Thu 13th Sep 2012, by Paul Hellard | Production
'Discovery of purpose' is a trip many film makers strive to express. Mike Dacko shines some light on the mystery.
Mike Dacko grew up in Pennsylvania outside the city of Philadelphia. There wasn’t a lot of film training. After high school in the eighties, he managed to get into a community college where he studied as a cinema major. There he made five short films, one of them clay stop-motion animation and the other four live action. He lived in a barn for some time and created another stop motion film about a factory. This he created in miniature for the piece.
Dacko happened to go see a demo of a new product one day in Philadelphia called a Video Toaster. This had the product LightWave in it, and strangely enough, the guy demonstrating it had done a similar story and he also had created a miniature factory, but entirely built in 3D. “My factory had taken me years and he’d created his in a month,” Dacko says. “Man, I knew I needed to be doing this on a computer!” So that was when he went out and bought his own Video Toaster.
Completely self taught in computer animation, Mike Dacko then put his Video Toaster to work, creating motion logos for TV ads and presentations. He even did a job for the Philadelphia Phillies, the local baseball team, which was shown on the big screen on the stadium, but there really wasn’t enough work in Philadelphia. “I sent out 40 videotapes to companies in California and got back one reply,” says Dacko. “They said, ‘man you did some really crappy animation, but we liked it!’ These guys turned out to be a company who did a game called LEGO Island. So my stiff animation was exactly what they were looking for.”
He eventually generated a better demo reel and soon enough found himself working of Lucasfilm, where he is today.
Lightheaded short - Mike Dacko
But no, the Lucas job didn't just happen over night. In fact it was two jobs.
Right after making the Lego Island game, Mike worked on modeling weapons and creatures for a sci-fi game. He found he was using 3ds Max at the studio he was at, at the time and enjoyed its ability to handle LOD objects.
"I wanted to work for Lucas ever since I was 13 years old," says Dacko. "Getting a chance to drum up some experience in Max made me feel like I could show off some real work."
"Back in the mid nineties, there wasn't as much competition to break in to the industry, but I remember having a friend who worked at LucasArts Games named Troy Molander, who later helped me bounce some Lightheaded ideas around and who also became a principle player for a notable game company called Tell Tale Games. It was the right time to attempt to break in with LucasArts since they were gearing up for a PC game called Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. With a recommendation from Troy who was already on the inside and a ton of LOD modeling from my previous job, I interviewed and was tested to see how I did modeling humans in 3ds Max."
"I spent a day recreating a friend of Jones named Sophia using 3D Max and was hired. After a couple years of creating a couple thousand objects for the game and leading a team of texture artists to get them complete, I realized Lucas was hiring modelers who where more skilled at traditional art so I focused on animation. Luckily it was like a campus of talent with several LucasArts animators who, unlike me were professionally trained at industry schools like Sheridan School of Art. So I worked hard in the free hours to improve my skills as an animator and a position opened up on a Star Wars game called Star Fighter. Ever since then, I was an animator."
Mike's next job was Activision's Toys for Bob where he headed up an animation team making Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam and Madagascar 2 video games. Meanwhile he also kept trying to finish up Lightheaded. "I was lured away by a Disney studio next door called Image Movers Digital which gave me experience in film. So the story goes, the studio was a vehicle for Robert Zemekis to make a Christmas Carol, but Disney elected to close it down after Mars Needs Moms. Looking for the next local gig in the Bay Area, I pitched myself to Lucas again. This time it was LucasFilm Animation. I filled a position for Story Artist which does layout work. Basically blocking out animation and cameras for a Star Wars project called Detours."
The production of Mike Dacko’s Lightheaded started some 15 years ago. Back in those darker days, Mike used to listen to a lot of music, and he had a track from Jethro Tull rolling in his head called ‘Moths’ all about the moth being all sacrificial and sad. After pushing that idea around, he discarded the moth idea and turned his attention to the candle and the wax, and the idea of being cold at a distance and staying warm up close. The project stayed in his head, in concept stage for the longest time. He kept spinning story arcs around and creating scenarios that could be simply played out with the most basic forms. This was his aim. A deep story, in simple form.