Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mike Makarewicz, Reader's Digest Style

As everyone should know by now, Pixar Animator Mike Makarewicz (MUH-KARE-UH-VITCH; yeah, I said it wrong too) came by the 79 NM theater on Saturday to deliver both a lecture on Timing as well as a live demo on a layered work flow. Though unfortunate, I realize not everyone was able to make it out to the theater to hear what he had to say in person. Thus, although it's nothing like hearing it from the proverbial horse's mouth, I've compiled some of his points which said something to me.

"The poses are important, but it's how we get in and out of them that gives them meaning."

Mike touched upon common misconceptions new animators generally have on what is important in animating. He discussed the different reasons for motivating an action -- Emotional vs. physical. Is he moving that way because he's sad/happy/uncomfortable/etc? vs. Is he moving that way because he is on the moon/underwater/has his foot stuck in gum?

Mike also mentioned how - although it's great to have more - Pixar is most often just looking for "Mom's cooking". What is mom's cooking, you say? In essence, it's animation that might not look 100% polished, but it feels just right. He stressed how in the battle of importance between great ideas vs. technical expertise, great ideas will win out pretty much every time. A job can teach you how to polish your animation to completion, or, in some cases, they have a crew for that -- but great ideas are far more difficult to come by. Make sure your acting choices are unique and interesting and feeling just right. If you can't act, get someone you know to help shoot reference with you. If you have two characters, make sure you shoot with someone so you can actually emote and react to what it is they're doing as your opposing character.

Avoid "Run on"Animation. Again...what? Essentially if I just kept typing one long sentence trying to explain to you what run on animation is without ever stopping for a period or ever really giving you a chance to breathe or think about or accept anything I've written so far your brain would get tired and bored and you would probably stop reading this because it is just so boring and long and there is no variation of anything and blahblahblahblah....

Animation is the same way. It's up to us as animators to great variation in our timing/spacing, to punctuate our animation to ensure we can hold the audience' interest. The video above is one Mike used as a good example.

"Passing the Hot Potato". Two things:

1 - Don't use every control just because it's provided to you. Being conscious of movement doesn't mean there has to be movement at all times, it just means that the movement that is there has to be executed nicely.

2 - When there's two characters, you don't want them to compete with each other for attention. Think of it as passing the hot potato, guiding the viewer's eye where you want them to look, emphasizing particular areas of interest, etc. If both your characters are moving the whole time, using every control on the rig, no one is going to know where to look and your audience is going to miss something you're trying to say.

"We make mistakes too!"

Do try to keep that in mind. Pixar, among other studios, put out some amazing films chock-full of great acting choices, and perfect physicality and powerful entertainment value...but that doesn't mean everyone got it right the first time. It's about problem solving and working through it no matter what. Even Pixar animators will get a shot they hate looking at after the hours and hours they put into it, just like we all do. It's good to set goals, but there is no need to put anyone on a pedestal and say "I am not worthy".

There are the few lucky ones that get to where they want to be right out of school, and good for them. However, I know that it is simultaneously great and excruciatingly painful to see someone else succeed when you feel so stuck in a rut. Try to keep in mind that everyone has a different path that they will take, but one way or another, you will get to where you want to be so long as you're always trying.

"Your dream is out there, it's just a matter of time."
--Mike Makarewicz

Saturday, April 21, 2012

In Medicine and Animation, Flat Lines Mean Death

First off, I believe thanks are in order to Mr. Anthony Merola for giving a more in-depth lecture/demo of the graph editor in club yesterday. He did an excellent job helping club members further their knowledge of Maya -- many before even opening the program! Here are a few noteworthy points of his:

The manipulation and importance of weighted tangents. I know I've posted about it here before, but for an efficient workflow and good spline hygiene, the use of weighted tangents in your graph editor is really the best way to go. Click the link for the "how to".

