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“Distraxion” with Dreamworks’ Mike Stern

May 3rd, 2010

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This week’s Channel Frederator film “Distraxion” comes to us from Mike Stern, who is currently working at Dreamworks Animation and is an instructor at AnimationMentor.com and was kind enough to do a quick interview.

Channel Frederator: Where did you study animation?

Mike Stern: I went to NYU to study digital imaging and design. This is where I got my start in general 3D. Towards the end of my studies there I decided to specialize in animation. As luck would have it AnimationMentor was just opening its doors and I signed up to be part of their first class.

CF: Who are your favorite artists?

MS: Right now hanging up around my cube I’ve got some work by Hylton Warburton and Yoshitomo Nara.

CF: What gave you the idea for “Distraxion”?

MS: The idea actually came from a real life experience. Some co-workers and I went to lunch at an outdoor restaurant and we were seated right next to these speakers that were blasting lite jazz. We asked the waitress if she could turn the volume down, but apparently the management insisted that the music remain loud so that it could attract customers from the street. It immediately became the topic of our lunch conversation because it was impossible to focus on anything else. It truly felt like we were being harassed by the music.

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I had been looking for ideas for my short film and the idea of a musician harassing an uninterested listener seemed like a funny concept to me. When I got back to the office I searched around on the Internet and I stumbled upon a song that was a great fit for the scenario. From there on out, it was all about finding ways one could be harassed by a soprano saxophonist.

CF: Can you tell us a little more about AnimationMentor.com and your involvement with the school?

MS: As I mentioned earlier I was a part of the very first class to go through the program. It was a pretty amazing experience. There was a huge amount of trust between the first students and the founders of the school. That trust was built on the fact that the school was so responsive to our feedback. They were really quick to make adjustments that suited the best interests of the students which is a rare quality to find in a school.

Now I have gone back to the school to be on the other side. I am currently working as a mentor in the “polishing and portfolio class” and getting the next generation of animators ready for the industry.

CF: How did you start working at Dreamworks?

MS: I was actually kind of caught off guard when I was first contacted by DreamWorks. At the time, I was living in San Francisco and working for a game studio out in Emeryville. I hadn’t sent a reel in to DreamWorks since the previous years SIGGRAPH conference. It turns out that the job placement dept. at AnimationMentor had sent over a recent copy when they found out the that DreamWorks was looking to hire some cycle animators.

I had to sort out some logistics because the position that they were hiring for was down in Glendale. However, the decision was pretty easy and it wasn’t long before I made my way down to LA to start on Bee Movie as a Cycle Animator.

I was able to finish my cycle work on Bee Movie and move into a full animator position. After Bee Movie animation wrapped, I moved on to Kung Fu Panda, then Monsters vs. Aliens and How to Train Your Dragon.

CF: The one thing that distracts you the most?

MS: Oddly enough, music is not one of my distractions. Nothing gets me more focused than having some good music or the Yankee game on when I work. I’d have to say that the internet is my biggest distraction. I had to give myself some strict rules.

When I am animating I shut all internet down. No email, no browsers, no chat windows, nothing unless it’s needed for the animation I am doing. When I am on a break I will start all that stuff up again.

CF: Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?

MS: I just wrapped on How to Train Your Dragon and I am currently on pre-production for Puss In Boots.

CF: YAY! Thank you so much for the interview, Mike!

You can watch “Distraxion” right here on Channel Frederator!

-Bailee DesRocher

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