• Armin van Buuren/Frozen Music Video
  • Mattel/Hot Wheels Commercials
  • Numerical Sound IR Demo
  • The Race
  • Music Sketch – Charge of the Lawmen
  • Music Sketch – Star Trek Theme
  • Iron Man-ia
  • The Capitol Records Building
  • Star Wars iPhone Case Design
  • Cover Designs – Danica McKellar’s “Math Doesn’t Suck” Series
  • Superman Returns – The Shield
  • CG R2-D2: Behind-the-Scenes
  • CG R2-D2
  • Music Sketch – Wonder Woman
  • Music Sketch – So 80’s


I loved the first Iron Man movie.  I saw it in the theaters 5 times (I don’t think I’ve done that since Raiders), and it was just sort of on my mind a lot.  So it wasn’t particularly surprising that one Saturday afternoon I felt like doing a mash-up between Iron Man and R2-D2 – which I’d already done in CG, of course.  What was surprising was that Gizmodo and Reddit posted it and the damn thing went viral – in geek circles, anyway.

 

I’m still getting Google Alerts about it.  What was especially cool was that Iron Man‘s director, Jon Favreau liked it so much it’s been his Twitter avatar ever since.

Anyway, it gets better.  Eventually, one of the members of the R2-D2 Builders’ Club, Kevin Pommenville, decided to take my rendering, and actually build it for real.

Do you know how hard these things are to build?  And this guy tosses off a build of an Iron Man mash-up version I did in an afternoon, and it’s even cooler than what I came up with.  That’s badass.  Surreal, and badass.

 

Anyway, I had done a few other Iron-Man-related things as well.  I wanted to make my desktop look like Tony Stark’s, so I decided to recreate the Stark Industries logo myself.  As usual, weeks of obsessive analysis ensued.

Along the way, since I was analyzing every reference frame I could so intently, I spotted a couple 1/24th of a second inside jokes about Iron Man‘s Jeff Bridges, who’d famously played the title character in The Big Lebowski. These images flashed by on his character’s computer screen during one sequence:

Ultimately, I did many revisions to ensure the letterforms were just right.

And finally, my desktop wallpaper was done.  Looks just like Obadiah Stane’s from the film.  Both Danica and I had this as our wallpaper for months.

Eventually, someone asked to use my logo to make Stark Industries T-shirts. Of course, I agreed.

Still wear it.

Iron Man-ia

The first entirely-CG visual effects job I ever got was modeling and rendering the iconic Capitol Records building for an animation which would go at the top of all Capitol DVD releases.  It was the job that ultimately led to my relationship with Warner Bros. Pictures, which led to me opening my own post-production company, which would comprise the majority of my creative life for the next 8 years.  I didn’t know all that would come of it at the time, but I knew it was a big job; an important job.  I knew I really had to do it justice.  So to start, I asked for copies of the original 1954 blueprints, so I could assure the digital model was as accurate as could possibly be. I remember vividly the building engineer taking them out of their storage drawers and bundling them up for me; they were just dripping with history, yellowed and wonderful.

I spent hours just looking at them, absorbing every detail, before realizing I didn’t understand most of what I was looking at.  Some measurements are pretty straightforward on blueprints – others, not so much; and they reference all sorts of other prints with cross-sections, and details, and histories of changes.  I had a crash course in vintage blueprint analysis, but I was so amped up for the gig I didn’t mind.

Before the modeling actually began, I climbed all over the building double-checking measurements, taking reference photos, and capturing textures.  On the roof, with an amazing view of Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, I counted the holes on the tall spire; I noted the spacing between the giant letters, and wondered about the font.  Ultimately, it would take weeks of painstaking work and many trips back to the building before I had my digital model complete, which I built in my software of choice at the time, Form-Z.

I did the texturing, animation, and rendering in ElectricImage, and then did sound design, wrote some music, and mixed the piece in Pro Tools.

Back then, making photoreal CG – or anything approaching it – was 1000x more difficult than it is today, but maybe more rewarding for the effort.  I can’t imagine how much more realistic this image would look today.  Maybe it’s time to dig out the model…

 

The Capitol Records Building

Love is the altar upon which you sacrifice the idea that you're a rational person.

On Love

Hot off the bench: My design for a limited-edition Star Wars iPhone case featuring R2-D2 (my CG R2-D2, in fact!).  This is one of a series which will be offered at Disney Theme Parks as part of their Star Wars Weekends.  It’s not that big a deal; these little start-up companies are super easy to please.

Star Wars iPhone Case Design

Batman – The Simulator Ride

This score was written to accompany the motion simulator ride currently running at Six Flags’ MovieWorld Theme Parks in Madrid and Australia.  The score needed to seamlessly integrate the theme from the 1989 film with new themes which I wrote for Joker, Catwoman and Mr. Freeze. Recorded at Todd-AO and engineered by Shawn[…]

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

I was excited to compose the score for Forbidden Warrior – the film embraced a very grandiose and mythical style, visually, so a lush, heavily-thematic score was fitting; and that’s just indulgent fun for any composer.  We utilized a large orchestra and recorded on the legendary Todd-AO scoring stage with Academy-Award-Winning engineer Shawn Murphy at the console.

The two tracks featured here give a sense of the score in essence.  More previews, and the album itself, are now available on iTunes!

Forbidden Warrior

If you haven’t heard by now, former television child-star Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years, The West Wing) grew up, graduated summa-cum-laude from UCLA as a certified math genius and co-authored a physics theorem on two-dimensional magnetism that now bears her name. Click on that link, I dare you.  But even more impressive is that she followed up these achievements with a series of New York Times Bestselling math books for middle-school girls, teaching them not just how to do math, but empowering them with the courage, confidence, and self-respect that brings true happiness and success in life.

