Saturday, March 28, 2009

Carlos Baena Casablanca thinking (oct. 08)

Doh, the whole point of this blog is to collect things so I don't have to go hunting elsewhere for them, but I couldn't find this post of Carlos Baena's from last October analyzing thought in Casablanca, so I fail :( ah well, now I'll have it for next time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Vindication: screw that 1 axis at a time stuff :D

So I was starting to get the feeling that I was the only one who just grabs the limbs and moves them where I want them. I've never had trouble with gimbal lock, and it takes long enough to get these CG puppets into good poses as it is, but since everyone apparently thinks it's a good idea to rotate 1 axis at a time I was going to beat my head against for another try.

But aha! I come across a Cameron Fielding post and bing he says I can ignore it, yay. Just rotate in local mode (which I have been doing unknowingly anyway) and run Euler filter if there's a problem. Just do what you want and let Maya play math by itself. Thank you! I just want to animate, I can learn all that technical stuff, but I only learn as much as I need to get back to what I care about, the animation.

The elegant solution is the correct one. (a lesson I have to keep relearning) in other words: do what feels right for you.

(another example of that is that I finally got that "block a ton of poses" workflow to work for me, I had dutifully tried to apply it before (Animation Mentor is a big fan of it) but it just dragged, but finally watching some Jason Ryan webinar's it clicked and now it's easy and flows and is fun and not tedious)

You'll be more productive doing what feels right to you, then doing what is supposed to be the 'right' way. And if your being more productive you'll get yourself further along the path until maybe you can see the 'right way' from an angle that it makes sense to you. Do whatever helps you get the most keyframe miles under your belt fastest.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Patrick Boivin

Found over at lineboil

Patrick Boivin is that dude who made the youtube streetfighter videogame pretty clever, nicely animated. What I like most is he just does it with clay, helping hands (those little pincer things) and action figures, getting right to the animation and sidestepping the arcane arts of armature and model making, but of course sidestepping right into the arcane arts of greenscreening and matchmoving. Self taught, the guys got mad animation skillz.

looking through his youtube gallery I realize I have already seen some of his directorial stuff over at Openfilm which I mentioned back in September

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bloo, flash animation tutorial

Eric Pringle, director of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, has a good bye to the show message on his blog with a pdf tutorial of how to animate Bloo.

found on Cold Hard Flash

Monday, March 9, 2009

Animation Punctuation

WAS WATCHING SOME OF MY OLD ANIMATIONS YESTERDAY WITHOUT SOUND, AND IT OCCURRED TO ME THAT JUST LIKE TYPING IN ALL CAPS. Or using an exclamation point in place of every punctuation mark! You stop feeling it! it all just blends together! and you can't really appreciate when you do make a point! There was an 11sec critique that mentioned this! !Nick Bruno!

But basically, if everything is at 100% then you don't feel it. Specifically every accent I was hitting big with a big pose change, a big reversal in line of action a big arm gesture a big facial change, and without sound I couldn't tell where the point of the shot was, it all just blended away. So in the future I plan on deciding on what the heart of the scene is (operative word) and then dialing down all the other sub accents so that the main accent grabs the most attention.

learning all the time.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Eric Scheur has put up a really great article on blocking over at 11sec club. Why we do it, what we hope to accomplish, and how we go about accomplishing it, good to know, good to review .

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tons 'o Mel Scripts

Couple sites full of scripts that look useful.


Aaron Koressel

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vid Ref: I am Second

Looks like some kind of Texas christian group of something. But lots of testimonial type vid ref for emotions. I Am second

Found by my friend (who will probably always school me in animation :)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jason Ryan Newsletter Q&A summary

Jason Ryan amazing animator from Disney and Dreamworks, put together some tutorial videos you can buy, and some webinars where you can watch over his shoulder as he animates. He has put out newsletters since he got it into his head to do this tutorial thing, I copy pasted from the newsletters to here so I could have it all in 1 place to read, instead of opening a ton of emails. His site is, his webinars are available at somewhere in one of thoses sites I'm pretty sure theres links to his free rampup tutorials and the newsletters.

I heard that you never use the Graph Editor?

This is absolutely not true. I HARDLY ever use the Graph Editor. When I started learning 2D animation back in Ireland in 1990, we were just taught to use our eyes for arcs, spacing, timing, slow ins and outs, overshoots, opposite actions, anticipations, secondary actions, overlap, follow through, squash and stretch and when you become familiar with these techniques and principles you apply them to every single shot and situation. The use of the graphs really doesn't come into the equation except for setting my Keys from linear to stepped for pose tests and from linear to spline when I've broken down my performance.

I know some amazing animators that can animate solely with the curves and don't ever need to directly manipulate the rig. I think this is amazing but way too technical for me, I'm a simple man with a simple way of working.

I heard you bend time to animate 25 feet a week, Is this true?

