Jun 7, 2012


I am posting this despite the fact that I haven't actually yet seen it myself! but as a somewhat biased suggestion, I recommend you go and see it. I am taking my boys next week and I am really excited to see how it turned out.

Its funny how little you really see of the "final" thing when you're working on a show. The whole crew really only experiences it properly on that first screening, which is a truly electrifying and incredibly rewarding experience, even if it does only last 90 minutes! I wasn't able to get back to the bay area for the crew screening this time, and with hindsight I actually regret that a lot. 

I was lucky enough to work on this show as the animation lead for the new 'Gia' character. I can tell you now she was a real challenge. Madagascar 3 is without doubt the hardest animation project I have ever been a part of for multiple reasons and on multiple levels, but my memories of it remain untarnished. I learned a lot about what it takes to animate a female character, especially with a particularly challenging design, and challenging character! I actually wish I had got chance to do more shots with her, but luckily enough, as you would expect, some absolutely wonderful work was done with her by other animators of the Mad3 crew, particularly by those of the DW India studio in Bangalore. 

I remember being heavily inspired by the first Madagascar film, so it was a real treat to work on the show, and if any of you are reading this, the pleasure was all mine in working with you guys to bring this one to the screen.

So.. my colleagues tell me it turned out very well... the best Madagascar yet by far, so I cannot wait to see it!

Apr 28, 2012

Greener Grass

So this funny thing happened. 

I'm still just trying to check my calculations, and verify that I didn't slip into another dimension, but my all my tests confirm an accuracy rate of about 99.99999343% that I do actually now work at Valve Corporation. 

I think it would be pointless to explain details about how this classifies as both insanely brilliant and ridiculously exciting. I am in for a real treat... or a head explosion, depending on how I choose to handle the constant tidal wave of daily brilliance and genius. This is a very special place indeed, and its going to challenge the crap out of me. Just how I like it. 

My friends, I shall keep you informed!

Mar 13, 2012

Johnny 5 Need More Input

So if my plan goes as I expect, I should have a bunch more time pretty soon to get back into writing and talking about animation... so that basically means more time for watering the blog, more time for personal work, and more chances to create stuff for the educational community. 

I have been thinking for a long time now about creating an instructional DVD
training course for intermediate/advanced level animators. I have watched a whole bunch of these kinds of DVDs over the years, on different topics, and I have a good understanding of what makes these things useful... but most importantly I just know I could create a really good one for animation!

My main goal would be to clarify a number of issues that many training DVDs seem to gloss over; most importantly the process of how you actually generate ideas that play well on screen, and how to actually turn those ideas into structured animation. I would also like to explain a properly detailed insight into how to actually take a shot through blocking, with some different approaches and methodologies behind blocking techniques. The blocking aspect is a key thing for me, as I found it one of the hardest things to learn how to do, but once you master it, improves your ability as an animator in immeasurable ways.

I would love to animate a medium length shot, but record the whole process in its entirety from start to final, with no "so earlier I finished up this part" sections. Its always those edited out parts that seem to contain all the secrets! I want to show the real blood and guts of how a shot gets finished, including all the "that looks horrible" bits and how a professional animator would actually work through and solve those exact kind of problems.

Please comment below with the kind of things you would like to see covered in a training DVD set. Ask yourself these kind of things:

  • "If I could get an animator to just sit down and explain something to me, what would it be?"
  • "What seems like a stupid question, but I just can't figure it out myself?"
  • "What was really annoying last time I did some animation training, because the instructor just didn't explain it properly, or just glossed right over it?"
  • "What kind of format would be good to watch and learn from on a DVD?"

If I don't get many comments I'll just have to figure it all out myself, but I would really appreciate input from you.

May 13, 2011


Please drop me a mail if you want the password to watch the reel. Thanks.

Apr 13, 2011

Flip Review no. 2

This review discusses a shot close to the final stages of production. Thanks to Mohammad Sadeh for submitting the animation for review, he can be reached at moh.saadeh@gmail.com

Apr 5, 2011

Flip Review no.1

So I finally got around to doing the first video review. It was very interesting for me to do this, and it served as a good test to prove that I can easily do more of these in the future and hope to make it a regular part of the blog.

Remember that this is funded 100% by love and rainbows, and these reviews will be free if you're interested in sending something in to me. Click here to find out more, and to see the guidelines for submitting an animation for review.

My thinking about all this is that watching a video review of an artists work is a very efficient way to learn about animation. As usual, I would appreciate any comments, particularly those that suggest ways I could improve upon this idea.

The animation discussed in the video is in the "stepped" blocking stage, and was kindly provided by Asemta Bhattad who can be reached at asemtab@gmail.com

Feb 18, 2011

Looking For Help with Something...

I have been thinking for a long time now about doing a regular post to Flip of recorded feedback of individual animated shots. So simply put, somebody who might want the chance to get input on their work from an industry professional, could, in theory, send me a link to their video and I could post back a video review session here on Flip, for the animator and other visitors to watch.

I'm imagining short animation tests, could be just blocking or final animation, but something I can discuss in about 10 or 20 minutes.

I want to do this for a few reasons:
  • I want a bit more 'regularity' to the site, one or two of these a week could be cool.
  • This kind of thing helps me filter all the crap that spins around in my head constantly.
  • There is an army of animators who would destroy me in a talent fight, but I reckon I`ve worked pretty hard and my opinion is valid.
  • It seems like people who are teaching themselves (like I did) could benefit from it especially.
The thing is... I think I have the setup to make this work on my laptop, but I could do with someone sending me a test so I could do a sample review and just see if it will actually work how I imagine it to. It would be good to use that as the example when I officially start this idea.

If you like this idea, drop a quick comment so I can gauge this a bit, and if you think you have something I could do the test run with, send me an email with a link to a .mov file.

Update: Thanks so much to everyone that expressed interest and took the time to send me a shot for the test run. I really appreciate that. Due to a somewhat overwhelming amount of requests, I would like to kindly ask people to no longer send clips for the test run. If I can get this going as I plan, I will setup a proper way for you to submit a shot for review through the blog.

Feb 16, 2011

Quick Trick: Draw your Timing

Not too long ago I started using 'drawings' at work to figure out timing beats for certain animated shots, and it was one of those great moments when you discover something that you instantly use over and over again, so I thought it best to post the process here on Flip.

I found myself looking for a fast way to record a timing reference for certain shots, I wanted a way to quickly get an idea of the timing of certain actions or beats without having to go into blocking and actually start posing stuff out, but also without having to go to the reference room and go through the motions of recording myself, converting video to Linux and basically taking a load of time from my schedule. For me, when I'm figuring out a shot early on, I pretty much use the basic building blocks of story, posing ( with staging ) and timing to construct my blocking. I really enjoy posing characters, in fact its my favourite part of animation, but I find that having some kind of 'map' of the timing in a shot early on can be a tremendous help, because then you can really take the time to construct those poses with care.

