Inside CG

"Creating the Future" article by Meats Meier and Leonard Teo – article at Inside CG. "Meats Meier is an artist who has recently shot to stardom in the 3D community with the release of his short film – The future of: ART…." 


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thanks Leonard Teo







Creating the Future: Meats Meier
Meats Meier & Leonard Teo, 01 March 2001

Meats Meier is an artist who has recently shot to stardom in the 3D community with the release of his short film – The future of: ART. If you haven’t already seen this short, you can check it out at iFilm. Meats shares with us the making of this wonderful short film, the highs and lows, the challenges and the satisfaction of having a production seen by so many people around the world. – Leo

The Making of The future of: ART

The future of: ART is about an artist’s quest for a reason to use his new purchases, a new rtBot painting system.

The future of: ART is about an artist’s quest for a reason to use his new purchases, a new rtBot painting system. He is sitting at a desk trying desperately to come up with an idea. When inspiration strikes, he finds that there are many obstacles to overcome if he wants to use his top of the line technological tools. In the end, the robot seems to end up with all of the glory.

My main point of the short was: technology is an amazing thing, but at this point, it is unusable to all but the most experienced. I was envisioning a world where the programs always had a million features added to them, but never improved on the core functionality.

It also laughs at the fact that great programs aren’t going to make great art. I feel like a person needs to go through a little pain to create great art, and in my opinion, you can’t skip this step no matter what the technology is. Artists may not have to clean their oil brushes anymore, but now the chore is replaced with keeping up with the tech itself. Learning new upgrades, figuring out evolving interfaces and file formats may not be a creative persons dream, but once you master them, they become second nature and the creativity can flow.

I created The future of: ART as an online demo-reel and exposure generator as well as an entertaining short. I was telling the world, "This is The future of: ART. One guy sitting in his basement (literally: five foot ceilings) has the power to create and find an audience within the same box. The "programs are overcomplicated" theme allowed me to showcase my unusual animation style.

This short was carried out in a fairly unusual way. Since I had spent so much time visualizing the story in my head, I never got around to actually creating storyboards. I worked from a rough outline and prayed for inspiration when I worked on the individual scenes. I usually have a lot of success with creating on the spot, it comes a lot easier to me than trying to write words on paper. I’ve been using Alias/Wavefront‘s Maya Since version 1.0, and doing most things within this amazing program has become second nature to me after staring at it for so many years. Seeing it evolve in 3D, I might as well be a Greek god creating my own myth. Getting up every morning with a predefined work flow may be mandatory when working with a crew, but when it is a single person, with one vision, it is easier to be a little more loose with the scripts, not having to convince any one else to understand your dream. Another reason I took advantage of the chance to work this way was because I’m sure it will be some time until I have the chance to again, as employers have this funny thing about wanting to know what they are going to get before they pay you to do it (it will be great, I swear!).

Creating the Future: Meats Meier – cont’d
Meats Meier & Leonard Teo, 01 March 2001


I first set out to create my cast and build and light the sets. The machinery and robots had to be as complex as possible, while still allowing me to be able to animate them as close to real time as possible. I have worked hard over the years to become proficient at setting up characters to be as easily and effectively animated as possible. After I setup a character for animation I like to "get to know" the model by keyframing exaggerated movement. I treat it as a virtual marionette, animating every possible parameter to ensure that everything is working properly, and the geometry looks good in all positions. This becomes my virtual screen test. I do animation tests until I am happy with how it moves, and have found the characters personality. When I start the actual scenes, I’m never scared to completely redo a setup if a scene calls for it. The more automated you can make a character, the quicker your scenes will go.

Some early versions of the rtBot.

Some early versions of the rtBot.
Some early versions of the rtBot.

When all of the models were ready, I moved on to animating. I became my own task master, committing myself to a "scene a day" plan, animating all day, and (hopefully) being ready to hit the "render" button by the time my girlfriend walked in the door around 6:00. In the morning, I would watch the previous night’s clip loop until I could envision the day’s workflow. When I finalized a clip, I would take it into my video editing programs (Adobe After Effects and Premiere) and blend it into the movie so that I could see how well it flowed with the rest.

