Marcin Migdal 's Interview with Director & Animator Grzegorz Jonkajtys (Sketchozine.com Vol.8 Animation Stories) /w Arnaldo Quintini

Article Index August 26,2011 Comments

In 2030 patrolling alien spaceships received a powerful radio wave, originating at the blue planet. A recon mission has been sent to investigate the disruption, to question and possibly capture one of the ingabitants of the blue planet, also known as human.

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MM: Welcome all MadArtists, my name is Marcin Migdal and I’m here with Arnaldo Quintini and a truly brilliant man; Grzegorz (Greg) Jonkajtys. Greg is what you call a jack of all trades and he’s mastered of all of them.  Born in Poland in 1972, Greg is an animator, CG & Concept Artist and a film director. He graduated from the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw with an honorable mention from the dean. His 2001 short animated film debut “Mantis”  gained widespread acclaim and won numerous prizes at Polish as well as international film festivals. Soon after, he found his way into the prestigious post-production studio, Platige Image (www.platige.com) in Warsaw.  In 2007 he directed his second short animation “Ark” which was nominated to Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival. A year later he tackled a CGTalk challenge and won with his post-apocalyptic sci-fi short film “Legacy”, last year he wrapped up his first live-action sci-fi short “3rd Letter” that’s already received many accolades…and in between all that he found time to create visual effects for Hollywood  movies like “Transformers2 and 3, Iron Man 2, Terminator Salvation, Star Trek, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Sin City, Rango" and more”, today Greg  works  as a Senior Artist at Industrial Light and Magic…Welcome Greg and thanks for talking with us…
GJ: It really seems like I have been quite busy in last decade.:)

MM: Well I think that would be an understatement Greg :) Let’s start at the beginning, as a kid did you always dream of being an animator or making films?
GJ:  I fell in love with films and effects after seeing Star Wars New Hope for the first time, back in 1979. Ever since I was really into it,  but somehow got distracted and focused on fine arts only (painting, graphics, etc). Later on, after seeing Chronopolis by Piotr Kamler (an animated feature, he did himself during the period of almost 6 years) the will for creating animated films and films in general came back.

MM: Did your parents and friends support your artistic abilities?
GJ: My parents, dad being theatrical director and actor, and my mom being a singer, always supported me. Although when in school I kind of wanted to become a painter, fine artist. Later on I realized I wanted to combine storytelling, motion and visuals into one medium: film.

MM: What was you very first paying job in the animation industry?
GJ: After graduating fine arts academy, I was working mainly in print design, but also doing some animated, interactive intros and menus for the CD Roms presentations or events for IDG. That's where I first started getting paid for animated title sequences and cg animations.

AQ: How were you hired to work at Platige Studios of Warsaw Poland, aren’t they the home of Tomek Baginski’s Academy Award Nominated short film “The Cathedral”?
GJ: After working at IDG, and running my own web design company (together with Piotr Kamler’ son, MIkolaj), I decided I wanted to make animated films. I spent 9 months learning and creating my first short “Mantis”. It was almost completed, when I showed it to Platige Image’ owners, and got hired. That was also the time, when Tomek Baginiski was finishing his second film; Cathedral. It got him and Oscar nomination.

MM: Greg, throughout your career you’ve seen the ins and outs of the film and animation industry. From working with directors like Guillermo Del Toro & Frank Darabont to visual effects supervisors like Everett Burrell and John Knoll. In all that time I’m sure you’ve picked up some tips & tricks that help you out in your own projects. Can you share some of those tricks?
GJ: While working on this particular side of film production, I learned a lot not only about effects technicalities, but also about storytelling, editing, pacing, shot design, and visual storytelling. It is a little bit like a part of film school from the other end of things. There are tips and tricks  you can pick up from various directors, for example the fact that Del Toro always mixes cg and practical, prosthetic effects influenced me how I approach creatures, props even set design in my films.

AQ: And how did you end up in America?
GJ: While working at Platige Image in the early 2000, we didn't really do much of the film work. It was mostly commercials , sometimes music videos and one or maybe two feature film effect sequences. I was really eager to make more film related work and after spending three years there, I put together a demo reel and started sending it around, to UK and California. CafeFX (back then Computer Cafe) responded, and I got hired there in the beginning of 2003.

