Dirk I. Tiede (pronounced TEE-dee) is graphic novelist turned animator. He specializes in visual storytelling and is well-versed in comics, illustration, and animation.
He holds a BFA in commercial art from Millikin University, and cut his teeth as a multimedia artist and web designer in Chicago, where he created websites and interactive games for clients such as the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium.
Best known for his comic Paradigm Shift, which began as an online comic in 1999, and has gone on to self-publish 5 graphic novels and an art book for the series. Dirk was also a founding contributor to premium comics portal Modern Tales—where celebrated cartoonists such as Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Raina Telgemaier (Smile) got their start as well. His artwork has been showcased in the books Toon Art: The Graphic Art of Digital Cartooning and Webcomics, appeared the documentary Adventures In Digital Comics, and was featured in Season 3 of NBC’s Heroes.
Dirk works as a professional artist, animator, and teacher in the Boston area, and his most recent short film, Paradigm Shift—Restless Sleep, can be seen at www.paradigmshiftmanga.com.
I’ve gone on a long winding road to creating animation. I got my start drawing comics in high school, and got into video and early computer animation in college soon after, graduating with a degree in multimedia just as the Web 1.0 tech boom set off in the late 1990’s. Unfortunately, while I wanted to get in special effects, there were no jobs in it outside of LA, so I settled in Chicago and returned to making comics—a werewolf detective webcomic called “Paradigm Shift (www.paradigmshiftmanga.com)—while doing freelance web work, illustration, and occasionally doing animation work in Flash. But I always wanted to see my comics come to life in animated form. Fast forward 20 years, and I’m an established graphic novelist with 6 books under my belt. Last year I decided to teach myself Blender, and finally try my hand at 3D character animation. What started out as a side project turned into an animated short film called Restless Sleep based on my comic, and now I’m devoting myself to working on animation full time.
I’m using Blender to animate in 3D, but use specialized materials to give it a classic hand drawn, cel-shaded look. I grew up on classic anime from the 80’s and early 90’s, which greatly influenced my comics and illustration work, and I’m working to make my animations match the look of my comics style.
My comics work was originally influenced by Eastman and Laird’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mixed with the Marvel comics I was reading in the early 1990’s. Later on I discovered manga, and that infusion led the “east meets west” style my comics evolved into. On the animation front, my style hasn’t changed a lot since I started using Blender, but my technique is definitely evolving quickly, as I find better ways to implement my ideas.
As I said, I’m deeply influenced by early anime from the 80’s and 90’s. Films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell were early inspirations for me, though these days I’m constantly inspired by Studio Ghibli’s work. And there’s some amazing new work coming out from modern American studios as well. I was really impressed by Marvel's recent What If? and Spiderverse series. So much cool stuff happening in animation right now!
I definitely lean towards urban fantasy, horror, and action at the moment—things set in the present day but with a supernatural bent. But I would like to try my hand at some science fiction at some point, too.
I’m primarily using Blender, but I’m also leaning heavily on character models created for DAZ Studio as a starting point for my character rigs because creating custom character rigs is really time consuming. I’m rendering everything using Blender’s realtime engine EEVEE, and using the Line Art with Grease Pencil to create the line work. This allows me to preview the look in real time, and keeps render times down to well under a minute per frame. I render out multiple layers and do final compositing and touchups in Adobe After Effects, and do the final edits in Adobe Premiere. Any 2D work like textures or rotoscoping gets done in Photoshop or Clip Studio Paint as needed.
For THIS HOUSE, I started by creating a list of all the assets—characters, sets, props—I’d need for each scene in the story. I spent about 3 weeks building them in Blender through a combination of purchased and custom-built models. I also used this time to do test renders to nail down the look of the story. From there, I blocked out each of the scenes and created storyboards using test renders out of the scene which could then quickly be turned into an animatic. The actual animation process took up the final 6 weeks of the project, taking the blocked out scenes and brining them to life.
Storyboarding/blocking/layout and character animation are definitely my favorite part, because that’s when I finally get to bring the characters to life! Though modeling and setting up the characters and sets can also be pretty enjoyable.
My general advice is to be patient. Things don’t always happen the way you think they will. It took a very long time—going through an entire career in comics—for me to build all the skills I needed to come back to animation. Aside from that, I say the best way to learn how to do something is to just try it. In my case, I learned the skills I needed by creating a short film. There’s no substitute for just digging in and getting your hands dirty with a project.
I my case, I use the “constructive procrastination” method, which is to say, I go create something else. I came to animating in Blender because I went through a severe case of writer’s block while working on what was going to be my next comic series. If you get stuck, it never hurts to just put down what you’re doing and walk away for a bit, even if it’s to just go take a walk. Pounding your head against the wall is more likely to give you a headache than it is to give you fresh ideas. You can only get fresh ideas if you step outside of your regular routine for a little while.
Probably figuring out all the water effects. I knew that would be the biggest challenge for the story, and pulling it off was very satisfying. Although, I also enjoyed animating the scene where Colin hammers a hole in the wall. That was fun!
Honestly, the time frame. Producing nearly 4 minutes of animated footage in 10 weeks was a little grueling. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but it involved a lot of 12 hour days in the studio.
First of all, when I read through THIS HOUSE, I knew I could animate it. It felt like Stephen King had rewritten The Money Pit, and I had very clear visuals of each of the parts of the story as I read through it. But I also took it on because it was an opportunity to streamline my process and workflow. I got paid to do some serious experimentation and hone my animation abilities, which is a win-win for me.
Firstly, the beauty of animation is that it has the potential to communicate feelings in a way no other medium can. When someone can tell their own story from the heart, it can open someone else’s eyes and feelings even if they don’t come from the same background as the person who created it. And now, animation is becoming more an more accessible. I stopped animating 20 years ago because it simply was too difficult and expensive to do what I wanted to do outside of Hollywood. Now tools like Blender are free, and can be run on the average laptop. By giving tools like this to more people, that means they have an opportunity to tell a wider variety of stories from viewpoints that wouldn’t otherwise get told. By opening up animation to a wider variety of people, that means those whose voices have been silent can finally share their truths to the world.
I just love doing it! And the fact there is now a space for me to animate the kinds of stories I’ve been telling through comics is very exciting.
As I said, with the tools becoming more affordable, I think we may be heading for an exciting era in independent animation. That’s definitely why I’ve found my way to it. I also see a resurgence of 2D and hand-drawn animation after 20+ years of the industry chasing Pixar, which is also exciting. Hopefully this means good things for bigger, more mainstream shows as well.