Thursday, March 21, 2019

Quick and Easy Camera Shake

Camera shakes are a nice way to add weight to certain actions within a shot, such as a heavy character hitting the ground or a large object passing by. There are several ways to achieve a camera shake in Maya, but here is Body Mechanics instructor Benn Garnish’s take on it. He shows us his super quick and easy method using an Animation Layer and the Graph Editor to produce a realistic camera shake in just a few clicks of the mouse:  

    Not sure how to use Animation Layers or just need a refresher? Check out our Introduction to Animation Layers post.

Looking for the best 3D Animation schools? For more information about AnimSchool and our online animation programs, visit us at

Monday, February 25, 2019

Using Blendshapes - Rigging 101

One of the most essential tools in a rigger’s toolkit is blendshapes. Blendshapes are deformers that allow an object to change its shape based on the shape of a duplicate. Simply put, it’s a way to get your object to change its form at will to look like something else. Some basic examples of where you could use a blendshape are blink attributes for eyelids (the original mesh would have the eyes open, and the duplicated mesh would have the eyes closed), or even the squash for a ball (the original would be the ball object, and the duplicated mesh would be the same ball in a squashed shape).

The workflow for creating blendshapes is quite simple: 
  1. Duplicate the original object you want to alter.
  2. Edit the duplicated object to get the shape/look that you want.
  3. Connect it back to the original object
    • Select the changed object
    • Shift + select the original object
    • Go to the Rigging menu dropdown > Deform > Blendshape > Option box > Create Blendshape

By connecting the duplicate back to the original, you create a blendshape node on the original object that takes values as input (default 0) which let you determine how much you want your object to look like your blendshape. It’s a sliding scale from 0 to 1, with 1 showing the full influence of the blendshape on the object. To see and edit your blendshape(s), go to Windows > Animation Editors > Shape Editor. From here you can make quick edits and reapply them, and key them in your animations as well.

Blendshapes can be used for a variety of cases in which you need specific control over certain parts of your object, such as facial rigging, corrective deformations, and muscle/skin controls. For more information on the characteristics of blendshapes, how they work, and how to apply them, check out this video clip on the basics of blendshapes by our Intro to Rigging instructor, Eriks Vitolins.

Looking for the best 3D Animation schools? For more information about AnimSchool and our online animation programs, visit us at

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

3D Animaton Interview - Harrison Smith

Today we have an interview with AnimSchool graduate, Harrison Smith. He has been involved with Feature Films like Hotel Transylvania 3, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and is now currently at DreamWorks Animation working on Abominable.

Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us Harrison!

Harrison: Thank you for having me.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? What’s your background in animation; and how and when you did you decide to become an animator?

My background in animation is really really limited. I went through middle school and high school a little home school, but I was more self-taught, while in high school and middle school - but then at the end of that I just jumped right into AnimSchool. But what got me into animation is I was super young and, you know whenever you watch a film it’s just really exciting, and I felt like I connected to the characters - and it’s like acting, but, you don’t have to be in front of the camera. Which I really like.

Do you have any favorite movies that or artists inspired you?

Yeah, a bunch of the 2D stuff is what really got me into it; All Dogs Go to Heaven is one of my all-time favorite animated movies - I don’t know why, but I love that movie... it was just awesome. Titan A.E. as well. I’m a sucker for Don Bluth films, even though they’re kind of over-animated. But I saw that stuff when I was younger and I’ve just been hooked ever since. And it feels like animation is what I was born to do. So I finished high school, and then right afterwards I joined AnimSchool, and I just went through and pounded through the courses; did a ton of animation, and right after that I got into the industry.

So what are some of the projects you’ve worked on?

The first project was Hotel Transylvania 3. I rolled onto marketing for that show after that, and then shortly after my contract was done I went to work on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and worked on that, and then I got a call from DreamWorks, and now I’m on Abominable.

So what were some of the favorite shots that you had in those projects - Or do you have a favorite character from those movies?

