Mike Dietz has been working as an animator and animation director in games, television and commercials since the early 1990’s, eventually partnering with fellow animation veteran Ed Schofield to open their own animation shop, Pencil Test Studios. PTS is an independent animation production studio based in Southern California specializing in production services and content creation for television, games, film and mobile devices, offering a wide variety of 2D, 3D, stop motion and mixed media animation styles. In addition to animation, the studio also provides a wide range of services that include storyboards, pre-visualization, animatics, story and character development, and videogame design. A partial list of their clients includes Disney, Pixar, Nickelodeon, Fox, McDonalds, House of Moves and many more.
Mike has also served as director and animation director at several other studios on a variety of projects, including the Emmy award winning stop motion TV show The PJ’s, Nickelodeon’s Random Cartoons short Squirly Town, as well as the cult classic video games The Neverhood and Earthworm Jim, EWJ 2 and EWJ Special Edition. Other notable games for which he has served as animation director include the Annie award winning Pixar’s Ratatouille, Toy Story Mania, Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, Skullmonkeys, Disney's Aladdin and Disney's Jungle Book. You can see a list of his other film, television and game credits on his IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0226351/
Recently Pencil Test Studios was contracted by The Phelps Group agency to create a series of three animated commercials for the self storage company Public Storage. Based on a concept provided by The Phelps Group’s creative director DJ Grimes, the ads were created in a “marker on cardboard” style, following the “Stickman” character as he journeys though a series of helpful storage tips and information: from navigating the PublicStorage.com web site, to showing the best ways to pack your stuff. You can view the ads on the Public Storage website: http://www.publicstorage.com/self-storage-starting.aspx
I’d say owning my own studio, which allows me to do what I love for a living while helping others to do the same. I enjoy projects like these Public Storage ads, getting to work with a great crew while doing lots of funny drawings.
I started out using an early version of Toon Boom Studio as an animator-friendly substitute for Flash, moving up to Digital Pro and eventually Animate Pro. I’ve created a variety of work in Toon Boom, everything from web cartoons, short films, games, television commercials and animation for theme park attractions.
For hand drawn animation Animate Pro is our tool of choice at Pencil Test Studios, although we also use Photoshop and After Effects in our pipeline. We also create 3D animation here at PTS, using mostly Maya and 3DS Max.
Photoshop, After Effects, Flash, Illustrator, Maya, Max, SynthEyes and a variety of others depending on the project. For these Public Storage ads our main production tools were Animate Pro, After Effects and Photoshop.
Each package has its own specific strengths, both in functionality and in the availability of third party plug-ins/add-ons. Animate Pro is the best tool out there for creating hand drawn animation, and while we could have done the entire project in Toon Boom, we chose to do some of the compositing in After Effects to take advantage of some custom plug-ins. And of course Photoshop is unbeatable for creating raster artwork for BGs and overlays.
It can vary considerably from project to project, but for the Public Storage ads we animated directly in Animate Pro on the Cintiq. We were working on a tight deadline, and as much as I still enjoy animating traditionally on paper, I don’t think we could have finished this project on time and at the necessary quality without working digitally. Background art was created in Photoshop and imported into Animate Pro, mostly by simply scanning cardboard boxes.
We work in whatever style is appropriate for the project in question, but we definitely tend to lean toward more cartoony styled animation, both for hand drawn and cg. The bouncy, fun style of animation we created for these ads seemed to fit perfectly with Public Storage’s already established style of quirky, humorous commercials.
Again, whatever style is appropriate for the project. As an independent studio doing a lot of contract work we have to be able to adapt to a variety of styles and techniques. That said, we do tend to gravitate toward both hand drawn and stop motion for our internal projects.
Both the intuitive drawing tools and the easy to use scanning features allow us to create full animation regardless of whether we are animating digitally on the Cintiq or working traditionally on paper and scanning the drawings directly into Animate Pro, allowing us to avoid that “Flash” look in our productions. Of course when client is looking for the “Flash” look, that’s easy to do too.
Without question. The ability to draw directly in Animate Pro with the same quality and sensitivity as drawing on paper allows for an extremely fast turnaround, regardless of whether it’s animating a completely paperless digital production or revising hand drawn animation that’s been scanned directly into Animate Pro. For the Public Storage ads, it certainly would have been much more difficult to complete them in such a short timeframe without Animate Pro.
Yes, again because of the ability to draw directly in Animate Pro, animation and subsequent revisions take much less time, and anyone who has worked professionally in animation, especially in commercials, knows it’s all about the revisions.
Ultimately it’s about the artists and their creativity, not the tools, so I’m sure the right person can do great work regardless of what tools they’re using. However, using a program like Animate Pro allows us to concentrate on the creative side of the work and not worry about technical issues.
It’s a great tool. We wouldn’t be using it if we didn’t think it was our best option.
I think if you were starting from scratch the learning curve for Toon Boom might take a little time, but I worked first with Toon Boom Studio, then Digital Pro and then Animate Pro, so over time I’ve become comfortable with Toon Boom’s interface and conventions. If you’re comfortable with traditional animation pipelines it’s certainly easier to pick up than Flash, and if you have 3D experience the timeline, graph editors and network interface will feel familiar.