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...


TJ Phan said...

Great to hear about your experience Cameron. Perfect timing too--I'm coming off of vacation and needed that boost of inspiration as I start work again on Monday. Good to be reminded that animation IS hard and that the only way around it is hard work. And congrats on your first feature!

Denis Zilber said...

Wow Cameron! Great to have you back and thanks for sharing:)
Can't wait to see your name in next DreamWorks feature's credits. In Lead Animators section, of course:)

Chetan Trivedi said...

Congrats! Ur the man.
have been looking forward to Tranformers 2.
All the best at DW.

animatorswearbras said...

Congratulations! Fantastic news that you're at Dreamworks you really deserve it. I love your reel, blog and tutorials, very inspirational stuff. All the best for the future! :)

SEB said...

I was waiting for post like that Flip. Thanks a lot!

Good luck there :).

Unknown said...

Great thoughts to find on a Saturday morning RSS sift. Thanks for being a healthy dose of truth this morning. Looking forward to seeing your reel when you can post it.

Best of luck as you head to Dreamworks!


Wonkey the Monkey said...

This is terrific stuff, man. I'm super happy for you, and this gives me hope for my own career as well. I don't know if it was intentional, but it seems strangely significant that all of your lessons were numbered "1". I guess they are all equally important!

Bill Robinson said...

Congratulations, cameron! Sounds like ILM was a blast. Thanks for sharing your experience.

BEADLE said...

It's great to read a new post from you ! I'm really looking forward to seeing TF2 on the big screen !
Congratulations on all your success :)

your pal,

Oz said...

Nice to have you back to posting...I've missed reading your blog. I'm very happy to hear of your successes on Trans2 and best of luck at DW!!!!

Looking forward to the next update!


Frankie Stellato said...

Sweet man glad to hear you had a great time at ILM! And congrats and good luck at Dreamworks as well. Keep the posts comin when you have time :P

ScottH said...

Hey Cameron, I've missed your posts, but this was one heck of a post. Congratulations on Dreamworks and I can't wait to see your stuff for Transformers on the big screen! I'm still a student, but it's good to see that even the pros have their hangups and a lot of those feelings you expressed I can definitely identify with. Good luck at Dreamworks!

Andy Latham said...

Thanks a lot for these tips Cameron, they have come at a good time for me. I'm glad that you are getting on well with Dreamworks, even if it's getting hard.

I don't know if you remember me emailing you a while ago? I mentioned two colleagues of mine who know you here in the UK. Anyway I mentioned you said hi and they returned the greeting. John Williman has recently set sail on his boat, travelling around Europe a bit.

Anyway, thanks for sharing these tips :)

Rick Blankenship said...

Extremely well put. Thanks for posting.

Nate said...

Thank you for the great insights Cameron! Best of luck at Dreamworks, looking forward to seeing your work on Transformers this summer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great post Cameron. I can't wait to see Transformers. Keep inspiring us by sharing your experiences, believe, your posts are a great help and inspiration. I couldn't agree with you more about having different people critiquing your work, and, yes, it's a pain when they're right and you have to go back and tweak your work. I wonder if you would share a bit about what kind of shot or actions you found to be the most challenging and which you thought were "easier". Also, since you went through actual production, what was expected of you? 80 frames per week like I've heard? more? less? Did it matter how many characters you were animating? Keep up the great work? and thanks!!

Doron Meir said...

Cool notes, thanks for sharing! Always good to hear these again and again, they are so easy to forget.

Anonymous said...

Way to go man!! Glad to know someone finally fulfilled his dreams after working so hard. Looking forward to the movie :)

Anirudh said...

Hey Cameron,

Nice to see you back with a good number of tips, hopefully you will be posting regularly !

Great to know about your fun and challenging times at ILM on Transformers 2. Now I am even more keen to savor it, considering with each new day I am hearing so much good about it.

And good luck on your stint at Dreamworks now !


Alfo_O said...

Great!man, keep posting stuff i love your blog :).
Do you prefer cartoons animation to creature vfx??



Dennis S. said...

Wow. ILM then Dreamworks. You are definitely living the dream. Good luck and knock em dead. We know you can :)

Anonymous said...

Glad to see your back on the blog man! I love reading it. Congrats on Dreamworks!

-Aaron M.

BrandonBeckstead said...

I'm really glad to read all this, fantastic advice all around. I'm happy to see you landed at PDI! You deserve it, keep working hard and keep learning! And keep sharing it with us!(I'm selfish I know...)

myung said...

congrats on moving so seamlessly to dreamworks! and i cant wait to see transformers. for the animations and you know who.. hehe

Anonymous said...

