Monday, October 31, 2005

It begins

Back in my earlier post about the idea that the video iPod has the potential to start altering the way we think about video distribution, I mentioned that soon enterprsing folks were going to start finding a way to get content to this portable devices.
Intro Channel Frederator.
Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew has a brief post on how Frederator Cartoons is going to set up a weekly vid-cast of animated short films. They're taking submissions and their first month's vid-cast looks to have some fun toons on them. I expect that others will hop on seeing as this is such an easy thing to set up and get going (and it's low cost as well). The content is out there. I think there is a definite market and interest for short animated films (that are well done!) just like there is a market for a wide variety of music. Savvy media consumers are looking for new and fresh ideas in their video media. The steady decline in ticket sales for cinematic releases from Hollywood is about more than just the proliferation of home theater systems and DVD's. It's certainly not about pirating. It's about content, new, flavorful, relevant, meaningful content. Smart people aren't willing to settle for the silly pap that's being pushed anymore. The independent filmmakers are the ones who will define the curve. Channel Frederator is among those who have fired the opening salvo in this little war of independence.

Not to say I told you so, but... I told you so.


Well, this sounds intriguing..

Cartoon Brew reports that there's some rumblings that Steve Jobs may be willing to sell Pixar to an appropriate bidder. This article explains the details and points to Disney as a possible suitor for the Pixar holdings. Sounds like it could be a number of things to me.
To me it sounds like Steve is bored with the little studio that could. Pixar has settled into the maturity of its form. It's now the leader of the pack in what it does. No more giants remain to be slain there. There's always been something about Jobs that needs his Goliath so he can be the heroic David. But Pixar is now Goliath. At least in the sense of what Pixar is and is likely to be. Disney's trying to hang on and they sure hope Chicken Little firms up their ground as a movie making company. But ask anybody their honest opinion and they'll tell you that Pixar's currently top of the game in animated movie making. Dreamworks makes a bunch of money with their films, but those films often lack the ability to find a warm place in the cockles of children's hearts. Kids generally aren't asking mom and dad for a Shrek, Donkey, Alex the lion or Oscar the Fish costume this halloween. But I can guarantee there'll be bajillions of Buzz Lightyears a full decade after his introduction as a character. No, when it comes to making films that find an iconic place in the hearts of kids, Pixar is currently the giant. Disney is still far bigger overall as a company, but not in the core business of animated films. They have giant distribution systems, live action divisions, broadcast and network holdings, merchandising empires. But they're all ancilliary to the animate film biz. And I don't think Pixar has ever wanted to become the next Disney Company. Just the next Walt Disney Studio. Which they've pretty much done.
So the battle is kinda won. Perhaps for Jobs the game has gotten old. Steve has some fun things happening back at Apple again. He has his eyes on revolutionizing the content delivery and consumption markets of the world.

Or this could all be a ploy to drive up share prices. I can't see how selling to Disney gives him any leverage in striking a new deal with Disney. But if rumblings of a sale are coming out I think it's fair to say that could perk some interest in the Pixar stock. One thing is that if I were a Pixar employee this morning I'd have a little sick feeling in my gut if I'd heard The Steve was thinking of selling out to The Mouse. And maybe that's Steve's intention- inject a little hunger and fear back into the Pixar crew to keep them sharp.

But that's just my guess. It could all be hooey.


While editing my blogger template this weekend (I was trying to add a new link on the sidebar) it seems I had a slip of the keyboard and totally hosed the template. The result was a page full of gobbeldy gook text. I've since restored the template from a back up, but the blogger bar is back at the top. I'll be fixing that later tonite to get rid of it. Til then, you'll have to endure looking at it. :)


