Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Freelancer's Guide #11: Temping at Blue Sky, Bruno's Tips

For those of you who don't subscribe to the Animation Mentor newsletter, check out Nick Bruno's latest Tips and Tricks article. He pretty much covers the bases on conducting yourself professionally as a newbie animator. Most people really don't have big issues with these points, some do, and all of us need reminded of a few of them and can get better at them, myself included. Since Blue Sky is one of the rare places that young animators actually have a chance at getting hired onto a feature film and animating actual shots from the movie, these tips are very valuable to those who may be applying for a temp position there now or in the future. Many points surely apply to anywhere that you may work, but every one of them does apply to Blue Sky, and if you ever work there you will see how.

I temped on Horton, and am doing it again on Ice Age 3. So, from a temp's perspective, I have a couple bits of advice about temping at Blue Sky that I hope helps others. These are things that I constantly have to remind myself of too.

#1. Don't go into the job with the only goal being to land a full-time staff position. Think of yourself as a freelancer, and as this job as being the temporary position that it is, and you will stress much less over things such as "Is my work good enough to be full-time?" You'll stress enough as it is over whether or not your work is up to par, you don't need the added pressure of getting a full-time job on top of it. I can understand if you have a family and other responsibilities and need the salary + benefits to survive, but if you're young, single, and just starting out, then you've got plenty of other places to apply after the job is over! You can pick up and move just about anywhere! We are extremely lucky to be working at a time when animation is a hugely successful industry in many different formats. Don't worry, if your work is good enough to get into Blue Sky once, chances are you'll be able to get a job somewhere else. Also, it's a good way to get used to the fact that many jobs in our industry are temporary, and it won't be the last time you'll be on the job hunt again.

#2. Have confidence in your work!
It is very intimidating to join a team of extremely talented animators, and be asked to produce better animation than you ever have before, faster than you ever have before. Perhaps that's why a few young animators appear cocky, in order to hide their own fears of failure. We are all very self-critical of our own work, but be confident (not cocky) that you are up to the challenge, and capable of succeeding. The more challenging animation you successfully overcome, the easier it will be to have confidence that you will meet the next challenge, even if you have absolutely no idea how you are going to do it!

On a related note, have confidence in your work based on where you are in your learning process. When you work at a place like Blue Sky, not only can you feel like you aren't nearly as good as everyone around you, but sometimes you can feel like you're constantly being judged as to if you belong there. After all, you're an unproven, unknown element. No matter how good your demo reel is, it means nothing if your shots don't meet standards. All of this pressure to prove to yourself and others that you do belong there can really bog you down, especially if you are constantly comparing yourself to other people. Try to remind yourself of your own progress as an individual, how far *you* have come, how much *you* have learned. Improvement does get noticed by supervisors and co-workers, and quite possibly could give you a good reputation as hard worker who wants to learn, as opposed to a talented but stubborn young temp. This still may not land you the full-time job, or the "cool" shots, but at least you have the respect of the people you work with.

It is a tough line to walk between being confident in your work, yet open to criticism of not only your animation but your performance on the job. Of course by being cofident I don't mean to resist making changes to your shots. Just remember, your worth as an animator and as a person, is not dependant on what shots you get, how many "ooh's" and "aah's" you get at sweatbox, or how many times the director has patted you on the back for a job well done. Those times are awesome, and really put the energy back in you, but you have to also be able to get through the times when you're struggling with a shot, because no matter how good you are, it will happen.

I'm going to be honest and say that temping at Blue Sky has to be one of the most challenging ways to start your career in animation, but also a great opportunity for those who are lucky enough to get in. I am very glad that I got great experience at other great places before jumping into the deep end of feature films. I learned so many things about production from other jobs, working with a team, getting notes from directors and clients, and also learned that I enjoy those jobs just as much. Many students have the goal of working in features, a few get their wish granted right out of school, and never try a job in any other section of the industry, be it advertising, games, or preschool/kids television. While this may be fine for them, I feel that it can only help you to get different experiences at various places, to see what actually may make you the happiest, instead of what you think will make you the happiest. Not to mention that the more you learn the job of animation before you get to features, the better off you'll be at handling the new pressures. So if you, like me, don't get the "dream" feature job straight out of school, then cheer up, because you will quite possibly be much better prepared for it later on. Not that I don't still have a ton of things to learn about working in animation...but I can see now how I would never have survived if somehow I had landed a feature job out of school. I have great respect for those of my friends who jump right in, and not only succeed, but excel! You guys really are inspiring.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Horton's Debut!

Being in New York has many perks, such as getting to see Horton's debut in person at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! I have to say, it was pretty cool to see him as a balloon in the parade. It's kind of one of those moments when it hits me that I really am working as an animator. It's strange! It's strange to see this character, (more specifically, this version based on the Blue Sky design), in a huge parade, when not even a year ago he pretty much only existed in a few floors of a non-descript building in White Plains. It's strange to have worked so many long hours on something you feel is yours, that really belongs to everyone now. And although I'm the last person to say that animation is just for kids, it was pretty cool to see the kids wearing Horton ears, in anticipation of the balloon. They don't care how much money the movie made in the theatres or on DVD, they care about Horton, the character. I think Dr. Seuss created a character who really resonates with children, and for being a tiny part of that, I'm very grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Ice Age 3 trailer!

Check out the new Scrat trailer for Ice Age 3 on Apple's website, or before Disney's "Bolt" in 3D!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brian Henson at Blue Sky

The awesome guests just keep coming, today we got to listen to a lecture by Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson! I wish I had pictures to show, but I'll just have to be on the lookout for others who may have taken some. It was great to hear his ideas on performing with a puppet, and comparing/contrasting that to animation. What he boiled it down to was that puppetry is a very imprecise performance that generates it's entertainment through being spontaneous, error prone, while animation is extremely planned but can give the illusion of spontaneity. Since starting in animation, I've really come to admire the instant performaces that puppeteers can get from their characters. How freeing would that be to not have to worry about every single little twitch, every frame of movement, and just go for the emotion, the comedy, the heart! I have no idea if I would be any good at it, but maybe someday I'll get the chance to try my "hand" at it...har har har...

