Friday, March 16, 2007

The Greatest Latest

Click here for Divx version (15 mb)

And for your clicking amusement, here is my demo reel!

It was a long three months after school before I had this sucker in shape for review. I got some great tips and pointers from AnimationMentor on the best way to present all of my pieces that you see here. A few small tweaks, some added lights for the renders and ‘voila’ there it was, my new demo reel.

It was hard to sit and polish on the same pieces that I’ve been working on for over a year. But I wanted to really put them to rest by making them as good as I could, weaseling out all of the little things that had been nagging at me all of this time.

And it led to some great success! I feel super lucky and very happy to announce that I’ve landed a contract animator position at Tippett Studios in Berkeley, barely a stones throw from my house. My timing was nearly perfect on completing my reel as I got it done just when Tippett was in their big hiring push for the movie ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’, base off of the popular book series. So now it’s official, I’m a feature film animator! Wooohooooo!

I started at Tippett just last week and so far I’m loving every minute of it. It is a very friendly, relaxed (yet professional) atmosphere full of some of the most talented folks that I’ve ever worked along side of. I’ve started on my first shot and I can’t wait to see how it looks rendered and composited into the live action plate. So far the experience has been great.

I have to extend a big THANK YOU to my wife Season, AnimationMentor, and all of my fellow students who supported me and encouraged me and basically made it possible for me to have arrived at this point. I still have a long journey ahead of learning how to be a better and better animator and artist (one that will never end, I hope.) But this is a good time to take a pause and a breath and let everyone know just how thankful and lucky I feel.

I have gotten so many warm congratulations from my fellow alumni that I was taken aback at how generous they are were. I will always feel fortunate to have participated in the very first class at AM and to be part of such a supportive group of die-hard animators. We have all sacrificed blood, sweat and tears with no guarantee of success in a highly competitive field. And yet it seems that most feel lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from some of the great animators of our time. I hope to see everyone of them achieve their dreams.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Missing Persons Report

You and me have a lot of catching up to do. So sit right back and get yourself a hot cuppa joe and let’s dish dirt.

The first thing I want to do is to sincerely offer all the dear readers a huge and hearty thank you. Thank you for commenting on my posts. Thank you for asking where I’ve been. Thank you for showing interest. I think because of you I am re-motivated to keep writing this blog and keep chronicling my misadventures in animation for all to point and laugh at. For all that can’t check out the H.264 codec, I am right now compressing all of the movies in a windows friendly form and will have links below all of the old posts' images for you to click on.

What happened? The last few months of school were an exercise in sleep deprivation and burning fumes. Despite my best intentions to keep things short and sweet, my piece kept creeping longer and longer. I knew that it was already a challenging proposition to get a minute of quality animation done in three months time, even if you are able to work on it full time, which I wasn’t. But there comes a point when you ask yourself what’s the best thing you can do for your short and mine was to give each scene the amount of frames it needed to get good acting and tell the story right.

The downside of all of this of course was that I had to make some pretty serious sacrifices to make time to even get a chance of getting this short done, the least of which was abandoning this blog for a period. You’re too old for me to lie to you dear reader, the last three months of school was probably one of the most difficult and stressful times of my life. But here I am all bright and shiny on the other side of h-e-double hockey sticks and I’m still smiling and seemingly no worse for wear.

School officially ended in early October. There was an option to extend classes by three more months at half price when school realized that the majority of students were struggling to finish. I was tempted for exactly half a second but then realized what that meant as far as the commitments I had made to my wife, family and friends. I had to turn down the offer.

For the three months following that, it was a lot of picking up the pieces of my life. I put most everything on hold and had quite a bit of catching up to do (and I still do in fact.) Starting in mid November, I began putting together a reel and started polishing that which needed it the most.

