Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Credit Crunch & Animation

The Animator's Guild blog (TAG Blog authored by Steve Hulett) keeps a pretty good eye on the wheelings and dealings of finances in animation. They recently posted a note about the independent Imagi Animation Studio. They're the folks who brought you The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie a year ago. Their creative efforts are run out of LA, while production is based in Hong Kong (as well as outsourced to other vendors, like ReelFX). Turns out they're in a bit of a cash pinch. They need 'additional funding' just to get through production on their latest film. At their current levels my guess is they run out of money by March and they'll need to get some loans to carry them through. Well, in the old halcyon days of 2007 that'd be an easy thing to pull off. Credit was cheap and plentiful. Now? Uh.. not so much. Credit across the world has ground to a halt. Seems that offering super easy and cheap credit wasn't exactly a great idea to begin with. Who could have known that giving loans to people without the ability to repay them would result in significant financial losses? Heh. Gotta love hubris. It provides entertainment (even if in this case it's not 'cheap' entertainment).

Anyhow, I expect to see fewer and fewer independent animated films getting made in the next few years. Film projects from folks like Imagi, Vanguard, Weinstein, etc. will have a very difficult time getting funding. These films live and breathe on outside money. I don't know what Laika's finances are like, but they recently shut down their second film and laid off a number of folks. My guess is they're waiting to see if Coraline pays off. Reminds me of what happened at Blue Sky after production wrapped on Ice Age. Fox pretty much went skeleton crew while they waited to see if Ice Age would make enough money to justify keeping the studio going. I don't know if that's the case at Laika, but from this corner of the internet that's what it looks like. Phil Knight has deep pockets, yes- but he keeps those pockets deep by not spending his own money if he can help it. Which is standard operating procedure in Hollywood. Use other people's money as much as possible. That plan works when people's investments are doing well and they're looking for more. It doesn;t work so well if they've lost almost half their money in the last year and they're focused on avoiding further losses. Investors want nothing to do with risk right now, and there are few investments riskier than films. Last year I wrote that hedge funds were going to get beat up and as a result you'll see fewer films getting funded that way. Well now hedge funds aren't getting beat up, they're getting murdered. Losing tens of billions of dollars by investing in a giant Ponzi scheme (ie: Madoff- a more appropriate name never existed) has a tendency to put a pinch on the purse. Investors asking for their money back magnifies that.

The good news is that so far Disney, Fox/Blue Sky, and Dreamworks are mostly self funding enterprises. Not so sure about Sony, though. They've been wishy-wahsy on their animation studio the last year or so already. A lacklustre result for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs might convince them to throw in the towel. But the other big animation studios- as long as their overall film businesses make money they'll be able to make animated movies.

What does this mean for us lumpen down here on the bottom of the foodchain? Animation jobs will still exist, but competition for those jobs will heat up even more. But even if you have a larger studio gig, don't get complacent. Being in a larger studio is no guarantee, either (ask the Bolt crew). The indy film market has been a real blessing over the last 4 years to a lot of animators looking to get into film. Screen credits, experience, nice shots on the reel, opportunity, paychecks, etc. I'm guessing as the next year unfolds it will be a little tougher to get work as projects wither for lack of financing. 2010 will be worse. There's a 9-12 month lag between funding greenlight and production.

While I don't follow the games side of the biz that much, it seems to me that it will probably be the same over there. Big AAA+ titles made by the giant producers will still hum along, but smaller, less well capitalized efforts will hit a dry patch.

If you have work now, do yourself a favor. Start saving. A lot. You're gonna need it. And if you have any other employable skill, keep that sharp. You might end up doing something other than animation for a while. And keep animating- even (especially?) on your own time. Atrophy can happen pretty quickly if you're not staying in practice and you can fall behind before you know it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wither the cartoon?

I've been thinking a lot about how the classic short cartoon has disappeared from the modern animation world. How do I define "classic cartoon"? Criteria for inclusion would be:
  • Full animation (not limited 4 fps TV stuff, but not super fluid animation on 1's, either)
  • Over the top 1940's cartoon animation style of motion and expression
  • Zany characters who are capable of existing outside of a larger character development "background"
  • Primary platform is short material (not feature films or TV shows)
  • Backgrounds designed to build a stage for action, not build a world for believability
  • Writing is gag centric, not long complex narratives requiring acts
  • Primary focus on visual presentation, not dialogue.
  • Action and music are joined at the hip. Music is not "stuck on" in post.
Examples: Woody the Woodpecker, Droopy, Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Goofy, Donald Duck, Roadrunner, etc.

In general most animation today is "talky". Lots of dialog. TV animation consists of 5 stock poses and a lot of talking. Kids TV is pretty much the same, but with a lot of screaming (seriously, they scream a lot). Feature films are big money showcases that focus on longer narratives that demand more character development. Not as much screaming, though. For quick giggles or a 60 second bit of diversionary amusement we have Flash animation on the internet, but nobody will confuse that with a classic cartoon. Independent animation often focuses on heavy topics that, while meaningful, usually aren't very fun (JibJab takes on politics, normally not fun, but they make it fun). The studio shorts are mini versions of their big film brethren, and they share the high "per second" budgets and manpower needs of features, too. Now, I'm not saying that all of these are worthless crap. I actually like a lot of stuff. I'm just asking- where is the cartoon?

I'm talking about the unapologetically gag driven, musically integrated, over the top classic 1940's style cartoon? With animation that's not bound by earthly physics? With backgrounds that aren't focused on realistic detail & shadows? With characters that are flatly rendered but expressively drawn? It's gone, isn't it? Other than an occasional try here or there, that form of the craft has faded into the past. Not only is the form gone, but all the guys who made it are gone- and with them the knowledge of how to pull off that style of cartoon. Will it ever come back? Or is it a style of animation whose time has passed?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Merry Christmas to One and All

From our family to yours, may you enjoy the very best of God's blessings this holiday season.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Tutorial Translations

OK, I've got a few free moments, so I'm adding some translations of my free tutorials.

