• Happy Holidays!

    Well, the semester has ended and folks are taking some much deserved time off to spend with their families and to recover. Our students did a great job this semester and once the holidays have passed we will post some of their work. Scott and Andrew’s Pixar 3 class completed an animated sequence that went through the full course of production from design all the way through to lighting, which I know they’re looking forward to post. Bobby & Ross’ and Andy & Stephen’s Pixar 1 classes introduced some budding talent to the reinforcement of classical principles and how they translate to CG. Lastly, Mike and I spent this semester with our Pixar 2 class concentrating on acting and dialogue. We’re very proud of everyone’s efforts and look forward to sharing their work with you soon. Also, we are scheduled to record the next Splinecast the first week of January so keep an eye out for that to post shortly after. Have a happy holiday and a safe New Year’s.


  • Work with an image.

    Mike Wu and I had a class this week working on a two-character dialogue assignment. Everyone in class did very well with week one as far as the blocking they showed. Most of the shots the students showed were very clear , but what was consistently lacking was the performance oriented details. Much of this comes from relying on the line read and not exploring much further beyond that. The line read is only going to give you so much. Mike always says, “Lead the line. Don’t let the line lead you”. You have to fully know and understand a character in order to give a convincing performance. We segued this idea into showing some Mr. Bean footage to illustrate our point. I personally feel that Rowan Atkinson is one of the top 5 physical comedians/performers of all time. In researching him and his inspirations, I came to learn that Rowan always envisioned the behavior and mannerisms of Mr. Bean to fall in line with those of a mischievous 9 year-old boy. What a wonderful springboard to launch from. If you have a clear vision in your head as to who the character is, or what you think he/she represents, this then puts you in a better position to latch on to an image of something that can help steer you toward making interesting choices. These may manifest in body language, expression, or gesture. The more you bring to the party before you’ve picked up your mouse, the better your animation will be. 2-D, 3-D, or live-action,….. if you don’t know your character you’re screwed.

    If you have a character oriented assignment/challenge that you seem to have a hard time overcoming, revisit or create a backstory for the character and give yourself an image that will help shape the mannerisms and performance of who you’re animating. Doing so will help you to make unique choices, steering you away from animation cliches and provide you with fertile ground to plant an interesting, organic performance. Be it a 9 year-old boy or a pneumatic drill, an image can help shape a good piece of animation into a performance that brings a character to life.



  • Michael Caine Videos

    One of the Readers (Jeremy Hopkins)was kind enough to email me the location of a bunch of Michael Caine on Acting Lectures. I’m sure there is some good stuff in there. Here are the links…






  • Happy Thanksgiving!

    Not much right now except to wish everyone a pleasant holiday. After the break we’ll be posting some new thoughts. We’ve figured out how to attach YouTube clips to our posts so we’ll now be able to provide reference clips for some of the ideas we’re discussing. In addition, we’ve got some ideas for a couple new splinecasts which we hope to get going after the holidays. This crunch is probably the craziest we’ve been through, so we continue to ask for your patience. Also, feel free to comment on things you’re curious about. Perhaps a teacher has given you a note on your work that you don’t quite understand, or maybe there is something that you notice you’re having consistent trouble with. By posting a comment we can better shape the topics of the next few posts. Most of our brains are elsewhere right now (or mush), so help us help you. Have a great Thanksgiving everybody! I know I’ll be thankful for a couple of days off.


  • Revisiting the mission.

    The mission statement that is. The tongue-in-cheek genesis of this blog was an attempt to pass on information about the great masters of animation’s past to a generation of students who spend more time learning software than they do the principles and history of their craft. In an attempt to reinforce what this blog was created for, I’d like to share a little about an evening I had recently with a wooden puppet, a dog, and a doorknob.

    My teaching partner Mike Wu and I were in class last week giving a lecture on dialogue. It wasn’t so much about mouth shapes or the technical aspects of animating dialogue, as it was about the “phrasing” of your animation in a dialogue driven performance. For those unfamiliar with the term, animation “phrasing” has a similar meaning to it’s grammatical and musical counterparts. It is the composition of movement used to communicate your ideas to the audience. In addressing several principles and old guidelines (some of which we can post about later) we showed several clips that we felt showed what we were talking about better than we could ever explain it.

    The first was from Pinocchio. We were talking about the design of your mouth shapes being consistent with the expressions and attitude of the character. We showed the sequence of Pinocchio and Lampwick shooting pool together on Pleasure Island. The shape of Pinocchio’s mouth had a great asymmetrical smirk which worked with the vocal performance and reinforced the idea of that young, forced bravado and trying so hard to sound grown up. Next, after talking about designing mouth shapes and maximizing their appeal, we showed the doorknob sequence from Alice In Wonderland. This is one of my favorite classic Disney performances. Frank Thomas took the challenge of animating a talking doorknob and designed it and handled it in a way that was not only entertaining to watch, but made you believe it! The artistic choices he made for mouth shapes using the key hole were inspired. Then, discussing phrasing and clarity, Mike Wu brought out some big guns. Lady and the Tramp. This oft-forgotten movie has some of the most brilliant character animation ever done on film. We watched the sequence of Tramp warning the neighborhood dogs of how things change for a dog once there is a baby in the house. This sequence, animated primarily by Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas, has scenes in it that as an animator took my breath away. I felt like I was watching it for the first time the other night in class, or perhaps with different eyes. In the context of our lecture it demonstrated that animating dialogue is more than properly articulating mouth shapes to an audio track. It is about whether or not the character “feels” like he is delivering the dialogue.

    What made the biggest impression on me at the end of class was how high the 9 Old Men and other Golden Age animators had raised the bar for us with what they achieved, and how rarely contemporary animation comes even remotely close to that bar. There are certainly diamonds in the rough out there, but by and large we still have so much to do when it comes to living up to the legacy of those who forged this medium. Take the time to watch and study the artistry of some of this classic stuff. Also try to remember, that when these great films were made it was a new and exciting technology. However, in order for these films to resonate with audiences they need to go far beyond a bunch of moving images. Funny how some things never change.