Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How do I learn to Animate?

While critiquing a students work it gave me the idea to explore how I and others learn animation and what sort of information would I have liked during the early stages of trying to be an animator, I though of some general advice that might help.

1.       The absolute best way to learn animation right now is online, Whether it is from Animation Mentor (which is where Iwent), Ianimate(run by a lot of talented people at Dreamworks), or AnimSchool(Mostly Blue Sky dudes).  The reason for this is that the animators you learn from and get feedback from are the ones that are making the multi-million dollar films that people are going to see, they are in touch with the needs and wants of animation studios and know what a person needs to succeed and can provide you with all that information.  They are well equipped as well, you won’t be rigging, setting up lights, worrying about things that have nothing to do with the specific craft of animation.  The assignments are structured so that you start off simple and nail down the principles of animation(you better know those)  and gradually it gets more difficult as you learn.  Not only are they a great place to learn but they are a great place to network and meet other people online that are doing the same thing as you.  The online community is great and is a very big reason for me getting opportunities at my last two jobs.  People search for potential employees through these places and knowing someone who went to the same school creates a common denominator, not to mention the reputations of these schools for putting out fantastic animators is great and growing all the time.  Taking Animation Mentor was the single best investment to my animation career.
2.       Go back to basics, a ball bounce or a ball that has two legs and feet, animate a walk with the character then try to do an animation that shows an emotion, if you can pull it off with a torso and legs you are on your way.
3.       Keep It Simple, you will hear this constantly, clarity in animation is key, keeping it simple is there to avoid the, “now what’s he doing?” line which sucks to hear. 
4.       Buy the animatorssurvival kit book if you haven’t already, this book is fantastic and breaks things down very well.  He has a video series based on the book which is filled with amazing information too, but it’s expensive.
5.       Always Model, Rig, Light, Render, Composite, and Animate your own work, WRONG!  Again, if your focus is animation, then animate, there are a lot of free sources online for rigs and models for you to use, here is one that is great, CreativeCrash.  Whatever software package you use, they have a pretty good mix, simple models are better for learning, less controls to get caught up with.
6.       Start creating your online presence and always update your work.  Luck is when preparation meets opportunity, you never know when a potential employer drops by your site or has an opening.   The point is, be ready.
7.       Use live action reference, video tape yourself doing the movement, whether it’s a walk, run, sitting down, turning, whatever, use it as a template to study the posing, weight, and nuances.  The idea is not to just copy the reference but to understand the movement of the character so you can accurately interpret the movement.
8.       Critiques are a huge part of what we do, so listen, learn, and don’t take it personal if someone is hard on your work, we sometimes tend to be so attached to what we are working on that someone putting it down feels like a direct insult and it is easy to get defensive, a good critique though can come from anywhere and anyone, you don’t have to be a pro animator to notice when something isn’t right.  I have shown my work to my wife only to be pissed that she saw something that I missed.  After some pride swallowing I killed that part of the animation and did it over so that is was much more clear.  Sometimes it takes deleting whole sections of your animation and doing it again rather than try to force what you have in to place.
9.       Animate, Animate, Animate, always be animating and learning.
I Hope this helps, and keep at it.  There are very few people that get to do what they want for a living and it’s because it’s not easy, so they quit somewhere along the way.  If you work hard, listen, and always be learning along the way you can’t go wrong.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fantastic Superman Fan Film.  Love the style and especially the backgrounds, reminds me of the Batman Animated series from the 90's.  Lots of character in the whole thing.

Last "Meet The" short from Valves Team Fortress 2, Awesome

Great talk with Mark Andrews, Director of Brave, can't wait to see the movie.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Success as an Animator

From Animation Mentors Tips and Tricks comes some very insightful words from former Pixar animator and Co-Founder of Animation Mentor, Bobby Beck.  He gives six short but powerful lessons on what it takes to succeed as an animator. 

Only recently have I felt like I am succeeding, for the past four years I have done freelance animation off and on working on some cool projects for Discovery Health, Nasa, and PBS Kids Hooper Interstitials.  These were all fantastic I felt like I was finally going in a positive direction, but with freelance your project only lasts for a short while and before you know it you are looking for work again.  If you can't find work in your chosen field then that means you have to go elsewhere until you can.  My resume might look ridiculous if I put the none animation type jobs on there; 2 months at Dominos Pizza as a driver, 3 months at Petco, another 3 months at Staples, a month and a half at some art supplies store, 3 months canvassing people around every Whole Foods and Trader Joes in LA County(sorry for being that guy but thanks for the donations).  Each gig lasted only 2 or 3 months because I would be doing freelance in-between.  The pattern went; start a job, get a freelance gig, quit said job, end contract on freelance, try to find more freelance and if that didn't work start a new job doing something to pay the bills.  I always put energy into whatever job I was doing I but never lost sight of why I went to school and what my dreams were.  I guess I can't say I never lost sight because there were times when I thought it would be great to take a soul sucking yet financially successful job and try to live a comfortable life.
 I felt better when I landed a yearlong contract position with Firaxis Games.  This was my first time working on video games and was a dream because i used to be the kid sitting around playing games going, "Man, it would be so freakin cool to help make games for a living."  And it was and is way freakin cool.  This was still a contract position and I knew in one year I would be out on my butt again looking for more work and by now the cycle was getting really old.  I also had a new born girl grace our lives with her presence and the idea of going back and working for $9.00 an hour was/is terrifying.
She wants a pony
Also, when freelancing typically your most recent work is your best, BUT, it is agonizingly normal for you to have to wait 3 months or up to a year or more to be legally able to show anyone, including possible employers your latest work.  I would have a 3 month gig working 10 or more hours a day the whole time and when my contract was over I now have to look for work again.  Well job hunting while doing a project that demands that much of your time and energy is tough to say the least, but you also don't have any new work you can show throughout that time, so you are now relying on old work that got you the first job to hopefully get you a new one.  Anyone that has ever looked for a job also knows how long the process can take. 