With special thanks to Ariel Núñez Morera we have two new Spanish translations. The first is for Life After Pose to Pose: Taking it to the Next Level. The next is for Breakdowns Can be Such a Drag (building better overlaps in breakdowns).

We also have a Turkish translation for the Principles for LipSync Animation Article. This was lovingly provided by  Rıdvan Çevik.

Big thanks again to these fine gentlement for their efforts. I'm always humbled when folks feel inspired to translate my writings into other languages. Deixa me pra sinto tau internacional! 

UPDATE:  It seems that I have messed up some links and forgot to mention another translation. The link for the Life After Pose-to-Pose in Spanish is now fixed. I have also added The Principles of LipSync article in Spanish, also done by  Ariel Núñez Morera. Thanks to Jerzy Perez Gonzalez for catching the error. My apologies for the mix up. I'm a doofus.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Two pieces of foam, a few sticks, some rulers, a ladder made out of pencils, a bowl of water, two kazoos, a guitar and a whole lot of imagination and skill. Who needs fancy visuals or technical sophistication- or even technically perfect movement? This is an inspiringly simple reminder that character and motivation are the keys to bringing something to life. Astounding stuff.

Hat tip to David Beer.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

JoJo in the Stars

Marc Craste is genius and I envy his creativity.

 This is the final play out of his creepy and thoroughly envelope pushing Pica Towers vignettes circa 2001. (watch them here, here and here). You gotta remember back then nobody was doing anything like this. Everybody was too busy aping Pixar (myself included). When I first saw the Pica Towers shorts it was an epiphany for me. I just love how immediate the animation is in this. There's not a bunch of built up polish to arrive at the final. A lot of these scenes could be animated start to finish in a day- maybe in an afternoon even. This style allows a rough "in the moment" vibe to shine through. Some may pan it as crude and limited, but to me it feels alive as opposed to constructed. Craste's other commercial work at Studio AKA is neat, too- though not as individually bold as the Pica stuff.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Charlie Brown- proof of concept test

Last year around this time a small team of folks at Big Idea were given the task of trying to come up with a way to do Charlie Brown in CG. We were one of a group of studios pitching to get the Peanuts animated comic strips project headed up by Warner Bros.. Since the general expertise of Big Idea is in developing shows for CG, the decision was made to try and make this in CG. My old friend and former colleague Brian Roberts was assigned as the director.  He had been following my non-realistic rendering tests on this blog, so he asked if I'd like to lend a hand at driving the CG art direction. I was in the US at the time on other business so I decided to join the project. The team was small and the schedule was smaller- just two weeks. We started with nothing but an idea. Brian's goal was to try to express the original cartoon strip look and feel without resorting to the 'typical' CG approach of literalism- especially of form. With that, we set off.

Brian was the director. Chuck Vollmer was the production designer did the background painting along with some beautiful painted textures. Joe Spadaford was a 2d concept artist and he painted a number of the flats and textures as well. Steve Fuller was responsible for the CG set- including modeling, texturing and lighting. I did everything with Charlie Brown, modeling, rigging, texturing, animating. I also took the lead on getting the CG style to look the way we wanted it to.

We wanted to keep things feeling as 'analog' as possible. All the textures on the set and flats were hand painted with gouche on board and scanned in. We found that a nice painting of a texture got dumbed down once it was applied as a texture-map and rendered. So Chuck went back and "sloppified" the paintings a bit. It looked kinda rough when you held the painting in your hands, but that roughness was needed if even half of it was going to show up in the render. Where this was most evident was the dog house.

The other challenge was getting Charlie Brown's facial animation, as well as the scratchy ink lines on his shorts and shoes. Once I solved that I felt really confident that we could hit the style. The animation is on 2's, another nod to the original Melendez approach. I also tried cycling a non-uniform procedural texure to the solid areas of color to avoid that computery perfection of color. I wasn't too happy with how that turned out. Given time I would have used Prismacolor markers to make 4 or 5 versions of the colors and cycled them as an animated texture on 4's, but the deadline intervened. Anyhow, watch the test and see what you think. There's no post process here-- everything you see is rendered straight out of Maya.

Ultimately the powers that be went with another studio using Flash animation. Back in early November Cartoon Brew had a short note about it. You can buy them for your very own on iTunes. While I suppose I'm a bit disappointed that our approach didn't win the day, from the objective standpoint of maintaining the look and feel of the property I think it was a wise choice to go with using Flash. They did a very good job of faithfully continuing the visual style of the Peanuts cartoons, whereas using CG we could only re-interpret it and try to be faithful to the original intent. I don't think our approach was necessarily inferior- it was just different. And for this project that probably wasn't the best choice. I recall a similar experience back when I was at Blur. Blur did a test of Mike Kunkel's Hero Bear in CG. For CG it looked quite good. Blur does great work, so that's no surprise. Yet it just didn't seem to "fit" the property. Some things are just better done 2d, I think.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


It snowed about 3 inches this evening in our little section of middle Tennessee. We hadn't seen snow in a long time. For the last 5 years we've been living in places like Los Angeles, Dallas TX and Brazil- none of which are what you'd call cold weather environs- we just didn't get a good dose of snow. Of course I grew up in Buffalo NY, so I know all about snow. These last 5 years I didn't think that I missed it at all. Turns out I had.

So my son and I got down to the serious business of snowman making.
I present to you Mr. Sammy McSlush. A finer snowman never was.


Do you remember the magic of snow at Christmas-time when you were little?

Why do we forget when we get older and we get all bogged down in work and being serious and all that? Especially those of us who work in animation. When did we become so... grown up? I pondered these things as the full moon came out and the whole world seemed to glow like a story book.


Monday, December 08, 2008

2008 Gobelins student animation

Another year of very pretty short films from the talented Fenchmen.

I liked Apres le Pluie. I don't get it, but I liked it. It has a nice mystical quality to it. No, it's not Miyazaki good, but you can certainly taste the influence.

