30 July, 2010

Workflow ~Mike Walling

Alright, I know that I've posted work flow threads before. But work flow is one thing when you're learning animation is definitely a 'growing pain'. Each animator has their own unique work flow and determining what that is is a 'to each their own' type method is what it's all about. I get asked a lot by students that I've been lucky enough to Peer Buddy at Animation Mentor regarding work flow and what work flow is the right one. There's really no definitive answer, because every ones' work flow is different. This is why I'm posting yet another interpretation of another awesome Animator's work flow. Hopefully it will give you some tips in honing your own work flow. I've been animating for about 2.5 years now and I feel like I've developed my own work flow that works for me. Thanks Mr. Walling for sharing!

Workflow (shot progression)

By Mike Walling

This is the simple process I use to break down a shot from concept to finished piece. It is based on the step curve method of animation and is in my opinion the closest to 2d you can get in 3d.

  • The Kickoff – Getting direction and thinking about continuity.- The kickoff is where the director discusses the sequence to all of the animators and covers the content of each shot. This is your chance to see your shot in continuity and ask the director any questions you may have about your shot or the sequence.
  • Preparation

a. listen to the audio track about a hundred times listening for the beats and inflections in the voice. I like to write out the dialog on paper or a dope sheet and then draw little arrows to get a visual of what the voice is doing.

b. Thumbnail out some story telling poses or shoot reference. I have found that for complex acting or action shots reference is the only way to go. Without it you will never get the dynamics of the action. Thunbnails are also a great way to start thinking about poses you might want to use. I was always taught that animation is 90% preparation and 10% execution; although I have to admit that most times for me it is about 40% prep and 60% execution out of fear of the ever looming deadline.

  • Time management.

- This is a pretty big one to me. As an animator at a major studio you have two major responsibilities. The first one is to produce quality animation. After all that is what you were hired to do right? The other is to get the work done on time. This is what I call “walking the line” or “pleasing administrative and creative”. Animators that have a hard time with this don’t usually last long in a feature production because they just can’t adjust to the constant changes from the director and getting the work done on time with the quality that is expected from the supervising animators, not to mention that the team you work with is a competitive team and everybody wants the ‘good shots”. This leads me to….

  • Workflow

- What steps do you take to get your shot done? Well we have covered some of them already. We already talked about listening to the audio track and shooting reference footage and drawing thumbnails. Now what?

- Blocking! When I start blocking my shot I’m only concerned with the story telling poses. We will put all of the details in later. For now we are just interested in making the poses feel right when we run a playblast.

- Put everything you want in the acting. Don’t hold back because you’re not sure how to get from pose to pose. Just go for it!!

- Key the whole character! Why? Because later when you start splining you might miss stray keys and it’s a pain to wrangle them when you could just lock everything down on each pose. It also makes it easy to shift timing around on the fly. One other reason is when it comes time to spline the shot it is easy for me to spline sections of the shot instead of the whole thing at once.

- Your blocking should include finger poses and good facial. Don’t worry about lip sync; this should be done almost last!

Now that you have blocked out some poses it’s time to flip your animation and see what you have. This is the time to adjust your timing since you have all of your poses on one frame each. Now that you are happy hopefully) with your blocking it is time to start thinking about the transitional keys (breakdowns). Don’t let the computer do too much of the work for you and have an idea of what character will look like going from pose to pose. Remember we are still in step curve mode. No splining yet!

- Put breakdowns where needed. I usually put them in to describe a move

between poses or an antic. I learned from my friend Mike Thurmeier to put

a anticipation key and then a stretch key.

- Start thinking about your slo-in’s and slo-out’s. For example if my pose is

on frame 120 and I want my pose change to take place over 8 frames then

I’ll key the whole body at 116 and at 124. Then I’ll back off the pose on

frame 120 which will cause a slow-in from frame 120 to 124.

- Splining! To me this is the hardest part because you have this nice neat

tight package of poses and now you have to tear it all down into fluid

motion. I think the key is to take things in small chunks and work through it.

