Animators by day Animation teachers by night.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Want to se some good drawing?

go here

the Firehouse Stomp

and here

Temple of the Seven Golden Camels

or here

Drawings From A Mexican

there's tons more if you follow the links from these blogs.

-Dr. Stephen G.

Computer Animation and Drawing.

Many students get really intimidated when they are asked to draw or do thumbnails and show them in class. It's understandable, now days you don't have to be a great draftsman to get into animation school, heck for some schools you can have never drawn anything and get in. Computer animation has liberated many great animators, who may never been able to get into animation due to their lack of drawing ability. So on one hand the computer has allowed so many more people to access animation as a career and also allowed animation to become as big as it is these days, from computer games to the Internet, to commercials, feature animation etc. The flip side is that because of this access and the possible feeling that drawing doesn't relate to computer animation, the overall quality of the animation being produced is getting weaker and weaker. Many students now days can go to school learn everything there is about Maya, and graduate with only taking a few drawing classes and possibly never taking story or design classes. It's really a shame, for one that students don't demand story, design and drawing classes and also that schools don't find them important to the curriculum of computer animation. I had four main classes at Cal-Arts that repeated every semester for four years; Story, Character Design/Design, Animation, Life Drawing.

I've kinda gone off topic I'll come back to drawing now. The reason drawing is so important and life drawing in particular is that in one class, if taught well, you can learn about story, design, weight, physics, balance, squash and stretch, overlap, follow through, positive negative spaces, silhouette, composition, structure, rhythm, line of action, so many things all from a single drawing class. The other important thing is that if you keep going to class and keep drawing all the time you are constantly working on and being reminded of all of these things all the time. It can be really overwhelming to think about all of that stuff all the time but that's ok because your not just creating one drawing, you'll have many drawings where you can work on these things. One of the best things for me is to take one of the life drawings I did in class. Put a piece of tracing paper over it and try to look at the drawing and think about design or weight and re draw over my drawing thinking about one of the things mentioned for example, balance. Then keep repeating until you've addressed all the ideas, overlap, squash and stretch, silhouette, rhythm, etc, etc. I don't think you need to be a gifted draftsman to be a great animator but I do think you need to understand all the principles that are taught in good drawing, to be a great animator. Plus there is no need to be intimidated by drawing, only you are going to see them. You don't have to show your drawings, or thumbnails to anyone if you don't want to. While your in class don't even worry about the drawing who cares, worry about the process and thinking that goes on while drawing. If the drawing looks like junk but in the end you came away with a better understanding of how the forms work together and where the squash and stretch was working in the pose, that's cool. You'll remember that for next time and you'll remember that next time you sit down to plan out a shot or pose a character. I don't worry about the drawing anymore, I focus on trying to learn something while doing each drawing.

Just for fun and to show you that your drawings don't have to be great or pretty or nice or presentable I've included some thumbnails of mine from various films. These may or may not be pushed or the final poses for the characters in the shot. I tweak poses in the once they are in the computer, when I'm working to the main camera. Here I'm really trying to get and idea of what the pose will be and also what my acting is gonna a be and how it's going to move. I take a lot of notes along with the drawings to help describe motion, arcs, antics, or ideas that I can't draw. They are the road map of my shots but not always the final destination.

-Dr. Stephen G.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Animation, is Animation, is Animation.

There was a comment in the last post about Walt Stanchfield's amazing drawing notes, which you can get at, about how some students or even non-students dismiss these because they feel it only relates to 2d animation and doesn't relate to 3d computer animation. I guess this might be why people are always looking for books on computer animation which is silly. Animation is Animation. Animation as and art form or craft exists outside of the medium your using. It really doesn't matter if your working in clay, sand, pencil, computer, paper cut out, or any medium the principles of animation exist in all of these. The principles of animation exist outside of these mediums. So anything that would help in one medium would also help in the others. As far as drawing goes, and learning to draw or understanding the principles of design and composition these are some of the most important things we can have as animator to help tell our stories. So to dismiss these ideas and concepts because, you are not a graphic designer, a cinematographer or a 2d animator is really just hurting you as an animator. The best animators I've come across are really talented at all of these things, Design, Composition, Acting, Music, Dance, Film history, Observation, Drawing, Story Telling, Attention to detail, Physics, and Passionate. I've always believed that what makes animation so hard to master, is that you have to have an understanding of so many things. Like being able to understand body mechanics and human emotion to having the ability to draw like Rembrandt. And then having some concept of almost everything in between. It's hard trust me, and I myself am no where near knowing all of it. The only thing I do know is the people that tend to be better at all of these things tend to be better animators.

The catch in all of this is that in your quest to become a better animator it takes a tremendous amount of time and focus. Thus potentially limiting your time to explore other areas of art and life. In a field that really needs you to be an extrovert and observe life, animation really makes you an introvert and locked down to learning the craft at a computer or drawing board. I guess that's the rub.