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cane Toad Diaries

Cane Toad is a funny short film that's been out a few years now. Normally in this world of fast paced love 'em and leave 'em animation that means it's old hat, boring, yesterday's news. But I like to bring these things back out of the storage bin now and again because a fun animated film is still fun to watch years beyond it's original release. That and being a short film maker myself, I like to promote folks who get a short done and done fairly well.
The impetus for this Cane Toad redux on my part is that recently on the Cg-Char forums Andrew Silke has done all of you first time animated short film makers out there a HUGE favor. He's posted the various storyboard animatic, layout and edit locked pre-final versions of his and Dave's award winning short film Cane Toad. Many of you may have already seen this little humorous gem of a film, but if you haven't then take some moments in your day to head on over and have a look. It's a pretty valuable look at how they went about making their film and it's a mighty generous thing to do. It's nice to see how organized they were in making it, recording a production diary and all. Me, it's all I can do to find a few hours a week just to tinker with my short, much less document it. If I had to document it as well I'd never get anything done. Not that I'm getting much done without taking the time to document it. But anyhow, go enjoy Cane Toad, enjoy the behind the scenes in progress stuff and enjoy Andrew's production log. Good stuff worthy of a mention here to bring the film back into the light for a little bit.


ps: you'll need DivX to see the movies linked.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Fun little test

Here's a quickie little animation test I recently did for one of my VTS video classes.
(right click to save movie. Quicktime 7 required)
Murray 12fps Anim Test

This is an older version of this character's rig. I'm doing some tests animating in CG on 2's. I'm (slowly) working on my next short film idea and I want to see about doing the whole thing on 2's. Why? Well, why not? I'm not trying to emulate the stop-mo look, but am rather more interested in getting some of the flavor of handdrawn animation back into CG. It requires a lot from the rig and this early version lacked some pretty vital stuff. I've since completely gutted this rig and I am making a new one (with some professional help) that's even more flexible. Anyhow, I thought I'd throw this up here and share with folks. It's been a while since I posted any new animation. Enjoy the fun on 2's!

Eric Goldberg Timing Notes

Thanks to our good friend Tim Hodge for sharing this page of timing notes from animation master, Eric Goldberg (he was the supervisor for the Genie in Alladin).

Golberg TIming Notes

Here's what Tim had to write when he sent me this...
I found that page of Goldberg Notes. I remembered them as being a
little more in depth than they are. Probably because they accompanied
a lecture.
The idea behind the timing chart is that instead of spending two
frames of the same drawing in the middle of a fast action, spread it
out into three drawings on ones, thus making the action snappier.
Then go back to 2's because the drawings are so close together,
drawing on 1's becomes overkill.
You should go through his genie animation frame by frame sometime.
It's really amazing. He'll have a character hit a pose very quickly,
then spend 6 to 8 frames for the rest of the body to catch up and
another 6 frames to totally settle in. Very snappy and natural looking.
(In Disney animation, drawings are numbered to the frame, not just
1,2,3... then shot on ones or twos. If drawing 112 is held for 18
frames, the next drawing is number 130. Oh, and the numbers for keys
are circled, breakdowns are underlined, inbetweens are left alone.)

Eric always analyzed action and timing like this. He wanted to make
sure each drawing had maximum impact, not so you'd notice the drawing
itself, but so the action would be clear and entertaining. You may
ask, "can one frame make that much difference?" And I will ask you,
"Do you know the difference between a gold and silver medal?" Split
seconds, that extra umph, mean everything!

Great stuff and three cheers to Tim for sharing with te rest of the class. Be sure to go check out Tim's site. He's got lots of goodies there. I really love his John Henry drawings. Lots of talent that Mr. Hodge.

ps: Oh, and if anybody finds my posting of these notes to be bothersome to you, just drop me a line. My email link is on the side. If it's a big problem I can take these down. Hopefully that's not going to be the case, though.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hotmail email problems

It seems Hotmail is having some email problems. If you have a hotmail account and have written me in the last two days, I have tried to write you back but I can't seem to get the email to go through. Honest! I'm not a rude jerk. I'm just drawn that way. :)

All you hotmail users probably need to yell at hotmail/msn about this.


UPDATE: looks like all's well in Denmark now. Gon on home folks. Nothing to see here....

