Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Character Performance - Student Work Critique

In AnimSchool's Character Performance, Dreamworks Animator Christopher Bancroft reviews the shot of Animschool Student Alvaro Granados.

View the finished result here:

Come join all the students learning online at AnimSchool: http://www.animschool.com

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Game Animation Pipeline - Student work critique

In AnimSchool's Game Animation Pipeline, Lead Cinematics Animator at Vicarious Visions - John Paul Rhinemiller reviews student work and gives them feedback on their animations.


Every Animschool student has live critique session with his instructor. That way we prepare our animators to work in industry, where giving and receiving critiques is a daily routine.

Come join all the students learning online at AnimSchool: http://www.animschool.com

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Animschool Interview: Cody Lyon

Introducing Animator Cody Lyon! Cody is a gold mine of very insightful animation tips and techniques. His work is a direct reflection of one who makes careful decisions, and he was kind enough to share his intricate thought process when animating! 

I hope you enjoy and learn as much from this interview as I have.

Start us off by telling us a little about yourself. Are you a student? Do you work in the industry?
     Hello! I grew up on an alfalfa farm in a tiny town called Silt, Colorado. I drew a ton as a kid, mostly cowboys and gunfights, which kind of led into a natural respect for cinematography and storytelling. Just when I was starting high school, I stumbled on a documentary called The Pixar Story by Leslie Iwerks. I remember a specific moment from the documentary when Doug Sweetland was shown filming reference and polishing a shot from Woody in Toy Story 2, and my brain exploded. This normal looking human just took an electronic puppet and convinced millions of people that it had thoughts and feelings. You know when you see something, and it just empties your brain because it's so perfect? That's what happened. There was nothing else after that, only animation. As you'd expect, there wasn't a huge computer animation community in a farm town named after dirt, so I left Colorado and moved to San Francisco to study animation at Academy of Art University.    
     Unexplainably, I managed to get into the Academy's sacred "Pixar Classes" as a puny know-nothing freshman. I have been lucky enough to not only learn a lifetime of information from my Pixar instructors, but to also call many of them my friends. I've learned so much from them, as well as other amazing mentors like Dave Latour, who still thinks my name is Cory, and Jean-Denis Haas (who is an idiot - he'll know what that means). I've also been fortunate enough to do some really fun contract work for companies like Google, Stanford University, and The Walt Disney Family Museum. So that's where I am right now. I'm finishing up my last semester at AAU this Spring, and looking for jobs and internships come Summer. It's a really intimidating time to transfer from student to professional life, but I couldn't think of a challenge I'd enjoy more.

Can you elaborate more on the contract work you did for Google, Stanford University, and The Walt Disney Family Museum?
     Thank you! I've been really fortunate with the opportunities I've had, and I've had a ton of fun hopping around and meeting people in a bunch of different industries. I'm a board member of Tea Time Animation, which started at AAU when I was a freshman. We had a great event with The Walt Disney Animation Museum a couple years ago, and the staff there at the time agreed to have me come in for a couple months and do some demos for museum guests and kids, which was really fun. I basically got to sit down at an old animation desk and do 2D and 3D shots while guests walked by.

     Stanford was a bit more official. They have a summer program in which middle schoolers and high schoolers can stay on campus and learn different disciplines in digital media. One of my good friends at Tea Time Animation had worked there and recommended me to the head of the program, so I was lucky enough to spend an entire summer teaching the basics of modeling, rigging, texturing and animation in Maya. I met a lot of inspiring artists, and it was great to see younger kids so excited about this industry.

     My incredible girlfriend (who is also an incredible artist herself - www.xofinn.com) is an Administrative Assistant/Visual Designer for Google here in San Francisco. Some of the executives there purchased a 3D printer a couple of years ago and had no idea how it worked, so she mentioned that I worked with Maya and 3D space, and they called me in. After a quick interview, I was basically locked in an empty room with a laptop and a 3D printer for 3 months, and got to design some really intricate tools and architecture models for an event called the "Innovation Lab". I made a lot of friends while I was there and managed to pay the bills these last couple of years on short contracts doing everything from painting murals, graphic design, video editing, and motion graphics for the San Francisco Office.