I’m happy to report that many of my fellow AM’ers have met with some great success through just the school’s alumni website alone. It would appear that the studios have been approaching the school asking for people and the school has been directing them towards people who have work that may be a good fit. It took me a long time to get my reel posted on the website after school ended. I’m sure that hurt me much more than helped but at the time I was thinking that I didn’t want to show my reel before it was ready and felt it was wiser to wait. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

So far students have placed at ILM, Dreamworks, Sony and BlueSky. I’m sure there have been many more that have landed great stuff than that, but that is all that I’m currently aware of. It’s very inspiring to me. Sadly, Disney and Pixar are going to have a round of layoffs in February so they aren’t currently hiring and that has made Sony initiate a hiring freeze in anticipation of snatching up some of that laid off talent (one presumes.) I’m not sure if this is particularly the best time for a junior animator to be hunting for a feature position but perhaps I over think things.

Coming up next, my reel, my short, my word!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Nows for the Animation

So for the last four weeks we’ve been blocking our film. We made a first pass at rough blocking and now is the second pass of “blocking plus.” I’ve been working my tail feathers off.

However that did not stop me from going to see John K. give a talk at a retrospective about his work. I went with the talented Mike Stern and It was a heck of a good time. I got to see “Boo Boo Runs Wild” again. I’ve been trying to find that thing forever and I can’t seem to get a hold of it. To me, that is animation that clarifies why some gags just can’t be written down in a script. There is something about him running around and grunting like a maniac that kills me everytime.

Also I spent a fun-filled evening with some AM cohorts tossing the pigs. That’s right, you heard me. Even though, sadly, I felt my self-imposed production schedule didn’t allow for me to go to Siggraph or ComicCon, I got out of the house a bit and was reminded that AM has built such a great community of people. That’s worth the price of admission alone.

So the biggest news of all is that I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough. I feel so energized at this point to knock this thing out of the park. In the beginning, I have to admit that it was a bit like pulling teeth for me to get back into the flow of working and schooling after the laid back three months of planning the short. There were days during the first pass of blocking where I had a hard time concentrating. My brain gots its lazy on.

But now I’ve finally broken through that wall where this animation is mostly what I think about during my waking hours. I feel a genuine excitement to sit down and get to work. It is the absolute best. I tend to be a bit obsessive about things. I don’t get into stuff just a little bit. Sometimes it’s tricky to get myself into positive things, instead of fixating on radio control cars or board games. There’s time for that stuff later. Now’s for the animations.

Let’s see, what has transpired over the last month since the pitch. I was going to use the heavier (polite version of fatter) AM character of Otto. I liked the idea of the contrast between the fatty and the flying. But I did some pose tests of Otto and his shape seemed to always lean towards the ball and I don’t think I could have gotten the kind of lines and posing out of him that I was hoping for. So I’m sticking with good old Bishop. I like Bishop quite a bit actually. I think he’s a great character with lot of appeal and he looks young but at the same time ageless in my opinion.
The story has remained fairly the same as the pitch. There are additions of just a few more shots to clarify things but not much else. I still have some obvious timing adjustments to make. Some shots don’t last long enough, some are way too slow. Things that look perfect to me one day will appear completely off the next. Such is the creative process, I suppose. I'm still struggling a bit with his initial poses when lying on the ground. I'd love to have him lay flat on his chest, but his head is too big to get any type of pose that doesn't look like his neck is broken. But right now he clearly seems to have one-armed-syndrome. So I shall toil on it some more.

Not much more to say, so here is a playblast of the first half of the film approximately. Because it’s a playblast, all of the clouds appear to have hard edges, but they won’t when I render. The sky texture doesn’t look quite right in the playblast either. Rendered it looks good. Trust me. Now you will have some surprises for later. Ooooooooooohhhhh I can sense your excitement. It’s palpable. Look, I’m palping it right now.

Palp palp palp.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Formal Story Pitch: The Wizard of Stupid

My story pitch was a bit rough for me. We were supposed to act out the idea as much as possible. But since I was on a bit of a vacation while working on this, I got the opportunity to doodle some thumbnails. Some are good, some not so much, but all are small and quickly made, so that is a victory in it's own right. Not to mention, I drew the drawings in my pitch over the course of three or four days whilest sipping mojitos. Well, not exactly mojitos, they were margaritas. Ok, they were Coors lights. Fine, half a Fanta out of a Styrofoam cup. Thanks for killing the dream.

