Month: December 2011

AnimSchool Classtime: Character Eye Blink

AnimSchool Instructor and Blue Sky Animator, Garrett Shikuma, demonstrates from the Animating Appeal & Entertainment class, how to add appeal to an eye blink.

AnimSchool Webcast: Tom Bancroft, Part 2

      In Part 2 from AnimSchool’s live Webcast with Tom Bancroft, Tom shares some visual development drawings of Mushu, from Disney’s “Mulan,” and discusses the process of 2D character development.

In upcoming Part Three, Tom goes over a portion of his reel, and discusses decisions he made when introducing Mushu.

AnimSchool Classtime: Face Proportions & Geometry of the Face

AnimSchool Instructor, Marty Havran, discusses appealing face proportions, and shows how modeling geometry, lines up with face anatomy.

AnimSchool Webcast: Tom Bancroft, Part 1

Last Tuesday, AnimSchool hosted a live webcast with 2D Animator, Tom Bancroft. In Part One of this webcast, Tom reviews his over 25 years of experience in the animation industry, discussing his projects at Disney, and what led him to write his character design book: “Creating Characters with Personality.”

In upcoming Part Two, Tom Bancroft shares stories about working on Disney’s “Mulan,” and discusses the process of designing Mushu.

AnimSchool Interview: Animator Bobby Pontillas

Today we have animator and artist Bobby Pontillas. (Bobby helped on AnimSchool’s Animation Principles video, making the great caricature of the Nine Old Men.) He has recently joined the Disney animation department. First of all, congratulations on joining the Disney team, and it was your birthday recently as well.

Thanks very much! Yeah, my birthday was Nov 17th, and what better gift than being given the opportunity to work on a Disney film, right? But really, I’m extremely grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had so far at Blue Sky, Arena Net, and Gas Powered Games. I’ve met so many amazing people in this industry!

Mate, you must be loving life right now! How did you end up celebrating?

Yeah, starting over again in a new city is exciting, especially one as dynamic as LA. For my birthday, I ended up going out with some friends at a local wine bar in Los Feliz, and during the day, Disney had a catered Thanksgiving lunch for the studio, so I pretended that was for me.

Where did it all begin? And how did you initially break into the industry?

I graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle in the winter of 2000. Technically, my major was Computer Animation, but what I really wanted to do was become a 2D animator for Disney.  With my portfolio packed with drawings, I got my first industry job at a local games company called Hulabee Entertainment; they did hand-drawn PC games for children. That was a great time. It was a smaller company, and I got to wear a lot of hats: doing storyboards, character design, as well as animation.

Were there any moments in your life where you struggled as an artist/animator? And if so, how did you overcome those days?

I feel like it’s almost a daily struggle, but two major ones stand out in my mind. One was making the transition from 2D to 3D animation. The second was making the jump from animating in games to film. Both just came from throwing yourself in unfamiliar territory. Sink or swim, and in both cases I spent a lot of time sinking. I can go into the technicalities of overcoming both, but for anyone reading this, what I really want them to take away from this is that it’s all about being stubborn. Never stop. Accept that you aren’t going to get it right off the bat, and that’s alright.  For me still, I only ever become proficient at anything by making every mistake in the book. Ask for help. Show your work to other artists & animators, both in school and when you break into the industry. For example, working on Rio at Blue Sky, my work would have never stood up to the quality of that film without the mentor-ship of my fellow animators.

Is there such a thing as an overnight animator? For some people they seem to pick it up easier than others, in terms of animation principles like timing and spacing. Or, do you think this is an ongoing process that requires a lot of attention, nurturing, and training?

Yes, I do think a lot of people are predisposed to certain things like a sense of rhythm, a strong graphic sense, or a natural acting ability. But, in order to apply those qualities to animation, I think it’s the artists’ responsibility to continue to develop these skills. It’s also their responsibility to recognize what they’re weaker at, and study to become more proficient in those areas.

Let’s talk about your short film: “Better Off Undead,” a clever little short film you made a few years back. How did you originally come up with the concept?

I’m a softie, and most of my favorite short films have to do with love. It’s so simple and universal! I wanted to follow in that vein and make a film that was sweet, but also morbid at the same time. I had previously drawn this little zombie boy and thought it would be funny to cast him as the lead.  Zombies need love too!

Do you have any advice for artists trying to tackle their own animated short film projects? What were some of the areas you found difficult, and time consuming.

From my short experience I’d say to look at what inspires you, and use that as a jumping off point. If it’s a short film, have it revolve around one simple, central idea. I always find that the ideas that stay with people, are the ones they can relate to.

I’ll say that I think it behooves any animator to make a short film.  In doing so, you really get a sense for animation’s place in the whole film-making process. Sound design, art direction, and layout are all there to help tell the story. Animation is no different.