Can you tell us about your recent shot "I have a question", which is making its rounds around the internet

     I've learned so much from that sequence. I knew that I wanted to do a dialogue with a female voice, and I wanted the acting to be as realistic as possible. Not the actual animation, but the choices. I was in a lecture from John Kahrs a couple years ago, and he was annoyed by all these young animators who start out with performance and all they care about are gestures. Sure they come in handy and are the right choice sometimes, but every shot of a movie can't be just a series of gestures, because it looks too presentational, too forced. He referenced his sequence in The Incredibles when Helen and Bob have an argument. He said he's really proud of that sequence, because Helen does nothing. She stays very contained and very still, which is really accurate to how someone would argue in real life.


     That lecture really stuck with me, and I wanted to make sure to reflect that in my own animation. You'll notice that, in my, scene, she rarely does any gestures, and keeps her arms relatively still. The main motion is all with the head, the root, and the eyelids, and that's all I used for blocking. I was also really discouraged with the scene at first. I wasn't sure if the idea was right for the dialogue, or even if I had the right dialogue. I had a lot of trouble with staging and camera, and even with the performance of the thief in the background. I had always seen the school showreels and shot progressions online, and they always looked so seamless. They looked like the animator thought of the perfect idea, blocked it out perfectly, didn't get any major notes, and then spent the rest of the week happily polishing away. Luckily, I've learned since that that is almost never the case. I think that's important for all of us animators to remember: everybody struggles, and everybody has bad days animating. The important thing is to stick with your ideas and see them through to the end.

     I'm really grateful for all the attention that it has gotten recently, and I can't wait to show everyone my next piece.

Is there anything you can tells us about your next piece?
     I recently got my reel reviewed by a few industry professionals, and they told me that the only thing my reel is missing is an "Oscar Moment". A character with a personality completely different than the ones I'm used to, delivering a solid performance without any of the bells and whistles of lighting, rendering, etc. So I basically have a single 450 frame shot with one character acting within a single pose. It's really tough, because you don't have anything to hide behind. It's like how drummers say that fast and complicated beats are much more preferable to slower simple beats, because if you mess up while playing fast, it gets buried right away. While playing slow, or animating with very few poses, any mistake gets held out there for a while, so you have to make sure it's perfect.

     I'm also lucky enough to be in the final Pixar class at AAU this Spring, where we have 15 weeks to animate a 30 second scene with two characters. My scene is about an overworked Igor complaining to an apathetic Dr. Frankenstein. I'm still in the layout phase, but it's going to be a lot of fun to bring to life. (Insert "It's Alive" pun here)

What are you career goals? Short term? Long term?
     Like a lot of computer animators, my long term goal is to do feature character animation. As a student, you're more or less on your own as far as your scenes and projects. The idea of building something awesome with a team of professionals is what gets most of us up in the morning. Ideally, in the next couple of years, I'd love to start as a fix animator and work my way up. I've learned so much just from my fellow students in the past four years, I can't imagine how much I would improve working with some of the veterans in the industry.
     Short term, an internship would be incredible. I've heard so many great stories from my friends who were Pixar or Disney interns that came back to school with such a passion for their craft, it's hard not to want to be one of them. I'm sending my reel out to all my favorite studios, but my main focus this year is for the Disney or Pixar internship. I just feel that those studios really protect their stories, and they encourage employees to never stop learning and getting better. The truth is, though, I love animation so much I'd be happy doing it for anyone. I'll always work on my own side projects and I feel like I'll never get tired of what I consider to be the best job in the world.

Would you care to share your workflow with us?
     It really depends on the shot and the type of performance I want to animate. Some characters and personalities are a lot more foreign to me than others, so those choices take a lot more research and planning.

     Usually, I start off by modifying the rigs and putting them in a set. I've met some animators who don't dress up the scene and characters until they're done animating, but it helps me get into character much faster if I can see visually the context of the scene. Typically I don't film reference right away, I just keep a mirror by my desk and block without anything else. I actually animate the lipsync first, or at least spend an hour on a quick blocking pass of the lip-sync. I do it mainly to buy myself time. I figure I'll have to do it eventually, it's not going to change much, and it gives me time to hear the dialogue over and over and think of acting phrases and ideas.

