Monday, December 9, 2013

AnimSchool Interview: Animator Carlos Luzzi

Today we are interviewing Carlos Luzzi. Carlos is a professional hand drawn animator, with 10 years of experience. He has done work for TV and film and is also a concept character artist and visual development artist.

Hi Carlos! Could you start talking a bit about yourself, your education background and when did you begin to be interested in drawing and animation?
I have been interested in drawing since I was a kid. The cartoons that I watched on TV drew my attention a lot and I tried to reproduce the ones I liked on paper. I went through my childhood drawing, and had some professional experience with drawing in my teenage years. I studied Graphic Design but I was always so interested in animation, which I studied by myself in parallel to the university studies. There were no courses in my home town, so in the beginning I had to teach myself, through books that I bought by my own. In the last year of college, I got an internship in a big studio in São Paulo and soon after I moved to Los Angeles where I spent several months studying life drawing, guided by masters Glenn Vilppu and Karl Gnass at the American Animation Institute (today Animation Guild). I had a big desire to develop my skills as a traditional artist before fully focusing on animation. After that, I came back to Brazil to pursue my career as a traditional animator.

Tell us a bit more about your professional experience. What was your first job in the field? For how long have you been an animator now and what are the works you are the most proud of?
My first job in animation that I consider professional was at the Daniel Messias Studio, where I started as an animator back in 2003. This studio was one of the biggest studios for animation ads in Brazil for decades, a market that kept the animation industry moving in Brazil and formed several generations of traditional animators here because of that. I was part of the last generation; today that industry is taken by CG and certainly much less traditional animators are being formed here, which I think is a shame. In the last years I became a freelancer, and diversified my works doing storyboards and visual development. One of the works I enjoyed doing the most was animating Mickey and Minnie Mouse in a short for Disney that was exhibited at the NY Fashion Week. We had little time, but having the chance of working with those characters doesn’t happen every day, and that was very special to me.

You are also an excellent character artist - what came first, the love for creating characters or love for animating them?
I think drawing is a part of me, so the process of drawing storyboards and character designs always ended up mixing with the process of animation in the short productions. Having said that, my main focus was animation for many years. I have full knowledge of the complexity of the animation process, and I’m still studying to refine my work. Since I love drawing, my interest for character design always existed, but most of the time I worked with pre-established characters, so I didn't have the chance of designing them often - one thing I’m trying to compensate now. Recently I had the opportunity to do a little visual development for a movie from Reel FX that is still going to be released and I really liked the experience. My interest for story is also growing by the day. I have been reading and studying about it since I started as an animator, but in the later years I’ve become more dedicated to the subject; recently I worked on the storyboards for a movie in Brazil and the process of story building is fascinating.

In your opinion, what does a character must have to grab the audience?
Tough question; I’m still looking for that answer, but at the moment I think it’s honesty. I watch live action movies and what attracts me the most in terms of acting are those moments when the characters have “honest moments”, where they are being themselves, doing day to day tasks, like there isn’t a camera pointing at them. That action makes it so that only the character being at the scene is enough, because the action is powerful and honest. Every subtlety becomes perfectly natural (even so they have been thought before by the actor), for they belong to that specific character and you believe in it. That is very hard to simulate, specially in animation, for we draw the character frame by frame, and the actor does in in real time. We always try to overdo the movement of the characters, where I think we should try to under-do it, finding the right moment and do what is right for the scene.

As a freelancer, you have the chance of working for several clients. How is the experience of being a freelancer in the animation industry?
Sometimes is intense. There are projects that happen all at the same time, and I’m always busy even on a regular day, either looking for possible projects or making quotes for future ones. The good think is that I have positive surprises, like having the chance of working on things outside animation, like concept art or storyboarding - that has sparked new interests for me and it has been fun.

What are your perspectives for the 2D animation industry, in Brazil and worldwide?
The industry right now is very small for hand drawn animation in features, that have been crushed by CG animation. That is nothing new, but there is always a movie coming up. I’ve heard about features in development, and there are always smaller projects coming up like ads and short films. I think the interest for good animation comes from the public for the most part, regardless of the final form, be it hand drawn, CG or stop motion. I’ve always been available to migrate to CG but the funny thing is that hand drawn, storyboards or visual development projects are always coming up and don’t let me leave the drawing board.

What do you think animation students must focus to improve the quality of their works and get noticed and possibly be hired by a studio?
Animation have many ways and it’s possible to reach excellency in several ways. There are CG animators that don’t know how to draw and are excellent in what they do using video references. In my particular case, I have drawn for many years by observation, capturing how people naturally act. People from my family, pets, people in the street. I’ve carried sketchbooks with me my whole life, and tried to capture life, the real stuff. That’s still a long way to go, and I’m constantly learning. Today I use other references, like video, for analyzing actions and the actors, as well animations that I consider to be excellent. But I always advise beginning students to draw the world around them.

We thank Carlos for his time. Be sure to check out some of Carlo's work on concept character below, his site and Vimeo profile.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

AnimSchool Classtime: Painting textures & fur with Ty Carter

Check out the tips from Tyler Carter on the Digital Painting class about painting textures and fur!

AnimSchool provides extra classes for our students who wants to expand their skills besides animation and modeling. This term we're teaching Digital Painting with Tyler Carter, Visual Development Artist working at Blue Sky Studios. Check out Ty's blog to check out some of his inspiring work.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

AnimSchool Interview: Kevin Lan

We are very excited to present you Kevin Lan, animator currently working at ILM, who animated Richard Parker (the amazing tiger from "Life of Pi") and several other awesome creatures and characters like The Hulk and Yogi Bear!

Hey Kevin! First of all, could you talk a bit about yourself and what led you to be a character animator?
I am an animator currently working at ILM, before that I was a lead animator at Rhythm & Hues for the past 6 years.