I have been privileged to be a small part of her amazing contribution: I came up with the titles for her books, and did the jacket artwork for both hardcover and paperback versions.  It wasn’t that hard a job to get – I was married to the author.  Still in all, I’m proud of what we’ve done, and can’t encourage you strongly enough if you’re the parent of a middle-school girl, know of one, or have ever heard of one, to purchase these life-changing texts soon enough.  They don’t just teach math skills; they teach life skills, and they’re changing the ways girls think about themselves – and math – the world over!

Cover Designs – Danica McKellar’s “Math Doesn’t Suck” Series

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Last year I was asked to compose the score for a beautiful and touching short documentary entitled, “A Journey with Purpose” which told the tale of a Holocaust survivor who returns to Auschwitz with his grandson to confront his demons, make peace with his memories, and, at long last, say Kaddish – the prayer for the dead – for family and friends long gone.

Here are a few excerpts from the score.

A Journey with Purpose

Back in 2005, I was honored to realize and render the iconic Superman Shield featured in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns from Warner Bros. Pictures.

I did several variations on the look and materials which were seen on posters, banners, consumer products, and a host of other projects related to the film.  Shortly after completing the project, I was interviewed by SuperHeroHype.com about the process…

Superman Returns – The Shield

Having been a life-long Star Wars fan, I was honored to become part of the official Star Wars universe when asked to create a new CG R2-D2 for Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary. I had previously done one on my own, as a personal project, which I found later was the reason I was considered for the job, initially:

 

I’d even done a couple of renders of him for the Fourth of July and Halloween.

Now, in truth, Lucasfilm was happy to just use the one I’d already done, but being a card-carrying member of Perfectionists Anonymous, I insisted on re-doing it.  I wanted it to be as accurate as possible; after all, this was for Star Wars! – a chance to give back to the universe which had inspired me creatively, so often.  Plus, I figured I could swing a trip to Skywalker Ranch out of it, and get a chance to measure and photograph the real R2’s.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Former ILM model maker, and Lucasfilm Archivist Don Bies arranged for me to come up there and spend a few days detailing every square inch of three of the original R2’s.

I took gigabytes’ worth of reference photos, capturing every detail and nuance, which I would use later to build texture maps for my CG version.

After weeks of work, I had finally modeled an entirely new CG R2, and was ready to texture it.

The materials, lighting and scene setup happened in Autodesk’s Maya, and the final renders were done by NextLimit’s Maxwell Render, which I have been proud to be on the testing team for since its earliest days.  My first render was a side-by-side comparison with one of the original R2’s I’d photographed.

Next was to compare it to a well-known studio photo from “back in the day.”

When I was finally satisfied, it was time to render final images for the book, and other projects.  Here’s a single shot of the final:


For more shots of the final, check out this post.  And then check out the story of how, armed with all the secret knowledge of the original R2, I decided to build my own real one!

 

CG R2-D2: Behind-the-Scenes

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

I was recently commissioned to score a new museum exhibit featuring the amazing accomplishments of NASA during the 20th century called NASA – A Human Adventure.  The music would underscore the exhibit narration, as visitors move from gallery to gallery.  While it was important for each gallery to have its own style and flavor, I chose to unite all the pieces under a very “Americana” sounding banner, with nods to works of American composers like Aaron Copland, who helped define that sound for all of us.  The exhibit features stunning and wonderfully-crafted models built by White Room Artifacts – an elite model shop founded by former ILM model maker Don Bies, who frequently collaborates with the most famous and well-respected model makers in film history – many of the original crew for such pioneering films as Star Wars. Check them out.

NASA – A Human Adventure

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

My debut Jazz album, released in 1995. Here are two preview tracks from the album!

Buy it on iTunes here!

Album – The Phoenix

Long before I was hired to do the CG R2-D2 for Lucasfilm, I was a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club (Of course there’s an R2-D2 Builders Club!).  The club is a fantastic resource for blueprints, advice, tutorials; they even go in on part manufacturing runs together to save costs.  But fresh from my experience gathering data from the originals in the Archives at Skywalker Ranch, I decided it was time to get my own build together.

Like most builders, I had been collecting parts for years.  I had a little “shrine” in the house – a scattering of semi-recognizable aluminum parts in little piles.  That’s how it works: to save on money, parts are produced by machine shops whenever they happen to have left over time at the end of jobs, so it can be months (or years!)  from the time an order is placed until a part actually shows up, by which time you’ve probably forgotten about ordering in the first place.  So it’s a little like Droid Christmas all year-round; packages just randomly show up containing, say, a leg, and you become giddy with excitement for about 10 minutes, until you realize you still have dozens of parts to go, and no idea when they’re arriving.

But, eventually, like me, you’ve got all your parts.  This is a little like having your “I’m going to build an R2-D2” bluff called.  The actual work of assembly, integration of electronics, painting, etc., is entirely at the builder’s discretion and there are no instructions.  Over the years, builders have come to agree on various approaches towards different aspects of a build, but as we’re fond of saying, it isn’t the R2-D2 Kit Assemblers Club; it’s a builder’s club.  As a result, no two R2’s are exactly alike.  Some are very basic, others frighteningly sophisticated.  My goal was simple: I wanted to match the look and feel of the original R2 from 1977’s Star Wars.  He never quite looked the same again, and nobody had quite done him justice in a build.

In the end, I spent more than a month in Florida at the shop of my good friend Jon Laymon, who is one of the most talented (and patient) human beings on the planet, and we made it happen.  Today, my R2 walks, talks, and generally dominates the room’s attention, even when he’s just sitting in my living room.  And, just having him around makes a part of me feel perpetually 5 years old again.  It’s a good thing.

Here’s a slideshow of the build.

 

Enjoy!

Building My Own R2-D2