Monday, December 22, 2008

pixar leaves the academy


If reading about the economy wasn't bad enough, it looks like the Spline Doctors have left the building. (thanks JD for the link)

This is a big blow for the Academy...these guys volunteered their time and passion for years, and the results speak for themselves (believe me..no one teaches for the money)...I've worked with tons of people in the industry that have all said they wouldn't have made it in the industry had they not had those 'pixar' classes.

Grab a cup of coffee and read the comments.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008...year in review

First off, thanks for doing such great work this term...some of you really had no clear workflow at the start, and it was great seeing everyone develop their process as much as anything else.

What a year for the animation industry. With the dreadful news of Laika (losing 65 people), EA (9 studios closing/restructuring +10% staff layoff), Factor 5's recent troubles...there's a lot of shops closing down, which I always hate to see -it's bad for everyone all around, not only for students getting out of school, but for people who have been in the industry for a while.

Times are dark, but for those of you working on a reel, just know that it takes as long as it takes...your reel will (and should) never feel ready to send out, and sometimes you have to put together the best of what you have to send out, but keep working on it...keep coming up with new work to replace the old..get feedback from your peers, and the some practice animation to keep it fun. If it feels like a chore, it will probably show in the end. So stay positive in spite of the economy - it's never been easy to be a commercial artist in any field, and there's a LOT to be said about persistence. Were I less stubborn, I probably would have given up a long time ago.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

cloudy with a chance of meatballs


Just noticed this production still from Sony's new "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (great kids book)

What does everyone think of the look?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

euler filter fix

I just switched over recently to Maya 2008 and was dismayed to find the euler filter is broken in it. I'm usually fussy about my rotations and generally work in gimbel mode, but there's times when you just need to carve into an animation and just whack with the euler fix as needed.

Here's the link to a fix and to the actual mel to download (put it in your script directory and restart maya)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jason Schleifer's Blog

It's back up..

I always find Jason's posts to be really insightful...He also mentions a great post on, well, how one's reactions in the workplace ripple outwards.

One of the toughest things to learn in any commercial art field is how to gracefully receive and take criticism. It's something I've struggled with over the years, especially in games, where the hierarchy of decisionmaking isn't always clear, and sometimes aesthetic decisions can take a back seat to a designers taste. It's not always fair, but I've found the only way to make the process work is through good relationships with your team, and learning how to take critique without personalizing it.

Which brings me to a little aside. Being a professional is a learned thing, but I believe the path to being a great team player starts in school. Animation is tricky in that it's subjective to a degree, but there are enough 'rules', or solutions to problems out there to enable a framework for critique.

The hardest thing I had to learn in my professional career is to just listen without responding. If your lead or whomever is looking at your work and doesn't like it, as an employee, it's your job to put on your empathy hat and figure out what they want. Sometimes it's a matter of style...sometimes the motion isn't fluid enough..whatever the reason, it's your job to figure it out, and deliver it not only graciously, but in a positive way. The thing about being in a collaborative environment is that you don't have full ownership of your work. You have ownership of how you do the work, and probably the first pass, but some of the best work comes from collaboration, so being receptive to ideas that aren't your own is key. Back when I worked as an Art Director, the running joke amongst my peers is that a client would come in and ask us to 'make it cool.' Uh, sure. Cool. I would often get frustrated until I noticed a friend of mine as the question back..'well, what's Cool to you.' Then he got somewhere. Once I learned that trick, my job became much easier. Letterspaced type is cool? Great. Drop shadows on everything is cool? Happy to oblige! Once I realized that I was there to help them articulate their ideas, my job became much more enjoyable.

So step back for a second...if you show someone an animation, ask for a critique, and instantly respond with an excuse, you're in a way, disrespecting the person giving the critique. You don't have to take the advice, but what you can do is listen to it, consider it, and if the person missed your intent, explain what you were trying to go for in a clear way. I'm not saying change your animations based on what everyone tells you..that can be a dangerous thing, but learning how to talk about your work in way that's not personal helps you learn to articulate your opinions and become a better communicator. It also opens you up to a better critique if you can express yourself clearly. If you can express intent, your fellow critiquers may have a more targeted solution.

Getting, and receiving feedback, is a tricky endeavor - it takes a while to thicken your skin up and takes practice.

But listen to that Schleifer guy..he knows his stuff.

Make sure you read the animation mentor monthly newsletters (subscribe if you haven't)

Great link on this subject to a much higher degree by the wise Nick Bruno - a primer on making it as a freelancer, and, really how to conduct yourself in the workplace...I wish I'd had this when I started out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

next term..

