Friday, December 31, 2010


Here are a few panels from a story animatic I just finished cutting together.

What does this mean? What are these for? We'll see what 2011 looks like.
Happy New Year to all and may you all find God's best for you this next year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Xtranormal starts charging to make & post content....

I (sardonically) talked about this software some time back. Regardless of what animation pros think of it, Xtranormal seems to have gained quite a user base and following. But with popularity comes cost. From Yahoo news...
Animation website Xtranormal — whose cartoon-making tools have spawned viral videos of cuddly puppies debating such topics as quantitative easing and the iPhone in stilted monotones — is no longer offering free, unlimited use of its tools.
The change reflects the higher costs of running Xtranormal as the site's popularly grew.
More than 2 million people now use its simple moviemaking tools, up from about 500,000 in June. According to Xtranormal, those users have published about 9.3 million videos so far. Some of the videos have received thousands or even millions of views, further boosting Xtranormal's popularity and usage.

This will be interesting to watch develop. I recall having some lively conversations a few years back with friends in the media biz and stating that the day will come when the cost for user-made content will shift from the consumer (via micro-payments, paywalls, ads, subscriptions, etc.) to the producer. my logic was simple- hosting these things costs a lot of money and somebody has to pay for it since viewers have proven rather unwilling to do so. A ton of hot social media sites are facing this issue. Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, etc. Youtube is a bit of an exception since it has the Google sugar-daddy to keep it in heels and fur, but for the rest it's not as simple. How do you make money and not sacrifice the user experience which was so vital to getting popular enough to survive the start-up and attract some nice Series A capital investment from VCs? The Dot.Com boom of the late 90's taught us that investors are only so willing to keep pouring money into hot online spaces with no real business plans. As noted, consumers of user-created content have shown little willingness to pay for content and online ad rates are so depressed that only the largest of aggregators (ie: Google) can survive on the micro-finance level of online ads. Sooner or later someone was bound to try and see if the content makers would be willing to pony up some cash in order to have access to the big microphone that is the internet. Vanity publishing goes digital age.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A reminder...

"At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them."

Wishing you and yours the very best this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's not Maya, but hey....

.. for non animator folks this CrazyTalk Animator app could be interesting. I think tools democratization is an interesting thing. It certainly doesn't remove the need for talent or skill in story telling (no more than using a word processor makes you a better writer), it just removes barriers. Certainly not suitable for all needs, but I could see it being a fun way to do a quick little short film. Watch the cheesy promo video below.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Call me crazy, but I like this trailer...

Who knows if the movie will be any good, but they've succeeded in getting me interested. Indeedy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Yeah, I'm behind a day or so....

Meet Buck from TeamCerf on Vimeo.

Lots of fun stuff to look at. It's a good example of animation on 1's mixed with a natural media type rendering style that works- mainly because the animation is pretty over the top. Most typical on 1's CG animation when mixed with natural media emulation just comes off wrong. Congrats to the crew.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

VTS December blow out sale!

In time for the holidays I'm offering an absolutely bonkers blow out sale on the entire catalog of back issue Video Tutorial Service (VTS) animation training videos in my online store. For those of you who don't know, the VTS videos were made over the course of 5 and a half years where I made a new video each month for my paid subscribers. Earlier this year I shut down the subscription service due to work obligations and time constraints, but the videos are still available as back issues. Overall there are 64 videos (the first two I made are free on my Youtube channel), covering a ton of different topics on animation. Each video is about 45 minutes long on average, so we're talking about nearly 60 hours of animation training videos (that's a lot of video). Anyhow, the regular price for each back issue VTS video is $18.95, but starting today the price has been slashed by almost 75% to just $4.95 each

That's not a typo. Each VTS video is now under $5. You think that's crazy, wait until you hear this: If you buy all all 60+ videos in a bundle you can get them for $3.95 each, or $240.00. What does Otto think of these prices?

Even Schmitty is at a loss for words....

So if you never got any VTS videos now is your chance to get them. Did you buy some in the past, but couldn't get as many as you wanted? Now is the perfect time to complete your collection. Has downloading them from a pirate torrent left you feeling guilty? A clear conscience has never been so cheap!  Heehee. 

