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


  1. Ahh! Passing the Hot Potato is a great analogy - I understand better what you meant about my animation. Thanks for this post. Vry helpful :]

  2. Many thanks for taking the time to post this!