Interview: Steve Sobisky
Sobisky had the privilege of working with PDI on both ANTZ
(as a liaison producer) and Shrek (as the Lighting / Effects
Production Supervisor) then hopping over to Candesa in order to
help build the Shrek.com
Joe Tracy from Digital Media FX (dFX) caught up with Steve
Sobisky (SS) to discuss the world of Shrek that
he has been living in.
As the Lighting / Effects Production Supervisor for Shrek,
what were your main job functions?
I was responsible for administrative and personnel function, planning,
and decision making for the areas of lighting, effects and matte
painting teams: staffing and scheduling for each sequence within
the team assignments, determination of work procedures and priorities,
career development, and employee morale. I worked closely with
all of the producers, directors, PM's and my fellow management
How, exactly, do you "manage" dozens of people in three
different areas - Lighting, Effects, and Matte Painting?
It wasn't easy in the beginning stages, but after getting into
the center of each of the departments, you begin to develop relationships
and an understanding of each person you work with. PDI combined
the lighting department and matte painting department into one
team, which made life a little simpler. I was able to assign one
matte painter to each sequence, which allowed for good continuity
among the two groups
group was assigned multiple effects outside of each production
supervisor's assigned sequence. What I did was to focus on the
effects, which affected only my sequence at that time. The effects
were also supervised by the effects supervisor at all times, which
makes getting the effects to the light that much easier.
What was the most challenging part of your job and how did you
deal with it?
The most challenging part of the job was maintaining continuity
throughout each lighting sequence. Also, making sure that all
of the elements were properly in place to drive the point across
to the audience. The only way to deal with working on such a project
as Shrek is to expect change. Knowing that changes will
occur more often than not. Just knowing this will happen makes
it easy to deal with it.
would you describe the process of lighting, effects, and matte
painting as it relates to Shrek? What considerations must
go into each duty to create the visual wonder of the final print?
Lighting process is a complex procedure which PDI has made mastered.
It begins with having all of the elements in place before lighting
can begin. Once all is ready, the lighting team begins to add
the lights to the shot. The lights that are added are fill light,
bounce light and core light. With all of those in place, the lighter
can then adjust to light to their proper hue, tone, and intensity
to fit the shots art direction. After a few iterations to the
shot the lighter would then show the shot to the director for
For the effects side they can either start from motion files or
with lighting. The process for effects is similar to lighting
except Effects needs to wait till lighting is completed to put
the final touches on the effects.
The Matte Painting team actually helps get the shot ready with
temporary mattes with the proper look and color which is given
by the directors key art work. Once the lighting is at 50% to
75% the matte painter then puts the final touch on the matte painting
for the shot.
If I had to
sum up the process in one word it would be magnificent.
and Donkey head to Farquaad's kingdom
What considerations must go into each duty to create the visual
wonder of the final print?
You have to understand the story and what you want the audience
to see as well as feel, taste and hear. The process to get those
final visual elements into place for the final print is not easy.
It all starts with the story. If you have a great story, which
Shrek does, you can only imagine what can happen from there.
When most people think of an animated movie, they think of "animators"
and "artists". Yet there is a whole different world
that manages the process. What are some of the things that go
on behind the scenes of an animated movie like Shrek that
outsiders generally don't know about?
starts with getting the best talent available. PDI has some of
the most talented and motivated animators in the business today.
There is a tremendous amount of pride that goes into creating
and designing of a 3D movie.
a lot of meetings that occur throughout the day. Most think that
making a 3D movie if fun and glamorous. Most don't know the time
that these animators put in a day. The average
time spent at work in a day is 10-12 hours. That is an extremely
hard schedule, but only those with the desire can pull it off.
in order to make Shrek happen was an amazing accomplishment.
The process starts with story pitch which leads into the art department
creating visual storyboards to represent what the story is telling
visually. Then Modeling takes the designs and begins to build
the environments and characters which appear in the sequence.
From there, the Layout Group takes the models and begins placing
them into the shot. Then Rough Layout takes the set designs and
begins to layout what the shot is to look like. From there you
take it to Final Layout and then prep for Motion. After Motion
has put in a few rough passes on either the characters of the
environment it is then sent to Lighting and Matte Painting.