So if you're an animator, an animation student, or even just mildly interested in animation- this is the deal for you. Want to get a cool, practical holiday gift for the animator in your life? VTS videos are the way to go. Purely 100% digital delivery means no wrapping or postage. I'd even say these videos will make you a better person/laundry washer/lover/pet owner, but I don't want to over-reach.

Anyhow, even if you're not interested in getting any VTS videos, feel free to pass on the news. The prices are scheduled to go back to normal Jan 1st, 2011, so get cracking!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

TD Matt blog

Matt Stoneham, a Sr. TD at Ninja Theory, has started up a good blog for those of you who are into rigging and other TD type stuff. He offers up some cool detailed how-to's, scripts and such. Some nifty nuggets for sure. There's not enough of these types of blogs out there, if you ask me. Definitely check it out...

Citrus Cel Animation festival call for entries

This rolled through my inbox recently and I thought I'd share it.

Citrus Cel Animation festival is in its second year and they're looking for animation to showcase. Anything made in the previous 2 years works for them. There's no entrance fee (which is cool) and it seems they have a schedule of speakers and events surrounding the fest as well. Could be neat. Find out more at

Friday, October 08, 2010


I get a lot of email.
I kinda always have, really. The problem is that lately it's been increasingly difficult to answer it all. In fact, it's pretty much become impossible. And it has been for at least a year if not more. Between work, family, other life commitments, APT students-- I just don't have the time to get to everybody's email. Going forward I'll do my best, but I can't promise anything. Please don't take it personally, though. I appreciate everybody taking the time to write me.

So if you sent me a kind note of thanks- thank you so much! If you sent me a demo reel to get some feedback on, I apologize, but I just don't have the time to look at all the reels I get sent to me. If you sent me an email asking for career or school advice, I apologize if I couldn't answer you. I try my best, but I am but a solitary man and the days only have 24 hours. I feel like a heel not being able to reply to everybody.

In the meantime I am going to try the three sentences approach to email and see if that helps me. I don't have high hopes, though. :(

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Les Metiers

Very charming! I love the simple (but robust) character designs. Animation style isn't overly fluffy, but it doesn't need to be. Nicely done.

LES METIERS : LE BOULANGER from lam le thanh on Vimeo.

Found via

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I liked this little short by Arjen Klaverstijn. Nice style, simple idea, clear characters. Pretty solid for student work.

'Manfred' an animated short by Arjen Klaverstijn from Arjen Klaverstijn on Vimeo.

found via

Friday, September 10, 2010

Portal 2 - Co-op Trailer

Valve finally got around to releasing our latest Portal 2 trailer on their YouTube channel. I've been neck deep in this project since last Christmas. This trailer features some really sterling work by some amazingly talented folks. The bots were designed, modeled & textured by Tristan Reidford, rigged (mostly) by yours truly, animated by Andrew Burke, Noel McGinn, Matthew Russel, Mike Belzer and (again) yours truly. Andrew also acted as a kind of director/editor for the trailer- well, as much as anybody I suppose. Things like this are very much a collaborative creative effort at Valve. Mike Morasky composed the music, Gautam Babbar did a bunch of environment development as well as the killer final test-chamber in the trailer. Others contributed as well- too many to list here- since the trailer leverages a ton of in-game assets. The entire thing was rendered in our Source game engine using our Source Film Maker tool, previously used on the Meet the Team shorts for TF2 and the Left4Dead trailers. Not too shabby for a game engine render, huh? The trailer was shown at our theater style booth during the recent Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) game convention here in Seattle.

The game is an absolute blast to play (both single player and co-op), and so far it's been a ton of fun working on it. It's scheduled for release on Feb 9th 2011. The trailer is linked here, but go check it out in full HD glory on YouTube.

Monday, September 06, 2010

abAutorig part I Pyro tutorial :Animation with a moustache

Former APT student Olivier Ladeuix has put together a nice collection of rigging video tutorials based on the abAutorigger from Supercrumbly. It's a pretty good system for those who want to rig up their own characters, but may not be riggers at heart. Olivier does a nice job of thoroughly stepping through the process. Super extra bonus points because he uses my favorite TF2 character, too! (which is another reason I dig Valve- we release our rigs and assets to the world to play with. Not many [any?!] film studios are willing to do that.)

