Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Animating the Eye Dart

 




There is an old famous proverb “the eyes are the window into the soul” which simply means that a person’s eyes can betray what they are truly feeling at any given moment.


Our eyes, more than other parts of our body, make us feel “human”. As artists, they are the key to convincing the viewer that what we have created is real, emotional, and true. Eye animation is what takes an animated character from looking great to feeling real. Emotion and action begin in the eyes. When you turn your head, it is your eyes that lead the action. When you are disgusted and have to look away, it is your eyes that close first. Thought and feeling start with the eyes and then descend to the rest of the body. But how? How can you convey feelings and emotions through two small orbs of geometry? By understanding that eyes are not just seeing the world, but processing it. Take a moment and look at your eyes in the mirror. Do you see that? That small quick motion where your pupils travel across your eye and then darts to a new position. In animation, we call that an eye dart and it allows animators to quickly and simply convey that a character is truly alive. 


Animschool instructor Ricky Renna in his class on Facial Performance makes it a priority to understand, analyze and execute a successful eye dart. An eye dart is not a one size fits all idea but rather the speed and frequency of an eye dart can actually determine how a character is thinking. Are they frantic? Are they scared? Are they exhausted? Maybe they are about to fall asleep and so their eyes slowly dart through the air, unfocused and hazy as their brain starts to prepare itself for oblivion. Maybe your character is searching for an answer under perilous circumstances and so their eyes are quickly darting around,  searching for an answer just out of reach. If an eye dart expresses thought or action in a character, it can also be used to convey a lack of thought or control. Your character could be hypnotized, losing the ability for independent thought and so their eyes remain completely still and unblinking. An eye dart can be as complex as creating the illusion of a character attempting to perform rocket science but it can also be as simple as a technique to keep your character feeling “alive.”



But how can you animate an eye dart? 


Eye darts are a series of small movements within the eye happening constantly. On a technical level these darts average between 2-3 frames and about 80 percent of the movement in an eye dart will happen in just one frame with some small settle on the rest. A two to three-frame eye dart creates a nice crisp movement to patch back into the rest of your animation. But an eye dart doesn't just affect the geometry of the eyeball itself, it impacts and influences the flesh around it, or in this case the eyelids. To really give the impression of a character that is fleshy and real, after completing a full pass on eye darts, go back in and ever so subtly have the eyelid motion follow the eye. If your character’s eyes dart down, the eyelids should subtly follow that motion soon after. Keep in mind that animation is a tool to mimic real life and so since in real life your top lid would move more than your lower lid, use that in your animation. By taking the time to execute a  thoughtful and intentional eye pass, your animation can transform from “student level” to industry professional level work. 


For an in depth analysis of eye darts and eye animation on feature level scene be sure to watch Ricky’s full lecture 




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Friday, July 29, 2022

How to Avoid "Spline Depression"

 




Every animator is different and every workflow is different - but there is something we can all agree on, hitting spline for the first time can be ROUGH. 


It's hard to see an animation that has been posed and blocked in so beautifully get destroyed by a computer. Suddenly your timing feels slow, your emotions flat and you fall into a “Spline Depression.”


Spline and Polish can be time-consuming and frustrating. Sometimes it can be hard to push through this ugly phase. For animators who work from stepped to spline, turning your curves into vectors for the first time rarely looks the way you planned in your head. But know that it will get better! Once you train yourself to see the small fixable details instead of the big floaty moments, you will be able to tackle your shot piece by piece and uncover the integrity of your work. 


Simple tips for entering Spline:




When you start to spline, make sure to break your shot into manageable chunks. You can do this by breaking your shot into small amounts of frames, or by focusing on one small piece of the body at a time. No matter which method you choose, remember that all movement starts from the root, and by defining the movement of the root first you will avoid counter-animating down the line. 


No matter where you are in your spline process, don't forget the power of the arc tracker. Animation is all about creating fluid lines of movement, and by tracking your arcs throughout your animation, you will be able to quickly find and fix both timing and spacing. This can be done by using a built-in tool in Maya such as Animbot’s Motion Trail,  but if that's not for you, you can even track your arcs with an expo marker on your screen. 


It's easy when hitting spline to allow the computer to take over and to make choices for you as an artist. Don't let that happen! Trust your eye as an artist and make sure that your character is moving the way YOU chose it to, and not the way the computer interpreted. 


This might be the hardest tip of all, It's okay to delete keys! Not only is it okay, but sometimes it can be necessary. If something doesn't look right, and you cannot figure out why, delete your keys and see where things are going wrong. It may seem destructive at the moment but it will save you time and effort down the line. 


Lastly, make sure to actually look at your graph editor after you hit spline. Sometimes the computer will take your keys and create curves that you never intended to create. By using your eyes and utilizing tools like auto and linear tangents, you can quickly find areas of concern and adjust your keys to create smooth motions. 


For more animation tips, watch our video below where AnimSchool instructor Martin Scotto explains in depth the 6 tricks he uses to avoid losing momentum when entering the Spline phase.








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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

It's time to walk the dog - How to Animate a Quadruped

 



AnimSchool Tips: How to Animate a Quadruped

It's time to walk the dog…or at least the quadruped. Let's be honest, learning how to animate a human on two legs walking is scary, much less a creature on four legs! So how do you break a quadruped walk down so that it's approachable? Well luckily, quadrupeds aren't that different from bipedal or human characters. Essentially a simple dog walk cycle is just two bipedal characters walking slightly offset from each other. Sound confusing? Animschool Instructor & Professional Animator, Daniel Paul, is here to “walk” us through the doggie steps.

