Tag: Jimmy Kimmel

Lighting the Way With … Tom Coben: When Kimmel calls and statues dance

Tom Coben ’12

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Tom Coben ’12, a motion graphics artist whose work in the past week has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Nearly a decade after leaving Lawrence University with a growing portfolio of 3D graphics and other visual effects, Tom Coben ’12 has gone viral.

Well, his creative skills have gone viral, if not his name.

A freelance motion graphics and visual effects artist in the Twin Cities, Coben hooked up earlier this month with the creative team of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! They were looking for an artist who could animate statues dancing and singing for a video they were making to mark the end of the Trump presidency.

Coben delivered 14 shots of statues, monuments, and paintings that became the heart of the video – the Statue of Liberty, the faces on Mt. Rushmore, the statue of Martin Luther King Jr., among them – all in full celebration mode. Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the late-night talk show, posted the video late last week, and it quickly bounced around social media, racking up more than 5 million views on YouTube in the first four days.

See the Jimmy Kimmel video here.

“I sent a sample video of the Statue of Liberty dancing as a proof-of-concept on spec and they hired me for the bit,” Coben said. “We used a type of motion-capture technique where they filmed an actor with facial tracking markers and I used that information to apply the facial motions to the different sculptures and paintings.”

From there, he watched the final product roll out, and the social media shares and video views quickly grow, all in the days following the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Between social media and TV views, it’s the widest his work has been seen. But Coben said he did have one other brush with the power of the internet when Will Smith shared on his Instagram account an animation Coben made of a robot bowling. That got him a ton of exposure and some new freelance work, which is always a good thing.

“But this Kimmel video is definitely the most amount of attention any of my work has had,” he said.

It started at Lawrence

Coben first got a taste for motion graphics and 3D visual effects while studying at Lawrence.

An environmental studies major, Coben developed an interest in animation and 3D artistry. Lawrence’s Film Studies program was launching just as Coben was graduating. He was able to put together a self-directed film/animation-related minor.

“One of my favorite experiences at Lawrence was during the summer after my sophomore year when I got the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for five weeks with my advisor, (Associate Professor of Biology) Jodi Sedlock,” Coben said. “She knew I was interested in film production and asked if I would come and produce a short documentary about cave-roosting bat species and conservation of cave ecosystems on the island of Siquijor. Besides just being rad as hell, that experience helped me get a job the following summer at the Smithsonian National Zoo making promotional videos for their YouTube channel, filming the different exhibits.”

Then during his senior year, Coben took an intermediate sculpture class with Rob Neilson, the Frederick R. Layton Professor of Studio Art and professor of art, and was given the green light to focus on using 3D software to create digital sculptures that he would incorporate into footage taken around campus.

It got wonderfully weird. There was a supersized octopus clinging to the cupola atop Main Hall. And snow goons waging a battle on the snow-covered campus green.

Neilson said he recalls Coben taking to heart the prompt he gave to the class at the outset of the term: “Construct a sculptural piece in any medium you choose that somehow closes — or exists within — the gap between art and life and addresses sculpture as a ‘thing’ in all its ‘objectness’.” Coben chose to use 3D modeling and video, and Neilson said he was all in.

“My approach to teaching art has always been: Sculpture can be anything we, the students and I, collaboratively decide it is,” Neilson said. “While I certainly love to ‘make things;’ to me sculpture is more about ideas than objects. Indeed, this is the fundamental beauty of sculpture; its ability to carry and convey meaning through material — even if the material is bits and bytes in a computer. Otherwise, it’s just an object.”

Coben took that approach and ran with it. He’s still running with it.

“After I graduated, I used some of those animations along with some other personal work to put together a reel, which got me my first few freelance jobs out of college,” Coben said. “After that I worked at a small video production company for about three years before deciding to get back into freelance animation, which I have been doing for the past five years.”

Much of his work is with local clients in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, doing 3D product renderings, motion graphics for commercials and online marketing videos, and visual effects for music videos.

He’s also designing custom 3D-printed sculptures, selling them on Etsy under the name Tomforgery3D. 

“They’re based on the classics but I’ve screwed with them to make them more absurd,” he said.

It might not draw the 5 million views of a Kimmel video, but it’s interesting, challenging, and creative work, Coben said.

“I had a lot of very cool opportunities at Lawrence and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing today if my professors hadn’t given me the ability to pursue my interests with as much freedom as they did,” he said.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

“Kimmel” show, Instagram live all part of quarantine life for Tweedy family

Spencer Tweedy ’19 (Photo by David Zoubek)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Singing around the house isn’t anything out of the ordinary for Spencer Tweedy ’19.