The upside being that I didn't have to act out much as I could hide behind my storyboards. I kinda know that school is for getting better at this stuff, but I also kinda know that in a real world situation, I'd have a pointer and legibly sized storyboards tacked up to the wall. Not to mention, my pitch most likely wouldn't be put on permanent record and published for all the world to download, youtubed, mocked, altered, re-youtubed and blogged about. Although, the paypal pity would be nice.

DISCLAIMER: I'm still a bit hesitant to put this out there on the internets because I seem to have no end of hatred for watching myself on anything, mirrors included, but quite simply what you are about to witness is nothing short of me in a compromised position on the internet. I know better than this. Did Star Wars kid teach us nothing? Not only am I wearing an uber-cool pair of headphones with the microphone built right in (think Kathy, the friendly customer service representative in India) but I'm also trying to sound enthusiastic and not my usual monotone deadpan. So surprisingly, for some reason, take after take I had a strange cadence and intonation to my voice. I got this sing-songy-sort-of-thing going on that can only remind me of Jack Horkheimer. This is not how I normally talk. Usually I'm much more effeminate with a subtle touch of mucus.

Sigh. It all reminds me of why I'm an animator in the first place. Being in front of the camera gives me pleasure equal to deworming cats. I spent the last 10 years hiding behind drawings for a living. So please, I beg of you, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and this time no dogs allowed.

I just got that carpet done.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

No one said Haiku couldn't rhyme.

Blog Haiku apology,

Long time, no sign on
Was too unsure to pine on.
Please forgive me, mon.

No one said Haiku couldn't rhyme.

Well a whole semester went by and I barely posted a thing. Can I be depended on anymore for consistent blogging sustenance? Is it worth going through the 18 hour process of fighting html code and browser compatibility issues to establish a solid RSS feed to my bloggy blog? Most likely, no in all cases. I can promise however to post more frequently than last semester, once. That is to say, if I post just slightly more than never, I’ve held up my part of this bargain.

So, how was last semester you may ask? Well if you were there in AM, then you already know and you should quit reading this instantly and get back to work on your short, you slacker. If you are a visitor from the outside world, than Google must have failed you to dead end you at this html-hole. But so it goes.

Last semester was…how do you say…difficult, to say the least. But refreshingly, it was difficult in a completely different way than before. Instead of cramming in long hours on animation between pesky “life” we had to come up with pitches for short films. I found that there was nothing tougher than committing to a single idea that not only will dominate my lives for the next six months, but will also be the primary staple in my demo reel. So it was “hurry up and think” for a bit. I’m certain now on hind sight that the harder you think the worse you are at coming up with original, witty ideas that will only take a minute to represent.

For the informal pitch, I came in with six ideas. Most, strangely enough, had to do with the main characters getting in wrestling matches with inanimate objects. Actually to try to keep the projects in scope, we were told to keep it to one or two characters and a single prop and ideally under a minute. So I tried to stay by those guidelines in my thinking.

As it turned out, my least favorite idea was the one that seemed to hit with everyone in my Q&A session. So that was the one that I was to move forward with and work up a more formal story pitch. I was unhappy with all of my ideas, truth be told. To me the perfect example of the one minute or so animation without too many characters has to be Luxo Jr. I wouldn’t even know how to sum that short up in a pitch and make it sound nearly as great as it turned out to be. I imagine the pitch would be something like this…


So there’s this lamp right. And it’s just sitting there, um, on. And then there is this ball that comes in a bumps it. And then…another smaller lamp comes into screen after the ball and then pushes it off screen. You with me so far? O.K. good. And then it, the little lamp comes back on screen and jumps on the ball and, um, pops the ball, yeah that’s it. Then the lamps are sad until the little one finds another ball and the big lamp is like, lamps will be lamps.

