Thursday, February 09, 2012

Going dark...

Anyone who follows this site has probably noticed a distinct falloff in posts over the last year or more. Part of that has been intentional. I've just been so busy with other parts of my life, including my family, my ministry projects, my interests outside of animation- not to mention my full-time work at Valve, that I just don't have the time or energy (or interest, honestly) to maintain an online presence as an animation person of interest. So I'm retiring from animation blogging and online animation teaching. As such I won't be doing any more APT sessions or new tutorials or training videos. I did try and have a few smaller classes over the last year, but it's just been too much to fit in and do well. Maybe someday I'll come back to it, but for now it's just not something I have that much interest in continuing. I still like to teach, but I much prefer live on-site teaching experiences where I can be there with the students. Along those lines I'll be teaching a 2 week workshop in the Czech Republic at Anomalia again this summer. I did a one week class last summer and had a blast. Live teaching is definitely a more enjoyable experience than remote online teaching. So I will stay active that way, just not here on my site or with online classes.
Another element that factors into my decision is the fact that there are a number of good resources available for online animation training now that didn't exist 7 years ago when I started the VTS and APT. With the recent advent of schools like AnimSchool and iAnimate (and others), along with the older AnimationMentor, there is enough competition in the marketplace, which is good for students. I don't have any interest in creating a larger organization to compete with those folks- I never really did. I just wanted to provide an alternative, fund some ministry projects and pay some bills along the way. I'm glad I was able to do that for a while. I most enjoyed the relationships I've had over the years with my students. You guys have been amazing. I've enjoyed the feedback and interactions, the friendships (and the occasional scuffles) I've had along the way. You all have been a great blessing, even those who ragged on me.
I will leave this site up, along with the tutorials, so no worries there. I just won't be adding to them. I'll also leave my blog up for those interested, but won't be adding new posts. Same goes for my Youtube channel. I'll leave the store up as well so folks can still get the old VTS training videos. The current low price for the old VTS video bundles will now be the new normal price. I'll also probably be shutting down my twitter feed and doing some serious pruning of my Facebook friends list to get it down to just people I personally know.

God bless and peace...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Audience preferences & Tintin

Mark Mayerson continues to impress me with his thoughtful analysis of animated films and the medium in general. He has a great post up that addresses audience preference for films that hew more closely to their world as they perceive it everyday. As is his usual approach he takes a look at history, noting how Disney's feature film successes coincided with the studio's great efforts to make animation seem more 'real' to audiences. He looks at the current popularity of CG films over 2d films in this light, drawing some pretty cogent conclusions. You should definitely check it out.

I'll use Mark's thoughts as a jump off point for my own. I'm thinking that in a few years you could rewrite Mark's post and swap "hand keyed CG" for "hand drawn" and "performance captured" for "CG". A quick survey of many of the most popular animated films today seems to reinforce Mayerson's assertion that audiences prefer things to be more real. There has been a trend in films where the style of character animation, cinematography and editing are becoming more like live-action lite. The goal of many keyframed scenes is to closely emulate a video-recorded performance in a lot of these films. Current students and working animators see this and thus they are working to advance their skills in this style of realism based animation. Jobs are as competitive as ever, so if you can hit that style you have a better chance of working in the biz today. That serves for today. But I'm not sure how much runway is left for it.

At some point performance-capture tech is going to become that much easier, that much faster, that much cheaper & that much more accurate so as to negate the need to keyframe these kinds of scenes. Why pay an animator for three weeks to keyframe a single copy of himself doing an amateur acting job when you can just as easily put a professionally trained star actor in front of a camera and get the real deal, extract the data from the video & spatial capture and put it on a character? And on top of that you can have six takes in an hour? You're telling me that the director of Rango wouldn't want to take all those beautifully acted video reference performances of Johnny Depp and toss them onto a CG puppet? One may say "Yeah, but it wouldn't be stylized.". You don't think they're working on that, too? You should check out Hans Bacher's experiments turning photos into painterly images using off the shelf Photoshop tools. There will be an answer to the stylization question, as well. Count on it. Of course we're not there now, but look at how far the tech has come since the first Zemeckis zombie-kiddy film. If we follow the technology arc (and if no global black swan event occurs to disrupt things) it seems to me that in another 10-15 years we might just be there. And if pressed I'd say I'm being too conservative. It might be as soon as 5-7 years. Remember- the iPhone came out in June of 2007. A measley four and a half years ago. Now we're all talking to Siri the all knowing feminine voice in our phones like a bad Star Trek episode. Crazy, huh? Forward thinking folks are already messing with dual Kinects hooked into real time engines for performance capture without the need for suits, cumbersome calibration, data conversion, etc. The current results are predictably poor, but promising. It's just the beginning. This path will get better. Start thinking now about how you'll adapt. What skills will you need to gain now so that when this hits you'll be in position to take advantage? Where will the work be? Perhaps more importantly- where will the rewarding, creative work be?

