Creators Society Animation Podcast

Shawn Krause - Animation & Story at Spire Animation Studios - Animation on 15 Pixar films

May 18, 2022 Creators Society Season 2 Episode 11
Creators Society Animation Podcast
Shawn Krause - Animation & Story at Spire Animation Studios - Animation on 15 Pixar films
Show Notes Transcript

After studying at CalArts, Shawn Krause jumped almost straight into Pixar, where he stayed for many years, working on 15 Pixar features including the first two Toy Story films, Finding Nemo and Dory, Incredibles and Incredibles 2 and all three Cars films,  along with multiple shorts and other projects. Now he's made another leap, to Spire Animation Studios as Creative Director of Animation and Story, where I caught up with him to talk about his incredible career, his path to Spire and what they're doing, and a bit of baseball. 

Shawn's career is vast and so there was plenty to talk about, and this episode really complements the episode from a couple of weeks ago with Michael Surrey - they have had different careers, but are now working together and complementing each other. Really hope you enjoy this episode!

Please remember to like, rate and comment on your favorite podcasting platform and share the episode on social media.

If you have any comments or suggestions please get in touch. 

Host & Producer: Michael Wakelam

Executive Producer: Eric M. Miller

Music by: Rich Dickerson

Audio Engineering: Mike Rocha

Edited by: Zoe Wakelam

The Creators Society is a professional society for all disciplines of the animation industry. Our mission is to bring the animation community together to build strong relationships, provide education, and form a better understanding of the different roles we all play in creating animated stories. We celebrate and promote the love of animation, and all the talented Creators who breathe life and imagination into their work.

Learn more about the Creators Society, and how to become a member at creatorssociety.net

Michael Wakelam:

Hey, just before we get started in response to some listener questions, I just wanted to let you know that if you want to get a reminder about new episodes, you can of course subscribe in whatever podcast app you use, or you can subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at creatorssociety.plus. And thanks for the great response to last week's episode with Kristen McGregor. Check out the show notes from that episode for a link to Kristen's article about getting started in kids media. This episode was recorded just after I'd spent a week back in Australia. So you may notice a slight Australian accent boost, which I worked really hard to regain. Now on with the show.

Shawn Krause:

My parents took me to Disneyland and Disney World, that was huge, and so to be able to work on theme park rides was fantastic.

Michael Wakelam:

Welcome back to The Creators Society Animation Podcast. I'm Michael Wakelam. If this is your first time tuning in, I hope you enjoy this chat. We started this podcast to have, and to share, interesting conversations with interesting people from across the animation industry. Today is my last stop in my US visit and I'm visiting with Shawn Krause of SPIRE studios in SPIRE's bay area offices. Shawn is another member of the all star team that has come together at SPIRE. And if you haven't heard the previous episode with Michael Surrey, tune into that one too. Shawn's career started at a little place called Pixar, where he worked until moving to SPIRE and before we start though, if you're enjoying these conversations as much as I am, please share them with friends and colleagues in the industry or people wanting to get into the industry. And please like rate or comment wherever you get your podcast, or share on social media. So without further ado, let's jump into today's chat with Shawn Krauss. Thank you very much, Shawn, for joining me today.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, thank you.

Michael Wakelam:

There's a tonne I'd like to get into today, because you've worked on I guess more than half of the Pixar films that they have created since the beginning of time, including all of the early films, which I guess a really established name, the brand and style. But before we get into that, let me get this story. So I've heard through the grapevine that you went to baseball games with Steve Perry from Journey.

Shawn Krause:

Wow. Yes, I did. It was, it was a nice thing. Jonas Rivera who works at Pixar, we've been friends forever. He was on a flight one day and bumped into him. And they exchanged numbers. And then Johnny said, Hey, we're doing, we're doing the score the soundtrack for UP at the ranch. Do you want to come up maybe help people to show up? So I showed up and we talked a little bit. So anyway, long story short, I got to know him a bit, and he was a huge Giants fan. And so as we talk baseball, he said, Hey, would you want to see a game? And so we went to a bunch of games together. And it was fantastic. I mean, he made music that was my soundtrack to high school. So yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

yeah, it's fantastic. Really cool. I mean, one of my favourite parts of baseball is the fact that, you know, a team can always come back till the last hour, there's always room to come back. And so if I was sitting with Steve Perry at a ballgame, I could just imagine having to stop believing in my head until the final out of the game, you wouldn't be able to leave.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah. Oh, I had tonnes of questions. It was funny. We were eating and people are walking by and an older woman with her daughter walked by. And I was surprised that I saw them stop. But it wasn't the mother it was the daughter who recognised his voice. And was like, that's Steve Perry like. But yeah, I mean, it was just really a nice opportunity to meet someone that you love their music your whole life. And so it was fantastic. Yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

Interesting. Cool. All right, well, so back to animation. As we always do on the podcast, I'd like to hit rewind and talk about the path that got you started into animation. And we can go back as far as you like, you know, high school, toddler, whatever. What was the spark that kind of brought you down this this path?