Property of Sony Animation
The favorite character that I did for Hotel Transylvania was Harry 3 Eyes and all his tentacles. I had to animate his tentacles by hand, and there were 6 of them, and they were flapping crazily and it was very rig-intensive, even though it looks super simple. But I felt so excited completing Harry 3 Eyes. And on Into the Spider-Verse, it was Gwen Stacy, hands down. She was one of the most appealing Spider-Man rigs I’ve ever seen. Her character was awesome and more unique and kinda 'punky'. I animated one shot with her “webbing” through and kicking a thug, and it was super dynamic and action-packed. I had such a fun time animating her, and making her feel super powerful. So I just really enjoyed working on her.

So what’s the part that you enjoy the most about your job?

I enjoy… Animation (Laugh)! It feels really good to be an artist. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s the people that I get to work with; everybody is into animation and film, but everybody also has different backgrounds, so it feels like an enriching, awesome social environment, where you get to make some really nice friends. But yeah, working in film, and basically being a digital actor, it’s one of my favorite things.

And what’s the toughest part of being an animator?

The toughest part is coming up with new acting moments that are still familiar enough to get the point across to the audience, but also unique enough to not feel over done or cliched. That can be difficult because many films are made every year - there’s almost a recipe to them; with similar story beats and acting moments that have already been done multiple times in similar ways. So it’s tough finding that good balance for acting choices that are different without being too weird and unique, but that also avoid becoming predictable.

And also when you get really crazy, demanding, work-intensive shots, and it has the same deadline as like, let’s say, a talking head, or a mid to upper shot of somebody just expressing. Sometimes on Hotel Transylvania I had 35 characters in one shot, and it’s super slow in Maya, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s the same time frame to get it done.

Property of Sony Animation
So when you’re animating on a feature film, do you have a playbook for poses or speeds hit, or characteristics that you have to mimic to make sure that it stays consistent with all the other animators?

So it varies between studios. At DreamWorks they have a “Character Bible” which helps you know the character’s personality, faces, and they have libraries for set poses that help keep it all on model. And then they have character leads who come by and look at it, and check the shot before and after to make sure it looks good. Most of the time I just want to come up with a good performance with the character’s personality; And working with a character for a couple months helps you get into a rhythm of how the character is acting. And with movies like Hotel Transylvania 3 for example, there’s already 2 movies with Mavis in there, so you know her character already and you can already see what the she should act like.

What is your process, or workflow like? What is your process for taking a it from nothing all the way through to a finished product?

So it changes depending on the shot. If it’s an acting shot for instance, I look at the animatic, listen to the audio, and I look at if it has a rough layout or storyboard; just to see what the general idea is of what they want to be done in that shot and what the purpose of that shot is. Then I come up with my acting ideas. I don’t create much reference right now, but I should do more. Sometimes I do a 2D pass to get the timing for the story beats down. Then if I like where it’s at, I’ll do a blocking pass all the way through on the character. After that, I show the character lead and director to see if he likes the ideas and get approval. Once the rough blocking gets approved, I spline it out and polish it, and that’s pretty much it. Also, I normally do ‘straight ahead’ - going in order from A to B to C, because I feel like I can get a little bit more detail into it for when I spline it out.

But for something like an action shot, like in Spider-Man, it’s really hard to choreograph in a room if you don’t “web around” or explore the available space. So it’s something that’s a little more difficult. I just go straight ahead and with another 2D pass, just to get the timing of all the motions like a bouncing ball, and thinking to myself: “I want it to hit here at ‘this’ frame and then at ‘that’ frame”, and then from there I normally go straight ahead with body mechanics and auto-tangents. And then once the leads and directors pass it off, I just clean it all up and make sure everything’s fancy.

What do you do to continue learning, to stay sharp and up to date?

Personal Animation Project
I always look around my surroundings, other people’s shots, and always studying if somebody I find does an amazing shot. I just thumb through it at work, and see what they did that I really like, so I can incorporate it into my next piece of work, and if it translates well. I also continue reading, I watch a lot of films, and studying acting, because once you get to a certain point in animation, what separates you from the next person is all acting choices, and making more complicated or unique choices, so I’m always studying films that have really good acting and trying to see what I could pull from that. And sometimes I occasionally do personal animation tests on the side at home, just for myself to keep my chops up, and continue learning that way too.

