Monday, May 28, 2012

How Did We Do?

Tea Time has had an incredible semester! least in our opinion. We would love your feedback on anything Tea Time related - guest speakers, in-club lectures, critique, board members, movie nights, etc. 

Requests for future lectures/activities?

Please take a minute to let us know.

JD Haas, Reader's Digest Style

I know what you're all thinking, and yes, it did take me long enough. Sorry for the delay in getting this posted, but since school's been out I've been in the midst of moving. Twice.

Anyways, that's not important. What is important, is that here, at long last are a some key points from the lecture JD Haas gave us a few weeks ago that I've been meaning to mention before everyone kicks it up again for summer semester.

For anyone who was at the lecture, you will all know that I could never do JD justice by trying to sum up his entire lecture (which was what...nearly four hours?) in one post. It was an amazing privilege to have such an engaging speaker who genuinely cares about what happens to us in the future. Through the course of his talk, he offered sincere, direct advice to job-seekers and current students that ranged anywhere from how to tackle our current school assignments to get the most bang for our buck, to demo reel tips for those who are on the cusp of graduation (or rather, were. Congrats, Grads!).

However, there is one thing in particular that JD mentioned that I want to emphasize to everyone. Whether your going back to school in a few weeks, or have a couple months off for the summer, make sure you take care of yourself. 

While Working:

Drink water, and drink lots of it. This is good for a few reasons! First of all, water is better for you than Sodi-Pop or Redbull or Coffee -- Duhh. I know it's easy to run to the store so you can have a bottle of pop or something by your desk, but it's even easier to get an H2Go or other reusable bottle and just go to the water fountain! Plus, then you're saving money, and for students, that's generally a big deal.

Additionally, drinking a lot of water will make you have to pee a lot! This is not only good for your body, but it forces you to take a break from work for a while. It's easy to get caught up in your work and it's hard to drag yourself away once you're in that proverbial 'zone', but neither your body nor mind can accept that much at once. Physically, it's super unnatural for us, as humans, to sit behind a desk and type/click/use a tablet/draw for hours on end every day. Carpal Tunnel, Tendonitis and other Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI's) are a serious threat to your livelihood as an animator. Don't worry, there are preventative measures you can take - proper posture, stretching and hey, go figure, taking breaks! So drink water.

Mentally -- and we've all been there -- it's too easy to get too close to your work. Taking that potty break from time to time, or just taking the initiative to get up and walk around for a few minutes will allow you to clear your head, think about other things for a bit, then come back to your animation with a fresher pair of eyes. Thus, drinking water can also help your animation look better in the end! What a wonderful beverage.

Make sure you stay healthy. It's funny, but as an animator, one of the hardest things to do isn't even work related! We spend too much time on the computer a day to be lazy, so make sure you're active. Go to the gym, go for a jog, join a team for whatever sport you think you might like, just don't sit around. We may not be professional athletes, but if our bodies stop working, we're just as out of a job as they would be, and don't forget it!

In Your Leisure Time:

Have a life. Jim Brown mentioned this too, but it is so important to have a life outside of animation. For your sanity, but also for your work.

If you can't help but relate everything in the world to animation -- life is beautiful reference. If you never experience anything, do you really think you will know how to animate it?

Work can be stressful. Especially on those days you're forced to ditch a shot you put your heart and soul into (As Mandy might say, the day you have to "kill your babies"). It's important to give yourself that time to let it all go. Go for a walk, see people you love, do something, anything, but make sure you clear your mind and just...let it all go. Clear your mind, and you'll stay fresh and be ready to come into work every day when others are dragging their feet.

"You live and you work, but your work should not be your life"
--JD Haas

For those who were interested in JD's classes via Spungella or any of his personal endeavors, everything JD can be found via!

I certainly hope everyone enjoyed the lecture and are currently enjoying their first week or so of summer! I probably won't be posting much over the next few months as I will be out of the city for a while, but I hope everyone has a great time chillin' with Mandy and Mendel for Tea Time's summer installment. Keep an eye on here and the Facebook for more details.