Shawn Krause:

Well, I mean, it probably sounds cheesy, but like it was when I was really young. I was probably three or four. And I remember my mom taking me to see Pinocchio. And that's not the first run. But one of the subsequent screenings. It was like early 70s. And that's the first movie experience I remember having, they handed out hats that have little feathers. But I remember what a big impact it had on me emotionally, and just loving that movie and then being just drawn to Disney films. And then growing up watching, you know, The Looney Tunes Show on Saturday mornings, and after school every day. And I'd sit, there was, it was a touchstone for my dad and I too because he loved the Bugs Bunny shorts, and then it, they loved old films, my parents. I was talking to Angus about this MacLane about this one day, because he was asking what, you know, why did I get interested in it? And I said, I think because my parents value film, they value music and things like that. And the arts. And so, we would watch on the local St. Louis station, every, I think was Saturday morning, they had three classic films, one in the morning, then they'd have an Elvis Costello movie, then they would show, you know, Francis the Talking Mule, or, you know, Ma and Pa Kettle, and then we'd stay up late at night, they'd have old musicals, but a lot of MGM stuff. So I got a real appreciation for that, looking at details. But I was always wanting to figure out the magic of animation. And, and so when I, I had this View Master viewer, and I'd sit down and kind of click through it to see how does that work? How does the hand shoot out from under a door and then disappear? And how does, when he hits them why does it feel that way? So I got to, it was a really great way to analyse and I don't think it was every frame, but it was enough to kind of give you that, that understanding of oh, that's how that trick works. So that was a huge moment for it for me, too. Then I saw Frank Thompson, Ollie Johnston on The Tonight Show.

Michael Wakelam:

With Carson.

Shawn Krause:

With Carson. Yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

That's really an interesting one, isn't it? Because they were- that was when they bought the book out, The Illusion of Life.

Shawn Krause:

Did you see that show?

Michael Wakelam:

I've seen it on YouTube. Yeah, I didn't see it live. But you know, just watching that, that they were real kind of rockstars of the animation industry. And you kind of wish that there were people in the industry treated like that today, you know, that would be really cool. Yeah.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah it's like, I begged my mom cuz that, you know, I'm wanna go buy that book. And she's like, it's $50, are you sure you- I want it, I really do. And I was like, in fifth or sixth grade. So I had that. And so all those things kind of added up to my love. And then that just continued, I would try to do stuff on flip pages. And then when I found CalArts, that was like going home, it was just like, this is where I belong. So that's how I got to animation.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, but you also studied art at Mizzou. Is that right?

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, I went to the University of Columbia was at Mizzou and had a major in art and minor in Art History. And my wife's always surprised to hear I almost had a minor in American literature too, but I don't really read very much.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, I have a connection with Mizzou. I had a bunch of friends who went there from high school in Kansas City.

Shawn Krause:

Oh, really?

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. So I used to go down and stay at Columbia. When I, when I'd come back to the US and they were studying.

Shawn Krause:

Well, Karen Kleinfelder was my art teacher of modern art, contemporary art teacher, and she was really phenomenal. She was a great teacher. So I always remembered because I took contemporary at first. And it was all about kind of referring back to the iconography and traditions of art. And I said, after like the third class I'm like, I think I'm over my head because I don't really I didn't study all that. But she said stay in it. I want to see what you think with a fresh eye. So she was really a great teacher. And she always meant a lot to me that way.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. Interesting. So Cal Arts, you went to Cal Arts for a year, was that, that was during the earthquake year in San Francisco. Is that right? Yeah.

Shawn Krause:

No, I just remember just how crazy that experience was, at the time, but it opened a lot of doors. It's, you know, it's like even now, things are changing, just terrible things. But a lot of interesting, good things are happening too, out of the tragedy. And so with that, at CalArts, what it did was, you know, because the building was foundationally, not secure at the time after that people like Herb Alpert opened up his studios, I believe, to have the music students come down there. I know that my friend at the time at the school, you know, she was writing. And so they let her come down to the Jay Leno Show and write on that show help with segments on that show. So the industry really opened up. And it was also the first time that the producers show was held outside of the school, because they used to have that in a tiny room where it only fit the industry heads or leaders in there. And then what I'd heard is that the students would go in for their show to experience what it was like one at a time and then they come out next week come in. And the year I was there, Frank and Ollie were there and everyone was there to watch everyone's together and it was really supportive. So I think they've kept that tradition since then. So it was it was, it was a wild, fun, galvanising year for a lot of people, yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

And you said you went to school with one of our guests Joe Moshier.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, I think he was at CalArts when I was there, Ricky Nierva, Sanjay Patel, ------ he was named at the time. Stephen Gregory have just a tonne of people who, Bobby Podesta, Mark Walsh. All these guys were in the same class, or around the same time yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

Wow. And Pete Docter, saw your short from CalArts. Is that right? Is that how you got recruited to Pixar?

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, yeah, it was, you know, my teacher, Larry White was an animator at Disney at the time. And I always wanted to work at Disney. That was my goal. And so then he showed us the short films that Pixar had done. And like a lightning bolt. I was like, wait, I want to work there, which shocked me because your whole life, you have your head in one direction and then you think that- I can do that. I'm interested in that, I should say. And so when I was at the show, Larry said, Pete Doctor is here and I didn't know his name. And he's like, he works at Pixar. And I was like, wow, so he suggested I send my reel up. And I think they had paused on hiring for Toy Story. But they said, you know, we'd like you to still come up. Would you be interested in our shorts group? So Darla Anderson, I just spoke to her and Bob Peterson were on the shorts together. And I just instantly connected with them and loved what they were about. And it resonated with me. So Darla hired me and I was like, rest is history. Like, I just was there for twenty six years,

Michael Wakelam:

And so was your short film, that was 2d? you know.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

