Chase Cooper, digital media graduate in 2007, is up for a prestigious Annie award for his technical direction work on Rango.  He is up against some stiff competition—you can see the complete list of nominees for the Annie Awards here.

He did find a bit of time to answer a few questions for us, though.


Where do you work and what do you do?
I am a Creature Technical Director at Industrial Light & Magic. I work in the Creature Development department and we provide all of the rigs and support for animation along with simulating cloth, hair, flesh,  rigid geometry, and anything else that would be considered a creature or geometric simulation to make the character or creature look as real as possible.

How long have you been there?
A little over three years. I started working at ILM in November of 2008.

What is the best part of your job?
My job challenges me everyday and the final results are incredible. There is a large amount of teamwork that goes into each shot or asset and to see the final result at the very end of a project on a 3 story high movie screen is an awesome feeling. We are always on the cutting edge of technology too and I learn so much every single day, you really can look back and see how much you’ve actually grown as an artist. I’m also a big Star Wars geek, so all of the Star Wars stuff around the office (and old ILM movie props) makes for a really fun and unique work environment.

When did you graduate from ETSU?
I graduated ETSU in Spring of 2007.

Briefly, what has been your career path since then?
A few months before graduating, I was able to land a job freelancing at home working on smaller projects for documentaries and Disney interactive DVDs. This allowed me to gain a small amount of experience to help move onto some bigger projects. The summer after graduation I was offered a job at Hydraulx in Santa Monica and moved to LA that July. I ended up working there for about a year and a half on some pretty major Hollywood films and commercials.After Hydraulx I left to work for Industrial Light & Magic on their first animated feature, Rango which I ended up working on for over two years. I always wanted to work there because of ILM’s high standard of work and they have always sort of set the path of the vfx industry, so this was a no-brainer decision once I was offered the job. I’ve been at ILM ever since.

How did you find out that you were nominated for an Annie?  How did the word get to you?
I was actually aware that a few of my shots were being sent for consideration, but I found out about the nomination from my coworkers. It was kind of funny, I think more people around me knew about it way before I did.

From a laymen’s perspective, what particular work of yours in Rango is up for the award?
There is a part in Rango where he is stranded on the road and sheds two layers of his skin under the sun. I was responsible for making his skin actually flake off of him.

For the T.D. geeks among us, what particular work of yours in Rango is up for the award?
In the “skin shedding” shot, I was tasked with modeling and generating all of the skin layer flakes for Rango and coming up with a way to make them peel off his skin and blow away while interacting with the environment. I also had to simulate Rango’s shirt sticking to him with the flower designs rolling off his shirt. This happened twice in a single shot so it was a very technically challenging set of shots.

Is there a particular scene in the movie where you are particularly on display?
I’d say the skin shedding sequence is one of the main scenes where I’m on display. While working on the film for over two years, I ended up with quite a bit in the actual movie. I worked on the “Spirit of the West” sequence which was an homage to a ‘well known’ actor and that was really fun. Also did a lot of rigging and simulation development earlier in the show and was responsible for rigging over ten creatures, more particularly the Mariachi Owls and the desert toad, Rockeye. I was also tasked with simulating the Mariachis in first shot of the entire movie with the title which was pretty cool and fun.

When do you hear if you are a winner?
The awards are February in Los Angeles, so just a few months away.