“We take things for granted really fast. In two years creating inside VR is going to be totally normal.”
A: Hello Ran, could you please tell us when and how did you start to draw and animate?
R: I’ve always had the passion of drawing. I realized that I wanted to do animation the day a good friend of mine showed me how to do flip pages in my school book. I was amazed, thinking “Oh my god it’s moving!” That was my first realization that I can draw a moving line. As far as I can remember, I’ve always had a pencil in my hand. Jumping a decade forward, I started my study for a bachelor’s degree in illustration and design. The school I went to had promised they were going to have animation classes at some point, but it never happened! One day during my third year, a teacher told me that if I really wanted to study animation I’d better to drop out and go somewhere else. As I was raised to finish what I’d started, I stayed at school and decided to learn everything by myself. After two terms (mid year four) I had created my first animated short as my final project for the degree. It was the first time the school dealt with animation as final project! Once done, I applied to Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada, where I’ve studied Digital Character Animation. Then I had to go back to Israel (because my student visa expired) where I’ve worked in post-production companies. I worked there for five years until I got my permanent resident status to Canada. I started teaching at Seneca College in Ontario, worked on TV shows, compositing, and then moved to London, Montreal, and finally Vancouver, which is where I live now.
A: Flip books made you want to do animation more than Disney movies?
R: Well, I knew I wanted to do animation when I watched Bug’s Life back in 98′. There was one part in there, when Hopper the grasshopper jumps into the ant’s dwelling and walks above them, implementing fear in them, he then puts his hands behind his back, walks above a group of ants with his long legs, stops and settles his wings, very subtle. At that moment I was like, “Yep! that’s it!” Until today I’m really excited about animations that are subtle, emotional… I really want you, the viewer, to connect with the character.
A: So you started to learn 3D modeling and animation on your own directly in 3D? How did you do that?
R: I wanted to learn Maya so I bought a book from Amazon. I believe it was called “Mastering Maya 3″. Everyday after school I would go back home and sat on the computer using the book. Back then, there were no Youtube tutorials like we have today! I would stay up all night. I was living at home then, my parents would wake up to go to work and in the morning my dad would peak into the room and be like “Oh my god are you still sitting on the computer, you didn’t sleep all night?” I was all full of smiles, responding “No, I was modeling a dog using Nurbs Patches!” I was so excited about what I was doing. This is how I’ve learned Maya. It’s simple: I made a decision that every assignment we would get in class, I would do it using Maya. For example, if we had to draw a storyboard, I’d model the character and create the storyboard directly in Maya. That’s how I’ve learned the software. Having said that, I always felt I was not doing it the right way. That’s why I decided to go to Sheridan College, because I wanted to learn from people who actually use Maya in professional settings.
A: How did you start to teach in Canada? How did you get this opportunity?
R: Thanks to my friend who was in my class in Sheridan! He was teaching at Seneca at the time and was too busy with work and number of classes he had. He came to me one day offering me one of his classes, if I wanted. I said yes immediately. I’ve taught at Seneca for almost 2 years and it has opened doors for me here in Canada.
A: Do you teach animation in VR yet?
R: Not yet. We’ve been talking about the opportunity to introduce VR illustration and animation at the College now. The nice thing is that we have a game department where they have HTC Vive and Oculus Rift already. We were playing with the idea of dedicating a room with a bunch of computers so I can show VR to the students. I would really love that, a room with like ten stations with Quill, AnimVR, Tilt Brush, etc. Students would love it!
A: When was your first encounter with VR?
R: Back in the 90’s we had this store in Tel Aviv telling us something new is coming and that we had to try the Virtual Reality world. Back then the VR was horrible. I was expecting to see beautiful world and characters with high end visuals, to look at a character standing in front of me just like I’m looking at you right now, I was really disappointed and had a bad taste from this experience. But then last year, I was at the College where I’m teaching and a colleague that was teaching there as well told me I should come and try something, they had the HTC Vive, Oculus installed and he wanted me to try Tilt Brush. So I went, expecting nothing much he put me inside Invasion, the VR experience from Baobab. Even though it’s a prerendered, flat 360 video I was blown away! That was my first interaction with the new VR. I looked back and the bunny that was hiding behind me, I felt the same way then like my ‘Bug’s Life’ moment: “I want to create for VR, that’s it!” I said to myself. So when I finally got a Playstation 4, I also got the PSVR. Then a friend of mine here in Vancouver who’s also an animator told me about the new animation features in Quill. This made me want to go further with the creative tools in VR. I’ve seen Goro tutorial video on Virtual Animation group, explaining how he worked with Quill and I was thinking: “Ok I really need to try this.” I was on Mac at the time so I’ve had to switch back to PC (That was a process!), got my first Oculus Rift, which was about two months ago, and I immediately started creating in VR.
