Month: November 2013

AnimSchool Interview: Kevin Lan

We are very excited to present you Kevin Lan, animator currently working at ILM, who animated Richard Parker (the amazing tiger from “Life of Pi”) and several other awesome creatures and characters like The Hulk and Yogi Bear!

Hey Kevin! First of all, could you talk a bit about yourself and what led you to be a character animator?

I am an animator currently working at ILM, before that I was a lead animator at Rhythm & Hues for the past 6 years.
I was not the typical kid that grew up with Disney animation or super hero comics. I was born and raised in Taiwan, where Japanese anime and manga are the dominant culture influence. However I wasn’t interested in them until college. During my college years I was totally hooked by all the 80’s and 90’s anime and manga, through these I also got in touch with experimental animation from Europe and Canada. Anime director Otomo Katsuhiro and film maker Norman McLaren were the major influences for me to want to create animation. Eventually I knew I was going to pursue animation as my career of choice. After I finished my college degree (with struggles of course), I came to the US to study animation in SCAD. It was a time people were talking about 2D being dead and 3D animation is the future. I was very stubborn and decided to focus on 2D animation because of my anime/indie animation root. During my time at SCAD, I was exposed to more Pixar/ Disney style of animation. I think that was the first time I became more aware of “character animation” and started thinking about being an animator in the future.
What was your first job in the animation industry? How did you land the position?
I consider my job at Rhythm & Hues was my first real job in the industry. It was back at early 2007, I had just finished my MFA degree and brought my wife and kid to SF to attend a Pixar class at AAU. So I was learning 3D animation at the same time I was trying to find a job. Time was not on my side because as international students we only had one year to work legally in US. Luckily Rhythm & Hues liked my reel, even though I didn’t have much 3D animation in there, they somehow saw my potential from my 2D thesis film and brought me in for Golden Compass. 
Your animation on Richard Parker (the Tiger from “Life of Pi”) is pretty jaw dropping. Can you share how much time you spent researching reference and what was your overall process from start to finish of the animated shots?

We wanted to stay absolutely true to the tiger from Life of Pi, which means there should be no anthropomorphization or any guessing from animators. I spent the first 3-4 months studying reference and animating on test shots only. That was the time we figured out how the tiger would behave in different situations, the general physicality and posing, and how the muscle and skin works. Although I was matching reference in these tests, I didn’t do it blindly frame by frame. I still tried to find the key frames, analyzing where the force was generated, which control to use, how the force would impact other parts of the body and how the residual energy would be resolved. I also tried to emphasis the realistic motion quality on Richard Parker, tried to limit the usual CG smoothness and put in the imperfections we see in real life. Through these exercise I got a hold of the feeling for the tiger, and eventually I could deviate from reference in my shots and still make Richard Parker believable.  

Our general process started with animation director kicking off a sequence and shots.  Then we would compile a playlist of references suitable for each shots and gave those to the animators. If you were lucky enough, you could find a perfect reference and just try to match it. But that was not generally the case. We always needed to piece together segments from different clips and finding creative solutions for the best possible performance for each shots. 
I got some of the most challenging shots in the film. Without much similar references I could use, I tried to study all the tiger footages and real tigers in other movies for inspiration, then just imagining how Richard Parker would behave under these unlikely situations. I would block out my shots straight in spline mode, creating my key poses and also putting the correct physicality along the way. I think it’s the only way I could know for sure if my idea would work. After the blocking was approved  (usually this took the longest time), I would start adding all the juicy nuances and details on the tiger. While we were working on the shots, the model and rig itself was improving too. So it was a very organic process, and we were constantly improving and changing our shots until the very end.
You also animated a lot of scenes in movies going from Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 to The Incredible Hulk. Do you enjoy taking on projects with different styles from one another?

I definitely enjoy doing different styles of animation. I suppose being an animator means I’m suppose to animate “everything”, not being limited to a certain style or characters. Although, I can see myself enjoying more on creature/VFX films recently. Partly because I got recognition from what I did in Life of Pi, also mainly I feel like there are a lot of unknown territory waiting for us to explore. If you think about how many scripts are still hidden inside James Cameron’s drawer, and those impossible-to-make-movies may one day become possible, it’s a very exciting time for animation and VFX.
Do you have any advice for students wanting to land a job in the animation industry? What would they want to really master before applying to any job in big studios?
I can only talk about VFX industry as I’ve never worked in feature animation. The situation in today’s industry is very complex and much more difficult than before. Being a team player and work hard are the must. I would also suggest animators should master their sense of physicality and try to be original. A good sense of weight and presence of character would benefit you whether you are working in feature animation or VFX. It’s the most fundamental thing you will need for the rest of your career. Being original is extremely important in today’s animation. I think it goes back to observing real life and experience it yourself. Learning from existing animation is great, but it should just be a stepping stone for you to create your own character, even your own style. 