Become an Animator Online in our next 11-week term at AnimSchool

Friday, February 18, 2022

When Should I Start Animating With Advanced 3D Character Rigs?



  

Animschool instructor Jean-Luc Delhougne gives us a key tip - give yourself time & space to explore & play with a new character rig before jumping into the animation portion

  

 

It’s finally the day - you have worked hard for this. You cannot hold back your excitement. You. Are. Ready! It's your first time working with an advanced feature-level 3D character rig, which can be both exciting and intimidating.

 

One mistake students and even professionals make when working with a new rig is to believe that an advanced rig will make anything you animate look feature film ready. But animation is not about the rig, it's about the animator.

 

What is the biggest difference between a simple rig & an advanced rig?

 

An advanced rig functions much like a simple rig but with a few more detailed controllers. All the most important features and mechanics of an advanced rig can be found in a simple rig. If you look at the Animschool catalog of characters and rigs, one of the most popular simple rigs is a little fellow we call “Blocky.” Blocky has been used in shots as simple as taking a step, to scenes as complicated as dentists extracting a tooth from a patient. He is emotive, flexible, appealing, and most importantly easy to use. So what is it about blocky that makes him so much more approachable to start with than our Marina rig? It really boils down to one word, overthinking.

 

Here is a screenshot of Blocky’s picker and next to it a screenshot of Marina’s picker:

AnimSchool Pickers

 

At first glance, Marina’s picker looks way more complicated than Blocky’s, but when you look closer you can see that the foundations, they are not that different. Both radiate from a central body node, both have three major spine controllers, both have IK/FK arms and legs and both have one central head controller. When students see an advanced rig for the first time they often think that they need to use EVERY SINGLE CONTROL. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. All the additional controls that are added from a simple rig to an advanced rig are mostly for finesse work and facial emotion. The basic mechanics are the same.

  

AnimSchool's Simple Rig "Blocky" & Advanced Rig "Marina"

At Animschool you are placed in a curriculum that strategically prepares you to animate with more advanced rigs. By the time you interact with an advanced rig, it is because you have proven that you are able to demonstrate the 12 principles of animation with a simple rig. Only then will you be granted access to the advanced rigs. This isn't because you are suddenly expected to use every new controller, but rather because you have proven that you know how to utilize the major controls. These major controls will be in almost every rig you interact with for the rest of your career, and if all else fails - remember the bouncing ball. If you can animate a fully thought out, entertaining scene with just a bouncing ball, how many controllers do you really need to animate a compelling scene with an advanced rig? The answer is not many, so start simple and don’t overthink.

 

Remember when interacting with a new rig, simple or advanced, to give yourself a break, and have some fun with it. Instead of jumping into your shot and believing it will be a masterpiece from the beginning, spend a day and play around. Set up a few pushed poses or do a facial study. Treat learning a new rig like an improv class. Put a few ideas in a bowl, pull one out and give yourself 15 minutes to set your new rig up according to whatever it says on the piece of paper. This is a great way for you to get to know your rig. It enables you to gain a certain level of familiarity and comfort between you and the computer. As you do this exercise, remember, this isn't for a shot, and it isn't for an assignment, it's just for you. So take the opportunity and have fun!

 

If you and a friend are learning a new rig together you can challenge each other to create the most ridiculous scenarios and then compete. Only after you have spent some time getting to know your rig should you then jump into actually animating for real.

 

Download AnimSchool's Feature Level Rig for Free and start animating today!

  

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

How to Be Specific with your Acting Choices


Character animation is a complex art form to master since it combines so many different skills. An animator needs to know body mechanics, the basic physics of motion, how to create visual appeal, be tech-savvy enough to learn Maya, and on top of all that, be able to act. They say that teaching a young animator how to create polished animation (aka clean arcs and spacing) is the easy part. The thing they’re really looking for when reviewing reels is good acting and unique, entertaining ideas. The primary skill that separates a good animator from a great animator is specificity. This is what your teacher or that recruiter is talking about when they say “be more specific!” after reviewing your reel. The ability to make specific, character-driven acting choices that feel believable comes from knowing your character inside and out. Legendary theater actress and acting teacher Uta Hagen outlines nine key questions an actor should ask themselves when developing a character in her book Respect for Acting. As an animator, answering these nine questions before you shoot reference will help solidify who your character is and inform the actions they take in your shot. Typically, an animator animating their own shot picks out pre-recorded dialogue and must come up with a situation and performance for the dialogue. Answering these questions should help narrow down what sort of situation you want to put your character in and what specific acting choices you can make for them to create a genuine performance that showcases their personality best.


1. Who Am I?

This first question covers all the basic details about who your character is: name, age, gender, physical traits, job, etc. Then you can go a little deeper and ask yourself who they are as a person: what are some things they like, what do they dislike, what do they fear, what are their goals, what are their beliefs, and what makes them unique. These questions simply serve to establish a baseline of who your character is.


2. What time is it?

You can take this literally to mean what the exact hour and minute are, or you can simply consider the season, the era, or whether it's light or dark out. The important thing to think about is whether time has significance in how your character acts. A character would act and speak very differently in the 1500s compared to the 21st century. Likewise, someone who’s more of a night-owl may be more energetic in the evening and act more groggy in the morning.

 

3. Where am I?

What is the setting of your scene? Describe the country, town, building or even a specific room your scene takes place in. Consider how this specific setting makes your character feel and how this location affects how they act. Is the character cold or warm in this place? Does this place hold sentimental meaning to them, or are they just at their boring 9-5 job? The location can also play into what the character is doing while delivering the line and what props the character can interact with. The easiest way to make a shot more interesting is to simply give the character something to do. Put your character in a specific situation or place they can interact with and your acting options will automatically get more specific.