Meanwhile, over on Cartoon Brew Amid Amidi discusses how the tech used in the making of Spielberg's Tintin is already making an impact. The word he uses again and again is 'realism' and how it's here to stay. The performances in Tintin aren't amazing, but overall they're not creepy like Polar Express, either. There are hits and misses- just like the best of Pixar's hand keyed films- but overall the stuff I see in Tintin is not distractingly creepy. Perhaps the corner has been turned on the Uncanny Valley. At least it doesn't seem impossible to get pleasing performances from quasi-realistic motion capture characters anymore. This means something. Amid also notes the tactic of using a 'virtual set' and how this will affect and change production roles for artists and technicians in 'animated' films. Extrapolate these advancements in technology into the future and it doesn't take much imagination to see where things are headed. Prudence suggests one ought to note this and start preparing now.

Nothing stays static for long. The highly paid animators of Disney & Dreamworks in the mid 90's never would have imagined that 15 years on they would be scratching and struggling to stay employed. CG animation in 1996 was every bit as limited and clumsy as mocap is now (trust me, I lived through it). Not to be sacrilegious or anything, but the only thing that still holds up today from Toy Story is the storytelling. The animation looks quite dated. No king of the pencil back then could imagine that in just a few short years that same tech would advance so far so quickly. Couple that cognitive blindness with a core misunderstanding of what it is that most audiences want and you paint a picture of a grumpy old dinosaur telling the mammals to get off its lawn. Ironically what most audiences want is the very thing that Walt tried to give them way back in the day, but the technology limited him. My guess is that if Walt were alive today he'd be doing what Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg or Gore Verbinski are doing. Perhaps therein lies a hint at a plan for the rest of us.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gruntly & Iggy for your iPad

Long ago, in the dark days before iPods, my partner in crime Bryan Ballinger and I co-wrote and co-illustrated a children's book called The Great Cheese Squeeze: A Gruntly & Iggy Adventure. So even though now we're well into the 21st century and we're still waiting for our jetpacks (Hello? Science? Yeah, you dropped the ball on that one.), Bryan has gone through the trouble to make a fancy-dan interactive version of the book for iPads, along with some lovely narration by the talented Elizabeth Smith. Anyhow, since you won't be able to get a jet pack for your kids this Christmas at least you can find an inexpensive fun read on a space age tablet thingie for your little ones.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Stupid Crazy VTS Blowout Sale II

It's that time of year again- time for me to offer crazy pricing on my VTS back issue animation training videos.

Now's your chance to get over 60 hours (not minutes, or beavers, or parsecs- but hours!) of character animation training for the silly low price of just $99.

"That's not low!", you say.
"Psh. Just you go and find more for less.", I snort in reply.
And we'd have this jocular interplay for a few minutes until we finally end up with you breaking an awkward silence by grudgingly muttering "Awright. I'll get 'em, you piker."
And I'll nod slowly with a steely glare and say "Yes, yes you will, sir."

What is the VTS, you ask? My, aren't you the rhetorical Chatty Kathy, today? Fine, I'll tell you. VTS stands for Video Tutorial Service- it was a monthly subscription service I ran for over 5 years back in the olden days when goatees were still popular and mustaches were considered just plain creepy, not all hip & ironic like today. Anyhow, each month I made a new animation training video for my subscribers. Those folks paid a good penny for the stuff back then- about $15 each month. I stopped making new videos in 2009 when I realized I was repeating myself and I didn't want to keep milking people to pay for my back waxing addiction. However since it seems new people keep coming into this animation game and they want to learn things, too I keep these things available for purchase.