To me the most intriguing was Underground Psycho. It's a really striking piece visually, and the story, while strange, was really compelling. I love the circular nature of the narrative. That's a difficult story telling style to pull off well and they handle it nicely. The animation is excellent - fantastic, really- even though it's not Hollywood CG feature film polished. I love how the characters all are alive and show some measure of thought and motivation beyond the surface. It's mostly CG, but the artists don't fall for the same old visual trap in CG, nor do they fall for the 'Gobelins pastel style' of CG. For that you can watch California Love, highlighted on Cartoon Brew).

Speaking of California Love, I thought it was the least interesting of all the student pieces. It felt like they were trying to just ride the coattails of previous attention getting Gobelins shorts. And I suppose getting a mention on the Brew means they succeeded. But to me it's just a repeat on the same old visual meme: the crazy chase through a handsomely painted CG world. Le Building from 2005 kinda had some flavor of that and it was fun and fresh. Then Burning Safari from 2006 took it to the next level and that was really fun to watch. Then there was the Annecy 2007 opening film- where the Raggedy Andy looking dude whips through the world so fast that everything loses structure at times. That was the best of the lot, I think. The chase idea had been maxed. Last year's Oktapodi was another take on this idea and while not as hectic a chase, the addition of the love story made it worthwhile. California Love just seems like another Gobelins run on the concept. OK, we get it. Crazy high speed chases through painterly worlds are cool. We can put that one down now. Let's allow that ground to lie fallow for the next few years.

The other ones are cool in their own way, too. Check 'em out. It's always fun to see the new stuff each year.

Friday, December 05, 2008

APT Student Animation: Anthony Bennett

Here's another student profile from my Animation Personal Trainer classes. Today we'll take a look at Tony Bennett's work. Tony has been through the APT twice now, the first time being the summer of 2007. Back then he had just graduated from another animation school and was looking to further improve his skills. We spent a good amount of time back then developing a good workflow for Tony, as well as improving his body mechanics and polish.

Every student- regardless of experience- brings some innate talent to the table. Tony has a good sensibility for performance, but his ability had not matured to the point where those ideas could show through clearly. Here's an example of Tony's work before his second session....

There are some neat ideas there, but they're downed out. Everything is too big- a problem I see with many inexperienced animators. Everything is set to the max- poses, timing, screen movement, accents- they're all as big as possible. There's no variation. What's missing is a sense of texture. So we spent a lot of time developing his eye for texture in his animation.

Here's what his work looked like after the session...

Now we're seeing those ideas come through. There's more here than a pretty render (though it's always nice to dress things up if you can). No, the real quality here comes from knowing when to go big, when to go small and when to save a little something for the biggest impact. And you'll note that the polish has improved as well. There's still some need for more development regarding arcs and drag/overlap, but Tony knows about those things and he's well on his way to improving them on his own. That's the goal, really. Help the student get past the big hurdles, give them things they can keep working on and send them on their way with skills that will serve them well for the rest of their careers.

At this time Tony is animating for the Mass Animation Project on Facebook, and he's doing some nice work.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tastes like chicken....

"Hmm. Tastes like chicken." We always say that when something doesn't have a distinct flavor, don't we?

When I lived in the Chicago area some years ago we bought our first home in one of those 'corn field' subdivisions. If you've spent much time in the US you know the type- cookie cutter houses on streets named Raleigh Trail, Snowbird Trace and Chadwicke Court. Homes that were planned and picked out of a catalog, cropping up in vast fields that used to grow corn before houses.

It was a good first home, we were thankful for it. But even then we knew there were problems with the idea. It was very far out, the neighborhoods were growing faster than weeds and we wondered at the breakneck pace of it all. Soon the entire area filled in with three huge shopping centers, a Walmart, Target and a Costco, four humongous supermarkets, 5 complete sub-divisions containing 700 homes each and two huge movie theaters. It went from sleepy farm roads cutting through endless cornfields to a full blown 21st century American suburb in just 3 years. Back then I had my doubts about the sustainability of that trend. Turns out we're seeing the fallout now in ye olde real estate bust (a bust that we happily avoided by selling into the rising market, not the falling one. Not that I was smart or anything- just blessed. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then). Ultimately every Builder Bob with a hammer went into business building and selling cookie-cutter homes. It was like printing money- and for a while it worked. The end result? Lots of houses, all with the same feel, made with homogenized factory monotony with little or no charm or character. The houses, while fine homes and certainly quite comfortable and liveable, were utterly unremarkable with their smooth vinyl siding nestled amid a sea of meandering cul-de-sacs and lanes with no trees. Once while we lived in this stamped out subdivision an older fellow in his early 60's got lost going for a walk in his own neighborhood one cloudy afternoon. When asked how he got lost he replied "Everything's the same!". There were no unique landmarks, no memorable places to turn or recall. Everything blurred into a beige haze of vinyl.

What's this got to do with Bolt? Seems it's not exactly been a gang buster in ye olde box office on its opening weekend. $26million is all. While that's not a disaster, it's no doubt well below what the Mouse House was gunning for with this film. It was their first film made "from the ground up" at Disney under the creative guidance of their newly installed Pixar leadership. There were no compromises with the old Eisner Disney in the creative direction of Bolt like there were in Meet the Robinsons (which opened with similarly yawn inducing $24million). Nope, this film was done completely the Lasseter way and I'm sure the expectation was that they'd get Pixar's blockbuster results. Something odd happened on the way to the theaters- the audience forgot to come. Like those comfortable & liveable tract houses, Bolt was a comfortable, decently crafted film that was for all intents and purposes utterly indistinguishable from the littany of other comfortable, decently crafted CG animated films that have come before it. The landmarks have been erased and the audience got lost in the sea of "Everything's the same".

Cycles run their course. All of them. How close are we to CG's Hercules?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cool Blender feature....

Kinda neat stuff. The actual tool use in the window looks nice and simple- but the steps needed to get there seem klunky. That's my beef with Blender- I find its interface and usability to be problematic. At least for me it is. Still, this is a great feature. Blender is developing nicely- and it's free. Pretty cool.

