PETE BILLINGTON Matte Painting Supervisor
MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED
Can you tell us a little bit about matte painting?
We create the distant environments – the sky, distant mountains, rolling hills, and all the atmosphere in the shot. It’s been changing as tools become more advanced so sometimes we’ll take on foreground elements.
What are you working on specifically in Madagascar 3?
Madagascar 3 was very location heavy so we worked on establishing shots of all the locations. We worked on the Alps, London, Monte Carlo, and New York.
As an artist, who or what inspires you?
I love creative work that’s been deeply researched and refined. I love the process of researching locations and developing a look over time. In a series like Madagascar, three movies resulted in 10 years of look development. It was a rare opportunity because films usually have 2 years of development – it was nice to work on something so heavily developed.
How did you get into the animation industry?
I started at Silicon Graphics. I was a tech who went to various studios to troubleshoot problems. I was the west coast rep for Alias/Wavefront, which makes Maya, so I got to work at Lucasfilms on Star Wars then at Escape Studios on Matrix. Essentially it was through a software company that I got involved in the entertainment business.
When you aren’t at work, you’re busy with your pro cycling career. How did that get started?
I’ve ridden bikes my whole life, but when I got into visual effects I threw my whole life into that. For most of my 20s, I sat in front of a computer and worked 20 hours a day so I gained a lot of weight. When I turned 30 I realized I needed to make some lifestyle changes, so I got back into cycling.
What kind of cycling?
Track racing. Riders who race on the road like Tour de France don’t look like me. They’re much smaller, and they weigh a lot less. I could train with them, but I’d lose them in the hills. My friends recommended track racing so I went to a professional track race just to watch. I was in the hotel with all the athletes when I realized these were my people! They were bigger and weighed a little bit more. After that, I got a track bike and within 6 months I won a national championship! It just clicked immediately so I got a coach and continued to develop my skills.
What else can you tell us about your cycling career?
I ride a tandem bike so I ride with another person behind me. We do a 1 kilometer from a standing start where we’re held at a gate. We get a countdown and then it’s an all out effort for roughly one minute or just over a minute that it takes to go 1 kilometer. The track is 250 meters, it has 45 degree banking, and it’s made out of wood.
My other discipline is a match sprint where two bikes are held at the start. You have to complete 6 laps, and whoever wins the last lap wins the race. Typically you’ll see the riders going really slow at the beginning because they’re trying to figure out who’ll make the jump. You can’t go all out for 6 laps or else you’ll get too tired so it’s a lot like a cat and mouse game. Once someone decides to make the jump, the other person has to react.
What would you say is your favorite part about working at DreamWorks?
The food! Do you know how much professional athletes have to eat? I have to eat about 5 times a day. I cook a lot for myself so I usually bring my own food to work, but it’s nice to have the option to try different things everyday.
Do you have any advice for young athletes?
Just try everything and have fun! I don’t believe in natural talent. Some athletes claim they have born talent, but I really think it’s experiential. If you have enough determination, you can refine and practice. Focused practice is what gets results.
If you bring it back to what we do here at DreamWorks Animation, a lot of people get discouraged because they think they can’t draw. Everyone I know who’s an amazing animator dedicated a huge portion of his or her life to practicing. Even if they didn’t realize it, even if it was just fun for them, they spent hours a day drawing. It’s the same with cycling or any other sport, it’s just repetition, repetition, repetition.