Animation Interview with Adrien Liv, Animation Lead/Supervisor at Cinesite Montreal
July 18, 2020 – Today, Adrien Liv spoke to VFX Online about his work experience of Animation Industry.
Adrien Liv is an internationally renowned animator who has made critical contributions to the world’s most successful and popular films. Since the beginning of his professional career, he has contributed to award winning films, television series around the world. His animation credits include Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, Monster in Paris, Minions, Angrybirds, Storks, Paddington 2, and Mary Poppins Returns. Mr. Liv has had significant achievements by working as a 3D Animator on Angry Birds, which was a box office success, grossing over $352 million worldwide and becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of all time to be based on a video game. Mr. Liv holds a distinguished reputation in the industry as he regularly collaborates with top people in the industry including Sacha Kapijimpanga, who is an Animation Supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks, most recently completing work on Over the Moon. With a growing international reputation, Mr Liv’s work has been featured or published by news and media outlets around the world, including: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Collider, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Atlantic, and Reuters.
// From Adrien Liv, Animation Lead/Supervisor, Cinesite Montreal
How do you describe yourself professionally?
I am currently an Animation Lead at Cinesite in Montreal. I have been animating for the past 16 years and have done animation work for Despicable Me 1 and 2, Minions, Angrybirds, Storks, The Emoji Movie, Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins, among others. Most recently I was an animation supervisor on Riverdance.
What sparked your interest in VFX & Animation?
As far as I can tell, I have always watched cartoons, I started watching Japanese anime when I was a kid, and that’s what sparked my interest and love for animation.
How did you enter the industry?
I started off working in a French video game company based in Paris. I worked on prototypes and we were also able to ship several promotional video games like Lafuma, Ecocity and two online multiple-sport MMORPG.
How was the experience of working in Animation Lead/Director?
I started working at my current company as a lead, and had more and more responsibilities as the project moved forward. After a few months, I was asked to supervise the animation of the project. It is a very creative role, and I was able to focus more on the storytelling/staging side and see more the movie as a whole.
Tell us about some of the projects you have worked on?
My animation credits include El Cid the Legend (2D feature), Despicable Me 1 and 2, Monster in Paris, Minions, Angrybirds, Storks, The Emoji Movie, Paddington 2, and Mary Poppins, all of which have garnered nominations and awards. For example, Angrybirds was a box office success, grossing over $352 million worldwide and becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of all time to be based on a video game, behind Warcraft, Detective Pikachu, and Rampage. The movie grossed $107.5 million in North America and $244.8 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $352.3 million, and is also the most successful Finnish-produced film of all time. Deadline Hollywood Calculate the net profit of the film to be $72 million. One of my highlight in the movie is the shot in which Red is projected into the air by a slingshot. The video game, which inspired the film, has the logo Red in the air. It is an iconic image that represents the brand. The aim of the video game is to destroy the green pigs by launching the birds with a slingshot. In the film, Red wants to save the baby birds and decides to be thrown. It’s a 16 second shot with the main hero doing the most recognizable action of the video game.
How do you approach a scene?
The context of a shot is very important so I start by watching the whole sequence and the surroundings sequences. I also look at the storyboard to see if I can get any information or interesting posing. If it is an action shot, I look at references on youtube or would try to shoot a reference myself. If it is a cartoony shot, I brainstorm ideas by drawing thumbnails to make the shot more entertaining.
How to create perfect physical action for the connectivity of the facial or body?
One thing I know in VFX is that all parts of our body are connected. For the facial, the eyebrows pull the upper eyelids, the corners of the mouth pull the nostrils and the cheeks down, these 2 parts compress and stretch in tandem. It is the same principle for the body, for example, an arm that rises will lift the shoulder which in turn rotates the chest which affects the neck which itself affects the head. The head in turn affects the face. Having these principles in mind makes the animation more organic and adds a level of believability to the animation.
Share some special tips for young Animators?
Try to train your eye by watching good animation, identify what’s working and why it is working. That takes time and practice. Having an open ear is just as important because it allows you to improve by humbling yourself and listening to the piece of advice of your peers.
Share some special tips to create Demo Reel?
Try to customize your application depending on the company. If it’s a VFX studio, it’s more relevant to have realistic body mechanic animation or quad animation. If it is for feature, it’s better to include acting shots. Originality is also very important, recruiters and animation directors often watch dozens of reels and it is important to catch the eye of the recruiter with shots that are out of the ordinary. For this I recommend putting the character in an environment or to use a prop because it will affect the way he will move and act, and give flavor to the animation.
How has your experience been working at Cinesite?
My time here has been amazing, the projects are top notch and the people are as fun as they are talented. In my most recent role, I worked as an animation supervisor on Riverdance. I helped define the acting of each sequence and the intentions of the characters.I was always trying to find ways to make the character unique by adding specificity to his movements.
How projects worked on this lockdown period? What’s your thoughts about the current state of the film industry?
Due to the closure of theaters, many studios had to put a brake on their production, and moviegoers just shifted from traditional theater to netflix and other online streaming platforms. We live in a society that values entertainment, there will always be a demand for artists to carry out projects that will inspire and move people.
Any particular artists/professionals that inspire you?
Glen Keane for his passion, James Baxter for his precision, Miyazaki for his poetry and staging, and many others. Recently I try to go back to what sparked my love for animation in the first place, anime. I want to watch a lot of MAD, which are demo reels of Japanese animators.
Share something about The Emoji Movie?
This project is dear to me because I was also able to animate shots which were very emotional. For example, I had a shot of a character arguing with his parents. My parents and I have totally different upbringings, they grew up poor, I grew up in the west and had everything I needed. That caused a lot of arguments, and misunderstanding. So I tried to put that struggle into my shot, to have the best video reference. When I showed the blocking to the director, he reacted very positively and I knew I succeeded in making the audience relate and feel something.
Share something about Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins Returns?
After 2 and a half years at Sony I had the opportunity to work in VFX. Paddington 2 was a way for me to transition easily because it involves a lot of acting, something I had put an emphasis on my whole career. Mary Poppins was a more technical show that required almost an equal balance of technical and artistic skills, I cleaned the mocap of key shots, and also animated animals, humans, props and cameras.
What do you like to do away from the computer?
I enjoy spending quality time with my family.
What do you think about the future of the Animation Industry?
I’m very optimistic thanks to new technologies like VR, facial recognition, excellent performance of video game engine, that are going to open the door to creators. People are more than ever hungry for original content so I am confident that the number of projects is only going to grow.
Which direction would you like to take your career in the near future?
I already achieved one of my goal to direct the animation of a feature film, so I can tick my checkbox. As an Animation Director I really liked sharing my knowledge to my team and I’d love to use this experience in the future. I’m already in touch with online and in-site animation school to contribute as an instructor or a mentor. I also want to challenge myself artistically, and be involved on big projects. The trap after so many years is to repeat the same recipes. I don’t know where I will be in 5 years but I think I’ll be animating or doing something related to art.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to get into this industry?
These are the principles that have worked for me so far: working hard and enjoying what I’m doing. There are also plenty of resources out there, and having a mentor through an online course and reliable peers can get you where you want to be quicker.