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...