4. What surrounds me?

This fourth question continues a similar idea from the last question. It is referring to the people and things around the character. Ask yourself what is happening around the character and how your character reacts to this. If your character is making their way through a crowd of people, do they shove through others or try to squeeze past? If there is construction going on in front of them, do they plug their ears or simply ignore it? What are they doing while delivering their line and how do their surroundings affect their actions?


5. What are the circumstances?

For this question, you need to analyze your character’s past, present and future. You need to take into account past circumstances when crafting your character’s performance. For example, if your character just suffered the loss of a loved one, then they’ll probably be more solemn in your scene. They may not be hysterically breaking down like they did in the past, but they are still affected by this past experience. It is important to go into your scene with past circumstances in mind. Moreover, it's also important to think about your character's future and where they’re going. Continuing the previous example, your character is grieving now but if they’re working towards moving on, the character may convey bits of hopefulness in their performance. 


6. What are my relationships?

What are your character's relationships to people, objects, places, and events? How do these relationships make your character feel and, more importantly, act? Do they think of certain people or places fondly or is there tension and resentment for that specific person or place? By considering these questions, you can begin to think about how to best incorporate subtext into your performance. For instance, someone brings your character to a cafe that triggers a lot of negative memories. Your character then says, “this place is great” with a weak smile out of pure politeness when subtextually, you know she’s really saying that she would rather not be there. Knowing your character's relationship to other characters and specific places and things is essential to building a believable performance. It will also give you the ability to create more specificity in your character’s acting once you know what they subtextually feel in that moment. 


7. What do I want?

Consider your character’s goals and objectives. What is their immediate objective in the scene? What is their overall, long-term objective? Is this smaller, immediate goal working towards the bigger objects, or against it? Are these wants hidden or made obvious? Knowing your character's motives will greatly affect their performance and will allow you to more genuinely explore the subtext of what your character is saying.


8. What is in my way?

In other words, what is preventing your character from getting what they want? These obstacles can be physical or mental. For example, if what your character wants is to be with this girl he loves, his obstacle could be that he lives too far away from her (physical) or he is too afraid to communicate his feelings to her (mental). When creating a situation for your character, consider obstacles that are authentic to the situation and relatable to the audience. Conflict is one of the most important pieces of any story, because it is the aspect that adds entertainment. A good story comes from establishing a situation and characters, then putting them into a situation that will showcase who they really are and in some cases, cause the character to change who they are. You need the conflict or disruption in the character’s everyday life in order for the audience to be interested in the story in the first place.


9. What do I do to get what I want?

This final question more or less is a culmination of all the previous questions you answered about your character. What actions (physical or verbal) does your character take in order to overcome the obstacle and achieve their goal. After analyzing who your character is, what they want, and what’s in their way, you can now make a very informed decision about how that character will act in your scene. You use what you know about your character, their situation, and their goals in order to make believable, specific acting decisions that will set your performance apart and bring it to the next level.


For more information about how to create top-notch acting in your animation, watch our video below where AnimSchool teacher Scott McWhinnie talks about what he considers "good" acting.

 


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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Become a VFX Creature Animator | Interview with Tony Mecca



See How the Experts Animate Giant Monsters for Film & Games

Join Us for a FREE AnimSchool VFX Animation Workshop with industry veteran and AnimSchool instructor Tony Mecca on Thursday, November 4th, 2:30 PM (PST) 5:30 PM (EST)

AnimSchool Instructor Tony Mecca has worked on it all

He’s animated on video games, feature films, VFX, and currently, he is working at Universal Creative in their Ride Design and Show Technology department where he is working to create the next generation of storytelling and immersive experiences for new lands and attractions at Universal. In addition to his impressive career in animation, Tony also started the VFX Creature Animation course here at AnimSchool. In our interview with him, we go in-depth with what you can expect from the VFX Creature Animation course and who the class is best suited for. Tony also goes through what the day-to-day at a VFX studio is like and how it differs from a traditional CG animation feature studio.

Watch the interview on Youtube

Tell us your story! How did you get into this industry?

From a very young age, I have always wanted to work in special effects for movies.  I used to build those Revell models all the time and after learning a bit about the industry from those 90s “making of the movie” specials, I assumed I wanted to be a model builder.  Of course, things shifted to CG, and by the time I was in college I was learning all aspects of digital art for film.  Even though when I started I assumed I would gravitate towards digital modeling or maybe lighting, I fell in love with animation and completely shifted all of my thinking and studies to bringing characters to life. After graduating, I got hired into a game studio where I worked for over 5 years and then started my adventure in feature films.  I traveled the world working on many different feature films and eventually ended up at Universal Studios where I am able to combine my skillsets in animation, creative direction, and technology to lead teams and play a role in creating our future landscape of world-class attractions.

What were some of your first jobs in the industry?

The first job that I ever had was right out of college. I worked at a video game company called High Voltage, so I got to work on The Family Guy video game. I just jumped right into it. All hand-keyed animation working with the animators. Then I went on to America’s Army. So I went from super cartoony to combat simulation with Conduit and Conduit 2 where they were more of that Sci-fi adventure stuff. So I really started in games, right from the get-go.


How did you make the jump from video game animator to theme park creative producer?

