Category: AnimSchool Interview Page 1 of 3

Animschool Interview: Sony Imageworks Lead Animator Kevin Jackson

Today we would like to welcome the talented 3D Animator Kevin Jackson. Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background? How did you get into character animation?

Like most kids I grew up on cartoons, but I’d say a turning point for me was Roger Rabbit. The baby Herman cartoon at the opening and the three Roger Rabbit shorts that followed blew me away; I knew this is what I wanted to do. Also, like most animators, I have great admiration for the old goofy shorts. Nothing teaches the principles of animation better than goofy. I have entire shorts saved out as image sequences just so I can analyze the frames, memorize the timing, spacing, etc.
In college I studied animation for four years, two of which were taught by former Disney director Hendel Butoy. Of all the influences that got me to where I am today, he is the one I have to thank the most.

Where are you currently working? What is your job there?

My first job in film was Rhythm and Hues. I started in 2007 and worked as an animator and supervisor until 2013 when I got hired at Sony Imageworks for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. I’m currently working as a lead animator on Hotel Transylvania 2, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, but in between projects I had the pleasure of working on the Popeye test with Genndy and a handful of animators.

You have an interesting reel with creature animation but also some cartoony stuff. What do you like about each style?

The nice thing about realistic animation is it forces you to be hypersensitive. Everyone is an expert on realistic motion, specifically human faces, so if anything is off it will be noticed right away, even if the viewer is unsure of what is actually flawed. In a way you have to rely on the principles of animation even more because things have to be exaggerated just slightly so they don’t feel flat. Timing, spacing and arcs are where you really want to focus the exaggeration.
The downside to realistic animation is that most directors are not themselves animators and they have little understanding of the process. The animation is treated like a live action shot and they need to see a fully fleshed out, nearly complete version before they can give notes. It’s like someone is standing behind the camera saying, “Good! Now let’s try it this way, maybe one where you turn and walk this direction instead of that,” and so one, but in the animation world that takes weeks of work. If you get a shot that is particularly vague, meaning the director is really unsure of what he wants, you can be buried there for several months.

Cartoony animation, on the other hand, tends to move a lot quicker. In this world, most directors are animators themselves, and you get much better, more precise notes. Both Cloudy 2, HT2 and the Popeye test were a dream to work on because the notes are so clear and the director knows exactly what he wants. With those things in place, it really just comes down to how the shots are cast; making sure the right people get the shots that are just right for them. My passion is with cartoony animation, and I’m lucky to be at Sony because of all the big studios they seem to be pushing things in this direction the farthest. If you liked the Popeye test you will be blown away by what Genndy has planned for the film.

Having worked on realistic animation for about six years prior to Sony has taught me many valuable skills that I would have missed had I gone straight into cartoony stuff. I much prefer cartoony, but the former has made me a stronger animator.

Your latest “Wake Up Call” shot featuring Malcolm really caught the eye of the animation community and it’s really entertaining with some broad animation. Did you have any goals before approaching the shot? What was your process for it? Could you share your workflow with us?

My goal was to animate something just for the sake of animation. Obviously, there isn’t really much story to it. It’s “guy at work wakes up to a ringing phone and tries to answer it.” Try pitching that. “Seriously, it’ll be great! he gets stuck balancing on his chair, but can’t reach it, then he spins around and has all sorts of trouble… really you gotta believe me.” Nope, this is the kind of thing you want to do on your own, and really Malcolm is the perfect rig for it. 

Malcolm is the perfect mix of speed and flexibility. You have no idea how lucky you are to be able to play your shot in real time and get those kinds of noodle limbs and deformations until you work with crazy slow rigs in feature film. Each set of arms attached to Malcolm is a complete rig, so I had maybe 8 extra rigs in the file and could still scrub at high speeds as long as they were un-smoothed.

As for my process: animation is an interesting thing, as soon as you think you have your workflow figured out the next shot you get will force you to re-examine your workflow. Every shot is unique and so your workflow is constantly evolving. I’ll try to share a few things that worked well for me this particular piece.

I started by posing out all the key pose Ideas I had in my head. I do this on ones, so each pose is a new frame. I’m not concerned with timing yet, I just want to get the ideas on screen so that I can step through them manually and try to visualize if the idea works or not. After a couple days I think I had about 70 poses, each one representing the pose Malcolm strikes for each balancing act. With all the poses in place, all you have to worry about is timing and how your going to transition to and from each pose. At this point, no constraints are set up. If you set up your constraints from the very beginning, you may find out later on that you wish you had set them up differently. In my blocking, I usually just put things where they belong, and then when I’m ready to spline I can figure out exactly how things need to be setup to enable the smoothest transition of my curves in the graph editor.

The next step was to get the timing down. So keeping the keys in stepped, I began adjusting them throughout the timeline until I had roughly the timing I thought was right. It’s never quite right going from blocking to spline because your mind fills in the gaps for the blocking even if there is not enough frames. Once the computer fills in the gap for you, you find out that you need a lot more time for a transition.

Next I figured out the constraints. I set it up so that the feet could be attached to the chair no matter which leg of the chair was the pivot. From there it’s just a matter of filling in the gaps, making sure each transition happens the way you want it.

The extra limbs and smear frames were the last thing to add. For the limbs, I took an extra Malcolm and deleted all his poly faces except for his arms. Then I referenced that in as many times as needed and parented them to his body. Whenever needed I just snapped them in place, then hid them afterwords. For the end there are about 8 rigs wrapping around his body. It proved too difficult to hide the connection point of each arm so instead I painted that out by hand in photoshop.