AniSculpt Tutorial -- Pepeland from psl on Vimeo.

AniSculpt test_01 (ball and character) from psl on Vimeo.

Hat tip to Virgilio Vasconcelos.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

OK, let's try this instead...

Getting back up on the horse. Ahem.

Anyhow, following up on that last (embarrassing) post, here are some sequential drawings to check out for a few movements in the Sylvester clip. The first one is kinda neat- his tongue is completely in and then the next drawing is completely out- and not just out, but down to his belly out! Check it...
Each of these drawings were held for 2 frames. I think the reason you can get away with this is that the rest of the body isn't changing quite so drastically. It's changing, but the general silhouette is basically the same.

Now we get to the happy feet stamping. Again, back to back drawings held on 2's. First, the right foot is down and the left foot is up.
Next, the right foot is up and the left foot is down.

No breakdown or inbetweens. Just extremes. I've tried this in Cg and it's really hard to make it look as good as it does here. One thing I learned is to not cycle between two leg position/shapes that are exactly the same, but to keep it varied as the legs hammer back and forth like that. The dry brush is the real key, though. That's what I think, at least. But what do I know? I do know that motion blur doesn't work as a dry-brush replacement.

And now for giggles, we can check out how he switches from the foot stamping happiness to the scramble run off screen...
That's crazy stuff. Those 4 drawings are back-to-back-to-back-to-back in the scene, each held for 2 frames.
And this is a 'simple' scene. The stuff with him emptying out the drawers just before this is flat out amazing. Go watch the entire short. "Canned Feud". It's on the Loony Tunes Golden Collection DVD set, first volume, disc 4. The entire short is just jam-packed with gold like this. Who's doing stuff like this these days? Who in CG animation even thinks like this?

A study in cartoon timing.. UPDATED

UPDATE: Well, whaddya know- I'm an idiot.

Commenter Lampshademan suggested the timing might be a frame rate glitch in the movie file due to the DVD capture. So after trying to find the right combination of software that lets me get accurate frame stepping through a clip from a DVD I was finally able to verify that the scene is basically animated on 2's. All of the drawings, except for the first one of the hold and the last 8 (for the run off screen) are held for two frames each.

Nothing to see here folks. Well, except for a red-faced idiot.

But enjoy the fun animation anyhow.

And I will talk about the change from one drawing to the next because there's some fun stuff going on.

Monday, November 03, 2008

My take on the US election....

Would you like to be stabbed with a sharp stick in the right eye or the left eye?

That's it. Those are your choices.

We'll talk about this again in 4 years.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

This is bad news...

I just got an email from Autodesk today saying they have bought out Softimage from Avid.

Bad, bad, bad, bad.

I'm not a user of XSi (Softimage's flagship 3d software). Except for reviewing the work of the occasional student who uses it I haven't felt a need to learn it. I've been using Maya for almost 10 years now and it just works for me with all the tools and stuff I have for it. But that's beside the point. As far as I can tell XSi is a solid tool. If there has been one group that has been the leader in innovative ideas for general purpose CG tools over the last few years it's been the XSi team. By contrast the stuff sitting under Autodesk's banner has languished. Except for the occasional tweak here or there, 3DS Max is still basically the same tool it was when I used it at Blur 5 years ago. And Maya hasn't moved very far since Alias sold out to Autodesk a few years ago. Just tweaks and window dressing. Autodesk is where 3d programs go to get stale.

Healthy competition is always better for customers than monopolies- and right now we have a veritable monopoly in the CG animation software business. Autodesk owns 3D Studio Max, Maya, Motion Builder, Mudbox and now Softimage XSi and it's ancillary technologies. What's left out there for commercially available professional level Cg production software? Um.. not much. Yes, there's Z-Brush, Silo, Modo, etc., but those aren't backbone systems, they're specific-use tools.  Basically the applications under the Autodesk name represent well north of 90% of the primary programs used in the CG business.

Most Cg products have seen a significant reduction in innovative development and thinking over the past few years, but expect that decline to accelerate. At some point consolidation of development is going to occur at Autodesk and we're going to end up with fewer choices.

If anything this development marks the end of the 'big backbone one stop shop' software solutions for CG. Look for more specific use tools that interface with back bone systems to emerge.

Good ol' Tommy boy made a lot of sense....

Too bad we stopped paying attention to him oh, about 100 years ago now.
A quote that speaks to today's world.
"The central bank is an institution of the most deadly hostility existing against the Principles and form of our Constitution.... If the American people allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the People of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered."
There was one other trivial scrap of paper this fellow once authored. The Declaration of Independence.
More interesting thoughts from the third president of the United States can be found here...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'd laugh...

.. if it weren't so sadly true.
From the Sinfest comic. Click it big...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

APT Student Animation: Sunny Kharbanda

Sunny Kharbanda first took his first APT session this summer. He wanted to improve pushing his poses, add some texture to his phrasing, make better acting choices as well as tighten up his polishing skills. Here is one of the better pieces that he made before the APT...

I like the boldness and willingness to take chances with such a challenging clip. But there's a few things here and there that could use some help. The poses are awkward at places, alot of the poses are the same intensity so the texture is lacking and the arcs, eases and overlap need more polish. It's not terrible, but it has areas that could use improvement.

After 4 weeks in the APT this is what Sunny was able to produce...

The polish is much stronger, the acting is interesting (and funny), the phrasing and texture are more defined and his poses feel more comfortable while at the same time being stronger and more graphically appealing. Overall it's a solid improvement.

Sunny is currently wrapping up work on his second APT session. Wait until you see what he's done in this latest class- it's really, really good. I can't wait to show it to everybody when it's done.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cars 2??

Hunh. I didn't know there was a sequel to Doc Hollywood.

This kinda flew under my radar. Am I the only one who missed this? Is this a for real movie or am I being punk'd? I thought Cars was arguably Pixar's weakest film to date. So if ever there was fertile ground for a sequel...