Here's his first part (there are 4 parts to the entire series).

Be sure to check it out.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Values in a Drawing- Mark Kennedy

Another great post from Mark Kennedy's Temple of Seven Golden Camels blog- this one on how to use values in your drawings to heighten and carry a scene. This has come at a very handy time for me as I'm curently boarding out a short film idea. My drawings are crappy enough as it is, so any trick or technique that can help me convey an idea is like gold from a camel to me. Check it out and learn.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On making a short film...

On the surface, this blog post from Software by Rob on surviving the 'danger points' in running a startup business have absolutely nothing to do with making a personal short film. But if you replace a few key words ("startup" for "film" for example) I think there's a lot of solid advice involved. I say this because from my experience I've found that making a short film is in many respects very much like starting up a new company. Some good excerpts. First, on choosing an idea...

But if you tend to over-think your decisions, then choosing a product idea is going to take months…nay, years. That’s right – odds are high that by the time you figure out what you want to build you could have built and launched multiple products in the same time frame.

I'm definitely guilty of this. The goal is to get something done. I often get bogged down doubting if what I want to do is even worth doing. Classic over-thinking.
And on budgeting your workload...

The first way to combat this [problem] is to have a detailed feature list and an estimate for every task on that list. This list should include marketing tasks and anything else you need to get through your launch date. This list will be large; likely 80-120 lines long. With an estimate for each item you should be looking at 400-600 hourstotal. For everything. If you’re over 600 hours you need to cut something.

Anyhow, check it out. Might be handy.


This was should have been nominated for an Oscar a little while back. And for good reason. It's really just brilliant.
(ht: Bob in the comments on straightening me out on the nom mistake)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

APT October 4- November 6

As I mentioned earlier I will be holding an Animation Personal Trainer session this fall. The dates for the class will be October 4th through November 6th, 2010.

I will begin accepting student registrations on September 1st. As usual the student spaces will be provided first come- first served. Space for this class will be limited, so if you want to get in then sometime around midnight Eastern Standard time in the U.S. on September 1st you should go to this page to sign up. The cost of the class will be the usual $995 per student. If you have any questions about the APT and how it works be sure to check out my handy FAQ page, or email me if you're still filled with questions. I'm looking forward to another fun class.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Of course you realize, this means war....

From Animated Views...

"Warner Bros. has just announced plans to bring a new theatrical Bugs Bunny movie to the screen. The film, to be a mix of live-action and computer animation, is being penned by Elf and Spiderwick Chroniclesscreenwriter David Berenbaum. The project is currently without a release date."

I just threw up in my mouth. A lot.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

upcoming APT schedule

I've had a number of folks email me about when the next Animation Personal Trainer session will be. At this moment I don't have a firm schedule, but I am expecting to have another APT class this fall. However because of my full-time job at Valve I won't be able to take on as many students as before, so space will be even more limited than usual (right now I'm thinking of limiting the class to just 5 students). So if you want to get in on the next session the best thing you can do is keep your eyes on my blog here, since this is where I will announce the class dates and when sign up will be available. I am also debating on having a portfolio review for the students I do take on. This would be a first for me. I haven't decided if that is what I will do, but I figure I should let folks know that it is a possibility. We'll see. Whatever I decide I'll be sure to make that clear when I announce firm dates for the next class.
You don't need to do anything yet, just keep watching this space for more info.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Despicable Me = +1

