Wednesday, June 27, 2012

AnimSchool Interview: Animator, Amila Puhala

We'd like to welcome Amila Puhala today. Amila, how did it all begin? At what moment did you discover you wanted to be an animator?
As far as I can remember, I have loved both the logical and the abstract. I found differing satisfaction in both of those endeavors and, in my youth, could always be found with a notebook filled with sketches and writing....with scribbled math problems and logic diagrams along the edges. I think I always knew I wanted to do something that worked with this dichotomy...I just didn't know what or how. I wish I could tell you that I always wanted to be an animator and this was a result of a lifelong passion...but the simple truth is that I didn't even consider "animation" as a career choice until later in life...

After high school, I wandered a bit, not sure of what I wanted but happy enough just discovering life. I worked many random jobs...most of which were short-lived...none of which offered me any more than a clue as to what I DIDN'T want to do for a living and a sparse means to continue my adventures. One random day, my brother's college friend suggested that I study computer animation. I shrugged off the suggestion and continued on my adventures with little thought put towards that idea...that is, until years later, after I met and married my husband, Patrik. We reached a point in our lives where we needed to decide on a path for our future. I casually suggested computer animation thinking that it may be a fun mix of technology and art. We took the gamble and headed off to school in Portland, OR. It was here, at the school, that I fortunately discovered my love for animation... And even more fortunate was the fact that my husband also seemed to enjoy animation. We grabbed hold of the idea and haven't looked back.

Can you tell us a little bit about your training and what schooling you've had to get you to where you are now?

I attended the Art Institute of Portland for my BS in Media Arts and Animation. When I first attended, I had no clue how to surf the internet or turn a computer on...and I certainly had no idea what it took to make a character come to life...but by the end, it all started to make sense. There were a few fellow students and teachers who really helped to push my learning and encourage me along the way. The greatest asset to my training, though, HAS to be my husband, Patrik. We were both starting from scratch and we learned together, continually pushing each other to achieve more and encouraging the other to succeed.
You were at Pixar before you landed your gig at Blue Sky, what was your role there, and what did you work on?

At Pixar, I was an animator for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage theme park ride for Disneyland. I was part of a small animation team who worked with the brilliant crew at Disney Imagineering to bring the Nemo characters to life for the submarine ride. It was a unique project to work on because it was not based on a static audience and it had to integrate into a real world 3d environment.

Your title at Blue Sky is Senior Animator, can you tell us a little more about your position and how a Senior Animator's role is different from an Animators?
As a senior animator, I have some added responsibility, but the most prevalent one is still to animate characters for the film. We have a "pod" system here where the senior animators are each assigned a small group of 6-8 animators to casually check in with every day. It can be tricky because the last thing any production needs it to have too many cooks in the kitchen. We try to honor the blocking that was director/supervisor approved and give non-destructive notes to plus the ideas and animation that are there. Simply put, we are an extra set of eyes to help the animators along if they so desire.

I always ask my interviewees this but where do you usually find your inspiration for your work? To add to that, who's work do you admire?

Inspiration is one of those tricky things. I wish there were some simple solution to finding it...but it seems that this is something I struggle with a lot. I find inspiration in life, memories, movies...Some of the greatest inspiration can be found right here at work. I am fortunate to work with an amazingly talented and passionate team of animators all of whom love the craft and continually push themselves and their shots. It may be bias... but I deeply admire my husband's work and the passion with which he approaches animation.

What is your favorite sequence/shot you've animated on through out your career?
Wow. That's a really tough question. I have to say that my favorite shots are the ones that breath...where the character is given some screen time to think and react and interact...where the moment feels sincere. As far as my own shots are concerned, I think my favorites right now are the moments between Manny and Peaches...not because of my execution of them, but because of the moments themselves. But that's all I'll say until it's out in theaters.

When you're polishing up a shot what are you mainly looking for, and how much time do you allocate for a polish pass before the deadline?

I allocate as much time as possible for polish (which varies depending on the length and complexity of the shot). This is the "pretty" pass. The general attitude of the shot and the basic mechanics have been worked out and now I'm going in and making sure that everything is clean...I will check my arcs, my spacing, and the movement of flesh and breath. The trick is to not over polish. Don't smooth everything until all of the edges are taken away. It's sometimes the imperfection of it all that feels real...but do it consciously. The shots are never done...they're just due. I try to finesse as much as possible before handing it off to the next department.

Your husband, Patrik Puhala, works with you at Blue Sky, could you tell us a bit about the working relationship when animating together at a studio?

