Step by step, alum moves from the art room to Hollywood animation
“Nobody will notice that I did it, but I spent a solid four days animating all of the drool inside of the monsters mouth,” said professional animator Jack Ebensteiner (’07), Minnehaha alum and brother of freshman Raye Ebensteiner, about his involvement in the recently released Thor: the Dark World. “That’s four days thinking about how drool works. It’s ridiculous. I got a string hanging off of his tooth here, and another string coming out and breaking in half. I studied drool for far too long.”
While the second Thor movie is Jack’s only film experience, his work in animation and art goes far beyond that.
Having worked on numerous video games, Jack has quickly built up experience since his graduation from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida in the spring of 2011. But as his mother, Jo-Anne, saw his love for animation and art began long before his college years.
“Jack was mesmerized, just fascinated, with animated films from the time he was a toddler,” she said. “He was like most little kids who love animated movies; however, unlike others, he would sit with rapt attention, riveted watching films for hours without interruption.”
An easily fascinated little boy, Jack would spend much of his time on art.
“He’d sit on long flights to a European vacation and draw, color and do artistic things for hours,” said Jo-Anne, “never complaining about the flight like most kids would. He was great at idling time inventing ways to keep himself content.”
Despite a 10 year age gap, little sister Raye also noticed this creativity early on.
“He’s always been sketching things nonstop ever since I can remember,” said Raye. “He sketches everything. We would sit down, I don’t know, at an airport for example and he’d just start sketching the details of the wall. [He’d notice] if something was missing like a paint chip or anything, and he’d just start sketching with such detail. I would just be amazed.”
This attention to detail translated well into his digital art as he began to teach himself to use various types of animation software.
“When Jack was in seventh grade, he financed his own video camera with his own allowance,” said Jo-Anne. “He became very focused every weekend making impromptu short movies, editing them and teaching himself editing software. By the eighth grade, he had narrowed his scope from pure film into more illustrated visual imagery, and he acquired his first student license to Photoshop and the Adobe Creative Suite. From there, he acquired Maya, the leading software for animation and simply taught himself all the tools necessary to effectively create 3D art.”
Art teacher Nathan Stromberg noticed Jack’s dedication to art throughout high school.
“He was fiercely independent and knew what he wanted to do,” said Stromberg. “He would routinely tell me that he stayed up all night working on a 3D thing on his computer. In AP art, he was among the few students that scored a 5 and he threw together a great portfolio that used a lot of the 3D renderings that he did. I’m not at all surprised [by his success].”
Jack’s work in high school led to his acceptance to Ringling College of Art and Design in the field of computer animation, a highly selective program that requires a great deal of work.
“It’s just such a taxing, wickedly challenging major that, in addition to talent, you just have to have a core characteristic of perseverance,” said Jo-Anne. “You can never give up. Fortunately Jack had some good teacher/mentors that encouraged him. His work won juried awards at school, being honored by ‘Best of Ringling’ for his animation. Those ups certainly helped carry him through the tough stretches where, in his senior year, he averaged about 16 hours of sleep during the school week.”
The time commitment of animation has remained as Jack’s career has progressed. Spending four days on drool doesn’t fully display the time he has spent studying movement and motion.
“I took a six month master class on animating creatures and animals,” said Jack. “I’m not exaggerating [when I say] for one animation that I did for that [class], I actually frame by frame went through a nine second video of a cat walking for probably around seven to eight hours.”
But the attention to detail and hours of research have not gone to waste. Aside from picking up “a lot of side information which is just fascinating,” Jack has found success in doing what he loves, and his future has a lot to offer.
“If you’re really passionate about something, you can find a way to make it into a career,” he said. “I literally have no idea where my career is going. [There are] a lot of possibilities. Having had my first gig in film, that door is now open. I could go back to that studio at some point. I’m currently talking with a more television broadcast oriented visual effects house, I could go there. I’m also potentially going to work on the new Call of Duty game, but it’s all up in the air right now.”
Regardless of where he ends up, the work at the heart of every project Jack does combines a child-like love of animation with an awe-inspiring burst of digital life.
“I like to say that I play with action figures professionally, because that’s probably the best description of my job that I can come up with,” said Jack. “There’s something inexplicably awesome about taking this lifeless puppet and fooling people into thinking it’s alive.”