So to cut a long story short, we have the option to draw over our shots in the camera view, and do very basic animation this way, and I found a way to mirror this specific process in maya one to one using fCheck. Instead of drawing the animation however in the traditional way with sketches, I simply move my mouse around to record the 'timing' of the shot, or particular beats or actions in the shot and it records that timing in the form of a little dot moving around on the screen. I`m not thinking about shape or anything like that here. After deleting the drawing and doing a bunch of takes, I usually get a decent feel for the timing of an action and I start using the specific frames the dot hits extremes on to time my poses in stepped blocking.

To make this clearer I made a few examples using maya and fCheck to illustrate what I mean, this is pretty much exactly what I see doing a similar thing at work:

This shows a timing idea for the wingbeats of a large flying creature like a dragon or something similar.

In the above example, I can get an idea pretty much instantly of the timing of those wingbeats without having to do any posing in the shot at all. All I am doing is drawing with the mouse. I can make the timing as even or as varied and complex as I like. Once I have some timing that I like, I can use the movement of the dot as a guide for what frames I need to start posing my extremes, for example, the up, the down, and a very good indication of the ease-in and outs that I need to get the feel that I'm going for.

To 'record' your timing using fCheck in maya, you do this; Set your playblast output as fCheck and playblast a blank screen with as many frames as you think you'll need ( usually the exact length of your shot ). Press play when fCheck loads, and as soon as you press and hold the right mouse in windows, it will start printing a small dot or line depending on how fast you move the mouse per frame.. this results in the perceived capture of your mouse motion. Luckily enough when you choose 'save animation' from the fCheck menu, it saves these drawings into the frame renders so you have it for good.

Agreed, the application of this idea is limited to certain actions, but let your imagination help you here... I have used this for very obvious and easy things like jumping and bouncing, but its also fantastic for subtle things like eye darts and weight shifts. You will start to find that the little moving dot often makes no sense to anyone but you as you start to use it to map more abstract actions.

Basically, anything that can help us "see" our animation quicker before we labour over posing and spacing is gold.

Here are a few more examples I did quickly for different timing beats:

( a samurai style decapitation! - the timing is clear for the antic, the swing and the head drop/bounce. Of course, the beauty of this method is trying many different variations really quickly until you have one you like. There is an indication of the arc on the sword and the spacing with regards to how far the sword/head moves, but this is really not important... its the timing I'm looking for. )

( Basic up/down timing for a really proud horse as he trots along )

( Angry guy picks up his pint, necks it, and slams it down again )

( A couple of different head turns )

Its possible to visualize a variety of different timing beats using this technique, so give it a try and see if it lets you experiment a little more.

Sep 23, 2010


A few people have e-mailed me now about shotView being broken in the new Maya 2011.

I apologize to those of you who may have had trouble with this. Now that I don't use Maya for work, these things can go unnoticed for a while...

The issue people are reporting is the preferences window resizing itself to some stupidly big numbers, so you basically can't save any preferences. I recently loaded it up in Maya and figured out the problem, but I just need to find some time to fix it and update the script on Creativecrash.

For those of you interested, I will fix the problem within the next 2 weeks.

Sep 11, 2010

You're Going to Hollywood!

I was thinking recently how it might be a good idea to talk about a few subjects that discuss actually being an animator as opposed to just animation itself, which is what I usually do. There are so many things that get discovered along the way, that I kind of take for granted now, but I would never have even thought about when I was just starting out in this profession.

I get a lot of emails asking me how I made the transition from video games to movies, which is a great subject, but I think there is a much undisclosed side of this that covers how animators actually manage to move to different countries and end up being able to work in the big studios from a legal, financial and social standpoint as well as an artistic one... basically, professional ability be it artistic or whatever, is only one part of a big puzzle when trying to get yourself here, and there are so many things I wish I'd known before. Especially now with online animation schools like AM, there are students from literally every corner of the world all scrambling to work in the central feature animation hub based predominantly in North America.

I want to write a post about how I got from England, to California. I don't want to write a "life journey" post, which is useless to anyone except my mum, instead I would like to try and use my experience to offer some advice to those of you thinking about doing this yourselves.

I wish there was something like Animation Mentor when I was a student... I am a self taught animator, and have no formal training other than a story supervised 3 minute short film I completed in my final year of a graphic design Degree. I made it in 3D Studio Max. The animation quality was not the film's strong point at all...

I started animating professionally for a small game developer in Manchester around Sept 2001. I was offered a few jobs after I sent out my short film as a demo reel to a bunch of places in London, Manchester and a few other places. I didn't jump at the first chance I was given... I remember the first place was a good TV studio in London, that offered me a "runner" position. You never really know of course, but it scares me to think of where I would be now if I had started my career getting coffee and sandwiches for other staff, whilst working unpaid after-hours on the Softimage workstations they had ( this was their suggestion ). I looked at a few other places in London, and a great little place that was a little too far out of the city. Finally, I ended up in Manchester.

I think there are a number of things I took from my first job in the industry; Firstly, it really was good that I waited it out and took the job that felt right to me, and not any of the first few jobs I was offered. The Manchester studio was good for a number of reasons; mainly they were working on Animaniacs and Looney Tunes games that I knew would be great practice for me and great for my demo reel. They were also willing to accept my request for a higher salary... its always a negotiation, and I found that extra money helped a lot at that stage of my life. Lastly, the management at the company really looked after me, and encouraged me to grow into a lead/senior role.

  • With regards to what I had to move forward when I left, I had a pretty good demo reel with well known cartoon characters, and experience as an animation lead for my resume. I also taught myself Maya's mel scripting language, which gave me a huge technical advantage. I think above all else, even more important than the quality of my reel, was that I could move forward with a much broader skill set than when I first started at the company.

Despite the fact I didn't really know it at the time, leaving this small studio was probably the biggest step I took towards moving to California because that was the point where I decided to leave the United Kingdom and work overseas in Canada. I was about 25 at that time, and I honestly believe that if I had moved to another UK based company, and got settled in another city, its unlikely I would have ever left England.

