Thursday, December 29, 2011

Audience preferences & Tintin

Mark Mayerson continues to impress me with his thoughtful analysis of animated films and the medium in general. He has a great post up that addresses audience preference for films that hew more closely to their world as they perceive it everyday. As is his usual approach he takes a look at history, noting how Disney's feature film successes coincided with the studio's great efforts to make animation seem more 'real' to audiences. He looks at the current popularity of CG films over 2d films in this light, drawing some pretty cogent conclusions. You should definitely check it out.

I'll use Mark's thoughts as a jump off point for my own. I'm thinking that in a few years you could rewrite Mark's post and swap "hand keyed CG" for "hand drawn" and "performance captured" for "CG". A quick survey of many of the most popular animated films today seems to reinforce Mayerson's assertion that audiences prefer things to be more real. There has been a trend in films where the style of character animation, cinematography and editing are becoming more like live-action lite. The goal of many keyframed scenes is to closely emulate a video-recorded performance in a lot of these films. Current students and working animators see this and thus they are working to advance their skills in this style of realism based animation. Jobs are as competitive as ever, so if you can hit that style you have a better chance of working in the biz today. That serves for today. But I'm not sure how much runway is left for it.

At some point performance-capture tech is going to become that much easier, that much faster, that much cheaper & that much more accurate so as to negate the need to keyframe these kinds of scenes. Why pay an animator for three weeks to keyframe a single copy of himself doing an amateur acting job when you can just as easily put a professionally trained star actor in front of a camera and get the real deal, extract the data from the video & spatial capture and put it on a character? And on top of that you can have six takes in an hour? You're telling me that the director of Rango wouldn't want to take all those beautifully acted video reference performances of Johnny Depp and toss them onto a CG puppet? One may say "Yeah, but it wouldn't be stylized.". You don't think they're working on that, too? You should check out Hans Bacher's experiments turning photos into painterly images using off the shelf Photoshop tools. There will be an answer to the stylization question, as well. Count on it. Of course we're not there now, but look at how far the tech has come since the first Zemeckis zombie-kiddy film. If we follow the technology arc (and if no global black swan event occurs to disrupt things) it seems to me that in another 10-15 years we might just be there. And if pressed I'd say I'm being too conservative. It might be as soon as 5-7 years. Remember- the iPhone came out in June of 2007. A measley four and a half years ago. Now we're all talking to Siri the all knowing feminine voice in our phones like a bad Star Trek episode. Crazy, huh? Forward thinking folks are already messing with dual Kinects hooked into real time engines for performance capture without the need for suits, cumbersome calibration, data conversion, etc. The current results are predictably poor, but promising. It's just the beginning. This path will get better. Start thinking now about how you'll adapt. What skills will you need to gain now so that when this hits you'll be in position to take advantage? Where will the work be? Perhaps more importantly- where will the rewarding, creative work be?

Meanwhile, over on Cartoon Brew Amid Amidi discusses how the tech used in the making of Spielberg's Tintin is already making an impact. The word he uses again and again is 'realism' and how it's here to stay. The performances in Tintin aren't amazing, but overall they're not creepy like Polar Express, either. There are hits and misses- just like the best of Pixar's hand keyed films- but overall the stuff I see in Tintin is not distractingly creepy. Perhaps the corner has been turned on the Uncanny Valley. At least it doesn't seem impossible to get pleasing performances from quasi-realistic motion capture characters anymore. This means something. Amid also notes the tactic of using a 'virtual set' and how this will affect and change production roles for artists and technicians in 'animated' films. Extrapolate these advancements in technology into the future and it doesn't take much imagination to see where things are headed. Prudence suggests one ought to note this and start preparing now.

Nothing stays static for long. The highly paid animators of Disney & Dreamworks in the mid 90's never would have imagined that 15 years on they would be scratching and struggling to stay employed. CG animation in 1996 was every bit as limited and clumsy as mocap is now (trust me, I lived through it). Not to be sacrilegious or anything, but the only thing that still holds up today from Toy Story is the storytelling. The animation looks quite dated. No king of the pencil back then could imagine that in just a few short years that same tech would advance so far so quickly. Couple that cognitive blindness with a core misunderstanding of what it is that most audiences want and you paint a picture of a grumpy old dinosaur telling the mammals to get off its lawn. Ironically what most audiences want is the very thing that Walt tried to give them way back in the day, but the technology limited him. My guess is that if Walt were alive today he'd be doing what Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg or Gore Verbinski are doing. Perhaps therein lies a hint at a plan for the rest of us.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gruntly & Iggy for your iPad