Something else interesting that I never thought about, was how the puppeteers always look at a live shot from the camera as they perform, and never look up at the puppet. As an animator that makes sense to me, it shows how they have to be aware of things such as staging, and screen space...if they weren't looking at the shot, they might not be able to tell if they were even staying in the shot!

So, this brings the guests at Blue Sky to: Richard Williams, Sergio Pablos, Mike Kunkel, Ken Duncan, and Brian Henson. Big thanks to everyone who made this possible, to keep our engines running just a little better during the crunch!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Richard Williams at Blue Sky!

I really can't believe it happened, but it's true! Yesterday Richard Williams came to visit and do at short Q & A. I got to shake his hand, and thank him for writing The Animator's Survival Kit! As I'm sure many of you can relate, his book changed my life.

The Ice Age 3 Animation Crew with Richard Williams

That's me! and him!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Victor Navone's Animation Thumbnails

I've been to Victor Navone's blog many times, but somehow I've missed this page, which he recently added to and posted about.

Thumbnailing ideas is a skill I'd like to develop further myself. I think video reference is good, but I feel that thumbnails can be a great way to caricature and build better composed, graphic poses. Drawing small is a big advantage, I think because it makes you think more about the pose and less about the drawing itself, but I'm still figuring that out ;)

Navone's drawing are quick and expressive, so I wanted to post and share them in case you've missed them too! I know I've benefited just by seeing how other people sketch their thumbnails.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

My 3 Elements of Animation, (subject to change)

Have you ever had information overload? There's so many helpful animation websites, blogs, and various resources out there, many times I feel like I can barely keep up. Then when I do spend a lot of time reading everything I can find, I start to feel like I can't even process it all.

Such is the case with many of the "animation checklists" that people talk and write about. The old Disney animators had their 12 principles of animation, that they used to critique their work, and many animators today have their own checklist that they use to finesse their shots. Many of these checklists talk about the same things, just in different terms that make sense to the animator writing it. A good example is Travis Hathaway's post on Spline Doctors. I think animation checklists are very personal, and you have to find your own vocabulary that makes sense to you. After all, we're not really re-inventing the laws of physics or human emotions that have been around for ages, so unless you're brand new to the animation thing, nothing on these lists usually come as a surprise.

But after reading many different lists, I've kinda wondered what mine is, but have never come up with one. Victor Navone's recent post on Posing and composition inspired me to think about it again, especially since he posted Walt Stanchfield's 28 principles. I don't know about you, but I can't recall 28 principles on command. I need something more elemental, that is easy to remember, and applicable in all situations. Magic number? 3.

So here we go, with my 3 descriptive elements of animation (subject to change)

1. Graphic
Victor Navone's analysis reminded me of how much I want to get that sort of visual element in my animation. Sometimes I'll see a shot that's animated beautifully, very naturally--but almost too natural. There's no spice in it, it's just fluid movement, and straight poses. There's no contrast in them. There's no rhythm in the lines of action. There's no directing of the audience's eye. There's nothing very interesting going on visually. Victor's post, however, reminded me that even in natural poses, there are very extreme lines of action, composition, and graphic elements. (Check out his examples if you haven't yet). So reguardless of if the style is cartoony or naturalistic, you can still bring a very graphic quality to your character's poses and staging. I could put nearly anything visual in this category, but I'll probably dedicate it to composition, staging, design, appeal, silouette...the list could go on and on. It's easier for me to remember "graphic", and then break it down from there.

2. Emotional

This is the human element to the shot. You've heard all of this stuff before too. What is the character feeling? What is the point of the shot in the story? Do I feel for the character? Do I understand or recognize something about it? Does it cause an emotional reaction in me? Not every shot is an "Oscar" shot, but hopefully I can find something emotional, relatable, and entertaining, no matter how small. Even if it's only a setup for what pays off in the next shot that another animator is working on. This is the stuff that people care about, this is what people go to movies for.

Wall-E immediately comes to mind as an example of emotional animation. His character is so appealing, and so emotional! When Eve takes him to the escape pod and is entering in commands on the panel, he looks at her hand, and quietly asks "...Eve?..." You know from seeing him watch Hello Dolly and from his previous actions around her that he wants to hold her hand. It's so simple, yet so powerful! This is the stuff that really gets my animation inspiration going full steam ahead.

3. Physical
Is the movement believable? Are the breakdowns interesting? Am I showing weight and anatomy? Of course, the lines begin to blur between the physical and the graphic, since both play a huge role and affect one another. A great composition can really accent and show off the weight in a character. In this case, I think I'll look at this category when I'm trying to figure out movement, timing, spacing. Of course timing is often affected by emotion too ;)

That's why I chose these 3 things--all of them are extremely important to consider, but general enough to remember. The lines between them are pretty blurred, many things could go into multiple categories, but I think these three concepts together cover the bulk of things I should be checking in my animation. (Did I just say that?...well, I did subtitle this "subject to change".) Like the elements of nature that are present in every living thing, I want to remember these elements of animation.

Take a look at this drawing from "Pecos Bill". Sorry, I don't know who the artist is.

The line of action is incredible, going all the way through Pecos' body, and continuing down through the horse's front legs. Secondary and complimentary to that is the line of action of the horse's spine. It's a very a graphic composition, very rhythmic. Lots of attention to detail in the silouette.

From an emotional standpoint, you can see (and feel) the strain on Pecos' face as he pulls on the reigns, and on the horse's face as the bit pulls on his mouth. There's also emotional tension in this drawing alone--will they stop? Why are they stopping so suddenly and forcefully?

From a physical standpoint, you can tell that they were moving, probably at a good pace, and are coming to a sudden stop. The anatomy of the horse is clear, the bit is pulling at the corners of his mouth, Pecos' shoulders are pulling much of the force along with his arms. This legs have thrust downward into the stirrups as an opposite action to pulling backwards.

