• Successful Traits of an Animator


    At CTN Animation Expo I spoke on the topic of the five successful traits that an animator should have. Here is a recap. I hope to expand on this soon and post some of the video I shot for the lecture. In short they are:

    1) Attitude. Its probably the most important thing you could possess. A lack of Ego, someone who has a natural drive and can communicate with others. I know, this sounds corporate, but it really is important to have a good work ethic. Being an organized animator is of equal importance.

    2) Good Choices. When I say good choices I’m talking about good ideas. Acting ideas or ideas that are not the norm. Its so easy to fall into the camp of just animating to a piece of dialogue. Coming up with original ideas is the hard part. I struggle with it everyday. How do you keep your work fresh? I always fall back on what inspires me. A great film, an interesting piece of animation, a drawing, a comic strip whatever…. The point is to really push yourself to make good interesting choices.

    3) Entertainment Value. What is it that makes something entertaining? Adding entertainment to a scene that is funny is one aspect, but making any shot have entertainment value is the key. How can you find the aspect of the shot which makes it different from the rest. The way a character walks, or how they gesture. I always am inspired by Mr. Bean for pure pantomime entertainment.

    4) Physicality. Obviously your characters need to feel like they belong in whatever world they are in. Having a sense of weight and balance is so important. Many times the rig will look hollow. your characters must have that specific weight. I remember how hard it was trying to make Sullivan look heavy. We went to a UC Berkeley lab and tried on these huge fake arms in order to see how it might feel to have heavy arms. It helped, but mostly I took away the idea that there is an aspect to each character which sells the weight. In Sully’s case it was the arms, belly and weight of his head and his overall mass.

    5) Caricature. When I asked around about what people thought was the most important trait, this always came up. The ability to see something in real life and know where to push it. This is what makes great animation. Taking an aspect of something or someone and boiling it down to the essence. The Big story is a great example of caricature in design and movement.

    In the next posts we will try and delve further into each of these traits. Thanks for reading. Also, this is my opinion and just some thoughts about the subject.


  • CTN Animation Expo

    I had a great time at the CTN animation expo. I am sorry that I did not get the change to finish my presentation. 20 minutes is not much time and I will try to post some of the notes and the closing video. Thanks again for all the support. All inquires regarding masterclasses check out the site for updates or email me at splinedr@gmail.com

    Some of the things I really liked about the expo were how open everyone was about sharing information.  To have access to all these amazing people is unreal. There were some really great panels as well as demos. I wish I had the chance to participate more. I’d love to here more about what people liked and what they thought could be better. Its exciting to see something like this happen and my hats off to the CTN team and Tina Price for making this happen.


  • A Gesture Here, A Gesture There…

    When animating, it is very hard to come up with original gestures. Gestures can be something that describes how a character is feeling, like a rub of the nose or touching of the mouth. They can also be the obvious hand gesture. We quickly fall back on the easiest ones. The neck rub, the W pose, The Point. The ones that dont really require alot of thinking or were original 40 years ago. I am guilty of having characters gesture too much. You could say that Mike Wazowski does alot of gestures. As you can see, I hit the old W gesture on this scene…I blame this on my family origins and the type of character Mike was. Also, I was young and only had two films under my belt.  When I see something nice its usually because I have not seen it before. In some ways, I look for opportunities where I don’t need to gesture with the arms. I also find that once I block out a gesture, it is the polish of those gestures that is important. This is where you break up the timing, change a hand pose or rethink what you are doing. Its important to be open to change right up until the end. I still struggle to find original gestures. I once heard a really cool idea from an acting class. They told the actors to observe 3 gestures and utilize them in their scenes.  I thought that was a really cool thing to do. Uta Hagen teaches some great acting classes, many of which are on You Tube. Its important for us to look at this stuff and relate it back to our work. They are worth watching. I always have to keep my eyes open and just look. Films often have some great “choices” the actors make. Choices…. Its something you hear actors and directors use in live action. That was a great choice you made in that scene. They are referring to the way they did the scene.  We need to make the correct choices for our work as well since we are acting through our characters.


  • Upcoming Stuff

    Sorry the site has been a bit slow lately. I hope to interview some more artists for Spline Casts soon. It will happen in the next couple of weeks. On a side note, some folks wanted to know when and if any classes will be going on this summer. There is a class coming up in Montreal Quebec with myself and Veteran Story Artist, Matt Luhn. We are doing a two day intensive on Story and Animation on June 13th and 14th. Matt and I have been talking about doing something like this for a while. Montreal is certainly a great place to have an animation class. I know the tuition may seem steep but it costs a lot to put these on and the information is well worth it. A portion of any proceeds will go to charity.   Here is a link for more info.


  • “The Walk” part one

    There are many different ways to approach a scene which contains a character walking. The first thing you need to figure out is what the scene is about. Is it a one off shot of a character walking into frame and saying a line? Is it a series of scenes of one or more characters walking and talking. I have worked on both types and many variations. When I was working on The Incredibles, I got a bunch of shots with Edna and Bob walking through her home talking about the past when he brings his super suit to be repaired. The best way to approach a bunch of shots like that was to create two really good walk cycles and plop them on a path. Then layer the acting on top of the walk. The best way to layer the walk on top is to use controls that let you animate on top of what you already have. Obviously you have to alter things like the arms in order to gesture, and the head to hit accents of dialogue, but the cycle you create is the key ingredient.

    Now, what about a one off shot? A cycle is usually not the way to go, but I have seen it done well. An example of this was a shot in The Incredibles that animator Dave Devan did. It is of Dash in the cave with violet. He get up, says, “Well I’m gonna look around now” After he blocked in the character getting off the floor, he plopped in the walk cycle and showed the shot for a first pass to Brad. Once the basic idea and acting is approved, the walk cycle can be massaged so that the transition from the keyed animation to the cycle does not look bad. You never want the audience to see that the walk cycle is in fact, a cycle. You want to mess it up a bit and vary the timing of things and make it feel more organic.

    The last case scenario would be the shot where you are basically keying the walk from start to finish. I am working on a shot like that now. First, I try to figure out where I want my character to be walking. You can either use a path or straight X,Y, Z controls. Then I start blocking the key poses of the walk by doing the legs first. I usually block on 4′s. I am thinking about the stride pose, the passing pose and back to the stride again.  I inserted the images from Richard Williams book for a quick reference. Once I get that blocked in, then I can start thinking about the details of the push off and the timing of how the legs arrive at each key. It isn’t easy to do a good walk. In fact, its one of the more difficult things to pull off well. One of the most important things is making it feel in balance. You can only cheat so much. Your character really needs to feel like they are in the world. Once the legs are in then you can start getting into everything else like the acting, torso, arms, head, etc etc. In another post we can focus on the acting with a walk. This one is just a warm up to give you a tiny insight about how to approach 3 different types of shots that contain a walk. Again, no way is right. Its what works for you.