Monday, December 26, 2005

HD Ant Bully Trailer on

This is a bit of old news, but for those who want to see a high res HD version of The Ant Bully teaser/trailer, you can check it out on Apple's Quicktime website. Apparently Warner Bros recently had a test screening of the work in progress film and it scored very high with the test audiences.

And for what it's worth I took my shot from the trailer (the rapping ants scene depicted above) and put it up in the Animation section of my site. That's right, Chubby White Boy animated hip hop rapping ants. I've got street cred now, yo.

note: edited post

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fun Essay on 2d vs 3d animation

My good buddy Tim Hodge has posted an essay of his on his blog looking at the challenges and changes in animation from a 2d/3d lense. Go check it out. It's well written, thoughtful and a very fun read if not a tad crumudgeonly. Kinda like Tim. Only not as ugly. He's also got a fun sort story on the blog and some sketches, too. A real rennaissance man. Check it out.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Saccadic Eye Movement

Here's an interesting link I've had around for a while. It details the nature of how our eyes move. Follow some of the other research links from that page if you're really interested in geeking out about this stuff.
Most of us know that one of the best ways to keep a character alive and thinking is subtle eye shifts. As with anything try not to over do it or else things can look a bit spastic and fake. But when done well and well placed there's a lot of power in using well timed shifting of the eyes. The shift could be motivated by the internal thoughts or feelings of the character while they are presented with a moment of quietness or thought. There the relative pace of the shfts gives indication to the speed of the unfolding of thoughts in the head or the emotional energy of the moment. If the darts are fast paced and come quickly one after the other it can indicate a great flurry of thought or a rapid firing of emotional energy. Slower pace indicates a more methodical, more pondering state of mind. This kind of eye darting is pretty common in animation these days.
Another motivator for eye darts (which I don't see as much of) could be the character's examining the face of another character they're talking to. We do this ALL the time. That's where the saccades come from, the constant exploration of our world around us to take the information in. It's a but harder to do because managing eyelines in animation is such a difficult thing to get right in the first place. Eyelines are so very fragile. If you're off just a little bit suddenly your character doesn't seem to be connected to their moment. So once you get a solid eyeline working sometimes we're a bit afraid to mess with it. But we don't just lock eyes with any one thing for very long. We'll examine, we'll move around, scanning, processing. When listening to another person we'll be drawn to their eyes first -individually- then to the mouth. We'll roll over this heirarchy for a bit as we piece together the other person's demeanor. That's how we read the intentions of those around us. Then our attention will turn to areas of high contrast. First in motion, second in brightness value, third in color. It's definitely hard to pull off well without ruining the eyeline of your character, but when you can get it working it adds so much life to the character as they listen or speak to another character.
I like to keep eye shifts quick. Usually 2 frames with a favor on the inbetween toward the end. A motion curve for a typical eye shift for me would have this kind of a pattern...
And always remember that when the eyeball moves it affects the fleshy bits around the eyes. The lids mostly, but also beyond the immediate lids in a very limited and subtle way. if your rig doesn't move that sutf automatically it'll be up to you to get it working.
Anyhow... hope that is useful to some folks out there.

Pictures for Patrick: Scary

Could this be me in 15 yrs? I certainly hope not.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pictures for Patrick: Puhsty

This was a little experiment with shapes that turned out better than I expected. It's rough, but I kinda like it for some reason. My little boy thought Puhsty would be a good name for him. I guess that's as good as any other name. Except Sherman. That's a better name than Puhsty, I think.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Setup Machine

Ahhh, bliss.

I'll tell ya what. Over the years I've learned a lot about rigging. I've rigged a ton of characters. I fancy myself a half way decent rigger when I need to be. It's been a necessary evil in my professional path. It's a knowledge that has served me well and I think it's good for animators to know how to do it. But to be honest, I only did it to get better animation controls for my own characters. I don't really like rigging. There's a certain tinkering aspect of finding a new solution in rigging that can be fun- like solving a tricky puzzle. But the actual work of rigging a whole character, including painting weights and all that rubbish- ugh! I find myself having less and less patience for the black art as the years roll by. So imagine my joy when I saw what Raf Anzovin was cooking up with his new The Setup Machine for Maya. I've had a chance to play with the beta version a bit and let me tell you, this is the thing to get if you have rigging to do. So many folks write me and ask about how to rig, or where they can get little known free rigs to animate with. Well now you can model your own character design (or better yet, get a modeler buddy to do it for you!) and The Setup Machine makes body rigging slickity splickity. AND- get this- it does a really spiffy job of auto weighting the skin to the joints. It's fully customizable, got great controls for animation, has a lot of mesh sculpting flexibility to shape the characters- Oh yeah. It's all good. And now it's been officially released. So head on over to Raf's site for all the details and to pick up your copy of TSM. It's the bee's knees. I'll never rig another character from scratch again. Joy!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Give Thanks...

I want to wish a great Thanksgiving Day to all of you folks in the U.S. Today is a day for us to stop and give simple thanks to the good Lord for all we've been blessed with. And then we get to enjoy some food! Yay! It has been said that the fastest way to become wealthy is to simply count your blessings. I challenge all of us to take it one step further- be a blessing to someone else today who's list of blessings might be a bit shorter than yours.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pictures for Patrick: Bucky

Bucky likes to talk. I don't know who Bucky is. But this is a picture of him. Please don't feed Bucky. You will just get your monitor all messy.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Pictures for Patrick: Patrick

This is my picture OF Patrick. He's normally not wall-eyed. He does grin like that, though. He liked this picture. His wife Amila also liked at it. They sit together with me at work. Amila has sharp elbows. We are afraid of her elbows. She's also a really good animator. I hope you enjoy this Picture of Patrick.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Pictures for Patrick: Old Dude

This is perhaps my avorite way to draw. I don't know where I got the idea from, probably just from messing around in some boring meeting one day. I try to use a single line and let the pen wander over the paper, trying not to lift the pen and worry about stuff like line quality and all that. I think I do my best work when I use this kind of doodling method. It's also relaxing and very fun. Quite freeing indeed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bill Tytla nugget of gold

I was studying through my old Richard Wiliams Master Class notes (this was back when Richard was travelling the world offering a 3 day master course on animation. Pre- Animator's Survival Kit days. $900 for 3 days of animation training. Ahh, the good old days.)
Anyhow I came across a quote that Richard relayed from Bill Tytla, one of the early masters of animation. Bill said...
There's only 3 things to animation.
  1. Anticipation
  2. Action
  3. Reaction
Learn to do these well and you can animate anything well.
And another Bill Tytla nugget:
Be Simple
Be Direct
Be Clear
Be Very Simple
Make a statement and finish it clearly
Good stuff to be reminded of in an age where we can get all distracted by the possibilities of subtle micro movement in CG animation. It's true that Cg opens doors for adding those micro expressions and little flashes, but they alone cannot sustain a scene. This micro subtelty stuff is like a good spice. Just the right kind in just the right amount can elevate a meal from good to amazing. But put the wrong spice in a dish, or too much of the right spice and you can ruin a perfectly good meal. Same with animation. You can so overpack your animation with bits of micro movement in the name of subtlety that you lose the primary storytelling drive of the shot to start with. It's a pretty easy thing to make the face all muddy if we're not careful. The foundation must be clear, simple, strong and entertaining- then add a little spice. Let your posing, drawing, timing and acting choices be the power behind the scene, not the little flashes of motion or noise.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Acting & Animation

What if you stink as an actor? What if you've tried acting out your scenes on video and have ended up with absolute junk?

The craft of acting is about using your own body as the puppet for the camera. So acting classes and exercises are mostly about how to manipulate your mind/emotion/body into a reflexive response that is sincere so that what shows up on the camera is a genuine human reaction. You are the puppet, therefore you must manipulate yourself. The more that you can conjure up a non thinking reflexive response to a pretend moment, the better you are as an actor. The acting classes I've taken all orbit around this idea.

Animation is acting by proxy. We don't even say the lines of audio. We are greatly limited in our ability to define a role and the moments of a story are already defined for us in many ways. We are not the puppet, so acting exercises have a somewhat limited application to an animator. The one place where these tools come in handy is if we head off to an acting room and act out a scene in front of a video camera in order to help us see how we'd play the scene if we were the actor. Lots of folks are big proponents of this in helping you get better acting in your animation. It's certainly very helpful. That is, if it's at all helpful. By that I mean this: what if you're not a good actor and you know it?

