Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Easy Come, Easy Go (aka: How to make a quick million bucks)


A funny/crazy idea hit me the other day.

They all say that animation is a cyclical business, but it seems like that in the last 10 years Disney has the Whirl-a-Tron set to ludicrous speed. A quick sketch of the history…

  • - Disney spends tens of millions of dollars on a state of the art animation production facility in Orlando in the late 90’s.
  • - Less than 5 years later they shut the studio down. They sell off everything.
  • - Disney buys Dreamquest and turns it into The Secret Lab, an all CG production facility.
  • - They make one film (Dinosaur), half of another (the one Roy pulled the plug on) and shut the thing down after a few hundred million bucks. Everything is sold off.
  • - Not two years later Disney announces they’re getting out of the hand-drawn biz. Burbank will now be an all Cg facility. They invest millions in getting it outfitted and staffed. Remember, they just finished shutting down an all CG shop.
  • - Disney also establishes a second all Cg facility, Circle 7, to do the CG sequels. Again the staffing and equipment needs are brought in.
  • - Less than 24 months later they shut it down when they buy another CG studio, Pixar. Price tag for that deal? $7.4billion.
  • - Now not yet 2 films into the all-CG Burbank Feature Animation era the rumor is that Disney is thinking about making Burbank an all hand drawn shop (again) and letting Pixar do all the CG stuff. If this happens of course they will need to re-invest to revert the studio back to its 2d production capabilities. Again.

Somebody should start a business where they buy used stuff from Disney and sell it back to them whenever they have one of their schizo business decisions. Just put it in a warehouse in Burbank over by the airport and then sell it all back to them at market prices when they decide to get back into the very business they just decided they had to get out of. Tell me you couldn’t have a nice little cottage industry with that idea. Heh.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Character Controls in CG, Part II


Getting back to the control rig thingie dingy wingy I showed a week ago or so.

Anyhow, how did I do this? Well, actually I didn’t do anything too inventive. Most of the cleverness award goes to friend, colleague, swell guy and alien-from-another-planet-level-genius Hamish McKenzie (he of the macaronikazoo.com craze). A few years back Hamish created his zooTriggered tool that makes these GUI selection thingies. Basically he just made a system using script jobs in Maya that would pick object B when you selected object A. (The system can do more like set attributes, keyframe, toggle visibility or whatever else you want to cook up). So for a good while this was used to nice effect as a HUD kind of GUI for picking character controls. Kinda cool, but still abstracted from the character. So I messed around one day last year and I said “Hey, what if I make the character’s mesh itself as a trigger? I mean in theory the system still would work, so why not?” After a little testing I realized that you’ll still need some proxies due to the way things are modeled and such, but it’s still direct and simple. Here’s the basic concept:

  • - Rig your character the way you normally would. Autorigging, whatever. Use proxy controllers if you like.
  • - Then create poly cylinders, boxes, spheres or whatever that are shaped and sized to fit a particular area of the character’s body.
  • - Make a bunch of them for the different body parts. These will be your puppet selection triggers.
  • - Make an invisible shader and apply it to the poly triggers.
  • - Set the render stats for the triggers so they won’t render. (Attribute Editor for this)
  • - Constrain the trigger (or a null parent of it if you like to have some room to fudge with location later) to the appropriate part of the rig. Sometimes this will be the normal control proxy. Sometimes it makes more sense to constrain it to a bone that’s inside the mesh. Whatever works. The idea is to have the trigger move with the body part it’s designed for.
  • - Hook up the proxies with the normal controllers using Hamish’s cool zooTriggered script.
  • - Hide the normal controllers.
  • - Have fun!

Here’s a quickie video recap for those who don’t like words and letters and stuff.


What about that face? Ahh, next time.

Story as Guided Tour

OK, I’m done whipping the ping pong horse. I doubt I’ll talk much about it again. Not much left to be said. It’s a new year, the sun is bright- on to more positive things!

When you’re in a story or development meeting you know things are dodgy if the directors or writers are saying things like “We could really use a big action set piece in Act 2.” I dunno, but for me adding “set pieces” to your story like some kind of narrative furniture seems fraught with peril. Seems to me a good story goes where the characters lead it. Maybe I’m insane, but I believe a film should strive to be more than a guided tour of interesting sets, places or activities. I’ve seen this at times behind the scenes- shows where there really isn’t a cohesive story yet with strong character arcs and such, but the guys driving the bus are coming up with all of these neato scenarios and places and sets and cool things for the characters to do. I don’t know if that’s a great recipe for building a solid story. Maybe it works for ‘tent pole’ blockbuster summer FX films that are more about the expectation of seeing something new and cool rather than the narrative. I dunno. If you want your film to leave a lasting impression then shouldn’t a story be about your characters being alive, doing what they do in reaction to what’s put before them to get what they desire? All the films that stick with me, both animated and non animated, have this one quality in common– being character driven. Seems to me if you want to do any inventing in a story a good place to start is by putting people (preferably with opposing or non-aligned goals) in their way- or even on their side. When you put obstacles and competing goals in the character’s way you can then let their unique personality and choices drive what happens Seems it would yield better results than trying to make the thing fit into set pieces. (Maybe some of my more story-experienced readers can set me straight in the comments if I’m full of it on this).

But all of this would require that you know who your characters are first. Often this is a bit of a scramble with films being pushed into production before they’re ready. Gotta feed the beast. So it’s heartening to see J. Katzenberg say they’re going to slow things down at Dreamworks and spend a little more time on their films in story stage. It’s good for the films and as JKatz points out- that’s good for business.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Yes, but are you animating?

Some fun and lively discussion in the comments of my previous few posts. I really don’t mean to be quotable or controversial when I write this stuff. I’m just out here in the boonies of Brazil and this blog is my replacement for the lunch table shop talk I used to enjoy at the various studios I’ve worked at. Of course I do have a tendency for calling it as I see it. I suppose that’s always been a controversial approach to life, especially in a community as politically sensitive as modern film animation. I’m sure this post will be no different.
Anyhow, on with the career suicide. ;o)
In one comment about things here Mark Mayerson writes….

Yes, you need animators to clean up mocap. But they’re not working as animators when they do it, they’re working as assistant animators. Their job isn’t to define the action, merely to do clean-ups.

I have enormous respect for the skills of assistant animators, but those skills are different from what an animator does.

That’s exactly what I mean when I mumble about a “re-definition of terms”. There was a time when none of this was fuzzy. Now? Folks don’t seem to really know what’s what or something. I dunno.

