Davidson animated about new project

From the very first it's been a passion. That's why Kim Davidson, president of Side Effects Software, is leveraging his success as one of the top developers in the world of 3D animation software to produce a half-hour animated series....

From the very first it’s been a passion. That’s why Kim Davidson, president of Side Effects Software, is leveraging his success as one of the top developers in the world of 3D animation software to produce a half-hour animated series.

Davidson’s side project has been the development of the 3D animation series Monster By Mistake, the story of an eight-year-old boy who turns into a blue monster every time he sneezes.

‘My personal love has always been, what I call, long-form character animation,’ Davidson says. ‘Characters tell a story. If they’re compelling, you’re drawn to them.’

Davidson traces that love back to his childhood where his early interests were piqued by the behind-the-scenes workings of Saturday morning cartoons. ‘I remember watching shows on the making of Magilla Gorilla, buying books on the making of cartoons, drawing flipbooks in the margins at the bottoms of the pages and drawing and drawing and drawing,’ he says.

‘One summer, I think it was between grade 12 and 13…I made myself an animation stand. I’d get up at 9 o’clock, work till lunch, then work till 5 o’clock on animation.’

Today, Davidson is best known for animation of a different kind. Side Effects is a leader in advanced 3D animation and special effects software for the entertainment industry. The hub of Side Effects is Houdini, a software program which has, among a long list of effects, sent birds flying behind Titanic and created digital creatures for David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.

Davidson sits in a tiny boardroom overlooking Richmond Street in Side Effects’ 10th floor offices in Toronto. He has brought a notepad along on which he occasionally draws a graph or spells out a word to literally illustrate points to a reporter, but mostly, he uses it for doodling as he speaks.

His love for animation blossomed despite the fact that he never took an art course, since he says his family moved around a lot during his childhood. His father’s job took the family to London, Ont., where Davidson was born, Vancouver, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and finally, to Toronto.

After graduating highschool, Davidson was enrolled in the animation program at Sheridan College in Toronto. But before the school year began, he put his dream on hold and, in 1974, enrolled in the pre-professional architecture program at the University of Waterloo. ‘I thought architecture combined art and science, two of my strengths, a lot more [ than animation],’ he says. ‘And it was probably a more admirable career than animation, by some definition.’

After three years in the program, however, his enthusiasm for architecture waned and, in 1978, he wound up at a now-defunct company call Vistran as a programmer creating computer-generated slide presentations for corporate clients.

Following two more years at Waterloo in the computer science program, Davidson joined a company called Human Computer Resources, which specialized in computer animation. It was also at hcr that Davidson met Side Effects cofounder Greg Hermanovic. The two became fast friends.

In 1984, Hermanovic took a position as director of research at a company called Omnibus, which specialized in the animation of logos for corporate clients such as cbc, ctv, Petro-Canada and Kodak. It would not be long until Davidson landed work there as programmer.

‘When I went to Omnibus where [their specialty] was art built by computers,’ Davidson says, ‘personally, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.’

The kind of animation which was being done at Omnibus – such as creating a glass-like surface on the cbc logo – was very basic by today’s standards, Davidson says. Just the same – even after more than a decade of pushing the envelope of animation technology, he still exudes a sense of pride in the work they did there.

‘Good art and art direction still stand up today. So even though it may have taken a long time and a lot of dollars, some of that stuff is better than some of the stuff you see today,’ he says.

In 1986, Omnibus lost its art director. Davidson, with his background as an artist, stepped in to fill the void. It was a move that would ultimately make prisms – a product which Davidson and Hermanovic helped develop – one of the leading animation software packages of its kind. ‘It was a really good experiment because I knew what tools were needed. That’s what made the software so strong.’

‘It wasn’t as if we were projecting to some theoretical user out there in the world. We were that user.’

After Omnibus went out of business in 1987 and Side Effects was launched, it was again that dichotomy, their roles as programmers and animators, that Davidson points to as key to the company’s success.

‘I think that’s what made the software so strong. We were users and developers of the program,’ he says.

In 1989, Side Effects abandoned its role as a producer of 3D animation. The last decade has seen the company grow as a software developer concentrating on prisms – which they bought after Omnibus went into receivership – and their latest package, Houdini.

By the mid-1990s, Davidson had moved completely away from programming. He has not been involved in the hands-on development since, he says. ‘There is a point where you have to step up to the business challenges.’

But lurking there still was the desire to get back into production. Partnered with Mark Mayerson, an old friend from their days at Omnibus and the early days of Side Effects, Davidson developed Monster By Mistake.

Aside from allowing him to get back into production, Davidson says the series gives him a chance to really use Side Effects’ Houdini software.

‘I wanted to produce again. I wanted to use the package to produce. I didn’t want to compete against my Toronto marketplace, but I did want an opportunity to use the package.’

The series, which has been sold to parts of Europe and Asia, will debut on ytv in September with 13 episodes, budgeted at around $460,000 per. An additional 13 installments are due next season.

Davidson is fulfilling a childhood dream: he’s creating a Saturday morning-style cartoon series – a Magilla Gorilla for the ’90s.

The fact that he is creating the series in a medium which he pioneered is like icing on the cake.

‘I’m going to be in 3D animation until I die,’ he says. ‘I just love the motion, I love the science of it. . . .It’s a real labor of love.’