Once the Lighting and Matte Painting has had a chance to review
the look and feel of the sequence with the directors and producers
they then proceeded to bring all the elements together from all
of the departments. During the Lighting phase, FX is also working
on a rough version of FX's for the shot. Once Lighting and Matte
Painting have completed their processes then FX come in and complete
the FX's which are required for the shot. The process then goes
to the Paint Department which then checks for frames which need
to be cleaned up for film.
we had around 40 Lighters, 25 FX Animators, and 4 Matte Painters
who created an amazing visual story. With these 3 groups, which
are a just a small portion of the movie's creative talent, bringing
those elements together was fairly complex.
Chris Farley was originally scheduled to voice Shrek but didn't
complete his voice track before his death resulting in Mike Myers
coming on board. Then Mike Myers appeared to surprise everyone
by deciding later that he wanted to change the voice of Shrek.
How do the departments handle sudden changes like these and what
other surprises were there during the production?
The untimely death of Chris Farley definitely set the project
back for a while. I think that Mike Myers coming onboard to play
Shrek was great for PDI/DreamWorks. The roll of Shrek was one
that the audience needed to love. Mike fit that mold because of
his ability to make the audience feel his emotions and excitement
throughout the movie.
change [Mike Myers changing the voice of Shrek] affected PDI for
only a few sequences. I think it was early enough that it didn't
disrupt production too bad. If it was later in the process, then
there may have been some ADR work needed.
ADR is a process in which the actor will try to match his voice
to the animation which is already created. For Shrek we
had to have a few ADR'S because the actors voice may have not
been consistent through out a sequence. So the actors would have
to go back to the animation reel and try to match their voice
to the old animation. Sometimes this is a very successful process
and sometimes it's not. In the case that the ADR doesn't work,
the facial animation team would have to go in and adjust the character
mouth and facial features to fit the actors voice and emotions.
What is the buzz amongst those you worked with on Shrek
now that it has done so well at the box office?
For the most part people are pleased with the results. We all
knew that this was a movie that would revolutionize the making
of quality 3D animations. I think that PDI/DreamWorks has set
a new industry standard with Shrek.
Most people are aware that DreamWorks now owns PDI. How does
the relationship between PDI and DreamWorks work?
relationship between the two companies, in my opinion, works extremely
well. PDI handles the majority of the 3D animated movies, while
DreamWorks handles most of the live action movies. PDI also has
a commercial division [TV commercials], which has highly talented
individuals with unbelievable skill sets.
I understand that before Shrek, you worked on ANTZ
as a "liaison producer" between PDI/DreamWorks and Viewpoint
Datalabs. What exactly is a "liaison producer" and what
was Viewpoint Datalabs role in ANTZ?
I worked for 2.5 years, until the end of the project, as the liaison
producer between PDI/DreamWorks and Viewpoint Datalabs [for ANTZ].
I was in charge of all of the modeling of the movie from the Viewpoint
side. I worked directly with PDI's producers and production managers
in order to get the final model to them. Viewpoint built about
85% of the 3D Models for PDI.
dFX: Was the process of creating Shrek much different
than creating ANTZ? In what ways did PDI grow between the
I think there was tremendous growth for PDI between ANTZ
and Shrek. Creating its first animated feature was a big
adventure for PDI. I think Shrek benefited from the mistakes
that occurred during ANTZ. Still, Shrek was challenging
in a whole new way.
The main challenging part was trying the make Fiona's mannerisms
look real on the big screen. I think that PDI was able to accomplish
that extremely well. Also, making Fiona fit into her shot was
not easy for the lighting department. Fiona required a little
extra time and effort to make her feel like she fits into the
shots extreme lighting conditions.
Another element was to make each shot come alive. They were able
to have everything in each shot with some kind of movement. Most
animated films only show the primary elements in some form of
motion. With Shrek the first time you see it you are amazed,
but there is so much more to see in the movie it's extremely hard
to catch it the first time around. I have seen the movie 4 times
already and I am still seeing things in the move that I either
forgot was there or just didn't know it was done.