To me the act of animating is an act of raw creation first, refinement second. Historically the entire industry has held this same view. This is why you had a delineation of tasks. An animator animates. An assistant inbetweens. A clean up artist cleans up the drawings, etc. To have an animator doing inbetweens and clean up was considered a misuse of their core talent and time. The animator is the one who starts with the blank page and an idea and from that gives birth to the visual performance for the scene. The rest are performing derivative tasks- following orders about timing, intention and such from the animator. For the better part of 80+ years anybody who worked on a scene after that initial visual performance has been created has NOT been called an “animator”. Nor have they been credited or compensated as animators. By every measure of the established meaning of the term if you are tweaking, refining and re-working another person’s performance you are not the “animator”. You are something else. Mark is correct when he says that is more of an assistant animator role. You may have a hundred teachers, coaches, mentors and influencers in your life that mold you and help shape you- but you only have one Mom. The same is true of every scene in an animated film. This is not meant to be demeaning of those tasks or those artists who aren’t animating. Just as my point about mo-cap clean up not being animation isn’t a slam on those who do that task, either. Look, I’ve done mo-cap clean-up/adjustment. I don’t say it’s easy or of no value. It requires skill, talent, professionalism- all the things we value in a professional film artist. To me it’s just not animating, that’s all. I don’t mind saying so. It is what it is, which means it isn’t what it isn’t, even if we wish it were.

To me the amount that mo-cap data is ‘cleaned up’ is nearly irrelevant. Is there a tipping point where the performance switches ownership from the motion capture performer to the clean up/alteration person? One may exist, but we’ll be here til the moon falls from the sky trying to define where that tipping point is. So I go back to the birth of the visual performance. In my way of thinking the core responsibility of the animator is to create the initial visual performance for a given scene. The prime creative force in any scene/shot that uses capture data as its starting point lies in the motion capture performer’s hands, not the “animator’s”. The amount of cleaning and altering doesn’t ever really undo this prime force of original performance creation. The moment it does then the capture data crosses over into reference, and that’s another thing completely.

And what about the term ‘reference’? There are the ubiquitous questions “Well, how is mo-cap any different than rotoscope? They’ve been using live action reference or Muybridge for decades.” All animators great and small look to live action and life for reference. It’s an absolute must. But the moment you cross into the realm of specificity you surrender your creative claim and the thing you use is no longer merely reference, but something much more. In other words, when you choose to use a specific piece of motion data, or a specific drawing or specific pose or a specific piece of live action footage (all created by someone else first) to create a specific performance then you are engaging in a slippery slope approach to animation. I draw this stance from none other than the inimitable Milt Kahl. His infamous “lazy bastards” rant about what he obviously considered to be lesser animators using live reference for their performances is the stuff of bold legend. According to Milt he believed that if you used a specific piece of live action acted out by someone else to create a performance then you are using a ‘crutch’. He said that you will never become a top animator, a prime value animator, if you continue to use the ‘live action crutch’. Now Milt accomplished way more in his career as an animator than 10 of us combined will ever hope to accomplish. So who am I to argue with him? Personally I like the boldness of that stance. It appeals to me. It makes no apologies. If you want to hear what I’m talking about go fetch this MP3 and this one from Jim Hull’s excellent sewardstreet blog and hear it for yourself.

Getting back to the mo-cap/roto reference connection, again it all comes down to that point of specificity. Hey, I won’t lie to you. I’ve studied motion capture data to gain a better understanding of what’s going on. What does this or that look like? How is the motion constructed? What’s going on here? But that’s the extent of the use. Reference. In the world of academics you cannot copy & paste and then slightly alter reference material for your final writing. That’s called plagerism. No, reference is where you go to gain understanding and information. The thesis paper/animation is where you express this understanding in your own voice, in your own way, with your own words, thoughts, motions, gestures, poses. I hope you’ll excuse the metaphor mixture there.

Mind this one very important caveat:

None of this is a qualitative statement for or against the artistic merit and validity of motion capture. I’ve used it, I’ve professionally recommended its use in the past. In many instances it is the absolute right tool/method for the project. And in many instances the results are of solid quality and are entertaining. Nor am I saying that mo-cap will ruin the movie business. The point I’ve been working on lately is the re-definition of the terms “animation” and “animator” (and in subtext- what the result of this re-definition means for those of us who want to animate for a living).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And the award for Best Rendered Film goes to…

Almost as if on cue, the Academy unwittingly helps illustrate the validity of much of the polemic seen in many animation blogs over the last year. How so? Your 2007 Academy Award nominees for best “animated” film are….


Happy Feet

Monster House

Only one of those three films used actual animation as the foundation for the character performances. The other two films captured live motion for the primary core act of imbuing the illusion of life to the puppets. When it comes to performance they have more in common with The Muppets Take Manhattan than they do with The Lion King. But it’s too much bother to worry about that. Nobody’s keeping score anyhow, so let’s just call it all “animation” and be done with it. And so we are witnessing the end game of the slow redefinition of terms.

As usual Mark Mayerson speaks softly and carries a whippin’ big stick of common sense. When you’re not animating things anymore (as animation has been defined for 80+ years), what’s the point of calling it an animated film? Increasingly the delineation is based on the technique of visual rendering and little else. A Scanner Darkly was more about graphic rendering than animation since it was pretty much a paint over rotoscope project, yet it still qualified as an “animated” film. Want more evidence? Arthur & The Invisibles was disqualified from the “animation” category because less than 75% of its run-time was not rendered. They didn’t disqualify it because it had too little animation in it. The production relied on mo-cap– just like the majority of the nominees did. So obviously real animation is not the delineating measure for this Academy category. Rendering is.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Notions for a post mo-cap world


Are animators (as they have been known for decades- not as they’re being redefined now) like the dodo bird? On the outs, to be gone from the planet all together before long?

Michael Sporn seems to think so.

Maybe he’s just being provacative. If so I like it. Rhetorical provoking isn’t a bad thing, just so long as it’s thought and not knuckle sandwiches that are provoked. :)

Still, “Extinct” is a strong word. It doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room. But Mr. Sporn does touch on the diminishing nature of animators as the years to come arrive and pass into the years gone by. Technology continues it’s inexorable march and the old ways adapt or miss the train. Still, I gotta believe that somewhere, somebody will keep doing this stuff ‘the old fashioned way’ long after the ping pong suit hegemony has settled into middle age.

