A University of Waterloo graduate is the muscle behind the fast- talking sharks and other sea critters in the box- office hit Shark Tale.
When Don Lino, the godfather shark, acts tough, it was the job of DreamWorks' T.J. Galda to show him how to do it.
Galda, 28, never imagined he'd be applying his knowledge of anatomy and physiology to any creature other than humans before he graduated from kinesiology at UW.
Intending originally to become a doctor, he soon discovered he preferred dispensing laughter as medicine rather than the real thing.
He finished his bachelor of science at UW in 1999, then enrolled in Centennial College's competitive digital animation program.
He was working with Nelvana, a Canadian company that produces children's cartoons, when California's DreamWorks came calling last year.
It was a huge compliment to the talents of Galda, who could well be the youngest animator at one of the top film and animation studios in the business.
Right away, Galda, who grew up outside Guelph, was immersed in the undersea world of Don Lino and his shark sons, Frankie and Lenny, Oscar the fish, angelfish Angie, twin jellyfish Ernie and Bernie, and other finny types in Shark Tale.
Yesterday, Galda and his fellow animators at DreamWorks were celebrating Shark Tale's weekend success at the box office.
Although Shark Tale was dismissed by some critics for reinforcing stereotypes, kids and families flocked to the 90-minute movie, which reeled in $49.1 million US, snagging the No. 1 box office spot. The movie features the voices of Will Smith, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Renee Zellweger.
It's the story of Oscar, a little fish in a big pond who dreams of a life of luxury. He gets mixed up with the underwater mob when he takes credit for bumping off one of the godfather's sons.
"The people here are really excited," said Galda, whose initials stand for Todd John. "It was our second-best DreamWorks." The studio's only film to do better was Shrek 2.
Shark Tale's popularity reminded Galda what he likes best about his job as a character "rigger" or technical director for DreamWorks.
"The best part is going into a matinee and seeing the kids laugh at your hard work," he said in a telephone interview from DreamWorks headquarters in Burbank, Calif.
"I'm pretty proud of seeing my name on screen."
Before Galda gets his hands on it, a character is modelled in three dimensions in grey clay. Then the clay model is transferred into the computer.
It's Galda's wizardry that makes the character move.
"My job is to put the skeleton and bones in to make it move," he said. He consults with supervising animators, studies reference books and imagines how a creature with half-shark, half-human features might look.
It's up to him to figure out how the shark's skin wrinkles, how its head bends or how shark flesh reacts to a punch or push. There's lots of "squash and stretch," as they say in the industry, he said.
One character might take him six weeks to complete before it's passed to the next team.
"When it leaves us, it looks like a clay model but it moves around."
For the movie he's working on now, called Over the Hedge, DreamWorks brought in animals from the San Diego Zoo for animators to study. For four hours, Galda watched beavers, muskrats, skunks and porcupines and heard from the experts about their idiosyncrasies.
When Over the Hedge is out, likely in 2006, movie-goers will see how woodland creatures deal with encroaching suburbia.
Although working on yet another movie -- Kung Fu Panda, slated for release in 2007 -- Galda was called back for the final stage of the Shark Tale project as one of a skilled group of animators who fixes imperfections.
He worked on 89 shots in the movie, re-animating the dreadlock on a Man-of-War jellyfish, fixing a limb that goes through another character or a fin that sinks into a table, and catching all the imperfections that sharp-eyed critics would pounce on.
Working on deadline, the job of creating fun can sometimes be stressful. But DreamWorks provides a resort-like setting for relaxation, Galda said.
In addition to olive trees, a river and waterfall on the lot to soothe the creative soul, there's also free gourmet food. When he can, Galda bikes and plays hockey with other animators.
In a couple of weeks, he plans to come back to Canada to visit his girlfriend in Ottawa.
And guess what they'll be doing on a date?
Sitting in a movie theatre, watching Shark Tale and listening to the kids laugh, he said.
|Colour Photo: DREAMWORKS PICTURES, SUBMITTED PHOTO (CENTRE) / University of Waterloo graduate T.J. Galda, surrounded by his Shark Tale cast, works as an animator for California's DreamWorks.; Colour Photo: DREAMWORKS PICTURES, SUBMITTED PHOTO (CENTRE) / Shark Tale cast; Colour Photo: DREAMWORKS PICTURES, SUBMITTED PHOTO (CENTRE) / T.J. Galda|
Credit: RECORD STAFF
Right away, [Galda], who grew up outside Guelph, was immersed in the undersea world of [Don Lino] and his shark sons, Frankie and Lenny, Oscar the fish, angelfish Angie, twin jellyfish Ernie and Bernie, and other finny types in Shark Tale.
Colour Photo: DREAMWORKS PICTURES, SUBMITTED PHOTO (CENTRE) / University of Waterloo graduate T.J. Galda, surrounded by his Shark Tale cast, works as an animator for California's DreamWorks.; Colour Photo: DREAMWORKS PICTURES, SUBMITTED PHOTO (CENTRE) / Shark Tale cast; Colour Photo: DREAMWORKS PICTURES, SUBMITTED PHOTO (CENTRE) / T.J. Galda