     While I'm really grateful that I learned animation using stepped blocking, I found that my brain works a lot faster with layered blocking. A lot of AAU students use layered mainly because of Michal Makarewicz. He's a Pixar animator who would come lecture at the school every once and a while, and he did these amazing demos where he'd animate an entire 100 frame dialogue right in front of us, and it would be polished by the end of the night. After seeing his first demo and trying layered for myself, my workflow has sped up tremendously, and my ideas are better because of how quick you can try something out and get feedback. So I always block using layered, and I start from the biggest motion outward. Usually that means starting with the root, but sometimes it's much easier to start with the head or the arms, depending on the action.

     Once I get good notes on my acting and get things where I want them, then I go back and film reference, mainly for physics' sake. Looking at my reference in IP always helps me figure out what to do with tricky areas like the neck or the shoulders, and to change things that look a bit off. The best thing about layered is that it's very easy to make those changes. I used to be terrified of the graph editor, when I would go in and wonder what the heck I was thinking. With layered, the graph editor always makes sense and is always kept really clean. As long as you practice good spline hygiene, blocking leads seamlessly into IP, which leads seamlessly into polish.

Are there any more cool techniques you'd like to share with our audience?
     There's one I always use that's super fast, super easy, and always plusses a facial performance. Once I get the lip sync blocked in, I copy the curve from the up and down rotation of the jaw and paste it throughout the face. Putting it subtly into the nostrils, the cheek "puff" controls, and the lower eyelids make the face really fleshy, and help you move the face as one big mask rather than a hundred individual controls. I typically use it in tandem with Aaron Koressel's "Push-Pull" script (http://aaronkoressel.com/index.php?nav=tools), which allows you to assign a hotkey that scales your curves up or down by small increments without damaging the integrity of the curve. So I copy the curve from the jaw, then paste it onto, say, the nostrils, and then I just use my "Push-Pull" hotkeys to adjust it accordingly. If you need to add any extra cheek or eyelid animation, you can simply add an animation layer on top of your jaw curve. It takes about ten minutes to adjust everything right, and it adds so much to the face.

Tell us what you like about using the Malcolm rig, and what you're looking forward to in the 2.0 upgrade!
     Malcolm is incredible. His facial controls are unparalleled by any other free rig, which is awesome practice for animators that need something more than just eyelids and mouth corners. I think the best thing about Malcolm his range of motion. With a lot of rigs, there are only a limited number of appealing poses and shapes you can make, which really limits your acting and makes it tough to be original. With Malcolm, that's never been an issue. It's so easy to get him to look appealing that there are endless possibilities. He looks appealing and has the rigging to back it up, which is what every animator needs.

      I'm actually really excited for the different hairstyles. I think hair can say a lot about a character, and for someone like me who is so excited to get into animation that they don't have time to make hair, it's going to be great to have a library to choose from. Also, just the fact that now he has a body underneath is a big deal. I used to have to try to wrap different outfits around Malcolm's existing clothes, but it's going to be so much easier and more appealing having some skin underneath. Let's have him already!

Any hobbies or activities outside of animation?
     I love to travel. I think it's not only good for you to get away from your normal routine and get some fresh air, but your animation is never going to get better if you don't go out and see the world. An animator who works for 10 hours six days a week and takes one day off is always going to have better animation than someone who never stops working. It's so important to take an occasional break to observe and be inspired by life. After all, you're rarely animating a character who is sitting at a computer all day. You have to know what the rest of the world is like.

      I also really love woodworking. My Dad is a carpenter, and I worked a lot with him growing up. Any chance I get, I love to go and build something tangible. It's really satisfying after working so long with a computer to build something you can hold in your hands.

Thank you for your time, Cody. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our audience?
One of my friends and mentors, Jean-Denis Haas, always stresses this point, and I think it's one of the most important things you can ever remind yourself about animation:

If you have to explain anything, then you failed.