I went to another online animation school while I was working in games, specifically tailoring feature film animation like AnimSchool does, and then I got hired right into Rhythm and Hues. I got thrown into VFX right away. Since I hadn’t used a plate before in my entire life, Rhythm and Hues did a training program where you spend two weeks in their training department learning the plates. And they don't use Maya, they use Vudu. Rhythm and Hues, Dreamworks and Pixar all use their own custom animation software. So I learned Vudu and went right into Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I worked on a few movies there and worked up to a lead animator. Then I jumped over to Blue Sky and back to full CG animation where I worked on a few shows there (Epic and Rio 2). Then I went back to Vancouver where I worked as a lead at Digital Domain on Fast and Furious 7, X-Men: Days of Future PastLost River...and then went to Sony Imageworks where I worked on Hotel Transylvania 2. So I went from super hyper-realistic back to insanely pushed animation. I’ve been crazy enough to go back and forth between multiple animation styles. After Sony, I went down to Florida to work at Magic Leap which is a top-secret tech start-up. I can’t say a lot of what I did there, but it was a lot of behind-the-scenes next-generation animation stuff. And then I was able to make the jump to Universal because theme parks are awesome and never in a million years did I put two and two together. You don't realize it, but all these attractions you ride are movie-based and they have a lot of media and technology and show syncing. Since Universal started with the Back to the Future ride and E.T., they’ve been at the pinnacle of technology for movie special effects when it comes to integration with theme parks. So I jumped into that role where I’m on a few of the teams at Universal Creative that are in charge of designing the next generation of rides, attractions, and lands. I work with Universal Media which owns Dreamworks and Illumination, so I get to work a lot with their IPs and animation crews. And of course, a lot of the other vendors we use are your typical AAA-level VFX studios for all of our attractions. So I get to be exposed to all different types of animation and animation technology.

Is it better to specialize or be more of a generalist?

In terms of animation itself, it’s still better to concentrate just on animation for now. You can know a little bit about modeling, a little bit about lighting—that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with understanding what the other elements are in what you’re doing.  But really hone in your skillset into animation if you want to be an animator. Don't spend 50% of your time trying to light your shot. You really want to get your concentration focused on just the animation portion of it. It's always about having that raw talent and understanding of being a storyteller and an entertainer. I always tell my student that if you have two identical reels and one reel is super polished and nails the 12 principles, and you have another reel that is pretty good, lacks some polish, but is hilarious or got a dramatic reaction or made the viewer feel something, ten times out of ten that’s the person that’s going to get hired. Learning entertainment and how to be a good animator is the hard part. It’s easy to learn the 12 principles and how to smooth arcs and things like that. It's all about what you can do with the craft that makes it new and unique. And that's all in your story and some of these shots are only a few seconds long. My advice would be to be interested in other things. Definitely be interested in things outside of animation. Walt Disney said it's about the illusion of life, but if you don't have one how can you create that illusion. Do things outside of animation because those are the stories that you’re going to bring into your animation. So step away from the computer, movies and games. Go try something else because that’s the experience you want to bring into your storytelling. In terms of AnimSchool, just concentrate on the animation. I’ve had students who want to do modeling and lighting and animation classes all at once and I'm just like “No, do the one and do a really good job at it.” 




How different is the workflow for creature animation compared to character animation?

There are few major differences.  One main difference is that in VFX animation you get what you get.  Meaning, your set is unmovable and the camera is completely locked due to them well… shooting it with a real camera.  There are always exceptions with things like set extensions or sometimes you get a full CG set but generally, you are at the mercy of what the set crew shot.  What this means is that you have to reverse your thought workflow a bit. For example, when thinking about how to lead the camera on a camera that is already locked. The second, and there are always exceptions of course, but generally, directors for VFX movies come from live-action and not animation backgrounds.  What this means is they are used to being able to tweak and react to a performance on set.  They get almost instant feedback from the next take and are able to mold their shot how they see fit and explore it in a live-action setting.  Animation of course is not instantaneous, so the odds of changing things over and over is very high to “try” and see different things the director wants to shape.  When you show your animation you can’t show things in stepped mode because, generally, they won’t understand it. They want the animation to look smooth and they don’t understand why the character is “teleporting” everywhere. This leads to more of a splocking workflow to ensure agility in your shot as well as working on multiple shots at once. There’s also a lot of redos in VFX. A lot of the time the director will want you to show it a bunch of different ways (from the top, from the bottom to the left, to the right, with a backflip, without a backflip) and you're doing like ten different versions because they want to react to what they like best. Usually in full CG, you have storyboards, animatics, layout, and just more time to explore video reference and acting. But then in VFX they just want to see it in 18 different ways and choose from it. So we learn a bit about how to get the fastest idea that you have out there and then adjust quickly. So in terms of workflow, they’re pretty different, but in terms of animation skill set, most of it transfers over.

Do all the same principles of animation apply to creatures?

Absolutely!  The basics are even more important when breaking creatures down.  We start blocking the shots out with spheres and basic shapes.  It all comes back to the bouncing balls!

Is the quality of VFX animation lower because you are presenting so many iterations and ideas constantly?

You see some beautiful VFX animation and you think, Man it must've taken months to do that. And yeah, they did, but that was just version 17. It definitely still demands the highest quality because they have budgets that are the same, or even more, than animated films. You do have to hit that level of quality but usually at a much more condensed time frame because you're doing three or four different things. That’s another thing; in traditional CG animation, you're only doing one shot at a time (or if you're lucky, you’ll get a sequence of three shots in a row). But in VFX, sometimes you're working on three or four shots at once in different parts of the movie because usually, the directors aren’t on-site (they might only review once a week or once every two weeks). So in VFX animation, you really learn how to bounce between different creatures, characters, shots, etc. You learn how to animate really quickly at a high bar really quick in VFX.

