He stood up to bullies in grade school. He moves through space and time tackling problems and leaving a wake of solutions. He lives in two and three dimensions and brings the inanimate to life. Super-human? Magical conjurer? Yes, indeed. William “Rocky” Vanoost seems somehow related to the very things he brings to life as Lead Character Animator at Blur Studio.
Rocky (a nickname forged during his days of defying bullies) started his profession in typical-kid fashion: watching cartoons and drawing. “I’ve loved cartoons ever since I was a kid. I used to draw a lot growing up.” This led to working at the local public access TV station, shooting a few TV programs, and doing an occasional sketch comedy. “Then, when I was trying to figure out what to do for a living and what to major in at college, I couldn’t really decide. And my uncle said, ‘Well, you love this animation stuff, you draw all the time, why don’t you do that?’” Until then, Rocky never considered animation as something people actually got paid for. “It never struck me that people do this for a living. I thought, ‘That’s just something I do with my free time.’”
These days, free time is at a premium. After studying animation at Columbia College in Chicago, it was game on when Rocky got hired at a gaming studio where he’d interned. From there, life became a wonderful blur when Blur Studio in Venice saw his reel and reeled him in. As Lead Character Animator, Rocky describes himself as a type of “lieutenant” supporting the animation supervisor. He ensures the animators have everything they need and that the shots are getting done. “If there are problems, I’m the one who deals with them. I make sure that this prop or character is getting done. I interface with the other departments to make sure that if someone needs something, they get it in a timely manner – it’s a lot of herding cats.” He also troubleshoots technical issues. “If a rig is broken, or there’s something that the animator needs in the character rig to complete the shot, I take care of it.” He also wrangles software if there are constraint issues or compatibility problems in the programs, or as Rocky put it, when “two programs might not be ‘working nice’ together.”
On top of all of the organizational duties, Rocky still pulls his weight animating a full load, just like the other animators. (This is where the “super-human” comes in.) The animation process starts with a script that goes to the concept department to become a storyboard. From there, Rocky and his teammates roughly block it out in the 3D space, using cameras and 3D software. “We create a little rough movie based on the script and storyboards.” This is the first of three passes (typically). “We refine it in the second pass, addressing notes from the director or client, and then we take it to our final pass and finish everything up.”
Rocky describes his time at Blur as a great deal of work – and play. “It’s one of those things where you wake up in the morning and you realize that you’re getting paid to come into a place filled with really fun, creative people and essentially play with action figures all day,” he laughs. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun to work at a place like Blur. It’s really creative and fast-paced. We’re working on a lot of different genres, so it’s never boring.” Recent projects include game trailers for Star Wars: The Old Republic and Prey 2, animating the FOX NFL robot, and the creating the opening credits for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
So how did the animator get drawn to First Entertainment? “When I moved out here, I was a customer of a big bank in Chicago. At the time, they didn’t have branches out here, so that wasn’t an option. Our HR person highly recommended the credit union, and once she started showing me all of the information, how great the checking and savings were, and the rates and everything, I was pretty much sold. I love the fact that everything is just so easy and very friendly for the members. It doesn’t seem like First Entertainment is trying to screw us every way it can, to put it bluntly. There are no hidden fees. No BS hiding around the corner. I don’t have to worry about anything. Everything is very clean and clear cut. It’s really nice. When I first got my auto loan, I had done it through the dealership, which was a bad idea. I eventually brought the loan to First Entertainment and refinanced it. I also took advantage of their consolidation loan. My experience here has been 300,000 times better than the big bank!”
So how does Rocky view the future of animation? He starts with keeping an eye on the past. “You can learn from what’s been done before and apply that to what you’re doing now when you’re breaking new ground. In terms of technology, it’s hard to predict what’s coming because it seems to grow exponentially. You just need to learn as many new tools as you can, and try to stay on top of things. But animation, essentially, is what the ‘Nine Old Men’ Disney animators called ‘the illusion of life.’ That’s what you’re creating. It’s about understanding emotion and movement and being able to imbue your characters with that. Good work is about the story and good characters. Those are the most important things. That’s what I mean about keeping an eye on the past while you’re looking to the future. Because you can’t rely on all of the technology to tell the heart of the story.”
Thank you, Rocky, for the fascinating peek into the world of animation. And for bringing First Entertainment to life in such a colorful and candid way!