Thank You, JK: A DreamWorks Artist Remembers The Studio That Katzenberg Created

Yesterday was Jeffrey Katzenberg’s last day as head of DreamWorks Animation. What he created will never exist again.

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Around the world with Mila: interview with Visual Development Supervisor Cesar Alejandro Montero Orozco

tumblr_inline_o2lnjg1iHC1qa55nk_500Our journey accompanying the creation of Mila continues.

After the story and the character design are set, it is time to create the definite look of the overall film.

That’s where Cesar Alejandro Montero Orozco comes in.

He was born in Guadalajara Mexico, but left his home in 2004 to travel the world to study art, and later work as an artist. He has worked in London, Canada and the USA. He’s a nomad, as many people that do computer graphics must be; they tend to go where work is. He’s married to an animator and loves videogames. So pretty much 100% of the time he’s either doing graphics, talking about graphics, or enjoying graphics!

As a Surfacing Artist at Dreamworks Animation from 2008 to 2014, he worked on Shrek 4, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots, Turbo and En Route!

He’s now a 3D Generalist/Designer VR Interactive at Ryot.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAlGAAAAJGQ4YmU2MWE3LTcxMTQtNGQzYy1iZGYyLWJiZDFhZWQyMDhhNQAnimatedViews: Cesar, how did you discover the Mila project and what made you want to join it?

Cesar Alejandro Montero Orozco: A coworker of mine named Violette Sacre, and Philippe (modeling sup) needed someone with a good eye and technical chops to help with the project. I wasn’t sure at that time because I was very busy with work. It was when I met Cinzia that I realized it would be a great project. She is the Director, and she is super cool to talk to— someone genuinely good that wanted to make a difference with her short. I wanted that, something that was not just about making money, but making a change in the perspective of others towards a situation in the world.

AV: Can you tell me about your role as a Visual Development Supervisor and the challenge that position represents to you within the Mila project?

CAMO: I help define the look of Mila. In a way, you help put a puzzle of models, textures, and lights together. This in return helps communicate a specific visual and emotional message the Art Director and Director are looking for.

Mila has changed technology and teams over the years. It is the nature of non-profit volunteer projects. The greatest challenge has been to create a look that is different, beautiful, yet relatively cost effective and fast to implement by our constantly rotating artists.

Francesco Giroldini, our lighting supervisor, has done an amazing job in taking the look of the film further. If it wasn’t for the amazing visual development of our Art Director Alexandra, I would have never been able to interpret what Cinzia had in mind. Philippe Brochu and the modeling team also did an amazing job. In a way, look development has been a team effort. I just have been fortunate enough to be in the trenches for the longest guiding the wagon.

Carousel_model. Eric Rodarte, Texture Ruchita Jeswal, Andres Amaya

AV: How would you describe the process of visual development of Mila?

CAMO: That question is worth a book! It has been quite a challenge as well as a satisfaction.
When I arrived to Mila, Cinzia had a beautiful old trailer created from many years ago. Unfortunately, she didn’t have anymore the technology used to attain that look. We initially thought about replicating the exact same look from that old trailer. Soon we realized that the real question was not how the pixels looked, but how they felt to the audience.

We initially worked with a watercolor effect, but it proved too flat for MentalRay, and too time consuming for the slow computer of our students. We had the idea of getting a shader writer, but we couldn’t afford waiting longer.

I decided to contact the guys from Arnold Renderer. I knew that it was very fast, and easy to learn. Fortunately, they decided to support us. This brought the project to a new phase of visual exploration.

Truck_Model.Texture Ruchita Jeswal2

AV: How would you describe the final visual aspect of the film?

CAMO: “Contrast!” The film has two distinctive looks: one is dark and cruel, the other one is happy and dreamy. The textures themselves are full of rough and rich history, while Mila is soft, new and delicate. It is this contrast that allows us to convey the emotions in the story without dialogue.

It is all about contrast. The sequences contrast between dark war and light dream. Mila is delicate and soft, her environment is rough and cruel. Dark and Light, Shiny and Dull. Ying and Yang.

The film does not have dialogue. Visual communication through visuals is essential. Cinzia solved it by using two different worlds: the dream and the dark. Alexandra took it further with color and shade in 2D. I then continued with textures and shaders. Francesco then refines with light. I believe that the visual development of this movie is an act of teamwork.

Truck_A_Model.Texture Ruchita Jeswal2

AV: What were your sources of inspiration?

CAMO: Trento, Italy. I watched and learned every single detail of the real plaza. Without a budget to pay for location scouting, I downloaded and saw every single picture Google could offer me of the place. I paid special attention to pictures from WWII, and what scars the plaza had in that time period compared to nowadays.

Since those sequences would play both in a “dream land” and war, research was more extensive than in an average production.

Bldg_LM_model. Alex Harris_Texture.Ruchita_Jeswal

AV: What tools do you use to create your art?

CAMO: Before I did computer graphics, I used to work as a photographer. So my approach is a bit…strange. I think it is actually the first time I have talked about it.