- I think the best way to go is to spline the gross movement of the

Character first. Usually the torso, neck and head. I like to make layers in

Maya so I can hide the limbs. This way I can see only the parts that I’m

animating. Once I feel like the torso is tight I will turn on the limbs and start

working through them.

- Your animation might look a little strange now, with lots of holds and

simple transitions but that’s ok because now your going to go into more

detail and start breaking things up big time.

- Start to drag spline curves of movers that you want to overlap.

- Insert more breakdown keys on individual movers (not on the whole body)

- Start to get the fluidity in the motion breading away from the pose to pose


- This is a great time to start to add little moves and gestures that you didn’t

put into the blocking. We are moving past the story telling poses to fluid

movement. You want you acting to feel natural and human so don’t be

afraid to tear down the old keys to make new ones.

- Listen for the littlest of inflections in the voice and add little accents and

moves that will add to the performance. ( I’m still only working on the

torso, neck and head.)

At this point you should step back, watch your playblast (movie file) over and over

and ask your self these questions.

1. Is the timing feeling right?

2. Do I have good slow-in’s and slow-out’s?

3. Are there “dead zones” where I’ve gotten lazy and under-animated my character’s nuances.

4. Is the animation stiff or fluid? If it is stiff, do I have the keys of the body all landing on the same frame too often? Is it floaty, is my timing too spread out?

Now it’s time to do the same thing for the arms and legs.

- Follow the same procedure outlined previously. You will put more overlap

in the arms and legs in general and make sure you beef up the arcs and

transitions to make them look a little more interesting.

  • Facial animation

- I follow pretty much the same principles for the face and lip sync as I do for

the rest of the body.

- Since you have the face blocked in from earlier and is now simple splines

you can easily go in and tweak the timing for your facial transitions. Of

course the face will be much more subtle so you will have to be sensitive to

the acting and emotion you are trying to convey, after all this is what it is all

about right?

- As far as lip sync is concerned you will have to start at frame one and set a

pose on all of the mouth movers for the shape you want. Work your way

down shape by shape until you are done and then run a playblast. Now you

can look at it a few times looking for problem areas you can tweak. I find

this to be fairly easy but spend them most time tweaking. Over all if my shot

is scheduled for 5 days I will try to spend at least one day or more on the

face and lip sync.

What Seperates a Good Animator From a Bad One? ~Travis Tohill

As I make my way through this journey called Animation I see awesome animation/animators everywhere I'm look! I get blown away with every feature film that I see now days. Look at Toy Story 3 or How To Train Your Dragon, absolutely beautiful work. Throughout the whole movie I'm asking myself what is separating these animators from one another? Why am I not this good yet? What does it take to animate for one of these awesome movies? I found this on the Animation Tips and Tricks blog and thought it was worth remembering! It's about going the extra mile. When you think your shot is finished go through it one more time and really look at the fine details. There's a fine line between over working a shot, and putting just the right amount of polish in it.

There are a lot of things that separate a good animator and a bad animator. I will skip the obvious things like talent, speed, good mechanics, fundamentals, etc. There are a lot of animators out there that have all of those qualities. I know for me, two things that inspire me are an animator's attention to detail and creativity. Of course, all shots have to tell the story, sell the emotion, have good body mechanics, timing, weight, etc. What is unfortunate is that a lot of times a shot will have all of those elements, and then the animator will consider it done. I've been guilty of it myself.

A good animator will work his shots until they are good enough to be in the film. A great animator will take it that extra 5 percent past what is required and make it amazing. Feet don't land square to the floor most of the time, and fingers don't grab an object and then stop moving. Eye lids are constantly reacting to what is happening in the eyes, and the face has so many ticks and tiny oddities that it is overwhelming. The animators that blow me away always seem to take the time to add the small imperfections that make a shot feel real. Sometimes there are small details that you feel more than you see. However, if they weren't there it wouldn't feel nearly as sweet.