And so, but you immediately gravitated towards the 3d innovation I guess.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, I did 2d and then I worked at for like a couple months at a place called Creative Capers, my first like job, and they were great. But it was it was like, you know, when you change any pose, you had to change all the in betweens, and it was very labour intensive, and my drawing skills got a lot better. But when I saw that, you could go on the computer and just swing around and change the key poses and that one between, and I wasm it was like, wow, and I think the other thing that was great was that I knew that there was a long road to go from, you know, getting in animation, maybe being an assistant, you know, doing cleanup and working your way to doing key animation. At Pixar you would do a scene and you do all the characters in that scene. There are so many things that were exciting about having that ability and that opportunity to do it. So you just grew really fast. So it's ironic, because in Mizzou, my whole exit thesis whatever was 3d will never be as good as 2d. So I had to eat crow on that one.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. Well, and so right into Pixar for your first I guess, real proper job. As I said at the start, you've worked on so many of those films at Pixar. And so it's good to discuss some of those I mean, two Toy Story films two finding films (Finding Nemo, Finding Dory). Two Incredible films (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2). Three Cars films, you know, talk about the I guess maybe a little bit at the start of.. so did you get on to Toy Story at the start after being in the in the shorts group?

Shawn Krause:

Peterson, animated and directed, and I were in that group. And so, you know, we would, we were doing commercials as they were doing the production. But towards the end, it was all hands on deck. And so they said, you know, hey, we'd really need your help. We'd love it if you guys came over. And we all want to do, of course, then they said, you know, we'll let you do animation, but we'd love for you to get into the layout for eight weeks. And so we did a bunch of layout, you know, so I laid out I think the opening credits when you know, Andy sits in the chair spinning around, and then ejects Woody off the chair. And then I went in, and I mean, it's kids running down the hall. And I remember Rex (Grignon), you interviewed Rex a few weeks ago. And he was so sweet, because I was nervous as heck with my first shots to show on the screen. And I showed it and after dailies we rolled out and he said, Hey, that was really great. Good job. And it just meant a lot that he was so supportive. So anyway, so they offered it to us, So you want to you want to go over and work on that. So we worked on the very end of the movie, and we got additional animation, additional layout, I think, for the, for the credits. And that's kind of the first time I, we dipped into there, and then we didn't know, as a studio, was this going to be a hit? And so they were waiting and lining up I believe, you know, Bug's Life and other ideas. So all the people who had worked on the feature, then we're coming over back over to the shorts group to do commercials while we waited to kind of pay the bills and everything.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. And then obviously that was a hit and you probably went in fairly quickly into A Bug's Life. So you worked on A Bug's Life for the entire film and then you also went on to help with Toy Story 2, when that I guess got rebooted. And you know, talk, talk about that a little bit from Toy Story the first one to the, to the second one of the changes in technology and how that was different for you animating. Was it easier? Had, I guess you would have evolved as an animator by then. But also the technology would have evolved a little.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, I remember I mean, the people that were in the animation department that were really pushing to fully realise what we wanted to do with the characters, like I remember Mark Oftedal and Doug Sweetland really being vocal about like, c'mon, are you gonna be able to do this or that? Because there was limitations such as there was no real opposable thumb, you can move the thumb at the at the knuckle at the hand, but the palm didn't didn't come to touch, you couldn't touch other fingers and make a fist the proper way. Shoulders, I think they they didn't have FB was this UD or sorry, up and down versus front back. I believe in the shoulders. And, you know, and again, nothing was very organic at the time. So, you know, if you cranked up the complexity of something too far, it would crash your machine, there was no, no stop guard to stop you from doing that. So all these things, recording on a separate machine called the Bandit, and it would take all night to record a shot. You know, I remember Glenn McQueen coming in and hitting record on a really heavy shot with multiple characters going home, coming in the next day and then the last 10 frames of it crashes. And then- well, I can show that you know, so it was a lot of that really squirrely crunchy, starter, not really starter, but I guess you'd say early days of the tech. And then it was really great when we did A Bug's Life, because you know, you didn't have to worry about the fleshiness of the skin, you have the exoskeleton that allowed for a lot of things that we couldn't do- the opposable thumb, on the characters. And then on a personal way, yeah, it was like, you know, the more you do, the more you get looser with it. You know, thinking with drawing, you start to get real tight, if you're doing something at the beginning. And then as your deadline approaches, you get looser, and you go, Oh, I could do this looser. So similarly, with animation, you know, one of the big moments that was a kind of a breakthrough for me was, I used to try to break down every frame and be very specific about the keys. And I just had so many knots that I was trying to look at through the spline editor versus the numerical values in the tool. There was two tools MBT, which was like, each frame and a value on it. And then there was a linear spline representation of each of those controls. Well, when I started doing it on the splines, I noticed there was just a lot of breakdown. So I just stripped a bunch of the stuff I didn't need out. And the animation was the same, if not better. So that was a real revelation and simplicity going, Oh, if I just let this happen organically, I'll pick those key things I want to switch and offset. So I don't know if that makes any sense.

Michael Wakelam:

It makes perfect sense. Simplifying those splines as always, it's always a good idea. So obviously those those films, you talk about Toy Story and Finding Nemo and Bugs (Bugs Life), and the Cars films, were all quite different, you know. So how did you find- and was the approach different for you animating toys, and bugs and monsters and fish and cars? You know. I guess that would have also been quite refreshing to work on different things each time. I don't know what the question is there.