I was not the typical kid that grew up with Disney animation or super hero comics. I was born and raised in Taiwan, where Japanese anime and manga are the dominant culture influence. However I wasn't interested in them until college. During my college years I was totally hooked by all the 80's and 90's anime and manga, through these I also got in touch with experimental animation from Europe and Canada. Anime director Otomo Katsuhiro and film maker Norman McLaren were the major influences for me to want to create animation. Eventually I knew I was going to pursue animation as my career of choice. After I finished my college degree (with struggles of course), I came to the US to study animation in SCAD. It was a time people were talking about 2D being dead and 3D animation is the future. I was very stubborn and decided to focus on 2D animation because of my anime/indie animation root. During my time at SCAD, I was exposed to more Pixar/ Disney style of animation. I think that was the first time I became more aware of "character animation" and started thinking about being an animator in the future.

What was your first job in the animation industry? How did you land the position?
I consider my job at Rhythm & Hues was my first real job in the industry. It was back at early 2007, I had just finished my MFA degree and brought my wife and kid to SF to attend a Pixar class at AAU. So I was learning 3D animation at the same time I was trying to find a job. Time was not on my side because as international students we only had one year to work legally in US. Luckily Rhythm & Hues liked my reel, even though I didn't have much 3D animation in there, they somehow saw my potential from my 2D thesis film and brought me in for Golden Compass. 

Your animation on Richard Parker (the Tiger from “Life of Pi”) is pretty jaw dropping. Can you share how much time you spent researching reference and what was your overall process from start to finish of the animated shots?

We wanted to stay absolutely true to the tiger from Life of Pi, which means there should be no anthropomorphization or any guessing from animators. I spent the first 3-4 months studying reference and animating on test shots only. That was the time we figured out how the tiger would behave in different situations, the general physicality and posing, and how the muscle and skin works. Although I was matching reference in these tests, I didn't do it blindly frame by frame. I still tried to find the key frames, analyzing where the force was generated, which control to use, how the force would impact other parts of the body and how the residual energy would be resolved. I also tried to emphasis the realistic motion quality on Richard Parker, tried to limit the usual CG smoothness and put in the imperfections we see in real life. Through these exercise I got a hold of the feeling for the tiger, and eventually I could deviate from reference in my shots and still make Richard Parker believable.  

Our general process started with animation director kicking off a sequence and shots.  Then we would compile a playlist of references suitable for each shots and gave those to the animators. If you were lucky enough, you could find a perfect reference and just try to match it. But that was not generally the case. We always needed to piece together segments from different clips and finding creative solutions for the best possible performance for each shots. 

I got some of the most challenging shots in the film. Without much similar references I could use, I tried to study all the tiger footages and real tigers in other movies for inspiration, then just imagining how Richard Parker would behave under these unlikely situations. I would block out my shots straight in spline mode, creating my key poses and also putting the correct physicality along the way. I think it's the only way I could know for sure if my idea would work. After the blocking was approved  (usually this took the longest time), I would start adding all the juicy nuances and details on the tiger. While we were working on the shots, the model and rig itself was improving too. So it was a very organic process, and we were constantly improving and changing our shots until the very end.

You also animated a lot of scenes in movies going from Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 to The Incredible Hulk. Do you enjoy taking on projects with different styles from one another?

I definitely enjoy doing different styles of animation. I suppose being an animator means I'm suppose to animate "everything", not being limited to a certain style or characters. Although, I can see myself enjoying more on creature/VFX films recently. Partly because I got recognition from what I did in Life of Pi, also mainly I feel like there are a lot of unknown territory waiting for us to explore. If you think about how many scripts are still hidden inside James Cameron's drawer, and those impossible-to-make-movies may one day become possible, it's a very exciting time for animation and VFX.

Do you have any advice for students wanting to land a job in the animation industry? What would they want to really master before applying to any job in big studios?
I can only talk about VFX industry as I've never worked in feature animation. The situation in today's industry is very complex and much more difficult than before. Being a team player and work hard are the must. I would also suggest animators should master their sense of physicality and try to be original. A good sense of weight and presence of character would benefit you whether you are working in feature animation or VFX. It's the most fundamental thing you will need for the rest of your career. Being original is extremely important in today's animation. I think it goes back to observing real life and experience it yourself. Learning from existing animation is great, but it should just be a stepping stone for you to create your own character, even your own style. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

AnimSchool Student Spotlight: Laura Loossens

We'd like to present you Laura Loossens, student of the 3D Animation Program at AnimSchool. Hi Laura! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself, like your background and experience before AnimSchool?

Before I even thought of being an animator, I studied economics and languages in high school. After that I started psychology at the University of Ghent but I didn’t felt passionate about it. I did however love to draw but I never thought to be doing something creative in the future. Until the moment one of my friends suggested a brand new educational program, Digital Arts and Entertainment (DAE), that only recently emerged in Belgium which was specialized in all the things I admired: 3D, 2D, animation and video games.
During my 3 years at Digital Arts and Entertainment I learned a bit of everything, even programming which I failed for in my first year. I had some trouble in the beginning with all the courses, simply because everything was new to me.
Nevertheless I never worked this hard for something, just because I loved to do it! All the hard work paid off and at the end of my studies I won the prize of best 3D artist and together with my awesome teammates, we won the prize of best game!
After my studies I started working in a small visual effects studio where I did various jobs but my main function was modeler and shader. I learned a lot and got better each day but there was no growing possibility as an animator in the studio, so I made a crucial decision to start the animation course at AnimSchool!

What made you want to be a character animator?

