Thursday, March 8, 2018

Interviews with "Here's The Plan" Animators (part 3, Francisco Anabalón)

Since its release in April last year, Here’s the Plan has received acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the hardships of relationships, as well as its bright and pleasing art style. This 18-minute “short” was animated by a hard-working team of 5 animators, many of whom are or were students here at AnimSchool. I had the great pleasure of interviewing them on their work on Here’s the Plan, and I’m excited to share what they had to say. Last, but not least, we have an interview with Francisco Anabalón, who is a current student at AnimSchool.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! I´m Francisco Anabalón, I´m a Digital Animator currently finishing the Animation Program at AnimSchool, from Santiago de Chile. Before enrolling in AnimSchool, I studied drawing at an art program of a local University and then Digital Animation, after that I worked 2 years as a freelance character animator and then I decided to study here at AnimSchool. Besides animation, I really like life drawing ( and play guitar!

How did you find out about “Here’s the Plan”, and what drove you to work on it?
Fernanda Frick and I were classmates during the first year of my studies in Digital Animation. She left the school, but we were still meeting at animation events. When she won funding for her film on the Chile´s National Council of Culture and Arts, I was working on commercials and tv series, but I wanted to work on something more challenging in artistic terms. I met her at an animation festival and likely she was looking for character animators at the time, so she agreed to work with me when I asked her.

What is your favorite aspect of the film?
I think the art direction and all the CG aesthetic achieved is really cool and original. I also like the camera work, the cinematography. In terms of animation, there are really good shots, I wish we had more time to do stronger character animation on the whole movie - I think that was the most difficult part to achieve with the funds and the time Fernanda had.

What were some of the hardships of working on a short film?
The most difficult part for me was the time we had to finish the shots. I really wanted to do the best animation I could, so at the beginning I did it as well as I could even knowing that, by taking longer, it meant I would have a lower wage at the end of the month (the Council of Culture and Arts pays by "animated second” - that isn’t much) but in the end, taking too long wasn´t possible because of the deadline. It was stressful for me on that aspect, probably because I hadn’t had a similar experience before.

Were there things you learned during your classes at AnimSchool that you applied to your animation?
I enrolled in AnimSchool after finishing “Here’s the Plan”, but I had two mates there that had done the Animation Program in AnimSchool when we were on the production (Maikoe Alaniz and María José Venegas). I was really impressed by their work and they recommend me the school, so I decided to study here. I wish I could take my shots back and do it them again with all that I´ve learned here. Many things that I thought I knew I realized I didn’t understand well until I saw the way my instructors approached them - for example, understanding how to depict proper weight to a bouncing ball through the highs and lows, or acting tips like avoiding generic breakdowns in your animation, body mechanics for something I didn't have much practice with, a deeper thought of the subtext of my acting choices, etc. I also think I have a better workflow now; this isn´t a rule, but an instructor taught us how to start with a pass with keys on all controls and then to offset them in groups when you pass to spline, and that helped me a lot to keep control on the movements until the polish. I think all these things would’ve helped me when I was animating on Here’s the Plan.

I´ve had a really good experience studying at AnimSchool, we have all these great industry pro instructors who critique your work for the whole course, and you learn all the principles, tips and workflow from them on the lectures. Also, the student community is very friendly and supporting, following the progress of your classmates it´s super motivating!

What is a shot you worked on that you’re particularly proud of? What was effective about it?
The shots that are on my demo reel are the ones I like the most ( ) the style that Fernanda wanted was really subtle (not much stretch and squash, overlap...) but I think on their simplicity they communicate well the intentions of the characters.