My 8 year old son has been excitedly awaiting the opening of only one animated film this year. Not Shrek 4. Not How to Train Your Dragon. Not Toy Story 3. No, my boy has been anxiously awaiting to set eyes on the irresistible yellow minions of Despicable Me. So today we headed over to the local movie house for a matinee showing and we were not disappointed. The thing I liked is that DM is not trying to be a serious film. They knew their bread would be buttered with appeal, humor, some action and just the right amount of heart. It doesn't burden itself with ambitions of 'weightier' themes like Pixar seems to be trying to do more of late. DM started off pretty silly and it embraced the fact that it's a cartoon pretty much the whole way. The filmmakers did try to add heart with the relationship with the kids, but by and large it felt like the relationships grew organically and it wasn't just tacked on. One or two sequences relating to those relationships felt out of place and really forced, but for the most part I liked how they handled things. And while there were a few modern animated film cliche's, they weren't insufferable and they didn't drag down the more clever bits. The minions are pure animated gold in every way. The world will want more of those. I could definitely pick up on co-director Pierre Coffin's influence on the film. I've long been a fan of Coffin's style and sensibility and it's great to see him getting the chance to shine on DM. The French animation crew did a fine job overall. There were a lot of very nice performances in the film, a nice mix of life inspired movements and pure cartoon inspired ones. The look and feel of the film was solid, even if not exactly groundbreaking. And that's fine. It's a sign that the medium is starting to settle in a bit. The film certainly never felt cheap. The designs for the most part were fun, especially some of the gadgets and the whole style guide for Gru's stuff. The Bill Gates inspired antagonist was a stroke of genius. A few of the third level character designs didn't translate into CG so well, though, but by and large the cast was appealing and well done. Some of the decorations on the rollercoaster in the themepark looked like doodle straight out of Bryan Ballinger's sketchbook. Overall it was a solid, well done film. It didn't stray too far from established formula in look or plot, but it handled most everything quite well, proving once again that ideas aren't all that special- execution is where things fail or succeed. And again, it never took itself too seriously, a wise choice that bought the filmmakers plenty of leeway in execution. I can't speak on the 3d screening quality since both my son and I get headaches seeing films in 3d, so we stuck with the old school 2d screening. Universal should be really happy with how this film will perform for them. My son's already asking to see it again.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

GIRAF call for entries

I was asked to pass this along, and I thought "Hey, that sounds interesting..." So here you go. You independent animation filmmaker types, send something in!

Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival (GIRAF)
Wednesday, Nov 3-7, 2010
at Plaza Theatre, Calgary, AB

Call for Submissions

The Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival is the only exclusively independent animation festival in Canada, with a focus on experimental and self-produced animated film. GIRAF plays an essential role in the promotion, education and appreciation of independent animation from around the world, exposing hungry local audiences to the best animated content from at home and abroad.

Important Note: Submission deadline August 2nd, 2010


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Cours Toujours

This little gem is absurd, but charming and graphically appealing. I like it!

Cours Toujours - animation short film from Cours Toujours Team on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I've tried several different sculpting/modeling programs. Z-Brush, Mudbox, etc. They all were really clunky for me and I was never able to get them to play nice with my animator brain. No matter how hard I tried I always just made tumors. Something about those programs was just.... I dunno. Not something I could handle.

Then I'd heard about this small, free sculpting tool called Sculptris. The price was right so I figured, what the heck? I'll try it. And wow!-- It is easy and super friendly to use. The interface is extremely slim and unintimidating. The program isn't bogged down with a million different modes or tools. There are maybe 8-10 different hot-keys and two modes- sculpting and painting. And that's pretty much it. I was impressed with how it automatically adds tessellation when the sculpting needs it and you don't even need to think about how that works. It just does it. But it also lets you paint to reduce the topology if the mesh gets to be too dense to deal with. You'd still need to re-topologize the model to get a rig-able/animatable mesh from this, but then you need to do that with the other more expensive tools, too. Here's the first character head I made with Sculptris. I whipped this up in a couple hours today....

And a screen grab of the entire interface. This is literally it- no other windows, menus or tabs. Simplicity personified....