How do your drawing and character design abilities help you with your animation?

It really helps me practice communicating an idea in one “drawing.”  Whether it be a personality or a story point, in the clearest and most appealing way.  When I’m posing in 3D, I’m always asking myself: “Is this how I would draw it?” And if I’m not being lazy, I’ll say: “No, of course not” and fight for a better pose.

Mate, I have to confess, I was on your blog the other day and I must’ve went back all the way to the start from 2 years ago, and I NEVER ended up finding one bad drawing. How long have you been drawing for, and is there such a thing as a bad drawing done by Bobby?

Haha, oh I’m sure there are plenty of bad ones in there, but I appreciate the compliment, thank you! It’s funny you bring that up, I was cleaning out some boxes full of art school stuff, and MAN, I never realized just how many sketchbooks I filled with terrible drawings. And not even kind-of bad, but just epic-ly awful. I really want to post some of them, you will fall over laughing. We’ll laugh together!
Appeal is often a very difficult thing to define amongst animators, and it’s even more difficult to achieve. How would you define appeal and what are some of the things you look for in your shot, or in another artist’s work?

In my mind, appeal is totally subjective. There are no rules. Simply stated, it’s what you like looking at. Which could be for a myriad of different reasons. Talking to different artists, they all find different things appealing. It’s all over the map. The most you can do, working in this industry, is find out what the majority of your audience finds entertaining. It doesn’t have to be status-quo or predictable, people like to be pleasantly surprised. Things that are visually interesting, something that they can relate to, characters they can empathize with, are all examples of why audiences are attracted to certain things.  We’re all artists and want to express ourselves, but as story tellers it’s important to keep the audience in mind. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your acting choices, what you look for in your video references and what your common workflow is?

When I’m happy with the reference I shoot, overall I try to look for storytelling poses, and timing cues.  Then I push both aspects. On a smaller scale, I’m always on the lookout for little subtle moves like head tilts or weight adjusts, that I would have never thought to put in, had I not gotten up and acted out the scene myself.

We have a couple of questions from AnimSchool students. Peter Kasim asked “how have you divided your time into nurturing both your 3d animation and drawing skills. I tend to do one obsessively and kind of forget about the other…”

The way my career has gone, I do 3D animation all day, and draw at night. I think it’s just a matter of having a real love for this medium, in which all of these elements, design and animation, sit together.  Drawing is something that’s been with me since I was little. If you love it, you can’t not do it, and you’ll always find time!

Alexander Ortner would like to know how you chose your storytelling poses and why?

Great question! There are two main components my storytelling poses have to have:
#1- Clarity-  Is the attitude clear without the help of movement? Is it helping tell the story?
#2- Visual appeal-  Having a strong line of action and balance. Making sure all of its parts are flowing into each other, and directing the viewer’s eye to where you want them to look.

Lastly can you tell us what’s next for you Bobby?

For the coming year I’ll be animating on Disney’s next feature: “Wreck-It Ralph.” I’m also working on an art book with one of my best friends, Joe Lee, on our time in New York! Exciting times!

To see more of Bobby’s work you can visit:

If you have a favorite animator/artist you’d like us to interview, send me an email at

Interview by: Andrew Tran

AnimSchool Classtime: Weight Shifts and Center of Gravity

AnimSchool Instructor and Blue Sky Animator, Matt Doble, demonstrates weight shifts and center of gravity changes.

AnimSchool Classtime: Making a Character Walk

AnimSchool Instructor and DreamWorks Animator, JP Sans, demonstrates the role of balance in motion for making a character walk.

AnimSchool Interview: Modeler Marty Havran

We’re here today with modeler Marty Havran. Thank you Marty, for taking time to answer a few questions. 

Wow- you’ve had a really long, healthy career, spanning over 17 years of modeling experience! What was your fondest memory on the job?

 I remember sitting in a large theater in west LA watching the crew screening of the movie Contact.  It was my first film that I worked on in a production at Sony Imageworks.  For more than six months I sat in daily reviews watching the effects for the film for different shots, not understanding how it would all come together.  As I watched the film, all the pieces came together, and it was exhilarating to see the final product.  Then the credits rolled, and for the first time I saw my name appear in the credits.  It was at this proud moment that I knew I was an industry professional.

You’ve worked on some of my favorite films: Starship Troopers, Eraser, Space Jam, and Kung Fu Panda. What was your favorite production you worked on?

That’s hard to say.  Each project had its highlights and challenges.  What I have enjoyed the most through the years are the friends I have made along the way.  I do have a few characters that I am fond of, those being Shi Fu in Kung Fu Panda, Micheal Jordan for Space Jam, and the Hollow Man.

Working on so many big named films, was there a production you wish you were apart of?

The Lord of the rings trilogy, the original Star Wars (even though I would have been 8 years old), the Iron Giant, the Incredibles and the first Toy Story.