We work in a visual medium, and we're not going to have the luxury of sitting in the theaters and living rooms of people who are watching our content and explaining what the character is thinking or what a certain gesture was. Every single thing that you want to communicate in your shot should be clear from the animation only. Even in blocking, every idea should be present and clear, because blocking is not an excuse for bad animation. Whenever I work on something, I try to watch it from the perspective of someone who's never seen it before. Ever since I learned that, I've never thought about my work the same.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Student Spotlight: Xin Zhao

We'd like to introduce Animschool student Xin Zhao! You may have already heard of her, because she has been previously interviewed for her outstanding work with a Malcolm mod, and has become a reoccurring name in our character Animation Showcase. We decided to catch up with her to ask her a few questions and see how she's been doing.

So to start us off, tell us about yourself! What is your background? Where are you from and what brought you to the animation industry?
I grew up in a family of photographers in Beijing, so I was introduced to arts pretty early. I always loved to draw and to watch an insane amount on cartoon on TV like every kids. I also had hundreds of Mickey Mouse Magazines in my room. So my family sent me to professional fine art school on weekends since I was in primary school and then I became a full-time student there during high school. With all my skills of drawing and design, I was going to choose the path of being a Graphic or Fashion designer. But then I attended a lecture given by a lecturer from my university, he gave me the idea of being an animator! It just hit my head! Just like that, I left home to do my animation degree in UK. My time at university allowed me to learn about 3D from zero. Right after me and my partner Florent finished our final year animation short called The Answer, which has been chosen as ''Staff Picks'' on Vimeo, we landed ourselves jobs as animators at Ubisoft in 2013. I met a lot of great people at Ubisoft and it encouraged me to enroll in Animschool to continue my animation study and to become a better animator.
Sounds like a great sucess story of how a strong portfolio can get you work. Tell us what you do at Ubisoft 
At Ubisoft. I'm currently working on an upcoming open world third-person shooter games named Tom Clancy's The Division. My job is to create realistic In-game animations for the player character's navigation system, both keyframe and motion-capture, which requires a huge amount of animation cycles and transitions to bring the Division agents to life. At the very beginning of the project, we had to prototype these animation systems and work closely with the game designers. And then we create the animations needed and implement them in the game engine. The challenge is both artistic and technical but it is always satisfying to see your system work in game.

Before that, I had chances to work on other Ubisoft games, polishing facial animations on another open world game called Watch Dogs, and some pedestrian animations for a open world racing game called The Crew.
It sounds like you have a good amount of professional experience, may I ask why you decided to join animschool even though you already have your foot in the door? 
I do enjoy it if I can get home from work and just relax, but sometimes it makes me feel like I'm a lazy person. So after a few month since I started to work I decided to push myself an extra mile and join AnimSchool. Efficiently it made me feel better about myself and more importantly, It will help me build up a better portfolio and gain myself more animation skills by learning from industry experts. In a couple of years, I see myself working on either animated features or VFX films depends on what opportunities comes up and the portfolio that I will get from my AnimSchool classes will definitely help me to achieve it. And at this early stage of my career, I have all the time I need to learn more things. So I started with Class 1 even if I already had some animation skills, just to get myself a really solid foundation and make sure I really nail down all the basics. Now I'm in Class 6 already, I feel like I have learn so much more about animation at AnimSchool and I have met other animation students here with the same goal which is also a great thing and it is really motivating.
You have a great amount of work in our student showcase, can you pick your favorite shot and tell us about it? 
Yeah it was such a honor to have my work included in the student showcase :) I really enjoyed animating every shots and the one that I enjoyed the most was my Class 4 Body Acting shot. I have been animating a lot of realistic shots so I listened to my Class 5 tutor Ben's advice and tried to do something really cartoony this time, also to add some variety in my portfolio. The process was fun. It was really hard to shoot the reference because I had to move so much for hours and hours, jumping, running from a side of the room to another and fake flying on a sofa, although I didn't end up using my video reference as much as I thought since it's all so cartoony hahaha. When I animate, I tried to experiment the cartoony style as much as I can, playing with shapes, smear frames and multiples, it was really a great and fun process. A big thanks to all of my tutors too, they are just great!

