Saturday, October 03, 2009

Alien Song: 10 years later




It's hard for me to believe, but it's been 10 years since I finished Alien Song and it began its viral spread across the internet.  I had been working on it for a few months, and sharing iterations of it with the CG-Char Forum to get feedback from other animators.  Once I sent out the complete version, the list members started passing it around, and it eventually spread into mainstream email circulation, alongside the Dancing Baby.  I had never intended for this clip to go beyond the confines of the forum, much less catapult me into a new career.  There was no YouTube back then, of course, so it choked a lot of email servers in the process.  I received thousands of emails in the ensuing months, but best of all was this one, dated November 15th, 1999:

Hi Victor,

I saw your Alien Song animation and really liked it.  Would you
consider interviewing with Pixar?  If so, send me an email and
we'll set something up.

Thanks,
Ed Catmull
Pixar

I had to resurrect some archived email to find this, and I'm glad I still have it!  This was two weeks after I had left my job at Presto Studios in San Diego to pursue film work in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I was hoping to get into ILM to work on the Star Wars prequels.  I interviewed with them three separate times, and luckily they never hired me!  Pixar interviewed me in December, if memory serves, but I didn't start working there until March 14th, 2000.  In the meantime I was doing some freelance work, including some visual effects for the film "Titan AE".

In addition to helping me land a job at Pixar, Alien Song got me a lot of attention on the internet (which was still pretty young), and a phone-call from Gloria Gaynor's (singer of I Will Survive) publicist.  I was happy to hear that they weren't going to sue, considering I never licensed the music!  Suddenly I was being asked to speak at CG and animation festivals around the world, and I even got some licensing deals.  Of course for every legitimate business offer I got, there were 30 or so that were suspicious or never panned out.

Those were heady times.  The internet bubble had yet to burst, computer animation was still in its infancy, no one had heard of Al Qaeda, and the iPod was just a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye.  My demo reel at the time was comprised mainly of Alien Song, a couple of other Blit tests, and some FX and CG work.  I doubt I could get an interview at Pixar with the same reel today.  It's a lot bigger company now, and there is a lot more competition out there, especially with schools like AnimationMentor.com cranking out skilled animators left and right.  I am one lucky guy...

You can read about my process for creating Alien Song here, and there's a FAQ as well.

38 comments:

  1. Very Inspirational, thanks..

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  2. Great Story! Alien Song was the reason why I wanted to become an animator. When I first saw your animation in 1999 it totally blew my mind. I started learning 3D and in 2005 I landed my first job as an animator. I'm now a visdev artist but I still love animation and I will keep doing it on the side.
    Thanks for inspiring me back then.

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  3. Ed Catmull's email gave me goosebumps :) Congrats victor

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  4. wow 10 years already! sheesh

    Still a great bit of animation.

    I remember seeing this and being inspired to make something similar- I think I even emailed you :P.

    Having worked in and around film for nine years now the competition is really high. Having completed AM, getting onto their showcase, landing an animation role on Despereaux. All was great.

    Once that show ended everyone was layed off and works all dried up due to recession. Currently been out of work for around a year! Its a shame animation is so hard to get into, the goal posts are forever changing and the talent is forever getting better. Plus companies have the pleasure of hand picking the cream of the crop.

    I think if Alien Song came around now it may get lost in the sea of animation thats out there... BUT
    never the less your timing way back in 1999 was right, perfect in fact and still now its an inspiring piece.

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  5. I remember watching it for the first time probably in late 2000 or early 2001 as a freshman animation major in college. The career outlook certainly was different then. Then Shrek and Monsters Inc. came out and things changed drastically. Everyone said "I want to do that!"

    I enjoyed your insightful reflection in this post.

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  6. Please consider releasing 10 years anniversary edition of "Alien Song" remastered & rerendered in FullHD digital 3-D with all this today's technological bells & whistles! Why not? catching up to the industry trends cannot be all that bad idea, can it? ;-)

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  7. What a hit!! but even though it has been 10 years it's still funny!!!.. That might has been awesome to receive that mail, anyway you are an inspiration now!