In the meantime, play safe, stay healthy and I can't wait to see everyone (and possibly some new faces) in the fall.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Class - Fundamentals of Animation

Amazing news, everyone. Remember all those lectures we covered this semester at Tea Time? You finally have the opportunity to apply those skills -- for credit!

Due to the collective push from the students in the animation department, AAU is finally giving in and providing it's students with the class they've asked for, and it's been approved to run starting this summer!

It's called ANM499 - 3F Fundamentals of Animation. 

It is a 3D animation course focused on building a solid set of foundational skills based on the 12 principles of Animation. In-class exercises include Graph Editor drills, best practices from planning to polish, and carefully guided demonstrations. Especially useful for students struggling with basic physics and mechanics of animation. (AKA: Tea Time, the class)

For those of you who are just starting to branch out into the 3D world, this is a great place to start. Me, along with many other students have had a direct hand in the preparations and development in this class, so you know it's what we've all been asking for. One catch...

There needs to be at least FIVE students signed up by May 18th or the class WILL NOT RUN.

I know there's a lot of us sticking around this summer, and if you are, I'd HIGHLY suggest taking us up on this opportunity. Show AAU we're serious about change. Talk to Brian Schirmer in the 3rd floor office to sign up.

Finally, a big thanks to Dave Latour who is truly the mastermind behind putting this together for us. The care and connection he has for our student body is irreplaceable and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for helping our cries to finally be heard. Thank you.

A Special Evening with Austin Madison

By: René Salazar.
Tea Time Club Member, Spring 2012

Last week I was fortunate enough to make it out to UC Berkeley for a special lecture by Pixar Animator Austin Madison. He talked about animation, but also important story aspects that enriched the much anticipated comedy/action/fantasy/adventure flick: Brave. It took place in one of those classic college classrooms you see in movies, complete with stadium seating and a huge projector screen, but the guy behind the podium was not your typical, sleep-inducing professor. Here are a few insights I was able to chicken scratch during the talk.

“It is really important to do research, not just YouTube.” 

 Brave takes place in the mystical highlands of Scotland, so what did they do? They freakin' went there! They saw what it was like: sunk their fingers into the dirt, breathed the air, spoke with the locals, etc. They wanted to capture a sincere Scottish experience. To give you another idea of how committed they are, I believe Friday at the studio is known as Kilt Day. That’s right, every week these lads are clad in plaid. Here’s a pic of Austin practicing what he preaches:

Relationships are of most importance in a film. 
Anyone can make a “bad-ass” character, but they need something to rebel against. For Merida, this was her mother. It’s not just a story with forests, bows & arrows, magic, and a crazy cool witch (little known character); it’s a story about a girl’s struggle against her family’s wishes. 

Know your character’s motivation. 
Even the most messed up villains (like their righteous counterparts) believe in their cause. He pointed out a quote by one of his favorite actors, Gary Oldman. During an interview, Gary was asked how he plays villains so well, to which the seasoned actor proclaimed, "I never play villains. I play misunderstood characters." Their intentions may seem dubious to us, but in their minds their actions are justified. 

Animators need to embody their characters. 
Madison mentioned how walking around the studio you could tell who was animating which character by the way they would conduct themselves, especially King Fergus. The guy is a mountain of a man, and the artists have to infuse this energy into him, which is why sometimes in the hallway you would walk by someone with a clenched jaw, inflated chest, doing a brutish walk with broad arm swings. It is up to us to personify our characters with their physical personalities. Conversely, the tell tale signs of a Queen Elinor animator would be anyone sitting behind their computer in a graceful upright posture, daintily holding a pencil with their fingertips like you would a champagne flute. Another giveaway would be the manner in which they elegantly flowed through the hallways, gracefully greeting passersbys.


  “That’s a picture of Milt Kahl. What’s he doing? He’s grimacing. Is he doing that because that’s how he draws? No. He’s contorting his face because that’s what his character is doing!”  