AnimSchool Student Spotlight: Laura Loossens

We’d like to present you Laura Loossens, student of the 3D Animation Program at AnimSchool. Hi Laura! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself, like your background and experience before AnimSchool?

Before I even thought of being an animator, I studied economics and languages in high school. After that I started psychology at the University of Ghent but I didn’t felt passionate about it. I did however love to draw but I never thought to be doing something creative in the future. Until the moment one of my friends suggested a brand new educational program, Digital Arts and Entertainment (DAE), that only recently emerged in Belgium which was specialized in all the things I admired: 3D, 2D, animation and video games.
During my 3 years at Digital Arts and Entertainment I learned a bit of everything, even programming which I failed for in my first year. I had some trouble in the beginning with all the courses, simply because everything was new to me.
Nevertheless I never worked this hard for something, just because I loved to do it! All the hard work paid off and at the end of my studies I won the prize of best 3D artist and together with my awesome teammates, we won the prize of best game!
After my studies I started working in a small visual effects studio where I did various jobs but my main function was modeler and shader. I learned a lot and got better each day but there was no growing possibility as an animator in the studio, so I made a crucial decision to start the animation course at AnimSchool!

What made you want to be a character animator?

My first source of inspiration came from the many Disney movies I saw when I was a kid and later on movies like ‘Ratatouille’,’ Cloudy with a chance of meatballs’ and ‘Horton hears a who’ were a big inspirations for leading me in the direction of becoming a character animator.
My second source of inspiration came during my last year at DAE when we got the chance to create our own short and were completely free doing so. I came up with a little story named ‘Little Rico’ and made the clip in a short amount of time. During the development, I probably looked like a zombie but I also had the most fun bringing my story and characters to life. This was a decisive moment, I knew I was going to become an animator.

Laura’s student short animation “Little Rico”

Do you have any favorite artists that inspire you?

There are many different people that inspire me since the internet provides us a variety of animation clips, and I get inspired by many of them. I’ve seen some of them over and over, just to get a better understanding on their appeal.
Also, I will always have a passion for 2D animation. It is a medium that appealed to me ever since I was young. When I look at the work made by the artists at Bird Box Studio I get really inspired by the perfect timing and simplicity of their clips.

Your Facial Performance shot is a great piece. Can you tell a bit more about your process from start to finish?

Laura’s facial performance assignment

The sound I chose was one that had been stuck in my mind for quite some time. The audio had so much personality of a sassy woman demanding a new drink in her own way. With that image in mind I started shooting different kinds of reference videos and I seemed to like acting like a sassy lady.

Laura’s video reference for her facial
performance assignment

I imagined her sitting at her desk or at a bar, or not sitting down at all, just to get different angles that could look appealing. I learned this by watching a reference shot of Garrett Shikuma that showed us his variety of reference takes, just to come up with appealing poses and ideas.
After setting up my reference I start to block out my shot. I only look for the key poses that could really sell the shot. My reference served as a solid base and helped to find the key poses and timing for my animation.

After that very first pass of blocking I go over the same poses and look if the timing is working and if I can push some poses even further.
Spline is the next step where I spend time adjusting my curves. Normally I would take a long time for blocking however my mentor at the time, Melvin Tan, had a different approach. He would block out the scene fast and start with spline, but the method I used was the opposite.

I decided to follow Melvin’s suggestion, since it is always interesting to try out different ways of working and understand what the benefits are. In the beginning I struggled a bit but soon I discovered the benefits of working this way. I could spend more time on the details and characteristics traits of the character.

Laura’s Character Performance assignment

What was the most challenging assignment you had to deal with so far? How did you manage to overcome it’s obstacles?

I think each assignment has its challenges. Every time I overcome one challenge there is another waiting in line. But these challenges are what makes me move forward.

In my case there was the assignment for the Body Acting class. We had the possibility to create our own story without sound. I came up with a funny story of a scientist that was inventing an invisibility potion and was searching for the last clue. When he finally found it and tested it, he bumped over his potion on the chalkboard with his formula written on it.

While making this clip, I had difficulties getting the timing and poses correct. My instructor at the time, Tony Bonilla, was hard and honest. He kept pushing me in the good direction and I never gave up, even when I had to redo all my poses to really push them.