Long ago, in the dark days before iPods, my partner in crime Bryan Ballinger and I co-wrote and co-illustrated a children's book called The Great Cheese Squeeze: A Gruntly & Iggy Adventure. So even though now we're well into the 21st century and we're still waiting for our jetpacks (Hello? Science? Yeah, you dropped the ball on that one.), Bryan has gone through the trouble to make a fancy-dan interactive version of the book for iPads, along with some lovely narration by the talented Elizabeth Smith. Anyhow, since you won't be able to get a jet pack for your kids this Christmas at least you can find an inexpensive fun read on a space age tablet thingie for your little ones.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Stupid Crazy VTS Blowout Sale II

It's that time of year again- time for me to offer crazy pricing on my VTS back issue animation training videos.

Now's your chance to get over 60 hours (not minutes, or beavers, or parsecs- but hours!) of character animation training for the silly low price of just $99.

"That's not low!", you say.
"Psh. Just you go and find more for less.", I snort in reply.
And we'd have this jocular interplay for a few minutes until we finally end up with you breaking an awkward silence by grudgingly muttering "Awright. I'll get 'em, you piker."
And I'll nod slowly with a steely glare and say "Yes, yes you will, sir."

What is the VTS, you ask? My, aren't you the rhetorical Chatty Kathy, today? Fine, I'll tell you. VTS stands for Video Tutorial Service- it was a monthly subscription service I ran for over 5 years back in the olden days when goatees were still popular and mustaches were considered just plain creepy, not all hip & ironic like today. Anyhow, each month I made a new animation training video for my subscribers. Those folks paid a good penny for the stuff back then- about $15 each month. I stopped making new videos in 2009 when I realized I was repeating myself and I didn't want to keep milking people to pay for my back waxing addiction. However since it seems new people keep coming into this animation game and they want to learn things, too I keep these things available for purchase.

So what once cost somebody over $900 you can have for just $99. And thanks to modern space age preservatives these pixels are as fresh as the day they were baked. What a bargain! Stop reading this insipid treacle called a blog and go get yourself some high grade animation understanding right now! My back needs a waxing something fierce!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Internet Classics....

Fun pre-youtube internet video...

You know you loved it ten years ago, you know you still love it today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Holy smokes, I made a short film!!!

The surprises keep coming, though. Read on...

It's been over 10 years since I released my last fully completed short film (2001's "Lunch"). Since then I've had many, many projects come and go, with starts and stops. But now I've finally done it. I've made an honest to goodness real short film- and finished it! Presenting "My Bathroom" starring Yurt the Yeti...

Wait, wait... puppets??!!! Yep, I've gotten into puppetry. And let me tell you, it is very addictive. When I was growing up my entertainment sensibilities were shaped by two major influences- the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes shorts and Jim Henson's Muppets. I've managed to make a career out of animation, but now due to the encouragement of family and friends I'm doing puppetry for the sheer joy of it. I'm having an absolute blast! The great thing about puppetry is that I can turn something around really quickly. I was able to plan, shoot, edit and do post on this two and a half minute film in ~10 hours (that does not include making the puppets, although those only took me about 8-10 hours each). Imagine that- turning around a full short film in a weekend. You'd be hard pressed to do that with CG (believe me, I've tried!). It's like a dream come true! And I've got ideas for more shorts, too. The key thing for me is to get the ideas done and out there, entertain, tell stories, reveal and live with characters. I finally feel like I can do that without investing months or years to get my ideas out. Plus I'm not just stuck in my studio on the computer. I'm up, moving around, breaking a sweat, learning new things. Even better, my wife and kids help, too- it's really a family thing in ways that animation never was or could be. Working with my hands on something is just too cool. But I won't be quitting my day job as an animator, though. I still like that too much. :)

I've made a channel on Vimeo for future shorts starring Yurt and Cousin Squeegie. It's called Confessions of a Yeti. Feel free to subscribe and see what comes next.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


There's just so much to like about this little film. Congrats to the folks involved.

Blik from Polder Animation on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Saw this today on the Brew. Student film made by James Lancett and Sean Weston at Kingston University. It totally works. I love how they melded the hand drawn animation onto live video plates- I think the shot of the rain in the cereal helped sell the connection a ton. Very clever.