I had an absolute blast making this. (I wish CG animation was as simple and fun) It's not a great sculpt, but then I harbor no delusions of grandeur regarding my sculpting skills. But for someone who has never been able to make anything more than a lumpy potato in Z-brush or Mudbox, I think this is a bit of a breakthrough. If you've tried the other sculpting tools and felt overwhelmed by them, maybe you should give Sculptris a go. At a slim 3.2 mb download it's smaller than an MP3 from iTunes. And you can't beat the price (there is a donation button on the site, though. For something so cool I just had to drop them a little cash).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Emery Hawkins interview

This isn't really a new item, but I stumbled across it going through Thad Komorowski's blog the other day. This is a transcript of an interview that John Canemaker had with Emery Hawkins back in the 1970's. Hawkins is an old time animator from back in the 'golden era'. I found his story resonated with me. He never did settle in and become known as a 'great' animator on the strength of his film animation at the big Disney studio, even though he worked there at different times. In fact he never settled down into much. By his own account he'd changed jobs 47 times in his career. He spent time doing all kinds of different types of animation. Mostly shorts and commercials. He never did work on a big feature film (until his work on the Raggedy Anne & Andy movie at R. Williams' studio at the time of the interview- and even that wasn't a smashing box office or critical success), but you don't get the sense that he felt like it diminished his career. He certainly didn't seem bitter about it. Seems he enjoyed his non-standard career rather much, actually. He spent a good number of years at Sutherland's studio doing corporate animation, and other years doing commercials. Basically he is the polar opposite of the 9 Old Men in nearly every way except in his skill. I definitely empathize with his wandering attention span. I too get bored really quickly if all I do is the same thing every day. And repeating a single style or formula of animation is also not something I find terribly interesting or fun. This quote pretty much sums up my feelings about my own career....

In fact the one thing I found that was more rewarding was working for a small insignificant studio because they just didn’t care what you did so you had an opportunity without it being cut out or altered because they had a rigid notion about something. You’d get that chance to do it.

I realized this about myself some years back and I came to see that I'd be a terrible fit at a big studio- so I stopped looking for work in one. Every now and then a person (often a student) asks me why I never worked at one of the big film studios. Like there's something wrong with me (some folks maintain it's because I'm a 'failure'. Whatever narrative works for your worldview is fine with me). But I know myself well enough to understand that it's just not my bag o' bagels, ya know? And if it's not mine, then there's a good chance that there are others out there who feel the same way. The animation biz doesn't do much to validate those outside the big film studio systems, which is kinda sad, but understandable on a base human level. It's for this reason that I find non-conformist stories like Hawkins' to be refreshing and even a little liberating.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


More than a few folks have asked recently, so I figured I'd indulge...

I've been at Valve and in the Seattle area for almost 8 months now. Life right now is glorious. The Good Lord has been very kind to me and has seen me through some pretty turbulent times over the last 10 years, but now I am blessed beyond my imagination in every area of my life. I didn't expect it, I don't deserve it, but I am thankful and I give Him the credit for it. :) Valve is a great place to work. My work is interesting every day and I enjoy the projects and the people I work with. It's challenging, fun and engaging. I'm surrounded by amazing talent and brains, people who impress, motivate and inspire me. The Pacific Northwest is flat out gorgeous country. The scenery when I drive to work is at times nothing short of breathtaking. The town we live in is great. We've found a really good church 4 blocks from our house. Our neighbors are darling people who are becoming good friends. The schools are really good and my family is happy. And again, it's not because I'm special or great or good. God is. It's all very humbling because I have some dear friends who are in some dark valleys now. I've been there and I know it may seem impossible to imagine it, but the sun does shine again. Just hang on, keep being faithful. And for those of you who don't like it when I express my faith, well... I dunno what to say. I am who I am, take me for what I am.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

new Despicable Me trailer

I totally dig the yellow minions. There's some clever gags in here, but there is also the potential for some ham-fisted handling of "emotional" scenes. We'll see- the proof is in the execution....

One thing, though, the animation looks well executed. The animators look like they had fun. Certainly not shabby by any stretch.

Note: In some browsers the embedded video might not show up. Head here to this link for a look if it doesn't work for you on my site.

new Despicable Me trailer

I totally dig the yellow minions. There's some clever gags in here, but there is also the potential for some ham-fisted handling of "emotional" scenes. We'll see- the proof is in the execution....

One thing, though, the animation looks well executed. The animators look like they had fun. Certainly not shabby by any stretch.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

might be time for a site update...

Looks like more and more of the videos I want to embed on my blog/site are wider than the 480 pixels this template is set up to handle. So it looks like my summer will be spent on a new theme that can accommodate the bigger videos the inter-tubes are serving up. Fun!

