Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Engulfed in Artistry and growing within the flames

Being here at Disney is an extraordinary experience and I'm thankful in more ways than the expected. Being surrounded by the talent and the resources here really opened my eyes to the scope that many of these artists can reach and are still reaching out for. I love how much fire burns within everyone here and how it feeds off of each other more and more.

As if that weren't great enough, the studio experience is also teaching me how to be a person. Sounds odd  but it's sort of profound that way. Meeting all of these spectacular people puts me in a state of reflection a lot of the time and I've been learning a lot about what I myself am searching / reaching for. Animation always seems to be teaching me all the things I don't know about myself.

Here we are graduating from Trainee > Apprentice.

From left to right: Justin Weber, Tony Chau, Frank Abney, Jorge Garcia

Still so much road to cover in the journey... and it's going to be fantastic. Keep that fire burning!

Finished reading:

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre

The Golden Theme by Brian McDonald


Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald

Paper Dreams by John Canemaker

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dream Come True

Welp, never thought I'd be saying this but it looks like I'll be going to a hat for work soon:

I was lucky enough to be invited to join their Talent Development program next month. Wreck it Ralph and Paperman really blew me away this past year and I'm honestly pee-your-pants intimidated right now about getting a chance to rub shoulders with the artists responsible for such awesomeness. But I know it's gonna be a hell of a lot of fun.

Shout out to Animation Mentor for giving me a spread on their blog

Here's to the future!


Friday, September 7, 2012

Acting Notes (2)

Text / Context / Subtext

When approaching a piece of dialogue these three questions tend to be at the forefront of determining the performance.  Text is pretty straight forward, what are they saying?  This holds the most weight when trying to create believable lip-sync, understanding the words and sounds created by those words.  In terms of character though, the following are particularly important.

Context -  Why are they saying what they're saying?  What is the situation that the character is in when this scene takes place?  And how do they relate to this particular situation?  Most scenes will have a reason to exist and most of the time that reason is rooted in the context of the scene / story.  Try to be objective at this stage to realize the bigger picture so that you can make truthful decisions.

Subtext -  This is where we tend to live as character animators.  Questions to ask:

How does the character really feel about what they're saying?

How do they feel about the situation?

What is the character thinking at each moment and how does it progress throughout the shot?

How does the character feel and think about those around him?  (Thanks Karoly!)

The idea of having an emotional blueprint stems from the subtext.  If you can understand the character's mindset then you can be true to their motivations, following along their thought process to inform your gestures and actions.

One of the hardest things to convey is believable thought process, this is where (to me) the character really becomes alive.  There is a brain inside of your characters, they act and react to stimuli in the scene.  Takes a lot of observation and study to really dig into this kind of stuff; the most daunting yet awesome thing about it is the rabbit hole in this case keeps getting deeper and deeper.

I was introduced to this clip by a friend over at iAnimate.  An instructor by the name of Ted Ty was picking it apart and I thought it'd be a really good exercise to break parts of it down in terms of text / context / subtext.  In these clips, a guy named Ross Capicchioni retells a life-changing experience:

For reference here is the first part of the entire story.  I highly recommend watching, observing, and trying to pick apart his thought process as he goes along.  He's a really great storyteller.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Acting Notes (1)

Acting is such an elusive beast and is something I'm constantly struggling with yet forever fascinated by.  I've been taking notes on the subject, compiling it for myself and thought it might be worth sharing.  I figured it would be good to start from a big picture perspective and dig deeper as the posts go on.

Sidenote:  Here are some articles on the subject worth reading.

The Building Blocks

We start off with the ever-cliche pyramid.

This is something I indirectly learned from an instructor at Animation Mentor, James Chiang.  I'm not sure if this is 100% the way everything goes, but I believe it to be true enough for my own path.  Before we can get to acting, we need to have a solid understanding of the principles (fundamentals) and body mechanics.  If we try to act without these skills, our animation will crumble without the foundation.  And to me it makes sense.  How can you show how excited someone is if your posing is weak.  How can you show anger if your spacing is always off.  How can you show exhaustion if your mechanics aren't strong.