The most important part is the blocking. Make sure every part of each pose is deliberate. You want clear shapes and pleasing curves to move your eye where you want it. If something is not quite straight then commit to one or the other. Either make it obviously straight or not. Nothing should live in between shape ideas.

That’s it for now! I have another one in progress with lots of new exciting ideas, but who knows when that will finish. HT2 is getting busier and busier so it may be a while.

Thank you very much for your time, Kevin!!

AnimSchool Interview: Jorge A. Martinez Teran

We’d like to welcome AnimSchool Graduate Jorge A. Martinez Teran. Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background? How did you get into character animation?

Growing up  I knew I wanted to have a job where I could create things for people to appreciate and enjoy. I tried traditional painting and some sculpting when I was a teenager, but eventually the thought of getting a bit more profit from my skills put me on the path to become a graphic designer, where I got a good foundation of Art and Design. 

As for how I got into animation, I think I would need to blame my parents. It was an unintentional indoctrination process. 
Every morning in order to get me ready  for school they would wake me up and put VHS tapes with cartoons to get my attention. From Disney movies to good old Looney Toons cartoons, and some crazy anime, most days would start with a cartoon. 

I’ve met  friends that have similar interests and love for animation, and we’ve always had the idea of  developing our own web cartoons, but it was more of a hobby back then. It has never occurred to me I could make a living out of it since there were not a lot of opportunities to work in animation in Mexico at that point.

One day at university walking through the halls, I saw a poster saying: “Get a career in Animation! Come study 3D Animation in Vancouver”. And BAM! It hit me right there. I had to give it a shot.  A year later, with the help of our families, my friends and I jumped on a plane to Vancouver to start our animation journey. 

After an intense year, I finished a short film that landed me some interviews and got screened at a small film festival in Oregon. From there on I had the chance to work in a couple more short films doing visual effects and character animation. I enrolled in the AnimSchool program to become a better artist and I landed  my first studio job right before starting on Class 7 at AnimSchool. 

Are you currently working in the animation industry? What is your job there? Tell us about it.

Yes I am! I work as a Senior Animator at a studio here in Vancouver called Nerd Corps where, if we are not fighting with nerf guns, we make TV shows for kids.

I’m currently working on the new Max Steel TV show.  From an animation point of view, That show provides great opportunities to try different styles of animation.  On a normal week I could go from working on emotional serious acting, to quirky comedic acting, to a full on fighting action sequence.  There is always something fun and interesting to work on. 

Before Joining Nerd Corps I had the opportunity to work as a freelancer doing some visual effects, motion design, and character animation on some fun independent short films like “Overboard: At The Helm Of An Animation Crew” and “Be The Snow” that have been hitting some Film Festivals here and there during their festival run. 


“Overboard: At The Helm Of An Animation Crew”

In what ways do you think AnimSchool has helped you to be a better animator? What was your journey like?

I enrolled on AnimSchool after a period  where I felt my animation skills got rusty and I reached a plateau. Even though because of my background I could have the chance to skip a class, I decided to take the full course and start from scratch, that would give me the opportunity to learn from more instructors during my journey through AnimSchool. And it was probably the best decision I could have made.   

It was during that year and a half at AnimSchool when I truly understood performance, appeal, and how to push myself creatively to find the best acting choices. This also helped me develop a good workflow and an eye for animation. The process also allowed me to get better at giving and receiving constructive feedback.

Any particular tip or advice from an instructor that particularly stuck with you?

“Animate within the pose”, That advice was mentioned a couple times during each term, and it’s something I try to live by now. It’s a common occurrence for starting animators to over-animate their shots and make the characters move all over the place all the time for fear that their shots might feel dead or too simple. It’s a hard thing to do, but once you do it, you find so many other subtle ways of keeping your characters alive. 

One more thing that got stuck is something that Rahul Dabholkar mentioned; he learned it from one of his colleagues at Disney. I don’t remember the exact words but it goes something like this: Every shot has a special moment that will make it shine, if you can find that moment and emphasize it, it will make the shot amazing.  

What’s the best part of online education?

Learning from industry experts from the best studios around the world is great and you learn so much, but I would have to say the best part of online education is the community.  You become part of a big family, and even if you haven’t met in person, you know every single one of them will do their best to help you grow as an animator, giving some feedback on personal shots,  and help you get opportunities in the industry. Or, you know, go out for a meal and talk about animation if you get the chance to meet them in person. 

What part of the animation process do you enjoy the most?

I really enjoy every part of the animation process, planning a shot is always fun, exploring acting choices and shooting reference is a nice challenge. 
Blocking is where I put most of my time getting the  timing right and pushing my poses over and over. 
But, when I really get in the zone, is when I start polishing a shot. I can easily lose track of time bringing the characters to life.

What type of animation inspires you?

There are some amazing animated shows and movies out there that it would be impossible for me to choose just one type. From the jaw-dropping stop motion animation from the guys at Laika, with their beautiful and refreshing movies, going all the way to the hand drawn 2D fighting sequences from Avatar The Last Airbender and The legend of Korra. In 3D, I favour the cartoony style of Sony’s  Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania, it’s so appealing and every shot looks like it would be a ton of fun to animate. Moving on to more realistic VFX animation, I love creature animation. Believable weight, power, and great physicality are things that I love to focus on, and hope to fully master as I keep animating. Pacific Rim and the new  Godzilla are two movies that keep coming to my mind every time I think about VFX animation.