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thoughts on Timing

In the intro to my first VTS video about timing I made the statement that timing is one of those things that is so hard to put down into rules. In fact there's precious little recorded info on how to time things compared to the large collection of writings about drawings/pose, etc. So many of the principles of animation are about the actual drawings/poses themselves. We have the huge collection of Walt Stanchfield notes about drawing for animation. But unfortunately there's no real equivalent Walt Stanchfield of timing. When it comes to timing almost all the old masters just usually said "Well, it takes time to learn that. You just eventually figure it out." Milt Kahl just blurted out "Well, you just know!" Not much to go on for students who want the answers to making better animation today. Heh.

Well by way of backing up my statements here's an exerpt from an interview between Dick Williams and Ken Harris about timing. You should know who both of these gentlemen are, but if you don't, read the links for more info.

Anyhow, here you go...

DICK: How do you learn to time the actions? If you're acting it out in your
mind, how do you time it?

KEN: That takes experience. You just time it by timing it. You get to know how long it takes to do a thing the way you want to do it.

DICK: When you started, did you have stop-watches?

KEN: We had metronomes; You could set a metronome on 6's or 8’s or 10's if you wanted a walk or anything like that. We had Carl Stallings, the musician Disney first brought to Hollywood. Carl used to give us a lot of pointers on music timing. We would ask Carl about what music phrase or number of bars that he wanted to do a thing in. Also, the Director would time it out himself - the way he wanted to do it, and we would also confer with Carl in getting the music timing. Oh, learning timing comes so gradually; It's like Benny Washam's 12-frame yawn.
When you first start out animating something, it takes so long to make those drawings that you think, "Gee, whizz, this will take up a lot of screen time. It's taken me half a day to make 12 drawings, and that must make a long, slow yawn." Well, half a second for a yawn isn't very long, is it? It just takes experience in timing, and doing things, and tapping it out with a pencil - beating it out per foot, 'till you get to know.

DICK : So you get to know the length of time of a second. It’s completely set in your mind; You know exactly what you're going to do?

KEN: Yes, I know pretty much. And I know how many frames I need to
accent something, and I know how many frames I need to slow out of it; A guy says something like, "Get going!", well, "get" would be this picture here, and here, and an in-between, and that's the accent, and when the head is up here you slow out of it. You don't just bang it back down again - you use maybe 6 to 8 drawings to get back to where you started it. But that's all timing that you've gotten by experience which you've had. You know how fast the film goes through. A stop-watch is good to time the length of scenes and such, but the stop-watch doesn't cut it down to a point where you can get a quick accent.
It’s like that guy where you made him shoot himself. You took some frames out of where his head went back when the bullet hits his head. You even could take all the frames out. If his head was here and he pulled the trigger, and his head went clear over to here without any in-between, it would work. It works well the way it is - but if you want it to bang harder, and if it was a bigger bore gun, and you wanted a real blast you could just leave out the in-betweens.
Lots of times, we will take a little fish, or a humming bird going from one rose to another…this humming bird will flutter here and then, bang! - he's over there with maybe just one elongated blur on ones, and then a 'cushion'. You can do almost anything by just starting something here and cushioning it way over here. You don't need any in-betweens.

So there you have it. You learn it by doing it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Video i-Pod and indy distribution...

Apple has finally released their new video capable i-Pod. While I'm not an i-Pod owner/user (I'm tragically unhip, sorry to say. I always seem to be 3 years behind the curve on stuff like this) and I don't use i-Tunes, this little number intrigues me. Not from a consumer standpoint. I doubt I'd use it much. See when I watch a TV show or a movie I tend to get very immersed in it. If it's a particularly good show or movie I easily get sucked in and get lost in time- I'll emotionally buy in for all it's worth. Which is fine if you're in your home by yourself. Not so good if you're watching the mini-tele while waiting for the elevator to open.

