Interview : Marcus McKebery

Introduction



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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