Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blue Sky wrap-up

Well, now that I have a bit of time, I thought I'd post about Blue Sky! I've moved into my new apartment, with 3 of my fellow Blue Sky temps! It's an animator bachelor pad. Eric (one of my roomates) and I were joking that we could start our own business of animators for hire, and be like the Ghostbusters in New York ;) Except instead of paranormal investigation and elimination, we animate. Of course we'd have our own logo, theme song, and cool old car to drive around in too! Annie Potts would be our secretary, you get the picture.

Anyway that's beside the point, I wanted to post about my experience at Blue Sky.

(some of the temps, L to R: Nathan Engelhardt, Lance Fite, Andrew Coats,
Kyle Mohr, Jeff Kim, Adam Green, Eric Luhta, Becki Tower)

It had to have been the single most challenging job, but as they say, nothing good comes easy...or that... It's no secret that production on Horton was very crunched, and the group of 10 people who I started with (in July) found that out right away, heh. The first couple of days we watched videos that showed us how to use some of the tools, how to get around Linux, etc, but on Wednesday we got our first BG cycle assignments. Talk about trial by fire! The rigs are so much more complex than anything I'd ever used before, and I didn't even really know how to playblast the Blue Sky way! But we dove in head first, and I'd say it was about week 5 before I realized I could sit down and animate without thinking about how to reference in a character, playblast, etc. Don't get me wrong, I was getting work done before that, but I think it took me 5 weeks to get comfortable. By that time, another group of temps had started to come in, and at one point we had about 30 temps there, I think that's almost the same amount as full time staff animators.

One thing we noticed at our first sweatbox was how insanely good all the animators there are. We hadn't seen any animation from Horton when I started, the first teaser hadn't been out yet. So when we saw shots in sweatbox, it was pretty daunting to see how the characters were just being stretched and pulled in all sorts of ways. There were those times when I'd go back to my desk and think, "I have to animate like that? By when?"

It's amazing how just watching animation like that day in and day out really sharpens your eye. A lot of us temps went to sweatbox even when we weren't showing shots, just to see what the other animators were doing. Though later on when I was freaking out about getting shots done, I just kept working unless I had something to show, heh. Anyway, we all noticed that after just a short while we could see smaller details than we could before.

Make no mistake, these guys at Blue Sky work hard. They sweat every detail, and every frame, under stressful deadlines. They are talented for sure, but even the best animators get notes on their shots, or don't always hit the shot the way the director envisions it, etc. Their shots aren't good just because they're talented....they're good because the animators work hard, they re-do animation and polish the details, and work long hours to get it done.

Most of us temps worked 60-70 hour weeks for about 4 months straight, (some are still going now)--it took us a while to speed up, and even so it seemed like I just couldn't animate as fast as the more experienced animators. There's a lot of pressure to perform, and perform quickly. There really wasn't any time for training, even though they would have liked to have the time to train us. When you get pulled in at the crunch of a production, there just isn't time, and you hit the ground running. You constantly question if you're good enough, especially when you get that shot that just isn't going right. But you do learn a lot, and not just about animation, but the whole process in general.

That reminds me of a quote I read once from Bobby Beck:
The industry is both tough and fun. When you nail a shot it feels like the greatest thing, when you struggle you question your ability, always.
I can't really sum up 5 months in one blog post, I'm not sure why I tried, heh. What can I say that really does justice? I of course learned so much while I was there, about what it takes to put a movie together, and got to meet great people. Here come 30 temps that are dropped into production, and everyone was still willing to help us out with our shots, even though they themselves had shots to get done for the next day.

There are still a lot of people at Blue Sky workin hard, but I think there was a bit of a morale boost last week when the second trailer came out. Thanks to everyone who sent a message to their friends at Blue Sky with their compliments, it was great to get some positive feedback after putting in such hard work.

I however, am back in the city! I am really looking forward to getting back to the freelance world, and working with my friends down here again. I'm really glad that I had already gotten a little established in New York before working at Blue Sky, it's made the transition to and from there so much easier.

...I think that's all I've got for now!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah!

(At the Blue Sky Christmas/20th Anniversary party:
Kyle Mohr, Ken Music--aka "Hobo Ken")

Becki Tower and Eric Luhta, showing his best Seussy "Who" expression

Posted by Picasa
Kyle Mohr, Pete Paquette--the man in charge of whipping
us temp animators into shape during our first two weeks!

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Horton Trailer

Finally released! I'd embed one from YouTube here, but of course the audio sync is way off on all of the versions currently uploaded there. So you can watch quicktimes here:

In a related note, today is my last day at Blue Sky (officially, not like the presumed earlier 'last day'). It's been one crazy experience, and I can hardly believe how much I've seen and learned in such a short amount of time. July, when I started here, seems like forever ago. Hopefully later I'll write a more in-depth post about my experience. Blue Sky holds some insanely dedicated and talented individuals, (in fact I think that would describe everyone I worked with). Here's hoping they all get a much deserved break between the end of Horton, which has yet to arrive, and the next production. Thanks Blue Sky-ers, I've been humbled and honored to work with you.

**update**YouTube video

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New Demo Reel!

Yes it's true! With the Blue Sky gig quickly coming to an end, I've finally updated my reel and resume. Of course there's no stuff from Horton on it, but I'm really happy to show the stuff I did at Framestore and Psyop over the past year (Geico Gecko, Jeep "Weasel", Happiness Factory 2). I still have to update the rest of my main website, but here are the direct links to my reel/resume:

DEMO REEL (requires Quicktime 7)

RESUME.pdf (requires Adobe Reader)

I don't know an exact date for when I'm done at Blue Sky, but needless to say it's soon, and the search for the next gig is on. So if you like what you see and need an animator, don't hesitate to contact me!

Freelancer's Guide #7: NYC Studio Google Map

Hey everyone, I really apologize for the lack of posts. Geez, have I become one of those bloggers? I've been so swamped at work, and probably will be until the gig is up (whenever that will be). But I haven't given up on the blog, posts will pick up again when things settle down.

Good news though! I've got something new to share. Steve Mann at Charlex has started a Google Map of studios in the NYC area, that he's updating when he gets a chance. He's got quite a few on there already, so if you're a freelancer and looking for another gig, it's a good resource to have. Thanks Steve, you rock!

View Larger Map

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Internet People, Channel Frederator RAW

Channel Frederator has started a social networking site they call "Channel Frederator RAW". Basically, it's like myspace (moreso than facebook), but it's more focused social networking for animators and cartoon fans. It's just getting off the ground now. What's cool is that not only can you network with other animators, but you can upload your short films there for everyone to see, and the best ones will probably get on the Channel Frederator podcast. (I'm assuming that you can still submit your film for the podcast directly to CF, but this way you can submit and also get people to see your film if they happen to not choose it for the podcast) I'm a pretty heavy facebook user myself, so I don't see this becoming my new main social network site. But it seems like a good way to network and have your work seen.

Channel Frederator also seems to be starting its own online cartoon series. Check out this funny vid, summarizing most (if not all) of the crazy viral videos that on the internet.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Three Legged Legs--Amp X-Games spots

Woa, two posts in a day! Well, I had to post something else besides just boring stuff about me. I hadn't seen these spots from Three Legged Legs, but found them in my google reader via Motionographer. Pretty cool animation, and interesting choices in the blur frames, and great timing. My favorite is "Amp Camp", with the biker being chased by fire. The character animation is pretty sweet, but check out that effects animation too! Ya don't get to see that too often anymore. Here's a YouTube vid, with really awful compression. Go to the TLL site link above, and watch the quicktime, you'll thank yourself! They've also got a bunch of concept art and character designs posted on their site, it's worth a look.