I'm certain it will make a tidy profit, though.
Just like Jungle Book 2.
Just like Shrek 3.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

APT Student Animation: Anand Kumar

Anand Kumar is one of my favorite APT students. Anand has been in my APT twice, both times focusing on learning more extreme cartoon animation style. The first time was definitely a learning process as he broke out of his comfort zones as a Cg animator. During his second class I could really see that he was "getting it". He was beginning to think like a cartoon animator.

Here is a nice sample of what Anand was doing before this latest APT class...

Not bad. There's some nice stuff going on. It's a little lacking in some technical polish, but overall it's pretty solid. However it doesn't stand out- I don't think it's unfair to say that it's pretty typical of most CG scenes you see.

Now here are two scenes that he recently completed in APT. First an acting scene...

And now a more 'technical' motion exercise...

Now that's a different way to go. I really like seeing this style being explored in CG. It's been a lot of fun teaching this stuff. I grew up watching cartoons- it's what made me want to be an animator in the first place. Not surprisingly Anand felt the same way. He wrote me...
I will be doing more of this stuff :-) its fun and challenging to do.  ... This APT has really been an eye opener for me . ... I wanna do moreeeeee... :-)
So congrats to Anand for a job well done. I'm sure he's only going to get better and better at this sort of thing.

e-mail problems solved. (i hope)

Well, the new domain and host service is up and running and tests show that 4 out of 5 dentists are able to email me at my email addresses -- keith(at)keithlango(dot)com and keithlango(at)keithlango(dot)com.

So if you tried getting through to me before and it bounced or failed, try again. It should work. Heavy emphasis on "should".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

VTS Back Issue store updated

Ahh, the world is indeed a better place for our children this morning.
I had fallen a bit behind on updating the VTS back issue store. Well, I got off my butt this morning and updated the store. (Well, I was sitting when I did it, so I guess I didn't actually get off my butt. Details, details.)
Anyhow, VTS36, 37 and 38 are now available if you were waiting for them. VTS36 and 37 are about animating to music and VTS38 is the first of a three video series on body mechanics. If you're interested in these or any of the other VTS back issue videos, well check out the VTS back issue store here.

And as for my loyal VTS subscribers I have updated your page, too. Now you guys can get VTS41, 42 and 43. VTS41 is a quick lesson on cartoon animation as it was taught to one of my advanced APT students. VTS42 and 43 are the first of many videos where I animate an actual scene from beginning to end, explaining every thought and action along the way. It's a different approach to the VTS that attempts to tie together all the various theories, tips and ideas that have been covered in the VTS from the very beginning.

What is this VTS of which I speak? I'm glad you asked, and I have this very handy-dandy FAQ about the subject. Check it out and be sure to speak to your doctor to see if the Video Tutorial Series is right for you.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hell Kitchen -- short film

A former APT student of mine, Raoul Olou, - along with his friend Sigmund Payne - have recently posted their short film called Hell Kitchen online.
It's fun and I love the visual style of the short. It's a very clever use of CG. I love how europeans are able to think outside the hyper-realism box. Congrats go out to Raoul and Sigmund for a great job on a very cool little film

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's up with the APT?

A few weeks back I mentioned that I would announce some news regarding future APT classes here. (What's an APT class? Read the FAQ for all the info). Since I like to try and keep my word, here's the scoop.

APT class #4 was a great success. It wrapped up in the middle of August. The students all enjoyed the course and they showed a lot of improvement. I'm going to put together a few examples of their stuff here this week or next. I think you'll really like what they did.

So what about the next APT class? Funny you ask. It's actually already begun. But wait? When did I announced it? Who's taking it? Well, I didn't announce it publicly. I reserved APT #5 for former APT students who wanted another session, as well as a few folks I know who had been wanting to take the course for a while but kept missing out. So APT5 is full, and like I said, it's already begun. Sorry about that.

So what about the class after that? Will there be another class after APT5? Yes, there will. But there's a catch-  just like APT5, APT6 is already full. What!?!?! Yup, so many former students got so much out of their previous time in the APT that they filled up two sessions to get even more. So APT6 is scheduled for the middle of November to just before Christmas, but it's full.

Basically, what I'm saying is that the APT is sold out for the remainder of 2008. Yeah, kinda stinks, huh?

OK. Now I know what some of you are thinking. "Hey, I wanted to take an APT class. How can I sign up if I don't even know a class is coming up?" It's a fair question.  But fear not, weary traveler! I have plans for more APT classes after these next two are out of the way. And that's why I'm here talking about it. :)

I have plans for APT7 and APT8 to happen in early 2009. APT7 is tentatively scheduled for mid-January to mid-February of 2009. APT8 is tentatively scheduled for March of 2009. After that, we'll see where we stand. But the cool thing is that you don't need to wait until January or March to get your name on the list.

A list? Did he just say there's a list?

Yeah, I'm gonna have a list. See, in the past I would announce a registration date and it would be first come first served and anybody that missed out was just out of luck until the next announced class. But when APT4 sold out in under 25 minutes I realized that I need to create a waiting list for those who missed out. So that's what I'm going to do. Starting today- right now- I am taking names for APT7 and APT8. The names will go on a waiting list in the order they are received. Those first on the list will get first chance to take a spot for the class of their choice when the time comes for them to commit.

If you email me to get on the waiting list for APT7 or APT8 you won't be charged any money today. That will wait until we are much closer to the class dates. And no, there is no commitment by getting on the waiting list- but please only respond if you are serious about taking an APT class. I don't want the waiting list to be filled with a lot of names that will end up backing out later. But if you are serious about taking an APT class and if early 2009 fits your lifestyle then send me an email and get on the list!

Send your reply to....


Be sure to put "APT List" in the subject somewhere, and if you have a preference for APT7 or APT8 be sure to let me know. Once I get your name I'll add it to the list of those in line to take an APT class. My inbox is waiting and ready to recieve your reply. :)

APT news coming later today...