The other thing that really gets me pumped about a shot is an acting choice that I would never have thought of. Some animators are able to come up with ways of expressing an emotion or an idea that are wildly original but seem to not be out of place for the character. It is very obvious in those moments that the animator put in the effort to avoid the cliches and brainstormed until they had something special.

So, I guess I could sum up my view of a good animator as someone who has all of the skills but also takes real pride in their work. They aren't just trying to get their shots approved by the director, and they aren't running with the first idea that will work. They are not just trying to get four seconds of footage into the film. They are trying to create four seconds of inspired animation that will help elevate the film. I've seen animators that have been in the industry for many, many years and still labor over their shots that way. I am hoping that I can end up being one of them even after I've been doing this for a few decades.

21 July, 2010

Our Work Habits ~Eric Goldberg

Something I found cruising around Animation Meat's website. This is circa 1983 from one of my favorite animators Eric Goldberg. He actually compiled all of his notes and combined into one BOOK. If you haven't bought it yet and you're an Animator you should definitely make the investment! It's one of my favorites next to Animator's Survival Kit.

Great stuff, a bit lengthy, but well worth it. Thanks Mr. Goldberg.

We are all creatures of habit, aren't we? We go through daily routines without concern. Usually things just fall into place in methodical order from the time we get up until we arrive at the Studio. The time lapse and routines from getting out of bed until we arrive at work will probably be quite the same day in and day out, barring the unexpected. With the preliminaries out of the way and the dressing completed, our dog takes us for a walk over the usual course, making the usual stops. We then sit down to breakfast at the given moment and are on our way to work at that given time. Arriving, "work habits" take over, they being the ones with which we are concerned.

It would be quite presumptuous to say that "work habits" should or could be the same for all of us. We're individuals with varied personalities, with different views, with different goals perhaps. Yet, some very basic demands made on each of us by a profession that is a team effort, dedicated to getting good entertainment on the screen, should be adhered to, though with an individual approach.

Our "work habits" should be geared to produce the best results we are capable of. Sometimes we reach goals with a minimum of effort. Other times the desired results are difficult to come by. The degree and quality of our success is often in keeping with our own "work habits", and sometimes our assignment. To consider again the demands made on each of us as animators will be repetitive but not redundant.

First we begin with the "pick-up" of the scene or scenes in the Director's room. At this time all thoughts and questions should be considered and a mutual understanding regarding the scene's content and execution should be reached between Director and Animator. We should discuss the story points in the scene and the most direct, simple and entertaining way to stage the action and phrase the dialogue. We consider the personality traits of the character. What is his situation and mood? How does he act? How does he re-act? Now we find ourselves at the drawing board and our search for a full understanding and knowledge of our character really begins.

Who is he?
What is he to do?
Why is he doing it?
How is he best going to do it?

We jot down pertinent facts about our character and pin them on our board.
What is his age?
What are his mannerisms?
What are his physical traits?
What about his emotions?
Is he interesting and alive?
Will he reach out to the audience?
Will the planned action help delineate him?
As the animator, are we emotionally involved with him?
In thumbnail, with all thought on entertainment:
We plan the action, noting story and personality points.
We phrase the dialogue.
We stage the action - plan trucks - pans and fielding.
We check the background. Will the character work clearly in it? Are props positioned for definition and use?

It might be well to discuss the thumbnail sketches and action with the director or other animators. Now if the scene can be fully visualized draw it! - Not before! And stay on course!
There's nothing wrong with sitting down with others and discussing our personal goals and work habits. But whether or not we are inclined to do this, a very desirable practice for each of us would be to turn the "spotlight" on ourselves and make a very personal evaluation of our own goals and habits. Often we go merrily on our way without thinking about them or how they can shape what we are and do. It would be difficult to note the hopes and habits each of us might build and develop as we go about making animated pictures, but a driving force in shaping those hopes and habits is a positive constructive attitude.

