Monday, May 26, 2008

brief aside, animation, inspiration, invevitable frustration

While some of you blog readers are graduated, gearing up for careers in animation, I thought I'd mention a few things that keep me motivated when things get challenging. Just some thoughts I thought I'd share when faced with frustration.

When you do any kind of commercial art, the only round you can really take personal ownership is the first pass you present. I used to work with a great art director who was really amazing at letting her work get reworked to the point where the end result had little semblance to her initial pass. I asked her how she managed to be so open to losing her idea, and she just shrugged and said, "The first version is mine. After that, it no longer belongs to me". It seems very obvious, but it struck me at the time as very profound. Much of this business is subjective and when you work at a company, producers, directors, art leads, etc..their opinion holds much more weight than that of the animator. That's ok. Effectively, they're the client you need to please. Sometimes the client needs to change things a bunch of times to feel like they're getting their money's worth. Sometimes you impress them with your clever problem solving. Sometimes this turns on a dime, and back again.

So there is much you don't have control over in doing any kind of commercial art, but there is a lot you do have control over, mainly your attitude and drive. The image above is from one of the most effective teachers I had over the years, Irwin Greenberg, a watercolor artist in NYC, who got a lot of really talented artists started. When I lived in NY, it seemed any sketch class I'd drop in on, I'd see Mr. Greenberg in the front row, painting away with a quiet intensity. In his class, he told us to drop all goals and frustrations and think about Rembrandt, who despite all the hardships he faced in his life, would continue pushing on making better and better paintings, year after year. (I'm avoiding the whole cliche of despair into seems more of a marketing scheme to sell the idea of the artist to buyers than anything else). What he said was to the effect of 'when you engage in the activity, you're a member of the club (said in a slight NY accent). That's all I ever set out to be.'

Another nugget of wisdom. It's all about the activity, and with animation, if you spend what free time you have focussing on it, you too are a member of the club, part of the tradition of talented people figuring out how to muscle through the mechanics of motion for the goal of entertainment - of yourself, of others. That in itself can give you a sense of personal achievement - committing to the work for the sake of the love of the activity, maddening as it often is.

So when you look at your animation and feel like 'this is the best i've got' - don't despair - just know that there's a century of amazing animators who have run through the gamut of emotions we all go through, but use that frustration and tension to go forwards with more determination and focus.

Friday, May 16, 2008

spring 08 showreel

I just wanted to thank everyone for all their hard work this term. It was a pleasure to teach you all and I wanted to mention how great it was seeing you shape up your pieces. I threw together a quick showreel, so take a minute and look at your work as a group and pat yourselves on the back for developing a more critical eye and for coming up with a really entertaining bunch of animations.

disclaimer...the synch is off in places and I'll fix it/reupload it as soon as I can. Also...some of these shots didn't make it too much further than a post-blocking pass, but I included them because they showed some good decisionmaking.

And last of all, congrats to Joseph Lee on the Pixar internship - stay in touch and let us know what you're up to. I don't exactly know what happens with those pixar internships..rumor has it they force feed you cupcakes or something, but presumably you'll do some animation as well.

Keep in touch everyone, and keep animating!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

last day

Last day of class tonight.

Reminder - bring in all the work you've done this term at a small file size including any changes you may have done to your cycles, etc. over the course of the term.

This term was a lot of fun for me though quite a challenge due to the large class size. As always, I'm happy to review reels and answer any industry questions you might have before you're turned loose on the world.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

how i handle backups

In every semester, I hear a bajillion exuses about losing your homework, drives failing, files corrupting.

I'm sympathetic. This stuff really does happen, and more often than not, drives will fail in sequence. I hate losing work and figuring out latest versions of files, so here's a quick map of my network.

1. desktop hooked up to a router.
2. buffalo network drive hooked up to the router
3. laptop

I use a program called svn, one version found here.

What it does is allow you to make a folder and store it on either a local drive or the internet if you're fancy and can figure all that stuff out. I just keep it on my network drive, as I don't need my desktop on to use it, check out a file on my laptop, work on it a while, check it back in, and there it is. instant backup. if i'm making small changes to a file, I personally don't save a lot of revisions, but this lets me check in revisions as i go, and am able to get them back as needed.

the real low tech solution for file backup is to get an extra google account and just continuously email yourself versions of your files.

Just passing this along in case it's of help to someone.

cool graffiti animation

Monday, May 12, 2008

jason ryan animation

great site for tutorials....and a cool rig for sale.

the last week.

Ok..we're doubling up this week. The makeup class is happening on Wednesday in room 805 at 7pm. As a special treat, you'll have a guest teacher, Paul Hermann, my former lead from Activision. Paul is a great resource and has a really critical eye, so bring your work and point him to the right directories. It's also a good opportunity for you to ask questions about the industry and what game studios look for in reels.

We'll also have our final class on Thursday. Bring in your work from this term at a reasonable file size (this means you, Karen Kwak, of the 2500 pixel wide playblasts) as it's time for final grades.

Everyone's been doing great work lately...don't lose steam this week - this is the stage where you can really make your work shine.