I found that the hardest part about making an 8 1/2 minute animation, is file management. Trying to stay in "create mode" while worrying about space constraints can be frustrating. This project consumed more than 60 MB in the first few months of animating. Keeping track of all the scene files and frames for the multiple composites was an ordeal for an unorganized individual with major short term memory issues. Make sure you have enough space and back up often. I went through two stressful weeks in the middle of the project after a crash and a bluescreen (how ironic – the "blue screen of death" appears in one of the scenes) left my system unbootable. I was forced to take a lot of time out of my schedule to get it running again, all the while worrying about how three months of work could have just vanished into thin air. I’m pleased to say that it was a lesson in the value of "covering your ass" learned, and not months of work lost.


A couple of completed rtBots.

A couple of completed rtBots.
A couple of completed rtBots.

I used two computers to produce this short: One as my main work machine and one to do nothing but compute my frames. Having a dedicated render machine saved me a lot of time. Each computer you have in your farm means either more shots rendered or better looking shots produced in the same amount of time.

After a six month blur, and the last frames were completed and composited, I stood back to see what I had done. I was happy with the film overall, and it’s a good thing, as most of my composite files had been long thrown away to save space. I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to.

Adding the soundtrack was a great learning experience for me. The sound technician that I had planned to do the sound effects and music fell through the last minute, so I had no choice but to learn a few sound editing programs and do my best to fake it. This turned out to be the weakest part of the film. Next time I would like to get somebody who knows what they are doing in charge of sound, but who knows, by that time, I could very well be the right candidate…again.

Various renders of the rtBot in development.

Various renders of the rtBot in development.

Various renders of the rtBot in development.
Various renders of the rtBot in development

I had used a song by my favorite band, "Floater" as a placeholder for the opening sequence, and after hearing it play with my animation a hundred times, I couldn’t imagine anything else replacing it. I made a quick tape of the animation with the song on it and sent it to their label, Elemental Records. The president of Elemental called me and told me that I could have the rights to use it, and that they really liked the animation. That was an early highpoint for me. Networking like this is great; animation and music go hand in hand.

I had a friend transfer it onto miniDv, and took it to a replication house. I had about 200 v.h.s. tapes made to send to festivals and such, but ended up giving most of them away to friends and family, who were a great source of support for me. All of the positive feedback I received from them gave me the courage to try and get it shown on iFilm, for all the world to see. It can be fairly intimidating to have your work on the net, as viewers can can post instant feedback, also for all the world to see. I learned to filter out the bad and learn from the constructive comments.

The web seems to be a great marketing tool more than a direct money maker, it can put people that are interested in seeing your work in direct touch with you, but I don’t really expect to make money from the Internet at this point. Although my film has been only been on the net for a short time, I feel that it has been successful for me, and was worth the risk. I have been put in contact with other artists that enjoy doing the same type of work that I do, and have made a lot of new friends and what could potentially turn out to be great contacts.

 The ill-fated artist in a final composite shot.
The ill-fated artist in a final composite shot.

It took a lot of work and dedication, but the rewards have made it worthwhile: I was fortunate enough to win best animation at the SlamDunk film festival in Park City – my first festival It was a treat to see it on a ten foot screen, and to hear real life clapping by unknown humans. I was also just accepted into the Yahoo! Internet life online film festival. It is going to be an exciting time for me. Another bonus: I’ve been employee of the month for the last eight months running! WOW what parking!

