Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sad if true...

This little blurb over at Cartoon brew got my attention last evening.
To quote...
I am a regular reader of your "Cartoon Brew" website, and an animator at DisneyToon Studio's Australia. I have some breaking news for you: At 3pm today (Monday 25 July) the entire studio was summoned for a staff meeting in which we told by the General Manager Phil Oakes that upon completion of our next production "Cinderella 3", DisneyToon Studio's Australia will be closing down after 17 years. They have cited current business needs and production schedules as the cause. So Disney hand drawn animation now ceases to exist.

Seems Disney has finally broken the last remaining link to their hand drawn animation heritage. 80+ years of tradition and heritage left adrift. Now I know that some folks may say they've already done that by shuttering the orldano studio and by making the Burbank studio Cg only, but I thought the Australian crew were really starting to hit their stride as artisans. Sure the projects themselves may not have been the most original or inspired, but the quality of the work was advancing. So maybe this is not big news, but I think it's still sad. This means that any traditional animation done with the Disney name won't even be done by artists with the Disney name on their paycheck, if they do any at all. Will they putsopurce to Korea or other markets like TV does? Does this mean all direct to video projects will also be CG only? I know Disney's video division has a full slate of potential direct to video CG projects in the pipe. There are studios doing animation tests now for a Pinnochio-2 video sequel (all in CG, pinnochio as a real boy). Seems the outsource model is the path for Disney now?
On a side note, I wonder if this spells the end for Andreas Dejas. He's been the most stubbornly resistant animator when it comes to switching away from hand drawn. He'd been keeping himself busy doing animation direction and such on the tradtionally animated Disney Australia projects.

I dunno. I find it sad. But at the same time, it could be exciting to let traditional hand drawn animation find a new patron saint, someone who won't treat it with such contempt. I'm keen to see where the next great traditionally animated film comes from. I've got high hopes for Nocturna and Giacomo's Secret.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Cute little trick...

Thanks to reader Shahbaz Shah for the tip on how to make the blogger nav bar a little less annoying. If you're interested you could read about it here.
I'm still a bit cheesed over not being able to consistently publish to my own ftp (and thus ensure a proper archive of my stuff independent of Mr. Google's Mighty Hand), but for now it's a decent half compromise.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

More Server Woes

Blogger aggravates me, but I'm in too deep to change now.
It seems that after a certain amount of time publishing to your own FTP server, Blogger just stops being able to communicate with it. I've gone through two different servers and both have just stopped working with Blogger after about 2 months. I know my FTP servers are fine because I can link to them no problem with my normal FTP client. Blogger's customer support is about as useful as a space heater in Arizona these days. No amount of wrangling or wrestling on my part seems to help. So I've just given in. I'll just keep the feed to the blogspot link here from now on. At the very least I know it works. It just means we have to put up with that annoying Blogger bar at the top. I'd switch to a different service, but I just don't have the time to go and retro-fit all my old posts to a new service. So, here we are. Enjoy the blogger bar. I know I won't. :o/

By the way, this also means my RSS feed address will change. Again. So update your feeders accordingly. *sigh*

Friday, July 22, 2005

Little Puzzles

This is why I love animation...

I got a scene. Simple scene. 64 frames of a character saying one line. A no brainer 3 beat shoe leather performance. If I was working on high footage rate stuff (ie: low budget direct to video or commercials, not a feature film) I'd be expected to rip this out in half a day. And I'd probably be able to and it'd still look pretty decent. So this should be a slam dunk, right?

Heheh. Uhhh... no.

There's this little vibrato of excitement under his breath at the end of one word. The director wants us to "feel that tension". Well, I didn't know how to do that. Still not sure if I do. In the past I've had scenes that had that little vibrato, but I never could figure it out- nor did I have the time due to the kind of project/deadlines involved. But this project the director wants it and I have the time to try and solve the puzzle. So it has been a fun 4 days trying to figure out how we can "feel" a vibrato. Can't move the head too much or it feels spastic. Can't just hunch him over in little bursts or it's too big. Can't just jiggle the shoulders up and down cuz it looks like he's laughing. Can't just translate the chest up and down to squash and stretch him or it jacks with the head/eyes on screen. Can't just push the chest breath blend shape in and out cuz it feels pasted on. And you can't just mix and match any/all of the above in varying degrees of intensity, either. That looks... heh. I watched film footage, video reference- it seems all usual the external markers of the body are doing nothing different during a voice vibrato. Then I noticed the relationship of the chest wall to the abdomen. It's in the breathing.