How do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I definitely see myself animating on feature films, I don’t know if it will be an animated feature or doing some creature work on a live action movie. Right now I’m still undecided on what path I want to take. I love acting shots, but the challenge of nailing an action shot is so rewarding… I want it all!

I have also considered, after a couple more years of experience, that I would like to start teaching animation too.

Any hobbies, sports or other activities that you would like to share with us?

Scuba diving. It’s the closest thing I know to an out of this world experience. It’s relaxing and very exciting at the same time. A good way to stay in touch with nature.
Also, I recently started practicing bouldering with some friends from work. Great workout to strengthen your arms after working all week on the computer, my forearms have been feeling great after a couple of times. No more computer pain. Our goal is to do some outdoor climbing soon.

Any quote to get yourself motivated?

I really like the part when Dory is trying to cheer Marlin in Finding Nemo. After the mask fell into the deep and she says: “When life get you down you know what you got to do? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming”. That song comes to my mind every single time something goes wrong, and it always keep me going no matter what. 
What is your ultimate goal?

The more I get involved in the industry the more I keep thinking I want to be an Animation director one day.  Working with the directors at Nerd Corps has been great, I’m learning so much from them and the way they approach the shows. 

Also, every time I give feedback or I receive feedback from coworkers is a great and valuable opportunity to learn. Weather is learning something new about acting  and performance, an animation trick, or just simply better ways of communicating with people. Each one of those information exchanges is a learning experience that put me a bit closer and better prepared to reach my goal. 

There is still a long road to cover to get there and so much more to learn, but I believe I can get there if I keep working hard. 

Thank you so much for having me!

Check out Jorge’s Demo Reel:

AnimSchool Video Interview: Animation Student Allen Ostergar

In this opportunity, we had the pleasure to have a Video Interview with one of our students, Allen Ostergar.

Allen is an Animation Student who has just finished an Internship at BlueSky Studios. He talks about what made him choose an online school like AnimSchool, his inspirations and some other activities he’s been doing besides animation!

He shares with us his Internship Reel and some cool stuff he has learned during his time at BSS, so you won’t want to miss it!

Watch it here:

Allen’s Demo Reel:

AnimSchool Graduate Spotlight: Animator Mark Tan

We would like to welcome Mark Tan, one of our latest graduates from the 3D Animation Program.

Tell us a little about yourself, what’s your background? How did you get into animation?
Mark’s drawing at 5 years old.

Like many others, I grew up drawing what I saw.  I didn’t just like drawing figures, but telling a story.  My very first creations I made as a kid (around 5 years old) had a scene drawn along with a story written.
Despite these early beginnings, animation never dawned on me as a profession until a counselor at college brought it up.  Once I started, animation totally took over my focus.  We experimented with 2D, paper cut out animation, as well as claymation my freshman year.  In my second year of college, we eventually were taught Maya and all the technical facets of the program.

Along with learning animation, my interest in filmmaking blossomed during college as well.  I watched thousands of films (live action and animated), read screenwriting books, and started to make shorts/music videos.
I chose animation as a profession because I believe at the core of every well told story is a strong believable performance.  Animation gives us the ability to explore the personality of any character without the hinderance of our outward appearance.

What’s the best part of online education?

The best part of online education is having access to some of the most skilled in the industry today without having to travel at all.  I told myself before enrolling that if these guys can’t help me improve drastically, then I’m not trying hard enough!

What do you like the most when animating?

I really enjoy shooting video reference prior to going on the computer.  There is something special about actually acting out your scene.  The possibilities seem endless.  There are also quirks and small details captured on video that can be helpful as well.  It is much easier to approach a shot when you have the majority of your movements and expressions locked down in a video edit.

What type of animation inspires you?

I can’t really say I favor any type of animation, but I can mention a few scenes/shorts that inspire me.

1.  Seeing the work of Min Hong, Alaa Abu Hanish, James Kim, and many others before and during Animschool fueled my motivation to improve.

2. I will always remember the shot in Finding Nemo where Dory tells Marlin that when she looks at him, she’s home.  It’s amazing how much is achieved with a character that’s basically a floating face with fins. 


3. Another scene I always enjoy watching is Presto.  The staccatto movements and upright poses of the magician purely give way to his whole personality in one shot.  There is a lot of fun animation in the whole short, but the held poses are what seem to be the funniest to me. 

4. I was really into the early works of Nick Park, Bill Plympton and Don Hertzfeldt when I started out college years ago.  I found shorts like “Creature Comforts”, “How to Kiss” and “Rejected Cartoons” to be very entertaining. 


You’ve done some great shots along the way at Animschool and some of them have been featured at the Student Showcase. Which one did you like the most? How was your workflow for this shot?

I think my most successful shot came out of class 6 with Melvin Tan.  He was the most picky and pushed me the hardest on my shot from start to finish.  I chose a very challenging audio clip after hours of searching, and that was just the beginning of the journey.

I approached the video reference like I always did, but I remember Melvin had very clear and distinct decisions on what didn’t work for him.  The main notes of the first reference was to make the performance more confrontational by breaking less eye contact in the beginning of the scene.  After about 50 total takes, I finally reached something close to begin animating with.

In what ways do you think Animschool has helped you to be a better animator?

Animschool’s animation program structure helped me sharpen my skills from the ground up.  

In Animating Characters, two major things I picked up was the idea of lead/follow, as well as how to balance the weight of your character in space.  

