Thursday, February 26, 2009

The devil's in the acting

Michael Sporn in a recent post on his blog highlights some really beautiful drawings by Bill Tytla. He was the key animator for the devil character in Disney's Fantasia, the Night on Bald Mountain sequence that I have embedded above. Watch the clip. Definitely go see the drawings. Sporn's admiration is well founded. Michael has this to say about the Night on Bald Mountain sequence-
Art. What else need be said?
The individual drawings are stunning, and they’re
in service to a brilliantly acted sequence.
It will never get better.
The drawings are masterful. It's an amazing bit of animation, the motion is great and the imagination regarding the devil's hands conjuring the flames into different forms is second to none. There are some awe inspiring poses and timing- it's all thrillingly well done. I'm not sure I'd say the piece is 'brilliantly acted', though. Just my opinion. The devil is a cypher to me. Like so many Disney characters over the years, this devil character leaves me cold. I'm not saying it sucks, I'm not saying I can do better (obviously I can't and I never will) and I'm not even saying it's old fashioned or whatever. I see it as a beautiful dance, as well animated as anything ever put on screen, but not necessarily great acting. Perhaps that's a distinction in semantics. I dunno.
Call me an uncultured swine. *shrug*


If you want your daily dose of pure unintentional comedy, then dial up this recent post over at Michael Barrier's blog. I won't bother refuting the various uninformed assertions in the post because I don't have the time, nor the energy to bother. Let a man have his fun, I say. Still, I figure somebody out there might find the irony of it amusing. His site is still interesting if you're into the minutiae of old Disney info (admittedly not my cup-o'-tea)

Monday, February 23, 2009

APT spots open...

hey folks,
I'm beginning a new Animation Personal Trainer (APT) session next week, but a couple people have had to back out. So I have 2 spots open. This is an open call for folks to get in on the action. If you're wondering what this APT thing is all about, check out the FAQ and read some previous posts talking about the training (along with student examples) here, here and here.. 

Email me if you're interested in taking part in this upcoming session.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Credit Crisis Visualized

Hey, it's animation related. And it's good to know, too. This is a very well done visual explanation of the reason why the economy is in the toilet- and how we got there. Animated in a simple, yes elegant way. Great design.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


A few days ago Patrick Smith, indy NYC animator extraordinaire, put this quick teaser on YouTube for his new film project, Masks. I like the idea behind this- Patrick visually following the lead laid down by a challenging audio track put together by Karl von Kries. The abstract audio would be challenging to anybody, but Smith looks to be up to it. Patrick Smith's stuff is very solid, his films always a visual treat and his passion contagious. I like that his films are kinda raw- not raw as in gory or in poor taste, but raw in the sense that there's not a lot of emotional space between Smith and his animation. Any perceptive person can see that the stuff on the screen comes from a place that's not very far from the man's heart. His film Handshake (below) is one such result.

Check out his blog, his Flickr set, his Blend Films site and look for more of his films on the tube of you's.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Girl's got legs....

Coraline's second full weekend in the cinemas held up very well. The Laika stop-mo flick pulled in nearly $14.8 million for the weekend, representing only a 12.2% drop-off from the opening week. That low drop-off means that Coraline will likely enjoy a 4x multiplier of the opening weekend's box office rather than the typical 3.5x multiplier. If a 4x multiplier holds then Coraline will pull in closer to $70mil in domestic box office.

Another recent animated film that had a small drop-off from opening week to second week? The Tale of Despereaux dropped only 11.6% during its second weekend. In fact TTOD had such great legs that it enjoyed a 5x multiplier (opening weekend of $10mil, ended up with $50mil in total US box office). If Coraline enjoys similar run then Laika has more than a gusty breeze at its sails for a second film- which is a good thing.

Who knew straying from formula could be so... profitable?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Offset Keys vs. Changing Shapes

A student emailed me and asked about how to handle the spine for overlap & such. He was seeing so many fellow animators using the 'offset keys' approach in their efforts to try and get drag and overlap in their movements, but he felt it created more problems than it solved. I have to agree with him.

For the un-itiated, 'offset keys' is a technical approach in CG to try and achieve an organic solution of weight. The basic idea of the offset-keys approach is as follows: The character moves from frame 1 to frame 10, frame 10 being the pose you want to move into.

The offset-keys technique in theory is very logical. The idea is that if the hips hit at frame 10, then if the mid-spine hits at 11, the up-spine hits at 12 and the head hits at 13 then you'll get good overlap.

Like I said, logical in theory. But weak in practice. At best - when the technique works perfectly- all you get is some overlap at the end of the move, but you get absolutely no drag in the middle of the move. Drag during the move is where the weight comes from. Simply overlapping parts at the end of the move is not enough- it's a cheap trick that doesn't solve the problem. And the technique rarely works perfectly. Due to the way each object in CG works mathematically you end up with all kinds of unintended consequences when you use the offset method. The most common result is a funky hitch in the motion due to the way the math mixes at a given frame for the combination of controllers. (compare this non-offset animation to this one that uses offset keys. Note the junky bits of motion.) These unintended consequences make cleaning up the move much harder and often leads to the animator setting a ton of extra keys all over, tweaking a bunch of f-curves, making dozens of playBlast previews all in the effort to get rid of the hitches in the motion. The animator's energy is spent on removing motion problems introduced by the offset-keys trick, not on building good animation.