How do you stay motivated?

The honest answer is my motivation has been fueled by different reasons during my career.  At first, I was motivated just to have a job and get some experience regardless of what I worked on.  If I was able to work on something good, that was a bonus.  There were times where I was excited just to have a job and to be getting a paycheck.  Once I got established in the industry, my motivation switched to earning more in my career, and I was able to be a little picky creatively about the projects I worked on. At times I am motivated by crazy deadlines and seemingly insurmountable projects.  I continue to be motivated by trying new things and learning from that experience.  Working freelance, I am both happy to be working, and with my experience, I often get some really great opportunities. One of the reasons I teach is that it’s motivating to work with people who are new in the industry, and to see their excitement as they learn and progress.

AnimSchool class session, where Marty discusses the importance of anatomy and form, when modeling for film.

Which artists influence or inspire you?

I come from an illustration background, and while I make my living working on the computer, I am inspired a lot by those masters of traditional mediums.  Some of the painters that inspire me are John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, Anders Zorn, Tom Tompson, Ilya Repin, JC Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, NC and Andrew Wyeth, Odd Nerdrum, Mucha, Lucian Freud and many more.  I learn a lot from sculptors like Bernini, Michelangelo, Rodin, Degas and Bertel Thorvaldsen.  I love browsing artist’s websites and art books to see what other people are doing, and what they are passionate about.

Can you tell us a little about your workflow?

 I guess this would be the hook for my class.  When I am given a character to model it’s generally from a concept artist.  Ideally I try to get into the artists head, and find out what they were thinking when they created the character.  I want to understand what their idea or concept is behind it.  Once I know this, then I can better understand and model their pose. In the concept work I want to understand why they are wearing the clothes they are, have their hair styled a certain way, are holding a prop a certain way, and have the expression they have.  This isn’t always possible, but generally that’s where I try to start, and refer back to while I’m modeling. Often I work with the artists to figure out their style, the 2D cheats they’ve done, and figure out how these are going to translate into 3D forms.  Sometimes this is really challenging, depending on how graphic the design is. I treat the digital model like I would a sculpture that I work in clay, working from large blocky masses to get the proportions, pose, and anatomy correct.  If these aren’t correct no matter how cool the details are, the model is going to feel off.  Once I have this nailed down, I start working on the head.  The expression is the window into the characters personality and story. Once I get this, then I work into the body and then get the rest of the details worked out.

What are some of the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned while modeling over the years? Did you ever have any moments like: “wow, I suddenly realize A, B and C make sense”?

I don’t know if working in this industry ever really makes sense.  It can be a hard life bouncing from project to project.  That being said, here are some survival tips:  Be easy to work with and take direction and criticism well.  You need to be thick skinned, because it’s a very subjective and collaborative medium.  Always be looking for your next job, even if you have a ‘stable’ job. This doesn’t mean be shmoozy, but networking with people at other companies, going to trade shows, and staying abreast is key to finding a job and working on your next project.  Keep up to date on new software, techniques, and production workflow.  Know when to let go of your work. Have hobbies outside of work that take your mind off your job.  You can work long hard hours, but you need something to divert your attention, to keep your focus fresh.  Take time off when you can, and enjoy the moment.  I try not to define myself by my work, but by my character and who I am.  Inevitably your work will speak for itself, and people will want to work with you because of the person you have become.

What’s your advice for someone who feels inadequate when it comes to being able to model? How did you go about training up your perception?

You can’t compare yourselves to those who have been modeling a lot longer than you, because you can’t replace experience.  What you can do is observe them, learn from them, and ask them to critique your work.  Also, ask questions when you don’t understand, challenge yourself, and try new things.  Most of all work your butt off.  You learn and grow by getting out of your comfort zone, and putting yourself out there.

Where do you see the direction of CG currently heading, and what would you like to see evolve in CG?

I have seen the industry evolve where it was tough to do one character in CG, and now we worry about hundreds and thousands of characters.  To me CG should function as an aid in telling good stories.  This should be regardless of the effects being characters that need to be CG or creating the digital environments of worlds that don’t exist.  Now that we are able to do virtually anything, it’s up to the writers to join their imaginations with the possibilities. The one thing I haven’t seen is a virtual human that I buy as the real thing.  Not that I want that, and not that it can be done, but I think people will continue to try because its eluded us thus far. The last thing I will say is that when I browse sites with galleries of CG artwork, I hope to see that concept, idea and story telling, make their way into people’s digital artwork.  This stems back to my illustration training in composition and story telling.  There are a lot of talented people out there, but I have very little fascination with their work because they are copying an existing character or person or make something as real as possible.  While this is a good training exercise its like drawing from plaster casts.  I would hope that their artwork would evolve to tell us a story or something about themselves that only they can say based on their experiences and personality.