So remember the more you can learn about anything especially drawing, because it incorporates things such as design, weight, balance, emotion, story telling, physics, the better off you'll be. Just because you work on a computer doesn't mean you don't need to draw. Now let me clarify a bit I'm not saying you have to be an amazing draftsman you just need to be exposed to drawing and constantly trying to become a better draftsman because through that process you'll become better at all things you can learn from drawing.

How could notes like these not help you in any form of animation?

Or Understanding great Design ar appreciating Art like this Mattise not be helpful?

The nine old men did and even refer to fine art and learning from it in the "Illusion of Life". It's kinda funny that it's at the begining of Chapteer 16 my favorite chapter.

--Dr. Stephen G.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who opened the flood gates?

Sorry guys,

Now that I'm on this "Illusion of Life" rant I just can't shut up. A couple of posts ago I mentioned that there is a section I would read before every shot I did on Toy Story 2 and Monster's Inc. Combined that's about three years worth of production and about 60 to 70 shots, worth of reading. The section I would read and still do although not as much, even though I should, was chapter 16. "Animating Expressions and Dialogue". Now there was a comment made somewhere that said "The Survival kit" told you how to animate and the "Illusion of Life" told you why. I don't know how that comment came about because this chapter is all about how to do it not why you should animate. I'll agree there are not a bunch of pictures showing you every frame exactly where it might be on a given frame, but there are still a bunch of great pictures that relate to the text. Like on page 454 and 455, the animation drawings of Stromboli by Bill Tytla. Where they talk about the face and how the elements of the face work together when creating expression, or just being animated that everything is related to each other. Or on page 465 Frank Thomas' drawings of the door knob from Alice and Wonderland and how he used the design of the lock to create new and interesting mouth shapes while still creating lip synch and how this mouth keep the viewer still believing it's a door knob and lock. Well there are too many wonderful drawings that tell you more about how to animate than why to animate.

I agree the book does do a great job of giving you history and the art behind animation the heart and passion of the individuals working in animation at Disney during the early years but that is just one part of the book. I see the Illusion of Life as an animation manual not just a great source of inspiration.

Just a note the principles of animation section is at chapter 3 that's a whole 13 chapters before chapter 16 so if you just keep getting stuck there maybe you should move forward in the book there is a whole bunch of how to animate chapters beyond that one.

-Dr. Stephen G.
My belief's may or may not reflect those of my fellow doctors.

ok, let's not get off topic here!

A Comment from the last post about reading the Illusion of Life.

"David > I actually remember the first time I read Survival Kit, I sort of "waited" as I read for the walk part to be over. It's all to easy to read through and not comprehend a damn thing. I knew lots about animation so I let it go over my head. Now that I've actually animated I realize it simply WAS over my head, and it means something SO different to me now that I can't believe it's -given away- for the price it is.

As for "Illusion," I've only read it once but it's truly inspiring. Not this "Ooh, this or that is GOLD" all talk and ass-kissing and no substance stuff, it actually makes you feel good and motivate you and appreciate your roots all at once.

There's a post on AWN that says it...Survival is how to animate, Illusion is WHY..."

We're talking about the Illusion of Life not the Richard William's book. Although Richard William's book is quite detailed and has lots of information, many students can get confused, by all the pretty pictures. Like I said before you need to read the book. The main problem with Richard William's book, is we know students don't like to read, and they just wind up copying all the pictures. (Why do students wind up copying from books? My theory is that many people think animation is like math, where there are exact answers on how to animate or formulas. Unfortunately animation is nothing like math and there are very few if any formulas. It's an Art form and there really are no answers just experience and a good eye is all you have to go on. Sure there are some tricks, mainly the principles of animation. Really animation is about exploring and trying things and making adjustments until it looks right. Repetition creates perfection, the more time spent generally creates better animation. Although too much time can ruin it. I may be wrong here but this is what I think, now back to what I was saying.) Copying pictures in a book is not animating or even learning to animate. His book is great don't get me wrong, but the temptation to copy vs reading is way too strong. Reading along with the pictures will help you understand what's happening in the pictures, thus allowing you to begin to understand how some of these animation principles work. REMEMBER READ THE ILLUSION OF LIFE! understand it READ IT AGAIN, and AGAIN then a after a year of READING THE ILLUSION OF LIFE, maybe pick up the Animator's Survival Tool Kit and read it, but don't sell your Illusion of Life to buy it.

Just my two cents
-Dr. Stephen G

Monday, April 23, 2007

I haven't posted in a while because....