In Body Acting, texture was a big focus on how to break up the flow of the dancer in the subway to add more interest.  Also, the opening up of the face for eye direction, avoiding wall eyed positions of the irises, proper spacing/smear frames, and the importance of breaking down video reference better (and enhancing the appeal in your work).

The last three classes involved more complex characters and lip sync.  I learned a lot more about polish and all the little details that really make your shot shine.  The most important thing throughout this back end of the program was that I learned what it takes to finish a good shot.  

Any advice or tip that you remember from an instructor that you’ve had along the way?

Lead and follow has helped me a lot.  Choosing what to lead the action to another pose always helps to break up the animation and add a more natural feel.  Though I have gone too far sometimes, this concept is always on my mind. 

Are you currently working in the animation industry? Tell us about it.

I am currently trying to get work in feature films.  My last gig was animating Ninja Turtles for promotional and commercial spots for the movie.  Some of it was recently used in a music video for a song from the movie’s soundtrack.

How do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Right now I’m hoping to be making a living working in the movie industry.  I don’t know what 5 years in the future holds for me, but I’m going to put my effort in one day at a time and see where that takes me.

Any hobbies, sports or other activities that you would like to share with us?

I’m into weightlifting, play basketball regularly, and occasionally play tennis.  When not sitting at a computer, I try to stay as active as possible.

Any quote to get yourself motivated?

Save nothing for the swim back.

What are your plans now that you’ve graduated from Animschool?

As I stated earlier, I want to gain experience in the animated film industry.  I have worked on video game cinematics, video game animation, and television.  I have recently started the job hunt.  Wish me luck! 

Mark, thank you very much for this interview and all the best for your future outside Animschool!

Watch Mark’s demo reel:

Videography reel:

AnimSchool Instructor Interview: Animator Kevan Shorey

Today we are having a very nice conversation with Kevan Shorey, one of the instructors at our General Reviews. Kevan is an Annie-nominated Feature Film Animator at Dreamworks Animation (PDI).

Chris Bancroft made this caricature for his friend.

Tell us a little about yourself, what’s your background? How did you get into animation?

It’s not a particularly interesting story, I’m afraid. I grew up in Wales, and my love of movies and drawing led me to Animation. I tailored my school studies and subsequent university degrees towards learning both the craft and visual communication/film-making.

What animation style (cartoony, realistic) do you enjoy the most to create?
I enjoy the the hybrid approach. The opportunity to blend the two styles that allows for moments of sophisticated acting to contrast with the fun and energy of pushed, larger-than-life action.

What is the best experience you’ve had so far in a production environment?

I’ve only worked as an Animator as I started my career here. I really love being surrounded by talented people who push the medium forward.

In what project are you working on? What workflow are you using right now at it?
I am currently working on The Penguins movie, out later this year. It is a cartoony show using the style set by the Madagascar films. While I’ve recorded a few bits of reference here and there, my planning has been almost solely in 2D, using my Cintiq to draw and plan using our new software. I am finding it much quicker to plan directly in to the shot and be able to push poses with stylus strokes rather than trying to exaggerate live action reference.

Do you think that animators need to have a nomad spirit, kind of a ready to move mentality in order to get the best gigs?
Unfortunately it is the nature of the modern Animation industry to make big demands on those who make a living within it. Work/life balance and lots of moving around becomes much more impactful as you age and gain responsibilities such as older or younger dependants. I wish the industry would do a better job of catering to all types of personality, and not just the nomadic portion but this lift is forced on many.

What’s been your inspiration throughout your career?
Those around me. 100%.

What is the most enjoyable thing about teaching animation online?
The sense that I am someone in their aim to improve and grow in the craft they wish to pursue. Even if my observations are merely a spring board to a new idea for an individual then it’s a worthwhile endeavour.

How do you explain to a new acquaintance (not related to the industry) what is your work about?
I explain it as creating performance for digital characters. I’ve found it’s the simplest shorthand for the layman.

Have you ever had the “I can’t believe where I am working/ who I am working with” feeling?
Oh yes. It took me years to not have that feeling everything single day, but it still intimidates me from time to time.

Having worked in so many cool feature films, what goals do you have?

Just to keep doing what I’m doing, growing as an artist in the process. There’s always something to be learned, and I have a long way to go, particularly in broad, comic shots and realistic physical ones.

What does it feel like when you go the the movies and see the people laugh or get emotional with one of your shots?
I don’t know that I’ve had that for my shots specifically – more for a sequence that I worked on. It feels pretty satisfying, actually.

You wrote a great post on your blog about your experience relocating in the US coming from the UK. Being Animschool a school with a lot of international students, what’s your advice for international students that want to get their foot in the animation industry?
AnimSchool is definitely a good place to start! Getting noticed is all about the reel, and the contacts made with industry professionals to get that reel in the right hands.

What’s your perspective about animation made in the US vs made in Europe?
I don’t know that I make any such distinction since there is so much migration of talent. There are amazing people to be found everywhere in Feature, Games, TV and lots of other places.

How important do you think it is networking in this industry?
Very much. It’s a small industry and with so much movement between studios many people will know each other, or know of each other, at least.

Let’s say we are in 20 years time and your kid would like to study animation, what advice would you give her/him?
While I don’t know where the craft will be in 20 years, let’s assume it is mostly similar to today. I would suggest a course emphasizing traditional skills then moving on to computer-based stuff to give a well rounded perspective of the craft. Oh, and drawing. Lots of drawing.

