Written by Guest Blogger Mary Clare
Graphic Design Faculty Member
Part of the Interview Series from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division’s Connections Graphic Design Group
Meet Mark Edwards
Mark Edwards (ME) is a Senior Character Technical Director for Blue Sky Studios. Since joining Blue Sky in 2005, he has worked on a number of animated films including No Time for Nuts, Surviving Sid, Horton Hears a Who, Ice Age (Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Continental Drift, and A Mammoth Christmas), Rio, Rio 2, and Epic. On the job, Mark uses Maya animation software and Python programming language.
Mary Clare (MC): How did you get involved in the art form of animation?
ME: Growing up, I was fascinated with special effects and movie monsters. I read books about Lon Chaney, Dick Smith and Tom Savini. I was a huge Godzilla fan as well. A friend of mine and I spent much of our formidable years in his parents' basement trying to figure out how to do cut throat effects and the like.
Once I was older, I started learning makeup and prosthetics for special effects. I enrolled at a local community college where I spent two years studying all the graphic design, illustration, sculpting and photography I possibly could. I had no intention of going back to school until I couldn't find a job in my field, so I took a year off and ended up at Buffalo State College where I spent all my free time sculpting and making prosthetic appliances and fake teeth. I always had great Halloween costumes.
After graduating, I taught myself web design and development in my free time. One career led to another, and, before I knew it, I was developing websites for The Oneida Indian Nation in Central New York. I was doing a lot of Flash development, and my boss decided we should do 3D Flash and gave me a copy of Maya to play around with. Shortly thereafter, The Oneida Nation decided to do some animations of their historic tales, and I got an opportunity to be a part of the team that made a short film titled "The Raccoon and the Crawfish.” During my time there, I put together a demo reel of some of my work and sent it to all the major animation studios. That's how I ended up at Blue Sky. In some small way, my childhood dream was realized.
MC: What is your artistic background?
ME: My parents taught me to draw at an early age. I remember my dad helping me draw Star Wars figures at the age of 5 or 6.
MC: Would you explain your part in the animation process?
ME: If you think about traditional puppeteering, I am the marionette and the animator is the puppeteer. Of course there’s more to it than that. We have designers, modelers that make the digital 3d model, etc. My job is to take a static model and give it points of articulation. I give it a skeleton and controls so that the animator can bring it to life.
MC: What's the best part of your job?
ME: I enjoy the problem solving.
MC: Are there typically specializations in your field?
ME: It depends, smaller studios have more generalist jack of all trades types, but at a studio the size of ours people tend to be very specialized. That is not to say, however, that they don't know a lot about other facets of production.
MC: How many people are involved in the creation of a film like Ice Age or Epic?
ME: We have approximately 500 employees at Blue Sky.
MC: Can you suggest any software that students could experiment with for animation?
ME: There are educational versions of most software including Maya. There are also open source applications such as Blender.
MC: What experience would someone need to work with a company like Blue Sky?
ME: The hardest part is getting noticed. You need to have a great demo reel. There is a lot of competition for jobs at the big studios.
MC: What advice would you give a student interested in animation for film?
ME: I would suggest figuring out what aspect of animation is the most appealing to you and learn as much as you can. Programming skills in Python and C++ are a plus no matter what discipline you enter. Being able to present your work is important as well.
MC: What elements of art and design should students have under their belt for a career in animation?
ME: It is always good to have drawing skills. Most of all, having a good eye. It really depends on what facet of animation you prefer. Modelers and riggers should have a good understanding of anatomy. Animators can benefit from acting and performance skills.