Happy Labor Day

Hey everyone, sorry it's been so long since the last post! I've been so insanely busy at work, that the blog has really taken a hit. Since it's Labor Day, here's a bit of an update.

Blue Sky has been pretty good so far, busy, but good. Horton Hears a Who has got some freakin amazing animation, and I'm just trying my best to live up to it! As you can guess or may have heard, the deadlines are really tight, so there has been a good amount of OT put in already. A lot of us temps were definitely "thrown into the fire" , so to speak, so there was very little time for training, and we didn't even complete an animation test before getting our first assignments. That may not seem like a big sacrifice, but believe me, there is a ton to learn about the tools, system, and rigs. Luckily most people are usually happy to answer our questions! The next group of temps that came in got the full training with animation tests, so I was glad for them. We made it fine without it, but I really understand why the big studios have training and tests. Overall though, it's pretty exciting and fun. I'm grateful to be workin on a CG film that pushes the medium like this one, but it's also been quite a learning experience in dealing with pressure and really tight deadlines. Crunch time! What's that saying? "In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes." In the animation world, I think crunch time should be added as #3.

I've only got a couple more months here though, so I wanna take advantage of it! As long as I don't kill myself in the process, all will be good :P

Happy Labor Day folks, hope you don't have to work!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happiness Factory 2 Trailer

Check out the 3.5 minute version here!! I can't believe it's finally out there :D One of my shots is in the trailer, the one where the main character gets flung into the sky on the flying machine. I'm so grateful to have worked on this project, and am so excited that I can finally share it with everyone! Keep your eyes on Psyop guys, there's no telling what's on the horizon for them.

Now, when is that wrap party? :)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Absolutely Amazing

(cover art by Mary GrandPre, design by Mary GrandPre and David Saylor)

(No Spoilers)
I finally finished it tonight. I'm truly blown away by this book, the strength of it alone raises the value of the entire series. Rowling writes with the passion, the range of emotion, and the beauty that every artist, of words or of pictures, aspires to, and has matured in her talent as much as Harry himself. The complexity of the story makes me nearly certain that it would be impossible to make a movie that does this book justice.

Oh yeah, and the cover art is pretty sweet too ;)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Horton Trailer

Hey guys! Check out the new trailer on aol! The animation I've seen this week is phenomenal. Here's hoping I can live up to it! You can also see the trailer before the Simpsons Movie :)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Blue Sky!

So today was my first day as a temp animator at Blue Sky! Hence the lack of posts lately, because over the past month I finished up a job at Psyop, went home for a few days, came back, moved to White Plains, and started my first day today! Needless to say I've been keeping busy. And although it looks like I'll be keeping busy for then next few months, I do hope to keep the posts up!

Later everyone!

Friday, July 06, 2007

World of Coke: Inside the Happiness Factory

Hey everyone, take a look at what my buds at Psyop did earlier this year! Apparently they did it specifically for the new Coca-Cola theme park in Atlanta. They reused the 90 second version of HF1 for the intro, hence some of my animation from last year is in there too ;) Keep an eye out for HF2 later this year!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Brad Bird interview on Fandango (*update* and Time Out)

Fandango has a short interview with Brad Bird here. It's not much, but I thought this article might get overlooked by the other animation sites. Probably not, but who knows :P

Ratatouille tomorrow! I'm going to go see it again :)

*update* Here's an even better interview with Brad Bird on Time Out that I found via Mark Mayerson's blog. This one is really worth reading. Here's a quote from Bird:
See, that’s what I mean. People on the far right and the far left only see their own myopic little agendas and are not awake to many other things that are going on. And I think there’s a tendency to polarize all thought and speech by relegating it all to one of two categories, far left or far right, which doesn’t serve any of us. I’m one of the people who think the whole red state/blue state dichotomy is ridiculous, because if you actually go down to the level where actual people are, it’s pretty much purple. Most people are right around the center, but these straitjacket categories get imposed on the map because it makes good TV, and it’s good strategy for both sides to sell this idea of a compartmentalized society. So I’m glad my films are politically confusing.
Man..I know how he feels.

A friendly reminder: "I am the Director's tool. It's his project, not mine."

So, today was a particularly tough day. Rather than going into the details, I think it's more appropriate to re-post Shawn Kelly's tips and tricks article, "You Are a Tool" (from Nov 2006). The title makes it seem like a negative topic...upon reading it again, (and having a fresh experience to relate it to), I see that it's a very positive article. It's really all about how to handle unexpected revisions to your shots.

It's nothing that I didn't know before, when I read it last November. But I tell ya what, the day your shot gets unexpected revisions, read this article again. It's one thing to know this stuff when you're not going through the emotional repercussions of the event, at those times you can say "yeah, I know this" and put it away. But keep this article bookmarked, and re-read this at those times you need it the most. I feel a little better already.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I "love" commuting

So yeah, I got on a 7:30pm train tonight, and what should have been an hour long train ride turned into a 4 hour ride. Apparently the storm that was taking place took out some of the electricity, some track switches weren't working, and believe it or not the conductors had some paperwork to do. Good 'ol LIRR! Gotta "love" it. At least I got to pass the time chatting with a girl who was sitting next to me, who just happened to work for an advertising agency in Manhattan. (Do you like how I tied this post into the NY advertising industry at the end there?)

The moral of the story--don't choose a long commute if you don't have to. So that's really all I have to say, heh. Now it's time to sleep.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Psyop Unisex Loves 4 Square

The anticipation!
The action!

The disappointment!

The cheers!

For the past few weeks a small group of us at Psyop Unisex (the studio's new space, where the Coke team lives--a converted hair salon) has been spending lunch hours playing 4 square at a nearby park! If you haven't played 4 Square since your days in elementary school, you should try it again--Our games have gotten pretty competetive and the various tactics developed have been surprising! Not to mention that it's a heck of a lot of fun! Friday was Chris and Jordan's last day working on Coke, so we had a big pizza party in the park, followed of course by a game of 4 square--with a few new recruits since nearly the entire office was there. There seems to always be something uniquely memorable from each gig I've had, and I'm pretty sure 4 square will be on that list for HF2. Go Team Psyop! ;)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ratatouille Sneak Preview

I was fortunate to get tickets to see the Ratatouille sneak preview in New York last Saturday! I don't think there's really much I can say about this movie that's not described in that image above. Fantastic design, animation, film. I can't wait to see it again! We had a big group of people from Psyop there, as well as some of my SCAD friends, which made it that much more fun! I've never been to a sneak preveiw before, the audience that night was pretty much all adults, with only a handful of kids, maybe 5 kids max. The movie went over well with the entire crowd.

I also managed to stumble across the "Ratatouille: Big Cheese Tour" today, that's promoting the film around the country. It wasn't that big of a deal, pretty Disney-esque, but I did manage to grab a free Ratatouille poster!

Anyway, yeah--I know any of you who read this blog already want to see this movie. Get your friends and family to go too :) In the meantime, don't forget about Surf's Up! I've seen that one twice already, and my opinion of it has not diminished in the least.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Interview: Kylie Matulick and Todd Mueller of Psyop (via Motionographer)

This is a fairly old interview, sounds like it happened last summer after Happiness Factory 1 was finished, but I found it randomly online tonight! I have the pleasure of working under Todd and Kylie again for Happiness Factory 2 right now. But it's interesting to hear their story about how HF1 came about, because I've never heard it! I wish I had more time to work directly with both of them, but with the MUCH larger team on HF2, there's a structured hierarchy of directors-leads-juniors that seems to be working out well. Psyop functioned that way before, but the team is so much bigger now that it certainly requires more of that. I think there's 30 some people on this project alone, a dozen of which are animators. Definitely the biggest team I've ever been on in NY so far, and Psyop is becoming one of the largest places around here.

