Friday, July 27, 2007

A Mantra for Independent Animators

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I was in Tucson, AZ in June hanging out with one of my mentors and the chair of my graduate thesis committee... Becky Wible-Searles. Becky is an accomplished artist, poet, animator, and director. She had her own animation studio in NY city for some 14 years and has taught her subject for a number of years in New York, Savannah, GA and now, Tucson, AZ. She is also a lot of fun to hang out with, as is her husband Jimmy. During my visit she described a problem dealing with a talented student who was having difficulty getting his final project over the finish line. Becky is the absolute master of getting it done. She told this young student of hers an elegant mantra to chant...


Powerful words for any self respecting animator and/or artist to live by.

So, I've been lurking around on Keith Lango's blog a lot lately... doing my best to make a total nuisance of myself. One item that I mentioned in a comment to part 2 of Keith's The Fool's Errand series caught his attention. That item was Becky's mantra.

Later in part three of the series Keith mentioned that independent animated short production should probably be fast and fun. So, I just put the two ideas together and got SIMPLE, GOOD, FAST, FUN, DONE. It sounded okay, although not as good as the original... not as basic... but, it had flavor. FUN was the critical part that seemed to be improving the formula.

Well, I spent some time with the phrase today and decided to remove the "fast" part of the mantra. SIMPLE, GOOD, FUN, DONE. Seems to work better. Even more so if I put FUN before GOOD. Sounds good because it has a nice Rhythm.

Pulling from my print production and graphic design background I created a poster with this phase. I like the way my typographical layout makes FUN larger than the other words. Included with this post is a link to a PDF I created that gives you a tabloid (11in x 17in) poster of the image below.

Click the image or the link above to download the attached PDF. Print it and use it in good health. Credit Becky Wible-Searles and Keith Lango for its intellectual impact.

Credit me only for the graphical layout.


Test Jump

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Well, I've done a little polishing on my test jump exercise using the 'aniBody' rig with which I've been tinkering. The movement is about as good as it is going to get considering that I'm using a bare-bones FK Spine setup. The arcs are working to my satisfaction and I have developed all the required elements of anticipation, action, reaction with a minimum of effort. It is no great achievement for the art of animation... just an exercise.

If I am proud of anything it is how quickly this came together and how well organized the work has been while it progressed. Accept of my students, I won't bother anyone with what the Dope Sheet editor or the Graph Editor look like for this example but it is something worth geeking out over for you Maya users. Very clean and organized.

Speaking of organized keyframe animation...

On the subject of process/technology versus art/animation there has been a great series of articles posted by Keith Lango. Check out The Fool's Errand, part 1, The Fool's Errand, part 2, The Fool's Errand, part 3. In this series Lango describes in heart breaking detail an ill-fated adventure he took into producing a personal animated short. Lots of great discussion in the comments as well.

Ok, that's it for now. Lot's of big, scary stuff to get started on.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Beautiful Silhouettes, part 1

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Most animators understand the importance of a strong silhouette, but how many push this concept to the point of creating a beautiful silhouette? As the image above from the 1926 animated feature film The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger demonstrates there is tremendous aesthetic potential in the silhouette. By the way, I did type that correctly, 1926, animated feature film, not by Walt Disney, but instead directed by a woman (*gasp*), some eleven years before Disney created the "first" feature length animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

I suggest that you sit for a moment and consider the cognitive dissonance in that last sentence... I'll wait.

Lotte Reiniger was inspired by the beauty of traditional Chinese and Balinese shadow plays. Just look at the beauty of these images from The Adventures of Prince Achmed or as it was originally titled in German Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed:

Her use of color which preceded technologies such as Technicolor is both simple an appealing. Notice the subtle details in the backgrounds of the images above. Animated in stop motion using paper cut-outs and captured in multiple planes, she managed to create a sense of depth throughout the film. Reiniger worked primarily with the help of her husband Carl Koch long before standard tools and techniques and were established.

