Wednesday, August 30, 2006

This stuff never gets old for me….

Thanks to Brecht Debaene for reminding me of this today. I swear I could watch pencil roughs all day. Seriously. This is pure magic. It’ll be nice when the day arrives when people are doing stuff like this again….

Don Hahn narrates the wonder of hand-drawn animation in The Beauty & the Beast.

Free Character Rigs

Hogan rig I am getting a alot of emails these days about where to find good, free character animation rigs for folks to mess around with. Well, I finally took some time to look for some. And I found a lot - all in one place.


There are rigs for Maya, Max, Lightwave, Xsi, Houdini, Motion Builder, etc. So go get your free rigs for the program of your choosing and enjoy a life of happy animating on the computer. :)

PS: Thanks goes out to the StrutYourReel forum for having this and making my life easier.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Clean up time!

OK, anybody who dropped in during the weekend probably got an eyefull as thy watched me restructure this site from the ground up. Heh. As you may (or may not) have noticed I updated my page a little. The site just got massively UGLY recently. Like awkward adolescence the site was gangling between two phases of life. It was a noodle soup of mixing color schemes, half HTML, half CSS/XML, frames that RSS inspired visitors couldn’t see, etc. Plus those big honking store banners annoyed me- and I made them! This is a little better. When I switched to Wordpress earlier this year this is more the kind of site I had in mind. Lots of cool things you can do with WP. So what’s new?

    • Random page headers. Now everytime you come back you have the chance of seeing a new header. I have just 4 now and two of them aren’t going to last very long, but more will be coming. I plan on mixing in some stills of environments from my short film as well as some Myopia vistas. What can I say? I like stuff to look nice. :)
    • I got rid of the frames around the blog. My stats were telling me that more and more people were coming to this site through feedreaders and RSS links. Which is cool, but when you click on a post in a feeder you don’t see all those other HTML frames around the blog page. So now everything is in the blog/site itself. No lost and wandering images or words. They’re all safe and warm here.
    • Got me a nice fading slideshow of various images of characters and stuff I’ve made over the years. I’ll be adding to that show as time goes by with sketches, maybe some stills from my past work projects and other fun stuff.
    • The links to my tutorials, animation clips, short films & contact were all out in frames before. I thought I should bring them in out of the rain. The launch pages are all handy Wordpress pages now.
    • Of course a (more tasteful) link to the kLango Online Store for those who want to get their VTS groove on. The FAQ buttons for the VTS as well as the Animation: Personal Trainer program are now in WP world.
    • A countdown meter so folks will know when the next VTS is due. I get about 25-30 emails a month from subscribers wondering when the VTS is coming out. Heh. Of course I tell everybody in an email the first week of the month, but email is sooooo 1996 and nobody really reads it anymore. So if you wanna know when to expect the next VTS, just come here and have a look.
    • I figured since I have so many different translations of my tutorials, why not make it so you can translate any blog page on my site? But if you speak some obscure language like Welsh or Tibetan chant, well, first- you’re really cool and I wish I could take you to parties. And second, you’re on your own when it comes to figuring this thing out.
    • The archives are now all searchable and the post categories are in a drop down list. This is mainly a screen real estate solution.
    • Ditto for the links. My blog roll and link list was HUGE! I am blessed to know so many cool folks, that’s all. Anyhow, those links are all still there. Just click to expand the list you’re interested in.
    • Of course a unified color and design theme that doesn’t immediately induce convulsions when looked at.

