Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Character is King

Our team went down to LA for CTN last month and had an amazing time. We met some of the best animators including Doug Sweetland and Andreas Deja. They had some great wisdom to share, first they were talking about what its like to work on large teams with different types of people. That it's very important to work well together, to remember that everyone is working towards the same goal, to produce high quality animation. Then finally they talked about character, whether it be the characters in your film or the people you work with, character is king. As animators we must be able to balance the professional, and the artistic parts of our job, while working together as a team.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Thinking Character

I remember one day Tom told us in the dailies, "This character does not look like he's acting. He looks alive". I think the difference between "acting" and "alive" is all about "what the character is thinking". If the character looks like they're acting, then maybe the character is thinking about his performance (which sometimes works, for example, a shot with a cocky actor acting in cheesy way on a stage). All the movement and action should have a reason. Think about the thought process and show it through the characters. I just found good article about this by John Lasseter.

When animating characters, every movement, every action must exist for a reason. If a character were to move about in a series of unrelated actions, it would seem obvious that the animator was moving it, not the character itself. All the movements and actions of a character are the result of its thought process. In creating a "thinking character," the animator gives life to the character by connecting its actions with a thought process. Walt Disney said, "In most instances, the driving forces behind the action is the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character—or all three. Therefore, the mind is the pilot. We think of things before the body does them."
To convey the idea that the thoughts of a character are driving its actions, a simple trick is in the anticipation; always lead with the eyes or the head. If the character has eyes, the eyes should move first, locking the focus of its action a few frames before the head. The head should move next, followed a few frames later by his body and the main action. The eyes of a character are the windows to its thoughts; the character’s thoughts are conveyed throught the actions of its eyes.
If the character has no eyes, such as an inanimate object like a Luxo lamp, it is even more important to lead with the head. The number of frames to lead the eyes and head depends on how much thought precedes the main action. The animator must first understand a character’s thought process for any given action. Consider a character wanting to snatch some cheese from a mouse trap; the eyes will lead the snatch by quite a bit because this is a big decision. The character needs time to think, "...Hmm...This looks tricky, is this cheese really worth it or is it just processed American cheese food?...Oh what the heck...," he decides, and snatches the cheese.
Conversely, if the action is a character ducking to miss a low flying sheep, the anticipation of the eyes leading the action should be just a couple of frames. "What the...," and the next thing, he is spitting wool out of his mouth.
The only time that the eyes or head would not lead the action would be when an external force is driving the character’s movements, as opposed to his thought process. For example, if that character was hit in the back by the low flying sheep, the force of the impact would cause the body to move first, snapping the head back and dragging it behind the main action of the body.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tell 'em What You Told 'em

I really like when I watch movies and television programs that have messages that apply to animation. The one that helped me most recently was from the movie Seven Pounds with Will Smith, in which he is explaining a type of presentation to a company.
He says that you must be clear and:

          Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them
          Tell them
          Then tell them what you told them

This presentation technique reminds me of anticipation, the animation principle that we need to show the audience that something is about to happen. Then it happens and they can follow it because they saw it coming and were ready for it.

Another one of these messages I found in Futurama, in the episode Godfellas (S4_E8), when a race of tiny people worship Bender as their God. Bender tries to help them, and accidentally kills them, he tries not helping them and they end up killing each other. Then Bender runs into the real God, and he tells Bender “Being God isn't easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch.”  God then goes on to say,

”When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all.” 

This is the statement that stuck with me. When I think about animation this way, about how we are trying to create the illusion of life, that when we do our jobs right, the animator's hands will go unseen as the characters live out their lives on screen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Character Consistency

Same actor, different animators, different characters. We realized we were all animating the same character this week, but our performances were dividing our lead into different characters. Each performance had strong acting and good animation, but they weren't the same character. So this week we're aiming to, instead of one of us animate Tex Avery's Bugs, another of us animate Bob Clampett's Bugs,  and so on, we're all just gonna try to animate Chuck Jones' Bugs.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I've heard this so many times in my animation life. Lately, I have been hearing it during my critiques, "Keep it simple." I always want my animation to look really great, but the really good ones are really simple as well. It seems I had a tendency to put so many things in one shot, and it turned out "too complex". Simple animation is not easier, actually it is difficult because we need to tell a story within the poses. Tom us "Simplicity rules all." Let's seek for quality and simplicity in animation.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Together Everyone Achieves More

As Sean discussed in his last post, being the crew on a film is very much like being the crew on a ship. We have grown closer and stronger as a crew as we muscle through each of these storms. One of the things that is great about our crew is that we all come from different backgrounds, and we have different strengths, we have different specialties, which makes us stronger as a whole.

