Episode 349 – Blur Studio – Head of Character Effects Kemer Stevenson

 

Episode 349 – Blur Studio – Head of Character Effects Kemer Stevenson 

Kemer Stevenson is the Character Effects Supervisor at Blur Studio in Los Angeles, California. With more than 15 years of experience in feature film, marketing and communications, he has previously worked for DreamWorks Animation, Rhythm & Hues, Republic Studios. His credits include: Trolls, Penguins of Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon franchise; Monsters vs. Aliens, The Incredible Hulk.

In this Podcast, Allan and Kemer talk about the importance of learning, the humility of not knowing; the outcomes of COVID-19, working remotely and the upcoming technology.

Kemer Stevenson on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kemer

Kemer Stevenson on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2177719/

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

[03:08] Kemer Stevenson Talks About Starting Out 

[11:08] Learning and the Humility of Not Knowing

[13:46] Kemer Starting Out at Rhythm & Hues

[24:18] Working Remotely

[38:11] Future Technology

[42:05] Kemer Discusses the Character Effects Workflow

[43:54] Kemer Gives Advice on How to Get Started

 

EPISODE 349 – BLUR STUDIO – HEAD OF CHARACTER EFFECTS KEMER STEVENSON

Hi, everyone! 

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 349! I’m sitting down with Kemer Stevenson, the Head of Character Effects at Blur Studio. We talk about Blur and their Character Department. We talk about some interpersonal skills and the humility of not knowing. I really love this Episode! 

We’re almost at 350 Episodes. Please take a second to share this Episode with others. That’d be a great way to show your support for the Podcast.

Let’s dive in! 

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[01:22]  Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[51:49] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!

 

INTERVIEW WITH KEMER STEVENSON

[03:08] Allan: Thanks, Kemer! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Kemer: Yeah. So I’m Kemer Stevenson, and I’m the Head of Character Effects at Blur. And we’re responsible for all the hair and clothing simulation of digital characters on everything from games to episodic and animation. We do some visual effects work, and a lot more of that. But I think that might be a little bit misleading. My view on character effects is I want to touch everything we want to do as much as we can. So we actually see a lot more than just characters’ clothing and stuff. Anything that has a fabric-like [texture] or soft geometry: sails, ropes, chains, tubes and plants, sometimes that’s character effects in a bubble.

[03:55] Allan: I love it! That’s so cool. Did you always expect to be in some kind of creative role growing up, or was it something you kind of fell into later on?

Kemer: It definitely started at a super young age. I was a super computer nerd growing up. I taught myself how to start programming computers when I was 8 -9. One of the first things I did was write a program to help my uncle track his horse bets at the race track. For me, it’s creative problem solving with anything else. So I always had that itch. And I remember my dad taking me to see The Matrix when that first came out. I was 15. I remember my mom yelling at him because I was too young to see violent films. To this day, I can still tell you exactly how I felt when I walked out of that theater: It was this moment where I was like, “I want to make these movies!” It wasn’t about being in them or whatever. I want to be behind the scenes. And that was the eye opening moment for me.

[05:19] Allan: Did you see the new one?

Kemer: It was okay. Sort of like it was kind of nice to see something – but it doesn’t do the original justice, of course.

[05:51] Allan: Yeah. I’m trying not to talk about it. But the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that I think there’s a lot more going on under the hood than meets the eye. I think Lana Wachowski purposely trolled her own film on purpose, to kind of keep the trilogy as it is. It is actually really intelligent. All the stuff that they’re doing to kind of say, this is what you wanted – and now you’re going to regret getting it.

Kemer: I had a bit of the same feeling myself. Indeed, indeed.

[06:31] Allan: I’d love to talk a little bit about your early career. I noticed you’ve done some stuff with Harvard and you’re in New York. You’ve had a lot of diversity. Do you want to elaborate on that?

