• Creating a fun place to work…

    Its really no secret anymore that I have had a few offices that had secret rooms at Pixar… I’ve never really talked about it much, mostly people have told their own version of the story…Mostly mythology. In the next couple of posts Ill try to speak on why it happened and what the real reasons were…

    Well, it all started when I was a kid, as most stories do… Something imprinted with me… My brother Ken, always had the most amazing club houses…One was in a old ice shed out back. He had fur up there, a drawer of baseball cards, a chest of toys and trinkets.. Of course I was never allowed. I did sneak up when he was away, but I loved it there. Being in a place I was not supposed to be was the key. A hiding place… When your a kid, you make forts, you try to construct things, well because its fun! My brother had the shed, the attic, a bush that was a three story apartment etc…Why should it be any different at work? My brother inspired me , or rather as he would say it, I copied him. Copy Cat, he would often call me… I’ll admit, I did like what my older brothers were doing. A kid makes the kid version of what the older kids do…

    So The Love Lounge, was the place at Pixar I “found” When I moved in, there was simply a key in an air vent and I crawled in as any kid would do… Ironically, on the other side of the building there is the same door, but for some reason it never was seen as a place to have drinks and hang out… Animators are a special breed. Basically people that still somehow wanted to keep playing with their action figures…and make them come alive… The natural thing was to do the same thing. I strung up some lights, Bought some airplane bottles of liquor and the next thing I know, Im sending out invitations to my fellow animators to have a drink… Posters start going up…I was inspired by Shawshank redemption. The character in that film had a really cool Cell with a poster of Raquel Welch… The place started turning into a 50′s lounge…We were all so young and it was fun trying to hide from the Brass. One day, while on the Film Finding Nemo, I was supposed to be in a review. They came to my office and was coming out of the door… Caught red handed by Director Andrew Stanton. He looked inside and noticed that I had a sort of Snoopy Dog house. Snoopy’s dog house was also something that as a kid I always wondered about.. He had so much stuff in there… I knew I wasn’t going to be fired, but maybe get in trouble for having a chocolate martini in my hands while a bunch of animators crawled, or rolled out laughing… The next thing I know, John Lassiter is coming by, Then with Steve Jobs… They pretty much loved it… Steve signed the wall: This is why we built this building…The next year or three I met too many famous people to count. Some of my hero’s, So many actors, Musicians, Billionaires, Princes, you name it.. I met them… And had some pretty interesting conversations inside of an airvent.. hey would sign ┬áthe wall and crawl out. That part was always awkward… If I had only had a butt cam…

    One of the big things I learned, and that we all learned.. Don’t force fun. Its up to the employees to push on the culture to make things happen. Don’t wait for the HR team to set up a mixer. The people are who the company is. What I love about Pixar is that people are always trying to outdo each other. Whether its their office, a talk, a party, tools, anything, this is the stuff that makes things interesting.The big issue with a lot of companies out there is that you become afraid of asking… You start thinking that if you ask, they will say no.. Most of the time they may… Most of the great things that happen are spontaneous…Built on some crazy perception…

    Next week Ill continue some of the story of the Love Lounge and talk bit about the Lucky 7 and some other things that may be of interest…

    Thanks for listening..feel free to ask questions…





  • Whats News?

    Its been a bit quite on the blog lately, so I thought I’d update potential readers with what I hope to do with this blog in the coming year. Obviously, people care most about Spline Casts. I hope to record Lee Unkrich and then start getting a few technical people in for some interviews. We have not really covered that area. There are so many great people to talk to and I really am hoping to make time to interview them. Obviously, its not easy keeping things rolling but I believe in education and also learn alot by talking to people I respect at Pixar. Please email me some of your must haves for 2011 or leave it in the comments…

    More Posts… Splinedoctors may be called Splinedoctor one day because I am really the only one who is keeping it going. The other splinedoctors are busy and or just don’t have the time. I totally understand. It takes time and effort. I have some interesting ideas for some future posts and challenges this year and I think it will be fun to do.

    Lastly, Thank you to some of the folks who attended the classes Matt Luhn and I taught. We enjoy doing it and really appreciate all the support and helpful comments on how to make them even better. We are working on new material for 2011 We hope to do a couple of the next year so check the site for info.

    Stay tuned for some cool stuff soon.


  • My (not necessarily THE) Principles

    What is it about animation that moves us so much? Why do I love one scene in a movie and feel less strongly about the next? What is it about the animation of those scenes that speaks to me, and how can I incorporate those things into my work?

    Some time ago I decided I’d try to boil down my process into a simple set of broad principles. And while these aren’t as specific as the fabled 12 or 20 or however however many principles from whatever list you subscribe to, I feel that for myself, they’re a pretty good start at understanding what I look for in animation. Everyone needs their own set of criteria; these are mine. It’s by no means a complete list, but anything else I can think up thus far I’ve found I can slip under one of these umbrella categories.

    My five in order of importance, least to greatest (at this point in my education anyway):

    DESIGN — or perhaps another word for appeal. I hate putting this guy at the bottom of the list, really I do. But in the shower this morning I decided that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Imbuing a character’s image or motion with a solid sense of graphic design, making it appealing, is no doubt of great importance. It makes the scene easy on the eyes and intriguing to look at. It’s also one of the hardest things to put your finger on in any graphic medium. What makes a Milt Kahl drawing so damned appealing? You can go into lengthy mathematical discussions about proportion, straights against curves, arcs and arrows, you name it. But I defy anyone to come up with a formula that explains how to draw (or pose) appealing dogs, or apes, or puppets, the way Milt, or any other great animator can. As important as design is though, it comes in behind:

