• {digg}
    We follow animator Matt Logue on his path to becoming an animation supervisor on
    “The Incredible Hulk”.
    CGSociety :: Artist Profile
    9 September 2008, By Barbara Robertson

    When you think about the career path that an animator who worked on “Godzilla,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Happy Feet,” and “The Incredible Hulk” might have taken, you probably wouldn’t consider starting with transportation design. But, animator Matt Logue detoured onto that road before winding his way to a successful career in visual effects. So, how did he end up at Tippett Studio, Weta and Rhythm & Hues? He had a little help from his grandmother and a Star Wars modeler.

    Raised in Happy Valley, California, which he describes as the kind of town people drive through on their way to Oregon, Logue had no access in grade school to training in art or animation. And, he was no better off in high school in nearby Eureka, a larger town where his schoolteacher parents moved the family later. But, this is where his grandmother enters the picture.
    'The Incredible Hulk' Rythym & Hues. Credit: © Universal Pictures/Marvel Comics.
    Credit: © Matt Logue
    “She was a jazz organist who had performed in show business when my Mom was young,” he says. “She always encouraged us to do art, whether that was music or drawing or whatever.” Retired by then, and a church organist who was as poor as the proverbial church mouse, she nonetheless paid an artist to come to Logue’s house three times a week to teach him to draw.

    “Art was such a huge thing to her,” Logue says, noting that she lived long enough to follow his career. “She was very happy about that.”

    The drawing skills Logue gained with her help came in handy when he entered school at San Jose State University as a transportation design major. And, he might have continued down that road were it not for his professor. “He told us that if we weren’t one of the top two people in the class, we’d end up designing rear view mirrors and speedometers for the next 10 years,” Logue says.

    Fortunately, his model-making instructor, Peter Ronzani, who had been an armature designer for “Return of the Jedi,” steered him in another direction. “He’d teach us about vacuum forming and then bring in a helmet from ‘Jedi’,” Logue says. “Or, he’d talk about surfboard foam and bring in a speeder bike model. It was the coolest thing in the world. He planted the seed for me to work on films.”

    As a result, Logue switched his major to photography, but soon decided that was too static a medium, and switched schools, to San Francisco State. “It was the nearest school with a film program,” Logue says. And that’s when he discovered animation.

    “With the film classes, you were never in the film unless you are an actor,” he says. “And the payoff comes so much later. But in animation, that’s you up on the screen and it’s instant gratification. That’s when I changed my major to animation.”

    Animation as instant gratification?

    He was told about animators describing the process of making an animated film as akin to cutting a lawn with nail scissors, but Logue wouldn’t have any of it. Of course, he was working with computer animation, not hand-drawn animation: SF State had just started its computer animation program and Logue realized, to his surprise, that he was good at it.
    Lord of the Rings. Credit: © New Line Cinema.
    Lord of the Rings. Credit: © New Line Cinema.

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  • “I love all stages of animation,” he says. “I love blocking. I love animating fingernails. I love animating toes. I love everything. I love that I can see my character interact with a background or another character in a couple of hours.”

    His love for animation didn’t inspire any studios working on films to hire him as an animator straight out of school, though. “I sent my student reel to everyone,” he says. “I got rejection postcards back. I was getting ready to start applying to commercial studios when a woman in the roto department at Tippett Studio called.”

    Looking back at that reel a decade later now, he believes he had concentrated too much on cartoon animation; his reel had lacked enough lifelike animation to score the kind of job he wanted. That, plus lack of experience. So, he took the job as a rotoscope artist to put a foot through the door. And then, he took the next steps himself.

    Blocking The Incredible Hulk
    Blocking The Incredible Hulk 

    From Roto to Komodo
    Each day, Logue would show up at Tippett Studio an hour early to practice animating. At the time, the studio was working on “Starship Troopers,” so Logue practiced with the warrior bugs. “I came up with the idea of having one bug train another bug to kill humans,” he says. At the end of nine months, he had nearly finished a short film.