Kemer: Yeah, man. So basically I mentioned The Matrix being this big driving force. At that point, I just started pouring myself into learning things. I had a super nontraditional education growing up. I actually have never been to a public school. I was homeschooled my entire life. [I was] very sort of self-driven, self-motivated, that kind of stuff. Like I didn’t have somebody yelling at me to turn things in on time. But also I never had any kind of ambitions or drive, or excitement about the traditional path of College. So I never went to College either. I did end up finding a kind of trade school sort of program at the New York Film Academy. It’s been around for a little while now, and now I think they have an accredited program. But at the time I went, it was very thrown together. And it was the kind of thing where you just like, you go in and you get out of it what you want to get out of it, right? So for me, it worked out because I was used to that sort of extra work on my own and just being very self-motivated. So it was great! It was cool. 

Everybody else who was in this program, everybody wanted to be an animator or they wanted to be a modeler. So for me, honestly, I had the instructor there who pushed me into rigging. [He said,] “You should focus on this. I can see that you’ve got this technical skill set.” But it was great because it allowed me to work with everybody else. Like, the modelers wanted their models to move, their animators wanted to move models. And so I was in the middle of it, and I just was like, best friends with everybody. 

The real blessing there was that I ended up being able to generate a pretty large amount of student work,, something to put on my demo. The guy who ran the program there sort of saw my aptitude and my drive. He was like, “Hey, I’ve got this friend who teaches this course over at Harvard, but he’s busy this summer.” It was a summer course, so it was only like, two months or something like that. They needed me to fill in as an instructor. He asked me to do it. I didn’t want to do it. I was 19 at the time. And he just really pushed me to do it. And honestly, I ended up committing to it under a sort of condition: “I need you to kind of mentor me and coach me. Like, how do I go about this?” And he kind of gave me some really great advice early on. He told me I wasn’t going to know the answer to everything. Like, you’re going to get asked questions that you don’t know the answer to, but that’s when you just start asking questions back. It was such a good foundational skill to have early on. I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I always want to be around smarter people than me, and I want to be learning all the time. And so when you’re humble enough to be able to say, like, I don’t know the best way to do this, I think it opens up a lot of opportunities overall.

[11:08] Allan: I think it’s one of those things that some people are going to wrestle with a little bit is being willing to say, I don’t have the answer. But also, I think it’s so valuable to actually teach people how to find the information versus relying on someone to hand feed that information. 

Kemer: Like I said, [11:27] I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I also don’t want to be the dumbest of course. But you need to go in prepared and you need to go in ready to tackle challenges for sure. But I think there’s some real value to surrounding yourself with some intelligent people and that just takes you to the next level.

[11:46] Allan: Just to touch on being homeschooled. How did you get into programming doing that? Was it YouTube?

Kemer: I just literally found this old Epson CPM machine up in my parents’ attic that my dad had bought for my mom to write a novel, and she never did. And so it just sat up there and collected dust; and I wandered around, found it, figured out how to boot it up, and it just clicked. I just wanted to know everything. So I read all the instruction manuals. But I was a super nerdy kid, man. I used to dumpster dive through the Radio Shack dumpsters to find manuals they threw away, and just read that cover to cover. Not your traditional kid at all. But I just immersed myself in it.

[12:41] Allan: What was the social aspect like being home schooled? Do you feel like you missed out a lot not getting to be around people?

Kemer: The fear is that someone who’s homeschooled is going to somehow be socially inept and unable to socialize. No, my parents were really good about that. So they wanted to keep me and my sister home to educate us themselves. But the big thing was they wanted to make sure we were socialized, so they put us in a ton of programs. So we’re in sports, we’re in lots of church activities. Basically anything they could find in the local community to put us around other kids. They sent me to a science camp in the summer.

[13:46] Allan: That’s so cool! Just talking about initially getting into visual effects. How did you get your big break? And also how does that translate into going to Rhythm & Hues?