Shawn Krause:

No, it was it was great. And, and it was fun to see each film allow for the studio to attack what we needed for each one, like on it was wonderful to work on Finding Nemo, and do something so organic. And that was, to me, the first step towards really getting control over those fins and the feeling of water, you know, a really diverse array of characters in there with, you know, turtles versus fish versus the starfish versus humans. And the movies, I think were just so wonderful, you know, everyone, we all realised how lucky we were to be part of this, because we love what we're doing. The audiences were appreciating it. And it was just a really exciting time to think, you know, hey, we're doing something different and we're doing something that's sincere. And, and the way they set the studio up was, we're all part of this. We're all you know, we have, we all have a voice in this and I liked that in those early days it was scrappy, you know. Being, going back to like the commercials group, I threw out some ideas for like, the third project I worked on, and it was a Levi's, commercial, and I and they liked my idea at the agency. So Darla said, Do you want to direct it? So you get to, uh yes, and, and then when I when I directed it, and I was kind of hitting my wall with what I could do. She said, let me help you and we'll get this person to do that part of it. Okay, great. So again, when you- when we were going into the into those movies, what was exciting was that we were a small team of 25, maybe 40/50 animators, you know, by the time Toy Story 2 came around, you know, we would throw in gags, you know, with every now and then they'd include the animation department to go 'come up with some gags with us'. And so there was a lot of interdepartmental opportunity. There was many animators who moved from animation to story and back. So it was a it was great in that, at that time, everyone was allowed to kind of take on all their skills as filmmakers. So that was really fantastic. Yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

And Pixar also had that kind of filmmaking, education side didn't there was, where people would go and learn other skills that kind of complemented what they were doing. Parts of the process.

Shawn Krause:

I don't know if it was like a formal thing like Pixar University at the time. But Joe Ranft, I took part in his first story class he taught there. And that was eye opening. And fantastic. I almost, I've tried to, I was gonna go over the story, before I became a lead on UP and for whatever reason, I just felt like, I got cold feet. Or I said, You know what no, I think I need to pursue and go as far as I can with animation. So I stayed there. And did that. But, you know, Joe's class was phenomenal. We took the, they took us all out for the Robert McGee Story class three day class, seminar.

Michael Wakelam:

Amazing. Now, that would be amazing to do. I mean, obviously, I've read the book, but doing the class would be incredible. So you've you've animated and just mentioned there supervised and directed animation, you know, how does that change your approach, and your workload, I guess, when when you have to take on those different roles.

Shawn Krause:

I think every studio is different. There was kind of stages to it, which was interesting, because when you move from being an animator into being, at Pixar, a directing animator versus a Sup, which is the next step up, there's a, there's an interesting transition with your peers. Because now you've changed your role, you're kind of coming to people with, Hey, this is my job. Now, I'm responsible for footage coming in, I'm here to help mentor, I'm here to, to, you know, to do this part of the job, you know, versus that part of the job. So that is probably the biggest transition. And then going into the supervisory role, that becomes, in my mind, different because when you're, when you're a directing animator, it was more about the performance and working with it between as a liaison between the director and the animator, as a Sup role, you're reporting to the producer, reporting to the director, and you are at Pixar, at least becoming more interdepartmental, you're following up on your casting shots, you're, you're following up on, you know, simulation meetings, and some of that bleeds over, that would be organic, how we divvied that work up, but you were much more integral in between the different, the different departments on a show. And it started- and what that does, then too is then that opens your mind to a broader sense of making film, which is I think, for me, and my journey, whatever you want to call it, not to get back to Steve Perry, but my journey was that you start to be- your skill tips that way your eyes start to tip that way, because you're looking at the success of the film not of a single shot sequence.

Michael Wakelam:

And I mentioned as a directing animator, you'll still animating but probably less so on a supervisor.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah. And again, at Pixar, it's, I think it's different in a lot of places, but you would be responsible for some quota as a directing animator. And then when you get really busy, that would sort of fall away. But as a supervising animator, usually you were in at the beginning, doing a lot of test animation, setting a tone, putting a stake in the ground, doing model sheets, and then you would be more, you know, on the managerial side of things.

Michael Wakelam:

Okay, interesting, and which did you like best?

Shawn Krause:

I like them both in a lot of ways. I think the one thing I would say, is that on the supervisory role, you do miss getting in there and animating. Yeah, you know, the shots and then the, feeling the emotion. That's one thing I'd say is that even from 3d to 2d that I really missed, though, the one element that wasn't as rewarding was that when you- when the little experience I've had doing 2d animation, when you would draw a line down, it was from your head to your hand, and you really felt the emotion and the energy of that line you're making. And the kind of the fun of that, the thrill of that. That for me wasn't the same on the computer.And so that- you felt a little more detached from what you were doing.

Michael Wakelam:

Interesting. That's really interesting. And you also, I didn't know if how much you're, you were involved with this. But I think you were involved with the Nemo and Friends thing at Walt Disney World. Was that was that true? Yeah?

