• 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  the 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…





  • Story Book List


    Derek Thompson (amazing story artist and teacher) gave me permission to post this great list of books that you can read to learn about story. Thank you to Derek for compiling such and awesome list and sharing it.


    - considered one of the best books on structure...period.  andrew stanton says this is his " most dog-eared book "
    written in the 30's and pertaining primarily to PLAYWRITING, it's a truly eye opening read.  also deemed a STORY must by Joe Ranft, Andrew Stanton, Alexander Mackendrick, and many, many more.
    2)  ON FILM-MAKING by Alexander MacKendrick
    - Ealing studios writer/director ( ladykillers, sweet smell of success and more ) and CalArts legend Alexander MacKendrick's book of teachings and insight is the culmination of many years of DOING and TEACHING about it...absolute gold.
    3)  ON DIRECTING FILM by David Mamet
    - a lean, mean series and course work on the craft of FILMMAKING by the great David Mamet.
    4)  IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE by Walter Murch
    -  a literally eye-opening work about the craft of FILM EDITING.  a book that can be read over and over again that continues to be useful for developing your EDITORIAL senses.
    -  two wonderfully insightful and anecdotal books by screenwriter supreme, William Goldman ( all the presidents men, princess bride, misrery etc...).  He tackles many subjects that the film scenarist has to deal with, using his personal experiences as the basis for deep insight. his discourse on the challenges and pitfalls in ADAPTATING material for the screen is particularly amazing.
    6)  TRUFFAUT-HITCHCOCK by Francois Truffaut
    - a book length series of conversations between film giants.  a book unrivaled in it's depth and analysis of the mind of the filmmaker. the discourse between these two ( mostly recorded in the 60's ) will teach you more about great storytelling than many other 'how-to' books.
    7)  20 MASTER PLOTS AND HOW TO BUILD THEM by Ronald Tobias
    - a useful examination on the 'archetypal' plot structures that MOST films follow. a reminder that while there are any number of ways to tell a good story, there are always foundational guidelines to buttress them.
    -  Block's examination of iconography, motifs and rhythm in Visual Storytelling is a MUST for any Story Artist, and his techniques and practices are in heavy use throughout our work.
    - formal and foundational study of the nuts and bolts of the scene mechanics, shot design, staging and execution for aspiring filmmakers. dry, but essential reference.
    10)  INVISIBLE INK by Brian McDonald
    -  with keen insight and some surprising revelations, Brian's book on the UNDERSTRUCTURE of story is a must read!
    10b) THE GOLDEN THEME be Brian McDonald
    - the sequel/companion to Invisible Ink, this time the emphasis is on the underlying and universal notion of the GOLDEN THEME.
    11)  MAKING MOVIES by Sindey Lumet
    - step into the mind of the great director as he breaks down the DIRECTOR's process. f you've never seen any of Lumet's films, put them on your PRIORITY ONE list! ( network, the verdict, dog day afternoon, 12 angry men...)
    12)  CONVERSATIONS WITH WILDER by Cameron Crowe
    - another excellent dialogue between two filmmakers that gives you the kind of insight into Wilder's work that you may not find anywhere else.
    - an absolutely stunning book that peels back the curtain on major film studio United Artists and the film that sank it, Michael Cimino's HEAVEN's GATE.  Written in an amazingly frank and insightful way by Creative Executive Steven Bach, this book offers unfettered access to moviemaking from both the creative and financial sides of the coin.  it also delves deep into the history of the studio and the way the the system has changed and mutated...nearly impossible to put down, and you won't need to see Heaven's Gate to enjoy it.
    14) COMICS and SEQUENTIAL ART by Will Eisner
    - The definitive Study by the Grand Master of Graphic Storytelling, Will Eisner, this book is a MUST for anyone involved in VISUAL STORYTELLING.
    15) UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud
    - award winning examination of the function and practice of visual communication in COMICS. a keen and surprisingly unique book that is another essential for Visual Storytellers.
    16) CINEMATIC MOTION by Steven Katz
    17) THE 5 Cs OF CINEMATOGRAPHY by Joseph Mascelli
    18) FILM EDITING by Karel Reisz
    19) THE CONVERSATIONS: Michael Ondaatje and Walter Murch
    -This one is integral for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it helps define character archetypes and really explores sets of rules you can use to keep characters "in character".  ( note: this one is dense and academic...but amazing )
    21) A SHORT HISTORY OF MYTH by Karen Armstrong
    -Very unique breakdown of myth and WHY myths are created, laid out in a historical timeline of where and why myths evolved culturally. What's great for story purposes is that it helps give a sort of blueprint of how to develop plot through character stakes, a key to why myths are timeless and relatable to the masses.
    22) ON WRITING be Stephen King
    - surprising, personal and practical, here is a book on the craft from one of the master's of his art.
    23) THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp
    24) USES OF ENCHANMTMENT by Bruno Bettelheim.
    25) THE WRITER's JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler
    - Vogler applies the teachings of legendary Mythology JOSEPH CAMPBELL to Film Structure in this rewarding book.  In addition to covering all of the parts of the journey from a practical standpoint, he applies the breakdown to a number of familiar films. Very helpful for STRUCTURE.