I've been a bit behind on this, but I did promise to get an update out regarding the APT. Keep your eyes on this space for more news soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pushing poses

Here's something I thought would be neat to pass along. One of my APT students emailed me expressing their frustration with when and how and how much to push a pose. They were struggling with making pushed poses that didn't feel broken, or just 'off'. As a result they tended to be very cautious in their efforts to push things. Here's what I wrote to them. See if maybe it helps some of you guys out there...

When it comes to poses you must always have a strong sense of balance. Even pushed poses need to have balance and proper weight. For any pose held for more than 2 frames balance is absolutely critical. So when you push a pose, don't push it to the point that it becomes awkward or off balance. You can go from big pose to big pose, but the poses themselves need to be functional. Another note on a pushed pose- you can push it, but the pose needs to feel like it wouldn't be breaking bones, pulling muscles or dislocating joints inside the body. A cartoon character can have more elastic anatomy, but they still have an anatomy. The poses you choose should be true to that anatomy. More normally proportioned and human the character looks, the narrower the range of what 'pushed' can be before things feel broken. The more cartoon the design the greater the range of pushed before things break. Push the pose, but honor the anatomy. Look at this Bugs Bunny pose...

That's pushed for sure, but it still has balance and it still looks like he's not broken inside. Would you or I look like that if we did that 'pose'? No, but we're made of different anatomical stuff. You need to respect the anatomy, but still not be afraid to make things with more energy. Here's a page from an old Disney 'How To Animate' book that really illustrates the idea.

I have another bit on pushing timing, but I'll save that for later.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MAJOR email problems

I'm having more problems with my hosting service. At any rate, my email addresses connected with the keithlango.com domain have been down since last Thursday. They have been behaving very erratically for over a month now, actually. A permanent solution is currently being enacted, but I do not know when it will be finalized.

So if you've been trying to reach me since last Thursday Sept 11th, and you have not heard back from me (or you have gotten an email bounce notice) then please know that I'm not blowing you off. I just have not received anything for days at these following addresses.....

  • keith(at)keithlango(dot)com
  • keithlango(at)keithlango(dot)com

If you need to reach me please email me at...
  • keith(dot)lango(at)yahoo(dot)com
I'm sorry for the trouble. (sigh)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Zoe is green.

Here's a fun little something. A cute short film called L'amie de Zoe, directed by Matthieu Roussel. I really like the visual approach. Anytime people try to do something different with CG animation I feel happy. Take a moment and have a look.
click to watch the film.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Time & Chance

Here's a fun little diversion for your Labor Day weekend. I got this note from good friend of the Lango World Domination Headquarters, Tim Hodge...

"Time & Chance" is part of the GTTV Summer Film Competition. It's an online film festival that will be over before you know it.

Out of over 150 entries, "Time & Chance" was one of 6 that is being featured!

Click HERE to see it!

It is a subscription based viewership, so it will cost you about $1.50 to watch the film. (If you don't want to subscribe, you won't hurt my feelings.)

Feel free to forward this to your friends!

- T
This is Tim's short film that he recently completed. I did some CG work for Tim on the short. My primary role was to texture, rig and animate the flies. Other folks contributed to the animation and did other things, but I can't remember everybody and what they did. I guess that's what the credits are for, huh? So if you contributed to this fine little film be sure to speak up in the comments and get your share of the love.
Check out all the fun on Tim's Time & Chance blog. It's fun for the whole family! And let's not forget to say Congrats to Tim on making the film! It's always a huge achievement to get one done. Now do more!  ;)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Animated "Acting"

How about this for a philosophical question...

Do animated characters "act"? And what about animators? Do we "act"?

Acting, by definition, is when a person pretends to behave like another person in another place at another time. Even if they're pretending to be themselves in a real place we are still stuck with a person pretending to live a moment that does not currently exist. All acting comes down to a falsehood. A false person, a false place or a false moment. One or more of the three. Acting is pretending. Without pretending you don't have acting.

So when I am animating, am I "acting"? Not really. When I animate I am not pretending to be a character in some other moment in some imaginary place. I make no pretense about it- I am Keith, sitting at my desk animating this scene.

Similarly the character on the screen is not pretending to be anything, either. Bugs Bunny running away from Elmer Fudd is Bugs Bunny running away from Elmer Fudd. He is not pretending to be Bugs Bunny running away from Elmer Fudd. The animated character is not pretending- they are just being themselves*. This is their life, this is their moment and there's nothing false about it.

As an animator am I pretending to be Bugs Bunny? Aside from the physical difficulties of such a thing, not really. So what is it that I'm doing if I'm not 'acting'? I prefer to think of it as imagining. I am most successful when I can simply imagine the character just being themselves in whatever moment of their lives that I am called upon to animate. The key to this is to know the character. That's it. Insofar as I struggle to express a character believably it shows that I don't really know that character. Want proof? OK, try this....

Think of someone you know very well. Then imagine they are running late for work and have just hit their 5th red light in a row. You can see them, can't you? You can imagine exactly what the look on their face would be, how their hands would be gripping the steering wheel- what they'd do and how they'd behave while they wait for that light to change to green. And you know that what you are 'seeing' in your mind's eye is not what you would do in that moment, but it is what this person you know very well would do. They have unique actions, mannerisms, expressions and gestures that you don't use, but you can "see" them.  At this very moment I can imagine my Dad in the situation I just described and I can see him as clear as day, how he'd act and everything- and he's been dead for 8 years. Today my Dad is no more physically real on this earth than Bugs Bunny- but as a character he's very real and I know him very well.

And this isn't hard at all. Why? Because I've already known how to do this from the time I was a kid. And so do you.

The hard part in this comes when a character hasn't been defined very well for you by the director/writer/story people. You don't have enough to get to 'know' the character. Or worse, we're too lazy to get to know the character. It's at that moment that we fall back on generic gestures or expressions, or we copy ourselves acting just to get some believable motion on the screen. To me that's a poorer solution compared to the power of knowing the character. In animation if we had characters that were more clearly defined and the imagination to see them being themselves, then perhaps we can maybe break free from the generic "everything same" characters we are so prone to make.