Someone once told me in an email (I think it was Hodge) that they felt the future of animation- specifically hand drawn/hand keyed full animation- would be akin to a cottage industry. Like candle makers, blacksmiths or glass blowers are today. Quaint artesans whiling away the days in an outmoded form of labor, loved by an enthusiastic few, collected and feted within a small circle of people who still love and appreciate the art and craft of animation. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that. If one can make a living this way, heck… it actually sounds kinda nice. The only thing missing would be the collaboration and social benefits of the studio system. But I can imagine small animator “co-ops” developing in the years to come. A group of animators/artists get together and rent a space, but they don’t form a proper studio. They share rent & utilities, hang out, work, offer crits and inspiration, perhaps hire each other to help out on a larger project now and then, but by and large do their own thing within site & sound of each other (private offices would be smart, though. In case you want to shut the door and work alone now and then). I’m thinking more of a loosely knit affiliation of animator/artist buddies than a studio. Studios, even small ones, can be messy affairs. A co-op might be an interesting model for those who want to run a different race than the big budget/big name one that predominates the landscape. I can see a co-op being fun and invigorating (assuming everybody involved is able to make a financial go of it, that is). All that’d be missing is a pot belly stove. Maybe I’m just being a romantic. Who knows.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

And while we’re talking about silhouette…. The Bendito Machine

Here’s a more modern (and a bit less ambitious) silhouetted animation project. Enjoy the odd, whacky fun that is the Bendito Machine.


This stuff is weird, but I dig it. Quite clever and a great use of the limitations to bring a strong style flavor to the editorial table.

This looks stunning!


I saw this post at the ever increasingly fantastic ASIFA Hollywood blog. They also followed up with a second post showing even more beautiful looking production stills. This first full length animated film was made by German animator Lotte Reiniger in the mid 1920’s. You have GOT to check this stuff out.

The production design is masterful, mesmerizing. I feel like I’m 9 years old and looking at photographs my own dreams or something. I can’t get over how fantastic and beautiful this stuff is. I look at it, know how it was made and think about the craft and skill- especially for the backgrounds- and I just smile. I feel like I’ve been shown a treasure. I have no idea if the film plays out well at all. To me the design is enough to make me a fan.


The grace and power of these silhouettes- the whole film is done only in silhouette- cut out paper on a light box. I’m thrilled to see this stuff being highlighted in the online animation community. This seems to have a raw and direct connection to older European heritage storytelling. This in itself isn’t surprising seeing as it was made during the prime shift away from local performance to projected product in the early 20th century. But to my eyes in the early years of the 21st century this is such a treasure. It jumps right over the intervening years and efforts and plops you right back into the aesthetic of a small puppet box in a cobble stoned street in Prague or someplace similar. Simple, quiet, primitive “slow” things like shadow puppets, etc. feel like long lost miracles of ingenuity and craft today.

ASIFA is currently having a fund drive for their fantastic blog. Go there now and toss a few dollars their way. If they keep putting stuff like this up it’s way more than worth the donation.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Meaty! (Observation on Film Art article)

While I’m waiting for VTS23 to compress (a long, dull process of me watching a progress bar creep across the screen for a for a couple of hours) I did some rummaging about online. Getting caught up with Michael Barrier’s site I see he linked to a really neat read from David Bordwell’s Observations on Film Art blog about Neil Gabler’s Disney book. I haven’t read the book and I probably won’t, either. Besides the fact that the reviews tend to portray it as a big blob of literary cold fish soup, Disney-ana and the history and personal/psychological mechanizations of Uncle Walt rarely interest me much for some reason. I love to read history for sure, but I like to do a little spelunking when I dig through history. I’m more interested in those who worked for him than the man himself. He’s an important figure as an employer and an industry driver, but I’m not usually all worked up to shower more lauds and praise on a figure who has had more than his share. Maybe because growing up I wasn’t a huge Disney fan overall. My childhood isn’t one that was overly touched by the Disney product. Being a steel town blue collar sort the Schlesigner/WB and MGM stuff always seemed to hold more currency in our world of grey skies, brown snow, dirty brick buildings bellowing smoke that smelled like crap. Besides I prefer to look under rocks and behind the curtains to see the small stories about the men and women who did the real work of making Disney into a cultural icon. After all that’s where I spent most of my career, down under the rocks with the little people who had more talent and skill than entrepreneurial interest. Tom Sito’s Drawing the Line is probably a book more my speed. Plus anybody who’s listened to him knows that Tom spins a great yarn.
Anyhow, I liked the article on the Film Art blog because the authors (Kristen Thompson and David Bordwell) show a very keen appreciation and a good eye for observing some of the subtler aspects of character animation as practiced by the Disney studio. For non-animators this is usually kinda rare “out there”. With so many ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the latest mo-cap driven craze in the MSM it’s a refreshing thing to see someone have a deeper level of appreciation for the craft and art of animation beyond the basic “I like it” level. Anyhow, when you have some progress bars of your own to watch crawl across your screen, go pass some time and read the post.

Oh yeah, VTS23 later tonight, too. Email links to come for those on the subscriber bandwagon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

APT Session 2: Sold Out!


Title says it all. Thanks to all the new students for signing up! If you wanted to get in this session but couldn’t find a way clear to do so, don’t worry. Good Lord willing I hope to do another session this summer. I don’t have any clear dates yet since my life is a grand adventure that unfolds literally one day at a time. Still, I love doing these and as long as there are folks interested inbeing a part of the APT I’ll keep doing them.


For this batch of APT students, well, to quote that boxing announcer dude… “Let’s get ready to rummmmmmmbleeeeee!”

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

APT Session #2: Now open for enrollment


If you want to participate as a student in the next Animation Personal Trainer session for February & March, then head on over to the kLango online store and sign up! Space will be very limited so be sure to bring your “A” game all you mouse clickers. Those who successfully sign up will receive a personal email welcome from me within 12 hrs. (It’s 2 am here right now. I’ll be up for a little while, but I need my beauty rest, you know.)
What’s the APT? Check out the FAQ for answers.

Is it any good? Check out the session#1 progress reel and decide for yourself.

I’ll update the blog once all the spots are taken. I’m pretty geeked to get this session started. By far the best part is seeing the students improve as the session progresses. Sometimes I was blown away with the improvement from week to week in session 1. What surprises will we have this time? Let’s find out!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Character Controls in CG

I have a confession to make: I am a closet rigging/workflow geek. I say rigging & workflow together because to a large degree how something is rigged in CG determines how you end up using it. So for me I enjoy the problem solving invention aspects of rigging. Of course this is driven by my animator side- the side that wants a good animation workflow, you see. I don’t like rigging for a living. I’ve been dragged into doing it at various studios and I haven’t liked the experience. Dull, dreary repetition of solutions others have figured out. And lots of skin weighting. I hate skin weighting. I can’t think of a more torturous activity in a studio. Wait. Texture UV editing. And toilet cleaning. They’re about equal, and they’re worse. But not by much. Anyhow, I do like to explore and find new things in rigging to help me have more fun as an animator. It’s all about making the animation more enjoyable, faster, easier, less klunky.