My first source of inspiration came from the many Disney movies I saw when I was a kid and later on movies like ‘Ratatouille’,’ Cloudy with a chance of meatballs’ and ‘Horton hears a who’ were a big inspirations for leading me in the direction of becoming a character animator.
My second source of inspiration came during my last year at DAE when we got the chance to create our own short and were completely free doing so. I came up with a little story named ‘Little Rico’ and made the clip in a short amount of time. During the development, I probably looked like a zombie but I also had the most fun bringing my story and characters to life. This was a decisive moment, I knew I was going to become an animator.

Laura's student short animation "Little Rico"

Do you have any favorite artists that inspire you?

There are many different people that inspire me since the internet provides us a variety of animation clips, and I get inspired by many of them. I've seen some of them over and over, just to get a better understanding on their appeal.
Also, I will always have a passion for 2D animation. It is a medium that appealed to me ever since I was young. When I look at the work made by the artists at Bird Box Studio I get really inspired by the perfect timing and simplicity of their clips.

Your Facial Performance shot is a great piece. Can you tell a bit more about your process from start to finish?

Laura's facial performance assignment

The sound I chose was one that had been stuck in my mind for quite some time. The audio had so much personality of a sassy woman demanding a new drink in her own way. With that image in mind I started shooting different kinds of reference videos and I seemed to like acting like a sassy lady.

Laura's video reference for her facial
performance assignment
I imagined her sitting at her desk or at a bar, or not sitting down at all, just to get different angles that could look appealing. I learned this by watching a reference shot of Garrett Shikuma that showed us his variety of reference takes, just to come up with appealing poses and ideas.
After setting up my reference I start to block out my shot. I only look for the key poses that could really sell the shot. My reference served as a solid base and helped to find the key poses and timing for my animation.

After that very first pass of blocking I go over the same poses and look if the timing is working and if I can push some poses even further.
Spline is the next step where I spend time adjusting my curves. Normally I would take a long time for blocking however my mentor at the time, Melvin Tan, had a different approach. He would block out the scene fast and start with spline, but the method I used was the opposite.

I decided to follow Melvin’s suggestion, since it is always interesting to try out different ways of working and understand what the benefits are. In the beginning I struggled a bit but soon I discovered the benefits of working this way. I could spend more time on the details and characteristics traits of the character.

Laura's Character Performance assignment

What was the most challenging assignment you had to deal with so far? How did you manage to overcome it's obstacles?

I think each assignment has its challenges. Every time I overcome one challenge there is another waiting in line. But these challenges are what makes me move forward.

In my case there was the assignment for the Body Acting class. We had the possibility to create our own story without sound. I came up with a funny story of a scientist that was inventing an invisibility potion and was searching for the last clue. When he finally found it and tested it, he bumped over his potion on the chalkboard with his formula written on it.

While making this clip, I had difficulties getting the timing and poses correct. My instructor at the time, Tony Bonilla, was hard and honest. He kept pushing me in the good direction and I never gave up, even when I had to redo all my poses to really push them.

Even the latest version is not completely finished, but I had overcome so many challenges with that assignment that the following terms became a bit easier to complete, since I was better prepared for what was coming.

Laura's Body Acting assingment

What do you think is the most important thing you learned at AnimSchool so far?

Laura's Run and Jump assignment on Animating Characters class

Make the best of all the time you get with your instructors! Anthea Kerou taught me how to create a good base for animation, Tony Bonilla and Garrett Shikuma the importance of each stage of animation and Melvin Tan how to give your character more personality.

Listen to the feedback you get not only from your instructors but also from you fellow students. Always be critical of your work. Keep trying to get better and never think you are doing bad, since each step you take will bring you closer to your goal!

Thanks AnimSchool!

We thank Laura for her time and be sure to check out her Blog and her LinkedIn profile!

Monday, November 18, 2013

AnimSchool Classtime: Gesture Drawing for Animation

In AnimSchool's 3D Animation Program, instructor Mark Behm shows how to do simplified gesture drawings for planning your animation.

Monday, November 11, 2013

AnimSchool Student Spotlight: Brian Rashcko

We would like to present Brian Rashcko, student of the Character Animation Program at AnimSchool. Hello Brian! Can you start telling us a bit about yourself and what animation and 3D experience you had before AnimSchool?

I sure can, haha!

After High School, my goal at the time was to enroll into roughly eight more years to become a Biochemist. 
I can already see some of the baffled expressions from readers wondering why, since animation is such a neat field to be in.
Bio chem sounded cool... At the time... But after talking to some people in that line of work, it didn't feel like my cup O' Tea. 
Like dealing with flesh eating viruses and other nasty bits, any one hungry?! 

The next best thing for me was software engineering. It was simple enough, write this, publish that, stumble upon infinite loops by accident that require a hard computer reset... Good times. 
It was that very job which led me into the world of animation, on a lunch break perusing the internet.

I've always had a fascination with visual effects and stop motion, and would periodically read “How they did it” articles around the inter-tubes.
A blurb comparison between 3D software’s caught my eye, as it mentioned a completely free authoring environment for animators. 
It wasn't long before I could fiddle with joints, tangent handles, and key frames with zero knowledge of what I was doing, but I loved it!
Rendering out something bobbing about randomly across the screen was a rewarding experience!
"The Illusion of Life", and a few other animation books promptly replaced all my office programming literature. 

Soon after, I stumbled upon a nice fellow by the name of Keith Lango, who at the time, was selling animation training videos for around $18.00 a pop... I bought most of them, hahaha!
(AnimSchool did not exist at this time).

Producing two tests, my first ever animations! 

What inspired you to get started in animation?

Animation is a great medium to inspire the imagination! With a few sheets of paper we can transport an audience into a world of talking animals, super heroes, suspense, magic, drama... You get the picture.

I could have a hand in creating those worlds, and to me that was the clincher; knowing whatever I worked on could entertain people of all ages.
My nephew (5 years) was a big helper in that too, a simple bouncing ball threw him into fits of laughter, which kept me going, and keeps me going to this day. 