Do you have any advice for up and coming animators, who want to break into the industry?

I think if I have any advice for that, it is you just have to remember that when you’re competing for jobs like Sony, DreamWorks, and Disney, you’re not only competing with with classmates and peers, you’re also competing with people that have been in the industry for a while. So study animation as much as you can. Thumb through videos or film; anything that intrigues you or that catches your eye. Also, if you have any weaknesses or are having a hard time with a concept, just make a couple of animation tests at home and go through those to strengthen your weak points, then you can incorporate those principles and not have to ‘find’ it while you’re working on that shot.

What’s the one thing that you wish you would have known as you were first getting into studying animation?

Yeah, It’s work-intensive, but fun (laugh). If you’re super serious about animation, it’s going to be a long, interesting journey, but once you get in the industry, you find out it doesn’t matter where you’re at studio-wise, it just matters if you like the craft, and if you feel fulfilled there.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us Harrison! We can't wait to see Abominable, and all the other great films that you'll be working on in the future.

If you would like to see Harrison's most recent Demo Reel, you can view it below.

Harrison Smith Demo Reel

Looking for the best 3D Animation schools? For more information about AnimSchool and our online animation programs, visit us at

Friday, January 25, 2019

Maya Workspace Hacks

    The first step to animating more efficiently is setting up your workspace in Maya the way that works best for you. This often means having a certain viewport layout, toggling the visibility of certain types of objects on and off, showing certain UI elements, etc. Why not turn all those clicks in menus here and there into a single click of a button? In this short clip, instructor Tony Bonilla shows us the easy way that he uses to set up his workspace and ultimately save himself time when getting situated in a shot.

Looking for the best 3D Animation schools? For more information about AnimSchool and our online animation programs, visit us at

Friday, December 7, 2018

New AnimSchool VFX Character: Towerback

AnimSchool's new VFX Creature Animation class uses our new detailed creature rigs.

"Towerback" is our new VFX character. He's taller than a building and shakes the earth when he moves. These creatures are eager to wreak havoc and create mayhem in the cityscapes we provide.

Our students use Towerback in our new VFX Creature Animation class, integrated with our custom HDRI background plates. To apply to be a student at AnimSchool go to

Towerback was designed by artist Yishu Ci and modeled by AnimSchool founder Dave Gallagher, and textured by AnimSchool alum Paul Bellozas.

Come join our VFX and other animation classes to learn with AnimSchool rigs!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Acting Resources for Animators

Good acting is key to creating a believable, appealing performance. But, figuring out acting beats can be one of the most difficult steps in the process of animating a shot. It can be hard to figure out where to start, especially if you’re new to acting - don’t worry, many animators go through the same struggles when planning out their shots. Here are some resources recommended by our instructors to give you a better understanding of the foundations and subtleties of acting. 


A renowned actor and teacher of theater in Russia, Stanislavski was known for his system of actor training, preparation, and rehearsal technique. An Actor Prepares delves into the exercises and techniques he would practice as an actor, and many of the concepts outlined (such as the “magic if” and method acting) are now considered standard practice in modern acting.

Uta Hagen - Respect for Acting

Starting out with several respectable roles on Broadway, Uta Hagen turned to teaching after being unofficially blacklisted from Hollywood for being suspected of harboring sympathies with the Communist party. She ended up mentoring several classes of actors and actresses, including some well-known stars like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Hagen’s beliefs on acting are that actions - what you do or say - are the most important. Respect for Acting is an account of Hagen’s own struggles with acting, and includes several examples and instructions for practice.

Ed Hooks - Acting for Animators

A professional actor and acting coach, Ed Hooks is best known for pioneering acting training for animators. Acting for Animators goes over acting principles and uses basic acting theory to explain concepts like character movement and facial expressions.