He is, after all, part of a very musical family, his father being Jeff Tweedy, founder, singer, and guitarist of Wilco.

But singing with your dad and brother – in the bathroom – for a TV audience of nearly 2 million people? Well, that’s a little different for the young musician not quite a year removed from his Lawrence University commencement.

The 24-year-old Spencer joined his dad and brother, Sam, Monday night on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, singing Evergreen, a song from the elder Tweedy’s 2019 solo album, Warm. It was filmed as the Tweedys – including mom and wife Susan Tweedy – are hunkered down in their Chicago home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and was shared widely by Rolling Stone and other media sites.

Wilco was supposed to appear Monday night on the Kimmel show, but, alas, the band’s tour has been paused and even late-night hosts are self-quarantined. Next best thing? Jeff Tweedy and his boys, live from the bathtub.

“It was super fun,” Spencer said. “We sing at home all the time, and we’ve been doing it even more lately on Instagram. So, it felt the same as any other time we’re singing at home except this video was going to end up in front of a much larger audience.”

The Instagram that Spencer speaks of is The Tweedy Show, a newly launched, quarantine-inspired look at the Tweedy household, filmed and narrated by Spencer’s and Sam’s mom and housed on her already well-followed @stuffinourhouse account. Music and antics from the Tweedy household are now front and center for the world to see on a nightly basis, streaming live at 9:30 p.m. and continuing perhaps as long as the coronavirus lockdown lasts.

“Thankfully, we all get along really well,” Spencer said. “The challenges of living in more or less close quarters aren’t too bad for us. So, I’m really grateful for that.”

A musical life

Spencer has been back in Chicago since graduating from Lawrence, working as a drummer-for-hire on a number of music projects. He released an EP of his own songs a year ago, songs that he worked on while in Appleton. The philosophy major split much of his time at Lawrence between his studies and playing music with friends in the Conservatory.

“One of the really, really cool things about my time at Lawrence was that the boundary between the Conservatory and the college is pretty permeable,” Spencer said. “I was really able to participate in all of the percussion ensembles that I wanted to. (Professor of Music) Dane Richeson was so welcoming. And I think the system is set up that way, where you can mix and match. I majored in philosophy and I was still able to play in things like the drum ensembles and in some of the jazz programs, too.”

Spencer also tapped into the recording facilities at The Refuge Foundation for the Arts in Appleton, which partners with Lawrence on a number of levels.

His philosophy studies, he said, provided him with avenues into his music and other passions. That continues to be true.

“The philosophy program really gave me a lot of skills to understand problems,” he said. “I feel like I really, really grew in my ability, to put it super crudely, to just think about stuff. Philosophy is sort of a big umbrella under which you can put all your other interests and any facet of the world you’re interested in and it gives you these frameworks for understanding them better.”

Initially drawn to Lawrence because of what he calls its “Midwestern humbleness,” Spencer said he walked away four years later with a deeper appreciation for the school’s commitment to its students.

“Everybody who is there cares,” he said. “I wish Lawrence was recognized more for having that quality. Every professor I interacted with was just so extremely dedicated and so extremely caring.”

A spring term like no other

Spencer said he’s thinking a lot about those Lawrence students who are about to embark on a spring term in which they’re living at home and studying from afar amid COVID-19 fears. He’s staying in contact with friends who are still in school as best he can.

“I can’t even begin to relate to some of the challenges people are going through,” he said. “I say this with no intention of paternalism or telling people what to do, but I just think any crisis benefits from people having patience and compassion, and also confidence that things are going to be OK as long as we can have that patience and compassion.

“I think Lawrence students who are being affected by this right now know what to do. They’re going to be able to do their work at home, and in the end, whether or not they get anything out of this weird term at home will depend on the strength of their relationships with their professors. And I have a lot of confidence in that because I know how strong those relationships can be.”

Building a career

In the meantime, Spencer will continue to put the building blocks on his own music career. Besides his dad’s band, he’s already put his drumming skills to work on behalf of Norah Jones, James Elkington, and Amos Pitsch, among others.

“It’s definitely a plus,” he said of entering the music business with a father who is so accomplished. “I’d be a fool to look at it as anything other than a plus. There are definitely challenges sometimes. There are people who struggle to see anything past that and what they know about my family and know about my dad, but that’s really far outweighed by all of the ridiculous privileges of being able to grow up in a family like mine.”

It’s a family you can get to know a little better in the coming days and weeks, one The Tweedy Show Instagram stream at a time.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu