25 , 2001
If there's a consumer out there who doesn't know J.J. Sedelmaier, it's one who doesn't watch a whole lot of television. His animation studio, J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, White Plains, N.Y., is famous for its work on Saturday Night Live's Saturday TV Funhouse, with such animated shorts as "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," "The X Presidents" and "Fun with Real Audio." The company has animated Beavis & Butthead, the pilot of Comedy Central's TV Funhouse, a recent series of interstitials for Cartoon Network called "Captain Linger" and a soon to be released pilot for the same network called Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Oh yeah, they've done some commercials too.
Says J.J. Sedelmaier, president of Sedelmaier Productions: "That title card on Saturday Night Live has put us on the map in one sense, but it's put us on the map with a sledge hammer. I've always gone around and shown the studio's reel to advertising agencies and schools and things like that, and it used to be that I hid, as director, behind the spots, when the studio wasn't as visible as the work that we did. But once that title card on Saturday Night Live came up, forget it. It's laser-etched in people's memories."
Commercials produced by the studio range as widely in animation style as the products being advertised, from the Speed Racer commercial for Volkswagen to an aggro spot for Slim Jim to a more pastel-flavored piece for Quilted Northern bathroom tissue.
Until January of this year, Sedelmaier was still using film in the animation process. The switch to a completely digital system has brought a mixed computing environment to his studio, with Macs making up a good portion of the workforce in preproduction and postproduction, as well as the studio's print work. The studio is using Adobe Photoshop, Premiere and Illustrator on the Macs, as well as a bit of After Effects thrown in for good measure. The central animation suite is Crater Software's PC-based CTP.
So what's it like to animate in a mixed-computing environment and go from film to a totally digital, 2D cel animation process? It can't be easy. I had a chance to talk to J.J. Sedelmaier about his body of work, his studio's vision and how he makes his Macs and PCs behave well enough to crank out the volume of work his studio creates.
Creative Mac: You've been all-digital for a while now, and how has that affected your production?
J.J. Sedelmaier: I've been acquainted with digital ink and paint since 1990, and I've been using it on and off since 1992 when we started doing Beavis & Butthead. We couldn't have done Beavis & Butthead if it wasn't for what was then USAnimation and eventually became Virtual Magic. You can even see in the course of production of Beavis the difference in terms of production values based on what their software was capable of doing at that time.
I've always tried to incorporate whatever is going to give me as much control and freedom as possible. What happened with turning the studio away from film and completely into digital for our testing and everything else was that it just became prohibitive in terms of cost to use film, and in terms of time it wasn't necessary for us to have to endure [the grief]whether it was Technicolor considering our film of 45 feet a spit in the bucket compared to the type of footage they're used to dealing with or messengers or weather or the cost of having to bring it in and out of the studio to transfer it to tape and then ship it out by Federal Expressit got just plain silly. And now we do it here, and we can e-mail QuickTimes, and it's wonderful.
Of course, if anything crashes here, we're responsible for it. There are certain aspects of someone else taking the responsibility that's nice, but it really does give you much more control, and you can turn the stuff around so much quicker and so forth.
In terms of how it's changed production, it's allowed everyone who works in the studio the chance to become even closer acquainted with the work that they're doing.
CM: How many people do you have in your studio?
Sedelmaier: We fluctuate between 15 and 20. Now we've got about 12. The way it works here is that whoever's animating their stuff or whoever's assisting their scene will usually test their work themselves. It was the same thing [before going digital]. We used to have a modified security camera system that would record to VHS. It was the same thing then. Now we we're using CTP, a PC-based system for pencil tests. And then anything else we do we do off the Mac.
Everyone is getting acquainted with how the stuff works by doing it, plus we have a couple people in here who came in with basic knowledge of how the system works.
It just gives you more control and freedom. The only drawback is, like I said, when something goes wrong and you can't necessarily figure out what it is, you just have to ride it out.
It's very funny. Back when we were doing film, if I was shooting, say, a pencil test or something and Technicolor messed up or we messed up or the facility or the messenger, I'd call the agency or the client, and I'd say, "Oh, we're going to have to reschedule because of, you know, blah blah blah, whatever happened." And usually they'd freak out. "O, my God, we're going to have to call this person and reschedule this and so on and so forth." Now, all I've got to do is say, "Our system crashed." And it's like, Oh, O.K. Yeah, that happens to us all the time." It's like, where the fuck do they get off not getting pissed or upset? I had to deal with 15 years of this, and, you know, everything's all, "Oh, whatever."
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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.
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