Paul Ekman - Emotions Revealed / Telling Lies

Facial expressions are essential for almost any acting shot, and Dr. Paul Ekman is one of the world’s leading experts on facial expressions - specifically micro expressions. His famous books Emotions Revealed and Telling Lies reveal many of the findings of his research on microexpressions and how to spot them. Animators could find it useful to incorporate some micro expressions into their shots to help convey subtext.


Michael Caine - Acting in Film

This is a recording of an old instructional session by Michael Caine on the topic of Acting in Film. Caine discusses some helpful tips and teachings for better acting that still remain relevant today, such as not overacting, especially in close-up shots, and understanding the character’s backstory. He also goes through some scenes with a few actors, giving feedback and revealing some lessons he’s learned through his experiences. This is a great video to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes and to understand how to translate an idea of a character into a convincing performance with direction from one of the greats.

Nerdwriter - Westworld: What Makes Anthony Hopkins Great

Nerdwriter is a Youtube channel that specializes in analyzing and explaining pop culture. One especially popular video they created is an acting analysis of Anthony Hopkins’ character on the show Westworld. The video goes over the context of the scene as well as the subtext of the acting, going into intriguing details of Hopkins’ delivery of his lines and his microexpressions. The performance analyzed in this video is a great example of acting with many dimensions and provides a good standard for acting with depth.

Hopefully, these acting resources will prove as helpful to you as they do to our instructors and students. If you have a favorite book or video not listed here, please share it with us in the comments!

Looking for the best 3D Animation schools? For more information about AnimSchool and our online animation programs, visit us at

Friday, November 9, 2018

Graduate Spotlight: Nagu Moreno

Nagu Moreno is one of our very talented graduates from animation program. Throughout his time at AnimSchool, he won the hearts of his instructors through sheer dedication and hard work. We recently got a chance to interview him for our blog and learn more about him, and his workflow.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

Nagu imitating the work of Quirino Cristiani: a local animator
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I work and live here. For as long as I can remember I was passionate about animation. It may be not a very original story but the truth is that as a child I always said, I wanted to make cartoons when I grew up. I was fascinated by all cartoons, but my favorite was The Pink Panther Show. I spent hours drawing the characters so much that my mom enrolled me in a drawing class. I also enjoyed acting and everyone knew me for making impressions of imaginary characters or our school teachers. Later I studied acting, theater and performance for a couple of years. After I finished high school, I was a bit shy and somewhat confused and ended up studying Marine Biology for some time - I love animals, especially the weird ones, but I’m not so good at STEM subjects. Later because of my interest in movies I studied towards a degree in Sound and Image Design in University of Buenos Aires (UBA), getting closer to animation although I didn’t realize it then. I love all kinds of animation, all techniques and styles.
In my free time, besides animation, I enjoy playing football and traveling when possible.

So what motivated you to become an animator?

I first discovered 3D as an animation technique when I was in college. I remember leaving the cinema after watching Monsters, Inc. absolutely fascinated. I realized that this was what I wanted to do, so I quit my job at the supermarket and with just enough money enrolled in a intensive course at a private university which focused on all areas of the 3D world, all the while studying in college. I saw it as a self-investment and a chance to work on something I enjoy. Although in my country animation schools are few and far between and the industry has a long way to go, the course served as a great introduction to the industry, and I soon started working as a 3D generalist for movies and advertising companies in various local production studios.

From the beginning, I was most of all interested in animating characters – to make each gesture and expression come alive to me means everything I love about this world, which is why I decided to focus on Character Animation.

What made you choose AnimSchool?

AnimSchool's Marina Character design
I learned a lot about the production workflow of a full-length animated movie while working in Underdogs, a movie which was partly made in my country, but not so much about character animation due to the position I was working in.

I remember stumbling upon AnimSchool showcases and loving the students’ work and the rigs; the characters looked very expressive and versatile, but enrolling seemed impossible because of time and cost. I learned more about AnimSchool from my coworker Maximiliano, who was a student here. It made me happy to know that my wish to become a better animator and learn from the best animators in the industry had a name and a place and was something real and approachable.

Tell us about your workflow.