How do you find or create reference for creatures that don’t exist?

The same way you create reference for any shot.  Every new shot is a shot that has never been done before—VFX or not—and you cannot just google exactly what you want and get the perfect reference.  You start with what you know and gather that.  Even just parts of motions or timings or posing you are looking for.  Study the known to create the unknown.  In terms of creatures, I have my students rotoscope animals with bouncing balls throughout most of the class.  The point is to create a muscle memory of actions and moves that help “fill in the blanks” so to speak on performances or parts of performances where you don’t have anything to go off of.  It’s all about practice and knowing how to use the known, even if it’s in your head, to create or fill in the gaps of the unknown.  It truly is about taking all the reference you can from the animal kingdom and yourself, filling in the gaps, and then adding the flair to it. Because you just don't want to rotoscope over something that exists in reality, because it's already there. We want to create something fantastic. We go over a lot of this in the class—how to take video reference, what to take from what, how to combine it—and students have a lot of fun with that. They love getting to take 20-30 different things and mashing it together into something awesome.

What pushed you to start the creature animation program at AnimSchool?

I taught body mechanics at Animschool for many years and some students seemed to really enjoy doing the dog walk assignment and wanted more.  I also have seen the lack of schools teaching fantasy creature animation combined with actual real-world tracked plates.  I learned how to use and work with plates on my first job at Rhythm and Hues during their 2-week training session for new animators to the company.  Then you just kind of get thrown into the deep end if you have never worked at other VFX companies before in terms of how to use those plate skills you literally just learned to create shots in a movie.  The point of this course is to better equip students for their first job and give them a leg up in not only creature animation performance, but also working with real-world plates in a simulated production environment they would be exposed to at a studio. 



Who is the creature animation class best for?

It's for anyone who’s interested in learning more about the VFX side of things. We’ve had some students that have already worked in the industry or were currently working who wanted to hone their skills to that next level. Because the class sizes are usually smaller and I consider this a graduating mentor-level class; you do get a lot more one on one time. I wrote the syllabus so I can alter the syllabus. We can move things around. We can shift dates. There is no amount of work we won't expand on if you knock the first project out of the park. I’m only going to make the second half harder. We’re really going to push the students. I’ve had students that have worked with plates before and they ended up doing 15 characters. There's no limit to the number of characters I'll make you put in this shot if you’re ready for it. I will push you to the max. On the other hand, I’ve had students who have never used plates before and have never animated a quadruped before. They do the class and end up getting hired to work on a movie. It’s for all levels. It's geared a bit more towards those who have never done creature animation or VFX style animation before, but we have had some pretty advanced students in here and we can gear the syllabus to them too. It's great because students that are just starting out can see how complex it can be. And to the students who are more advanced, it's always good to have a refresher of the basics to re-grasp some of those concepts.

What are the main differences between your creature animation and character animation classes?

With the creature class, we focus more on that muscle memory. Everyone thinks creatures are so complex and that you have to learn all these things about quadrupeds, but in the end, everything comes back to the bouncing balls. We start by planning your shot out with just spheres. How do we get the character from point A to point B doing the action that we want with the performance that we want? How do we break down that motion with the body mechanics of it just on spheres? We talk a lot about rotoscoping spheres over animals. I have my students do that for a majority of the class because it builds that muscle memory. If you don't have the perfect piece of reference, how do you connect them? Oh, you do it like this. How do you know that? Well, because when I did the squirrel that way and combined it with the skunk and the lizard, my brain is just telling me it works like this. And yeah! It's from practice and muscle memory and really learning how to connect those pieces together. And then there’s also a lot of video reference of yourself. This was done at the very very beginning, even on Jurassic Park, the first thing director Phil Tippett had his animators do was get away from the computer. He brought them into acting classes and said, “Everyone act like a raptor and look around.” There's such great footage of them in the parking lot acting like gallimimus, jumping over ILMs parking lot, and you look at the shot in the film and it's the same timing. It's adapting that performance and that gusto and mechanics onto a character that doesn’t exist. So we go over a lot of that in the creature class. Not to say it differs too much from the typical CG method, but more so because the characters are typically not bipedal or have any human anatomy to them. 

How do you push your students towards industry-level work? What are some key concepts you cover in your class?

I teach 2 graduating-level classes at AnimSchool and my mentality as an instructor at this level has always been to transition from a classroom-like environment to a studio one.  In the creature course, we have lectures and informative classes, but as we progress I want the students to start getting notes from me as if they were a member on my animation team.  We start out by talking about how to use a plate and how to use video reference, and eventually I shift into a studio environment. About halfway through the class, I start to run the classes as dailies to prep the students for the type of notes they would get in the industry (the same style notes I give to the animation teams I work with currently). I’ll stop giving notes about arcs and timing and instead say we need to bump up the aggression here or we need to ground the character more here and have him slip on something. It's fewer notes about specifics from your animation lead/supervisor but more so notes that you would get from a director, which is not animation talk and more about the character itself. By the end of the course, students should truly feel like they're having dailies with a director and know how to translate those kinds of notes into their animation.  I want them to be prepped as much as possible for this industry.

Who/what are some of your biggest inspirations in animation?

Too many to list but I always look up to the innovators.  The 9 old men, the Spaz Williams of the industry.  Those who didn’t just take an established craft and master it, they literally discovered and wrote the rules.  How do you get a T1000 to blend into a scene? - You literally discover and write Photoshop.  How do you get dinosaurs to look and feel real in the latest Spielberg movie at the time? - You literally invent CG creature animation.  It’s a space I enjoy being in.  I am always working on the future of storytelling.

