• Where do you fit in?

    A while back I did a post on stock rigs. After seeing many reels lately, I have to say something about that very topic. Something I found inspiring from a recent talk I heard was the presenter talking about how he felt about where students should fall when creating a reel or film for that matter. What was said was this:

    “We encourage the students to have work that is not  too artsy nor too much on the industry bias.”

    This is not the exact thing that was said but the gist of it is. That brings the question for students making a demo reel. What is the good balance between art and putting work on your reel that is good for potential employers to see? I think it really depends on the stage you are at. For example, a 3rd year student looking for an internship might put too much work on a reel in order to submit for an internship. If your graduating it makes sense to show a range of work but to express your artistic ideas. I personally love seeing a different take on something. I remember a reel that came in by Carlo Vogel where he animated an entire film with clothes. I thought, what an amazing idea. He had me from the beginning. When I see the reel that has yet another human rig doing a a line of dialogue from a popular film, I feel like some schools may as well be teaching plumbing or electronics. Where is the character? Where is the spark? What is interesting about it? Then there are school where I think, does anyone here really understand how to animate? Too much art, no principles, no design…


    Here are a few principles for demo reels

    1) Hook your viewer – Really open your reel with something interesting and that you feel is one of your strongest pieces.

    2) Quality not quantity - You don’t need every single thing on your reel to prove you can animate. Just put the best pieces.

    3) Be original – Please avoid stock rigs…Unless you alter them… The industry knows each one and seeing one tells the viewer, I am vanilla and have no original ideas beyond this gray rig on a grid.

    4) End strong – Leave the viewer with a good taste in their mouth.

    5) Show you have good ideas… - Its not about Polish, Its about good ideas and strong acting for character animation. And Story! Story for all the things you do… Can you tell a good story?

    6) Be your harshest critic. - This is the hardest. Its really hard to know where your at. Have someone good tell you where you are at. Its better to know the truth than to think your work is a 9 when its a 3.

    A few tips to keep you going and hopefully help!


  • Inside Out Animator Round Table!


    A few months ago I was able to get Shawn Krause, Victor Navone, Guiherme Jacinto, Travis Hathaway, Jamie Roe and Dovi Anderson in a room to talk a bit about Animation on Inside Out. Its been a long time since we did a round table like this, but you guys wanted it! I hope you enjoy the interview. Thanks for all the continued support of this little site over the years. I hope to have some more content in the future. Enjoy! Thank you to the animators and Pixar’s continued support to make things like this possible.

    Inside Out Animation Round Table


  • 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.


  • The Mountain

    Every shot can be seen as a mountain that animator has to climb. Some go on that mountain without the proper gear and bad weather comes quick and blows you farther down the face. This happened to me recently. I find that whenever I cease to do the work of planning a shot, I get lost. I think “How the hell did I get this job?” The shot becomes like a lump of wet clay that I am trying to find form within. There are drawbacks and some positives to this. The drawback is that you are not clear. You have not found the idea yet. You are searching for everything from strong poses to ideas that are not mediocre. The good thing is that it does force you to dig deep and pull out the good stuff if its there. Some of the things that can make it easier for you to get out of the “Base Camp” of your shot are having a second opinion. Another thing is to get a jolt of confidence. I was speaking to animator/director Mark Walsh the other day as he was telling me the story of how the great Freddie Moore started a scene. He would walk into the other animators offices and say something like ,” Tell me how good I am fellas”.. Oh, your the best Fred, remember when you animated this and that and so on… Fred would smile and walk out and begin his scene…OK, maybe it did not happen exactly that way but he needed a boost of confidence to take on that new challenge. Animation is hard. One of the things I remember clearly in the early days at Pixar was a certain genius animator’s  shots. That animator, who shall remain nameless, struggled so hard to get the perfection he wanted. He thumb nailed, blocked and reblocked, polished and re polished, yelled, cursed, threw tantrums and so on. It was literally like climbing up the face of Everest, but when he got to the top, all was forgotten. The shot was the thing you remembered…. Not the pain, the deadline, it was the moment. We all make the same mistakes, but its important to know that we have to stay students and keep climbing!



  • Character Development

    Its been a while since I posted. I wanted to talk a bit about character development in terms of a feature. When you get on a film early, part of the process is to work with the riggers and make notes on models. Much of this is testing out how it moves and things like how the crease of an elbow looks. For me one of the more interesting parts is defining and exploring character. How do you get going? I find a good place to start is Reference. Fish, Superheros, Monsters, Rats, Car etc… They all have things we can study. For Finding Nemo, one of the more interesting things was learning to Dive. Ok, it didnt really help me animate my shot better, but it did allow me to have fun and relate it back to the work. We learn alot from experts in particular fields of study…. fish people, locomotion experts, race car drivers, etc…  He told us about reef fish that row, and some that were flapping fish. This small detail helped us make the characters physical and move differently. We had a fish tank that we referenced with many types of fish. All that helped. Visits to the Aquarium provided such a huge reference point for us. Once the reference was done we first tried just animating a fish. Some of the things we learned from that were what made a fish feel like they were in water. Fish have no slippage for instance… They carve through the water.  We noticed things like the surge and swell of the current affected the realism. Small details like that really brought it to the next level. What I really am trying to say is that understanding how to take aspects of the real world and put it into the work and to what degree is key. We noticed that we had to push the movements of the fish a bit and put a bit of squash and stretch into the body to make the characters feel fleshy. There were so many things I learned on Nemo, the most important being that if you are having fun at what you are doing, the work is more inspired. Also, working with a team, everyone pushes each other to the next level. As students, its so important to talk to the guy or girl next ot you.