Shawn Krause:

That's true. And that was, that was a fun kind of, you know, dream come true as well, because I always loved, you know, my parents took me to Disneyland and thenDisney World. That was huge. And so to be able to work on theme park rides was fantastic. And they're all very different. And they're all very different challenges about, even on that one ride, the way that they're projecting the characters, and the tricks that we had to do to make those work, and the tech involved with the setup was very different, the length of the shots. I mean, one of the shots of the end was, I don't know, minute and a half long. Something crazy, because the a song that loops. And then that even bring- introduces like different strengths to people, you know, in animation that will speak to is that some people have the strength in doing quick off one, one bits, and they can-short shots, and then they might get lost, if it's a long meandering shot of like, what do I focus? You know, what I'm doing? And how do you keep track of things and keep moving forward? So they're very different challenges in that regard.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, so a lot of different thoughts in regards to timing there isn't there and you know, how to space out that shot and get some of that ambient motion in there.

Shawn Krause:

Keep it alive and loop itand then clean up on it, you know, and secondary fin animation, whatever.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, we'll probably tie this in later with Unreal, but I wanted to talk about how the visualisation of what you're seeing on the screen while animating, I guess, including effects has changed over the years and helped the process for an animator just being able to see it on screen as you're doing it, as opposed to, you talked at the start about having, you know, putting numbers in and having just seen splines and not being able to see it real time.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, well, I mean, again, going back to Toy Story, and the shorts group, when we were animating it was so cumbersome to have the real geometry in there that it was cylinders that we're working with. And then there was crude ways of loading just the head, you know, crude skin for just the head, and that would bog you down. It was exciting, though, in some ways, because when we were on Toy Story and Bug's Life, and up to maybe Incredibles, even, you would animate these scenes, and you wouldn't see the effects in simulation. And then you step away for three to six months. And then you'd see it at the at the premiere. Wow! That's amazing! So it was a really intense, rewarding experience to go to see it all for the first time. So now I think that's the one bit of it that I think is less fun is that you see so much

Michael Wakelam:

There's less surprise. of it.

Shawn Krause:

There's less surprise! And so that's different. But I think what you're saving, though, is that you really get to see what you're doing on the screen and you get to plan if there's a shadow you play to that shadow. The characters might step through, or the effects and how big it is might inform how you treat that animation. Not someone coming after the fact doing it.

Michael Wakelam:

I mean, it's it's remarkable, really thinking back to Toy Story that if you were, you know, often just seeing cylinders, as you're animating what we saw on the screen on the big screen was incredible really.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah. Well, the part that I think that I'd love to have the control over, and I think I've seen Disney do it really well. But I think it's a big challenge is expressive cloth, things like that. Because I always think of the old films and examples off the top my head is like when Alice falls down the rabbit hole, and she's falling falling, and then her dress kind of comes out. That's a very stylized way of doing it. It's a, it's very, there's a lot of character charm to it. There's or physics to it that you want to control. So to have that control and not feel rigid, that's still I think, something that's harder to achieve.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, left to the effects animators, you're going to get a very physical performance from that cloth.

Shawn Krause:

But you can be in some of the I mean, I would argue that a lot of them are fully capable of doing what I'm what I'm talking about. It's just how do you iterate that? Or if you do that, and then you have a fix, how do you surgically go in? Because it's all simulation. So I don't know what the key to that obviously is, but that's something that I've always really would have loved to have. And I think they did, I didn't work on Coco, but I think they had some really nice controls for Miguel's jacket and put his hands in his pocket and the hood. So there were steps forward in that regard.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, let's, let's jump to SPIRE. I've heard Michael Surrey's story about joining SPIRE. What drew you here? How did that happen?

Shawn Krause:

Well, I think, you know, after a quarter of a century at one place, I heard Jan Pinkava kind of say it best years ago is that, you know, you see that in a place like Pixar in big studio, there's one, two, maybe three runways, and there's a lot of really, really talented people. Getting those opportunities, timing those things out, the amount of time it takes to get around to that can be frustrating and drawn out. It also is, I missed, I was missing the scrappiness. And I think a lot of people felt that way of like when you go into a movie, a bigger production, and you're going in a cyclical nature of it, you roll into a show you do three, four sequences, then you're off. It's not the same thing that I loved about joining Pixar back in the day when we were doing Toy Story, A Bug's Life where you did a lot more of the film you did a lot more figuring out these characters. Those things were just kind of adding up more and more. So when I talked to Brad Lewis, we were talking over the years when he was doing dragons 3 (How to Train Your Daragon: The Hidden World). And at one point, he just, I just said, how you doing? He said, I'm starting a studio. I said what?! So we started talking and he said, What would you want to do, and that kind of gave him my pie in the sky things I'd like to do and just ways I'd like to grow and it fit in with what they were doing here. And I think that was a big reason that I thought, I'm never going to have a better opportunity to really go out and challenge myself and be a part of something that could be a version of Pixar again, it can be that exciting. And we can be tackling new ground that hasn't been done yet with the Unreal Engine that drove me over. The people, I think that the thing was, you know, Brad, saying, I want to have people come over that I would invite over for Thanksgiving dinner. I thought that was great.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. That's a really interesting point of view. Because, you know, I, I guess in this industry, no matter whether you're in animation for a TV series, or a film or whatever, you know, you're working with these people for years. And so you've got to get along. It's almost like a marriage or, like you say, a family.