Tell us about your workflow for animating a new shot. (Vid ref or drawings, how much goes into your blocking pass, whether you start in spline right away, use of tools/plug-ins, how you polish, how you implement director feedback)
Fernanda did this video with a shot of mine that shows my workflow: ( ) I also used video reference on this and on most of the most important shots. I started working in stepped until I finished the breakdowns, but then I realized that working directly on spline was quicker, so I ended up doing just the main poses in stepped and then passed to spline right away. One important thing on my workflow was to be careful of keying the important poses and have everything in order before showing it, because Fernanda wasn´t approving everything at the first try (this may seem obvious for people working on big productions, but the commercials and tv series that I worked on tended to had few changes). Fernanda and Maikoe taught me how to used “Tween Machine” and “Arc Tracker”, I showed my animations and asked my doubts to both of them while I worked because they knew a lot more than me, they were really generous with their feedback and that was really useful to improve my workflow and the animation.

What advice do you have for students/grads looking to work on short films or freelance projects?
I think it is really good to do these kinds of projects to improve your portfolio and gain experience, I learnt a lot and met awesome people. It was also really cool seeing the project go so well. If you have the chance, it could be a really enriching experience! I believe is very important to go to festivals or animation events because they are great opportunities to network in person. Deciding to work with someone has a lot to do with knowing him or hearing of him- seeing an email with a good demo reel isn’t a guarantee that you are someone that can be trusted, and  people consider people that are present for them to recommend or hire. Besides, it’s really fun! I love those events, I go to all I can.

Lastly, you said that you worked on TV shows and commercials before working on Here's the Plan. What are some differences between working for TV and working for a short film? And, what were the pros and cons of both for you?
I think tv series look for a medium quality animation that you can create as fast as you can- there is no time to do many explorations. It is good for practicing animation principles, and generally are large projects so it is more stable than commercials. For me the cons is that you tend to win more if you are faster, not necessarily if you achieve better quality.
Commercials are generally better paid than TV series, but they are unstable - many animators learn other things to stay on one place (like rigging, modeling..), Also, I think it is difficult to learn acting doing them because you are not telling a story in a strict sense.

In my experience with Here’s the Plan, I had the chance to explore acting more in depth than in my previous jobs. It was also very different to work for the vision of Fernanda. Her short film was so important to her and she had an artistic vision, she wanted to tell something with it, and sometimes I had to re-do something because “that wasn’t the kind of relationship the couple had,” for example. That is really cool and it’s the kind of artistic task that I want to work on. The cons in this case was that there were no much money to do it, I couldn´t work permanently on a job like that. I think working on bigger projects with that standard would be really cool, I hope I´ll be able to do that with what I´ve been learning with AnimSchool.

Thank you so much, Francisco!

You can check out more of Francisco’s work here.

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

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Interviews with "Here's the Plan" Animators (part 2, Maikoe Alaniz)

Since its release in April last year, Here’s the Plan has received acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the hardships of relationships, as well as its bright and pleasing art style. This 18-minute “short” was animated by a hard-working team of 5 animators, many of whom are or were students here at AnimSchool. I had the great pleasure of interviewing them on their work on Here’s the Plan, and I’m excited to share what they had to say. Our next interview is with Maikoe Alaniz, an AnimSchool alum who is currently working at Peak Pictures on their upcoming web series, Isolated.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hey! My name's Maikoe. I'm a 25 year old animator from Santiago, Chile. Currently living in Santiago as well. My background in animation isn't really that vast. My first 3D experience was when I started with AnimSchool and prior to that I had gone to university for "animation generalist" classes which mostly involved 2D work, but nothing too far into character animation.
My hobbies are pretty related to animation I guess, I'm big on video-games and I enjoy cooking a lot. I would give my life to defend my cats, but who wouldn't, really?

How did you find out about “Here’s the Plan”, and what drove you to work on it?
I have a little history with Fernanda Frick, the film's director. She used to be one year up in the first university I attended and she dropped out to join another online animation school. Back when she did this, I was terrified to go down that same path so I think around 3 years after knowing about her I contacted her for advice on doing the same sort of move, so we've been in contact throughout the years. When I graduated AnimSchool, I imagine she found out about it through Facebook or acquaintances and contacted me about her upcoming project. Around 5 months after graduating (And going on a well deserved vacation!) I joined the animation team.