Yes it's true, I can bend time. I guess once you're used to a certain production work flow that helps you solve animation quickly, to do 25 feet a week is actually not that difficult. For this very reason, I chose to animate five foot shots (80 frames) for all the Intermediate Tutorials. These are the broadest body mechanic type shots that I could think of. The idea of all my Tutorials, even the acting shots in the Advanced section is to animate each of them in a day. So if you disregard the time it took to do all the designing, boarding, recording, animating, editing and producing the Tutorials, it took eighteen days to animate eighteen shots.

What is the expected output required from an animator on a feature film?

This seems to vary from studio to studio, but from what I hear the average is around five feet a week which is 80 frames. This doesn't sound like a lot but when you bring a supervisor and a director into the mix suddenly your first pass on a shot doesn't quite fit in the movie. So you almost have to get your five feet done in a day, at least the blocking stage any how so they can buy off on your initial ideas.

How clean should my drawings be if I'm just using them for Maya reference?

Only clean enough to solve the performance.....check out my Stick Figure Tutorial above.

I had some great questions on live action reference and how often do I use it?

I don't use reference at all unless the character is hyper realistic - this is not because I'm oppossed to it, quite the opposite. I'm a big fan of research for animation. I usually just use a mirror to feel out the motion and then caricature it for my particular shot. One thing that I do like to video is pupil reference and how it effects the lids when darting around. This is very hard to act out in a mirror. When I have tried to act out shots for more cartoony characters like Chicken Little it ended up looking weird, like a guy in a suit. So I have found by just acting it out I can sense what feels natural then exaggerate it for the shot.

I'm an experienced 2D animator but I want to break into the CG world. Isn't Maya very technical?
Maya can be as technical as you want, but it doesn't have to be. I was a 2D Animator for five years before making the transition to the CG medium and have been working in CG for the last thirteen. My workflow is exactly the same way I animate in 2D. I start with the golden poses, break down the motion into keys, breakdowns, animated inbetweens and tweaked computer inbetweens. The main difference with animating on the computer is that you can't cheat what's happening away from camera. So you have to make everything work (not necessarily read) from every angle.

What you will see in my Tutorials is a rough 2D pass of all my shots in Digicel Flipbook. This file is then easily imported into Maya for reference and matched with my CG Boris character. I basically use Maya as a cleanup and refinement tool. When I try to rough out shots directly in Maya it always ends up taking me longer because I don't know what poses I want to play in the animation and the shots meander with no point to them.

Using Flipbook completely frees me up to experiment with different ideas, performances and timings because I don't have to spend more than twenty seconds on any drawing.

I'm terrible at drawing, can this method work for me?

In short, yes. Believe it or not, 2D animating was actually a struggle for me. I could animate my own characters in a snap, but when faced with characters that were not my design, I found it very difficult because I had to rely very heavily on model sheets. So I steered away from animation that wasn't on the model sheet.

As a 2D animator, you have to understand the construction and drawing style of the character as well as the performance. Now when I approach my 2D stage, I come up with a stick figure short hand for my character and work with that. I'm not trying to animate on model but rather work with lines of action and paths of action in a simplified way then use Maya for my cleanup.

Every director I've worked with loves this method because I can come up with a blue print for my shots very quickly. A big plus is that you're not going to get possessive over a shot that you've only spent an hour on.

How final do you have to take your Stick Figure pass in Flipbook before moving to Maya?

I keep my work very loose and rough. There is no point in bringing your work to a cleaned up phase before you solve your performance. Just make it clean enough for your director to see the blue print for your shot. To illustrate this, I roughed out an action shot on a moving background, this is not from anything in particular, I just wanted to animate something fast and broad to show you how I would plan out a chase shot.

How many anticipations / broad breakdowns should I put in a shot? The more that you learn about animation the more you will find that all the rules, approaches and principles are just meant as a guide to add life and spark and are not carved in stone. There really is no limit to what you should or shouldn't do, it's what ever feels right for that character in that particular shot. If one big broad anticipation works for your shot, don't ruin it by putting in three or four breakdowns. You may also see some broad cartoony shots of Wile Coyote doing five or six breakdowns on the way to his main anticipation just for sheer entertainment sake. The main point is that everything that you learn, from the timings, spacings, arcs, overlapping actions, opposite actions or anticipations can be adjusted and manipulated to suit any shot no matter what the style of the animation.

