Every month 11 Second Club holds an animation competition in which animators around the world participate by submitting their work. In June 2016, Sergio Martins took first place with his beautifully animated 11 second animation clip. Sergio is an animator from Portugal who has been animating for a little over 10 years. Recently, we got a chance to interview him and learn more about him and his work. We hope that you would enjoy the interview as much as we did.

So Martins, tell us about yourself.

I have always been into animation. Even when I was very little, most of my free time was spent drawing the animation characters from the shows I was watching at the time.
When I was 15, instead of entering a normal high school, I was very lucky to be able to go to a high school with a specific animation technical course. All the animation classes were in 2D medium, which was great since my favourite animations back then were all in 2D.  I was a huge fan of western animation masters like Glen Keane, James Baxter, Sergio Pablos, etc, but at the same time I was introduced to Japanese Classics like Akira, Princess Mononoke, Ghost in the shell among many others. Both these different approaches to animation have hugely influenced  me and I try to merge a bit of both in my own stuff.

Once I finished high school I started working directly for one of my animation teachers.  I animated for children TV shows for some years and at the same time I was lucky to be able to co-direct an animated music video for the Portuguese band Moonspell.

 I was around 21 years old at that time (10 years ago) and the experience helped me a lot to understand how to manage an animation production under a tight schedule (we had a couple of months to animate almost 5 minutes for the music video).  After that I worked on a lot of different Portuguese animation productions.

More recently I was very lucky to co-direct an animated short alongside my twin brother Edgar Martins and Tom Delonge (front man  of Angels and Airwaves, Blink 182 and BCR), which I have been a fan since my teens.  The short is called “Poet Anderson – The Dreamwalker”

Right now I’m working on a Pilot for an animation TV show, unfortunately I can’t show anything yet.

So was it easy for you to transition from 2D animation medium to 3D? What was the best part of it and what was the worst?

It was a smooth transition since it was a very slow one. The first project where I animated in 3D was Foxy & Meg, a kid’s show for television in 2006. The animations and rigs were extremely simple. Later I did some 3D animations for video games, but once again, nothing too fancy.
More recently in my short film, “Poet Anderson – The Dream Walker” I animated a little more complex 3D creature, but I still felt I never really animated any character acting/talking using a top quality rig.
Last month I decided I had to do a more complex and detailed acting scene with a 3D top quality rig, once and for all. I was very lucky to have a free rig like Malcolm’s to use, and that is why I decided to participate on the “11 second club” competition.  It would give me a dialogue and more importantly, a motivation to keep working with a deadline otherwise, I wouldn’t even be halfway through the scene by now.

The best part of animating in 3D:
-Definitely the ability to have much more detail. It’s very hard to animate the small facial expression nuances in 2D.
-ls so cool to not have to clean up your animation once you finish animating it in 3D. I spend as much time cleaning up my 2D animation as I spend on actually animating it.

The best part of animating in 2D:
There are no the rig’s limitations (even if it is a really cool rig, there is a limit to what you can do with it).
-In 2D you can be way more graphic on your approach to the animation since you are working with fewer lines, and you can be very picky about the way a line is drawn to convey a specific emotion.

Tell us about your workflow in 3D animation. How did you animate your winner shot?

Story Idea
First I started by deciding on a “story” for the dialogue. It was supposed to be a casting for “Life of Pi”. Unfortunately, since it was my first time animating 3D with such a complex rig, I had a lot of problems with Maya, and ended up not having time to do the story I had in mind.

After the story I did some small thumbnails, just to try out very basic ideas, my main focus at this stage is the image composition, the character most important key and very basic acting choices. For this scene specifically I really wanted to focus more on the character’s facial expressions and not so much on the body or hands.

Video reference
After deciding the composition and going through some acting ideas, I filmed myself acting out the dialogue. The plus side of filming reference is that I could try out a lot of crazy stuff in a small amount of time. A lot of small acting ideas and movement subtleties came into consideration in this stage.

I think it is important to differentiate this stage from the rest since the keys are probably the most important stage. I try to tell as much as possible about the character and scene in the fewer amount of keys possible (2 or 3 keys should show the whole scene intention). I look at the video before doing the main poses but the actual keys will be very different from the reference (which just gives me a direction to follow).

Maybe because I come from a 2D background, before I start the spline, I usually have a key on every 2 frames, sometimes I even have a key on every single frame on a more specific part of the scene. That way I have a very clear notion of what my animation will look like in the end.

Spline and Polish
My spline is very simple, it mostly consists of cleaning the curves and exaggerating the timing here and there. After the spline I will polish the bits of animation that are lacking enough life or information in it.

How was your experience with AnimSchool’s Malcolm rig?

It was really cool.
Before starting the animation, I checked some free rigs from different sources and even though there are some really great free rigs out there, since I was coming from 2D animation, I wanted a rig that would let me manipulate the character as much as possible and Malcolm was definitely the most complete of all of the rigs I found.
It was a bit slower than other rigs I found (probably because I was using a pc from 2009 to animate the scene), but it was an easy decision to choose Malcolm’s rig since I like to control every tiny bit of  the face in every frame and Malcolm had a huge amount of extra controls. It was really cool to be able to get the expression exactly right.
Big thanks to AnimSchool for letting animators use it for free!

Before ending this interview, what advice do you have for animators out there who want to improve their animation skill and become a better animator?

If you haven’t yet, read the books “Illusion of life” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston and “Animator’s Survival Kit” by Richard Williams. They were huge in my animation education.

Keep it simple. Exercise walk cycles, hand gestures, changing of expression, jumps, etc. but always in small animations, 1, 2 or 3 seconds maximum. If you keep the exercises small, you focus on the areas you want to improve and learn a lot without getting lost in a complex animation. After you feel more comfortable in specific small animations, you can start mixing exercises.
Before starting animating a jump for example, try to get inspired, research jumps from films, athletes or other animators, or maybe cool drawings in comic books or something you saw that moved you. Once you have that “it would be so cool to animate it this way” feeling going on, the animation comes out much more easily and you actually have fun doing it.
Study the animations from the best (in my case it helps a lot, and inspires me). Once again, since I’m from 2D my favourite animators are James Baxter, Sergio Pablos, Glenn Keane, Nick Ranieri, Milt Kahl, Andreas Dejas, etc. I like to spend some time studying these guys’ pencil tests, and try to figure out the choices they made, or understanding their approach to movement in general.
Here is a link for my Pinterest if you are interested in checking these animator’s pencil tests: https://pt.pinterest.com/pointlesssergio/pencil-tests/

Animation Reel 2016 from Sergio Martins on Vimeo.