The point of the artform (exceptions exist of course) is to present ideas.  Each block informs the next, so I highly encourage starting from the bottom, up.  Many times, students seem to forgo the foundation and "challenge" themselves by shooting for the craziest ideas.  And in most of those cases, they've end up hurting their progress more than helping because it's so easy to get lost.

Acting Hurdles

Acting is hard.  Maybe that's just me, but I find it extremely difficult.  One of the more common hurdles that I struggle with  (hopefully I'm not on my own here) and that is the idea of letting yourself go.  When I shoot video reference for my shots, there is this feeling of embarrassment that looms over me.  There is a bit of a fear, a bit of discomfort, a lot of vulnerability.  And it's only natural right?  When we get up to act these bits, we start to reveal ourselves in a way that most just aren't comfortable with.  For some, even just putting up your animation for a critique can be nerve-wracking, let alone putting your actual self out there.  The solution for me is pretty straight forward though... get over it.  Easy for me to say, but when you think about it we're just goofing around.  It's playtime and we need to realize that screwing up, feeling scared, and generally being a fool is perfectly fine in this instance.  Just relax and enjoy.

Now the other side of things is the vulnerability part.  It's a very personal thing to allow everyone access to your true self.  When we animate these characters, we imprint a part of us onto them and share a bit of ourselves with the world.  A lot of these imprints come from a real place, a personal place.  There's a really cool story from Director Lee Unkrich that tells of this very topic.  I think this explains it better than I ever can.  It takes a lot of guts to tap into your own life, but I feel that's how we inject believably into our characters.


To get into character is to truly understand their situation.  It requires us as the animator to get into their headspace and inhabit their story.  If you understand their thought process, you will understand their motives and their motivation for every action that takes place in your shot.  I call that the emotional blueprint, a stream of thoughts through-out your shots to keep your acting choices in check.  Even if the character does something by accident, we have to understand where their thought process is at to then try and portray their action as an accident.  So on our end, everything is done on purpose.

My take on acting is that we can present entertainment through sincerity.  This is me vaguely saying "be true to the character".  Certain characters do things in a very specific and particular way.  Secondary action in a lot of cases is what really describes character.

When Pepe Le Pew waits for his lady friend, he doesn't just check his watch.  He isn't bored, he isn't impatient.  He looks suave while grooming in preparation for the girl to show up.  That's such a Pepe Le Pew thing to do!  And it makes sense that he would do so... cause that's what's on his mind!

In this clip, there is a very particular way about how Coral responds.  The quality of movement is something that just seems so believable as a fish.  This goes back to fundamentals / mechanics.  The animator here, Shawn Krause, sells the acting really well all the way up that pyramid we spoke of earlier.  It may be deemed a "simple" shot, but it sparks with life.

During my time over at Reel FX I was lucky enough to be able to listen to Glen Keane give a talk at the studio.  Something he spoke of really struck a chord with me.  He mentioned Ariel and how he was contemplating a certain acting choice.  He would mull over it constantly until he realized how it wasn't even up to him anymore.  Ariel exists as her own being and would do this particular move this way because of these reasons.  My interpretation of it was to let the character breathe through you.  Become the conduit of which these existing characters can be revealed to the rest of the world.

Fun clip from Victor Navone:

There is a lot to view here, but something that Victor mentions on his blog in this post, is how he injects some very minute but characteristic bits to the animation.  She still feels feminine though she's a floating egg, but she still has attitude.  Notice how what her eyes do when she lights up the light bulb, and how Wall-E rotates the rubix cube after Eve quickly solves it.

... more to come.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Just typing that in makes me feel like I really need to exercise, but weight problems exist all over animation as well.  I am not an expert on any of this so please take this material lightly, this is just me doing my own research and trying to figure it out myself.

As with all facets of animation, weight is also just an illusion of what we perceive to be "weighty" in real life.  So let's start there with Newton's laws of motion:

1.  Inertia : Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

It's really important to realize all the forces happening in the scene to recreate the illusion of weight.  It only takes a basic understanding of physics and will go a long way in connecting your scenes with your audience.  Imagine the classic ball bounce again, starting with the ball in mid-air at rest.  Now imagine the forces.  If there was no force the ball would stay still in mid-air.  One of the main forces is gravity which creates a downward force on the ball.  This starts the ball coming down.  Once it hits the ground there is a normal force that pushes it back up (more on that later).  Even when the ball has stopped, gravity and the normal force are still acting on it, cancelling each other out in order for the ball to stay at rest.  Technically there is also wind resistance, but unless it's being dropped from a really high height it tends to be negligible for most standard ball bounce assignments.