Kemer: The nice thing was coming fresh out of this program and then having taught a little bit, it sort of gave me that first little mark on my resume where I’ve done something. It wasn’t a lot, but I also had a lot of the stuff on my reel as well, which is good. It wasn’t great, but it did something right. I moved out here to LA in late 2004. I think 2005 is when I started working. I came out without a job and had very little money saved up, but enough that I thought that I could live for 3 months. Although once I got out here, you realize how expensive everything is. I started aggressively sending out reels. I think I probably sent out close to 100 reels, and they weren’t all in LA. I ended up hearing back from 2 places: Sony and Rhythm. Sony offered me a position as a render wrangler, and they sort of pitched it as, “This is your foot in the door, and then you stick around long enough, you can potentially work in other places.” And Rhythm & Hues said, “We have this position for you in call tech anime”. Every company calls it something different, right? Some places call it character effects. Some places call it creature TD’s. It varies everywhere. They offered me a spot there, and I remember having that conversation with them early on. I had a rigging background. I remember seeing Monsters, Inc. and just loving that! So they offered me this, and I was completely stoked on it. But at the same time, the conversation I had with the recruiter was like, I don’t know how to do this legitimately. And they were like, “It’s okay. We’ll train you. You’ll be fine. You have the technical background, you fit the bill. You’ve done some basic things. We think you’ll be okay.”

I’m also a big proponent of jump first, and the landing will appear. If you believe in yourself, you’ll find a way to work things out. I ended up loving it. It was a great experience, honestly. I hear all these stories about people who come out of school and they get these sort of not ideal jobs, and they kind of have to cut their teeth when they first start. And I basically ended up getting incredibly lucky and having a wonderful experience from the get-go. Rhythm back in the day, like a lot of visual effects companies, worked underneath the rubber band effect. They grow and shrink as they need to. So you’re booked for 3 months, which is fine. But coming fresh out of school, having loans to pay and stuff, I’m a little worried about the next thing. And I definitely saw the people who started with me not get contracts renewed. But because I had that rigging background, I was able to bounce around between the two departments and stay employed the entire time I was there. I was there for 3 years. And so it’s nice. I kind of developed a relationship with both. It’s a fantastic experience, really!

[18:26] Allan: I love that. And you’re right, having dual skill sets means that whenever there is any shortage means you can pivot and ping-pong back and forth. Because getting new people on, training them is an expensive process.

Kemer: That’s a big thing. That’s my philosophy in running our Character Effects Department here at Blur. Right now, we want to stabilize everything, and for the same reasons: It’s hard to train new people, for sure. I’m a huge proponent of cross training and learning other things. Even if you’re not working in the other Department, it’s great to have an understanding of how effects load assets in and things like that. Maybe there’s some crossover there. Or, it’s great to get some training from rigging on how they build all these accessory pouches and things that maybe we can actually incorporate into our own rig. So there’s so much that I think we can learn from just being open to learning what other departments do and the way that other people work, that it’s an asset. It really is!

[19:41] Allan: That’s super cool. And I’m always fascinated when it comes to initially applying for work. I imagine a lot of people do get deterred by rejections or not even hear anything back. And I do think in the beginning, you kind of do need to play a long game and wait it out during those kinds of dark times. What was that like for you? Were there any moments where you had that demon eating at you, “Am I going to make it? Will people hire me?”

Kemer: Let’s be clear about it. Imposter syndrome is a thing that we all deal with. I deal with it now, today. Like, it happens. I don’t know if that was the big theme. I remember just being worried about the fact that my student loans were going to start kicking in, and I was going to have to start making payments on those. And I needed an income. And it was one of those sink-or-swim situations. I needed to figure out a way. My parents weren’t supporting me by this point. I was completely self-sufficient. So there’s a saying, “You want to take the island, then you burn the boat.”

[21:02] Allan: I was going to say it’s kind of good moving to LA for the reason of burning the ships, storming the shores. It’s about putting yourself into a situation where you’re forced to sink or swim. It’s going to force you to really make it worthwhile versus like, “I’ll see how it goes.”

Kemer: Yeah, 100%, absolutely.

[21:24] Allan: During your time at R&H, were there any experiences that really stood out or lessons you learned early on working there with everyone?

Kemer: For me, it was sort of learning how to be flexible again, like moving between departments. It was so young in my career, though. Yes, it set a foundation there, but I don’t know. You know what I takeaway now, years later, is that there are so many times young artists are afraid to ask questions because you don’t want to look stupid. You don’t want to be the dumb one to ask something that everybody else knows. And it’s funny with my team now, I always encourage people ask the dumb question. I don’t want anybody to suffer in silence. Let’s get it out there in the open! Let’s all work on this together because either somebody else is dealing with this or there’s no reason for you to be worried and have this fear of judgment. You have to build a space for people where they feel like they can be open about that kind of stuff. So, yeah, looking back, I would say I probably was a little timid at first because I didn’t want to look stupid.