And on a personal note- this film also aptly describes what this spring has been like here in Seattle. heh.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travelers With Short Legs

Travelers with short legs from Leo Campasso on Vimeo.

By Leo Compasso. Found via Cartoon Brew. Not sure what's going on here, but whatever it is, I like it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some pics from nearby....

A few weeks ago I took a back road not far from home to grab some HD video to use as song backgrounds for our church. I got some nice stuff, so I figured I'd share. Here's Mount Pilchuk. I was probably 2 miles from the summit as a crow flies.

Here's a closer look.

A view looking down the center stripe of the road. Not a lot of traffic that day.

Here's a closer look at the snow melting up into vapor from the sunshine.

A quiet little spot in the woods.

And lastly a short HD video clip of snow turning into steam vapor. It was mesmerizing to watch.
Snow Vapor from Keith Lango on Vimeo.

GIRAF call for entries - 2011

Passing this along....

Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival (GIRAF)
Nov 2-6, 2011
at Plaza Theatre, Calgary, AB
Nov 2-6, 2011at Plaza Theatre, Calgary, AB CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS GIRAF is an annual animation festival that celebrates the spirit of independent, underground, and experimental animation.  Our programs are a strong eclectic mix of animation, representing the best of the medium from Claymation to CG. We focus on presenting independent animations that push boundaries through new techniques, unique visions, and stimulating subject matter.

We DO NOT CHARGE A SUBMISSION FEE, and encourage short and feature length local, national, and international submissions.

DEADLINE: August 1, 2011 *Postmarked*

We DO NOT CHARGE A SUBMISSION FEE, and encourage short and feature length local, national, and international submissions.
DEADLINE: August 1, 2011 *Postmarked*Visit for full submission details and forms

Monday, April 11, 2011

Aperture Investment Opportunity #2: "Bot Trust"

Aperture Investment Opportunity #1: "Panels"

More fun from work. I may be biased (OK, I am), but I think this game flippin' rocks. You folks are gonna dig it.

Goosed Up Rhymes

I don't have an iPhone or iPad, but if you have one and you have little kids who are learning to read then you might want to take a look at an app called Goosed Up Rhymes. It's made by a a couple of former colleagues of mine from days of yore, Joe Spadaford and Tod Carter. I had a chance to mess with it a little on a friend's borrowed iPad and it was fun. I can see where kids would dig it. Fun animation, clever writing, whimsical little interstitials, nice art, neat little mini-games for the kiddos and all that.

Here's a little vimeo video review ...

Goosed Up Rhymes HD iPad App Review - DailyAppShow by iphoneapppodcast

Sunday, April 03, 2011

spring cleaning

The old site design was starting to feel creaky. HD video is becoming more common online and I wanted a new template that allowed me to post HD from YouTube and Vimeo without needing to sample them down to fit the column width. So thus the new look. I tinkered with the design some, but I'm still not 100% settled. Heck, I'm not even 80% settled. Still I probably won't spend a ton of time customizing it. I figure at this point the blog is what it is and most folks probably come to the blog via a feeder of some sort, so the layout and graphics are not as big an issue as they once were.
In other house cleaning news, I've taken down some of my older obsolete links. The link to my animation examples has been removed since every bit of animation in that gallery was at least 5 years old, most of it much older. I will probably utilize YouTube or Vimeo more for stuff like that. We'll see. Short film links are removed as well because not a one of those is less than 10 years old and it's kinda pathetic to keep the links up I think. I seriously need to actually finish one of these 4 or 5 shorts I have in various stages of development. Maybe this year? Again, we'll see. Also I took down the FAQ's regarding my VTS subscription and APT training programs since those are pretty much in retirement now. Folks can still get older VTS videos from my store (at a pretty good price, too), but I stopped making new VTS videos in summer of 2009. As for the APT, I have put that into retirement as well. With work and family it was just too hard to put in the proper time to teach the students the way they deserved to be taught. Another factor is that online animation schools have launched and it feels like that market is getting a bit saturated. Rather than expand the APT to remain relevant in the space I decided that it was time to move on. So with those facts in mind I figured I ought to take down the FAQ pages related to them. I may start up training efforts again in the future, but if I do I'd like it to be done differently than what's been done the last 6 years or so online. No idea what that would be, though. Not really worried about it, either.
OK, enough useless rambling.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Portal 2 TV ad