You can tell when it’s a good or shitty drawing by looking at the artist’s face. A good artist will be mirroring what their character is emoting. Whether they're behind a sketchpad or a monitor, they are feeling what is going on. 

The most important questions an actor, animator, or any storyteller can ask themselves are: 
What is the character feeling? 
Why does he/she feel that way? 

  “Everything starts with drawings. It is the cheapest way to make a mistake.” 

Draw as often as you can. It’s not about the quality of the drawing, it’s about the quality of the idea. Your sketchbook is your sword. It’s your weapon. It’s good to have it with you at all times, because you never know when you’ll get a flash of inspiration. Ideas are like fresh fruit -- they won’t hang out in your noggin forever, so you gotta jot them down! 

Animators dig restrictions. 
He showed us the clip from Toy Story 3 where Ken puts on that flamboyant fashion show for Barbie and asked us why this is funny. It works because their movements are restricted and specific to their design. Animators find a way to work WITHIN the character’s limitations. Specificity is key. 

 In reference to portraying the characters in Brave, he mentioned that the last thing you want to be is a stereotype:


You don’t want to be Phil Hartman, you want to be Mike Myers. 

He stressed allowing yourself time to find the character. Someone from the crowd asked how long it takes to make a Pixar film. His response was 4 years. You don’t want to take too long with a creative endeavor because at some point you begin to doubt your good ideas. Conversely, if you go too fast, you’re not allowing yourself enough time to play and discover. If you rush an acting choice you might miss a more original idea just because you didn’t give yourself an opportunity or time to explore and be creative. 

He enthusiastically recommended checking out this talk on creativity by comedy legend John Cleese.


He ended his lecture by stressing the importance of enjoying the moment. At the studio they remind him that, “You’re only going to make Brave once.” We all know how stressful animating can be, so it’s easy to forget this.

It was an awesome talk and afterwards he signed autographs and even drew a picture of the dinosaur of your choice! The guy is hilarious and apparently teaches the P2 class here at AAU-- definitely something to strive for. I'd also suggest taking a look at his blog.

Finally, (as if I didn’t already have enough video links) here’s the latest goosebump-inducing trailer Austin showed us for Pixar’s first-ever fairy tale film featuring a female lead. If I know you Tea Timer’s correctly, I know where we’ll be on the evening of June 21st: crisscross applesauce on a filthy, dark-purple, theater lobby floor with a backpack full of yum yums.

“The number one thing you have to remember is… to have fun.” 
-Austin Madison 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

JD Haas - Friday May 11th

THIS Friday, May 11th, JD Haas of ILM and Spungella, is going to be here to give a lecture in room 400a of 180NM @ 7:00pm.

See you there!

Jim Brown, Reader's Digest Style

Pardon the slight delay in getting these notes out to the rest of the world, but finals is as finals does, it seems.

For anyone not aware, we had the charming Jim Brown, animation supervisor at Tippett Studio, deliver our penultimate guest lecture this past Friday. He spoke to Tea Time not about how to do better in school, but about what happens after the commencements - How to get a job, and more importantly, how to keep it! Here are my paraphrased notes from the lecture.

"I want to be an artist, man. 
I don't want to be inside all the time!"

Getting a job:

1. Have a Good Reel

Obviously. We hear it all the time. We pay thousands of dollars to go through hell and back for four-five years in order to learn how to produce one. Everyone seems to have a different methodology for the ideal reel construction, but here are a few more general guidelines I think are always applicable. 

First of all -- show somebody!....Other than your mom, because she's going to love everything you do. (AHEM - SUBTLE TEA TIME PLUG - AHEM). Show anyone who will look at it, too, not just animators.  Give everyone 30 seconds -- even people you don't like could point out something that needs a fix. It's easy to get too close to your work.

On that note, if you have to explain it, it isn't working. Pretty self explanatory (ha-ha). If people are watching your work and asking question after question rather than [laughing, crying, yelling "THAT'S SO BAD ASS"], perhaps you should reconsider the piece.