So what once cost somebody over $900 you can have for just $99. And thanks to modern space age preservatives these pixels are as fresh as the day they were baked. What a bargain! Stop reading this insipid treacle called a blog and go get yourself some high grade animation understanding right now! My back needs a waxing something fierce!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Internet Classics....

Fun pre-youtube internet video...

You know you loved it ten years ago, you know you still love it today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Holy smokes, I made a short film!!!

The surprises keep coming, though. Read on...

It's been over 10 years since I released my last fully completed short film (2001's "Lunch"). Since then I've had many, many projects come and go, with starts and stops. But now I've finally done it. I've made an honest to goodness real short film- and finished it! Presenting "My Bathroom" starring Yurt the Yeti...

Wait, wait... puppets??!!! Yep, I've gotten into puppetry. And let me tell you, it is very addictive. When I was growing up my entertainment sensibilities were shaped by two major influences- the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes shorts and Jim Henson's Muppets. I've managed to make a career out of animation, but now due to the encouragement of family and friends I'm doing puppetry for the sheer joy of it. I'm having an absolute blast! The great thing about puppetry is that I can turn something around really quickly. I was able to plan, shoot, edit and do post on this two and a half minute film in ~10 hours (that does not include making the puppets, although those only took me about 8-10 hours each). Imagine that- turning around a full short film in a weekend. You'd be hard pressed to do that with CG (believe me, I've tried!). It's like a dream come true! And I've got ideas for more shorts, too. The key thing for me is to get the ideas done and out there, entertain, tell stories, reveal and live with characters. I finally feel like I can do that without investing months or years to get my ideas out. Plus I'm not just stuck in my studio on the computer. I'm up, moving around, breaking a sweat, learning new things. Even better, my wife and kids help, too- it's really a family thing in ways that animation never was or could be. Working with my hands on something is just too cool. But I won't be quitting my day job as an animator, though. I still like that too much. :)

I've made a channel on Vimeo for future shorts starring Yurt and Cousin Squeegie. It's called Confessions of a Yeti. Feel free to subscribe and see what comes next.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


There's just so much to like about this little film. Congrats to the folks involved.

Blik from Polder Animation on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Saw this today on the Brew. Student film made by James Lancett and Sean Weston at Kingston University. It totally works. I love how they melded the hand drawn animation onto live video plates- I think the shot of the rain in the cereal helped sell the connection a ton. Very clever.

And on a personal note- this film also aptly describes what this spring has been like here in Seattle. heh.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travelers With Short Legs

Travelers with short legs from Leo Campasso on Vimeo.

By Leo Compasso. Found via Cartoon Brew. Not sure what's going on here, but whatever it is, I like it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some pics from nearby....

A few weeks ago I took a back road not far from home to grab some HD video to use as song backgrounds for our church. I got some nice stuff, so I figured I'd share. Here's Mount Pilchuk. I was probably 2 miles from the summit as a crow flies.

Here's a closer look.

A view looking down the center stripe of the road. Not a lot of traffic that day.

Here's a closer look at the snow melting up into vapor from the sunshine.

A quiet little spot in the woods.

And lastly a short HD video clip of snow turning into steam vapor. It was mesmerizing to watch.
Snow Vapor from Keith Lango on Vimeo.

GIRAF call for entries - 2011

Passing this along....

Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival (GIRAF)
Nov 2-6, 2011
at Plaza Theatre, Calgary, AB
Nov 2-6, 2011at Plaza Theatre, Calgary, AB CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS GIRAF is an annual animation festival that celebrates the spirit of independent, underground, and experimental animation.  Our programs are a strong eclectic mix of animation, representing the best of the medium from Claymation to CG. We focus on presenting independent animations that push boundaries through new techniques, unique visions, and stimulating subject matter.

We DO NOT CHARGE A SUBMISSION FEE, and encourage short and feature length local, national, and international submissions.

DEADLINE: August 1, 2011 *Postmarked*

We DO NOT CHARGE A SUBMISSION FEE, and encourage short and feature length local, national, and international submissions.
DEADLINE: August 1, 2011 *Postmarked*Visit for full submission details and forms