Grim Natwick, creator of "Betty Boop" and one of the greats in our business and a member of the Disney Staff in the SNOW WHITE days, recently reflected on his feelings about animation in these words: "Animation to me is like sitting down to a big turkey dinner." Grim is in his nineties, still keeps an active hand in animation and tells his stories with great gusto.

A positive attitude? We had just better believe it because, as with Grim, it has been one of the qualities in every person who has found his place in Disney animation . Its a force for each of us to develop and having it, the goals we reach will be rewarding and the work habits we form can't be anything but productive. When we consider the charm and story-telling possibilities that animation offers we can't ignore the fact that the top priority in our goals might well be entertainment. Walt often commented that "It'll be up there on the screen for a hundred years." FANTASIA, released in 1940, plays daily to an audience in cities around the world. SNOW WHITE, released in 1937 remains a favorite of young and old. And so goes the Disney animated film story - PINOCCHIO, BAMBI, CINDERELLA, SLEEPING BEAUTY and all the rest - welcomed year in and year out by people of all ages, everywhere.

Contrary to the feelings of some, Walt Disney and the entertainment plateaus he established and the tradition he built have left a worldwide following today. The tradition is not yet spent. Walt never felt that he had to "get on the bandwagon" to succeed. He always led; others followed. He was not, nor should we now be, pulled down by the mediocrity of entertainment dictated by some television and movie producers.

In the Disney spirit, our imagination and our ability to graphically put down on paper and "bring to life" that which we imagine will determine our success. If we make a good picture the viewers will take it to their hearts and never let go! We must search and re-search our story material, do and re-do the content and continuity until it becomes a positive story, unfolding properly and running the gamut of emotional and physical feelings and actions. We want and must have characters brimming with personality so that our audience can readily relate to them and think of them as people they know and can care for or hate. We must know reality and how to caricature it with taste and showmanship. We want to entertain our audience - draw it into our world of fantasy. That's goal number one!

The student of animation, like the student of the theater, finds his "study" to be an on-going activity, not confined to an eight hour day. Everything he sees in his waking hours, and often in his dreams might, at one time or another, be an inspiration for a character's action or attitude in a scene he's animating. An animator, like an actor, "must learn to think on any theme. He must observe people (and animals) and their behavior - try to understand their mentality."

Goals are realized through good "work habits." To know reality should be a goal for each of us, and to know it we must be observant - even a bit curious. And to keep our curiosity alive and our observation whet up we form a habit of becoming dedicated observers. We're aware of things going on around us, wherever we may be. We're analytical of how and why things work and happen. We read. We study good pictures. We listen. We discuss freely. We dream a little - all in an effort to know reality.

Another goal we may well strive for is to be more imaginative in our ideas - in our drawings - in our analysis, planning and execution of our animation. The goal again my be achieved through habit. Doesn't a total involvement in the demands our art makes on us come through a willingness and desire to discipline ourselves - to seek a constant improvement in the way we think and in the way we work?

Let's get into the habit of knowing. We wouldn't begin to build a room in a house without knowing the plan of the house - how the room must fit into the overall structure and of what use the room might be. In the same thought, why should we animate a scene or scenes, without knowing why, where and how the scene, or scenes, fit into a sequence. And how, why and where that sequence fits into the picture? So why not make a habit of fully understanding our scenes before we begin to animate - to know the reason for the scene, or scenes, being in a sequence - to check every possibility for entertainment - to be sure we're "getting in with both feet, not just getting our toes wet."

Dave Hand, our Supervising Director on SNOW WHITE and BAMBI, constantly admonished, yes, pleaded with us, to spend half our time studying and getting to know our scene's content and purpose and the other half animating it. He wanted us to develop the habit of knowing. In this vein someone once said: "When the scene is finished, if you have placed too much stress on unimportant things or not enough on important things, you have not planned the scene properly."

We constantly feel the need for such an approach and the quality of our work will be commensurate with the careful thought we give the scenes. Remember, "if we can't see it, we can't draw it." It's been said that all tedious research is worth one inspired moment. We all want that inspired moment, our inspired moment, to find it's place upon that screen in a Walt Disney animated picture!