The key to good weight in a move is to get a sense of drag during the move. This is done not by some math trick but by making the changing shapes work as the character moves. When combined with some overlap at the end of the move things look much better and are a lot easier to clean up. If there's one thing CG animators need to do it is to start thinking about changing shapes in motion and to stop thinking in terms of moving parts. Moving parts are technical. Changing shapes are organic. All animation - regardless of media - is a 2d image on a screen. CG animators just use a puppet to create those visual shapes on a 2d plane. The visual impression of shapes changing in 2d hand-drawn animation will work in CG. We need to shift our thinking to how to make those shapes work for us. The key comes back again to making good breakdowns. Breakdowns are the secret to the shapes, the secret to getting clean motion with weight.

Here's a quick visual that might help.

What's really ironic is that many, many 2d hand drawn animators forget this when they get on a computer (I have my theories as to why). The result is the same weightless movement we associate with CG.
Really the problem is all in our heads.

UPDATE: Commenter Jim notes that offsetting keys is very useful in the polishing stage of a shot. I agree. At the final polish stage I offset keys quite a bit, sometimes on a per channel basis. Key offsetting is a perfectly valid technique as a tool for polishing the motion because at that point it's all fine detail modification. However key offsets are unsuited as a technique for building the fundamental motion to begin with.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Solid opening weekend for Coraline

Coraline had a $16.3 million US domestic box office for its opening weekend. Not a block buster, but not bad, either.
If you apply a 'standard' multiplier of 3.5 (opening weekend x 3.5) they're projected to bring in about $55-60 million before the film leaves US cinemas. The film reportedly cost $60 million to make. Anytime a film's total domestic box office covers its production costs you are in a great position. Add in international box office and DVD sales and any merchandizing and things add up nicely. While certainly not Shrek-like profits, this is a solid win for Laika. They have gained enough of a toe-hold as an animated film studio to warrant a second film. Too bad their sophomore effort got scuttled, but I expect with the encouraging results for Coraline that they'll redouble their efforts to get film #2 (whatever it may be) up and running. This is a good thing. The animated film marketplace needs a studio that is willing to make films like Coraline. And I hope that Framestore in the UK can also keep in the game and make more films. Critics raise valid points regarding the lost opportunities and narrative stumbles of both Coraline and The Tale of Despereaux, but those stumbles endear the films to me. I'm always partial to value the journey over the destination. I far prefer the early unsure efforts like Disney's Dumbo & Pinnocchio over the polished and formulaic films that followed. It's more inspiring to see folks striving to find something than it is to see someone try to recapture and repeat a previous success over and over again. May there always be new studios trying different things, stumbling their way to find their own voice in the wilderness. They may not produce perfection, but then who ever said perfection was a sensible goal anyhow?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Coraline? Thumbs up! 3D cinema? Thumbs down!

The clan Lango all trundled our way out into the spring-like warmth of a sunny Saturday afternoon to take in the visual feast that is "Coraline". Go see it. It's NOT your typical animated film at all- and that's the best thing about it. Laika nailed it. There's things in this film that you'd never see from the big studios because they'd never dream of trying it. And by being bold they managed to do something that has been a rare accomplishment- every single member of our family loved it. Including my wife- who is certainly not your target audience for this kind of film. She finds most animated films to be a waste of time. Can't blame her, really. But she really liked "Coraline".

However this whole 3d cinema thing is for the birds.

It's not that I'm a fuddy-duddy who hates innovation. I think it looks great. It's a cool effect and it's really quite impressive when used right- but it hurts. I've seen "Chicken Little", "Meet the Robinsons", "Ant Bully" and now "Coraline" in 3d. Each time I was left with a head-ache for the rest of the day. And I'm not alone. Everybody in the family had a head-ache after the film, from the 7 year old to the old man. In fact we chose the theater because we thought it would be a 2d showing (since they didn't advertise it was a 3d screening). We were disappointed when we saw that it was a 3d screening. We knew we were in for pain. As it was I watched at least half the film without the glasses because my eyes were suffering.

Look, I like neat-o things like anybody else, but I hope this 3d thing dies out like it did in the 50's. Either that or they need to come up with a way to do this stuff that is completely different than the way it's done now. Our family can't be the only ones thinking this 3d cinema thing is little more than a painful gimmick- right?

If you can endure the 3d thing, definitely see "Coraline" in 3d. It looks nifty. But it's so well done and such a gorgeous film that even if you skip the whole 3d 'experience' it's still a real treat.