Le' Illusionist trailer

Wow, this is just so gorgeous. The new Disney Tangled trailer is lush in its own way, but my heart really responds to this on a much deeper level. I hear Sony will have an end of 2010 US release for this. I'll be sure to catch it on the big screen...

A quick summary of the story proves intriguing as well...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reverse Perspective animation

Stuff in the distance gets bigger, stuff closer up gets smaller. Trippy!

True Reverse Perspective from JMS on Vimeo.

Friday, May 21, 2010

So how far are we from stop-mo in CG?

I can't wait to see this tech develop and be implemented into some CG animation interface. C'mon, Autodesk, do something revolutionary for once. :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Crater Face

This is so awesome on so many levels. I loved the spaceman at the control panel animation- fantastic! Congrats to Skyler Page on this lovely little ditty of a short film.

Crater Face from Skyler Page on Vimeo.

Azureus Rising

For something that's not normally my cup-o-tea, this struck me as being pretty cool. Might have gone to the stock anime trope of "action-action-action-- land and hold a cool pose" well once or twice too often, but other than that, pretty nifty! Congrats to those involved.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Painting on real people

Found this via the Lines & Colors blog. This is a real person in a room...

Pretty cool, huh?

This is part of an exhibit done by artist Alexa Meade. Be sure to see her Flickr photoset of this exhibit.

Here's a similar approach by a different artist, Peter Kun Fray. (found via the David's Really Interesting Pages blog- a good blog if you're into NPR rendering. And dinosaurs. Heh)... 

Kinda blows my mind, really- and it certainly opens the door to thinking more about what is possible in CG as a medium, too.

Nick Cross' animation process

Animator/director Nick Cross (The Waif of Persephone, Yellow Cake) outlines his animation process, with lots of little video clips showing things as they progress. He's animating a new film called The Pig Farmer. A great, great blog post- especially for you guys who've never animated in 2d before. Those previous students of mine who adhere to the more 2d-centric way of animating in CG will find a lot of very familiar thinking and approaches.
Be sure to check out his other posts, he has one on his inking process in Flash, too.

John K on Cartoon Directors

Another good, fun read. Unfortunately in today's media conglomerate system this approach to animation isn't really applicable. But as things slide forward and we see more and more opportunities for individual directors or small, nimble teams I think we'll see a resurgence in this kind of animation approach. And when that time comes these ideas espoused by Mr. K. will come into play more and more.

The Impending Death of Complexity?

Very interesting read from Clay Shirky. He explores how the systemic complexity in how current visual media is made may end up being a huge roadblock that will prevent old-guard media systems from adapting to new formats and audiences. For additional commentary, read the TechDirt summary, too.

The take away for us animators? Our pre-conceived idea about what constitutes "good animation" may need to seriously shift if we want to be nimble enough to find a niche for ourselves in the coming media landscape. As horrible and unfathomable as it sounds, "good" animation production values are not a pre-requisite for successfully finding an audience. Being entertaining and appealing are. All that said, if you can still afford to make "good" animation, then I think you owe it to yourself (and your audience) to try and do so.

UPDATE:  Mark Mayerson just posted some thoughts on the same article. His insightful analysis is always a favorite of mine to read. Check it out, too.

Who knows how this will go over?

Despicable Me trailer.

This could hit a nerve and really find an audience, or it could fall flat on its face. Right now I have no idea which will happen. There's some fun stuff here, and of course some cliche' cheese, some typical snark. Visually it looks pretty solid. It's not tough on the eyes like Space Chimps or Valiant. Some nice animation, good modeling, solid lighting, fun designs. What we're finding is that by now nearly everybody knows how to make a CG animated film look pretty good. No longer there this huge drop off in visual quality one you get past the big 4 (Pixar, DW, Blue Sky, Sony). That playing field has leveled off quite a bit. Is this enough to make Despicable Me stand out and make some money? I have no idea. Interesting times.


I'll be doing a number of posts rapid fire today- catching up on stuff I saw while on vacation. First up.. Sonar by Renaud Hallée. Just so clever and cool.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Elk Hair Caddis - fun short film

Lotso, lotso fun stuff. I really like the feel of the real life miniature sets. Animation is a fun ride, too. Love the deforms and the shapes in transition. Definitely see the Meindbender influences (which is a good thing). Enjoy!

