Saturday, September 23, 2006

Arc D’ Triumph Tutorial: Agora Em Portugues!

A big thanks goes out to André Moreira Forni for translating my arcs tutorial into the fluid language of Portuguese. Just you wait and see: Soon all over the lands of Portugal and Brazil we will see men, women, children, dogs, cats, birds and alligators moveing with much better arcs! I predict that the Lula government will declare a national holiday once they learn of this fine work. Be one of the early adopters of the new chic and go check it out!
Or, maybe not. Either way, muito obrigado, Andre’!


Excuse me while I beat this drum a little more…

Back when the first CG animated film came out there was a certain kind of limitation to the motion. Things weren’t all super smooth and polished to the level they are now. In fact some folks say that in a few more years that the animation in Toy Story will look very dated, kinda like the Cg version of rubber hose animation. Quaint, but sorely lacking in a certain level of refinement that many presume to be necessary in feature film animation- especially CG. There’s just too many motion artifacts. And artifacts are a cardinal sin in CG. It’s like letting the girl from Kansas see the man behind the curtain. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

For me I like stuff that has some edges left on it. Something happens when you smooth it all out, you take the interesting corners and edges off. I think some of the best handrawn animation has that rough feel to it. I am entranced when I see pencil roughs moving. There’s a kind of life to it. Bill Plympton has made a career out of a motion style that is very rough but lively. Certainly stop motion has that edge-filled feel, that handcrafted artistic roughness. Aardman’s short film The Deadline was a fantastic early foray into adapting the stop-mo look into the Cg environment (go check it out and you’ll see what I mean). But is it just me or does today’s CG animation feel like it’s all finely machined to tight tolerances? Smooth. Buttery. Slick. Might we be sanding off the baby with the bathwater here?

Too much slickness can leave an odd taste & feel in your mouth. A little oil on a salad is a good thing. But drinking a glass full of olive oil is nasty. A pat of butter melting on a hot stack of pancakes is heavenly, but eating a stick of butter would make me barf. And I’m feeling like we’re getting a firehose of buttery smooth animation that has all the interesting edges sanded off of it (for safety’s sake?).
My buddy and colleague Mark Behm was recently interviewed on the site. Mark’s an insanely talented & bright chap (fantastic character design and painting, animates like the wind and he can program or write scripts/tools a wee bit too. Like a lot bit.) And I should add in that he is a super cool guy to boot. So of course he should be shot to remove any further threat to our egos. Heh. But Mark was asked this question in his interview.

Q: Each Animator often has their own tips and tricks for polishing their animation. Can you provide one of your tips that you use?

This is definitely not my strong point and I feel that CG seriously overemphasizes it. I’d rather see a shot that’s really got that spark of life, but a bit rough than one that is dull and buttery-smooth. Don’t get me wrong, it’s like leaving it unfinished if it’s not polished, but I think it should be the last thing you worry about.

Having said that, there’s really no way to avoid spending time in the curve editor to get things clean and polished. What I don’t like is when people “clean their curves” without paying attention to what’s happening on screen. I feel that’s kind of missing the point.

I LOVE that answer!! It’s refreshing to see somebody say it. I think right now the technology is driving the bus in CG animation when it comes to motion styles. Something about CG artists (and I include animators, too) has this adverse reaction to seeing anything with the slightest imperfection to it. Check this little illustration out for an example (click to blow it up for a better look)…


The shape on the left is rough- but bold. You can see some poly edges here and there, some of the arcs and sweeps of the edges have a little awkward swing to them. There are definite corners, and a strong self shadowing line. It is a strong shape that does not equivocate. Sure it could use a little spot cleaning, but I dunno, I think it’s got something going on for a simple little shape. On the right we have the same shape cleaned up to the point where a lot of that life is gone. Yes, it’s the same general shape, but it feels like some vitality has been lost. But the ‘positive’ is that there are no edge artifacts, all the corners are silky smooth, that harder shadow is gone, the intersection with the floor plane is smoothed out. It’s clean, safe, polished, smooth. Dull? In the world of CG this would be chosen as the better result. And to me that’s kinda sad.