On the note of spline hygiene, Anthony also managed to touch upon the use of buffer curves. These can be exceedingly useful for keeping things clean in the graph editor. Buffer curves stamp down a ghost of the selected curves,  so you can change them and still see what you were looking at before. This can be especially useful when you frame-by-framed a section of your piece and you're looking to delete some unwanted keys in exchange for a drawn out tangent. Or, perhaps you're working and decided that what you had when you stamped down the curve was better. You can simply swap your current curve for your buffer curve!

That being said,  my personal favorite note was how Anthony related the graph editor to timing and spacing. Anthony indicated the x-axis of the graph editor as "timing" and the y-axis of graph editor as "spacing" -- a perfect way of thinking about it that I had never considered before. X-axis has the frame counter along the bottom AKA "how long", meanwhile the y-axis is really where all the magic happens with the manipulation of our curves, AKA "how the action is completed". Very cool.

Finally, as a group we discussed some of the potential future in-club lectures and came up with these ideas:

Animation Pipeline (from concept to blocking)
Walk Cycle Demo

Is there something you want to take a more in-depth look at? Shoot us an e-mail at aauanimate@gmail.com or throw a post up on the facebook page and we'll see what we can do.

Can't wait to see everyone at Mike's lecture today in the 79NM theater at 1:30pm!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Back to the Fray - Part II: Reminders

Two big things that you might consider worthwhile to keep in mind!

Firstly, Club is on this Friday, April 20th, 3:30pm, room 714, 180 NM. You know the drill.

Michal Makarewicz, Pixar animator, will be talking this Saturday, April 21 from 1:30-4:30pm at the 79NM Theater. 

Don't miss this one! On top of being there, 5 feet away from you, beckoning you to ask any and all of your questions, he'll also be doing a live demo! This should be especially exciting for those of you who are more interested in checking out the layered approach to animation.

Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for any last minute changes as, well, that's usually what we end up getting. Can't wait to see everyone there!

Back to the Fray - Part I: Principles

Spring Break has, at rather short last, come to a close. I certainly hope everyone enjoyed their week off and actually took some time to sleep and/or eat a full meal before getting back into the swing of finals.

As we have all taken at least some time off, I just thought I'd take this opportunity to briefly reiterate what we've been reviewing all semester -- the principles of animation. (courtesy of animationtoolworks.com)

Paraphrased from the "Illusion Of Life" by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston.(pp.47-69) 


This action gives the illusion of weight and volume to a character as it moves. Also squash and stretch is useful in animating dialogue and doing facial expressions. How extreme the use of squash and stretch is, depends on what is required in animating the scene. Usually it's broader in a short style of picture and subtler in a feature. It is used in all forms of character animation from a bouncing ball to the body weight of a person walking. This is the most important element you will be required to master and will be used often.


This movement prepares the audience for a major action the character is about to perform, such as, starting to run, jump or change expression. A dancer does not just leap off the floor. A backwards motion occurs before the forward action is executed. The backward motion is the anticipation. A comic effect can be done by not using anticipation after a series of gags that used anticipation. Almost all real action has major or minor anticipation such as a pitcher's wind-up or a golfers' back swing. Feature animation is often less broad than short animation unless a scene requires it to develop a characters personality.


A pose or action should clearly communicate to the audience the attitude, mood, reaction or idea of the character as it relates to the story and continuity of the story line. The effective use of long, medium, or close up shots, as well as camera angles also helps in telling the story. There is a limited amount of time in a film, so each sequence, scene and frame of film must relate to the overall story. Do not confuse the audience with too many actions at once. Use one action clearly stated to get the idea across, unless you are animating a scene that is to depict clutter and confusion. Staging directs the audience's attention to the story or idea being told. Care must be taken in background design so it isn't obscuring the animation or competing with it due to excess detail behind the animation. Background and animation should work together as a pictorial unit in a scene.