[22:52] Allan: Yeah. Even just in the past week or so for me, I’ve been bringing on new hires and trying to build a bit of a buddy system. That way they’ve got someone that can always go to for information. And even with our senior stuff, it’s a chance to actually be able to bounce ideas off of each other. Like, “Hey, I’m working on this and I’m banging my head against the wall.” It doesn’t matter how far down the line you are. You want to surround yourself with better people.

Kemer: It takes a lot of extra effort to create that space, right? Like, we’re not all sitting in a room with each other. And so it’s not quite as easy to hear your neighbor yelling obscenities because something’s not working, and then reaching out to them and helping them. You actually now have to make sure you check in with people. You have to go out of your way to set up Zoom calls with people and make sure you’re making that time and effort. I think that is super important as we sort of move into this new world of our workforce.

[24:18] Allan: Just to touch on that right now, are there many people working at Blur at the moment, or is everyone 100% remote?

Kemer: We’re mixed.. Blur hasn’t taken an official stance. I know there are some companies that have come out and said “We’re going to support work from home indefinitely”. They haven’t really taken an official stance from what I’ve seen. They don’t want to put anybody back in the office at risk or anything like that. There’s a space there for people who are cramped up at home, or they’ve got kids running around and they don’t have a great working environment at home. So there’s a space there if people need to. But I’m not totally sure exactly where they’re going to go in the future. I haven’t seen anything that signals that they’re rushing to push people back there, or at least the entire workforce. What I can tell you is that the blessing that’s come from all of this – is that it’s opened up our talent pool so we have access to artists that we didn’t have access to before. And Blur is a bit smaller, and we’re working on projects that have a shorter runtime than working on a Marvel film or a DreamWorks film or anything like that. So that makes it a little bit harder sometimes to attract talent that is more senior and living in LA, too. It’s expensive to live out here. You don’t want to take a contract that’s 2 months long when you’ve got a mortgage to pay.

[26:08] Allan: Blur seems to definitely attract a lot of people from Germany and France, which seems to have massive talent pools.

Kemer: We’ve got people  from Canada. We’ve got people from all over, like you said: Germany, France, Europe. So it’s opened up our talent pool, and it’s allowed us to be a lot more flexible than we’ve been before, too. I think I’d be surprised if that business model changed.

[26:47] Allan: How do you feel? Have you found it easier to work remotely? Does it give you more focus time?

Kemer: For me personally, yes! Absolutely! Being the Character Effects Head, I’m in a lot of meetings, so I’m basically overseeing every show that comes in through the door. I’m not assigned to one specific show as opposed to like a show supervisor. I’m making sure every single show is going well, as well as making technology and development decisions, doing a lot of prep work, planning, bidding, scheduling, all that stuff. So the sheer number of meetings that I’m sitting in every single day! The nice thing with Zoom is that it can be up and I can multitask doing something in the background. For me, that’s a godsend. If I was pulled away from my computer and had to go sit in a meeting room where I don’t necessarily participate, I’m basically like making a fishbowl. So for me, that’s great! I missed a little bit of the social aspect. I think there’s something to that for sure! So we’re working on it. We’re trying to do some more in-person events and things, but it’s been hard with the recent sort of surge that’s happened. So I do see it as beneficial. But with that said, I’m not discounting the benefit of in-person work either.

[28:16] Allan: Yeah. It’s a mixed bag. I definitely like being around people. But at the same time, working remotely sometimes allows you to get a lot more done. So the way you’re working, do you typically just have a Zoom room open all the time and you’re just kind of sitting in there? Is that how you’re doing it right now?

