They Got Skills

September 23, 2007 11:50 am

The Winners of the 2007 Canadian Skills 3D Character Animation Competition

16-year-old Kalvin Taylor and 17-year-old Ryan Kitagawa, of Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute, in Toronto, recently competed in and won the 3D Character Animation portion of the 13th annual Canadian Skills Competition (CSC) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This latest gold medal is their third this year, having placed first at all three levels of the Olympic-style competition: regional, provincial, and national. The team created three original animations for the 2007 Skills contests, each time adhering to strict time constraints while developing imaginative interpretations of broad themes. Although this was only their second year participating in the Skills program, their work and wins are proof that they’re no amateurs.


This still, from the animation that took the gold medal at Skills Canada in June, demonstrates the students’ mastery of CINEMA 4D’s lighting and texture tools.


There aren’t many restrictive criteria at Skills animation contests, other than the theme and time limit. Judging of final animations is based on creativity and aesthetic quality; no technical specs are involved. While it may seem unlikely, this could work to Kalvin and Ryan’s advantage; although the boys obviously have extremely advanced knowledge of 3D animation techniques and software, they also have a unique artistic style that sets them apart. So far, they’ve created punk rock snowmen (for the regional Skills event), an edible King Kong (for the Ontario Technical Skills Competition (OTSC)), and a rocket race in space (for CSC). Mike Turner, the boys’ Communications Technology teacher, agrees, commenting, “I think that’s why they do well. They really think outside the box.”


This screenshot from the Provincial competition showcases the boys’ creativity, as well as their use of texture to create realistic-looking fruit and vegetables.


Aside from originality, a significant part of the challenge at Skills competitions is efficient time management. Within the given time limit, teams must demonstrate creativity and perform careful execution, yet still leave enough time for rendering and post-production. Kalvin and Ryan wisely utilized two computers, modeling scenes on the first machine while rendering on the second. This strategy proved crucial to their success at OTSC; the total render time was almost 45 minutes – A substantial chunk of the 6-½-hour allotment.

Theirs was one of about 30 teams involved in the OTSC 3D Character Animation contest. The Skills organization provides competitors with Windows machines and 3Ds Max and Maya, but teams can use other software if they obtain it themselves. Because Kalvin and Ryan use CINEMA 4D in their Communications Technology class at school and prefer it to 3Ds Max, they requested a copy of Release 10 from MAXON. They were the only team at the provincial competition not using 3Ds Max, but, according to Kalvin, he and Ryan prefer the simplicity of CINEMA 4D’s design, its intuitive workflow, as well as the unique modeling tools it offers.

The theme at OTSC involved recreating a scene from a favorite movie. The boys chose to remake the classic tower scene from King Kong, but added a fresh twist: the characters are made of fruits and vegetables, the tower is a refrigerator, and a paper airplane takes out Kong. The minute-long animation, viewable on YouTube, is comprised of 10 individual scene files, ranging in size from 1.6 to 2.2MB and totaling 20.7MB, including texture files. The boys used MAXON’s CINEMA 4D R10 for almost the entire project, with the exception of a few textures imported from Photoshop and the use of After Effects for post-production work.


This screenshot shows how the Light features in CINEMA 4D were used to produce a dramatic spotlight effect.


This animation is an excellent representation of the boys’ aptitude in CINEMA 4D; they skillfully apply a range of the program’s features, including scene objects (cameras, lighting, skies, stages), the Material- and Texture-building component, and HyperNURBS. The masterful use of CINEMA 4D’s lighting and camera tools stands out in particular, such as in the swooping camera shot, synchronized to music, which quickly engages the viewer in the opening scene. As the film progresses, a spotlight on Anne Darrow is artistically placed so that it contributes to the growing suspense as the plot nears its climax. Impressively, the movements applied to the Kong animation in order to simulate body language result in a close replication of the original King’s emotions, which further illuminates for the viewer the connection between the two. Also contributing to the element of authenticity are the employment of black-and-white cinematic effects (seen in the final animation) and fading scene transitions, both of which help mimic the style of old films with remarkable accuracy.

Because it is in full color, the boys’ one-and-a-half-minute CSC entry, also on YouTube, exhibits the students’ aptitude in areas of CINEMA 4D that were less obvious in the black-and-white King Kong short. The theme for the two-day, 14-hour national event was “Sibling Rivalry,” and Kalvin and Ryan’s interpretation showcases their talent in the form of bold colors and smooth animation. An immediately obvious contrast between the two shorts involves texture; in Sibling Rivalry, textures are much more pronounced than in Kong, and are especially instrumental in portraying the surface composition of the planet and the mallet. Lighting and shadows are also more prominent in the color animation, enhancing animations in every scene and exaggerating each movement.


This still from Sibling Rivalry illustrates how texture and lighting were used to establish the setting.


Watching any of their animations makes it easy to see why Kalvin and Ryan are the Canadian Skills Competition gold medal winners. They are impressively adept in advanced modeling and animation techniques, but also have an imaginative style that makes their work appealing for more than its technical execution. Turner, who got the boys involved with the Skills program, recognizes their potential; he says that they do professional-level work in the high school course he teaches, and that the progressive elevation of their skill levels is due to a combination of factors. In his opinion, inventiveness, intelligence and passion for the subject give Kalvin and Ryan not only the ability, but also the desire, to keep challenging themselves, and also that the architecture of CINEMA 4D facilitates growth. “The interface is ideal for that flow,” he says, citing the program’s uncomplicated UI that is designed to allow the artist to operate intuitively. He adds, “With CINEMA 4D, I can easily learn how to use it and teach students the fundamentals, and the kids can take that knowledge and run with it.” And run they do.

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Katie Klochan is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at:

September 24, 2007

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Article Comments

DramaKing ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 10 October 2007

This is really amazing. It's very encouraging for those up-and-coming artists that feel overwhelmed by what others are doing in the digital field.

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