So what do you guys think?"

[insert cricket chirping here]

But it’s one of the best freaking films on the planet and is many's inspiration for getting into all of this in the first place. I was trying to keep this in mind while thinking on an idea for my film. I tried, with all of my might to stay away from the space army attacking the deep in stellar outpost of snot-bugs. Most of my ideas kept developing into three minute stories. Or five minute mini-epics or full blown trilogies with special extended versions and small statuetttes.

So what was the pitch that won the hearts and minds of my fellow AM students and Mentors?

There is a boy with a radio control plane. He is flying the plane in a big blue sky. The plane swoops past the camera and out of frame, but when it returns, we see that it is the boy that is flying instead.

I had/have a lot of work to do.
Stay tuned and I will post my formal pitch in a few.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Like sands through the hour glass...


It is with a soggy eye that I am forced to part with my trusted mentor of three months as we reached the end of the Advanced Acting class. Jason was a great great mentor to whom I will always carry around a little golden nugget of debt to for being a part of my journey to wherever. That guy is super fun, laid back, friendly and I'd love someday to buy him some beers somewhere. So again, I have to cut the cord and move on. However, it’s hard not to be excited about what lies ahead. So I tarry not, on to the newses.

My final departing criticism from Jason Schleifer was mostly positive, with the note that I should work a bit on my confidence and not be afraid to let the character settle a bit. Well, valid points all around, I know. My confidence seems to wane and wax all the time. I seem to get something done in a shot that I’m happy with, but the next week, it can all seem to fall apart. The quality of my animation is my looking glass to my ability to do this, seemingly at every step along the way. And I know, that I have a very harsh eye when it comes to my stuff. I think the point that Jason made was a good one. I have to believe more in my ability to do this, even on the bad days. The bad days are just that, and I will come back at it and get something that I’m happy with at the end.

Well, that is something that I have to work on. I hope it will come with time as I get myself out of more and more animation jams. This last project was a toughy for the soul but I pulled it out of my shame pile and put in on my needs slight tweaking pile.

As far as letting the character stay still, I knew it all along in the back of my mind. Now I just have to execute. It’s hard for a bit of a show off like me not to pack every second I get on the screen with a new gag or a new attention getting bit. But I will make sure to not over do my animation from here moving forward.

So onto my new mentor…Gavin Moran! Gavin is one of the favored mentors at AM as well. An Irish fellow relocated here to California, he’s worked on films at Disney, Wild Brain and now at Sony Pictures. He’s known for giving you a no-nonsense good swift kick to the hole approach to his mentoring. I can’t wait.

We are tasked to come up with three short film ideas and casually present them to our mentors for this week. Well, technically next week, as I’m in “group two.” So I get to watch group one-ers squirm first. Honestly, I can’t help but feel a tinkle of schadenfreude glee about not having to go first.

Visit again now, ya’ hear?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Updog - Part 08 (Smells Like Teen Updog)

Well, well. Guess who isn’t ashamed of his piece anymore!

That’s right. It’s me! How’d you guess? You’re so good at this game.

It was another three-day work week so I could jam on my piece for another set of three and a half marathon days. This time it was a completely different story. Everything was clicking, Batman. I was getting my arcs shaped up. BAM! I was getting much better weight on things, POW! And I resolved all of the little timing problems, CRUNCHHHH! Things just went smooth as all get out and thank the cartoon gods for that as I had a TON of work left to do.

There isn’t a single piece of this that didn’t get a major reworking, save for the shoulder slap. I reworked the weight and timing of Beige’s entire beginning part. Reworked the leap over a bit as well. Fixed some of the stepping towards the end. The hands, the arcs, it was all flying together like gangbusters.