Wow ... Cameron that was awesome .. I really enjoy it and i felt like Im in a tour more than post :)
congratulations for your new job

Daniel said...

Oh man, this is gold. Thanks for writing and keeping us up to date, man!

I've gotta say, that you've been the most inspirational and helpful voices on the 'net for me. I'm in school at AM to learn the trade and I've never been happier. And I've also never worked at a large studio.

So hearing about your trials, tribulations, successes, and failures, is an incredible insight. And you are very uplifting.

Please don't forget about us (your audience and fans)! ;-)


Dan Carey said...

Your wise words couldn't have come at a better time for me. I am about to make that leap from games to film myself, and its a relief to know im not alone in the feeling of 'oh crap, i g...g..got...to an...nimate gooood'. Wishing you all the best at Dreamworks, how i empathise with the amount of work and effort you have put in to make it this far. With a little time, dedication and passion its amazing where a person can go!

Anonymous said...

Hey Cameron, first off.. glad to see you're still alive! I'm a regular to your blog, and after reading that you were heading out to ILM for your film gig, I was really excited for you.. and nervous! I know you're a family man, so I can only imagine that compounded the stress a bit. I love your notes on what you learned in your journey through ILM.. especially about the one on stressing about details. I think I get caught up on relying sometimes on those details to sell the statement I'm trying to make, and like you said.. it's not those secondary details that will ultimately sell it, it's the pose and the timing of the moment.
So I do have a question for you.. What could you tell us family people (wife, one or two kids) who are scared stiff about giving film a shot? Who are afraid that once the project is over, we'll be living our own scenes from the "Pursuit of Happyness" movie? :) I know there's always just that leap of faith one must do.. and although I don't profess that I currently have the skill set to go successfully into film, it still is a dream of mine.. just sometimes it's hard to envision leaving the blanket of comfort that is games, if there can actually be such a thing. :D So I wonder what it was that made you just decide to take the plunge? I hope this doesn't intrude into your personal life too much..
I apologize for chosing the anonymous route.. it's just paranoia.. :D

Daniel MacGregor said...

Congratulations on a successful transition to film. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank for sharing your thoughts along the way. It really help me when I was transitioning from traditional animation to CG.

Good luck in the future, I'll keep watching.

- Dan

mattanimation said...

Way to go! and thanks for posting great info from the inside to us peons on the outside still practicing. :D

Barry said...

Congrats on the work at ILM and on your new spot at Dreamworks!

Also, really fantastic post. Some really great insight!


samuel peter said...

congrats & that was a great post Cameron, you sure are a inspiration for guys like me! All the best at Dreamworks.

Carlos Fins said...

Solid tips, as usual. I'm super stoked about your experience at ILM, and that you're now at Dreamworks. :D Incidentally, did you mean to number all those points as number 1? Like they are all equally as important? :D
Great advice, man! Inspiring stuff as usual.

Dave said...

Congrats Cameron! That's awesome news man! Best of luck to you at PDI/Dreamworks!

Nishant S said...

congrats cameron!.. & thanks a lot for sharing your really intresting experience with transformers 2.

Anonymous said...

"I have an immeasurable amount of learning and catching up to do before I will be able up to the level of these guys"

Coming from you that sounds incredible. Feature Animation sounds like a ton of fun if the level is THAT high. ALso thanks for the great posts, they mean a ton!

Anonymous said...

Wow knowing that YOU had a hard time leaves me with little hope of ever being good enough to shine the shoes of ILM/PDI janitors sigh..

Barry said...

Hey Cameron,

I would love to hear your insights into how film differs from games.

I've been in games now for about 5 years, and I always wondered what it would be like moving into film. Particularly going from cranking out 3 - 5 seconds a day to 3 seconds a week.

Was a lot of that time spent redoing blocking to get that to a point where people were happy with the direction? or was it more just going over the shot many times just polishing the crap out of it?

Anyways, great insights! Thanks!


Jean-Denis Haas said...

Thanks for all the awesome work Cameron! And congratulations and good luck at Dreamworks!!

Delanimo said...

There are a lot of posts here already, but still I have to say thank you. Those tips were and are very helpful, and I, especially, appreciate the fact that you didn't have to do this. So again I say thank you. I will now copy...paste...and study these words. Delanimo out... :)

Cameron Fielding said...

thanks to everyone who read & replied! its nice to see people still take the time to read my ramblings. I want to try and answer more of these post comments - kind of rude of me as I tend to read and then forget to reply.

anonymous - I`m writing a post about this now...keep listening and hopefully I`ll answer your questions.


i think the way you explaining your experience, work flow and tricks. the raw reality we the animator experiencing or need to know about thanks a ton for sharing.