How close should I match my stick figure drawings with my Maya pass? This is an excellent question. In order to answer this I thought I would share my first experience of showing an animator my workflow.
When I was in Disney a number of years ago, I showed a guy my way of working and he flipped, in a good way. He immediately went back to his desk and started animating his shot. Now this guy had really rough drawings, he had mentioned that drawing wasn't one of his strong points. In an hour or so he called me over to his desk to show off his first attempt. His drawings were super rough and way off model but I could tell what he was plannig instantly. I gave him some feedback and gave the go ahead to flesh it out in Maya. A few hours later I stopped by his desk and noticed that he was matching his off model drawings too well, by distorting the character rig. I stopped him and said what you need to do is use Maya to clean up your drawings, not use the drawings as set in stone but rather as animated thumbnails to get your idea's worked out and get your performance solved. When you get to Maya, then use what you worked out as a jumping off point, find your solved golden poses, refine those first and then break it down while refering back to the stick figure pass. It's more about taking your thumbnails and animating them rather than running your eyes back and forth over one sheet full of drawings to foresee if the animation will work.

How clean should I work?
I just work clean enough to show my director my plan for the shot. The reasons why I do a flipbook pass rather than going straight to Maya are simple, it doesn't take as long as CG to block, it's more organic, you won't get possessive over drawings that you scribbled out in minutes, you'll also set Management's mind at ease for quota and you'll be that much closer to an approval.

How long should we spend practicing each Tutorial?
I would spend two weeks practicing each Tutorial. Familiarize yourself with all the techniques and principles. If you are a more experienced animator you may only wish to purchase an intermediate or advanced Tutorial just to see how I would approach more advanced shots.

Approach in 2D vs 3D {okay not really a question but I needed this paragraph from the previous}
When I approach animation, I'm really only covering the complexity level that is expected in a high level feature film. In CG, with all of the dimension, textures, lighting and motion blur there is a sophistication to the look that requires a certain finess. For instance, a held cel in a Road Runner cartoon can be a complete freeze frame for a second and then a raise of an eye brow or a fast tilt of a head is all you need to complete a thought. In feature level 2D or CG, we would rather work in a moving hold or a trace back to keep the character alive rather than let the character turn into a photograph or a still drawing. You'll often here suspension of disbelief, bringing the audience into the character so that they forget that's animated and just enjoy the ride. When animation doesn't feel right the audience may not know what's wrong, like the timing or spacing, the sheer body mechanics or what, but they'll feel something wrong and therefore will be taken out of the moment.

Can you explain what on 1's, 2's, 3's, 4's etc means?

These are confusing terms because you will see them explained in several animation books in different ways.
If an animator is keying out a shot or blocking in his main poses on 4's, this means that there will be a key drawing or pose on every 4th frame. So starting on frame 1, the next key will be on frame 5, then frame 9, 13 and so on.

In traditional 2D animation we would usually get away with a drawing every 2 frames (on 2's) to give us smooth motion. The drawings would then be held or exposed for two frames each to make up the 24 frames per second.

If there was a moving background in the shot, we would have to animate on 1's (a drawing on every frame), because a background moving on 2's would strobe like crazy. If you add animation on 2's on top of a background on 1's your screen is likely to explode, kind of like crossing the streams in "Ghostbusters". So our animation level would have to match the frames of our background in order to lose the strobe effect.

Now here's where it becomes a little confusing. In CG everything is on 1's automatically, there is movement (not necessarily a key) on every frame, so where does the 2's, 3's and 4's come into play?. In the blocking stage you will still pose your character on certain frame numbers. If your keys are placed evenly every 12 frames, then you are animating on 12's. If you chose every 8th frame then your animating on 8's. If you pose on frame 1, frame 12, frame 15 and then frame 24, you are now animating from 11's, to 3's, to 9's and so on.
These terms come from a traditional 2D pose to pose / straight ahead work flow. 2D Animators know instictively what the spacing should be if the timing is evenly placed on 4's, it's a comfortable time frame to start with and then retime later to refine the speed of the performance. When you see me place drawings in Flipbook or pose a character in Maya on 12's, 8's or 4's, this is just part of the timing process that will be refined and inbetweened at a later stage.

When I supervise animators work, their animation may feel a little slow in certain areas, so I may say: "instead of keying that action on 4's, let's speed it up to 2's to make it twice as fast". This means the posing and spacing are fine, I just want the animator to retime the poses closer together in the xsheet, graph editer or timeline to make the action happen faster.

So if that wasn't confusing enough, when talking about cycles there is a frame language too. Most standard vanilla walks are 24 frame cycles, animators will say that this cycle is on 24's.

If they did a four legged run cycle that was 9 frames long, they would then say it was on 9's. In both these cases, they're just refering to how many frames the cycle takes before it starts again.

What is a typical week like as an animator at Disney or Dreamworks?

