Month: May 2012

AnimSchool Webcast: Jeff Gabor, Part 6

Animator Jeff Gabor, gives some final advice on reference and submitting your reel to studios.

“One Hot Lady”

AnimSchool announces a new character today. Marnie is a gorgeous new
female rig — sure to attract any male 3D character in sight!

Sleek and sophisticated, Marnie is debuting now in AnimSchool student
assignments. They are impressed with her retro charm and good looks!

One student reports that Marnie is “amazing to work with. You don’t have to
struggle to get an appealing pose from her; somehow it comes ‘naturally’
to her.”

One student worried, however. “LOL! Funny, if I animate her, I might not be able to concentrate!”

We make it fun to learn animation, modeling and rigging! AnimSchool
offers our students the absolute best in quality characters.

Our high-quality character “Malcolm” is already known around the world.
Used by almost 7,000 3D animators  worldwide, Malcolm has also been used
by the winners and top entries of the popular 11 Second Club animation
contest. Some of those users have called Malcolm “the best rig [they’ve]
ever worked with”.

AnimSchool is where people go for great characters. Our students learn how to MAKE characters and how to MOVE characters.

Marnie was designed and created by AnimSchool founder David Gallagher, who called her “one hot lady!”

Marnie is exclusively for AnimSchool students. To use Marnie and learn
from our amazing instructors, apply to be an AnimSchool student. Come
join us!

You can see lots of student examples on our facebook page here:

AnimSchool Classtime: Simplifying Dialogue

In AnimSchool’s Character Performance class, instructor Garrett Shikuma, covers animating dialogue. Here’s one of the tips he gave his students about the importance of simplifying mouth shapes when animating dialogue.

AnimSchool Interview: Animator Aaron Gilman

Thank you Aaron, for taking the time to answer some questions for us. 
 Can you tell us a little a bit about your background, and where it all 
started for you?

My career in animation started pretty late compared to most. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life while I attended university, and this confusion carried on for many years afterwards. I spent a while working in film production as a P.A; I sold ladies shoes, worked as a video store clerk for ages, and was an assistant wedding photographer. I’ll never forget the day I discovered animation. I was 26 years old and sitting on a bus, thinking about how much money I had in my bank account (it was about 13 dollars), when I saw an advertisement on the bus wall. It was for the Vancouver Film School’s 3D program and it had a picture of a CG dinosaur. That got me thinking, but it didn’t truly seal the deal in my mind. A little later, I was visiting family in Montreal and went to see my sister at her new job. She was working in a VFX studio. I sat with a guy who showed me a CG model he was working on of  a cool looking dragon.  And that was it. I went back to Vancouver and enrolled in the 3D program. In about 2 months at VFS I was completely hooked on animation and knew that was what I was meant to do. Looking back, it’s very easy to understand why animation goes so well with my personality, and yet it took me so long to find it. Growing up I had always had a passion for film, acting, photography and computers (my mom bought a Commodore 64 in the early 80’s when I was about 12 years old). Animation was essentially the culmination of all of my interests.

In another interview, you mentioned you studied philosophy before making the career switch to animation.  Do you find that your past education in philosophy has benefited your development as an animator, and if so, how?

Let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend aspiring animators go out and get a degree in philosophy. I chose to do philosophy because it was quite simply the only thing at the time I kind of liked. I knew while I was in the program at the University of British Columbia, that it would never amount to anything like a career. But epistemology and metaphysics were interesting subjects, and while I wanted to be a professional actor prior to going to university, I decided I loved money too much and wouldn’t survive as a waiter with endless rejections.

 But all that said, philosophy has helped me enormously in my life, and in my animation career. Creating animation and working on complex shots within a very advanced pipeline is often more about problem solving than being a great artist. The VFX pipeline is very complicated, and you’re constantly being barraged with technical issues, whether they be creature problems, complex constraint systems, or simply working out how you are going to build a crazy shot in the most efficient way.

Philosophy concerns itself with problem solving, where arguing through an issue towards clarity is the end goal. Of course, in philosophy you never really achieve clarity. The arguing never ends and the issues never get sorted. It is the debate that is the source of the joy. But, in animation and VFX, finding a solution to the problem is the goal. As you become a Lead and Supervisor, being good at problem solving becomes even more critical to your success. Philosophy helped me with my problem solving abilities, and being able to rationalize my way through an issue, categorize and untangle technical messes, and ultimately achieve the final goal of completing the performance. Mixed in with all of that you must find room to be artistic. Juggling artistry and technical expertise is what makes a valuable and successful animator.

