Glen McIntosh and Eragon

by Manuel Alducin

Glen McIntosh recently finished duties as Animation Director for the just released Eragon. We talked to him about his career in traditional animation and at ILM and the challenges of bringing Saphira, the blue dragon from Eragon, to life.

Traditional Animation and Getting to ILM

Glen McIntosh

Canadian Animator Glen McIntosh joined ILM in 1998 and has worked on such projects as the Star Wars prequels, Jurassic Park III, Hulk, and the E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial special edition. He recently finished working as the Animation Director of Eragon, based on the first fantasy book by Christopher Paolini and directed by former ILM VFX Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier.

Manuel Alducin: Well, first I want to talk a little bit about your career; so everyone knows a little bit about you.

Glen McIntosh: Okay. Well, I'm originally from Calgary, Canada. And I'd always been drawing ever since I was a little boy, and I'd always been interested in fantasy movies and science fiction like the films by Ray Harryhausen. And then of course I saw Jaws and Star Wars. And my fascination with those types of movies only grew as I got older. I eventually went to a film school at the University of Calgary to study sort of, like, film theory. And at the same time, I was also working on my art continuing to refine my drawing skills and design skills. And then I eventually went to Sheridan College, which is an animation school.

It was fantastic because it sort of represented a combination of my interest in film and drawing into the world of animation. And so I thought that was a great opportunity to just sort of be creative in the world of film and also use the artistic esthetic that I had been working on ever since I was a little boy.

So then I put a reel together, and I ended up starting out as a cleanup artist in Ireland for Don Bluth studios. I did An American Tale and All Dogs Go to Heaven and The Land Before Time. And I was there in Ireland for two years, then I moved to Fox Animation when they were in Phoenix, and I was there for three years working on Anastasia.

It had always been my dream ever since I did see Star Wars to work for George Lucas. And so when I saw Jurassic Park in Ireland, I had seen something I had never seen before which is a completely photo realistic animal that occupied the same space with the live action characters. And I was blown away by how amazing that was.

And I thought "oh, I don't know anything about computers". But I knew I had to be part of this, and so I sent my portfolio to ILM. And I got the opportunity to go to ILM, so I've been here ever since '98. And I worked on all of the Star Wars prequels. And then I was on the ET, Special Edition; the Hulk, The Day After Tomorrow and I've gotten the opportunity to be a lead animator on the raptors.

I got a chance to do the big dino fight shots in Jurassic Park III, and then I got to be a sequence supervisor on the Hulk and on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith which then led me to be the animation director at ILM for Eragon.

Manuel: That's fantastic. How did you make the transition from a traditional animator to kinda to a computer animator?

Glen: I consider myself very lucky in that I got onboard at a time when the industry was still willing to take the time to train traditional animators how to take the rules of animation and apply them to the computer so that you're not using a pencil any more to create the poses and the silhouettes and the expressions on the faces of the characters.

You're using a computer, and you've just changed the tool. But you have to be very good with the computer to be able to show what a great animator you are, otherwise, you're limiting yourself. And so it meant studying a lot to be able to apply the same rules that I had learned in traditional animation into the 3D world.

And so Episode I was definitely learning - a movie that I did a lot - had to do a lot of learning on. But I found that the opportunities to create a subtlety in the performance in the world of CG was just endless. And you can sort of - what's been interesting is that we've been able to chart the evolution of visual effects since Jurassic Park and see its evolution just in the past few years.

So it's been incredibly exciting I think for us as the filmmakers and for the audience to be able to go from a movie like Jurassic Park to the more recent films that have a lot of beautiful character performances in the world of CG with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong and now with ILM doing Davy Jones and Saphira as well. So be able to be a part of that evolution has been really exciting.