My number one animation prescription is this. READ "THE ILLUSION OF LIFE" BY FRANK THOMAS AND OLLIE JOHNSTON. Don't just look at the pictures, READ THE BOOK, and when your done READ IT AGAIN. I've read it over and over for the last 14 years, it got so bad that I would re-read certain sections every time I started a new shot on a film. Most of it will be over your head and you won't understand it, I know I didn't either I still don't but it's like a magic book. Over time it starts to make more and more sense. Also I know this sounds crazy but READING THE WHOLE BOOK is actually really helpful, not just the squash and stretch section. Anyways READ "THE ILLUSION OF LIFE" I always say if you have money to buy only one book on animation buy "THE ILLUSION OF LIFE" BY FRANK THOMAS AND OLLIE JOHNSTON, and if you don't have money to buy the book sell all your other books on animation and buy "THE ILLUSION OF LIFE" with the money you've made. You can buy it on

Dr. Stephen G.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Great Spline Tutorials

I've been wanting to put together some kind of post regarding spline work and polish recently when I came across some great posts on the blog of one of our colleagues, Victor Navone. Many of you may already be aware of Victor from his famous short "Alien Song", but I know him more as a very talented and technically proficient animator that I have the pleasure of working with and learning from here at Pixar.

Victor has a 2 part tutorial he's written titled "Splinophilia" which gives a wonderful overview about spline work that includes info and visuals that are more comprehensive than anything I probably could have put together. It covers visual understanding, basic strategies, and what he calls "spline hygiene". This information is vital to giving your work any sense of refinement or polish. Please take the time to check them out. Your work will thank you. And I'll go thank Victor.


Splinophilia Part 1

Splinophilia Part 2

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Power of Silhouette

Anyone who has read "The Illusion of Life", or went to a half-way decent art school has been drilled with the concept of "silhouette value" as it relates to the graphic strength and clarity of a pose. Being a student of classical 2D, we would sometimes be encouraged to visualize or actually color in our drawings to get a sense of our pose's silhouette value, and thus judge whether or not we had pushed a pose to it's fullest potential. One of the great things I've come to learn, now that I work on the computer, is the ability (in many animation applications) to render out work in silhouette. What an amazing tool!!

Mike Wu and I recently did an assignment in our Pixar 2 class at AAU this semester where we had students block out a dialogue assignment and render it in silhouette. As the students are just beginning to work with dialogue, we wanted an assignment that made the point that performing to dialogue is not about mouth shapes or lip sync, but about the global performance as it relates to body language, phrasing, and clarity. The students were amazed to find how much more aware they were of their posing and choice of gesture when everything was "blacked out" and the readablility of a pose was represented in such a pure form.

For those that have the luxury of using a software package that has such a feature, use it to your advantage. What does it take to block out a shot and playblast a silhouette render to see if your poses are as strong as they could be before moving forward? If the application you're using does not have such a feature, or if you're doing 2D work, take a moment to look at the graphic elements of your pose and ask yourself if it does justice to the character, the moment, and if it inspires your audience to feel what you want it to feel. Revisiting such a basic principle can not only inspire young minds learning animation for the first time, but also reinvigorate the work of the most seasoned veteran. I know at least one animator that will be looking at his work in black & white with a little more frequency from now on. Thanks for visiting the blog.


Thursday, April 05, 2007


I wanted to respond to some gripes about the quality of the podcasts we do at Spline Doctors. I was recently reading some user comments on the Animation Podcast. Some of the users don't seem to like the quality of our interviews. What I have to say is this...

For one, its a podcast, not 20/20. The fact that we are able to even do them is a miracle in itself. We do them so that not only you, the listener can enjoy them, but so that we can get inspired and learn more about how people do things. I won't appologize for my phone ringing or there being too many um's and wows in the interviews... We are not professional interviewers... We are Animators. The podcast is an amazing thing. It gives people a chance to almost have their own radio station. When I was a student, and professional up until a few years ago, all you might be able to get your hands on was an old lecture taped at Calarts. I remember seeing a copy of a copy of a James Baxter video lecture. The quality was crap, but I didn't care because the info was gold. I felt lucky to be able to watch it. Now, there is so much information online, you can pick and choose where you go to get your education. My point is this, it ain't always about how perfect the recording is. Its about content and understanding that its free. We don't have advertisers paying for equipment. Everything is done with no budget. So those of you who don't like the quality of the podcasts don't have to listen.

Those of you who have supported us and given great feedback, we appreciate this and keep doing these Splinecasts for you.



Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Updates and other news...

Sorry its been a while since our last post. Ratatouille is finishing up. Animation has wrapped and we are all taking a breather. Adam and I are planning to do some more Animation Roundtables as well as some new Spline Casts... Stay tuned.

As for other stuff going on, I will be teaching an animation workshop at a school in Italy on June 15th. The class will focus on all kinds of Animation Techniques including acting, design, facial animation, blocking and planning and so on. I am also going to be Guest Artist at CSU summer Arts program for the 5th time. The class is Character Development for Animation. CSU Summer Arts is a great program. Check it out. I will be attending Annecy Animation festival. I am set to give a short talk on the subject of animation on Ratatouille. It will be for the Renderman group.

Keep your eyes open for some new posts and upcoming podcasts.