I myself studied Fine Art and Computer Animation in undergrad, where I made a short film by myself. Sean has been studying hand drawn animation since high school, and then went on to continue his education at Cal Arts, where he made several short films. Justin studied Computer Graphics as a generalist in his undergrad, and has now moved onto specialize in Texturing and Lighting. Ryo studied Media Science in college in Tokyo.  Moos worked in a small production company working on motion graphics for commercials and music videos. So we come from many different backgrounds and we have different strengths, and the great thing about working together on this film is that we all want to share our knowledge with each other, so that we can all become better artists. 

One of the first times that this crossover between backgrounds happened was when we started to work on the mods for our characters. Sean with his background in hand drawn drew the turnarounds of our characters. Justin with his technical knowledge of Maya started to test out the process for modding “Morphy,” after which he showed the process to me.  With my background in modeling in Maya, I took both Sean’s turnarounds and Justin’s modding process and started to create our characters in 3D. I worked for a long time modeling the meshes to get them to look the way we wanted them, and then Moos was brought onto the project and he helped me finish off the final steps of the modding process. 

While the modding process was going on, Sean was teaching us about hand drawn animation, about posing and timing, and what animation looks like when it’s done right. Which lead us to look to the past, and study the best hand drawn animators at Disney; Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, and Marc Davis. Studying the films on which they were the Directing Animators, such as, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book has been an eye opening experience for me as a 3D animator. Now we can start to understand how the Nine Old Men did what they did with hand drawn animation, and how we can learn from them, and use what we learn in our film today.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sailing Through Storms

I've really grown to like the simile "Being the crew on a film is like being the crew on a ship." When everyone does their job, the ship safely sails to land. The reason the ship comparison has really stuck with me is because just like a ship may have to sail through storms and rough waters, a film goes through conflicts and challenges in a similar fashion. You can see the storm brewing before you reach it, the water starts to get rocking, and before you know it, it's all-hands-on-deck! This week on the film, we had to weather another storm. The details of this week's storm are unimportant, but to sum it up, it was like a small hurricane that hit us out of no where. This storm stuck out to me from the others, though, because I noticed a change in us as a crew; we had grown and it was visible. In the past, we would panic, at times even turn on each other. But now, we stayed calm, cooperative, and ready to adapt. I'm really proud of the whole crew after this week, because it's clear to me now that we've all grown our "sea legs" and I'm more confident than ever that we'll make it to shore.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I'd like some TD madness with a side of help from my crew

Through-out the production, I have experienced many technical difficulties. Being the most technical of the crew, it is often my job to troubleshoot/solve these difficulties. Our first and largest issue to date was our characters... we have 14! At first I thought "I am just a texturing and lighting TD, what do I know about character modding?!?! Oh no!" haha, but I knew that my team needed me, and like any captain (co director in this case), I would rather go down with the ship then see my men drowning in the sea. After grasping a basic understanding of how previous mods were done on other projects (Norman in our case), I started studying the process a bit, doing a few tests, and then I was ready to move on. Next I had to get somewhat familiar with the standard Morpheous rig (Had some help with the animators/director on this due to my lack of animation control knowledge) Thanks Sean, West, and Ryo! The next step consisted of watching all of the videos that Josh Burton (Creator of Morpheous) posted about the rig on his website. These videos are a must watch if you want to use Morpheous to its full potential! Now it was time to move onto modeling. After some trial and error, I was finally ready to pass my knowledge onto my eagerly awaiting crew. The torch of modding lead was then passed onto Andrew West who at first struggled a bit, but is now a morphy modding maniac! West later teamed up with an outsider to the project named Daniel Moos who has recently became part of the Just Looking family, now working full time on the project. Between these two guys modding became unstoppable! So I feel the need to take this opportunity to thank the both of them for completing the majority of the character work. Thanks Guys!