What is your favorite aspect of the film?
I really like a couple of shots that I have on my reel, which are shots we had a lot of time to think about and plan so that they would be really meaty. In general, we didn't have much time to really get too thorough but I think we managed to nail a lot of very important moments that I enjoy watching to this day. I personally like mechanics shots a lot more, so the fact that one of the shots is a mechanics shot that manages to tell a lot through body movement is really cool to me. Looking back, I'm really surprised I managed some of those shots, actually. I was extremely inexperienced professionally, but I think I managed to translate my AnimSchool experience into the office well with time.

The film took 2 years to complete; how long did you personally work on it for?
Animation for the film lasted around 8 months if I'm not mistaken, and I worked there for the entire duration. I'm positive Fernanda animated shots herself after we were done with our part of the animation, but I'm not certain as to when or for how long that went on.

What were some of the hardships of working on a short film?
Without trying to get too personal, I was going through some very hard times nearing the end of production that were very similar to the film's main plot. It was a very stressful time for me emotionally so that was an unexpected hardship and something I didn't thought I'd have to deal with.
For me in general everything was also very new. Stuff like dealing with an office schedule or commuting to work were all things that I hadn't experienced before. I'd say it was all very enjoyable but of course it was hard adjusting at the beginning.

What is a shot you worked on that you’re particularly proud of? What was effective about it?
The shot I was talking about before, when Kat removes her shoes and sort of charges past Doug was really effective in setting up a change of emotion. Up until that part of the film, we haven't seen her explore that part of her emotional spectrum and I feel like we were very successful in also telling a story through her body posture and movements without having to put any dialogue or expressions in ("show, don't tell"!). I'm very happy with that shot and years later it's still a very central part of my reel. This past CTN, I got a lot of compliments on it for being a very simple shot (We really didn't have a lot of time to do any shot too in-depth) that was very effective in telling what had to be told. It's a very sort of in-character shot and I like that how that turned out.
(I'm talking about the shots at 14:31)

Were there things you learned during your classes at AnimSchool that you applied to your animation?
Because I was new to animation, AnimSchool quite literally provided me with everything I needed to know to tackle this job. Outside of animation principles, I focused a lot during AnimSchool to maintain the best possible work ethic and I got noticed by that a lot by the instructors. I think that particular skill carried over really nicely to a work environment, and the fact that it got highlighted during AnimSchool really pushed me to take it as something I do on purpose and not something that I take for granted. I always try to be on top of my game and be really active during production work, even if I'm doing something I'm not particularly comfortable with or something I haven't done before. I'll always try to push really hard and keep asking questions and maintain a generally high participation.

Tell us about your workflow for animating a new shot.
I owe my workflow to my course 1 and 2 instructor Matt Doble, really. If I'm doing something for myself/my reel (So no time constraints) I'll usually:

- Research first: Youtube, movies, shows, acting, pictures, etc.
- After I've found what I want I'll generally try to shoot reference or grab reference from my research if it was deep/good enough. I generally skip drawings/thumbnails because I don't trust myself with a pencil, honestly.
- I usually do 3-4 passes of blocking: Storytelling poses where I'll just try to stop as soon as the whole intention of the shot is in the poses. I'll work over these poses to make them as strong as possible and transition over to a second pass of blocking where I'll try to have all the poses needed to make every action and beat work. My third pass of blocking I'll bring the face/fingers/details in so that the entire shot can be read as a blocking, usually in 3s and 2s. The fourth pass of blocking I'll try my best to avoid myself any pains in splining. I'll go over my curves and I'll try to look for opportunities where I can move certain actions to 1s, just so that I have to work the splines as little as possible. Doing quick spline-checks where you move the shot to splines, watch it then go back to blocking to solve issues also works wonders for me.
- for Splining/Polishing I'll usually try to stay as little as possible in here solving issues and try to spend as much time as possible pushing things that I didn't notice before. For me personally a successful shot already is when I enter splining and there's little to no fixing to do, so that I can focus in polishing and making the shot work better in any way I can.