I’m really impressed with your underwater chase sequence with Abe Sapien in Hellboy. What type of reference did you
 draw upon to help you with that? Were there any challenges with animating an underwater shot?

Animating realistic characters underwater is actually very forgiving. The reason for this is because the density of water makes everything more floaty, and the timing is therefore more even between actions. Animating realistic weight is always a challenge because the timing required to make it believable needs to be very specific, and being even a frame or two off can ruin the illusion. Most animators who have problems with weight tend to key the object too slow or soft, and you get this “man-on-the-moon” type of feeling. Floaty is usually the kiss of death for realistic animation, but this is not the case with swimming. Now that’s not to say that swimming shots are easy. In my experience, most shots are never easy! You still need to design a believable performance, and the physicality of navigating through water needs to be mechanically correct. For this you need to research and reference, and understand how the body creates propulsion, changes direction, etc.

For the Abe chase sequence, we had one primary source of reference, Patrick Duffy’s Man from Atlantis. This was a very popular TV show in the late 70’s, where Duffy played a man with webbed hands and feet who could breathe underwater. Duffy did all of his own underwater stunts, and he designed a very unique and dynamic swimming style. We used his movement as our main reference, paying very close attention to the circular actions he did with his arms. The other source of reference was video footage I shot of myself from various angles with the help of Tippett Studio’s cameras and stage. Obviously, I couldn’t recreate the underwater effect, but acting out the movement and getting it sent to my computer for analysis was very helpful.

a student animator who wants to get into creature animation, or
even just develop realistic motion for their show reel, where
would you recommend they start their learning?

All learning should start in school. The program you’re in should ideally have a Creature Component in the curriculum where you will be taught the do’s and don’t of realistic motion. The workflow of animating realistic performances varies in certain small, but fundamental ways than animating emotive cartoony characters. So first off, having teachers who can guide you through this process is critical.

You hear this time and time again from professionals and teachers: reference is the single most important tool you can use to create realistic believable animation. It’s also a staple question in interviews. “What reference did you use to support this performance?” You better know the answer to this. Not using reference almost invariably reflects negatively on the animation. Any Animation Supervisor worth their salt will look at your reel and know right away that the performance was created in a vacuum. Whether it be Youtube, BBC Motion Gallery, Animal Motion Show DVD’s, footage you shot yourself, or any other direct or inspired representation of the performance, you  must ground your work in believable content. I don’t suggest using other animator’s work as reference. Go to the source. And for those characters that are fictitious, like Banshees, Dragons, Demons, etc, use real world reference that captures the spirit of the creature. It may be Hyenas or Lions, Eagles, or Cats. It really is your bread and butter, and VFX studios rely on it every single day, and so should you.

Being able to work on big blockbuster projects like Avatar and The
 Adventures of Tintin, what excites you about animation today? And, where would you like to see the direction of animation head towards?

Throughout most of my career, I have worked as a visual FX artist on live action films, where I’ll animate a creature that gets digitally integrated into a live action environment. But since arriving at Weta, I have had the opportunity to work on entirely CG projects, where the artist has enormous amounts of creative control over the environments, the camera, and the performances. We’ve now seen Weta and ILM create fully CG worlds with projects like Rango, Tintin, and Avatar. From a creative and technical standpoint, this has allowed us to sink our teeth into amazing challenges. Most people don’t realize that in Tintin, we created a 3 minute shot with no cuts! When working with a fully CG world, the director’s imagination can run free, and every artist involved gets to be a part of bigger and more impressive shots. Weta has an incredible motion capture pipeline, ground breaking facial capture technology, onset virtual cinematography, a team of very skilled senior character animators, and a pipeline that can make anything look real. As we continue to get the opportunity to work on these kinds of projects, it means bigger shots, more advanced camera work, cooler creatures, and simply more opportunities to expand our vision of the impossible. That’s what excites me most about the future of the VFX industry.

In many shots you’ve animated sequences where character’s are either flying, gliding, swimming, galloping, etc. Do you always get into deep research and study of the mechanics of the creatures before you even 
consider acting choices?

There is definitely a process of comprehending the mechanics of a creature prior to animating shots. This is where referencing becomes so important. Many studios will gather online references to build an in-house library of footage. If a character needs to fly like an eagle or barrel-roll like a jet plane, then a studio and its artists will go out of their way to gather footage of those things for the animators to refer to.

