Burch Unbuckled – part 1
A six point harness is a seat belt. Well, actually, it’s a play on words – it’s one better than a 5-point harness, which is an actual restraint system you’d find in most professional race cars. And that’s exactly the type of company Brendan Burch runs. Six Point Harness, the burgeoning Hollywood animation studio, is a blazingly fast, well-tuned animation engine. Brendan and his scrappy team of artists consistently knock out projects in the time other studios assemble a bid.
The team works primarily in Flash, but that’s only part of the reason they’re so damn quick. It’s the way Six Point Harness is structured. They’re truly friends first, and work mates second. Brendan Burch and Dave Vamos have fostered this homebrew studio over several hard-earned years. It was by sheer will, talent and trust that the studio clung together as all of the pieces were falling into place, resulting in a new studio space in the second half of 2004. And the work relies on these friendship bonds as well. Team members seem to instinctively know what the others are thinking, and when it comes down to crunch time, the Six Point crew members know they can rely on each other.
As it turns out, most major studios have come to rely on Six Point Harness too. They’ve punched out pilots for Fox, Warner Bros. and Klasky and they’ve recently optioned a show to Disney. Their never-seen episode of the WB’s ‘Green Screen Show,’ with animation direction by Greg Franklin, was just brilliant, and their title sequence for Dreamworks’ ‘Eurotrip‘ almost got me excited for the movie itself. It seems like a full plate, but from what I hear, things are about to get even busier over there.
Brendan and I met two years ago at Warner Bros., and the first thing I noticed was energy. He’s overflowing with it, and every project he touches benefits from his intensity and drive. He’s also very passionate – about Flash, about animation, about teamwork and anything else that will get his team to the top. Let’s check in with Brendan and hear first hand what makes him tick, and how he keeps Six Point in high gear.
AARON SIMPSON: When did Six Point Harness initially come together and what was your first job?
BRENDAN BURCH: Most of the members of Six Point came together working on an animated feature film for Romp Films. The movie was titled ‘Jake’s Booty Call’ and the production process was very grueling. We still refer to the project as our ‘animation Vietnam.’ During the process of meeting a tough production schedule and doing a lot of hard work, it became very clear to the four principle founders of Six Point Harness that the assembled team was a once-in-a-lifetime crew. At the end of the project, we kept many of the ‘Booty Call’ team members together and kept pushing the production methods that had emerged during the film.
AS: What’s the story behind the studio name – Six Point Harness?
BB: About four years ago, I was living in Hollywood with friends from Cal Arts and we came back drunk from the bar one night determined to put up a site representative of our unique talents. At the time, we were a couple designers, animators, and a sculptor and we decided to get our work out there and that we would use a seat belt to begin the branding. I sat down, looked for ‘Five Point Harness’ (a more common seat belt) but decided on ‘Six Point Harness’ because the URL was available. Instead of the grand plan, my personal work sat there on it’s own for a while. Two years later, we were officially starting up, it came time to name the animation studio and Six Point Harness stuck.
AS: Your team takes on primarily Flash-animated productions – was this the intention when you first started?
BB: Our intention was to create high quality 2-D animation in a variety of mediums and develop unique content. We also wish to drink beer at our desks and have fun working together.
AS: Were you and the other company leads introduced to Flash at Cal Arts?
BB: Cal Arts is slow to incorporate some current animation technology into their programs. When I was graduating, it was purely coincidental that I learned about the tool and then learned how to use it. When the 2000 job fair rolled around, I was one of TWO people able to boast knowledge of Flash. The only jobs that year were being given to people headed in the dotcom direction.
AS: What is it about Flash that your team likes so much?
BB: Simplicity. The set up for our production pipeline changes to fit individual projects, but the foundation has always remained the same. We try to stick to a format where anybody on the team can look at a scene at any point during its production and can expect consistency in the set up. The compatibility that Flash has with other software is another big plus for the program. There are so many variations on methods of getting artwork into Flash, and exporting movies from Flash, that the final product can essentially look like whatever a client has asked for.
AS: When someone uses the term ‘Flashy’ to describe animation, what are they referring to?
BB: Unfortunately, they are referring to a lot of early work done in the program [some of which I'm responsible for - see 'Chemo Phone']. There are two things that are usually inferred. The first is that the clean look of vector art sometimes does not translate as beautifully as rasterized images to film or broadcast mediums (it can have a harsh hard line). The other and more prevalent issue relates to the way things are tweened or digitally inbetweened on the computer. Both can be avoided when the right artistic flair is applied to the work.
AS: What other software does your team regularly employ to get projects out the door?
BB: We use a wide variety of tools including, but not limited to, 3-D, Illustrator, Photoshop, Painter, After Effects, Final Cut, and specifically scripted filters.
AS: How has the Six Point production method evolved over the past few years?
BB: We have gained speed and efficiency doing digital clean up. We have also started doing more complex compositing of our final shots.
AS: Your team recently moved into a new Hollywood office. Has this changed the team dynamic?
BB: Definitely! We spent the entire first day in our chairs staring at our new surroundings, taking in the smell of fresh paint with some of the biggest smiles I’ve seen at Six Point. We love it. Six Point Harness started out in my apartment building (The Villa Elaine) between my studio apartment and one across the hall. We had so many machines plugged in, we zapped the breakers down the hall and had to power the joint from a neighbors’ apartment.
AS: Six Point recently optioned a show to Disney TVA. Can you tell us anything about the show?
BB: ‘Seeing Eye Dog’ was a show developed by us and optioned by Disney Television for their shorts program. It is an action-packed kids show that features a canine trained in the art of karate. We had fun a lot of fun animating a presentation trailer which helped sell the show and we are hopeful that Disney will do something with the show in the future.
AS: What other original projects are underway at Six Point?
BB: We have quite a few properties at various levels of production. We recently finished a presentation piece for one of our most beloved properties, ‘The Aggronuts.’ The show is an original creation by our Director, Greg Franklin. We turned it around in six weeks from start to finish, and it was the most fun we’ve had in a while. We are also in production of another one of our shows, ‘Roaches on the Moon.’ Still in board stage, ‘Roaches’ will be an epic.
This concludes the first half of your test drive with the Cold, Hard Flash interview of Brendan Burch. Come back soon to take the final lap.