Do you prefer animating characters or creatures? VFX, games or film?

I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to touch all styles of animation in many different mediums.  From monsters in Snow White and the Huntsman to the zany antics and style of Hotel Transylvania to cartoony games like Family Guy to sci-fi shooters like the Conduit.  I’ve done a lot of different animation styles and have worked for many years in the top-secret media divisions of company’s like Magic Leap and my current role at Universal.  Universal owns Dreamworks and Illumination and we feature attractions with IPs like Jurassic Park, Transformers, and King Kong so I am still exposed to a wide variety of animation mediums and styles.  My favorite thing is being able to move in between them.  I find it hard to get sick or burned out on a specific style or medium because I am lucky enough to work on them all at the same time!

Is it easier to get into creature animation for VFX/games compared to character animation for film/TV? 


That really all depends on industry trends and your location.  Sometimes there are 5 VFX heavy summer blockbusters going on at once and there is a shortage of good Jr’s for VFX, and sometimes there is a mass exodus from certain animation studios and new talent is needed ASAP.  I’ve seen it go both ways but VFX studios tend to need to ramp up much quicker and some are more prone to giving Jr’s a shot in larger quantities.  The point of the course is to make sure that the students are at an advantage for any VFX studio need should the timing be in their favor. There are two major things to getting hired in your dream job: skill and luck. Luck is going to happen because everyone has luck. Skill is not guaranteed. Would you rather be really lucky with no skill, or have high skill and when the luck comes, you can combine the two together. There are plenty of artists out there who are very lucky, who are born into Hollywood or have friends and have all the hookups in the world, and they still can’t get into the industry because they don't have the skill set. What we’re doing here at AnimSchool, is we’re making it so that you do have the skill set. So that when the luck and timing align, it's a no-brainer for you to jump right in.

What’s the best way to get better at creature animation? Most animation programs train us how to animate human, bi-ped creatures, but how do you learn how to animate different creatures such as birds, lizards and monsters.

Best way I can think of is to attend this place called AnimSchool and sign up for the creature course!

Can you talk about how to create a reel for creature animation jobs? Any tips?

I always tell my students to gear a reel to the studio they are applying to.  Now at first, being a student, of course, you might not have a lot of content to make separate reels for VFX, games, full-feature, etc.  But, you can order your reel appropriately.  For example, if you did all of AnimSchool AND the creatures course, I would recommend putting the creature work FIRST on the reel if applying to a VFX studio.  This way it showcases to the recruiter from the get-go that you have creature chops while supplementing it with other work later in the reel.  

Aside from the technical skills, what are some soft skills that are essential to being a good creature animator? 

I think the two most important skills in creature VFX animation are agility and patience. The ability to splock quickly EXPECTING change and know that you might have to present an animation 15 different ways before buy off.  Knowing that there might not be storyboards or even animatics, you have to actually come up with the idea and pitch it to a team or director that might not know what they want right away.  So much of VFX creature animation is the exploration of a monster or a creature while dealing with tight deadlines.

What has it been like teaching at AnimSchool?

I’ve been teaching at AnimSchool for over 5 years and it has been amazing!  Working with Manuel, Dave, and the crew to develop this program has been very rewarding.  My absolute favorite part about teaching here is meeting all the students from around the world.  Seeing their culture come out in their acting choices and being able to learn a little about all walks of life from around the globe has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything!

What’s next for you?

Unfortunately being in the top-secret group in the top-secret division means I cannot share anything at this time… but… I can refer you to Universals official blog where they make public announcements like our new theme park Epic Universe! :)

https://blog.discoveruniversal.com/destination/announcing-universals-epic-universe/

Find out the latest about Universal Creative on their LinkedIn page or learn about alternative careers in animation and check out what careers Universal Creative currently has available.

Sign up today to learn from industry-leading animators like Tony in our online accredited courses (ACCSC). Apply today at animschool.edu. Tony is currently teaching Entertainment & Appeal and VFX Creature Animation.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Should I be a 3D Rigger? | Interview with AnimSchool Rigging Instructor Daria Jerjomina


We recently had the chance to interview AnimSchool instructor, Daria Jerjomina. Daria has worked as a technical animator and rigger for video games, stop motion (Laika), VFX and is currently using her skills outside the animation industry in tech. In our interview, we talk to Daria about what it takes to be a rigger, working in each field, why she made the switch to tech and robotics. We also gain insight into her rigging courses, including Rigging Automation, where students create their own rigging tool, just as they would at a studio.

Watch our interview with Daria on Youtube


How did you first get into rigging? Did you always know you wanted to do rigging for animation?

I didn’t know anything about rigging until I went to school (Academy of Art University). I wanted to work in animation and visual effects but I didn’t know about the difference between the different disciplines. After taking a couple introductory classes I learned about different parts of the industry and found that I enjoy rigging the most. I saw there was a combination of it being both technical and artistic, and that really appealed to me. And the rest is history!


Where have you worked?

I started working at some small video game companies. Then I worked at a company that did a little bit of everything. They did visual effects and theme park things. And then I worked for animation at Laika. And after that, I worked for some tech companies. I feel lucky that I’ve tried a little bit of everything.


Can you talk about what it was like working for Laika on a stop motion feature as opposed to 3D animated projects?

I enjoyed working at Laika a lot, and the stop motion side of it was part of the reason. It was just so great to walk through hand-built sets when walking towards my desk and collaborate with so many extremely creative people, who do the kind of work very few others can do. Working with 3d printing was very exciting, and it was so cool to be able to hold the face you rigged in your hand after it was printed out.