* OK, exception would be when Bugs Bunny dresses in drag to fool Elmer Fudd. So in that sense, yes an animated character does "act".

Friday, August 22, 2008

Messin' around with the 'toons

I've been messing around with various little animation tests done in a very cartoony style. You know, just for kicks.

click to play a very short clip

Animated on 2's, for those that are keeping score at home. I probably could have done the leg scrambles on 1's, but I wanted to see how it looked on 2's.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A question from an APT student....

I just had an email with one of my APT students and I thought that it was an interesting one- so I thought I'd share it with you. It's a super common problem in animation. You think everything is OK in one phase of the scene, and then you move on to the next phase and suddenly the stuff looks like crud! Problems, problems everywhere. It can be discouraging if you let it. So in an effort to kinda "see ahead" and fix things before they get ugly my student asked...
How do I avoid running into the kind of problems that I faced on that scene? I ask because I couldn't see some problems in stepped mode. Is "more breakdowns" the answer? Then again, is it normal to see so much junk once we go to linear mode?
I remember this being perhaps the biggest struggle for so many CG animators- and I mean pros working on films. Everybody has that "Aw geez, this looks like crap!" stage right after blocking. When you watch your finished blocking in stepped mode things look like they have life and are so "right". Then you throw all the tangents to linear or spline and it seems like it all falls apart. Everybody wants to know some secret or trick to avoiding that ugly stage. Such a trick has always eluded us. The reason why is simple- it doesn't exist. Here's what I wrote in reply to the student's question...
I think there's a point where you can see what you see in a scene and you can't see anything more until you move on. Animating scenes is like exploring a wooded territory. You can fly over it with a plane, you can study maps, you can plan and practice- but until you start getting into the woods you don't really know everything that's there. And even when you get 1/3 of the way through the territory you can see ahead, you've learned some things and you can now make a solid plan of progress, but until you go forward you'll never really know what you have on your hands. Scenes are like that sometimes. You do what you can do in blocking and then when you're happy with it- allowing that you've thought it through and have worked it to your satisfaction- you move on. You'll find new things every step of the way. It's not a failing or a problem or a weakness that needs to be fixed. It's just animation. Funny, it's also exactly like life. :)
 There will always be problems in a scene no matter what stage you're at- even when it's "done". Just keep moving forward.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Wither the "inherent appeal" of CG?

Amid Amidi points up a nicely done bit of commercial advertising over on the Cartoon Brew. The animators used CG to emulate the old stop-motion look and palette from days gone by. And the spot is really, really well done. But Amid takes issue with the use of CG as merely a tool of emulation of other visual styles. To quote the man himself...
 It’s a well done spot, no question about it, but I have mixed feelings about it. Frankly I’m getting tired of CG directors evoking charm in their work by cashing in on the audience’s fondness for older animation techniques. If you’re using CG, why not explore the inherent appeal in your chosen technique instead of using it to mimic a look from decades ago?
 It's a fair question. However the reply comes in the form of yet another question- a simple, yet confounding one.

What is the inherent appeal of CG? Does it even have one?

The comments in response to the Brew post are actually very well thought out, including Amid's own replies. You should take the time to read them. These questions have been something I've kicked around here on this blog in the past. Ultimately I never was able to find a cohesive answer that laid all arguments and questions to rest. One commenter on the Cartoon Brew post has this to offer...
Couldn’t using CG to “mimic a look from decades ago” technically be considered “the inherent appeal in your chosen technique”?
That's probably the best answer yet. It's not too far from the one I came to last year. I see CG more as a tool of collage. It can be just about anything you want it to be. The untapped potential of CG (to me, at least) is that it removes the technical barriers that would otherwise keep diverse styles and techniques from being used together. I'd like to see what can be done with that potential for mixture.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What an elephant can teach you about your career in animation

Check it out.

This is a painting made by an elephant. Yes, that kind of elephant. The elephants at the Nashville Zoo  paint to help pass the time. Apparently it keeps them happy. I thumbed through a selection of original pieces at the zoo's gift shop and I was really taken aback at how cool some of the pieces were. I should have taken pictures.

But if that weren't cool enough, apparently they have elephants in Thailand that also paint- and several of them are quite accomplished. Check out this painting.

It's done by an elephant named SriSiam. You can check out a gallery of paintings by several different elephants here. Here's a video clip of the animals at work that is actually pretty cool...

And in case you think it's all rigged, nope.

So why am I going on about this? If you read up on how they paint it's pretty clear that they are following through on a good deal of training. It does seem like they enjoy it, though. But a quick look through the gallery linked above shows that different elephants made the same kind of paintings with the same tone and motive appear over and over. A pattern emerges and we can see the trainer's hand at work. The animals were given certain 'principles' of how to achieve a given subject and then through positive reinforcement learned to repeat the results. Sweeping lines for an elephant, vertical green lines and orange pokes for flowers, etc. I still think it's really cool (my cat can't do this), but I just can't make the jump to say that the elephants are expressing something artistic in themselves. Maybe they are, but it seems to me to be the product of a lot of training to make paintings for people to buy and like.

But how is that much different than us and our 'principles' and 'rules'? Modern western animators might not be that far removed from approaching their work like these trained elephants. The hegemony of the classic 'west coast film style' of animation (Disney in 2d, Pixar in CG, et al.) can be suffocating in it's near soviet insistence on conformity. We need to guard against letting our definition of what makes 'good' animation grow smaller and smaller. Watch a film like John Canemaker's "The Moon and the Son" and you'll see a fantastic example of expressive animation that is nothing at all like the dominant west coast film style. That style is good and has a place, but to me it's not terribly personal. It sells DVD's, though, and so we learn it (and in my case, teach it) to make a living. But I like stuff that possesses a personal voice for expression that is not leather bound by the strict adherence to a list of rules and principles. And more than any other medium CG suffers from a built in level of conformity that crushes independent style. Overcoming that oppression in CG takes far more effort than any other form of animation, in my opinion. Marc Craste is an example of a CG animator who has crafted his own style- one that doesn't thumb its nose at principles, but at the same time isn't stifled or bound by them. It would be good if more of us would find a way to rise above the overtly produced results that aren't that much more expressive than what a trained elephant can accomplish - yours truly included.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The evolution of Dreamworks storytelling...