And here's a really neat "making of" video that shows some stuff. Fun rigging, too.

Congrats to Peter Smith, Magnus Moller and the whole crew.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Logorama? Seriously?

I won't even bother linking to it. I found it too banal to even comprehend. It didn't even do a good job of parlaying any indepth social commentary. "Let's make a bunch of cartoon logos play out a hundred bad cop film cliche's. And add an earthquake! Yeah! Awesome!" That's about as deep as it went. Maybe I'm just a grumpy old man...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Squiggle Line Tutorial

It's been a while since I've had enough free time to do anything with my Otto & Schmitty characters. But some time back I posted a little snippet of a squiggle line test animation. Since I don't know when I'll have the time to pursue this idea further, I thought to myself- Gee, why not share how I did it and see if somebody else can do something cool with the technique? I really couldn't find a good reason not to, so here it is- a quick and dirty tutorial on how I came up with the toony 'boiling ink line' look in Maya.

First, animate your character. The trick- throw away all those fancy animated goodies you've fought so long and hard to learn how to do well. The secret to success in this approach is not technical fluidity and super fine detail work. Keep it simple. No Moving holds! Seriously. Lock those poses in flat. And don't worry too much about smooth f-curves or flowing motion. We're emulating a rougher style, remember? I found the less polished the curves the better the results. Oh, and I usually do this at 12 fps, not 24. So be sure to set your time settings appropriately. Here's a good example of what I mean.

And here's the f-curve editor just so you can see. There's nothing fancy in here at all. Just solid blocking basics, really. Poses, good breakdowns and maybe an ease if you think it's needed. Maybe.

Second, apply a non-realistic looking texture. I'm including a link to one I made here. This was an earlier, simpler version of what I finally ended up with for Otto & Schmitty, but it's enough to give you the basic idea. Again, we're not out to make it look real- so one of things I focused on was breaking up that nice, smooth gradient of light to dark that is very common in CG materials. A flatter appearance is key. Here's a quick snapshot of the hypershade node tree. My final one on Otto was actually even more complex. Who knew being simple would prove to be so complicated?

Once we have the color and the simple animation, let's put the secret ingredient- the wobbleDeformer. This is a plug-in deformer that you can download for free from (formerly What it does is simple- it wobbles your geometry over time. You'll need to go to your Windows > Preferences > Plug-Ins dialog to load the plug in. Once you have it loaded , select your geometry, go to Create Deformers > wobble Deformer. You should notice your geo gets warped some. Hit play or make a playBlast and you'll see the geometry wobble. (hence the name). The default settings are kinda mushy, so we'll push things a bit to roughen it up. Try bumping up the Frequency Scale and the Time Frequency for the wobble deformers attributes in the channel box. Also, if the deformer is making things wobble too much tone down the Space Frequency X, Y and Z and maybe the Strength, too. Here's a quick sample of the settings I used for this example....

OK, so it wobbles pretty good. But that's not enough. It needs some ink lines. So now what we want to do is add some ink lines to this. We'll use Maya's built in toon-line features. Select your mesh and add a paintFX toon line. Be sure to turn on Show Strokes in your Display menu so you can see them in your viewport. Here's a quick render of what the toon line looks like right out of the box....

Meh. The typical CG curse of perfection. We can't accept the toon ink line “as is”. We need to break the line up. Let's push it some. The primary issues are that the line thickness is too thin and too even. Fixing the thickness is easy. Just select the pfxToon object in your Outliner, then adjust the Line Width attribute in the channel box. Pick something that looks good. There's no magic number really.

Fixing the uniformity of the thickness is a bit trickier. For this we'll use a 2d Noise texture and pipe it into the LineWidthMap attribute. In your Hypergraph make a new 2d Noise texture and then connect it's outAlpha to the LineWidthMap of your pfxToon using the Connection Editor. (I'm not walking you step by step through that process- I'm assuming you know how to do these things. They're pretty basic.) Anyhow, the default Noise is a good start, but we can adjust the settings to get the best effect. A good example would be what I did for Schmitty...