Laika is a stop motion company, I’m surprised they need riggers. What kind of work did you do for them? 

I came in when they were working on Boxtrolls, but I mostly worked on Kubo and the Two Strings. They have a department called Graphic Prototyping Department and they work on just facial animation and facial rigging. So what happens there is that all the body is animated by hand, in a very classical stop motion way, but then the faces are animated in CG. Kind of the same way they would be animated in any other CG studio. All those faces that are animated CG are then printed. The old-school stop motion way would be to sculpt different faces and replace them on the character in the scene. But Laika is taking that a step further and what they’re doing is 3D printing those faces. So almost every frame they print out and place on the characters. That way it feels very seamless and fluid. If you look at the older stop motion films, you’ll see the facial animation is a bit choppy because they hand-sculpted all of those faces.

What kind of tools did you create there?

At Laika, I switched from doing rigging into doing more programming. I started there as a rigger but then went into the engineering department. So I was writing tools for 3D-printing-related pipelines. All of the tools I created related to how rigging is happening and how the models are being passed to the rigger and how the rig character is being passed to the animator. One of the tools helps pass information about the rig onto the servers so the rigging can happen on the farm. Some tools were for creating ways to automatically check for model intersection. A lot of things to help review the model before it gets printed, how we can rig it faster, or review the models before their animations. 


Who and/or what are some of your biggest inspirations in animation?

For technical work a lot of what we do is behind the scenes, and you realize the intelligence with which a tool or a rig is built only when you yourself work on a project. For that reason, most people that have inspired me are the people I’ve worked with. Seeing the amazing work that they contribute to a mutual project inspires new ideas and pushes me to learn more.


Do you need to be able to code in order to be a rigger or technical director?

It’s different per company, but nowadays in most cases - yes. You need to be able to create tools that would help with rigging. Which is why I’m happy to be teaching a Rigging Automation class at AnimSchool and help students learn those skills.


AnimSchool teaches modeling and rigging together in their Character Track program. Do riggers need to be able to model as well?

No, not really. It helps though. At some places, riggers do a lot of blendshape and corrective shape sculpting, with that it really helps to know modeling. I’m not very good at modeling so I'm an example of being on the more technical side of it. Animschool teaches modeling and rigging, but they also have a rigging automation class where we do all that tool writing.


Can you talk more about the Rigging Automation class?

I like this class a lot because I see how much students improve in that class and all the great work they do. In that class, students write a tool of their own design from the beginning to the end of the term. They work on the tool at home, and in class, we review how they’re working on it. It can be any tool they want, but it has to help automate some part of the 3D pipeline. Most choose to make an auto-rigger, which is a tool that automates the rigging of the character, but they can choose any other aspect as well. And in the class itself, we go through important programming concepts. So they don't need to know any programming when they start the class.  We talk a little bit about mel but mostly about python and we talk about all the concepts such as writing loops, variables, classes, functions, all those things they learn in that class. We do a lot of practice and small exercises in class to help them write their own tool. A lot of the tools people create in this class are really good tools. They can put them up on GitHub and then companies can notice those tools and bring them to their company. 

Do you need to know programming in order to take rigging classes at AnimSchool?

No, not at all. It’s not expected. If you know too much programming, you might be bored in the class. But If they know a little bit, that’s fine too. The concepts we learn are applicable to all parts of the 3D process. And it’s not just riggers who can benefit from the class, modelers and animators can too. There are cases where animators write tools for their company. It's a very valuable skill. 


You found rigging work outside of the animation industry. Can you talk about this more?

When I started I was the same way thinking it was just for animation, games or VFX. But that's actually a pretty small field, and there aren't enough animation companies for everyone. Other fields are very interesting. At the robotics company, we had a team of animators animate a  robot in Maya that was modeled and rigged in Maya. We then exported that animation onto the robot. My position there was tools engineer. So I wrote tools for maya to help animators create their animations and export their animations onto the physical robot. That was really fun for me because I never before thought about how rigging and scripting could be used to fill the gap between 3D and the real world. It was so much fun.

I understand that you are working in the tech industry now. Why did you switch? How does this differ from the animation industry? 

I used to work in robotics at my previous job, for the past two years I’ve been working at an AI company that creates realistic digital human characters. I switched because an opportunity came my way, and I wanted to try something new. It ended up being a great decision, working in tech is very exciting, and I have a chance to work with very innovative people from different industries. I definitely don't regret switching, but I don't think it's superior to the animation industry or vice versa….different things work for different people.


Were your skills from animation rigging transferable to your tech jobs?

A lot of the work I do is very similar, the differences are usually very specific to each project and company. A lot of the skills are transferable though because it's still working with the same software and there's still rigging and type of programming involved. 


What is your advice to students struggling to decide which industry (film/tv/games/other) to pursue?

There are some people who want to get into feature films or VFX. And there are some who just want a job and don't care where. I think both are fine. I think it's fine to have one goal in mind and strive for it, but it's important to remember that not meeting that goal may not be dependent on you, it may just be dependent on luck. It's good to have an open mind, but it's ok to have specific dreams.


What are some key concepts you try to emphasize to your students in your class?

I think it's important to be open to other ideas and different approaches. In my intro to rigging class, I teach them how to do it my way, but then when they go into intermediate rigging class and they learn it a different way, I don't want them to just stick to my way. People would come into my intermediate rigging class and they would come to me and be very stuck on how they were taught something differently in the previous class. I think it's important to see the different approaches and try them as well.