Kemer: No, but we have done that. So one of the things I’m particularly proud of our Department is we’ve done a really good job of ramping up new artists, particularly junior artists. So you hear a lot about how this work from home thing, it’s fine or good for senior artists, but the junior artists tend to suffer. We’ve kind of stabilized things. So we kind of have a core group of people, and they’ve been there for a while; and we haven’t had to go through the rubber band effect for a little while, which is great. But when that has happened, we’ve done a really good job of documenting everything. We did the open Zoom rooms. We do a mentor buddy system, both the supervisors, the leads, and the production coordinators check in with those junior artists at a much higher frequency than usual. And then also I go out of my way to make sure that I’m introducing those junior artists to various different training materials that are outside of Blur. And so I think that sort of constant attention has really helped them to, 1. feel more involved, and then 2. it’s about creating a space where they feel like they can ask questions. That they are not dumb for not knowing things. I think that’s really key to bringing those junior artists up to speed.

[30:13] Allan: Yeah. I think it has a massive impact because I feel like your first couple of years as a junior is where you’re really going to learn so much! Getting robbed of that experience by having a bit of a disconnect with communication, especially at some studios, is difficult. It’s great that you guys are embracing that!

Kemer: Like I said, it takes more time on the management side, for sure. But the goal is to invest in people in a way that I see some potential in them. And it’s my hope that we can find a space for them or that they’ll come back later and end up adding value to us overall. That, to me, is key.

[31:06] Allan: And just to talk about doing character effects, as you mentioned before, that can mean a lot of things, but usually cloth, hair, fur, stuff like that. I’d love to talk a lot about the tech side and some of the pipelines and emphasizing character over everything else. At Blur, it’s definitely the star of the show. Do you want to elaborate on what typically are the types of stuff you do and maybe some examples in terms of shows that maybe stood out one or the other?

Kemer: In the past, the character effects team has been responsible for strictly clothing and hair. We work with these clients that typically have tight budgets and things like that. They always talk about [achieving] as much as we can within the budgets and under the time constraints. Blur works at light speed. Man, the sheer number of projects that go through there – is insane to me! It’s such a high level of work, it’s stunning! But we’re always trying to do more with less. So Character Effects is one of those departments. It can be a budget cutter. Sometimes it’s easy to shave a character’s hair. If it doesn’t need to move, we’ll give you a buzz cut, shave some dollars off. It happens a lot. So we’ve been really focusing on improving just inside Character Effects. How can we improve our Character Effects pipeline so that we can absorb more and absorb changes faster? We switched over to an all Maya pipeline now, which is great.

We are starting to move into Houdini as well for hair simulation, which is cool. My philosophy about character effects is that I want it to be a “Do Everything” Department. I want to touch as many things as possible. So I want to do more than just the characters’ clothing. And on top of that, if there’s extra little things on the character that we can simulate: Let’s say they have a set of keys tied to their belt – I want to simulate the keys. Yes, those keys are technically rigid body objects, but Character Effects can do that. We have the simulation skills and we understand physics properties to be able to pull that off in a realistic way. So we’re doing more of those little extra tidbits for sure. But we started taking on bigger assets, too: tubes and chains and ropes, basically all these auxiliary things that traditionally effects were known to absorb.

[34:26] Allan: That’s great! Mark Theriault who used to work in effects at Blur 100,000 years ago, he was at Image Engine. They were doing Chappie, which Chris Harvey was the Effect Sup for. And I like this just as an elegant story. Chappie had a lot of gold chains that needed to be simulated for all these different shots. Mark, or one of his teammates, did this: If every character starts in a T-pose and then slowly over 200 frames moves into position, that’s when you know the chains. You can simulate them for 300-400 shots (landing, settling, and then moving into position) and then running the simulation. But that’s something I’ve done a lot personally, but I’ve always found it works really well. Maybe 300 shots look pretty good. And with V2 or V3, you can get a final. Have there been any big wins in the area?