“Get rejected a lot. I personally apply and get rejected by Blizzard and Riot Games every 6-7 months because, if I eventually get in, I’ll have all this path behind me to look back on and I won’t take my achievements for granted.”

What advice do you have for students/grads looking to work on short films or freelance projects?
Honestly, there's so much work to be done that you should be applying for anything you feel like you'd enjoy. I personally didn't really believe in myself, but got told a lot by people that have seniority over me by a lot that I was good. Listen to other people and follow their advice. Get rejected a lot. Getting rejected sort of sucks if you build hype around getting hired somewhere you want, but if you keep getting rejected you sort of get used to it and start opening different routes where you consider things you might not have before that you might end up enjoying a lot. I personally apply and get rejected by Blizzard and Riot Games every 6-7 months because, if I eventually get in, I'll have all this path behind me to look back on and I won’t take my achievements for granted.

Also, don't destroy yourself with workload/practice. It's fine to want to be the best and get hired by a huge studio, but also take your health into consideration. You're not gonna be any good to a studio if you overwork yourself to hell and back. After all, it's a job in the entertainment industry! You gotta stay entertained yourself and enjoy it to make it work.

Thank you so much, Maikoe!

You can check out more of Maikoe’s work here.

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Interviews with "Here's the Plan" Animators (part 1, Diego Oliva)

Since its release in April last year, Here’s the Plan has received acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the hardships of relationships, as well as its bright and pleasing art style. This 18-minute “short” was animated by a hard-working team of 5 animators, many of whom are or were students here at AnimSchool. I had the great pleasure of interviewing them on their work on "Here’s the Plan", and I’m excited to share what they had to say. We’ll be starting with Diego Oliva, who is a student at AnimSchool currently taking Body Acting, our fourth course in 3D animation.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Diego, I’m from Chile. I started learning animation when I studied at University (I graduated in 2017) but I didn’t learn as much character animation as I wanted to, so I entered AnimSchool and I’m a current student now. Not much professional background except for a few freelance jobs here and there.

How did you find out about “Here’s the Plan”, and what drove you to work on it?
When I was working on my thesis, I was worried because after all the years studying at University, I didn’t learn exactly what I wanted to, which was character animation. So, I tried to find other ways to learn at that time and luckily I heard there was a short film project being made and they were looking for animators. I sent a reel with the few things I had and got an answer saying that I had the job as junior animator. Fernanda (the director) helped me a lot by teaching me about the details of animation.

What is your favorite aspect of the film? (Story, visuals, specific shots, etc.)

My favourite aspect of the film might be the story. I like that it feels personal, and I like how is being told - it could have had the usual kind of couple fight, where they end up divorced or with a lot of drama, but that’s not the story that the director wanted to tell, and I admire that.  

What were some of the hardships of working on a short film?
There are unexpected technical errors that might happen, because it’s a small production and there is a lot to do, but you’re not always sure about how to do it. For example, animating certain props that could need some vfx but you have to come up with a faster and cheaper way (belts, clothes, for example). We worked those problems as a team with the final decision made by the director. I remember that there was a sequence where “Kat” had to take her jacket off, and at the beginning she was going to make that action all in one shot - the problem was that the rig didn’t have any controls for that, and the jacket wasn’t exactly model for that kind of motion, so there was two options: try to figure out a vfx solution with dynamics and all or make a separate rig and animate it frame by frame trying to make it look like is clothing and that the character is moving it. In the end, Fernanda separated the shot into two, one when “Kat” starts taking it off and the next one when she is throwing it away. We never see how she takes it off but the story is told the same way, or maybe better.

What is a shot you worked on that you’re particularly proud of? What was effective about it?