Knowing this, I did what I could while working for a year at Firaxis to try and be as impressive as I could at my job while developing new, personal animations I could show to potential employers when the time came to start looking for another job.  I was also determined to not wait until my contract was over to start the job hunt.

As it turns out it did pay off and I am now hanging up my freelance shoes and beginning a new part of my career as a Full Time Animator at Bethesda Games Studios. This feels like success to me and the two biggest reasons why I was able to get here, #2. Be Thirsty and #4 Never Give Up.    I owe much of that to my wife who was there to push and inspire me when I felt uninspired and lazy.  Wherever you get that drive, whether it's internal or external, hang on to it and keep pushing until you are were you want to be.          

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Animation Breakdown

This shows the evolution of one of my shots from blocking to spline to final.  The idea of the shot stayed very much the same though out the whole process but the animation definitely improved the whole way, largely due to the some great friends at Firaxis Games Studios giving me feedback.

This is early blocking, just sort of getting the idea on paper and also getting used to this character and rig.  Trying to find what poses work and what shapes you can create.  The camera is just temporary but it actually didn't change too much since the angle seemed to work for me.

After hitting the spline button things start to fall apart.  I think I wanted to get to spline early just to try out a new workflow, it's a lot like trying to mold a wet piece of clay where you work on one part and the other side is sagging due to gravity so you have to continue to massage the whole thing until it comes together.

After some revisions and feedback I have a more clear idea of where to go and an exciting finish so it doesn't just stop with his yelling petering out.  I was actually trying to avoid putting in the extra time and effort of having him run off screen but the feedback and push I received really helped, thanks Justin.

This was were I felt the shot really came together, I was hesitant about adding the jump at first because the idea came late in the process and it meant re working a lot of what was already there but again my man Justin was convincing in his critiques.  I sometimes have a tendency to play it safe and it was just the thing to really push this.  Add in some facial animation and the character really starts to come alive.

Final Animation and Lighting:

Monday, April 23, 2012

If Animators Worked Like Mechanics:

I don’t know about you but I hate taking my car to the mechanic.  It’s this feeling of being taken advantage of due to my lack of knowledge of car repair and the cost that comes along with it.  There is a lot going on under the hood and in the dash and behind your wheels and under the carriage. They could easily explain that to get this to work, you gotta buy that,, and on top of that you’ll need this too.  It always feels like one thing after the another.  Likewise, if I were to explain animation to someone who was not versed in the lingo and the details of what it takes to actually make an animation, then I would have the upper hand when they walked into my shop/desk and asked for one.    

I wonder, if this were the case with animators, how would it go?  Well every animation is different but they all need to have the principles of animation to work, right?  Nope! There are lots of examples where professional animation is shown but there are a lack of principles, potentially due to time, budget, or ‘style.’ Hanna Barbara’s style of animation was derived from a lack of time and budget. but nevertheless was a style of animation.  So, the idea is to charge per animation principle.
I imagine it would go something like this:

“Looks like you’re missing some S&S in that animation. I could get in there and clean it up but this particular animation will need quite a bit to work correctly,”  

“Uh, okay.”  

“And for that to work properly, I am going to need to fix your Timing and Spacing. You see, if I just threw in some S&S without addressing the Timing and Spacing, there’s no guarantee it will run right and you won’t (cant?)get a warranty on it.”

“How long will this take?”

“That depends. I could go in there Straight Ahead, but I won’t be able to give an accurate estimate. I could do Pose to Pose. It’s more predictable but a lot of times it ends up looking too pose-y and lacks a good Follow Through and Overlap, which is extra.  The best way to go, -- this might run you a little more, but it’s what I would suggest- is doing a mix of Pose to Pose and Straight Ahead Animation. It comes with the Follow Through and Overlap and will get the best end result.”

“It doesn’t need to look that great. It just needs to work.”

“Well you want strong Staging and I would suggest adding Appeal to the animation for it to really work.  Appeal is a tough one and takes some time so your rate will go up, but if you add the Arcs and Anticipation package, you could save %10 on Appeal.”

“I’m afraid to ask, anything else?”

“One thing that will really help with your weight is Slow Ins and Slow Outs. You see all body parts use Slow In and Out. This helps give the illusion of weight. If you don’t have it or if it’s done incorrectly, it can lead to floaty animation and I would expect you to be back here in another couple of weeks asking me to fix it.”

“I guess I need it then.”

“Good choice. Should be ready in the next couple months. I’ll give you a call when it’s finished.  Now do you want this done in 2D or 3D”