• 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.


  • Planning

    Tom Gately and animation interns discuss a pose during a field trip

    Tom Gately Shows Anim Interns a Strong Pose

    The nine old men would say “spend half your time planning and the other half animating. While this idea is hard to uphold, the basic idea is true. Going into a shot blind is like not studying for a test or stretching before a race. Clear planning, forces you to really think about what is important in the shot. Every time I animate straight ahead, I fall flat on my face and waste a lot of time figuring out what I set out to do in the first place. It really must become part of your routine. It is so important because it creates a foundation, something you can fall back on. I was always amazed at the planning that Doug Sweetland went though before he animated. He drew so many different ways of doing the same thing through thumbnails. Then he went off to record himself. Most people do video reference these days. It’s no big secret. The hardest part is to not rely on it to closely. You want to use the best parts. Another thing I have seen animators do is to write down what the shot means to them in a sentence… Where is the beat change? What is the most important thing in the shot? You always want to be asking these questions. If I have a character sitting in a room and the point of the shot is for them to be upset, I want to create a back story as to why. Maybe he is lost, maybe his his heart has been stepped on. How do I relate that to something I experienced?  What is the deeper meaning? If you animate simply the cliche of upset, there is not heart or pathos. Dig down deep and pull out something personal and it will show up on the screen…. Follow a ritual of solid planning and you will add a new layer of complexity to your work.


  • People Watching

    Have you ever sat down in a coffee shop or restaurant and just watched people? I know, it sounds creepy but it’s so different to look at people and do it though you were studying them. Years ago, I sat in on an acting workshop. The teacher asked the students to go out and observe 3 gestures and incorporate them into a scene. One student took a girl combing her hair, combined it with foot tapping and gum chewing. Yes, this may sound a bit cliché’ but it was taken from life and used in a different way. There are so many observations, good and bad that we can look at and learn from. A director did cool bit of reference that he showed the animator’s years ago. As I remember it involved a conversation between two people at dinner. You couldn’t hear what they were saying but everything was told with body language. It was staged perfectly. The situation was so clear. If you can see the acting without the dialogue, then you are in good shape. Coming up with good ideas is hard. As a student, or professional it’s so important to always be storing the moments you see in our heads. Some animators keep a notepad in their back pocket. I wish I did that. Try it for one day and see how many ideas you get. Many good ideas have been forgotten or watered down. The great scenes always stick out because they make you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  Observation is the animators tool for building good ideas and believable acting.


  • Olympic Gold….

    I love when the Olympics are on. Even if you are not into sports, as an animator, you just have to watch. There is so much great stuff to be taken in at an event like this. On a physical level, you can learn so much about how the body moves and reacts to things. On the emotional level, watching the expressions and gestures of people winning and losing are amazing. Its almost just as fun to watch the reactions of family and coaches etc… after a win. When I teach, I love to show Olympic footage because it is almost an exaggeration of reality. I have already posted a similar topic in the past, but I really think its great to watch. Vancouver also holds a special place in my heart since I went to school there. What an amazing city!


  • Acting Ideas…

    Throughout my animation career, good ideas will always win me over as opposed to fancy animation. For me, seeing animation that is fresh and new always reinvigorates me. When I would come out of a lecture, or a dailies review or anything where I saw or heard about an exciting idea, it would make me say: Why didn’t I think of that? It almost makes you frustrated and keeps you trying to think about a different way of doing something. Yes, there are scenes that don’t always require some sort of brilliant idea, but they call for something fresh. How do you infuse your work with good ideas? Here are a few suggestions:

    1) People Watching: You get so much gold just by watching people. Putting yourself in places that you have not been can be really helpful. Travel, if you have the means is always great. If you go to a place where the way people do things is different, you can really come up with some interesting ideas for gestures, acting, body posture and so forth. If you are not able to travel far, just riding the subway or bus can be enough.

    2) Watching Films. Who doesn’t like to watch movies? If you didn’t have the chance to go to film school, you should educate yourself on the key films that many film students watch. A place to start is the AFI list of top 100 films, but you can go much deeper. Look at films with a different eye. See the difference between the canned Warner Bros. gangster films, then look at someone like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront or The Wild One to see a new style of acting. Brad Bird was speaking about how Brando really was lightning in a bottle and how nobody knew what they had at that moment in time.

    3) Do something out of your comfort zone: An example might be taking an improv class… Improvisation teaches you how to come up with ideas very quickly. I am not saying that I am currently in an improv class, but I have in the past. If you have the time, its a fun way of experimenting with acting and comedy. When I was teaching at Academy of Art, we brought in improv actors to basically create scenes for us to animate too. It was so fun watching them come up with scenes… Some sucked and other worked, mostly because of timing.

    4) Look in your backyard. Often times, you need not go farther then your relative or immediate family for a way someone or something is done. One of the guys here likes to touch his nose a lot, another always seems to have his hands in his arm pits, another never makes eye contact. The point being that interesting characters are all around us, we just need to find a way of getting that into our work. I know this all sounds obvious, but I need to constantly remind myself of this. Its so easy to rest on your laurels, but extracting a good ideas out of your work should feel somewhat painful. If it doesn’t, then something is wrong… Or you are truly gifted… For me, animation is a mountain of pain. When I start out I am fresh and by the time I get half way I am winded. The last part of the climb can be treacherous, but reaching the peak makes it worth while.