The Animation department on King Kong production was organised pretty much as follow:
Christian Rivers(Animation Director and previsual animation designer/supervisor )
Eric Leighton ( Animation Director )
Atsushi Sato ( Animation Supervisor )
Plus various Animation leads ( David Clayton(!!!), Paul Story, Richard Francis Moore, Andrew Calder )
And then there was the "pool" with all the animators, including me! ( yeahhh!!!! )
As i said milion of times already, i was a 33 years old junior animator and i was eager to learn from everybody. For me everybody there was amazing and everybody there was better than me just because it was there.
That is a great state of mind if you really want to learn something. No stupid barriers such as ego or envy. I
was a 185cm tall handsome long penis sponge, ready to absorb animation informations anytime and anywhere.
I met Atsushi after a few days i was started at work.
I went to his room and introduced myself. He was very kind and very Japanese ( Which means to me "not too talkative" ) and i was happy about that because at that time i couldn't speak almost any english.
Then i went back to my desk and since i didn't have anything to animate yet ( The infamous insects were around the corner though ) i watched, for the first time ever, some of the animation submissions from the other King Kong animators.
I still remember the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach while i was looking at the playblasts.
I think my legs were shaking a bit while my eyes were staring at the screen.
The animation quality of the stuff i was looking at was INCREDIBLE.
And it got even worse when i realised that most of the stuff i was looking at was pretty much FIRST FUCKING PASS BLOCKING.
I remember i had a panic attack. What the fuck am i doing here....?! I want to go home...back to Italy...to mom and dad, to my dog, to Berlusconi...!!
I went outside to catch some fresh air and smoke a fresh cigarette, then i came back to my desk to have another look at the animations. Same reaction, another panic attack...
After 3 days of panic attacks i decided to do something and the only think i could do it was to watch all the animation submissions again and again and again and try to learn from them as much as i could.
The simplicity of the geometry of the rigs ( both for Kong and the T-rex's ) made my task a bit easier. The mesh wasn't skinned, it was just chopped in pieces and constrained to the joints so it was a bit easier for me to understand the mechanic of every single animation control.
( i still believe the splitted mesh constrained to joints ( commonly named "Calamari" )is still the best way for an animator to animate a shot, at least the first pass and second pass ).
You can see much better what you are doing and how the joints are rotating/translating.
I did study a lot from many animators (i will not make names here...ehhehe...) but Atsushi has been the one who provided me with that extra informations that otherwise i wouldn't ever found watching only the playblasts.
At that time i was sharing the room at work with Samati Boonchitsitsak, a very kind and good Philippines animator. I remember his English language was totally obscure to me, and my English language was totally obscure to him either, so we didn't talk. We were smiling at each other all day and that's it.
For one year straight. I miss his smiles.
Atsushi taught me a lot. Every time he was giving me animation notes he was explaining to me how the body mechanics works, how the chest and hips are independent but also connect through the spine. How hips react when legs do something and how the hips reaction affects the chest as well. The relationship between arms and chest, and between head and chest.
At the beginning it was quite complicated to understand for me, too many informations, and it was so much different from the approach i've learned before.
For me animation was a pose to pose approach, strong silouette, stepped interpolation and that's it.
All i knew before Weta was the Keith Lango Animation method.
After a few months at Weta and with Atsushi's feedback ( and a few other Weta animators ) i've realised i could finally say good bye to the stepped interpolation, to the pose to pose technique, and pretty much to everything i was thinking of animation before getting there.
My new life as creature animator was going to start and i will always be grateful to the super tall, shy, Japanese guy.
Even though many years have passed since that moment ( 12 years and 8 months ) i still think about him when i review my animations and i try to guess what he would say and what kind of advices he would give me to improve my work. He was considered the best animator in the company and he probably was.
I hope i will work with him again in the future because i still have a lot to learn from him.