I still have stuff I want/need to do. I need to make each of the movie files pop up in a sized window with a player. I have a Wordpress plug in to do this, but it’s just going to take some time to get it working and I’m out of time for this round of improvements. Doing the same with the tutorials should be pretty easy as well. Then I want to get something set up for an asides (side bar mini-blog) where I can toss up some of my little stories about living here in Brazil without cluttering up the space for the animation stuff. Anyhow, I hope you kids like the new digs. The site was a mess and it was bugging me for months. I’m finally able to sleep a little better now that it’s been cleaned up some.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bio-Sand Water Filters

I was down near the city of Corumba’ Brazil the last couple of weeks. This is the base of our work with the extremely poor folks who live along the Paraguay River basin and Pantanal wetlands. As I noted in other posts my wife and I are involved in a medical boat work there that brings healthcare services to these remote and forgotten folks. One of the primary causes for their many health issues is that they have no access to clean drinking water at all. So all manner of preventable diseases cause no end of suffering for these unfortunate folks. A primary cause of childhood death is simple diarrhea. One of the first goals we had in coming down here to live and work in Brazil was to find a way to solve this problem. Amazingly, we found an answer to our prayers by being introduced to the great folks at Living Water International, based in Houston TX. So last week we took the time to learn from two of their experts on how to make simple water filters for these folks. You can click the video clip above to see how it turned out. If you want to know more, follow me after the jump. I have some more pictures, too.

It’s all very simple and amazingly inexpensive- around $40-50 per filter and a single filter can serve an entire family. First you make a concrete box with a PVC pipe that runs back up the side of it. You fill this box with clean gravel, clean medium sized pebbles and clean fractured sand. Then you pour water in. That’s it. The sand/pebble/gravel mix percolates out the solid contaminants like metals, suspended solids, etc. Because the sand in the box stays submerged (this is due to the PVC pipe running back up above the interior sand level and the water in the box stays at that level) a layer of bio-mass grows out of the ambient bacteria. This bio layer survives by eating the bacteria, viri, amoebas and parasites that exist in the dirty water. So in goes yucky water, good bio stuff in the sand eats the unwanted bio stuff in the water, the sand and gravel filter out the rest and -ding!- clean water. 99.9% clean as confirmed by tests. It’s an amazingly simple, easy, low maintenance, very low cost clean water solution. It can filter about 1 litre of water every 1-2 minutes. Our goal is to get one of these in every home along the 200 mile stretch of river we serve. And, Lord willing, we’d like to see the program expand to meet the need in other areas in Brazil. Often there’s plenty of water, but it’s not fit to drink without treatment.
Anyhow, we’re excited to see this implemented here. We’re starting by installing around 10 of these in homes pn he river in mid September. After we see how that goes and make any adjustments we’re off to try and get more done. Here’s some pix, just for fun!

assembleTheMold.jpg We made a steel mold for making the concrete filters. The fellow in the hat is Pr. Carlos. He’s in charge of running the Pantavida medical boat work. The fellow next to him is the boat captain Giovino. He was born along the river and has a huge heart to help his people. The fellow standing is Rene from Living Water of El Salvador. He oversees their bio-sand filter program, which installed over 1000 of these things in rural El Salvador last year. His boss, Paul (another Yank like us) came along to help us with the larger stategic planning initiatives for our program. We also had a pastor from our local church with us - a fun guy named Belmiro. He’s studying water treatment and has ideas for doing this in our part of Brazil here. And none of this would have been understandable without our great interpreter, Marcy. She made the whole Portugues-English-Spanish thing work so we knew what was going on!

mixConcrete.jpg Anyhow, after the mold is assembled, then you mix up some concrete the old fashioned way.

pourConcrete.jpg Pour it in and let it set overnight.

filterReadyForExtraction.jpg The next day the filter is ready to be extracted from the mold.

DSC00444.JPG Belmiro washing sand for the filter. His favorite job.

fillWithSand.jpg After the concrete cures for another day or so you fill it with the clean sand & gravel in layers. It’s now ready to start putting water in.

beforeAfter.jpg Here is a before and after. The dirty water on the left is right out of the Paraguay River. People just walk up to the river with a cup, scoop that brown stuff up and drink it. Nasty! But it’s the only thing that have. Until now.

junkMartWater.jpg The water that comes out is clean enough for me to let my little boy play with it. He came along to keep us all entertained.