Pack a few punches, as it were. Only put in your best work (duh), but within that realm of "best" there still tends to be a hierarchy. Put your #1 piece first - draw them in, make them watch the rest. Finish it off with your second best piece to end it on a good note. If you have a third best, put it second in your reel, and everything else between can be in whatever order you wish. Don't throw in filler to make things longer, it should still be your best work, but the most important thing is starting and ending on a bang.

2. Say "Yes" 

Don't turn down a job opportunity. While it may not be Brad Bird knocking at your door, every opportunity is a venue to learn and gain experience that will put you ahead in the end. 

"Never forget that there are people behind you who are working harder than you."

3. Be Prepared

When that opportunity arises, be ready for it! Study the companies you're applying for, make sure you know what you're talking about. Don't be that guy who asks "Who's Phil?" in an interview at Tippett.

4. Have a Good Attitude

Be excited! This doesn't mean you have to jump around and be loud and crazy and pumped up Richard Simmons style -- mellow's cool. Just make sure you always keep in mind the wonderful revelation of "I'm animating!" It's an amazing field to be in. Don't forget it. Additionally, no one likes to work with someone negative. Sell yourself, sell your work, just be someone other people would like to work with.

Keeping Your Job:

1. Know Your Basics

It sounds remedial, but know your principles. Know your vocabulary because companies generally don't have time to teach you. Learn your company's pipeline! Don't be a wrench thrown into the work. Make sure you can help the process run smoothly.

Be a good communicator. Talk. Ask for help if you need it. 

Break through your road blocks. Set your mental clock Kramer-style, take a walk then get back to work. Make sure you've got reference, everything has a basis in reality.

Take notes and don't get married to your work. Make sure you're heeding what's being said to you, be prepared to take a knife to your work to find a better solution. Additionally, when do you get notes -- Hit them, and hit them hard. It will seem like you're being sarcastic, but it's easier to tone it down than it is to punch it up through baby steps. 

Make sure you like your work! If you don't like what you're doing, no one will. Your work will bleed your own disinterest. It's like talking to plants! Be positive, keep a good attitude and be invested in what you're doing. Your work will be more successful if you're interested in it.

2. Keep the Fire

How do you stay inspired every day? For one thing, study a lot! Not just reference videos (but do study those) but books! Follow blogs. Never stop being a student. Find things that keep you excited and interested in your own work. 

People watch! Inspiration isn't just internet and books -- it's everywhere. Take time to get away from the computer and look around at actual life. Real behaviors.

3. Have Personal Work

Not just animation. Like I said before, keep learning. Learn another medium, find another outlet for your creativity. It's easy to get burnt out, so have another way to release.

3. Have Other Interests

This is probably my favorite thing Jim said. He put special emphasis on it, and I'd like to do the same. Animating is important if you want to animate (needless to say), and yes, it's competitive, but it's also important to get away from the screen. Make time for family, friends, people you care about. If you get out and experience life it will be an easier task to create the illusion of it. Plus, you'll be happy and that's what matters.

"It's a love and it's a passion, but it is a job. There is life outside of animation and it will make your work and your life far better."

-- Jim Brown

Jim also posted the outline to his talk on his blog.
Jim is also one of the amazing artists that take the time to look at your reel via Hans Brekke's Reel Feedback. It's an amazing service. Those of you who didn't manage to come with us out to Emeryville in March should definitely take the time to check it out.

See everyone on Friday!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Basics of Effective Networking

I suppose I should start off with the obvious: What is networking?

net-work-ing [net-wur-king]
1.     A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.

In short -- making friends! 

Although it seems like something that should really be bred out of common sense, I know it's something far easier said than done. Thus, at the last club meeting, we dedicated a special lecture entirely to the art of networking. To get the full impact of what we discussed, everyone reading this should probably start coming to club (wink wink, nudge nudge), but for those who, for whatever reason, can't find the time to come, here are what I consider to be some basics of effective networking.

Don Your Professional Tool Belt
First things first, there's a few things you should have on-hand before heading out into a throng of future employers/co-workers at a conference: A resume, a business card, and an online presence.

