• more on texture…

    Here’s a scene from the Robert Altman film, The Player. I had been thinking about this post for a while and after reading Gordon’s latest I thought this would be a perfect extension of his point, but more related to dialogue as opposed to pantomime.


    Watch Grant (the British dude) pitch part of his movie idea to Tim Robbins, a studio executive. Robbins’ performance is equally as interesting for all the subtext going on but I won’t spoil that for you. Here we’ll examine the texture of Grant’s performance in his body acting while he’s talking. Normally I wouldn’t advise hitting beats so “on-the-nose” as he does, as it tends to flatten a performance: why illustrate with the body exactly the words the character is saying? And certainly if all he had done was hit the obvious poses, the scene would be boring, or even worse, annoying. I want to talk not about the poses he hits, but what he does in between them that makes this scene so entertaining.

    Take, for example, the first close up scene of Grant as he explains the car accident investigation. An animator would find it very easy and tempting to skip right from the “brakes have been tampered with” to the pose for “murder.” But Grant makes it interesting and convincing by doing a hilarious anticipation before the line. I broke the beat down into the five keys I’d pose for his action:

    1) “brakes have been tampered with”

    2) eyes close, head up

    3) head down, hands up

    4) hands hit down: “it’s”

    5) head up to look at Tim Robbins: “murder”

    (You’ll probably note that he actually hits a slightly different pose for “murder” before arriving and holding at the one I picked.)

    Now he’s not just illustrating the line, he’s added a whole new urgency to it, and subtext that reads “no if’s, and’s or but’s, it’s murder!” And he’s broken up the action by having his hands follow his head as a second accent. He’s also acting within poses very economically; long holds with subtle texturizing movements. He’s covered all the principles! This whole scene is chock full of such juiciness (including preceding lines I cut for time). Look at the antic for the running action or the dramatic pause before “there’s not a dry eye…” And these are extreme examples; in animation even a two frame eye antic *before* your body antic can help show thought process and make a scene more entertaining. Bottom line: characters thinking = believability. Believability = entertainment.

    Look for places to do this in your work!


  • Revisiting what makes a good reel

    Recently, I have been involved in the process of choosing animation interns for our summer animation internship. We have had hundred and hundreds of reels. I wanted to talk about some of the things that make a reel interesting.

    1) Lets talk about the most simple – make sure it works well. Believe it or not, many people dont check if it works. If possible have a back up

    2) Title and format – Simple is better. white over a black background is all that is necessary. Also, organize the dvd so that I can just hit play and look at the work. I dont need 10 chapters with sub chapters. Make it easy as possible for me to view the work.

    3) What to begin with – Basically, you want to grab the attention of the viewer with the best work possible. Don’t save your best stuff for last. It may never get seen. Thats not to say that you should not put good work at the end of a reel. Always start strong and end strong.

    4) Same old, Same old - If I see another canned physical test I might go crazy. We see alot of the same thing over and over. Whether its an animation mentor character jumping on some poles, or the same ringling assignement where you have to model yourself and animate a piece of dialogue…. It all starts to blend in. I want to see original ideas. Stories, interesting acting. Remember, its always about the ideas and acting abilites. Polish can be taught. Focus more on coming up with original acting and good ideas. The problem with many animation schools these days is that they seem to be copying each other. We see many different reels that contain similar models. If possible, create your own character designs.

    5) Cover letters and reel breakdown. Keep the cover letter simple. Don’t try and write an essay about why you think you should be the one. It will always come down to the work. The cover letter and resume are glanced at. I often find it interesting that students have business cards that say character animator on them. They are really nice and glossy. Sometime, the presentation impresses me, but what I find is that the work on the reel did not have as much put into it as the dvd case and fancy cards. Also, you are a student, not a character animator. Less is more…

    In closing, animation has come a long way since I was a student. We have higher standards. The important thing to understand is that good ideas will always win out. Show me an interesting character, not the same damn thing I’ve seen over and over. Be original with your characters, ideas, acting… everything.