Most often, the critical acting choices an animator makes in a given shot are dictated by the narrative. For example, a creature needs to enter frame right, jump onto the log, and then roar. These are acting choices dictated by the script, the storyboard, the director, etc. With foundational reference material, and the acting requirements of the shot, the animator can get started. All of the extra animation nuances that go into the shot, for example, how the creature rears its head when it roars, or how it jumps up onto the log, is left to the animator’s creative voice and the critique of his superiors.

This questions a bit touch and go, but do you think Mocap data could ever be used as the foundation for more cartoony styles of animation?

Motion capture is an incredibly powerful tool. But as a tool, it must be used for a specific type of job, and that is creating realistic motion. Using motion capture to create Tintin or Avatar was a very conscious creative choice. Motion capture data has a certain look to it that you will not achieve through key frame animation created from scratch by an animator. The quality of the data is extremely detailed, the movement highly precise and organic feeling. This is why motion capture data is so dense.

  It is important to understand that like any tool, it will not always be best suited for every job. For example, if Woody from the Toy Story series had been a motion captured character instead of key framed, the style of that particular character would come across as vastly different than the Woody we all know and love. The choice to use key frame animation on that particular project gave the flavor of the animation a distinct look. So too with How to Train Your Dragon, or many other Animated Features. When the director makes the choice to use key frame animation as the methodology to execute his vision, he engages in a very specific type of relationship with the animators to generate hand crafted motion with a certain style in mind. For example, Madagascar reminds us of classic Warner Bros animation, and the choice to do that was motivated and not accidental. The same applies to Motion Capture, where the director is able to achieve a relationship with his performer and have that performance in the film. Certain projects would have had very different results if motion capture had not been used. Take Gollum for example. You can see Andy Serkis in every performance. Similarly with Captain Haddock, the essence of his acting persona comes through in the way the character performs. Rather than having 20 animators all working toward a common style of motion, through Mocap you can achieve an extremely clear realistic vision with a talented actor.
I believe that between these two very different styles of creating motion lies a bit of a chasm. In other words, each methodology can be successfully blended with the other, where through great artistry and talent the animator can infuse motion capture data with great key framing and vice versa; but each style has a breaking point in this regard, where you can go too far and risk having neither style serve your purpose.

On the one hand, creating realistic motion from scratch, without the use of motion capture, is an incredibly costly and time consuming effort that in the end, despite a talented animator, may never completely sell the viewer on the idea that the performance looks and feels completely real. While on the other hand, using motion capture means the performance of the actor is locked so deeply into the data, that trying to edit it to create a completely new performance can result in ruining the look of the original motion; and you may never achieve an acceptable new performance because, much like hammering a square peg into a round hole, you end up creating something that feels disjointed and broken, and it would have been better to start form scratch in the first place.

So ultimately, I think motion capture is not an ideal tool for cartoony performances, unless the essence of the actor’s motion gets you as close as possible to the intended result without pushing the data past its breaking point. When I say breaking point, I mean the animator has used everything at his creative and technical disposal to change the performance, but despite his efforts, the mocap data still looks disjointed and not believable. Most shots will have some creative combination of motion capture and key frame, but when the performance needs to be pushed to a realm too far beyond the fundamentals of the actor’s movement, it is often better to key a new performance from scratch, or simply reshoot the actor on the stage. The more stylized the performer, the more motion capture can be an excellent tool. But if the character needs to squash and stretch, or bend and jump in unrealistic ways, then using motion capture will not be the best way to go.

What was the best advice your predecessors/past mentors, passed down to you
 when you were starting out your career as an animator? If you could provide a few words to student animators today, what would they be?

Sing through your blocking. Yes, I said sing! One of my supervisors would hum when he would review my work. It was his way of understanding the pacing of the performance.

Some clients will consistently reject everything you show them. The best way I have learned to accept this reality was from taking the advice of another supervisor I worked with. He would say, “They were all good [animation versions], but none of them were right.” The fact is that you will almost never hit a home run with your animation the first time you present it. Having your work heavily critiqued and even rejected outright, is not intended to damage your ego. But that’s naturally how we want to react because we put so much time and emotion into it. Just remember to tell yourself that you are not a mind reader. You are a craftsman paid to execute someone else’s vision. That takes time and numerous iterations. So smile, take a breath, and enthusiastically let your boss know you will create a new version for review tomorrow.

Don’t be a Bubble Boy! Some animators work in a vacuum. They don’t interact with other animators, they don’t share their work, they don’t ask for critique, and they don’t show their stuff very often. You can be a very talented Bubble Boy animator and make a great career for yourself. But I believe all animators are constantly growing and no one should ever plateau. The Bubble Boy tends to hit a ceiling with the quality of their work. They don’t grow as fast as those animators who seek critique, whether it be from their peers, or regularly from their supervisors.