Even the latest version is not completely finished, but I had overcome so many challenges with that assignment that the following terms became a bit easier to complete, since I was better prepared for what was coming.

Laura’s Body Acting assingment

What do you think is the most important thing you learned at AnimSchool so far?

Laura’s Run and Jump assignment on Animating Characters class

Make the best of all the time you get with your instructors! Anthea Kerou taught me how to create a good base for animation, Tony Bonilla and Garrett Shikuma the importance of each stage of animation and Melvin Tan how to give your character more personality.

Listen to the feedback you get not only from your instructors but also from you fellow students. Always be critical of your work. Keep trying to get better and never think you are doing bad, since each step you take will bring you closer to your goal!

Thanks AnimSchool!

We thank Laura for her time and be sure to check out her Blog and her LinkedIn profile!

AnimSchool Classtime: Gesture Drawing for Animation

In AnimSchool’s 3D Animation Program, instructor Mark Behm shows how to do simplified gesture drawings for planning your animation.

AnimSchool Student Spotlight: Brian Rashcko

We would like to present Brian Rashcko, student of the Character Animation Program at AnimSchool. Hello Brian! Can you start telling us a bit about yourself and what animation and 3D experience you had before AnimSchool?

I sure can, haha!

After High School, my goal at the time was to enroll into roughly eight more years to become a Biochemist. 
I can already see some of the baffled expressions from readers wondering why, since animation is such a neat field to be in.
Bio chem sounded cool… At the time… But after talking to some people in that line of work, it didn’t feel like my cup O’ Tea. 
Like dealing with flesh eating viruses and other nasty bits, any one hungry?! 

The next best thing for me was software engineering. It was simple enough, write this, publish that, stumble upon infinite loops by accident that require a hard computer reset… Good times. 
It was that very job which led me into the world of animation, on a lunch break perusing the internet.

I’ve always had a fascination with visual effects and stop motion, and would periodically read “How they did it” articles around the inter-tubes.
A blurb comparison between 3D software’s caught my eye, as it mentioned a completely free authoring environment for animators. 
It wasn’t long before I could fiddle with joints, tangent handles, and key frames with zero knowledge of what I was doing, but I loved it!
Rendering out something bobbing about randomly across the screen was a rewarding experience!
The Illusion of Life“, and a few other animation books promptly replaced all my office programming literature. 

Soon after, I stumbled upon a nice fellow by the name of Keith Lango, who at the time, was selling animation training videos for around $18.00 a pop… I bought most of them, hahaha!
(AnimSchool did not exist at this time).
Producing two tests, my first ever animations! 
What inspired you to get started in animation?
Animation is a great medium to inspire the imagination! With a few sheets of paper we can transport an audience into a world of talking animals, super heroes, suspense, magic, drama… You get the picture.
I could have a hand in creating those worlds, and to me that was the clincher; knowing whatever I worked on could entertain people of all ages.
My nephew (5 years) was a big helper in that too, a simple bouncing ball threw him into fits of laughter, which kept me going, and keeps me going to this day. 

Old works he liked were:

What are your favorite animators? What do you love about their work?
Glen Keane from Disney, and whomever animated Wallace and Gromit back in the day. They did so much with so little, and made it look easy!
If you look up Glen Keane you can find video clips of his working process, and it’s fascinating!
There is one particular clip in which you can watch him animate straight ahead a swimming sequence of Ariel from the Little Mermaid.
His drawings are nice and rough, he stresses the importance of “give” and “power”, and while he flips through the drawings, your mind is blown by how each pose ties in to the next one. 

For those who are curious:

And Wallace and Gromit is just a work of art, “Cheese Gromit, Cheese!”
Which of the assignments you completed at AnimSchool you found to be the most challenging? Why?

It has taken me almost three years to mold my process into something that can be used to produce decent work. Before that, all my assignments felt like lessons in trial and error, but full of moments of growth and understanding.

The optional rigging course posed it’s own series of challenges, but was well worth all of the effort involved. I can tell you that knowing what constraints would work for different situations and how to apply them is a real benefit! Especially if you are a one person operation on a small scene; It doesn’t hurt to be a little multifaceted in this industry either.

The running jump was difficult due to it being my first ever attempt at moving a character forward through a scene. I also had issues with turning a character around, which was done twice in my particular shot.
Being said, I might of bitten off more than I could handle at that particular stage, but if I hadn’t, I would of not learned as much.

It is easy in animation to take the simple path, especially when learning, but if you don’t push yourself, how else are you expected to develop your skills? 

End result:

Can you describe the process of your Class 6 Facial Performance piece and share some of the feedback you had with your instructor?