When you make the choice to leave your home country and work overseas doing animation, there are a few things I thought about that helped me a lot. There are a few things too that I didn't think about! I'm going to put these in a list as I think about them, but these are not really in any order or importance:
  • If you leave your home country to pursue a career in animation, you are doing this because it is likely that your own country does not have the studios or facilities to support your long term career aspirations. This basically means, that it is very likely that you will never return to your home country to work again. Of course this isn't always the case, but you will find this sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and its worth thinking about. Your old friends, family, culture and almost everything familiar to you will remain in your home country.
  • You'll need your overseas employer to organize your legal right to work in that country. You can't just show up and start working. Sometimes this can be really complex ( like when you move to the U.S ) and sometimes not so bad. When I moved to Canada all I needed was a letter of employment confirmation that I used in the airport to get a work permit. At the time however, I was very naive about this and I should have asked my employer more questions... I didn't even know if my spouse would be able to work legally. Its really worth asking questions like "how long does the permit last" "how many times can it be renewed" "what do I need to do to renew it" ( for a U.S visa, the renewing process requires you and your family to leave the country and pass back through immigration at the border! ). Most of the time the company will hire separate immigration attorneys to help you with this if its necessary. Don't get crazy worried about this, but understand the terms of your permit / visa to avoid surprises. When it comes to working in the U.S, this can be really quite complex, and I'll talk a bit more about that later.
  • Make sure you try and find out if there is anything official you need to do before leaving your home country for a sustained period of time. There are usually things associated with taxes, residency and state benefits that require you to "tell them" you're leaving for a while. When I left the UK, I didn't really do this, and whilst its not a real problem, I wish I had thought about it a little more. You can usually find out what you need to do by going to your governments tax or benefits websites and looking around there.
  • Moving costs you money. Even if you change jobs in the same city, its going to cost you at least some amount of cash. When you move overseas, the cost can get very large, very fast. A good employer understands this, and most companies offer a "relocation package" as part of your initial employment agreement. Its crucial you understand the relocation package and negotiate it higher if you feel its inadequate. From my experience, the company will usually kindly offer to pay for your plane tickets ( and any family traveling with you ) and 1 month temporary accommodation ready for you when you arrive. Sometimes a flat dollar amount is offered as a starting bonus instead. A few things that are worth asking for are contents shipping ( to get your stuff from home to the new city) and professional help with your first year's tax return can prove invaluable. Its important to understand your tax liability when it comes to relocation, as you can sometimes be required to pay income tax on the total monetary amount that was used for your relocation expenses, which can be very high! so for example, if your employer paid $3000 for your plane tickets, you may later have to pay anywhere up to 50% of this cost as part of your tax liability. Know how the taxes work by asking your employer, and a know that a good employer will usually cover the cost of these taxes for you.
  • Consider the fact that you'll always have ties to your home country, mostly in the form of your family and close friends. You'll need to take trips back, and your parents will start to miss you! It can get expensive when you start thinking about this for the long term future, especially if you have a family of your own. I frequently find myself wishing I could just drive to London and go for a pint with my dad, instead of having to fly four people almost 5000 miles over the Atlantic ocean.
  • I am really fortunate to have the companionship of my wife, particularly in those early days when we first left the UK. It was a real adventure and so much better to be able to share it with someone. I can imagine moving on your own is just as exciting, but will raise other challenges that I have not experienced.
I don't think I really started to think seriously about getting a job in a feature studio until I moved to Canada. Living in England, these places seemed very far away, and despite the fact there are some great studios in London, it would never be my first choice for a city to live, work and raise my children in. After about 18 months at Ubisoft in Montreal, I decided it was time to move on to another part of Canada, Vancouver, and this time I had a specific goal in mind which was to animate some realistic creature type animations with the intent of eventually applying to VFX studios in Canada or the US. When I left Montreal, these were a few of the things I had learned:
  • I needed a variety of types of animation on my demo reel, if I was to have any chance of getting a feature or vfx job. I had spent almost 5 years by this point basically animating the same things - cartoony physical actions. I had spent some time in the evenings, building and rigging a "chicken" character, that I used to animate my first acting test with dialog and facial animation. I really wanted to do more of this, but for now I was really excited about the new job at Propaganda Games that would allow me to animate creatures, humans and dinosaurs in a much more realistic way. This was the first time I was thinking about specifically tailoring my demo reel, and this is something we all have to eventually do.
  • Montreal was a fantastic city, and me and my wife were happy there. There were issues though that we would never have really thought about before we left the UK that made it difficult to stay. It was kind of hard with the French language barrier - everyone always spoke English around Anglo-phones, but all in all it would have been 1000% better if I could speak French, and my French is pretty bad. My wife had trouble finding work too. It was bloody freezing in the winter, -20c was pretty normal, and winter was pretty long. You can never really find out what you think you'll need to know before moving to a city, but its best to do at least some research... we did absolutely zero before moving to Montreal.
  • Ubisoft Montreal is a huge studio, and it was great experience to see the difference between small and large developers. Ultimately, the feature studios in the U.S are large studios, so you need to get a feel for how these places operate. There is a clear difference in the studio environment that you can only really understand if you experience it for yourself. You have to work and behave differently. Working at such a well known developer like Ubisoft would also help me later on when I needed to get legal permissions to work in the U.S ( though I didn't know this at the time ).
  • Moving again for the second time, I had more experience with negotiating salary and relocation. Propaganda Games took fantastic care of me and my wife, and made the transition from East to West coast almost completely painless. Whenever I think of the perfect relocation scenario, I think of that move to Vancouver. Its good that I have that experience as a benchmark against which to judge future relocation deals.

So Propaganda Games was the last game developer I worked for in Canada, and is a large part of why I was able to eventually come to the US and work on animated features. I worked very happily for about 3 years, but can honestly say that the last six months were fueled by a burning frustration to at least try the feature business and see how it was. When I left Vancouver to move to San Francisco, these are the things that Propaganda had helped me with:
  • I had been able to specialize in creature animation, and had a handful of "shots" that looked very different to my usual cycle style actions. They were ideal ammunition to send to a VFX company for potential work.
  • I had spent a lot of time expanding my technical knowledge by developing Maya tools for me and the animators and this had helped me greatly in getting a leadership role at the company, but also increasing the speed and quality of my animation. Despite the fact that entering the film industry for the first time will usually mean taking a step back from any leadership roles you may have now, it still bears very well on you as a professional and your ability to adapt for the better. I found that working leadership roles gave me a lot of confidence in myself, but also made me think carefully about how I treat others, and how others perceive me. Again, being a good animator is just a tiny part of the puzzle.
  • I still needed some "acting" on my demo reel and to do this I had to really work hard. I would get up at 4:50 am every week day, make some coffee, and work on a shot from 5am until 7am. Not only was it hard because it was early, but more so because it was only 2 hour sessions, and it was difficult to get "into the shot" and get a groove going. I did this for about 3 months and completed the "smoking girl" shot on my demo. The key thing here is that you usually have to go out of your way to do at least some kind of extra work in your own time that you need for your demo... 99% of the time you don't get everything you need at the day job. The sad truth is that people get screwed by this because they get stuck in a job where they can't animate what they need, and they don't do any work in their own time to remedy that... don't be a victim!
  • On leaving Canada, I realized how much I love it there. It is a strange but perfect mix between English and American cultures ( but still very much its own culture of course ). Its a nice feeling to make roots in a place that you otherwise would never have experienced. I plan to return to Vancouver one day and settle there when the time is right, its a beautiful city with amazing people. I miss it a lot.
The move to San Francisco to start at ILM was a very challenging time indeed. I had been contacted by them to work on Transformers 2 after they had seen my Turok work ( I still have many thanks For Jean Denis Haas for bringing it to their attention ). To summarize what I learned when moving to the US, I'll write a list again as I think of things, but they are in no particular order:

