A Butte graphic artist is part of an Emmy-nominated team for work on a 90-minute documentary featuring the history of rock-climbing. The Discovery Channel has aired it.
Wesley Meeks, 27, is one of five Missoula residents and two out-of-staters nominated for visual effects in “Valley Uprising” in the Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction category.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” said Meeks, a three-dimensional animation artist and 2007 Butte High School graduate.
“I can’t really describe it; it’s surreal. I never thought it would get a nomination. It’s really unbelievable.”
The 37th annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards take place at Lincoln Center in New York City on Sept. 21.
The team’s collaborative animation, composition and design graphics are lumped in with heavy hitters HBO Documentary Films, NOVA and POV — Point of View — and 'David Attenborough's Rise of Animals' on the Smithsonian Channel.
Other project creators are Barry Thompson, Gregg Twigg, Eric Bucy and Sari Jones of Missoula, plus Marty Blumen of New Zealand and Mark Palkoski of New York.
Based mostly in Missoula, the team, Meeks and project head Thompson are psyched about the nomination.
“I think it has a really good chance of winning,” said Thompson, art director and lead motion designer. “That’s just me thinking positive, though.”
The film portrays the hard-core climbers in Yosemite and “their counterculture lifestyle of Dumpster-diving and wild parties that clashed with the conservative values of the National Park Service,” as filmmaker Sender Films of Boulder, Colo., describes the plot on IMDB.com.
“It’s really a fringe of rock-climbing,” Thompson added. “It’s a part of Americana overlooked in general.”
Thompson, a 16-year graphic artist who taught Meeks at the University of Montana and Half Wild designs owner, said a portion of the film includes rock-climbing’s Golden Age of the 1950s and 1960s up to the late 1970s.
Meeks built many of the 3D models in the process, then handed them to Thompson and colleagues to “composite,” said head compositor/animator Gregg Twigg, UM professor in the Media Arts department.
“We all had different roles that we played,” said Twigg. “Wes was a little more responsible for 3D mapping on some composite shots. It was a big undertaking.”
After combining 2-dimensional and 3D images together from a photograph, Thompson and Twigg combined layers to create various mind-blowing effects.
From a straight photograph of Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite — adjacent to Upper Yosemite Falls — Meeks helped create a 180-degree twist or computer-generated moving camera shot around the pillar.
“Now, with what Wes did to bring in our skills, we could go around the rock, as if a camera is going around it,” said Thompson. “It is super-dynamic and includes birds flying by. It really turned out stunning.”
The film encompasses a half-century of rock-climbing tradition in the park. The artists created the effects from all vintage photographs.
“Wesley’s shots are definitely two of my favorite in the film,” said Thompson. “They’re fantastic.”
Meeks earned an undergraduate degree in media arts, then a masters in integrated digital media from UM. He taught himself design principles and 3D animation. He lives in Lolo but works at Warm Springs Productions in Missoula.
“At the time I worked on ‘Valley Uprising,’ I was a student and it was pretty much my first professional freelance job,” said Meeks.
His mother, Elizabeth Wing Spooner of Butte, credits local 4-H club photography leaders with launching his keen interest in the graphic arts.
“They did some remarkable activities with those kids,” she said.
Fast forward to the Emmys, which Meeks, Thompson, Twigg and spouses plan to attend. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences nominated a variety of projects in 46 categories.
Thompson said “Valley Uprising” has already won numerous outdoor adventure film awards.
“But then, the directors sold the rights to the Discovery Channel to broadcast it,” Thompson added. “So for this nomination, Discovery entered it under Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction. Most likely, the Discovery Channel entered it in a couple other sections, but this is the category the Academy locked on.”
Marty Blumen of New Zealand and Mark Palkoski of New York comprise the rest of the project team.
Wing Spooner offered to help pay for the trip to the Emmys for her son and daughter-in-law, Chandra Moles, as Discovery Channel limits the number of tickets for nominees.
No matter what, “Valley Uprising” and its special effects wizards will be in fine company at the big-city gala.
“It’s not easy,” said Twigg. “We’re up against the best of the best. HBO has some of the best art direction, while we’re just a small shop, people living normal lives.”
Twigg taught Meeks, too, in college. He’s glad to have him on board the Emmy train.
“It’s kinda cool to work on some projects with a former student and colleague,” added Twigg.