Some animators like to have everything worked out for them - to be told what to do and how to do it - to have every "frame" on the exposure sheet "identified" with a part of an action. That may well minimize the effort to be put forth in their animation, but it will limit their learning processes. It will not strengthen their sense of responsibility. It will contribute little to the building of their creative abilities. It will not inspire a feeling of accomplishment. It will limit their total involvement, expression and contribution.

Why not sit back for a moment and review our "goals" and "work habits." Each day presents hours available for constructive thinking and doing. We might look at ourselves as much for the Studio's gain as for our own and check on how we are doing. Are our "habits" constructive? Are we approaching our responsibilities and opportunities with purpose? Is our animation as creative and entertaining as it could be?

We have discussed some basic "work habits" we should develop to get our best results on the screen. Our aim is entertainment and putting those "habits" into practice is vital to our success.
Two important thoughts haven't been mentioned though one, our interest, was suggested as we talked about attitude. Considering this further, we could each ask ourselves just how interested we are in the art of animation. Is it the best and most rewarding expression for our creative desires and ambitions? If we find it unexciting, lacking in challenge and only a means to a weekly pay check, then it, animation, will be only a day to day, unexpressive journey through a maze of mediocrity. As we go about our animation we cannot have our minds on many other subjects and expect success.

Last, but not least, is a concern about our footage output. Good planning and understanding of our scene's business and the most effective way to do it, knowing what the scene must say before we try to say it, will expedite our work, assuring more spontaneity and very probably an improved footage output.

Being artists we may find a little un-easiness in the words "attitude" and "footage count." We may consider them an encroachment upon "creativity", but they are not. They play a critical role in the act of getting our entertainment on the screen with an eye to the success of the picture. Our concern about "footage" shouldn't shackle our creative efforts to meet the demands of our scenes because when interest and spirit dominate the planning and performance in our work, things move more smoothly and our "footage" out-put can't do anything but improve. That fact has been proven again and again by many animators through the years.

When we know (and there's that word again) all about our scene - when we have planned well and are really excited about the action and the characters in it - when we are really a part of it and look to its entertainment possibilities - our footage out-put can't be anything but good. Try it, you'll like it!

We need to be flexible - not indecisive - but able to adjust - to be willing to view things in their true relationship to other things - to give and take as necessary - to respect the thoughts and contributions of others. As we do we gain more and more knowledge and understanding of our art. Too, we probably will discover an added enthusiasm within ourselves for the values and uses of the animated film.

Eric Larson

20 July, 2010

You Graduated... Now What? Kenny Roy.

I read this on the latest Animation Mentor July 2010 Newsletter and thought that it was worth posting and referring back to. I've graduated almost a year ago now from Animation Mentor and have applied at numerous Animation Studios all over the country (and even over seas). A couple of months ago I became obsessed with finding a full time animation job (I'm still obsessed, but it's more harnessed now) it started to consume me and my animation suffered. Also when you hear about a lot of my peers landing jobs in the BIG-TIME studios, it's hard not getting discouraged or frustrated. Overall, I've done a good job, staying positive and using that as inspiration to keep on moving forward! I recently finished another animation for my demo reel and have already began work on my next one. Finding an animation job in this industry (especially in Denver) is a full time and complicated process.

For me, the keys to success are: 1. Stay positive 2. Stay inspired 3. Stay focused 4. Keep doing that in which you love 5. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Getting ready for our second baby boy who's arriving later this year, a two year old, a pregnant wife, a house, and three jobs. Trying to balance life and animation now is harder then it's ever been for me, on top of that, trying to get a new version of my demo reel finished isn't making my load any lighter! I'm hoping to have my new demo reel done by the end of summer.

Anyway, enough about me. This is a great post and something to help keep things in perspective for all you animators fresh out of school, freaking out about not finding work in the industry that you've come to love. Thanks Mr. Roy and Animation Mentor.