A: Was the little frog your very first scene designed in VR?
R: Yeah! It was my first test animating in VR. Wait, actually no, I did the penguin first! It took me a few days to get used to Quill because of depth, the extra dimension we don’t have in Photoshop or other painting softwares. To live in your creation and to have it drawn in front of your face, with the scale of VR, it’s something else!
A: What are you working on now that you’ve got familiar with the tools?
R: Right now I’m working on two projects: one is for the LA-based studio EEG. It is a documentary about incarceration. The final animation needs to be exported to Unity, so, after investigation and tests, we’ve realized AnimVR is the best way to go. I did not know how to use AnimVR so I had to get my head around it for this project. I realized I really like AnimVR. The other project I am working on is a Series of Dark Fairy Tale stories in VR by FAR Studio, using different animation tools, working on that with a couple of extremely talented and awesome guys. That is on top of my full-time job. Be sure you’re going to see or hear about these projects very soon!
A: Do you use the new feature Quillustrations to show your drafts to the people you’re working for?
R: No, not really. For the documentary project, I send them the design and updated animation playblasts as I go. It’s been good and we have good teamwork and collaboration. The Dark Fairy tales project is an awesome collaboration. We are combining different tools and knowledge of different fields from the animation and film industry.
A: Do you use VR to create only or do you also play? And what about social VR, do you hang out in VR with friends or not at all?
R: Facebook Spaces is a cool place where I can experience other artists work and appreciate it the way the artist intended. It’s fun to get surprises left in my space by other artists that visited there. Also, there is a VR museum app (MOR) that I’ve visited once or twice. It’s sort of a virtual meeting place where you can go in, check exhibits and talk to the creators and other visitors. It’s a neat experience. I do play PSVR, mostly Moss game that actually just was released on PC and can be played using Oculus or Vive. Oddly enough the main character’s name in Moss is Quill. Sign from the universe?
A: What do you think of the growing community of animators in VR? Joe Daniels said it reminds him of the first wave of CGI.
R: It’s beautiful! We all support and teach each other as artists and there is so much to learn. When we do animation, we put part of our soul in it, you know. It’s us moving! In Quill and similar apps it’s literally us moving! Each of us has different styles and approaches which leaves open opportunities to pick someone’s brain when it comes to challenging idea.
A: Quill VS. AnimVR, can you tell us your pros and cons?
R: I think that if Quill and AnimVR were to combine into one app, that would be the ideal app to have! Quill offers so many amazing tools and solutions for animation, selection tools, shortcuts using the touch controllers etc. While AnimVR has similar technique for drawing (with less brush options) but with superior animation capabilities. And, of course, cameras! I find AnimVR more accurate to draw in 3D space. It could also be because I’ve started and experienced with Quill first. I also like the Ambient Occlusion option in AnimVR, to show volume. While I am drawing in AnimVR, the AO vision makes me feel like I am caressing the stroke itself. It’s odd! I think that both apps are awesome. I find AnimVR is more suitable for longer animation projects, thanks to the timeline, camera options and such. Quill is really intuitive and fast but the creativity tickle comes from both. Honestly, I would choose which one is best to use depending the projects. It’s a great benefit to try and know both apps!
A: Do you have any VR dream project and/or collaborations?
R: I am excited with every opportunity that comes along. I am very happy about the Dark Fairy tales project and the amazing collaboration I’m currently working on! For me, creation in VR is already a dream come true. Everything that comes out of it? Big Bonus!
A: Thank you Ran, keep going and looking forward to seeing your next VR moves!