November 27, 2004

Incredible Shrek Bob

Originally uploaded by ejhdigdug.
Click on the picture to see it better. Me thinks this is the standard action movie poster. What cracks me up about this is Sponge Bob is the only one to get the pose right. The rest have the arm that goes forward the same as the leg that goes forward.

November 26, 2004

Learning New Software

The next film I will be working on I will be using Maya. I haven't touched Maya in well over four years, so I'm going to have to re-learn how to use it. So software is weighing heavily on my mind right now.

Warning bad analogy alert:
To me animating with software is like learning to play the guitar. With the guitar you practice the same chords, scales and finger positions over and over again so that they become second nature. It's not until you can forget about the finger positions and focus on the music, feel the music, it's not until then that you will you be able to play the guitar. Before that your just practicing.

Animating with software is like that to me. I have to allow the software to become second nature so I can focus on the animation. If I'm hunting and pecking for buttons or tools and not thinking of the animation then I'm not really animating. I want to focus on the poses, the timing and the spacing. I want to feel what the character is felling.

As I've said in the past I've used a lot of different software packages, sometimes I've had to learn them quickly so that I can be thrown into production quickly. I've come up with a method that lets me do this quickly:

First I try and figure out how the software is similar to the software I've used in the past. What are the new names have they given the same tools that other software uses. What tools are missing?

Second I learn how to pose the character and set keys in time. Once you have posing and spacing down your half way there.

How do I see my animation in real time.

This is when I look to see what curve types are available to me. What curve type works best for this software package. (Not all software packages interpret curves the same way, so if you have a favorite, don't expect it to be there when you change software.)

Last I don't try and learn the whole software at once. That would be too much all at once. I take a few tools that allow me to get the job done and I focus on those few tools. Once those tools become second nature, I'll add a few more tools. As I start to feel comfortable with those tools I'll add in a few more and so on over and over again until I learn the whole software. This is a never ending process.

November 23, 2004

A Couple Good Reads

A couple interesting articles popped up today.

First Animation Mentor, (the cleverly designed internet animation school) has finally announced their prices and class schedules. I think the idea behind Animation Mentor is pretty brilliant. But I'm slightly biased because I'll be one of the instructors (part time). Seriously, animation is a skill. Like any other skill the best way to learn is to be taken under the wing of someone who's already doing it. But in animation, the only way to do that is to work at a major studio. And the only way to do that is to know how to animate, but to learn to's a catch 22. Animation Mentor is a great solution. LINK

Also Jim Hill Media has a great article by Josh Edwards abut the upcoming animated feature films that are coming out in 2005: "Robots," "Madagascar," "Chicken Little," "Cars". That's a lot of animated films in one year. Personally I hope they all do amazing in the box office. There's an argument that the public has a limited amount of money to spend on animated films, so only one or two may be successful. I'd love to see that argument buried by having all of these films do well in the box office. I like the idea of having more, good, animated films come out every year not less. I think the public has an apatite for animated films as long as they're done well. I think the problem that films have had in the past is they all look and act alike. My hope is that all these films are different enough from each other that the public can recognize the differences between them.

I found the article to be a good read, check it out: LINK

November 17, 2004

Learn From Others Mistakes

Ward Jenkins from Primal Screen wrote me a very nice note about my blog. In his note he said this:

"I really appreciate your honesty as well as your ability to share what you've learned throughout the years with a faceless crowd."

This made me wonder why am I sharing all this stuff anyway? I mean what did I have to gain? Was there something to loose? I had to think about it for a while, and I even thought about canceling the blog. But then I think I came to my conclusion.

Several years ago I was frustrated with the direction my career was going. I'm one of those people who believe that if you work hard at something you'll eventually get rewarded. I had just spent a year working hard at something to watch it blow up in my face. I was frustrated and annoyed. What annoyed me most was when I tried to explain this to friends and family they just didn't seem to get it.

Then a thought occurred to me: I can't be the only person in history to have gone through all this. I didn't invent animation, animation has been around for years, surely someone else has gone though this. How did they handle it? Were they smarter then me? Could I learn from them?

So I started to seek out and find all the animation history books that I can find. I try and avoid all the studio driven books in lieu of the animator biographys. The personal insight is what I look for, but sometimes you cant avoid it. From that point on I've become an Animation History nut. From what I've read, very little has changed about the industry, even with computers in the equation.