Straight ahead animation starts at the first drawing and works drawing to drawing to the end of a scene. You can lose size, volume, and proportions with this method, but it does have spontaneity and freshness. Fast, wild action scenes are done this way. Pose to Pose is more planned out and charted with key drawings done at intervals throughout the scene. Size, volumes, and proportions are controlled better this way, as is the action. The lead animator will turn charting and keys over to his assistant. An assistant can be better used with this method so that the animator doesn't have to draw every drawing in a scene. An animator can do more scenes this way and concentrate on the planning of the animation. Many scenes use a bit of both methods of animation.
Layering animation is generally starting with one node (ie. the root), animating the one, then another, and another (root, then feet, then torso...) until you have a complete animation! Not the most succinct definition so hopefully you took notes in class.


When the main body of the character stops all other parts continue to catch up to the main mass of the character, such as arms, long hair, clothing, coat tails or a dress, floppy ears or a long tail (these follow the path of action). Nothing stops all at once. This is follow through. Overlapping action is when the character changes direction while his clothes or hair continues forward. The character is going in a new direction, to be followed, a number of frames later, by his clothes in the new direction. "DRAG," in animation, for example, would be when Goofy starts to run, but his head, ears, upper body, and clothes do not keep up with his legs. In features, this type of action is done more subtly. Example: When Snow White starts to dance, her dress does not begin to move with her immediately but catches up a few frames later. Long hair and animal tail will also be handled in the same manner. Timing becomes critical to the effectiveness of drag and the overlapping action.

6. SLOW-OUT AND SLOW-IN (ease-in, ease-out)

As action starts, we have more drawings near the starting pose, one or two in the middle, and more drawings near the next pose. Fewer drawings make the action faster and more drawings make the action slower. Slow-ins and slow-outs soften the action, making it more life-like. For a gag action, we may omit some slow-out or slow-ins for shock appeal or the surprise element. This will give more snap to the scene.


All actions, with few exceptions (such as the animation of a mechanical device), follow an arc or slightly circular path. This is especially true of the human figure and the action of animals. Arcs give animation a more natural action and better flow. Think of natural movements in the terms of a pendulum swinging. All arm movement, head turns and even eye movements are executed on an arcs.


This action adds to and enriches the main action and adds more dimension to the character animation, supplementing and/or re-enforcing the main action. Example: A character is angrily walking toward another character. The walk is forceful, aggressive, and forward leaning. The leg action is just short of a stomping walk. The secondary action is a few strong gestures of the arms working with the walk. Also, the possibility of dialogue being delivered at the same time with tilts and turns of the head to accentuate the walk and dialogue, but not so much as to distract from the walk action. All of these actions should work together in support of one another. Think of the walk as the primary action and arm swings, head bounce and all other actions of the body as secondary or supporting action.

9. TIMING (and spacing!)

Expertise in timing comes best with experience and personal experimentation, using the trial and error method in refining technique. The basics are: more drawings between poses slow and smooth the action. Fewer drawings make the action faster and crisper. A variety of slow and fast timing within a scene adds texture and interest to the movement. Most animation is done on twos (one drawing photographed on two frames of film) or on ones (one drawing photographed on each frame of film). Twos are used most of the time, and ones are used during camera moves such as trucks, pans and occasionally for subtle and quick dialogue animation. Also, there is timing in the acting of a character to establish mood, emotion, and reaction to another character or to a situation. Studying movement of actors and performers on stage and in films is useful when animating human or animal characters. This frame by frame examination of film footage will aid you in understanding timing for animation. This is a great way to learn from the others.
Remember - How long it takes to do it vs. How you do it!


Exaggeration is not extreme distortion of a drawing or extremely broad, violent action all the time. It¹s like a caricature of facial features, expressions, poses, attitudes and actions. Action traced from live action film can be accurate, but stiff and mechanical. In feature animation, a character must move more broadly to look natural. The same is true of facial expressions, but the action should not be as broad as in a short cartoon style. Exaggeration in a walk or an eye movement or even a head turn will give your film more appeal. Use good taste and common sense to keep from becoming too theatrical and excessively animated

11. SOLID DRAWING (Silhouette)

The basic principles of drawing form, weight, volume solidity and the illusion of three dimension apply to animation as it does to academic drawing. The way you draw cartoons, you draw in the classical sense, using pencil sketches and drawings for reproduction of life. You transform these into color and movement giving the characters the illusion of three-and four-dimensional life. Three dimensional is movement in space. The fourth dimension is movement in time.
It's also always important to make sure that the silhouette of your character is as clear as possible, making your animation as readable as possible. In 3D -- don't forget to check your poses from all angles to make sure your characters are properly balanced.