It still blows my mind a little that during the time I was working at other places in New York, the HF stuff was taking on a whole life of its own and becoming this huge project! Now it seems like the bulk of freelancers in the city are at Psyop working on this, and they're all very talented. I really feel like I'm learning a lot from the people around me, in terms of both animation, and working on a production. When you work with talented people, you can't help but want to push your work to be the best you can make it.

11 Second Club!

Hey everyone, head over to the brand spanking new 11 Second Club ( In case you didn't know, 10 second club ceased to exist as of last fall, so my friend Aja Bogdanoff and her husband Mark decided to make their own new site. 10 Second club was a very popular way for young animators to practice with audio clips and see how their work compares with others. I'm hearing some really cool stuff about what might be in store for 11 Sec Club, so definitely spread the word! They're beta testing it now to get all the bugs out, so be patient and don't judge too harshly yet ;) It's gonna be sweet!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Freelancer's Guide #6: NYC Studio List--Applying for Jobs

I've decided to post a list of a few places that I know around NYC who often look for freelancers. I don't personally know all the places around here, the only ones I know are either ones I've worked at, ones who've contacted me, or ones where my friends have worked. So I will try to update this list when I hear of others, but don't take this list as complete or a "ranking" of studios by any means.

At the very least, here's a few places that can be a starting point for those of you looking for places to send demo reels in New York. Also, note that most of my knowledge is about places that do 3D work--I think there are a lot of places that do flash around here as well, so if you're looking for them don't be discouraged that they're not on this list...yet.

Framestore NY ( Maya, Linux--The U.S. branch of Framestore CFC in London. A talented team that has done great work on the Geico Gecko, Fed Ex "Stick", Dodge "Focus Group". One of the places that does the most 3D character animation in New York. And they have a Simpson's Pinball game upstairs, which is very addictive ;)
Psyop ( Maya, Windows--The other place in Manhattan that does the most 3D Character Animation. They've been known for their motion graphics stuff for quite a while, but since Coke "Happiness Factory" came out they've gained quite a reputation among 3D animators as well. They are quickly becoming one of the larger(est?) studios in NYC.
Charlex ( Maya, Windows--Worked here on "One Rat Short". They do a lot of cell phone commercials and other CG for advertising, not a lot of character animation since One Rat Short finished. If you're into motion capture and use Motion Builder, they are usually looking for people at their sister company "Launch", which does a lot of previs work.
Tronic ( 3DS Max, Windows--I worked for a little while on some M&M's stuff for the M&M's store in Times Square. Haven't heard if they are thinking of doing more character animation in the future.

Curious Pictures ( They write "Codename: Kids Next Door" for Cartoon Network, but do a lot of animation/effects in advertising locally. I believe they also animate "Little Einsteins" here.
Rhino FX ( They do some similar work to Charlex, a lot of misc CG, effects and lighting work, occasionally other things.

The Mill ( Also based in London, but have a studio in NYC.
Digital Kitchen ( Studios in Seattle, Chicago, and NYC.
Hornet, Inc. ( Studios in LA, NYC.
Stardust NY ( Studios in LA, NYC.
Eyeball NYC ( Contacted me about a character animation gig recently.
Click 3x ( Interviewed for a gig there once.

Kaos Studios ( (THQ) If you're looking for a staff position, this is a good place to look. They're currently working on "Frontlines: Fuel of War", an FPS game, keyframe animation. I've heard it's a nice place to work too.

Blue Sky ( Located in White Plains, about a half-hour north of Manhattan on the Metro-North train. You all have heard of them I'm sure.

These places don't often post jobs on the online job boards. They often don't know they need an animator until a job comes in for them, and usually they need someone pretty quickly. That being the case, it may be harder to grab a freelance gig if you're not local. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen--I was hired by Charlex because I had a recommendation by a friend, and I had a week to move to NYC! More of that story later.

Character Animation gigs are sometimes hard to come by, with exceptions at places like Framestore and Psyop. Other places will have a character animation job every now and then, but lets face it, the bulk of commercials on TV that require animation and effects don't have characters. Don't ask me how I've landed character animation gigs so far, I think it's just been a good year for character animators. Don't let that get ya down, just realize you may have to animate a spinning cell-phone or something else sometimes to keep the income flowing.

Again, check out David B. Levy's "Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive" for great tips on how to job hunt in New York. Freelance gigs in New York are often filled through recommendation only, but some places do keep reels around to look at when they need to find somebody. Mostly though, they call back freelancers they've worked with in the past. It's not uncommon to see a lot of familiar faces at different studios, as we freelancers hop around a lot.

Lastly, most jobs around here are on a freelance basis. Occasionally you'll hear of a place that's hiring staff, but that is a rare occasion. Some people land staff positions after freelancing at a place for a while, and they usually have proven to be able to lend their talents for more than one aspect of production. For example, animatiors who can also rig, and riggers who can also animate.

So there ya go! I'll try to update this list in the future, I know of others that will be up here too. Anyone who knows of others, go ahead and post in the comments and I'll add them here too.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Go see "Surf's Up"!!!

I saw Surf's Up tonight with a bunch of other animators from Psyop and the New York area. It was great!!! Seriously folks, this is one of the most original animated films to come out in...well, in a long time! It's not your typical animated flick. The whole thing is set up as a documentary of Cody, and his hero Big-Z. The characters have so much life, they truely live in this movie. As I was watching, I thought "this is an animator's movie", because the bulk of it is long acting shots, where the characters are relating to each other and finding out who they are. During the main story, they cut to "interviews" of the supporting characters, where you'll be treated to some fine straight up acting/dialogue shots that I think are sometimes seen more often in demo reels than on screen.

The movie has such a film look to it, in the lighting and post effects. The handheld camera works really well, and it's so interesting to see how these characters act when they know someone's watching (they are aware of the "camera crew" that is filming, though you never see the crew on screen)

The acting is really top notch. The story is interesting, but it's not so much the story they tell that makes this great, but how they tell it. I was reminded of some of the old Disney movies, the ones when the 9 old men were really in charge--the movies came to life through the characterization more so than the story. That's not to say that there's no story to Surf's Up, there definitely is and it's good. What struck me more, however, was how well developed the two main characters were, and how well the main relationship in the story was developed. These characters have history behind them, they have a story before this story starts.

The water looks fantastic too, some gorgeous underwater shots, and shots inside the waves. There's a lot of texture to the water, varying colors and depth.

Last but not least, kudos to my friend and co-worker Miles Southan, who got to work on the movie! Be proud to have been a part of it!

Everyone else, go to fandango and buy your tickets :) If you're an animator, I think you'll really enjoy Surf's Up.

**Check out AWN's featured pages on Surf's Up--interviews, featurettes, pictures--awesome stuff! (here)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Arj and Poopy

I usually leave finds from other blogs for my Google Reader shared items page, instead of posting here, but this is just too darn funny. (Found at the Channel Frederator blog.) Bernard Derriman, who made "Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me" apparently has this internet cartoon called "Arj and Poopy". This one is random, but funny, such great poses and attitudes too! The dog's dance moves are the best!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Freelancer's Guide #5: AM, Kenny Roy's Advice on Freelancing

How the heck did I miss this in the May Animation Mentor newsletter? "Freelancing in Today's Animation Industry". A very in-depth article about freelancing, that I think some people will find useful. It covers the side of freelancing that I know next to nothing about: working from home on your own. Kenny talks all about how to manage your own business, get clients, in the situation where you are completely responsible for delivering the entire project to your personal client. (As opposed to short-term contract work for studios, as I've done.)