Live action reference is an old tool. In years past at Disney less popular (and presumably less talented) actors were brought in to act out a scene for the animators to study. And the animators used that reference to one degree or another. Interestingly Milt Kahl decried the "lazy bastards" who just copied the performance off the photostats. He said you get "third rate acting from a third rate actor". Apparently Milt felt there was something more needed. Even so, third rate actors are still better actors than I am. With the advent of digital video many animators have taken great advantage of acting a scene out. There's been a push to get animators to become more like actors, in the real sense of having the animator act out their scenes in order to better tap into the emotion of the moment. Then they go back to their desk and study the tape for the golden nuggets that lie within. This is helpful, I'm sure. That is if you can get anything off the tape that's real and worth using.

There's a reason I'm an animator and not an actor. An honest man must know his limits and I know that as an actor I'm not all that good. I go to the acting room, run the video and what I have after 30 minutes is pretty much crap. I guess what I'm trying to say is: me acting it out in front of a video camera in a room alone is clearly not enough for me to succeed with a scene. And even if the 9 old men were inclined to act out a scene, there was no way to record it so they could study it later, so obviously they must have done something else. Does anybody who's ever worked with the modern greats like Glen Keane, James Baxter, Nick Park or Andres Dejas know if they go into an acting room to act out their scene in front of a camera? I've never read anything that indicates that is what these guys do. So how do they get such consistently amazing performances? There must be more than video tape at work there.

I turned to the Acting and Emotion chapter in The Illusion of Life for help. Here's something that really surprised me...
Usually this feeling of warmth cannot be structured in the Story Dept. and must depend entirely upon the animator for its portrayal, but it remains a very mercurial sensation. A note cannot be pinned to the storyboard saying "Get warmth through here", nor can it be written as an action on the exposure sheet, "Animate 3 feet of warmth". It cannot be analyzed, or acted out or represented in the same way as an expression or a passing thought, since it is more of a sentiment that grows within the viewer from the special way the business has been animated; actually it grows from the sensitivity of the animator who makes the drawings."
pg 491

Isn't it something to read that Frank Thomas (or Ollie, whoever wrote those words) said that developing that warmth in a character couldn't be acted out? Instead they indicate that there's something else going on- sensitivity of the animator. In another place they talk about the feelings the animator has for their drawings. You must have feelings for your character, your 'drawings'. The implication was that the very act of drawing was a cathartic moment for an animator. It's that word: sensitivity- that's what intrigues me.

How sensitive are you? Do you notice things? Are you a keen observer of people and how they behave? Are you moved when another person hurts? Do you rejoice when others succeed? Do emotional moments effect you deeply? Can you easily understand and tap into why another person would feel a certain way? Can you come alongside another person in their life and connect on a deep level with what's going on inside of them? Even if you do nothing with it, does it touch something inside of you? I know some really good animators and the best ones always seem to have this attribute, sensitivity. They're expert observers of people and their emotional states. They connect easily to others and their moments in life. Sad movies devastate them. Violent movies effect them. Real life tragedies touch them. They're sensitive people. I think in a significant sense that animation is about coming alongside of our characters in their moments and being sensitive enough to connect with them there, to be faithful in moving them in a way that is consistent with their emotions in the moment, not by shoehorning my own emotions and gestures onto them.

I realize that there are some very prominent advocates of the "acting it out in video" approach. I certainly can't argue with their success. Definitely if you're a halfway decent actor then you should by all means utilize that talent in such a way. Far be it from me to say that acting it out isn't good or helpful. I'm not saying that at all, so don't even go there. What I am saying is that for those of us who can't act (and have tried and know it) I think sensitivity is the key to getting to that point in our animation where we can be honest to our characters.

Character Supervisors revisited

I've talked about this a bit in the past but I've not been sure which way I go on the issue. If we have 25 animators then by nature we have 25 interpretations of the character. The goal is to have a single character on screen with a measure of consistency of performance so that we get to feel for them in their world. We really don't want 25 versions of a character, that doesn't serve the story very well. So what extra energies are required to keep all the interpretations in line? Would these energies be better spent elsewhere? Is there a better way than the way we've done things for the last little bit?

Chicken Little was run in the standard Disney shop style where animators were put into teams that were dedicated to a specific character with character supervisors over those teams. Many other shops work where the animator does every character in a scene. But Disney stuck with their old way of having dedicated teams of animators working on a single character with a character supervisor who is the expert and master of that character. From what I saw on the screen with Chicken Little I thought they were very successful in getting consistent performances from their characters, especially Buck Cluck. Runt as well, very solid, very consistent from an emotional and mannerisms standpoint. And I felt that this consistency actually opened doors for depth of performance. It appeared to me that the energies that would otherwise be spent to keep the character performances consistent were now free to be spent in digging deeper. Those emotional scenes with Buck were flat out awe inspiring. I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that those are perhaps some of the best animated scenes (from an acting standpoint) as we have seen in the last 30 years.

I think my preference is definitely starting to tip toward the Character Team approach. We've seen it work for decades in the old Disney studio. Now I'm seeing how much it brings to the table in CG. I think that all things considered that this is a good system. It understands one of the more troubling challenges in animation and mitigates it some by reducing the number of "interpretations" of a character by limiting the number of animators responsible for portaying that character.

Sony Picture Animation is apparently following the same cue with their film Open Season. I'm curious to see how well they do with this. But the success with the animation in Chicken Little has certainly done its part in making me lean toward the character team approach.
Let the disagreeing comments begin. :)

Pictures for Patrick: Sluggo

My favorite medium is ballpoint pen on Post-It Notes. Why? Because they're unassuming materials. You're not "supposed" to draw with a ballpoint pen and Post-It's aren't "real" drawing paper. Which is cool because then I'm free to screw up. Make a crap drawing? No problem, just peel it off the pad and chuck it. No biggie. But put a Col-Erase in my hand and give me sheets of drawing paper with great tooth and I start to freeze up. Performance anxiety. Patrick liked this picture. I think it's fun, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pictures for Patrick: Grumpy

This is another picture I drew for Patrick. It is not a picture of Patrick. I do have a picture of Patrick. I will share that with you some day. Today is not that day. Today is just a picture for Patrick, not a picture of Patrick.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Pictures for Patrick: Puzzled

I work with a fellow named Patrick Puhala. (pronounced "poo-hall-ahh") He has a funny name. He has an even funnier face. Patrick is an animator. Patrick is a good animator. Patrick likes it when I draw pictures for him. Here is a picture I drew for Patrick in dailies. I like to show you my Pictures for Patrick.

EDIT: You guys! It's a picture for Patrick. Not a picture of Patrick. Secondly, here's a color version of the sketch. Seems the original black and white impressed folks as being a drawing of a lady's torso instead of a noseless sad brocolli haired fella. Hopefully this edit clears things up. :)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tastes Like Chicken...

It's really funny to see Hollywood implode on itself. They play so many games trying to guess their way around what people will or won't like it's a wonder they're able to decide what to eat for breakfast each morning. To read some internet sites you'd get the impression that every Disney executive was having a hyperventilation fit earlier this week. Add in some bad reviews from snarky Hollywood movie critics about their latest film Chicken Little and there's apparently a mad scramble to duck for cover.

Well, seems a lot of their worries were about nothing. Chicken Little is doing a healthy opening weekend business. Families are responding well to the little movie. I have to say I'm one of them. It's a fun flick. Not overly deep, but it has some heart, it's entertaining, it's funny. It's got some very fun characters and memorable moments. Is it a perfect film? There is no such beast if you ask me. It's a solid film that earns your smiles and attention. All that Pixar/Disney/2d/3d political crap aside, I'm glad the film is doing well so far. Good job to you folks at WDFA.

And on an animation front I have to say that I'm really jealous of those animators. Cartoons! Yay! I love cartoon animation. It's such a fun and freeing way to make things come alive. Seeing all those older 2d techniques brought to bear in Cg makes me very happy for the future of the medium. And the acting on Buck Cluck! Wow. The dad in CL had some of the absolute best acting I've ever seen in animation, 2d, 3d or 99758D. If for nothing else go watch CL and study how they handled the dad character in those quieter moments. His best performances came when he wasn't saying anything. Kudos to the director for letting the character and those moments breathe. Sometimes you can cut a movie too tight and not give the characters room to breathe. It's these moments of silence that let the animator really dig deep to find some great acting performances.