Thank you very much Kevan for sharing your time with us!
Thank you. Cheers!

Twitter: @kevanshorey

AnimSchool Instructor Interview: Lighting TD Brandon May

Today we are talking with Brandon May, who works as a Lighting TD at Blue Sky Studios and teaches Introduction to 3D Lighting at Animschool.

Tell us a little about yourself, what’s your background? How did you get into Lighting?

I grew up on a farm in a small town in Idaho. I have always been artistic and loved creating art and drawing.   When I got married, my wife convinced me to take an art class.  Reluctantly,  I took one and loved every second of it.  I switched my major and found a bunch of friends who were all in animation.  I naturally gravitated there and ended up being recruited into the BYU animation program.   I chose lighting because it was involved with the final touches and the final look of all the elements in the production.   I loved it and I was the only one who was doing it in my group in the program.   I ended up at Blue Sky Studios as a lighter and I could not be happier.  I love it here. 

What is the best experience you’ve had so far in a production environment?

I think the best experience would be the feeling I get when I get positive feedback from personal success in my lighting.  It is fantastic to hear someone who is an amazing lighter compliment your work. 

In what project are you working on? What is your job?

I am currently working on Peanuts.  My job right now is pretty – extremely laid back.   This project does not release for another year and a couple months, so we are not doing much. Ha ha.  For a lighter, the work comes in waves.  When we have work, we have a lot to do, and then we get a break.  When we break, we have nothing to do.  It is a schedule I enjoy, but it is not for everyone.  Definitely not a steady work flow. 

What’s been your inspiration throughout your career? Any mentors along the way?

My inspiration throughout would be my wife.  I love her and she is my support and motivation. My mentors along the way would be Youngwoong Jang and Angel Camacho.   Two uber crazy talented people and I hope to become as good as they are someday.   

One nice thing about working where I do, I don’t have to have mentors from anywhere else.  I work with some of the most talented artists in the world.  Especially when it comes to feature animation art.  

The lighting style in Blue Sky productions like Epic and Rio 2 is really captivating, can you tell our blog readers how you go about applying lighting to the scenes? Is there any particular process that you guys found effective?

The lighting on Epic was handled differently than Rio.  With every show, we have art directors who have a visual goal that will separate the look of this film from that film.  At the beginning, we work at finding what that style is and match it.  Much time is spent getting that look before the production begins.  The process is trial and error.  We light and push back the frames and problems we see to the appropriate departments to make changes so that those issues are resolved to make the process as streamlined as possible.

“Rio”. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved
“Rio”. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Picture from the Book: “The Art of Rio” by Tara Bennett

Picture from the Book: “The Art of Rio” by Tara Bennett
“Epic”. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved

“Epic”. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved

What goals do you have in your class Introduction to 3D Lighting? Who should attend the course?

Goals for the lighting class are simple.  Teach the students basic principals of lighting and color, and help them feel more comfortable when plusing their demo reels.  I think that every little bit helps when making a demo reel.  If your animation, or rig looks great, but so does the guy that is your direct competition, what gives you the higher ground? I think it is making an overall visually impressive reel.  It shows problem solving, and that you are competent in many artistic ways.  This class will help push you in that direction.

What is the most enjoyable thing about teaching online for you?

I actually like to see the growth.  It is fun watching students grow artistically but in confidence as well.  Both are important.  I also like to see different styles from so many different cultures that are in the class room.   An online class makes the world come together in a single room, and we get to experience a small piece of their culture through their art.  It is actually, fantastic.

We thank Brandon very much for taking the time in doing this piece.

AnimSchool Interview: Modeler Ryan Tottle

We’d like to welcome Disney Modeler Ryan Tottle. Ryan, can you tell us a little about your background and how you became a 3D Character Modeler for Disney?

I started off in
the welsh art college ‘Glamorgan Center for Art and Design Technology’
where after a foundation course in all forms of art, I decided to study
2D animation. It was a 3 year BA hons program. I made a few monster maquettes and anatomy studies in my final year and found that sculpture
was my real passion. After college I found work in the Make-up FX Industry, the first company that gave me a chance was Hybrid FX, thanks
to Mike Stringer. (That’s always the hardest part, being given your
first chance)

I continued for a few years as a freelancer in
Makeup effects, sculpting prosthetic appliances (old age makeup etc) and
big rubber monster suits. I kept sculpting my more personal work in my
spare time, building a more refined portfolio.

Meanwhile: I’m in
contact with Alena Wooten, who I met on Deviant Art and we become good
friends. She was working at Blue Sky Animation Studios as a maquette

RyanTottleSHOWREEL2010 from Ryan Tottle on Vimeo.

In 2008 I got invited to work on a horror movie at Plan 9
FX in Madrid, by my friend Valentina Visitin. We’d been working together
at Neill Gorton’s Millennium FX in London. I spent a few months in
Spain and Alena came to visit me. I remember she brought a Scrat
Maquette to show me (sculpted by Michael Defeo) it was primed grey and
the light rolled over the forms so elegantly. It reminded me of studying
the animation maquettes in college. I actually always had an interest
in those sculpts, they seemed to be a more minimal approach to
sculpting. They were more subtle and selective in their forms and so
full of character.

Once the project in Madrid was over, Alena
invited me out to stay in New York for a few months where I was
introduced to Lots of very inspiring Blue Sky artists. Michael Defeo was
Alena’s supervisor at the time and we hung out. Alena and Mike shared
their knowledge of sculpting 3D characters, it was very inspiring.