Old works he liked were:

What are your favorite animators? What do you love about their work?

Glen Keane from Disney, and whomever animated Wallace and Gromit back in the day. They did so much with so little, and made it look easy!
If you look up Glen Keane you can find video clips of his working process, and it's fascinating!
There is one particular clip in which you can watch him animate straight ahead a swimming sequence of Ariel from the Little Mermaid.
His drawings are nice and rough, he stresses the importance of “give” and “power”, and while he flips through the drawings, your mind is blown by how each pose ties in to the next one. 

For those who are curious:

And Wallace and Gromit is just a work of art, “Cheese Gromit, Cheese!”

Which of the assignments you completed at AnimSchool you found to be the most challenging? Why?

It has taken me almost three years to mold my process into something that can be used to produce decent work. Before that, all my assignments felt like lessons in trial and error, but full of moments of growth and understanding.

The optional rigging course posed it's own series of challenges, but was well worth all of the effort involved. I can tell you that knowing what constraints would work for different situations and how to apply them is a real benefit! Especially if you are a one person operation on a small scene; It doesn't hurt to be a little multifaceted in this industry either.

The running jump was difficult due to it being my first ever attempt at moving a character forward through a scene. I also had issues with turning a character around, which was done twice in my particular shot.
Being said, I might of bitten off more than I could handle at that particular stage, but if I hadn't, I would of not learned as much.

It is easy in animation to take the simple path, especially when learning, but if you don't push yourself, how else are you expected to develop your skills? 

End result:

Can you describe the process of your Class 6 Facial Performance piece and share some of the feedback you had with your instructor?

When the facial performance class started I was still developing my working methods. Some of what I did in prior classes didn't help me in this particular assignment.
Speaking alone, brought together more technical issues than I was anticipating.

My process thus far is:

Listen to audio, if any, over and over and over until I can recite it exactly. Even to the point of mimicking the cadence, tone and overall feeling of the performance.

Thumbnail out ideas, or emotive poses that help me delve into how a particular character will act on screen. And how I want the audience to feel towards that character.

I will also record myself acting any ideas out that I have drawn on paper to see if they would be even feasible. But not copying it, just to preview how things might look.
I mostly use reference as a memory dump, the same goes for thumbnails, they are both tools, but nothing that should be taken literally. Otherwise we would be asked to rotoscope, and that's not fun.

When I am able to solidify an idea, I'll draw poses out in sequence, save each image as a PNG, then import them into Maya as image planes.
To animate them, I will turn on and off their visibility throughout the time line, so I can playblast a video to watch in Quicktime (I'm working on a script to automate this process).

In passes, starting at almost no detail, I will straight ahead my scene. Usually only two or three poses in the beginning.
Then with each pass, adding more poses straight ahead, refining earlier ones until things are on 4's, or have enough detail so splining isn't a headache.
It is crucial to flip through your animations forwards and reverse to get a good feel for movement hitches.

I will then switch my splines and working method to linear and begin working out my facial poses for speaking, if the animation calls for it.
I also look for errors in movement like wobbles, pops, and gimbal lock.. which will get worse when in full spline.
Errors are easy to spot given Maya is not adding in eases, or overshoots into my work.

Switch everything to spline and playblast. Take notes for the overall scene; open Maya again but shrink the timeline to only render in portions, as I only want to focus on little bits at a time to avoid fatigue.

I will push things even further as spline curves put motion on 1's, which tend to make shots appear not as punchy as their stepped counterparts.

I try to put enough detail into my blocking so splining is a quick process; offsetting keys causes nothing but problems, so I usually avoid doing so.

Nothing else to do but move on to another shot.

My feedback for this piece was on appropriate acting choices and on how to give moments of pause, so the audience can understand what is going on.
We also focused very strongly on appeal, which can include head angle, brows, pucker, gestures, camera distance, scene composition... Etc etc.

I had difficulty with my acting choices, as my reference was a bit over the top... I have yet to get over being on front of a camera, even if it is my own dinky Kodak, hahaha!
It took a lot of feedback to arrive at the above animation, and my instructor was not lacking one bit in ideas, suggestions or wisdom.

If it wasn't for that, who knows what this would of turned out to be.

AnimSchool also provides students an opportunity to speak with other instructors outside of class in what are called “General Reviews.” If you get the opportunity to have multiple eyes on a project, go for it, I certainly did!

Heck, post your work in outside school forums like Creative Crash or 11second Club, for an extra punch!

How is your experience at AnimSchool being so far?

I am thankful for the existence of AnimSchool and for its founders goal of providing this fine resource to those that want it. If it wasn't for their pricing programs I would of not been able to afford schooling.

AnimSchool cares quite a bit, and will work with you to find a payment option that fits, which by no means is a tag line... They really do! Every student here is considerate and kind as well!

I remember during my first few classes, a few of us would meet afterwords in Google+ to discuss our work and give each other feedback. Not without network connections drops and software bugs, but it was fun!

I am sad to leave here after class seven, but it's been quite a ride, and I won't forget it.
A bittersweet ending, but an exciting beginning.

Do you have any advices for students just starting out?

Push yourself with each assignment, and avoid the easy route.
Create the best work you can, and If you receive a low score, try again, don't give up.
Take suggestions outside of class with a grain of salt, but focus on ones that seem to be consistent.

If you are afraid to act in front of a camera, get a friend to do it!

I can't stress enough the importance of “rig testing”. With every new rig you are handed, set aside some time to pose, break, morph and comprehend the limitations and strengths of that rig. If you don't, you can have the best idea imaginable, begin working in 3D, only to find your rig is not capable of that “cool move” you wanted.

Learn to script, or at least have a basic understanding of both melscript and Python; whatever language your current platform can understand.
Just look at the popularity of autoTangent or Tween Machine, I can't believe they aren't a part of Maya yet... Well Maya 2013+ has auto curves, but it's just not the same.