No, my interest in the v-Pod is the new video content distribution system Apple has started. Their deal with ABC/Disney to sell popular shows and such for $1.99 a pop is the video version of i-Tunes. Suddenly the barrier between filmmaker and buying public is much thinner. In response to a content creator driven trend Apple hooked their i-Tunes to handle podcasts natively. Is it a stretch to think that given sufficient creator movement in the independent video vidcasting that their video side of i-Tunes wouldn't hook into vidcasts eventually? Combine a vidcast enabled i-Tunes in conjunction with clever animator type dudes who put out the content and let the world know via a blog and RSS... welcome to self syndication. Podcasts have turned the stoic broadcasting world on its ear. Not that the content available on podcasts is overwhelmingly superior to commercial radio. Like all content that has a low cost of entry (ie: alot of rank amateurs are making a lot of stuff) most of it is trash. (except for The Animation Podcast. That rocks!) No, what kicked commercial radio in the groin in podcating was the freedom of choice for the consumer. Suddenly the power has shifted and commercial radio is still scrambling to catch up. It's the world of the longtail.

Will the v-Pod and vidcasts (anim-casts?) do the same for TV? Sure, making small Quicktimes and putting them on the web is not a new idea. Shoot, I released my first short film on my website over 8 years ago. But there's something about having a consumer product designed specifically for this content that lends a certain amount of critical mass to the movement. MP3's were not invented by Apple. Apple just made a clever gadget that made MP3's stylish, easy and popular. The hope here is that the same can happen for online video.

Have any of you started crafting your master plan to be a self supporting animator who sells their episodes to a faithful fanbase via i-Tunes? You know somebody is gonna be able to do it. Why not you? Heck.. why not me?!

Comment Spam: A Blight on Humanity

Spammers are leeches. It's not enough that they fill our inboxes with ads for Viagara, they now auto-comment on blogs. Blegh!! A pox on them I say!

In an effort to combat this evil I have turned on word verification for the comments in my blog now. It's a minor inconvenience for real human beings who wish to comment here (and I'm always glad to have folks comment here, even if I don't reply to the comments often enough). Hopefully this small measure will keep the spammers at bay. The vermin.

In other news... I gotta get back to editing this month's VTS video (it's due out Monday the 17th). We're still on our timing section, but we're getting close to wrapping that up. Probably one or two more months and then it's on to scene planning, blocking, acting choices, etc. The good stuff. :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

W&G Whee!

If you haven't seen Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit yet, then stop what you're doing- I mean it, stop right now- go and see it. Best animated film of the year if you ask me. You weren't asking me? Oh, OK, well I'm tellin' ya then. Solid storytelling, great characters (Victor Quartermain is ingenious), cute bunnies and cheese! I won't ruin the story for you, though. Oh, and the Madagascar Penguins short was a fun ride, as well. Very tight and clever short story telling. Nice work there as well. That one might be on a track to an Oscar nomination.

Only two disappointments, but neither of them is with the film. First yesterday morning the Aardman warehouse burned to the ground destroying much of their history and collections of sets, puppets, etc. The actual production facilities were untouched, so that's a good thing. But it's kinda sad to think that the original set for Wallace's kitchen is gone :o( But Nick Park had the right response. He said in light of other recent tragedies around the world where thousands have lost their lives and their entire worldy possessions, losing some old sets and puppets wasn't the biggest thing in the world. Bully for you, Mr. Park for having your head on straight!

Second, the film topped the US theatrical weekend charts, but at only $16.1 mil scored a bit less than the Corpse Bride's opening take. I still like CB a lot, but W&G is a substantially stronger film overall. Hopefully strong word of mouth turns W&G into a bit of a long run hit. Even so I'm sure Aardman and Dreamworks aren't going to fret over it. W&G have such a huge international following that it's very likely that the international till for W&G will be bigger than the US domestic pull.
Some killer animation in W&G that really got me excited were the first few scenes of Laddy Tottington. The animators did a great job of carrying that kinda rich ditzy dame character into the poses and animation. The way she held her hands, the way she kind walked a little tilted and sideways after Victor at times- good stuff! Also look for the scene when Victor wants to box with Wallace. His animation there is hysterical! It's further reinforcement of my belief that it's not the technical execution of details in a scene that makes it great but the very foundational ideas that hit the pose or the gesture in such a clear and recognizable way that shows the true power of animation. Nailing the technical details sure helps, but it cannot hold a candle to great imaginative ideas in pose and timing. Long live great ideas shown out in fantastic poses and sharp timing!