I forget exactly when, but sometime a number of years back it became the “way” to rig characters to create these proxy objects for selecting and controlling the puppet. It was a necessary convention as rigs became more complex and picking bones just wasn’t feasible anymore. (we won’t even dwell on the dark ages before bones. *shudder*). I’ve long yearned for the simplicity of stop motion in CG puppets. Wanna move a part? Well, grab and move that part. But that tended to be kinda messy. Rigs would get broken. Or you couldn’t see the bones inside the skin and so ended up picking the wrong one, or had to switch in and out of wireframe mode. Or the thing you wanted to control had nothing to grab hold of. It was more of an idea than an object. So the proxy control objects were made.

As time went by graphical user interfaces were developed to help the animator pick different parts of the character and try and keep the workspace cleaner. Some were more elaborate than others.


(less so)

But the thing that always bugged me about these systems was they tended to be a wee bit too left brainy. With lots of buttons and widgets to work with it felt like an airplane control console. Various little technical advances have been made and we got things like head’s up display GUI’s for picking and such. This one emulates a system defined by Jason Osipa.

Still, here we are a good 8 or more years after the proxy controller phase kicked in a widespread manner in CG and we really haven’t moved away from it. The obvious argument is “Hey it works, why mess with a good thing?” Well, yeah it works, but it’s kinda klunky. Imagine if everytime you wanted to turn the page of a book you had to pick up a pair of hot-dog tongs and turn the page with that instead of your fingers. Or imagine if you wanted to tear off a piece of bread you had to use two forks and couldn’t touch the bread with your hands? It works, it’s do-able, it’s not too awful inconvenient. It’s just.. clumsy. This one thing coupled with the Spaghetti Box (ie: f curve editor) was the downfall of many careers of hand drawn animators trying to make the jump to the CG age. It’s just all too abstract and techy. Like operating machinery, not creating a performance. I mean, this is one feature film animator’s workspace….

Talk about artist friendly. Ahem.

When I’m posing my character I am in a very artsy place (it’s a neat place. I imagine there’s a lava lamp, a crushed velvet couch, a Sergio Leone movie poster on the wall, some jazz hybrid funk on the radio and fresh fruit in a bowl. But I digress with my little fantasies…). When I’m in that creative part of the work I want my focus to be on the performance, the quality of the pose, the communicative aspects of the work and the qualitative level of the resulting art. I want to stay in my artsy, Bob Ross “happy trees”place. But in CG I always have to stop every few seconds and go find the trigger or control or proxy off someplace to manipulate the next thing. Right brain, right brain, right brain– screeech! Left brain. OK, got it. Right brain, right brain, etc. I’d like to find a clever uncluttered way to get around attribute sliders as well. Those can be real flow killers. I have to stop, read some name in a list, find the thing I think might do the trick, then click and slide off in space and watch the results on the character. But to do away with them all ends up cluttering the viewport a bit too much. It’s hard to find that perfect balance.
It’s been a mini crusade of mine over the last few years to try and get back to the simple ways of dealing with a character. Here’s my latest results. First a screen grab of the thing in beta form. The first bit shows the ’standard’ wire curve proxies, then i turn them off and turn on the body trigger thingies. I have a toggle for body and face since having them both up at once is a pain. Anyhow..

This is a video of me working directly on the character with my hands on a Cintiq.

The rig in this video is still in development and hasn’t been optimized very much (ie: not at all).

So it runs a little pokey on my laptop. The screen grab software running at the same time probably contributes to the chunkiness a bit I’m sure. Once all the bugs are worked out the thing will get optimized and tuned for better speed. I did a lot more reaching than I usually do because to shoot the video I kinda had to make some room for the tripod in my small office. So I didn’t have a place to set my keyboard and use it like I normally do. Anyhow, as you can see it’s not perfect. I’m gonna put a trigger right on each elbow to make that more direct and less atrribute slider-esque as well. And I’ve added stuff that seemed cool but ended up not working very well in practice so I ripped it out. But the idea is to keep refining it so that (as much as possible) the controls for the body part are right there on that body part. It has room to improve but so far in tests I’ve really enjoyed the way it feels when working. More on how I did it in a little bit.

Housekeeping: VTS23 video this week!

Due to the holidays, our move to a new apartment here in Brazil and getting ready for APT Session #2 I neglected to send out the usual monthly update email to the VTS subscriber list and add the release date to the countdown ticker here. Sorry about that. Such are the joys of doing business with a mom & pop shop like mine. But mine is more accurately just a “pop shop” since my wife is super busy with the work we do for folks here in western Brazil. Just to give that girl some props, this will show you what kind of heart she has- We moved into our new apartment two days before Christmas and had a dinner party for about 12 friends without family in town on Christmas day less than 36 hrs later. My wife is insane with generosity and big heartedness. I’m just along for the ride. :)
Anyhow, back to VTS23- it’s coming! ‘Tis in the oven now, so to speak. When you’re a customer of the VTS and APT you know who you’re dealing with: me! This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Depends on your outlook, I suppose. heh. I don’t have a big infrastructure or lots of (any) employees, but I do have a big desire to help folks become better animators and realize some of their life goals with animation.
Anyhow rest assured, VTS23 is coming- soon! I’m editing it now and it should be ready within a day or so. I’m aiming for uploading it tomorrow morning if all goes well technically. VTS subscribers can expect their usual download info email soon. Thanks to all my great subscribers. You guys are a real blessing and I hope that in 2007 you all enjoy your best year in animation.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Animation Schools: Which One is Best For Me?

I get asked a lot about animation schools and such. Which ones are good? Which ones are right for me? Which one will give me the best chance at success? Here’s a little inconvenient fact of life: No one animation school or program will be perfect for everybody. Mine included! It usually comes down to who you are and what the school is. Some people will totally mesh with the way a school thinks. The way the instructors teach will be perfect for them, the lessons will all be epiphanies and the results will be magical and fantastic. And then you’ll have just as many students who think the same program sucks, isn’t worth the time or money, doesn’t teach the way they like to learn, all the lessons miss the point and they leave frustrated and disappointed. And the rest are somewhere along a continuum between those two extremes. Does this mean the school is bad? Nah. Of course not. It just means that no one thing can be all things to all people, that’s all. Every animation school or program has its strengths and weaknesses. Each one is good and does a fine job and offers a meaningful service in its own way. And each one has a blind spot. Every school has its star graduates who have great demo reels. That doesn’t mean the school will be perfect, though. Along with the superstars you’ll have students whose work doesn’t quite inspire a lot of confidence. Unless everybody makes a stinker reel it’s not the school’s fault. Sometimes you just don’t get the right match, that’s all. And let’s face it, not every student brings their best to the table. So this is something to keep in mind when thinking about an animation school. It’s hard to know which one will be right for you, but most schools have pretty good information available that informs you about their goals, their ideals and their concepts of what a good animation education should be. In short- do your homework, keep an open mind and be willing to accept the reality that not every program will be right for you, even if it’s right for your buddy. The good news is that there is enough choice out there these days that the chances are pretty good that there is something that does fit your unique personality. The more the merrier I say! And if what I offer doesn’t work for you, hey that’s cool. I accept this as reality and bless your choice to go somewhere better suited for you to learn animation. In the end the important thing is you learning what you need to learn to improve your animation. The way I see it: it’s all about the student succeeding. Whichever way helps you do that the best: this is the way for you.