Friday, November 1, 2013

New AnimSchool Animation Student Showcase

AnimSchool presents the latest animation student work! Congratulations to all the talented students at AnimSchool.
Look for a separate modeling/rigging Showcase later!
To apply to be a student, visit

Monday, October 28, 2013

AnimSchool Interview: Modeler Ryan Tottle

We'd like to welcome Disney Modeler Ryan Tottle. Ryan, can you tell us a little about your background and how you became a 3D Character Modeler for Disney?

I started off in the welsh art college 'Glamorgan Center for Art and Design Technology' where after a foundation course in all forms of art, I decided to study 2D animation. It was a 3 year BA hons program. I made a few monster maquettes and anatomy studies in my final year and found that sculpture was my real passion. After college I found work in the Make-up FX Industry, the first company that gave me a chance was Hybrid FX, thanks to Mike Stringer. (That's always the hardest part, being given your first chance)

I continued for a few years as a freelancer in Makeup effects, sculpting prosthetic appliances (old age makeup etc) and big rubber monster suits. I kept sculpting my more personal work in my spare time, building a more refined portfolio.

Meanwhile: I'm in contact with Alena Wooten, who I met on Deviant Art and we become good friends. She was working at Blue Sky Animation Studios as a maquette sculptor.

RyanTottleSHOWREEL2010 from Ryan Tottle on Vimeo.

In 2008 I got invited to work on a horror movie at Plan 9 FX in Madrid, by my friend Valentina Visitin. We'd been working together at Neill Gorton's Millennium FX in London. I spent a few months in Spain and Alena came to visit me. I remember she brought a Scrat Maquette to show me (sculpted by Michael Defeo) it was primed grey and the light rolled over the forms so elegantly. It reminded me of studying the animation maquettes in college. I actually always had an interest in those sculpts, they seemed to be a more minimal approach to sculpting. They were more subtle and selective in their forms and so full of character.

Once the project in Madrid was over, Alena invited me out to stay in New York for a few months where I was introduced to Lots of very inspiring Blue Sky artists. Michael Defeo was Alena's supervisor at the time and we hung out. Alena and Mike shared their knowledge of sculpting 3D characters, it was very inspiring.

Maquette by Ryan Tottle, design by Shiyoon Kim
Mike had mentioned how much I could benefit from learning 3D modeling software, especially Zbrush, since I'd been working in clay for my career to date. So, I got to work on teaching myself Maya and Zbrush through online tutorials and help from my friend David Strick (who was at Blue Sky at the time).

I moved to New York in 2009 to Marry Alena. When I first arrived, I couldn't work for 3 months because of immigration reasons, so I kept working on my portfolio and making Zbrush characters. Once I could work, I was hired by Tony Jung to help work on game characters at Kaos Studios in New York City. This is where I further refined my knowledge of CG.

In early 2011 I got an email from Shiyoon Kim from Walt Disney Animation Studios, asking if I was interested in applying for a modeling position. It turns out that he'd seen one of my maquettes based on his character design. So, I applied and got hired as a Trainee to learn the 3D animation pipeline. I later got hired as a Modeler on Wreck-it-Ralph, and I've been at Disney ever since.

What were some of the challenges going from sculpting in traditional clay to 3D Modeling in ZBrush and Maya? How did you work through those challenges? Are there any tips you've learned along the way?

I think the most challenging part for me was learning the software and the principles of CG. It was like learning a new language, a different way of thinking. But, being familiar with sculpting three dimensional form helped me see the light at the end of ever growing tunnel.

Learning what a vertex is, is pretty weird when you've never had to think in that way before. It just came down to repetition, doing it every day for hours on end. It took me about 2 years to say "now I'm comfortable to say I can sculpt in CG to the quality I can in clay." It's never quite the same obviously, they have a different look, it's subtle.

Another challenge for me was the rendering side of things. A physical sculpture is always rendered with real world light and shadows, which is always way better for reading how light falls on the surface. So, I like to print out the models to get a real feel for the forms. My advice is to do both physical and digital. Clay sculpting feels like a mental workout for me now, I try to do it at least one night a week.

How do you think having a traditional sculpting background has helped you in the 3D Modeling Industry?

It has helped a lot. I found that having an understanding of the principles of sculpture made it easier to figure out the forms in a 3D software. I guess it's just the amount of practice I've had working on 3D objects in the physical. It seems to be the same reason that things like life drawing are always recommended. It gives you a real tangible perspective on how to model shapes.

Zbrush has made this a faster process for me though, less labor intensive. It's less about moving actual material around, it can happen instantly in a 3D software.

With having work experience in modeling game characters and feature characters, what are some of the similarities and differences in modeling in the two industries?

In my experience, there has been a pretty big difference. Mainly in that a lot of the games are going for a hyper real look these days. Sculpting those characters was more similar to my makeup FX days. The characters were more organic in their shapes and were generally less criticized than animation characters that tend to have more of a clean, simple, graphic, feel. There seemed to be more room for error on hyper real characters. I found organic sculpting can be quite forgiving at times, especially when there are a lot of textures on the surface.

When sculpting 'simple' 'toony' characters, you are in a sense given a more limited palette of shapes to use and each curve/edge is super subtle and can make all the difference to the success of the piece.

The other thing is that game characters are usually made with triangulated meshes and animation characters are usually quad meshes, which can be subdivided for render time, so it's a bit of a different challenge. I found working with triangles a bit less intuitive to get the forms I wanted. There's something I find more natural about the flowing edge loops of quad meshes, and they're nicer for sculpting in ZBrush, they smooth more predictably.

There are similarities of course, you still have to apply a lot of the same aesthetic rules and techniques to make a nice model, and try to hit the concept art as closely as possible.

Can you talk a little about your experience going through the Disney apprentice program?