A live performer has charisma. An animated character has appeal. Appealing animation does not mean just being cute and cuddly. All characters have to have appeal whether they are heroic, villainous, comic or cute. Appeal, as you will use it, includes an easy to read design, clear drawing, and personality development that will capture and involve the audience¹s interest. Early cartoons were basically a series of gags strung together on a main theme. Over the years, the artists have learned that to produce a feature there was a need for story continuity, character development and a higher quality of artwork throughout the entire production. Like all forms of story telling, the feature has to appeal to the mind as well as to the eye.

I may have missed some of the additional things we talked about in club, but I'll make sure to put them up if I remember them. Don't forget to think about the principles every time you sit down to tackle whatever current project you happen to be working on. 

I know Spring Break felt like it flew by, but don't worry! Thanks to AAU,  It's only a few more weeks until summer. 

Happy animating! 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Character Design and the Kitchen Sink, Too.

I was cruising around the web and came across this fantastic blog hosted by AAU character design instructors: Jennifer G. Oliver and Mike Corriero.

The link is a post that explains the hows and whys of character sheets (turnaround, expression, posing, etc...) and how one may create them. Character development is so integral to what we do -- I'm geeking out just looking at all the ways someone can move.

On further perusal I realized this blog is a treasure trove of incredible information. Please check it out and click on random things. There's so much to learn in this one resource I felt like I had to pass it on.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

As Opposed to Pose-to-Pose

It's been a while since we've had a really in-depth post about club comings and goings, and I do apologize about that, but finals are, indeed, upon us. You'll probably all end up with one mammoth of a post to read over spring break, but until then, I'll try and cover everything that I've missed, however briefly, right here.

First things first -- I know we covered this in club -- but Mr. Hans Brekke and his team over at Reel Feedback put on quite the event. Everyone who went had a great time. We enjoyed some delicious pizza, a few drinks and for some brave souls, some really phenominal critique. We had our reels reviewed by animators from ILM, Massive Black, Tippitt AND Pixar. Jealous? You should be. I may even be obtaining some of the event photos a little later and I'll be sure to post them so everyone who didn't go, can see what they were missing.

This past Saturday, we crammed as many of us as we could in to room 130 at Powell to enjoy a lecture by guest speaker Don Crum of Pixar/Disney along with his guest, Pixar co-worker Michal Makarewicz. Those who attended learned about Don Crum, how he got "in", and learned about the classes he's offering through the Animation Collaborative. The lecture was wonderful and motivating, but even more amazing was how much time he and Mike left to just hang out and answer the groups questions. Unlike the industry on campus events where you wait your turn at the microphone, ask your question, then squeeze through all the knees to get back to your seat, Don and Mike were genuine and direct and speaking to you, not just another face in the crowd.

One of my favorite things Don touched upon was the hypothetical question "What can you bring to the software?" Helping us (at least the 3D advocates) remember that the software is just another tool in the box. A carpenter doesn't look to his hammer or skillsaw to make him a better craftsman -- it's not the software's job to do the work for us, either. We have to hone our skills, learn how to work with the tools provided to us so we can bring our ideas to life.

Beyond anything else though, his most important message is a powerful one. Never stop! No matter how many times you're rejected from a company, if it's what you love to do, you will get there -- but you can't let a little "NO" here and there -- or even a big one -- stand in your way.

Finally, Michal also revealed that he will be April's guest speaker, so don't forget to keep an eye out for more specific dates, times and locations.

Don't forget to come to club this week! Spring Break is almost here, but for those of us who are still around, you know what to do, and if you don't, come to Room 714 at 3:30pm on Friday and we'll tell you!