Kemer: Yeah, for sure. I mean, you just mentioned pre roll and T-pose transitions, those can eat up time for sure. So we’ve solved that. That’s now a completely automated process. We are independent of animation. Now, just when we install a shot, we get that for free. So that’s a huge win for us and that’s a huge time saver. And honestly, it makes Animation happy because they don’t have to worry about it anymore. So everybody wins there. But my general philosophy is [to] try and find ways to balance the automation. I don’t want to automate every single thing because I think that just takes away from the artistry of it. I still want artists to work on those hero shots and add their own personal touch to it too. But nobody wants to be simming characters walking in the background. We’ve got the ability to copy our simulations from one location to another so we can fake crowd cloth sims as well for characters that are just not quite a crowd. And it’s those little pluses that are where we really stepped up our game in Character Effects over the last couple of years. And we’re simming more and more stuff because we have the extra bandwidth to automate a lot of stuff. And I think it just adds to that level of quality and gives a lot of value to the final look of everything. Even if you don’t always see it on camera, you’ll feel it. It kind of adds to that final image, and it just feels correct. And I think that it’s a huge thing.

[38:11] Allan: That’s great! Is there any specific technology that has either been implemented into how you guys work, or things that you’re excited about? 

Kemer: Yeah. The big thing we’re pushing is Houdini. That’s the big one! That gives us potentially a lot of ability to share development efforts with the effects department; a lot of crossover developments and things like that. We’ve got limited development resources at Blur, so we’re not quite where I want us to be in that area, but we’re doing it. So that’s a big one! The other thing everybody’s talking about now is what’s going to happen with any kind of realtime with Unreal Engine. I don’t know where that’s going yet. I don’t know how that affects character effects simulation just yet. It doesn’t seem like it’s quite there from what I know, or at least not in a big way. But that also kind of goes back to my general philosophy in the way that we work, where I’d much rather be spending more time doing the setup than simulation. 

Everything else ends up being much more streamlined later on. And if you end up going down the Unreal route, it seems like it’s more time in the setup and less time in the shot. But it’s still a little fuzzy to me. I’m super curious about it! Absolutely! The two big areas that are kind of being explored right now (and this has nothing to do with Blur because we were just not there yet) [is] the idea of feeding  machine-learned wrinkles into clothing garments. It just feels like you could give a bunch of 2D patterns to a deep learning AI and come out with it being able to drive a lot of goal shapes, for example. But at Blur, we’re not actually doing any of that R&D currently.

[41:00] Allan: Yeah, I’m always curious about that. You’re not going to be doing realtime cloth simulation just because it kind of defeats the purpose of simulation. Usually you guys are simulating in layers. You’re not hitting a button. Or maybe you are.

Kemer: Oh, man. We are fully multi-layered sims. You’d be surprised at the number of layers that we’re assuming like a project that we’re working on right now. We’ve got some stuff that probably has 20 different layers or more, so it’s become quite complex.

[32:05] Allan: If you’re doing all the garments together, what do you typically do when you’re running into issues where certain things are not reacting the way you need? Do you typically do some things as a double or triple process?

Kemer: The way that we construct our rigs right now is that everything is combined into a single simulation underneath a single solver. And your typical character has 3-4 objects: pants, shirt, maybe a tie or a jacket, something like that. Those all run simultaneously at the same time. But you can run any single one completely individually. You can also have it set up so it’s a single button click. You can swap it out so that that object defaults back to animation and you run it as a Collider. So let’s say, like your undershirt is not getting good results and the animation looks fine for the performance, you turn that object to a Collider and everything collides against it, as opposed to simulating against it. So you don’t have to worry about that object. Or if you really need to, you turn everything off and you only worry about the object that you’re simming at the time. We have that ability too. So it’s kind of like the broad strokes to find strokes approach, right. You start where you do, you run it with everything. You see how it looks, and if that’s not working for you, you can kind of zoom in on the area that you want to and finesse it more.

[43:84] Allan: That’s so cool. And for anyone who’s interested in getting into more character effects, are there any resources or even advice you’d give on how to get started – and also how to stand out compared to everybody else?

Kemer: Number one advice that I always give everybody is to start breaking things down. You try a lot of things. It’s kind of hard to give, like a specific resource where to dive into. A lot of younger artists that I talk to right now are really pouring themselves into Houdini. And if you just go onto SideFX website, they have tons of great links to all their tutorials and resources there. Maya is a little bit all over the place. Autodesk has been around for so long. There’s a lot of different resources out there. I just started a Discord Channel not too long ago for character effects. Like, we’ve got a bunch of young artists in there talking about things, sharing reels, things like that. So if you just search for character effects on Discord, that will come up. That’s a good place! But it’s really just about trying stuff, surrounding yourself with people and not being afraid to ask questions, however silly you might think those are.