For those who are interested here is a link to download an rather nicely constructed PDF press kit created by Carl R. Pidhagny, © 2001 Milestone Film & Video.

The PDF includes an essay titled "Scissors Make Films" by Lotte Reiniger herself explaining the making of the film, her synopsis of the story, as well as background history compiled by others on how Lotte and Carl invented the process necessary to make this production possible. For additional history about Lotte and Carl see this article at AWN written by William Moritz.

This beautiful film as well as a historical documentary about the director and her work are available on DVD. For those who believe in animation as an art form having rich aesthetic potential for telling stories, this is well worth the investment. Its also a fascinating slice of the history and development of animation.

The Adventures of Price Achmed DVD © 2001 Milestone Film & Video

Reiniger's work has inspired the animation of others who have followed her wake such as Michel Ocelot. Check back to see part 2 of this subject on animation aesthetics influenced by traditional Chinese and Balinese shadow plays, and the beauty of artful silhouettes.


Ken Harris: Master Animator

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I just found this very aptly named website dedicated to the career and work of Ken Harris. The URL 'masteranimator' pretty much says it all. Best known for his work with Chuck Jones while at Warner Bros., Ken also worked on various projects for Hannah Barbera, MGM, and later worked with Chuck Jones again on the classic animated production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! after Jones "left" Warner Bros.

In the middle there somewhere is time that Ken Harris spent working for Richard Williams on such projects as the title sequences for Return of the Pink Panther, Williams' animated production of Scrooge, and the mysterious and storied Williams feature production The Thief and the Cobbler. There are lots of little goodies to be found including cycles from Thief animated by Harris, and models sheets from various productions including some for the characters Pussyfoot and Marc Antony from the 1951 classic Feed the Kitty.

click to enlarge

I find his time working with Williams particularly meaningful since some of the the tutelage that Harris offered Williams and others at Williams' animation studio ended up inside the Williams' animation how-to The Animator's Survival Kit.

While the layout of the site is bare-bones and very basic, there are a lot of wonderful nuggets of animation greatness to be found. Special thanks to Animation Mentor student Jeff Weidner for having the link included on his blog. Also, while googling stuff for this post I came across Kevin Lanley's blog Cartoons, Models Sheets, & Stuff which has many, many samples of great stuff from the past, so check it out.

Wow this post is turning into a real link-o-rama so I'll just rap it up on a good, solid note...

The quote found on the front page of much sums it up:

"He was a master animator, a virtuoso... Ken Harris did it all."
- Chuck Jones

And we are all the richer for his contribution.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cool? Yes. But, will it blend?

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Sure, the iPhone is sleek, beautiful, a cool to play with... but:

Who knew that the iPhone had such remarkable additional qualities. Wow, those boys and girls at Apple must think of every contingency. I have to say that blender is definitely up to the task. Frighteningly so. For those interested in seeing what else 'blends' there is an entire website devoted to the subject:

Will It Blend?

I was surfing through blogs by way of Halcyon Realms when I came across the above YouTube link. It took a little surfing but I found Zero had a link to the geeky IT mag GameAxis. Yeah, that's how I found it. I need to get a life, or just start acting like I have one.

Halcyon Realms is a beautiful blog by-the-way. Vong Yungchow is quite the talented and accomplished artist who seems to attract attention from a lot of other interesting people. Here is a photographer I found thanks to posts and comments at Halcyon Realms:

Laurie Jackson:
Parallel Universe and Capture This



Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I/O brush

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Get a load of this.

Just load it up and go.

Watching this video I find it just as fun seeing how the various sources for the "paint" program react to being sampled.

A special thanks goes to Marx Myth for the YouTube link.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rigging Anybody?

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I have been working on a template character for teaching the fundamentals of rigging *and* the fundamentals of animation in a course I'm likely to be teaching this fall. I don't yet know how much I'm going to need to cover in terms of basics, although I'm pretty certain that these students know at least a little about animation. More on that later.