    “I was putting the sequences onto a video tape in the editorial booth when Phil Tippett walked by,” he says. Tippett watched the sequences without commenting and then, just before he walked away, Logue remembers him saying, “I didn’t know you were any good.”

    When ‘Godzilla,’ the studio’s next project came along, Tippett moved Logue out of roto and into the animation department where he cleaned up animation performed by puppeteer Jon Berg, who used the studio’s DID (dinosaur input device) to drive a computer model with a mechanical puppet. Logue also animated run and walk cycles for baby Godzillas.

    From that film, he moved back into roto and then onto a straight to video movie titled, ‘Komodo.’ “It was live action with an animated komodo dragon,” Logue says. “I worked on it with four other guys and we had a blast. It’s a strange little movie that starts out taking itself seriously and ends up as a parody.”

    Lord of the Rings. Credit: © New Line Cinema.
    Lord of the Rings. Credit: © New Line Cinema.

    Now that he had some animation chops, when Logue saw that Weta was hiring for ‘Lord of the Rings,’ he jumped at the chance. “People said New Zealand was gorgeous and it would be a chance to get in on the ground floor of what looked like a gigantic project,” he says. He and his wife moved to the South Pacific island country in October, 2000.

    Once there, having learned the delights of working with a small crew on ‘Komodo,’ Logue tried to replicate that experience on the epic. “I’d say, ‘Put me on a small sequence and we’ll rock it,’” he says. “‘Keep me away from those huge battle scenes.’”

    The first sequence he worked on at Weta was the cave troll sequence, which appears early in the first film. Then, for ‘Two Towers,’ he worked on shots during the Balrog sequence early in the film. “Two or three other guys and I had a great time,” he says. “Everyone else was trying to figure out Gollum, so they left us on our own.”

    Shelob the spider in Lord of the Rings. Credit: © New Line Cinema.
    For ‘Return of the King,’ Logue netted a position as animation lead for the sequence with Shelob, the spider, when animation supervisor Rich Baneham took leave to help with a new baby. When Beneham returned, he told Logue to continue on. “I was animating and supervising both,” Logue says. “It meant a lot of late hours, but it was my first experience supervising.” He also worked with Heather Knight on a sequence with giant elephants walking past Frodo and Gollum. “It’s a short scene that no one remembers,” he laughs. And, he animated a sprinkling of Gollum shots. And then, after four years, the work ended.

    “No one knew when the next show would start, so I sent my reel to pretty much every company,” he says. The buzz, though, was about ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ so he was excited to get a call from Rhythm & Hues. Even though it meant leaving New Zealand, he packed up his growing family – two daughters were born during “Lord of the Rings” – and moved to Los Angeles.

    “I’m still reeling from the culture shock,” he says. “Wellington is exactly the right size city for me. It has a cool library, a nice downtown. You can walk across it in a day.”
    Giant elephants in Lord of the Rings. Credit: © New Line Cinema.
    Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Credit: © New Line Cinema.

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  • 'Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.' Rythym & Hues. Credit: © Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media.

    Talking Animals
    At Rhythm & Hues, he became one of two animation supervisors on ‘Narnia,’ splitting shots and crew with Erik-Jan De Boer. “We each wanted to do as much as we could, so we’d horse trade,” Logue says. “I supervised the scene when Aslan [the lion] comes out of the tent; he got the death scene. We also did that with animators, borrowing from team to team.”

    Each supervisor worked with a team of 22 animators and nearly every animation technique available. “We had Massive animation, motion capture, horse legs under human bodies,” Logue says. “We had to make a lion look like he could talk. It was trial by fire.” For his work on Aslan in ‘Narnia,’ he received a VES nomination for outstanding animated character in a live action film.

    Then, from leading teams that created a realistic talking lion, he moved on to supervise animation for a realistic cat that could talk and dance in ‘Garfield 2,’ another live-action film, and from there, to penguins for the Oscar winning animated feature ‘Happy Feet,’ the first totally CG film that Rhythm & Hues had worked on.