Marketing and animated movies

Some pretty interesting revelations are to be had in a recent Jim Hill Media report. Seems the Disney marketing types are a little puzzled about how to promote Pixar’s next flick, the Brad Bird directed Ratatoullie (I’m sure I spelled it wrong). It just doesn’t seem to want to fit into any holes for pidgeons. And of course they’re a bit concerned about merchandising a rat-chef to kids. I can’t see why. My kids would play with a cockroach character if it was cute and funny looking. The idea of a rat in the kitchen cooking is perfect to a child- it tips the world on it’s ear. It only offends grown ups. But there’s this this little snippet from a Disney marketing aparatchik to chew on….

“The feeling now is that we all may have been a little too close to ‘Cars.’ That we were too in love with this film before it was released. Which is why it’s now considered a mistake in-house to buy into the old ‘Everyone goes to Pixar movies’ idea.

Sure, it seems ridiculous to be complaining about the second highest grossing film of the year. But the fact of the matter is that there are 75 million NASCAR fans out there. And — before ‘Cars’ opened — we had convinced ourselves that every one of those people was going to buy a ticket to Pixar’s next movie. Which is why we were really expecting that ‘Cars’ would rack up ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘The Incredibles’ -sized grosses.

But when that didn’t happen … Well, the first place that we looked was at ‘Cars’ marketing. We started asking ourselves: ‘Did we position this picture properly? Should we have gone with another poster? Or a different set of TV commericials?’ You always wind up second-guessing yourself in situations like this.”

A different poster? You know I always had a hard time reconciling all the pre-release warm fuzzies about Cars and the film that almost put me to sleep in theaters. The first place you looked was at the marketing? Good grief there wasn’t a more heavily marketed film in 2006 outside of the Pirates of Carribean II.

Back to Rat Chef. You know why I like Brad Bird films? You can tell that by and large they’re coming from his personal point of view, they’re not the results of taking a vote. Ahh, but the same thing that makes them interesting is what makes them hard to market. First Iron Giant so confused Warner’s that they just punted. Do you remember that TV spot that had the music from The Scorpions “Rock You Like a Hurricane” on it? Egads. And The Incredibles had Disney wringing their hands because it wasn’t another Nemo like film. But I dig that. As an iconoclast Mr. Bird has the energy and drive to put his immutable stamp on a film. This tends to make his films a bit more unique and individualistic as a storyteller (and to make him a bit difficult to work for if rumblings are to be believed). But the result is less like the committee driven stuff that usually emerges from the studio system. But marketers can have difficulty figuring out how to take something unique and individual and play it to a wide demographic. To which I say - Good! That instantly means the film will probably be a lot more interesting. At least to me it does. But it also means that it probably won’t be a huge mega block buster $1billion worldwide box office bonzo fest either. But that’s not my concern as a movie goer. That’s the studio’s concern as a business. It’s a fairly common thing these days in entertainment for the business to think it’s all about them and to forget the audience. (Hodge pontificates accordingly here). And this whole ‘marketing’ thing has one core problem. It doesn’t see individual customers. It sees market demographic groups. But story telling ultimately comes down to making individuals buy into your yarn and walk away happy for the time and emotional investment. But when you aim at a ‘group’ of collective tastes you end up removing things of personal interest. I personally don’t care what the studio’s “take” on a story is. Most studios are large corporate conglomerates. Basically corporations have no personal point of view other than maximum profitability. Boy, that sure is something to get excited about, huh? No, I want to hear a storyteller tell me a story. If it’s quirky or odd all the better! I hear the Laika film Corraline may not fit neatly into conventional norms that most marketers like. As an animation director at Blur I had an opportunity to read an early screenplay of Corraline a few years back- this was before Henry Sellick had landed at Laika (nee Vinton) and his agency was shopping the project around town. I really liked it. It was different, quirky- something totally not driven by a focus group but by a storyteller- in this case Neil Gaiman. It’s an animated film I’d be very interested in seeing when it’s done. But I knew the marketers would hate it. They think not about individuals but money groups- and increasingly when it comes to animated films that group isn’t even kids, but the overweening soccer moms who drive them to the cineplex. The same ones who insist that your kid’s 4th grade class can’t have any red or green napkins for their “mid year party” because red and green might make someone think of Christmas. And we all know that this is not good for it might make someone have to face the reality that not everybody sees the world the same way they do and not everybody agrees with them, and this is far, far to traumatic a thing for a 10 year old to deal with. Just give ‘em more sugar. (I wish I was making this up.)

As a result we’re losing the simple humanity of one person dealing with another person- in this instance the storyteller and the audience member. So is it much wonder that we have very poor “customer service” in our industry anymore? Tell you what- you take care of my interests as a customer and have a storyteller spin me an entertaining yarn that comes from a unique personal perspective (”director driven” film is the term) and I’ll be more than happy take care of your concerns as a business. Do we have a deal? And if that means you have to spend less in making your films I’m sure that’ll be OK. I say a director driven film is cheaper by half compared to a committee film due to the reduced waste. So if you lower your costs then you don’t need a massive block buster to make your money back. It’s still a profitable model. Just not a mega monster go for bust or go for broke one. Odd how something so sane and rational could be so radical and crazy, huh?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Blendernation fundraiser for the poor

The blendernation blog has been having a rather successful fund-raiser to help the less fortunate. Check it out here and drop a dime to help. For those who don’t know Blender is a free, open source CG content program. Modeling, animation, rendering, editing, compositing- the works. For anyone interested in getting started in Cg but not feeling like they wanna drop a big wad of cash this is a fun and useful way to get your CG feet wet. And the program seems to have some horses under the hood as well. The blog usually communicates within that blender user community, but this fund raiser info was sent to me in an email.
Awesome stuff, fellas!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


UPDATE: It’s all fixed now. Whew!

