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Mike L. Murphy: Animator to ultra-entrepreneur


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Here is the English version of an interview that is appearing in Slovenia's top newspaper.  I wanted to share it with you!

You visited Slovenia a few weeks ago mostly for pleasure; is Slovenia also the country you work in?

I do my work online so I can do it anywhere in the world. I have a few outsources that I use in Slovenia.  I’m trying to build the whole infrastructure there to get some films going...Slovenia is so beautiful and the rest of the world doesn’t know too much about it.  I’m also building a talented team to help me manage my online businesses.  Most entrepreneurs outsource to the Philippines or India.  But I like Slovenia people the best!

Your short movies ‘The Night of Broccoli’ and ‘Get Lost’ could be understood as dealing with dislike, or even hatred, towards broccoli and dirty socks, on the other hand Rose talks about magic and longing for love... What is your main theme? Is it strong affection?

The key for me was making it really visual. The movies I liked growing up were Disney movies and early Spielberg movies (Raiders of the lost Ark and ET). Disney movies they were able to fully transform you in a fantasy world. Whereas Spielberg actually did opposite; he took the ordinary world and went out of his way introduces magic to it.

I was also fascinated  with creating some sort of magical element, whether that is the animated character or just the world that is so stylized. Amelie is good example of this.  It takes place in the real world of Paris but is so hyper visually stylized that it becomes almost like a fable. The main thing is that I like to have this visual whimsy that guys like Tim Burton have.  Secondly I just like the little guy,.  The everyday person who is against the odds that are impossible to beat. That is when the conflict is the highest and you want to see if he is going to win.

Is making advertisement clips for brands like Coca Cola, or working on major Hollywood films somehow connected with making short movies?

Those are different worlds - animation and visual effects are different than other forms of filmmaking. I'm involved in bunch of different types of filmmaking. Right now I’m in the entrepreneur realm, because I’m taking my 15 years of experience on line and teaching it.

I ‘m also creating a web presence so I can seed money through places like Kick starter. That is a crowd sourcing website where anyone can invest a small amount of money to support artist projects they are excited about. I believe the future of filmmaking is creating a conversation with audiences on-line before you tell the story.  You can use the internet as a tool to communicate with fans and make the movie they want to see.  Most movies don’t do this...the studio execs try to figure out what the latest 3 big hits are and re-create them.  Audiences want something fresh...look at all the big hits - Paranormal Activity, Avatar, Star Wars, Gone With The Wind, Snow White.   They were fresh for the time they came out.    The internet lets us develop the movie with the fans to make sure it’s something they’re going to be excited by.   So I'm really embracing the tool of the internetand how amazing technology is for modern storytellers.

How different would Lord of the Rings, or any other modern movie be, if it didn’t feature visual effects and animation?

In Lord of the Rings I was one of the key animators, so when you see Gollum talking, that is partially my work. If animators were not there then Gollum would not be in the movie.  We would watch just actors in make up like you see in movies prior to Lord of the Rings.  Yoda in the original Star Wars was a puppet..whereas the newer ones features a digital Yoda.  That allowed him to jump and flip and move a lot more.

In other words; the version of Lord of the Rings that you see would have never been made without the work of visual effect artist and animators. The Fast and the Furious is more of an action film.   It exists in an urban environment so it did not really require special effects. All the special effects in that film were augmenting the stunt work. What I did there is pre-visualization. It is making 3D story boards. It almost looks like a video game cinematic. It is a cost effective way for the producers to preplan out the shoot. It is a lot cheaper to have an animation team working for $12,000 a week than huge film crew for $100,000 a day!

Is there still any movie made today without special effects?

Every movie, even TV shows, has some sort of visual effect done to it. At the simplest level there is thing called color grading, where they take all the different shots of some film and match the colors in it (for example if you have 20 shots of girl in red dress, the color of that precise dress changes in shots.  The red will look she’s wearing a different costume.  A digital artist needs to correct this).  Every single movie needs that and this is a form of visual effects

The other extreme is for example Pixar movies - where everything seen has been designed by artist. Every step is created on a digital level.

In the past, special effects were created manually by correcting and augmenting scenes frame by frame – how is it made today?

It is basically like going into Photoshop, and instead of working in a still image, you do it in motion.  So when you start having motion you could see if your work is moving in a matter you want it to - you also see if the things are not working. It is a highly skilled thing to do. That's why it costs so much to do visual effects, it is so time consuming.

In the past there was optical printer - it was in use until the time around Jurassic Park. That was never perfect. If you watch Empire Strikes Back, there is a scene where a spaceship flies over the snow.  Since this was done before digital compositing you could see through the spaceship.  This is because they could not cut the perfect match, so it is translucent.

We are now lucky that we have visual effects; it makes revisions so much easier which means its affordable - that is why every TV show has visual effects in it.

Do illustrators and visual effect artists have something in common?

Illustrators and digital artists are pretty much the same, they just work with different medium. Digital artist augments whatever is shot on film by using classical skills applied with motion.  The illustrator is using paint and colors to create a single, sill image. So it is similar skill sets.

What are you up to in future?

I just started my on-line site named Successful Animator (Http://, where I teach animation and visual effects. It is really awesome. I have been teaching for the past 10 years at all the top animations schools in the world and I realized that - I mean those schools are big, so they have money to fly me out and have me talk -  but the other thousand schools, or people, do not have access to quality information on filmmaking.

So I started this project so anyone, in any part of the world, could get information and skills to make their dreams happen. I allow anyone to watch the process of creating, to be part of my thoughts as I do animations. It is revolutionary, because nobody in animation world has made it yet.   You can check it out...there’s a lot of free content up.  Also see my personal blog, to see what I’m up to!

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