All of that amounted to a huge shot in the arm of Vitamin Confidence and by the end of the week, I was grinning ear to ear again as I worked. So my faith was shaken, rattled, tested even, but not completely blasted out of existence with my ability to animate. I’ll figure this stuff out yet. I know I will.
So it’s almost done, but not quite. I still haven’t tracked all of my arcs yet or shaped my eyelids yet. There are also a few ins and outs that need tweaking. But all and all, I’m liking it again. Perhaps if I feel bold, I will give each of them a tie to show what little professionals they’re supposed to be. And give them a proper office. And render it. Ok ok! Lay off me, will ‘ya?

Updog - Part 07 (Tuna Fish Meltdown)

There is no joy in toddville.

Taking two days off work this week, I slogged it out on this piece for three days straight. And I’m talking about three good 14 hour days with my but in my chair and no distractions. Things did not go well and, as it stands, I hate it.

An innocent little comment from my mentor Jason about having Beige really pop up at “Up” and down at “Dog” dissolved a day of that time. He had a concern about a double dip when coffee pot was set down and before he popped up in the arc to shift his weight onto his hand (about frame 80.) I didn’t necessarily agree with him that it was an issue. But I figure it’s good to practice incorporating feedback that you aren’t 100% on board with, because I’m sure that is a weekly (if not a daily) occurrence at the big picture houses. This week, I tried to incorporate it.

Unfortunately, my keys were no longer neatly aligned on the same frames. There were a lot of offset keys in the spine and neck and head and arms and all of that. So changing it proved to be hugely difficult. It seemed such a small thing at first glance, but it wound up kicking me in the butt and then the shin and then laughing at my haircut.

I got it to this point, but there is still a bump when he sets down the pot and the weight isn’t working for me at all. The “or” line got rushed to make time for the new physics of the thing. And there is a strange floating settle after he lands that I didn’t have time to remove.

Basically, it felt like everything I touched this week turned to poo. My confidence is completely shot. I’m consumed with thoughts like, “well maybe my last shot turning out half way decent was just a fluke. Maybe I don’t really know what I’m doing at all.” But then try to slap that part of me in the face and yell at me to snap out of it. And then the other side slaps the other part and screeches about how he can't get it like he wants it no matter how much snapping he does. Then a big sissy fight erupts in my brain. Much imaginary hair is pulled. Many mental vases are thrown to the floor. And then a lot of fetal ball crying by everyone involved.

Ahem. Focus on the positive.

I put in a ton of time as well on the body mechanics at the end with Greeny taking small side steps and Beige pulling away. It’s sorta-kinda working.

As it stands, I’m happy with about 25% of it at this point. I like how Beige smacks the shoulder and I got a little reaction to that in Greeny. When Beige comes up and snorts, that’s pretty good as well.

It’s obvious to me now that to make the close up shot and the following shot to work right, I’m going to need to pad the frames coming in and out again, which means that I need to go to the audio source and give it a minor edit. I think there is plenty of background office noise to not cause a problem. When I asked about this, I found out that animators ask for this sort of thing all the time from the sound departments.

In fact, there is an interesting thing on the “Corpse Bride” dvd where it shows the audio clips they used edited all together with their original video reference of the voice talent. You can see that they rarely take three words in a row as they were read. Every word is edited together practically.

But I digress. I only have one more week to beat this beast into shape. How I wish that I had gone for a subtle acting piece at this point! I’d love to only be worried about brows and eyelids and cheeks instead of contacts and body mechanics. Hindsight is annoying.

I can do it. I can. I can DO it. I CAN do it.

Can't I?

Updog - Part 06 (With Miles To Go Before I Sleep)

Even though I put in work on this piece, I couldn’t tell you why it’s any better at all. I’m not sure that it is. My only consolation is that I didn’t have a ton of time to put in this past week.

What I DID do is I eliminated the intersecting and got a little more weight on his hand lean, although currently it feels too abrupt. The “or” arc is feeling better but it still needs to be reworked.

I included Greeny looking down at the hand before we go to the close up shot, again big thanks to Jason. A killer suggestion in that too, because now I have more time to show Greeny’s reaction to Beige because I don’t have to have that extra beat for him to look at the hand and get angry. Now the close up starts angry.