This stuff is what most people think of when they hear of freelancing, though it's really not in my plans to start my own fully functioning business from home. There's plenty of freelance work for me at studios, where somebody else can take care of client meetings ;) But it's still good stuff to know, and there are some things he mentions that are applicable either way. In my case, my clients are the studios I work for. But if you're the type who really wants to work from home and run your own business, definitely read what he has to say.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

ASIFA-East article: "Getting the most from an Animation Education"

Richard Gorey has written this great article in the ASIFA-East newsletter ("aNYmator"), about his experience teaching animation. He has some nice observations about what he sees in his students, and reasons why people study animation in school. His comments are very down to earth, but not negative. With the huge influx of students of animation entering the industry, there are more than a few negative perspectives about younger animators. I will not deny that some of it is deserved, but it's nice to read someone's views who looks into the deeper reasons as to why people act the way they do, (maybe even--*gasp*--relate to them?) instead of just being negative about it and complaining. Sometimes I think we all need to be reminded that for all our differences, people are pretty much the same--we generally want the same things in life, the human condition is present in the best and worst of us. I mean, as animators, if we can't relate to another person's problems, what hope do we have of relating to our characters?

So many of my students are distressed when I see their first tests, then I give notes for the next go-round. "I have to do this again?" they ask, and I answer, "Yes, you do. And again, and again, and as many times as it takes, to get it right. I've been doing this for twenty five years, and I still have to redo scenes several times to get what it is I want."

That shocks them, and it often is the dividing line between those who will continue and those who lose interest I don't think it’s fair to blame the modern generation for not wanting to struggle over such issues. I recall being resentful of this, too, when I saw my first tests (which were heinous, clumsy garbage). We all want our lives and our careers to be easy, as much of the time as possible. But animation, like any career, can be challenging, and obtuse. I tell my students, "any career you choose will have positive aspects and some unattractive ones. If you're going to be a plumber, sooner or later, you're going to have to stick your hand in a toilet. And if you're an animator, sooner or later you're going to have to handle a scene that is drawn from an uncomfortable angle, or do something that requires hours and hours of life study, or you're going to have to manage around a character that has such fussy design that every drawing will be a chore. Sorry, but in this respect, animation is just like every other job."

I think that has been one of the toughest lessons for me to learn, but I've already seen that it does get easier with time. I admire his ability to honestly teach hard lessons like that one, but also be positive:

I never tell my students that "they'll never earn a living," even though the financial rewards in animation can be . . . less than they should be. I prefer to consider the art and the career of animation as a more personal and meaningful method of expression for the people who choose to learn about it.

There's a lot more to the article than these excerpts, it's worth reading. Since I know we all love having tangible lists of advice to follow, Richard ends with 7 bits of advice he gives his students. "#6--Connect and Depend on your fellow students". How incredibly helpful were my friends in school, and still are!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"He can be taught!" Or can, he? (My epiphany on timing)

First off, if you haven't ever checked out Mario Furmanczyk's Cal Arts journal, he's got some great interviews and summaries of the fantastic guest speakers they get at that school. I wandered over there to read his interview with James Baxter, and ended up continuing to read his notes from Pete Doctor and Angus Maclaine's lectures. They're old posts from January, but he took really good notes from all of his sources. Worth a look if you haven't read them.

But that isn't tonight's real post. The real post is about learning, and the sheer amount of things I still need to learn about animation, and working in animation. I was reading The Illusion of Life on the train tonight, cause after the Spline Doctor's post I've been trying to read the entire thing. I started reading Chapter 11: The Disney Sounds, eventually getting to "Timing, Spacing, and the Metronome", and I had an epiphany! Exposure sheets! Why the heck have I not been planning out the action of my shots based on both time and action?

This is a timely lesson for me (no pun intended), because working on Happiness Factory 2 has brought up a ton of timing challenges for me while planning shots. I get these "great" acting ideas, block them out, only to find out that my actions really don't fit in the shot length--and there is a lot of story to put into every one of these shots to begin with. So I spend a lot of time grabbing a frame here and a frame there, all in a vain effort to squeeze the action I want in there, when in the end a lot of it has to be left out (and hence, a lot of the acting I had intended to be in there). It never seems to fail that all of my shots could stand another 24 frames...48 frames...73 frames! Because I want that beat in there, right? That beat that allows the character to live in the moment...the beat that there's not enough frames for! So along come Frank and Ollie telling me how they planned out timing with a metronome, to make sure they have a plan for how long each action will take, and consequently if they have time to do all that action. "Why don't I do that!!" I yelled in my head! I've been griping and complaining to myself, wishing I had 6 more frames to do the action, instead of planning my action based on how much time I have to work with. I'm tellin ya, I haven't had an epiphany like this since I read Keith Lango's Pose to Pose tutorials back at SCAD. Of course I don't have a metronome, or a stopwatch, but I do have an iPod that has a stopwatch function on it!

Think about the headaches I could avoid, if I just acted out the timing of the actions I want to do, so I could decide what acting choices could both fit the shot length and emotional requirements best? Think about the possibilities of keeping the feeling of the action in the shot, because I've planned acting choices that fit completely in the frame range?

I also realized why I never even thought of doing this before. When you don't have shot length requirements, as you don't in school, you really do have all the flexibility you want to take as much time as necessary to communicate your action. It's taken an extremely fast paced edit for me to come to the realization that because I don't have that luxury in production, my planning has to be that much better so I can really take advantage of every frame I'm given. I spent a full day last Friday working on about 5-12 frames of's never been more clear to me that every frame counts.

Another reason why I've never done this is because computer animation has a distinct lack of X-sheets. I was never really taught how to use them, only was suggested once or twice to use a stopwatch, and never knew the value of planning your timing and being stuck with X number of frames to communicate everything. It's super easy just to block things in, and time it out later, which is exactly how I've been working. The only problem with this is that I block stuff in that I later discover will never fit! When you have really short shots, it's very hard to even have time for 2 or 3 poses, depending on the timing. Even when I thumbnail out poses, I haven't taken the time to figure out if I have the frames to do all of them.

So, my goal now is to use the stopwatch on my iPod (when previously I'd thought "why the heck is there a stopwatch on here?"), to plan out anything from the basic timing of poses and action to timing of gestures--and hopefully get a much better sense of timing in reguards to frames in the process.

So to try to sum up this entire post, in a statement of the obvious...there is SO much to learn about animation, and on top of that, working in animation. I feel like a lot of the past year for me has been learning about production, working with a team, under a director, how to interpret notes, how to make it through crunch time, etc etc etc. There's enough for a young animator like me to learn just about the job, and add to that all the staging, posing, acting, physics, and timing of animation that I'm far from getting a handle on...and you've got one big textbook to read. Luckily The Illusion of Life does cover a lot of the entire spectrum, and I suggest you don't skip Chapter 11.

That's enough for now ;) Time for bed!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hello, anybody home? Think, McFly, think!

Sorry about the lack of posts recently, I've been trying to come up with something good to write about. There are a lot of things swarming in my head about my experiences freelancing that I wanna share, but I think I have to form it into a topic :P I've also been pretty busy at Psyop, workin on Happiness Factory 2, and it looks like it's only going to get busier! I hope to still have time to blog, and finally get my reel updated over at my website.

It's also come to my attention that this page looks crappy on Macs and Internet Explorer. Since Blogger makes it so hard to customize the code, and I don't know XHTML, it may take a while before I can figure how to fix that. Sorry, in the meantime, it looks great in Firefox if you have it!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Scanner Darkly

Hooray, I finally got a scanner! Now all my random sketchbook doodles like this one can go up on my website! Well, the ones I want to show ;)

This is a kid I drew as part of a drawing I made at Christmas for my family. I'm not the best draftsman, but off and on I've been trying to improve. Looking through my old sketchbooks tonight made me feel a little better about my progress! I think this is one of my better ones so far, but still want to do better.

