Dear Angelica is at Sundance's New Frontiers, and it's pure magic! Dear Angelica will melt your face and make you feel things! Quill is the best VR drawing tool out there! Buy Oculus Touch! Sure, totally, of course, but that's not what I want to say. The story of this piece is one of version history. It's a story about a few women and a lot of men. I wish I could go back through perforce and show everyone every single version of the truth about Dear Angelica from beginning to end. That might take some time, so for now, to start, I'd like to thank the core team.
Oculus Story Studio changed my life. That seems like a true thing. I first heard of this piece in the Spring of 2015 from a friendly acquaintance and one of the most admired artists and writers of our set. Probably I'm part of a subset of that set, but never mind that. In 2015 it was a very different piece, and the story she wanted to tell with it was perfect and prophetic. I said "but that's amazing--you can do spatial comics!" and she said "We'll see." When I joined the project last fall, I could see why she had left, and why I wanted to stay. I thought we were going to make comics in VR, I didn't want my life in New York anymore, someone had written a program just for me and I was given more creative control than I even realized I could take. And the job paid more than I was making. Money changes everything.
Saschka Unseld, the director of this piece, met me at Toby's Estate in the West Village in early fall. It took me an hour to get there and I was 20 minutes early, but he was already waiting. He wanted to collaborate, to make "illustrative VR". He showed me early work on a Gear in his apartment, along with a bunch of aerial shots of grassy plains and herds of appaloosas. I hadn't seen the treatment, or any positional VR, and the only questions I had at the time were about budget and dates. I was skeptical, but I wanted to work. The rest, really, is history. Saschka wanted to make a piece about grief, about the space between mothers and children, and the stories we pass down. I wanted to make a piece about the space between reality and stories. We tried to compromise.
Angela Petrella was our co-writer, and a producer on this piece. What can I say about Angela? There is not enough of anything anywhere to say what I would like to say. Before I came to Story Studio, I didn't understand what a producer was. The focus that she brings to all of her work amounts to nothing less than love. And I've never met anyone whose love is more useful, more powerful. She understood me and what I wanted to make, and she helped all of us to make it. Dear Angelica was an unusual piece for this studio, with its Pixar-Dreamworks-Lucasfilm-EA DNA. Arriving in San Francisco I felt terrified and out of context. Angela killed my fear. She wrote it out. When people wonder how it all happened, I want them to see her.
David Whited was our editor. In VR, as you know, when you're working with fixed timing the sound is the edit. In a piece that is more feelings than straight lines, in this experiment with voiceover in VR, David helped to make everything read. From previs to final, David iterated like breathing. His attention to detail was astonishing. The history of this piece is in perforce, if Chris Horne hasn't cleared it all away by now, and in David's hands. Every script edit and shaved second. He, Tom Bible, Paul Stoughton and Drazen Bosnjak with Q Department made the voice of this piece.
Speaking of voices, Sarah Jaffe provided hers to Dear Angelica with a new version of "All That Time". She had worked with Saschka before on Blue Umbrella. Meeting her is a privilege every time it happens. I was a fan before, and for me affection is rarely a thing that improves with proximity. It was an honor. We'll be friends on instagram till the next time I get to hug her neck.
Christina Tanouye met me at the door of the Studio with my bags, fresh from SFO. Like with most friendly people, I was afraid of her. After an afternoon with paint chips for the Sausalito offices, I knew I needed her to become my friend. FYI, "Lobelia" and "Jacaranda" are Facebook approved colors. She is the most competent human you will ever meet. She went to architecture school and she's an empathetic seismograph project manager monster. She knows everything, and she's only 25. Or 26, at this point? She really wants me to wear more flattering pants. While I was at studio Christina helped to hire Jessica Zeta and Matthew Doherty. I adore these people. They brought me USB sticks and helped me to record my overtime. I don't think they care at all about my pants, but I could be wrong.
Edward Saatchi gave me his desk with a Wacom Tablet, quoted some pretty racy T.S. Elliott to me, and almost got arrested with me for climbing a rollercoaster. I cried once because I thought he had abandoned me in a bookstore in Santa Cruz. He's a Head of Studio and a producer on this piece. He became the person with whom I had the most fractious relationship over the course of my time at OSS. Many people tell me that of all the artists pitched for this project, I was his particular favorite. He's completely fascinating and confusing.
