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Animator on 'Mulan,' 'Lilo and Stitch' to talk

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Rob Bekuhrs supervised the computer animation on Mulan, which won an Annie award for Best Animated Feature. This picture is a test scene from the popular movie.There’s no art form quite like animation, notes Rob Bekuhrs, who will talk about his craft Thursday, March 20, at the Gresham Historical Society.

“You create absolutely everything in it,” says the noted computer animator, who’s worked on such famous films as “The Lion King,” “Mulan,” “Lilo and Stich,” “ParaNorman,” “Coraline” and “The Wild.”

“In animation, you really design from the background to the foreground,” he says. “That’s kind of the most fascinating — and meticulous — part of it.”

Bekuhrs’ talk is the latest in the Third Thursday Studio series, sponsored by the Gresham Center for the Arts Foundation. The series presents authors and artists in a casual format.

A 1983 graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, Bekuhrs has trained animators to use software that helps them animate faces; created “face libraries,” or collections of face shapes that puppet characters employ to speak dialogue; and for the past two years has helped to animate and direct such video games as “The Walking Dead” and “Wolf Among Us.”by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Animator Rob Bekuhrs will speak at Gresham Historical Society this Thursday evening.

Musing on what inspired him to work in his field, Bekuhrs says his dad made machine parts; his grandfather was a blacksmith; and his brother makes molds.

“There is something in my blood when it comes to making tools,” he says. “I’ve written a lot of tools for animators to use.”

A fan of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Bullwinkle cartoons when he was growing up, Bekuhrs dabbled in acting but concluded he “had a face for radio,” so he went in a different direction. He’s spent 30 years in computer animation, half of that time at Disney, where he was the only computer animator when he was first hired in 1989.

Over the years, he trained other animators to use computers, and played a significant role in some of the most famous animated films of all time. Take “Mulan,” on which he supervised the computer animation. He says his most difficult challenge was working on a scene depicting a snowy avalanche that buries an army of charging Huns.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - This animated picture of a girl sitting is taken from the video game The Walking Dead, one of the numerous works in Rob Bekuhrs animation catalog.“I’d never worked with crowd simulation before,” he says. “We used all these repeating cycles of the Huns riding down the hill on horseback, waving swords and spears. Making the cycles all work together was the challenge.”

Interestingly, as one of the world’s most accomplished computer animators, Bekuhrs says you can’t ignore the old school basics when it comes to animation. He urges anyone interested in going into the field to learn how to draw first, as well as sculpt. Take classes in film and theater, he adds, not to mention psychology and mechanical physics.

“Knowing how light actually works is a huge part of animation,” he says. “Knowing that when you look at something that it has a certain mass and a certain resistance allows you to think about what your next move is.”

And don’t forget to enjoy it, he says.

“It really feels like you’ve got a blank canvas when you start a film,” he says. “You really go from nothing to something, and it’s exciting to me to realize that.”




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