It's awesome!!! Who wouldn't want to work beside their best friend? Much of our time is spent on the computer, but it's great to be able to step away and get Patrik's take on my shot ...or just have someone to go and get coffee and lunch with every day. He understands our job and can talk me through a rough day and join me in celebrating a final. It's especially great during the long crunches. Most people don't get to see their loved ones and families much during this time...but I get to be right beside mine. I love it!
Lastly, for student animators can you offer any tips or advice on what they should be focusing on?

Always observe. The world is a treasure trove of inspiration and all you need to do is look. You will be amazed at the peculiarities and mechanics of the world we live in. Happy animating!

Interview by: Andrew Tran

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

AnimSchool Classtime: Creating Blend Shapes

AnimSchool Instructor and Blue Sky Rigger, Sabine Heller, demonstrates how to create blend shapes from AnimSchool's Introduction to Rigging class.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jeff Gabor Now Teaching at AnimSchool

AnimSchool just got even better!
For Summer Term, Annie Award-Winning animator Jeff Gabor will be holding General Reviews Tuesday nights 9:30-11:00 pm (NY time) for all AnimSchool students. AnimSchool students in any class are able to attend. He will mostly review the assignments from students in the upper classes, on a first come, first-served basis.
AnimSchool students have access to several extra classes like this, where they can get extra instruction and review.
This is a golden opportunity for all AnimSchool students interested in animation to learn from one of the best in the field.
Like all AnimSchool classes, these are recorded so any AnimSchool student is able to watch it later.
To learn from famed Blue Sky Studios animator Jeff Gabor, apply to AnimSchool today for Summer Term.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

AnimSchool Interview: Disney Recruiter Matt Roberts

We'd like to welcome our friend Matt Roberts.  Can you tell us a little about your background and how it has helped you in your position as a recruiter at Disney?

I was actually adopted by a family of astronauts who found me on the doorstep of their lunar base and raised me as one of their own. Life amongst the cosmos was swell--beautiful night skies, exotic breathing helmets, food in tubular paste form. It was excellent.  But then when my astrofamily brought me back to earth with them, things changed. I had difficulty adapting to the new-found force of gravity and I subsequently bounced from job to job:  ratchet hygienist, latter day viking, I even used to dress up and scare people away from abandoned amusement parks until a group of meddling kids put an end to that REAL quick. It seemed like I was out of options when I came into the acquaintance of a mouse in red shorts who decided to take a chance on me and the rest, as we in the astro business used to say, is history.
I wish any of the above were true but I don't know how to finish this sentence. Believe it or not, I actually come from an animation background (a glorious, uproarious medium that I've wanted to go into since I was in the 8th grade). Needless to say, coming from an artistic background helps me as an artistic recruiter because I can use all my training and experience to recognize appeal, entertainment, and solid foundational skills and somewhat know what I'm talking about. Since I am an artist, I can really relate to the artists that I represent as well as the artistic leadership at the studio which really helps facilitate communication to both sides of the review process. Before I became a recruiter at Walt Disney Animation, I was actually a caricature artist at Disneyland, a job that entails a lot of conversing with people from all over the place which has definitely helped prepare me for the outreach side of the job where I travel around to different conferences and schools where I give presentations about our studio and just talk craft in general with artists from all walks of life. I could go into further detail about my weird, winding path of evolving from artist to recruiter, but I'd say the above covers the broad strokes without boring your readership with my autobiography.

What's a typical day like for you at Disney?

Wow, that literally changes by the day. There's always a whole lot of reels and portfolios to assess and of course a lot of answering emails. There's always a regular influx of candidates submitting their work and at Disney we try to be as communicative as possible lending feedback and keeping applicants up to date with our latest hiring needs. Even when we're not hiring, I keep in touch with many artists who we feel could fit in well with our studio culture to both encourage their talent as well as learn what's happening in the industry today. I do a lot of collaboration with our studio talent as well to discuss what our needs will be for our current and future projects so I can anticipate searching for the most compatible talent. We're also very hands on with our new hires and keep up an active dialogue to make sure their hiring process is as smooth on them as possible.

How do you prefer an artist submit their work? Do you prefer an online portfolio format?
What is the process a portfolio/reel goes through when you receive it and what's the average time the process takes?

These days the bulk of our reviews are digital. Anyone interested in applying with Disney Animation should create a candidate profile at and either upload a digital copy of their reel or upload a link to an already existing web reel. Once you've created a profile, you can literally update it whenever you want so ideally, we should always have your most up-to-date work and info handy.

Applications are considered by both recruiters as well as the artistic leadership in the studio. Candidates whose work interests our leadership are usually contacted for an interview, and from there if all has gone well, we'll want to proceed to hire the applicant. The process really depends on our hiring needs and the timing of the application. I've hired artists within a week of applying with us, I've also tracked and held onto reels for months until we've started hiring again.