"Look at my wife's brassicas... ravaged in the night." Classic. Go see it. Why are you still reading this blog? Go!!!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Over the Hedge trailer


My initial reaction? Ehh. Mixed. I'll see it when it comes out. I like the comic. :) Animation wise, the stuff seems pretty nice overall. Hard to tell from the trailer shots because they're cut together a bit slapdash (why do American movie trailers for animated films almost universally STINK!? Why can't we make good trailers that tell us about the story the characters, the relationships a bit? Maybe a bit more like Japanese trailers, but without all the plot giveaways.)

The heads in OTH seemed a weeeeeee bit squishy in spots. A little distracting. Shading looked nice. Voice work seemed pretty blah. Not much energy in those voices. Bruce Willis? Unmemorable. Gary Shandling? His voice bores me in human form. Shatner as a 'possum should be fun, though. Bill's usually good for a chuckle here and there. Character design lost something along the way from the original comic strip. Here's a comparison...

Would have been nice to see them keep RJ's (racoon) big nose and frumpy proportions. The fur feels a bit too clean as well. Of course I know that you have to do things with original inspirational designs to make them hold up for animation, but it seems that aside from a few exceptions most CG interpretations of character designs end up feeling a bit blah. Like all the interesting edges have been sanded down to a smooth, dull form. Clean, pretty. This is an annoyance I have with CG lately. A bit oversmooth, a bit too clean. We need to find ways to tussle up the designs a bit, and I don't mean just with texture maps. I guess that's why a film like Wallace & Grommit will always seem so charming. You can feel the artist's touch in every frame. And yeah, there's artistry in this Cg, lots of it. But it feels a bit cold, distant. I think maybe we're stuck in a bit of a rut in CG. I thought Madagascar did a great job of adapting some cool designs and maintaining their shape and form integrity into the CG medium. Would be neat to see us CG filmmakers get a bit more adventuresome with this stuff. And I include myself in this. No knock on the great talents over at DW working on this. It's good stuff, but it's not quite grabbing me by the shirt collar and getting my attention as much as I wanted it to. We'll see how it goes when the movie comes out. I'll be there to watch. :)

Autodesk buys Alias

The word is out and it looks like the landscape of the digital animation world is about to shift dramatically, at least from a tools perspective. I wonder if this one will get past the anti-trust watchdogs? Both Max and Maya have gotten along a bit in years and they're both in serious need of a complete re-design from the inside out. They each have strong points, but they also each have glaring weaknesses that drive their user bases absolutely ape. Wouldn't it be just amusing to see Autodesk combine the worst of both programs to create a witches brew of a CG program? Like only having Character Studio, Maya's poly tools, the default Maya renderer all running in Max's slow as poo OpenGL interface? And they mix MEL script and Maxscript syntax to create the new language MEXscript? I can hear the screams of tens of thousands of Cg artists and technicians now. Heh. There's enough slop in both programs as is to create the world's worst CG software. I think it'd be fun to see them do it just for giggles. Of course my upgrade dollars would appreciate it if they took the best of both and made a killer app, but something tells me that's far too much to wish for.

On a side note, this has to be the best news the folks over at XSi have heard in years.

I for one don't like the idea of this merger. Less competition NEVER benefits the customer. And as a digital animator/filmmaker, I am that customer.


I've been hearing reports that the Wallace and Grommit film is top shelf stuff. I can't wait to see it. My little guy turns 4 this weekend and when i asked him what he wanted for his birthday he said "I want to go see Wallace and Grommit!"
I'm so proud of him. :o)
I'll be sure to chime in with my thoughts after seeing it.