Maquette by Ryan Tottle, design by Shiyoon Kim

had mentioned how much I could benefit from learning 3D modeling
software, especially Zbrush, since I’d been working in clay for my
career to date. So, I got to work on teaching myself Maya and Zbrush
through online tutorials and help from my friend David Strick (who was
at Blue Sky at the time).

I moved to New York in 2009 to Marry
Alena. When I first arrived, I couldn’t work for 3 months because of
immigration reasons, so I kept working on my portfolio and making Zbrush
characters. Once I could work, I was hired by Tony Jung to help work on game characters at Kaos Studios in New York City. This is where I further refined
my knowledge of CG.

In early 2011 I got an email from Shiyoon Kim from Walt Disney Animation Studios, asking if I was interested in
applying for a modeling position. It turns out that he’d seen one of my maquettes based on his character design. So, I applied and got
hired as a Trainee to learn the 3D animation pipeline. I later got
hired as a Modeler on Wreck-it-Ralph, and I’ve been at Disney ever

What were some of the challenges going from sculpting in traditional clay to 3D Modeling in ZBrush and Maya? How did you work through those challenges? Are there any tips you’ve learned along the way?

I think the most challenging part for me was learning the software and the principles of CG. It was like learning a new language, a different way of thinking. But, being familiar with sculpting three dimensional form helped me see the light at the end of ever growing tunnel.

Learning what a vertex is, is pretty weird when you’ve never had to think in that way before. It just came down to repetition, doing it every day for hours on end. It took me about 2 years to say “now I’m comfortable to say I can sculpt in CG to the quality I can in clay.” It’s never quite the same obviously, they have a different look, it’s subtle.

Another challenge for me was the rendering side of things. A physical sculpture is always rendered with real world light and shadows, which is always way better for reading how light falls on the surface. So, I like to print out the models to get a real feel for the forms. My advice is to do both physical and digital. Clay sculpting feels like a mental workout for me now, I try to do it at least one night a week.

How do you think having a traditional sculpting background has helped you in the 3D Modeling Industry?

It has helped a lot. I found that having an understanding of the principles of sculpture made it easier to figure out the forms in a 3D software. I guess it’s just the amount of practice I’ve had working on 3D objects in the physical. It seems to be the same reason that things like life drawing are always recommended. It gives you a real tangible perspective on how to model shapes.

Zbrush has made this a faster process for me though, less labor intensive. It’s less about moving actual material around, it can happen instantly in a 3D software.

With having work experience in modeling game characters and feature characters, what are some of the similarities and differences in modeling in the two industries?

In my experience, there has been a pretty big difference. Mainly in that a lot of the games are going for a hyper real look these days. Sculpting those characters was more similar to my makeup FX days. The characters were more organic in their shapes and were generally less criticized than animation characters that tend to have more of a clean, simple, graphic, feel. There seemed to be more room for error on hyper real characters. I found organic sculpting can be quite forgiving at times, especially when there are a lot of textures on the surface.

When sculpting ‘simple’ ‘toony’ characters, you are in a sense given a more limited palette of shapes to use and each curve/edge is super subtle and can make all the difference to the success of the piece.

The other thing is that game characters are usually made with triangulated meshes and animation characters are usually quad meshes, which can be subdivided for render time, so it’s a bit of a different challenge. I found working with triangles a bit less intuitive to get the forms I wanted. There’s something I find more natural about the flowing edge loops of quad meshes, and they’re nicer for sculpting in ZBrush, they smooth more predictably.

There are similarities of course, you still have to apply a lot of the same aesthetic rules and techniques to make a nice model, and try to hit the concept art as closely as possible.

Can you talk a little about your experience going through the Disney apprentice program?

Yes, it was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the pipeline at Disney Animation, and 3D animation in general. I had never worked in the feature industry before. We had the opportunity to go to all kinds of lectures on principles of animation, appeal, design etc. Also, you’re assigned a mentor, who you can reach out to for any questions or help if you need it. A lot of legendary people still walk the halls in that place, so you can become a sponge of knowledge and ramp up at a steady pace without being thrown straight on to a production. I highly recommend it, it’s a great way into the studio.

What do you enjoy working on outside of work? Can you share some of your personal projects?

I’m constantly sculpting and refining my sculpting skills. I also like to collaborate with other artists, I find that you can learn a lot this way.

I’m a big enthusiast of fantastic realism and Visionary art, and have been working those things into my personal sculpture. It’s kind of the other end of the spectrum in terms of what I do in animation. I think that most commercial artists have their own personal side projects that interest them for different reasons. It’s actually good to do this because the things you learn on each side, you can apply to the other.

At the moment I’m working of a series of ‘Beings’ who’s anatomy is constructed (sculpturally) from architectural and symbolic shapes from various wisdom traditions, merged with the more classical feel of western sculpture. I don’t have much time to work on these at the moment, but when I do it’s a great treat.

Do you have any advice for those students studying to be 3D Modelers?

Practice a lot and make it fun for yourself. Look at the best work you can find in the industry and aim for that. Ask a lot of questions. Be very specific about what you want as an end goal. Study as much classical sculpture, anatomy and industry work as you can handle.

When making a reel or portfolio, only show a few things that are your very best. Keep it short and sweet because the people who review your work are usually very busy, and are probably going to scrub through it if it gets long and boring. Try to catch their eye right away.