Monday, October 31, 2005

It begins

Back in my earlier post about the idea that the video iPod has the potential to start altering the way we think about video distribution, I mentioned that soon enterprsing folks were going to start finding a way to get content to this portable devices.
Intro Channel Frederator.
Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew has a brief post on how Frederator Cartoons is going to set up a weekly vid-cast of animated short films. They're taking submissions and their first month's vid-cast looks to have some fun toons on them. I expect that others will hop on seeing as this is such an easy thing to set up and get going (and it's low cost as well). The content is out there. I think there is a definite market and interest for short animated films (that are well done!) just like there is a market for a wide variety of music. Savvy media consumers are looking for new and fresh ideas in their video media. The steady decline in ticket sales for cinematic releases from Hollywood is about more than just the proliferation of home theater systems and DVD's. It's certainly not about pirating. It's about content, new, flavorful, relevant, meaningful content. Smart people aren't willing to settle for the silly pap that's being pushed anymore. The independent filmmakers are the ones who will define the curve. Channel Frederator is among those who have fired the opening salvo in this little war of independence.

Not to say I told you so, but... I told you so.


Well, this sounds intriguing..

Cartoon Brew reports that there's some rumblings that Steve Jobs may be willing to sell Pixar to an appropriate bidder. This article explains the details and points to Disney as a possible suitor for the Pixar holdings. Sounds like it could be a number of things to me.
To me it sounds like Steve is bored with the little studio that could. Pixar has settled into the maturity of its form. It's now the leader of the pack in what it does. No more giants remain to be slain there. There's always been something about Jobs that needs his Goliath so he can be the heroic David. But Pixar is now Goliath. At least in the sense of what Pixar is and is likely to be. Disney's trying to hang on and they sure hope Chicken Little firms up their ground as a movie making company. But ask anybody their honest opinion and they'll tell you that Pixar's currently top of the game in animated movie making. Dreamworks makes a bunch of money with their films, but those films often lack the ability to find a warm place in the cockles of children's hearts. Kids generally aren't asking mom and dad for a Shrek, Donkey, Alex the lion or Oscar the Fish costume this halloween. But I can guarantee there'll be bajillions of Buzz Lightyears a full decade after his introduction as a character. No, when it comes to making films that find an iconic place in the hearts of kids, Pixar is currently the giant. Disney is still far bigger overall as a company, but not in the core business of animated films. They have giant distribution systems, live action divisions, broadcast and network holdings, merchandising empires. But they're all ancilliary to the animate film biz. And I don't think Pixar has ever wanted to become the next Disney Company. Just the next Walt Disney Studio. Which they've pretty much done.
So the battle is kinda won. Perhaps for Jobs the game has gotten old. Steve has some fun things happening back at Apple again. He has his eyes on revolutionizing the content delivery and consumption markets of the world.

Or this could all be a ploy to drive up share prices. I can't see how selling to Disney gives him any leverage in striking a new deal with Disney. But if rumblings of a sale are coming out I think it's fair to say that could perk some interest in the Pixar stock. One thing is that if I were a Pixar employee this morning I'd have a little sick feeling in my gut if I'd heard The Steve was thinking of selling out to The Mouse. And maybe that's Steve's intention- inject a little hunger and fear back into the Pixar crew to keep them sharp.

But that's just my guess. It could all be hooey.


While editing my blogger template this weekend (I was trying to add a new link on the sidebar) it seems I had a slip of the keyboard and totally hosed the template. The result was a page full of gobbeldy gook text. I've since restored the template from a back up, but the blogger bar is back at the top. I'll be fixing that later tonite to get rid of it. Til then, you'll have to endure looking at it. :)


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cane Toad Diaries

Cane Toad is a funny short film that's been out a few years now. Normally in this world of fast paced love 'em and leave 'em animation that means it's old hat, boring, yesterday's news. But I like to bring these things back out of the storage bin now and again because a fun animated film is still fun to watch years beyond it's original release. That and being a short film maker myself, I like to promote folks who get a short done and done fairly well.
The impetus for this Cane Toad redux on my part is that recently on the Cg-Char forums Andrew Silke has done all of you first time animated short film makers out there a HUGE favor. He's posted the various storyboard animatic, layout and edit locked pre-final versions of his and Dave's award winning short film Cane Toad. Many of you may have already seen this little humorous gem of a film, but if you haven't then take some moments in your day to head on over and have a look. It's a pretty valuable look at how they went about making their film and it's a mighty generous thing to do. It's nice to see how organized they were in making it, recording a production diary and all. Me, it's all I can do to find a few hours a week just to tinker with my short, much less document it. If I had to document it as well I'd never get anything done. Not that I'm getting much done without taking the time to document it. But anyhow, go enjoy Cane Toad, enjoy the behind the scenes in progress stuff and enjoy Andrew's production log. Good stuff worthy of a mention here to bring the film back into the light for a little bit.


ps: you'll need DivX to see the movies linked.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Fun little test

Here's a quickie little animation test I recently did for one of my VTS video classes.
(right click to save movie. Quicktime 7 required)
Murray 12fps Anim Test

This is an older version of this character's rig. I'm doing some tests animating in CG on 2's. I'm (slowly) working on my next short film idea and I want to see about doing the whole thing on 2's. Why? Well, why not? I'm not trying to emulate the stop-mo look, but am rather more interested in getting some of the flavor of handdrawn animation back into CG. It requires a lot from the rig and this early version lacked some pretty vital stuff. I've since completely gutted this rig and I am making a new one (with some professional help) that's even more flexible. Anyhow, I thought I'd throw this up here and share with folks. It's been a while since I posted any new animation. Enjoy the fun on 2's!

Eric Goldberg Timing Notes

Thanks to our good friend Tim Hodge for sharing this page of timing notes from animation master, Eric Goldberg (he was the supervisor for the Genie in Alladin).

Golberg TIming Notes

Here's what Tim had to write when he sent me this...
I found that page of Goldberg Notes. I remembered them as being a
little more in depth than they are. Probably because they accompanied
a lecture.
The idea behind the timing chart is that instead of spending two
frames of the same drawing in the middle of a fast action, spread it
out into three drawings on ones, thus making the action snappier.
Then go back to 2's because the drawings are so close together,
drawing on 1's becomes overkill.
You should go through his genie animation frame by frame sometime.
It's really amazing. He'll have a character hit a pose very quickly,
then spend 6 to 8 frames for the rest of the body to catch up and
another 6 frames to totally settle in. Very snappy and natural looking.
(In Disney animation, drawings are numbered to the frame, not just
1,2,3... then shot on ones or twos. If drawing 112 is held for 18
frames, the next drawing is number 130. Oh, and the numbers for keys
are circled, breakdowns are underlined, inbetweens are left alone.)

Eric always analyzed action and timing like this. He wanted to make
sure each drawing had maximum impact, not so you'd notice the drawing
itself, but so the action would be clear and entertaining. You may
ask, "can one frame make that much difference?" And I will ask you,
"Do you know the difference between a gold and silver medal?" Split
seconds, that extra umph, mean everything!

Great stuff and three cheers to Tim for sharing with te rest of the class. Be sure to go check out Tim's site. He's got lots of goodies there. I really love his John Henry drawings. Lots of talent that Mr. Hodge.

ps: Oh, and if anybody finds my posting of these notes to be bothersome to you, just drop me a line. My email link is on the side. If it's a big problem I can take these down. Hopefully that's not going to be the case, though.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hotmail email problems

It seems Hotmail is having some email problems. If you have a hotmail account and have written me in the last two days, I have tried to write you back but I can't seem to get the email to go through. Honest! I'm not a rude jerk. I'm just drawn that way. :)

All you hotmail users probably need to yell at hotmail/msn about this.


UPDATE: looks like all's well in Denmark now. Gon on home folks. Nothing to see here....

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thoughts on Timing

In the intro to my first VTS video about timing I made the statement that timing is one of those things that is so hard to put down into rules. In fact there's precious little recorded info on how to time things compared to the large collection of writings about drawings/pose, etc. So many of the principles of animation are about the actual drawings/poses themselves. We have the huge collection of Walt Stanchfield notes about drawing for animation. But unfortunately there's no real equivalent Walt Stanchfield of timing. When it comes to timing almost all the old masters just usually said "Well, it takes time to learn that. You just eventually figure it out." Milt Kahl just blurted out "Well, you just know!" Not much to go on for students who want the answers to making better animation today. Heh.

Well by way of backing up my statements here's an exerpt from an interview between Dick Williams and Ken Harris about timing. You should know who both of these gentlemen are, but if you don't, read the links for more info.

Anyhow, here you go...

DICK: How do you learn to time the actions? If you're acting it out in your
mind, how do you time it?

KEN: That takes experience. You just time it by timing it. You get to know how long it takes to do a thing the way you want to do it.

DICK: When you started, did you have stop-watches?

KEN: We had metronomes; You could set a metronome on 6's or 8’s or 10's if you wanted a walk or anything like that. We had Carl Stallings, the musician Disney first brought to Hollywood. Carl used to give us a lot of pointers on music timing. We would ask Carl about what music phrase or number of bars that he wanted to do a thing in. Also, the Director would time it out himself - the way he wanted to do it, and we would also confer with Carl in getting the music timing. Oh, learning timing comes so gradually; It's like Benny Washam's 12-frame yawn.
When you first start out animating something, it takes so long to make those drawings that you think, "Gee, whizz, this will take up a lot of screen time. It's taken me half a day to make 12 drawings, and that must make a long, slow yawn." Well, half a second for a yawn isn't very long, is it? It just takes experience in timing, and doing things, and tapping it out with a pencil - beating it out per foot, 'till you get to know.

DICK : So you get to know the length of time of a second. It’s completely set in your mind; You know exactly what you're going to do?

KEN: Yes, I know pretty much. And I know how many frames I need to
accent something, and I know how many frames I need to slow out of it; A guy says something like, "Get going!", well, "get" would be this picture here, and here, and an in-between, and that's the accent, and when the head is up here you slow out of it. You don't just bang it back down again - you use maybe 6 to 8 drawings to get back to where you started it. But that's all timing that you've gotten by experience which you've had. You know how fast the film goes through. A stop-watch is good to time the length of scenes and such, but the stop-watch doesn't cut it down to a point where you can get a quick accent.
It’s like that guy where you made him shoot himself. You took some frames out of where his head went back when the bullet hits his head. You even could take all the frames out. If his head was here and he pulled the trigger, and his head went clear over to here without any in-between, it would work. It works well the way it is - but if you want it to bang harder, and if it was a bigger bore gun, and you wanted a real blast you could just leave out the in-betweens.
Lots of times, we will take a little fish, or a humming bird going from one rose to another…this humming bird will flutter here and then, bang! - he's over there with maybe just one elongated blur on ones, and then a 'cushion'. You can do almost anything by just starting something here and cushioning it way over here. You don't need any in-betweens.

So there you have it. You learn it by doing it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Video i-Pod and indy distribution...

Apple has finally released their new video capable i-Pod. While I'm not an i-Pod owner/user (I'm tragically unhip, sorry to say. I always seem to be 3 years behind the curve on stuff like this) and I don't use i-Tunes, this little number intrigues me. Not from a consumer standpoint. I doubt I'd use it much. See when I watch a TV show or a movie I tend to get very immersed in it. If it's a particularly good show or movie I easily get sucked in and get lost in time- I'll emotionally buy in for all it's worth. Which is fine if you're in your home by yourself. Not so good if you're watching the mini-tele while waiting for the elevator to open.

No, my interest in the v-Pod is the new video content distribution system Apple has started. Their deal with ABC/Disney to sell popular shows and such for $1.99 a pop is the video version of i-Tunes. Suddenly the barrier between filmmaker and buying public is much thinner. In response to a content creator driven trend Apple hooked their i-Tunes to handle podcasts natively. Is it a stretch to think that given sufficient creator movement in the independent video vidcasting that their video side of i-Tunes wouldn't hook into vidcasts eventually? Combine a vidcast enabled i-Tunes in conjunction with clever animator type dudes who put out the content and let the world know via a blog and RSS... welcome to self syndication. Podcasts have turned the stoic broadcasting world on its ear. Not that the content available on podcasts is overwhelmingly superior to commercial radio. Like all content that has a low cost of entry (ie: alot of rank amateurs are making a lot of stuff) most of it is trash. (except for The Animation Podcast. That rocks!) No, what kicked commercial radio in the groin in podcating was the freedom of choice for the consumer. Suddenly the power has shifted and commercial radio is still scrambling to catch up. It's the world of the longtail.

Will the v-Pod and vidcasts (anim-casts?) do the same for TV? Sure, making small Quicktimes and putting them on the web is not a new idea. Shoot, I released my first short film on my website over 8 years ago. But there's something about having a consumer product designed specifically for this content that lends a certain amount of critical mass to the movement. MP3's were not invented by Apple. Apple just made a clever gadget that made MP3's stylish, easy and popular. The hope here is that the same can happen for online video.

Have any of you started crafting your master plan to be a self supporting animator who sells their episodes to a faithful fanbase via i-Tunes? You know somebody is gonna be able to do it. Why not you? Heck.. why not me?!

Comment Spam: A Blight on Humanity

Spammers are leeches. It's not enough that they fill our inboxes with ads for Viagara, they now auto-comment on blogs. Blegh!! A pox on them I say!

In an effort to combat this evil I have turned on word verification for the comments in my blog now. It's a minor inconvenience for real human beings who wish to comment here (and I'm always glad to have folks comment here, even if I don't reply to the comments often enough). Hopefully this small measure will keep the spammers at bay. The vermin.

In other news... I gotta get back to editing this month's VTS video (it's due out Monday the 17th). We're still on our timing section, but we're getting close to wrapping that up. Probably one or two more months and then it's on to scene planning, blocking, acting choices, etc. The good stuff. :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

W&G Whee!

If you haven't seen Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit yet, then stop what you're doing- I mean it, stop right now- go and see it. Best animated film of the year if you ask me. You weren't asking me? Oh, OK, well I'm tellin' ya then. Solid storytelling, great characters (Victor Quartermain is ingenious), cute bunnies and cheese! I won't ruin the story for you, though. Oh, and the Madagascar Penguins short was a fun ride, as well. Very tight and clever short story telling. Nice work there as well. That one might be on a track to an Oscar nomination.

Only two disappointments, but neither of them is with the film. First yesterday morning the Aardman warehouse burned to the ground destroying much of their history and collections of sets, puppets, etc. The actual production facilities were untouched, so that's a good thing. But it's kinda sad to think that the original set for Wallace's kitchen is gone :o( But Nick Park had the right response. He said in light of other recent tragedies around the world where thousands have lost their lives and their entire worldy possessions, losing some old sets and puppets wasn't the biggest thing in the world. Bully for you, Mr. Park for having your head on straight!

Second, the film topped the US theatrical weekend charts, but at only $16.1 mil scored a bit less than the Corpse Bride's opening take. I still like CB a lot, but W&G is a substantially stronger film overall. Hopefully strong word of mouth turns W&G into a bit of a long run hit. Even so I'm sure Aardman and Dreamworks aren't going to fret over it. W&G have such a huge international following that it's very likely that the international till for W&G will be bigger than the US domestic pull.
Some killer animation in W&G that really got me excited were the first few scenes of Laddy Tottington. The animators did a great job of carrying that kinda rich ditzy dame character into the poses and animation. The way she held her hands, the way she kind walked a little tilted and sideways after Victor at times- good stuff! Also look for the scene when Victor wants to box with Wallace. His animation there is hysterical! It's further reinforcement of my belief that it's not the technical execution of details in a scene that makes it great but the very foundational ideas that hit the pose or the gesture in such a clear and recognizable way that shows the true power of animation. Nailing the technical details sure helps, but it cannot hold a candle to great imaginative ideas in pose and timing. Long live great ideas shown out in fantastic poses and sharp timing!

"Look at my wife's brassicas... ravaged in the night." Classic. Go see it. Why are you still reading this blog? Go!!!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Over the Hedge trailer


My initial reaction? Ehh. Mixed. I'll see it when it comes out. I like the comic. :) Animation wise, the stuff seems pretty nice overall. Hard to tell from the trailer shots because they're cut together a bit slapdash (why do American movie trailers for animated films almost universally STINK!? Why can't we make good trailers that tell us about the story the characters, the relationships a bit? Maybe a bit more like Japanese trailers, but without all the plot giveaways.)