[45:30] Allan: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. No matter what skill set or no matter how many years experience, we don’t know everything. So we’re all learning as we go. Assuming you work crazy hours, I always love to hear how you do the work / life balance, as well as avoid burnout. Those topics, I think, are ones that people don’t usually talk about, but everyone has their own routine to kind of recharge and also just kind of avoid going into tunnel syndrome.

Kemer: Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things that’s being talked about more and more these days. I think it’s very topical, for sure. Number one, I think you need to surround yourself with people who support you. The big thing for me is that I find that people rarely get burnt out when they feel as though they’re getting the acknowledgement and appreciation that they are looking for, out of something. Like when you’re doing a task and you feel like you’re being overlooked or people aren’t acknowledging you for your hard work and things like that, it starts to feel like you’re just beating your head against the wall. And that’s when a lot of people start to burn out. So for me, it’s like just making sure that people get the acknowledgement that they deserve for the hard work that they’ve been doing. And that helps a lot. Honestly, from what I’ve seen, it’s a big one.

[47:25] Allan: That’s really cool. And I’m just curious, how big is your Character Effects team at Blur?

Kemer: We’ve kind of stabilized. We’re right around a dozen. Blur being a boutique, projects come projects go – and we do shrink and expand a bit. I think we’ve been as big as low 20s, and I think we’ve been as small as down to three or four artists at a time. (This was before my time.)

[48:00] Allan: I’m just guessing if you have twelve people, is Blur about 300 people right now?

Kemer: I’m actually not totally sure. I think we can’t be above 200 though. I want to say we’re in the lower 100s, but there’s a lot of appetite for character effects right now. The other thing is we’re starting to do a lot more crowd work, and we’re starting to do a lot more character count. We’re starting to do a lot more variations in characters. Projects come through and all of a sudden you might only see two characters on screen, but they’re changing costumes. We’ve got multiple hairstyles, so there’s an appetite for hair and cloth simulation right now, for sure.

[49:33] Allan: That’s great! I guess my last question would just be: What’s your favorite project while you’ve been at Blur? And why does it stand out over the others?

Kemer: My favorite project is actually not out yet. But the Love, Death + Robots franchise that we have has been a real joy to work on. And all of the projects in that series have been amazing and super fun to work on. But I think some of the coolest stuff that I’ve been a part of is coming out next.

[50:08] Allan: Super cool! Yeah, I’ve been wanting to bug Tim [Miller] because I think it’d be fun just to come and talk about that.

Kemer: Because it’s amazing, the level of quality that we achieved! And also, we’ve really been able to step it up and take things to the next level. Every project continues to get better and better, and honestly, it blows my mind. And so, again, the stuff that’s coming is just incredible. I can’t wait!

[50:43] Allan: I think it’s such an innovative series! It really gets to lean in on something that usually is kind of reserved for Pixar and Disney films. There’s a chance to actually do something where you’re leveraging the best talent in the world. So I love that.

Kemer: And even if you’re not super into it, if you happen to give it the time – it makes you think. It definitely challenges you to think for sure.

[51:16] Allan: That’s awesome, Kemer! It’s been really great to talk to you. Where can people go to find out more about you?

Kemer: Honestly, if you’re looking to get in touch with me, probably LinkedIn is the best place. Like I said, check out the Discord Channel for anybody who’s interested in character effects. Drop in and take a look around. We’re starting to use that more and more. That’d probably be a good spot, too.

[51:40] Allan: Yes, it’s been great, man. I appreciate you taking the time to chat. It’s been a lot of fun!

Kemer: Thank you for having me, man. It’s been a real pleasure! I really appreciate it.

 

Okay, what did you think? I want to thank Kemer for taking the time to chat. 

Next week, I’m sitting down with Mike Price who is a showrunner for F is for Family as well as The Simpsons. We get into a lot of cool stuff!

Until then –

Rock on!

 

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