Career History

Manage – Direct – Design – Innovate

I have been active since my early days in college in designing and creating digital content – on the service end and for development.  As is the nature of the industry, there are avenues that also lead to the technical side.  I’ve been involved with engineers and technical directors in creating interactive products and tools.  I’ve been comfortable working on the floor with design and production teams, and at the executive level managing opportunities or supervising departments. Along the way I have worked for and with some outstanding clients.

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Forward Into the Breach…
Production: The Front Lines
Teaching is a Learning Experience
The Games Itch
Game On!
The Big League
Next Act: Film and Television
From Service to Content
Development: Completing the Circle
Looking Ahead

Forward into the breach…

My first “big” job was at a software development house called Neovisuals who at the time had secured  a major VAR marketing deal with 3M.  Neovisuals was one of the first out of the gate with a 3D modeling, design, and animation package (it was the first package available for Sheridan college to teach its early Computer Graphics and Animation program). It had some local competition with Alias Research who went on to create the current industry standard “Maya” application after being acquired by Autodesk.  These were fast paced times.  I was rarely at home more than a few days between flights.  We trained, we demo’ed, we sat with coders, and tested releases.  No one slept before a big show and we had plenty of tap-dancing to do on stage – and sadly, when things did not go well on customer sites (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base forgive us – mag tape was not the most stable backup medium… ).  I learned the meaning of “renaissance man” through people I worked with then, like coder/artist/writer Kaveh Kardin and many others who seemed uniquely suitable for the field. Neovisuals Inc itself was acquired by leading software company SAS who moved its product office to Austin TX; a city that’s got it right in my opinion and I still miss it.  Austin was also becoming a hub for games development and other high tech areas (see Research Boulevard ).  Something that captured my interest at the time.
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Production – the Front Lines

After completing the transition of the product to the new marketing HQ in Austin TX, I returned to Toronto to first teach and then move into commercial production at Topix – then a ground-breaking early player in the advertising world who specialized in high-end 3D animation, post-FX, and motion graphics design. Again, these were fast-paced times and the place was full of some very gifted and unique individuals  – some who would go on to start major initiatives. Today I know it is critical to work smart not hard but then we all had to do both.  It was a great experience to see how the advertising industry works and how things have to get done in the media world.  Fear was never far as big clients (agencies, corporations, producers) did not react well to media not being ready for expensive TV time-slots – or theatrical release! My first exposure to production for IMAX included Stereo 3D shots – and eye opener not just for the potential of the “3D” experience but for the looming demands of high-res.  Nothing like seeing your work/errors displayed on massive incredibly detailed screens. Computers and software tools were not our friends – they were machines to be punished to do their job before they got us.  Our tools were primarily Wavefront for 3D (a wonderfully modular and unbreakable piece of coding) and a collection of proprietary 2D motion and compositing tools. Photoshop even then was pretty indispensable. The stage was set however for more intuitive “turn-key” packages to come along.  The big story at the time was the release of the Softimage 3D Creative Environment (designed by filmmaker Daniel Langois), which cornered the *market in terms of creative user experience and production speed.  (*Following a couple of acquisitions, the product in time relinquished that dominance back to Alias via its redesigned Maya product – all somewhat moot as both tools are currently owned by graphics software leader Autodesk). Topix continues to thrive, growing its group of company from year to year through related partnerships and spin-offs lead by founder Chris Wallace and partner Sylvain Taillon.  I look back proudly at being the digitized model for Mr. Clean’s lower body in the first 3D rendition of him, though I suspect his lower regions have since been replaced…
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Teaching is a Learning Experience

Standing up in front of room-fulls of demanding bright students can be intimidating. Thankfully, my days demo’ing software in front of audiences of hundreds at trade shows and events, and of defending its qualities against industry specialists helped prepare me a little.  Teaching is tough and you can’t really wing it, but once you develop a routine and support material it can be a lot of fun. I loved the energy and potential demonstrated by new talent,  and after an initial full-time position at acclaimed Sheridan College (while program leader Avrim Katzman completed his doctorate in the U.S.), I continued to to teach design for CG Animation on the side for a time.  I do recall Avrim handing me a tiny copy of “The One Minute Teacher” with a smile as he left.  Another trial by fire…
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The Games Itch