Hmmm, I think it could be nearly at the end of the film, when after Kat breaks down the wall, she and Doug apologize to each other. It was one of the few acting shots I had, (mostly I was asked to animate the close ups of the hands or props etc), and I really liked how it turned out, mostly because I first thought that I couldn’t do it, hahaha. When I watch it, I do feel the connection between those two. I think what really helped was the director’s feedback - she knew exactly what she wanted to tell and how. Because we didn’t have much time to finish the animation, there was no time to take any reference, so it ended up being mostly intuition. (I’m talking about the shots from 16:04 to 16:19)

Were there things you learned during your classes at AnimSchool that you think may have been helpful in hindsight?
I wish I knew more about body mechanics at that time; I think I would have worked way faster and better with the knowledge I get from AnimSchool and the instructors. I do feel that my animations don't look the same as they did before, even though it hasn't been so long since I started AnimSchool. I feel that I've been learning a lot. I find really cool how not only the instructors but also the students are so willing to help each other - it’s a great community.

Tell us about your workflow for animating a new shot.

Well, I first start with the reference if needed, don’t do much drawing unless a movement is too cartoony for real life reference. I sketch out some key poses I like in my sketchbook and start the blocking pass. I always tried to put as much in the blocking as I can and not get impatient and jump into spline (I don’t always succeed… and then end up saying, oh man, I should have planned that in blocking). I do use tools and plugins - my favourite so far is “Atools”, it has saved my butt too many times already. When getting feedback, I like to write them down on paper, kinda helps me to remember easier, and I draw some thumbnails of what I need to change.

What advice do you have for students/grads looking to work on short films or freelance projects?
Maybe because normally short films are more independent projects, they tend to be more artistic or have a really different direction that a studio is not always allowed so it's a fun experience (but also a messy one). Prepare for many mistakes, but you will learn a lot from them, and be open to sharing ideas, not only in animation but maybe in other areas that might help the production. Because it’s such a small team working on a really specific project, you end up caring about it more than just another job - you are all in the same boat and want it to work!!

Thank you so much, Diego!

You can check out more of Diego’s work here.

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Loosening Up Animation With Overlap in the Body

It's easy to fall into the trap of making your animation look too stiff, especially when using poses directly from a video reference. One way to counter this is to exaggerate the drag and overlap of the main body controls - the hips, the chest, and the head. In a scene where the hips lead, the chest would follow the hips, and the head would follow the chest, and you can play around with the overlaps to achieve a more organic look. In this clip, instructor Luke Randall does a live Maya demonstration in student Saul Latorre’s shot, helping him get a more organic and springy feel in a portion of his animation by working with the translations of the main body control, the chest, and the head. Luke is an animator at Dreamworks, and is an instructor for Body Acting, our fourth course in 3D character animation.

For more information about AnimSchool and our online animation programs, visit us at

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Studying Feature Film Animation - Anthea Kerou (Pt. 1, Hotel Transylvania)

    One way to get better at character animation is to develop your eye for great, appealing animation. It is very helpful to look at the work of master animators for reference and inspiration, and in this clip, instructor Anthea Kerou walks us through a scene from the animated film Hotel Transylvania ( by Sony Pictures Animation ) and shows us how the the shot skillfully utilizes anticipation as well as other animation principles to tell a story. This clip is from Introduction to 3D Animation, which is our first introductory course in 3D character animation. 

For more information about AnimSchool and our online animation programs, visit us at

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Interview with Charles Ellison

Hi Charles, it's great to have you here for this interview. Thank you! 
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

First off, I just wanted to say thank you to you for conducting this interview and to Animschool for hosting.  I hope the readers find some words of wisdom somewhere in here.  

Charles Ellison, Head of Modeling at DreamWorks
My name is Charles, although family and friends call me Charlie.  I am a proud father of two little girls, whom I am raising with my wonderful wife in which I've been with for just about 20 years now - 9 married.  I was born in Venezuela, and migrated to this country at a young age, finally establishing roots in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I am one of the Heads of Modeling for DreamWorks Animation, as well as an Instructor here at Animschool for about the past 4 years or so, and I call Los Angeles home now.  I've been at DreamWorks for 10 years now and have loved every day of it. I've had the privilege to work on many wonderful animated movies, including the How to Train Your Dragon series, Kung Fu Panda series and have most recently supervised Trolls and am currently supervising Trolls 2, just to name a few.  