An Interview with Meats Meier

 The ill-fated artist in a final composite shot.Vital Statistics

Name: Meats Meier
What I Do: Freelance Artwork (3d & 2d)
Age: 29
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah U.S.A.
Eats: Fresh crab with lots of butter sauce, banana cream pie
Drinks: too much soda
Sleeps: as long as I want
Works: not enough, wish there was more hours in the day….
Plays: snowboarding, mountain biking, anything away from the computer
Watches: Angry Kid on Atom Films, Simpsonovies, Naked Gun, Fluid television
Listens to: Floater, Rob Zombie, Bauhaus, Sting, Sinead O’Conner,One Eye
Inspirations: Getting away from everything and being alone for a while.Utah’s mountains. H.R. Giger’s work.

P3DA: Hi Meats. Tell us about yourself. How did you end up doing 3D?

When my dad came home with a package of Deluxe Paint for our Amiga home computer, my world was forever changed. I spent hours on end drawing and animating with the 16 colors in the palette. Fast forward 15 years, and I am still in awe of how much power a computer can have in the right artistic hands. You can wake up in the morning with an idea, and by the end of the day it can be viewed by anyone in the world, seven days a week.

My interest’s have always leaned toward the artistic side, designing the classroom billboards in elementary, moving on to signature forging in junior high. In high school, I used pencils and filled the inside of my notebook with sketches to help the classes to go by quicker. After high school, I discovered the airbrush, and in a few years, had painted over 200 individual works, as well as a good deal of walls, cars, and anything else I could get my hands on…..

My first full time art job was as a T-shirt designer. I thought that I had reached the pinnacle and would have been happy to design shirts for the likes of "gecko Hawaii" for awhile if it weren’t for a phone call I received at work one day. The voice on the other end told me that he had seen my artwork around town, and that he was impressed with it. He said that he was starting a video game company, and asked if I would be interested in coming down and consider working for him.

I quit my job the next day.

I worked as the lead artist at Beyond Games for five years, it was a very exciting time for me. I was the only artist (and employee) for awhile, and I was expected to keep up with all aspects of the game industry. I devoured manuals and read how-to’s at lunch, immersing myself in any and all knowledge that I could. Kris Johnson, the president of Beyond, introduced me to 3d with Strata Studio Pro on the Macintosh. Even though it took all night to render one frame, it was easy to see how this was going to change everything. I ate, slept, and drank 3d for four years, all the while trying to perfect my talents so that I could one day create my own stories.

After working in a fast production environment for five years, I began to get a little burnt out. Meeting the daily deadlines and rigid workflow of an up and coming video game studio prompted me to wonder, "isn’t there a robot that can do this…..". Working in this fashion is great for packing in the knowledge, but, as I found, it can quickly turn your beloved art into an assembly line by- product.

The last game that I did (with a new company, Cobalt Interactive), was "Captain Crunch’s Crunchling Adventure". There was a huge amount of animation involved in this as there was three different characters that aged and changed 3 times and requiring new animation for each new level. I also was responsible for the full motion video that plays when you first put in the game. It was a lot of work, and our small crew finished it in under three months. This project was to be a pack in game included in every box of Captain Crunch for some time. When I found out that it was the most widely distributed game of 2000, at seven million, I realized that millions of people could have seen my artwork, but would never know who did it. I was no more ahead, as far as exposure, as I was when I started. I figured that if I wanted to get my name out there, I had to do something that was all mine.

In my spare time, I had been working on and off on a complex 3d model that I called the art-bot. The robot had the power to paint a masterpiece in any medium, with one arm holding a dual action airbrush and the other an auto feed paintbrush. It is piloted by two other, smaller robots, the one in back violently cranking the engine to give it power. While animating and improving this model, I slowly formed a universe for this character in my head. When I had the story worked out, I was ready.

I quit my job the next day.

P3DA: How’d you get started and what are you doing now?

I cut my teeth in the low-polygon models for real-time video games. I think this a great foundation for animators and modelers, as you have to break down movements and geometry into the simplest forms. Once you can create something cool with few polygons, then you appreciate every extra bit of detail that you can put into high quality pre-rendered images. Nowadays, I am exploring the next generation of 3d enabled web browser plug-ins, and am finding that my low-polygon skills are helping me to optimize models for the web.

