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Rivendell Arts: Birth of a Studio

Back Home from the Hills of Beverly By Frank Moldstad
Every animator probably fantasizes at one time or another about opening his or her own studio. It's a chance to choose the projects, make the creative decisions, and put one's own stamp on the work. The urge is the same whether someone is just coming out of school, or whether, like Adam Burke, he's just spent 10 years working on high-profile projects as an animator with DreamWorks and Warner Bros.

Burke is now back home in Boston, as Executive Creative Director at what he says is a "small production studio" called Rivendell Arts (the name is a Tolkein reference). Rivendell Arts will provide a full range of animation services for feature films, commercials, television, etc., as well as develop and produce their own properties--of which they have several.

Burke attended CalArts for two years starting in 1990, becoming part of a very talent-rich class. Some of his peers were Craig McCracken (creator of "Powerpuff Girls"), Gendy Tartikofsky (creator of "Dexter's Lab"), Randy Haycock, John Ripa, Sergio Pablos (Disney supervising animators), and Conrad Vernon (DreamWorks board artist and director), to name a few. After graduation, he started with Don Bluth in 1991 and worked almost continuously for the last 10 years animating on such films as Space Jam, Quest for Camelot, The Road to El Dorado and The Iron Giant. He just recently finished a three-year contract with DreamWorks before relocating to the East Coast.

We caught up with Adam Burke recently as he was starting to hustle for clients.

Animation Artist: You've worked for some big facilities and now you've set up your own small facility. Why? Is this something you always anticipated as the next logical step?

One of Burke's roughs of the character Hogarth from Iron Giant. It's from the scene where Annie and Hogarth are driving away from the power station right after the whole electrocution sequence. (Click for larger image.)

Burke: Things initially started when I began working on a few side projects during my off-hours. It has since grown into a driving passion that I am very excited about. Some would say that I'm taking a step backwards by leaving a big studio environment at a time when employment in the industry is in a decline. Well, I may be swimming in a very small pond now, but at least it's mine.

Animation Artist: What will the differences be in your workflow, coming from DreamWorks and Warner Bros.? Will you be more of a jack-of-all trades?

Burke: Working independently forces you to take on more responsibilities, but that's the exciting part. Little else rivals the feeling of seeing a project through from concept to color and then seeing a smile on the faces of those who contributed, in addition to making the client happy.

Animation Artist: How many people work at Rivendell Arts? How many are animators?

Burke: We're starting out fairly small. We have a core group of six and a large network of freelancers. We have the resources to pull together up to 15-20 animators, depending on the scale of the project.

Adam Burke

Animation Artist: Will you be spending most of your time animating, shaping projects, dealing with clients, or all of the above?

Burke: Definitely, all of the above. However, it all depends on what the client needs us to do. There have been times when we were asked to just do some character designs. Fortunately, we can handle just about anything.

Animation Artist: Why did you set up shop in Boston? I assume jobs will come from all over the country, if not all over the world.

Burke: Being originally from here and having the support of family and friends made it the most logical choice. As much as I look forward to working with local media outlets, the entertainment community is becoming much more global, and that aspect of this endeavor is what I find to be particularly exciting.

Animation Artist: Will most of the feature film work come from California?

Burke: It stands to reason that we'll be looking to L.A. for feature work, but we've already been talking to studios in Sweden and Germany about some upcoming projects. That "global economy" we've been hearing so much about is not a rumor. It's here, and the opportunity to collaborate with other countries, other cultures, excites the hell out of me.

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Related Keywords:animation, After Effects, Disney, DreamWorks, Rivendell


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