The book that helped me the most was How To Succeed In Animation by Gene Deitch. I'm a huge UPA fan. I just love the style. Mr Deitch published this book only on line, but I recomend it. It's a great read.

Other books I like are:

Talking Animals and Other People by Shamus Culhane (if you read that you should also read his other book Animation from Script to Screen)

Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age by Michael Barrier

Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones

Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

But to understand the industry animation was in you should also read:

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind


Keys to the Kingdom by Kim Masters

I'm sure I'm missing a few, but those were at the top of my list.

November 14, 2004

About Me Part III: The Working Years

So I’ve been finding this last part difficult to write. I’m still under non-discloser with a lot of these companies, and I don’t want to piss any of them off. So if I’m brief, that’s pretty much why.

Upon graduating CalArts I blanketed the animation industry with my portfolio & demo reel. I was tired of working various Mc Jobs for Mc Minimum Wage. I must have applied to 30-35 studios. I really didn’t discern whom I applied to. I was desperate and wanted a job in the animation field. Out of those 60-70 places only 2 called me back. Walt Disney Feature Animation and Rhythm and Hues. Disney wanted to hire me as an inbetweener/cleanup artist on the film Hercules. Basically it’s the first step into becoming an animator at Disney. Rhythm and Hues wanted to hire me as a computer animator. I’d love to tell you that I saw the future, and I saw job security in computer animation. To be honest, if Toy Story hadn’t come out that year I would have chosen Disney. I had visions of one day working at Pixar and I thought computers would take me there. This decision surprised even me. I still preferred traditional animation to computer animation.

Rhythm & Hues was great! The benefits were incredible the pay was great. Every once in a while I’d get an old time Disney animator as a director. Every time that happened my animation skills would take a jump. My favorite project was It’s Tough To Be A Bug, directed by Chris Bailey. The project was for a theme park in Disneyworld. It was connected to Pixar’s film A Bugs Life. I was lead on this project so it really felt like it was my own baby. R&H was good and all but I was concerned by the fact that two years out of College I was already a lead. I knew I had a lot to learn and I felt I wasn’t getting it there. What I really wanted was a mentor like position. But they don’t do that in computer animation. What I really dreamed of was working at Pixar.

My dream came true, briefly. Pixar was working on Toy Story 2. Six month before completing production they decided to rewrite the entire film. They were left with the problem of how to animate the film in six months. The theaters were already rented and advertising had already started, so they couldn’t push the release date. That’s where I came in. In the interview they told me that they had only six months of work to give me after that I was to be let go. Still, I jumped at the chance. Six months to work with some of the top talent in the industry was more then I could hope for, and secretly I was hoping to stay forever.

As soon as I got there all my hopes for staying faded away. It was obvious that they were overstaffed, so there was no way they’d carry me to their next film. Even so the experience on Toy Story 2 was great. I got to go through P.U. (Pixar University) I learned a lot and got to work on a lot of great shots. The coolest factor for me was the fact that I was working with Woody and Buzz. These were the same rigs that were used on the original Toy Story. I’m a bit of an Animation History nut, so to play around with these rigs was a bit like playing around with history to me. At the end of the film was the end of my job and I was out on the street again.

It’s funny, I loved Pixar so much. It was the only place I ever wanted to work at and as far as I was concerned it was the only studio producing anything that was worth anything. So if you love Pixar, whom do you hate? DreamWorks. I hated DreamWorks like a passion. Any time DreamWorks would pop up in the news I would send email to my friends poking fun at them. We would all get a good laugh at their expense. So where do I work after Pixar? PDI/DreamWorks.

At first I couldn’t believe I made that decision. It was only compounded by the fact that Pixar called me two weeks after I started training at PDI/DreamWorks asking if I would be free to work on Monsters Inc. I had to tell them, sorry, but I’m already under contract to work on Shrek. That disappointed me, but DreamWorks turned out to be a great decision. They have a very relaxed friendly working atmosphere. The people that I’ve work with have been awesome. There are some really talented animators working there as well. There are other animators from Pixar, as well as animators from Disney, Sony, ILM, you name it. I’ve been there for about 4 ½ years now and I’ve really had a good time. Currently I’m working on a film called Madagascar. I think this film is one of the funniest, cartoonist things I’ve ever worked on. I’ve learned a ton of stuff about cartoony animation on the project. I can’t wait to see how people react.