  • Clean Blocking

    I am always impressed with certain animator’s clean blocking. Sometimes, I end up putting in to many controls or in general too much before I show for a review. I can’t stress the importance of clean, clear blocking. In this day and age of computer animation, the best thing you can do is to simplify. Many times when I look at a past scene I did, I always like the ones that are simple in their idea and approach. I am from the old school of blocking on every 4th frame. I like to see the detail and even include my breakdowns in that first showing. I’ll also even flesh out things such as a head shake in the spline editor. The tough part is that if I get a bunch of direction, I have to tear down the wall and rebuild. Some of the things that save my butt are trying to keep as many of my controls on the same frame and not offsetting things until I have that clear path. I also believe in showing early, rather than later. The more information I have, the better. I don’t need to hide away until I feel everything is perfect. It’s good to take a swing at things. I also think that if you are in a place where you can show your work in some sort of dailies, the first blocking pass should be seen in that forum. If you are going for a laugh, or trying to get a response, that first showing is your change to sell your idea. As I work on this next production, I really do want to try new methods of blocking a shot. I have never really worked with the exposure sheet method, ie. step key blocking, but I think its time to learn. Essentially, if I want my poses to be stronger, I need to start with strong ones to begin with. With the old school method, your poses evolve and get better. The flip side is that they feel more organic. What ever your method, its always important to keep the perspective that no one way is right or wrong. Heck, I used to know a guy who blocked all his arms with IK no matter what. It looked OK to me. Another guy used only linear knots… That might be a little crazy… The spline is your friend.


  • Olympics – Food for Animators

    If you are an animator, it should be required that you watch the 2008 Olympics. It has everything related to what we do. Weight, Physicality, Beautiful Arcs, Slow Motion footage, Inertia, etc, etc etc. I always find the most interesting parts to be the reactions from the close family in the stands. Its also amazing to watch some of the medal ceremonies.  The emotion going through the athletes is so visible. When I am watching the Olympics, I find myself rewinding certain parts to watch them again, and again. Take for instance, when an athlete falls or trips, its always interesting to see how this happens, how the body comes to rest, and so forth. The opening ceremony was amazing in so many ways. It had so many elements that are of interest to us. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in its scope and precision. My hats off to China for blowing away any other opening ceremony in history. Since the games are in High Definition in many parts of the world, it is tough to record them for reference. I have been recording them right off my TV with a camera that has the same aspect ration. You dont get the same quality, but its still very good. Its all about inspiration and reference when watching. We should look at it with our animators eye and figure out how to use it in our work.


  • 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