Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Animator Rich McKain : Case Study by Kevin Kurytnik

Rich McKain is a Calgary native who currently works as an animator for Pixar. Rich is primarily self taught but he credits getting introduced to animation by taking some courses taught by ACAD alumni and instructor Kevin Kurytnik.

I've asked Kevin to talk about Rich and discuss "What makes a successful animator" from a teachers perspective.

Do you have any memories of him as a student?
I remember Richard quite well as a student. For every animation class I teach, usually only one or two move on from animation as an interest or hobby to a career of some sort whether it is in the production of their own short films or in Richard's case working in the industry. I recall writing him a letter of reference to get him his green card to work in the States and him getting his first gig doing gaming in Salt lake City. I also remember criting his final demo reel he created after class for the job.

Generally I will crit any of my student's work based on what they are trying to achieve and Richard wanted to work in the industry so I basically called him on a bunch of shortcuts and technical imperfections in his animation. Employers in all types of animation generally look for two things in a student's work- imagination and craft and in the craft they want to see great attention to detail so the motion looks and feels right. Metaphorically they want a marathon runner not a sprinter, someone who is patient enough to get it right. There are a lot less people than you would think able to do that.

Looking back, was there any signs that Rich would do so well?
When Richard presented his "Horton Hears A Who" work at ACAD in 2008 he told those assembled that my demo reel criticisms way back when he was starting went a long way to his moving up the American animation industry chain. Essentially the difference between those who succeed and those who do not in animation is this stick to it-iveness and the ability to listen and understand when work is not working and to fix it. I have seen this time and time again. I think that applies to pretty much all the arts.

Any thoughts on why or how he climbed to the top of the animation heap?
Of course you have to have talent but talent is not enough. Animating in the industry is a learnable craft but only those with disciple and obsession succeed. There is a maxim in animation generally that says "You are only as good as your weakest frame". Doing animation day in and day out allows the animator to build on past work and get better and better if that is one of their goals. Pixar for example as an animation company is where its at now because since "Toy Story" they have essentially kept the same core of creative people. To really understand their success check out the enlightening half hour doc on how they got started in animation in the extras in the Pixar Shorts vol.1 dvd.

Richard started in gaming doing basic animation character loops, eventually he got hired by Blue Sky in upstate New York to work as an animator on "Ice Age 2" and made some amazing inroads in his work with the five minutes or so of scenes he made for their next feature "Horton Hears A Who". I would guess that footage or "Ice Age 3" (I believe he did some work on that) got him noticed by Pixar.

Richard is of course fiercely competitive. Animators in the industry have to be - they are generally quite young and extremely migratory moving on from job to job. Do better work than the next person and you get another job.

Here is a older interview involving Rich discussing working on the video game Oddworld

Here is his bio from a presentation he did a few weeks ago at Banff Centre

Kevin Kurytnik is a Calgary animator, check out his animation studio website here: