Christopher Evart, currently a Technical Animation International Supervisor at Rhythm & Hues Studios in Los Angeles, California is part of the team that has recently received an Academy Award Nomination for their work on Life of Pi. Chris attended San Francisco Waldorf School from kindergarten through high school.
Chris started working at Rhythm & Hues a couple of years ago, right after completing his BA at Cogswell Polytechnical College in Sunnyvale. While he learned the whole process of animation during college, he found he was best at something called rigging and character effects. In the industry, this is gives him the role of the technical animator, and it is an integrated mix of technical and aesthetic skill sets.
Rhythm & Hues is one of the biggest special effects houses in the world and has been around for about twenty-five years. It first gained acclaim for its Academy Award winning work on “Babe” in 1995. From this point it became particularly well-known for its work with animals and creatures and has worked on a large number of features that include cartoons, special effects, and computer-generated creatures like the talking animals in the Chronicles of Narnia. Chris has mostly worked on children’s movies, including Alvin and the Chipmunks and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Because these have been more “cartoony”, he was excited to get the chance to work on a more realistic creature, the tiger in Life of Pi.
Life of Pi was by far the most exciting project that Chris has worked on yet. The tiger was only about fifteen percent “real,” and so the film relied a lot on Chris’ department for making the tiger have secondary motion, including skin and fur that move in a realistic way. This means that he had to run physical simulations on the skin to make it wrinkle and fold as if it was real. For fur he ran the programs that allow for gravity, interactions, and collisions. Chris’ work allowed the boy to look like he was petting a real tiger, rather than thin air. To achieve this Chris had to simulate how the fur and skin would respond to the pressure of the previously filmed hand.
Chris’ work as a Technical Animator requires a fairly rare skill set, one that he credits Waldorf for helping him develop. While most people focus on either the technical software side or on the purely artistic side, Chris and his fellow riggers build the computer controls that allow the animators to move the creatures. This requires both solid technical skills as well the aesthetic and sculptural skills required to make the creatures look right. Chris remembers drawing in kindergarten, and says “it really had me thinking visually from a young age. All the teaching done in a visual way, all the art classes… I was constantly surrounded by art.” This mixed later on with the science classes that he enjoyed with Dr. Carini and Ms. Alba where he learned the problem solving that supports his technical work today. “I can see, hearing other people’s experiences, that I was really lucky to go to such a wonderful school.”