Finally, what’s next for you personally & professionally?

I’ve just come off a very full year supervising animation at Weta on The Avengers and Sequence Supervising on Tintin. While I had supervised and directed animation at smaller studios in the past, this was really my first opportunity to work at the highest level of animation in a major studio, and I loved it! I am itching to get back to it. Until that opportunity comes again, I am happily working on The Hobbit now and enjoying getting back to animating shots 100% of the time. However, my ultimate goal is to one day direct animation on a major feature, and work directly with the client to help execute their vision.

To view Aaron Gilman’s reel, visit his website:

I would like to thank Aaron for taking the time out to partake in this 
interview and I would also like to thank AnimSchool, for providing me this 
opportunity to continuously interview some of the top artists in the
 business. Thanks for reading!

Interview by: Andrew Tran

Animation Jobs on the Rise

Animation Magazine reports some good news for those entering the 3D animation field in the U.S.

“Here is some good news for animation students. During the past 90 days,
more than 4,000 jobs were advertised online that required animation
skills, according to real-time business intelligence outfit Wanted Analytics. Demand for animators is growing due to increasing need for
vfx in video games, movies, television and online outlets. Hiring over
the past 90 days grew 25% year-over-year versus the same time period in
2011 and reached a new high during March.”

These may not be primarily those sought-after feature film animator jobs (indeed, animation hiring demand in the Los Angeles area declined slightly compared to last year), but appear to include a wide range of animation needs for vfx, broadcast, web, and mobile applications as well.

Wanted Analytics reported “..the volume of online job listings
reached a new high during March, when 40% more job ads were posted
online than last March. We most commonly see these skills being demanded
for occupations like Web Developers, Graphic Designers, Multi-Media
Artists, and Computer Software Engineers. However, the demand for
Post-secondary Teachers with animation skills grew about 32%. An
increasing volume of jobs by employers has caused colleges and
universities to hire more teachers and prepare the next generation of

We at AnimSchool are happy to offer fantastic programs teaching the skills needed in today’s job market.

AnimSchool Classtime: Rhythm in the Figure

AnimSchool Instructor, Mike Mattesi, talks about the benefits of drawing and finding rhythm in the figure.

AnimSchool Interview: Tim Kallok

First off- big congrats Tim, on winning the March competition of the 11 Second Club! What was your immediate reaction, and what was running through your mind when you heard the news?

Thank you very much for the congratulations! On the day the results were released, I was totally in shock when I went to the 11 Second Club site and saw my animation on the front page. I had participated in the voting process and so I knew I was up against a lot of tough competition. There were many other great entries last month and I was really hoping just to finish in the top 11. Winning the competition and all the resulting positive feedback I have received has definitely been a big morale booster for me.


Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into animation?

Animation has long been a passion of mine. Like many others, growing up I was glued to the television watching Disney films, Looney Tunes and Saturday morning cartoons. I was introduced to theater and acting at a young age. My dad is an actor whom participates extensively in local community theater and independent film. He used to take me along to his rehearsals and performances on weekends. I loved watching my dad and the other actors transform into different people and assume personalities contrary to who they were in “real life.” I actually didn’t decide that I wanted to be an animator until my senior year of high school. I had some great teachers that got me interested in science and engineering, so I was considering studying to become an engineer. That soon changed when I started taking art classes and my art teacher nurtured my creative side and got me really passionate about creating art. When I started researching colleges and career choices, I found schools that were offering degrees in computer animation. Until then, I had never realized that you could make a career out of doing animation, but it turned out to be a perfect fit for me because it married all the things I was interested in: art, performance, and technology. From that point on, I have devoted myself to animation and constantly push myself to improve my craft. I have had quite a bit more animation education/training that most people have, but animation has not always come naturally to me, and I have had to work really hard to get to the level I’m at now. I’m still pushing my self to improve, but that’s the beauty of animation; you can never stop learning and you can always continue to grow as an animator. My ultimate goal is to work as an animator on a feature film. I haven’t reached that goal yet, but I am determined not to give up. Hopefully, one day, that dream will come true.

My 11 Second Club Entry – March ’12 from Tim Kallok on Vimeo.

What influenced your decision to use AnimSchool’s Malcolm rig for your entry, and did the rig deliver to your expectations?

