Saturday, December 1, 2012

She Speaks!

Well hey there everybody. It seems I've been pretty busy lately!

I have just returned from my trip across the pond visiting the fine folks of the National Media Museum for the Bradford Animation Festival. While there I had the opportunity to give a talk about my career as an animator in the video game industry and some of the lessons I've learned that are applicable to breaking in (and how to stay there).

My humblest apologies for the excessive amount of "um"s and "uh"s you'll be subjected to if you survive the whole 40 minutes - I'm still a bit new at this public speaking thing. Behold!

It was a great festival!  I met a lot of awesome students, and had a wonderful time talking with them about the industry and answering their questions about what it's like to be a professional animator.  The folks running the festival were great hosts, and I had a really fun time visiting.

In addition to the talk, I also ran my mouth to Mark Butler of FMV Magazine about what my career has been like. Warning: The interview contains some pirate words, boobs, and may set some pants on fire.  You can check it out here.

(Worth noting is the entirely un-ironic/awesome/awful/facepalm recommended articles listed at the very bottom of the page.  Oy).

I've been surprised at how many folks have come out of the woodwork who were not BAF attendees asking about the talk!  Who are you people!?  Reveal your secrets!  I'd love to know what you think, and if there were any questions or comments you had after watching.  Shop's always open for questions and comments at

Sunday, September 23, 2012

European Invasion

HEY YOU GUYS.  Will you be in the UK this November?  If so, you can watch me give a talk to a room full of European strangers at this years Bradford Animation Festival.

I'll be in the Great Hall at the University of Bradford speaking about my career as an animator - from how I got started after SCAD to when I snuck in the door at Valve.  I'll also be hanging around the Show 'n' Tell session as well.  Check it out!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tour of Destruction on Tour

HOLY CRAP internet!  The Brutal Bus is on the first part of what will be a world tour in Australia!  If you find yourself spending some time in the land down under, you can check it out as part of the Game Masters Exhibition at the Australia Center for the Moving Image!  

Tim Schafer was kind enough to snap a photo of the Ironheade Tour Bus in what will be it's habitat until the end of October, before it heads off to see the world as part of a traveling exhibit until 2014.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Numberlys

Hey there internet!  I just finished up a freelance gig with the talented folks over at Moobot Studios, and a suddenly trailer has appeared.  Check it out!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Two updates in as many weeks?!  What's going on?  It must be all these damn earthquakes happening everywhere.

It's been a bit of a boom year for me with work I can finally show bubbling to the surface, so here's some spring cleaning action on my old and dusty demo reel.  Check it out!

In order of appearance:

Dota 2 Teaser Trailer - Valve
"Coop" Commercials - Meindbender 
Nintendo's 2011 E3 Keynote Conference Star Fox 3DS Teaser - Obsolete Robot
Costume Quest (Unicorn) - Double Fine Productions
Trenched (Melee Unit)- Double Fine Productions
Brutal Legend (in-game animation) - Double Fine Productions
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (DLC) - LucasArts Entertainment
Brutal Legend Cinematics - Double Fine Productions

More work to come soon, as well as some progress on an ancient personal project that's finally picking up some steam.  Stay tuned.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dota 2 Teaser Trailer

You guys.  YOU GUYS.

Since I started at Valve in February, I have been working on the most excellent game Dota 2.  This is a pretty big week for us - we're debuting a playable preview of our hard work at this years' Gamescom in Cologne, Germany in a high-stakes-winners-take-a-million-dollars tournament featuring 16 professional Dota teams.  I had not played Dota prior to working on it, but as I've gotten to know the game, characters, and the concepts I have gotten increasingly stoked to watch this event take place and see it released to the general public.  I understand now why competitive gaming broadcasts and professional tournaments are a thing.

For the past couple of weeks though, I have taken a break from Dota and spent time working on our first official trailer for the game.  Check it out:

I did rigging for a number of the characters (Faceless Void, Blood Seeker, Dragon Knight and his Dragon form), and all animation for Dragon Knight, his dragon form, and Viper from 1:28 until the end minus the final shop keeper shot. 

Super cool project, really quick -turnaround time, and fulfillment of my little girl I-want-to-work-on-a-Valve-trailer dreams.  And it took me over four years of working in the games industry, but I finally animated a dragon.  So cross that off the bucket list too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hold Onto Your Butts - Red Bull Soapbox Race 2011

In 2009, myself and fellow team members of Ironheade went to compete in the Red Bull Soapbox Race in Los Angeles.  Much to our surprise and delight, we took first place in the competition, and set a new speed record for the race.  Since nothing of interest works its way onto this blog, you can scroll a short way down, dear reader, and see visual evidence of our past handiwork.  Race finished and title won, we dragged ourselves back to San Francisco for a well deserved hibernation, thinking of future competitions.

And in 2010, there was silence.

Had my stage air-guitaring rocked too hard?  Was there just no way to top the competition that we and our incredible fellow racers had provided?  Whatever the reason was, there was to be no Red Bull Soapbox Race at all in 2010.  Time passed, and the members of Team Ironheade all went our separate ways.  Then a few months ago, we got the call.

Race on for 2011 in Los Angeles.  This year, we had a title to defend.  We couldn't say no.

So what were we to build this time around?  For the first race we had kicked around a number of different ideas for what our theme would be.  One we kept coming back to through all of our debates was Jurassic Park.  Particularly, this part:

As a kid this chase scene (and really, the entire film) blew my little child-mind.  Jurassic Park can single handedly claim ownership of my animation career, as it stole me away from what some may call a more noble pursuit in biology.  So making the awesome Jeep from this part of the movie would be sweet, right?  The Jeep was great, but after our previous performance at the race in 2009, we needed to do something much bigger.

We needed a T-Rex.

Since the immensely talented people at The Creature Technology Company gave us a very polite yet  definitive no on providing us with use of one of their awesome animatronic dinosaurs, it fell to us to build one of our own.

I had just recently moved to Seattle for my dream job, so Sean and I began coordinating long distance.  I loudly volunteered myself to puppeteer the T-Rex, and Sean would reprise his role as driver for the cart, with Andrew as the passenger.  Sean began building the Jeep down at the shiny new TechShop in SF, and I would work out the design of our T-Rex until I got down to San Francisco a week before the race to build it.
So here's how it went.
We needed to submit drawings of the cart to sell the idea to Red Bull before we were accepted into the race.  These are some of my sketches.
 Orthographic drawings of the Rex body.
T-Rex based on my proportions since I would be in the proverbial driver seat - it wound up being roughly 6 feet tall, over 11 feet long, and incredibly heavy.

Detail and measurements of the Rex's head, and some initial notes on how it would fit together.

A week before the race, I flew down to SF and we got down to business.  The cart is mostly finished thanks to Sean's hard work (and the great corralling skills of Ms. Amanda Luu), and Sean has built the most badass looking Jurassic Park gate ever made out of insulation foam. Seriously.


Everything else was effectively good to go, but the Rex?  We hadn't even started.  It was a week until the race, and we didn't get started building the T-Rex in earnest until three days after my arrival.
(All photos below taken by Neil Helm unless otherwise noted).
Andrew showed up and as is his nature saved the day, working with me to figure out how everything would move, be attached to itself, and fit around my little body without snapping my back in two. Amanda Luu filled every possibly production gap we had - whether it was sawing foam, holding down chicken wire, or baking us cookies, her hands were never idle. We would have crumbled without her help.

Neil Helm and his lovely wife Anne documented the final frantic hours of our progress with his beautiful photography, and provided us with moral support, food, and awesome PING-PONG EYEBALLS.

My main responsibilty now was to make an immense mess of Sean's garage hacking away at the foam that the Rex lived in.  I kicked up a lot of dust.

(photo by Christine Phelan)
The T-Rex head was built in two pieces.  The top of the head (which also included part of the neck) and the lower jaw.  I hand-carved the head, arms, and feet from pink insulation foam.

Some scrawny arms, with our excellent, flappy-jawed T-Rex model.  He currently lives on my desk at work.

(photo by Christine Phelan)
The Rex feet were built so that mine could slip in and out of the back and walk around with articulated legs following my walk.  These foam feet would be fused with gorilla glue to ankles that were also hand cut, and then knee and thigh sections that were rigged up by Andrew and Amanda.

(photo by Sean Feeley)
Sean absolutely knocked the Jeep out of the park, going from frame...

(photo by Sean Feeley)
...and the humble beginnings of a body.. a bitchin' off-roading monster in a matter of days.

This year, we did not fuck around with our brakes.  I think Sean and I bled these a million times.