In the land of big budget feature animation we either have uber-polished hyper kinetic animation or uber-polished reserved animation mimicing live action. But in the pursuit of the geat Golden Ticket of polish we animators have left the door open for the zombies to eat our brains (and our lunch!). Now we have massaged mo-cap that looks a lot like highly polished CG animation (Monster House’s results don’t look all that different than most of the handkeyed features being done). Give that technology a few more generations to improve (and trust me, it WILL improve) and soon the smart business choice will be “Why hand key in the first place? It looks the same as this cleaned up captured stuff.” Heaven knows audiences won’t know the diff. They’ll just know it’s smoove and buttery. By and large we’re all coming to the same place. Soon there won’t be much of a reason to hand key stuff. The sameness of it all is starting to eat at the foundation of things. Same stories, same designs, same genres, same scenarios, same talking animals/insects, same motion styles, same render look, etc.. How much longer before there’s no discernable difference between the cleaned up mo-cap of the next Monster House and the hand keyed polished slickness of every other feature being made? I mean if all we’re doing is re-creating a bunch of “man in a suit” motion, what’s the point here? Are we losing our cartoon soul? Is our obsession with polish the smoking gun? Somebody needs to explore a bit and find a way to make animation fun to watch again. It’s very rare that the motion or the poses or the facial distortions of a character in an animated film makes me smile anymore. I think it’s all just too polished to be all that interesting. Maybe somebody is doing something right now that will shut me up and blow my socks off. I sure hope so!

That pseudo Aardman style of Flushed Away looks refreshing. Some have mentioned that Chicken Little had a fun style at times as well. Madagascar took a good kick at the can. Parts of Ice Age 2 were nifty to see moving. But I dunno… there are ways in which all of these efforts, though brave and appreciated- aren’t venturing very far off the well trodden path we’re on now. Are these small attempts going to be enough? If we want to keep animating feature films in 6 or 7 years and not just doing clean up on capture data then I think we need more varied motion style voices to keep the zombies at bay. Call me crazy, but I think somebody needs to make an unabashed, unflinching, full out cartoon. Crazy motion- dare I say physically impossible motion, impossible acting ideas, insane concepts. We need it.

Gosh, I’m starting to sound like John K.

OK, fire up those flame throwers. I’m ready. :)

Friday, September 22, 2006

I dare you to watch this and not smile.

You know what I think? I think that animation needs to be fun to watch. And if it’s not meant to be fun (John Canemaker’s recent short film is a great case in point) then it had better darn well be interesting, arresting, grab you by the shirt lapels kind of good. But for entertainment animation I think we need to make it fun. And this Pocoyo stuff, my dear friends, is pure fun on a stick. So what if it’s “limited” animation? It has energy, it is imaginative in it’s own charming way. Sure the story is simplistic for pre-schoolers, but dang! It’s fun to watch!

I watched a section of animation for Song of the South that Thad K. posted on his blog. Man, that was fun to watch. Fun energy to the animation. Almost kinda Looney Tunes-ish for a Disney film. Then I thought of animation today and I realized- sadly we don’t see anything with this much strength and imagination being done. I can’t help but wonder: Is the whole business just making boring animation these days? When did animation become all about mimicing live action movies? When did we lose the fun? Why are we trading the fun of animation for the re-enactment of dramatic live action films? When the bulk of hand keyed CG animation gets to the point where stylistically it looks nearly indistinguishable from the cleaned up ‘performance capture’ of something like Monster House (and it’s almost there I think), the inevitable question will arise: why animate it at all? Why not just do what Zemeckis has done, capture it and clean it? If truly it turns out to be that mimicing live action acting is the end game of animation accomplishment- Why not indeed?

Here’s something else that looks like it could be fun…


But I can’t help thinking that if Dr. Suess is handled with the same “shoot it on 1’s and slather on the buttery smooth highly polished f-curve CG sugar” that it might not fit the Suess gestalt. If there’s anything a Dr. Suess bit of animation needs it would be this: Make it fun to watch! Dr. Suess is so fun, whimsical and lyrical to read, so the animation needs to be the same. So please, make it fun. Don’t try to make an animated version of Good Will Hunting. I only ask because I care.

Meanwhile, I have hopes that Flushed Away will capture some animation magic in a bottle. At least in an Aardman stop-motion sort of way.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Free Web Tutorial: Breakdowns Can Be Such a Drag

Hey Kids,

I have released a new web tutorial relating to the troubling topic of how to build in proper overlap and drag in your animation. Here’s some excerpts:

A number of years ago I wrote my Pose to Pose- Organized Keyframe tutorial. In it I advocate a method of acheiving overlap and drag on objects that- at the time- I thought yielded decent results in a quick and easy fashion. In the ensuing years I have come to change my opinion about the merits of such a workflow. In this follow up article I hope to point out the problems with my earlier ideas and propose a better solution to the challenge of creating great overlapping action and drag in your animation. So think of this as a self repudiation of my earlier ideas. As I grow as an animator I feel it’s my responsibility to correct my own mistakes. So follow along as I trash my own theories!…

… One last caveat. This way of working does require a little something extra. Namely, it requires that we actually know what we’re doing. I can already hear the cries of lament: “Hey, no fair! You suck, Lango!” Yes, sad as it may be, we have to grow up and learn how to animate if we want to work this way. But that’s a good thing. I mean, think about it. This is the only way you could do this for over 80 years. The only way. Generations of animators have come before us. They learned this. They eventually learned to animate. Let’s not be content to be merely talented discoverers of happy accidents, but really, truly know how to animate.

