California, Here I Come:
Another Canadian Who Headed South



By Lois Siegel


©
Photo by Paul Jean

Lois Siegel

Filmmaker/Photographer
Plays fiddle and she teaches Video Production at
the University of Ottawa
Her documentary films include “Baseball Girls”
 (women who play softball and baseball)
 “Lip Gloss” (female impersonators)
 “Strangers in Town” (albinism)
 and “Stunt People”
 (The Fournier Family performing stunts for films).

Before Neil Blevins moved to Marina Del Rey, in 1999, he had always lived in Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada.  He was 26-years-old and he left Canada, possibly for good, to work in the film industry in California.

His first job in California was for Blur Studios in Venice.  They make special effects for films, video games, TV and print.  The head of the company saw Blevins' work on the Internet.    
     
 

 









     
Neil Blevins at his computer

"My web page was my art gallery, a little place where I could talk about what was important to me - a place to express myself and let the world see. 

And it was apparently a pretty good online portfolio, although I swear that was not my original intention.  I still plan to keep it active and updated, even if I have a great job, because it's sort of like my kid," Blevins explains

And the net is where head-hunters look these days.  Blevins was far away in Quebec, but California was looking.  The company head told Blevins to give him a shout when he was ready to move to L.A. ...there was a job waiting for him. Blevins was game.

Blur wasn't the only company interested in Blevins' work.  Four other companies were too.

"I chose Blur because of the low corporate bullshit attitude, because they use the software I use, and because they're doing cool work. They also had a strong reputation, and it seemed like a stable job that wouldn't disappear tomorrow," Blevins says.

Blur's work:  "Hellraiser 4," shots for "Deep Rising," the "hell" sequence for South Park, the movie, several episodes of the cartoon "Johnny Quest," and tons of commercials.

The average age of the company was 25-27. There were 20 animators and 10 support staff (producers, tech people).  There were no women animators, but four women support staff.

"I think the situation should change, and I invite all the women in the world to make it happen. The industry is not sexist, there are just genuinely less women who have an interest working in the field it seems," Blevins says.

 
Blur Studio: Alien Reactor Room


"The boss wasn't driving a fancy car, he was animating right along side you, and everyone gave their opinions on your work.  You could play video games and show up for work whenever you wanted; it was project based, so you were assigned a particular project that needed to be done, and you got that work done on schedule, so the speed of the animator was the key.  We played 40 minutes of "Quake" every day as a company. It was sort of a ritual."

Blevins started drawing when he was three.  At four he saw "The Empire Strikes Back."  "I loved robots and creatures and monsters. Then I started watching Saturday morning cartoons and animation." His favorite cartoons:  "Golderak," "Tranzor-Z" (Japanese Anime), and the "Transformers."


Quintesson
2004


"I learned how to draw and paint on my own time as a hobby, and then I learned how to use the computer. One day I bought myself a simple 3d program.  Then I started buying more advanced programs when I wanted to do more complex things. I am currently using 3d Studio Max on PC hardware running Windows NT.  The equipment I first worked with was an old 386 with Paintbrush, a very simple paint program, " Blevins says.

The deciding factor occurred when he started to make his own animations. Blevins attended John Abbott College, a CEGEP in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, just west of Montreal.  "John Abbott was great because everyone was so laid back. But I had enough self-discipline to enjoy the partying without forgetting that I was there to actually learn something.  I only made one film at Abbott, but I did assist in some animation experiments. My film "Survivors" was two minutes and completely computer generated in 3D. I learned lots about modeling, animation basics, and, most importantly, how to manage a project and get all the pieces to come together."


Blood Planet
CD cover for a band "Element"

After Abbott, Blevins applied to Concordia University. He was refused entrance into their Film Animation Program. "It's probably because my work was too commercial.  I wanted to do everything - make short films, tell stories, do big budget films, work on video games." 

"The people I spoke to got into Concordia because they told the professors that their only desire was to make artistic films for the rest of their lives.  It's like the difference between graphic design and painting. It's about money."


Sucker D
2005


"I will continue to pursue my artistic side for the rest of my life on my own time, but I need money to live. Some people consider this selling out or prostitution, but I think you can have as much control over yourself as you want. You can still make a big, successful film and retain artistic integrity. And, yes, sometimes you'll do a piece of commercial work that was just for the cash and really didn't excite you much artistically, but so what. You have to do some annoying things to get to the good stuff."

Blevins did get into Concordia's "Design Art" program, and he was approached by people for jobs before he even finished school.  "I told the people who wanted to hire me to wait until I graduated.  Why did I wait? Many reasons, most of them probably false, like I did it so my parents wouldn't kill me. I feel the real reason I stayed was because I needed to grow a little more before I was ready to move on to the next stage of my life.  There were some steps, artistically and socially, I needed to take, and I needed to take them in the situation I was in (school)."


White Orbs
2001

So why did Blevins leave Canada?  "If you want cool jobs, you go to California. If you had the choice between working on a big budget American film in Hollywood or a soap commercial in Canada, which would you pick?  Also, there are so many animators in California; it's like you're walking into a friendly room.  You can learn from the best in the world, and you can talk to people who know exactly the kind of work you're doing."

But Blevins insists, "I will not become an American citizen." I like being Canadian.  Canadians get a lot of American culture in their media, music and TV, but living in Canada does give you a neat perspective because you feel you're outside of America.  Like you can take all the good things and forget about the bad things like the violence and the American attitude. You can just spend your time getting the best of what American culture has to offer, while still being Canadian and feeling safe and being proud of your country but not with the same "We're the best" attitude many Americans have."

   "As for the brain drain, if Canada starts shaping up their industry (i.e. becomes the hotspot where all the talented animators go and the cool jobs are), I will move back."

"Working for someone like George Lucas would probably be a bad idea. He has such a singular vision, and he's looking for talented people who will follow that vision without deviation. I have my own vision. The creative process is so tainted by corporate structure and corporate backstabbing.
 


Sucker C
2005

 

Blevins' advice to a young kid who is interested in animation:

"Go to art school. Learn the software at home, but learn things like drawing, color, composition, art history, film technique, lighting, and photography. The details you can learn on the fly, but if you have an artistic eye, and, more importantly, cultivate that eye, you'll go much further."


 Neil eventually left Blur. He did some
shopping around and landed a job at Pixar.

Jobs
Pixar

He became a technical director on  "The Incredibles," directed by Brad Bird, who also directed "The Iron Giant." "The Incredibles is an action-adventure, comedy about a family of superheroes. "It's completely CGI (computer generated images)."



I started working on "The Incredibles" in the second unit, making sets for the characters, modeling, texturing, lighting and doing FX animation. Then I worked for a year as part of the regular effects crew, doing dust, electrical effects, water FX (such as waterfalls) and ice FX. He just finished working on the next Pixar film "Cars" and is currently doing promotional animation before moving onto a new film.


Emeryville, California


Pixar is best known for their "Toy Story" movies, "A Bug's Life" and "Monsters, Inc.". Neil says,  "The future seems bright for the company. They're working on three films simultaneously."

Neil Blevins just turned 30.

Note: Lois Siegel taught film at John Abbott College (Montreal). Once upon a time, Neil Blevins was one of her animation students.

 


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