Friday, April 29, 2005

Organized Keyframing (Pose to Pose) Tutorial in French!

Thanks to Pascal Hang for his efforts in translating my old Pose to Pose workflow tutorial into French. That makes it the 5th language that tutorial has been translated into (in addition to Korean, Spanish, Portugese and Hebrew). I dunno, but I think that's kinda cool. It's neat to be able to do something well enough that people find it worth putting into another language to share with others. I'm not even sure my Mom is really all that proud of that, but I think it's pretty nifty. Anyhow, if you're of the French pursuasion feel free to check it out here.

I think that's the most hyperlinked bit of text I've blogged yet. Whee!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Video Reference

We came across a fairly well done test animation online at work today. It had all kinds of nice flourish to the details, decent weight, good overlap, decent arcs, thoughtful poses, etc. It certainly had the mark of someone who shot a good amount of video reference and then used it to create the animation. Not rotoscoped, no. Just the animation made heavy use of the video reference You could just feel it.

And that's kinda where it fell flat.

Despite all of the little things in the animation that should have made it just amazing to watch, it kinda was just... I dunno. Just kinda OK. In that same way that girl in high school would dismiss you by saying "Oh him? Well, he's nice I guess." Ouch.

One of the dangers of video reference is becoming blind to what it doesn't have- namely- it lacks the exaggeration and artfully chosen emphasis that can only be expressed in animation. Video reference needs to be taken beyond what is seen in the video. You need to bring an animator's sensibility to what you get from the reference. You have to pick out the parts that are good, push them. Distill the information down. Push poses, build contrast in the poses, go inside then outside, reverse the line of action, play with the texture and the pace of the timing, pick the best staging for the moment, etc. If all you do is grab still frames from the video and make those your thumbnails then you're not doing the full job of an animator. Now you're becoming more of a motion stenographer. The Milt Kahl audio intervews you can grab over at Seward Street blog bring that home. In track 09 titled "Lazy Bastards (Live Action)" Milt says about some animators who used live action reference heavily in their work....

They'd use it because they didn't have to think. They'd draw the character over the damned photostats. And that's what you'd get. You'd get the same performance you got from a second rate actor.

And in Track 15 titled "The Crutch of Live Action" Milt also says

At least if you're gona use it for reference, use it just for that, use it for reference. Don't accept it blindly. ... No, the only reference I had for Medusa (a character he animated) was by watching people all my life.

Now Milt was known as a salty and somewhat gruff fellow, a man of very strong opinions. However he makes great points. Listen, the reason I'm an animator is because I'm not able to physically pull off the kind of believable acting that Kevin Spacey can when a camera is rolling. Trust me, if I could, I'd do that for a living. There's a LOT more money in being able to do that. Heh. So when I shoot live action reference of myself acting out a scene I have to understand and realize that my own ability to physicaly portray a scene is limited. As such I need to bring an animator's eye to the work. I have to pull out of my experience all the things I know that go into making an animated performance something special to watch. It's not realistic. My clumsy acting in the video reference is realistic. Nobody wants to watch that. No, what I need is to pull it into some other level, someplace beyond merely replicating the reference footage. You need to push it, pull it, make it better than real life. More real than real. Else, why animate it?

So yeah, I like live action reference. I use it, especially for physicall stuff. I think it's a helpful tool. But like money, live action reference makes a fine servant, but a harsh and uncaring master. Make the reference your servant, not the other way around.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Realism in Animation articles on AWN

Ellen Besen continues here intriguing exploratory series of articles over on What started off as a bit of fawning over the subtelty of Chris Landreth's Ryan while taking a bit of a swipe at cartoony CG animation (dimissing pose to pose as a method that results invariably in poor acting) has evolved into quite the discussion in the narrative. I'm thankful she's broadened the sampling of opinions to include traditional animators like Charlie Bonifacio. She asks more questions than provides answers, which I think is great. I especially appreciated her summary of the possibilities of the future of animation where we see a mixture of 2d principles, cartoony, traditional elements and the possibilities for great subtlety in CG all mixed together in one fun toss around. She writes...

So maybe the most interesting future scenario for animation lies in the willingness to consider the possibility of new contexts that allow new reference points. We still may be dealing with apples and oranges but what happens if we do a little slice and dice? Fruit salad would be a pretty tasty outcome, one that could mean more creative possibilities for everyone.

Anyhow, read all three of the articles in the series. You'll probably find some of it infuriating and disagree with what's being said, but I still think it's a great internal dialog she's holding. I'm glad she's letting us peek through the windows into the process.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

First VTS Video Is Out

After a TON of stupid issues with my domain host and some quick thinking help from a generous subscriber I was finally able to get the first VTS animation teaching video released to the subscribers, albeit 4 days later than I had originally planned. Even so everybody was great and showed wonderful support and patience and I'm really grateful for that. The feedback on the first VTS video with teaching about poses and posing has been really great. Thanks to everybody who's sent back words of support and the suggestions as well. Here's a sampling of the feedback so far...

Thank you so much for doing this Keith, as a penniless
person on the other side of the world these tutorials are really special to me.