Anyhow check it out. Hopefully you find it helpful and you learn some old school ninja tricks that make your animation better. You VTS19 viewers can rest happy knowing that this is the new free web tutorial that i mentioned in this month’s video. Huzzah!

Monday, September 18, 2006

VTS19 coming later today…

I still have 18 hours before the day officially ends here. I’m not late until then. ;o)

Update: Well, my part was done on time. But Brasil Telecom is doing their best to keep this from you with their rather spotty connection status. But we shall not be deterred! ‘Ere before dawn’s pure light lands softly upon the land we shall gain victory! (even if we don’t gain any sleep.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Principles for Lipsync Animation: Ahora en Español!

Thanks are in order for Victor Escardo and his efforts to bring my article on lipsync animation into Spanish. Check it out. In his email to me Victor states….

The spanish language is the second language most speak in the world, but is not in the Internet. And this is because Spanish speakers are in the third world (Specially central and South America). Now is the second language in USA. So I hope with this and other future translation of your materials we are helping to end the digital gap to spanish speaking people.

Right on, brother! So better lipsync power to the spanish speaking people. :)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Viral marketing study

This 28 page study of the effectiveness of online recommendation based viral marketing strategies is a pretty dry and technical read. Yet it is illuminating in a sort of hypnotic fashion. Here are what I found to be the highlights of the study’s findings…

    1. Viral marketing via the internet recommendation system is not as effective as originally imagined.
    2. Smaller, tighter niche groups are better fits for viral marketing than broad general market consumer groups.
    3. Received recommendations have a personal saturation point after which the probability of success declines. (too many rec’s result in a resistance behavior)
    4. The vast majority of recommendation networks are extremely shallow (those who bought on a rec rarely ever then reccommended the item to another third party).
    5. The more two people exchanged recommendations, the less effective those recommendations were at initiating a buying action. (this breaks several conventional wisdom models. oops.)
    6. If you had an anime DVD that caught on in the recommendation game you pretty much printed money.
      Here is the final sentence of the study authors…

      Finally, we presented a model which shows that smaller and more tightly knit groups tend to be more conducive to viral marketing. So despite the relative ineffectiveness of the viral marketing program in general, we found a number of new insights which we hope will have general applicability to marketing strategies and to future models of viral information spread.

      What does this mean to the ever hopeful independent animator? I have my opinions, but I figure why not open it up for discussion in the comments? So, fire away!

Animation Arcs Tutorial now in Korean

A big thanks to Korean choi Kyu-bo for taking the time to translate my Arcs D’ Triumph tutorial about animating good arcs. You can find his fine translation here. So all you kids on the peninsula go check it out. You know, if we’re not careful soon we’ll have the whole library in korean.

Korea, hmm? Do you think I have what it takes to be the Korean David Hasselhoff? The world wants to know.

On a somewhat related note: I do have another free animation tutorial almost ready for the site. It’s been a while since I’ve made a freebie, so I figured I was due. I hope to have it ready by the end of next week. Who says I don’t love you?

Because toucans ROCK!

My new favorite bird, the toco toucan. Give way, over-hyped penguins. You have met your match!

There is a park/zoo about a quarter of a mile from my house here. They have cool animals and stuff. Kinda like most zoos, I suppose. But the thing about this zoo is that even though they have these animals here, they didn’t have to go very far to get them. They’re all local animals, which at first thought would be kinda dull. A local animal zoo for someplace like Cleveland, Ohio would have rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, hawks, white tail deer, racoons, opossums and such. OK, but not much to write home about. But a local animal zoo here in the Pantanal? Jaguars, oncelots, anacondas, capybaras, alligators, giant anteaters, iguanas, emu’s, tuiuiu’s, giant river otters, tapirs, monkeys, macaws and of course- toucans! These things are like living cartoons. They’re even proportioned like a cartoon. And they look absolutely hysterical when they fly with those huge beaks. You half expect them to fall out of the sky when you watch them. Their preferred way to get about is to hop and I can see why. Their beaks are so big they have to constantly tip their head to look at anything. They’re chatty and very sociable birds, too. What’s not to like? I’ve seen a bunch of these flopping about in the wild already and I couldn’t help but smile each time. They’re like God’s little jesters.

Little tweaks…

I’ve decided to license my stuff on this site under the Creative Commons license. Non-commercial, non-editable category, thank-you. It’s just formalizing the way things have been for years anyway.

I’ve also decided to make getting my RSS feed a little simpler by getting a FeedBurner SmartFeed. If you don’t know what a feed reader is just click on my little RSS Subscribe linky-doo over on the right and see more info. The rest of you kids who know what’s going on can carry on. Oh, and I also added a nifty little plug in that does groovy things with the images that I upload here. Click on this one and check it out….