For some reason, I have a good visual memory. I would download 200 or more pictures, and view them. I would normally be able to memorize them in just some seconds. This helps me visually get all of the details of the place at once. Like a database in my brain.

I then pull away, and make two bunches: one is the “keep” and one is the “discard.” This time I don’t focus on the details, and just the emotion created in the first second I see that picture. The ones that create a specific emotion are put in the “keep” bunch. The ones that don’t create a strong emotional response like I’m searching for, I put in the “discard”.

Once that is done, I go into the “keep” images, and I try to then understand why some image is creating a specific emotion. By now I already memorized the images, but I still spend a good amount of time, self-checking how slight emotions arise from watching a specific area of an image. I figure it out, and then translate that to a 3D sample, Photoshop file, or drawing to the artist. I also like to let them be free in their creations, but making sure the emotion I was aiming for is there. Sometimes, it is very subtle, but things make sense when they are put as a whole.

Sofia_model Theunis Duvenhage. Texture. Guilherme Lopes, Andres Amaya

AV: What personal connection do you feel to this project?

CAMO: There is a deep personal connection. I have been in this project for 6 years. That is enough time for most to have babies, see them walk, and start having conversations with them. Mila is a baby for many of us. It is in the last month of pregnancy. It is when the baby grows the most. Soon it will be born and delivered to the world. It will walk around, talk to others, and touch the hearts of many. I can’t wait for that to happen!

AV: Visual Development is a very collaborative effort. All the more on a project like Mila. Can you tell me about that aspect?

CAMO: I have worked the longest with Cinzia Angelini. However, I have worked the most with Andres Amaya. He is my right hand in lookdev (look development), and the person responsible for guiding our artists with the implementation of Arnold renderer.

Andres Amaya is a prodigy of shading. He never needs a second explanation of what I am trying to visually achieve. He is also a great team player, and knows how to lead other artists that need help. I wouldn’t be able to do my job without him. He has a very bright future and I can’t wait to see where his eye and skills will take him.

Cuckoo_clock..Model.Texture Ruchita Jeswal2

AV: What would you like to retain from this experience?

CAMO: The pleasure of working for something worth more than money that will affect positively the life of countless people. Thanks to Mila I have been able to grow my skills in look development. Many have, and “graduate” by getting jobs they dreamt of having before starting the film. Working with Mila is transformative, and while I want for it to be delivered, I don’t want the experience to end.

For more info, please go to:

See the Mila Trailer on YouTube:
For updates on Mila:
Or check them out on Facebook:

Our warmest thanks to Cesar Alejandro Montero Orozco, Andrea Emmes and Cinzia Angelini! Visual Development art by Ruchita Jeswall, Alex Harris, Andres Amaya, Theunis Duvenhage and Guilherme Lopes. All Rights Reserved

DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year

Warner Bros. Animation (2016), Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (August 23rd, 2016), 1 DVD, 76 minutes plus supplements, 16:9 1.78:1 ratio, English 5.1 Dolby Audio, Not rated, Retail: $19.98


Superhero High is getting ready for its annual “Hero of the Year” award ceremony. But when the sorcerer Dark Opal arrives and starts stealing the school’s most powerful possessions, it’s up to the students Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy (yes, you read that right), Harley Quinn (again, yes, you read that right), and Bumblebee to save not just their home, but possibly the entire planet.


The Sweatbox Review:

Let’s get this out of the way first: DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year’s target audience is children. It turns all of your favorite characters into not just teenagers, but high schoolers. And it takes Poison Ivy–usually one of Batman’s most formidable foes–and gives her the timid personality of My Little Pony’s Fluttershy. All of these things, needless to say, might not sit especially well with certain adult fans, but they aren’t who this movie is trying to please. DC Superhero Girls is attempting to serve a market that is usually ignored by the comic book genre: girls. And in a year in which female Ghostbusters inexplicably became the subject of “controversy” (for reasons that are still beyond me), that’s enough to earn it a compliment in my book.


Still, if you’re a newcomer to this franchise (as I was), you might be a tad confused going into this. Hero of the Year is clearly a sequel to another entry in this series, one which, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to get a disc release. And despite premiering on DVD, this film was rather obviously intended to debut on television, complete with numerous cuts to black for non-existent commercial breaks. With that being said, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Hero of the Year feels more like a double-length episode of a cartoon show rather than an actual movie, especially since it begins with a theme song and ends with a brief credit crawl.


Of course, all of those things are really just observations, not criticisms, and the “Saturday morning feel” is ultimately what gives Supergirls its charm. It’s light on its feet, fast-paced, and full of appealing characters. In a striking contrast to the more “serious” content that DC Entertainment is normally associated with, everything here is warm, colorful, and reassuringly non-threatening. Sure, there is a little drama involving a subplot which has Supergirl becoming convinced that her parents are still alive, but for the most part, Hero of the Year never allows for itself to get too heavy. Most parents probably have nothing to worry about here (even though the movie is ominously “not rated”), although it’s possible that Dark Opal’s army of shadows might be enough to frighten the film’s youngest viewers.