To view more of Ryan Tottle’s work visit his blog:

AnimSchool Interview: Muhammad Irfan Farooq

We’d like to welcome Animator Muhammad Irfan Farooq. First of all, Congratulations on your 11 Second Club June win!! Can you tell us a little about yourself, how long you’ve been animating and what made you want to get into this Industry?

First of all, I am very thankful to AnimSchool for giving me a chance to share my thoughts and knowledge.

Since I was a kid, I loved to watch and draw cartoons, unfortunately we did not have any art school in my country, Pakistan. However, while doing my Computer Science degree in 2002, I saw “Shrek” and “Jurassic Park”. I wondered how they created them, so I bought a computer and installed 3Ds Max and Maya at first chance and I learned some basics of the software. Luckily, in 2006 I got an internship in a studio where I learned a lot about character animation and very soon I found out animation was  my dream job. Now I’ve been animating for 5 plus years.

Which Artists/Animators do you look towards for inspiration and what stands out to you about these artists?

Honestly, for inspiration I search randomly on the internet every day. If some animator does something unique and fresh, I study his/her animation over and over again. The animation style for AnimSchool promo was one of my favorites. I love to study cartoony stuff like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones’ stuff.

While studying cartoony animation, I look for the sense of timing, transitions from one pose to another, how they lead the action, and how other body parts are following it. I also look for smear frames and how they’re used effectively.

For acting and performance, I watch live action or TV series (Friends, Seinfeld, etc) and big studio movies (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Hercules etc.)

Irfan–11 sec –June 2013 from Irfan on Vimeo.

In the past, you’ve entered the 11 Second Club with a variety of Rigs. Why did you decide to use AnimSchool’s Malcolm Rig for both your characters in your June entry: “Love to Play Games”?

For my June entry, I used AnimSchool’s Malcolm Rig for both characters because this rig was the best fit for the style of animation I wanted to do. I wanted to exaggerate overall performance of characters. One character was super energetic; I wanted him to be more quick and snappy. The other was more composed and calm; I wanted him to be more still. AnimSchool’s Malcolm Rig looks great for both types of characters.

What was it like working with the Malcolm Rig? Did it meet all your expectations? What did you enjoy most about it?

Whenever I get free time and want to practice some really fun/ over exaggerated animation, Malcolm is the only Rig I want to use. I love its flexibility and appeal.

Making smear frames, using the face and body is my favorite part using Malcolm.

Could you tell us a little about your animation process for your animation: “Love to Play Games,” from planning/reference to splining?

For 11 second compilation, I approach dialogue a bit differently than usual. After listening to the audio hundreds of times, I jumped into the planning stage.

    Rough Idea: While listening to the audio, I draw some thumbnails to get the basic understanding about what I’m thinking about the character and his/her performance.

    Rough Timing: I get rough timing by animating a box in Maya. I think about big vs small accents of the body and transition from 1st position to 2nd.

    Rough poses and timing: It’s time to see the character with rough poses and timing based on the above steps. I copy that box animation to the spine of the character and do some rough hand animation to see if it’s going to work or not. Sometimes I import a preview into 2D software and draw over it to get a better understanding for poses and timing.

    Refining poses: Now its time to refine my Key Poses and make them stronger and more clear. I push the line of action and work for better silhouettes. Putting in expressions is a great way to get the right emotion out of the character. I also add strong finger poses before jumping into the next step.

    Refining Timing: While refining timing, I put breakdowns, 2nd breakdowns, anticipation, moving holds, ease in-outs and overshoots where needed. I also take care or arcs and paths of action for every body part. I always use auto tangent at this stage.

    Lip-sync and facial : I also put basic expressions and lip-sync during this phase.

     Polishing body: It’s time to check the character as a doctor. I start with hips and go upwards to the spine, neck and head. Then shoulders, elbow, hand and fingers. At the end, legs are easy to polish. Don’t forget to look for breathing and weight shifts.

    Polishing Facial: Polishing facial is the fun part for me. I start with eyebrows and eyes together, then I move to lip-sync and expressions. I look at the face as a fleshy part and make it feel soft.

Irfan–Progression Reel– 11sec June competition ! from Irfan on Vimeo.

What was the most challenging part when animating this dialogue? How did you work through this challenge?

Working with two characters while sharing the same shot is always challenging. After finishing the first character’s animation, I was afraid to over-animate the other character. I toned it down, so I wouldn’t draw attention away, while still keeping the character standing there alive. Luckily, I succeeded without much effort.

Lastly, what advice would you give to students who are just beginning to study animation?

As a beginner, I always would get stuck in technicalities, thinking of better work-flow and formulas. But soon, I realized it’s all about studying life, feeling it and putting it into your animation. Don’t be afraid of work-flows and technicalities, just choose one and work on that actual part. The tough one is “The Feeling” part. If your character has the feeling, you can make anyone feel happy, sad or whatever you want them to feel. Then Hurray! You did a great piece of animation!

AnimSchool Interview: Animator Camille Campion, Part 2

We would like to welcome back, March 11 Second Club winner, Camille Campion. Camille are there any artists or animators that you look towards for inspiration?

I’m not a good follower… I don’t have a list of famous animators. I spend time looking for all the good animations I can find, sometimes from a famous animator, from a big american studio, and sometimes from a student’s short film.

I’ve had the chance to work in different places with talented animators. My inspiration, many times, comes from my colleagues. They don’t necessarily need to be very experienced or extremely talented to be inspiring for me. Sometimes regulars animators just have that good idea for their shot that makes it awesome.