Principles for Lipsync: Now in Korean!

Oh yeah, the K-kids are representin’ HUGE today! Not to be outdone by the fine work of our french friends, (which would be different than the fine taste of french fries, but I digress)- Lee Jong Pil has taken the time to translate the Principles for Lipync Animation article into Korean. That’s right. When it comes to translating animation tutorials those Koreans are hard core. Heh.

Anyhow, read, enjoy and sync well!

Principles for LipSync Animation- Now In French!

I’m back after a week down on the Paraguay River. I’m terribly behind on all my work, but it was a great trip. I’ll post more on it in a little bit.

But first, I need to say a big Thank You to VTS Subscriber and nice fellow Guy Wallart for taking the time to translate my Principles for Lipsync Animation article into the lovely sounding language of French! So all you suave’ sounding Parisians can now read all about animating lips in your mother tongue. So check it out! Principes de la synchronisation labiale
All that talk of tongues and lips, I think I’ll leave the french kissing jokes to the kids in the back seat. Heh.

Exploring Power Centers for Personality: Now in Korean!

Big Thanks goes out to Hong Joong Kim for yet another translation! He previously translated Life After Poses to Pose in Korean, and now he’s back with another fine translation. This time he’s taken the Power Centers study and made a very nice Korean version. So all you cool Korean cats can check it out and enjoy!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Animation: Personal Trainer Program


UPDATE**: There’s just one spot left open for this session. Just in case you were on the fence or anything.

UPDATE #2** Uhm.. never mind. that lasted all of 15 minutes. Heh. All the spots for this session are taken! If you were interested keep an eye out for the next session which will be taking enrollment in January.

I’m happy to announce a new training program for animators, the Animation: Personal Trainer program. Ever since successfully launching the Video Tutorial Service I have been thinking of ways to provide even better animation teaching and training. The best way by far is personal, hands on, in-the-same-room working on real production scenes kind of training. This was the usual way you learned to be an animator for over 70 years. Sadly this doesn’t much exist in the animation business of the 21st century. So I decided to do the next best thing: offer a program where I can take my years of experience training and teaching animators as an animation supervisor and apply that experience to be your personal trainer for animation. The idea was simple: provide a completely customized, personalized, unique animation curriculum for each student based on their current skills to address their areas of greatest weakness. What if I could be like an exercise personal trainer where I can help you target specific goals for improvement? Thus the idea for the Animation: Personal Trainer program was born.

Using proven methods for online training in animation I want to provide folks the opportunity to have completely customized training for their goals and needs. Rather than a one size fits all approach, the Animation: Personal Trainer seeks to create specific assignments, milestones, teaching moments and feedback sessions for every student. Are you already a professional animator and you just want to improve your lipsync animation in an effort to break into film? Or what if you really want to master walk & run cycles for games? What if you just want to take your acting to a higher level? What if you struggle with process? What if you want to better understand how to polish your animation? What if you don’t have the time to be involved with an animation training program for a long time? Or what if you’ve completed other schooling in animation but you still feel you have areas of weakness that need some personalized training to improve upon? Basically, sometimes we just need to work out those problem areas that give us trouble, or we want to focus and improve in specific ways to get over the hump in our work. Often nothing short of a highly personalized approach can help us do that. That’s what the APT was designed to do.
The APT program is an 8 week online course. Students meet with their trainer (me- there are no other trainers) at least once a week via webcam, are given uniquely designed assignments to help their area of focus, are given video and face to face feedback, enjoy personalized video lectures and email support. And it’s all designed around each student. By necessity this means that classes will be VERY small. In order to provide the best training for each student enrollment will be capped for every session. The first APT session will begin the first first week of September and run through the end of October and I’m taking enrollment now.