The usual required output by big studio's is about five feet (80 frames) a week. This may not sound like a lot but in reality you have to block that out in a day in order to get it signed off and approved by the end of the week.
Let's say you get a shot on a Monday and it's just been issued to you by your director. You go over the basics of what the shot in the sequence is all about and the basic drive of the character. You are provided with the layout animation, the background, the camera position and an audio track. All you have to do is conceive of an original performance and try to have something blocked out to show the director the next morning in dailies.
We have dailies most mornings were everyone shows their work in progress in the studio theatre. We do this to get initial reactions from the director as well as from your peers. It's also really good to see if everything is reading on the big screen. I think maybe five or six times in fifteen years, I knew exactly what the director wanted and animated my first idea and got it approved that same day. This is however not the norm. Usually you will block out your first idea, run it by the director get some notes in dailies and depending on the severity of the notes, you will have to either re-conceive or re-jigger your initial animation. You will show again for the new concept or the addressed notes later that day or the following day. Depending on the outcome of that, you may need to reconceive again or else further refine. Then show again for the third concept or first pass at overlap, facial and body animation refined on 1's. You'll need to show again for any last tweak notes or worse case scenario, the shot may be taken off of you and handed to someone else (this rarely happpens). This is really why I like to rough out my concept(s) in 2D first and show my director in walk through time on the Monday afternoon for initial notes. Based on those notes, I'll go ahead and tackle the CG version and just polish it up for the rest of the week.

What type of shots would you want to see on a showreel?

Cover a wide range of performances, don't limit yourself to one style. Animate cartoony, naturalistic, subtle, broad and also tailor it for the job you're applying for. If it's a creature show then maybe more naturalistic physical shots would be better than Tex Avery style animation.
This is also the only time in your career were you get to do all the great shots. When you work on features you will have to animate shots that you may not like, so if you have a shot in your head that you would love to animate, really design and animate it now. I always wanted to do those crazy chase shots with moving cameras were the characters are running, diving, skidding and tumbling. Make your reel entertaining, like a trailer for a movie, make us want to watch it and want more. All the shots don't have to be minute long epics either, some could be 50 frames long. All you have to do is prove that you can animate. I like to see a variety of shots - some full on physical shots showing weight pushes and lifts, shots with characters walking around convincingly so they're balanced and have an emotional state and purpose, some pantomime acting of a character breathing and thinking, and some really broad and subtle dialogue shots. I would be really happy seeing two minutes of great animation over five minutes of cycles and mediocre shots. Last and most importantly, only put your best work on there. If there is something weak, be brutal and yank it, it will drag the overall quality of your reel down.

What guides you to know how many frames to put in at your timing / spacing stage?

This is a fantastic question - you will always want to try different spacing and timings. The best way of learning experience is doing. Each new piece of animation that you do, you will learn by trial and error and store that experience for later use. So many times I will try a random frame amount and get a result that I never thought in a million years would work. This is part and parcel of the learning process. I'm still learning and will be for as long as I'm animating. This is also one of the reasons why I'm did these Tutorials, it's great to remind myself of the fundamentals and to put my own theory to the test. It may look easy when I'm animating, but that's mainly because I have a lot of experience. Please don't feel like you have to get it right first time. In fact, most animators that get it right first time are pulling from a bag of tricks and have stopped learning or plateaued. Believe me when I say that in the last 5 and now 6 Tutorials we have covered about a years amount of animation knowledge and apparently more than three at some colleges.

How do you get a twist or tilt in the hips and shoulders of the stick figure?
The simple answer is I add a center line for twisting and if shoulders are needed then I just add them. The main thing that you have to keep in mind is you're just trying to solve your performance in a short hand way, not just copy them exactly. When I go into Maya, I use my stick figures as a jumping off point and refine them and push them with the CG rig. On Friday lunch time I scribbled out 2 model sheets of some poses and expressions that just came to mind. Feel free to download and print them out for reference. Click the image below and view, download them the same way as the Rampup Tutorials.

How far do you go in Flipbook for your every day
planning of shots?

This is an awesome question because what I'm doing in my Tutorials is different to what I would normally do on a daily basis. I'm going into a lot more detail in my Rampup, Basic and Intermediate Tutorials because it helps to explain how I break the actions down. When I approach my Flipbook stage on feature shots, I just do the bare minimum to get the blue print of my performance across to my Director. This usually means just animating the Goldenposes and a few breakdowns to show how I'm going to transition from pose to pose. The more animation you do, the more experience you will gain. After a while you will start to develop an eye for what will work and what won't so the animation that you'll need to solve ahead of time will become less and less. In the Advanced Tutorials, I approach these shots as If they were production shots for Dreamworks or Disney, so I don't need to break it down as much or inbetween it. I just do enough to get the performance worked out, then I leave the finer finesse, moving holds, staggers and tweaks until I get to the Maya stage.

In your Maya work flow, do you use stepped, linear or splined tangents?