Max Planck was a Head of Studio, CTO and a producer on this piece. When Max and I were in studio together on the weekends he'd always ask me what audiobook I was listening to and how I was settling into my place. Max wants, more than anything else, to support a happy, thriving team. And, of course, to participate in process. Consequently he finds himself stepping into a lot of different roles. I hope he finds more time to be an engineer in the storm of everything else that goes into managing a VR studio.
Ryan Genji Thomas was our producer. Andy Wood was his deputy. Andy, if you ever figure out what your title is, please let me know. Or, tell me what you'd like it to be. Thank you, Ryan, for the spreadsheets, standups, for your kindness and your gold stars, and for writing down the things I said in dailies. Andy, nothing in studio would have run without you from October of 2015 till whenever it was that we got Jonathan Gleit and Ryan Hoster. And still, I think you're invaluable. Jonathan too, also, especially. I like you guys as a pair. Ryan (Ryan Hoster, now, not Ryan GT), thank you for helping to get Dear Angelica out in to the world at the premiere, and for helping our new Quill artists. I can't believe we were ever without you. How did a VR studio ever live without IT?
Chris Horne was our CG Supe. He told me where to eat in San Francisco, listened to all my gross stories, and helped me to survive when I couldn't use Quill without editing a json file. I think that for many VR projects there must be a funny, ugly place where intention meets the real, bleeding edge of what's possible. Chris, with Inigo, helped to make sure that place never existed for me. Before Inigo took over, Chris made our first, rudimentary VR drawing program. The three of us, Chris, Inigo and I, named Quill when we were waiting in line for dinner across the street from OSS's first location. Inigo wanted to call it something graceful like "Angelica", but I pushed him to something a little more self-referential and Chris enthusiastically agreed. He's good for consensus that way.
Inigo Quilez. He made Quill. People call him IQ, because he's meant to be the smartest man in San Francisco. Pretty sure he hates that, whether it's true or not. We could not have made Dear Angelica without his work. Even before I'd given myself a share of ownership of look or story, Inigo was thinking of Dear Angelica as a world made completely of one artist's hand. He cares about what I want. He and his work make me feel powerful every day. He helped me to understand that engineers think of themselves as artists. He's one of the reasons I understand Set Theory. He's also the only person in the office who gets as cold as I do. For a while, we shared my ex boyfriend's purple sweater.
Christopher Horvath was one of our earliest Quill engineers. You may have to wait a few months to see some of the new work he's done on the build. You'll like it, though. I depend on Chris's work. Like Horne, Quilez, Burdette and others, he helped me to feel free to make this piece my own. He's calm, silly, strange and full of compliments. I have often described him as the guy who created fluid dynamics in the Lord of the Rings movies. To that he'll roll his eyes and also show you a scene with water AND fire in the sixth Harry Potter movie. He has done other things. Try to get him to show you some of his oil paintings. It may have been a few years since he's had the time to paint, but I know he's still proud.
Unsung Quill heroes and Dear Angelica Engineers include Ian Wakelin, Erin Tomson, and Martin Mittring. Ian's back on Quill and Erin and Martin are on another project. All of these people are wonderful to work with. Ian was never frustrated with me, Erin's sarcasm is a beautiful thing, and Martin's support meant that DA could run on any setup. I miss their faces.
Matt Burdette was one of the first people I met at studio. He showed me my first VR, and was with me through all the early vis dev tests. He was the first person to call me an Art Director, to endorse my plan not to use models, forget about lighting and give up his job on the piece. And he was my first real companion at studio. He's an amazing CG artist in his own right. I wish I had Matt's visceral appreciation for this world. He's been a true friend and collaborator. Go buy him a fernet. We will work together again soon, Matt.
John Ballantyne was our interactivity man when we thought we were going to have more interactivity. With Dear Angelica, we were doing pipeline development, vis dev, and story dev all at once. This chaos has become a part of the heroic story of Dear Angelica. Logical, methodical John helped me to understand just why this chaos was both frustrating and completely new. He taught me what greyboxing was and has told me many scary stories about his son. For three months, Dear Angelica began with John's signature "Come Here" podium. Before anything in the experience could begin you had to walk up to a sign in the middle of nothing that said "Come Here". I think he was trying to make a point about interactivity and mixed metaphor.
