Meet AtmosFX: Pete Williams

As part of an ongoing series, we want to introduce you to a few of the people who make the magic happen here at AtmosFX. We previously introduced you to the slightly older and grumpier Pete – one of “The Two Petes” who founded the company in 2005. Today, we’d like you to meet AtmosFX’s other founder – the younger, more hirsute, Pete Williams, director of production.

Williams was attending film school at New York University when he pitched the concept for an animated series to MTV called Undergrads. The network optioned the series, and at the ripe old age of 19, Williams dropped out of school to develop his cartoon. Undergrads ran in 2001 for 13 episodes before it was ultimately canceled.

It was at MTV that Pete met the other Pete (Reichert), who actually produced the test pilot episode for Williams’ series while it was in development. Their personal and professional relationship lasted long after they left the network. By 2005, the duo began collaborating on customized animations for theme parks, haunted houses, stadiums and more. For Williams, a huge fan of horror films and the monsters therein, it was satisfying work creating his own ghastly creatures. But soon, The Two Petes started to wonder how their creations might be seen – and easily deployed – by a wider audience who were fans just like them. That’s the moment when AtmosFX was born.

Since then, Williams has been the brains behind every one of AtmosFX’s innovative animations – both scary and cheery.

Q: Looking back at your days at MTV, are there things you learned from that time that are particularly helpful to you at AtmosFX?

A: I was only 19 years old when I started working at MTV, so I obviously had a lot to learn. During my time there, I was given a crash course on all the steps involved with production, and how to structure and manage a project from concept to completion.

Q: You created a 13-episode animated series for MTV called Undergrads. Are there similarities (or lessons learned) in creating a series from scratch with the work you now are doing for AtmosFX?

A: There are certainly similarities in the development process. When writing an episode for a TV series, it all starts with a brainstorm of different ideas. Those ideas get formed into a story concept. Then that concept is fleshed out in the form of an outline. Finally, that outline is turned into a script, spelling out every bit of action and dialogue that will appear in the final episode. And when it comes to developing a digital decoration, we follow pretty much all of those same steps.

Q: When creating an original animated character, is there one part of the process that you enjoy most?

A: I really enjoy the design process. Once we’ve determined a new character’s personality and their function in the story, I (along with some of our artists) will do a series of rough concept sketches exploring a variety of takes on what that character might look like. And it’s really satisfying when we finally land on that one special drawing that perfectly captures the spirit of the character. For me, that’s when the character is truly born.

Q: Along those same lines, is there any one thing that is more difficult (or more time consuming) than people might expect?

A: Turning a flat concept drawing of a character into a 3-dimensional model can be quite challenging, because it has to look good from every possible angle. But I think the most difficult step is the one that follows, which is rigging the 3D model. Rigging is basically the process of outfitting the model with a skeletal system and set of controls that will allow our animators to pose the character and make it move. It gets extremely technical, so I won’t bore you with all the steps involved. Suffice it say, rigging is a mind-numbingly tedious task that everyone on our production team prays they don’t get assigned.

Q: What are the frustrations associated with founding a company with someone who shares the same first name?

A: There have been a lot of misdirected emails and instant messages over the years. But other than that, it’s not so bad. Actually, it makes it easier to pass the blame. “Don’t look at me. It must have been other Pete who expensed this purchase of a life-size Xenomorph statue.”

Q: Not including Halloween, what is your favorite holiday?

A: I know it’s the obvious one, but I really do love Christmas. I’m one of those annoying people who starts listening to Christmas music on November 1. Trust me, I’m trying to get help. But once Halloween is over, hearing John Denver sing with the Muppets is one of the few things that can lift my spirits.

Q: What are your top 5 favorite horror movies?

A: Pffft. Narrowing it down to only five is going to be impossible. So I’m just going to list the first five horror titles I come across in my DVD cabinet...

  • Alien
  • An American Werewolf In London
  • The Changeling (1980)
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • Evil Dead 2

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