First of all, I would like to thank AnimSchool for making such an awesome rig available for public use. I really love Malcolm’s design and his overall flexibility. He can be pushed and pulled further than any other rig that I have used. His facial setup is awesome; it’s really easy to get appealing shapes and expressions. Because of the nature of the competition’s dialogue, I didn’t get to utilize the rig to its full potential, but for my shot, the IK elbow pinning and the IK/FK switching came in very handy.

Were there any challenges or difficulties you faced when using the Malcolm rig, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Upon first opening the rig, it can be a bit daunting, because there are so many controls! Once I learned that you could hide controls in the picker by using the basic, most, and all buttons, that made it much easier for me to approach the rig. That feature also helped streamline my workflow by letting me concentrate only on the controls that I need at the time. So, in blocking, I only used the basic controls. Once I moved onto the anim pass and polish, I could turn on the other controls to really refine the poses.

The technical hurdle I faced with Malcolm was in the modification process, trying to figure out the best way to add on his collared shirt and suspenders and have them be tucked in his pants. In order to do that, the first thing I did was use the shirt controls near his waist to “tuck” his shirt in to his pants. I also used the “Narrow Pants Tp” attribute on the “ctlHips1” control to widen the waist of his pants. I then modeled his shirt and suspenders as separate polygon objects and used a wrap deformer to have them follow the rig.

Other than that, the only other challenges I faced were really just standard animation issues like making sure his hands and fingers were not going through the table or cleanly switching his arms from IK to FK. Up until Sam gets up, both arms are IK. Once he stands up they switch over to FK. The IK/FK switcher in the picker, made that process much easier.

You mentioned in the brief description, you couldn’t achieve the level of polish you were hoping for. What were some of the extra things you had to leave out to meet the deadline?

I know I’m not alone in saying that it’s really hard to stop working on an animation and know when to say it’s “finished.” If I would have had more time to work on it before the deadline, I would have spent some more time polishing the face, making sure the corners of the mouth had clean arcs, adding in some more eye movement, and refining the brows. I actually made a big change the day before the deadline. Originally, I had Sam put both arms on the chair as he gets up, then grab the gun as he exits. I showed my progress to one of my friends and he suggested that I have Sam go for the gun as he stood up. I made the change and it really helped, because it made him feel more determined and focused on the task at hand. Because that change came up so late, I didn’t have the time to get the spacing in the hand right or the fingers working well as he grabs the gun.

You were able to gets some really appealing mouth shapes, did you experiment with that before going into lip sync?

I didn’t really experiment with any mouth shapes prior to animating the lip sync. During the planning phase, I broke down the dialogue in to phonemes, so I knew, more or less, what shapes I needed to hit. I have a mirror on my desk, which I use quite extensively while animating. For the first pass of lip sync, I start with the opening and closing of the jaw. Once I have that in, I move on to the corners of the mouth and how they move in and out. From there, I concentrate on the secondary mouth controls, to fine tune the shapes, add in pucker and compression, and break up the symmetry as much as possible.

In the beginning of your animation you pulled off your character, Sam, having limited movement. What did you do to keep the pose alive during this time, and what were some of the extra things you did to sell your idea?

The beginning section was definitely a big challenge. This was my first attempt at doing subtle animation and I found that there’s a real fine line between the character feeling dead and moving too much. One of the things that I work out during planning, is figuring out the least number of poses I need in order to tell the story. While Sam is talking, I felt that I only needed one pose and that I could act within the pose to hit the accents in the dialogue. Even though the accents are not too big, I incorporated the whole upper body into each one. I offset a lot of the movements so the parts of the action settled at different times. Moving holds were also very important throughout in order to keep him alive. I spent quite a bit of time tweaking splines in the graph editor, trying to find just the right amount of movement needed.

I could be really off base on this, but the present Sam, holding the photograph, looks a little bit more aged and withered then the character we see in the photograph. Apart from the body, did you modify the facial features to help sell that idea?

That’s a good catch. I did a few subtle things with the face to make him feel a bit more unkempt and distressed. One was to keep the mid brows pushed together so you could the crease/wrinkle between them. I also increased the “Naso Crease” slightly, so the wrinkle between the nose and corner of the mouth was a bit more prominent. The last thing I did was add a custom texture map to his face so he has a 5 o’clock shadow.

Lastly, what’s going to be next for you? What’s in the pipeline?

At the moment, I’m finishing up my reel. I have some older unfinished projects that I have been revisiting and trying to get up to par with my newer work. I also have a few ideas for a new personal piece that is in the works.

To see more of Tim’s work visit his website:

Interview by: Andrew Tran

To download the Malcolm Rig, just visit our website: