Saturday, December 31, 2011

ReelFX Apprenticeship

So it looks like I'm Texas-bound and it feels a little something like this:

Everything is moving pretty darn fast and in just a couple of days I'll be driving down there with my brother.  Questions like "Hey, where am I going to live?" and "What is cooking?" have been popping up lately.  But I'm really grateful that the good people of ReelFX are willing to take me in for their Winter Apprenticeship.  If all works out I'll be starting on January 9th.  Exciting times.  It wouldn't suck to come to this every morning:

The apprenticeship is going to last for 6 months and I can't wait to meet all the folks there.  It's a huge opportunity for me to grow both personally and professionally.  Here's to growing up, weee!  Happy New Year!

Oh yeah, the current book list.

Recently Read:
The Filmmaker's Eye by Gustavo Mercado
A compilation of camera shots / techniques explained with examples and breakdowns of it being in use.  Also shows a case of breaking the technique / rule to great effect and explains that as well.  It's a short picture-driven book as it should be and was a nice quick read for anyone new / not-so-new to cinematography.  Also Juliette Binoche in Troi Couleurs: Bleu makes for a nice cover.  Definitely check out The Three Colors Trilogy if you haven't seen that yet!

Currently Reading:
The Vilppu Drawing Manual by Glenn Vilppu
Cool, Calm and Contentious by Merrill Markoe
Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Sijll
Save The Cat! Strikes Back by Blake Snyder

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thanks Animation Mentor!

Today marks the end of the term and the last day of my 18 month trek through AM. I've learned so much during my time here that not only improved my skills, but drastically changed my life.

Example: My niece and I had a terrible relationship. She was scared to talk to me because I was put in a position of "teacher" at the request of her parents. All I knew to do was make sure she gets her work done and that she behaved. That sounds quite normal, but our dynamic was one-way. We would go on days without having an actual conversation, which isn't much of a relationship at all.

Cut to Class 4, I'm learning about pantomime and acting. I read Keith Johnstone's "Impro" and discovered high / low status. I also read Joe Navarro's "What everyBODY is Saying" and keyed in on body language. One day I drove my niece home from school and it was obvious that something was bothering her. When I asked her what was wrong I noticed she had half her body already turned away from me, head down hiding her eyeline, and feet pointed in the direction she wanted to go (away). And I noticed what I was doing, arms crossed, leaning in, towering over her. I took what I gathered from these books and decided to try something new. I bent down on one knee, looked up at her and calmly asked her what was wrong. She took on a whole different attitude and we chatted about it.

It has to be a fluke of some sort, but it only took one single day, one moment to change our dynamic that was pretty much crap for the two years prior. It was amazing, and my niece and I have a newfound relationship. One day during a chat she asked me "Where did you learn to talk to me?" - and it all stemmed from learning animation during my time at AM. I told her that, and she concludes that animation rocks.

There are so many moments like this that came about during my classes that just have changed me as a person. I'm really grateful to everyone at Animation Mentor, faculty and students alike. The classes might be over but the journey stretches on. And damn it's gonna be fun.


Finished Brain Storm - by Don Hahn. Awesome book! Definitely a keeper.

Finished The Perfect Bait - by Bobby Chiu. Very short, but also very good.

Currently reading: Cool, Calm & Contentious - by Merrill Markoe.  Thought I'd read some comedy over the break :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That alone was worth the trip.

The most common phrase we spoke during the whole CTN shindig. I can probably talk volumes of each of these, but then I'd be old and gray by the end of it and I'm sorta hungry and would love lunch. In chronological order, each of these in and of itself was worth the trip.

1. Lunch at Dreamworks with some badass mentors.
2. Screening of Puss in Boots 3D in the Dreamworks theater, sat in Katzenburg's row.
3. Bill Plympton's Panel. What a way to start the event.
4. - reference gold. Sadly I was worried about having enough cash to make it home... but they will have my money soon enough.
5. Sony Panel - Doug Sweetland was in the house!
6. Andreas Deja / Richard Sherman Panel. Might be the best damn thing that happened that weekend. It was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
7. Ron and Jon Panel - The roast of Ron.
8. Demo reviews - some great notes from the reviewers and great to grab the contact info.
9. Meeting Bobby Beck - He's a hoot haha.
10. Alex Woo / Matt Jones - Pixar Gesture drawing Panel - Mind blown (Space!)
11. Lorenzo / Prep and Landing 2 screening at Disney. Prep was awesome (great animation). But Lorenzo really blew my mind. Also, I got a Winnie the Pooh Mug (Thanks Kitty!).

And lastly, meeting all of my friends in person and realizing that none of them are crazy. Huge thanks to Mike, Marshall, and Reed for not being axe murderers and helping me along through the weekend. What a trip... can't wait to go back next year :)

Currently reading Don Hahn's Brain Storm. A great fun read, lotta fun little stories if you're into that thing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CTN Reel

Posting from Burbank! This is what I've come to CTN with as far as work goes. So far (and it's only been a day here) the trip has been fantastic.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Heading towards the finish line.