Anyway, when I have time I hope I can sort through my sketchbooks and finally update the artwork section of my site.

Monday, May 07, 2007

AM: Shawn Kelly's Tip on Egos

I know this is about to show up on every other animation site, but I think it's worth posting here too. I usually try to just share these things through the Google Reader widget.

Shawn Kelly sometimes has great articles on things other than the principles of animation. This is one of them. I'm not exactly sure what to think about it, but it's worth reading. I hope I'm not the type of person he talks about! I don't think I am...I haven't been told if I am. But it's probably good to keep myself in check cause we can all get that way sometimes. One thing that I'm glad he mentioned is that students aren't the only ones with egos. I think it really depends on who you are as a person, not how old you are, (though I will be first to admit that inexperience plays a role), and some people really just don't grow up. It's sad, but true.

Freelancer's Guide #4: "On Hold"

Shout out to my friend Dana Boadway's Animation Mentor class! I'm staying up to write this just for you guys. Well, and for anyone else who is reading ;)

The Hold System. No one knows how it came to be, or why it exists, but it is very much a common business practice in New York (and seemingly only New York) to hire freelancers. Usually you have to find out for yourself how to handle it, or hope you have a friend to tell you, but never fear! I will explain what I know thus far about it, to hopefully help anyone who is looking to freelance at studios in NYC. Once again, if anyone has any advice to add or correct, please add it to the comments--I am speaking of what I've found to be true in my limited experience, and what I've learned from others. There is always more for me to learn.

The Call:
As I explained in an earlier post, it goes like this: Studio ABC calls you up. They've seen your reel and like it, and ask if you're available for a certain time period. You say with hidden excitement, "Yes, I am!", and they say "Great, I'd like to put you on hold for May through June."

'On hold?' You think to yourself, 'They didn't mention anything about that in my classes. All they did was tell me not to bring up the subject of money in an interview! Is this the interview? What do I say?'

"Uh, sure, that sounds good!" you say. They say great, we'll be in touch. And you hang up the phone, not knowing if you have really gotten a job or not.

On Hold vs. Booked:
A hold, as I understand, is a verbal agreement. You've told a place you are available during a certain period of time, if they call you to work for that time you have agreed to come in and work for them. The problem with this system is that it doesn't guarantee you anything until the studio actually BOOKS you. If you are *booked*, that means you are guaranteed work for the dates that they have booked you for. This is THE difference between a hold and being booked. When you're booked, you have work and you are getting paid for the dates specified. When you're "on hold", you're not working, you're not getting paid--but you may later if they book you.

Now usually a place will tell you what they want you to work on when they call you--they'll tell you what's coming up. If you get the idea or have heard about work coming up at a certain studio you are talking to, chances are they are not just calling you without any intention of hiring you. When someone calls you to put you on hold, there is probably a reason.

Therefore, if possible, you do want to try to ask them for specific dates, and when you start working to specify how long you are actually BOOKED for. This way, both parties know how long the agreed employment is and there are no surprises down the road where you thought you were guaranteed work and it turns out you aren't (though this is rare in my experience). They may not know for sure at that time, because they may still be working out their staff requirements and schedule. So be understanding of that, but still keep in touch and try to get some dates. They will most likely be in touch with you anyway when they know, so don't bug them too much. Studios know how the system works, but be sure to show that you know how it works too. Some people work up their own contracts for their freelance business, which isn't a bad idea, though I do not know much about that yet.

Competition for Hiring Freelancers:
There is competition between studios when finding freelancers. All of these studios hire from the same pool of talent in New York, and it's not as big as in California. Some places do hand out "holds" quickly and easily to a lot of people to guarantee that they will have people to work for them for an upcoming project, they may put more artists on hold than they need so they can be sure they have enough people at hand. If you find that nearly every other animator you know in the city is on hold for the same place at the same time, the studio might not need all those people. Other places only contact the number of people they know they will need. It really just depends on how that producer likes to do it, and how much manpower they need.

If you're lucky, after you finish a gig at a place, they may ask you to stay on hold for them for a few weeks more. They may know of more work coming up, or there may be unexpected changes from the client that they may need to call you back for. This is a good thing. It means that they are happy working with you, and want to continue to do business with you. But again, it doesn't guarantee work. Competition is high for animators in New York, and they don't want people they like to be snatched up by another studio, when for all they know 2 weeks later they may need you. So keep your ears open. If you've been working at a place for a few weeks, chances are you will have an idea if there actually is more work coming to the company soon, or if it's going to be a slower period. If you don't hear of more work coming up, it's not a bad idea to keep your ears open for something else. But do not take anther gig unless the studio has released you from their hold. Which leads me to the next sub-topic...

The Challenge!
To me, this sounds like it originated like one of those playground rules that kids make up when they're losing a game of four-square..."No, if it bounces twice off my foot it doesn't count...yeah-huh it's a rule!" But regardless, it is very real, and what's more, it works.

The Challenge goes like this. You have a hold at Studio-A but are not booked for that time. Studio-B calls you up and asks if you are available to work for them for the same time period. You tell them you are interested in working with them, but you are already on hold for Studio-A. But Studio-B really wants to hire you, and can BOOK you for the dates. So they say they'd like to "challenge" that hold. So you call up Studio-A and say "B wants to challenge your hold and can book me for those dates." This means that if Studio-A cannot book you for any of the dates they have you on hold for, they must release you to the other company. They will probably ask you for a day or two to get back to you. Let them, and tell Studio B that you are waiting for a response from A. If A does not get back to you on the day they said you would, you may want to call them the next day. The Challenge has a way of being drawn out, for understandable reasons. After all, if you were Studio-A you really wouldn't want to lose a freelancer who you may need when a job comes in 2 days later! But they know how the challenge works, and they themselves have likely challenged other studio's holds. I have been told that the "official" rule is that Studio-A would have 24 hours to respond. I think it is more important to stay on good terms with both companies than to hold fast to this 24 hour rule. This will put your diplomacy skills to the test, because you do not want to offend either party--you will hopefully be working for both of them again sometime, you may even have friends at both already, but Studio-B wants an answer as soon as possible and Studio-A may be trying to delay an answer for as long as possible.

If Studio-A really doesn't have any work, they will eventually release you to B, and you will be working at B for the booked dates. If Studio-A ends up having work and can BOOK you, then they "win" the challenge. It actually can be a good thing--either way, you have work. Producers I have worked with have been understanding of that too. If they really don't have any work for you, they know you need to find work for yourself.

The MOST Important Thing:
As you are dealing with such gray areas as holds, remember to treat the people you are doing business with respectfully. Some may call me naive, but I truly believe in treating others as you would like to be treated yourself, or as someone once said as they appreciate being treated. Don't back out on your holds just because you want to, or you soon won't be finding yourself working anywhere. If you run into a complication with a hold, communicate it openly to the producer you talked to. Otherwise if you take another gig somewhere else and then that first producer calls you up, you are going to have some explaining to do and it won't be fun. But honestly, if you treat people respectfully and try to realize the position they are coming from, and let them know that you recognize their position, I think you have a much greater chance of maintaining a good relationship with that producer and that company. Be aware that they know how these things work, and it is true that sometimes you will have to look out for yourself. But the last thing you want to do is offend an employer and ruin your reputation. But for me it goes deeper than saving my reputation. It's about treating others properly and respectfully. If you realize this most important thing, I think you will enhance not only your professional life, but every aspect of your life.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Conan at ILM

And also, here are some outtakes and shots that weren't used in the final airing (extra footage)

This was so funny, I have to post it here! We animators are proud geeks, with toys on our desks, and sometimes we don't see the light of day for hours (just ask anyone who works at Monty Hall at SCAD). So not only could I relate, but I also got to see most of those things when I interviewed at Lucas Arts, the Darth Vader and Bobba Fett costumes, the Yoda fountain are at the entry. They didn't actually show me much of the place, honestly Conan got to see more than I did, but I'm still happy I got to go there!