After much thought about pipeline, I decided to switch over to using Vray for maya instead of Mental Ray for this project. This is due to the shear scale of this film. At 4 minutes and twenty seconds (80 shots), there is a good chance that there will be multiple lighters working on this film. Vray provides simple and intuitive render pass options that are simple to use and the fact that you don't have to litter your shading networks with gamma correction nodes is also a plus! Therefore if junior lighting artists who are looking to build there skill-sets and get some good looking work for their portfolios want to join the project, it wont be an issue to get them caught up on using render layers and passes. Also I have to admit that I am a sucker for Vray's photometric lighting! Hopefully they create a better workflow for volumetrics in the future though. As far as I am concerned, they are a bit unintuitive right now.

Characters are also being surfaced right now and will hopefully be completed in a month or so. The Vray SSS2 material seams slightly complicated after using the Mental Ray SSS_Skin material, but after many texture/color variation and many many button click, I will eventually figure it out. :)

Blocking and the Battle for the Top Shelf Badge

As it has been with the whole film so far, starting animation has been a huge learning experience for our team. Quite a few members of the film have previous experience with working on individual animated shorts, but coordinating a team to animate a 4 1/2 minute film is a completely different challenge. We animated the first sequence of the film, which is a tiny montage, and learned that we charged into animation without planning it out properly. We regrouped, talked out the acting beats for the entire film as a team, and attempt to make a quick first pass on blocking for the entire film. A bit over zealous but we learned a lot for it. 

We've now shifted the schedule and are beginning to animate small groups of shots at a time. We chosen to animate the shots in continuity and are each working on different sequences that are from different sections of the film. A divide and conquer strategy. Some animators are working on character introductions and others are working on the gags. It's fun discovering these characters and triangulating their personalities until their alive and tell us what to do. 

And to kick the motivation into the next level, we've also added a friendly competition into the mix. We now have the TOP SHELF badge, which is essentially employee of the week, that will go to the top animator of the week. The badge will be given out to one of the animators on the team by Tom Bertino, during dailies on every Wednesday, and the animator's picture will be post to the right of this blog.

Gentlemen, the TOP SHELF is in play.  And in the words of Ryo, "My badge."
(Watermark is to preserve authenticity)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This Past Summer

Spring Semester ended on a good note, yet almost everyone was leaving for summer vacation and we still had lots to do. Mainly, we needed our character mods done so that we could move into animation in the fall. I accepted this challenge and started work on our character mods. For those of you who don't know what a "mod" is, its short for a modified rig, where you take a pre-existing rig and modify the mesh and controls to meet your needs. We chose to use "Morpheus", or "Morphy", created by Josh Burton, because of the rigs versatility. We started by using Morphy's standard controls to get each character to look as close to our character turn arounds as possible. Then I started sculpting the face and body to get them even closer to the turn arounds. This process took some time, with myself making progress, showing it to the director, getting feedback, then making necessary adjustments. After the characters where finalized, it was time to start attaching the face and body meshes back onto the rigs. I started running into many different problems during my months of work on this task, yet with lots of creative problem solving and collaboration between our team members and our amazing lab techs, we finished the character mods just before the start of our fall semester! I'm currently in animation on "Just Looking" but once that winds down, I will discuss this modding process in more detail to help others who are modding Morpheus characters of their own.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Start of the Fall Semester

The semester has started and we managed to get a lot done between the summer and fall semesters. Modeling is done, mods have been finalized, and we prepped for animation. Props are nearly all textured and we're working on texturing our characters. I'm happy to say we have started animation this last week. We also are starting lighting tests. Unfortunately, a lot of the crew has been hit with a nasty cold and that limited production this past week, but we're all working to make quick recoveries. This semester we are in full fledge production, with animation and lighting to be the primary focus. We will be posting on here regularly, giving updates on the progress of the film, as well as posting about some of the things we have already gone through during the making of "Just Looking". Hopefully, this blog will be a decent read and helpful to someone.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Greetings! This is the official site for the animated short film, "Just Looking". "Just Looking" is a collaborative animated thesis that is currently being made at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.  We can't share too much right now about the film, due to NDAs, but what we can share will be posted on here. We will also be posting about our progress on the production. Thanks for visiting and come back soon!