Animators by day Animation teachers by night.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Great Cast of Characters

As you know, Splinedoctors are Pixar Animators by day and Teachers by night in SF at the Academy of Art. We have been teaching there for quite a while now. Our students have been doing great and getting jobs at all of the top studios. We are almost done with the semester, so I wanted to showcase some of the students work. This particular assignment is a one person dialog test. The students take the model and work with a line from a movie or tv show. We focus on character, acting, facial animation, polish and so forth. Thank you to Morgan and Leif for creating the new model for this semester.

Life animation by Ian Wilson
Billy animation by Adrian Sairin
The Second Road animation by Ken Kaiser
Christmas Is Coming animation by Johnathan Mangagil
This Isn't Spain animation by Albert Hass
A Great Talent animation by SungJin Ahn
Gorgeous animation by Jae Hyung Kim
I Was Fun animation by Guilherme Jacinto
The Truth Is animation by Thomas Zach
Purgatory Lounge animation by Miko Coedel
History animation by Timothy Reardon
Who Loves Youanimation by Yoon Hee Kim
Don't Touch Those!animation by Denis Tong

More to come...Stay tuned.



Thinking about a shot

Billy and I get a lot of questions about how do you get good acting. Well we can't really answer that it's subjective and also relates to your inherent ability to act. But there are tips for how to help you come up with acting choices.

Here is an example of the things you might want to be thinking about when approaching a shot.

The Shot
Character at a bus stop and he just missed his bus.

All the stuff you need to know to animate this shot.
• What is the story point of this shot?
• Why does this shot exist in the film?
• What is it you are trying to tell?
• Who is this character?
• What was the character’s emotional state before he/she got to this shot? In the Sequence and film?
• How does the character feel about missing the bus?
• Where did he/she come from and where is he/she going?
• What time of day does the character arrive at the bus stop?
• What is the weather like; cold, hot, windy, rainy etc?

Answers to questions like these will help you start to understand the character and their appropriate reactions to situations like a character missing his bus. These answers start to help you build your performance, the character’s acting. You start having things you can act out that make sense rather than just hitting a bunch of standard poses that don’t relate to the character’s current emotional state and situation.
The first thing I do, which I think is super important, is I try to capture all of the above questions in one frame. I create my story frame or my KEY, Golden drawing, whatever you want to call it, and then determine what else needs to be in the shot to get the story point across. Less is more.
There are a million more questions you can ask yourself about any shot these are just a few to help get started. What questions can you come up with?

Dr. Stephen G.

More Milt Thumbnails...

Here is another amazing page of Milt Kahls thumbnail drawings for his work on The Rescuers...
When I think about how good these drawing are, it makes me really want to plan my work out as much as he did.



Saturday, November 26, 2005

Clip Of The Day

"The Power of Old People"
If you haven't seen this clip you're missing out. Great performances all around.

Google Video Rocks.


Dr. A

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Watching what's around you

Animators by nature really have to notice how things move and how people act. What are some really good ways to access good "reference" For one, I think an animator should be building a digital morgue of clips that inspire them. Make a set of folders and just start putting stuff in them. Takes, walks, runs, facial reference, sad, happy, heavy light etc etc etc... The point is, you are putting stuff away, so that you can reference it for later. So how do you get the clips. I used to use a dazzle, but I am looking into Tivotogo. As soon as the software becomes available for a mac, I can hook my tivo up to a network and start building a good library. Aside from capturing clips, what are some good things you can do to get interesting mannerisms into your work. Here are a few:

1) family - Everyone has that crazy Aunt, or creepy uncle. Looks for interesting manerisms
2) Everyday people you know
3) The Airport - Its a great place to people watch. All the people coming and going and greeting each other
4) Look at people reacting to things
5) Zoo - for the animals and the humans...
6) Weather - look at how forces affect things and study the footage.
7) Focus in on a topic when getting footage. Maybe you want to film how people gesture down in Little Italy or how someone walks on a cold day as opposed to a warm one. Notice the details of how they hold themselves
8) Film yourself, but don't get tied down by it. Always look for other choices....