  • Its important to understand that often things hit you when you least expect them too. Despite the fact I was keen to move to the US and work on films, it really was bad timing for my personal circumstances. We literally had just had our second baby ( he was one month old ) and financially I had seen much better times. I had not directly applied to ILM, and was taken by surprise when they contacted me. Understand that you wont ever be totally prepared when you get that call.
  • Again, to highlight the fact that the "perfect scenario" to move to a new job rarely happens, there were a number of things that made accepting the job at ILM a huge risk for me and my family. Firstly, they were hiring me for a 2 month contract! I would have to be willing to uproot my life in Canada completely, and take my family to the U.S on the basis of a 2 month contract, in "hope" that I would be picked up for more work. I can't tell you how stressful that was. Secondly, I had to get a work visa to be able to obtain employment legally in the United States. The attorneys for ILM did an excellent job of helping me with this, but essentially I had to quit my job in Canada before I knew whether or not I could get this visa... again, a huge risk. Lastly, because my contract was so short, I had trouble negotiating a relocation deal that would cover the cost of most moving expenses for me. I ended up asking my parents for money, and god bless them, I would not be here now if it were not for that financial help they gave me at that time. Basically, I think it was one of the largest risks I ever took moving to the US, and I was literally scared out of my skin when I got on the plane to leave Canada.
  • It became very obvious to me just how difficult it can be to be able to work legally in the US. I did manage to get a visa in the end due to the vast amount of help I was given, but it was hard work. I had to spend many evenings gathering information about companies I had worked for, references, and a variety of public information about myself and previous projects that shed a good light on me and my professional abilities. My Degree qualification did help, but it was by no means enough by itself. Unfortunately, it is also common that spouses cannot work under your visa unless they obtain one themselves. To be honest, the immigration system in the U.S is so stringent, it is almost impossible to figure it out. With regards to long term residency, this can be even more complex and literally take many years to get. Like it or not, as an immigrant to the US, it becomes a part of your life, and often feels like a hurdle.
  • Strangely enough, the nerves about working at ILM were minimal. To be honest, it was the main thing that kept me looking forward, and stopped me taking the easy route of staying in my current job. Its important to remember not to lose sight of your goal when you get wrapped up in the technicalities of making big changes to your life.

What's kind of funny, is that as my worst fears expected, my time at ILM did not last. When I left to come to DreamWorks, I took the following experiences with me:
  • Despite thinking that "things will work out", they don't always materialize as you would like them to, or expect them to. For me to have continued at ILM and moved onto Avatar or Iron man, I would have had to support myself from May until August. Financially this was a huge problem of course, but more than that was the complications this could have caused with my visa/residency status in the US (i.e being unemployed). My time at ILM was incredibly rewarding and successful, but in the long run it was bad timing... they did as much as they could to try and keep me there, but I couldn't accommodate this gap in employment. The short term contract game, from my experience is tough, and not designed at all for the family man.
  • Having worked at ILM I had effectively achieved a personal dream of mine. This is a really bizzare feeling that gives you a lot of confidence going forward. I would definitely like to animate in the VFX field again when the time is right.
  • Luckily I had worked a load of overtime on Transformers and managed to save what could potentially be enough money to relocate to another part of the city, another state or even out of the country if worse came to worst. If you work short term contracts you have to save money to help carry you through to the next job if its necessary.
  • Before leaving Canada, I had been in very early discussions with DreamWorks about possible work at the studio. It turns out they had seen my Turok reel and were keen to hire me for How to Train your Dragon. The way these things unfold however is strange, and at the time ILM had approached me first, so I honored the agreement and mentioned to Dreamworks that I would potentially be looking for work around April/May of that year. They were very understanding about this, and were pleased to hear from me again when I eventually got back to them a few months later. Dreamworks were able to offer me the security that I needed, and an amazing opportunity animating for full CG features that is something I never really thought I would get to do. On the whole the move to DreamWorks was almost completely pain free and is one of the best career moves I think I have ever made.
I hope this sheds some light on what is essentially just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this kind of stuff. Its hard to summarize, but a bullet point list might come as a welcome surprise after all the crap you just read through!
  • Be willing to take a risk even if it seems insane.
  • Expand your skill set outside of animation.
  • If you can't do it at work - you have to do it in your own time.
  • You can't decide if moving overseas is the right thing or not by sitting on the couch and thinking about it.... you only know by doing it.
  • Ask lots of questions and don't be afraid to ask for more.
  • enjoy the ride.

Jun 26, 2010

Perfect Imperfection

I love animation that shows us something we recognize, and we all recognize imperfection.

I wanted to do a post on how it can be really great to add imperfection to your animation, and in this case specifically how sometimes things like a perfect ease-in or overshoot can add an element of falseness to your work when creating animation in a certain style. I say this because I was watching the shots of a particular animator here at DreamWorks who does a wonderful job of this, and wanted to understand this a little more and include it more frequently in my own work.

When I used to animated in Maya, I was never a curve editor animator. I would just look at everything in the shotCamera, and track arcs in 3D using my motionTrail script. Here at work, the software we have for manipulating curves is so good, I quickly started doing a lot of stuff in the curve editor and making a habit of smoothing stuff out cleanly and watching to make sure that everything was easing in and out nicely.

I really love using the curve editor, and probably wouldn't go back to doing it all in the viewport, but I recently noticed that my movements were becoming too smooth, too calculated and my animation was losing some of that naturalistic punch that I used to see in my older stuff.

I usually go back to live action to figure out how things really move and how it relates to animation, and below I've shared a few videos that show examples of where we may be tempted to oversimplify and oversmooth the movement. In reality there is a lot of "imperfection" that we see in the arcs of movement without really realizing it, but its part of constructing our perception concerning whether or not something is real.

You can see immediately that the arc and the spacing on the foot is not what you might expect if you just started animating this from scratch...

The arc above shows how the curve might turn out based on our assumptions, and what were used to implementing. Its pretty "perfect" and quite different to how the real foot travels through the air. This would probably result in a semi-decent looking animation, but with something looking not quite right or as if not enough detail existed in the movement.

Instead of going nice and smoothly over the top of the arc, the foot drops slightly before it rises up again at the peak. This is the natural arc as the lower leg swings forward.

Theres an interesting section here where the foot slows down before it begins to fall. If you click back on the video, we see this as a slight pause in the leg, and it illustrates thought in the characters mind... a moment of calculation as his brain thinks about the best place to land the foot.

Notice how the foot doesn't fall to the final contact pose with that perfectly accelerating downward motion, its spacing is almost linear after it starts to fall, then suddenly accelerated just before the contact. The foot is not an object freefalling through space - the leg above it can alter and "imperfect" the spacing as it falls.

As the woman gestures, she holds out her hand, and for a part of the gesture she appears to hold it relatively still as she moves it screen right...

When we track this "smooth" part, its clear how irregular the arc is. Despite the fact its not obvious when we watch the video above, its all going on under the hood, and adding to our perceptions of whether or not the character is real.

The movements of the head are a particularly ideal place to use this idea. When we start animating, we quickly learn about what can make head moves appealing - such as dipping the nose on a turn, a slight nod or twist in the opposite direction before a change etc. These are by all means valid, and used wisely can really add to head animation. Take a look at some of these videos below where I tracked the nose to see how the head is moving, and you quickly see how "wobbly" and unsmooth the curves are. I find this stuff really interesting to study.

Here's another curve we might normally be tempted to smooth out - reducing its subtle realism. I love the little bump at the top, and the small "glitch" in the deceleration at the bottom of the curve.

The guy in the blue shirt above shows how erratic the arcs on a head can really be. Whether or not your shot would call for this kind of detail depends on many things, but its just really interesting to me to see how crazy it can get, on a move that isn't really that extreme at all.

