I finally experienced my first SIGGRAPH conference. I have always heard about SIGGRAPH, and while at DreamWorks Animation I would often have artists requesting time off so they could attend the conference. While I had a pretty good idea about what it was I had never gone until this year.
SIGGRAPH is short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques. It is an annual conference on computer graphics which you can imagine is pretty important for computer animation.
When I was younger, and decided I wanted to start my own animation company I wanted it to rival Walt Disney Animation. You have to love the naive imagination of a young boy. I might not have given up on those dreams, but the reality of the difficulty of the goal I set is more apparent.
Around this time a year ago I knew I was planning on leaving my job at DreamWorks Animation, and my last day was quickly approaching. I had been trying to figure out the best way to start my company, and I finally had a plan. It might have been a shot in the dark, but it at least had a chance for success.
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Realigning the priorities of Eric Miller Animation
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I have been working on my business plan which forces me to take a look at the details of the company. From this I have been doing a lot of thinking about my leadership team, or should I say lack of. I have for some time been wanting to bring on more people, but how do you know what would be best. The people you have on your team is key to the success of any business, so it is a big decision. So let me share with you my thoughts on building my leadership team.
I had a great time at the CTN Animation Expo this last weekend. Not only did I get to see a lot of industry friends, but I also got to meet a lot of new people. I also got to hear a lot of great discussions, and meet some of the animation legends.
I’m a strong believer in the importance of having great mentors. No one has all the answers, and to have someone that has more or different experience then you who can help guide you is an absolute must.
A big part of leaning is making mistakes, and if you can have access to other people’s mistakes you won’t have to make them yourself to learn the lesson. A mentor can also provide you with things that have worked well for them, and give you an understanding that you previously did not have.
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You can’t start an animation studio alone, You need great mentors.
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Being someone that has always wanted to start their own animation company I have always had a respect for those entrepreneurs that have already done it. There is of course Walt Disney, but there is also the less known people such as Will Vinton. I learned about Will and his studio a few months ago, and was surprised I never heard of him before. Starting your own company there are so many decisions that you have to make on a daily basis, and any of those decisions could be the one that causes your company to fail. Will made a wrong decisions that cost him his studio. Will Vinton is credited with coming up with the term “Claymation”, and was even trademarked by him. He won an Oscar, and several Emmy Awards for the work that his studio did. Even if you don’t know him you might know his work. His company Will Vinton Studios made many classic claymation feature films, TV series, TV specials, and short films. His commercial work is what I remember the most, and it includes the California Raisins, the Domino’s Pizza Noid, and the M&M’s Red, Yellow, and Green characters. Will’s company was doing really well, and taking on many more projects. Many felt his studio was growing to fast, and that is how he lost control of it. By the end of the 1990’s the studio was seeking funds for more feature films. One of the key investors was Phil Knight, the owner of the shoe company Nike, Inc.. Part of the deal for Knight to invest more was that he would require a larger stake in the company. He also got his son Travis a job at the company as an animator. Travis previously had a failed career as a rapper under the name Chilly Tee. You might be thinking I’m getting off subject, but this is where things went wrong. In 2002, Will Vinton ended up losing control of Vinton Studios when Phil Knight became the majority shareholder in the company. Eventually they decided that Will was no longer needed, and he was fired from the company he started. Phil Knight ended up putting his son Travis in charge of the company, and the company was later renamed to Laika. You may know Laika for their feature films Coraline, & ParaNorman. This story sounds very similar to the story of Steve Jobs with Apple computers, but the difference is Steve was able to come back and retake over his company. When I read about this a couple of months ago there was no happy return for Mr. Vinton, but I read an article this morning about how he is trying to make a comeback. His new company Vinton Entertainment announced a co-production deal with Gnosis Moving Pictures for a series of animated features directed by Vinton. You can learn more about these projects check out this article, but this is not the focus of my post.
When I was younger and first started to dream about doing what Walt Disney did I always thought I would name my company as he did. I built my dreams around the idea of Eric Miller Animation, so now that I’m actually starting my studio there was never much thought about what it would be called. Although, through my experience in the industry I have heard of downsides to naming it after the founder. At this point it is hard for me to think of the studio as anything else, and there are a few reasons why I still plan to name my studio Eric Miller Animation.