That's a pretty short description of a great drawing, but I think it makes my point. If I can get all of those elements working together, then hopefully my work will improve to a clearer, more emotional, entertaining, and visual standard.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

White snow, White Plains, Blue Sky

Hey everyone, sorry for the lack of posts--"reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Anyway, a little update. This week I started back at Blue Sky for another temp job, this time working on Ice Age 3. I have to say, it's fun to be back and see a bunch of familiar faces. All in all, the first week has been a completely different experience than my first week on Horton. First of all, I'm not freaking out at the sight of all of the rigs and tools, since all I need is to refresh my memory of how they work. Secondly, I get to warm up with an animation test this time, instead of dropping straight into production, hooray! Thirdly, crunch time hasn't started yet, so I actually get to go home at a decent hour. I'm also glad that I had some time away from it after Horton, to clear my head, and learn from the experience before diving into it again.

Also, I want to give a big thanks to the entire animation department for being so welcoming and helpful, especially for the new temps. It's very much appreciated!

Week 1, done!

Monday, June 30, 2008

One for the history books...

I've put off writing this post because, frankly, I wasn't sure how to put my reaction to Wall-E into words. Especially since anybody who reads this is most likely an animator and probably loves the movie too. Regardless, if you haven't gotten to see it yet, shame! Make time for it, and buy your tickets now, because you have the chance to witness something truly special.

**SPOILERS** (best not read more if you haven't seen it yet)
I've been thinking about the themes in this movie over and over, and I saw it twice this weekend already. Obviously to say the ecological themes are strong is an understatment. At first, I was a little put off by the slightly cynical and satirical view of the future, as for some reason I always seem to be pretty optimistic about the future. I don't think people are stupid, and while I see people as flawed individuals I usually don't think of them as defined soley by their flawed characteristics. I think many judgements on other people can be avoided if there's merely an effort for sincere understanding. So seeing a movie where humanity has utterly failed and has become an entire race of fat babies just comes off as a little unbelievable and cynical to me. At the same time, that I definitely feel we have a responsibility to take care of the planet, and that there are many things we need to do better.

I think some people will love and some people will hate this movie for its anti-consumerism "agenda". But regardless of if you praise or scold that message, to leave an analysis of this movie at that point would be superficial, and would ignore the complexities and truths that are revealed throughout the story. At first I saw the movie portray humanity in a negative view, but what I didn't see was that the story actually is oddly one of hope. It says, that even *if* worse came to worse, to a satirical level, there's hope for recovery. In this movie, that hope is Wall-E. And what's more, even according to Andrew Stanton's comments in "The Art of Wall-E", love is what has the power to make that change.

Wall-E changes everyone he comes in contact with. Eve, the two humans on the ship, the captain, even the typing robot by the elevator. And he does it through his sincerity, his innocence, and by being "the most human thing left in the universe" (As Stanton has put it). The only character he can't change is Auto, the robot auto-pilot who can't overcome his programming, a character with no love. Wall-E's yearn for love, and his genuine nature is felt by everyone who meets him. And what's more, he's gained that personality, that yearn for love, by collecting "junk" on Earth. See the paradox? Consumerism ruined the Earth, but also was the instigator of its salvation? No no no, it must go deeper than that. What ruined Earth was people's loss of humanity on the Axiom (ship). That was what caused Earth to never be re-settled, even though it could have been earlier. It's only when people start relating to each other again, when the captain sees what was lost on Earth, that things start going back to the way they should be. Did consumerism cause the loss of humanity? Did the loss of humanity cause consumerism? The interesting thing about Wall-E is that it doesn't damn everything consumerism produces, if you look closely. There's beauty in the rubik's cube, in "Hello Dolly!", in everything that Wall-E collects. I'm not defending consumerism here, I'm not saying that there isn't a lesson to be learned from the movie. What I am saying is that this is a complex movie that reveals a lot of lifes truths, and as we all know, life is not simple. We want it to be. We want to divide everything and everyone into "left" and "right". But life's just not like that.

I don't think Wall-E can fully be defined as a movie with an agenda. We're not talking Michael Moore here, what Andrew Stanton has done is take his views on the good and bad aspects of humanity, things he sees as truths of life, and created a masterpiece that makes you think, cry, laugh, and dare I say love, instead of creating a platform of division, all the while making you think about how we can improve. I know, I'm sure someone disagrees with me right now...that's fine! This is the type of movie that will be interpreted in various ways. There's no way I could ever sum up this movie in a single blog post, and maybe even my interpretations will change with time. It's complex, and though this is what I think now, I don't have life figured out ;)

I could go on and on about the artistic accomplishments of the movie as well, but that's best left for another post...if I get around to it ;) Wall-E is simply amazing, and what an incredible accomplishment. Critics are comparing it to Chaplin, and other things that usually only animators talk about. Flip through the "Art of" book after you see the movie, and don't just look at the cool designs, read what people have to say about the movie.

Oh yeah, and go see Wall-E, err, again...cause if you haven't yet I hope you didn't read all of my spoilers! Don't forget about Kung Fu Panda too!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Batman: The Animated Series

It's always great when I revisit my favorite animated shows as a kid, and find out they're just as good as I remember them--sometimes even better! Unfortunately many times that isn't the case. Thankfully Batman: The Animated Series is in the former group. I grew up watching this show after school, and even years later I find the stories very compelling, and extremely well written. Just check out the intro:

The poses and silouettes are amazing in this intro. I love when Batman jumps and flips over the "bad guy"! It's so dynamic and moody! The art direction is something that the show was known for, and the phrase "Dark Deco" was used to describe it. I love how the Gotham Police ride around in blimps--I mean really, is that the best mode of transportation for police? But it fits completely in the world they created, and makes it unique.

The tone of the series is so incredibly dark, with some very dramatic scenes that usually aren't played in kids entertainment, even today. While the episodes need to move fast for the half hour length, it doesn't talk down to kids, or explain everything through cliche dialogue. I don't understand the perceived need to dumb down stories for kids to "understand", and while I can understand Batman on a different level now, I would say I understood it when I was a kid too. Kids understand much more than we give them credit for, and just because they usually aren't burdened with the cynicism that adult life can bring, doesn't mean they don't understand certain truths of the world.

