Interview with Jeff Gibson, director of CYCLES, first virtual reality animation of Disney Animation Studios

Jeff Gibson and part of the team who work in Cycles where at b’Ars 2018 explaining us how it was created, the technology used and some more tips.

We had the opportunity to talk with Jeff .




b’Ars: “Cycles” is a very personal story for you. Could you tell us a bit more about its origins?

Jeff Gipson: Yeah, sure! So “Cycles” came about by several aspects of my life. One is, before I worked in animation, I was an architect. In architecture school, you’re taught that every home and every building can tell a story. The materials, they wither and fade outside, the carpets wear where there’s a lot of traffic, and just, over time, spaces begin to be characters. I love that. Another is, swimming pools around Los Angeles have homes they’re attached to – and when you go to these properties, you see these homes and they’re just left in abandonment, and it’s hard not to imagine the stories and lives that were lived in these places: this was somebody’s first home, somebody grew up there… And just the idea of a space telling a story was something really interesting. And then, my relationship with my grandparents, in particular my grandma, and having to move her to assisted living, seeing my mom and uncle having that hard conversation with her. And then seeing her house empty, seeing the marks on the carpet where the couch sat, or my handprints on the front driveway, my name edged on the back cabinet… It’s similar to the homes in Los Angeles I was talking about, but knowing that this home held the story of my family. So it was just a really powerful memory that drove the story forward.

b’Ars: How did you pitch the short and what process did it go through until it entered production?

Jeff Gipson: Disney Animation is unique in the sense that we have an experimental shorts program where artists are encouraged to submit ideas, so I submitted one for a VR short film and it was selected by our Story Trust, made of our filmmakers and story artists and various others around the studio. Once we were selected and greenlighted, we got four months to produce it, so we had one month of pre-production and then three months of actual production to make it.

b’Ars: You’ve been an artist on many of the latest Disney Animation films. How did that experience help and inform your work on “Cycles”?

Jeff Gipson: I’ve been an artist at Disney for about six years, and just being in that environment and in the reviews for lighting or just being around other artists, talking with them at lunch and hearing their thought process – it’s kind of like school, you kind of absorb it just by being around them and in that environment so much. So it’s kind of being a sponge and absorbing it and trying to apply those learnings to your own work.

b’Ars: VR is a medium where you pretty much give partial control to your audience. How does your role as a director change from what we’re traditionally used to?

Jeff Gipson: In VR, you can look around in all directions, and we’re so used to composing two-camera, or animating two-camera, or lighting two-camera. But it’s a similar kind of feel, where you anticipate how the audience can view the film, or in hopes that they’ll view the film, but you can see it from several different angles. So in animation you’re seeing it from not only the straight-on from camera, but maybe from a little bit over here, a little bit over there… And same with the lighting. So trying to use all those principles that we have in our feature films and applying them to VR, and hoping that the audience will follow the story that we’re trying to tell.

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