Animators by day Animation teachers by night.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Collaborator, the Prima Donna, and the Fanboy

Last Tuesday night a couple of my students pulled me aside after class and asked if I could post something on "how to interview well." I talked with them a bit about it and basically came to the assumption that this could be a very tricky thing to talk about. I just don't know if I can give general advice to people who will be interviewing at many different places. One general idea I came up with was that you'd most likely want to come across as someone who will work well in a team, and that is what I will focus this post on.

I had an acting teacher tell me once that the greatest actors are ones who are "giving" to the other actors on stage. If a performer wants to "steal the show" they are not giving, but taking away from the other performances and story by hogging the spotlight. I believe this is true for animators as well. Both require performances that build; that ebb & flow with the story. Don't get me wrong; it is always an artist's duty to give the audience nothing but their best. But that best work, if done in a collaborative environment, will give the other performers something to REACT to. Feature animated films have definitely fallen into this trap in the past, where animation has stepped into the spotlight over a great story. This also happens all the time in live action movies as well. How many movies these days let the special effects take the spotlight even over the actors and story?

When I'm interviewing someone, I'm looking for someone who has amazing work as an individual (their reel!) AND seems to have a great attitude about sharing ideas with others. Personally, I don't want to work with a "superstar" animator if he/she is an egotistical prima donna. The animation department we have here is like a family that shares ideas and inspires one another. I've actually heard an artist say in an interview that they had nothing more to learn; that they wanted to show others how they knew great animation should be done. Nope, not interested. Some of the greatest animators I know are very humble artists that admit they still have something to learn, and seek the advice of those around them to push their work further.

The opposite of the superstar is the superfan. This person is someone who is more into the idea of working at a "famous" place, rather than loving the craft of animation and collaborating on telling a great story. Personally, I don't do what I do because of the name of the place I work at. I love cartoons, movies, animation, acting, teaching, and learning. I am passionate about what I do and I love working with others that feel the same way. I understand that it is the student's job to be excited and inspired about what they are doing, but I warn them not to be fanatical. Animation doesn't beget great animation. Great animation comes from being inspired by things observed in real life.

If you have been called in for an interview your work has probably shown an ability to stand alone. Be proud of that! But for the interview I recommend simply being yourself. You will show either that a) you're a fanatic so much that it'll freak people out, b) you're an egotistical jerk that should work someplace else, or c) your someone who will share ideas and work well on a team. I always go for c.

Another two cents from Dr. Sclark.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Questions for Ralph Answered...

I did a great interview with Ralph yesterday. Hopefully I will have the time to put it up soon. It just needs to be edited together. Ralph wanted to answer some of the questions on the site so here they are. Thanks for taking the time to do this Ralph. -Andrew

How are Pixar conceptual artists, character designers, and outside artists (like Peter de Seve) assigned to projects...does each film have a team, or do people contribute to different projects at the same time?

Each film calls for a different team of artists. It's like making a good soup; the right amount of all the right ingredients. Also, adjusting the spices!!! We have a fairly small group of rotating production designers, art directors, and sketch artists. Now that we're growing, our pool of talent is enlarging and we don't have to tug over artists as much. Outside artists are hired as films call for them. Some are hired for their specific style that might be right for a film, and others are professional stalwarts. That's the hardest thing to find--professionalism. I've engaged some terrific artists in the past whom I will hesitate using again due to their inability to communicate their needs, questions, and schedules. In terms of "conceptual artists" at Pixar, there is no such job. Anyone who does so-called conceptual art has to be willing to get their hands dirty and figure out how to put that image onto the screen. Visual development of our films is mainly developed by the artists who make the film.

I love your pastel lighting studies. What is the reason for the small dimensions (20" x 3" for instance)? Is that to get them down quickly like a thumbnail, or do you just like to draw tiny?

Thank you for the kind words about my work. I tend to work smaller because I'm not trained as a painter--I work intuitively. When I work larger, I tend to get lost in details that aren't important. I want THE IDEA, not the details--they're going to change. I really fell into art direction by accident. I love it--but I have no problem knowing that my strengths may lie somewhere in between being an artist and a manager. I like motivating people and helping figure out how to put our images onto the screen. The artwork I do is a means to and end...and that end is the audience who pays to see our films.

Working for Pixar where "story is king," are all of your art directions decisions motivated by what works best for the story or that particular scene, and are there ever times when what works best for the story conflicts with what is works best visually?

There is no difference. what works best visually is what works best for story. If the audience isn't visually understanding your story, you're hosed. Imposing a style on a film is easier to do, but at the risk of putting a visual barrier between the audience and their connection to the characters and/or story. If an audience member is thinking "That picture reminds me of..." they aren't paying attention to the film. If production designers (and cinematographers, and editors, and writers...) have done their job well--the audience shouldn't notice!!! They should just be wrapped up into the experience of the film.
How's THAT for irony?

I'd like you to ask Ralph Eggleston about the darkest hours he's encountered in creating these films and how he got through them.

The "darkest hours" of creating a film are the anticipation of completion; finishing the film and awaiting the audiences response. We all deal with this by doing our best to make the best films we can.

Some of the darkest personal hours of my experience at Pixar have been the loss of some of my co-workers, like the talented Dan Lee, Glenn McQueen, and Joe Ranft.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

One Frame

One shot, one frame. I always believe that each shot in a film can be done in one frame. I mean that for each shot there should only be one main story telling idea or pose. Now, I know every shot has more than one pose and some shots you need more than that but the overall feel and story telling of that shot can generally be summed up in one frame.
At the beginning of any shot I work on I try to find this frame. I usually reference the storyboards first because in story they are also trying to accomplish the same goal of telling the story in one drawing. Then I try and figure out what my acting is for the shot how that fits into the composition of the frame and what the strongest single pose is for my shot. I then look at my shot looping with this one pose in place, with the sound playing back and then I ask myself does this read? If the emotion or story point of the shot doesn’t come across in this simple test I then go back to the drawing board and try again. I always believe that animation is best when it’s simple, and uncomplicated. The reason I look for this one pose is so I start from a simple place that works, then I can start to build my performance from there and hopefully just strengthen what I already have. If you start with out this I find it’s easy to get caught up in fancy poses, nice arcs, and movement that winds up not telling the story but rather winds up looking over acted or not quite connected to the overall telling of the story. It winds up looking like you moved a bunch of stuff while trying to find the point of the scene.
There are many different approaches to animation and I’m only sharing what has worked for me. So give it a shot, see if it works for you too. The great thing for me about this approach is it really makes you ask questions too yourself about what’s important, what’s going on in the scene, how the character is feeling, what they want, all these things because you have to get all that in one frame. It really simplifies it for me and allows me to focus on what’s important rather than just creating a bunch of head movement bobbing to dialog that doesn’t mean anything or relate to what’s really going on the scene.
Again Bill Waterson was a master at this one panel story idea. These are so clear you can see them come to life in your head as you look at them.

thank you Andrew

Ww don't need to post because your doing a great job of posting. I got some stuff coming up I'm working on it right now. Unitl then I'll just keep reading and listing to Andrews great posts! Keep it up Dr. Gordon!
dr. Stephen G.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ralph Eggleston

In the continuing Spline Casts, our next interview will be with none other than the Academy Award Winning Director of For the Birds and Art Director of Finding Nemo, Ralph Eggleston. Feel free to send your questions into Spline Doctor....ahem, I mean Spline Doctors... I forgot that there are other Doctors in the house, they just never post. Come on guys... Anyway, look for it in the next couple of weeks. Thanks again for all the great feedback from the last interview.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The Olympics this year were a truly inspiring event. For animators, it was a smorgasborg of reference for action, emotional responses and most everything else. Watching it in Hi-Def made it even better to notice all the details. One of the Olympians, Joey Cheek, made a huge impression on me. Watching him skate and win was the best experience for me, personally. His reaction to winning the gold medal, made me understand what it is to be an Olympic athlete. As he stood up on the podium and listened to his national anthem, you could see all the different emotions running through him. I was so moved by watching this, that it was more interesting than the event itself.I thought it would be fun to go through some of the “key” poses and analyse them. There is a lot of subtext going on, but his face tells you everything. I called this post “change” because this is a phrase we hear a lot in dailies. “Can you get more of a change of expression” “I’m not seeing the change in his body as he gets hit.” We try to show a change in our characters through body and expression. Change can happen in many ways. It can be in timing, pose, spacing of those poses, contrast and so forth. When we are talking about seeing a change of expression, it doesn’t have to be Tex Avery to be seen. As you can see from the images following, subltle and broad changes are represented. You just have to make sure that you see the change. It this case, it is easy, because the camera is focused on his face. In your scenes, you may not have that luxury.

Try to look at the images from left to right and see the different attitudes that he has. When I get the time, I will break down each pose with the subtext underneath and also include the quicktime for this. It has been very buzy at work.

Stay tuned for some more stuff and a new SplineCast with Art Director, Ralph Eggleston.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Updated Web Site

Ok, It aint fancy, but I did put up a new website for SplineDoctors... Right now it looks a bit broken in anything but Safari, but still works. Hopefully this is the beginning of something that will actually have some good content. Some of the pages have content so check it out and if you want to help me debug it, thats fine too. Dr. Gregory has a personal page with some of his Pixar work and I also have a few quicktimes up of some work... The more I learn about web site creation, the better the site will become.