This isn’t to say that DC Supergirls isn’t offering anything aimed directly at the “big kids” who might be watching. While the sophistication and adult-pleasing humor of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or Nick’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot isn’t really to be found here (though the line “I never should’ve become a super villain! I should’ve followed my heart and become a theater major!” is good for a smile), there are Easter Eggs and cameos galore for longtime DC fans. I got a big kick out of Gorilla Grodd being Super Hero High’s vice principal (especially when Lois Lane tries to squeeze an interview out of him), and a location called “Booster’s Gold Mine” is also a nice touch. Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are still BFFs, and appearances by Giganta, Commissioner Gordon, and Johnathan and Martha Kent are appreciated.


The movie does also manage to have a little fun with its high school concept (which does seem to be lifted from Disney’s very underrated 2005 comedy Sky High, but I digress), even though its main characters don’t appear to spend much time in class. Wonder Woman’s mother, for instance, is now overbearing and anticipating for her daughter to win every major school competition. And it is pleasing that the film has no shortage of action, something I was worried might be an issue given the “women don’t care about this stuff” mentality that studios unfortunately seem to go by when making so-called “girls entertainment.” Still, part of me wishes that there was slightly more ambition being shown here, as DC Entertainment has produced much stronger “children’s entertainment” in the past (Batman: The Animated Series, this ain’t). But at the end of the day, Warner Bros. has seen a need and filled it here, finally giving some of their female heroes a chance to shine in the spotlight. And that’s just super.


Is This Thing Loaded?

DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year opens with a trailer for Scooby-Doo! & WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon (which looks…not as bad as it sounds?), while previews for LEGO Friends, LEGO Nexo Knights, LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League: Gotham City Breakout and the quite fun-looking Storks can be accessed from the main menu. The only true special features are seven DC Superhero Girls animated shorts (curiously labeled on the DVD packaging as “featurettes”) that were previously released online. They are All About Super Hero High, Fall into Super Hero High, Hero of the Month: Poison Ivy, Clubbing, Hero of the Month: Bumblebee, Saving the Day, and Hero of the Month: Wonder Woman. Like the movie itself, they are all cute enough, and run about three minutes each.


Case Study:

I was pleasantly surprised that DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year arrived in a slipcover, complete with “texturing” that makes the cover appear to be 3D. A sticker apparently added at the last minute proclaiming this an “All-new original movie” does look a bit out of place on the cover, presumably there just to let buyers know this isn’t the pilot movie that aired on television. Supergirl also dominates the packaging, appearing on both the front and the back. No inserts of any kind are included.


Ink And Paint:

DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year is bright. Some might say too bright. Colors are extremely crisp, and since this is a brand new title, there are naturally no notable flaws to be found anywhere. No problems here (unless you have an issue with bright colors).


Scratch Tracks:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Warner Bros. DVDs over the years, it’s to always have your remote control handy when watching them, as the volume will constantly need adjusting as it alternates between too soft and too loud. DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year is no different, although it’s still a serviceable audio track, with dialogue and audio never overpowering each other. As an aside, I’m not sure if this was because my disc was faulty or because my player was acting up, but the audio and animation seemed to not quite be syncing correctly at certain points. Still, since it could’ve just been my laptop, I won’t lower the score by much for that.


Final Cut:

I love these characters, and while DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year might not exactly be a “home run” per se, it’s still breezy fun that should easily get top marks from its target audience. The high school setting–which could’ve been terrible if handled the wrong way–actually works for the most part, and heck, by the end of it, I even kinda liked “nice girl” Poison Ivy. It is unfortunate that more extras aren’t included (from what I’ve heard, there are several shorts that aren’t featured here), but children are unlikely to mind, and the disc’s visuals and audio are decent if not nothing to write home about. I’m not sure if this franchise will have staying power or not, but going by toy sales, it seems as though DC will keep it going for at least a while (the movie’s ending is already teasing another sequel). And given how little female superheroes have taken center stage in the past, that’s more than fine with me.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


Artist of the Day: Dylan Glynn

Discover the art of Dylan Glynn, Cartoon Brew’s Artist of the Day.

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‘LEGO Movie’ Studio Animal Logic To Offer Animation Degree

The new one-year program, in partnership with University of Technology Sydney, will launch in 2017.

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Despite Fantastic Reviews, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is Laika’s Weakest Launch To Date

Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets” also set a new all-time record this weekend.

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The Art of Moana cover art revealed

Chronicle Books has just revealed the cover of their latest title in their series showcasing artwork from the creation of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest releases. The 160-page-book, written by The Art of Wreck-It Ralph author Maggie Malone and The Art of Zootopia author Jessica Julius is scheduled for November, 15. The stunning artwork in this behind-the-scenes book includes character designs, storyboards, colorscripts, and much more.


EXCLUSIVE: Laika Chief Travis Knight Reveals Future Plans For Studio

Laika has some very different projects planned for the future.

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Godzilla anime officially in the works

Jack Riley, voice of Stu Pickles on Rugrats, passes away