Can you say something about the timing of submissions and the hiring process? How much of getting hired is due to applying at the right time? How much time should one wait before reapplying?

Timing is definitely part of the equation, but honestly, if we think you'd make a marvelous addition to our studio, we'll wait what it takes until we can bring you aboard. There are so many great studios active in the industry today that availability doesn't always align with our needs but that's why it's so important to maintain strong relationships out there: to stay informed as to what's going on in the industry and to be prepared to apply for an opportunity once it comes along. Along with our production hiring, we also have a summer internship designed for current college students. We also have a 3-6 month long Talent Development trainee program for newer talent that's 0-3 years out of school and happens twice a year: in the spring and the fall. We always post our current positions on our website so check us out regularly to make that timing align to your advantage! It's always a good idea to apply every 6 months; that way it's more likely a new opportunity has come along but even more important, it gives you enough time to significantly update your reel with your best and latest work.

Are you seeing more qualified applicants in the last few years than before? Is the bar raising for everyone as the 3D animation industry matures?

I would say the bar is definitely and steadily rising. Not only are there more studios developing quality content, but potential animators have more resources at their fingertips than ever before. From online schools such as the very host of this interview, to books on art-of and how-to, to affordable software, to blogging/tumblr/social media communities, you have a lot of options in developing your craft and receiving quality feedback to strengthen your craft.

How many modeler and rigger reels to you receive compared with animation reels?

We really receive an equal amount of applications across disciplines. The majority of reels come in response to posted open positions so the number of submissions really varies depending on when we're hiring and for what.

Lastly, what are some tips you recommend for an animator to get his/her reel noticed? What are some tips for a modeler or rigger?

With our studio, the 3 most important recommendations I can give to animators are acting, acting, acting!!!!! A reel demonstrating a solid versatility in performance and entertainment value are the best way to get noticed. Don't give us any gimmicks, don't worry about putting music to your reel, just show us your full range as an actor. Give us a multitude of personalities on your reel that feel like genuinely different, thinking characters that even ideally, come off as done by different animators. Give us a variety of acting techniques:  broad, subtle, comedic, dramatic, dialogue, pantomime, cartoony, realistic, etc. Think in terms of subtext and making scenes with at least two characters interacting with each other so that they can play off each others personalities. A recommendation I often throw out there is that if you have access to a quality quadruped rig, do an acting test with that to show you can believably move a different set of anatomy yet do so with attitude and expression. Give us genuine emotion and specific nuance, not generic expressions. We're looking for actors, so treat your reel like an audition and wow us with your versatility.

For modeling, the 3 most important recommendations are appeal, appeal appeal! We have very high aesthetic standards at Disney so we need to see that a modeler has a keen artistic eye and can tackle a multitude of stylization from simple to complex. We want to see that you have a strong grasp of anatomy and form but that you are very comfortable sculpting stylization. Give us not only a variety of artistic styles, but a variety of characters and/or environments as well. On your reel, we definitely like to see turntables so give us the finished model, the grayscale, and the wireframe so we can see how you go from topology to completion. It's also a good idea to include the original art your model is based on in the corner so that we can see how you actively adapt two-dimensional appeal into CG form (if you're modeling from another artist's work, just accredit the art to them in the image). Since we are such an acting centric studio, if you're an organic modeler make sure your characters show potential for acting and expression, something appealing enough that once rigged, an animator can jump in and get a full array of expression out of it.  Knowledge of ZBrush and Mudbox is definitely a plus. For rigging, like the previous disciplines, show us your versatility. Examples can be a human, a quadruped, a crab, a bridge, etc. Remember that a Character TD's job is really to service the animator, so when showing off the articulation of your rigs, make sure it's in ways that are believable and appropriate to the character and how it would move and show us that the articulation is efficient and intuitive to an animator's needs. We like Character TDs who are real problem solvers, who anticipate issues even before they arise so showing us custom tools you've built is also an impressive plus. I often recommend making friends with animators and giving them your rigs to play with; you won't really know how efficient and smooth your rig is until you let an animator test it to the point of breaking and embrace their notes to make it all that it can be. Showing your rig in action also helps demonstrate its full potential via applied use. Again, we love acting so give us characters that are set up for a wide range of expression and appeal.

We would like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer our questions.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

AnimSchool General Review: Indunil Ranawake by Tony Bonilla

Every week AnimSchool offers General Reviews for those students who can't make it to their weekly class review, or for those who would like an additional critique during the week. Here Tony Bonilla, reviews Indunil Ranawake's animation from his Body Acting class.