It really depends on the shot, most of the time I use them all.
However, at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter what tangent type you use as long as your shots look great. I have heard at certain studio's they actually ask to see the curves to make sure they are clean. I personally couldn't care less what the curves are doing unless there's a weird glitch that the animator can't smooth out. My workflow usually starts out with a linear pass to block out my Goldenposes, then I switch to stepped mode to playblast it. By switching to stepped mode, I don't get confused by the computer inbetweens so I can see my pose test very clearly. After viewing the playblast, I'll switch back to linear and continue posing my keys and breakdowns. The reason I switch back to linear is because I may use 40% of what the computer gives me, but I'll translate, rotate and/or scale the character to what feels right. After I finish poseing my breakdowns, I will then switch back to step mode to review the animation again. If everything looks okay timing and spacing wise, then I'll switch everything back to linear and playblast it once again to see the computer inbetweens in action. After viewing the mechanical inbetweens then I'll start refining my animation. If it's a very subtle shot of a character just sitting there breathing then I may animate straight in Spline because I'm not too worried that the computer will overshoot. If it's a super cartoony action, I may keep it Linear all the way so I don't get those crazy splines overshooting all over the place.

In one of my original newsletters, I mentioned that some people like FK over IK and vice versa, some people also like to work straight ahead right off the bat instead of pose to pose. The main thing is that the principles are exactly the same no matter what way you pose out your shots. I've never seen anyone in the theatre stand up and say "that guys curves are all over the place" or "his workflow needs some attention", they just see your performance.

I have however witnessed people say "that animation was really bad or that looked so fake", but that has nothing to do with workflow.

I wouldn't for a second tell anyone that my way is the only way to work, it's just the only way that works for me. It allows me to show my director a blue print plan for my shot, and then they can have their say at any stage of the process. If tweaks are needed, it won't cost me days of tedious fixes.

How did you get your start in animation?

I always loved animation but this was not the career that I applied to art school for. I had originally set my sights on being a Graphic Designer, you know, a "real job". Actually even before considering art, I was planning on becoming an Accountant. Holy cow, am I glad I changed my mind on that profession, I mean not that there's anything wrong with that ......

After graduating from school in 1989, I took a year off to work on a portfolio, so I could apply to my local Art College.

In that same year Disney Animator, Dave Brain had set up a curriculum at the Art college. He looked at my portfolio and liked my line quality, he said "why don't you try animation for a year and if you don't like it, you can always switch back to graphic design". So I thought to myself, I could either get paid to make labels for boxes or animate cartoons for a living. Ever since my first test of a really bad bouncing eyeball with veins, I loved it. It was like my art was brought to life. It's funny that before animation, I used to spend ten or more hours on one drawing, rendering and getting the shading just right. These days I spend about a minute on each of these little stick figures but I feel like I'm getting more feeling out of them because they have an urgency and an energy to them that my renderings never had.

Do you think animating in CG is harder than 2D?

I think both mediums have there own challenges but I think in CG because of the technology, more thought has to go into the planning stages of posing the character. In my stick figure 2D pass there is no rig, deformers, values or speed hits so it's really easy and organic to do your initial rough pass. Take my Rampup Tutorials, I'm not overly concerned about proportions, drawing on model or subtle finesse, all I want to do is solve my ideas for the character's performance. However, in feature 2D work, my stick figure pass would require a new sheet of paper placed on top, or a new level appended to draw in the details. Special attention is needed to make sure the character is drawn on model, accurately in perspective and that the facial features are not sliding around.

In CG, you are limited to what your rig or software can do as far as shape manipulation and you are also limited to translating, rotating and scaling one object at a time. You really have to think about what, where, when and how you are going to animate your character at the beginning stages of the shot because it could paint you into a corner if you don't make the right decisions. This is another reason why I do a Flipbook pass first because it allows me to really think about what controls I'm going to use and when to use them ahead of time.

When transferring my performance from my Flipbook pass to CG, I first take the main keys and pose them taking into consideration how the "Z space" effects the positions. You have to make sure that the arcs are working in every direction. I concentrate on making the animation read to the camera view most importantly, but I also want to make sure that the "Z space" translates and rotates of the character are working in all directions too.

Often I see mid shots of characters from the waist up and notice they'll be walking in a weird way. I'll ask the students, "Did you animate the legs walking or sliding?", 7 out of 10 times they'll be sliding across the room with the body just translating up and down. Now because the legs are sliding, the student does not know why the weight shifts of the hips and body are not working. I always tell students "Even if you don't see the legs, at least get an idea of where the contact, squash, passing and overshoot poses are and this will solve the weight issues". It's the same with arcs that may not be apparent from the Camera view but it is always better to work your animation out without cheating the "Z space" because the chances of throwing off shadows or motion blur will be greatly reduced.