When the facial performance class started I was still developing my working methods. Some of what I did in prior classes didn’t help me in this particular assignment.
Speaking alone, brought together more technical issues than I was anticipating.
My process thus far is:
Listen to audio, if any, over and over and over until I can recite it exactly. Even to the point of mimicking the cadence, tone and overall feeling of the performance.

Thumbnail out ideas, or emotive poses that help me delve into how a particular character will act on screen. And how I want the audience to feel towards that character.

I will also record myself acting any ideas out that I have drawn on paper to see if they would be even feasible. But not copying it, just to preview how things might look.
I mostly use reference as a memory dump, the same goes for thumbnails, they are both tools, but nothing that should be taken literally. Otherwise we would be asked to rotoscope, and that’s not fun.
When I am able to solidify an idea, I’ll draw poses out in sequence, save each image as a PNG, then import them into Maya as image planes.
To animate them, I will turn on and off their visibility throughout the time line, so I can playblast a video to watch in Quicktime (I’m working on a script to automate this process).

In passes, starting at almost no detail, I will straight ahead my scene. Usually only two or three poses in the beginning.
Then with each pass, adding more poses straight ahead, refining earlier ones until things are on 4’s, or have enough detail so splining isn’t a headache.
It is crucial to flip through your animations forwards and reverse to get a good feel for movement hitches.

I will then switch my splines and working method to linear and begin working out my facial poses for speaking, if the animation calls for it.
I also look for errors in movement like wobbles, pops, and gimbal lock.. which will get worse when in full spline.
Errors are easy to spot given Maya is not adding in eases, or overshoots into my work.

Switch everything to spline and playblast. Take notes for the overall scene; open Maya again but shrink the timeline to only render in portions, as I only want to focus on little bits at a time to avoid fatigue.

I will push things even further as spline curves put motion on 1’s, which tend to make shots appear not as punchy as their stepped counterparts.

I try to put enough detail into my blocking so splining is a quick process; offsetting keys causes nothing but problems, so I usually avoid doing so.

Nothing else to do but move on to another shot.

My feedback for this piece was on appropriate acting choices and on how to give moments of pause, so the audience can understand what is going on.
We also focused very strongly on appeal, which can include head angle, brows, pucker, gestures, camera distance, scene composition… Etc etc.

I had difficulty with my acting choices, as my reference was a bit over the top… I have yet to get over being on front of a camera, even if it is my own dinky Kodak, hahaha!
It took a lot of feedback to arrive at the above animation, and my instructor was not lacking one bit in ideas, suggestions or wisdom.

If it wasn’t for that, who knows what this would of turned out to be.

AnimSchool also provides students an opportunity to speak with other instructors outside of class in what are called “General Reviews.” If you get the opportunity to have multiple eyes on a project, go for it, I certainly did!

Heck, post your work in outside school forums like Creative Crash or 11second Club, for an extra punch!

How is your experience at AnimSchool being so far?

I am thankful for the existence of AnimSchool and for its founders goal of providing this fine resource to those that want it. If it wasn’t for their pricing programs I would of not been able to afford schooling.

AnimSchool cares quite a bit, and will work with you to find a payment option that fits, which by no means is a tag line… They really do! Every student here is considerate and kind as well!

I remember during my first few classes, a few of us would meet afterwords in Google+ to discuss our work and give each other feedback. Not without network connections drops and software bugs, but it was fun!

I am sad to leave here after class seven, but it’s been quite a ride, and I won’t forget it.
A bittersweet ending, but an exciting beginning.

Do you have any advices for students just starting out?

Push yourself with each assignment, and avoid the easy route.
Create the best work you can, and If you receive a low score, try again, don’t give up.
Take suggestions outside of class with a grain of salt, but focus on ones that seem to be consistent.

If you are afraid to act in front of a camera, get a friend to do it!

I can’t stress enough the importance of “rig testing”. With every new rig you are handed, set aside some time to pose, break, morph and comprehend the limitations and strengths of that rig. If you don’t, you can have the best idea imaginable, begin working in 3D, only to find your rig is not capable of that “cool move” you wanted.

Learn to script, or at least have a basic understanding of both melscript and Python; whatever language your current platform can understand.
Just look at the popularity of autoTangent or Tween Machine, I can’t believe they aren’t a part of Maya yet… Well Maya 2013+ has auto curves, but it’s just not the same.

New AnimSchool Animation Student Showcase

AnimSchool presents the latest animation student work! Congratulations to all the talented students at AnimSchool.
Look for a separate modeling/rigging Showcase later!
To apply to be a student, visit