Race day was pretty incredible.  We did not sleep the night before (just like last time), and with our final team member Matt Ornstein joining our ranks, we managed to make everything come together at the very end for some incredible set pieces and really fun props.  It was so rewarding to work on something that people enjoyed so much, and to get it all done in such a short period of time.  It was also personally satisfying to make little kids cry as a T-Rex.

(photo and  mini-article by SFGate)
Team Hold Onto Your Butts from left to right:  Matt Ornstein, Andrew Cook, Sean Feeley, Christine Phelan, and Amanda Luu.

These guys are ready to roll.

Ping-pong ball eyes, wooden dowel teeth, lots of latex paint, and love.

I effectively "wore" the dinosaur, and as I would walk the legs would bend at each joint to follow my feet.  My upper body was inside it's stomach, and my arms in its chest pulling on a cord that would open and close the mouth.  Leaning would pivot its head from side to side.

My times puppeteering the Rex were typically brief.  It was about 90 degrees out the whole day and with 80 million pounds of stuff on my back, I would tire out pretty quickly.

My favorite part was trying to bite people.


Amanda instructs children on the finer points of dinosaur interaction.

Our SCAD alumni pals from all over California came to Los Angeles in full force to support us with smiles, cookies, and lots of heavy lifting.  We couldn't have gotten this mess onto the stage and out the gate without these guys.

Finally, after hours of waiting and over 35 other teams racing before us, it was our turn.  The skit starts, the T-Rex busts out of the forest behind the Jurassic Park gate, and the cart goes flying down the ramp in escape thanks to the burly muscles of Amanda and Matt.  It was GO TIME.

Check out that sweet jump!

They were flying.  Sean and Andrew were tearing up the road and looking fit to break our previous speed record.  The jumps were no sweat.  All we needed to do was punch through the berm and we were as good as gold.  But suddenly...

(Photo by flickr user "laurapiper")

(Photo by flickr user "laurapiper")
You can almost here the slow classical music, and the song of angels as they float through the air.

(Photo by flickr user "laurapiper")

(Photo by flickr user "laurapiper")
Look at the determination on that face!

Spoiler alert:  We totally finished, but we didn't win the race.  Hold Onto Your Butts took 5th place out of almost 40 competing teams (though by all accounts our speed record from 2009 still holds), and it's been said we had one of the best crashes of the day.  Check this out.

I thought Sean and Andrew had DIED.  I was so happy to see them mostly unscathed after hearing the sound of the cart exploding.  Sean's helmet popped off at some point during the crash, the rear (false) tire of the Jeep and practically everything else that wasn't physically welded to the frame was nowhere to be found.  At the end of the race we saw a little girl walking away with the tire (which seems to be a theme for us each year..) that had this awesome logo Sean had cooked up on it.

My favorite part of the car.

I am overcome with relief at seeing my living team-mates.

(Photo by Anne Zettle)
I finally get my turn in the Jeep.  Neil Helm and Alex Manresa are a great power source, but they didn't have much left to push..

While we didn't win this year, we came together from all ends of the west coast to built a bad-ass vehicle, a rocking dinosaur puppet, and the best Jurassic Park gate made out of insulation foam in an insanely short amount of time.  I love being an animator, but every once in a while I need a break from the computer and an opportunity to get my hands dirty building something functional and outside of my comfort zone.  

Awesome time.  Any suggestions for the next project?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do a Barrel Roll?

Hey, I worked on a thing at E3! Particularly, the Star Fox part of this thing:

More on this (as well as some new stuff!) in the near future.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Hey there, internet.  There was a time when I was convinced this day would never come, but my final project at Double Fine was just announced!  Trenched was my first game as a Lead Animator - and what a learning experience that was.  Check out the debut trailer!

Trenched will be out "eventually" for XBox Live Arcade.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster

Well this wasn't the super secret project I had alluded to in my previous post, but here is another new title coming out of Double Fine Productions that I had the opportunity to work on - Sesame Stree: Once Upon a Monster.

Man, what a pretty game this is going to be!  There's a short write-up about the project over at Gamasutra, and a link to an immensely informative fur rendering test over at the Double Fine site.  My contributions were pretty minimal - I did some previz and pitch work and character animation (including the tall furball pictured above), as well as some character modeling, rigging and fur tests on some non-Sesame characters.  Last I saw the project it was looking stunning.  I can't wait to see it when it ships.