MM: So…Legacy, awesome film!  Story, animation, textures, lightning, cinematography are all flawless, the film really feels EPIC and the style reminded me of District 9 film by Neill Blomkamp.  Was it surprising film became acclaimed so fast?
GJ: Legacy was created for cgnetworks challenge "uplift" universe. It won individual category award, and I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest. I was working on this piece for about 3 months, completely alone, making the story up as I went. It was never meant to be a fully functional short film, just a technical animation for cgtalk. That is why I have never submitted this film to any festivals. I just don't feel the story is developed enough to work.

AQ: Where did the idea for the film come from? Do you really believe that by 2030 we’ll all be wiped out by nukes?
GJ: The 2030 is just a random date in the future. I was more interested in showing the fact that if the aliens are of a small scale, they can be just as confused by toys like barbie dolls that resemble humans so much, and what if this is all that is left of us, the people...But , like I said, that was just me trying to make pretty pictures, mixing real backgrounds, real dolls and practical effects with CG alien. Story was definitely secondary in this case.

AQ: Secondary or not, your film is definitely a hit on the web and on our Youtube.com/MadArtistPublishing channel, I think you should reconsider and submit it to a few festivals...Now you’re always working on Hollywood blockbusters, how do you find the time to work on your own projects and what keeps you motivated to keep going?
GJ: Whats keeping me motivated? Hope that one day it will be my films that will be hollywood blockbusters! I am working hard to achieve it.

MM: I don't doubt that in a few short years I'll be watching your films on the big screen at the pace that you're going. Looking at your career, is there 1 project that has a special meaning or represented a turning point in your career?
GJ: I think there were two. First one came when I realized I don't want to do graphic print  or web design anymore, instead follow the animation/film career. That was when I wrapped up my web design company and created Mantis. The second moment was after finishing Ark and getting agents and managers call me, wanting to represent me as a director. Right now I am represented by Verve LA for features, Mothership for commercials and music videos and managed by Gotham Group.

AQ: It seems your own projects have dark, sci-fi, end of the world theme, having said that what exactly attracts you to these? Are you just bored with the human race?...and do you believe E.Ts are around us? ?
GJ: E.T.s are definitely among us, of course! And the sci-fi genre lets me tell stories about humanity but with an extra perspective and with extra layer of symbolism. Aesthetically too, I can virtually create any visual style I want which is a great freedom for the artist.

AQ: What software do you use primarily when working at ILM or on your own shorts?
GJ: At ILM we are using an in house piece of software that I am not allowed to discuss :)
At home I usually mix and blend programs: Softimage for character animation, modelling and rigging, Lightwave and Fprime for shading, lighting and rendering, After Effects, Digital Fusion for compositing, Zbrush, Photoshop and Body Paint for displacement and textures.

AQ: There you have it folks, straight from the top...And do you have any creative freedom on your projects at ILM or is everything already mapped out for you?
GJ: Most of the time it is ready and mapped out. From time to time there are projects that I can contribute more creatively, but that is rare. After all, what we do in vfx, is helping the director to create his vision of the film.

MM: Let’s switch to some of our reader questions and maybe you can share some light on the industry itself. What are animation studios and video game companies looking for when hiring animators or vfx artists?
GJ: I can’t speak for games companies, as I never had any experience nor interest in games. In the film vfx business, companies are looking for very specific set of skills, experience and  passion. The bigger the studio is the more departmentalised it is, and they are looking for specific positions to fill: modeler, texture artist, particle fx artist, character animator, etc. Smaller studios, with shorter projects (commercials, music videos) often look for generalist skills.

MM: In your opinion…Can a student get a job at a company like ILM right out of school?
GJ: It depends on his/her reel. If the portfolio represents outstanding skill, it is possible to get hired at big studio, not at the very high position though, as they are looking for an experienced employees. A gifted graduate may get an intern position quickly, and then later turn into full time employee.

MM: What should and shouldn’t you have in your demo reel?
GJ: You should show only  your best work, in the very precise discipline. If you are looking for a job as a modeler don't put animation in the reel. If you are also a good animator, make a separate reel showcasing your animation skills. If you are looking for a job as a generalist; show the very best of all of your skills.

MM: This is very good advice for all artist and animators out there. Just like resumes, don't do one generic one and hope that it’ll work for everyone simply because you’re lazy. Research companies you really love and want to work for, write a killer cover letter and cater your reel and editing to reflect that company, they will recognize your passion and you’ll have a better shot at getting hired....