    -Hope this helps a little.


  • A Great Animation Resource

    Carlos Baena just updated his website and it has loads of great animation resources…

    Check it out

    Carlos Website

  • Animation Workout.

    Your animation muscles are just like any other muscle in your body. They need exercise so that you can make them stronger and less flabby. I love animation and I love animating and the thing I do most outside of work is an animation workout. It’s easy to do and doesn’t take a lot of time. Many of us get caught up in animating huge acting assignments or even longer pieces of pantomime animation. I think these types of assignments are useful and necessary on a reel, but sometimes I think a quick workout can really be more beneficial to your overall success. What I mean by a quick work out is I take one principle of animation or two and create animation to focus on them. I generally just use a prim box or sphere, that way I’m not tempted or distracted by complex humans characters. Remember the goal here is just to focus on one particular thing and animate it really well, polish the crap out of that box so much the corners become rounded. For example lets say I wanted to focus on Overlap. I could easily create a prim box, parent another prim box to it and I’ve got a rough stand-in for a chest and an arm lets say. With this built I’m off and working out my overlap. Turn the box and have the box arm overlap not that hard or is it?

    Slow-in and Slow-outs no problem create a prim sphere and just have it move from one side of the screen to another and back again or have it move around the screen slowing in and out of certain key positions. Quick and easy. Want to focus on Drag create a prim box moving up and down and around the screen picking one corner or edge of the box to lead while the other end drags behind.

    None of these are going to go on your reel, but hopefully you’ll get a better understanding of the animation principles. That way you can put them together in a more complex piece of animation you would put on your reel. You’ll also get a better understanding of how to use your tools. You might focus one time trying to animate the slow in and slow out of a ball moving around just with the graph editor with just keys at your main poses. Or you might animate something in stepped mode animating every frame so you get a better understanding of spacing and how that relates to the graph editor. Maybe you have a problem with things strobing all the time in quick moves. This is a perfect way to help figure out to solve that problem. Without the pressure of an acting piece or pressure from anything you are free to experiment and mess up and try again because they don’t take very long, and no one is going to see them. Just like working out it’s the end result we are working towards.Dr. Stephen G.

  • Elements of Strong Posing Part 2: Weight & Balance

    We’re all familiar with this concept from having to do “heavy object lift” tests and the good ol’ “ball bounce” but what weight and balance really do for your poses is give them a sense of “believability”. One of the gifts we have in animation is the boarderless playground of our imagination to create whatever characters and worlds we can dream up. However, in order to get our audience to believe in the products of our imagination we have to give them credibility. No matter how caricatured you are working, weight and balance should always come into play or there will be something about your work that will look odd, wrong, or worse yet….unbelievable.

    Take a look at this pose from Frank Thomas of the woman and Merlin squirrels from “Sword in the Stone”.

    The female squirrel has a great sense of weight (and I’m not talking about her size). Her sense of being off balance is reinforced by the Merlin squirrel leaning in opposition against her. You can see by the use of straights and angles in the arms the tension and strain of Merlin trying to hold up the other squirrel.

    Last year I had taken my family to see a performance of chinese acrobats. Beyond the amazing and entertaing feats of physical discipline, I was fascinated by studying how they carried their weight. No matter how fantastic the pose, the heads of the performers (unless balanced by a wider stance) was always in a direct plumb over the weight bearing foot. This idea of weight and balance should also apply to the physics of your animation as well as your poses. Keep Sir Isaac’s laws in the back of your brain when posing and working on the physics of your movement. You can have a character with 8 legs walking on a planet made of spounge cake, but does it have a believable presence in the space it’s occupying? That’s where wieght and balance help the audience connect with your work.

    Law and logic clearly prove to me that a coyote cannot ski down a hill with a refrigerator on it’s back. However, if you show me an entertaining and believable pose….you can probably talk me into it.