UP! UP! and away!
Jan 27, 2016 | 4874 views | 0 0 comments | 382 382 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Out of the Blues
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In Pixar’s venerable adventure film UP!, retired balloon salesman Carl Fredrickson faces an age old problem.

His beautiful wife has passed away and Carl finds himself faced with a lonely existence. He is reminded daily of a fantastical life’s dream he and his beloved Ellie never realized.

In a moment of clarity, Carl seizes upon his vast knowledge of helium and latex and transforms his home into a flying contraption, heading towards a waterfall in South America and the fulfilling of his and Ellie’s dream.

The popularity and genius of this film is that it addresses a facet of life most everyone can relate to.

Childhood dreams of flying in a rocket ship to the moon, or starring on Broadway, or building a house next to a towering waterfall in South America eventually give way to less exotic realities such as making a living, establishing a career, and raising a family.

For Chris Wells, son of Larry and Karen Wells of Monticello and one of the artists involved with creating this beautifully animated film, the realization of his dream parallels Carl’s journey in its creative and unconventional path.

Chris Wells was in the fourth grade when he began experimenting with coding and computer art.

At Upward Bound, held each summer on the College of Eastern Utah campus in Blanding, Wells learned to use a wonderful bit of software called Lightwave 3D. It is the same software he uses everyday now.

By the time he reached undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University, Chris had taught himself how to animate using valuable skills such as lighting, modeling, animating, and painting with his creative mind and his computer.

Naturally, Chris wanted to become a student in the renowned animation program at BYU.

Upon applying, however, Chris found that one of the requirements is being able to do figure drawing, with pencil and paper.

“I don’t draw, but I do pretty well on the computer,” said Wells. “My motor skills, as far as making a pencil do what I want, were never there. My skills have always been my mind, to a computer, to the screen.”

The rigidity of the BYU admission rules proved impenetrable for Wells, who after working extra hard for another year, found himself once again rejected by the program.

Like old Carl Fredrickson pulling his balloon laden house along the cliff top, Wells refused to let this hurdle block his dream. He applied for the film program, was accepted, and quickly began using his animation skills there.

That year, in BYU’s final cut film festival, there were only two animated student films that made it to the “Best of” category. One was produced by the BYU animation program, and the other was by Chris Wells.

Two years later, Wells was working at the LDS Motion Picture Studio as the lead 3D artist. He was hiring and training interns who were members of the program he once longed to be a part of.

From there, Wells’ career jettisoned. Wells said, “In an interview at Origami Digital in Los Angeles, my boss asked what I went to school for. I said, ‘I went into film because I am self taught in visual effects.’

“He said, ‘That’s exactly what I want. You have to be able to solve problems constantly in this business. People that can just figure it out on their own are the guys that you actually hire, because they will figure out the problem.’”

Wells credits his problem-solving abilities mostly to his formative years in Monticello. His parents, Larry and Karen Wells, owned and operated a wilderness survival rehabilitation program called Wilderness Quest.

Helping his dad in the deserts of San Juan County gave him countless opportunities to develop his most important skill set.

“Being out in the woods with my dad, you’re constantly trying to figure out how to do things and how to make things work,” said Chris.

“In the wilderness program, I saw him solving problems constantly. I think that was very helpful. That is what has helped me throughout my career, being able to see how to get things done in the most efficient way.”

Wells next interviewed at Pixar, where he landed a job as a lighting technical director working on films such as UP! and Toy Story 3. His team was responsible for all the marketing material, posters, magazines, and giant billboards.

His UP! poster for UK theaters was so popular that it became the UP DVD cover that has been sold all over the world. So there is a chance you have some of his art in your home.

Wells’ creative process goes something like this: “I take all the characters and lay them out in the sketch, an animator fine tunes the poses and then I add more aspects and characters from the film. I do the painting and lighting on it. Also the simulations of how the cloth folds and how the feathers look. And then paint it up and make it pretty.”

After a few years with Pixar, Wells got a call from his old studio, Origami Digital, which made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He headed back to LA and worked on The Amazing Spider Man, and co-wrote/directed a children’s animated pilot, before making a life changing decision.

A few of Wells’ best friends in Orem had started a CGI studio called Blufire. They were tempting him to come back to Utah and become a “bigger part of a smaller pie.”

Chris and his wife Krista (whom he met through her roommate, an employee of Wilderness Quest) had always wanted to get back home to Utah. They decided the time was right to pull up roots and head back to the mother land.

The couple has three children, Gabriel, Evie and Addie. Gabriel was just about to start Kindergarten and the couple wanted him to begin school in Utah.

The move proved to be a blessing in unexpected ways. Two years after coming back, Krista’s father unexpectedly passed away. Chris said, “It was a really great blessing for us to have those last couple of years with him.”

The move has also rewarded Wells’ career. Of his new studio, he says, “We are just a bunch of guys helping each other do what we love. Blufire is a really unique business, that wouldn’t work if we weren’t all good friends.”

This is because each of them are technically self employed, who help each other with their various projects. The system, although unorthodox, has proved to be very fruitful.

Blufire was featured for their work on HENRi by Cinefex, which is the CGI world’s most renowned visual effects magazine. Cinefex recognizes excellence in CGI and special effects, and featured Blufire, along with Ironman and Star Trek in one issue.

Blufire tied with Skyfall for best use of practical effects mixed with CG. While hundreds of animators worked on the blockbuster James Bond film, HENRi was created by six CGI artists at Blufire, including Chris Wells.

The team at Blufire continues on toward their own proverbial waterfall in the sky, tying balloons to their hopes to fly out into the unknown and make their dreams come true.

They are the go-to studio in Utah for all things visual effects, working on many varied projects. They have worked on everything from Saints and Soldiers, to national ads, to The Christmas Dragon, a story that is more geared towards children.

The artists at Blufire plan eventually to turn their vast imaginations into their own films. With all the success and hard work that flourishes at Blufire, you can bet that those dreams are not far from realization.

And one could say that especially for the talented CGI artist Chris Wells, much like his creations, Carl Fredrickson and his balloons, the sky is most assuredly NOT the limit.

(If you have an idea for an Out of the Blues profile, let us know at sjrnews@frontiernet.net.)
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