Brazilian Eagle. This fella is BIG! Claws like a man's hand.

Kinda cool, huh? Yeah, I thought so, too. But one little thing eludes me. This theme isn’t Wordpress Widget friendly and so I can’t find a way to do short asides posts in my sidebar that works. I’ve tried a few different plug-ins for WP but none of them do the trick (or even function for that matter). So the search continues for this one final piece of my website puzzle.

Aw, who am I kidding? You know I’ll keep tinkering with this thing.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Rainy season seems to have arrived a little bit early here in Cuiaba’. Oh, and the roof leaks. A lot. Looks like I’ll have to move the computers to higher ground.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Online It’s a Short, Short World

Check out this Reuters article…
Poll:Online Viewers Shun Lenghty Videos

An excerpt:

The new survey found that relatively few — 7 percent of video users — have paid to watch any video online. Nearly three-quarters of online video users prefer free videos with ads.

You won’t find Vanita Butler sitting in front of her computer watching a full-length movie or television show, even though she’s an avid viewer of video on the Internet.

The 43-year-old saleswoman from Newark, Ohio, said she sees the Internet as more of a tool — for catching a news story or highlights from a

NASCAR race. When she has time for entertainment, she and her husband prefer the television set.

“It’s a little bit more of an intimate environment,” Butler said of watching television. “We can sit and do it together.”

Cheryl Landers, 50, a retail manager in Dedham, Mass., said she finds amateur clips funny and entertaining, but with two foster kids, she can never spare more than five minutes at a time, let alone a whole hour to watch an entire television episode. She said she usually has the TV on as background noise.

“I’m pretty much against paying for stuff on the Internet,” said P.J. Park, 25, of Mount Rainier, Md.

The gist is simple: online viewers of video content don’t like to watch long form media there (movies or full length TV shows). Oh, and they don’t like to pay for it either. (7% paid, while 75% think it should be free). Shorts, news clips, YouTube diet coke stunts, music videos, short funny clips from longer media they already know- yes. All these and more are the stock and trade of the online video media soup. Watching a 100 minute feature film… not so much. It would appear that when it comes to our big movie experience we prefer big movie platforms. But this only verifies the notion that the online world is the place to put out your short films and build some manner of a following. But that following, unless it is in the order of millions & millions of people, will not put butter on your bread. Not with such a large proportion of online users thinking this stuff ought to be free.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pose to Pose Tutorial: Now in Italian!

Special thanks to Gianmichele Mariani for taking the time to translate my original animation workflow tutorial about working pose to pose with organized keyframes. Now you can read about how to use the dope sheet in that classy, groovy continental flow that all the ladies love- Italian! So go check it out.

Interesting times for indys, indeed…


This might be interesting if it works. I just read that MySpace is setting up a system where their users can directly sell original music to their fans right on their MySpace pages- without any gatekeepers. Distributor free distribution? As with all things like this the dreck will pile high, but there will be success stories to come from this. I don’t think it will displace the current big media comglomerate driven market system, but it’s a window for a different way to function. And alternatives are good to have, even if small and limited compared to the larger systems in place. I still think the need for indy’s is to give away their content in some form to generate a demand for a personalized copy in a higher quality format. But it’s good to know that should the demand be sufficiently created for purchasable copies that demand can be met outside of the current gatekeeper system. This isn’t too far from the current independent path of setting up your own site and driving traffic to it to create a following. A daunting task indeed- one that takes years. But the thing that makes the MySpace idea intriguing is that the whole MySpace system has an inherent referencing and recommendation infrastructure built right into the portal. So instead of using Google to find your music, now you see what your “friends” have linked in their profiles. It’s a much more powerful referencing system for finding independent content because it has the inferred approval and value assignment of a human being with whom you ostensibly share common interests. This is always going to end up being more effective than asking the Google Robot what it thinks you will like.
Read this Reuters article and think for yourselves what this might mean if the format were expanded to include selling of other downloadable content. Say, oh, I dunno. Animated films? Hmmm.


And while we’re talking about gatekeepers and animation, this little news item came and went without much discussion by the animation crowd. It appears that Apple’s iTunes is partnering with distributor Shorts International to expand its animated short film offerings to include more thann just the Pixar & Disney vaults and TV shows. Now award winning independent short animated films will find some distribution on iTunes Store. It will be interesting to see which of these two distribution paradigms ends up being more useful to the independent content creator- the MySpace solution or the iTunes solution? Perhaps neither? Perhaps both? Like all things for the independent I believe that the mosaic approach is going to be the winner, not the “all your eggs in one basket” approach.

Update: after just a little bit of clicking around I see that Shorts International is promoting their iTunes hosted animated film offerings on… yup, you guessed it- MySpace.