    PHYSICALITY — The audience’s belief that a character lives and breathes starts in the belief that a character moves right. Every great animated film or scene conveys a set of rules that govern the characters and objects which reside within it. The world of My Neighbor Totoro has different rules than Pinnochio’s, which has different rules than that of The Incredibles. But each film’s characters move and behave in a way that’s consistent with their peers. This is not to say they all move the same (cardinal sin, if you ask me), but that in their own way they obey the rules of the same world. It’s important, no doubt. But not most important. Next up is:

    ENTERTAINMENT — Even if an animated character lacks a sophistication in design or a sense of weight in his surroundings, you can get away with it if it’s entertaining. It’s another hard one that’s hard to explain in simple formulas. And one that many artists and studios are only too often seduced by. These scenes and films seem to cry out, “love me! I’m gonna entertain you!” You know the animation I’m talking about. The stuff that leaves a sour taste in your mouth, and a sense in your gut that you’ve been taken advantage of. Nevertheless, a scene that’s entertaining will linger in one’s memory longer than the next. That’s important, and not just to your reel, but to the audience’s sense of satisfaction after having sat through your film. The right balance is key. Pick your battles, but do not under any circumstances allow it to supersede:

    CHARACTER — The illusion of life, as it were. And only #2 on the list? Sit tight. By this I mean, are the thoughts going through your character’s head consistent with their place on that character’s arc in the film? If I, the audience can’t make out what exactly is going on in that character’s head, and understand why he or she feels that way, forget it. You’ve lost me. Will an impartial audience member be shaken out of their suspension of disbelief by your scene? Are you substituting cliche for subtext? This is the point where “entertainment” will start to elbow its way to center stage if you let it. It’s so tempting to squeeze as much out of a scene as you can, but you cannot let it get in the way of your character’s clear, rational thought process, and you certainly can’t let it interrupt numero uno:

    STORY — no surprises there. The single most important criterion that you must not let suffer under any circumstances. More important than any character’s consistency, more important than any scene’s entertainment value or appeal, if you fail to convey the story point of a scene, you fail to tell the story. And that’s really what this medium is all about: telling a relevant story that will affect an audience. It’s the whole reason animation and indeed movies themselves were invented in the first place. An audience must be able to follow the story. And this is where showing your animation to your peers is vital. You can find ten different people that will give you ten different opinions on your animation’s appeal, but if half of them can’t understand what’s going on, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

    So I’m sure many of you disagree with the set of criteria here, and probably with the order of importance I’ve decided upon, but hey, that’s what the comments section’s for! Happy animating….

    Dr. Hathaway

  • Anticipation, Arcs and Overlap Oh My!

    I had this posted on another blog, but now that a new school semester is about to start I thought I would repost it here.

    As a teacher your always getting asked questions about what the secret is, the formula or the answer to creating good animation. Many times I would say there aren’t any formulas or secrets just the principles of animation. I was wrong, and I think I’ve figured it out; the secret formula is the principles of animation. I’ll break it down to the most important ones for me, keep in mind all twelve are important to creating great animation. Here’s my short list Timing, Anticipation, Arcs, Posing, Squash and Stretch and Overlap. Without these you got nothing with them you might have something. I see too many assignments that generally don’t include any of these. My question is why don’t people use these principles or think to use them? It’s rather simple I make a checklist starting with Timing; I make sure that the scene isn’t even, and then I start analyzing my individual motions making sure they are not even also. Posing is next, looking for tangents, silhouette, attitude, complex shapes, awkward shapes, balance, etc. Then I make sure I’m using anticipation before my major moves, gestures or actions. Next on the list is Arcs, checking the wrists, nose, fingertips, root, shoulders, etc. I’m checking all of these parts to main camera in my shot. Finally I think about the overlap, you might say your character doesn’t have a tail or floppy hat so what is there to overlap? The whole body is made up of elements that can drag, overlap, and follow through. The arms are a huge element that you can apply the principle of overlap too. Fingers, legs, eyebrows, jaws, eyelids and many more elements can also all overlap depending on the action. So next time your animating a shot or a test maybe think about using a checklist. It works for me.

    One last thing no matter what you do, above all everything you do should support the acting and storytelling of the shot or test.

    –Dr. Stephen G.

  • Why We Animate…

    I was listening to a great interview with Woody Allen on NPR radio today. It was about a new film he is coming out with. The interviewer asked him why he does what he does. His answer was “To escape everyday life.” Ultimately he wants to go into another world and leave the regular life behind. I guess for me, animating is similar. I’m trying to create this performance that takes place in a virtual world. When I’m animating, I am trying to get into the characters skin and really feel what they are feeling. Animation is different from live action in that its not improvisational. It takes alot of sweat to recreate a performance that looks natural. What I found interesting about the Woody Allen interview is that he, with all his stardom, still wants to escape every day life. He also said he does not have many friends. Work is his ultimate passion. At 72 he still has the same drive. I ask myself… will I be able to animate with the same passion in another 10 to 20 years, much less 30 or 40? I think it comes down to alot of factors. One, is never feeling like you have arrived. One thing that Woody said was “Don’t listen to them when they tell you are great, and don’t worry what they say if they don’t like your work. Just shut up and work.” I think that egos can get in the way of good work. I think its so important to try different things. If you are an animator, you have to challenge yourself to do different characters and scenes. I think what I find most difficult these days is putting the grease and polish back into the shots. Some of my students that work here now, have polish that blows me away. I love asking them what they are doing to get that. You really always need to be a student in order to keep up. Sometimes, when I’m sitting in my office, I forget to pull in a buddy to get their opinion on a shot. Its so important to do. I guess the point of all this is to stay hungry and understand why we love what we do. Its very easy to get jaded in this industry, but ultimately, animating, and creating character is one of the best jobs out there. Take a listen to the interview. If you take one thing away from it that you can use, it was worth it.