Without getting into the subject of overlap and inherited motion, you can see clearly how a more complex action like sitting down and adjusting weight and balance can increase the scale of these direction changes.

Even movements that are supposed to appear smooth and elegant may contain these irregularities, they are just smaller and less noticeable.

The arcs are almost "smooth" but not quite. I might be tempted to round out the tops of the curves and even out the spacing, but these subtle effects can increase the believability.

As far as how to implement these irregularities, it is definitely something I would recommend doing right at the last stages of polish. You can do this by just playing with the curves and adding little bumps and notches, but it can be very hard to get it to look right, and not like you just screwed up smoothing your shot...The reason for calling this post "perfect imperfections" is because nature will always do this exactly right! If your software supports it, I would even recommend doing this on another animation layer, that way its easy to experiment and scale things bigger and smaller without changing your main acting underneath.

Its important to mention that in animation we don't strive for "realism", we strive for communication of the idea. If the idea is ultra realism, then yes we animate as realistically as we can, but normally we are extracting the essence of movement and simplifying it to make the statement clear. So then, are all these imperfections necessary? no, I don't think they are absolutely needed, but they do add a layer of information to the idea you are communicating - audiences all know instinctively that natural motion is varied and irregular, and by including this in your animation you help make your characters appear more lifelike - which may make the audience more likely to believe what they have to say.

Sep 1, 2009

Inspiration Is Better Than Coffee

When I lived in Vancouver, I was lucky enough to get a decent half hour every weekday to read some books whilst I got the train into the city. I probably read more in those few months than I've read in the last 10 years! but one that really stood out to me was "Coaching the Artist Within" by Eric Maisel. I`m not going to talk about the book other than recommending it - but instead, just one of the things the author discussed that was really interesting to me.

He spoke about how we require mental energy to create our art, the same way that you would require energy to perform a physical task. If you stop and think about it for a minute, it takes an immense amount of concentration to make animation work... you literally have to think really hard around the problems you encounter, and all this thinking actually requires a form of energy other than the sustenance your brain gets from your breakfast.

Now lets just say I usually start to get very skeptical about this stuff around this point, and I don't want to sound like a $6.99 "whale songs" CD... but the truth is that inspiration is the source of this energy we need to animate well. It builds a fuel that our minds need in order to create.

So the point of this post... I've found something that is really helping me here at work is to watch the latest work movies in the morning. I get in, have some coffee and read my e-mail, then I load up all the most recent animation videos from the previous day ( and usually the lighting videos ) and I just sit back and watch them for 20 minutes or so. Now I know in the back of my mind that I'm deliberately doing something to build inspiration, and I notice that for the first few minutes, but then a start experiencing the stuff, and seeing how bloody amazing it is... and it really does build an eagerness to get to work and continue on my shots. Its good fun!, and a great way to start the work day on a whole variety of levels. If I don't do this.. its like I'm starting to work on a very difficult task with the same groggy brain I drove down the motorway with... I'm still thinking about some unimportant e-mail I have to write... I end up having to build inspiration from my own acheivments as I work through my shot, which is obvioulsy a much harder and slower process.

What I'm suggesting is to find something very literal that you can use for inspiration every day. I'm the same way in that the sounds of the city, or the smells of the breeze in the morning can inspire me to want to create - but I can't count on things like this.. they come and go. If you have a means to watch the most recent work of your colleagues, that's a great and very black and white thing you can do to build inspiration. If not, try reading a chapter from an animation book each morning ( Walt Stanchfield anyone? ) or finding a website that has consistent good animation to watch, or maybe get a bunch of DVDs of movies you like and watch 15 minutes every morning just to get the creativity moving around in your early morning mind. The key of course is for it to be something consistent, that you can rely on, that you do every day.

Aug 6, 2009

Quick Trick: Zero Zero Zero

I don't know if this is a result of my archaic way of animating, or actually a useful trick to share, but I do this constantly while I'm animating and would find it hard not to...

I regularly set controllers back to zero before I start posing them.

So basically, If its time to pose the spine of a character for example, even though I might be happy with the pose its coming out of, I often reset it to be completely default, then I start posing it. This is nothing to do with "letting the computer do work for me", instead I find that doing this enables me to keep track of poses relative to the default orientation of controllers.. I sometimes find that things can get a little off model, or just a little crazy when they appear to look just fine in the shot... but they cause problems later down the line ( I'm usually resetting rotations or attributes more often that translations, but it depends on the rig )

Another good time to reset controllers is if you get yourself in a mess. Some rigs allow you to get yourself in a tight spot if you're not careful with certain attributes, or rotation orders, especially if a controller has the ability to get into the same pose with a different combination of attributes.

So a good trick at this point is to reset to zero over a single frame.

so your foot pose might look fine in 3D, but the controllers underneath it that are getting it in that pose might be all over the place and crazy. So in that situation, I would set a key on say frame 20, reset the foot controllers ( and yes, the foot will be in the total wrong place ) but then pose the foot to match as near as possible the pose I want on frame 21, but with the more careful controller use that I can then move on with using in the shot.

Aug 5, 2009

Quick Trick: Think In Reverse

This one is kind of abstract, maybe makes no sense, but might work for some of you.

If I try and block a shot using "story poses", I usually find myself getting stuck. I find it easier to set my first pose, then work through the shot trying to set the minimum amount of poses as possible along the way, but still using rough breakdowns to figure out where the character is going ( imagine it like straight ahead, but with very few drawings ). If I just step through and put my "story" poses, they can sometimes be so far apart either in time or in screen space that how I actually get to them ( e.g, what my breakdowns look like ) can start to confuse me a lot.

So sometimes, when I do try and do just story poses, I occasionally think backwards from a pose that is causing me problems when I come to figure out the breakdowns. So say my keys and breakdowns are working nicely from frames 1 - 30, but then I have a pose on frame 50 that I can't easily figure out how to get to... I find it can help to think backwards from frame 50 to 30 and do the kind of straight ahead blocking towards the previous key.

I think this can sometimes make it easier because your transitions into frame 30 are figured out, so you understand where the motion is coming from, but everything after frame 5o is still blank space so understanding where its is going is harder.

Quick Trick: Crop Your Shot

This is going to be fast. It's all I get time for these days!

A little trick I started using recently that helps me to evaluate my work is to trim how much of my shot I playback when I set it to loop and sit there watching it.

I find it hard to "evaluate" motion unless its complete to a certain level. Sometimes I find myself changing bits of animation that are really working just fine, and its the motion after that I haven't started working into yet that is changing my perception of it ( I tend to start refining from start to finish in sections, as opposed to passes across the whole shot ).

So its quite simple... if you just want to get a feel for how stuff is going, try setting your playblast to not include the last 10 frames, or however many frames you feel are not "figured out" yet.. and just get a feel for what youre up to... kind of like thinking "if my shot just ended here, is that motion working?"

I know... strange one... but helps me.

Over and out.

Jun 25, 2009


I got so used to using the Animfood script I made for Maya, I noticed the lack of it after only a few days at DreamWorks ( we use a proprietary animation software called EMO ... so no Maya scripts unfortunately ).

I converted it to a Javascript GUI and stuck it here on Flip. I find it can be really helpful to get a random quote as you work through your animation. Keeps you thinking.