Well, seems my webhost and my bank picked a great time to have communication troubles. Seems the klangoAnimation.com server is down for a “payment problem”. the host’s machines aren’t talking nice with the bank’s machines. (even though the card they are taking the payment from is valid, has money available and works just fine- I just used it today here in Brazil). Just your typical electronic banking snafu and par for the course for me lately.

Soooooo… I am in contact with them to get this all cleaned up. One way or another things will be all fixed in time for VTS subscribers to get their videos and APT enrollees to enroll next week. Sorry for the hassle. Such are the joys and adventures of running an online business from a different continent than the one you call ‘home’.

ps: it’s temporary and it will be missing some images, but here’s a short term APT FAQ link that will work til the klango server is back up.

Monday, January 08, 2007

APT Progress Reel from session 1

A little in house news:

Here’s a short, non-comprehensive progress reel for some of my APT session 1 students. Note I used the term “progress reel” and not “demo reel”. The point of this reel isn’t to show only the best ’studio worthy’ demo reel pieces but to show the progress of individual students as a result of their time with the APT. Each student is their own story, each with their own needs and for each success was measured differently. So when you watch the reel compare the before and after results for each student profiled. Don’t compare the results with the latest cinematic release because that wasn’t the point for many of the students. I’m not going to try and leave the world with the impression that I can make you into a feature film animator in just 8 weeks. It’s just not possible and it’s not realistic. But I think I can help you be a better animator (whatever your level), and that’s the point of this reel- to mark the improvement.

Anyhow, I think you’ll see some of the great improvements some students made. This reel doesn’t showcase every student from APT session 1- that would be a bit too long. Still I was excited to see such personal growth in all of the students- that was by far one of the most rewarding parts about APT session 1. It confirmed my belief that highly personalized training - combined with a strong desire and work ethic on the part of the student- is perhaps the best way to pass on the craft of animation.

Anyhow, enjoy the “progress reel” and remember, APT session 2 starts taking enrollment after 12:01AM EST (U.S. time) on January 17th (barring some odd technical gremlin like an internet outage or something). I expect space to fill up fast, so be quick if you want to get in. For more info, check out the APT Frequently Asked Questions to the right. It’s been recently updated to have all the latest info stuffs.


I always did like Nick Park…

Nick Park, director and Oscar award winner of all those fun and fantastic Wallace & Gromit films, has a great bit to say in a NY Times piece about animation. To quote…

Mr. Park summed up what may represent the consensus among animation artists when he said, “I’m anti making things more realistic. Everything in me goes against it.” His view: “If you aim for realism, and you don’t quite achieve it, it can become very ugly. If you separate your work from reality, the artistry and stylization become the focus. For me that’s the joy of filmmaking. I don’t want to create reality. I’m not interested in reality.

Ding! Give that man a cigar! John Canemaker also expresses his preferences…

I’m not that fond of literalism in any form of animation: I think the interpretation of the artist is the important thing, and how the hand and mind are seen in the product.

I agree. It’s more fun that way.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

APT: Frequently Asked Questions Update

Some housecleaning news:

I’ve just updated the Animation Personal Trainer program F.A.Q. with some more timely answers and such. Check it out if you’re interested in the APT for this upcoming session (or if you’re interested in another session later on this year. Yes, I hope to do more in 2007.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Molehills and Mountains…

Anybody who knows me personally knows that I’m not a particularly difficult person to figure out. Nobody really needs to wonder what I’m thinking or feeling. I’ve always been rather plain spoken and direct about things. If I like something, you know it. If I don’t, you know it. If I believe something, you know it. It’s the left over residue of that blue collar steel town upbringing of mine. I’m not overly open, per se, but I’m certainly not hard to read. It sometimes gets me in trouble. Oh well. To quote the 20th century’s greatest philosopher sailor, “I ‘yam what I ‘yam and that’s all that I ‘yam!”

One thing that’s clear to me is that all the tempests in the animation teapot are really kinda silly. One of the reasons I’ve been a bit more… shall we say “bold” about expressing my opinions lately about what I see in the animation biz is that I understand just how unweighty and silly it all is. Understanding this then I am able to see all the ideas and opinions as just a fine way to pass the time inbetween the real stuff of life. When the entire field of conversation isn’t very important it’s pretty hard to have any meaningful taboos, right? I mean two years ago I would never have said a lot of the things I’ve uttered here in the last 8 months. But why not? It’s just cartoons, right? So why not toss these heretical notions out there for discussion? Sure it’s controversial, sure it’s didactic, and I’m sure it even makes some folks upset. No matter. In the end it’s not important. I mean really, how can we get too wound up about what happens in and around cartoons? So while it may seem like this is all very heady and important to me, take my word when I say that in the larger scheme of things it’s not. Sure, I still love animation and I love doing it and being involved in it. I love teaching it, I love watching it, I love studying it, I love talking about it. It’s my favorite unimportant thing in life. But that doesn’t mean that I hold this stuff in such high and holy regard that I feel afraid to express some contrary ideas. I mean really, to me all this banter and blogging is all like the fans of sports teams arguing about who’s team is better over a beer. We yell, we argue, we laugh and then we order a few more beers and enjoy the debate. It doesn’t mean all that much in the end. It’s just entertainment, the least important thing on the planet earth.

As for what is important, On the left, the water she has drank every day of her life. On the right, new hope.

I’m glad to say there are some really exciting things opening up for the work that my wife and I came to Brazil to do. We’ve set up two water filter production sites. Currently they’re at a small capacity making just a few filters per week, but each family that gets clean drinking water for the first time in their life doesn’t care how many we make each week. All they know is they are being blessed by one of the filters we made for less than $40. Their kids won’t die from stupid simple diseases like diarrhea now. In January we’re taking some filters to an indigenous tribe in northern Mato Grosso, near the southern boundary of the Amazon region. We have a friend there who has worked with them for almost 20 years, translating the Bible into their language. His is an amazing story. We have been blessed to employ a great brazilian brother named Belmiro Junior to help us run the various water filter projects in and around Cuiaba’. He’s been doing a great job, loves people and has a huge heart to help those less fortunate. We’re also seeing the construction and opening of a medical/dental clinic in a town about 100km from where we live. The town of Pocone’ is about 8,000 people, is very remote and very, very poor. The clinic will be a great blessing to these folks. Additionally many of the poorest there have no access to any clean water. They don’t have the means to buy bottled water. So at the same church where we’re building the clinic we want to set up a third bio-sand water filter production site to begin addressing the needs right there in that one place. Meanwhile the Pantavida medical clinic boat continues to do it’s life saving work down near Corumba’ along the Paraguay River. They’re also installing water filters in the small villages along the rivers there. That’s where these pictures are from.