So that’s about it for me, hopefully this gives you an idea where I'm coming from. So far I’ve done almost everything that computer animation has been related to. Special FX, Short Films, Television Commercials, Theme Park Rides, Future Films, and Video Games. Probably the only thing I haven’t done is a television show, but I have worked on two pilots for television shows. I’ve also used six different 3-D animation software packages professionally. Three of them were Proprietary the rest were off the shelf. I will talk more about that later. But that’s basically where I’m coming from.

November 9, 2004

Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppet Show

The teaser trailer for Michel Gagne's Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppet Show is on line. Check it out HERE.

Michel Gagne is a very tallended illustrator, painter, and animator. He designed the characters in the ill fated Warner Brother's Movie Osmosis Jones. He's also done several short films, comic books and children's books. I've been a great fan of his work for a long time now.

November 6, 2004

About Me Part II: College

They say that hind site is 20-20. But my experience at CalArts keeps changing every time I look back at it. It was the best and the worst experience of my life. Good or bad, CalArts is where I learned to animate. Before that I had never heard of squash and stretch.

It’s safe to say that upon walking in the door at CalArts I immediately hated it. I went to CalArts with visions of an art school where all the students hung out at coffee shops, smoking and discussing philosophy, art and the craft of animation. Instead what I got was a trade school where all anyone wanted to talk about how good Disney was and how to get into Disney. I hated it, but eventually I learned to understand it. I mean if there’s only one school in America that lets you major in animation, then everyone who wants to get into Disney will go there. But I was beside myself with disappointment I wanted my coffee shop art-school experience damn it.

Over the years I gradually learned that I was wrong to feel this way about CalArts. What I leaned from CalArts was that good animators don’t hang out at coffee shops, they hang out at their desks working on their shots. CalArts taught me that the only way to learn how to be a good animator is to animate and to remain critical of your animation.

While at CalArts I focused on traditional hand drawn animation and my drawing skills. I went to every life drawing class they offered and I stayed late into the night getting the most use out of their pencil test machines as I could. I ignored the computer lab, I had turned into a traditional animation snob, and I believed that computers would never be as good as pencil and paper. Drawing was were it was at man.

November 4, 2004

A Few Notes on Faces

Faces can be one of the hardest thing to animate. Any time the face starts looking like a mask, warning lights should go on in your head. The face is flexible, it can squash and stretch. If it's looking stiff try sqashing the cheeks and adding drag to the nose. Or if you can, play around with the shape of the head.

A closed mouth is very important in duologue. If you don't see the closed mouth it's you may need to add an extra frame on it. Always pop out of a “B” sound. Remember you don't hear the “B” until after the jaw opens, not on the jaw closing. “M” is the other way around. It's a humming sound.

The face should always be asymmetrical. A good example of this is the boy in The Incredibles. He never has a symmetrical face. Even a subtle shot should be asymmetrical, even if it's just a little asymmetrical, that little bit goes a long way to make the face look good.

Don't be afraid to move something. Not moving something because your afraid to break the model or the animation you have already done is the biggest crime you can commit as an animator. Feel the character and what he/she is doing. You can always save. I recommend never going back to a previous save. If it doesn't work, its better to try again then to go back. You learn more, and in my experience it looks better anyway.

November 3, 2004

About Me Part I: The Early Years

I hope I don't come off too egotistical in this. But I thought before I get too much further with this blog I should introduce myself and explain my experience with animation so far. Kinda lay it all out on the table and go on from there. Also, I never read blog entrees that are too long, just a few paragraphs tend to be my limit. I’m sure there’s more people out there like me. So instead of one big long entry, I’m going to write it in sections:

I first became interested in animation when I saw the Monster Cat in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. As a kid, I was into the cartoons that they showed on television. Like other kids some of my favorites were the Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbera cartoons. But it wasn’t until I saw Monty Python that I started to think that I could make animation myself. Up tell that point animation was just something you saw on television, Monty Python made me think I could be an animator. There was a freshness to it and it was so surreal that truly anything could happen. Not to mention that it was funny as hell.

Later on I went to a screening on “The International Tourney of Animation”. My pour Mother had to drive me into town and then she had to sit through the show twice as I refused to move. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Unlike the shows I was used to seeing on television, each cartoon was vastly different then the other. Some were good, some were bad but each of them had their own style. I can’t remember what year it was, but it was the year that the film “Balance” came out. It was after that show that I decided that this was definitely the direction I wanted to go.

