January 26, 2012

Stewart Mayer '97 utilizes camBLOCK technology for a location shoot.

As the inventor of the camBLOCK modular motion control system, Stewart Mayer ’97 helped fellow SMU alumnus William Joyce ’81 and Joyce’s co-director, Brandon Oldenburg, achieve the hybrid animation of their Academy Award-nominated short film, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”

“Having the film nominated for an Oscar is amazing; it is a real validation that hard work and passion really can make a difference,” says Mayer, who earned a B.A. in cinema-television from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. “Everyone went above and beyond for the film. That combination of dedication, along with Bill and Brandon’s vision, created a beautiful film.”

For the “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” Mayer and camBLOCK operator Jason Hess, who received a Bachelor’s in communications from SMU in 1999, spent a week filming the charming miniature environments constructed at Joyce’s Moonbot Studios in Louisiana. The sophisticated camBLOCK system “allows cameras to move in ways that can’t be done manually,” providing fluidity and accuracy, says Mayer. Animated characters were later composited into the shots.

Some of the models shot with a camBLOCK system for the Oscar-nominated movie, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Mayer devised his first basic motion control (or “moco”) system in 1999 for a documentary about the art deco architecture of Dallas’ Fair Park. “Following that initial film, I received a lot of requests from other filmmakers who wanted to purchase my cobbled together motion control system. In 2008 I decided to turn my invention into a serious product, redesigned it, and named the new company camBLOCK.

“What makes camBLOCK unique is its compact size, which allows filmmakers to create motion control effects on location, instead of in a dedicated studio.”

The cinematographer/inventor has traveled the world, filming everything “from polar bears in the Arctic to jellyfish in Micronesia.” Other filmmakers have used the camBLOCK “to capture real-time and time-lapse images for National Geographic Channel, BBC, Discovery Channel and TNT, as well as numerous commercials and 3D Imax documentaries,” Mayer says.

Last year Mark Kerins, Meadows associate professor of film and media arts, and David Croson, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship in the Cox School of Business, used moco technology designed by Mayer in making their film, “How NOT To Quit Your Day Job.” The 40-minute comedy, based on Croson’s research, was nominated for the 2011 McGraw-Hill Award for Innovation in Entrepreneurial Pedagogy and has been picked up for educational distribution. It is now being shown in college business classrooms nationwide, Kerins says.

As an SMU student, Mayer started out as an engineering major but switched to cinema-television as a natural fit for his creativity and technical acumen.

“The best part of SMU, for me, was being surrounded by other students motivated to make films no matter what. Back then, video looked horrible and film was prohibitively expensive, but we banded together to make films despite the obstacles,” he remembers. “We were forced to be resourceful, and those skills – along with the encouraging guidance of professors such as Rick Worland – shaped a work ethic that has made me successful today.”

While a 3D documentary about polar bears that he filmed is soon to be released, Mayer says his most exciting project recently has been “the birth of my now 13-week-old son, Wyatt Henry Mayer. He is, by far, the best invention I’ve ever been part of creating.”