And finally, this post is in honor of my friends over at Lucas Arts ;) Matt, Christine, this one's for you...

Monday, April 30, 2007

"You mean you have to use your hands?? That's like a baby's toy!!"

Check out this article about future toys/video games that you use your brain to play. Literally.
In 2015 will a little Elija Wood ask Marty McFly why you have to use your hands to play Wild Gunman?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Stewie Worry Song

Hey, sorry it's been a couple weeks since I've posted. But I'm back!

I saw this clip on Family Guy of Stewie dancing with Gene Kelly, and found a side by side comparison video of the FG version and the orignal with Jerry Mouse on YouTube (where else?). Unfortunately the person who uploaded it has disabled video embedding :( so I'm just going to have to try to convince you to click this link!

Stewie/Worry Song

With barely any searching you can also find the full Jerry Mouse version and the full FG version.

I have to say, for Family Guy when I saw this on TV I was impressed. It's amazing how just rotoscoping the original animation, even crudely, there is so much more texture to Stewie's animation! I mean for one thing they had to draw him in poses and angles from which they never usually draw him, but it's also great to see even a hint of squash and stretch that carried over from Jerry. Don't get me wrong, I will never tout Family Guy as an example of great animation, that's not why they make it anyway. But it's an entertaining little idea, and I thought it'd be cool to post video---er, link--that shows the original too. The original was from Anchor's Aweigh.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Composition in Animation

During my senior year at SCAD, I had the great opportunity to take a class under Glenn Vilppu, on Classical Composition. At the time I was a little disappointed that I couldn't get into his Figure Drawing class, since that's what he's most known for, but more and more I'm so grateful that it was the composition class that I took. Hopefully at some point I can upload a pdf of my class notes, but you can go to AWN (or look for Vilppu's name in my links) and check out some of his general lessons there.

He spent almost every class analyzing some classical painting by drawing lines over top of them in photoshop (or painter or something). He talked about things like using opposites, shapes, and the flow and rhythm of a composition--as opposed to just framing. He always said that he used these principles to compose his figures too, though I didn't really understand how. Now when I study classic Disney animation and even films like The Little Mermaid I see these principles of composition in the poses all the time! My main goal in improving my skills right now is to try to really compose the characters well, with good use of negative space and movement in the pose.

I don't have time to post about it all now, but I wanted to post a link to John Kricfalusi's blog.
John is the creator of Ren and Stimpy, and although I don't share his taste for over the top Clampett style, he is posting some very informative lessons on bringing artistic principles into animation. He has a whole category of posts dedicated to composition, mostly in terms of backgrounds, but as Vilppu said, you can completely apply these to drawing characters in poses. John is pretty negative about the state of animation today, and while he makes very good points I don't quite agree with all of them. He also explains the principles of composition in different terms (I think I still prefer Vilppu's way of teaching), but regardless the ideas are the same.

John's posts on composition

The more I think about, contrasting poses, flow, rhythm and other elements of composition, the more I see that even a lot of great CG animation doesn't have it--mine included. I'm feeling more and more that these elements really push animation to a more entertaining and appealing level, and everything else really falls short of its potential, and just becomes natural movement with good timing. And the thing is, a lot of our principles of animation and design are actually based on composition, but those aren't the terms we think in.

Man...I told myself this would be 'short'. More on this later.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Conan O'Brien is not mocapped

Oh wait, I'm getting a little confused here...this will be 2 posts combined into 1!

First off, I was watching Conan last night, and one of their Conan art bumpers popped up after a commercial break--the one where the Conan head logo is the Death Star :P Those bumpers usually make me laugh, so I searched online for more and what do I find? A whole gallery of them! Fun stuff...I'm a fan of this one:
Secondly, and on a completely different note, I've heard from different sources that there are some people who actually think the new TMNT movie was largely mocapped. Why they think this, I don't understand, because the animation is extremely exaggerated and cartoony--not to mention that I would think an actor would not want to jump across rooftops and down fire escapes to record some mocap data. It looks nothing like motion capture! Upon a google search I found a forum post by Kevin Munroe, the director himself, who confirms that not a single frame was mocapped. (scroll almost halfway down the page, post #109). He says:
"Absolutely not a single frame of mo cap. All hand done. I can see why some people like mo cap, but for me, if you're doing animation, make it animated. Mocap always seems to need so much clean up and hand-holding, that you may as well have hand done it from the beginning. Just my opinion."

So that should clear that up. The only reason why I guess people may think it's mocapped is because the physical animation looks extremely believable and accurate--if they'd look closer, they'd see the great exaggeration of weight that creates that believability. Keyframes live!

Monday, April 02, 2007

"Carried Away", by Zach Parrish

Check out this short film by SCAD student Zach Parrish. I'm simply amazed at how good it is! Not only in terms of animation, but lighting, cinematography--and the story is about as good as it gets. So much warmth and heart that emotes so strongly. The sound design is great too. Man, when I was at SCAD I was happy just to get my short done, and here this guy not only gets it done, but done with a complicated bubble element, detailed facial rigging, good animation, and a story that kicks mine to the 99 cent bin at the video store! (Not that it was ever close to that, but you get my point.)

My friend Colin Geller did the beautiful matte paintings of the sky, apparently Zach did all of the modeling, rigging, texturing, and animation on his own. Way to go guys, it would be an accomplishment enough for anyone to make that film, but to do that in the crazy SCAD class schedule is an even bigger feat. Oh, and be prepared--SCAD's gonna market this just as much as "Old Man and the Fish" and "The Potter".

Saturday, March 31, 2007

T-U-R-T-L-E Power

Tonight I finally went to see the new TMNT movie, which I'd been really interested in checking out. First impressions are, it's about what I expected. It succeeds at giving some fun action sequences, and bringing the turtles back together (in the world of the movie, and in ours). The story left something to be desired, but it was fun, a great nostalgic ride down memory lane for those of us who grew up with the saturday morning cartoon and 3 live action movies.