Here is the segmented version of the character. I call him/her/it aniBody.

aniBody borrows some important concepts from other rigs designed for teaching students the fundamentals of animation. Primarily, I am pulling from the folks at Animation Mentor who provide their students with 1) a bouncing ball w/tail rig named Taylor 2) a walking-ball rig, 3) a segmented character named Stewie, as well as 4) a high-res Stewie setup which is a complete single mesh character.

Animation Mentor is an 'animation only' online school that is pretty much kicking asses and taking names on the subject of teaching character animation. Any college program of animation instruction that does not pay close attention to what Animation Mentor teaches is most likely cheating their students and probably headed for folly. But, like I stated, they teach character animation only (which is a lot) but nothing else that relates to the subject of character animation.

In my personal opinion, the majority of college programs teaching in animation should not be 'animation only' in their curriculum. If they were, who would write stories? board said stories? design characters? model and texture said characters? rig said characters? model environments? texture and light said environments? create special effects? render? composite? and so on... ? get my point. Animation Mentor absolutely depends on there being other types of schools out there that are more comprehensive in terms of curriculum. AM graduates would have nothing to animate if it weren't for the other animation programs out there.

But, getting back to the subject... aniBody.

The design of aniBody uses some of the ideas behind setups such as those provided by Animation Mentor with a few basic differences; 1) aniBody is intended to serve as a basic model for learning rigging as well 2) aniBody is intended to be rigged and animated in stages: first hips/legs as in walking ball, then add spine/head, and finally entire character including face arms and hands 3) aniBody does not have cartoony proportions exaggerated such as Stewie's scary, over sized eyeballs and 4) aniBody is designed so that students can swap out the original head with their own designs if they choose to do so at a later time.

Rigging can be very tedious and unrewarding process for students who are not inclined to pursue the subject further. This character rig-and-animate approach is intended to give all students quicker rewards by allowing them to animate between stages of rigging. It is also designed to introduce the complexities of animating in gradual increments. A full-on character animation class (or two, or three, or... ) should follow with no time spent on such technical matters.

I do what I teach pure-and-simple. If I teach others to rig, I rig. If I teach others to animate... its because I animate. Anyone pushing the idiotic thesis that those who can do, and those who can't teach is itching for a ugly encounter with me.

You can't teach others what you don't do... therefore, I do and I teach.

Below are a few of my resent test run-thrus for rigging *and* animating. First, the hips/legs setup with a generic walk-cycle:

click to play

It's basic and it works. And then after rigging the spine, neck, and head I created a simple jump exercise:

click to play

The animation above is only in a rough-blocking stage... currently this sequence is in linear tangents (for those who care) and has been animated primarily on '2s'. With only a few hours in creation it still needs work, but I'll polish this one later. Meanwhile something funny happened when preparing this for my blog.

For those who think people familiar with the complexities of 3D rigging are lacking in artistic sensibilities, here is something that spawned from the creation of this post. While rendering the stills above with a little After Effects trickery I noticed something familiar. The still for my generic walk-cycle looked like Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp.

And then I noticed that my jump exercise vaguely resembled the effect used by the masterful experimental animator Norman McLaren in his work Pas de Deux. Along with George Dunning and Grant Munro, the work of Norman McLaren has served as inspiration to me in the past so I decided to render out what I had. Its not brilliant, but it gives me ideas.

click to play

In the mean time, for those who mistake art for not knowing how to make things work, watch what a truly masterful command of technical matters can produce.

I know, it looks more like film making and compositing than it does animation. First of all, animation is film making; and second of all, there was a time before contemporary digital compositing techniques when this kind of work easily fit in the category of experimental animation. Besides, aren't contemporary, digital compositors working primarily in the animation industry?

Hope you find this as amazing as do I. Meanwhile I'm going to continue working on my rigging so that I have a complete version of aniBody for the next test animation.


Friday, July 13, 2007

A How-To...

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by Keri Smith.

Boy, do I identify with #2. Yeah. Yep.

If you like that one - the how-to - then scoot on over to Keri Smiths illustration website and check out her "play" section. There is indeed some fun stuff to be found.