We'd like to welcome Amila Puhala today. Amila, how did it all begin? At what moment did you discover you wanted to be an animator?
As far as I can remember, I have loved both the logical and the abstract. I found differing satisfaction in both of those endeavors and, in my youth, could always be found with a notebook filled with sketches and writing....with scribbled math problems and logic diagrams along the edges. I think I always knew I wanted to do something that worked with this dichotomy...I just didn't know what or how. I wish I could tell you that I always wanted to be an animator and this was a result of a lifelong passion...but the simple truth is that I didn't even consider "animation" as a career choice until later in life...
After high school, I wandered a bit, not sure of what I wanted but happy enough just discovering life. I worked many random jobs...most of which were short-lived...none of which offered me any more than a clue as to what I DIDN'T want to do for a living and a sparse means to continue my adventures. One random day, my brother's college friend suggested that I study computer animation. I shrugged off the suggestion and continued on my adventures with little thought put towards that idea...that is, until years later, after I met and married my husband, Patrik. We reached a point in our lives where we needed to decide on a path for our future. I casually suggested computer animation thinking that it may be a fun mix of technology and art. We took the gamble and headed off to school in Portland, OR. It was here, at the school, that I fortunately discovered my love for animation... And even more fortunate was the fact that my husband also seemed to enjoy animation. We grabbed hold of the idea and haven't looked back.
Can you tell us a little bit about your training and what schooling you've had to get you to where you are now?
I attended the Art Institute of Portland for my BS in Media Arts and Animation. When I first attended, I had no clue how to surf the internet or turn a computer on...and I certainly had no idea what it took to make a character come to life...but by the end, it all started to make sense. There were a few fellow students and teachers who really helped to push my learning and encourage me along the way. The greatest asset to my training, though, HAS to be my husband, Patrik. We were both starting from scratch and we learned together, continually pushing each other to achieve more and encouraging the other to succeed.
You were at Pixar before you landed your gig at Blue Sky, what was your role there, and what did you work on?
At Pixar, I was an animator for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage theme park ride for Disneyland. I was part of a small animation team who worked with the brilliant crew at Disney Imagineering to bring the Nemo characters to life for the submarine ride. It was a unique project to work on because it was not based on a static audience and it had to integrate into a real world 3d environment.
Your title at Blue Sky is Senior Animator, can you tell us a little more about your position and how a Senior Animator's role is different from an Animators?
As a senior animator, I have some added responsibility, but the most prevalent one is still to animate characters for the film. We have a "pod" system here where the senior animators are each assigned a small group of 6-8 animators to casually check in with every day. It can be tricky because the last thing any production needs it to have too many cooks in the kitchen. We try to honor the blocking that was director/supervisor approved and give non-destructive notes to plus the ideas and animation that are there. Simply put, we are an extra set of eyes to help the animators along if they so desire.
I always ask my interviewees this but where do you usually find your inspiration for your work? To add to that, who's work do you admire?
Inspiration is one of those tricky things. I wish there were some simple solution to finding it...but it seems that this is something I struggle with a lot. I find inspiration in life, memories, movies...Some of the greatest inspiration can be found right here at work. I am fortunate to work with an amazingly talented and passionate team of animators all of whom love the craft and continually push themselves and their shots. It may be bias... but I deeply admire my husband's work and the passion with which he approaches animation.
What is your favorite sequence/shot you've animated on through out your career?
Wow. That's a really tough question. I have to say that my favorite shots are the ones that breath...where the character is given some screen time to think and react and interact...where the moment feels sincere. As far as my own shots are concerned, I think my favorites right now are the moments between Manny and Peaches...not because of my execution of them, but because of the moments themselves. But that's all I'll say until it's out in theaters.
When you're polishing up a shot what are you mainly looking for, and how much time do you allocate for a polish pass before the deadline?
I allocate as much time as possible for polish (which varies depending on the length and complexity of the shot). This is the "pretty" pass. The general attitude of the shot and the basic mechanics have been worked out and now I'm going in and making sure that everything is clean...I will check my arcs, my spacing, and the movement of flesh and breath. The trick is to not over polish. Don't smooth everything until all of the edges are taken away. It's sometimes the imperfection of it all that feels real...but do it consciously. The shots are never done...they're just due. I try to finesse as much as possible before handing it off to the next department.
Your husband, Patrik Puhala, works with you at Blue Sky, could you tell us a bit about the working relationship when animating together at a studio?
It's awesome!!! Who wouldn't want to work beside their best friend? Much of our time is spent on the computer, but it's great to be able to step away and get Patrik's take on my shot ...or just have someone to go and get coffee and lunch with every day. He understands our job and can talk me through a rough day and join me in celebrating a final. It's especially great during the long crunches. Most people don't get to see their loved ones and families much during this time...but I get to be right beside mine. I love it!
Lastly, for student animators can you offer any tips or advice on what they should be focusing on?
Always observe. The world is a treasure trove of inspiration and all you need to do is look. You will be amazed at the peculiarities and mechanics of the world we live in. Happy animating!
Interview by: Andrew Tran