Tomorrow marks the end of the term and this one in particular just flew by. Other than the facial on the 1 person dialogue, we spent all term doing a 2-person shot. My mentor Greg Kyle suggested I try this piece out and this was what I ended up with:

Even just being away from it a few days and rewatching it now, I notice some bits I can fix / tighten up and we'll be continuing work on these shots in the Polishing / Portfolio class, but boy this one was fun to work on. There were a lot of fun ideas being tossed around and even just trying them out was a hoot. I genuinely enjoyed animating this and felt that I learned a lot from it. Lots more to learn and I'm eager to do so!

On the book front, I picked up "Cult of the Mouse", which has a negative connotation in the title... but was a really great read. It talks about the stifling of creativity and how it's leading to a trend of unimaginative / boring films. But the author also cites examples of what's working and why it's working. This was written right when Pixar's contract with Disney was about to expire and having worked at Disney for a number of years he had first hand experience with this stuff. The message of the book though isn't "Suits Bad, Artist Good". It's about finding innovation within yourself and generating ideas. This spreads to someone making car models to an animator trying to create a fulfilling shot / story.

I put The Art Spirit on hold for that, but now that break is coming around I'm jumping back in.

And I leave you with this really cool article by Nick Bruno explaining how he studies an animated shot: How I Study Animation

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Inside the Mind of Jaws & The Art Spirit

Been awhile! School is coming down to it's final months and it's an amazing time. I feel a bit like Heimlich from A Bug's Life. Chubby yet Bubbly.

CTN is rolling around the corner and I'm extremely excited to soak all of the knowledge that'll be exploding in Burbank. It'll be nice to just get away for a few days as well :)

So I came across this Panel that the DGA hosted honoring Steven Spielberg. JJ Abrams and James Cameron chatting along with him. Any aspiring filmmaker would geek out about the behind the scenes stuff he shares on stage. The panel lasts almost 2 hours long and is broken into clips, but the full coverage is on the top left of the little images they show.

DGA Tribute to Steven Spielberg

On top of videos like that (CTN Vimeo has such great stuff!), I've also been piling up my book collection. A friend of mine at Animation Mentor had a substitute come in for his weekly Q&A. The sub was none other than James Chiang - an all-seeing animator who has worked along-side with and even trained some of the best in the business. Marshall shared his notes from that class with me and in the Q&A James mentions a book called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. The book is coming in the mail today and I'm excited because I hear nothing but good things about it. "A constant ever-lasting source if inspiration". Sounds awesome to me haha. I've got a lot of other books to go through, but I'll mention them when I've actually read through them.

Happy animating / art-making out there.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Old and New

After the much appreciated break we've been diving back into the 1-Person dialogue shot again. My mentor Greg Kyle has opened my eyes to a lot of problems with the shot I didn't realize existed at the time. Looking back at the old shot and comparing it to what it is now... I can only say: What was I thinking?!


This was with a few notes added from various folks. New hand gesture on the "I dunno" (thanks Drew!) and a couple of tweaks here and there. What I didn't realize was just how watery everything was. At the time I thought this was snappy. Greg did not.


With added facial animation here. I still think there are bits that I could speed up, but because the animation had become so convoluted there were a couple of areas where it would have been a ton of trouble to shave just a single frame. Learned a lot from these past 3 weeks though. I have to go in and polish this now, but the jist of the assignment is pretty set. Hope to bring this new-found sense into the next assignment :)

Thanks to the plethora of teachers, students, and friends that helped me with this shot.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Moment to Breathe

Can't believe another class is over. Class 3 to 4 was the hardest transition since it rolled from one class right into the next. It was tough to delve that quickly into acting and I think everyone felt that. Never-the-less, here's the current progress reel. I just realized I didn't put up any shots of my Class 3 stuff. All is included here in all of it's unfinished playblast glory:

This animjam (Class 3 work) will always hold a special place in my heart because I was taught so many lessons while going through it. By the end of the first shot I was planning to toss the idea out the window, but a quick pep talk by my buddy Mike showed me that the idea was limitless. I tried IK hands on that for the first time, I tried stretching into the more stylized animation, and even added a smear frame in there haha. It was tons of fun. The last lesson I learned from it is to put yourself out there. When we were finishing the last shot of Class 3 up, the AM showcase was taking submissions and because of my personal gripes with the shot I chose not to submit what I felt to be my most successful shot up to that point. Though the chances were very slim anyway, I'll always be left wondering "what if".

But I'm glad that happened. Now I know I won't put myself in that situation again as I move on.