If you want to hear some behind the scenes comments on Batman The Animated Series, there's a good commentary on YouTube. Here's Part 1:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Thanks to my friend Jon, I got to check out an ASIFA-Hollywood preview of Kung Fu Panda last night! My buddy Ben Willis has been animating on this film for the past 2 years, so I've been waiting to see it for a while. Congrats to the folks at DreamWorks, great job! The action sequences in particular really blew me away, and the movie itself was thoroughly entertaining.

Go check out Kung Fu Panda when it opens this week!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Freelancer's Guide #10: AM Newsletter--"Survive as a Contractor"

In the college years of animation, a lot of time is spent learning the art, honing your skills, etc. But not much time is actually spent preparing you for the career part of it all. If you're lucky you get a professor or someone to teach you how to make a good demo reel, resume, portfolio. But what I failed to really think (or worry about) in college, was not the first job, but the second, third, fourth...

Here is possibly the single best article in an Animation Mentor newsletter yet. Shawn Kelly's Tips and Tricks are great, but this month's feature by Jake Friedman on surviving as a freelancer sums up a lot of what I've learned and thought over the past 2 years. The thing about this article is that it talks about things that everybody working in the animation industry should know, but is more obvious and immediate to freelancers. Jake (a fellow New Yorker) talks a lot about the nature of working job to job, how you prepare for it, and how it prepares you for this crazy business. He says:

The fact of the matter is there’s very little security in the animation industry, and the independent contractor knows this better than anyone (other fields are beginning to follow suit as well, but that’s another story). The contractor never takes the next paycheck for granted and, Zen-like, understands the impermanence of everything.

I never set out to be a freelancer, it just happened out of necessity. More and more jobs, even at the large studios, are contract/per project jobs. And ever since I came to New York I knew one thing: I didn't know where I'd be in 3 months (to throw out a random length of time). Where would I be working, where would I be living, would I move out west? etc. At first that really freaked me out, but eventually I got to a point where I just accepted the element of the unknown that goes with freelancing. 2 years later, I'm doing fine.

When you stop to think about it though, that unknown element is a part of every animator's life, even if they are in a comfy staff position somewhere. And in general it seems that people outside of that lifestyle don't really understand it. But aren't they in a simliar situation? That 3 year contract they signed is temporary, isn't it? What happens after 3 years? What if the industry goes into a slump? What if the company lays people off?

As a freelancer you ask yourself where your next job will be before your current job even ends...heck, maybe even on your first day of your current job! The key is to not get freaked out by that. Some people adapt to that situation more easily than others, and obviously you will be more freaked out if you don't have the finances to help you through the down times. So what do you do?

You prepare!

You update your demo reel frequently. You talk to your friends, you make new connections on Linked In, you keep your ears open, you promote yourself. An updated website is a must. It's not as hard as it sounds, you're really just doing things you should be (and maybe are) doing anyway. I actually feel very fortunate to have started out freelancing, because it has forced me to think of myself in a much different light--I am a business. Of course the IRS tells me that every April 15th, and that's the biggest wake-up call. But thinking of myself as a business has helped me to learn more about self-promotion. But the more I read from sites like Freelance Switch, the more great advice I find that is really just basic business advice. How do you successfully promote yourself? What skills do you have that places need? How do you keep good business relationships with your clients? How do you get job offers to come to you, without you having to search the job boards? How do you network? After all, being a business isn't all that bad even at tax season. Just keep your receipts for all your animation/computer equipment, movies, and business expenses, and you can write that stuff off. All of that, and I still don't have to wear a suit to work! Sweet!

Stability is one of those human desires that everyone strives for in some way or another, in both healthy and unhealthy ways. By being driven into the NY freelance world mostly out of necessity, I've sacrificed one type of stability. But I've gained another, and something I think might be more long term. I've learned how different studios function, what I like or don't like about them, I've had to ask myself the tough questions of what I can do better, what I need to improve upon in order to hopefully increase my job offers, length of employment, etc. But even more important than all that, is that somehow I've gotten (more) comfortable with that unknown element. Some of it is knowing how to prepare, saving money, and just being fortunate that the industry is really healthy and there are a lot of jobs out there. But as I've said before, for me, so much of it just comes down to a simple faith. For a perpetual doubter like myself, it's no easy task, and I really don't mean to make light of the real and founded fear of the unknown. But I said it before, freelancing is like farming, you can prepare the best soil and best seed, but you still can't control the weather. That's why so much of it is up to just getting comfortable with the unknown, and doing the best you can in the here and now. After all, isn't that life?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

"Pencil"--Open Source 2D Animation Software

Lately I've been sketching with the tablet and trying some quick pencil tests, using the free version of Plastic Animation Paper, and Flipbook. But last week I saw a post on Channel Frederator's blog about an open source program called Pencil. While PAP and Flipbook give much more functionality in their Pro versions, I've found the free versions difficult to perform simple tasks, such as holding a single drawing for more than one frame, and adding multiple layers of animation. (PAP: free makes you duplicate a drawing for the number of frames you want to hold it, meaning if you want to change that drawing later you have to change the first, delete all the duplicates, and then re-duplicate the new drawing.)

Pencil doesn't have the bells and whistles of the other programs, but for simple pencil tests I find it's much easier and intuitive to use, if you're already used to using programs with keyframes and timelines, like Maya, After Effects, etc. Its timeline lets you hold a single drawing, move around keyframes, and add extra layers (using either bitmap or vector lines). The onion skin effect isn't as powerful as PAP, as it only lets you see the drawings before and after your current drawing, but I'll take the timeline functionality instead. I've only tried it out for a little bit yesterday, but I plan on using it to plan out my 3D stuff. Did I mention it also lets you import sound? Something that I think PAP: free doesn't let you do.