Yes, it was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the pipeline at Disney Animation, and 3D animation in general. I had never worked in the feature industry before. We had the opportunity to go to all kinds of lectures on principles of animation, appeal, design etc. Also, you're assigned a mentor, who you can reach out to for any questions or help if you need it. A lot of legendary people still walk the halls in that place, so you can become a sponge of knowledge and ramp up at a steady pace without being thrown straight on to a production. I highly recommend it, it's a great way into the studio.

What do you enjoy working on outside of work? Can you share some of your personal projects?

I'm constantly sculpting and refining my sculpting skills. I also like to collaborate with other artists, I find that you can learn a lot this way.

I'm a big enthusiast of fantastic realism and Visionary art, and have been working those things into my personal sculpture. It's kind of the other end of the spectrum in terms of what I do in animation. I think that most commercial artists have their own personal side projects that interest them for different reasons. It's actually good to do this because the things you learn on each side, you can apply to the other.

At the moment I'm working of a series of 'Beings' who's anatomy is constructed (sculpturally) from architectural and symbolic shapes from various wisdom traditions, merged with the more classical feel of western sculpture. I don't have much time to work on these at the moment, but when I do it's a great treat.

Do you have any advice for those students studying to be 3D Modelers?

Practice a lot and make it fun for yourself. Look at the best work you can find in the industry and aim for that. Ask a lot of questions. Be very specific about what you want as an end goal. Study as much classical sculpture, anatomy and industry work as you can handle.

When making a reel or portfolio, only show a few things that are your very best. Keep it short and sweet because the people who review your work are usually very busy, and are probably going to scrub through it if it gets long and boring. Try to catch their eye right away.
To view more of Ryan Tottle's work visit his blog:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

AnimSchool General Review: Eyad Hussein by Dave Gallagher

Dave Gallagher goes over Eyad Hussein's facial rig poses from AnimSchool's Advanced Rigging class. Dave focuses on appealing shapes and directionality.

This clip is from one of AnimSchool's General Review sessions. AnimSchool offers General Reviews for 3D modeling, rigging and animation students several times a week, for those who would like an extra critique.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

AnimSchool Webcast: Lluis Llobera, Part 4

In Part 4 of AnimSchool's Webcast with Blue Sky Senior Animator Lluis Llobera, Lluis discusses one of his shots from Rio, sharing his animation process. He goes over how his shot evolved with what he was given from layout, showing his blocking, splining to the final render.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

AnimSchool Interview: Muhammad Irfan Farooq

We'd like to welcome Animator Muhammad Irfan Farooq. First of all, Congratulations on your 11 Second Club June win!! Can you tell us a little about yourself, how long you've been animating and what made you want to get into this Industry?

First of all, I am very thankful to AnimSchool for giving me a chance to share my thoughts and knowledge.

Since I was a kid, I loved to watch and draw cartoons, unfortunately we did not have any art school in my country, Pakistan. However, while doing my Computer Science degree in 2002, I saw “Shrek” and “Jurassic Park”. I wondered how they created them, so I bought a computer and installed 3Ds Max and Maya at first chance and I learned some basics of the software. Luckily, in 2006 I got an internship in a studio where I learned a lot about character animation and very soon I found out animation was  my dream job. Now I've been animating for 5 plus years.

Which Artists/Animators do you look towards for inspiration and what stands out to you about these artists?

Honestly, for inspiration I search randomly on the internet every day. If some animator does something unique and fresh, I study his/her animation over and over again. The animation style for AnimSchool promo was one of my favorites. I love to study cartoony stuff like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones' stuff.

While studying cartoony animation, I look for the sense of timing, transitions from one pose to another, how they lead the action, and how other body parts are following it. I also look for smear frames and how they're used effectively.

For acting and performance, I watch live action or TV series (Friends, Seinfeld, etc) and big studio movies (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Hercules etc.)

Irfan--11 sec --June 2013 from Irfan on Vimeo.

In the past, you've entered the 11 Second Club with a variety of Rigs. Why did you decide to use AnimSchool's Malcolm Rig for both your characters in your June entry: "Love to Play Games"?

For my June entry, I used AnimSchool's Malcolm Rig for both characters because this rig was the best fit for the style of animation I wanted to do. I wanted to exaggerate overall performance of characters. One character was super energetic; I wanted him to be more quick and snappy. The other was more composed and calm; I wanted him to be more still. AnimSchool's Malcolm Rig looks great for both types of characters.

What was it like working with the Malcolm Rig? Did it meet all your expectations? What did you enjoy most about it?

Whenever I get free time and want to practice some really fun/ over exaggerated animation, Malcolm is the only Rig I want to use. I love its flexibility and appeal.

Making smear frames, using the face and body is my favorite part using Malcolm.

Could you tell us a little about your animation process for your animation: "Love to Play Games," from planning/reference to splining?

For 11 second compilation, I approach dialogue a bit differently than usual. After listening to the audio hundreds of times, I jumped into the planning stage.

    Rough Idea: While listening to the audio, I draw some thumbnails to get the basic understanding about what I'm thinking about the character and his/her performance.

    Rough Timing: I get rough timing by animating a box in Maya. I think about big vs small accents of the body and transition from 1st position to 2nd.

    Rough poses and timing: It's time to see the character with rough poses and timing based on the above steps. I copy that box animation to the spine of the character and do some rough hand animation to see if it's going to work or not. Sometimes I import a preview into 2D software and draw over it to get a better understanding for poses and timing.

    Refining poses: Now its time to refine my Key Poses and make them stronger and more clear. I push the line of action and work for better silhouettes. Putting in expressions is a great way to get the right emotion out of the character. I also add strong finger poses before jumping into the next step.