For those about to graduate, the strain of balancing work, home, and school is about to end. If you are a recent graduate, you know what I mean when I say there is a huge come-down from the pace and energy you've been putting out. Before either your idle hands drive you nuts or you work yourself into a frenzy, take these few tips for staying on track during this transition.

The first thing on every graduate's mind is the demo reel and getting a job. Most of you immediately begin working on your demo reels, polishing old and new work in order to get it up to production standards. There is a little bit of a tricky question here though: which animations should you polish and which ones should you leave out? If you worked hard in school, you will have created a workflow that produces final, polished animation. However, this workflow is completely different from the approach you had when you first started your courses. Meaning that if you are going to try to bring your very early work up to the polish of your latest piece, it is almost as if you are working on animation created by a totally different animator! They say that children born more than six years apart essentially grow up in different families. It is almost the same for your animation workflow. So before you consider taking out your first body mechanics shots (which might be quite dodgy), consider if your new workflow would allow you to create a better one from scratch in less time. Remember a few newsletters ago when I asked all students to work “smarter, not harder”? This goes along very strongly in that same train of thought. If you can whip out an amazing 100 frame body mechanics test in a few weeks, or spend all that time polishing a dodgy 250 frame test in the same time, then I would whole-heartedly suggest the former. Some animation just doesn't want to “accept” the polish you now apply with your well-rounded workflow, and trying to force it can revive old bad habits. Triage your animation before you start anything, and you may actually end up with a better reel and less work.

What if you've sent your reels out already and you're waiting for word? It's simple, stay animating but don't do TOO much! Just like students shouldn't always use every single frame of the limits stated in the assignment guidelines, graduates should choose animation tests that reflect the amount of time you will be able to put into them. It is better to accomplish a perfect 3-second dialogue shot in two weeks working nights than a 15-second dialogue shot in 10 weeks. Why? Because variety is the spice of life, and it motivates us, keeps us fresh, and keeps us interested. In 10 weeks if you have five new (albeit short) animations to show for your time, you'll have learned so much more about your workflow than if you struggled slowly on a monster of a piece. When selecting pieces to work on, I always recommend doing dialogue shots that allow for a lot of physicality. Give yourself ample opportunities to practice your full body mechanics as well as your performance in one go. Subtlety is important too, but don't do more than 1 out of 5 shots of characters sitting at a bar or behind a table. Stretch your imagination for ideas for interesting physical scenarios that will be interesting to watch and give you the best practice. Put your characters on skis, on a skateboard, hanging from a cliff, doing push-ups, jumping rope, washing their hands, tying their shoes, and other secondary actions that will shine from the detail you will put into them.

Lastly, reconnect! You've probably lost contact with some friends, and have neglected some family duties. It's OK – they probably understand because animation is so awesome, or they just love you that much. Also important is spending time to regain the hobbies that you've probably lost. It was these hobbies that had a meaningful role in your decision to pursue animation in the first place! Be it drawing, painting, theatre, photography, writing, collecting, crafts, playing or listening to music, improvisation, hiking, sports, or anything else that quickly disappeared when you first opened Maya, take it back up again. Having a hobby during this time will keep your mind off the unimportant things, like how many days it's been since you mailed your reel. And if you can keep up these hobbies, chances are you will continue to return to animation with fresh interest and perspective. No studio wants to hire people to whom animation is the only thing in life; those people burn out quickly. So if you had few hobbies before starting animation, find a few. The ones I listed above are a good start, but I would not count video games.

This can be an exciting time! Doing lots of personal work, sending out reels, reconnecting with friends, taking up old or new hobbies! Avoid letting the pressure get to you or thinking there should be no other focus than getting a job, if you can. Rather than looking at graduating as the beginning or the end of a journey, think of it as just another step in your career. And don't worry; if you preferred the fervent pace of school, long hours and some sleepless nights, you'll have plenty of that later, believe me!

Rock on,