Want to know more about the APT? Want to sign up? There’s no reel review or admissions screening- I believe that anyone can benefit from personal attention and help. Anyhow, if you’re interested then follow the store link or the promo banner link on the left side of this page for more info on how to order. There’s also a handy dandy FAQ ready for you to check out. And as always, VTS subscribers will get a tasty 10% discount when they enroll.

I’ve been cooking this idea up for a good long while and I’m really excited to be able to offer this to folks. I hope that it meets a need in the animation training universe. I desire to fill in the gaps where folks often get lost. I hope that for some the APT is exactly what they have been waiting for and I hope that their wait will be rewarded with a rich and fantastic exprience. I’m pretty jazzed about this, so let’s get learning!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Life After Pose-to-Pose: Now in Korean!

A special thanks to Hong Joong Kim for taking the time to translate my article about polishing out your animation from it’s old stuffy English into new, flashy and uber hip Korean. So you folks of Korean persuasion- or those who want to show off at cocktail parties by reading animation articles in a foreign tongue (it’s all the rage at chic nightclubs in SoHo), head on over for a peek!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Ant Bully: My Take (part 2)

cont'd from part 1...

And it seems that Warner Brothers’ marketing wasn’t at it’s usual incompetent worst. They weren’t great, but there were a lot of ads and promotions. It wasn’t an all out media blitz, but it wasn’t a repeat of The Iron Giant fiasco, either. Yes they still failed the single most important task in film marketing: delineating a clear and concise message about the opening date. Good grief, if some clod with a blog (ie: “me”) knows that you can project a film’s financial success or failure based off of a single weekend’s numbers, then what in the world are all those MBA’s in Sherman Oaks doing? But you can’t pin the whole thing on WB’s marketing or a crowded market. These weren’t optimal conditions for success, but I’m not sure they are absolute arbiters of failure, either. In other words, given these two things remaining the same I think you can still have a successful launch to an animated film. So why did TAB not succeed?

There are two kinds of animated movies. Both can end up like a pile of poo, but in my opinion only one can end up being something audiences get excited about. The first is the director driven story. A person (or two, no more) has a burning story idea in his mind and heart. He has the passion to bring it to life. Often these poor sods are chewed up by the Hollywood system and their movies are turned into derivative piles of crap, but somewhere way, way back in the beginning there was something fun going on. If they’re lucky some remainder of this sense of fun and passion ends up on screen. Great examples of this kind of movie that survived the creation process fairly well intact would be The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Toy Story. And as much as some people might be offended at this, I get the sense that Hoodwinked was this kind of a film. You got the sense that audiences enjoyed the thing, and from reading about it I got the idea that it was a few guys who wanted to make a film and made it for what money they could. You can’t fault them for agreeing to let Weinstein distribute it in all of it’s low production glory. You’d have done the same exact thing. By contrast an example of one of these kinds of director driven movies that got ridden roughshod by execs would be Chicken Little. Yet even through all of Mikey Eisner’s meddling I still felt some of the original fun of that story on screen.

The second kind of family feature films are the cynical corporate creations. They’re merely products and they are assembled at the behest of a variety of business minds. The core driving principle is their market value and potential profit returns. There is no one person who has the passion or personal investment to fight back against the snarky efforts of those who would rather productize the film because no one person thought this thing up in the first place. And I believe that no matter how slick or well done that lack of a soul shows up on screen. The director is a hired gun, the story is usually borrowed from some book or other successful property. Examples of these kinds of films would be Garfield, Scooby Doo, Quest for Camelot, The Cat in the Hat and… The Ant Bully.