I haven't fully tested the software, since it's free and open source there could be some bugs, but I just wanted to let people know it's out there, and it's worth taking a look.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Team Fortress 2: Meet the Scout

This stuff is awesome. No more explanation necessary.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

New York Comic Con 2008

This weekend I went to the (3rd?) Annual New York Comic Con! I have to say that I was pretty impressed. I haven't been to Comic Con in San Diego, I'm sure it's bigger and there's more going on, but even so this was a pretty big show, and a ton of people were there. The highlights of the show for me were the previews of Wall-E, and the panel of Battlestar Galactica actors. Before you laugh, if you haven't seen Battlestar Galactica go read all the glowing reviews in the media, it's an amazing show. What we got to see from Wall-E was incredible, so insanely entertaining without any dialogue! It gave the impression that the animators could really play around with entertaining acting choices and it seems so fully owned by the animators. Of course I don't really know, but that's the impression I got by watching it.

Michael Trucco (Anders), Rekha Sharma (Tory), Michael Hogan (Tigh)

I have to say, the Battlestar Panel was one of the best panels I've ever been to (granted I haven't been to many). The actors were so professional, extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to work on a great show like Battlestar, and talked a lot about their craft, their views of their characters, etc. The questions from the audience were overall pretty good too. Michael Hogan is an absolute professional, you can tell by the way he presents himself, how seriously he takes his work, and by just watching him on screen. He's a really amazing actor. Michael Trucco (Anders) was the comic on stage, and I don't think him or Rekha Sharma (Tory) had been to a panel before.

I'm not really a comic book fan, so I didn't know a lot of the artists who were there, but it was still cool to see their incredible talent and to see them draw characters (for a charge) for other people. One of the good things about not knowing a lot of the artists was that I wasn't shy to talk to anyone because I didn't know if they were famous or not! One person I did know and actually got to meet was Peter Laird, one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! The 10 year old in me really geeked out, I was one of those kids who watched the old cartoon every week, had a ton of toys, and loved to yell "Kowabunga" :P He was just sitting at a table, very few people around him buying drawings, no big displays behind him or anything. Really friendly guy, didn't talk to him much but had to get my picture taken with him.

Me and Peter Laird

I also met and talked a bit with David Mack, artist of "KABUKI", and, un-beknownst to me, writer and artist of Marvel's "Daredevil". A book he had on his desk, called "The Shy Creatures", caught my eye because of the similarity in style to Dr. Seuss drawings. I noticed the rest of his work was very naturalistic, and he explained to me that "The Shy Creatures" was actually a part of an issue of his comic "Kabuki", where one of the characters reads this book. He actually created the book in the comic, drew it out page by page through the character's point of view. He said that he thought the contrast in styles between the naturalistic world of his comic and the fanciful style of the book the character was reading was interesting. As I was flipping through his other comics, I saw how his page layouts were very creative, not your normal comic panels, one had a blueprint of a house roof and descriptive text outside of the comic panels. He was very friendly, (not all of the artists were), I really enjoyed talking to him and wish I had gotten a picture with him.

I also went to a few of the other panels, one was on "The State of Animation" with J.J. Sedelmaier and another man (I can't remember his name now, he said he has done Garfield shows for the "last 150 years"), and also one on storytelling in comics, with Klaus Janson and Marc Guggenheim. The storytelling one was my favorite, they didn't talk necessarily about story, but about the differences between writing and drawing for comics, and the difference between writing for comics and writing for film. (Marc Guggenheim has been both a writer for comics and tv, most recently co-creator of Eli Stone.) I found it interesting how so much of what they said was the same thing we talk about in animation, just in different vocabulary. Klaus stressed the importance of using reference, Marc talked about finding your unique voice, both talked about the necessity of re-doing work to make it better, among other interesting topics. It really was a direct way for me to see that what we strive for in animation isn't that different from other commercial art/storytelling techniques. Though I have never drawn or written for a comic book, I could relate to almost everything they talked about through my experience in animation. Once again, my lack of knowledge in comics paid off, as I wasn't shy to chat with Klaus for a bit afterwards...not really realizing how well known he is in the world of comics for his work, and his work with Frank Miller.

Anyway, New York Comic Con was a good time, and I was pretty impressed by it since San Diego is the one that gets all the glory. Anyone who's around NY next year should definitely check it out (and get the weekend pass, much cheaper!)

I thought this guy was a great look alike to Obi-Wan ;) It was funny how serious he was when I asked him if I could take a picture. In complete Ewan McGregor tone, he said "Yes, of course..."

Had to take a picture of Mickey!

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Union Square Drawings: Day 3

Here's another drawing from Union Square. I feel like I should be producing more, but most of what I do is quick sketches that don't look so great. Half of me thinks I shouldn't post these cause they're not great either, but eh, hopefully that will encourage me to improve. Besides, I really just like sharing these images of the people at Union Square, for those of you who aren't from New York. The weather this week has been amazing to get out and draw! I've spent so much time there that it's kinda starting to feel like home.

I've noticed this guy hanging out at the park a couple other times. Today he was beating on this drum (is it a djembe?), just jamming with another guy who was on guitar. Visually his hat and hair struck me as interesting, and emotionally he was really feeling his music. Looking at it now I see I messed up his proportions--his head looks huge :P So from now on I know I've gotta make myself see the whole pose and sketch that in correctly first.

Slowly shaking off the rust...

Farewell, Ollie

In case you haven't been around the animation blogs in the past day, Ollie Johnston passed away. As someone who greatly admires not only his work, but his contribution to creating the artform we know today, it's sad news. I can't say anything too personal since I of course I am nothing more than a fan, but if you check out Cartoon Brew's post, they have a great list of various blog posts, a note from Brad Bird, and the official story from the Walt Disney Company.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Union Square Drawings: Day 1

I always say "I want to draw more", "I want to get better at drawing", etc. Yet, of course, I rarely make the time for it. Now that the weather is getting nicer I want to get out to draw people in New York more often. There are so many interesting individuals in NYC, and if there's one place to see where a lot of them converge, it's Union Square. Here are 3 that I thought turned out a bit better than the rest. Now, I'm not kidding myself, I know I have a long way to go, and there's a reason these are being posted on my blog and not my portfolio site ;) But I'd be a fool living in this city, surrounded by so many people from all walks of life, if I didn't get out there and draw every now and then.