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  8. Phil, me too!

    3dsketchbook, sorry to hear about your work situation. I'm sure things will pick up.

    Szymon, sounds like a fine idea, but I don't know if I can even open those project files anymore, much less render them. I don't have a current copy of Animation: Master, and I don't know if it runs under the current Mac OS X anyway.

    Thanks to all for the comments!

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  9. Congrats! I think I'd get a heart attack, if I should ever receive such email!....it would also be a little strange, since I didn't make "Alien Song"....

    I must've watched it about a billion times, since I first saw it and it still makes me laugh.

    -Hans

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  10. Conratulation on completing 10 lovely yrs on Alien Song, Time really fly's by. I still remember watching this clip 10 yrs back and falling in love with the animation. I dont remember how many times i watched this clip, again & again.

    With this clip you became my mentor, and after 10 yrs, you still are my Mentor.

    Thanks for inspiring me & many like me all around the Globe for the last 10 yrs, hope you will still carry on for another 25 yrs more.

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  11. WOw! That is really cool and super inspiring! :)
    I only started learning animation 2-3?yrs ago, but already know how crazy fast things can happen. I hope I accomplish as much as you have when I look back after 10yrs.
    You really are an inspiration to a lot of people.
    I know my high school video production teacher bought Animation Master at Siggraph based solely off seeing Alien Song. He knew I wanted to learn how to animate... and that was the very beginning of where I realized this truly is something you can pursue for a living. So I owe you and my teacher a big thank you.
    and I know I bothered you for advice on schools via private messages back on the old forum.. and you've never hesitated to share what you know.
    Thanks truly and congrats with everything! :)

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  12. Truly inspiring. =)
    Congrats!

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  13. congratulation for this first 10 years!!! your experience was inspiration and your oportunity is a legend in internet, your process is a real dream, you are not a lucky guy, you are Victor Navone: The Legend (a real legend), good luck always and go ahead with your projects.

    Felicidades and thanx for replay me 4 years ago, never will delete your message, really you are good guy and good artist.

    "Laugh-a while you can, monkey-boy!"
    - Lord John Whorfin

    thanx for Alien Song.

    Oswaldo

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  14. I remember seeing this over a year ago, when I first began talking with you. If I would have seen it 10 years ago, I'm sure it would be as relevant then, as it is now.

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  15. I remember working at a small company in downtown Chicago animating christian vegatables. A bunch of people huddled around the computer listening to 'I will survive!'
    Leaning in, I see this alien dancing.

    ------I was blown away--------

    I still am. You crank out some inspiring work.

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  16. Thanks all for the nice comments, and for your readership over the years! It's been a fun ride, and I still feel like I've got lots left to learn. Kinda funny to see Aaron Hartline's post on here, since we work together!

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  17. Hey Victor!

    It's amazing to have a glance at Ed Catmull's e-mail message to you.

    I can imagine how happy you were on this day. :)

    Congratulation for the first 10 years, and there are a lot more to come!

    Keep on rocking in the animation world Victor!

    Have fun!
    -Chris

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  18. Dreams really can come true. Well done to you :)

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  19. I love the Alien Song video. I am happy it opened some doors for you because it is awesome. I think I may still have the file someone sent me back in 1999 somewhere on a hard drive, but I'm happy it's on YouTube as well, because I still tell people about how great this video is.

    I was working out today, and I Will Survive came on. I had to watch the video again.

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  20. Really congrats Victor!

    Reading your words only brings inspiration, as well as your works. Eventhough nowdays the competition is much bigger as you said, it´s just awesome to be on this field! I am just about to have 2 years of animation experience :) Congrats again!

    Thiago Martins

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  21. Ahhh Alien Song. How very awesome it must be knowing that while a door opened for you, Victor, you would open hundreds if not thousands of doors for others in the process. I remember the first time I saw this I was in college. Back then I was pretty good at "obtaining" software over high speed connections and I recall rushing to find Lightwave 6.0.
    Who would've thought that little video would've help steer me down this crazy road!