It should be right there! >>>


Go and watch it!

It might spoil the fun if I start talking about what shots I did... hopefully I`ll get time later to do that. For now just load up on nachos and pepsi and go and enjoy it for exactly what it is... awesomeness!

Jun 5, 2009

Square One

Hey guys... remember me?

I think it goes without saying that "apologies" for not posting recently would be like an awkward joke, maybe a slightly offensive one, in a crowded elevator, on a Monday morning. I'll skip all that and just say the obvious... I've been busy.

My time at ILM... what can I say? it was AMAZING. It honestly was everything I could have dreamt it would be... fun, bloody hard, challenging, bloody hard, rewarding, enlightening, bloody hard, nostalgic, and bloody hard. Transformers 2 was a great show to work on, and the movie is going to be a really entertaining robot smashing mash up that you would expect from the likes of none other than Mr. Bay... The amount of incredible shots in this movie will blow your mind. I'm really grateful to the guys at ILM for letting me ride with a bunch of complex shots that I can be really proud of for years to come.

The point of this blog is to share and write about my discoveries as I travel the path that animation seems to pave for me. If I was to summarize my learnings from ILM I would put it this way ( without being too specific of course ... I know you guys all understand ):

  1. "You'll get it in the end"
I had a shot on the movie that killed me. It was my first movie shot, and they lovingly threw me in at the deep end. The truth is, I sweated and worried and pained over the shot for many a sleepless night... I honestly thought it was going to turn out like a clunky 1990 honda civic, than a well oiled transforming bad ass.. but the truth is it came out ok. The bottom line is that animation is really really hard, and its likely that you may at times despair over your ability. Think back though.. can you ever think of something that really did turn out awful? I don't doubt that you feel proud in some way of each and every animation you've ever done.

My mindset moving forward is this... yes, often it will feel crappy. Sometimes terrible. Often you will make mistakes, often it will seem like the shot was animated by a 3 year old child. Keep at it... and you'll get it in the end.

  1. Blocking is its own art.
There's no two ways about it. In a production environment where people need to see your ideas before they spend valuable dollars on paying you to realize them fully... you have to show an approximation of your overall thinking. I've often mentioned here that workflow is a big roadblock of mine, and it wasn't different at ILM. Saying that however, each shot I did I was able to deliver blocking in a format that could be understood and reacted upon. I showed loose blocking in spline. If you have a very progressive, straight ahead or layered approach ( like me ) it really will pay to understand the benefits of working this way, but try and adapt them to creating a workflow that shows planning early on. I found that as long as I showed my main ideas through broad posing and staging, I could sell the idea, and let the details like weight and physics fill in all the gaps after I knew I was going the right direction.

We often hear about the importance of "selling an idea" or "showing your thinking clearly" and the main reason is simply so we don't have to keep doing stuff again before we get something that we all know will work the best in the sequence.

The trick is not to sweat the details in blocking. I find that the layered or straight ahead approach animator takes satisfaction and understanding of his work from the details. Its like we need to see every jiggle and settle before we can tell if our animation works or not. Its a tough mindset to get out of, but the truth is always that those details are secondary to the broad communication of your motion. Nail that, then nail that.

  1. Your work getting hammered is great.
If someone says your shot looks "awesome"... tell them their mum looks awesome, and ask them to tell you what looks crap.

I think a really large part of what makes great animation great, is the continued change and iteration that a variety of minds will shape. Every shot I did at ILM is a melting pot of ideas created by a number of people. If I had just stuck with what I thought worked, what I though looked cool, what I thought looked heavy... my shots would not have turned out the same at all.

Its annoying to change animation. We all know it ..."but how are my footplants gonna work?" "how is he gonna get into that pose in time now?" "oh man, that's way harder to do that way" "man I spent all that time on that other idea"... these are the thoughts of an animator improving his skills. Its key to trust your leads and colleagues.

  1. Keep it simple.
I heard this so many times. My supervisor Greg Towner is the master of "complex simplicity", and many times told me to simplify my actions. The key is to make something look intricate and complex without it really being that way. I would occasionally work myself into a corner trying to get a really cool weighty feel, or awesome arc... but the notes would often be to "simplify". In fact, if I was to highlight all the times I felt unsure or "stuck" on a bit of the animation... it was always when I needed to simplify an action.

  1. Slow it down.
Something else I heard a lot. Speed of actions does not always equal impact!

  1. Movies are brilliant.
Yep.. I made it. After a bunch of years building and training myself to do this, I'm now at DreamWorks Animation in San Francisco... doing what I've always wanted to do.

I should also mention that I'm right back at square one.

Just a few weeks here literally has me shaking in my boots. The quality of work here is of the highest caliber in every respect. Exactly as it was at ILM. I have an immeasurable amount of learning and catching up to do before I will be able up to the level of these guys.. but here's to hard work!

Stay tuned people...

Jan 28, 2009

Unexplored Territory

I had to post a short thank you to Propaganda Games for taking me under their wing for the past 3.5 years. This amazing studio in beautiful downtown Vancouver really allowed me to grow as an animator, and provided me with opportunity after opportunity to work on some amazing projects - with some pretty damn amazing people. If you ever wanted to work at a games studio that really cares about animation, and cares about the people who work there... look them up.

If you are a follower of my blog, you will know my aim for the past few years has been to step out of the games business and get a long dreamed about job in the movie industry. Right now I am getting ready to move with my family down to San Francisco, and help out at Industrial Light and Magic. I can't wait. This is the place that got me into all this animation stuff in the first place. I'm scared stiff... but really ready for the challenge.

Bye everyone at Propaganda, I'll miss you all!

Dec 3, 2008

Say Hello... Again!

So its an animation blog.. I know... but my second son was born at 12:20am yesterday morning. His name is Amaan Akbar Fielding, and hes making me proud already. Soph is doing really well, and stormed through the birth like a pro!

Nov 22, 2008


I finally got a round to re-posting the Turok Creature Reel. I was asked to put a disclaimer at the foot of the video just to clarify that I`m not showing actual in-game footage. Makes a lot of sense.

Thanks for the interest from everyone that mailed to ask me what happened to it. Hopefully the Workflow post should make much more sense now, seeing as you can actually see what I'm referring to!

Creature Reel

Nov 19, 2008

Getting An Animation Job In Games

I realized today that I never posted about this. Might be useful to some who are starting out in this business. Probably going to turn into a long post - but you know what? the beauty is in the details.

The rules:
  • Understand what computer game animation really is.
  • Figure out if its the right thing for you.
  • Do your research.
  • Do what you need to show you can do it.

The common misconceptions:
  • You need a diploma, degree, or some kind of official qualification in computer game production.
  • You have to play loads of computer games, and know all about them.
  • You have to be a `generalist` who knows how to rig, model, texture, light, shade, and never make any spelling mistakes. ever.
  • You have to know how to use a specific program, like Maya or Max.

So I`ll step through these one by one and offer some advice.