I used to try to draw an exact figure of what I saw, but since I've gotten further into animation, (and since it's been forever since my life drawing classes), my main goal is to find and represent the soul of the people I see. After all, that's really my goal as an animator, and I've always heard that when drawing people, you should "cut to the heart". I still have a problem with getting too detailed, and I have a lot to learn about anatomy, but I think that will improve with practice. Besides, it is much more interesting and fun for me to just use the people around me as reference, and to read their emotions, than to try to exactly replicate everything--especially since these people are always moving.

The girl with the dog is a drawing based on a gesture sketch I made when I saw her, in the other two I was trying to capture the attitude and character of the person, without much emphasis on an exact pose.
I'm pretty happy with this one, would have never drawn something like this had I not seen her. That bench needs a bit of work ;) I was really struck by how much she obviously loved her dog.

This guy was one of 2 singing songs together. They were pretty good, I really wanted to show how loud he was singing by exaggerating how wide his mouth was open. These guys were singing for everyone to hear, and weren't shy in the least.

No, I did not make this guy up! He kinda shuffled down the sidewalk, then suddenly started screaming loudly. Not fearfully or painfully or anything, just this odd, half happy/half angry yell. It was pretty impossible to draw the outfit he had on in detail, I even forgot the feathered boa he had around his neck, and I have no idea what that pillow like thing he was carrying was. But come on, how could I not make an attempt? :)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

NYC ACM SIGGRAPH: Industry Spotlight

Tonight I had the pleasure of checking out the NYC Industry Spotlight, courtesy of the NYC chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH. I wish more of these types of events happened around New York, because it was a lot of fun to see what everyone is producing around here these days. The event was held at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), and featured work from Framestore NY, Pysop, Nathan Love, Charlex, Curious Pictures, among others. It was only a couple of hours long, but it's a great way for professionals and students alike to keep up to date with the CG industry in New York. Basically representatives from each studio give a short talk about their company and work, and then show off their latest and greatest! If you're around NYC and missed it this year, I highly recommend checking it out next year, whether you're a student or professional. If nothing else it's fun to run into some familiar faces!

Congrats to everyone who showed work, great job!

Fed Ex Carrier Pigeons, Framestore NY

Cellular South, Nathan Love

Coke Happiness Factory, Psyop

Monday, April 07, 2008

Lasseter and Jobs on Charlie Rose

Yeah, I know that's a picture of David Copperfield in the preview still, but the first interview in this episode is in fact of John Lasseter and Steve Jobs.

I stumbled upon this video while searching for Toy Story clips. It's a great glimpse back a few years, as it takes place right after the release of the first Toy Story. Lasseter is a young film director, Jobs has not yet returned to Apple for the iPod Age, and Pixar is still a name that people don't really understand. While that sort of nostalgia is fun to watch, what I find the most interesting is how these 3 different characters, Rose, Lasseter, and Jobs, interact with each other. Each one of them comes from a completely different perspective, and hence uses vocabulary that they are comfortable using.

Charlie Rose is the outsider, the journalist, trying to use what he has learned over the years about businesses and computers and apply it to the making of Toy Story. He asks a lot of questions about how the computer makes the process "easier", "faster", "cheaper". Lasseter is the filmmaker trying to explain his craft, using an explanation that makes sense to him, which is that the computer is an expensive pencil. Steve Jobs is the computer business man, once referring to the story/production process as "beta testing" the film before release.

Charlie Rose is in some ways entertainingly ignorant of "computer" animation, and no matter how much Lasseter tries he just can't seem to get the point across that computers didn't make the movie faster, easier, or cheaper. And even though he gets the point that the ideas come from the artists, I don't think he ever quite gets to the point of full understanding that computers are just a new tool and not creators in the process. I found it very interesting how at around 5:20, when Lasseter is trying to explain the differences between 2D and 3D, Rose seems completely lost and almost tunes out as he starts shuffling his papers and looking at his notes, maybe for the next question. In all fairness, how can he understand? To him, a picture is a picture, he doesn't seem to understand the difference between a flat drawing and a virtual 3D environment, he seems to still be stuck in the mindset that somehow the computer can just draw things faster and do them better...somehow...

Steve Jobs is also incredibly interesting to watch, especially if you consider the point at which he is at in his life. I'm not extremely knowledgeable on his business history, but I think the general summary is that at this time he had been fired from Apple, and was working for (or started?) "Next" Computers. This is well before he became one of the top CEO's of the country, well before the iPod and Apple became a status symbol on the streets of SoHo and 5th Avenue, and everywhere else. He seems a little like a broken man, though he tries to hide it, especially when Rose asks him for his thoughts on the fall of Apple. Jobs breaks from his normal catchprases of "We're about (blah blah)" and relevant cultural examples that support his topic, and instead takes a moment to think, and kinda quietly states that the innovation he made at Apple lives on in other forms, even though the Apple Company may not be succeeding, and he might not be a part of it. He seems genuinely proud of that, not in a boasting way, because he has to admit that he failed in other ways. There are many times when he still talks as he does on those Apple Keynote addresses of today, but somehow it's really only the words and his strategies that are similar. I'd have to study it more to see exactly what it is, but he doesn't seem to have the same confidence as he does now when he addresses his theatre of fans waiting with anxiety for him to reveal their new toys. What an interesting comparison between then and now! He's definitely the same person, but his life is changing as he speaks.

Jobs is also interesting to listen to because he seems to be at a point of understanding well past Charlie Rose's (concerning animation), but shares a similar point of view as having been a bit of an outsider to the filmmaking process. Jobs has obviously embraced the filmmaking process, no doubt in part to his view that it will continue to be a success for him, but the way he explains how the product, in business terms, continues to live on (read: is profitable) for decades in contrast to computers that have a very short life span--shows a deeper understanding of the product. He also seems to have an understanding of the inherit value of the creativity of filmmaking. I think that's the paradox of Steve Jobs--he's an incredibly saavy business man and of course his products are results of decisions he thinks will make his business succeed. At the same time, he comes off as someone who understands creativity and innovation. He has a great talent of speaking to both left minded and right minded people, and you've gotta admire his talents.

