Zubby Newsletter #28: A Tiny Piece of History

I received a copy of LORE & LEGENDS, the history and art of D&D 5th edition by Michael WitwerKyle NewmanJon Peterson, and Sam Witwer, arriving in stores on Oct 2nd.

It’s an incredible tour filled with great anecdotes and illustrations. Surreal to see my books and face in the mix, a tiny piece of Dungeons & Dragons’ illustrious history.

There are a lot of memories wrapped up in the pages of this book. A decade of development with many colleagues who have since become friends.

And, a silly point of pride, I’m the only “Z” listing in the index. 🙂

Win the Battle, Lose the War

After several friends recommended it, I recently watched Jurassic Punk, a documentary about Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams, the Canadian animator who pioneered a ton of 3D animation and special effects technology that changed the face of moviemaking for better and for worse.

The story of Steve’s innovation, rebellion and self destruction is compelling stuff, but also quite sad. The same qualities that caused him to buck the system and develop groundbreaking visual effects also put him at odds with the corporate hierarchies and social relationships that run Hollywood. He proved his technical skills in the battle on a few key creative projects (The Abyss, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park) but couldn’t win the war when it came to handling people – colleagues, friends, or his family.

When I was at Sheridan for Classical Animation we heard a lot about Spaz – the rockstar party hard computer animator blowing up the way things used to be done who could not be stopped. Almost thirty years later, he absolutely made his mark but it cost him almost everything. The recent scenes of Steve bitter about his place in film history battling severe alcoholism are a far cry from the confident take-no-shit genius of his youth.

As I watched it all play out in the documentary, my opinion toggled back and forth (and I’m sure that was by design). I could see Steve’s impressive ambition and tenacity, but it also seems he would’ve been an unbearable bastard to work with.

Creative industries are about results, but your ability to stay relevant and keep creating in a corporate environment also requires you to be a good communicator and collaborator.

Internet Dead Zone

Going through my ‘Art Tutorials’ bookmarks to find a few gems to post here and I realize many of the hundreds of helpful art links I’ve saved over the years are now defunct – dead URLs or empty images.

The internet giveth and it also taketh away.

It’s a good reminder of why I encourage my students to gather their own digital ‘scrap file’ of tutorials they find that are helpful to them.

I have thousands of art tutorial images saved and organized into folders curated to my needs and taste, the digital equivalent of old school filing cabinets of reference images in an art studio.

Assume stuff online is transitory and back-up ref material, just in case.
You won’t always have access to the things you want to keep.
Future proof it for yourself.

Links Aplenty

You’re reading this newsletter because you want to keep up on what I’m up to but I also want to direct your attention to people I think are creating great work or generating interesting discussion. Here’s a round-up of some good stuff from collaborators, friends, and other folks who have recently caught my attention:

That’ll cover it for this week.

  1. Usually people who have never worked with me have the same convenient opinion, Jim. I am not surprised that you too succumbed to a ‘Hollywood’ narrative.

    • Thanks for reaching out, seriously. Apologies if that came across as extra harsh in my review, Spaz. You’re absolutely right that I haven’t worked with you or hung out with you so I don’t know the real you. The documentary was compelling, but it has its narrative slant, just like Hollywood has their biased narrative.

      I was awestruck by the work you and your team did in those seminal films and, despite everything else, that will always hold true. If we met in person I’d absolutely give you the benefit of the doubt. Whatever kneejerk reaction the documentary brought out of me, I wish you all the best and hope you’re working on new creative projects you want soon, if you’re not already at this moment.

  2. Re: Steve Williams… I worked with Steve a couple of decades ago, and he remains a very good friend of mine. He is nowhere near your assumption of “unbearable bastard to work with”. He was a kind leader – very generous with his time and knowledge. I learned more from him than any other person I’ve worked with in my 23 years as a professional animator, and over many years he gave people opportunities who would otherwise have been left out in the cold. There are plenty of people who will tell you they will never forget how he went to bat for them in this nutty business. I do get why you might get the impression of him that you have from only watching the JPunk doc – that is my one main criticism of the filmmaker is that the impression of Steve that the doc leaves the viewer with isn’t really who he IS, at his core. Yes, he’s a strong personality and he can be stubborn (both reasons why he was able to make the incredible breakthroughs that he did). But most importantly, he’s a huge-hearted defender of the little guy. He will always have your six, and he is generous to a fault. He is *incredibly* kind. Just wanted you to know that.

    • I deeply appreciate you reaching out to provide more context. You’re right – I don’t know Spaz at all and haven’t worked with him. All I have is what the documentary showed me and the kneejerk reaction I took away from it. That portrayal was much more troubled than the reality you’ve experienced. We’re all a lot more complex than any social media/entertainment narrative. I hope that if we met in person we’d all be cool and appreciate each other because I’m pretty sure we have a lot more in common than we have differences.

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