Sunday, March 31, 2013

Borderlands Animation Collaborative!

The Borderlands Animation project class is now listed for the summer semester under the following name: 


David Latour be teaching the class with Chris Armstrong. You don't have to take the class to pick up shots for borderlands animation, but only folks enrolled in the class will be guaranteed to get work. This class does not have a portfolio requirement but it will require that the instructors see your ten second reel in our first module to help determine how to divide up the initial shots.

This will be a great opportunity to work on a popular franchise in a collaborative learning environment. Space is limited, so sign up right away!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Adventure to The Croods

This Friday, after some critique and a brief lecture on the composition of a demo reel, Tea Time made it's way over to the Metreon for a showing of The Croods!

Long time Tea Timer Jonathan Marshall made this beautiful video to commemorate the occasion. Enjoy!

Tea Time Movie Night from Jonathan Marshall on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thank you, Free Gold Watch!

A big thank you to Free Gold Watch for our beautiful, soft, brand new T-shirts! Here are a few glamour shots of Tea Time this past Friday modeling the merchandise.

If you haven't picked your shirt up yet, be sure to come to this week's meeting! If you didn't get a shirt, let us know! We will be doing a second run shortly.

The Gang


The Gang...lookin' tough!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Word on Reference

Although some might argue that there are the exceptionally gifted out there who don't need to look at reference before they begin an animation -- the only reason they got that way is from studying it so hard in the first place!

So, with that in mind where do you go for reference?
Here are a few of the most popular reference sources on the internet:

-- YouTube
-- Vimeo
-- BBC Motion Gallery
-- Rhino Horse

And of couse, you can always film it yourself! Even HD video recorders are super affordable now, and with cellphones, Macbooks/webcams, a camera is never far away! That being said, there is a time and place to take such a hands-on approach. It's great to shoot your own reference if you're looking for something specific -- i.e. a bit of acting along with a specific piece of dialogue. Here are a few situations where it wouldn't be quite so ideal.

-- Animal behavior reference
-- Accidents (crashes, tripping/falling, etc...)
-- If you're bad at acting!

No matter how much reference you shoot, you will never be an animal (sorry, Andy Serkis), you will almost never realistically force yourself to fall and/or get hit by a car, and, if you have a hard time getting into character, you will never make your acting worthwhile and all your reference becomes moot.

What are you looking for?

In reference, one of the things we so often lose sight of, is the fact that it is, well, for reference! Too many young animators start relying too heavily on their reference files, and their acting becomes rigid and lackluster -- like it's being rotoscoped instead of polished and refined by a trained eye.

So, what are you looking for in animation reference?

-- Strong poses
-- General timing
-- Observed behavior/secondary actions (i.e. hair swaying, blinks)
-- Basic mechanics (i.e. weight shift)

In watching your reference, it's great to take notes, or do draw overs based upon poses or ideas you find really strong within it, and then move along to your animation. Then, as opposed to having your reference open to stare and and/or copy, only look back at it when you need to remember something. i.e. "Where did that foot plant again?" Or "Does the back paw touch down before or after the front paw picks up?"

What am I supposed to do if the character I'm animating doesn't exist in the real world?

Well,  fictional or not, all characters (the good ones, at least) are still rooted in reality. Thus, you would assess your character based upon things you know. i.e. "Well, it sort of looks like it has a fish for a head, but then a crab or a scorpion for the body!" Easy! Go find fish to reference for the motion of the face, and crab and scorpion reference to help you understand the mechanics of the body!

A word of caution:

Although reference can be really helpful in nailing some basic timing, and, when we get stuck on something, to count frames, but you may want to double check and make sure that your reference footage plays back in the correct frame rate. While most animation is in 24 fps, most video from hand-held devices plays back in 30 fps, so your frame counts will NOT be accurate.

We would suggest using Adobe Media Encoder (or After Effects, or whatever you know best, really) to re-interpret the footage at the correct frame rate. You can find a tutorial in their help guide!

Many thanks to Cody and Frank for the delightful lecture.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Jim Sidel - Reader's Digest Style

Recently, Tea Time had the pleasure of hosting AAU's own Jim Sidel for a discussion on the importance of Brevity and Subtext. Here's a little bit on what he had to say:

A Rube Goldberg machine

Brevity -- An Economy of Language

But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth extremely transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the same time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some earthly reminiscence; -- even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of gulfweed in their newborn sight.

--Herman Melville, Moby Dick, (the Grand Armada)

Now, generally, one might not expect a discussion on brevity to begin with an excerpt from Moby Dick. That entire paragraph is only three sentences -- doesn't appear to be very economical, does it?


Brevity is not about being short, per se, so much as it is about reducing a sentence or idea down to what is absolutely necessary without losing any meaning. If you re-examine the excerpt, you will notice that, although it is long, each word carries it's own, particular meaning and thus is necessary in communicating the idea Melville so wishes to communicate.

Another Rube Goldberg machine with explanation.

Occam's Razor:
       Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.
or: "Thou shalt not multiply extra entities unnecessarily"

Developed by Logician, Philosopher and physicist William of Ockham (c. 1285 - 1349), Occam's Razor is a tool that refers to the act of shaving away unnecessary assumptions to get to the simplest explanation. Or: "The simplest explanation is the most likely"

To test Occam's Theory, suppose you come home and discover that your dog has escaped fro the kennel and has chewed large chunks out of the couch.

Theory Number 1: You forgot to latch the kennel door, and the dog pressed against it and opened it, and then the dog was free to run around the inside of the house.