Why are you doing this?
The intent that I had was to create a very friendly, simple website that could be used as a source of learning for animation to students all over the world. I tried to make it with as little cost as possible, in order to offer it to you for as cheap as possible. I really took into consideration that some people around the world don't have either the money or means to go to animation college. In my view of colleges these days, it may be different from place to place, but it seems like the students are just being told the theory and pretty much left to your own devices to learn this craft by themselves. Animation is for the most part a trade, there are no complete naturals that just pick up a mouse or a pencil and get it right first time. It's a skilled profession that uses observation, techniques and principles like any other trade. There are Animators that are natural actors and make it look easy but they also spent so much time experimenting with their animation and learning from their mistakes. When I was learning these techniques and principles, I found it so much more helpful to watch and learn from someone with experience than listen to theory and read books describing motion. I used to frame by frame through animation from the past and try to work out why they did certain things on certain frames and also went through and counted the frames of the character's actions but I never knew how they actually started these mind blowing performances. I sometimes equate Animation to learning how to fish, you could get a book on how to fish and look at the figured diagrams or you could actually go out with an experienced fisherman and watch and learn from him as he talks about reeling back and casting the rod and actually catch a fish.

I talked about what inspired me to get started with the site in the last newsletter but I also wanted to mention why I was motivated to do this for myself and for students. I had visited a number of colleges through the years and I watched so many lack luster showreels come through the doors that I asked to be part of a college tour to see what the students were being taught. To my horror it seemed like students were either left to learn by themselves or the critiques that they had been given directed them in such poor ways that it left them with a huge student loan and next to nothing to show for it. This really angered me because I saw students sacrificing so much but not getting the information that they deserved. I think students should ask the colleges, "What has the Mentor done to date and what makes them qualified to teach Animation?". I know I've talked about a bunch of times and how it is the only school I recommend. The reason is a no brainer, you need to learn animation from professional animators not from people who just know where the buttons are. I think that's as crazy as learning how to do plastic surgery from someone who has never performed the procedure but knows where to get the tools and what they do.
The reason I took time off to do the Tutorials was really to fall in love with animation all over again. When you do your own animation there is so much freedom of choice that you don't have to run your shots by anyone - you are the director, you get all the juicy shots and that is something I haven't felt in 15 years. There is also something magical about creating your own character from scratch, from the initial concept all the way through to getting him textured and giving him life. Don't get me wrong, I love animating on feature films and being part of history, but at the end of the day you are a small cog in a big wheel and every now and then it's nice to be part of something special and teaching for me is inspiring and makes me a better Animator.

How would you recommend viewing and learning from the Tutorials?

This is an awesome question because the Tutorials could easily be mistaken as just how to approach these shots in particular, but the intention is to show you how I approach animating. Before viewing the Tutorial, I recommend that you take a stab at animating the shots, jotting down the problem areas that you are faced with. Then view the Tutorial with a pencil, paper and a nice cup of coffee. Write down principles and techniques that seem new to you, pause the video and draw the Golden poses, Keys and Breakdowns etc. Then shut the video off and try to complete the exercise using your notes. I would recommend viewing one Tutorial every two weeks but you can absolutely fly through at your own speed.

What do you think are common mistakes made by first time animation students?

I think students have a tendency to want to jump right into doing the most difficult shots ever. It's kind of like when I was first learning how to play drums, I wanted to start off playing "Iron Maiden" songs (I still don't have the chops for those yet). My drum teacher beat that attitude out of me pretty darn quickly. He taught me the rudiments first, just on the snare drum and then once I knew how to play them right handed then we ran through the same rudiments left handed. At the time I was thinking "what the heck is he doing?" but after a short while I realized he completely doubled everything I knew about drumming. Animation is exactly the same. Spend time to really study the Basics because all the rules, techniques and principles of animation are all in there. When these are mastered, all the principles will become second nature and you won't even have to think about them. There is so much frustration in learning animation that some students throw in the towel too early, they're afraid of making mistakes. Chuck Jones said "we all have about 30,000 bad drawings inside, all we have to do is get the bad drawings out of the way to get to the good ones". Jeeze thanks Chuck, I'm probably around the 9,000 mark.

How much time do you spend in the graph editor?

I guess it really depends on the style of the animation that I was trying to achieve. In cartoony animation, I have to say that I rarely used the graph editor. When I started working in CG back in early 1995, we had our own in house animation software that didn't have a graph editor. The characters and software were super basic but animating them was so simple. After that I got hired by Disney to work on Fantasia 2000, The Steadfast Soldier segment. We was using Alias PowerAnimator, the graph editor in this was so horrible that I refused to work in it. Then we moved to Softimage for Dinosaur, I think because of the naturalistic motion I used maybe 20% of my final polish in the Graphs but only after I had really nailed all my keys and breakdowns. After Dino, I worked with Eric Goldberg on a project called "Magic Lamp", this was the Genie from Aladdin in CG and 3D stereo for Tokyo Disney. For Magic Lamp, we were using a very early version of Maya. I used 0% of my time in the graph Editor because the animation was so cartoony and the rig was so complex that I almost had to set a key on every frame to get the feeling of the Genie's animation. I animated a couple of shots of Lumiere in CG while supervising on Philharagic and then animated about twelve minutes of Chicken Little himself and both used maybe 5% to 7% in the graph editor. I always found it easier to scrub through and animate all my own overshoots, slow ins and outs by eye, especially with fast snappy cartoony actions. I also use more of the linear approach which forces me to treat the scenes more like traditional animation so I have to dictate to the computer what arc I want the keys to follow.
The in-house software that I'm using right now doesn't have scrubbing, multi-selects or pickwalking so I am finding that I have to use the graph editor in order to trouble shoot arcs and invisible walls. To summarize, in my previous Maya experience, I maybe spent 7% of the time in Graph Editor and now about 50%. I still Flipbook my shots and go with stepped Goldenposes, Keys and Breakdowns, then go into spline mode and then tweak the curves.