Happy thanksgiving,


Friday, November 18, 2005

Want To Really Learn Something About Animation?

Go to Animation Meat.

This site has been around for a while, but it's information is so helpful to both the student and professional animator that it is worth posting. For those who don't know (or are too busy or timid to click on the link) Animation Meat is a collection of animation news, notes, handouts, model sheets, fun facts, practice assignments, and what-have-you covering the history of animation. Pretty much all you need to know.

Oh yeah and it's free.

Happy reading-

Dr. A

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Scared Straight... Off Balance

One of my students, Ben Kerr found this fine montage of people being scared by practical jokes. The interesting thing with most of these clips is that the people react the same way. Sure the patterns of movement differ, but most often The "victim" of the practical joke loses there balance.
Next time you have to animate a take think back to the extemes of surprise shown here. I'm not suggesting you animate the character always falling down, but I think we can take from it at least one thing. When frightened, our brain processes things in a certain order.

Brain's Thought # 1- Yikes! Let's get away from that which frightens asap.

Brain's Thought # 2-
Falling! Must try to catch our balance.

Brain's Thought # 1- Ooof! Too late. Sorry about that pal, but that really freaked me out. I mean damn, I really didn't see that coming.

The reaction time is so quick that the need to flee and the need to not fall down compete directly with one another. It's as if when scared, our body naturally falls down for comedic effect. Weird. Also I think that the cats are funny.

Watch out-

Dr. A

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Broadcasting The Inevitable

This clip has been around for at least a few weeks, but even if you've seen it I think it's worth a second look. It's a terrific example of clear broadcasting. For those that aren't familiar with the idea of broadcasting, it is the foreshadowing of upcoming events. Think of it as another kind of anticipation. Broadcasting informs the audience of a character's intent. A good example of this in a scene would be having a character doing practice gestures with a dart that it will eventually be throwing at a target. This action communicates the idea that the character is taking his/her time in aiming the dart in an attempt to hit the target as best they can. It also is a good opertunity to show the thought process of the character.

These small broadcasting gestures can give your scene suble hints of authenticity and hopefully a relatable element of truth. As with most things in animation, broadcasting can be overused or executed poorly, but in this clip it is handled masterfully.


Dr. A

Milt Thumbs....

An Animator from the ol' days stopped by with some really great stuff to show us. His name is Chuck Harvey. Chuck was an animator at Disney for 8 years and trained under Ollie, Frank and Milt. He collected alot of great things for the purpose of teaching. I taught a class last summer and Chuck was also teaching. We were able to produce 3 animated films in just two weeks at the CSU Summer Arts program. One was a traditionaly animated film using a package called mirage to animate and color it. Its a good piece of software for paperless animation. It kinda reminds me of Deluxe Paint 3 for the Amiga. Anyone remember that?

Enjoy the Milt Thumbnails. These are only some of them...
In a later blog, we will discuss thumbnailing as well as have a good interview with Chuck.

Milt Thumbnails
CSU Summer Arts
2-d Film produced at Summer Arts (Bass Akwards)


Monday, November 14, 2005

Student Film

I just thought I would share an excellent student film. Ben Willis was a student of SCAD where he studied character animation and created some very fun and entertaining short films. Just thought I would share my favorite of his Quark.

click here to see quark!


Dr. Stephen G.

School follow up

This is a follow up to my previous post about animation schools.