To begin with, its safe to say that working in the games industry is fun, and challenging. Despite the fact that its not hard like an 8 hour shift at Starbucks, it is bloody difficult to make games, and it throws up new challenges everyday that are usually only partially related directly to animation. There are a lot of regular dealings with areas that feel very much out of your control, but directly effect what you do, and the final presentation of your hard work. When you create animation for games, you are constantly trying to fit a ball into a hole that is slightly too small.

Whoops. This sounds negative. The truth is the ball often fits, you just have to squeeze it.

Computer game animation is concerned mostly with physicality. Good representation of weight and force. There not usually much need for acting animation, or even very much facial work. 99% of the time you re dealing with clear full body actions, that need to communicate the player's input ( with respect to action = reaction ) rather than any real emotional or emphatic communication. For example, if I swing my sword into an enemy, I don't care how the game character feels because that's me! I care about a clear visceral reaction that is satisfying and represents the result of the action I took in order to make it happen. In truth, I don't even care so much how the poor enemy feels! what is most important is that it felt like I did it, and I got some kind of reward. That's pretty much the blood and guts of game animation in a nutshell. Of course this will vary from game to game, and studio to studio, but for the majority this is the rule.

Its important to also understand that game animation doesn't play out from start to finish, from one view ( that you animated it from ) and in one predictable order. Game animation is a bunch of hundreds, sometimes thousands of different actions and gestures that are pieced together programatically, as the game requires them to happen. Sometimes the game is even playing more than one animation at once on your character! Occasionally the kinds of actions that are needed can be solely just to fill gaps, or technical needs, and can be really bizarre, as well as dull and uninteresting to animate. There is a lot fighting with this. There is a lot of figuring out how things will work, and trying your best to accommodate for a variety of different scenarios, some of which you may feel only look good 50% of the time. There is a lot of time spent trying to get other people to do stuff that makes your work appear better on screen, but they just don't have the time ( most commonly ) or the tools they need to do it how you envision.

For the upside...

One of the major differences between computer games and movies strikes right at the core of them both. The role of the protagonist. In a movie the audience is led to empathize with the protagonist, and feels emotion this way. Movies don't allow the audience to make any choices that affect the outcome. In games, the audience ( the player ) decides the outcomes, and causes emotional response by their own actions. In essence, there is no pre-defined protagonist, only characterization. The character of the protagonist in a video game is a direct mirror of the player themselves, represented by the limited number of choices they are allowed to make during the game.
What makes this so exciting about animating for games is that when it works, it really works. When you create a successful animation that has a real feeling of action = reaction, for a split second you are not making the player feel that as an emotion... they are that character on screen. There are times when you create and play these animations and it is intensely satisfying. These moments can come in the strangest of situations, a gun reload, a turn, a landing.

Working within constraints is also a good thing. The unconstrained artist will usually get stuck in a rut, because he cannot decide what to do when he can do anything he wants. Computer game animation is rife with constraint, and forces you to think in creative ways.

Because computer game animation is very heavy on physicality, its perfect for learning the core principles of animation. Weight in particular is a must in video games, and you will get plenty of time to master it. You will also spend a lot of time thinking about the entire character, rather than just cowboy shots, or close ups. This really trains you in thinking how characters move as a whole entity, which is a wonderful thing to get plenty of time to practice.

Computer games usually offer a lot of variety as well. Modern games call for more and more characters, larger more complex locations, and frequently more unique and groundbreaking visual design. This is a lot to do with the fact that as an art form video games are still very much in their infancy, things are being figured out that could change the course of gaming history! it feels like a time where new discovery, new ideas, and forward thinking are there for the taking.

So something that is important to think about when you consider games as your first step into animation, is to really understand your career goals, and whether or not video games will help you reach them. To be honest, I always wanted to do movies ( and I still do ) but I took a games job when I left university because I lacked the understanding of what it really involved ( to be honest, I lacked any understanding of animation at all ). During my 7 years experience, I have learned that the kind of animation that is required for today's feature animation jobs, does not come around too often in video games. This is why you will find lots of posts on workflow, particularly blocking on this blog - because I haven't had the professional chance to learn real production based animation for anything outside of the abstract form of video games. I am having to learn the basics of acting, staging, story etc all in my own time, and by myself, outside of the studio environment ( which of course is the best place to learn ). This is very tough. Sometimes I wish I had taken a T.V job, or started in commercials, something at least a little less abstract than the presentation of animation in a computer game. The truth be said, such is life, and I enjoy making games very much... I would probably be desperate to work in video games if I had taken the other path. All I'm saying is think about this carefully. Animation is very hard, and takes a long time to learn, so you want to be heading in the right direction as early as you can.

Sniff around...

Like any serious job, before applying you need to do your research. The sad truth is that a lot of games companies don't use the power of animation to its maximum. What I mean is, they don't give it the time or attention to detail it requires, and don't hire the best animators. The bottom line is that there are lots of games that are great, that don't have good animation. Animation is not as important to a video games success as it is in an animated feature for example. As an animator, however, you want to be applying to studios where they value animation, and are interested in investing in its ability to tell story and create compelling entertainment.
The best way to do this is to look at games. Most importantly, don't just look at the core movements, but look at the areas that are supposed to be 'unseen'. Take notice of the transitions between animations, the quality of things like feet that connect properly to the terrain, the floatyness or weightiness of a ragdoll, the believable way a character opens a door or climbs a rope, the careful economy of the number of animations, the seamless ways a character may traverse its environment. These are the areas that are hard to get right, and companies doing this successfully, care about animation.

Watch out for mocap. Hey that sounds a bit harsh, but what I mean is, you cannot put mocap on your demo reel unless you want to get another job doing mocap. Its that simple. So companies that are heavy in using mocap, are hiring animators more as artistically centered technicians, not animators. Of course, there are plenty of games where there is a nice mixture of mocap and keyframe ( usually sci-fi games with humans and varying types of creatures ). You have to constantly think about what you will put on a demo reel, and for an animator, mocap is almost entirely useless.

When doing your research, consider the type of game the company makes. Developers usually stick to a certain genre is because it takes so long to figure out how to make a particular type of game, it doesn't make business sense to begin such grand undertakings for each release. Most companies will stick to a genre and try to perfect it, constantly building on to of their previous successes ( just look at Blizzard and Valve ).
If you enjoy playing computer games, it makes sense for you to take an interest in working on the kinds of games you like to play. This gives you an understanding of where you think you can improve or innovate. On the other hand, if you are not a game player, choose companies that create games most closely linked to the kind of movie genre you enjoy best. This is not a prerequisite, however, you may want to work on something completely new and different to you.

So .. the demo reel..

There are no right and wrongs, no rules... just advice.

For a game demo reel, try and have a clear target in mind of the type of animation you want to work on professionally. If you like cartoony - do that. If you like creatures and monsters - do that. If you're really not sure - do both.
I suggest the majority of your reel should contain clear and believable physicality. The truth is, that acting and story ( most usually presented through a short film ) are not the most important requirements for a game animator. Beautiful dialogue animation is nice to watch, but wont sell your physical skills unless you choose appropriate execution. This is not to say that you wouldn't get hired if you had a beautiful short film with lots of dialogue... its just common sense that this is much harder to produce than individual examples, that can cover more important aspects in much less time.

