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Typical Day

"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, cuh-cryin' all the time. You ain't never caught a rabbit..."

Clay has drawn more than a few Elvis portraits. (Source)

"Yeee-haw!" warbles Clay Mason, as he wakes to the tune of his favorite wake-up song. Elvis is his idol, his inspiration, and the reason he, a night owl by preference, can face getting up in the early morning for the job he loves: computer animation. So long as he can steadily drink coffee and listen to Elvis tunes in the background, Clay can face a long day of meetings and animation deadlines.

He arrives at work at 8:00AM, already three espressos deep and halfway through the King's greatest hits. He's beaming as he enters the building—the jolt of caffeine makes everything seem wonderful in a way-too-hyper sort of way.

"Hey, Claaay...mation." Clay's grinning co-workers, Karen and Bill, stroll over to his desk. Both of them love to conflate Clay with the clay models that he, from time to time, transforms into 3D emanations of their former inert selves. Clay doesn't mind. They're all married to their work and speak in their own computer-animator-language.

"Gollum, Gollum, what do you filthy hobbitzes want?" Clay loves the Lord of the Rings. The movies, that is—the guys talk about the Gollum animation effects like they're the stuff of legend. At the moment, though, Clay and his comrades need to focus on their own work, the progress of which will be presented in the animation dailies that start rolling in five minutes in the XX6 conference room.

As Clay walks into Room XX6, people are finding the best spots to view the projection screen. Clay takes a seat next to Bill, who's the production coordinator. Karen's the sequence supervisor for the set of shots Clay's been working on. Karen starts the sequence rolling, and the team gets an overview of the pieced-together work they've otherwise been doing individually.

The group is silent as they watch the entire sequence, looking for any missing details in consistency and storyline. Then comes the one-by-one exercise: Bill shows each team member's work individually to scope out any problems. None so far on Clay's shots—a huge relief. Error-free work means he'll be assigned new shots to start creating.

Bill pulls him aside to explain the next step in the process.

"Here it is, Clay. Sergeant Elmer Fuddly is trying to get out of town really fast, but he hits a big rock and his motorcycle flips and falls on top of him. Splat. Pow. He's flattened. But then he lifts his now-pancake-like self from the pavement, jumps back on his Harley, and speeds off. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to focus on all his limbs he used to break his fall. Get him up and moving in ways people would never expect. Got it?"

Clay salutes and clicks his heels. "Of course I've got that, Cap'n. I'll do some blocking, run it by you, and see if you like it." Bill nods and wanders off to hand out another assignment.

Clay grabs the shot turnover sheet, which has the name, length, and plate locations for the scene, then heads off to his desk. He loads up the animation software—he loves his high-tech tools—and starts playing around with the shot. He ponders and cogitates and muses: What weird things can four limbs do?

The next step, Clay decides, is to ask the internet for some reference footage. He wants to understand how Fuddly could contort two legs and two arms in weird, rubbery ways. He focuses on some videos of spiders crawling, crabs scurrying, and scorpions sauntering. 

After a few hours of researching the creepy-crawly corners of the internet world, Clay does a few thumbnail sketches to work out ideas. He uses the insects and crustaceans as references, but applies them to the shape and form of Fuddly.

By the time he recreates his sketches on the computer, it's already 12:30PM. There's something wrong, though—for Fuddly to fumble and fall and leap up, Clay's going to have to combine all the creepy-crawly movements into one super creepy, disturbingly crawly movement. Time to think. Time for that lunch he postponed.

An hour later, with a belly full of extra-spicy, extra-crispy Popeye's chicken—one of the finer things in life—Clay has the shot all worked out in his head. He's going to animate Fuddly like a crab for the first thirty frames, then segue him into a scrambling spider motion to pick up speed.

Clay grabs the camera and starts blocking the animation in the scene. He blocks the key poses, then feeds the data into the computer to fill in the gaps. When he plays the whole thing back, Fuddly's limbs first flail under the motorcycle, then grow more tactile. 

Once he pulls his pancaked self from under the bike, his spindly arms and legs push upward from the ground and his body puffs back up. It's...certainly creepy enough. Clay calls Bill over to check it out.

Bill's impressed.

"Ooh, nice! Great job. Do you think you can make the legs and arms more rubbery once the body is out from under the bike?"

At some point, every animator is inspired by these guys. (Source)

"Yeah, I think so." Clay loads up some previous content he had tried, where the arms and legs puff up and flail like those inflatable dudes outside car dealerships. It looks good, but there's still something missing.

Bill snaps his fingers. "I've got it! Once he's clear from under the bike, focus on his face and have him burp. That can lift his whole body into the air, where it'll inflate again." There's a reason Bill makes the big bucks.

Clay grabs the camera again and does some quick blocking, then feeds the final pieces into the computer and hits play. The creepy-crawliness and wacky-inflatable-arms-thing clears Fuddly from under the bike, then a huge burp lifts him up and his whole body inflates. Both Bill and Clay nearly fall over from laughter.

"Yeah. That's it!" Bill says. "Great work. Once we get the other pieces of the scene drawn, that's going to look fantastic in the final cut."

Clay leans back in his chair. Not bad. It's already 5:00PM—time to head home. Clay heads into the office kitchen to fix himself an espresso for the road, then says his goodbyes to his co-workers and heads to the car. He fires up the engine and rolls down the windows, and the whole neighborhood is treated to their daily serenade of Elvis's "If I Can Dream" as Clay peels out of the lot.

Another day of speaking made-up languages, drawing a bunch of cartoons, and messing around with co-workers. It certainly feels like a dream for Clay.