Snoutlot, modeling by Charles Ellison

Can you tell us about your background and how you became Head of Modeling at DreamWorks?

I'll try to keep a long story short, but like many of you, the start of my journey began with a love of stories.  I recall being profoundly affected by movies as a child.  Growing up in a household as an only child, movies often served as a sibling in an odd sort of way.  I helped Elliot get E.T. back home, went on treasure hunts with the Goonies, and helped the rebellion fight the Empire in Star Wars.  
Imagination is a wonderful thing when you are a child, but I have never let that magic wither away.  It's part of what propelled me into this wonderful career

Berk Docks, modeling by Charles Ellison
The path wasn't always clear and it wasn't found quickly either. I didn't discover this path in fact until I was 24 and living just across the Bay from San Francisco, where my future awaited.  I recall waking up one morning, turning on the TV, and watching a commercial for the Academy of Art University.  People used to always tell me that I was creative and could draw and I should do something with that, so I literally got dressed, hopped on a bus and headed into the city where I took a tour of the school.  After being dazzled by the campus buildings which are nested throughout the city and the tour guide giving their best sales pitch, I was pretty wow'd by what I was seeing.  Yet it wasn't until walking through the Computer Animation department (which they save for last), that I was completely in awe.  I remember walking through the computer labs with the tour saying to myself,  "Wow.  Look at them.  They are doing it.  They are really doing it.".  I was referring to the students hard at work of course, working on these massive computers that I've never seen before, but you have to understand, after I saw Jurassic Park in '93 I was pretty much convinced that the people that made these movies were geniuses - an unattainable goal.  
Bunnymund, modeling by Charles Ellison
So upon the conclusion of the tour, I found myself taking a huge leap of faith and signing my name on the dotted line of an enrollment contract.  I had no idea how I was going to pay for it all, but I was going to make it happen.  Behind the support of my family, my girlfriend (and future wife) and her family, but most importantly a belief in myself, I took that huge leap of faith.  I was intimidated, unsure and anxious, but along the way I discovered that I not only had talent and raw skill, but that I was in a prime environment to nurture this talent and develop it.  I took full advantage of the resources the school offered.  I was the first one in class, the last one out.  I surrounded myself with peers whom inspired me and therefor elevated myself.  I spent two years in fine art where I painted, drew, sculpted, and then finally the last two years were spent mostly on the computer where I focused on 3D Modeling.  I graduated in the Fall of 2004 - the first in my family in fact so it was a very proud day. 
After graduation, I relocated to Los Angeles with my girlfriend (soon to be wife) where we set out to begin our lives away from family and discover our careers.  I quickly landed my first job at an Animation Studio here in LA, called Sprite Animation.  Sprite is a Japanese animation studio and I was the first American artist that they hired.  It was a tremendous learning experience and to this day I tribute them as some of the most skilled, talented and humble artist that I have ever worked with.  It was such a great place for me to begin my career because they pushed me to learn more and become a full fledged character artist.  I not only modeled, but I also textured and rigged my characters and from time to time I even animated them.  

Blacksmith shop, modeling by Charles Ellison
When it was time to leave Sprite to spread my wings, I spent a little time in the live-action VFX world and then I was at a cross roads.  I had a tough choice to make as I had a very good problem in front of me.  I had an offer from Digital Domain to be a Character TD on Benjamin Buttons or join DreamWorks as a Modeler.  It was two very different roads I could take, but my heart told me that DreamWorks was the right path.  So I chose DreamWorks.  Fast forward 10 years from that point, and I am now one of the Department Heads and have worked on amazing projects - I have no doubt in my mind that I made the best decision for myself.  

Fashionistas, modeling by Charles Ellison
That's an inspiring story!  How involved are you in the hiring process of new talent for DreamWorks?

