JOHN TRUONG Character Effects
TURBO, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, KUNG FU PANDA, KUNG FU PANDA 2, OVER THE HEDGE, MADAGASCAR 3
What do you do at DreamWorks?
I’m in the character effects department. Our main job is to animate and set up clothing, hair and fur on all the characters. I’ve been at DreamWorks Animation since 2005.
What films have you worked on?
Before coming to DreamWorks, I worked on The Chronicles of Narnia and Pixar’s Ratatouille. At DreamWorks, I’ve worked on Over the Hedge, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 3 and Turbo.
Is there any particular movie that was a little bit difficult or different than usual for character effects?
A groundbreaking movie for character effects was Kung Fu Panda. All the fabric in Kung Fu Panda was simulated. We created the cloth and put in properties for each piece of fabric. Once the character starts to move, the computer simulates the behavior of the cloth. It could be silk, it could be heavy cotton, it could be canvas. The challenge was that the characters were flying around doing crazy martial arts. The simulator would sometimes break because it was too large of a move between the action frames. We had to find clever ways to resolve those issues when they were fighting in the air and flying around. Kung Fu Panda 2 was even more complex, with more action and more cloth work.
How did you get started in animation?
I’d always wanted to be an artist, so this was right up my alley. I remember seeing the ballroom environment in Beauty and the Beast and the computer generated dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and thinking, “That’s what I want to do!” When I got out of art school, animation was still very 2D - so I researched and found that 3D visual effects were mostly made in California. I learned 3D animation while studying for a masters in visualization sciences at Texas A&M, which had strong connections with the VFX (visual effects) industry in California. My first position was an intern at Pixar.
How did you get into photography?
I took photography in art school, back in the days of film and darkroom. I’ve always been a very visual person, and photography exemplified that.
What inspires your photography?
Lots of things! There is just so much to take pictures of. I love art history and painting; traveling and seeing the world. Landscapes. People. Portraiture. I love shooting people in costume and street photography. I love color. I admire many artists of different styles, including JWM Turner, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, James Ensor, Peter Bruegal, Richard Diebenkorn, Claude Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Gaugin, Delacroix - just to name a few. Right now I’m doing a lot of landscapes, but sometimes I’ll attend renaissance faires and festivals or shoot models in unique environments. I love shooting anything that has a lot of color and shapes and exploring how light will dance and play around the subject. Sometimes it’s not an issue of subject matter, but an issue of what makes a photo visually appealing - such as how the shapes and forms and lines are created through the use of color and light.
What would you say is the best part of your job here at DreamWorks?
DreamWorks is the best place I have worked, and I’ve worked at a lot of places. The reason why DreamWorks is great is that they sincerely do their best to make their artists happy. They foster creativity, support us in what we do with many extracurricular activities. Every day I am thankful for having a job here.
What’s your best advice for art students that are trying to get into DreamWorks?
Don’t do it for the money. I grew up in a household where it was always about being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. At the time, my parents did not have a whole lot of respect for art. To them, art was a hobby, not a career.
If you do anything with art, you have to do it because you really love it. Once you love it, that love will show in your work, and people will go, “Hey, we’ll pay you for this.” That’s when the money will come. I think great artists know they are innately talented and have something to offer the world as an artist, regardless of what everyone else tells them. It’s this tenacity and perseverance, I think, that makes a true artist.