Before you get your flamethrowers warmed up, I'm here to say I like where things are going over at DW land.

At first DW tried to do the Disney thing. They had limited success. They found that 900lb. gorilla really difficult to unseat. But with Shrek we saw DW's first big breakout hit. The general idea was to spoof two things- fairy tales and Disney. It did a servicable job of both, and raked in a ton of cash to boot. One of the core techniques in the film was the use of the 'pop culture reference'. Similar to TV shows like Family Guy or Disney's earlier Alladin, the idea is to make some obscure (or obvious) and subtle (or blatant) reference to some aspect of current (or relatively recent) popular culture. DW developed a real love for this idea. It was evident in just about every film following Shrek. The zenith of this approach was Bee Movie, a film that was really hard for me to sit through. It was a goofy patchwork narrative that filled the few cracks between a littany of pop-culture gags. But with Kung Fu Panda I noticed a switch in tack. As I see the premise and approach for the upcoming Monsters vs. Aliens I see that maybe they are taking this pop-culture idea to the next logical level. They seem to be evolving from using pop culture reference as disparate gags in a film to using the film as one big pop culture reference. KFP spoofed the 1970's Kung Fu film genre, and did a pretty good (and fun!) job of it. Monsters vs. Aliens looks to spoof the 1950/1960's B-movie monster flicks. If it handles the subject as well as KFP handled its subject I think they may be on to something. In the end I think their efforts with the pop culutre reference spoof movies may be a more palatable and successful venture than just sprinkling in pop culture references in an otherwise non-pop movie. The biggest complaint about pop-cult references in a film is that they seemed forced- jammed in by unimaginative execs to get cheap laughs. It's a pretty fair assessment, I think. They often just break the flow of the narrative, resulting in a jangly effect that sounds just a little bit off. It's like jingling a pocket full of real coins mixed with a few Chuck-E-Cheese tokens. It jingles, but there are some notes in there that are most definitely off key. However by making the entire film one big pop culture reference they seem to be onto something that works better. The key appears to be keeping any pop culture references in these newer films germaine to the genre being spoofed. In other words, if KFP had some kind of gag revolving around a Chinese Kung Fu version of Wal-Mart or American Idol or something similarly indicative of the decline of civilization, then that would have sucked majorly. But if they remain sly and clever and true to the genre and period spoofed they stand a great chance of maintaining a cohesion between their films and gags that they haven't yet truly enjoyed. Some may argue that the effect is like jingling a pocket full of Chuck-E-Cheese tokens, but you gotta give them marks for at least getting all the notes to sound cohesive.  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing if they can keep the ball rolling with Monsters vs. Aliens. If nothing else you have to give props to DW for striking and and trying different things, every bit as much as (maybe even more than) Pixar/Disney.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Imagination vs. Knowledge

 Full quote:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Don't let you pursuit of knowledge about animation (especially the nuts and bolts of how to do it, etc.) obscure your childlike imagination. And certainly never let it frighten you into never trying to do the unknown. And by 'unknown' I don't mean a universal unknown (ie: no human has ever tried or understood this thing you're confronted with). Rather I am talking about your personal universe- what is known and unknown to you. Students so often get caught up in trying to expand the size and scope of what they know. Thus the focus on principles, techniques, methods, etc and the quixotic quest for rock solid formulas and rules that will always work in any situation. The problem is if you're not careful that pursuit for knowledge can drastically shrink your world. Use your imagination to prop open the windows that look out over the wide expanse of the unknown. Try something - anything- that you don't know how to do. Jump and see what happens. If all you ever do is what you know how to do then you become small and limited. The key is to understand the fundamentals without letting them turn you into a fundamentalist. Keep an open mind about how to accomplish different things. Don't be afraid to try something that you've never tried before. And be especially willing to try something where you don't have the faintest clue about how you're going to do it. Once you do that then you have no choice but to unfurl the wings of your imagination and try to fly.

image courtesy of presentationzen.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

APT#4-- rollin' along

A quick update on the current Animation Personal Trainer session (#4 so far). We have 10 new students (plus one left over from a previous class). We're only one and a half weeks into the session and I'm having fun! This class has some talent and loads of potential.. It's a great mix of students. The first few assignments that have come back are looking solid. I can't wait to see how they improve by the time we're done.

What does this have to do with you? Well, to put it simply- I'm going to have another APT session not too long after this one wraps up in mid-August. After nearly a year hiatus, this latest class filled up in 25 minutes. Since then I've received quite a number of emails from folks who were disappointed that they missed out and they wanted to know when the next session will be.  So if you really want to participate in the next APT, be sure to keep an eye out here for info sometime in the next few weeks.

kill the www.

housekeeping note- If your bookmarks point to www.keithlango.com, you will find that your life will have a higher degree of suckitude. Why? My recent hosting switch did away with any compatibility with a URL address that uses www. So the official web address for your daily dose of lango-tastic wonder (now endorsed by the Queen and Yakov Smirnov) is merely keithlango.com. No www. needed nor accepted. The new streamlined URL of keithlango.com is a nutritious part of this complete breakfast...

The Garbage Plate from Nick Tahoes Restaurant in Rochester NY. I dare you to eat one sober.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Plussing in spite of limitations

A lot of animators on high footage projects (DVD, games, TV, commercials, etc.) often complain about the limitations of time and budget. And true enough, those limitations do exist. You only have so many dollars, so many days and so many animators. You're often not given a lot to work with. But then it's up to the animator to think outside the box. What one added ingredient or what one change in the way you present the scene would make the simple and plain into something pleasing and satisfying? After all the only difference between bread and toast is a little heat and some butter. What can you add to your scene to elevate it from bread & water into tea & toast?