I have been hearing about this Idea of being generalists or a specialist for a while now and I'm not sure either of them is right. It really depends on what you want to do, and how you classify them. Learning Story, Design, Drawing, Animation, and filmmaking does not make you a generalist these are directly related to a career as an animator. I consider myself not just an animator but also an animation filmmaker. Everyday I help make films; my job involves meeting the story point for the given shot. To do this I need to know where that character is emotionally in the overall story of the film, and also where the character is emotionally in a particular sequence that shot is in. These things give me clues to the acting needed to tell the story. Animation is all about story telling and story telling doesn't end in story. All the way down the pipeline until film out the story is what drives the whole production. Story to Layout, then to animation, on to lighting, and at last film out, everything is serving one thing the Story. Even Modeling and Rigging, Art Direction, Character Design, and Shading all serve the story. No decision is made unless it serves the over all story of the film. So having a good understanding of story and filmmaking is invaluable to us as animators. Our job is not to just to move things around it's about being able to communicate the Directors vision to the audience in the most simple and clear way. Design and Drawing are tools that help you as an animator do your job of serving the story better. Having an understanding of drawing even at the basic levels helps posing, design, your knowledge of anatomy and your ability to observe. Design is important to the overall appeal of your shot; composition, posing, staging, and movement are all effected by design. In the end we are all creating 2D animation, the final images are flat so design is super important to that final image. As an animator having an understanding of good design, and story telling may give you more room to move around with in the studio, allowing you to work in story and the art department. So this Idea of a specialist while a good idea doesn’t mean just learning maya and moving stuff around. There are other skills that are required to truly becoming a great animator.
The idea of having to know modeling, lighting,etc. really depends on the studio you work at. Working at feature film studios things tend to be more segregated. Animators generally just animate, so having an extensive knowledge of modeling, rigging and lighting are not as important as just being a good animator. Although as productions become more complex animators are getting more involved in the process of modeling and rigging. Working in video games is the complete opposite where knowledge in the whole process of modeling, rigging, shading, and animating are all important, since the animators do more than just animate.
I say cover you bases and choose to specialize in what you want even if the school isn't set up for it. You want to be an animator then focus on that, but learn the other stuff just don't spend as much time on it. Get in see how it's done don’t become an expert and move on to animating. When it comes to making films, make films that show off your character animation skills. Do short character pieces rather than huge epics or foreboding art films. They don't have to change the world. Heck they might not even have to be done, choose the parts that have the most character animation in them and finish those first, and leave the rest story boards. It's up to you to choose your own direction you can't leave it up to a school to do that for you.

Dr. Stephen G.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I Say- Good Show, Very Good Show.

JG Quintel's "The Naive Man from Lolliland"- has got to be my favorite animated short of the year. I first saw it at this past years' Cal Arts Producers' Show. There were many good films, but this simple story about a Lollypop in a restaurant blew me away. I spoke with Quintel after the show and he explained that he conceptualized, recorded, and boarded the short in 2 days. He then spent the rest of the semester cleaning it up. I think this process is part of why I like the film so much. There are some raw drawings that are really funny and tell the story just as well as some of the more polished animation. The result is something rare in animation- a feeling of spontinaety. Quintel owes a lot to voice actor (and fellow student), Sam Marin who provides textured and nuanced vocal performances. The vocal track sets the stage for some gems of acting to be mined, and thankfully Quintel takes full advantage. His animation is confident but never inapropriately showy.

This short is weird and not for all tastes. But for me, it's pure gold. Not since Naploeon Dynamite has there been so many memorable lines. "Let me get my billfold", "Bad Show", "Gentleman I take my leave" and countless others than I can't help but chuckle when I think of them.

I do hope that one day "These United States" and The Naive Man from Lolliland can become friends.

He're hoping we see more films from this amazing talent. Good Show.

It's featured on the third Animation Podcast from Channel Frederator(about halfway though)

The rest of the podcasts can be downloaded here

Dr. A

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I Suck

We all say this at some point or another. Every animator I know gets to a point where he or she thinks they lost it. "I'm no good" I aint got anymore frames in me" "I am a fraud"... and so on. To tell you the truth, I think this is healthy behavior for an artist. To think that you are great and don't need improvement is obviously the death of an animator, or artist for that matter. Maybe this is why animators beat themselves up so much. People ask, "how do you get out of that period where you just cant do anything right???" Here are some things that sometimes work for me...

1) Exercise - think of your shot while you are on the treadmill
2) Get someone good to look at the shot. A lot of people around here have 5 goto guys and gals they ask to look at their shots. Its always great to get a fresh perspective on it. Resist your urge to not show your crappy blocking to a fellow animator. Sometimes they can be the spark that lights you ablaze!
3) Start over. Sometime you just need to wipe the slate clean and begin again.
4) Try Angus's 30 minute technique.
5) Watch some inspirational material
6) Go back and plan out your shot. Video ref, thumbnails etc...
7) Get someone to smack you in the face. or, cold water will work to break you out of the hell you have been in....