    I now completely associate this song with Blit.

    I think you need to post up that old dusty reel from 1999 for all to see ;)

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  22. 10 years??!! Wow, has it really been that long? I too was inspired by Alien Song as a young animation student. To me it was a great example of how to put the main focus on your animation and it's entertainment value, rather than getting bogged down with sets props, and too many characters (:( which I did with my first demo reel...) You've inspired so many with Alien song in various ways. You deserve all the success it has brought you and more! Congrats Victor!

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  23. Wow this is so cool. I was at the bus today and someone's cell phone was playing I Will Survive. It reminded me of the Alien Song, and of the good times in 99 and 00, when I was playing Diablo 2 and finishing High School.

    So I decided to look for it on youtube, found your name there, googled and got here. So awesome that you are working on Pixar.

    I'd never imagine such thing, but at the same time I wasn't surprised either.

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  24. Do you still use animation master?
    If not can you share what 3d software you are currently using.

    Thanks in advance, all the best,
    Gustavo

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  25. Gustavo,
    I don't use Animation Master anymore, mostly because I just don't have the time to. I tend not to animate on my free time anymore, and when I'm teaching I use Maya because that's what the students are using. At work I use Pixar's proprietary software, which I like best!

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  26. I know you can't give-out any info on Pixar's proprietary software, but, is it easy to use? That's all I'll ask about Pixar's software, I promise.

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  27. I'd say it's no easier or harder than any other major animation software application. Same buttons, different places.

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  28. I first saw this back in 99 believe it or not. It's still great acting and fun to watch as well as inspiring.

    P.S. A:M runs on Mac OSX and it's still a great app!

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  29. So, do you think making Alien Song in 3D HD would be a worthy challenge?

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  30. As an anniversary project that sounds like a great idea.

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  31. As neat as that might be, if I had the time and energy to do that I think they would be better spent on something new!

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  32. Love this film. It's made me laugh for ten years!
    I just watched your walk through: advanced dialog lecture at AM, thanks for sharing your knowlege!!

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  33. Alien Song is super cool indeed but I like your "Alien Test" even more, there's something about it.

    http://www.navone.org/Media/Movies/AlienTestCpak.mov

    Congrats on 10 years and many more to come!

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  34. I remember watching this as a 5th grader and absolutely loving it. It was *the thing* to do on the computer at the time.

    What animation software did you use?

    Love the update, thanks for sharing. Hope Pixar continutes to work out for you.

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  35. Thanks for the perspective Victor. It was stories like yours that emboldened me to get my work out there and now I'm directing a team of artists all with the refreshing attitude of openness towards their work on the film. Of course in that 10 years, although the business of animation may have grown to three times the size, the number of people that know about it has grown to more than ten times the number. So the opportunities have actually reduced, and it's been exponentially harder for people to succeed in the business. People like you and I are both very lucky and pushed very hard in order to keep just ahead of the wave.

    Again, thanks for the insight Victor, it's nice to put things in perspective from time to time. If only the industry could find a way to harness all that talent before Animators become the new Actor/Waiters of the new online tinsel town.

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  36. I remember first seeing this 2 years after it was made. I don't remember the first time I saw it I was small, but I do remember continuing to see it as I got older now I like to tell people of the story, make wikis on it, make edited funny videos out of it, and as well: telling people how it was made like you. I hope to be a great successful animator like you, Vic, rock on!
    ~Skittlez Productions

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  37. Just showed this to my 4th grade students, and they were howling with laughter! Never mind that they didn't know the song; they noticed plenty of details each time it was played (they asked to see it three times in a row). I didn't know the history of how this song influenced the changes in your professional life, but I'll definitely share the story with my students. It'll motivate them to take chances.

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  38. Thanks for sharing that, Donna. I'm glad to hear it's still popular with the 'kids'!

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