Maybe some of you old dogs are going "Yeah, well, duh!", but hey, this is my puzzle. :o)

And breathing is one of those things in animation (particularly in CG) where I don't see much attention or effort. Why? Cuz it's not easy, probably. I mean sighs and heavy exhales, sure. We do those because they're in the sound track. But I'm talking about the unconscious normal every minute activity of a person breathing to live, to talk, to be. Maybe capturing that will add to the believability?

Anyhow after a few days of trying different things (and realizing they don't work) I think I may have gotten close to it last evening. We'll see in dailies today if I'm right. Either way, I had fun! Here was this thing that I didn't know how to do and I had to work like crazy to figure it out. It took a simple scene that had the potential to be rather dull and made it a puzzle, a challenge.

Yeah, I dig this stuff.

** Update: while I'm still not 100% happy with how I ultimately handled the vibrato problem, I got the approval today. Other folks tell me the scene works for them, so I'll have to take their word for it. I can't see it anymore. Heh.

Friday, July 08, 2005

No Magic Bullet

Today we had Bobby Beck of Animation Mentor swing by the DNA studios to give an animation lecture. It was great to finally meet with Bobby in person. We've been 'hangin out' through email for ages, going back to when both of us were just starting out in this business. Somehow events have conspired to keep it so we never were able to hook up in person 'til now. So that was cool. That and I'm always geeked to listen to what other animators have to say about this stuff. I appreciate their experience, their point of view, their collection of life experiences. Bobby's got this neat infectuous energy as well, which helps make the time go by a lot faster than it seems.

One of the things I found myself doing the entire lecture was nodding to myself in agreement. He'd cover a topic, I'd immediately say "Yep. Totally right on the money. Right as rain, baby." It was like a 2 hour affirmation session. I loved it and walked away with a greater appreciation for what this animation thing takes. Going back over the home ground re-roots you into what's important, what's real. I liked it so much I'm going to play hooky for half a day to go to his Animation Master Class that he's teaching tomorrow as well.

Later in the day Bobby and I had a brief visit and we talked about how there's really no magic method in animation. No single magic way of handling your blocking that will always yield optimal results. No high and holy way of working your f-curves to always arrive at performance nirvana. No hotkey shortcut, no mystical offsetting method, no elusive clean up pass that gets you the cheers of your peers when the director calls out "Final!" (at DNA we ring a mini-gong and folks cheer when a shot gets finalled. I love that, it's a great community way to celebrate a co-worker's success). Sure there's little techniques here and there, but those are bag of tricks things that you can't just slap into any shot anywhere all the time and expect them to always work.

No, really, in my opinion it all comes down to the same few basic principles applied through arduous, meticulous, thoughtful and adventurous effort. (see below) The talented guys and gals at Pixar or other feature film shops do not have a magic trick to get their stuff looking that good. Trust me. There is no secret "advanced" principle or solution. It's all just the basics, revealed again and again in ever deepening areas of observation and application as you think and understand and assimilate it into your mind. You can hear something for years and then one day somebody talks about it in just a certain way and -BAM!- the lights and bells are going off in your head as you go "Holy cow! NOW I get it!". But like I said, it's the same stuff. There is no "trick" to make you a good animator. It doesn't exist. So do yourself a favor and stop looking for one.

Instead, just get animating and don't be bashful- show what you're doing to get that feedback. Get in, get going, work hard, work thoughtfully, work adventurously- and have fun!

Now In Romanian!

Speaking of the Pose to Pose Tutorial, thanks to Virgil Mihailescu we now have it translated into Romanian! Thanks to Virgil (and to all the volunteer translators) for their hard work. I'm very humbled by it all.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Snap-imation Overload

There's a thread over on Cg-Char about the preponderance of "snappy pose" CG animation being done these days. I agree, there's a bit too much pose-hit-hold-pose-hit-hold-pose-hit-hold being done and shown in online forums and student reels for my tastes. And while I greatly desire to downplay it as much as possible, I somehow feel a little bit responsible for this trend. For better or for worse a lot of CG animation schools around the world have used my original Pose to Pose animation tutorial as a part of their animation curriculum. And hey, that's cool I suppose- not that I ever intended it to become the de-facto means of approaching CG animation. I, an admitted self educated hack, could never hope to be so bold. To this day I physically cringe whenever I read some post in an online animation forum that describes the "Keith Lango Method" of animation. Ugh! Dear Lord, please, no. Sure I'm glad to help give back to the community and all. I remember when I was starving for info on how to do this stuff. But at the same time, years after that article first appeared online and has found its way into so many corners of the world I've got this nagging ambivilence about it.