2.  F=ma

This is where things get interesting.  Force is equal to mass times acceleration.  One of the early assignments from Animation Mentor deals with dropping two differently weighted balls and animating it until it rests.  It's a deceivingly simple concept but gets skipped over sometimes.  So starting with a question:  I drop a basketball from 6 feet in the air and it takes 12 frames for it to hit the ground, how many frames would it take for a bowling ball to hit the ground from the same height?

They drop at nearly the same rate!  Emphasis on nearly because although they look very close, there is a smidgen of difference since the heavier ball cuts through air resistance a tiny bit more.  If we dropped these balls from 1000 ft, a difference would be seen.

The way to really sell it's weight is the reaction of the ball when it hits the ground.  Heavier balls don't bounce  back as high as lighter balls because it has more inertia to overcome when changing direction.

3.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

So going back to a ball at rest, it stays at rest because all the forces are being cancelled out.  When we simply stand, we fight gravity by pushing down against the ground with our legs.  We don't go crashing through the ground because the normal force is pushing back against us, allowing us to stand.

From Wayne Gilbert:

With more physical actions it requires more dissection and study, but understanding these forces will inform all of your animation principles.


As said before, weight doesn't exist in a maya scene - you have to create the illusion of it's existence.  With the knowledge of the forces at play you can then pose out your character in order to portray how heavy or light someone or something is.

Here's a classic example from  - if physics is something you feel like you need to brush up on, visit this site!  Awesome stuff, free for your eyes to explore.

On a more complicated level, our bodies behave very organically (helps a lot to have a basic understanding of anatomy too) and weight can be accentuated with tilts, curves, flex, bends, squash / stretch, expressions, etc.  All of these things help portray weight.

Notice how "on the brink" this guy is, all of his muscles are engaged, he's got a smooth curve on his front side but a harsh angle on his back side (straight vs. curves).  His hip-line is tilted to show which leg he's favoring, his arms wrists are near it's max rotation, his hands are really squashing against the bar.  The bar itself is bending from the weights.  His head is squashing into his body, his face is red, even his face squashes.  There is a lot going on in just this pose.  Take that all away and it's very hard to see how heavy something is.

Timing and Spacing

A lot can be talked about this subject but I figure dissecting a shot might help us be concise yet informative.  While I was going through AM I came across this shot by a very talented animator named Kevin Taylor.  The weight in this shot really turned a switch for me (in showing how much I didn't know yet haha).

There is so much consideration in this shot that deserve it's own topics.  But check out the balance and forces at play.  Look how deep he swings his hips down to lower his center of gravity in order to get as much under the gun as possible.  He leans REALLY far back and you can feel the tension in the chest.  The first jerk to the right gets the gun moving horizontally, but it takes a huge amount of time and effort to raise it up as well.  The inertia that he has to overcome is really powerful which takes more time to get it moving and thus the spacing starts out small.  However when the gun is in motion, it wants to stay in motion and takes significant amount of effort / force to stop it.  Kevin treats this brilliantly by having the gun almost pull Stewie along for the ride just for a split second, causing him to readjust with each swing.

Environment and Materials

Another important aspect that tends to get skimmed over is what the objects / characters are made of as well as what environment they are in.  Is the object slippery?  Is it made of rubber (and therefore prone to a lot of friction)?  If you push down really hard on a chair, wouldn't it give way just a little bit?  Yes, these are extra tidbits to the main action, but don't forget about them as they can add a lot to that illusion of weight.  It's about making it relate-able to the audience, if the object or character doesn't interact believably with the environment, an audience member can snap out of your scene and realize it's just a piece of animation.

Likewise when a character acts on an object, be sure to remember Newton's third law!  The object will also be acting on the character!

Totally exaggerated example, but just something to keep in mind.  When pressing on a table (using your palm and finger tips to push with) the knuckles might buckle to give your fingertips more force.  Also check out how the fingertips in this image are being shaped by the object.  If you press the side of your arm against a wall the roundness of your arm might squash and conform to more of a line against it.