When we are in search of growing our Modeling team, I am very much a part of the process.  The way it works is myself, along with the other Department Heads, will review candidates which our fantastic Recruiting Department will filter through and offer up the best candidates that they discover either via visits to different schools, or submissions which we receive from applicants all over the world - typically comprised of students and experienced artists.  And sometimes, one of us may already have a candidate in mind whom we can propose to the group for consideration.  This is an occurrence that happens quite often if one of us knows of a great artist that is available.  I often have candid conversations with students where I explain what a unique perspective I have from my vantage point.  What I mean is, I get to be a part of the students as they are just paving the way for their growth as artist, and one day, they could find themselves interviewing with me as well.  It is a very special vantage point if you ask me, one which I don't take for granted.  I'm always on the look out for good talent, so even if students don't realize it, they could be already being noticed even if from a single class - so always put forth your best effort ;).  And when I am actively supervising a modeling team for a show, I do get to ask for specific members of the team so long as they are available and not already casted to another production.  We do our best to cast everybody to their strengths and formulate nicely balanced teams for each show.

Besides the required technical skills, what do you think are main qualities a 3D artist should have to increase the chances to get hired by a large company? And do you have any tips on how to develop those skills?

Besides the clear necessities as demonstrating clear technical skills as software knowledge and being able to craft nice geometry and understanding good topology practices, I can't emphasize enough the need to demonstrate a strong artistic eye.  Perhaps the best thing anyone can do on their demo reel, is provide the artwork that you started from so that I can gauge how you see shapes and how you can interpret a design.  It's an opportunity for me to see how you understand the fundamentals.  Often, I see demo reels which don't include the artwork they modeled from.  And of course be sure that when including the artwork you credit the original artist.  Another good tip is have a good variety of models - don't just be character heavy without demonstrating you can take on an environment or a nice, intricate prop.  Characters are great and doing them well is even better, but show range.  As far as developing those skills, I always suggest to be as active as you can in practicing your craft.  Don't just rely on the assignments you receive in class.  Manage your time so that you reserve as much of it as you can to go through the paces of challenging yourself and finding barriers that you can break past.  But be sure to maintain a balance with studies, work and all other things in life so that you don't burn out. 
Orange quarter, modeling by Charles Ellison
And one last bit of advice which is one of those intangible things, when you land the interview, be yourself, and show us that you are the kind of person that we want to work with.  After all, I spend more time with my colleagues at work then I do with my family sadly, so I want candidates that are genuine people.  I would rather work with the person who has talent that can be nurtured - albeit needs growth but is a nice person, versus someone whom has a super impressive portfolio but during an interview doesn't show the best attitude.

Know what I mean?


"Don't be afraid to show your work. Failure is always part of the road to success." 
What do you think about these statements and how does that apply to your own job in a professional environment? 
I mean, are you allowed to improve by failure or do you have to get it right every first time?

As artist, we are always subject to opinion, and this is no different in a professional or an educational environment.  The difference is I would switch the word failure with that of process.  The process to striking the vision of many different people can be a very organic and sometimes tedious process, but process non the same.  Sometimes we nail it and please everyone upon first showing, sometimes it requires many iterations, but it's never a failure so long as we end up with a great final product, within the time-frame we are given.  In a school environment, it's very similar in that you have a goal, a deadline and a client - your instructor.  I always stress the need for students to never be shy to show their work, as the goal in sharing is to find ways to improve by way of constructive feedback - very much the same way it would be in production.

Dragon Lair, modeling by Charles Ellison

Can you name a few people that have inspired you, in life and as a 3D professional?