The Shrek.com Website is very interactive and does a good job
of recreating the movie environment online. How did you become
a part of the Shrek.com Website team and who are some of the others
that were involved with it?
I became a part of the Shrek.com team once I departed from PDI/DreamWorks
in April 2001 as the production supervisor for lighting and effects
and joined Candesa.
Candesa proposed to PDI/DreamWorks to allow Candesa to redesign
a seamless Website, which incorporated preexisting elements into
the new design for Shrek.com. I think by all of the press Candesa
had received from Shrek.com that it's plain to see that people
truly enjoy the work we did. The site has attracted around 40
- 50% more traffic since the new site was launched.
in creating the new design for Shrek.com were:
Technical Director Multimedia
How did Candesa and PDI/DreamWorks team up for Shrek?
I made the connection because of my experience working at PDI/DreamWorks
I had discussions with Aron Warner, head of PDI, about Candesa
providing additional service to beef up their existing Shrek.com
Website. Through a few approvals Candesa was able tackle the Shrek.com
redesign. Candesa completed the redesign within three weeks.
What elements went into building the Shrek.com Website and how
do you get such a strong level of interactivity where simply moving
your cursor onto a moving bug creates a new action?
One of our first goals was to try and capture the energy and irreverence
of the movie. Using Flash, and some early footage of the film,
we tried to find ways to let people experience Shrek's world.
Shrek's home seemed like a natural choice and gave us a chance
to use elements like the bugs and the fireflies from the movie.
The biggest challenge was keeping the size reasonable; so--for
example--the noises in the swamp are built from several small
clips that are randomized, which lets it download quickly but
keeps in from being repetitive.
A few small touches, like the fireflies that partially follow
your cursor, and the random paths the bugs take help give it a
I noticed there are animated segments of the Shrek.com site like
"Meet the Characters." Who created these segments and
was additional voice acting provided specifically for these or
are they phrases from the film incorporated for this use?
Nothing was made specifically for the Website. We had access to
models, and some of the voice work from early scenes. These were
stitched together to make something that seemed original.
I noticed in the "Meet the Characters" section that
the characters have a good 3D look to them. How was this achieved
on the Web?
We were really lucky to have access to several of the models from
the movie, which we could work with. Originally, some of the work
was done with Pulse, but eventually we pulled everything into
from Shrek.com's Shrek Painter Program
Are there any hidden "Easter Eggs" on the Shrek.com
site and if so, can you clue us in to one or two?
If you don't move you cursor on the homepage for a while, a pixie
will come and chase you around the screen. If she catches you,
she curses your cursor -- kind of fitting we thought. The soundtrack
page also let you change skins. Other than that, it is fairly
understand that the Candesa Website team has a unique name for
themselves - Candesa's Knights. How did that come about and what
adventures is the team now conquering?
we generally have to work all night? Working on something like
Shrek, it is inevitable that some of the silliness would
wear off. Our team has contains a fantasy writer, comic book fans,
a drummer in a rock band, despite deadline pressures and technical
challenges we try to keep things fun. One of our writes coined
the phrase Candesa Knights, and it seems to fit well.
Well, we are making progress in our attempts to eliminate PowerPoint
presentations from the corporate culture, with the completion
of two training pieces for SHRS and Modus Media. We've also had
a chance to work on some games, including one at www.candesa.com/candeatha,
where you can have fun blowing up our entire company.
Before your company gets blown up, what words of wisdom do you
have to those aspiring to break into the animation industry?
should always be working on your portfolio. Never let anyone tell
you that your work is not good enough. I would encourage all of
those who are looking to break into the business that that they
to have an open mind and a great sense of humor.
if you are ready to spend 10-12 hours a day at the computer. Also,
be prepared to have others daily critique your work. It takes
a special kind of individual to be an animator in this industry.
Always look to improve your ability, your craft and especially
for your time, Steve. I know our Digital Media FX readers greatly
appreciate the insight you have shared.
(c)copyright 2001 Joe Tracy / Digital Media FX.
All Shrek movie images (c) DreamWorks.
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