Local geek?s animated success
By MICHELLE DAY
THERE was a time when all Justen Marshall's intellect earned him was the nickname Jeeves and a bit of schoolyard teasing.
A couple of decades down the track it has earned him the prestige of being involved in an Oscar-winning film.
That life-changing day was Monday, February 26 ? Justen's first day back at work after the Christmas holiday.
Instead of dragging his feet, the ex-Coffs Harbour lad was clicking his heels.
Justen and the rest of the Animal Logic team at Fox Studios Sydney watched in rapture as Cameron Diaz revealed the winner of the Animated Feature Film Oscar: Happy Feet.
"I'm surprised you couldn't hear the cheers in Coffs," Justen said.
"We had the champagne ready just in case. We didn't get much work done that day."
The team didn't really think that the history-making movie, the first fully-animated computer graphic feature film ever made in Australia, had a chance of winning because fellow nominee Cars won the Golden Globe award.
Then again Justen never really thought he would be involved in making an Oscar-winning animated film, even though he knew from his high school days that he wanted a career doing something fun with computers.
The first Dux of Sandy Beach Primary School, Justen graduated from Woolgoolga High and went straight into a Bachelor of Computer Science at the University of Technology Sydney and graduated with honours.
"I pretty much started work here (at Animal Logic) after I finished uni about 11 years ago," he said.
"Computer graphics sounded like fun and I was happy to find a way to make it into a career.
"I have always been driven by the old Chinese proverb: Find a job you like and you'll never work a day in your life."
This was especially true for the four years and three months while Justen was working on Happy Feet.
"We were involved from day one. Creating a film is a time-consuming process. We worked with (director) George Miller and got involved in the development of the story and the look of the film."
As research and development supervisor Justen's role was to oversee the creation of code 'tools' for animators to help them create photo-quality landscapes and animals.
They started by building original 3-D terrains to allow George Miller to choose which film angles and terrain to use in different scenes, just like a director would in a non-animated film.
Other tools he developed included a feather and fur system to make the penguins look more realistic.
"We made it so that strands of feather and fur would blow in the wind. It took a while ? a year or two of man years would have gone into that. The coding work bears fruit early on, then you just tweak it," Justen said.
"There was another system for crowds, so instead of animating individual unique penguins for the crowd scenes we had a tool named 'horde'. In one shot this created half a million unique penguins, all of which were kept track of by the horde tool."
You might think all of this background knowledge would make Justen view Happy Feet with a critical eye and spoil the fun of the film, but it is quite the opposite.
"I love the film ? it's funny, it's got a bit of a message, there is a lot of stuff going for it. It is rich in visual detail and I think that really added to the film," Justen said.
"When we were working on it we would only ever see it in pieces and we would never hear the full audio, so it made a huge difference to see the full production in the theatre," he said.
"I went and saw it at the cinema several times."
Justen's favourite scenes are the leopard seal chase and a part of the penguins' journey when they are pushing into the wind, with snowballs blowing past at sunset.
"I am pretty proud to have been a part of it. I was going to go overseas when the opportunity to get involved first arose, but I decided to stick around."
It was the best career move he ever made.
"Having been associated with an Oscar-winning film has opened up my options. It is good for me personally and the whole Australian film industry that the film won," Justen said.
"It has left me in a really good mood that will last for ages."
Happy Feet will be out on DVD on April 26.