While choosing an audio I try to visualize possible camera angles and framing. I believe that although my dialogue shot begins and ends in a specific time frame, the story must continue before and after the shot. So it should not be a stand-alone but rather part of a bigger story arc and my shot is able to convey that feeling. Therefore it is very important for me to choose those settings and elements that would help the viewer to quickly figure out what is happening and where the shot is leading to.

My pre-planning involves drawing thumbnails. I like acting the scenes out in front of the mirror. After getting a general idea of the acting, I film a reference, trying to identify the key moments and poses which are crucial for telling the story.

Click for bigger view
With several video references filmed, I piece parts of them together to make a final version. As I tend to exaggerate the acting or the number of poses, which may have something to do with me being a Latin American with Italian roots, I always watch out for it and try to tone down and simplify the final version.
Then I draw some quick frames with key poses and extremes and turn them into a sequence with a timeline in an editing program. Now I have an animatic which helps me to check quickly if the timing of my animation is right and to make the poses clearer.

Time to start working in 3D – I first work on the key poses, mainly the body - I don’t touch the face, just some quick expressions so it doesn’t look too neutral. I try to get as many body mechanics references from my video as I can and adapt them to the character’s weight and physical aptitudes. I start working with curves in step mode as I feel more comfortable with pure blocking. The master poses finished, I work on the extremes and add breakdowns, going from bigger to smaller and trying to make the pose to pose changes look natural, so I work on the ease-ins and ease-outs, movement arcs and adding facial expressions little by little.
When I’m happy with my body/facial blocking and I feel that it flows naturally without spacing jumps and the timing is right, I start animating the lip sync and blinking with spline curves. After that I add little details I see in my references I may have not noticed before, which may be help the character come to life, like a sigh or an eye dart. I like to consult others’ opinion while working, not necessarily someone who knows about animation. It helps me see if my idea is clear to others, or work out a gesture or in general have a new and different perspective. Then I pass the animation to spline and start polishing the curves and retouching everything to recover the beats I had in my blocking which now may look a bit too smooth. While in blocking I work mainly on the timeline from start to end, here I polish the curves in chunks, dividing the animation in about three parts. I work on general controls hierarchy first, moving on to the details, generally hips, then torso,  neck and head and the limbs, etc.

Were you working before joining AnimSchool? And now that you have graduated from the animation program, what are your plans?

I have mainly worked in audiovisual studios here in Argentina and although I have worked in full length films, mostly locally, the bulk of my experience is as a 3D generalist in commercials. As a generalist I realized I cannot improve my skills if I have to work on every step of the project (modelling, lighting, etc.), especially with timing and resources available when making a commercial. My first step was to focus on character animation and make a leap in quality I felt I badly needed. At the moment my end plan is to be able to work on high quality fully animated movies, while continuing with my studies, learning and improving my skills.

What is the animation industry like in Argentina? Do you think it has the potential to grow?

Argentina’s animation industry is mainly dedicated to advertising. There are a number of studios that specialize in commercials that produce a decent quality content.
Argentina has a humble but significant place in the history of world animation since the beginning of the 20th century. However, attempts in animation here have always been isolated and independent, often without a definite idea of a long-term project.
That said, in my opinion it’s witnessing a rise, there is a new generation of professional animators, who can learn quickly thanks to how easily you can access information and technology these days. The only thing needed is more options in professional education and most of all structured degrees in animation as a separate discipline, independent of a degree in cinema.

What would your advice be for the aspiring animators?

Use everything AnimSchool has to offer - general reviews, art classes, etc. For me personally it was very useful asking for feedback and even having reviews with my classmates who could offer a fresher outside perspective. At the same time, all my instructors were very open to communication and questioning, and were always ready to share their workflow, which was extremely helpful.
In my opinion the result is worth the effort, the same way a shot may look vague in the beginning and then takes form with every key pose until eventually coming to life. This is what happens at the end of the program: you realize how much you have learned, and although you can always improve, the knowledge you have is already yours and stays with you forever.

Thank you Nagu for your time and the interview.