I think John Davis and the DNA team did a very fine job with the film. However in the end it was a fine job of dressing up the bride of Frankenstein. The original screenplay for TAB had some heart, but the rewrites traded heart for slap-dash fart jokes. Crude humor is always the ready friend of execs looking to ‘punch up’ a film for test viewing scores, and the rewrites for TAB were pretty heavy toward the end of production. In its primary form it wasn’t the funniest movie and the market demands that animated films be funny. So out goes the character motivations and some more serious ideas, in come the cynical sarcastic asides. And since everybody in charge was a hired hand nobody had a really strong personal investment to fight that. This all started because Tom Hanks noticed this little kid’s book and thought it would make a good movie. But Tom Hanks didn’t write the story, he didn’t direct it, he didn’t voice it. In short, it would appear that he had no real passion for it. He just thought it would do well as a movie in the market. A product made by hired help. And hired help - even the best and most competent of hired help (and by all rights they hired some of the most competent and qualified help)- isn’t the same as somebody who gave birth to the story. Somehow this too ends up coming through on screen. I don’t know how, but I think it’s true.

My friends who worked with me on The Ant Bully probably aren’t gonna like what I have to say here- but I’ve always felt that we were making a big stinking pile of average corporate mush. Honest. We did. We worked hard, we did our best to bring passion and life to it, we put a lot into it, there’s a TON of talent on screen and folks have a right to be proud of their work- but in the end, in the cruel indifferent world of the marketplace it’s just kinda bleh.

It had all the ingredients. By the spreadsheet and by the focus group feedback scores in test screenings The Ant Bully should have been a success. It should have been the perfect product. Yet in the end this is the ultimate corporate movie. It’s a product devised according to formulas and ingredients, preened and pruned from the very beginning to be a pop-culture product in the mass market to force feed the kiddo’s another round of pixels in exchange for their parent’s disposable income. And despite the valiant efforts of the artists and technicians hired to make this thing look good people aren’t usually going to get excited about such things. We can’t forget that this is still entertainment. Within the audience there’s still some shred of a desire remaining for something to come from someone’s heart, not a spreadsheet. For some reason I think audiences can sniff out a film that’s just too corporate. I don’t have much of an empirical reason to believe this, but anecdotally I think it holds water. The declining interest in sequels and derivative films has been a steady parade downward. I am convinced that other similarly corporate concoctions, regardless of the level of excellence in their execution- are doomed to the same fate of audience apathy. If there’s no initial soul behind the idea then you can forget about it. Sure executives can screw up a good movie idea from a director- Disney did it for years! But if all you start with is a pile of successful ingredients stitched together then I think you’re going to be in trouble more often than not regardless of how good it looks or how well it scores on
But if you do go see The Ant Bully in a theater, see it in Imax3d. It really is amazingly freakin’ cool there.

I’ve spoken my bit. If you disagree then by all means, fire away!

The Ant Bully: My Take

Wheew! It’s been an absolutely insane week here. I have so much stuff going on and I’ve been busier than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest. However I did want to take a moment to get in some trouble and express an honest opinion. So I’m here to spill my guts on The Ant Bully film, which came out in the U.S. last weekend to rather tepid results (a mere $8.4mil opening weekend, failing to unseat a wavering Monster House even in its second weekend). When it’s all said and done if TAB follows formula it will end up pulling a rather anemic $25-29mil in US box office. Not exactly a real winner there. Maybe it will grow some legs, but I’m too pragmatic to think that’s very likely.

Most folks know that I worked on this film, but unlike many others I don’t tie my own personal success to that of the projects I work on. I guess that makes me a rotten artist or something, but I just don’t. I had a great time working on the film, made some good friends and I had a chance to do some really nice work, and to me that’s where the success is. I measure my success by the experience, not the box office. That’s for other people to take credit (or in this case blame) for. The film can flop for all I care, it doesn’t affect me much at all. Yet I do allow that for other artists who worked on it it’s very important for TAB to do well. That’s cool and I hope my friends don’t hate me for anything I say here. But TAB does present us with a bit of a curious case. It had so many earmarks of what should have made it a successful film. It had all the right ingedients. And in the end, that’s why I think it is a failure. It’s just a wee bit too calculated to succeed.

