I had a chance to chat with Andrew Embury about his latest project for The Atlantic, “The Future of Work”  or, “The Age of Female Dominance, Brought to You by Robots”. The piece draws a powerful message while wrapped in some great visuals and animation.

About the Future of Work

There’s a lot of speculation on how robots taking over people’s jobs could impact the economy. After all, if nearly half of American jobs are automated in the next 20 years, what will people do? And while automation does include losses of jobs, it could also change what we value when it comes to skill sets. For example, care-related work, like nursing and education, will likely remain human. Jerry Kaplan, a futurist and professor at Stanford University, thinks that automation could place a premium on the type of work that women tend to be good at, like person-to-person interaction, reading human emotion, collaboration, and creativity. In this animation from The Atlantic, he and Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum explore what the future could hold for the balance of power between genders and the distribution of labor at home.

About Andrew Embury

Growing up, Andrew Embury had two dreams – to become a solitary sea captain or to spend his days surrounded by animation and motion design. Given the spotty wifi and the lack of quality coffee on the open seas, he turned his full attention to the digital arts, becoming an Emmy-nominated, award–winning motion design director, producer and editor at AE Consulting Inc. His career has taken him from the acclaimed FatKat Animation Studios to, more recently, a top mobile manufacturer. His client list includes VW, American Express, The Muppets, Tendril, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co., NHL, NBA, Microsoft, Apple, Family Guy and Happy Tree Friends.

Andrews’ latest projects include opening his own animation and design studio, teaching a course or two for Mograph Mentor and learning to whittle while he dreams of the sea.

Q&A With Andrew Embury

What did you receive from The Atlantic? How far along were they in having the project laid out before it got to you?

We received an audio file of Jerry Kaplan and Saadia Zahidi conversing about their vision of the future while Producer, Nadine Ajaka was asking them poignant questions. There really wasn’t anything laid out – it was a free-for-all for our interpretation. Having that creative freedom allows you to be creative and to explore new areas and unchartered territories. The open ended nature of this project was particularly fun, and the trust garnered by The Atlantic was unparalleled.

How did the story for the piece come together?

Well, there was no real script. It was a very organic process, where every person who played a part in the making of the piece, from the producer to the animators, brought a personal element with them. All these personal touches formed the underlying ties and eventually developed into the final piece.

What was your procedure for developing the project with a review process?

Believe it or not, there was none! We provided our vision of the full piece in a storyboard format. There really wasn’t enough time to review or go back and forth as we only had 8 weeks for total production time. It was very much about laying the groundwork and building up as fast as possible.

Did the story change some over time, then?

Thankfully, not once! Whew.

The piece is quite long, how were you able to balance the type and quantity of animations needed while still being cost effective for the length of the story?

Truthfully, it’s all about the process and understanding how little work you need to do, but also where to push it to really tell the story. Since it is a longer piece, if it was wild and crazy and all over, it would have lost the viewer quickly. So we opted for a more subtle subdued piece that is both pleasing and engaging. It’s always a balance, but truthfully, on this in particular, I didn’t garner any net positive. All the money went to all the creative talent outside of myself. It was really important to me to create a good piece first. Good work comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost has to be a bit of a sacrifice.

What are you most proud of in this piece?

I love love love the lumberjack scene, that scene was such a beast to handle in such a condensed time period!

What took the most work?

I’d say the designs. I’m all about that waterfall methodology of working, so the more approval you can get at the front, it makes the rest of the process equally engaging but also much less hands on from the client, as they’ve already approved what is to come. After that, it’s just about trust from the producer to make good work, and she gave us that in spades. Thanks Nadine!

Some characters look as if they are rigged, but some of them look like they were animated traditionally, can you talk about that?

Thanks to Mike Overbeck’s script “Joysticks + Sliders” we were able to rig a lof of the characters with it; and of course in addition to DuIK’s IK tool, we were able to make short work of a lot of the characters. The scenes that needed traditional animation were the cops, the nurse and the lumberjack. They had more of a human story to tell, and I feel that traditional animation is just that – a very organic humanistic language.

Why did you choose to create frame-by-frame animation for some characters rather than using a rigging system?

I feel animation is akin to hieroglyphics. It’s a visual language of story telling. So I felt those scenes needed that human “touch” or “feeling”. We used those scenes in particular to champion the story of us as people, especially in a robotic future…

Were there any 3D elements used in the final piece? Were those used as image sequences or live 3D assets?

There were! But only the robots in the lumberjack scene were 3D. For those we ended up using Blender because…well..it’s free! We were testing ways with Element, but the IK workaround system wasn’t all that great, but it was close. So in the end it was just IMG sequences on plates for our faux 3D parallax camera move.

Credits

  • Client: The Atlantic
  • Producer: Nadine Ajaka
  • Animation / Direction: Andrew Embury
  • Illustration: Loris F. Alessandria
  • Animation: James Hazael
  • Animation: Robert Anderson
  • Animation: Jardeson Rocha
  • Animation: Francesco D’Ambrosio

Huge thanks to Andrew Embury for taking the time out to answer questions. Visit Andrew’s place on the web, and on Vimeo, and follow him on Twitter.

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