I got the arcs on his head and hand right before the shoulder slap to work much better. Before Beige’s hand was passing right through Greeny’s face. Geometrically, this move wouldn’t work in real life, but in real life, peoples heads aren’t the size of beach balls either, so I’m willing to cheat it a bit.

Also thinking back to one of our recent lectures, I wanted to add in a touch of anticipation for some dialogue, so I added the slight head shake before “nothing.” Of course, as it stands, it’s not very slight at all. I will have to tone it down a touch.

All of a sudden I feel super stressed out about how much I have left to do on this piece before the end of the term in two weeks. Somehow, I have gotten way behind without realizing it. On my last piece, I had three weeks to concentrate on the face alone. But now I have to add the phoneme shapes, get the weight and arcs working all correctly, and get the face polish to the level of my last piece. Yikes! The crazy thing is, I'm no further behind most people in my class. In fact, most people are worse off than me. But everyone is saying "don't worry." But I'm worried.

I, like many of my fellow students, at times feel burnt out on this crazy schedule, which involves work and school and family. Currently, AM takes about 20 to 30 hours of my time a week in lectures and homework. I have been so very inactive on the forums and fellow AM'ers workspaces leaving comments. I'm just too strapped for time. I’m very jealous of those that don’t have to hold down a full time job while working at AM as well. If I have any regrets about my AM experience, its that somehow I didn’t secure enough cash so I could go through school and not have to work. I know it will all be worth it in the end. I’ve already learned more in the past year than I would have thought possible.

So stiff upper lip and all that. Now get back to work.

Updog - Part 05 (We'll all Float On Ok)

So the obligatory thing for animators to do, from what I've observed, is to change their splines from stepped to flat or smooth ins and outs and then when they are forced to show it to anyone, as I am psuedo-forced to show it here, is to complain about how bad it looks. So here goes.

*Ahem........This is an awful looking spliney mess. *

(insert fanfare and applause here.)

I think it all is a reaction to seeing how piss poor the arcs are. When it's in stepped mode, everyone's imagination is filling in the gaps between poses. When it is splined, well, the computer takes over and shows you what a crap job your imagination does at interpolating mathematical vectors. So it's a moment of clarity between what you thought you had and what you really have. The truth hurts baby.

Hi ho hi ho, it's off to fix my arcs, weight, timing and whatnot I go.

Updog - Part 04 (Last train to splinesville)

Hello you,

This week I put in work adding yet even more breakdowns and keys on the early parts of the shot. I didn’t have as much time as usual this week due to “real life” concerns. Darn that real life always getting in the way. But I still feel happy with where I’m at. I think the attitude of Beige is reading well. He seems like a punky little brewster up to no good.

Not sure how verbose I can be at this stage about what my thought processes are. I think a lot of the middle work is just rubber to the road, butt to the seat, hand grafted to mouse time. There is still plenty here that I don’t like. Next week I must get out of stepped mode.

Updog - Part 03 (Blocking 2: Electric Hullabaloo)

I swear that you must be stalking me.

So here we go again. This week I have added a few more poses and some breakdowns. It seems to be ever still crawling towards the finish line. For the exception of additional poses and breakdowns, there have only been some slight (but important) changes to the blocking from last week. Some of the most notable are…

The old pose at 92 was weak and not clear. I had him leaning in towards the other character while he was waiting. But honestly, I knew it was a weak pose when I was planning it and sort of dropped that one in as a “good pose goes here” placeholder. I decided to have him change it to a cocky-sort-of-relaxed-weight-on-one-arm type pose, you know the one. I thought that would provide some good contrast to go into his quick smear type move over to Greeny.

Also as it was, when Greeny removed Bishops hand from his shoulder, he took it out of frame towards the bottom. My mentor aptly noted that the two shots would hook up better if greeny moved it out screen right and the left to right movement continuted into the next shot, which seems amazingly obvious to me now, but I’m not sure if I ever would have thought of that myself. So I changed that. The two shots seem to hook up much better that way, thanks Jason.


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