Shawn Krause:

And I would say I've heard that echoed now that I've been away from Pixar, but even at Pixar, that's what it came down to. And we were really lucky that we had so many successful films. But over time you, you start to go, I want to work with the people that I love working with the people that are exciting and enthusiastic. So it fits in with that as well. You know, the films are great and if they, you know, if they succeed even better, but it's that experience of the day to day, what do you want to spend your life doing? You want to be with people you that you love working with.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, people don't leave jobs because of the the job they leave jobs because of the people. That's really, that's really interesting, I guess, you know, feels probably here more like Pixar back then, as a scrappy startup team that's well funded and able to, you know, change and mix things up.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah. I mean, Brad and PJ are really been great about letting us grow out. I'm doing storyboarding, and I'm and every, every few months, it's a different season of what we're doing, whether it's hiring or setting up, you know, the pipeline, you know, everyone kind of jumping in with ideas. And so it's, it's just fantastic. Yeah.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. Sounds like fun. Can you talk about the approach? Again, you know, I've talked about this a little bit with with Michael, but the approach you're taking with regards to Unreal and real time tools. I mean, you've had a slightly different career to Michael being more focused on 3d animation from the start. So yeah, it'd be interesting to hear your perspective.

Shawn Krause:

Well, I think that a lot of it I'm learning, I think a lot of us are kind of catching up to it. I think people like Josh Crews on our, on our team. And I think some people have more experience with it. But I think we're going to have to kind of- it'll happen over time. It won't happen overnight. We're wanting to do as much as we can in the engine. I think the big wins are how- what like the things I've seen that I haven't seen transition into a real production, this sort of pipeline or customised to what we want, rather than what it can do is, you know, saying we can build a forest here and taking a brush and growing trees that are stylistically what you want. I've seen it done with trees, but not the trees that maybe we've designed here. Yeah. So how can we do that? How do we approach lighting? I think that the challenges that we see are like, when you go into the engine, it's all real time. So it's like, here's your game, and you're playing forever versus breaking this down into shots. And so, you know, what is that like? What does that mean?

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, how's it more art directed.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, and then going down into the character based control the animation principles versus mocap, or simulation. I think definitely for me too, is that I think there's, a there's a fear sort of, and people kind of frown upon certain aspects that are useful tools. Like, if you want to use motion capture or something, and it's successful and it looks as good if not better, in some ways. To use it as a tool to block something out or, or background. I know that, you know, Pixar, they use them for dancing scenes and things like that. So I think people use it. But I think there is a bit of a stigma, just think it's a cheat, or there's something wrong with it. But I think whatever gets you there faster, because if it doesn't look good, you're not going to use it. If it looks like motion capture, you're gonna throw it anyway.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, but I think also in regards to I mean, I think, what was it the Giant Robot Brothers, it's a series on Netflix that they're doing. And I can't remember the studio that's doing that it's here in in the US, but they were using mocap and Unreal to iterate, you know, to really do the story work. Instead of drawing it, they were acting it, they had actors, and they would go, Okay, let's change that line and let's change that, you know, that pose and let's move the camera here. And all of the things that would take you a lot of time to draw, they were doing in real time. And if you can do that with the actual characters, even if you're going to reanimate it by hand later, yeah. Then you know, what a great, not a shortcut, but a great visualisation tool, much like previews in, you know, live action films.

Shawn Krause:

Or even like when they would take, you know, I think they did to save money back in the day, but Disney when they were doing Cinderella, and all those things, they'd shoot those scenes. And they would use that as the foundation for what they were doing. And then they would go over and you know, change it for the characters-

Michael Wakelam:

Rotoscoping.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, amplify it, I look at it like that.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, no, exactly. And getting back to what we were chatting about before we started was it's about story, isn't it? And really, what you're seeing at the end is the story. And as long as the story works, and you've told the story well, and it's a great story, then really, what do the tools matter? You know, how you got there is not as important. I think, you know, obviously, stylization is a bit more difficult when it comes to mocap. But, you know, otherwise.

Shawn Krause:

That's the thing I was thinking about, too, is that it feels like we were having a discussion with that the other day, it was Charles Ellison. And the computer gives you so many things that are naturalistic now, and muscles and things. So it's almost like, will that be a commodity people need or want realism? Or is it stylization? The way to go with what you're doing? Because that's the thing that is, is the artistic choice, versus the-

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah and we're seeing more and more stylization, as I think especially look at spider verse, and what that has, has done, visually, but then, you know, even I remember talking with with Rex Grignon. And talking about back to Madagascar, and how they had to really, they broke down rigs, they had to do different rigs so that their shoulders weren't attached to the, you know, because they had this snappy animation that was doing all these poses that weren't super natural, you know. And that's what's really fun about animation, not necessarily the naturalistic approach.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, and I you know, that it does touch on what Mike Surrey and I talkabout a lot is, you know, we see a lot of people posting their live action reference and how they, you know, maybe copied it or used that verbatim. And that's a great tool to have, but it's only part of it, I really believe that it's still fundamental to really know and have done a little bit of traditional 2d animation, because it teaches you about those principles and those skills that are... you need those to take your animation to the, your highest level. And drawing it's really so important to know and we had ---, we were lucky to have him on Inside Out because he really brought that knowledge of graphic choices, as well as acting and all his appeal and everything like that. But you can pose something with it with a character and think oh, I've posed this character nicely to the camera and that's appealing. But what is a more graphically elegant way or powerful way to pose the teeth or an eye or to imply form when you want it to really break a model, to be graphically more interesting or more successful? Spacing you know your your animation frame to frame for more impact and things like that. It's, and I don't know, not that people aren't doing it but I think I just would reiterate that it's I think that's really important to have that, because I like I prefer to go with a cross between the Frank Thomas an award Kimball and have both those than to simply go no only no call is the way to do everything, you know, and he could do anything right but it's the idea that he was so great at like doing a Tiger Walk on his head, you know, and that's Oh, that's real looking. So that's better. It's like the fun, the fantastical nature of what you can do with like, you know, pushed animation of Alice in Wonderland is so valuable as well.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. I think, you know, it's interesting when you look at some of those videos of people's reference footage that they've, that they've shot, the best ones are not acting naturalistic anyway, they are overacting in an over posing, because that is what's going to sell the shot. And which goes back to even, you know, earliest live action films, you know, with with live action films you don't light like it just gonna look in real life, you light so it's going to accentuate that shot and you know, bring the mood that you want to bring. And so it's not about even in live action films being naturalistic it's about, it's about telling the story and selling the shot.