I decided to mix it up a bit and teach a different class next term. Looks like I'm teaching character animation 2.

The syllabus is currently:

  1. Change of Emotion (3 weeks) – using a character such as Generi or Hogan, the student will animate the character going through a clear change from one emotional state to another.
  2. Waiting (1 week) – Character is waiting for something – emphasis will be on attitude (bored, impatient, etc.) and personality quirks that keep the character “alive.”
  3. Walking the Dog (2 weeks) – using a character and a provided dog model, the student will animate a cycle of the character walking his/her dog. Emphasis is on quadruped animation as well as personality. For example, the dog and owner may share similar traits.
  4. Eating in a Restaurant (3 weeks) – student may model simple props. Emphasis is on personality (dainty eater, sloppy guy, etc.)
  5. Two Characters with Dialogue –(5 weeks) – Project will be 15-30 seconds in duration and will require at least two camera cuts. Emphasis will be on successfully animating to dialogue and believably showing two characters interacting with each other.

If anyone has taken this class before, let me know how effective the syllabus was (already I'm going to have to veto Generi) So far I've been finding the Academy syllabi to be a bit overly ambitious (already I'm vetoing any 30 second dialogue pieces)

so, uh, you do cycles and stuff...(the return of 'pimp' gingy)

video


video

I quote one of my former students who asked me this question the first day of class, when I mentioned I work in games.

So, yeah, I do cycles and stuff, but I wanted to take a moment and show some of the work I've done for a couple of projects. Now, for starters, neither of these scenes have made it onto my demo reel - I didn't have the time to polish these shots to a professional level and after the fact, well, who really wants to see a cookie pee on a demo reel.

This is one of those tricky things in games - usually on an 18 month project, there's about 3 months of cinematic work. This is a good and bad thing. Good because, well, it's acting, performance, and all those things that animators love. Bad in that the timeframe to do these shots is rough.

In the top shot, I had about 4 days to do it(split between myself and another animator), and also had to rig the gnome character as well as do some of the layout. Looking at it, I still cringe. It's also captured from a ps2, so the curves are dampened down a bit..the moving holds flattened out to the point of being static, but really, it just needs more. At the same time, I really struggled to make really clear blocking choices so that the humor could come out even if there wasn't time to polish (like the garden gnome...the animation on that still makes me shudder)

The bottom shot was done in 4 days as well, including redoing the layout, as the intial layout had all 6 characters in view at all times. Needless to say, 30 seconds of animating a realistic character, a dragon, 2 spellcasters, and 2 giants in 4 days is impossible. But my company was happy enough with this level of quality. This is kinda crazy, when I look back on it..there just isn't enough time to even get the pops out, or get the weight to read, let alone refine any elements in the scene, but one doesn't get to make these calls.

I think I had a point somewhere...I guess when I see a lot of student work that's overambitious, it kills me a little, because at times, I have to just bang out work at a first pass/refined blocking state due to the demands of the project...this is sometimes a necessary evil unless you're lucky enough to work for a place that will commit to scaling the scope of a project to allow for really quality work, but in games, cinematics are really subordinate to the gameplay (where even the deciding on a pose for the main character can be redone countless times, as it's scrutinized by the player for sometimes 40 hours...think on that...someone analysing your pose for 40 hours.)

So take on what you can successfully handle, and push your work as far as you can.

As far as the theme of demo reels goes, it's really important to be in the mindset of making every shot count as much as possible. I'm showing these shots as much an example of what NOT to put in your reel as much as they are indicative of the sort of work that exists in game companies. Game cinematics and realtime IGCs do require you bring your A game, both in laying out the camera, and managing scope in order to achieve the best work you can.

You never know what you might have to animate in your career, and therein lies some of the fun and challenge. There is a great post on Flip on how to get a job in games, and I suppose I'd just throw in an addendum that good acting can help your chances, though it isn't the main priority, as most acting is outsourced these days.

great post...getting a job in games

Conversely to the prior post, check out Cameron Fielding's post on getting a job in games

imageworks...a conversation on demo reels

I spied this conversation between Robin Linn and Chris Bailey, an animation director at imageworks on that horrible timesuck, Facebook, about demo reel does and don'ts. To me demo reels are something of a riddle at times, as it's different at different studios, but this covers a lot

one of my favorite quotes

"My kryptonite is that I'm an impatient guy. So if I go to an animators website to look at their work and don't see a big button that says DEMO REEL, I'll search for about 15 seconds and then move on. Likewise if I can't get a demo to play on the site for some reason, I'll simply pass."