Also, I think one important thing, especially when starting a new job, is to understand that not everything will not be perfect at the studio. A lot of times when people start working they expect the big, fancy animation studio to have perfect tools and rigs, but it's not like that. If they're hiring you, they're probably in crunch time and just want to get the movie done. So of course there are going to be duct-taped things here and there. You can't have perfect code and rig. It's important to remember that when you go into a new studio or project, you shouldn't come in and say “This is not how I learned it in school.” 


What kind of person do you recommend going into rigging? Do they need to be more technical or creative?

I think anyone can go into rigging. And definitely, everyone should try it to see if that’s something they might enjoy. The combination of technical and creative usually works the best, but the bigger problem is that people often don’t see themselves as technical and get afraid of doing tasks that they might be good at if they were to learn the method or get more familiar with the software. I think if someone is just very technical and not artistic at all, they can pick up the artistic side and vice versa. It's good to have a bit of both, but I don't think it's a requirement.

Aside from the technical skills, what are some soft skills that are essential to being a good rigger?

It’s good to be flexible, to be able to adapt to different workflows at different workplaces. When people are less experienced they usually want to find some flaws in the new pipeline or new codebase they see. But with time I think you learn to adapt yourself, rather than try to change the project or workflow to be “the right” way.


What are your biggest demo reel tips for rigging and TDing?

Put your best work first and don’t make the reel too long. Also, it’s a good skill to have to be able to put together your work and make changes to your reel quickly, especially when starting out. That way you can cater your reel to different workplaces, and create new ones if companies ask for examples of other work.

With that said, we all have a finite time to spend on our work, and I would prioritize getting better at what you do, being rigging, animation or tools, than spending too much time working on your reel.


Is it easier to get a job as a rigger compared to an animator?

I think it is easier to get a job as a rigger, just because fewer people are doing it. Another good thing is that if you're getting into the programming side of rigging more, and you decide later on you want to switch industries, it’ll be a lot easier as a rigger than an animator. I think this discipline is a bit more flexible in terms of jobs.


What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone just starting out?

See the different methods with which different people work and try them out. If you rigged a character one way, try to create another rig a different way. This way you will try different methods and can see what works better for you. I would also say that it’s important to not be afraid to fail or be “bad” at something. We all start at the bottom and we all make mistakes. Students that I see succeeding are the ones who work on their projects despite the fallbacks, who are not afraid to redo the work, and don’t get discouraged by negative grades.

What has been your experience as a female in the animation industry?

You do definitely find yourself being in male-dominated groups. At my current job, I'm the only woman on my team. So that happens. I think even not that long ago, 5 -7 years ago, it used to be felt a lot more. I felt there was under the rug sexism going on, but now to be honest I'm not seeing it. Maybe I'm just lucky at my current job. I’m not seeing any different treatment; I'm being treated very well. It might also be because I'm getting higher in my experience. But yeah, I have to say I have noticed some of it, but I'm not really seeing it for myself right now. It doesn't mean it does not exist or that there are people who are not experiencing this mistreatment. We hear stories from various companies of course and that’s horrible and we should do everything we can to prevent that. But again that hasn’t been my experience recently. If we have more women, we’ll have a more diverse and more comfortable environment for everyone. In my experience, at teams and companies where you see more women and just diversity in general, it just creates more ideas and comfort for everyone.


Can you talk about your experience watching your student’s skills develop through AnimSchool?

That's my favorite thing! Just to see how people improve from knowing nothing to creating rigs and tools. That’s just great. I think it all boils down to how much time and effort people put in. The people who put in the most time and passion for something, improve a lot, and seeing that improvement is amazing. For rigging automation class,  people come in that know nothing about programming. They ask these questions that can be considered very simple, but it's always very good that they ask questions if they don't understand something. Then you see those people who were worse than their peers in the beginning, and by the end become better than everyone else.


Why should students that are interested in rigging and programming for animation attend AnimSchool?

I think AnimSchool is really good. All classes in general are a nice system where you can listen to the lecture. It Is nice that the lectures are being read for students so they can interrupt the instructor whenever they want. The deal I make with my students at the beginning of the term is that if you don't understand something, interpret me and ask the question. I tell them they can even interpret me mid-sentence. I think that's the big benefit of AnimSchool because other online schools use pre-recorded videos that you watch. And of course the reviews as well. We have one lecture class and one review class each week. Those reviews are very beneficial for students as well. It's a critique of their work. And then just the professionals who work at AnimSchool are just great too. I love to watch some of the videos from the other classes, it's just so educational.


How do you like teaching at AnimSchool?

I love it a lot. I didn't expect to like it as much as I do. I like to see how people grow in the class. I really like to learn things from students. Because when students have a question, it will make me think differently about a concept or design pattern that I'd normally do automatically. And they stop you and ask why you do it that way and it makes you pause and ask yourself “Yeah why do I do it this way?” Sometimes they even bring up that Maya has this new feature that I’ve never heard of, which then forces me to research and ask others about that feature and determine whether I need to talk to my students about this feature.


Where do you see your career going in the future? Do you think you’ll ever go back to animation or are you happier in the robots/engineering world right now?

Only time can tell! At the moment I’m very happy working in tech, but I am not opposed to going back to feature animation, games or VFX in the future.


Sign up today to learn from industry-leading animators like Daria in our online accredited courses (ACCSC). Apply today at animschool.edu She is currently teaching Rigging Automation and Intro to Rigging.


Follow the links below to learn more about Daria!

Reel

Instagram

AnimSchool YouTube (Daria is featured in How to Create Rig Controls and An In-Depth Guide to Maya Constraints)