The heads in OTH seemed a weeeeeee bit squishy in spots. A little distracting. Shading looked nice. Voice work seemed pretty blah. Not much energy in those voices. Bruce Willis? Unmemorable. Gary Shandling? His voice bores me in human form. Shatner as a 'possum should be fun, though. Bill's usually good for a chuckle here and there. Character design lost something along the way from the original comic strip. Here's a comparison...

Would have been nice to see them keep RJ's (racoon) big nose and frumpy proportions. The fur feels a bit too clean as well. Of course I know that you have to do things with original inspirational designs to make them hold up for animation, but it seems that aside from a few exceptions most CG interpretations of character designs end up feeling a bit blah. Like all the interesting edges have been sanded down to a smooth, dull form. Clean, pretty. This is an annoyance I have with CG lately. A bit oversmooth, a bit too clean. We need to find ways to tussle up the designs a bit, and I don't mean just with texture maps. I guess that's why a film like Wallace & Grommit will always seem so charming. You can feel the artist's touch in every frame. And yeah, there's artistry in this Cg, lots of it. But it feels a bit cold, distant. I think maybe we're stuck in a bit of a rut in CG. I thought Madagascar did a great job of adapting some cool designs and maintaining their shape and form integrity into the CG medium. Would be neat to see us CG filmmakers get a bit more adventuresome with this stuff. And I include myself in this. No knock on the great talents over at DW working on this. It's good stuff, but it's not quite grabbing me by the shirt collar and getting my attention as much as I wanted it to. We'll see how it goes when the movie comes out. I'll be there to watch. :)

Autodesk buys Alias

The word is out and it looks like the landscape of the digital animation world is about to shift dramatically, at least from a tools perspective. I wonder if this one will get past the anti-trust watchdogs? Both Max and Maya have gotten along a bit in years and they're both in serious need of a complete re-design from the inside out. They each have strong points, but they also each have glaring weaknesses that drive their user bases absolutely ape. Wouldn't it be just amusing to see Autodesk combine the worst of both programs to create a witches brew of a CG program? Like only having Character Studio, Maya's poly tools, the default Maya renderer all running in Max's slow as poo OpenGL interface? And they mix MEL script and Maxscript syntax to create the new language MEXscript? I can hear the screams of tens of thousands of Cg artists and technicians now. Heh. There's enough slop in both programs as is to create the world's worst CG software. I think it'd be fun to see them do it just for giggles. Of course my upgrade dollars would appreciate it if they took the best of both and made a killer app, but something tells me that's far too much to wish for.

On a side note, this has to be the best news the folks over at XSi have heard in years.

I for one don't like the idea of this merger. Less competition NEVER benefits the customer. And as a digital animator/filmmaker, I am that customer.


I've been hearing reports that the Wallace and Grommit film is top shelf stuff. I can't wait to see it. My little guy turns 4 this weekend and when i asked him what he wanted for his birthday he said "I want to go see Wallace and Grommit!"
I'm so proud of him. :o)
I'll be sure to chime in with my thoughts after seeing it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Corpse Bride... yum!

I just got back from seeing the Corpse Bride. I admit, I'm a huge sucker for stop-mo animation. Ever since I was a wee nip of a lad I've been captivated by the wonder of bringing a very real object to life. Drawings are ethereal, they capture an idea. CG is a mathematical construct inside a world of silicon. But stop-motion is the one animation medium that actually uses real things. Things you can pick up, hold, turn around, move, look at- play with. There's something magical about that and I hope the art form never becomes so specialized that we lose out on seeing wonderful stop-motion animation on the big screen.

Overall as a film the Corpse Bride was good fun. It took a bit to get rolling and at times in the beginning it felt like it was trying a bit too hard to be the second coming of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Once they settled down and got that out of their system, though, the film really started to take off. The second act is where many animated films shipwreck themselves. *cough* Robots*cough*. But the CB had one of the best second acts in an animated film that I've seen in a long while. It just keeps drawing you in, and you wonder how in the world this thing is going to resolve itself. By the time we hit the relatively brief third act you're in for good. There were some truly wonderfully animated performances. The old skeleton elder's performances were just flat out amazing. Not in terms of technical or flaboyant showmanship, but in terms of bringing such warmth and life out of such a simplistic design. With a kind of restrained simple elegance the animators managed to capture such fantastic gestures, movements and expressions with that character. Good grief they managed to get clear, precise and subtle expressions out of a puppet whose only moveable part in the face was his jaw!!!!

Check out this image of the puppet (from a G4 TV interview with the co-director).

The simplest puppet in the film had some of the most exquisite acting. I was just blown away with how much they could get a unique character across with such a limited puppet. On twos. With no undo button. Huge kudos to the crew that worked on that character. You are my new heros, I am not worthy.... Much of the hype has been on the technology in the faces of the hero puppets Victor and such (and that stuff is groovy cool, no doubt) but I was enthralled with the performances from the simplest puppets. There we see the power of what great animation can accomplish, the power to give life to something so seemingly incapable of it. Makes me want to go and simplify everything I'm working on just to boil it all down to that core element of great performance.

So yeah, definitely go see the Corpse Bride. It's not a perfect film, but it's a fun ride and certainly well worth the time. And if you're able you simply owe it to yourself to see in in DLP. Mmmm. DLP.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mmmmmm.... DLP

3 miles from my house is a fairly new multiplex cinema with 24 screens. In and of itself this is not an amazing fact. But what's cool is that the Texas Instruments facility responsible for the DLP digital projection technology that is taking the world by storm is only a few more miles down the road. So this handy little cinema is the primary DLP "beta-site". While the rest of the nation has only a handful of DLP screens available for watching films in super clear and bright digital projection, this cinema down the road has two of them. Two! And one of them is a brand new true HD 2K DLP. All the rest of the DLP projectors in service in the world are HD720 resolution. (1280x720). But right around the corner I have this wonderful 1920x1080 pixel DLP screen. They installed it for the opening of The Incredibles last winter. I've since seen The Incredibles, Robots, Madagascar and Star Wars on that DLP screen. Tomorrow night I'll be going to see Corpse Bride on it. In a few months I'm sure Chicken Little will make it's appearance there as well. The image quality is just flat out amazing. Imagine watching a digitally animated film on a super bright and crisp computer monitor that's 45 feet wide. It's that good. The details are all right there, you see so much more of the amazing work that goes into making a feature film. Most theaters that project film in the U.S. are nowhere even close to this good looking. Many exhibitors run their projectors at reduced wattage to save on bulb life (lower wattage = dimmer, muddier projection with less saturation, crushed blacks, etc.) Add to that the inherent loss of integrity of taking a digital movie to a film out and in your typical film theater you're not getting even 2/3rds the original quality of the movie as the makers designed it. Once you've seen DLP projection, all else seems crappy and cheap.
I'm really looking forward to watching Corpse Bride on that screen tomorrow night. (CB was shot with high end still photography digital cameras, so there's no mud or loss of integrity involved).
So while all my animator friends in LA try to arouse my jealousy with tales of ASIFA & Academy screenings and all, I just smile and mumble four little words.... "2-k DLP. Mmmmmmmm".

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More New Tutorial Translations!

Yay! I'm even more international now. Whee!

Thanks to Stefan Klaus, now our German friends can read my Pose to Pose tutorial in the native tongue of the fatherland. Huzzah!
And our friends in China can now read the Pose to Pose tutorial thanks to Harry Zhang.
Victor Luo has also done a nice job of translating Life After Pose to Pose and The Zen of Lead & Follow into Chinese.

See these and many other happy animation tutorials (in a myriad of languages, too!) over on my Tutorials page.

Good stuff! Thanks to these guys for their great work, and thanks to everybody who's been so cool to read these humble mutterings of mine. You all have shown me such great support over the years. You guys rock and I am very thankful. Give yourself a hug, everyone.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The things I've done for cash

As promised, here is a list of all the various jobs I've done in my adult life. Looking at it I'm pretty astounded by the wide variety of experiences I've had. I see now that each of these prepared me to do what I do now. I seem to have some kind of a story to tell about each job and the wide variety of people and personalities that I've dealt with. My own life experience is a limitless fountain of new ideas for characters and performances. I actually feel sorry for young folks who come right out of school into animation. It's almost like they have to play catch up to get such a wide array of life experiences under their belt.
I break the list into two parts: stuff I did before I got into the creative professions and stuff I've done since I've been in the creative professions.