I feel a bit sad. I mean, I'm glad that something I wrote 5 years ago helps beginners get a grips on CG animation, but there's soooooo much more than pose heavy snap-imation. I feel like I've not contributed to making people quality animators so much as I've reduced the deepness of this great artform to a bit of push button formula. Some days I feel like a manufacturer of those Paint By Numbers Kits you buy at the dollar store. Art for the masses, codified, reduced, simplfied and ultimately expunged of depth and meaning. Follow these steps, get McResult. Yet people seem appreciative of it all the same. I suppose that's got its place, but I wish I could somehow get across the depth of what animation is, what it could become. This is ultimately about doing something truly magical- bringing an inanimate thing to life. It's one of the the neatest expressions of being made in the image of the Creator. We've got this built in need to bring this stuff to life. It's not just a collection of motion gimmicks. Sadly that's not as easy to distill into a checklist kind of thing that makes for easy teacher print outs and happy students (which is why I'm glad I finally jumped in and started my Video Tutorial Service. At least I can take the time to go over this stuff somewhat properly).

It all comes down to two words, really: observe and experiment. How can you put that into a simple "How To" article? Here, I'll try...
Step 1:
Well, first you look with your eyes and try to notice things with your brain that you normally take for granted.

Step 2:
Then you try to find ways to put the distilled, interpreted and expanded understanding of those observations into your work so your characters become alive to the audience.
Easy. Two steps. Should keep us busy til we die.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

New Clips in Animation

As promised I managed to get some new animation clips up. (I won't call them "animations" since I know that drives my old traditional animation friends absolutely batty to hear that word. Heh)

Anyhow, they're mostly from the Disney DVD "Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas". I ended up working mostly on Mickey for the last short story on that disc. The short is titled "Dogone Christmas" for those of you keeping score at home. It was a pretty cool project to work on. I only wish I had more time to make the most of these scenes, but when the budget is low like it was you can't complain with how it turned out. One note: for some reason the audio on the Mickey clips is really low, so you'll need to turn up your speakers. When I get time I'll try and fix that.

There's also a couple of scenes involving the characters from Blue Sky/Fox's "Robots". These are part of adverts or public service announcements that were done for international markets. If you're in the UK or the EU you may have seen these.

Anyhow, there's more stuff I'd like to show but unfortunately those pesky NDA's keep me from doing so. Right now the stuff I'm doing for Ant Bully is really fun. And then there's this short film I'm kinda meandering my way into making. I look forward to sharing more from that as it gets past this pesky character rigging phase. All work and no fun, but this is where the possibilities are established for what the characters can do acting and motion wise, so I'm more than happy to spend a year getting it right.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Time Property

Question: Who "owns" the weekend for an individual? The employee or the employer?

This is a serious question in our line of work, where significant overtime (more often than not unpaid) is a harsh reality.

I'm in various conversations with some folks about this. This is at the heart of a lot of contention in the CG and entertainment medium industry as it matures. The highly publicized squabbles between EA and it's employees (along with the resulting fallout) and the IDGA's recent focus on quality of life within the gaming industry are starting to draw this friction to a point. To get to the bottom of it I've settled on this notion of "time property".

Each human being has an alloted number of hours in life. Who's time is it to use? Who has the right to decide how and when and how much of it to use in what manner? Namely, who is the rightful owner of your minutes, hours, days, weeks, years? You? Or your employer? Both? Let's say you state that the employer owns a certain percentage of your time because they are "buying" it with your salary. OK, fair enough. Then who decides how much is included in the purchase? The buyer or the seller?
If the weekends (and evenings) are considered the "property" of the employee, then the employer cannot demand use of it without permission. (using anybody else's property by force without permission is called robbery- stealing.) But if it is the employers' property then the employer can rightfully demand to use any time they wish of the employee and the employee cannot rightfully complain about that at all. I have no personal right to dictate how another man uses his property.

It's an interesting conversation with deep, deep implications- not only for our industry but for all of American society. Am I being too broad? Read this and you decide.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

New stuff coming...

It's been ages since I've put any of my recent animation work up on this site. This long holiday weekend I'm going to take a few moments to pick out some of my better scenes from projects that I've worked on in the last couple years and put them up in the Animation section of the site. In case anybody cares.

Why am I telling you ahead of time?
Simple. If I didn't I could keep putting it off. But now that I've told you I have to follow through.

I am such a hopeless loser. Heh.