My parents were great at encouraging my interests. We lived in Trenton New Jersey at the time. It wasn’t like we lived near any major film studios or knew anything about film making. The first thing they did was look in all the local community colleges to see if any of them listed animation classes. The only class they could find was one on computer graphics with some animation in it. This was at Mercer County Community College. The college also offered life drawing. So my parents signed me up for both classes. This was while I was still in High School, they thought it be a good idea to get a jump at college.

The other thing we did was we got our hands on a directory of animation studios. We wrote a nice letter asking them what school most of their employees came from. We sent out a lot of letters, but we only got three back. All three mentioned CalArts, but one also mentioned Sheridan and the other mentioned Evergreen. So I applied to all three. Sheridan told me that they could only accept Canadians before they accept any Americans, and they usually fill up on Canadians so my chances of getting in were slim to none. Evergreen gave me a full scholarship, but it was for a major in film with a minor in animation.

Last, CalArts accepted. I think they accepted because I had both life drawing and CG in my portfolio. A major studio had just donated a bunch of computers to their studio and I think they were looking for students that would fill them. Little did they know, my experience at Mercer had completely soiled my taste for computer graphics. I wanted nothing to do with computer animation, and I swore off computers after leaving Mercer. My problem with computer graphics was that it was not expressive enough. It was too technical so I thought there was no way that computers would ever be able to do the expressive animation that you could do with a pencil. Not that I could draw very well mind you, this is just the way I felt. So I went to CalArts not to do computer animation, but to learn real animation.

Ollie's List: Animation Notes from a Master

Courtesy of 3D ark

This is a great list of dos and don't from the legendary animator Ollie Johnson. It's an old list, but it's good to re-read:

1. Don't illustrate words or mechanical movements. Illustrate ideas
or thoughts, with attitudes and actions.

2. Squash and stretch entire body for attitudes.

3. If possible, make definite changes fromone attitude to another in
timing and expression.

4. What is the character thinking?

5. It is the thought and circumstances behind the action that will
make the action interesting. Example: A man walks up to a mailbox,
drops in his letter and walks away or A man desperately in love
with a woman far away carefully mails a letter in which he has
poured his heart out in.

6. When drawing dialogue, go for phrasing. (Simplify the dialogue
into pictures of the dominating vowel and consonant sounds,
especially in fast dialogue.)

7. Lift the body attitude 4 frames before dialogue modulation (but
use identical timing on mouth as on X sheet).

8. Change of expression and major dialogue sounds are a point of
interest. Do them,if at all possible within a pose. If the head
moves too much you won't see the changes.

9. Don't move anything unless it is for a purpose.

10. Concentrate on drawing clear, not clean.

11. Don't be careless.

12. Everything has a function. Don't draw without knowing why.

13. Let the body attitude echo the facial.

14. Get the best picture in your drawing by thumbnails and exploring
all avenues.

15. Analyze a character in specific pose for the best areas to show
stretch and squash. Keep these areas simple.

16. Picture in your head what it is you're drawing.

17. Think in terms of drawing the whole character, not just the head
or eyes, etc. Keep a balanced relation of one part of the drawing
to the other.

18. Stage for the most effective drawing.

19. Draw a profile of the drawing you're working on every once in a
while. A profile is easier on which to show the proper proportions
of the face.

20. Usually the break in the eyebrow relates to the highpoint of the

21. The eye is pulled by the eyebrow muscles.

22. Get a plastic quality in face - cheeks, mouth and eyes.

23. Attain a flow through the body rhythm in your drawing.

24. Simple animated shapes.

25. The audience has a difficult time reading the first 6-8 frames in
a scene.

26. Does the added action in a scene contribute to the main idea in
that scene? will it help sell it or confuse it?

27. Don't animate for the sake of animation but think what the
character is thinking and what the scene needs to fit into the

28. Actions can be eliminated and staging "cheated" if it simplifies
the picture you are trying to show and is not disturbing to the

29. Spend half your time planning your scene and the other half

30. How to animate a scene of a four-legged character acting and
walking: Work out the acting patterns first with the stretch and
squash in the body, neck and head; then go back in and animate the
legs. Finally, adjust the up and down on the body according to the

November 2, 2004


So,I haven't posted anything in quite a while. There's been a lot going on, I will have to fill you all in later on, hopefully it'll make sense. But it's safe to say it's been taking up most of my time.

I did hear a rule of thumb about parenting today. It's in regards to parenting in computer animation:

Whenever possible, make the object that has the greater mass the parent and the lighter object the child.