  • Pre-Artistic Work:
    • dishwasher
    • deli counter worker
    • postal employee
    • shoe sales
    • house painter
    • door to door security systems sales
    • dept store clerk
    • car sales
    • injection mold palstics manufacturing
    • fresnel lense manufacutirng
    • shipping & receiving manager
    • part
    • lumber yard hand
    • forklift operator
    • security guard
    • snow plow operator
    • UPS truck unloader
    • janitor
    • landscaping
    • pizza delivery
    • asbestos removal
    • retail stock clerk
    • ad writer
    • freelance sports columnist
    • travelling computer installations
    • minister
  • More Artistic Type Work:
    • illustrator
    • multimedia creator (remember those days? heh)
    • videography
    • modeler
    • graphic designer
    • newspaper ad paste up
    • texture artist
    • lighting artist
    • animator
    • animation supervisor
    • animation director
    • Shot TD
    • CG Supervisor
    • Dir. of 3d Operations
    • assistant director
    • director
    • children's book author/illustrator
    • screen writer
    • voice work
    • storyboard artist
    • rigger
    • editor
    • compositor
Dang. I feel old now. Heh.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I love my job

The events of recent weeks have caused me to sit and count my blessings. One of the tops on the list is that I get to do this cool animation stuff for a living. Folks who know me know I've done a LOT of different jobs in my life. (someday I'll post them all here as a list). To be able to animate for a living? It's like being Peter Pan, except without the tights and the nagging gender questions.

This past week at work was a really good week. I have two scenes that are just a total blast to work on. I managed to get them both keyed out and get the blocking approved, something like 28 feet of work (18.5 seconds for those who are keeping track). I was in a bit of a groove, too. I knew what I wanted, I planned really tight, I could see the performances in my mind's eye before I ever started. I could envision every move, every breakdown, every facial expression. It was fun to bring it all out on screen. After getting the buyoff on the performances I was sitting at my desk thinking, man, I love my job. I'm so thankful for the blessing to be able to do this for a living.

Of course now I have to clean it all up and make sure I don't ruin these scenes and lose the energy. It'll be a real challenge to polish these things to the gills. Should be fun!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The sun begins to shine...

Here's a great story to read. I'm seeing stories like this happen here in my own town, north of Dallas. I'll share the story of one family of five. The Lacey's are good solid working folks who love their kids (great kids) and were doing a decent job a making go of it in N.O. She worked in the accounts department at Charity hospital, he worked as a warehouse forklift driver and a sauce cook for a catering group. They lost everything but their minivan and their lives in the storm & flood. How they managed to escape the unfortunate events at both the Superdome and the Convention Center (they ended up at both places at one time or another) is an amazing story of guiding providence. After getting out of New Orleans on a back road, they spent almost a week in a Baton Rouge shelter, unable to find an apartment or a job. The reasons were simple, really. The nightly news were looping endless images of rampant looting and chaos in New Orleans. So when these folks tried to get jobs or a place to stay, they failed mainly because of two things: 1) they were black and 2) they were from New Orleans. Suddenly jobs were "filled" and apartments were "rented". At the end of their rope, they came here to North Texas on a suggestion of a shelter volunteer. They came to the shelter here at our church and were just amazed at the totally different attitude compared to Baton Rouge. Kim and I were really taken with these folks, so we invited them to stay in our home for a few days rather than hang out in the shelter. Two families of 10 people living under one roof was fun! The houses here tend to be a bit too big anyhow, so this filled things up nicely. :o) We came to know and love these folks. Soon they got down to the hard, but rewarding business of calling McKinney their new home and rebuilding their lives. When they moved into their apartment on Wednesday you should have seen the smiles. They even had furniture already, thanks to the generosity of folks. A job was right after that. The kids are already enrolled in school and have settled in. It's amazing to see people respond to hardship with such inspiring levels of gratitude and determination. These folks will face some tough times for sure, but I think they're gonna be just fine. In the process my family has made some lifelong friends. This is but one story out of hundreds, thousands.

Good will come of this whole hurricane mess. For many families, long stuck on a generational hamster wheel of poverty and public assistance, this Katrina event will be the catalyst to breaking that cycle and forever changing their family tree. Their kids will attend good schools, they'll live in quiet neighborhoods. They have hope for a better life for their kids than they ever dreamed possible back in the poorest parts of New Orleans. These are their words, not mine. It'll take a lot of hard work and it will test their will, but many are determined to take every advantage of this opportunity.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"Who is my neighbor?"

I normally don't wax too personal on this blog. I realize many folks don't agree with my world view, and I'm not interested in forcing anything on anyone. I try to keep this site focused on animation, but this stuff just breaks my heart and I feel like I should speak.

Today I spent most of the day with my wife as we worked helping to set up a shelter at our church here in the suburban Dallas area for the refugees from the New Orleans Superdome Hellpit. My wife Kim, God bless her, she's been working like a woman possessed since Thursday to get things ready, organized, etc. After a hectic scramble to get things set up very early this morning the buses came to our church in McKinney, Texas. The buses were carrying about 140 survivors of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath in New Orleans. You can't even begin to imagine the kind of things these people have been through. The babies, man, I swear it's a miracle they survived. The stories crush your heart. A woman had lost contact with her 4 children and 1 grandchild as they got seperated on their way to the Superdome after the storm. She's a zombie now, wracked with shock & fear. She doesn't know what has become of her children. She's a poor woman. All she's lived for is to raise her children and she doesn't know if they're even alive. One boy, age 13, lost his mother. He was here, hundreds of miles away from "home" with no family, no mom, no dad. Nobody. Another little boy came in who had lost both parents to Katrina. He's just 9 years old. Nearly everybody has lost track of a loved one or lost a loved one dead to the storm. Most of the families are split across shelters in Texas, many without knowing where the others were, or even if they got out alive. Many saw people die. Some saw people killed. All saw (and smelled) dead bodies for days. So many waded through a nasty soup of chemicals, dirty water and raw sewage. Some folks were developing a skin infection from being stuck in those same filthy clothes for so long. Many were subjected to abuse from thugs. The tales of just how bad the Superdome experience was makes your mind spin. Whatever harm nature caused was compounded and trumped by the evil of mankind at its worst.

You read the news reports, you read this post, and it doesn't seem real. Words on a screen. You talk with these folks, see it in their eyes- it's as real and as horrifying as ever. You can't be left unmoved.

Yet they are all grateful to be alive, to be away from Lake New Orleans, to be out of there. They're beginning to feel safe. After they arrived most of them took a shower and then just fell asleep, exhausted. When they woke they seemed relieved. Still troubled, still worried, but the desperate, sharp, ragged edged fear of death had dulled. You can tell that for the first time in a week these people feel human again. There's something powerful about that. It's amazing what some fresh clothes, cold water, a hot meal, a shower and some caring words of conversation can do for a person. Dignity resurrected. I was warmed to see a dozen of these little kids who escaped hell on earth playing with my own kids, smiling, laughing. Kids are amazing, they are so resilient. My daughter made friends with some refugee children. She sat and talked with them, learned about their lives, learned about their ordeal. They are so different than her. They come from a totally different background, race, social status. Yet there they were, hitting it off like old chums. If I ever wondered if I was doing a decent job raising my children to be decent people I was re-assured and thanked God above today when I saw that. The outpouring of help and love from the folks here toward these unfortunate people has been very humbling. The call went out to the church family that we needed donations of food, bedding, clothes, toiletries, medicine,- everything. In just 4 hours the store rooms were filled to overflowing and we started turning people away with their donations. We'd just run out of room, and this is not a small facility. A businessman showed up and handed over $6000.00 in cash to the shelter director and said "Buy the food you need. And when that runs out let me know." This same person got every refugee's size of clothing and went out to buy a fresh change of clothes for them. Shoes, socks, underwear, everything. Everybody had brand new clothes that fit, not just some closet purging toss aways. What a change from wearing the same sewage covered rags for 5 days. I was recruited to shop for food and medical supplies and to pray with these folks. We went from an empty gymnasium with not a single shred of the needed supplies to being a fully functioning shelter with a medical clinic and enough food and aid for weeks all within 24 hrs. I was so thankful to be a part of this in some small way.