I was asking myself earlier today why I animate. What is it about animation that draws me to it?
It seems silly to ask that now, but sometimes I wonder. When I look at this, I think I know one reason. I found the juxtaposition of these three guy's distinct personalities very interesting to watch, and I really love analyzing personalities and characters. If you're the same, take a look at the interview. If you have more time, the David Copperfield interview is fun to watch too. He talks a lot about his goals as a performer, and how his inspiration comes from films and stories.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Don Bluth Books

Now, I hope I haven't lost touch with the animation learning material that's out there now, but I'd never even heard of these books by Don Bluth until I went to Barnes & Noble today! Am I crazy? Maybe some (heck maybe I'm the last) of you guys already know about them, but in case you don't or haven't bought them yet, it's worth posting. Seeing that the copyright says 2005, I guess they are relatively recent publications.

Don Bluth's The Art of Animation Drawing and The Art of Storyboard are now a part of my permanent animation library, and as useful and necessary as The Animator's Survival Kit and The Illusion of Life. Books like these don't come along often. More often than not in the animation section of the bookstore you find a giant book that claims to have everything you need to know in one spot, and when you actually look through it you see horribly unappealing characters in Maya screenshots, and pages and pages of information overload. Not so here.

Don Bluth's book reads with the simplicity of Preston Blair's Cartoon Animation, and the personal anecdotes of the Illusion of Life. It takes the complex process and personal feelings of the animator and summarizes them in an easy visual book. Every now and then he adds little bits of advice that have more to do with working on the job than technicalities of animation, and gives a broader picture of what it means to be an animator, an actor. He has stories of his experiences at Disney with Milt Kahl, John Lounsbery, and his own lessons he takes from the lives of Walt Disney and Freddy Moore. He ends the book with an interview of Marc Davis' wife Alice. If you're looking for another Survival Kit, that's not quite what this is, though there is plenty of discussion on analyzing action.

There is no silver bullet to great animation. In fact, even in my few short years of animating, I've figured out that the more I animate, the more I see myself rediscovering what is referred to as "the basics". There is SO much to learn about animation, it is impossible to read a few books, know it all and immediately put it into practice. That's why critique and learning by doing is so important. Don Bluth gives his personal take on the art, acting, storytelling, and job of animation in this book, that I feel is a fantastic blend of the technical and emotional sides of animation (and animators). He covers all the bases, and then some, quickly and easily. After that it's just up to us to practice. And practice. And practice. (And get critique.) And then get the book out again and remind ourselves of what we've forgotten.

**SCAD students will notice a quote by a familiar name on the back of the storyboarding book! Didn't Larry work at Bluth Studios?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Horton on CG Talk

Check out this article (and pretty pictures) about Horton on CG talk!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Horton is here!

Hey everyone! Horton is finally released! I went to see it tonight at a "real" screening, and it was so crazy to see the name on the marquee, posters in the lobby, and random people watching something that, for me, had only existed in a few floors of a Westchester County office building.

It's a strange sensation to have this project suddenly out there in public view, and existing on its own. It's exciting, and regardless of all the stress of the crunch time during production, I feel very lucky to have worked on this film, and am proud of the team I worked with at Blue Sky. The animation team ballooned up to at least 60 people at one point, about half of which were temps and half staff. As I think I described in an earlier post, it was very intimidating to kinda be thrown into the deep end with no feature film experience. But the leads and other animators really stepped up and helped us temps find our feet, and it was amazing to see how far we came in such a short period of time. Nearly all of JoJo's sequence in the observatory was animated by temps, (Unfortunately my shot was cut, but fortunately before I had started animating it ;).

I'm still realizing how much I learned from the experience. I'm blown away by the talent there, and if you go see Horton you'll know why. The animation is so fluid, flexible, polished and just plain fun to watch. The only shame is that many of the animators' crazy stretch frames are now partially hidden by motion blur, but even still, when this comes out on DVD and you frame through this stuff, you'll be amazed.

I'm also blown away by how much visual appeal there is in the characters, and also by how much of that came from how they were animated. When you opened the Mayor's rig, for example, he didn't look like the mayor. He was plain, straight--exactly like a cartoony rig should be, in order to be able to bend him in any way. The animation team, long before the temps showed up, had figured out a way of animating the Mayor's face to give him appealing asymmetrical expressions (often one eye is slightly bigger than the other, the mouth is at an angle, and the skull is curved slightly), as well as how much to round the elbows, wrists and shoulders. Essentially, you had to animate him and bring him "on model" and in character. The downside to having this control, and what makes it so difficult, is that it is extremely easy to animate him "off model", so that he somehow doesn't quite look like what had been established as the Mayor. The difference can be so subtle, but so important!

Anyway, I could keep rambling but it's late and I need some sleep. Go see Horton this weekend! I've actually really enjoyed the film both times that I've seen it, and so far it has received generally positive reviews. My favorite scenes are the Kangaroo/Vlad sequence, and the Angry Mob sequence (at the climax), but there are other parts of the movie that work really well too.
Go see it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Freelancer's Guide #9: On Hold--Part II: Priorities

There's more to tell about holds, oh yes, there is. If you haven't read the first post about holds, it might be best to go back and refresh your memory.

So, let's pick an alternate story about holds. Say you are talking to Studio-A, and they say "We'd like to put you on first hold for January." They haven't booked you, or given you a start date, they just have you on hold. Then you get a call from Studio-B, who says they'd like to put you on hold for January as well, and want to know your availability. Neither place has said they want to book you, so there is no "challenge" happening. What do you do? If you accept a hold from both places, and both places later call you up to book you for the same time, how is it decided which place gets your services?