P3DA: What was your inspiration behind The future of: ART? How did you come up with the idea, script, screenplay, etc.?

I lived the storyline for years, long load times, drawn out login processes,and endless upgrades and plug-ins. None of my system errors have been as painful as the ones in the film, thank God, but still could be considered an average day in my life.

P3DA: It seems like there was a heavy use of primary colors in The future of: ART. Was that a conscious decision? What was that about?

I seldom make my decisions consciously (hehe)… The primary colors are one of the many symbolic images and ideas that were added to my film. I guess the primary colors themselves are symbolic of art to me, ever since finger-painting in preschool. I used an all white background for the robot scenes because it gave me a "canvas" feel, a sense of the tool becoming the art itself. It wasn’t important what it produced, just that it looked neat.

P3DA: A production like The future of: ART must have had it’s fair share of highs and lows during production. What went right and what went wrong?

I can honestly say that I had mostly highs during the production, as I was just happy to finally be bringing my own idea’s to life. I had a blast. The only bad times that I had were from the various technical problems that would pop up, such as computer crashes, lost files, and upgrading to Maya 3.0 from 2.5 in the middle of the project. I could have done without that. I get really annoyed when I have an idea for something and I end up dealing with technical problems all day and my idea’s are soon lost…

 The rtBot in all gory detail!
The rtBot in all gory detail!

P3DA: When things went wrong, how did you keep yourself going? What drove you to see the project through from beginning to end?

I knew that once I quit my job, my funds would only last so long, so I felt like I was in a sinking boat and I had to swim hard to make it to shore, or I would drown. I was so excited about doing this project that it would have taken an act of God to make me want to quit before I was through.

P3DA: So what are your plans for the future? Will there be any more shorts?

Most of my time is spent in the search and execution of freelance projects so that I can….eat. Once I have another buffer of about three months, I will do my next project, The Future of: SEX. That’s right, sex. It will actually be quite PG rated, but am leveraging the power of the sexy title to get twice the amount of views. I’ve noticed that any movie that has a title with anything sexy gets all the attention on the Internet. I’m thinking about doing an animation called Boob fighter Naked killer, or something like that. It will be a guaranteed smash hit, you watch!

My current wonderment comes from matchmoving solutions like Maya live. I have been experimenting with adding 3d characters and elements into my films. This should prove to save a lot of time in the long run as I will not have to worry as much about modeling the background, but I’m sure it will bring up a whole new set of problems.

P3DA: An advice for beginners and budding animators who want to tackle a project like The future of: ART?

I think the best advice to give beginning 3d artists or animators would be: notice things.
It seems elementary, but just really studying something (like a soda can) can teach you a lot about modeling and shader creation. Study how things like lighting, atmosphere, and reflection affect objects. If you animate characters, watch them move. Read everything you can about it. Take classes. Meet people who use the programs that you are trying to learn. Get away from the computer as much as possible. Bells and whistles in 3d programs won’t help you to make great animation. I think of them as "holodecks". It is empty space with the ability to create anything you can think of and give it life. As long as your program can create nurbs or polyons and a keyframeable timeline, you can do most anything, perhaps not as easily as another program, but you can do it. Doing 3d is all about solving problems. I still run into problems each time I use the computer. I happen to enjoy working them out. I feel that each new thing that I can learn will just add to my "powers" as a creator. Remember that doing the animation is only half the battle. Now you have to use your creative powers in a new way – as a marketer for your films. But don’t worry, the very same box that you created your movie in can be used to market your film in ways never possible before the Internet. There are any number of sites that would love to show your films to the world for no charge to you.

 We'll leave you with a Limited Edition Chrome rtBot!
We’ll leave you with a Limited Edition Chrome rtBot!

Planet3DArt thanks Meats for taking the time out to talk about his project and share with us in this interview. We wish him the best of luck for the future and look forward to upcoming projects (wink)! In the meantime, check out his website.