Naturally I have garnered inspiration from the people whom raised me, non more so than my Grandmother.  The work ethic she modeled for me was just remarkable.  My wife is a huge reason I am even where I am today, but my children are my strongest inspiration.  Trust me when I say nothing inspires you to be your best than your children.  As for artists?  My goodness, where do I begin?  There is just so much amazing talent out there, both known and unknown.  The unknown's are just as amazing it's just they haven't made an effort to have an online presence.  My very first supervisor, Tetsuya Ishii, is such an amazing artists and is equally skilled artistically and technically.  Plus I have a soft spot that I learned so much from him.  Some other artist whom have had direct influence on me are Danny Williams (aka Point Pusher) for the years we worked together and for the knowledge he was so willing to share and who is also a good friend.  Another good friend and former colleague whom has inspired me is Shannon Thomas, whom is now over at Blizzard as a Character Supervisor.  
Bob Ross

But there is so many others over the course of my career whom I've had the pleasure to either work with directly, converse with, or just admire from a far.  I know I will miss some names, but here is a short list:  Nico Marlet, Tim Lamb, Pierre Olivier Vincent, Alena Tottle, Mike Defeo, Kendal Chronkite, Raymond Zibach, Simon Otto, Mel Milton, Kent Melton,  Glen Keane, Matt Thorup, Dylan Ekren, Bear Williams, Brian Jefcoat and of course Bob Ross - no really, watched him religiously as a kid.
"Happy little trees."

Are there any public tours at DreamWorks ?

There are no public tours, but it is possible to have a tour through someone on the inside.  I have personally had many guests come to visit the campus, including many Animschool students.  I extend this invitation to every class I teach.  You just have to give me a heads up when you are going to be around LA and I'm happy to set it up - so long as I'm available to do so of course.

Little Dragon composite, modeling by Charles Ellison
Can you give any tips to the students for their demo reel when they want to apply for a job at DreamWorks or another large studio? 

Besides the information I gave earlier in the interview, I would say, know your client.  If you are applying to DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar, demonstrate models that fit the style of work that they do.  Similarly I would say the same for a game company or VFX studio.  And the last thing I would suggest, always place your best model first - wow us with that first look.  Keep your reel short.  It doesn't need to be bloated.  I would rather see 3 great models over the course of a 2 minute reel, versus a 5 minute reel of stuff you threw in there thinking it needed to be there because you were worried you didn't have enough.  Quality over quantity always.  And remember, always show the art your started from.  And lastly, these days, it's not just about a demo reel, have on online platform such as a personal website, ArtStation, or something similar which showcases your many different works.  This can be a place where potential employers can see works that are maybe unfinished, but still offer insight to your process as an artist.

Those are great tips, thank you!  Why did you become an Animschool teacher ?

Charles Ellison, Head of Modeling at DreamWorks
When I first made the choice to begin teaching, much of my decision was based on the idea of maximizing the time that I have to provide for my family and I wanted to do so in a manner that felt rewarding beyond just compensation. Teaching was a natural fit that I could balance nicely with my full-time roll at DreamWorks and also was an opportunity for me to give back to the community.  Originally, I did not know if teaching was going to be a short or long term commitment or even if I would be any good at it.  I also did not foresee how invested I would get in the students.  I didn't foresee the relationships that I would build and how rewarding it would feel to see my students improving before my eyes.  It is such a great feeling to see your students applying what they are learning, improving upon their skills and most importantly, having fun during the process.  I make it a point to make sure the students know from day one that they are in an environment that will be fun, organic and nurturing.  I really do try to give them all I have to offer and be someone who will offer them as much insight as I can into the industry as well. 

And why Animschool?  

I have had many former colleagues of mine whom had ventured into the world of teaching speak very highly of Animschool and a good friend had introduced me to Dave Gallagher to speak about the prospect of teaching.  Fast forward to now, and I am very happy to be a part of the Animschool community and proud of the students that I have had the pleasure to teach.  What I feel makes Animschool a unique and special place to learn this wonderful craft, is the global aspect of it's students (nothing excites me more than to see a roster of students from all corners of the globe) and how diverse the they are.  I find Animschool students to be some of the most dedicated and focused I've come across.  And lastly, I find the talent that the school brings in to instruct their classes to be world class and whom really want to provide the best instruction they can. 

Put all that together and it truly is an amazing community to be a part of.

Thank you Charles !