Anyway, animators go through the animation doldrums now and again. Don't let it drag you down...
Now back to my shot which really stinks.... :)

By the way, I read a cool book about an artist trying to stay inspired. It was called
Ranier Maria Rilke: Letters To A Young Poet - great read, and short...

-Dr. Gordon

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dean Wellins Interview

Ok, here is another great interview from Mike Wellins book "Storytelling Through Animation" In this interview Mike talks with his brother Dean about many things including Story. Dean is currently the Head of Story at Disney on American Dog.

If you like these interviews pick up Mikes book on his website

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Shot Surgery

Got a problem area in your shot that just isn't working?
Afraid to change the shot for fear of wasting time or destroying what you have accoplished?

Presenting Dr. A's 30 minute solution.

Step 1: Save your work
Step 2: Record (and save) a playblast recording
Step 3: Spend 30 minutes on selling new idea
Step 4: Record (and save) a new playblast recording
Step 5: Compare recordings and decide which one is best

If the new version isn't better, you can go back to your old version knowing that you only took 30 minutes.
If the new version is better, you can proceed knowing that you only took 30 minutes to get there.

Hope this helps.

-Dr. A

Monday, November 07, 2005

Animation Schools

We Doctors get asked all the time what school should I send my kid to or where should I go to learn animation? That’s a tricky question. Many schools offer animation as a subject or degree not many of them know what they are teaching. Too often schools think that teaching animation is just a few classes in learning maya. I’m not going to get into which schools I recommend or which to avoid, to be quite frank I don’t know every schools program, I was just going to give an overview of what I think you should look for in choosing your school of choice. This might have a feature animation slant to it since that is where I currently work and the perspective we currently teach from.

First off I would look at location. Schools that you would have the most success at are going to be located near the industry your interested in. These schools being located near feature animation studios, or game companies most likely have teachers that may be currently working in that industry. Teachers that are currently employed in the industry are key to your success as a student. Currently employed teachers are up to date on the current production needs, pipeline, process, and emerging techniques used today. Plus they are working where you want to be working, whom else would you want to learn from.

Second look at the schools alumni. Where do students who graduate from this school or program eventually work? Ask yourself if these are places you would like to work? Let’s say many of the schools graduates wind up being employed at EA or other game studios but rarely has a graduate that works in feature animation. Does this fit your ultimate goal? If you want to work in video games this school would be the right choice, but if feature animation is your goal there might be better options. It also works the other way around if video games are your goal than a school focused of feature animation might not be the right fit. The other advantage of good alumni is networking; it really can make a difference.

Third look for a school or program that is well rounded in all aspects in the Art of Animation. Animation is not just a technical application. Animation is an art form and going to a school that respects animation as an art is generally better than a school that focuses on technical demos. Drawing classes, story classes, design classes are more important than any maya class. Maya is a tool that can be learned on your own but drawing, design, and story are things that are best learned through a knowledgeable teacher/mentor. A school that teaches story, design, and drawing as part of your animation education is one of the keys to finding a decent animation school. We all know there are plenty of people who can run maya and move things around, but there are fewer animators who are capable and knowledgeable in design, drawing, and story. Finding a school that is more concerned about the art of animation and continuing its legacy is a hard thing to do but in the end you’ll be better off for doing it.

Fourth sometimes you may not know what it is you want to do in animation, but you know you want to work in the animation industry. Animation is a very broad term, which can include disciplines such as lighting, modeling, rigging, texturing, layout, and animation. Some people may think they want to do animation but really want to rig or model characters. If you’re unsure what you want to do going to a school with a year of good foundation but then specializes in your area of interest might be the best way to go. That way in the first year you can sample everything to see what your really interested in and then you can focus on what that is later in your degree path.

Fifth if you can go and visit the school and sit in on classes, this will also help you get a better understanding of who the faculty is, and how the students like going there. Sit in on a class and see what they are teaching. Animation deals with critical critique more than lectures. Learning animation is about application, getting notes and then re-doing and re-doing. This is why teachers that are currently working are so important. Teachers coming into class from a full days work at an animation studio have animation soaked into their brains.