AQ: Greg, you said, being a very good student may get you an intern position... a friend of mine at company i won't mention was hired to do a Technical Director job, when he finished his duties for the day he decided to take initiative and help out some of his colleages with animation, for which he was reprimanded due to very strict department policies, in your experience do most big studios encourage taking initiative or do they just want you to stick to what you're doing as part of the pipeline?
GJ: Coming

MM: In your opinion, what’s the best and worst thing about being in this industry?
GJ: The best is probably the satisfaction after the film you worked on is getting praised for both being a good film and for the visual effects you helped create. In my case that film was “Pan's Labyrinth”. The worse thing is what happens to your body and mind when you spend most of your life sitting in a chair staring at the radiating monitor.

AQ: Do you think animators or vfx artists with formal training have an advantage over self taught ones?
GJ: Nope. The training at school will not prepare you for what it really is like being in production. It will give you an easy access to the theoretical and some practical knowledge  of the software. You can learn same things by yourself, at home. Most of the time.

AQ: What’s the most vital element of a short film?
GJ: Story.

MM: What are you currently working on, commercially and personally?
GJ: Right now I have couple of projects in development. One of them is called Snow King, a fantastical live action project, that I am writing the script for with a friend from Pixar. I am also planning to shoot a trailer for it soon. There is also a 3rd letter feature film, based on the story and script me and Bastiaan Koch (producer of 3rd letter short) wrote. We are talking to couple producers about funding this project right now. Also, I am involved in couple commercial projects with Platige Image and one independent producer from USA.

AQ: What do you think we should add on our websites or within our books to help anyone that wants to get into the industry or get hired?
GJ: Coming

AQ: What in your opinion is the best way for artists or animators to promote themselves and their work?
GJ: Coming

MM: There are some questions we ask each person we interview, so each of you can answer these individually...First what is your greatest fear?
GJ: To not be able to create my own projects.

AQ: Do you have other interests outside of animation or art?
GJ: Well my main interest is live action film. Apart from that I am interested in music, but again in connection to film. I used to play piano for over 10 years, and that greatly influenced my musical tastes and decisions when it comes to score and sound in my films.I also love to listen to audio books while I'm drawing, or creating cgi.

MM: Do you have any favorite films, shorts or animators?
GJ: I don’t think I will be original here.
Classics like “Blade Runner”, “Alien”, “Gattaca” are one of my favorites. I also love Kubrick, Cohen Brothers, P.T. Anderson and  Darren Aronofsky “The Machinist”, by Brad Anderson, is also one of my favorite films. Lately I watched “Enter The Void” directed by Gaspar Noe, and was totally mesmerized by it. It’s hard to tell which ones are my favorites. It changes very often, with age, experiences etc.
 
MM: If you could meet one person dead or alive, who would it be?
GJ: My father, who passed away 5 years ago.

MM:
Sorry to hear that, I'm sure he's super proud of your accomplishments. What about the option of having any other  skill or talent, which would you like to have?
GJ: Writing better stories and screenplays

AQ: Name three websites that you visit most...
GJ: www.quietearth.us, www.filmstage.com, www.io9.com

MM: If you could do ANYTHING, what would you do with a billion dollars?
GJ: Make lots of movies and still have money to help people around the world

MM: Can you tell us about your upcoming Snow King Film and what else we can expect from you in the next few years?
GJ: Coming

AQ: Any final words of wisdom or encouragement you would like to share with all the Mad Artists and Sketchoholics out there?
GJ: Remember not to spend all the time in front of the monitor. Inspiration comes from within but mostly from living your life away from your workstation. Many people, esp. at the beginning of their career forget about it.

MM: Well, It’s been quite the education talking to you, thank you for sharing your life, your education and your experience with us and our readers. I hope the everyone takes a little from this interview if they have an interest in the animation or visual effects industry.

On behalf of all our members on Sketchoholic.com, our Youtube Channel (Youtube.com/MadArtist Publishing) I’d like to thank you for taking the time and I hope your films turn into giant blockbuster films.
GJ: Thanks! I hope to comeback for an interview after my feature breaks the 100 million threshold:)

AQ: AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS GREG, yes it's a question of when...we hope to be in the audience for the premiere (4 thumbs up). In the meantime thank you again and outside of your www.sketchoholic.com/Jonkajtys profile where can our readers find additional information about you and your work.
GJ: My website: www.jonkajtysfilm.com
website for the 3rd letter: www.the3rdletter.com
IMDB:  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1820197/
vimeo channel: http://vimeo.com/channels/jonkajtys

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