    Refining Timing: While refining timing, I put breakdowns, 2nd breakdowns, anticipation, moving holds, ease in-outs and overshoots where needed. I also take care or arcs and paths of action for every body part. I always use auto tangent at this stage.

    Lip-sync and facial : I also put basic expressions and lip-sync during this phase.

     Polishing body: It's time to check the character as a doctor. I start with hips and go upwards to the spine, neck and head. Then shoulders, elbow, hand and fingers. At the end, legs are easy to polish. Don't forget to look for breathing and weight shifts.

    Polishing Facial: Polishing facial is the fun part for me. I start with eyebrows and eyes together, then I move to lip-sync and expressions. I look at the face as a fleshy part and make it feel soft.

Irfan--Progression Reel-- 11sec June competition ! from Irfan on Vimeo.

What was the most challenging part when animating this dialogue? How did you work through this challenge?

Working with two characters while sharing the same shot is always challenging. After finishing the first character's animation, I was afraid to over-animate the other character. I toned it down, so I wouldn't draw attention away, while still keeping the character standing there alive. Luckily, I succeeded without much effort.

Lastly, what advice would you give to students who are just beginning to study animation?

As a beginner, I always would get stuck in technicalities, thinking of better work-flow and formulas. But soon, I realized it's all about studying life, feeling it and putting it into your animation. Don't be afraid of work-flows and technicalities, just choose one and work on that actual part. The tough one is “The Feeling” part. If your character has the feeling, you can make anyone feel happy, sad or whatever you want them to feel. Then Hurray! You did a great piece of animation!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

AnimSchool General Review: Dennis Borruso by Dave Gallagher

Dave Gallagher goes over Dennis Borruso's character design that Dennis is planning on modeling in 3D. In this Review Dave discusses line flow, straights vs curves, and the spacing of facial features.

This clip is from one of AnimSchool's General Review sessions. AnimSchool offers General Reviews for 3D modeling, rigging and animation students several times a week, for those who would like an extra critique.

Come join all the students learning online at AnimSchool. Apply for the Fall Term now!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

AnimSchool's New Character, Coach!

For Immediate Release

Orem, UT  United States - August 20, 2013 -- Animschool announces today their new character, Coach. Coach is a fully articulated character rig, similar in quality to what a student would find at top animation studios, capable of a wide range of expression. Coach is exclusively for AnimSchool students.

Like all AnimSchool character rigs, Coach is designed for maximum flexibility and appealing poses. Using the most refined, advanced characters allows AnimSchool student work to stand out among competitors. AnimSchool Character students can use Coach to learn the arts of high-end modeling and rigging.

Coach has clothing options: shirt, collar, cleats, shoes, pants or gym shorts, and UV's for textured rendering.

AnimSchool characters are used by more than 15,000 users worldwide, and have been used to win numerous animation contests and for commercial needs. AnimSchool is known as the most trusted name for appealing 3D characters.

Now with over 200 students, AnimSchool was founded in 2010 to bring character-focused 3D animation instruction to students all around the world through live online sessions with the very best film professionals.

Isaac Nordlund
560 South State Street, Suite F3
Orem, UT 84058

801 765-7677


Friday, August 16, 2013

AnimSchool Webcast: Lluis Llobera, Part 3

In Part 3 of AnimSchool's Webcast with Blue Sky Senior Animator Lluis Llobera, Lluis discusses the relationship between Nigel and his human partner, Marcel.

Coming up in Part 4, Lluis breaks down a shot in Rio from Layout to Polish.

Monday, August 12, 2013

AnimSchool Student Spotlight: Sungmin Hong

We'd like to introduce Sungmin Hong. Min, can you tell us a little about yourself and what 3D experience you've had before AnimSchool?

Since I was a child, I have been into Manga and have drawn my own comic series in which me and my buddies were the main characters. I naturally realized that this was something I was good at. However, as I entered into high school, I was forced to study many subjects other than Art. Of course, because I neglected my drawing skills, I couldn't get in the top animation university, so I chose Design as my major at my college. Unfortunately, 2 years of studying Art wouldn't get me anything after graduation, so I quickly decided to go abroad to make myself a bit more fluent in English. 

While I was in Toronto, I found out there was a 1 year Computer Animation course at Sheridan College, so I jumped in right away. I believe that was the first important turning point of my life, where I got to learn 3D software 'Maya'. It was an intense course, but very worth it. I learned all aspects of the program. I can model, rig, animate, light and render. These are the good benefits of working in a small studio where you have to know a bit of everything :) While in the course many of my classmates told me that I specifically had potential in animation.

After the program, I got a job as a 3D Artist. It was fun and nice to get to know many great people in the gaming field, but I realized that I really needed to amp up and better myself. Shortly I enrolled in AnimSchool. And, I gotta say, 'It was the second most important turning point of my life'.

Student Sungmin Hong - Class 4 Body Acting from AnimSchool on Vimeo.

What inspired you to get into animation? What do you enjoy the most about animating?

My first inspiration was the movie 'The Lion King'. It was the first movie I saw in the cinema. And, it was a whole new world, from there I started drawing :)

My second inspiration was the movie 'The Incredibles'. I watched this movie like... a hundred times...

As many people in the Art Industry do, I was wondering if Art was a direction for me, because I couldn't draw nor paint well enough. But, I trusted that there must be something other than drawing and painting. I found out I had a good eye for things, I could observe how things move, how people move, and how to make it more interesting. After that, I realized it was the Animation Industry I would like to pursue for my career. And, 3D helps me to overcome my drawing skills. Although, I still think having good 2D Drawing skills can be very helpful.

Which Artists inspire you and what do you love about them?

Honestly, I got into animation late, but it's been a couple of years since I searched and viewed Glen Keane's pencil tests and lectures on Youtube. I couldn't believe my eyes that he was making magic on paper. Of course, I love everything he's made, but I especially love when he uses a shoulder to express the feeling. I think it was when the Little Mermaid is singing on the rock and Glen pushes her shoulder all the way up to her face. It was very appealing and expressive. His thought on every single pencil move has a lesson for me, so I watch his videos when I feel I need some inspiration. 