Online vs. Brick and Mortar? I think the previous list still applies to this question, except location.

I don’t know if this helps but it might to some of you. Education is all about what you put into it, you get out of it. Even if you’re being taught by Frank and Ollie and your not applying yourself your not gonna get very far. So even if your at a lack luster school it doesn’t mean you cannot have success, it’s all about you the student and how bad you want to learn animation and want it. Animation can only be taught so far before the student has to become engaged and want to learn. It’s about hard work and discipline. The only reason I got to PIXAR is through following the process I talked about above and then working my butt off. I wasn’t the best student, but I worked hard and I wanted all my life to be an animator. By hard work I don’t mean I did all the assignments, I lived it. I lived at school animating, and learning, which I still do ten years later, just now I’m getting paid to do it.

Dr. Stephen G.

Oh Crap, I posted!

Dr. Billy here... yeah I'm a little late to the party but hey what can I say, It's against my nature to read blogs much less actually post to one. But for the sake of solidarity with my fellow practitioners and those of you who subject your cerebral cortex to irradiation I'll do what I can.

Those pesky principles:
In golf its said that a short putt has a 100% chance of not going in the cup. Similarly a scene coming up short on the principles has a 100% chance of sucking. I can hear you already, "Dear god, not the principles again! Won't you give it a rest, I just want to animate."
Dr. Stephen & I get this response from students all the time... it cracks me up because, in my opinion, its not animation without them. They're the building blocks on which you not only construct the foundation of your scene but they can also can describe character, emotion, intention and keep the attention of the audience exactly where you want it.
I kinda see it like this: Until you get out of blocking & you start getting things on arcs, overlapping the elements, making room for the anticipations, squashing & stretching to show weight & mass, exaggerating a liitle more or a little less and working tirelessly to squeeze appeal out of the character... your not animating, your just moving stuff around.

Just like in a recipie some scenes will rely more on one principle than another. Look at your scene, think about how you can get more out of the scene by really focusing on a principle that will elevate the scene. Just beware though... the principles dont take lightly to being exploited & will exact their revenge by making your scene unwatchable if you go too far without good reason. I believe that when it comes to the principles you should always be looking at the scene & asking yourself "what's left, what's missing'... and when in doubt just start going down the list.

The best resource for understanding the principles can be found in chapter 3, in the book "The Illusion of Life". I know that there are other publications on the topic which have much more elaborate illustrations describing these concepts but I like to always return the source. Sometimes fewer illustrations & more thought provoking text can be just as educational.

Shot Polish

I wanted to post this very small list of polish techniques that I do which was previously posted on CG-Char. There is a link at the bottom of the page. Polish for me, is so many different things. After you get your shot out of blocking, it can be said that you spend the rest of your time putting the polish on it. Things like getting the physicality correct, working out the arcs, getting that "computery look" out. Polish is so much more than pulling tangent handles in the spline editor. It really has to do with making your shot cross that line into the realm where it becomes Alive! I'd love to hear what people have to say about this. I am putting a class together on the subject, and it is always great to hear what people are thinking.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Tip of the Day!

Stop moving!!!!! So much Crap around. Animation does not equal move everything all the time until the end of your shot.

Dr. Stephen G.

Make Your Own Flip Book

A former student, Simon Christen sent me this link. It allows you to draw and play flip books directly onto the browser. Very cool.

Dr. A

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Exclusive Glen Keane Interview

Friday, November 4th

A friend of mine, Mike Wellins, wrote a great book on Storytelling. Its called Story Telling Through Animation. The book has some really great interviews with artists and animators such as Glen Keane, his brother Dean Wellins and many others. Mike was nice enough to let me put up two interviews. I will post the other in the future. Here is the interview with Glen Keane. By the way, visit Mike’s web site:

Here is a little bit of the interview with a link to the full PDF at the bottom


Mike: When you're developing a character, what informs
you most about how you create that character? Its
performance, the way it talks, looks, the driving
force? How do you infuse the story, which is
essential, into every little aspect of animation? How
would somebody, with a script or a story, translate it
the best possible way into an animation? The purpose
of animation is to tell the story the best way, so I'm
just wondering how you personally go about it, it a
huge question, but when you start out what are the
first things that you look at or pull apart when you
start to develop a character?