Robin A. Linn at 7:54am December 3
As long as the work is good, I don't mind a reel being on the long side - especially if it shows a variety of work (some cartoony and then some more realistic, as an example) but if the work is just okay - nothing is going to help it. Oh, and another thing, dont repeat your animations. If we missed the mistake you made on the first view, odds are we'll catch it on the subsequent one...

Robin A. Linn at 9:23am December 3
I think students (and professionals) forget that animation is acting. We want to see acting on their reels - their acting should show us they know about physics, posing, timing, etc. BUT the performance should always come first and be at the heart of their reel.

When i see reels cut to to a cool piece of music, the first thing I do it turn the sound off. Petty Jedi mindtricks like this don't work on most directors.

And then there's "the more fancy the demo's titles are, the less accomplished the work is" rule.

Chris Bailey at 8:18am December 3
A couple of animators on my crew (whom I loved, btw) asked me after the show what I thought of their reel. So I watched it with them and said my thoughts out loud as I recall from watching it the first time. I could tell it was an eyeopener. Some things that they had on their reel meant little to me and then when I got to a meaty bit I'd say, "... this is where I decided to hire you."

I'm not sure we're all the best judge of our own reels...I've had editors and agents give me advice that I thought was counter-intuititve, but they turned out to be right.


Chris Bailey at 11:01am December 3
I look at fancy music on a reel as a smokescreen. Also, if the music isn't to the director's taste, you might lose points. A lot of public domain music that people put on their reels sounds like porno music...yipes. Better to let the work speak for itself.

Robin A. Linn at 8:36am December 4
Morning all, Animation Director (and all around great guy) Chris Bailey and I were just talking about reels and I thought you might like to read what was being discussed

Robin A. Linn at 8:38am December 4
Chris, what terms would you use to describe the typical Reel Review? For those of you who dont know what a Reel Review is - it is where a recruiter sits down with the supervisors and takes a look at the reels that have been submitted

Robin A. Linn at 8:40am December 4
Please know that most of the time these take place with one or two supervsiors (lets use anim. sups for this example) and we tend to look at between 25 to 50 reels as fast as possible. Remember these sups are on shows and are very busy ppl

Robin A. Linn at 8:43am December 4
The reels once they arrive are, sorted, logged into a database and stored in bins. Sometimes the resume and cover letter get separated from the reel case. This is why I say not to send a separate CV - slip it under the clear plastic cover of your DVD's case

Robin A. Linn at 8:45am December 4
They may sit there for weeks before a reel review can get scheduled - like I said, these supervisors are busy ppl.

Robin A. Linn at 8:48am December 4
If you are one to put your reel into an elaborate case and send along a portfolio of your life drawings, please know that the packaging will probably get tossed and the life drawing may get looked at but more and more I am seeing that anim sups are not really interested in your drawing skills


The first thing people need to know is that director and supes have very little time to review work. If I'm looking at an art portfolio and see life drawings for more than a couple of pages, the next time I'm going to jump a few pages ahead ...if i ... Read Moresee still more life drawings, I'm going reach for the back of the book skipping what's inbetween. I can tell if you can draw by just a few drawings...I'd like to see a progression and range from page to page.


Robin A. Linn at 8:50am December 4
A coordinator will assist in the review - he or she will take the reel and put it into the DVD player. You'd think the artist who sent us the reel would make sure it would play, but all too many times, it wont and the reel gets tossed.


Robin A. Linn at 8:53am December 4
Okay - did you read that? A coordinator sees your reel case. NOT the sup. so why would you spend a lot of time designing a reel case? SPEND THAT TIME ANIMATING


Chris Bailey at 8:55am December 4
I do like to see drawing skills. The most common thing I find lacking in CG animators work is their staging skills. Poses are weak and don't read as well as those with a background in drawing.

Actors learn how to stage their bodies to direct attention to to what they want the audience to see or not to see...traditional animators were taught the same thing, but I'm not sure that CG people are taught this anymore. There are exceptions, of course.


Robin A. Linn at 8:56am December 4
Sometimes the sup will ask to see a resume - sometimes. See, your reel is in truth your resume. It not only tells the sup where you worked but also what you did - what shots you were assigned and how well you did them - you reel is a thousand times more important than your resume/cover letter - so, please do not spend valuable time designing logos, etc. Not to be blunt, but we dont care about that stuff

Robin A. Linn at 8:58am December 4
Chris, what is the most common mistake you see on animator's reels?


Robin A. Linn at 9:01am December 4
Here's a lil background on Chris - just to let you know the caliber of his comments....http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0047193/


Robin A. Linn at 9:07am December 4
for me the most common mistake is that they all assume we look at their entire reel all the way through. We dont - we just dont have the time - you'll get 10 seconds or so....