With every AnimSchool test comes new challenges. Out of all the tests you've completed, which one has been the most challenging and why?

With no hesitation I would say the 'Character Performance' shot where a sassy girl argues on the couch. The shot was the most known shot among mine, but surely was very challenging. It was certainly hard to come up with the acting, so I decided to study a friend of mine who likely matches the character in the audio and it worked. We came up with a great reference and my first blocking was great. But there were 3 major challenges in my blocking and reference.

First, it was absolutely challenging to extract the character I wanted for the shot. After the first blocking, I felt a lack of character, even though I liked the hand and leg movement. After struggling, I got the solution from instructors that I needed to use her neck, not just to layer the movement, but to give character. So, I made sure she pushed her neck as she spoke more and it helped in terms of accent and character for the shot.
Reaction before 'nah ah'
Secondly at one part, I had the character reacting quickly when the line starts (when she says 'nah ah'). It was too fake and unnatural, as if she knew what she was going to say before hearing what he says. As instructors suggested, I fixed it so that she reacts (facially) before she says 'nah ah'. This became a lot more believable and natural. 

The last issue was the timing and transition between poses. Because in the reference, I picked 3 favorites from each part and edited those together. So between the edited parts, I had to figure out a nice way to transition, especially the last part where she readjusts herself with her legs pulled more inward. In that part, poses between the cut was too broad, therefore it felt too fast. I had to spend lots of time getting the right timing and fix the acting a bit. 
Can you talk a little about the process of your dialogue test from the Character Performance class, from coming up with the background story, your video reference, to splining.

-audio: I picked two audio clips from the movie 'Juno' because I thought her voice was very unique and had a strong personality, so that I could come up with the character better.

-reference: As I mentioned, I invited my friend and had a little lunch and conversation with her. As Jeff Gabor did for Linda in the movie 'Rio', I studied her movement, every little detail. I even found out that the way she sits on a couch was very interesting, so I used it. After the conversation, we discussed what kind of gestures or acting she would do in this shot. She thankfully did a few shots for me and it was great. One thing I was glad about, I didn't watch the movie. It ultimately helped me to not limit my thoughts on the character of the shot (in my shot she seems a lot more active than Juno in the movie).

-blocking: I normally do 3-4 main story poses for the shot. Then breakdown and do more breakdowns. All of my instructors (mostly from Blue Sky) have taught me to do the blocking in stepped mode. At the end of the blocking stage, I have keyed every 2-3 frames. So, when I do a playblast, I could see how it feels when it's splined. (I spend more time in blocking then in spline).

-splining : I just spend time adjusting the curves.

-polishing: I focus on facial details and little things like fingers and accent and so on. This is where I spend a lot of time trying to give extra life to the character. Example: I gave more of an accent on the 'Punk' part by opening the mouth in 1 frame to give more 'Pop' feeling. This little detail can really fix the spliny feeling of the shot. 
Your class 6, Facial Performance test is a great piece, what were some of the challenges you had with this shot? Can you share some of the feedback you received from your instructor that you found valuable to the piece.

First of all, the shot is still in progress.. I didn't have enough time to polish the shot, since I had to move out to a new place :) But yeah, my instructor 'Melvin Tan' helped me so much the achieve the quality I have.

I remember he said the pose for the 'Personality' part was too broad in terms of the transition between poses at 'you got a' and 'Ah.. that's so rich'. Because previously in the blocking I made him leaning backward into the chair and that made his spine straighten up too much so that there was no space for him to go backward for the 'that's so rich' part. And it felt too dynamic for the 'personality' part, so Melvin's suggestion was to move his spine a bit closer to the previous pose helping the audience see other parts like facial and fingers. It's also more clear to see him leaning back on the chair in the end.

In my reference, I was sitting on the chair acting it out in front of the camera. Then, Melvin suggested to put his legs on a small chair or something to convey his dominating position in the shot and it worked out very well. It helped not only the personality of the character, but it also looks good in terms of the silhouette.
Melvin gave a lot of directions for the mouth shapes, which was great because, I had been struggling with the facial expressions for the shot. Since the shot was very sarcastic, he wanted me to push lots of his mouth and facial poses. A good example is when he says 'Personality'. Previously, his mouth shape was small and moved only up and down, but Melvin told me to use the arc and even the forward and backward of the chin. I didn't even realize how much it would give the character by simply moving his jaw forward and backward. It was literary one of the best critiques on facial expression I have got through the course. 

How has your experience been at AnimSchool?

Great! As I mentioned, it was the best turning point of my life. Without Animschool, I could not have been here sharing my experience.

What's your favorite thing you've learned so far?

Everything. I was really new to this animation world and in every class I learned things I have never known before. After talking with students from other online schools, I realized how lucky I am for choosing Animschool over others.

There is one great thing about the school, the lecture is given from your own instructor from each class. It is not pre-recorded, which means every instructor has their own style and things to focus on during the lecture. For example, I have learned how to use tools and scripts. How to block from Michael Richard. How to analyze reference from Tony Bonilla. How to give more expressive character from JP San. Important things to consider in each stage from Garrett Shikuma. And, briliant acting lesson from Melvin Tan.  

Most importantly, at the school I'm making my own network! Nowadays in the Industry, I believe having a good connection is always helpful. I can't emphasize enough how lucky I am to get to know the people in Animschool. :) 

What advice would you give other students that are just getting into animation?

See. Think.

See people on a street. How they walk, what they do in certain situations.
Think why they do that? What makes them do that?

Thanks for giving me such an honor to share my experience with the public. Once again, thank you AnimSchool :)