Glen: There's a couple different stages, for me. In
some ways it's like meeting somebody. You first just
have a first impression when you meet somebody. It's
by the way they dress, it's the way they talk, and the
circumstances that you meet them in and reading about
the character on the script, or if it's even
storyboarded ahead of time. You get a first impression
and say, 'ok that's what it's like,' but you can't
animate from that. Just like you don't really know
that person - it's just the first superficial
information you get.
But then with that person that you've just met, you
start to spend time with him and you start actually
talking about your own experiences, and if they relate
to you, like, 'I like to play tennis, ‘Oh, I like to
play tennis too!’ ‘Oh really, well, maybe let's go
play tennis together!’ Then you go to the third thing
where you're actually doing something together. And
it feels to me like that's the same process for each
of these characters. First I get to see, ok that's
their function is in the story: Tarzan has to become
the king of the jungle. He's a man but he doesn't fit
in with the gorillas. Ok, that's basically the thing,
but then how does he feel being in the jungle? That's
really interesting to me. When I went to Africa then,
and actually spent time in the jungle and hearing
these noises at night out in the darkness around you,
hear skittering and patter across the tent and I just
thought, 'Whoa I would not want to be here without
that guide and his gun.' And yet, Tarzan is this
little baby, grows up, completely left alone and
raised by gorillas, so what kind of man could he
possibly be? He's got to be incredible. I started to
gain this respect for this person and became
fascinated with him. Then when I'm starting to
animate the character I can't just be fascinated, I
have to actually feel like it's me. I don't know how
this has always worked out but somehow I can always be
me in every character that I've done.

Water Balloon Head

Recently we've seen an epidemic in CGI pictures that we'd like to bring to your attention. "Water Balloon Head" is an animation disease that we as Spline Doctors would like to warn you about before it's too late. This is a disease that affects us all. We'd like to discuss why it's a problem and how to solve the most debilitating of animation diseases...

Water Balloon Head
headum squashis overanimatis

Symptoms: Animated characters' heads seem to squash and stretch so much that it appears that the head is made of a water.

Cause: Character is rigged to squash/stretch the whole head and not rigged to just squash/stretch the jowl area.

Cure: If the character is rigged improperly and re-rigging is not an option, lessen the use of the squash/stretch control.

Squashing and stretching the head is something that works fine in hand drawn animation, but gets a bit creepy in computer animation. In CGI truth to materials is very important. The images appear real enough that the audience expects the characters to behave in a world of believable physics. A heavy metal beam should not be animated like a wet noodle. A human or animal cranium should not perceiveably squash and stretch. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be squash and stretch in the head, I'm just saying it should be localized in the jowl area (cheeks and lower jaw).

The skull structure can be preserved by maintaining a solid relationship between the eye socket position and the upper teeth. If you can see the upper teeth "floating" up and down you are giving the audience the indication that the character is made of rubber. The skull structure should be preserved. The muscles around the eyes can be squashed/stretched as well as the nose if desired.

Of course there are exceptions to every "rule" in animation, but this is a good limitation to start with. If you really are itching to put squash and stretch into you shot, try putting it into the relationship of the head and shoulders. If you really must squash and stretch the cranium, back off a bit on how much you are using it. Thanks for reading.

Stay healthy,

Dr. A

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

JAY CLAY in Da' House, Baby!

So there is this amazing animator/artist Tim Hittle who has just released his two films "the Potato Hunter" and "CANHEAD" (which was nominated for an academy award) on DVD. If you got an extra $15 bucks laying around it's money well spent on these great films. Dr. Billy and I show Tim's films in class to talk about simplicity in posing, clear staging, and entertainment in animation.

Once you've supported Tim with a purchase of his DVD, cruise on back to and check out Anthony Scott's great website. He was a supe on Corpse Bride and one of the nicest guys in animation.

Dr. Stephen G.