Chris Bailey at 9:11am December 4
My kryptonite is that I'm an impatient guy. So if I go to an animators website to look at their work and don't see a big button that says DEMO REEL, I'll search for about 15 seconds and then move on. Likewise if I can't get a demo to play on the site for some reason, I'll simply pass.

On my last project, I did just that and if it wasn't for my ... Read MoreAPM going the extra mile to make sure i got a copy of this person's reel, i would have never hired them. That would have been a shame for the both of us as they turned out to be very strong and we became friends.

Chris Bailey at 9:13am December 4
Please don't put weak work on your reel. We've all done work that isn't our best, when you put weak animation next to strong, it says that you either can't tell the difference or that your supervisor contributed to the strong work.

Is this too blunt?


Robin A. Linn at 9:14am December 4
How do you feel about elaborate menus that require you to push lil tabs to see part of the reel? I HATE THEM.

Robin A. Linn at 9:29am December 4
Ive seen reels where the characters that the applicant animated were in color while the rest of the shot was in black/white - that was a great way to break it out


Chris Bailey at 9:36am December 4
One last thing before I go out the door to the gym to beat my puny animator body back into some kind of shape. I posted about this earlier, but it bears repeating...

Since I haven't worked on big, multi-year spanning animated features in years, I need to know how fast my animators are. Sometimes, I'll need a shot in a day and while it doesn't ... Read Morehave to be the best shot in the world, it needs to look like a shot, meaning that the poses must communicate and there is a sense of timing.

When I see reels from feature films with just a few shots on them, it makes me wonder how fast they are. If I were to look at the shot breakdown from Alvin and the Chipmunks, my guess is that 90% of the shots were animated by 30% of the crew.

I can't count the times I had to go to the animators on my latest project at WB and say, "we need this new insert/fix/whatever, but it has to be done be end of day tomorrow or it won't make it in.

The animators that can do that for me are invaluable.


Chris Bailey at 9:36am December 4
One last thing before I go out the door to the gym to beat my puny animator body back into some kind of shape. I posted about this earlier, but it bears repeating...

Since I haven't worked on big, multi-year spanning animated features in years, I need to know how fast my animators are. Sometimes, I'll need a shot in a day and while it doesn't ... Read Morehave to be the best shot in the world, it needs to look like a shot, meaning that the poses must communicate and there is a sense of timing.

When I see reels from feature films with just a few shots on them, it makes me wonder how fast they are. If I were to look at the shot breakdown from Alvin and the Chipmunks, my guess is that 90% of the shots were animated by 30% of the crew.

I can't count the times I had to go to the animators on my latest project at WB and say, "we need this new insert/fix/whatever, but it has to be done be end of day tomorrow or it won't make it in.

The animators that can do that for me are invaluable.

Chris Bailey at 9:37am December 4
The color/BW solution is brilliant!

Peter Saumur at 1:07pm December 4
Ah HAH! So you know Demian then... :D

I was wondering what you would look for in a demo reel that was only motion capture shots? I've worked with motion capture my whole career, and will likely start AM this year, so I am curious if you hold the same criteria for those types of reels.

Chris Bailey at 1:11pm December 4
I can tell if the animator knows how to interpret the mocap data.

Well, experience has taught me that Mocap only goes a very very very small way to finalling the performance - if these was someway to see the raw feed vs. the final that would be great, but I dont even know if that is possible. How about this - do you have any work that is Mocap free that you could put on your reel as well? That'd help. Look, I know one thing, animators that are Mocap savvy are also very tech savvy - and that is always a bonus

Monday, December 1, 2008

burn after reading

video

I put up this clip from the Coen Bros movie, Burn After Reading. As per usual, with the Coen Bros, it doesn't totally add up, but has such moments of genius in it and such great offbeat characters, it's hard not to enjoy it (assuming you like twisted black comedies)

I had new respect for George Clooney in this..the link I posted has no sound, but even without sound look at the power of the reaction shot. This works so well even as pantomime - just watch as he has that moment of realization at 55 seconds in. His entire demeanor changes..from genial, moving his head around, to completely contained. The eye darts and minor facial movements are complex and worth study..

Frances McDormand's somewhat clueless and chatty character provides a heightened contrast to him as well, making his lapse into paranoia even more powerful.

Watch the slow camera move in to emphasize that realization as well as his shoulders showing he's breathing much faster..even in a very close shot those details MATTER.

at around 1.25, look at his barely contained fury..almost a moving hold full of contrasting parts...

Of course, the camera work and cuts support his mental process.

New respect for Clooney!