Gary Blackburn is a recent MFA Animation graduate from the Savannah College of Art & Design, Savannah, GA, with specialties in 3D modeling; including organic and hard-surface prop/environment using Maya, 3DS Max and Zbrush. His other strengths include traditional sculpture, rapid prototyping, and matte painting. Gary Blackburn has a passion for creating digital art for the commercial, film, gaming, and 3D printing industries. In 2012, he interned with Curious Pictures as a 3D artist, working on several projects including a PSA for Hypertension, and a flight simulation game for the “ipad”. During his MFA career, he worked on a multitude of collaborative projects, including "Chasse'" as a 3D modeler, and his own project, Elyn and the Pirates of Sunderland, as the director, modeler, and matte painter.
MLH: Can you elaborate on your personal and work history?
Blackburn: I was born right outside of Detroit, MI, and later grew up in the heart of the city along with my loving parents and older sister. Starting from kindergarten, we did our share of moving around Michigan, Texas, Missouri, then gradually settled our way back in Detroit after I finished 4th grade. My parents and nearly all my family have always been hardworking people, not just on their jobs, but in the community as well. My father worked at General Motors for 30 years, he has been coaching basketball for about 10 years. After babysitting for a while, my mother became a self-taught computer IT specialist. My sister is a culinary artist who works in a food laboratory. She also teaches a class on how to become a sous chef, while also running her independent catering service.
I held a strong interest in video games, sketching, and baseball and asked a lot of questions about the world (and still do). My father laid down the law when I was in 1st grade, and wouldn't let me near video games from Monday to Friday. It forced me to work hard in school so that from Friday after 4pm to Sunday evening, I could have all the time in the world for fun. One of my favorite TV shows growing up was the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and I still watch it from time to time. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood taught me that everyone in the world has a job in the world, and there's something to learn from what they do. I grew up in a die-hard Michigan Wolverine family and later on, attended the University of Michigan School of Art & Design to study industrial arts and animation. I chose this field because I was still wasn't sure what I wanted to become, but foremost, I loved art, and didn't want to take a math class in college.
MLH: Why did you decide to become an animator?
Blackburn: While studying at university, I would habitually scroll through all the classes offered on campus. For a while I thought I could never make up my mind. There's so much to learn about the world, and so many jobs in the world that I would love to do! Outside of art school, I took classes in 20th century American war history, German, oceanography, women's studies, creative writing, and joined the Michigan Electronic Dance Music Association (MEDMA) because I loved mixing and going to concerts/raves.
After taking a character design class at Michigan, our professor, Elona Van Gent, let us create a hybrid creature using Autodesk Maya, which we could have 3D printed right there in the school. 3D printing was only just making its way into the student’s hands. It was a brand new thing even the for the lab technicians. I was one the first in the school to have my face scanned and reproduced on the computer. After this experience I knew for a fact that I would shoot to have a job in the entertainment industry as a digital artist. I spent nearly all of my senior year learning about 2D and 3D animation and simultaneously produced two animations, one 2D and another 3D right before graduating.
After reading an article about Ice Age in a Magazine, I learned that several SCAD students worked on it. Later I became even more curious about SCAD after meeting an actual SCAD student who photographed my work while it was showcased at the Ann Arbor Art Festival, the following November, I applied to the Savannah School of Art and Design.
MLH: What is your favorite animated film?
Blackburn: My favorite animated film used to be James and the Giant Peach, but now it is difficult to choose. It's a tie between Monster House and Spirited Away.
MLH: What other types of art are you interested in?
Blackburn: I love music more than what I actually do. It will always be my love, never my work. Sculpture is a close second because at the moment my fingers touch clay; it feels as though I'm wielding all the experiences and education of artists and old masters before me who made it their life's work to understand 3D form.
MLH: What inspires you?
Blackburn: I'm inspired first and foremost by seeing artists who work hard on their craft. I've always kept a notebook or something to write on in my pocket so I can write down what people say. One thing I'll never forget, and I learned it from a radio show host, Earl Nightingale, is to always write down, draw, or physically document anything that snatches your attention, because the next day, or even the next second, you could forget it and spend the next 30 years chasing the thought, just like a rabbit. I always look artwork around the world, and just recently SCAD had a professor from Aardman Studios come and teach us how to use our immediate surroundings to come up with creative ideas. Aside from using Pinterest avidly, I take a lot of photographs as well.
MLH: Is there a tool you can’t live without?
Blackburn: I couldn't live without a spoon. I can use it eat, but since I was a kid, I used it to dig up clay. I still use a spoon to sculpt. It's my favorite art tool. I'm not sure if glasses would be considered a tool, but I think I'd need them more than anything if I ever developed bad vision.
MLH: What programs do you use to create?
Blackburn: I use Autodesk Maya, 3D Studio Max, and Zbrush to 3D model. I also like to create 2D animations from time to time, in which case I use After Effects. There are a lot of other programs out there that I can list that I use in conjunction with these, but they are the main ones.
MLH: Which matters more, the subject matter or the visual effects?
Blackburn: Subject matter always! Sorry to my friends who are in VFX, but you can pay anyone the right amount to create good visuals. Story, casting, and cinematography are the core of good film making in my opinion. I'll watch a 50-year-old film before I see Captain America.
MLH: What was your favorite project that you have been a part of?
Blackburn: Well it's difficult to say. Every project has had its share of good and bad times, and I always put my best foot forward in everything I do. My experience with Chasse' was the most fun I've ever had on one project, and the animator did such an amazing job, we were published in 3D World Magazine. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. I really enjoyed working on my thesis film trailer for Elyn and the Pirates of Sunderland. It is longest that I've ever spent on one project, and words can't describe how I felt after finalizing trailer. I was able to see my imagination come to life and be completely satisfied inside. I saw the potential for what was to come in the rest of the short film. The most I can say right now is that you're all in for a real treat! MLH: How does SCAD compare to other colleges/schools you have attended?
Being here at SCAD, especially as a graduate student, its easy to connect with people from all sections of the world in such a short time. Collaborating has never been more readily available and I really believe that I would not have gained this much experience from any other school I've attended.
For more information on Gary Blackburn, visit http://www.linkedin.com/in/garyblackburn or see the trailer for his newest film, Elyn and the Pirates of Sunderland, http://vimeo.com/77869731.
Mariah Howington (United States, 1993) is an artist who will complete her BFA in Painting in the Fall of 2014 from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA. She has exhibited her work in group exhibitions in Savannah, Georgia and in her hometown of Fernandina Beach, Florida. She creates large format oil paintings and etchings, in addition to installations and sculptures. Currently, Howington is a studio assistant for Omar K. Bone in Savannah, GA and is investigating spirituality and contemporary issues in her work.