Not unexpectedly, my own thesis and research project at while in the Computer Graphics program at Sheridan focused on the emerging gaming industry and technology.  Games were still fairly new at the time and in hindsight were all generally making available hardware and software tools do handsprings.  Engine writers and graphics specialists were not yet taken as seriously as they are today, but I admire the pioneers and their innovation (many of these were the guys working in machine code!).  For my part, on one fateful day as a little kid with my brother, I got to experience my first “video game” session on a stand up “Pong” machine in the entrance of a hotel bar in the U.S.  A game I pointed out in my paper had already demonstrated the basics of simulation and dynamics, real-time graphics, and multi-user interfaces. You will find many like me who saw the first video games like Space Invaders and Asteroids wheel into pinball arcades.  The world was changing and, judging by the line-ups, I think we all knew it.  At any rate, if nothing else it made me extremely adept at picking up the new graphics software interfaces and devices.  But I never forgot my first experiences on them, or the fact that they would continue to change the world.
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Game On!

I left Topix with a promise to return with knew knowledge and experience after an invite from Nick Gray to join the ranks of his brother Chris’ games development company Graymatter Inc.  Graymatter enjoyed rapid success and growth after Chris had a published some popular games (Boulder Dash for one) becoming at one point the largest indepedent developer in Canada.  Games were making the shift increasingly to 3D. My first game with them being a hybrid side-scroller for 3DO called Phoenix3 – which to this day leaves people asking why there were never a Phoenix1 and 2 (the title actually reflected the plot requirement to acquire 3 key pieces of fighting technology), and it was a pleasure to work on their most sophisticated game to date; a mech-warrior style offering called S.C.A.R. for publisher Microsoft Games.  The game was very advanced thanks to some Key talent like engine writer and natural hacker Andi Smithers.  Andi was nicely counterbalanced by engineering grad Mike Rooks (who casually mentioned one day building an assembly and packaging machine at home for his wife’s fledgling nature bar business!) and others like natural 2D/3D CG artist (textures, models, animation, front-end) Sean Sullivan who all populated what was to me a surprisingly large pipeline and support structure a the time (I hadn’t seen nuthin yet). We used Softimage for 3D, but the games-world tended to buck the trends in a maverick sort of way by using much cheaper products at the time like 3Dstudio.  Games companies also tended to rely on PCs with cheaper commodity components rather than higher end workstations whenever possible. Many tools for applying textures/dynamics and for building environments were proprietary. President Chris Gray was a gamer at heart and I think impressed at the client level as well.  He lead quietly and with good humour and it was a shame the company found itself caught in a downturn during an expensive move to its new location in Toronto. Especially painful as the new Microsoft game was shelved before it could be released.  Timing, as I would quickly learn, is everything. Still it was an eye opener to to see just how extremely dedicated, young, gifted, and goofy the game development breed could be.
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The Big League

Enter Electronic Arts. First Project: EA Sports’ “Triple Play Baseball“.  It was one of the early companies I contacted when I had first graduated, and so was excited to have a chance to join the team as the company sought to pick up talent from Graymatter.  I was out West in Vancouver for just over a year but absorbed a lot from the experience. EA at the time had  a studio approaching a thousand employees they were beginning to bring under one roof.  It was my second taste of corporate life and another eye-opener. I admired EA’s attempts at the time to inject some freshness and competition into the mix by organizing into internally branded production “groups” (I was in something called the “Chaos” group and now that I think of it, it made some sense…). Company culture – particularly in organizations that are long established and doing well – is not always an easy thing to adjust, so I am sure it was worth it to them to mix things up a little and try to encourage a little inter-group competitveness. Regardless, the studio was filled with some remarkable talent and business leaders.  As a public company, I could the anxiousness of meeting quarterly milestones and projected release dates.  The depth of resources that a large studio could throw at a problem or project to get it across the finish line was impressive.  It may not promote efficiencies to do so, but the jury is out over whether that mattered, given the pace required to grow the business.  The red-tape and logistics across endless ranks of strategic and support groups can feel daunting, but when in full “operative mode”, they can produce immense achievements – and medal worthy heroes.  My hat goes off to people like executive producer Steve Rechtshaffner who I think is not a typical corporate animal, although he belongs among them.  His style at times ran counter to standard thinking and I think he needed people to step out of the structure to help realize his projects – as was proved out in his SSX snow boarding game (EA “Big”).  A successful franchise.  I am glad to have been a contributor to that design and conceptual process.
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Next act: Film and Television

