Team Work

Visual artists David Hobizal and Josh Johnson explain how a film nerd and a gamer/cartoonist collaborate successfully on a wide range of projects.

Working in C4D, Johnson and Hobizal combined six different matte paintings for their motion graphics promo, A Movement. Compositing was done in After Effects.

David Hobizal is a self-described ‘film nerd’ and Josh Johnson is a gamer and cartoon enthusiast. Both rely primarily on Maxon’s Cinema 4D and After Effects, and together they are collaborators in the truest sense of the word. After meeting at 1080, a production house in Austin, Texas, Hobizal and Johnson worked together for three years before Hobizal moved to Brooklyn, New York, while Johnson went freelance in Austin.

These days, though they are separated by more than 1,000 miles, the two artists continue to work together as often as they can. Some of their recent collaborations include: “Last Known Surroundings,” a music video for the band, Explosions In the Sky; Feckly, an animated epic fantasy/comedy for adults; and A Movement, an animated short the two of them created to promote the motion graphics capabilities of Austin-based design house, Ptarmak.

Curious about how two very different artists come together to make a successful team, I sat down with Hobizal and Johnson to find out more about their work, their creative process, their egos and inspirations. Here’s what they had to say.

Johnson and Hobizal used multiple shaders and separate passes for this scene in which Feckly is recharging his powers.

Strohmaier: What was it like to work with Explosions In the Sky on “Last Known Surroundings?”

Hobizal: Our talks started on the tennis court in the summer. It was hard to concentrate on those first serves when your mind was off dreaming about what kind of story you were going to tell. After a few months, we showed them motion tests and style frames and then, you know, we locked ourselves in a room for four months because the project really took creative stamina. I mean, the video is eight and a half minutes long. The band was great. They came up with the first visual idea, and the rest happened after a lot of listening to the song and sitting down and writing what we wanted to happen next. We didn’t shoot down any ideas until we had it all laid out in front of us. (Learn more about how they made the music video here).

Strohmaier: How did you use C4D to get certain looks and effects that you wanted for the video?

Hobizal: I used the MoGraph module along with Thinking Particles a lot for “Last Known Surroundings.” I used everything I could think of, except character animation. Josh helped out with some of the dynamics and I used MoGraph and Thinking Particles for the snowflakes and outer space scenes. We started with snowflakes made in Photoshop and Illustrator and then ran a basic Thinking Particles emitter with the snowflakes as particles and, boom! Out comes a snowstorm.

Hobizal and Johnson collaborated with illustrator/painter Sissy Emmons when creating the “Last Known Surroundings” music video for the band Explosions In the Sky. This scene was one of several that were hand-drawn by Emmons.

Strohmaier: Do you use matte paintings for a lot of your backgrounds?

Hobizal: Yes, we do. For A Movement, we built the geometry roughly how we wanted it, very low polygon, and then we had two highly talented illustrator/painters, Sissy Emmons and Luke Miller, paint over that. That’s really how we started the process.

Johnson: With Feckly which was influenced by a combination of video game characters, Adult Swim and anime, we used a collection of terrain objects. We limited their color palette and rendered it out in passes, running it through some action scripts in Photoshop, which gave us our starting point. From there, we added in brush strokes where we wanted them, and loaded the background with a gradient tool. Then, we established our highlights and shadows.

For this roadside scene from Feckly, Johnson and Hobizal modeled the background in Cinema before rigging the character’s face using 2D tracking data.

Strohmaier: Where do all of your 3D models come from? Do you make them all yourselves in C4D, or are they a combination of models created from scratch and purchased online?

Johnson: We create most of our models, but some are modified using ZBrush. Occasionally, we buy smaller models from TurboSquid.

Strohmaier: Tell me a little bit about how A Movement came to be.

Hobizal: We were working at Ptarmak in Austin, Texas, when we made that. The designers and illustrators there were print people primarily, and they saw our motion capabilities as a great chance to expand their offerings while giving us an opportunity to work with some really talented folks.

Fluffy clouds featured in the balloon scene in A Movement were created in MoGraph. The balloon was rigged in C4D from the loop down to allow the basket to swing as the balloon undulates above.

Strohmaier: Music clearly plays an important role in A Movement, as well as your other work. What comes first, the music or the visual idea?

Hobizal: When it’s possible, I like to start with music before I edit. For A Movement, a bandmate and friend of mine, Peter Stopschinksi, produced, recorded and performed his first symphony in Austin. His CD came out and we thought it would be a perfect fit.

Strohmaier: What makes you successful as creative collaborators?

Hobizal: We have each other’s back. And it’s rare to find someone who’s as excited about the process and learning as you are.

Johnson: That’s the other important thing. It’s like, ‘I can’t leave this guy hanging.’ I don’t care if it means another weekend or a night working; I want to help David out.

The animated short, A Movement, was created as a way to feature the motion capabilities of Johnson and Hobizal.

Strohmaier: Can you talk a little bit about your collaborative creative process?

Johnson: First, we get on Skype together and talk about the project. And then we open Google Docs and start hacking out ideas, talking back and forth. We pick at each other quite a bit.

Hobizal: There’s definitely a lot of disagreements and arguments about what the project should be, which is a positive part of working together. We laugh 90 percent of the time when we’re working, but the arguing and checking each other’s ideas ensures that we don’t get complacent or too happy with any of our ideas. We’re at a similar skill level, but we go off in different directions to figure out problems and we come together as soon as we find the answer, which makes problem solving and learning go much faster.

Characters in this looped cycle from Feckly were animated in Cinema 4D. The background was created in After Effects.

Strohmaier: Artists often have their own way of doing things. How do you keep your own egos in check when you’re working together?

Hobizal: I think we both recognize our strengths, and we like finding out what we’re each good at and what we can offer. I come from more of a filmmaking and editing background, so my strengths are pacing, shot composition and design. I’ll bounce ideas off of Josh and ask him if an idea is possible. He’ll say, let me think about it for a second, and then he’ll tell me how it can be done three different ways.

Josh: David brings a lot of focus to the whole thing. And he has a better sense of design. While I like designing, and I feel like I can do it on my own, David is stronger than I am. I do more technical lifting when it comes to motion and 3D. I like Cinema because it’s easy, and robust. You have all the features there, so if you want to dive into something complicated, have at it.

Strohmaier: What’s next for you guys?

Johnson: Make more stuff!  Eventually Feckly will go on Kickstarter. But the workflow isn’t finished. I am making some new tools to help the process, including a few scripts for After Effects and Cinema that tighten the final bolts in the pipeline. Those will soon be available to anyone who’s interested.

Hobizal: The only plan is to keep on making motion and music as much as possible, and continue to collaborate with my family and friends. Recently, my wife Sissy and I finished up a video for TED-Ed, about the advancement of ship navigation using logarithms. Indulging in serious nerdiness is one of the best perks of being an animator.

Scott Strohmaier is a writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and son.