I was actually pretty impressed by the animation. When you compare it to other animated versions of the Turtles, especially the 80's cartoon, it's leaps and bounds ahead. From the trailers I could tell that the martial-arts and action would be the strong points--the timing and weight really are great, and they pull off some very complicated stunts that surely would have had me scratching my head if I had to sit down and animate them. I was surprised to see that there were also a few times where the acting, even on Casey and April, were very expressive and hit the emotional core of the dialogue straight on, and those moments entertained me more than anything else in the movie, (often spurring a slight laugh of appreciation from me, probably confusing the people sitting around me). Now the lip sync and mouth shapes of the characters, were definitly weaker. The ironic thing was that in the human characters the mouth shapes weren't exaggerated enough, and in the turtles I thought the mouth shapes were mostly over-exaggerated. But it still beats the lip "sync" of those Henson costumes in the old movies ;)
So all in all, I had a good time because there was enough for me as an animator to appreciate, in the action and even in some of the acting. The movie's biggest downfall is of course that it really fails to bring any heart into the story. It has potential for it, because the movie centers around an emotional divide between Raph and Leo (Mikey and Donnie don't really do much), but most of the plot lines and emotional changes are explained away in dialogue in an obvious attempt to talk down to the kids. The interesting thing is that when movies are made "for kids", there are these visable attempts to make sure every plot line is absolutely clear in words. Ya know what, I think kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and if you give them a story with a strong emotional core, they will react to it and appreciate it, whether or not they fully understand the deeper meanings. But honestly, had I seen this in my Ninja Turtle fan days, I know I would have absolutely loved it.
The humor attempts to retain the one-line zingers that the Turtles are known for, but it didn't succeed in giving me more than some chuckles. Not so long ago I watched the original Turtle movies, and they still made me laugh more than these jokes did (Don: "Yeeah...Yea-Yeeeeaaah!" in the 2nd movie). Overall there is a consistency that picks up from the other movies (Raph and Leo don't get along, Casey and Raph are friends), and even a nice nod to the other movies at the end--(if you look closely, on Splinter's shelf you can see the cracked TGRI ooze canister). What they need to do for the sequel, and yes I'm sure there will be one, is to take the believability from the live action movies--put the characters in our world, one we can recognize, not a generic cartoon world--and give recognizable traits to the human characters (make Casey Jones the tough and not so sleek guy he is here, and April more than jack-of-all-trades sidekick). And don't forget the other characters! Michelangelo and Donatello really don't deal with anything personal.

I can't end yet without talking about one crazy shot at the final battle sequence. I don't know how long this shot is, but it starts with the camera behind the Turtles, April, Casey, and Splinter heading towards the huge crowd of Foot Soldiers (yes, another CG crowd), and continues to follow them as they kick and fight themselves around and through the crowd, leaving one character and picking up on another as it goes, until they finally end up on the other side of the crowd. The camera is constantly moving and following the action, and it never cuts! I can only imagine the meetings about this shot, not only in terms of logistics of animation and camera work, but also in terms of rendering the incredible number of characters. What a headache!

Go for some entertaining animation, cinematography, and nice renders, just don't go in with high expectations for an engrossing story. Enjoy the walk down memory lane, and the fact that the turtles actually look pretty good!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eric Volz

I'm not a politically charged person. I usually don't even pick up on things like this because I never know if I can trust the source, when it comes to random things on the internet. While I really want this blog to be about animation, it is a blog after all, so allow me to deviate from the plan for this. Read on to the other posts to see what I normally post about.

**I should explain a bit. It's about an American who supposedly was wrongly accused of a murder in Nicaragua. His family and friends have pretty hard evidence and many witnesses.

This is a pretty insane story. There's a group on Facebook and a MySpace page devoted to the cause. Here is the official site:
I don't know all the facts. I just think it's something worth spreading around.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Brad Bird is crazy

I can't remember where, but somewhere in my news reader I found a link to this video. It's a panel of Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird, talking about the origins of computer animation (and consequently Pixar), and much more. It's long, but if you have an hour to kill sometime this weekend, come back and watch it! Watch it in shifts if you have to, but it's really great.

Brad Bird is the craziest animator I've seen :P He's sort of like Robin Williams in the spontaneous way of how he talks. I can't help but crack up whenever I see him interviewed! In some ways I can imagine how hard it must be to work under him, I'm sure he's every bit as picky as Walt Disney was. On the other hand, I can see his talent as a director by how he communicates his thoughts with such specificity and physicality. The guy knows how to communicate a story, whether it's The Iron Giant or the meal he ate last week.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

AWN reports on Framestore NY, Geico

Check out this article about Framestore NY on AWN! It's instigated of course by the VES Award that FS-NY just won for last year's Gecko spot, "Chat", but they go on to talk about making the spots they made this year too. Two of the ones they talk about, "Local" and "Seconds", were ones I worked on. I see "Seconds" on TV quite often now, (the one where he's riding an escalator, talking about how little time he has to say everything he has to say in a commercial), it airs back to back with "Puma", which I did not work on.

It's nice to see Framestore NY get some recognition. I was surprised when I found out that they really haven't been in New York for that long, and have been doing 3D in commercials for even less time than that. Sometimes they seem to have the "little brother syndrome" when compared with Framestore in London, I met people around New York who didn't even know that Framestore had a studio here! But let me tell you, they do cool projects, everyone there is friendly and extremely talented, and they care about the quality of what they produce--(in terms of both animation and lighting/rendering). Oh, and there's the "little" fact that I never once had to work a weekend for them in 4 months (and I think I only had to work late once). This is a testament to the production management and scheduling, and staffing up of crew to meet the demands of production. It was not a slow time at the studio at all.

I finished that gig at Framestore last Friday, but not before scoring 66,909,000 points in Simpson's Pinball, and consequently landing 2nd place on the scoreboard (if you've ever played that game, you know how hard it is)! I think people thought I was a pinball nut, cause I played that every day at lunch with other guys there (and sometimes after work). Don't get me wrong, pinball is not all that I care about, but it was another element that added to the enjoyable work environment. Here's to a great four months, and to all the friends I made there!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Freelancer's Guide #3: Health Insurance wake-up call

So I subscribe to the Freelancer's Union blog in my feed reader, and they posted a link to this article, from the New York magazine, which talks about how many young workers in New York are uninsured, and a few horror stories from people who found out the costs of not having it. It's quite a wake-up of those stomach twisting articles that make ya realize you've been ignoring something important. It's 7 pages long, but if you're uninsured and working like me, you'd better read it. The last page at least offers some further info, places in NYC that offer low-cost help to uninsured, as well as some lower cost insurance options (such as through Freelancer's Union, which I'm going to be checking out).

There's really nothing more I can say--just read it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ratatouille, new US trailer

While the Asian trailer tugged at the heartstrings a little more than this one, I still can't wait to see the movie! Pixar, Pixar...thanks for always giving us something to look forward to!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Freelancer's Guide #2: Estimated Tax Payments

*UPDATE 2/14/10** Much of my previous information on freelancer taxes, business tax deductions, and estimated payments are quickly becoming outdated, or may no longer apply to many freelancers in the animation/vfx industry.  See this post for more information:

Estimated tax payments were almost a complete mystery to me, until yesterday when I was completing my return on Turbo Tax Online, and their handy help files had some info on it. There's no direct link to those help files, but I found a couple pages online from Turbo Tax's tax tips. They should clear up a lot of your questions (and mine!)

Estimated Taxes FAQ
Determining Estimated Tax Payments

If you'd rather have every possible info on the topic, which is not a bad idea just to be sure, check out what the IRS has to say about it here. That page seriously outlines the whole thing in detail, lucky there's a table of contents that you can sort through to see where the main info is at.

If you are brand new to this whole idea, estimated tax payments are generally required of you if you are freelance, because taxes are not taken out of every paycheck. This means that you estimate the amount of taxes you will owe for the current year, based on the past year's return, and pay quarterly estimated payments. If you don't do that, you get an underpaid taxes fine at the end of the year. That is about all I knew about it until Turbo Tax taught me more! Turbo Tax apparently even has a service dedicated to helping you make your estimated tax payments, which I will probably be using. Note: If you plan on using it to pay your taxes at the end of the year, you need the Home and Business version. It's more expensive, but has everything you need. If you use Turbo Tax Online, you don't have to pay for it until it is complete and you are ready to file and/or print your return. So far, the federal parts of the service seem more helpful than the New York state sections, but it still beats trying to figure out how to read the forms.