Business card: For me, when I first started out, I didn't really 'get' the importance of having a business card. It seemed like something only big-shots in the movies carried around for the sole purpose of looking like a badass. Man, was I wrong. Business cards not only make for a slick, fast way of exchanging information on the fly, but they give you a chance to leave a good impression.

While I don't necessarily agree with everything the "Your Business Card is Crap" guy says, I do think he makes a good point, overall. We are artists, looking for art jobs. If I walked up to some Mr. Prestigious Art Lead on the ultimately exciting Project XYZ with my information scribbled on a piece of loose leaf paper ripped out of someone else's notebook, do you think he'd give me a call? I doubt it. As artists, we're naturally going to judge each other on the quality of our work, and a business card is simply an extension of that. A well-designed business card is the chance to leave a residual presence in someone else's brain that says, "Hey, I'm professional AND talented". Even if you don't know how to design one, find someone who does! Then, when it comes down to you and a competitor, you've a greater chance of being first on the list.

Additionally, business cards save time. There are too many times at a conference where you will come face to face with your idol, but they only have 30 seconds to talk. Do you want to waste that time, finding paper and a pen and painstakingly trying to scratch your info onto something? No. Spend that time charming the pants off them, and more likely than not, as you extend your card, you will find your idol doling one out in return.

Resume: I won't say much here, I'd like to assume that everyone has had to work at least one day in their life for a job they had to apply for. However, I will say that matching stationary is nice! With some nice typography and a cool layout, your business card and resume (with their forces combined!) can help you create an identity for yourself that people will recognize and remember.

Online Presence: One of the foremost complaints I've heard from recruiters is that the people they want to hire are often impossible to track down. Thus, make yourself easy to Google. Start a website, run a blog, join Linked In, be a part of anything that will pop up in a search as a way an employer could contact you. Obviously a portfolio website is key (especially when so many companies only accept online submissions these days), but having a blog in addition to your polished work is even better. Not only does this become a venue for future employers to contact you, but it also allows them to see what's going on  in your head when you're creating a piece. Remember Mike Makarewicz' talk? The ideas you come up with are so important, so it's probably a nice thing for an employer to take a look at.

Get Out There

This is part is sometimes the hardest, but it truly is the essence of networking, itself. Animating all day every day is great, but unless you take a minute to step away from the computer and out into some sort of limelight (or sunlight, hiss!) at some point, it will be tough to actually land that dream job.

Go to Conferences/Events: San Francisco is a particularly amazing hub for all things animation. There are events going on literally every week (probably even excluding Tea Time) that provide excellent opportunities to rub elbows with professionals. Even if you're not in San Francisco, look up what is happening in your area and find a way to score yourself an invite! On top of all the weekly events, there are amazing conferences that happen annually with big names and big opportunities for up-and-coming artists. The Creative Talent Network's Animation Expo (CTNX), the Game Developers Conference (GDC), a countless number of 'Cons' and plenty more, are all venues for you to join professional circles.

Networking at School Counts, Too: Networking doesn't always have to happen in a designated venue. Keep in mind that all your peers are going to be out there someday, too! Making good friends who keep focussed and do good work goes a long way to helping you get a job someday. Nine times out of ten, the answer to the question "How did you land your job" is "My friend referred me". Class, the labs, and Tea Time are all great ways to get involved with your community and start these relationships early. 

Be a Resource for Others: Especially at school where sometimes the directors are spread a little thin, becoming an informational hub for your peers is important. If you can become the person with all the ideas, suggestions names of other people... the guy or gal your peers always turn to for advice, you will be a name that people remember, and probably the first that comes to their lips in the event an opportunity arises.

Volunteer: Even better than just attending conferences, is volunteering at them! Not only does this generally get you conference passes for free, but it also gives you the excuse to start 'those' kinds of conversations. For those of you who were at club this week, you'll probably remember my Andrew Gordon story. Working at the conferences puts you in direct contact with the pros, and gives you a leg up in getting noticed. From experience, professionals often favor the volunteers for all the work they put in to making their speeches and things go as smoothly as possible.