The answer lies in what priority that hold has. Studio-A has said they want you on first hold. That means that they have first priority over your services, over any other place for the duration of that hold. So when Studio-B calls and wants you on hold, what you do is tell them you have a first hold (you can decide if you want to tell them it's for Studio-A), but am not booked for anything at this time. You can either tell them you'd be able to agree to a "2nd Hold", or wait for them to ask for a "2nd Hold" when they respond.

A "2nd Hold" does not just mean it's the second one you have. It is the priority which that place has on your services. They have 2nd priority, meaning that if Studio-A (your first hold) wants to book you, Studio-B really has no say in the matter, because they have 2nd priority. So what's the value of a 2nd Hold?

Let's say Studio-A has you on hold for a length of time, but has no work coming in to actually book you for. You're not hearing anything from them either, and the chance of employment is not great. Studio-B on the other hand has work coming in, and wants to book you. Because they have 2nd Hold, that gives them the ability to "challenge" Studio-A's first hold. (If you read the first post on holds, I talked extensively about challenges--if you're confused, just go check it out again). Since Studio-A has no work coming in, they have no choice but to release you from the hold, leaving you free to go work at Studio-B. Alternatively, if Studio-A actually has work and they want to book you, they have the first hold so you work for them. So, no matter if you'd prefer one job over the other, it all comes down to who has priority.

Priorities don't stop with the 2nd hold though. You could have a 3rd Hold, and theoretically even a 4th Hold. So, say your 3rd hold, Studio-C, wants to book you, and neither Studio-A or B has called to book you. Before you can work for Studio-C, you first have to talk to Studio-A and Studio-B because they have priority. If by some chance all 3 studios want to book you, Studio-A wins because they have First Hold, first priority.

Why have all these holds though? I mean, if a place wants to put you on hold doesn't that mean they are going to hire you? Not necessarily. A million things could happen that could keep you from getting booked. The project could fall through at the last second. The studio may have put too many people on hold, the budget may have gotten cut, who knows. Multiple holds, if you're lucky enough to get them, can help you in the event that something falls through. Giving holds priorities is really the only way to be able to handle multiple holds at once.

A couple things to add to this: If you're getting multiple holds from places, this is actually a really good thing because it means that places are busy and you're in demand. On the other hand, if you're struggling to get holds, it could mean any number of things. 1) There's not much work going on in your area at the current time or 2) You need to improve your skills, or networking, or website,etc so that you're more employable. Even if you're doing everything "right", a freelancer's life is a life of faith, because the unemployed times will happen, and there's only so much you can do to promote yourself. No amount of self-promotion or skills will help you if the jobs simply aren't there. Even if the jobs ARE there, it can be easy to get worried that the next one won't come...and the one after that...and the one after that... Just do your best, keep learning and improving, and try to have faith that the unemployment is temporary. Plan for that unemployment time, save up money to get you through it, and if you're in a stable position, try not to freak out. I'm not saying that if you badly need money you shouldn't go find a way to earn some to pay your rent. I'm not saying you shouldn't work hard. Yes, you have to learn and prepare, but patience and faith are as necessary as that demo reel, even when everything is going "right".

My dad is a farmer. Freelancing is kinda like farming. It doesn't matter if you've bought the best seed available, have the richest soil, and the best equipment. When it comes down to it the weather has to be good! And we can't control the weather can we?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Letterman is funny

Check this out starting at about the 3 minute mark, when he talks about Cloverfield (no spoilers). Shout out to Framestore!

Massive Legs from Mass Market

Check out what's on Motionographer! Psyop's sister company Mass Market did the visual effects on this awesome spot. It's only a minute long, but nothing seems rushed or confusing, and there's a great payoff in the end. Good stuff!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

HF2 Makes Time Magazine's Top 10!

"Happiness Factory: The Movie" has made #7 on Time Magazine's top 10 TV ads! I just saw a very edited version on TV the other night...if you haven't had the chance to see it in theatres, go to the Coca-Cola website to see the full version. Especially if the only version you saw was the 3 minutes and 30 seconds cut-down-to 30 second TV version. See, all those 4 square lunches really paid off didn't they guys? Except that time that Aja hit me in the head with the ball...


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Freelancer's Guide #8: Freelance Switch

Whether you're thinking of going freelance, or are freelancing already, there is a site that is an awesome resource, It really is a must read! It doesn't matter if you're just a freelancer hopping around to different studios like me, or if you're running your own full business from home, there is so much advice to pick through. I've only recently started reading it, and not only has it opened my eyes to new ideas, but it has also helped me to put words to things I already knew worked, but didn't fully understand why.

Check it out, and subscribe to it in your feed reader! It's the single best resource dedicated to freelancing that I've seen.

(Thanks to Kevin Williams, and his awesome Google Reader shared items, for pointing me to this fantastic website!)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Website Updates

I made a few updates to my main website, head over there to check it out!

Psyop: Guinness Dot

Check out this awesome ad that Psyop recently did for Guinness! My bud Miguel Salek showed it to me, he worked on it there last fall. I love the simple story, it reminds me of Chuck Jones' "The Dot and the Line", but only in the fact that both involve a short narrative involving dots and lines as charcters. It's stuff like this that makes working in New York unlike working anywhere else. So many people still think of "New York animation" as just the indie animators like Bill Plympton, or further back, Max Fleischer, but today there are so many different types of animation going on here. Psyop's well known in the motion graphics world for stuff like this, and man oh man, do they do it well!

(ignore the held frame at the end, whoever posted this just left it like that I guess)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"Hello, this is...a recording."

Well, I've been home in Iowa for Christmas and New Years, and have been able to see some of the craziness and hype for the caucus first hand. My parents' phone was ringing off the hook as candidates tried to win them over, (today we received a recorded call from one of the candidates, complete with noticable edits). The local TV channels have had nearly entire commercial breaks filled with political ad after political ad. I'm all for the caucus, I really am, but now that it's over and done with, I think it's time to step back and have a laugh at the insanity that's been around here lately. I found this video via the Des Moines Register website, it's completely tongue-in-cheek, but I thought it was funny. Reguardless of if you're happy with the caucus results or not, it's a funny song ;)

"Get Outta Our Town (Caucus Lament)"