Do you have a favorite lesson or quote from your instructor you'd like to share? 
It is difficult to pick a lesson out of everything I learn during my time at Animschool. But recently, during class 5 (character performance) my instructor helped me to understand when to move from blocking to spline. It is easy to learn the workflow steps but it can be quite challenging to know when it is not helping anymore to stay in blocking on some special shots and when to move on. 
Are there any animators or specific animation shots that inspire you?
I often watch frame by frame through animated features, shorts, or animation tests to learn from the others. One of my favorite film to scroll through is Hotel Transylvania, they get away with so many crazy shapes and transitions and it looks awesome, and each single poses are fun to watch. One of my favorite shots from that film is when Dracula is telling Jonathan to move his hands away from his eyeballs. I just loved how Dracula was posed and the little movements on this fingers:

Tell us about your workflow! 
There are different ways to approach a shot. But normally I try to work things out in my brain at first. It includes thinking about what is the character's situation and the emotion of the scene. Once I know my story and the style I want to go for, I like to watch some movies which fit the style to get in the mood and gather ideas for my acting. Then I usually move on to shooting references. I record a few hours and end up with 2 or 3 takes that I really like. When I create my scene and before animating, I like to waste a few hours on creating a nice environment haha. Finally, I create my key story telling poses and then I add more and more breakdowns and overshoot etc etc until my keys are on 2s. I spline and polish after that. Of course, during the whole process I receive a lot of feedback from my class instructors, the general review and sometimes my colleagues at work.

Thank you taking the time to speak with us, Xin!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Anthea Kerou - Bouncing ball Basics

In AnimSchool's Introduction to 3D Animation, our teacher Anthea Kerou shows how to properly animate a Boucing ball.

As you may know, Bouncing ball is the first and most important animation that every aspiring animator should do, many times over. Mastering this exercise means that you began understanding Timing, Spacing as well as Arcs.


This is clip from AnimSchool's Introduction to 3D Animation. To view more great class clips, visit and join AnimSchool: http://www.animschool.com

Thursday, December 18, 2014

AnimSchool Students at CTN Animation Expo!

Wondering what is it like to attend CTN? We've asked a few questions to some of our students and graduates that were there this year. This is what they've said.

AnimSchool Booth at CTN

1) Best bit about CTN 2014?

For me, the whole experience was awesome. Meeting fellow students from different classes, instructors, AnimSchool staff and networking with so many talented people from all over the world was something very inspiring. Also thanks to Disney Animator Tony Bonilla and DreamWorks Animator Ben Rush (who happened to be my instructor at that moment), we had amazing guided tours on those studios. (Martin Schusterman)

AnimSchoolers with Animators Tony Bonilla and Ryan Hobbiebrunken at Disney Studios

AnimSchool Students with Animator Ben Rush at DreamWorks Animation Studios
Being surrounded by all the industry and being able to chat or meet the most talented artists, that furthermore, inspire constantly. (Max Schneider)

Meeting so many artists that I've been following on social media for a long time. It was a realization that these guys were real people, not just fan pages. (Talin Tanielian)

Meeting AnimSchool instructors and friends in real life. General reviews can feel distant at times because everyone is behind a screen but talking to each other in real life is always a treat. (Obo Agboghidi)
AnimSchool Graduation at CTN

It was an awesome experience. I really liked that you can meet so many talented people and at the same tine you realize that all those people are just like anyone of us! (Carlos Rivas)

Meet a lot of great artists and share my work with them. (Paul Gagobel)

There were so many best bits it's hard to answer this! But I think the most valuable part was meeting so many awesome people, networking, and just making some good friends (and finally meeting the awesome friends I've made at AnimSchool!). The atmosphere there was super friendly which is what really made the entire experience a lot of fun. (Jonah Sidhom)

All CTN was awesome, the workshops were great but what I liked the most was to see Danny Williams sculpting (ZBrush). In less than an hour real time he went from a caricature to a real model. And of course Animschool graduation! (Julia Marenco)

2) "Didn't see that coming" moment?