I didn't work on this (off on another project now), but it's still too fun not to share. Nice job by my co-workers.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


I just got back from seeing Rango with my son. We thoroughly enjoyed the film. Big congrats to those who worked on it. On the technical side ILM definitely showed off their chops, but we've come to expect that to some degree. However for me the real win for this film was the directing and storytelling. This is NOT your typical CG family animated film we've come to dread expect over the last 10 years. This film is definitely not cut from the Pixar mold, and not in the Dreamworks or Blue Sky ones, either (those studios really aren't nearly as rebellious as some would have us believe). And that's why I loved it. It's probably become rather evident to those who insanely follow my scribblings over the years, but I figure I'll come straight once and for all-- I must confess to being more than a bit put off by most of the larger U.S. studio CG animated films over the last 5-8 years or so. It actually started with Finding Nemo. Outside the occasional breath of fresh air like The Incredibles or Kung Fu Panda (which hasn't held up as well with me over time as Bird's film does), in general I've been less and less interested in the Hollywood modern animated products as films. Mind you I am a CG guy, I think they're technically brilliant and aesthetically pleasing and all that, so this is not some nostalgic predilection toward anything old and hand drawn, a point of view that many vocal critics of modern CG films often tend to operate from. It's just that the films taken at face value as films (and not viewed in context of their being animated) are just not that rich to me. Worse still, they're not honest. Despite their obvious skill and success, over time Pixar's storytelling has become predictably, cynically manipulative-- something I resent as an audience member and think poorly of as a filmmaker. It feels cheap and slimy. I steadfastly refuse to tolerate being told when to cry or care. Film is a dangerously powerful medium whose greatest ability is to make people feel things. It's not particularly difficult to do, either. I don't like it when filmmakers are so brazen about that. To me it's a bit like wielding a loaded gun in a room full of people just to see them cringe at your power. It's unseemly, and not just a bit infantile and vulgar. However it has made them tons of money over the years so other studios have followed suit. It's pretty rare that I'll even go see a CG animated film in the theaters anymore. Or even watch it on Netflix later, actually. The last CG animated film I watched was Despicable Me, mainly because my son really wanted to see it for the minions and I wanted to see if the French director Pierre Coffin could bring something fresh and honest to the table (kinda not, even though it was a fun cartoon of a film). The thing I liked about Rango was that the director really didn't have those moments where he tried to evoke specific catharsis in the film. He let the characters play out their roles honestly (and I might add, oddly) and let you the audience member see the film on your terms. I liked the production design choice of making every character in the film just plain dirt ugly. It's clear to me that they decided that classic Disney inspired appeal would set the wrong tone and so eschewed it in favor of something different. The barrier to entry to getting to like the characters was set fairly high, and yet by the end of the film I found I liked them. They weren't cookie cutter design solutions making cookie cutter acting choices. It's not a perfect film, or even a great one. Rango has its flaws, like all films. It drags a bit in spots, gets a little pedestrian here and there and a few times clunkily sets up a moment just to turn it on its head for time tested plot turns or gags. The plot is as ridiculous as most films, but that's neither here nor there for me. For me it's about the characters- are they honest? Do they grow naturally? Do I believe in them, in their story, in the moments they live out? I liked the film simply because it let me watch as a real person, not as an emotionally underdeveloped consumer of plastic things who must be told when to laugh, when to cry and how to feel. For this reason alone it's already become a favorite.  We'll see how I feel about it in a year.

Here's a 6 minute chunk of it in case you haven't see it online before.

Friday, February 04, 2011

You May Now

Fun little short film by Dane Winn and Daniel Keeble. Dane tells me they whipped this out in "a few days". Nice!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

VTS discount sale extended one week

I've had some folks ask if I could extend the sale into January a little bit so they could get some VTS videos at the huge discount price. There's been good response to the sale, so my inner Scrooge can't really see a good reason not to extend it. So there you go-- the 75% (or more) off sale on VTS back issues will be extended until January 7th. That way if you did the nice thing and spent all your money on holiday gifts for your friends and loved ones in December, now you can blow a little of that money on yourself. Or, if you neglected to get a holiday gift for the animator in your life, you can now try and make up for it and claim that you're really celebrating something like the Greek Orthodox Christmas on January 7th instead. Or for your Armenian friends that'd be January 6th. No matter what, we got you covered. Anyhow, after the 7th the prices will go back up. Thanks again to everybody for the support over the years.