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Typical Day

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

"Yeeeeeee-haw!" warbles Clay Mason McGeekly to the tune of his favorite wake-up song, Elvis Presley's smack-down, rock 'n' roll killer version of "Hound Dog." Elvis is his idol, his inspiration, and the reason he, a night person, can face getting up in the early morning for a job he loves—computer animation. With his five cups of coffee and Elvis tunes in the background, Clay can face a long day of meetings and dailies, and more meetings and more dailies. He's at work, and it's 8am. He chugs another espresso. Hmmmm. The jolt of caffeine makes everything seem wonderful in a hyper sort of way.

"Hey, Claaaaaaaay...mation." Clay smiles as his coworkers Steve and Bill stroll by his desk. Both of them love to conflate Clay with the clay models that he, from time to time, transforms into 3-D emanations of their former inert selves. Clay doesn't mind. They are all married to their work and speak in computer-animator-speak.

"Gollum, Gollum, Shrek, Shrek, uru-kai." Clay loves the Lord of the Rings—the movies. Talk about killer computer animation. Yeah. What could be better than Gollum, the hobbit gone very, very bad? This is what's better—the stuff Clay and comrades are working on that will be shown in the animation dailies that start rolling in five minutes in conference Room XX6.

"Animation dailies. Five minutes" booms the company paging system speakers. Clay grabs an iPad and heads off to the 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, the production coordinator. Steve is the sequence supervisor for the set of shots Clay has been working on. Steve starts the sequence rolling, and the team gets an overview of the work Clay has done as part of the animation team. The group is silent as it watches the entire sequence for animation shot consistency and story line. Clay still thinks making that story line work is tough stuff. Then comes the one-by-one exercise: Bill shows each team member's shot individually to scope out any problems. None so far on Clay's shots. Clay sighs in relief. This means he gets new shots to work on.

Lights! Camera! Action! The screening ends, and Bill takes Clay aside to give him the rundown on the new shots.

"Here it is, Clay. Sergeant Elmer Fuddly has to get out of town real fast. But he trips and falls. Splat, pow. He's flattened. But he has to jump up and hop on this Harley ASAP. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to focus on all his limbs that he used to break his fall. Get him up and moving in ways people would never expect. Got that, Clay...mation?

Clay salutes and clicks his heels. Yeah, he's a geek. They're both geeks. Whatever.

"Cool! Limbs! Falls. Whadda challenge. 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 shot, and heads off to his desk. He loads up the animation software—gosh, he loves his high-tech tools—and starts playing around with the shot. Then Clay ponders and cogitates and muses: What weird things can four limbs do? Next step, Clay decides, is the Internet for reference footage. He wants to understand how Fuddly could contort two legs and two arms in weird, creeped-out ways.

He decides on spiders crawling, crabs scurrying, and scorpions sauntering. After a few hours of researching the creepy-crawly of the Internet world, Clay does thumbnail sketches to work out ideas. He uses the insects and crustaceans as references but applies them to the shape and form of Fuddly. He recreates his sketches on the computer, but it doesn't take long for Clay to hit an intellectual snag. Ouch. For Fuddly to fumble and fall and leap up, Clay is going to have to combine all these creepy-crawly movements. Time to think. Time for that lunch he postponed.

An hour later, with a belly full of extra-spicy, extra-crispy Popeye's chicken—Clay loves his junk food, one of his few vices—he has the shot all worked out in his head. He's going to animate Fuddly like a crab for the first 30 frames, then segue him into a spider scramble to pick up speed. Then, Clay grabs the camera "match move" scene (that is, computer graphics in live-action scenes) and starts blocking the animation in the scene. He blocks the key poses with some breakdown to help "sell" (like, making it look real) the action in key moments. Clay calls Bill over to get his opinion.

Bill's impressed.

"Yuh-uh. Great job. Totally creeped out with those legs and arms movin' this way and that."

Clay twiddles his thumbs and cracks his knuckles. Nerves, nerves.

"Think we can take it to the next level?"

Bill squints at Clay's work.

"How about...maybe try…let's see...cool... yeah." Bill lapses into thick silence, still looking at Fuddly.

"Yes? Well?"

"Clay, try this. Why don't you do Fuddly with his leg crisscrossed behind his back? Then he rolls, and pushes up?"

Knuckles crack. Thumbs twiddle. Clay makes a decision.

"Yeah. That's it! Audience could, like, see the scorpion pose. Makes the whole thing believable. Cool. Thanks!"

Clay settles into his chair. Not bad. It's only 5pm. Problem solved. Finishing touches soon. All in a day's work.