International Motion Art Awards: Balvis Rubess's "Universe Man"

By David Schonauer   Wednesday April 1, 2015

We recently featured Toronto-based illustrator and animator Balvis Rubess’s surrealist homage to Salvador Dali and Man Ray. Called The Cecropia, the animated piece tells the story of a moth that feasts voraciously as a caterpillar but, after emerging as an adult moth, lacks a mouth and digestive tract and exists only to procreate before it dies of hunger.

Today we spotlight another of his International Motion Art Awards 3-winning animations, this one more 1950s-era sci-fi than 1920s surrealism: Rubess dreamed up an imaginary TV show called Universe Man and His Dog Proton and then created its opening title sequence.

The idea for the 21-second rocket blast of color and sound was an illustration of the Universe Man character that Rubess created a number of years ago for a freelance project. Why did he decide to bring the character to life? For the best reason of all: “I thought it would be fun,” he says.

“I usually describe myself as suffering from creative A.D.D.,” he told us back in 2013, when he was named a winner of the first IMAA competition for a self-promotional animation featuring a fire-engine red robot romping through a recycled virtual world.


International Motion Art Awards
Project: Title Sequence for Universe Man and His Dog Proton
Animator: Balvis Rubess
Illustrator: Balvis Rubess

Balvis Rubess’s idea for a TV show about a character named Universe Man betrays an innate love of cheesy sci-fi films from decades past. So does the visual style that Rubess used for the imaginary show’s opening title sequence.

“I originally created the character  a number of years ago as an illustration for ‘The Outer Space Calendar’ designed by Mark Murphy of Murphy Design,” he says. “I thought it would be fun to create an animation using the original illustration.” That illustration, done in analog with acrylic paint, is seen here:

“The animation is a composite made in Photoshop,” Rubess says. “I broke apart the layers and limbs of the original illustration. The rocket, the moon and the type were created and animated in Lightwave 3D, and the final animation was finished in AfterEffects. The moon was a 3D object with a video of myself, exaggerated and composited on top. I used Apple’s Soundtrack Pro software to create the music.”

Rubess describes himself as suffering from creative A.D.D. “My career has taken me on many artistic paths; I started out as a designer, worked as an art director and creative director, transitioned to a full-time illustrator for many years, and now I’m mainly focusing on motion graphics and animation," he says. His motion graphics and design company, called Plasmalife, has produced work for the CBC and the Canadian Space Agency, among other clients. Rubess’s illustration work has been seen in publications like Fortune, Time, and the Chicago Tribune.

His interest in animation began when he illustrated a series of remarkable books for Melcher Media—The Pop-up Book of Phobias and The Pop-up Book of Sex. “Having to think in 3D for those books, how the different bits of illustration would coalesce into one final image, got me interested in translating my illustration into moving imagery over time,” he says.


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