Trans Z Transformer

Hello fellow Transformer fans!!!

Well July 2007 is only a couple months away and the new transformer movie is almost here.  My dream company Industrial Lights and Magic (I hope to one day work there) did the effects for the film and I can't wait to see what ILM has done (still need to go buy a tent and an Optimus Prime voice changing helmet to wear while I wait in line for the premiere).  I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to land some type of job working on the new film.  I came really REALLY close (high point for me was meeting the animation supervisor for the Jurassic Park films), but never managed to get final call back.

Anyhow...I thought people would like to see some of my attempts at doing animations to get the movie people's attention and some of the other Transformer projects from my past that fell through.  The newest animation being TransZ here.  Let's go through the timeline.

May 19, 2007



Like it? Give Joe and I an email, we'd love to get some feedback (since neither of us got paid to do this, your nice comments will be our payment ;) ).

Joe Mangione - modeling, lighting, texturing, rendering, compositing.
Michael Smith - design, modeling, rigging, animation.

K Here it is, the latest and greatest of my transformer creations.  I teamed up with the talented Joe Mangione to pull this one off.  I was a big fan of Joe's while we were both working at Super 78, it's funny, we're both computer artists, but Joe's amazing at all the stuff in computer animation that I'm not.  Joe's also a big Transformer fan, it seemed a perfect team to do a Transformer animation.

Why did you choose the Z as the car you may ask.  Joe actually owns a souped-up Nissan 350Z that looks just like the one from the Fast and the Furious (I swear it has so many gadgets the dashboard looks like Darth Vader's bathroom).  I had seen this picture on his desktop one day:

I thought he had taken a picture of his car and put it on his desktop, but it turned out it was a rendering of a 3D model.  Amazing.

We did this animation in our spare time (which neither of us had much of).  I worked at night and weekends in the late summer/early fall of `07.  Joe worked whenever he could.  I got inspired by driving to downtown Los Angeles and seeing the vehicles they were using to shoot the Transformers movie (unfortunately they kept Optimus under a tarp).

Where did we shoot it?  It's Santa Monica Blvd in front of Super 78 in North Hollywood, I drove all around Hollywood trying to find a better street where the big Hollywood sign would be visible in the background (it's behind the Cimarron building in this animation), but I never found a street I liked any better (and was clear enough of traffic).

I just wanted to mention too, that the whole thing was rendered and composited on Joe's little laptop.  Can you imagine that a few years ago?  Technology is amazing!

Hopefully I'll add some more pictures and some making of stuff soon.
Edit: Here we go, Joe sent me some of his test renders from while he was working on stuff...(Just click the thumbnails below for a bigger picture)


August 25, 2004

Well, that's quite a jump isn't it, 3 years ago. Back before the movie had received the "greenlight" by the studios.  Seems like it was forever ago now.

Dreamworks 2

Anyways on this day 3 years ago I received an email from Dreamworks Pictures from the executive running point on the Transformers movie. 

He said he might have an "interesting" opportunity for me.

I don't think I've ever been so excited in my life.  

So after talking with him a bit, it turned out he was looking for a small "proof of concept" animation (Yay!  I'd love to do another transformer animation...and if I was actually getting paid, maybe I could do it the way I've always wanted it done).

I was SO excited, I sat at the art desk and quickly started drawing up some thumbnails for a storyboard.  Here's the never before seen storyreel I came up with for our idea (keep in mind, they were just thumbnails and not works of art.  Plus we were pretty unclear as to what should happen at the end of the animation when I made this.)...

Fellow Team 52 member, Thuan Do was so excited, he starting modeling the car we were going to use for of little animation.

CavalierModelSheet.jpg (42804 bytes)

I even started concepting what the robot would look like...

DreamworkTransformerConcept.JPG (65326 bytes)

While we were doing the fun stuff, fellow Team 52 member Carl Coss was busy typing up budgets and estimates, you know, all the boring stuff. :p

Anyhow, in the middle of all this....THIS hit the web from The Embassy:

Pretty sure it was exactly what Dreamworks was looking for concept wise.  I'm not sure if it was the reason or not, but we never heard back from them again.

We kept half-heartedly working on stuff, hoping to still get the go ahead to do our little animation.  Carl and Thuan went to a lowrider show to cast a car.  I did this test with my camcorder and Thuan's 3d model out in my driveway at my apartment...

and we're still waiting to hear back from Dreamworks and get the go ahead....;)

Here's a little bonus though, as sort of a test run, Carl Coss took the storyreel I had done and his trusty camcorder and did a "live action" animatic of the storyreel.  It was just to get an idea of the shots, so that when it came time to actually shoot the film we'd already have a good idea of what we wanted and how it would go together.  We've never shown this to ANYONE, and it's not representative of the look of the final animation.  But it's dang hilarious (I think)...

It was the last Team 52 production and stars Carl Coss and Matt Festa (I didn't work on this and can't take any of the credit unfortunately)...

August 4, 2004

Singapore Navy

I received an email from the Singapore Navy recruitment ad people about building a Naval Ship Transformer.  In all honesty it seemed like much too large a project for me, even with the help of  Team 52. A couple weeks later we received the Dreamworks email and that removed any thought of us doing this project.

I was happy to see this a while later:

Looks like they got Eggstory to do their animation.  Although they "cheated" much more than I like to see, I was glad to see it actually got made.  Wish I could've done it for them.

Wonder how many people signed up thinking they'd get to ride on the big Transformer ship ;). 

May 26, 2003


This was way back, back when talk of a Transformer movie was still mostly a rumor.  Back when the VW transformer animation was still really the only one on the web.  Ah, so long ago...anyways I get this email from the co-writer/producer of the X-men movies saying he's trying to do a Live Action Transformers movie!!!  He wanted to know if I could send him a better quality version of my VW Transformer animation and left me his phone number if I had questions!
Unfortunately I was in the middle of moving from Phoenix to Northern California, all my stuff was in boxes.  I hadn't even set up my phone yet, much less my workspace and I was starting my new job at Crystal Dynamics.  So I wasn't really able to talk with him, but I had just finished sending demo reels to a bunch of companies anyways...what was one more?  I sent him the video and that was that...
Two years later someone snuck this promotional video from the San Diego Comic Convention for the new Transformers movie onto the internet:
Did I just see Steven Speilberg and Michael Bay in the same video as my VW transformer???  AMAZING!  I just wish I had known they were going to show that, I would've liked to see my work on the big screen.

March 27, 2003


I received an email from the Mini Cooper ad people about building a Mini Cooper Transformer for an advertising campaign they were working on.  I was so excited by the possibility, that I immediately started working on it before any sort of agreement was reached (you'd think I'd learn to wait and get paid before I start working).

I worked up a budget and a timeline (man I hate paperwork) of what it would cost and how long it would take.

I did some quick concept drawings of 4 different robot designs (that I'm too embarassed to even show here).

Then it turned into wait wait wait...

To pass the time I started modeling the Mini Cooper, I figured that when approval came it would put me that much further ahead of the game (plus with every transformer I've ever done the vehicle had been modeled by someone else, this would be the first transformer that was 100% built by Michael Smith vehicle and all.)

Here's what my Mini Cooper was looking like:

MiniCooper.jpg (220494 bytes)

it isn't 100% finished, but it is ridiculously over detailed...all modeled by yours truly.

Anyways, I never heard back from them and it just went away....for awhile.  A few months later in September I got another email taking about reviving it.  I got excited again, but was told they decided to go in another direction and didn't want a Transformer anymore.  So this time it went away for good.  A while later this was released on the web:

So apparently they went with a robot made of Mini Cooper parts instead of a Transformer and they hired Zoic Studios to do the work instead of me...   :(

I've always wanted to do the definitive modeled 100% by me Transformer, and I've had every intent on finishing MY Mini Cooper robot.  But for now it just sits on a cd with a bunch of other unfinished Michael Smith ideas and artwork.  Maybe someday...

June 3, 2002


It wasn't the first transformer I'd ever done, but it was definitely the most infamous.

Well, what can I say about this animation that I haven't already said?