Shawn Krause:

You're so right. It's funny you said because it makes you think, you see, as people, people going online and animating the overlapping action of what they're doing, rather than, that will be the caricature that you add to that, it's not the performance you want to put down as reference necessarily. Or doing a broad arc for something, because that's what you're going to do. You should do the Yeah, you're going to use it, use the real movement, and then make that exaggerated.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, exactly. So you're, you're working on Danny McBride's Trouble here. And you can see, obviously, you can't share but we can see this amazing concept art you've got on the wall here. So for those listeners who haven't heard about Trouble, it's about a 13 year old boy stuck in a parallel reality called the world of trouble. Is that right? Talking with Michael, obviously, you're deep in development on this and haven't really started animation I don't think, have you?

Shawn Krause:

Just some early tests. John Tyrrell was on with us and he's just such a fantastic animator. He's doing...we have one like early version of a rig in there of one of our characters. And he's just playing around with bits and pieces and inspirational moments. And it's just wonderful to see what he's already doing with the character. So we're just getting into building, taking the characters into the, into the machine. Ricky Nierva's still designing the overall look of everything. And we feel really lucky to have Ricky on with this too, I worked with Ricky for years at Pixar. It's very exciting where this is going. And it is cool that this is where we're, you know, we're all working. It's not hitting gates. We're all in it together and building and that's why having John Dibble to take a rig, and just play with it to inform the design and inform the look, is really a great thing to have, to be able to do right now.

Michael Wakelam:

You had another film in development, Century Goddess, is that still in development or..?

Shawn Krause:

Still in development. It took a pause for a moment. We had to pause it for a second. But that should be getting more rapid develop in the summer. And it's still in story phases with storyboarding. We have a script. Michelle Lee is working on that who did I think Ms Marvel. And a couple other shows, and she's been she was writing on it with Brad, Diane Paulus, who worked on Jagged Little Pill on Broadway. She's involved and worked with Brad for a while on this. And lastly, Starrah, who's a musician writes music, fantastic artist. She's done some initial, like demos for it. So that's where did it go? Well it's just, you know, time and space going on.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, I mean, it sounds like, well, also sounds like Brad's quite, you know, hands on as a producer and CEO. Is he CEO

Shawn Krause:

CCO.

Michael Wakelam:

So he's quite hands on as far as writing and producing.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, Trouble. More Goddess, Goddess was his idea that he's been working on a while Trouble was, way he tells it is that it was more of a concept that he had, and he worked on Danny to find that, but theyboth come from Brad.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, yeah. And you have no deadlines on these. You're just working away, which must be, feel like a luxury.

Shawn Krause:

Well, yes and no.

Michael Wakelam:

Well maybe you do have deadlines, but you know, you've got no theatre dates.

Shawn Krause:

Nothing's locked down. Yeah. But yeah, it's very, we are definitely in the startup phase and it's early days, but it's exciting. And like I say, we're all, we all get to play a bit in the sandbox together. Wanna say we're close to 60 people, I guess now. So there's some in LA, some in India and some here in the Bay Area.

Michael Wakelam:

Okay. I guess you started during the pandemic or just pre pandemic. And so you've really been working from the start how everyone else in the world has had to adapt to working. And so how was that for you like working across these different sites and coming from Pixar, where you're all pretty much on the same campus?

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, well, I dovetail to the end. It was nice even at Pixar. You know, I was working on some of the promotional.. helping direct the promotional work for soul. And so we kind of had a post mortem after that and everyone kind of agreed that hey, the work at home things nice. We don't want to do all work at home. But I think that carries over into what we're doing now, where it is great to be able to focus and get up and just start working or work late, and be productive. But there is something to be said, as everyone knows now is like when you sit in a room with someone, the little things like having a meeting and being able to lean over to someone to quietly say something or give someone a look or just that communication that makes things more efficient, and personal. And we miss, you missed that. Because everything when you want to set a small conversation has a lot of weight to it to go, I'm going to set up a video conference with you, okay, we're looking at each other, you have to speak.

Michael Wakelam:

Or like you've just bumped into each other at the fridge and getting a coffee or whatever.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah, there's a lot of things that come up that way.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, yeah. It was interesting. Yesterday, I was at a Metaverse focused conference at Stanford. And there was a guy from Microsoft, there talking about, I guess he's done the virtual and teams kind of product side. And he was talking about the next iteration and showed some footage of some tools that they're developing. And he was talking about the same thing. And you know, that if you're in a, even in a boardroom with a group of people, and you lean over and say something quietly to someone next to you, if you do that on Zoom, everyone can hear you. So they've got these, they're doing these avatar kind of tools, where it's a zoom, but you're, you know, you're in a room, virtual room. And so if you do talk to someone who's just next year, it's only them that would hear it. So it was really interesting to see what they're developing. And obviously, the avatars are very early and cartoonish. But the idea that they're taking on board and the feedback that we need to have different ways not just this Brady Bunch screen of everyone in front of us, we need to have different ways of communicating. But like you say, there's nothing like being in the same room even for me doing the podcast in person is so much different than doing it over

Shawn Krause:

Oh, yeah. 100%. Just, I mean, just the subtlety zoom. you pick up just talking face to face, you know.