Theory Number 2: Some unknown person skilled at picking locks managed to disable your front door, then came inside the house, set the dog free from the kennel, then snuck out again covering up any sign of his presence and then relocked the front-door, leaving the dog free inside to run amok in the house.

Which is True?

Well, the explanation of Theory #1 only requires only two entities (you and the dog) and two actions (you forgetting to lock the kennel door, and the dog pressing against the door)

The explanation of Theory #2, on the other hand, requires three entities (you, the dog and the lock-picking intruder) and several actions (picking the lock, entering, releasing the dog, hiding evidence, re-locking the front door). It also requires us to come up with some sort of plausible motivation for the intruder, a motivation that is, to us, entirely unclear.


An underlying an often distinct theme in a piece of writing or conversation. Otherwise -- the intent of a character that is not actually being spoken. See what sort of subtext you can find in the following clip:

All characters are based in their desires. In fact -- a character is nothing without them. For example, a talking rat is not a character, it is simply a noun, but a talking rat that wants to be a chef is a character. 

A character shouldn't speak unless it's achieving more than one objective. Otherwise you get stuck with dry back and forth or, characters like the appropriately named "Basil Exposition" who's sole purpose is to move the story along.

Dialogue should:

- Characterize
- Move the story forward
- Show relationships

Good dialogue also: 

- Contains a subtext
- Is alive with action 
- Reflects setting

These two literary ideas are particularly important for those students out there writing a thesis short film.   Are you wasting your breath on a scene that isn't even contributing to your main story? Try using Occam's Razor on your work. How does it hold up?

Do your characters have desire as the fire behind their ambition? Do the want something, and if so, to what lengths would they go in order to claim their prize? As Kurt Vonnegut famously said:

"Every character should want something, 
                       even if it's just a glass of water."

For the undergrads, finding subtext -- even just in our exercises -- will help us to create interesting pieces for our reel, while considering brevity in our actions will help us to create believable performances. 

"Strunk and White's: The Elements of Style" 
Frank Conroy, from his book, "The Dog Barks but The Caravan Rolls on."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Blue Sky PAID Internship Postings!

Internship applications close April 12th, 2013! Don't miss this opportunity. Click here for all the details.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tea Time Animation* and 2K Games!

Over the course of the next semesters, 2K Games will be partnering with AAU to produce animated shorts centered around the Borderlands 2 franchise -- starting with a storyboard contest!

2K will be providing just about everything besides a pen and paper; For those interested in storyboarding, there will be a selection of various story lines for you to storyboard so you don't really even need to know the current lore. They will also be supplying students with all assets -- environments, props, rigged models, etc... -- so even if you choose not to be a part of the storyboard competition, there are still opportunities for you to work with professional-grade material!

If that doesn't entice you enough, top prize for the storyboard contest (other than seeing your vision come to life with the aid of current professionals, of course) is an internship with 2K Games! (Perhaps more than one?)

Am I getting your attention yet? Well then come to the informational panel Thursday, March 7th at 7:30pm in the 79 New Montgomery theater.

Don't miss this amazing opportunity, and don't hesitate to e-mail us at for more information.

*Contest limited to registered AAU students only

Monday, March 4, 2013

Guest Lecture with Jim Sidel

A Tea Time guest lecture on the importance of brevity and subtext with

Jim Sidel
540 Powell street, room 130
Tuesday, March 5 @ 7:00 pm

(with prizes)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Brief Psychology of Head Turns

This Friday, Tea Time had the pleasure of sitting down and letting our very own Rene Salazar step up and deliver a brief, informative lecture on the psychology of head turns. Here's what he had to say:

If we consider the way a head rotates as with the rotation tool in Maya, there are three major axis to pivot upon: x, y, and z. While working, these may just seem like a means to an end -- i.e. I wanted his head turned to the left, so I rotated on the y -- but if we take a moment to consider the meaning conveyed behind each rotation, we can really start using this tool to our advantage to strengthen the posing of our characters.

"Meaning," you say? Why Body Language, of course!

While we, as a species have the luxury of language, only about 40% of communication is what we say mand how we say it. 60% of what we are trying to convey to each other is communicated through body language. While words are important,  communication is also, largely, the transfer of emotion, and one of the easiest way to convey emotion, is through our bodies! Body language in general is a much larger topic, though, so today we'll just focus on head turning.

First things first, Rotate X (like saying "yes" -- up and down).

At either end of this rotation spectrum lies emotions representing Great Glory or Great Tragedy or something vs. nothing.

i.e. Rotating the spine to face upwards through the x-axis opens up the body creating a feeling of hope or triumph -- or "something!" Rotating the spine to curl in on itself, facing the body down through x-axis, closes the character off, creating a feeling of loss or seclusion -- or "nothing."

Next, we have Rotate Y (like saying "no" -- left to right).

This rotation plane conveys awareness. Is asks questions like "Who's there?", "What's there?"

i.e. Picture someone in the military entering the room gun first -- the first thing they do is search along that plane for "who" and/or "what. OR it could be something as simple as rotating the eyes back and forth, it's much more sly, but still conveying the same idea.

Finally, Rotate Z (like a pendulum -- tilting back and forth)

This rotation plane is representative of "Aww" and "huh?"

i.e. If you find yourself looking at cute baby puppy you might find yourself tilting your head to the side and saying "Awwwww!" Meanwhile, if that puppy happens to look back at you, it might tilt its head to the side and think "huh?"

In addition to all the rotation planes, translating the head can help to emphasize the emotions you're trying to convey.

Translating Forward represents attraction or intrigue, while Translating Backwards represents repulsion or disgust.

Rene Salazar
Tea Time Animation
Spring '13

Have your own idea for a lecture? Don't hesitate to e-mail us at to book a talk.