In animation circles lots of folks have been panning the film. Many in the biz have been describing it as a kinda of Pixarn’t effort. I guess you could say it’s the Anastasia of 2006. For some reason folks just knew this one wasn’t ’special’. We don’t know how, we don’t know exactly why- but the feeling out there was a collective yawn. Why? Well, let’s take a closer look at all the reasons why The Ant Bully (at least in the minds of its masters) should have been a success.
First, TAB was not a “cheap” movie by any stretch. The end budget was well north of $60mil, probably closer to $70mil if you add in the Imax conversion. That’s more than Ice Age cost to make. It’s not far from Shrek 2’s numbers. It’s also not far from Pixar’s lower numbers. So the problem wasn’t somebody’s tight wallet in production. And it didn’t wallow much in development churning through tens of millions of dollars with no footage to show for it. It’s not a repeat of the Kingdom of the Sun/Emperor’s New Groove scenario. Most of that money ended up on screen.

You also really can’t point too much at the actual execution of the thing for its failure. There was no shortage of experience and talent working on the project. There are some scenes that are just gobstoppingly fabulous to look at- some real fantastic demo reel pieces in there. And all the top studios agreed. When DNA had other studios in for recruiting (since DNA had to let everybody go after TAB production) there was a noticeable scooping up of talent. Pixar, Sony, ILM, Dreamworks, PDI, Blue Sky, Digital Domain, Laika- they all nabbed people as fast as they could.

Additionally we’re not dealing with an inexperienced director, either. John Davis had great success with Jimmy Neutron. He knows animation, he’s not an outsider to animation. So it’s difficult to dismiss TAB on the grounds of inexperienced hubris. Plus with Tom Hanks behind it you’d think he knew a thing or two about what works in Hollywood and what doesn’t.

Another plus- outside of animation circles TAB is not viewed universally as a stinker of a film. Aside from the reviews that dismiss it as a sort of Marxist manifesto for kiddies, most of the reviews for it on Rotten Tomatoes are positive. In fact it’s got a rather healthy “Fresh” rating of 65% from critics and 83% from users. That’s a better rating than other more successful Cg animated films like Robots, Sharktale, Madagascar, Ice Age 2. This is not “The Wild” (19% rotten) or “Doogal” (5% rotten) or “Valiant” (28% rotten). All of whom tanked rather badly and all of whom had convincingly poor “Rotten” score on the tomato site. So it didn’t flop because the critics overwhelmingly panned the film because, in general, they didn’t.

There was no shortage of wattage in the star power of the voice cast, either. Nick Cage, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamotti, Bruce Campbell, Glenne Close- those are some good names to ride behind for public awareness.

Yes, it’s crowded out there. It’s been a busy year for animated films. The busiest ever. And we’re in a 3 week stretch where 3 of them open back-to-back-to-back. That’s historic, it’s never happened before (and I wager will never happen again). So there’s a diffusion of family film dollars. To a large extent that is a zero sum game. Still, give people a reason to go to the movies and they will. Pirates of the Carribean 2 is proving that.

cont'd in part 2...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

kLango Store is now Live!

OK, finally! After months of trying I’ve finally got an online store that works! Those of you on a feedreader can’t see the new snazzy sidebar graphic, but you’ll like it when you see it. So now you fine folks who have wanted to subscribe to the VTS but couldn’t because of PayPal problems or what-not can now do so using a major credit card. I’ve also added a nice handy FAQ about the VTS. So if you’ve had a nagging question about the VTS, check out the FAQ. You’ll probably find your answer there.

Another new thing is that select back issue videos are now available to the non-subscribing general public. So if you’ve wondered if the VTS would be something you could use but you didn’t want to subscribe to find out, well now you can get some videos to take a look and you don’t have to be a subscriber to get them.

A big “Thanks!” to the willing beta testers for helping me get the big kinks worked out of this thing. If any of you use the store and find something kinda wonky just send me an email and we’ll see what we can do to shore things up. And thanks for your patience while I worked on getting this store up and running. I’m hoping more people can get to have the VTS as a result of this now.