Great work on the VTS. It was really great. The topic of poses really
add to the current assignments at Animation Mentor.

Myself and two other work colleague have subscribed for personal interest, and we all looked forward in recieving aprils movie. We thought you did a great job and explained in a informative flowing manner covering a lot of ground. Thanks

You've done an excellent job with it, and you really displayed your
knowledge in it. I wish my school had covered this kind of thing more
in depth when they were teaching us how to animate.

I just finished watching the April video tutorial and it was great! Learnt so much. I’m very glad I signed up and will be sending my mates to your service. Thank you very much for doing this it’s a real help to me.

Anyhow, that's a sample of the feedback so far. I'm REALLY glad that folks are finding the VTS worth the effort. It's nice to be able to help folks out like that. I get a lot of of being able to do that for people. And the proceeds from this first month's video have been put to good use helping to pay for sturdy, clean new housing for the poor in Jamaica who live in just some terrible conditions, as well as provide support for medical teams to visit the poor in Brazil and provide free medical services to the folks there. So thanks to all of YOU who have signed up for the VTS for giving so much back to me by way of encouragement. This is really cool to be a part of.

And if you've been sitting on the fence unsure if you wanted to sign up, there's still time. If you sign up anytime before May 1st you can still get this first VTS animation teaching video. Just click on the little ad in the lower left of this page. Thanks everybody! God bless!


Friday, April 15, 2005


This is something fun we started back when I worked at Big Idea. Several years back Greg Hardin, one of the illustrators who works at Big Idea, started up a bi-weekly themed sketch club. As Big Idea underwent the painful turmoil of it's bakruptcy and the resulting purging of employees the Drawer Geeks kinda fell by the wayside. But thankfully Greg's revived it and many of the original suspects have been contributing from their various new places of employ and life. There is some amazing stuff here indeed! You all need to swing by and check it out. There's all kinds of styles represented. And while I hate myself for not getting involved more often (I always seem to be up to my eyeballs in work) I secretly geek out on the visual feast that others provide. Anyhow, I think this stuff is the bee's knees and I wanted to give Greg a big props for getting the Drawer Geeks back up and running. Who knows, I might even join in on this week's festivities- pirates! So go check it out. You won't be disappointed.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

First VTS video almost ready

This is kinda fun and exciting news. I'm in the final stages of editing my first monthly Video Tutorial Service video. At first i thought "Gee, will I have enough matwerial to make this worthwhile?" Now I wonder "Gee, will I be able to cover it all?" I'm looking forward to getting this out to the subscribers this weekend. speaking of wqhich, i want to send up a HUGE thanks to all the folks who've taken a leap of faith and signed up for the VTS. Many of you have sent kind notes of encouragement and I'm really appreciative of the collective good vibe. I hope you won't be disappointed. And if you haven't signed up yet, there's still time to get on board and not miss April's video. :o)


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Stop-Mo Geek Fest

OK, who else is just jazzed out of their brains looking forward to the Wallace & Gromit feature film this fall? And as if that weren't enough the stuff I've seen from the Corpse Bride trailer makes me go get a towel for all the drool I keep slabbering about. I'm going to go broke on theater tickets this fall watching these two flicks over and over and over and over and over and.. well, you get the idea.

I love stop motion. It's by far my favorite style of animation. I think I'm the only Yank who owns the two season DVD set of "Rex the Runt". I'm a sucker for it all. Such texture! Such humanness! Sure it can be done poorly (see entire Rankin Bass library), but even then there's just such warmth and charm in the work. Musta been all those mornings watching Davey & Goliath as a kid that got me infected with the stop-mo bug. Growing up I never dreamt of being a Disney animator (heresy, I know). But to be honest Disney films never really made much of an impact on me as a kid. We didn't often go see them in the theaters back then. That and being a blue collar kid in a blue collar steel town you're not often encouraged to pursue the arts. But tinker with puppets? You betcha! Lord willing one of these days I'll make a stop mo film. Maybe when I'm retired? Who knows. Still, to get your sto-mo-geek going head here and here and enjoy the tease! Time to start a savings plan to buy all those movie tickets....


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Getting Good People

There are pretty much two main ways to get good animators (and other key creatives and technical geniuses needed to succeed) in this business.

1) pay more than anybody else

2) create a better creative environment than anybody else

Why do animators line up around the Pixar booth at SIGGRAPH to drop off their reels? It's not 'cuz Steve Jobs is wildly philanthropic with his salary structures. However Pixar's well earned reputation for the dedication to great storytelling, fantastic animation and a business atmosphere that trusts the artists trump all the money somebody else might toss around. In my opinion if you run a studio, these are your choices. If you want to get your money back out of your investment, the first thing you need to do is stop treating it like an investment. Invest in your culture. And the culture of a studio is not defined by furniture, location, clients, management, mission statements or any of that. Your culture is the collective vibe of your people. Invest in your people and trust them.

If you don't find yourself willing to do that, then be prepared for one of two things to happen.

1) you'll always lose out on getting the best people

2) or you'll spend a TON more money trying to get (and keep) them.