My return to Toronto allowed me to hook up with some old CG colleagues, John Mariella, Bob Munroe, and Kyle Menzies who had formed a company called C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures Inc.  The “CORE” part of the name unfortunately had already been taken (I knew) by a games company, and so began over a decade to explain why the dots were there in the name (there were some attempts to suggest it meant “Church Of Righteous Effects”). John was and is a brilliant and hard working artist.  He is talented and greatly influenced by past masters, and technically minded enough to be dangerous. Kyle I once saw posed in a famous pic of him as a kid at a school science fair, sitting in front of his exhibit on “Special Effects”.  But Bob was the real driver.  Raised in the U.S. I think he always had that blood in him.  He thought big in a very un-Canadian way, and saw no reason why he shouldn’t approach anyone in the world, be that the head of Disney or the American president if it came down to it.  In this case, it was Hollywood icon William Shatner who agreed to participate indirectly as a partner in the new venture.  I started on a development project for a soon to be successful animated series (enjoyed by young audiences on up to college kids) called “Angela Anaconda” – produced by Decode Entertainment (now DHX) and lead creatively by gifted Sue rose who also voiced the main character.  The series earned an Emmy nomination and if not for a corporate acquisition of Fox Kids network, would likely have enjoyed full “break-out” success among the big shows on TV. As it stands, the show still runs widely across the world.  The project began a valuable relationship with Decode who was itself headed up by some exceptional talent – particularly president Steve Denure who operated as smoothly through crisis as good times.  CORE soon broke out itself after landing an animated feature project from Disney called “The Wild“, which saw the company shoot from around 80 to another 400 in a period of months!  It was during that time, after having directing a number of animated TV and live-action film FX projects, that I was given the nod as VP Operations for the flag ship studio.  this in part enabled John and Bob and other senior talent to help focus on the Disney feature which carried with it no end of challenges.  After the film was released (having taken over 2 and half years to complete), the company struggled to re-adapt and re-structure itself to a new reality – one that required a series of key decisions to downsize, merge, and visualize new strategic objectives.  Sadly, after a history of challenges (everything from “SARS” to 911 and a broad media market downturn), the company was unable to re-establish its place in a wider and much more competitive industry.  My time at CORE (10 years) remains my longest period at a single company.  It was also the most educational.  It required innovation and  new ideas to adapt to changing models, and a constant shifting and re-building of resources from a project to project basis. In the end, one factor that never faded, was the youthful enthusiasm and creative spirit that existed from technical specialist to front line artists and managers.  I solidly believe that in any company that didn’t “make it, you would find that most employees believed that success was still right around the corner and never wanted to quit trying. While I was at the company it was a pleasure to work with producers and broadcasters like E1/Blueprint Entertainment, Aardman Animation, Portfolio Entertainment, National Geographic Kids, Discovery KidsOut-of-the-BlueTeletoon, Rockstar Games, and a host of other film and game producers. Creator/producer Dan Clark will stand out to me as a genuine figure.  He is cool, kid-like, and jazzed about anything he is a part of (any doubters are welcome to check out his recent Team Smithereen series with W!ldbrain Ent).  He demonstrated a style with junior artists that always found something positive – what he typically described as “superfantastique!”
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From Service to Content

When I left CORE, I knew I wanted to operate increasingly on the client side; particularly in development.  Heading the Television Animation group at CORE allowed my to participate in some exciting content development projects, particularly with Marble Media (The Dating Guy, conceptual art development)who, with Matt Hornburg and Mark Bishop at the helm entered the entertainment space with hits and never stopped.  Some people like creator Dan Clark (The Saveums), were simply too cool and creative not to leave lasting inspiration.  One of the final projects was a development agreement with broadcaster Teletoon, in partnership with and Disney TV – conceived by CORE’s own Gary Mundell. When I walked over to connect with old boss Chris Wallace at Topix, we agreed it was timely to utilize the studio and my experience to form a specifically branded content arm.  I offered Chemistry Entertainment as the name, with some obvious positive connotations to the word as far as creativity and relationship go.  The objects over the last 2+ years has been to establish the branding and infrastructure, build a list of client and industry contacts, identify a range of properties and development them to a point of presentation/publishing. The debut project was the gamer-inspired comedy “Run human Run”, followed up by boys-action TV/Game/Toy “Tach Thrashers”, and music-based band property “The Gizmods” in partnership with Boomtang Records.  Much thanks to conceptual designer/artist Kim Leow to bringing the look to life.  Two projects followed me from CORE, originating with two exceptional artists: “Blag Bag” from comic book illustrator Graham Murdoch (of Viz Comics fame in the UK) and “Sum Gals” from collectibles designer Hoi-An Tang here in Toronto.   My meetings locally and abroad have introduced me to some very sharp producers and broadcasters, from 9Story Entertainment (Liliana Vogt), to Entertainment One (Swin Chang, Frank Sapperstein), DHX’s Stephanie Betts, and many others.  These are the “new breed” in my opinion who are helping unlock the new media puzzle across the sphere of TV, games, apps, toys, and other social media.  The mobile/wireless sector is of increasing interest to me as this convergence continues.  It seems to be at the center of much of the recent activity.