I have special thanks for different people who’ve really improved my animation level- Yoshimishi Tamura who was my first “mentor” when I start working, Drifa Benseghir my second director of animation who transmits her good energy to me, and many colleagues in Kandor, French and Spanish!

Could you tell us a little about your process for your animation “Interview” from planning/reference to splining?

My planning for this animation was a bit rough. I didn’t have much time to do it, that’s why I didn’t use any video references or thumbnails. I usually don’t use a lot of video reference in my animation process, but to find more ideas when I’m in an inspiration crisis.

For my animation “Interview” I dedicated one day to write the idea, think about characters, and the staging, two days to make the two different versions of malcolm I use, prepare the props and the background (modeling and rigging) and compose my shots, and five days of animation.

11 second club March 2013 – Animation Process from camille campion on Vimeo.

First, I started making golden poses in the step I name “Rough”. I work fast and think only in narration and posing. Next, in the “Blocking” step, I start working on the timing, and how I can improve my narration. The first splining step is the part I don’t like, the boring technical moment.  That’s why I develop a very strict methodology to do it as fast as I can. First, I clean a bit my curves. Then, I modify the timing just moving my poses in the timeline and adding some breakdowns, to be sure about the energy. Next, I use motion trail in the camera view, following the mass hierarchy of my body, first I clean the Root (the hips), next the chest, the head etc… The objective is to have something working efficiently without noises.

When I have this first splining pass, I can look at the rough version of the animation, change some details, refine curves and arcs, improve the timing, refine the lip-sinc to make it Final.

What was the most difficult part when animating this dialogue, and how did you work through it?

The adaptation when you are discovering a rig is the most difficult part for me. Next, as I said before, the blocking is a real pleasure, there is no part more or less difficult, it just takes time. I need more motivation for the first splining process…

Your hand motion felt very fluid. How did you come up with those particular hand gestures and in general how do you approach animating hands?

I don’t have a specific treatment for the hand. Hands are include in the blocking process composing the silhouette of the character, I try to make it cool and appealing. In the splining process, I spend time cleaning the curves frame by frame, improving the spacing and the timing when I can. Many students make the error of systematically having the hand follow the chest, but the hand expresses many emotions like the eyes or facial expressions. Many times your fingers nervously react before the rest of your body

Lastly, what advice would you give to students that are just getting into animation?

You have to find your method, your way to animate for fun and pleasure. The better shots are made by happy animators. We need to have fun during the full process.

Animate and animate and animate again, this is the practice that we find all of this and how we can improve our level. Try to find people who can give you advice, and feedback on your work. If you’re a student,  ask your teachers and the others students. If you are working,  ask your colleagues. And, if you’re alone in front of your computer, try to contact animators by vimeo, linkedin etc.. to asking for feedback on your work (there are many generous animators in the world).

AnimSchool Interview: Animator Camille Campion, Part 1

We’d like to welcome Animator Camille Campion. First of all, congratulations on your 11 Second Club March win! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into animation?

I think I have a very classic career path for a young french animator… I’ve drawn since I was 4 years old. I was crazy about animated features when I was very young, especially the Tex Avery work. I studied art at a university and I studied 3 years in one of the many Animation Schools we have in France. We had the honor to be the Jury award winner at Siggraph 2008 with our end of studies short film, Mauvais Rôle.

For three years I worked in Paris on different companies projects, feature films, commercial and TV shows. For almost three years now, I’ve been living in Spain working for Kandor Graphics on the feature film “Justin and the Knights of Valour,” (Most of the Flying Crocodile shots are mine) Sometimes I also teach animation at the University of Granada.

11 second club March 2013 – HD from camille campion on Vimeo.

What is your favorite part of the animation process?

Definitely the staging and the blocking part, that’s the more creative part for me. The splining process is more technical and methodic. The polishing is interesting, but less than the blocking. I like the refining stage too, when your animation works, but you still have time to retouch details. Sometimes a small detail changes the whole shot.

You’ve animated on the 11 second club with much success with many different rigs. Why did you decide to use AnimSchool’s Malcolm Rig for both your characters for your entry: “Interview”

I’m work hungry. It was during a professional pause, I was with this envy of animation. Every time I’d try to use a new character, because I get bored fast with the same character. I want to explore new physiology, and personality. Next I wanted to use a professional character, I looked on the web to see what was available. Malcolm is used a lot, and now I know why!

What was it like working with the Malcolm Rig? Did it meet all your expectations? What did you like most about it?

The first important thing for me is the model, the design and appeal. Malcolm looks good, his design is simple, but with potential- I like that. The rig is very complete, the facial rig is superb and powerful.

One thing I don’t like, and it’s a problem I see in many rigs, is that sometimes there’s too much control. It could be stuffy to manage. As a detail, when I move the head in translation there’s no compensation in the neck. The column deformation sometimes is a bit hard.

In general Malcolm is a really good rig, it’s not famous for nothing. I think the better of the free rigs on web! The thing I prefer… I really like the facial rig, but his hands are awesome. The mesh and the rig respond really well, and that’s not usual.

How did you go about animating 2 characters with the same structure, while making sure 2 different personalities came through?

It’s not very different than animating one character, you just need more time. The important thing is to identify your objective and the personality you want to show in your character. Try to make them different but believable. In shots like this you’re driven by the audio, that makes things easier.

It’s hard for me to explain with these shots because I was trying something new, I was discovering the rig and I only spent 5 days in the animation process…

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