You know a lot of folks in the world bag on the church. They decry its hypocrisy, its self righteousness, its bigotry, its politics. And (sadly) with good reason. I'm a man of deep faith. I believe in the mission of the church on this earth to carry forward the message of hope, forgiveness & salvation, to show the love and be the hands of healing that Jesus practiced thousands of years ago. Jesus set this thing up and said "Be my hands & heart to the world." Even so I find myself agreeing with those who take issue with the "American Church", that petty, political, materialistic, self-righteous class of people you read about in the news, hear on TV. When people like Pat Robertson call for the assassination of foreign leaders or when I hear right wing "christian" politicos all geared up for dropping bombs on innocent people across the globe I get so friggin' mad it makes me sick to my stomach. The sad thing is, the church likes to pretend it's a collection of those who've got it all figured out. The reality is we're a collection of screw ups, losers and sinners and we've got so much dirt on us that we're laughable when we pretend that we're oh so clean. At best we're beggars who have found bread. We ought to be telling other beggars where we found it. Instead we are too busy condemning them for their poverty while we pretend that we baked this bread ourselves. May God have mercy on us.

But today, today I saw the church for what it really can be. Caring, selfless, touching, healing, praying. Today was a great day to be alive, even for all the sadness and pain I saw. I only hope we were paying attention. Maybe we can learn something about ourselves. This life isn't about the new widescreen TV, the next movie, the next vacation, the new car, the big house, the petty little junior high school clique-ish games we play in life. It's not about pretending to be so high and holy, so "with it" that we feel comfortable looking down our noses at others and tsk-tsk-ing our way through society. It's about going broke for somebody, selling out to help others, losing so that others can win. Yeah, I guess I'd be pleased if history remembered me as a great animator someday. But that's not the least bit important. I'd much rather have a small group of the poorest people on earth remember me for being a kind man who gave his time, his effort, his love, his tears and his means the day their world fell apart. That's what Jesus would do and that's why I'm glad to be called one of his followers. And tomorrow I look forward to doing it all over again, as heartbreaking as it will be to do so.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled animation blog. But before I go, if you feel compelled to help then a great way you can do something for these folks is to give to a reputable and worthy charity. Two great organizations that you can give to without any fear of corruption are the Red Cross and Worldvision. They are experienced and they will make your money count.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

"It's not animated yet...."

OK, I've got a little pet peeve I want to take out for a walk. Don't worry, I'll scoop up after him. :)

When I was supervising I'd always get a bit tweaked when CG animators would show me their blocking and say "It's not animated yet, this is just blocking."

Just blocking? You mean like "This wound is not serious, it's just a great white shark bite."?
Blocking is worth way more than being labeled with some throw away moniker like "just blocking".

I'd often reply- "Blocking is animation! Blocking has more to do with good animation than anything else you'll do. So yes, it is animated. It's just not done yet." Even now when I'm not supevising I still cringe everytime I hear an animator say "Oh, it's not animated yet, it's just blocking."

Excuse me while I slap my forehead.

To me the art of animation comes down100% to having great ideas with sincere acting. However I think that the craft of animation comes down 85% to pose, breakdown and timing. You know, that "blocking stuff". The other 15% is nice and it can often elevate good fundamentals to a great bit of animation, but that other 15% cannot rescue poorly posed, poorly patterned and poorly timed work. So in my mind planning and blocking ARE animation, and I'd propose that blocking and timing have far more to do with real animation than clean up and polish.

If you ask an old timer traditional animator what he's doing when he's drawing his keys and breakdowns and working his timing charts he'd answer "Why, I'm animating. What does it look like I'm doing?" You'd get nowhere trying to convince such a fellow that he's not really "animating yet", he's "just blocking". He'd look at you like you were an idiot. So why do so many of us in CG treat this foundational element of our work with such disregard? Because the motion isn't all spliney yet? So who's the animator? Milt Kahl who draws the keys and breakdowns and works out the timing charts? Or is it his assistant who inbetweens the work? Or is it the clean up artist who preps the drawings for inking? The way some of us talk in CG we'd give more value to the clean up artist or the assistant than the animator. No wonder so much of our work is bland and lifeless, stuck in a rut of sameness. We don't think we're really animating until we're cleaning up, but by then it's too late to fix anything. We are an army of clean up artists masquerading as animators. And I'd dare say the work shows it sometimes. We can't see the forest for the leaves, never mind seeing the trees.

I think those of us who have been animating in CG from the start need to get beyond this idea that noodling curves and doing endless previews and tweaks is "animation" while planning, thinking through and constructing solid poses and figuring out great timing is "just blocking". When we understand this I think the quality of our work will grow by leaps and bounds.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Psychological Pauses

One last Stanislavski (for now)....
On the power of psychological pauses...
"They all fill out the words. They often act with greater intensity,
finesse, are more irresistible in silence than when used in conjunction
with words. Their wordless conversation can be no less interesting,
substantial and convincing than one carried on verbally."
Psychological pauses are those quiet moments between words where we can see the character thinking, feeling. We see the drama of the unspoken internal realities shifting inside them as it plays out of their eyes, their face, their bodies. When a character is silent that is where you can find gold. Don't just do a moving hold drift-o-matic and a few blinks. It is our job to get inside their mind, their heart. Explore the shifts as they react to their world, their thoughts, their emotions. Dig deep into those pauses, those quiet moments. And if the audio track doesn't give you a pause where you need one it is your duty to pitch a pause to the director. Never forget: in animation we are the actors! No director worth his or her salt would lightly dismiss a performance idea introduced by his actors on set. They may not agree with it, he or she may not use it, but they do not lightly dismiss it. We need to defend the reality of our characters, we need to understand and expand these souls we animate. Start by looking in the dark, quiet corners of the story.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

More Stanislavski...

Another excerpt from legendary acting writer Constantin Stanislavski. This time on the power of trying to infect the actor across from you as you speak your lines:

"To speak is to act. That action sets an objective for us: to instill into others what we see inside ourselves. It is not important that the other person will see or not see the thing you have in mind. Nature and the subconscious may take care of that. Your job is to desire to instill your inner visions in others, and that desire breeds action. It is one thing to appear before a good public, reel off a few ta-ta-ta's and walk off. It is quite another to go out on the stage and act!"

While this may seem like it doesn't have much to do with us as animators and has everything to do with the voice actors, I'd suggest we'd be mistaken if we thought this way. Your character on screen has to communicate through their expressions, gestures and actions the visceral reality of what they are saying. In life we speak in order to open up for others the window into the images and emotions, beliefs and ideas locked within our minds and souls. We speak in order to infect others with this reality.
Do your characters exert this inner reality on the other characters in the scene when they move? Can we feel the energy of their communication? Can we see it in their eyes? Feel it on their face? Sense the effort and energy in their body? Or are they merely flailing limply through a series of prescribed generic motions that have some tangental relevance to the spoken words? The eyeline of the character is powerful if we use it properly. We need to feel the character almost burning through the thickness of others in the scene as they try to infect them with their thoughts and emotions. If the character has that focus in their eyes, if they earnestly play the moment to portray their inner reality through words and action on the other characters in the scene- then we start to walk down a path to some powerful performances. And if we don't take the time to work out what that inner reality even is in our characters, if we don't even know how, we will be crippled in our efforts to create animated performances that breathe real life in them.
Animate from the inside out and play the emotion to the other characters in the scene.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I've been going through a classic book on acting by Constantin Stanislavski, "Building a Character". While much of the book tends to be a rather pendantic procession through physical exercises for body control, etc, I found the chapters on speech and acting to be really interesting. Here's a fun exerpt of analysis regarding the effect and power of a performance given by their instructor. This performance was an example of just the use of intonation- without meaningful words- a performance of complete gibberish- that still communicated a sense of great emotional meaning.
"Intonations and pauses in themselves posssess the power to produce a
powerful emotional effect on the listener. "
I did some thinking of how this translates to decoding the vocal performance of a voice actor for subsequent animation. I'm always drawn to the idea of trying to unravel the intended subtext of the way the line is delivered. The way the actor hits certain words with either a rising or a descending tone, the trading of volumes and ebbing force of the delivery gives clue to the subtextual intent that drives the acting. It's more than just listening to the auditory patterns of rise and fall and working some seemingly fitting pose- there's some real life and energy running as a current under the lines. Dig deep to find where that wind blows, see how it rustles the leaves of your character's soul. Then try and capture that and bring it out with boldness and decisiveness in the story telling poses.

