ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.03 - JUNE 2000

Dotcomix: Capturing Animated Motion On The Net
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It feels almost sacrilegious to describe the behind-the-scenes production of Duke in fear of busting his seemingly real persona. One technical footnote, though, is that this is the first DotComix production to use QuickTime as its Internet media player. It was vital to the reality of this series to integrate live action actors and backgrounds with the 3D created Duke, so the animation-only Pulse Entertainment Player -- the technology presently downloaded by the viewer to power all other DotComix shows -- wasn’t suitable. Partnering with Apple has given DotComix the QuickTime technology necessary for those creative purposes, and additionally brings onboard Apple’s infrastructure and servers to handle the huge amount of traffic amassing around the online campaign. The company will continue producing Duke2000’s cross-platformed media all the way through inauguration and, only half-jokingly, they suggest that in the event Duke actually takes the Presidency, we’ll have four more years with him!

Alchemy in the Company’s Mix
Brad deGraf (CEO and Chairman) co-founded DotComix in early 1999 along with long time colleagues Eric Gregory (Chief Technology Officer) and Marc Scaparro (Head of Production). Together, the trio has a substantial history in leading performance and computer animation in new directions. DeGraf’s pre-computer life included designing sculptural furniture and studying architecture at Princeton, which he later combined with a degree in Mathematics from the University of California at San Diego. After stints designing programs for the US Army National Training Center and as Head of Technical Direction at Digital Productions, he founded deGraf/Wahrman. The beginnings of his collaboration with Scaparro and Gregory took place in deGraf’s basement where they co-authored the architecture of the proprietary software they named Alive!. Taking it with them to Colossal Pictures, they formed that studio’s in-house Digital Media Group, using their nascent technology in the creation of Cartoon Network’s digital emcee "Moxy" (the first real-broadcast motion-capture character) and Peter Gabriel’s Grammy Award-winning music video "Steam." In 1994, the three spun off to form Protozoa and jumped headlong into television production, software sales and the then-burgeoning market of 3D animated games. In late 1996, with the advent of the Internet’s 3D player technology VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language), the group began producing their first online characters, designing the well-known Spider and Alliskator properties -- work that deGraf feels was "the first really non-video animation on the Web." Next came a series for SGI entitled Floops which, deGraf believes, "can really claim to be the first episodic cartoon on the Web."

A 3D duck and ant as featured in Floops. © Protozoa, Inc.

The Internet soon became the trio’s primary focus and for their transformation into the DotComix of today, deGraf recruited Damon Danielson as President and CEO. Since January of ‘99, Danielson’s talents have been directed toward building the team, modeling the relationships and marshalling the financing necessary to position the company as a leader in its new Internet space. The Yale educated Danielson has had a wealth of creative and business experience ranging from work with Sony New Technologies, b-to-b Internet company Music One and Silicon Entertainment where, as CEO/President, he rode herd over the diversified company engaged in highly interactive games and NASCAR themed simulators.

Executive Producer Buzz Hayes, with his extensive film production and new media background, was brought in to create, produce and assemble the cluster of original programming needed to make up DotComix’ new dot-com identity. With a Masters in Film Production from USC, Hayes first spent around 10 years as head of research and development at LucasFilm’s THX. He then started his own independent company, Stone’s Throw Films, where he produced the smash Indy film Swimming With Sharks starring Kevin Spacey. Next came his co-founding of Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Interactive which created the critically successful CD Rom entitled "IX." This adventure game’s art design and irreverent tone attracted the attention of deGraf who later enlisted Hayes to incubate the DotComix world.

Jane White, having joined deGraf and company in 1996, was already in place and primed to continue her work as Sr. VP of Development and Executive Producer for DotComix’ new adventures. From the roots of the six people deGraf, Scaparro and Gregory had at the beginning, today’s DotComix mix of talent modelers, animators, writers, producers and directors numbers around 35. That work-force is expected to double in the next four to six months as the floodgates for new production swing wider each day.

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Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.


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