If there was one principle that you think is really important what would it be?

Wow, that is a tough one. I think "Spacing". I think so many students seem to think "Timing" and "Spacing" are the same thing. Spacing is something that I'm constantly thinking about when I'm posing my character. If I had to put the principles in order of my workflow it would read like this:

I start with the thought process for the concept, then onto Staging, Pose to Pose, Exaggeration, Spacing and Arcs, Anticipations, Opposite Actions, Squash and Stretch (in body poses) and then Timing. After Timing, I would probably take a Straight Ahead pass through every limb and body part making sure it's flowing, that some parts are stopping before others and that there is a nice sense of Follow Through. I also may add in some Secondary Actions if needed. Once the body and facial is done, I'll layer on some squash and stretch on head, cheeks and jaw area.

Lastly, I animate the Drag, Overlap and Follow through. There's probably a ton of details in between but that's generally my order of attention when approaching a shot.

Do you do thumbnails before going to your flipbook stage?

It's funny that I got this question right after I started to prepare a piece of animation for the Sweden trip. For regular production shots, I really don't do thumbnails on one sheet of paper per say, I like to animate my thumbnails in flipbook so that they are actually based on movement and performance rather than individual still drawings. The only time I do still key drawings is in the storyboard phase of production. I know some animators that are fantastic at capturing everything in a thumbnail sized drawing, I was never really good at that, my miniature drawings always felt stiff.

I really like to shoot a background image from Maya and import it into Flipbook and draw full scale stick figure poses on a separate level to the background. This really helps me draw my character in the right perspective because you can easily see what your character looks like in relation to the rest of your environment.

For longer pieces of animation, I draw storyboards that would be considered thumbnails, this is where I'm sorting through all the possibilities for my characters acting choices. These drawings are very quick scribbles of ideas or gags that the character may run through, but very much a concept at this stage. Nobody would be able to decipher these scribbles, so when I narrow down the piece to where it's making sense then I'll jump into Flipbook to do a fleshed out storyboard that almost looks like Golden Poses for the shots. I'm not committing myself to the key poses for the shot, but rather just nailing down the business for the performance.

What are beats or phrases?

The simplest way to think about beats or phrases is, any major change in emotion or attitude in a shot or sequence is a beat or a phrase. So say you have a character, he starts out happily walking down the street, he's minding his own business, someone from behind steals his wallet, he is shocked but his shock turns to anger as he runs after the Thief. This could be broken down into three phrases or beats - the guy happy, then shocked at being mugged and last angry.

Do you ever use video reference?

This was an awesome debate that we had on the 11 second club. Anyone who has not joined the 11 second club forums please do, there is so much great information getting passed around.

I think if I was doing super hyper-realistic animation I would probably shoot myself acting out my shots. For things that I can't physically do myself, I would research those actions to see how they're done and analyze the motion taking notes about the Timing and Spacing. I'll draw what I see are the most important keys and breakdowns and then run back to my desk while the motion is still fresh in my brain. Then I'd try to push those poses to suit my particular character.

For more caricatured characters, I like to just act it out and sense what's going on. I'll then exaggerate the feeling of the movement so it doesn't just mimic my body's performance. I like to think that my character is a better actor than I am, and for the most part they're in better shape too.

I do think studying frame by frame, any sort of live action, is a fantastic way to learn about locomotion. Animal locomotion has to be studied if you are to do believable actions. If I'm given a task of animating another four legged character I would certainly surround myself with books on animal locomotion and any sort of wild life nature show.

How much footage is expected of Animators each week?

This seems to differ from studio to studio but I think the average that is expected of an Animator is somewhere around the 80 frames or 5 feet a week (16 frms to a foot). Now if you are doing a super complex shot with a lot of physical contact compared to a simple head and shoulders shot, then more time would be allowed to the animator with the high complexity shot. This may not seem like a lot of time but really you have to get this blocking done in a day in order to get your concept approved. This is the main reason I "Flipbook" my shot first, so that I don't invest too much time into acting choices that haven't been approved by the Director. Using the "stick figure Flipbook" stage means that I can experiment with different concepts in minutes rather than hours or days blocking something out in CG.

In the Tutorials you animate almost every frame in Flipbook before you go to Maya. Isn't this like animating the shot twice?

