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Tom Jantol

I was born a long time ago. A few decades later I graduated as a Film and Television director. After that I was spent my life waiting for a tool that would give me the luxury of avoiding work with living creatures, and let me become a one-man film making crew.

Then came a real-time animation software and my waiting days came to an end…

 

Q: Please tell us a bit about your background and your work. When did you start working on animation?

I finished my studies at the film academy (and graduated as a film and television director) in 1992. Back then I already had a firm idea of being a “one-man-band”, taking total control over the whole filmmaking process; with no other person being involved. After 10 years of doing everything and nothing – including painting and writing – I discovered a process that is efficient, reliable, fast and solitary enough to make films with – this was real-time animation.  Machinima, to be more precise. When I first saw what 3D games with modding tools could do, I was in author’s heaven.

First, there was the “Max Payne” game. With it I made a 6-minute-long movie within a couple weeks, I even won an award for it – and that was it. Later when discovering “Half Life 2”,  I was sure that I wouldn’t need any other tools any more, ever.

But then I found iClone. Ho ho.

Q: Do you remember how you discovered iClone and why you chose it?

Non-real time rendering has always been “too non-real time” – as they are too slow. For impatient control freaks like myself, the only way to go was to use game engines. But game engines – as beautiful as they are – don’t allow the author to claim ownership of their movie, so the copyright abyss forced me to look around for an alternative. Then I stumbled upon iClone 1, the first version. It was love at first sight.

When I met iClone 3, we started dating seriously and then, when iClone 4 came out, I knew I found the Right One.

iClone turned out to be a powerful, yet simple, and promising work companion. Along the way, it has grown and improved throughout the years alongside my animation skills. By now, we have become mature together, but… (no, thanks for not asking) we didn’t get old together. The secret of every successful relationship is that no matter how long the couple is together, the whole thing remains fresh and exciting till the end.

My relationship with iClone is in fact very serious;  as I eventually also got engaged with all the other clone relatives:  CrazyTalk, Character Creator, and the whole family.

Q: Besides iClone, what other software tools or pipelines do you use?

Strangely enough, the aforementioned game engines that I neglected for a long time due to copyright issues, eventually became free. Well, at least the most powerful ones. Having all that power is of course irresistible, so I use Unity and Unreal from time to time to do some background shots. In tend to use them for general “eye candy” purposes. Needless to say, those game engines can’t compete with iClone as far as lip-syncing and character animation goes.

Again, strangely enough – how not to love the age of real-time animation!? iClone has become so powerful that these days I barely need any other tools. (I mean, everything is possible with iClone 6, or the famous iClone 7 with those cute little GI and PBR letters, and its powerful companions – Character Creator and 3DXchange, of course.

For basic purposes I use 3ds Max, Photoshop, and After Effects. I often use some of these softwares for completely “wrong” purposes – for example, sometimes I use Photoshop as a quick modeling tool; After Effects to process photos, or Unity to re-texture some stuff.
In general, the most interesting thing for me is the possibility of using softwares beyond or even the opposite of their purpose. I could spend nights and days experimenting with all the ridiculous things that come to my mind.

Q: English rock band MUSE contacted you to create the animations for The Handler music video. Tell us how they found you, what it was like to work with such a world-famous rock group, and how much creative freedom did you have in this project?

Reallusion is to blame for my connection with Muse. Somewhere they had seen my old movie “Toybox” animation , which was made with an early version of CrazyTalk.

The band then asked me to make something similar as a video clip to one of their upcoming songs, where the center of the idea was a carousel with fairy tale characters on it, spinning around, under the control of a big, dark character – the “Handler”. It was a metaphor for the darker side of the entertainment industry.

The purpose of that video was to be projected on a big stage screen behind the band, on their 2015 World Tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it LIVE (only on YouTube), but it was quite impressive as I’ve been told by others.

As for the making of the video, I had full creative freedom. What I had to be careful with was the possible copyright issues of the characters emulating ones from famous cartoons.

I also made the official music video with the lyrics. It was basically the same video as the one I made for the concert, but – and this was the only creative difference me and the band had – one with additional footages of the band members, overlaid on top of the original clip.

All in all, it was a pleasure to work with their manager and the band. And, I must add, that there is no other software like iClone that could’ve handled the “Handler” with such efficiency and speed, on a really professional level.

Grammy Award-winning rock band chooses iClone Animator for music video

Q: You have been a recipient to many awards. In Italy 2011 you won “Special Acknowledgement” for your Wizard of OS: The Fish Incident, where members of the jury included Ridley Scott. Tell us a bit about this experience.

Two years later I got the same award in the I’ve Seen Films festival from the same jury, for the movie “Dear Fairy“. Needless to say, attending festivals is really beneficial; it is a great way to prove that the only thing that matters is actually the quality of the story itself, being told in motion pictures.

In these festivals nobody asked me about the software I had used; nobody was interested whether a movie was hand-made; whether it was made by real-time engines or no-time renderings. There were no questions about the making method of the movies or why they were made at all. People – including the jury – just enjoyed them (or not), as final products.

The most important thing for me is not to imitate big studio movies or real action movies. For that, the creators must have big studio and live action movie environments. Otherwise they are just cheap knock-offs in an animated environment.

As for the comparison: Machinima easily can stand the competition with any other kind of animation tools in the departments that really matter: creativity and originality. With “Wizard of OS: The Fish Incident” I was in competition with flawlessly made big budget animations that left the viewers cold and uninterested.

Despite my movie having its imperfections, and judging by the faces I saw in the audience, all they were caring about was what was going on with my hero in the story.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that my movie was better than those big budget movies; it more likely means that I really care about my hero and it showed. People could sense that they shared and implemented their emotions and, to simplify it, the award was mine.

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Q: What can the animation community expect from you in the future?

I have a couple of answers to answer that question;

According to the most-modest version, the animation community can expect a revolution; a brand new era of animation. A paradigm shift, no less.

And for the less-modest version, we can expect a bunch of my half-done experimental mistakes.

The realistic version is this: I am going to continue to make movies somewhere in between those above. I’m going to represent the amplitudes of unthinkable experiments and the most conservative classics. This is pretty much the description of my animation obsession; to merge the worlds of 2D and 3D; to experiment with new ways of storytelling; to try to create the traditional in a revolutionary way and vice versa.

And of course, to make movies that are more comprehensible than this very description. I am currently working on a series of 2-minute-long animated poems, on a 7-minute-long pilot for a potential series, and on one big, half-animated, half-documentary, and half-everything movie.

Both which I can’t talk about right now due to contract agreements.

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I am doing all that simultaneously. Can that amount of work cook one’s brain? Oh yes. Just read this interview.

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To see more of Tom’s work, visit >>

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TomJantol

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user193906

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