Sunday, May 11, 2008



first off, good for you for kicking it old school and doing a weight exercise. I think of these like push ups...they aren't all that fun, but they make you, better at animation. well, the analogy breaks down. There is a reason animation mentor teaches with this exercise though...weight shifts are essential to making your character feel alive.

the one major issue i have with this piece is the passing poses happen when the knee is down. think of a walk. when you push off onto your leg, it allows room for your other leg to pass as the weight is off. watch the foot as you rotate. generally, it's safe to pivot on the ball of your foot, but i think this character is too low to the ground. i did a very fast sketchover mostly indicating the Y height of the ball, and where it would should be positioned over the feet. in general, you want to raise your weight, reach out to plant then let your weight fall on that foot. so hold the ball back a bit before pushing forwards. also, keep in mind momentum as well, and the speed of your one point it accellerates quickly to a hold which seems like it's a passing pose.

all for now...

Friday, May 9, 2008

my run cycle (iron man gameplay footage)

i've been so wrapped up with our project and teaching, i've had almost no time to do any personal work, something I do as much as possible. I didn't have much to do with the Iron Man game...almost nothing, but they did ask me to redo the Escape Suit run cycle. I had about a day to do it. In games, there's a lot stacked against you...the animation had to travel at a set speed with a set number of frames. In this case I think it was about a 30 frame cycle sped up in code, so I had maya play it at 40fps to simulate what it would look like in engine. Game animation doesn't have as many cycles as you might think...for the most part, it's quick actions, but the cycles that are in are used a LOT, so they have to be fluid, and with as much character as possible.

In any case, here it is, in all it's glory.

showcase on Adam Green

today, for show and tell, I'm highlighting a few animations from my friend Adam Green. I used to work with him at Activision, and he's since gone on to Blue Sky and Disney, but here's some of his older work...he insisted on a disclaimer though..." as long as you say its overacted and old"


and last, the same sound clip as Diego's, MLT.

Enjoy...Adam worked really hard to improve his skills - bear in mind this is old work - I can't wait to see his Horton reel.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

penultimate class

a few quick things. I'm not exactly sure if tonight will be the final class or next week..I'll keep you posted. In the interim, a couple of things.

I just posted this clip because it does a fantastic job at conveying anger barely held in check. Look at when she holds her fist up about to strike. Now THAT'S a moving hold. Look at what the eyes are doing in both the characters. I think that's what makes this so can see the wheels working behind both character's eyes. When you have a character doing 'nothing', or just reacting really get inside their head.

Bring in your work.
As it's time for final grades over the next week or so, bring in the work you've done this term. Keep them small. Except for Joe and one or 2 exceptions, you should have...

walk cycle
run cycle
prop piece
acting piece

I did allow you to continue working on older work throughout the term, so bring in your assignments.

Just a brief aside on grading...I personally don't place a lot of importance on the value of a grade in this class as it pertains to working in the industry. It really doesn't. As it's for your degree though, I endeavor to be fair about it. I weigh in a few things when factoring your grades.
1. quality of the work. in animation, it's all about the reel, so how good your work is matters.
2. attitude/class participation/comments on the blog. for those that didn't hide in the back of the class and let out the occasional grunt, it will factor into your grade. animation is at its best a collaborative activity. developing a vocabulary to discuss the work, as well as learning how to talk about your work without being defensive is invaluable to succeeding in this field. Learning is hard - you have to make mistakes, and often your eye develops faster than your hand as it were, as you learn to develop a more critical eye.
3. improvement/how hard you worked. some of you had some misteps along the way, and worked really hard to shape them up. some did a good first pass but didn't work that hard to take it further. I feel much of what I'm pushing in this class is a focus on process and those of you that worked on a process and didn't jump right into polish shouldn't be penalized.

Ok...let's push to get our pieces into shape - it's often the last stages that shapes the whole thing up.

Friday, May 2, 2008

revising the syllabus

After teaching this class for two terms, I've been given the go ahead to draft a new syllabus. I'd really appreciate you input, as you have a better idea of what is or isn't effective about this class.

There were some speedbumps this term, as the class shot up from 10 to 22 students, making lectures challenging., so I'm throwing out some questions your way..

which would you rather have more of.
if so, on what and for how long

theory and technique

individual critique
i made the call to focus more on maximizing the time on critique this term and attempted to roll in a theme or two per class and to explore that through the work.

and on to the bullet points of syllabus 2.0

  1. ball bounce. - cycle lecture
  2. cycle with character - run or walk, hop or skip. up to the student.
  3. cycle final
  4. idle to walk off stage
  5. idle to walk offstage 2
  6. idle to walk offstage final
  7. pantomime exercise. blocking
  8. pantomime exercise first pass
  9. pantomime exercise. second pass
  10. pantomime exercise. polish
  11. acting. blocking
  12. acting. first pass
  13. acting. second pass
  14. acting. polish pass
  15. last class. individual reel critique, cleanup on any pieces from this term.

Your input is important - my only interaction with the academy is showing up once a week and trying to cover as much ground as I can. I've found so far in every class there's a pretty broad range of skills and by having a longer period for each assigment, it will allow people time to take their work to a more finished level.


so far it seems people would like to see more of a focus on weight mechanics as well as class demos.

One thing I'm struggling with is whether to keep the exercises the same for everyone, but have and advanced portion to them, or keep them a little more general, so that if we're doing a pantomime piece, the student can use that to do a weight exercise. I don't want to punish the beginning or advanced students, and it seems the syllabus needs to cater to both.