Here's how that looks.

Better, but still not what we want. The thickness is non-uniform alright, but it doesn't change over time. So what I do is animate the Implode attribute on the Noise texture. I use a 4 or 5 frame cycle animation on it. Vary the settings from roughly -0.5 to 0.5. By doing this the Implode value will cycle for as long as your animation is and you'll get good results. Feel free to make the cycle have more frames in it, but 5 is a decent start. Here's how that looks...

Much better. But one obstacle remains. CG is really good at keeping perfect forms. The object is wobbling and the line thickness is changing, but the line is stuck right to the edge silhouette of the geometry. If we can get the line off the geometry that'd be pretty cool. Easy enough- just do the same Noise texture trick on the Line Offset Map attribute and set the Line Offset attribute to something noticeable. Make another Noise texture (or duplicate your other one), adjust it's settings to be different, animate its Implode values on a cycle and connect its outAlpha to the Line Offset Map attribute on the pfxToonShape. Here's the result....

Pretty cool- and that's pretty much all there is to it. There are other variations you can play around with. You could put the pfxToon on a duplicate object that has a slightly different wobble deformer setting on it but has its primary visibility disabled so all that renders is the toon line. This way the the color geometry and the ink lines aren't wobbling at the same frequency or amount, further adding some random organic-ness to the thing.  And you can put more than one pfxToon on the object, too. With that approach you get the effect of multiple ink lines of varying transparencies and thicknesses and noise- maybe to emulate rough pencil lines. You can also put a noise texture on your color shader and animate that to break up the shading on the main part of the geometry. I'll let you and your imagination figure out ways to expand the concept. Here's a quick example of multiple ink lines and the hidden duplicate object technique...

Lastly, you can download the Maya 2009 files for you to mess with (here and here). Just remember- you'll need the Wobble Deformer installed for these to work properly.

Anyhow, I hope folks find this interesting. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Madame Tutli Putli

Madame Tutli-Putli is a visually striking stop-mo short film. Very moody. I love the eye work in this. They used an interesting technique of compositing photographed human actor eyes onto the puppets. But it's not  just a straight up projection of filmed eyes. The film is loaded with very solid choices about what to use and what not to use. The attention to the important details they have is amazing. A lot is made of attention to details in animation these days- mainly because the advent of CG allows us the bandwidth to explore such high frequency detail data where before we were limited by the medium of choice. But it's attention to important details that is key. If you don't differentiate between important and unimportant details you end up with a lot of useless, technical fluff. Like empty calories, empty detail in an animated film drags things down. Anyhow, this was nominated for an Oscar in 2007, I believe.

Friday, February 05, 2010


I've been away, busy with a big cross-country move and the new job at Valve (which is going awesome, by the way!). Thought I'd come back with a post highlighting this really sharp short film. I love so much about this one. Enjoy!

More info at their website...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Help the Hodges

I'm putting the word out because I want folks to help Tim Hodge, a trusted friend and a wonderful soul. From his blog...
As many of you know, my son was in an auto accident with a train back in August. He has still not regained consciousness, but is doing a little bit better each day.

As you may not realize, our short term insurance expired in September. The rest of the family could renew, but Matt became a pre-existing condition. So Matt's healthcare since that time has all been out of pocket. Vanderbilt Hospital was gracious to us and forgave our six figure debt to them. But Matt's ongoing care and future rehabilitation is still in the balance.

To help off-set these costs, several friends in the animation and comic world have put together an auction to start on January 21 on ebay. There are several prime pieces that have been donated. Go to to see more.

And thank you!

Even though this has been very sad and it makes my heart heavy, I've been blessed to witness how their family is dealing with this tragedy. Their strength, courage and faith in the Lord through this nightmare has been humbling & inspiring. My heart breaks. So please, help them out.

Big Story

Not sure how this flew under my radar, but I'm glad I caught it all the same. I came across this from a new post on Jamaal Bradley's Pencil Test Depot blog (great blog, by the way!) The animators Tim Watts & David Stoten roughed the animation in pencil first (see it here on Pencil Test), then animated it stop-mo. Here's the final version....

Too fun!