Glen Keane with AnimSchool Graduate Carlos Rivas
How popular CTN is. Each year it seems to get bigger and bigger. (Obo Agboghidi)

Shaking hands with Glen Keane! (I won't wash my hand ever again). (Carlos Rivas)

Everyone was so approachable and kind. As intimidating as it felt for me to meet so many incredible artists that have inspired me throughout the years, I had nothing to worry about because they were all so humble and they offered amazing advice. (Talin Tanielian)

The interview with Disney Infinity. And the good feedback on the reviews from both recruiters and artists. Also maybe when Peter de Seve signed me the book and told me to send him the 3D model I was doing of his character. (Paul Gagobel)

I was expecting less to be honest, but perhaps could be related to how crowded it can get. Because of that, I missed some talks (which I've had already paid), so I guess I've missed that "expected moment" :P (Max Schneider)
Eric Goldberg with AnimSchool Student Martin Schusterman

I didn't expect to have such a blast when I met animation legend Eric Goldberg, sharing so much knowledge with a small group of people. So much fun and entertaining. Great inspiration. (Martin Schusterman)

I ran into Glen Keane in the hallway and got to meet him!! (Jonah Sidhom)

For me were the interviews with the Studios, I really "didn't see that coming". (Julia Marenco)

3) Lesson learnt for the future

Continuing perfecting my craft. The industry is looking for the best people around and we need to improve all the time to not be left behind, and of course keep applying for jobs no matter how many times I have been refused. Part of professionalism is to understand how the industry works. (Max Schneider)
BlueSky Animators Drew Winey and Graham Silva on "Animating the Villains of Rio 2"
Take chances, and always be kind. All of the artists and animators I met were kind and seemed like they were cool to work with. I've heard from many of the attendees that being easy to work with will help you get ahead in the industry, not just good artwork or animation skills. If you don't have a good personality, you're pretty much stuck. (Talin Tanielian)

Genndy Tartakovsky's Master Class at CTN
The biggest thing I've learned was how many smaller studios and projects are going around. It's easy to forget that animation is more than tentpole movies.  The Dam Keeper, Song of the Sea and The Ottoman were really impressive projects being done outside of a major studio. (Obo Agboghidi)

The lines were really long for reel reviews, so next year I'll get to them earlier so I can get more reviews in! (Jonah Sidhom)

Bring Personal Cards!! (Martin Schusterman)

All the time I've spent in CTN was about learning. Perhaps, I need to prepare better for studio interviews and portfolio reviews. It's a big opportunity to meet with the studios so we must seize it. (Julia Marenco)

Spend more time reviewing my portfolio and talk more with the recruiters. (Paul Gagobel)

Need to take more personal cards!! Hahah! (Carlos Rivas)

4) Coming back next year?

Yes, I hope so! (Julia Marenco)

Of course! I met way too many wonderful people and made great friends and connections. It was a world where artists could talk, share ideas, express themselves, and have a blast! (Talin Tanielian)

If the economy is on my side, absolutely! But I will go way more prepared so the feedback I get there is more and more precise, until eventually my demoreel will open doors to me on the most talented studios. And once I got there, continue growing as an artist. (Max Schneider)

I haven’t decided yet between Siggraph and CTN but yes! I would love to attend CTN next year. (Paul Gagobel)

Absolutely! (Obo Agboghidi)

Yes, it's my graduation so I will do everything I can to be there! (Martin Schusterman)

I'll definitely try!! (Carlos Rivas)

Absolutely, wouldn't miss it for anything! (Jonah Sidhom)

Thanks to all who have answered our questions!
Thanks to Max Schneider, Carlos Rivas and Martin Schusterman for the pictures.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Drawing Class with Sylwia Bomba

In AnimSchool's Drawing Class, our amazing Instructor - Sylwia Bomba shares some of her tips on how to approach drawing.
Similar to animation, she first blocks out the shapes, and then adds the details.

As many of you already know, drawing is so helpful in animation career. Being able to sketch out the poses or ideas quickly is a big advantage in this industry. Also, while drawing - you train your eyes to see simpler shapes, analyse everything, and what could be more useful to an animator than that?


Drawing classes (and many more) are available to all Animschool students for free. In order to enjoy this benefit come and join us at www.Animschool.com