Michael Wakelam:

No lag.

Shawn Krause:

And you don't talk like this, because you're talking on a microphone, yeah the lag, that's huge. The lag.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. And you know, just depending on who you're talking to, and where they are and what connection they've got, it makes a big difference in the kind of conversations you can have.

Shawn Krause:

But the nice thing, what's interesting is being now we're so spread out, it is wild to be sitting here, it's raining here, it's sunny in LA, and it's snowing somewhere else. That is trippy, they go open your window and the wind's going crazy. But there's some fun things about it, too. But you know, we're even debating right now is like, is it better to come in off traffic hours for a few hours? Or is it better to have two full days to come in the office? Like what is the most efficient, effective way to be together? Because we all want to be together.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah. But you don't need to be together for five days straight?

Shawn Krause:

Yeah. Yeah. Like I was animating on Soul. And I had a shot. And literally, I would just go in and polish for the week. And you're going, because it was a really long shot. And you're like, I don't really need to be in the building. I can be doing this anywhere.

Michael Wakelam:

And we find the same. I mean, I've got, my team is split between London and Poland. And so we've always worked that way, the last few years. But when I went over in October for a week, just to you know, spend time with the team, the amount that we got done in a week, was incredible. Just being together the entire time. So yeah, there's something to be said for both, I guess. And do you expect that you will continue having these separate offices in California? Or are you going to consolidate to LA or San Francisco?

Shawn Krause:

No, I think one of the great things right now is we're trying to feel out. My perception is we're going, What do we want to be? What's the best thing we can be? Because the blank, to say, out of the gate, okay, we figured it out in three months, what we should do. I don't think that's realistic. And I think kind of like, what I feel like where we're at right now, it may evolve, but it's go to where the talent is, and find it there. Rather than have to have everyone come and move somewhere else. You know, do we spend more money on transportation and communication versus a campus? Is that the better way to do it? And if people come in, if you fly, you know, the people you want to come in twice a year, three times a year, and then you see them every now and then what's the what's the best way where everyone's everyone's gonna feel connected? And not like, this is the A team, that's the B team. That's the, you know, everyone's feels valued the same way. So I think that's the biggest thing, I hate to use the word, culture is overused now, but what is your culture as a studio, you know. But I always think of it as like the shared values, the shared passion for filmmaking, but it is always trying to make everyone feel equally valued.

Michael Wakelam:

And now you and Michael have the same title, pretty much. So but I imagine you really complemented each other. You know, talk about that a little bit because you've got slightly different backgrounds.

Shawn Krause:

I think it goes back to kind of what I was saying with --- where it had been great. Like when Mike and I first came on, it was interesting, because he came on a little after me. And he's got such a rich history of traditional animation, has, I'm in awe of his drawing skills. And the storyboard work is phenomenal. And I was more on the tech side. So I think I would say I have more of a, understanding the history of the 3d production line, pipeline. So as we get into work, when we were doing tests we did for Century Goddess, we work with a handful of freelance artists. And it was it was kind of a nice compliment. They said, after it was all done, we just ,was chatting with them and thanking them. And he goes, how long have you guys known each other? Six months, maybe, oh we thought you guys knew each other for 20 years. But I think, you know, be you know, growing up and working in the same era together, you know, and just having a similar sensibility and personalities. I think that leans towards it. So I think that when we get in the room, it was nice to have Mike's 2d excellence in there. And then I would typically say, let's get the camera, turn that around, see what you're doing there. See, why is that? Oh, because you're playing and it's not angled towards camera or you're cheating too far. So it's just kind of our, like you say, our experiences. Not necessarily skills, but experiences have, complement each other. And then I think we work well together to not try to step on each other's toes. We're coming at it with the same goal.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, both got pretty laid back personalities as well.

Shawn Krause:

Yeah. So and I'm learning a tonne as I as I do more and more storyboarding stuff. You know, he's been fantastic. And I've learned a lot through what he does, so.

Michael Wakelam:

Excellent. Well, we look forward to seeing everything that comes out of SPIRE in the coming years, months. However long it takes. And it's been a real pleasure to chat to you today. So thanks so much for taking the time.

Shawn Krause:

Same here.

Michael Wakelam:

Let me know if you go into another ballgame with Steve Perry. Thanks for joining me, I just loved meeting the team at SPIRE and you probably have another chat with some of the team there soon. Hugely interesting work with a great group of people. And I'm excited to see the work they're going to bring into the world. This was the last of my in person chats for now, back to zoom. Stay tuned over the coming weeks as we've got some amazing guests lined up, including a few people that we don't see or hear too many interviews with. If you'd like to get in touch with us, shoot us any feedback, please email podcast@thecreatorssociety.org. You can find me on LinkedIn and other socials. As mentioned at the top, please like, subscribe, share the podcast if you're enjoying it, thanks to Rich Dickerson for the music Mike Rocha for the mix and exec producer Eric Miller. Thanks again. See you next time.