life, many of my friends and coworkers have had rough times, it is what you do about it that makes the difference. Sometimes, you might have to sacrifice your comfort zone to make things better for others. Sometimes you just want to be able to look yourself in the mirror and like what you see inside. Sometimes you need to go out and create your own opportunities. Whether a person is a kindred spirit from across the globe, a mentor, or a student, everyone of them has something useful to contribute, or a brand new perspective that can be incorporated into a plan, a project or a community. So the “downs” are just a part of life, the “ups” are propelled from what you learn from the downs, and strengthened by the quality people of character of whom you wish to associate. A great example is one of my new favorite heroes Mr. Bobby Chiu if you listen to his blog on chiustream you will get great classes and great philosophies all at the same time. I think it is people like him that will turn the future around for our overburdened next generations. I think that if you are the type of person that likes to bring people up with you, instead of stepping on other people to get to where you are going, you will have an easier time with the “downs” in your career and in your life. If there are people that have stepped on you in your life, thank them for the inspiration and move on to better people and better things with forgiveness in your heart. I think the most awful things in my career happened from people who were so paranoid that they created a “Sum of All Fears” situation and needed a scapegoat. In a situation like that it is tough to know what to do, it is likely, anything you do, even if your intentions are to help out, won't make a bit of difference. One thing I know, is that you cannot remain a victim lest you be treated that way for the rest of your life. Many, many professional artists know what I am talking about. Some artists try to limit their exposure to these types of groups if work with them at all. I try to keep a positive outlook and the “downs” won't keep me down for very long. Besides, the downs provide for great inspiration for heartfelt writing or for creating believable villains that the world is familiar with... Lol.
What’s the one project that you received the most praise for?
I got the most praise from Byron Howard, Andreas Deja, Suzi Polk Little, Pete Megow, Murilo Coutinho, the animators, and the technical animators for cloth setup work on “Bolt”. They were truly great people to work with and I will cherish all that I learned from them always. I got the most praise from folks who are not in the industry for working on “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, seems regular folks and even a lot of industry folks really liked that movie a lot!
Praise is really great and wonderful, but honest constructive criticism is equally wonderful too! I am so thankful, that I associate with people that truly get that.
If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
Geez, that is a real tough one, because there are tons of people I'd love to spend a day with in this industry. I think maybe it would be Tim Burton because he does some of my favorite movies and has such a creative, humorous, and soul touching way of assembling a story. Or maybe Brad Bird, because I have heard so many great things about him from artists that worked for him and have had the opportunity to watch his lectures and I like the way he works. He's open to techniques and I think he gets the best out of his artists for it, he has an awesome method of storyboarding in 3D software with 2D drawings, he's just awesome! Or maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger so I can ask for a California filmmaker's stimulus package to bring filmmaking back to California.. lolz.
What’s your favorite movie?
That's a tough one too! I have a ton of favorite movies that I just can't decide one over the other. Can I pick Three of them? I really like Harry Potter, E.T., and Star Wars. Okay, Animation-wise, too... The Incredibles, The Nightmare before Christmas, and The Little Mermaid. But I could rattle off tons more that I love, I just love great movies and there are a lot of them!
What would you like to add to your portfolio?
Actually I have thought about this a lot and I think what I would love to add is a lot of interesting and magical environments for characters to act in. I'd like to add interesting ways to combine 2D and 3D art to come up with something entirely new and exciting. I'd like to add more story board work and character designs with interesting clothes and hair.
If your child wants to be a 3D artist what would you tell him/her?
I'd say, if that's what you really want to, go for it! Do your best to find collaborative colleagues and people who are secure with their own abilities to work with, learn from and teach to. Don't be afraid to learn new things, accept criticism, and grow on your own time as well as at work. Thank your family everyday for being understanding about grueling work schedules. Exercise, take care of your wrists by changing your routines or input devices, take care of your eyes. Always serve with a smile and respect. If you run into a pathological boss, find another gig no matter how badly you might want to help the director and company you work for. If you have a great boss be loyal and work diligently. Work diligently no matter what kind of boss you have. If at all possible stay away from studio politics, they suck. Bank some money for your own projects during down times or when you feel the time is right. Honor honorable relationships and colleagues. Love what you do and you will always find a way to do it. Have fun.