Monday, August 22, 2005


I'm on a mission to learn all I can about how people move their brows. Something tells me that I'm not doing a particularly convincing job of it in my own work. So that means it's time for me to start observing, studying, breaking things down. So far I'm noticing that brows do not move very much in a grand sense. I mean, yeah, they do move, but not as much as I had suspected. The power is in the subtle shifts and shades of the line. Unlocking that internal engine of thought and emotion seems to be a game of microscopic motion rather than macroscopic motion. The flesh around the eyes and mouth actually seems to be far more expressive and motile.
I like to do that every now and again- force myself to study and really get down inside of a thing. It focuses my energy and I almost always find something new and unique in that cycle of observation, analysis and assimilation. It's a good discipline, I think. We must always be students, always be looking and searching.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

RSS reminder

I'm writing this short little reminder that my RSS feed has changed recently. If you haven't made the switch in your reader, well... then your life is sad and I pity you.
OK, maybe not. :o)

But anyhow.... here's the new RSS feed location:


Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I saw these photos (taken by someone named Nancy Stadler) of some test imagery from Disney's Rapunzel Unbraided project over at Jim Hill Media.

Unfortunately I missed Siggraph this year (and I am seriously bummer that I missed out on MC'ing the big CG-Char event again. I wanted the chance to do a repeat performance of whacking Raf Anzovin in the head with a Kit-Kat Bar at high velocity! I heard my buddy Justin Barrett did an admirable job this year instead). Anyhow, apparently this stuff was shown at a Siggraph Conference by Glen Keane. I don't have much to say about the article over at JHM, and I don't know jack diddly about the movie from a story standpoint. But I do know one thing: me likey pretty renders! Yeah, this stuff is CG.
Glen is highly respected by just about everybody, so you had to figure this Rapunzel stuff was gonna look good when we finally got a look see. But this? If I were offering an employee review of this I'd check off that box next to "Exceeds Expectations". Heh. Nice, indeed. Great use of volumetric light and paint stroke technology to get that soft painterly touch. Maybe a tad too much bloom in spots, but hey, it mixes in well. You see some more of that in that American Dog snippet that was also shown at Siggraph. Looks like Disney feature's mixing up a nice flavor of eyecandy, and I say great! The current standard tech/style for photo/hyper-real texture mapping of surfaces needs a good kick in the pants to get some fresh air flowing. Nice to see some imagery that plays with the edges some more as well as going more impressionistic with the details within the shapes of the mass.

Folks at work were ogling the A Day With Wilbur Robinson animation snippets, going ga-ga over the loose, elastic, very 2d styled motion. Yummy!

The artists and techies over at WDFA seem to be having fun and are making some really nice choices. Hopefully that rubs off on their bosses.
Hey, one can hope, right?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Shining Thru The Clouds

Here's a great post over at IDFuel about the wonder of working within limitations.
The next time you have a scene and you're told all the limitations that come with it find the thrill of making it work great anyhow. I've spent most of my career in high footage rate animation. one of the things that gets lost in that environment is the polish. but you can still come up with great, unique, character appropriate ideas for gesture, motion and emotion. You may rely on a bag of tricks more, but your tricks and cheats are not your ideas. Or at least they better not be! Let the ideas rule the moment, then do the best you can to make those ideas work within the limitations. It's the easy way out to say "Well, I can't do a great job because they want X-seconds per week." Horse hockey! The polish may suffer, the complexity may not be there in the movement and it may not be as pretty or flourish-y as you'd like to make it, but you can sure as heck still think of some good acting and ideas. Let the limitations be your friend.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hold 'em loosely...

One of the realities of professional animation is being told to do something to your shot that you really don't quite agree with. Maybe there's an expression or a gesture you're trying to pull off. All the feedback you've gotten from your fellow inmates... err, "animation co-workers", says the expression or gesture is working. Folks are digging what you're dishing. Then in dailies the director says something like "Hmm. It's not clear to me what he's thinking." Then the director probably will give you a suggestion for a completely different performance beat there.

This is the point where you earn your money. Do you mentally and emotionally give up on the scene? Or do you enthusiastically adopt this new approach and try to make it work? The difference between being a pro and an "art-eest" is clear. An "art-eest" will whine and fight and pout, complain to everybody about how obviously 'clueless' the director is for not seeing his genius animation- then do a half baked job at the new performance and subconsciously sabotage the effort to be sure that his or her original idea coms out looking better. That's bush league. A pro, on the other hand, figures , Oh well. Guess that one didn't work. This new idea should be a fun puzzle. Sure, there is room for valid disagreement over how to handle a scene, and there are such things as stylistic differences. But this isn't your student short film, this is a job.

Listen, when somebody else signs your paycheck, they call the shots. So you do your best, try to offer your unique take on a scene. But when they call for something different, you shrug your shoulders, toss the old idea away and get back to it with the same level of enthusiasm and energy as when you first got your scene in handoff. It's not always an easy thing to do (especially when you're on your third "Let's try this...." version of a scene), but it's important to keep that positive vibe going. In the end you're gonna have mixed feelings about the scene probably, but there's a fairly good chance that you'll also like that scene a LOT more than if it had been bought off on the first whack. Almost invariably the scenes that I liked a lot when they get approved on my first attempt end up not being the scenes I really like with the process of time. It's the scenes where I'm pushed to find something new, find something different in a character than I thought was there originally- those are the ones that taste a bit bitter at first, but they age much better with time.

There is NO such thing as a 'perfectly animated scene'. I'm absolutely convinced of that. There are any number of 'valid ways to solve a scene'. If your way is valid, but it doesn't fit the director's vision for that moment, well, then it's your job to find another valid solution that does fit. You can like your version better, that's fine, but you better hold your precious ideas loosely. You cannot hold the opinion that it is inherently better just because it was your idea. When you think there's only one way to do a scene and have it be "right" you shoot yourself in the foot and set yourself up for a lot more frustration than you really need.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sad if true...

This little blurb over at Cartoon brew got my attention last evening.
To quote...
I am a regular reader of your "Cartoon Brew" website, and an animator at DisneyToon Studio's Australia. I have some breaking news for you: At 3pm today (Monday 25 July) the entire studio was summoned for a staff meeting in which we told by the General Manager Phil Oakes that upon completion of our next production "Cinderella 3", DisneyToon Studio's Australia will be closing down after 17 years. They have cited current business needs and production schedules as the cause. So Disney hand drawn animation now ceases to exist.

Seems Disney has finally broken the last remaining link to their hand drawn animation heritage. 80+ years of tradition and heritage left adrift. Now I know that some folks may say they've already done that by shuttering the orldano studio and by making the Burbank studio Cg only, but I thought the Australian crew were really starting to hit their stride as artisans. Sure the projects themselves may not have been the most original or inspired, but the quality of the work was advancing. So maybe this is not big news, but I think it's still sad. This means that any traditional animation done with the Disney name won't even be done by artists with the Disney name on their paycheck, if they do any at all. Will they putsopurce to Korea or other markets like TV does? Does this mean all direct to video projects will also be CG only? I know Disney's video division has a full slate of potential direct to video CG projects in the pipe. There are studios doing animation tests now for a Pinnochio-2 video sequel (all in CG, pinnochio as a real boy). Seems the outsource model is the path for Disney now?
On a side note, I wonder if this spells the end for Andreas Dejas. He's been the most stubbornly resistant animator when it comes to switching away from hand drawn. He'd been keeping himself busy doing animation direction and such on the tradtionally animated Disney Australia projects.

I dunno. I find it sad. But at the same time, it could be exciting to let traditional hand drawn animation find a new patron saint, someone who won't treat it with such contempt. I'm keen to see where the next great traditionally animated film comes from. I've got high hopes for Nocturna and Giacomo's Secret.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Cute little trick...

Thanks to reader Shahbaz Shah for the tip on how to make the blogger nav bar a little less annoying. If you're interested you could read about it here.
I'm still a bit cheesed over not being able to consistently publish to my own ftp (and thus ensure a proper archive of my stuff independent of Mr. Google's Mighty Hand), but for now it's a decent half compromise.