Delivering a filter to a family. They’re kinda heavy.

This house is actually a little ‘upscale’ for your typical river family. It has walls made of wood and plastic instead of mud.

This is more typical.. a family of 6 living in a single room mud hut.

A humble little concrete box filled with wet sand. So simple, so extraordinary. It will allow this family to live without intestinal parasites for perhaps the first time ever.

2006 was a year of huge change and adjustment for our family. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s been worth it. Now that we have survived (literally) the first 6 months of moving to a different country with a new language and culture we see how God has started to really open some doors to do some really meaningful work in helping other folks live better lives. Jesus wasn’t shy about the responsibility that belongs to those who have this world’s blessings. We who have much are responsible for helping those who have little. In America if you talk about wealth redistribution to help the downtrodden as a form of social justice you’ll get shouted down, often by right wing conservatives, many of whom also profess to carry the name of Christ in their religion. But the truth is real. From the very earliest teachings in the Bible right through the end the message has been simple: God doesn’t care about your religion if you don’t care (and do something for) the poor, the widows, the orphans, the sick, the lost. The world is a messed up place. Things are not the way they ought to be. Education will not fix things. Politics will not fix things. Governments will not fix things. Sad to say, the church doesn’t seem to be much interested in fixing things. Will we just shrug, say it’s too bad, keep doing what we do and spending what we spend on ourselves? Will we continue to erect palatial places of entertainme… errr, I mean “worship” just to appease our own appetites? Or will we be willing to stand in the gap between the way things are and the way things should be? Will we put our money, our hands, our hearts where our mouth is? One thing I can tell you from personal experience- when you stand in that gap you will be stretched to the point of breaking. But if there’s anything I’m willing to be destroyed for it’s this. We’re excited about what’s to come.

So don’t take anything I say about animation too seriously. Lord knows I don’t.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Animator publicity and the Long Tail

Keeping along the lines of animator self promotion… I’ve been saying for a little while that the indy animator hope in the Long Tail distribution revolution is poorly placed if they expect this phenomenon to provide them with direct revenue resources to “make a living” doing their animation. I have said that the end game of the independent animator needs to be a revenue mosaic, not “all your eggs in the pay-per-download iTunes” basket. Recently Long Tail chronicler Chris Anderson (of Wired) related as much on his blog. Some juicy bits…

Can you make money in the Long Tail? Well, it depends who “you” are. If you’re an aggregator, sure. But if you’re like the majority of Long Tail microproducers, direct revenues can be harder to come by. I was reminded by this Valleywag post that one of the most common misunderstandings of the phenomena is that it somehow makes it easy for individuals to translate low popularity into riches.

“For producers, Long Tail benefits are not primarily about direct revenues. Sure, Google Adsense on the average blog will generate risible returns, and the average band on MySpace probably won’t sell enough CDs to pay back their recording costs, much less quit their day jobs. But the ability to unitize such microcelebrity can be significant elsewhere. A blog is a great personal branding vehicle, leading to anything from job offers to consulting gigs. And most band’s MySpace pages are intended to bring fans to live shows, which are the market most bands care most about. When you look at the non-monetary economy of reputation, the Long Tail looks a lot more inviting for its inhabitants.”

So to answer the publisher quoted by Valleywag, the Long Tail never promised you Adsense riches. If what you’re doing has value, it does promise you more attention, reputation and readership. But converting that non-monetary currency to actual money is up to you, and there are as many ways to do that (from better job offers to consulting) as there are people who wish to try.

So again, if you want to be an indy animator you pretty much have to come to peace with the understanding that direct download payments for your animation really aren’t going to do the trick when it comes to paying the bills. What the animation/short films/(whatever-it-is-you-want-to-make) can do for you is simple: it can build you a reputation that you will then need to work to somehow monetize and translate into a multi-faceted revenue stream. All the current indy animator success stories do this. Homestar Runner makes their hay with merchandising. JibJab with ads. Spumco with work for hire commercial projects. Plympton with small revenues from his films, mixed with commercial gigs and speaking honorariums. John Canemaker teaches and writes books and articles. Don Hertzfeld co-produces the Animation Show travelling festival and teaches. The impressive corral of animators represented by Acme Filmworks do commercials. But they all still make the time to keep doing their own films, keep pushing forward their “brand”, keep promoting their thing. The indy, self produced stuff is a loss leader promotional calling card. The revenue comes as a result of that reputation. True each of those I mentioned do get some revenue from their self produced indy films and animation. But certainly not the majority of their revenue comes from the films. The notion of making a killer short film and having the world beat a path to your door with cash in hand to see it is folly. Nothing works that quickly or easily. No, the way to making it as an indy is a long, slow build. It is the result of years of making a name for yourself doing your thing, and then being smart, timely and clever enough to find a way to harvest that reputation in a monetary way that people are happy and willing to pay. Not fast, not easy, but it’s the only way to make it work. It’s a very, very rare thing for an indy animator to make their living JUST from people buying their animation products. So the humble mouse animator dream of leaving behind all clients, thumbing their noses at the ugly dirty world of “commercialism” to devote themselves to living quietly in a wooded studio in Montana, never having to do the nasty work of sales or go out and meet people- it is a pipe dream. It’s not reality. To make it as an independent animator you have to have some moxy, some guts, a willingness to put your name out there, to pitch for projects, to get those consulting gigs, to offer the merchandise, to teach, or whatever it is you that you can do and be willing to say “What I do is good stuff and you should buy from me because I can make your life better by what I do.”

One animator dude who has self promotion down pat

Continuing with the idea of animators as self promoters…The animator/director/creator who seems most comfortable in promoting himself seems to be John K (he of Ren & Stimpy/Spumco fame). His blog is a daily self promotion tool and he uses it masterfully. He’s not shy about his opinions. He’s not afraid to knock what he doesn’t like or what he thinks stinks. But he’s not just a windbag about it, he posts examples of what he thinks are good and makes some arguments (some more compelling than others) about why this is good and that is bad. And when he makes something he promotes the snot out of what he does. John is the epitome of an iconoclast. He has an army of clones, fans and followers- as well as a list of enemies that no doubt keeps him off the air due to his big mouth and strong ideals. But that buys him some credibility when the time comes to get hired for work by those outside of that main stream of the media river- and that’s the crux of it all, kids. When internet start up company Raketu wants some clever fun online ad campaign, their mental list of candidates runs mighty short. Same for non-conformist musicians like Weird Al or Tenacious D when the time comes for over the top animated music videos. (actually both acts make fun of the formulas if anything.) The point being, John hammers the message and he hammers it hard. “What we’re doing is better than what anybody else is doing, and I have the examples and strong opinions to prove it! So hire us!” To someone of lesser talent, track record or intestinal fortitude this approach is akin to career suicide. But when the motion cog jobs dry up, or become so tedious as to be little more than pushing buttons in a factory, it’s those who have killed their careers who will still have one. I’ll let that sink in for a bit.