Development: Completing the Circle

As mentioned, the work and related research for Chemistry Ent has included the online and mobile components (which of course includes social media).  There are very few entertainment projects that can avoid it (terminology in the industry refers to these market/product approaches as “Transmedia”, “360”, or “Multi-Platform” strategies – depending on their level of integration).  While working with Topix, an opportunity arose to help develop “special products” in the software development area.  The app space and potential concepts were of course explored, and in the end a initial web/mobile graphics utility product was proposed that won support for its R&D through the NRC’s (National Research Council)  IRAP program – a federal initiative which focuses on helping incubate innovative technology in the private sector.  The product/technology itself includes a variety of innovative elements that address the needs of next generation browsing and display.  While not on the entertainment side, the concepts and its design does benefit from the range and history of specialized/advanced graphics technology that exists in the high-end production and development industry (i.e. interfaces, hardware, and software platform features).  Something akin to engine design in the games industry. I was responsible for the leadership, design, and coordination of the project, and had the pleasure to work with some extremely bright/experienced research and coding specialists. Topix in the past has, through its President Chris Wallace, participated in similar software technology develop, notably in the creation of the popular Imageware/Adobe image processing filters (which for example can convert photo images into quasi charcoal, oil paint, or other painterly effects).  Topix has also partnered in the development of the on-line magazine “Stash, located in New York City (and headed by Steve Price) which surveys and features studios, talent, and  agencies involved in CG production design.
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Looking Ahead

Activities involving content and software development continue to require my attention.  My opportunities in sharing views on boards such as Sheridan College’s professional advisory committee also keeps me abreast of new talent an training.  Where possible I offer mentoring and consult with companies/colleagues in discussions related to new business strategy and creative. My view of the landscape suggests a convergence of technologies and products toward the mobile space and interactive, but that does not disregard the very real and popular consumption of passive content like video, music streaming, and film.  Games will remain a driver of new interactive products, with apps falling somewhere in between in terms of user experience. And the perhaps less glamorous but critical area of utility will continue to supply the market with ever more powerful and easier to use tools, data/content delivery, and communication.  If I can remain somewhere in that “sweet spot”, working with leading innovators, I will be a very happy man.
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Chemistry Entertainment Inc
Creative Director
Duration: 2 years
Identifies, develops, and produces animated and live-action content  opportunities  for a range of audiences and platforms.
Topix
Development Director
Duration: 2 years (concurrent)
Provides leadership and strategic input for special projects (interactive and tools R&D).
C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures Inc
Senior Manager, Division Head, TV Animation

Duration: 11 years
Provided strategic, operational, and creative management for this established VFX, series, and feature animation company.
Electronic Arts (Canada)
Art Lead (3D Assets, Motion), Design/Concept
Duration: 1 year
Team leadership and contributing game concept design under leadership of Executive Producer Steve Rechtschaffner, EABig.
Graymatter Inc
Senior 3D Artist (Model and Animation), Art Director
Duration: 2.5 years
Medium sized games developer.  Provided direct collaborative support for software engineers
Academy Of Design (Toronto)
3D Design and Animation Instructor
Duration: 1.5 yrs (Concurrent)
Part-time teaching position, with course focus on design for 3D production.  Full preparation, instruction, grading, and mentoring.
Topix Animation
Senior Animator/Director
3 years
Animation, concept design, and client support for a range of commercial, television, and special 3D projects
Sheridan College of Applied Arts and Technology
Instructor, Computer Animation
Duration: 2 years
Course manager, Instructor for 3D computer animation covering a range of material and direct systems instruction and review.
SAS (Canada/Austin, Tx)
Application Specialist (Neovisuals), 3D Production and  Design
Duration: 2 years
Guidance for integration of acquired 3D application into SAS production/media tool set. Marketing support, strategy, and support for new regional office, Austin, Tx.
Neovisuals Inc
Application Specialist (3D production and Design Product)
Duration: 2.5 years
Marketing/Sales support, testing, design, training, and presentation of 3D animation and visualization software.


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