Interview : Marcus McKebery


I spoke with Marcus McKebery – an animation professional, living in Sydney, Australia. A friend and supporter of EDAP Tools since the very beginning, Marcus is a Flash/Animate expert, college lecturer and has been part of the Australian animation industry for over two decades.

He was very kind to share some of his thoughts and experiences with our audience.

Interview with Marcus McKebery

Everyone who is personally acquainted with us knows that we are friends, and have worked together on several occasions, so at various points we've had shared experiences. I'll touch upon that a little later, but let's start at the time when you were young and we did not know each other.
What were your favorite cartoons when you were a boy, and which is the first one that you remember seeing?

My first memory of Animation is watching Hanna-Barbera's anthropomorphic blue-furred dog, Huckleberry Hound. Seeing Color TV in the late 70s was fascinating, however, it was the 80s Saturday mornings where I found my favorites. He-man and the Masters of the Universe, The Transformers, Dungeons and Dragons, and Ulysses. Starting the weekend with this was truly an adventure!
Now I understand the process that Traditional Animation requires and why the economical approach was used during that time. The character designs caught my attention against the textured backgrounds, and the sound and effects made a lasting impression.

Did you also like comics? To me cartoons were alive and real, while comic books looked like just still drawings of those real characters. I liked them, but in my juvenile mind they were of much lower order, just like a photo of a real person is only a representation, and not the person himself.
Have you ever had a similar feeling about comics?

I preferred the moving image, but appreciate the skill of describing a story in a singular image. There were 2 comics that appealed to me when I was younger, Conan the Barbarian was one. It visually was appealing; the way it was inked and the color palettes were exciting.
MAD magazines were the other; they originated from comics and I enjoyed the variety of styles in one publication. Hidden around the edges were visual gags told in a thumbnail sketch and the interactive folding back page was clever.

As you grew up and learned more about cartoons, did your taste change? Do you have favorite animated shows, feature films, animators, directors and styles? What do you prefer: shorts or feature films?

While studying Animation there was a smorgasbord of styles to take in. From the second Golden age of traditional features to the dedicated TV services and everything inbetween. Richard Williams, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston are in my top list of Animators and they also form a great part of my foundation along with many talented Animators that I have learned from.
If a style serves to enhance an already engaging story, then it works for me; from the limited technique in South Park to the 2D/live action mix in Roger Rabbit.
Shorts and features both have their place, so I rate them equally. It has been nostalgic to see shorts play before features at the cinema.

What was the path that led you to eventually becoming an animation professional?

I would say I discovered focus while at Film School. It was where I learned the foundations of many disciplines; Story, Photography, Lighting, Sound, Color, Drawing and, of course, Animation. During this time I was very fortunate to start working in a traditional animation studio as an Assistant Animator among other production tasks that were quite helpful in showing me the ropes of a studio. Many years of inbetweening and clean-up on cels was a great opportunity to learn a variety of techniques from seasoned artists. It is mostly in hindsight where I can see the logic of this wax-on wax-off process.

Can you briefly outline your observations of the changes that took part in the Australian animation industry over the last 20–25 years? Did it shape to have a unique and recognizable face, internally and on the world stage, or did it lose its thematic and stylistic characteristics from the previous period?

The first noticeable change was the digitization of cels allowing for the ink and paint process to also be streamlined. Soon to follow was an almost complete transfer of productions being made in a new way. The transition was fast and it was exciting to use the principles we had been practicing and apply them to a tablet that was separate to the monitor.
Working with Vector graphics was perfect for the Internet at the turn of the century; it allowed Australian animation studios engage in co-productions with international studios. Like any revolutionary change there have been teething issues that have been refined over iterations.
There has been losses and gains. Digital tools have taken a while to replicate some results. One noticeable change is Animators are bypassing the crucial years of assisting through clean-up and inbetweening. Auto-tweening is efficient, but learning the rules and then knowing how to break them is magic.

How did you get into Flash?

The traditional studios I had worked in used to have 1 computer dedicated to line-testing and some in the digital scan/paint/composite stages until the new millennium. The studio I was with previously switched their next production to Flash 3.0 and after several weeks of training we embarked on the first Flash-animated TV series. The streamlined pipeline allowed the Australian show to be produced very quickly as a co-production with a Canadian studio. Being vector graphics the file sizes were intended for web and made the process much faster than traditionally produced show. 

Some 10–12 years ago, you and I used to teach at an animation college in Sydney. The students were extremely appreciative of the fact that they could interact with real industry professionals. How did you enjoy this period and was it beneficial to your own understanding of the theoretical and practical problems of film-making?

Being able to give something back to the community, that had taught me everything I know, was extremely beneficial. Passing that knowledge onto the next generation of Animators was a career highlight; at times it was as if I was learning an equal amount from the students. While I knew sub-consciously how to approach my work, I had not been in a situation where I had needed to articulate to a large group. Having that experience and perspective added more value to insight.

You must be the first person outside of our small team to learn about the plans of what would later become EDAP Tools. All this time you have supported and encouraged us, always helping with feedback. What do you think about EDAPT in 2022, and what are the areas that you see Flash/Animate lacking, which will be good for us to explore?

My journey with Adobe Animate started with Flash 3.0 and every major update since. Features have come and gone but for production efficiency I can't imagine not having EDAP Tools.
I would love a bone system to be able to map onto textured elements for non-linear deformations and have the ability to spray on weights to create an illusion of 3D, or 2.5D.

Many young people have interest in animation. What are the personal qualities and skills they should strive to develop in order to have successful careers?

Observational skills will help the next generation when animating. The best resource to draw from is nature, which is everywhere and everything has a shape, color, texture, behavior, weight that is unique.
Never stop practicing and allow yourself to make mistakes, but when you do, learn from them! Fail fast and fail often; take on feedback from a wide range of sources and embrace change! Find your style, but learn to work in styles that are quite different and display that in your portfolio.

Besides the long-term professional interest in animation, do you have any hobbies or side projects?

Spending most of the day in 2D is wonderful, but at the end of the day I love to fire up the 3D experience. There I can design a concept, model it up and then take the process a step further and 3D print the design.
Music and timing are a part of animating; I enjoy playing various guitars and the spectrum of different sounds they make from the playful 4 strings on a Ukelele to a 12-stringed Monster.
There is such a strong connection to Character Animation and organic designs with nature so it’s like recharging the creative batteries to get out amongst some wildlife as often as possible.

Thank you very much, Marcus! It is always a pleasure to speak with you.

Nickolay Tilcheff
August 2022

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