This is an excellent question because in the Beginner and Intermediate sets I do animate everything on one's and two's. This is really just to illustrate to students that are new to animation exactly what the 2D workflow is all about. I break it down this way so that when it comes to cleaning up the animation in CG, that the animation is based on solid choices and not just letting the computer do all of the work. In the advanced Tutorials however; I only Flipbook the bare minimum to work out my performance as a blue print to show my Director. This way I'm not going to waste valuable time roughing out ideas in CG that have not been approved. When I animate the shots with a simplified stick figure form, I can quickly experiment with different ways to solve each acting choice for my shots. Every Director that I have worked with so far has really loved this approach because they get feedback really quickly. They can also relax and know that they have seen the blue print and know that the acting choices have been well thought out.

How do you decide on your Timing?

This concept really confused me when I was beginning animation. I always thought of Timing and Spacing as being one and the same but later finding that they are very different.

This is the way I look at the two principles. Anything that moves on the screen is Spacing, how fast the performance is played back is Timing. When you look at all the other principles, they just describe motion. When I approach shots, I usually take a rough guess at how much time I need to sell each idea in the shot. Each story telling pose or golden pose will be held for a "Window of Time" like a story board pose. This window of time needs to be long enough to sell a story point to the audience. The important thing to remember about this window of time is that it doesn't take into consideration the amount of time you need to get into that pose, how much time you'll need to get out of that pose and lastly, how much time you have left to play that pose. Once I have my story telling poses, I will then need to break the animation down to further define this window. After I animate the transitions to and from each pose, then I can work on the Timing a little more because more information will be there. It is very true to say that Spacing is one of the first things that I try to solve and Timing is something that continually evolves throughout my process.

How much time do you recommend spending on each Tutorial?

I would spend at least two weeks on each Tutorial. I also
recommend viewing one Tutorial at a time, studying it with a note pad and every time something strikes you as important, pause the video and write it down or draw an example. After viewing it once or twice then try the Tutorial yourself without the video. When animating the exercise, try to write down notes about problem areas that may arise. View the Tutorial again with your questions fresh in your memory, again write down any new insights you may have missed before. Try not to jump ahead because there is a danger of missing some vital information in the beginning that could cause confusion later on in the intermediate and advanced Tutorials.

Experiment with the same shots, try different spacing and timings to see what results you get. Do not get discouraged, animation is built from experience. The more mistakes you make, the better you will become. If you get it right first time, you probably won't learn as much. In eighteen years, I think I hit a total of four shots on my first pass.

If after viewing any of the Tutorials you still have questions about something that could be clearer, you can either email me at: or send a message from the "CONNECT" section's feedback area on the JRA site. I will answer every email that I get and if there are any common questions I will answer them here on a newsletter.


$10 each, or $99 for the set
1) From concept story boards, animatic to rough animation. (Aug...Done)
2) Four Legged walks, Straight Ahead V's Pose to Pose and the combination of the two. (Sept...DONE)
3) Character walks, dealing with weight, balance and personalities. (Oct...Done)
4) Acting while walking and turning, letting the emotional state take over. (Nov...Done)
5) Dialogue while walking. (Dec...Done)
6) Expressions and Lip Sync tips. (Jan...Done)
7) Moving Holds and the subtle approach to shots. (FEB...Done)
8) Multiple Character Shots. (MARCH airing on the 21st)
9) Multiple Character physical interaction shots. (APRIL)
10) Very Broad Action Shot using a CG camera move in Flipbook. (MAY)
11) Taking the above shot and looking into the different stages of the Flipbook to Maya conversion. (JUNE)
12) Animating to music or a big QA session (JULY)

Fundamentals of Animation 3 two hour webinars, $30 total (can't buy individually

e will offer the following 3 ways to purchase the Tutorials.

1. Price per Tutorial
You can purchase the tutorials separately.
Basic Level Tutorials are $40 each.
Intermediate Tutorials are $80 each.
Advanced Tutorials are $100 each.
2. Price per Level
You can purchase the Tutorials by Levels (Basic, Intermediate and/or Advanced). The breakdown per Level will be as follows:
- Basic Package - all 6 Basic Tutorials costs $200 (this will save $40).
- Intermediate Package - all 6 Intermediate Tutorials costs $400 (this will save $80).
- Advanced Package - all 6 Advanced Tutorials costs $500 (this will save $100).
In other words, if you purchase all the Tutorials in a level, you pay for 5 Tutorials and get the 6th one free.
3. The Whole Package
You can purchase all 18 Tutorials together. All 18 Tutorials cost $1000. In this case, as well as getting the level discount you would also get an additional $100 off, a total saving of $320.

The Boris Rig is also available on the site for $30. He is located right under the Tutorials in the login area. Boris is fully rigged and comes with his own GUI picker, pickwalking throughout the entire body and facial controls, auto stretchy limbs, ribbon controls, keyable IK and FK, auto aligned head and so much more.