Keith Hunter: Artist, mentor, most-excellent man *

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/08/keith-thumb.jpg(UPDATED to add photos)

So – one reason I haven’t blogged in couple weeks is a ruthless work schedule. The other reason was my close friend, Keith Hunter, was fighting a wicked strain of cancer and I tried to visit him as often as I could get over to Cedars.

Last Wednesday night, Keith lost. His wife and son lost a husband and father, a whole bunch of L.A. schools lost a dedicated volunteer animation/drumming/fiction teacher, Rhythm & Hues Studios lost a colossally talented artist and mentor, and L.A. lost a good, generous soul who lived one of the fullest lives you’ve ever seen.

Trust me on this. He was a renaissance man, and one of the humblest, coolest, most talented people you ever knew. You would have loved him. Everybody did. Although the Times passed on it (they said they only cover the deaths of the newsworthy) here’s the obit I wrote for Keith. If you knew him, pass this along, and add a word or two in comments:

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/08/head-thumb.jpgKeith Hunter, a much-beloved computer artist who managed the modeling department of Rhythm and Hues Studios and volunteered tirelessly in Los Angeles-area schools teaching computer animation to young children, has died after a short but fierce battle with cancer. He was 41.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/08/babyBuggy-thumb.jpgThe son of an ophthalmologist and homemaker/dietician, Hunter was born in Washington, D.C. and moved with his family at age 7 to Bettendorf, Iowa, where he spent much of his formative years learning to draw, build models and fix machines – boyhood activities that would carry him into a rich career in computer animation.

His father, Larry Hunter, recalls that Keith could assemble or repair just about anything without instructions, including the dirt bike he began riding at age 11 along dirt roads near his Iowa home. His detailed drawings ran the gamut from motorcycles and monsters to comic book heroes of every kind, and as soon as he finished one project he’d start another:

“It was always hard keeping him busy enough – he hated to be idle,” Hunter’s father recalled. “You’d never see him sitting around half the day looking at the boob tube.”

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At right, with his older brother, Bruce in Iowa in the 70s

Keith Hunter went to Ohio State University to study architecture. It was there that he met Jocelyn Hayes, a pharmacology student whom he would marry five years later when they moved to Los Angeles.

Upon graduating in 1990, Hunter entered Harvard University in pursuit of a master’s degree in architectural design.

Seeing a powerful connection between the fantasy art he loved to create and the nuts-and-bolts rigors of computer-aided design under which he trained in architecture, Hunter gravitated towards computer animation. Upon his graduation from Harvard in 1991, instructors encouraged him to continue on a doctorate track. But Hunter chose to pursue his artwork and was hired away immediately by Rhythm and Hues, a leading computer graphics studio.

Hunter went to work in the modeling department, creating CG models of products and logos, creatures and machines and within two years was tapped to run the studio’s modeling department.

Hunter oversaw modelers who created some of the most enduring images in computer animation – everything from the Coca-Cola polar bears and the Oscar-winning Babe the Pig to the fantastic creatures in 2005’s Oscar-nominated “Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

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Here’s a bit of his personal science fiction work.

The day after Hunter’s death, studio chief John Hughes issued this statement to his colleagues:

“It is with great sadness that I must share with you that our friend and colleague, Keith Hunter, passed away last night after a courageous battle with cancer …

“Keith joined Rhythm & Hues in September 1991 and had been the Manager of the Modeling Department for most of his years here at the studio. Over the years, Keith contributed to almost every project R&H produced, both as a manager and as an artist. Keith embodied the spirit of R&H in his supportive attitude and constant professionalism, always looking for ways to make this a better place to work.

Keith’s ability to connect with those around him was obvious over the past few weeks. The outpouring of love and concern was a reflection of the special person he was and a testament to the man who will remain in our hearts and minds.”

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/08/jump-thumb.jpgIn spare time, Hunter indulged in childhood passions such as riding dirtbikes, flying RC model aircraft and collecting Japanese anime and toys, and continued to work long hours chipping away on personal animation projects, recalls friend and colleague Steve Ziolkowski, a Rhythm & Hues animator.

Once Hunter became a father in 2000, his priorities shifted, his close friends recall.

“Focused, that’s the best word,” says Ziolkowski. “He made damn sure that he had time to work on his stuff but also that he had time to be with his son and Jocelyn.”

After the birth of his son, Hunter began working with children, teaching computer animation classes, leading drum circles and reading aloud in schools across greater Los Angeles, ranging from Compton to Crossroads.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/08/armor-thumb.jpgHis method in the animation lessons was to encourage the kids to draw frames of animation on paper, which he then scanned into the computer and animated, says his wife.

Jocelyn Hunter recalls, “Keith wanted kids to be able to have a chance to see that stuff in this area wasn’t impossible. He wanted to show them, ‘You can do it, if you stick it out.'”

Hunter is survived by his wife and young son, and his father, mother and older brother,

Private services have been scheduled for later this week.

Those wishing to help Hunter’s family bear their loss are encouraged to donate to the college fund that Rhythm & Hues has set up on behalf of his son. Donations may be sent (with checks made payable to Rhythm & Hues) to:

Keith Hunter College Fund
c/o Accounting Department
Rhythm & Hues
5404 Jandy Place
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Friends have set up a blog for Hunter’s family and friends here: http://hunterfamily.blogdns.org

Just some additional notes: IMDB barely covers his career but links to some key projects.

7 Replies to “Keith Hunter: Artist, mentor, most-excellent man *”

  1. That’s really nice and am certain the family will appeciate it more than even you can imagine. You too, Mack Reed, are a good man.

  2. What a touching tribute to someone who will be truly missed. It is all the more tragic when such a gifted and talented person is taken so young. Sorry for your loss.

  3. I had the privilege of meeting Keith and working with him on “Babe” years ago at R&H. He was one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known. Everybody dug him. He was regal, gentle, funny, noble, fair, kind, a gear-head and comic book geek who looked like a movie star, brilliant and lots of fun.

    Everybody who knew this wonderful man will miss him always. I had not seen him for a few years, but I felt a jolt through my heart when I heard he had passed away. For those who never knew him, the world has lost a very special man, who had a lots more to give. Rest in Peace, beautiful, wonderful Keith.

  4. I only met Keith once and that was when he married Jocelyn. It was truly one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever attended . I knew Jocelyn before she was born Her mother was one of my dearest friends since we were 12 years old . Please extend to Jocelyn my condolences and tell her that a card is in the mail (soon) My son,
    Charles joins me in this time in our concern for Jocelyn Tell Jocelyn to please e-mail me I have been in touch with Jack8ie

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