Animator Michael Easton Discusses His Career and War of the Worlds

by Manuel Alducin

Before joining ILM, Canadian Animator Michael Easton worked on the pioneering ReBoot CG animated series. We discussed his career including working at ILMCP, animating characters like Yoda and dinosaurs, and working on War of the Worlds.

The Creatures and Critters of Commercial Productions

Manuel: So from Mainframe how did you end up going to the U.S. after the TV show ended?

Michael: Well it is a unique fact. It was a unique time in the industry back then because the industry really was short on people and they really needed many people.

At the time when I got my job at Mainframe, when I called them, I originally tried to go down to Virginia to a small company down there, that guy screwed me around, and I didn't get that job. So I am sitting at home Friday afternoon without a job and after work I made one call and called some friends at Mainframe and the next day I was on a plane and I went to Vancouver. Some of the people that I worked with in Toronto had already started at Industrial Light and Magic, so I actually was fortunate I knew ten to fifteen people at ILM before I even came down.

So, I hooked up with some of the original guys that had come from the Omnibus group and they already came down to ILM so it was kind - it was almost like going home. It felt very familiar to go back and work with that group. We were doing commercials similar to the stuff that we had done in Toronto.

Manuel: So what were the spots you worked on during your tenure at Commercial Productions?

Michael: The spots we worked on?

Manuel: Right.

Michael: We did a lot of work for many Japanese clients so we did the Pepsiman spots, which some people have heard of and others have not. Our name is actually well known in Japan and they were a lot of fun to work on. Those were really neat spots. The clients were very, very particular on what they wanted. You know a centimeter off on your hand position was unacceptable, but they really looked good and they were a lot of fun to work on. We did a bunch of small spots for Pepsi called Marfalump; they were an alien creature for the Star Wars group, so three of us got the lead for the animation of those. So, I got to do the one with the taxi when they were driving around New York, so that was fun. We also had some goldfish in Glad Lock bags and one was leaking and the other one wasn't, so that was a neat one that we worked on and I got the lead on that one.

Pepsiman in his signature pose. The ILMCP spots were extremely popular in Japan.

What else did we do? We did an E.T. spot, quite a variety of commercials. Because there were a lot that maybe didn't have a lot of animation so we would go off and do some TV work and then do something that was really animation heavy. They did a wide variety. Even before I got there, they did some fantastic spots with the penguins for Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Those were really well received. It has been so long since I worked there, I cannot remember all of the commercials we worked on. But, we worked on many commercials over the course of three years.

Manuel: How was the production of those? Would you have much time to run tests? Would you have time to discuss it with the client to give him feedback?

Michael: Even though commercials was a much, much tighter schedule than features are, ILM still, they have a lot of experience in this and they knew how to schedule things properly. Even though the schedules were tight, we still had time to get things done. We were not working insane hours. They really do have a formula for longevity and they know how to keep the artists from burning themselves. You know you would start off and everyone was part of the process.

You would get in on like "how long do you think it is going to take you and who can do" and like if this person is going to animate that shot can he also match move that for us, "sure why not". So, there was a lot of that. It is the same process as the features, it is just tightened up a little bit. But, it was not like, where in features where you have many disciplines that are isolated, you know the animators over here, creature envelopers in this building and the TDs are over here. Everyone kind of sat together and tied that in with my roommate, there was a girl from Canada and a fellow from Argentina, they were both TDs and I was an animator and we would kind of all work together. Like she would go, "oh I need this shot" and I would say" here you go it is right here", where you know at the other times it is much longer "I am not going to give you a shot for another three days" or something like that. This way we usually are dumping something in just to get things moving up. You know you would bring things up, quality as you go. We had the directors in house, it was great they were right upstairs so we would go over and sit in dailies every morning just like they do in features and we just had five weeks to do it instead of five months. But it all turned out really well.

We got many people. If we were short people, we could borrow people from features if we needed a model down or some help with rigging or something like that.