Full body shots are always good, but try and avoid the tired old 'boxlift'. Unless you can mold some empathy ( empathy .. not emotion ) into your box lift, its worth avoiding. Empathy is the key to good animation.
You know that thing that happens sometimes when you walk down the street, and your foot kind of catches the ground too soon, and you do a little"half trip".. and you just hope no one saw it happen? if you could animate that, and do it well, so the audience recognizes that universal experience... that's empathy, and that's killer demo reel material.

The thing about empathy is that we don't consciously notice it when it happens, and the thing about games is to remember that you are applying to places where they really are just a bunch of people who want to see a reel with "cool stuff" on it.
If you animate a careful shot with empathy, it will be appreciated in a subdued but vitally important way. If you animate a great sequence where a T-Rex fights another T-Rex, and it happens in a visceral and believable way.. that's the Hollywood element that is equally as critical and will wow the audience. If you could animate the T-Rex sequence with empathy... oh man.

I like reels where seemingly simple and usually faceless characters are animated in entertaining ways. This serves well for games, because believe it or not, a lot of third person games spend most of their time showing you the back of the main characters head! The "flour sack" is a good example of this, but I'm sure there are many more creative ideas you can come up with.

Its important to remember your own skill level. This is important not because it affects what you should try and animate, but it affects how you will be judged. If you are a student out of school, you will not be expected to animate Pixar quality acting and physicality. If you can, then you don't need luck for this journey, but if like most people you cannot then bear in mind what you are comfortable in achieving. Its important to challenge yourself, but its stupid to set your goals too high. Unfortunately this is the problem with a lot of short film reels. Just be sensible.

I'm not going to say more more on reels because I think that sums it up. Just remember that a single great animation, 10 seconds in length, could get you a job. 3 minutes of shit wont.

To dispel some of the myths...

You don't need any kind of formal qualification to get a game animation job. This should be the case for any creativity based profession in my opinion. If Joe Nobody applied with a 20 second reel that blew everyone away, at the same time that Mr Qualification applied... Joe Nobody would steamroll him. Even if Mr Experience had thrown in his reel, Joe would still walk away with the job.
What I'm saying is.. it all comes down to your reel ( and an interview, just to make sure you don't sleep in a coffin and eat mice ). On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with doing some kind of animation based course or degree ( I wish I had.. I did a degree in Graphic design ), as long as you remember the only thing that will count at the end of it is what's on your reel... so think carefully what you put on it.

You don't have to play computer games and know all about them. My dirty little secret at work is that I don't even own a 360 or any consoles. I don't play games so much. Its animation I like. ( of course its not really a secret, because it doesn't matter ). If on the other hand you do enjoy games and you like playing them and you've always wanted to make them.. then you don't need to worry about this part.

Its true there is the common misconception that games artists are generally good at, or know how to do all of the art related disciplines like modeling and texturing. This is based in fact, but needs to be properly understood.
In the early days of game development, teams were smaller and less specialized. Artists were hired as artists and expected to help out with animation as well as the other areas. As games have grown, the standards have risen, and the profession is now commonly driven by specialism. the type of candidate that a company looks for depends on their team structure, and is usually directly related to the size of the team ( more reason for your research ) . Companies may ask that candidates show proficiency in other areas outside of animation, but this is usually the sign of a newer less seasoned company ( not in a negative way ).
My advice on this would be to follow your heart. I know when you're a student its never clear really what you want to do in 3D, but I think deep down you know it. If its animation you love, then animate! and the rest will take care of itself. Avoid sending a generalist reel unless that's actually what you want to do as a profession.

You don't need to know Maya, Max, XSI to get a games animation job. The chances are, you probably know how to use at least one 3D package if you're doing any kind of 3D animation anyway. Just forget about this dumb myth. When I first started in games, I only knew how to use Max, but I was thrown head first into Maya. It didn't matter.
If you're a 2D animator, the "language barrier" is always there a little, but still, great 2D animation will still get you a 3D job. I would suggest at least playing around with 3D... but what am I saying.. you know this already.

I think that pretty much sums it up. The games industry is booming now, with more jobs in more locations than ever before. The salaries are great, and the positions are usually permanent with multiple benefits. In some ways, this can be a bad thing, if games isn't really what you want, and you have rent to pay.... but its a great place to start your ball rolling in animation. If you love games, love animation, and are dying to make the magic happen... then the world is your oyster my friend.

If you have any questions, you can fire off in the comments section, or send me an email.

Hope that helps.

Quick Trick: One Step At A Time

Oh man. How long? What have I been doing? .. its a mystery.

This tip comes first hand from my mate Brandon Beckstead. This guy has an amazing ability to do the kind of `progressive blocking` that we all dribble over and wish we could do ourselves if only we were that good. I'm talking about the kind of blocking where there is usually a stepped key on every 4th or 2nd frame, and you can see very clearly how the animation will look before going into any kind of curve editing. Were talking subtle finger movements, facial animation, moving holds... all there in stepped.

I asked Brandon how he approached his blocking, and he told me a simple tip that seems so obvious and simple that I can't believe I never thought of it. Basically, when you first start to block a move, forget about timing.


When I try and block in stepped, I tend to get confused because of this approach: I block my key poses on the timeLine where I think they should happen ( the core timing ) then I work between them with breakdowns. The problem with this method is that I have to think of two things at once! I have to think of how I get between the poses ( spacing ), and also how long it takes ( timing ).

Brandon recommended the approach where you block your poses on consecutive frames, disregarding any notion of timing at the beginning and concentrating only on your posing, and how the body needs to move to get between those poses. If you need another pose to describe the movement, you just add another breakdown and work in your shapes. I tried this approach last night and I love it!

I found it useful to block my poses every 8 frames, then I have room in between to add poses as as I need them ( note ... there is no relevance to timing here... I`m not thinking about how fast things move over 8 frames - its just an arbitrary amount of space I can fit a few keyframes into ) . At this point, you are not pressing play or scrubbing the timeLine, you're jumping back and forth between your poses using the next and previous hotkeys - only taking notice of how the poses relate.

After you have your basic movement working, you then slide the keys around in the timeLine and concentrate on your timing. Now you're gonna start playblasting and pressing play. There will be tweaks and changes of course, a body part is dragging way too much etc, but the core of your movement is already thought about. This also works very nicely if you keep a key on every body part for every pose you set.

When using this approach with dialogue, I can see that there may be an inevitable stage where you have to pose your character and think about the movement whilst not in direct timing with the audio ( if your posing on regular frames.. how could you possibly match it with the audio at this stage ?) So this will force you to be confident about your acting choices. At this point, its a process of animating a little `blind`, at least until you have the core of your movement figured out. Its then that you start placing the keys where they should be relative to the audio, in the timing stage of this approach.

I find this helps separate two complex parts of animation, timing and spacing, and allows you to tackle one at a time.. which has to be a good thing. Its still recommended to pose out your story telling keys, on their approximate frames, so you can see if your broad idea is working or not - but when you come to figure out the details, the above technique can help.

In Maya, you can step back and forth through keys on your selected object by using these hotkey commands:
  • currentTime ( `findKeyframe -which next` );
  • currentTime ( `findKeyframe -which previous );