Pinpoint What You're Looking For: Once you're at at conference, it can be easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and free swag. Try and keep in mind what it is you want out of your time there. Are you looking for a portfolio review, a modeler for your thesis, a producer for your personal project? This way you can really keep your eyes peeled for the specific events, lectures, etc that would draw in the type of crowd you'd like to be surrounded by.

Don't Be Afraid of "Big Names": At conferences, you'd be surprised how often you will have the opportunity to go up and introduce yourself to one of your idols. I'm hoping that when it happens to you, you won't neglect the opportunity to do so. Chances are, they are far more personable than you think, and I can guarantee you'll regret it if you don't. The worst they could say is "go away", and if you never make it up to them even just to say hi and pay them a compliment, then it's the same difference anyways. Might as well take your chances and have your "Elevator Pitch" ready. 

That being said, if you want that opportunity in the first place, you should probably make a point of knowing what these "Big Names" look like. We all spend so much time oggling the beautiful work professionals create without ever actually knowing the person who did it. I, personally, have missed countless opportunities to meet people I admire simply because I'd never bothered to look up the face behind the animation.

On That Note, Just Don't Be Afraid: Actually, quoting Anthony Merola, it's okay to be afraid. Everyone gets afraid from time to time, even Mufasa, but stepping up and being brave enough to overcome your fears and push yourself out of your comfort zone will take you farther than you ever would have thought.

You Are What You Pretend To Be: I first heard this just the other week from Brian Schimer, actually, and I find it to be a perfectly eloquent way to say stop saying "I'm just a student!" You're not just a student, you are an animator. You're studying, yes, but everyone else, you're an animator. Don't sell yourself short up front. 

BE GENUINE: Above and beyond anything else I've mentioned in this mammoth of a post, no matter what you're doing, no matter where you are or who you're talking to, be genuine. Be kind. Be passionate about what you do not because you think that the CEO of whatever will like it, but because you actually are! People are intuitive, they can smell you faking it a mile away. Like my favorite quote from Mr. Conan O'Brien says, "Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen to you."


Solidify Your Connections: Make sure you don't forget who it is you met and/or spoke to, and make sure they don't forget you! Call them, e-mail them, @ them in a tweet, follow their blog and invite them to follow yours...Don't just let the cards you receive start collecting dust in your hypothetical rolodex. If they're local, invite them for coffee, share ideas, get critique...just make sure you stay connected.

Don't Be Afraid of the Telephone: Textual media has robbed our generation of the ability to relate on a person-to-person level without a keyboard and digital interface. If someone e-mails you try and keep your connection alive after a conference, try calling them back instead of hitting reply. Talking to someone on the phone adds a much more personal level to the way someone can relate to you, and makes you more memorable in the end.

Honor Thy Referrals: If in the aftermath of a conference or other networking event, you meet someone who goes out of their way to make moves in getting you a job - i.e: gets you a contact, puts your name through to HR - make sure you follow through. You better call that person ASAP, and you definitely better make sure your resume is actually submitted so that HR rep can find it and move it to the top of the stack. If you act poorly and/or tardily, it will not only look bad on you, but the person who stuck their neck out for you in the first place. If you act accordingly, however, it will most likely result in future work for both of you! 

Wow. I know this is a quite a mammoth of a post, but making friends is almost as important as the work we put out when it comes to getting a job. 

Don't forget about Jim Brown's talk this Friday, May 4th in room 400a of 180 NM. Club is still on for 3:30 that day. Can't wait to see everyone there!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Save the Dates!

I'll be posting the club notes asap, but in the mean time, here are some important dates to remember.

THIS Friday, May 4th, Jim Brown, Animation supervisor from Tippett Studio, is going to be here to give a lecture in room 400a of 180NM @ 7:00pm.

NEXT Friday, May 11th, the long-anticipated JD Haas of ILM fame will be giving his lecture on what the industry is really looking for, also in room 400a @ 7:00pm.

Very exciting. Don't forget!