Oh, here's something I haven't said before...if you're lucky enough to have gotten the UK Transformers cartoon season 1, four disc DVD boxset put out by Maverick back in September 2002, my VW transformer is on there!  On disc four, just answer all the quiz questions correctly (A,C,C,B,A if you don't know your Transformer trivia) and you can select the gold Autobot logo to see the video as many times as you want.

So there, my fan animation actually made it on a legitimate Transformers DVD.  Amazing.

Unfortunately I couldn't get my animation on the American DVD set due to Volkswagon not giving me permission (although later I believe they would have reconsidered, but by then it was too late).

March 14, 1998

Just to prove that every computer artist had to start somewhere, I thought I'd post my original Art Institute of Phoenix demo tape.  9 months earlier I had no idea what even the name of a computer animation package was.  This was back in the good old days, before Beast Wars had even come out.  You'll have to excuse the crappy transfer quality as all I have is a VHS version and I had no good way of getting it on my computer.  So here it is, the first transformer I ever did....heck the first thing I ever did in computer animation...

Just a warning if you watch can't get your 3 minutes back ;)

And there you have it, almost all the transformer work I've done over the past few years.  Thank you for taking the time to check out my artwork.  I hope it was, at least, a little entertaining and you had fun.

January 6, 2005

Wow, you made it all the way to the very bottom of this webpage!  You sir deserve a BONUS animation!

Shhhhhh!  Here's a little secret....I don't know if you've seen or remember that fake Industrial Light and Magic Transformer movie footage that circulated the web back in 2005.  Well....tee hee hee....that was me.

Don't tell anyone ;)

K, this one's not in chronological order, but it came after my second contact with Dreamworks above.
Here's a cleaner version of the video from my never finished Transformer fan film.  It stars a buddy of mine from High School, Mike McLaughlin:

Okay, let me explain...back in January `05, everyone was abuzz with excitement for the Transformers movie.  No one had yet seen what Michael Bay and the boys at ILM were cooking up.  I had given up on the fan film I had been working on, but I had invested a lot of work into some cool stuff that I never got to show people.  Now at the time, I was still getting emails from fans of the VW transformer, so I had already received lots of kudos for my work from Transformer fans.  I figured I didn't have to take credit again for my work (plus I figured most of the hardcore fans would think I did the animation anyways, which they did).  I had also recently watched a movie called "Full Frontal" (if you haven't seen it, I'm not surprised, I don't think anyone did....or should) that had this scene with Brad Pitt and Blair Underwood:

Recognize the film strips on the sides?  The director used the film strips as a device to show that they were filming a movie in the movie, if you follow.  I thought it was funny....why would you see the film strips on the sides???  Oh, cause they're shooting a movie....genius!

The scene was set for an internet hoax.

So I put my animation together with the film strip on the sides and then got out my camcorder and filmed it playing on my computer screen.  The robot is not even finished, it's not textured...just colored pieces of geometry.  Anyhow, the result looked like this:

There's also this cool slow motion version someone made and posted on youTube here.

Which I anonymously emailed to some Transformers fan sites...and the rest is, as they say, history.  The reaction was so good, one of the producers of the Transformer movie even had to post on his message board that it was fake, he wrote:

"So I get 50 + emails today...and phone calls...and we are all glad you are means a lot to us."
"NONE of our test footage [from the 'Transformers movie] has been leaked yet. We'd tell you if it had. We'd leak it if it was ready and interesting. Sorry, IT IS ALL A FAKE. In some cases a very good fake. But a fake nonetheless.

I think it was pretty successful at generating a little more buzz for the movie.  At the very least it gave us fans some entertainment on the forums debating it's authenticity while we waited for the real stuff.

My only regret is putting "Property of ILM" on the clip.  I was trying to add some believability that it was actually Transformer movie footage and thus add to the hoax (cripes the robot doesn't even have metal textures, even my VW Transformer had textures!).  But I should have let people guess where it came from, I think it would have added to the "mystery" of the clip.

Gotta love the internet...

Anyways.  That's it for my hard drive spring cleaning.  Now it's time to format this computer and go wait in line for the Transformers movie!

I hope it does I can try to work on the SEQUEL!!!   ;)

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