The acting shots were really hard to do. That pantomime shot especially. We'll be going into the facial animation in the next class, but for now I'm just looking forward to taking a breather. What a rewarding class though, just learning about how people work has been such a highlight of Class 4. And I don't think this path of education is going to ever stop. I wouldn't have it any other way :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blueprints / Fear of Failure

An AM alumni by the name of Kelly Perez gave us a lecture / demo of herself planning a shot the other night and it was almost ridiculous how deep she went into each aspect of the shot. She posted the process over on this blog that covers her weekly Q&A stuff:

Kelly Perez - The Animation School Bus

I thought I broke down my reference and planned out my current shot pretty well - but when I was exposed to this, it really showed me just how slack I am at planning. I had a good basis, but I didn't know EXACTLY what I was going to do before I went into Maya. There will always be room to tweak things while you're animating, but having a clear plan first and not just "holds this pose for 24 frames" will save you headaches. In the end I had to improvise a few things that wasted a lot of time, but I'll definitely be taking this with me to the next assignment. And if you're reading this Jero, this goes for your walk cycles too! :)

Check out some of the other topics posted on Kelly's blog as well - very good info there. And congrats to her for nabbing an internship at LAIKA.

Quick switch of topics here, but the fear of failure has been a reoccurring theme I've been seeing lately. Fear is a really nasty thing. Generally you'd want to avoid doing something because it's dangerous. But in animation, what's the worst that could happen? Maybe being new to animation gave me the luxury of not being attached to a specific workflow or have any preconceptions of what animation is / was. I came into this world knowing nothing and was a metaphorical sponge - just soaking up whatever came my way. But especially now, going through with my current assignment, I think we shouldn't fear "fear". With a slight change of perspective you can quickly turn it into a positive.

I've been hit with this many times during my time at AM so far and I look back just a short 3 months ago and see how silly I was. Fear is something that should be welcomed. If you're afraid to tackle something, it's probably because you don't know how to yet... and if you don't know how to yet - then you're going to learn! It's a surefire thing that even if you come out with a total failure of a shot, you'll learn something. The key is to know when you're stuck and search for the answers whether it be on your own or with help from someone else (and this is why we have mentors!).

Don't be afraid to try new suggestions, new methods, new styles. Use common sense of course, you don't have to try EVERY suggestion that comes your way, but if there is a decent reason for it - just be open to giving it a shot. Embrace failure, it will always lead to you becoming a stronger animator. Don't let fear cheat you out of the learning process.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Put a Lid on that Iris

Last week I learned a very fascinating fact about eyes and I haven't been able to stop looking at eyelids since.

When looking at eyes, generally the upper eyelid will keep in contact with the iris. Unless you're going for a specific expression; frightened, crazy, disgusted, dopey and hopeful etc. Something where the eyes are locked to a target (usually angled down) and the brows are pulling up, taking the lids for a ride.

Otherwise, in most cases you won't likely see any white of the eyes above the iris.

Now this might seem trivial, but it's just an extra step in giving the audience something they can relate to... even if they don't know they're relating to it. A step towards believability. Personally though I find this a very important aspect to be aware of, since the viewer pays attention to and connects with the eyes the most. Even more so at AM since we're dealing with a character that has such huge eyes.

Kevin Koch's Article on Saccades / Fixations

Check out the video at the top of this page and see the eyelid moving in sync with the eye darts (actually everyone should read all of Kevin's stuff about eyes, he's got a few articles that focuses just on eye movements). One interesting bit is that when the eye moves at the very end, the eyelid reacts pretty accurately to maintain it's relationship to the iris. There's sometimes a frame of drag or overshoot, but they're pretty spot on.

I've never taken that close a look at this before and when I heard about it (source being my Class 1 mentor David Weatherly, relayed by my study mate Michael Amos), I went around looking at AM assignments and animation at the 11 second club, the white bug eyes are rampant. So go study some eyes, read Kevin's articles, and infuse that gold into your animation!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Love for Learning

Long time no post. It's been pretty crazy at the Animation Mentor scene and just when I've sorta grasped the current concept I was learning, ten more concepts show up right behind it.

Sounds like a complaint, but it's really awesome. This part of my life has been missing since I was a kid: The quest for knowledge. I've always done well in school but there was no direction. I just aimlessly tried to get good grades because I was told that was the right thing to do. It wasn't until a few months ago that I started to get really excited about absorbing the knowledge of how humans and animals work in order to create more believable animation. I've been constantly digging deeper since.

I woke up today, sat down at my desk, and realized there are stacks of books surrounding me now. Before AM, you'd never see me with a book. It made me realize how much I've changed since opening that webpage.

Some of the books I've read recently that I found quite interesting:

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone

This book probably got the ball rolling. There are really crazy bits in this book and some of it was admittedly hard for me to sludge through. But the meat of this book is pure gold. And not just from an animation perspective, but a life perspective.

What Every BODY is Saying by Joe Navarro

An Ex-FBI Agent (who the TV Series "Lie to Me" was based on) deconstructs his process of human "tells" of the body that give away our inner thoughts and feelings. He goes through from head to toe and explains what, why, how. A very interesting and fun read.

Directing Film Techniques and Aesthetics by Michael Rabiger

One of the first books I read when I was just digging into film making. It delves into very specific examples and explains why certain choices are made and how structuring and planning the scenes ultimately makes it clearer to the audience on both a conscious and subconscious level. Clarity, can't work without it!

Hope to get back to this more regularly, with actual progress and tips to share :) Till then, have a good one!