But there’s more to the John K. horn than blatant self promotion. He has a theory, which I think is actually kinda interesting. He believes the most interesting animation results when you allow individual artists and animators to do their own thing in their own kind of style -bent enough to fit the show of course- but still unique and highly personal. He believes that great animation shows a lot of fingerprints from the individual artists, that letting good talent do what it does best is chaotic, but can result in some pretty interesting stuff. And all of this happens under a strong director who invites these talents to come out and play. And he backs it up. He constantly promotes his favorite artists who work with him. He pushes their name out there and pumps up their pub value. He points out their unique touch in what they do. I don’t always like how he says things and a lot of times I don’t like the content of his work, but i have a lot of respect for a guy who’s not afraid to lay it on the line and at the same time push others into the limelight as well.

But these days it seems nobody else much feels like embracing such (potential) chaos. It’s the opposite of the film system where all voices must be subdued completely. Personally I like the idea, even if the execution of it in the Spumco universe leaves me feeling a bit cold. It’ll be neat to see somebody make this work, both creatively and financially. I’m following his progress to see where it lands him. Whichever way it goes it won’t go halfway, that’s for sure!

More thoughts about George Miller comments…

Pardon me while I give this old saw a few more pushes and pulls…

Another thought about George Miller’s comments regarding an animator’s inability to perfectly re-create all the subtleties of motion that a professional dancer can do in a mo-cap suit. Mark Mayerson asks “Can you imagine anyone in live action saying that it would take an actor a lifetime to pull off the nuances of motion that a talented animator could pull off?” . Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew echoes the call by saying “One could easily counter Miller’s statement by saying that it would take the greatest live-action actors in the world a lifetime to pull off the animated performance that Scribner offers in that film.” He then goes on to point out the somewhat silly concept of comparing these apples with them there oranges.

All of which, from this side of the aisle (ie: the animators side) seems like a fair argument. But before we all yell, “Yeah, you tell ‘em!”, think about it. The problem is really a political one. We animators (especially in the CG era) have been complicit in the denegration of our craft and art. How? We have allowed others to frame the debate over the quality of any given piece of animation. The way people currently judge the quality of animation, and have been conditioned to judge it for decades, basically means we stand no chance of winning this one. And we are as much to blame for we too have bought the pitch hook line and sinker.
In political arguments the winner isn’t the one with the best argument. The winner is the one who convinces everybody to see the question from their point of view. Once that battle has been won, the better argument assumption is then a done deal. For ages and ages the debate about the quality of animation has been framed by one conceit. Namely, the more ‘lifelike’ or ‘believable’ or ‘natural or ‘real’ the motion seems, the better it is judged as animation. From Walt Disney all the way down to today’s heir to that throne and the teeming hordes who would love to work for them this has been the way the debate over animation has been framed. More lifelike or naturalistic = better animation. There are certain degrees of shading here and there, and true enough brave and bold exceptions to the rule stand out- but by and large this has been the driving force of how a majority of animation is judged. As a result of decades of Disney’s promotion of this ideal in his films this has become the public conventional wisdom. So far, not too much to worry about.
But when a technology comes along that can better capture that elusive ‘quality’ of motion, then what? It’s already happened once. Remember all those hand drawn feature films? Where are they? Gone, pushed aside by the gew-gaws over the realistic-ness of CG. But the techno-train won’t stop at lighting and textures. If the arbiter of the quality of animation is it’s lifelikeness, real-ness or it’s naturalness, then when you have a technology that can closely emulate that or capture it, well, why not use it more? So what if animators don’t create the performances? We have something even “better”- life-motion itself! If the end goal is quality, and quality is mostly defined by realism/naturalism/lifelikeness-ism, then use the tool best suited to the task. In light of that framing of the debate those animators who actually enjoy animating and crafting performance and acting are lost. The only obvious answer is of course, use the technology that gives you the “better” result. And as long as we animators ourselves (especially the CG crew) continue to ooh and ahh over animation that is little more than highly skilled and heavily massaged rotoscoping, then we have nobody but ourselves to blame.

But what if naturalism isn’t the sole arbiter of animation quality? We don’t need to throw it out, but isn’t there room for more at the “good animation” table? What if expressing that which can’t be seen in reality is part of the equation? What if showing something more alive than life comes into play? What if the distillation & expression of what it means to be alive is seen as worth more than looking like live motion? What if the outward physical expression and amplification of inner dialogue, thought and emotion is used to measure animation quality? What if artistry and design or imagery is valued as much as (perhaps above?) the versimilitude to reality? What if we framed the debate in a different way? What technology can capture or reproduce that without the animator’s hand and heart deeply involved from square one? Basically, what if we could re-frame the debate about animation quality to a more animator/artist centric point of view? What if we could initiate a real, deep appreciation for this new yard-stick of animation quality within the animation community (which really isn’t new of course, it’s just out of fashion)? And I mean beyond a mere nod here and there. What if we really celebrated this stuff as much as we do the latest big screen butter-fest? It would take a long time, but don’t you think it couldn’t help but spill over into the mainstream conventional wisdom? If we could manage to start framing the debate about animation quality within the general animation community this way first it would be a good day in my opinion.

Do I think all is lost and that animators will be out of work en mass? No. Not really. Sure, there will still be jobs with the title of ‘animator’, but the reality will be that you’ll end up (as one commenter here put it) “adapting your career” to the reality of working with a lot more mo-cap. More and more of the fun of animation (ie: fun motion, great performance, funny ideas, deep acting, great poses and drawings coming to life, etc.) will be taken from the animator and given to a dancer/comedian/actor/martial arts expert in the ping-pong suit and the green face paint. Sure there will still be a need for ‘animators’, but by and large they’ll be left with will be the un-fun techno-garble and subtle shades of pushing and tucking here and there. Wow. Thrilling. Sounds like the stuff little boy’s dreams are made of.

Post-o-rama coming up!

We’ve been in the middle of moving to our new apartment here in brazil- all while also managing the holidays, parties, etc. However we’re still waiting for phone/internet hook up at the new place, so posting will come sporadically for the next little bit. But I’ve been writing some thoughts down as the days have passed. Now that I’m able I’m gonna drop a few all at once. Enjoy!