Joe Szalecki- Cubed (or Ted^3)

A Personal Experiment

Hi! My name is Joseph J. Szalecki. I’m a student at TCNJ majoring in Interactive Multimedia. I started out my education at Mercer County Community College in 2011, and majored in Digital Media Arts. It was there I got my first tastes in animation, directing my own shorts, and being able to see images in my head on the screen. It changed how I looked at the world and when my teachers encouraged me to keep going, I continued to push myself to improve my skills, create new and strange concepts, and become the best that I could be. I took a detour at Rider for a semester, and while I loved the people there immensely, I wasn’t furthering my education given the direction Mercer had launched me. I then transferred to TCNJ when I learnt their program was more in line with what had come before, and continued to improve my skills. Then, once I reached my thesis, it would ostensibly be a culmination of everything I had garnered at Mercer, Rider and TCNJ as a whole..

When I began my thesis project, there were only three things I were certain of. The first was that it would be entirely animation. In all my time at school, I never had the chance to work on as much animated projects as I had liked. The one’s before were rather short and over time, seemed lesser in terms of quality, and I wanted to prove that I could do better. Second was that it would primarily be done in Maya. I have a supreme fondness for 2D animation. It was the birthplace for this medium, with many legends as my own personal idols (with Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Chuck Jones, Friz Freiling, Wolfgang Reithermann, and Brad Bird to name a few). However, my experience in the field was limited, and the process would take too long to deliver a finished product. Meanwhile, I had been learning to use Autodesk’s Maya program no later than 2012, and wanted to use it to its fullest potential. Third, last, and most important to myself, my work was to be different from what I’d done before. In 3d most of projects were rather simple, and focused on rather small concepts. I knew the environment was going to be simplistic in terms of design, so I could emphasize the movement and ideas rather than the area. However, I wanted to be able to do something broad, where literally anything could happen. It was there I began working on developing the idea that ultimately emerge as CUBED.

CUBED was a personal experiment in animation, timing, editing, and rendering. It could best be described as a series of shorts that are heavily inspired by the works of Looney Tunes mixed with pretentious art-house films. I always thought it as a combination of Jim Henson’s “The Cube” and Chuck Jones’ “Duck Amuck”. Most are familiar with the concept behind DUCK AMUCK, a classic short that asks questions about character, appearance, suspension of disbelief, and the medium as a whole. The former, was a special Jim Henson did for the BBC in 1969, just before he started work on Sesame Street. It’s concept was of a singular character trapped in a cube that solely wanted to get out…but could not. There, weird and insane characters pop in and out, maddening the protagonist as not one will aid him in leaving this perceptual prison. I knew that would allow me to do the broad ideas I love in animation and began working on concepts for what could work.

The initial concept was a singular short that stretched over multiple concepts. This was dropped mid-way in the first semester as the ideas were so broad and different, that the structure was chaotic. I then went to the professor and pitched breaking up the project into multiple shorts. Each would be stand-alone, in the style of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and allow each idea to breath and be their own literal short. However, in my head, there was a slight sense of continuity going on, but on a very small scale. Meanwhile, this also ensured if a viewer liked a work, they could remain and witness the remainder of the work and move on once finished. If not, they could see one, understand the gist of it, and move on.

The first thing I worked on for the project was a trailer that I felt would explain idea to the class in a visual manner. I boarded the work in a day and edited it together with music and sound effects in about two weeks; one for timing, and another for visual effects. It was the first fully developed idea I had for the project, and was something to gauge the class’s overall reaction. It initially had narration over it, which would have been done by a friend of mine with some experience. However, circumstances prevented her from doing so and caused me to scrap the aspect overall. In fairness, the voice I’d wanted was very specific, but I wanted to focus on the work and move forward. As it progressed, multiple people suggested I develop it as one of the parts. I was hesitant for the longest time, but during the second half of the class, I conceded (as it helped deliver more parts and decrease work load).

During the winter break, I finished the first part’s missing pieces to ensure that the product was of a higher quality for the show. Meanwhile, I went through my notes, found the ideas I felt were the most developed and potentially fun to create, and made them an individual section. I eventually settled on producing five (counting the finished sequence) but this was reduced to four due to time restraints. I skipped the storyboarding process for these parts, a choice I regret now. I had wanted to get to meat of actually animating and would worry about the pacing as I was making them and in editing. In retrospect, this caused some issues during production. Some went quickly, as the ideas were well fleshed out, whilst others were slow and tedious, as the surrounding bits needed connecting. It also led to more complex animations being needed, causing the final product to look good, but far longer than anticipated, ranging from as quickly as a week to others parts taking almost an entire month to finish. Rendering was another issue, as the amount of textures in a scene led to scenes taking almost a day to finish, while others were finished in a few short hours. I had decided to reduce the number of complex textures, as a previous venture had led a project to go unfinished because of it. Experimenting with lighting though eventually led to the presentation being much higher in quality and helped

The showcase itself was a standard presenting of materials to guests. Students invited family, friends and potential employers to view their projects they worked on for the past year. Meanwhile, alumni were invited to share their own experiences and offer advice to the upcoming graduates on how to succeed. I was placed in back area away from larger activity but with a twin set of projectors to show my work. It was rather laid back, and for some time, my section did not get much in terms of audience. As the night progressed, my numbers did increase to a respectable amount and got a variety of reactions. Some were immediately disinterested and moved on to the next room. However, there were even more intrigued, and stayed to watch the whole thing and then left. A good number of which really enjoyed the piece, and even called friends/girlfriends to come and see it. It filled me with pride that I had made quality work.

Looking back at everything, the most that stands out to me is that I’m disappointed in the project’s lack of sound effects. It was intended to have foley for the actions on screen giving things more liveliness. In fairness, the product that resulted ended up more the tone I was aiming for, but it may have veered too far in that direction. Aside from that, I still wish Part 6 could have seen the light of day. It was a small part to help close things out, but there’s still a lot in CUBED that I’m quite proud of. In closing though, to those looking for words of wisdom, if there’s anything I say, I’ll offer two things. Time is key, in more ways than one. Every second of every frame counts, and knowing the rhythm of movement, the timing of a scene is vital. Animation requires thought, planning and exaggeration. This is a medium where anything is possible so use that to your advantage where you can. Meanwhile your days will be consumed by the project itself. Be it blocking a scene, storyboarding to editing it together, it requires your energy to make it a good product so keep it at it. It will never be done, but when it looks about right, then it’s time to reveal it. Otherwise have fun with it. If you’re working on something you hate, it’ll never get done. If it’s something you don’t like, find a way to make it so. The ideas will then flow and you’ll be able to pour yourself into something you can proudly attach your name to.

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