Jeff Brown helped import and place assets and our camera movement in the finale, and in the scene in the middle of the piece with the mother/daughter heist. Did you do other scenes, Jeff, or was that Philipp? For someone like Jeff, this piece required tolerance, patience and rare sublimation of boredom. He did everything that was asked of him, even when we asked for the wrong thing the wrong way. I'm a big fan. He's left OSS to do other things. Those things will be great.
Philipp Maas. Philipp was our intern. Or, our Quill Slave. Everything I made, every version of what I made, was handed to Philipp to place or disseminate to the VFX team. He understood our pipeline as well as anyone else on the team, and better than most. He's had his hands on every asset. He's responsible for many of the finishing touches that we now describe to press as keystones of the piece. Philipp worked tirelessly and has an intuitive artistic sensibility. We love Philipp. Watch out for him.
Kory Heinzen did the earliest concept art for this version of Dear Angelica. I think things didn't get off to the best start with us when I saw that he'd been asked to copy my style. Because of my background in print, I hated the idea that there might be other artists on this piece. The first time you see yourself pantomimed back to you is always strange. I didn't like his version of me, but didn't know how to express it at the time. It was like hearing my voice on an answering machine. For a while, during previs, he took my vague sketches and made them into sensitive, perfectly proportioned models. He did this with Akin Bilgic, David Huang, Jon Farrell, and Barry Zundel. Akin and David are still in office on another project, while Jon and Barry were amazing two-week pinch hitters for a process we ultimately abandoned as export from Quill became possible. Kory taught me a lot about expectations for art in production. While we disagreed on everything for this piece, he has my respect, and I'm grateful for his work.
Also, David, your talents were wasted in previs. I want to see what you do with something completely interactive. For those of you who don't know, David's really an architect. That's why I can't wait for him to build something that allows him to play more with user experience. Also, I know Akin has a VR piece up his sleeve.
Robert Chen was our VFX lead. When you see that the lines never stop moving in Dear Angelica, that things seem constantly to be changing and appear in an order that feels meaningful, all of this was orchestrated by Robert and his team. I often communicated with him more in dance and hand gestures than in words. He worked with David Lipton, Jon Kunz, and James Littlejohn to make the whole piece feel alive. David had to leave us early because we moved offices and and the height of our new location was too uncomfortable for him. Jon had the difficult job of replacing David. James stayed till the bitter end, rarely leaving the office before 8 pm. Only two moments in the piece feature rigged animation. The rest fell to this team and Houdini. RIP Robert's swarming lines test, RIP James's black hole, and so long to all the pretty things we didn't end up doing. We threw away more of their tests than we kept, and every single one was interesting.
Bernard Haux, Ramiro Lopez Dau and Thierry DiDonna are responsible for all animation in this piece. When you notice that the fish with woman-faces move, that the green monsters open their mouths, that Angelica in her space suit follows you with her eyes and head while her arms spread wide, think of these guys. Bernard was the first person to acknowledge that my work would take much more than 3 months. I hope that he and Goro get to make their project some day soon. Congratulate Ramiro for his Emmy when you see him.
Thanks to Matthew Chadwick, who does not deserve this position in this list. Matthew as "Consulting Producer" watched every step of the way while DearAngelica unfolded and respectfully said "Seriously??" He's making some very interesting things with Quill content these days. But he's doing it properly. Working with, near, and around him is a privilege you can't take for granted for very long. Good thing he lives in LA. The new producers at studio and the new artists working in Quill deserve a whole separate blog post. We'll do that soon.
Thanks to our QA team, who noticed all the stars that looked like the Oculus O, and alerted me to the fact that QA was not yet acknowledged in the credits. Jeff Custis, Juliet Talcott, and Danny Oleson, thank you.
OSS, you made Dear Angelica, and Dear Angelica is loved. Celebrate yourselves and your work, and the privilege that it is to be able to make something like this with Facebook and Oculus. Before last year, I never knew what it was to make something together with people. Now I don't know how I'll do without it. So, probably, I'll try not to. Thank you, very much.