    Garfield 2. Rythym & Hues. Credit: © Twentieth Century Fox.

    Happy Feet. Rythym & Hues. Credit: © Warner Bros.
    “’Happy Feet’ felt like an eternity, but we worked on it for only six months,” he says. “We had the shots when Mumble jumps into the ocean, swims after a fishing ship, grabs a net, gets pulled into the net, falls in the waves, and gets blown past the engines. It was fun, but very difficult because of the technical issues. The penguin is close to camera and integrated with a water simulation that was constantly being worked on by the effects department.”

    So, after ‘Happy Feet,’ he took a break. “When you’re working on these films, a lot of stuff goes by the wayside,” he says. “I paid bills, went backpacking in Northern California, spent time with my kids. Having kids really puts movies in perspective. I still care the same amount about my work, but I’d much rather be a good dad than the guy who stayed all night at work. That’s one of the reasons I came to Rhythm & Hues. They’re very family friendly.”

    'The Incredible Hulk' Rythym & Hues. Credit: © Universal Pictures/Marvel Comics.
    The Incredible Hulk
    When he returned to Rhythm & Hues after his hiatus, he helped with some tests, and then joined ‘The Incredible Hulk’ crew, for his fourth stint as an animation supervisor. “We had a lot of lead time, so we could explore the character and come up with ways to do things,” he says. “I think that’s key. The more time you have to practice animating the character, the more time you can spend developing the character within the shots.”

    His favorite sequence took place in Harlem; one of the last sequences of the film. “Keith Roberts, the animation director gave us selects from the motion capture to choreograph. Mike Holzl and I staged the shots, did camera work, set up city streets and blocked out the entire fight scene in four days,” Logue. “A lot of those shots made it into the film.”

    Now, Logue is helping with shots on a vampire film, “Cirque du Freak,” and considering what else to do next. He and Chad Moffitt, a friend who worked with him at Weta and at Rhythm & Hues, created short films together while at Weta, and continue to toss ideas around, so perhaps that will lead somewhere interesting. But meanwhile, harkening back to his early college days, Logue has turned his focus to photography.

    “Photography keeps me sane after hours,” he says. And, ironically, the former transportation design major turned to computer graphics to solve a personal transportation irritation through photography: He takes panoramic photographs of downtown LA and the freeways, and then removes all the people and cars.

    “I got so sick of the traffic when I first came to Los Angeles, I couldn’t take it any more,” he says. “So I wanted to see what the city looked like without it. Making LA look uninhabited is very therapeutic.”

    He’s also teaching a little and enjoying that a lot. “One of the coolest things about ‘Hulk,” is that we had a class of apprentices when we were in preproduction,” he says. “They were right out of school. I don’t think any were older than 25. We asked all but two back and I requested that most of them to be on my team. I was blown away by the quality of their work. A lot of the memorable shots that people assume were motion captured were hand animated by these young apprentices.”

    For example? “Zack Parrish, who had little film experience, did the series when Hulk is in close combat with Blonsky, trying to hit him with shields he ripped off the sculpture,” he says. “And, Lindsay Thompson, a former apprentice, did shots with the Hulk swatting away bullets at the beginning of the sequence. She knocked it out of the ballpark. The team made my job easy.”

    Logue has also taught a class in storyboarding in Finland, and an animation class in Spain. “I think teaching is something I’ll eventually move into,” he says. “Maybe a teaching job in a small town.” That would bring him full circle. But someone with as much love for animation as this animator, no doubt has a few films to finish first.

    Related links:
    Matt Logue
    Rythym & Hues

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    'The Incredible Hulk' Rythym & Hues. Credit: © Universal Pictures/Marvel Comics.
    © Matt Logue.
    © Matt Logue.
    With Vepe outside Lahti Polytechnic.

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