A lot of people have an accountant, which is actually not a bad idea, especially when you get to the point of buying a house, etc. But until then, tax software is probably the best bet to help you get them done.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Freelancer's Guide #1: The Good, the Bad, and the Taxable Income

*UPDATE 2/14/10** Much of my previous information on freelancer taxes, business tax deductions, and estimated payments are quickly becoming outdated, or may no longer apply to many freelancers in the animation/vfx industry.  See this post for more information:

Welcome to my first ongoing topic! I've only been freelancing in New York for a little over a year, but I've already been asked a few times about it by people considering it. Seeing that my knowledge of freelancing thus far has come only through the generosity of the friends I've met here, I decided it's time to spread the love and make a resource for anyone considering going freelance (or starting out freelancing) in NYC. Since it's such a huge topic, I'm gonna start out with what I would consider to be the first questions people have, and then continue on in later posts with specific topics.

Knowing how to be smart when freelancing is probably a skill only learned after years of experience, and part of the reason for that is because nobody really openly talks about it! The other reason is that I do think it takes experience to fully understand the complexities, and because of that, I can only offer you what a year's worth of experience can understand. So if you are reading this and think you know more than I do about freelancing, you may be right--so post comments to add your advice!

The Good
People go freelance for various reasons. Some don't want to be tied down to one studio, some like the flexibility of being able to take time off. Others, like me, freelance because that's about the best (and nearly the only) way to stay employed in New York. My perspective on freelancing comes as a newcomer to the industry, gaining experience and exploring this thing called commercial animation.

1. Experience
Probably the thing I like the most about freelancing in NYC is that it has truely shown me how various places function day-to-day. What the work environment is like, how production is managed, scheduling is made, how teams work together. I've come to realize that some people, even those who go to a big LA studio straight out of school may never get to see the industry in a broader scope, and only know what it's like to work in a large feature animation/vsfx house. I've freelanced at 4 studios so far, and every one of them has been very different from the last. Freelancing makes sure that you don't get stuck in a bad working environment, just because you don't know what a good working environment is like.

2. Networking
In NYC, the local industry is even smaller than the animation/vsfx industry as a whole. Meaning that once some of your friends start dropping your name as an available freelancer, your odds of getting a gig are fairly good (if you have patience). Studios will hire you for a gig, and if you don't screw it up, they will probably call you back when they need more manpower later. Of course you still need to have the skills shown on your reel to be hired, but networking is what will get you the initial email. You also need to not be a jerk. Seriously. Also, you have a great opportunity to meet a lot of people at every place you work--an opportunity to make friends, not just expand your business network.

3. Flexibility
It is nice to be able to say to yourself "I wanna go home at Christmas for a week", and be able to do that (providing you are not booked somewhere then). You can take some time off whenever you want to see the family, go on a trip, etc. In the fast paced world of advertising, these breaks allow you to build up your energy again to tackle the next round of stomach-churning client notes. If you'd rather work from home, you have even more flexibility, even so far as working late and sleeping in until 12pm. I have chosen not to do remote work thus far, because it takes a lot more self-discipline, and I would also rather be working with other people than on my own.

4. The Pay
Freelance pays well--if you ask for it. This is a double edged sword, and will also be explained further under "The Bad". But as far as the good, it is possible to make much more by freelancing than by getting a salary as staff. Freelancers in New York usually get paid by the day. This is a whole 'nother topic, and is best saved for a post of its own. Note: This does not mean you will be living in the lap of fact, you probably won't.

5. Tax Deductions
Since freelancers are "self-employed", they are their own business. That means that there are plenty of tax deductions you can legally take if they come from expenses due to your career as a freelance artist (your business). Computer equipment, books, demo reel/portfolio materials, etc--if it's honestly related to your career, you can deduct it as a business expense. Save your receipts.

The Bad
1. Downtime
What some call flexibility, others call a lack of job security. If you freelance, there will be chunks of time when you actually would rather not be on break or "between gigs", because moths are slowly setting up home in your wallet. As the industry as a whole becomes more and more based on the "project-hire" plan, most everyone will probably see downtime more than once in their career. The ironic thing is, if you are smart, freelancing can teach you how to anticipate and prepare for that downtime, while other people who suddenly lose their job are freaking out because they haven't put together a demo reel in 2 years, and haven't saved up any money. So while downtime is in my opinion a bad thing, you may benefit from it in the long run (again, if you are smart).

2. Uncertainty
This is the broader picture behind the "downtime" info. The uncertainty of a freelancer's life goes beyond job security (this is probably the umbrella topic where everything under "Bad" can fit. When you are working gig to gig, for a couple months at a time, you really can't know where you're going to be 6 months down the road. You may not know if you can get home for Christmas until a month beforehand. I learned quickly that I could no longer plan my year, trips home, etc, because I had no idea where I'd be a few months down the road. While you may no longer feel you can plan those things, you also need to be able to plan for the short term. You need to save up your money so that when your current gig is up, you have some padding to pay your rent and bills while you find another job.

3. No Benefits
Health insurance is up to you and your pockets. Planning for the long-term is something that has recently become apparent to me, and while I am still learning this myself, I do know that it is very important. When you don't have a company 401k or other retirement plan, it up to you alone to be in charge of your retirement money. While you may make some good money in the present, it will do no good if you have not prepared for that time when the paychecks aren't coming in. Even though I am in no way close to retirement, this is the time when people like me have to be saving the money that is being earned.

4. The Pay, and your taxes
You don't get taxes deducted from your paychecks. This may seem small to you now, but when you are paying your quarterly estimated payments or filing your tax return, you'll realize how much better it would be to have that taken care of automatically. Estimated quarterly payments are made so you don't get hit with a fine at the end of the year for not paying taxes during the year. Amazing how that works isn't it. You will also need to either get an accountant, or figure out how to file your taxes as a business owner and personally. Turbo Tax has a home business version that helps you take deductions that you qualify for, but eventually the time will come when it is better to get an accountant to do it for you. You are smart if you open up a savings account at your bank, and save about 1/3 of each paycheck for New York and federal taxes. If you don't, you run the risk of not having that money when you need it.

Also, you will need to know what to tell studios when they ask what your "day rate" (amount of $ you charge per day) is, as that will be what you are paid for your hard work and sweat. This varies depending on your experience, and on how well you can negotiate. This will be discussed in its own post sometime.

5. The "Hold" System
The hold system is apparently something that was seemingly invented in New York to "hire" freelance artists. It goes like this--you get a call or email from Studio ABC in Manhattan. They've seen your reel and they like it, they say they are in need of an animator, and ask if you are available. If you are, they say "Great, we'd like to put you on hold for April through June".

On hold? What does that mean?? Am I employed or not? Technically no, if you are just on hold, you are not being paid, and not working. A hold is nothing more than a sort of verbal agreement that *if* a studio needs you to come in to work, you have told them you are available to do it, you are sort of "on call" for them. Do not confuse this with being "booked". If a studio gives you a start date and says you are booked from April 2nd through June 15th that means that they are obligated to let you work those dates, you are hired for those dates. This unfortunately is a grey area for some people, and another "Bad" part of freelancing--you may need to make sure that your employer knows the difference between being booked and "on hold". Yeah, I don't like the hold system either. But there are ways of it working in your favor, as will be better explained in a post dedicated to this topic alone.

Phew, that's a lot of info, and a big summary in which I'm sure there are numerous holes (and is by no means complete). But I will expand upon these and other topics later. The industry in New York is healthy right now, and the more you know about what it's like to work here, the good and the bad, the better you can prepare yourself and make an educated decision on if it's right for you. I myself am very grateful for starting out my career freelancing, because it has helped me to make new friends quickly, given me experience on some fantastic projects, and taught me that every studio is different.

For more information and great advice on freelancing in New York City you should definitely pick up "Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive" by David B. Levy. Highly, highly recommended.

Also check out the Freelancer's Union. It is a great resource and advocacy group for freelancers that started in New York, and is now spreading to various cities across the country.