Shaun the Sheep Teaser

Another analysis of something I enjoy, the work of Aardman Animations. They’ve just released a new trailer for their upcoming film, check it out:
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What is similar in Shaun the Sheep and Goodnight Mr Foot? (see previous post)

  1. Character introductions
    Shaun and Bigfoot are introduced on screen in the same way. It is a coincidence, but the movement is visually entertaining, cute and also gives a sense of vulnerability to the characters. In my opinion this introduction instantly gives the characters appeal.shaun12 
  2. Flat perspective
    Both mainly use flat perspective throughout, only bringing depth to exaggerate dramatic points. Read this on flat vs deep staging or grab a copy of Visual Story for more on that idea.
    Examples where depth is used to highlight drama.
  3. Snappy animation
    In the Goodnight Mr Foot post I mentioned the characters go from starting pose -> anticipation -> pop to extreme -> settle over 6 – 8 frames. The same is done in Shaun the Sheep

How is good and evil established?
The farmer and the Animal Containment officer’s goals are in direct conflict with Shaun’s but have a look at how the characters are presented differently.

The farmer has a stern face but we know he’s not a threatening character; there’s the warmth in the colours, he struggles to wake up, flower patterns on the bed cover and the wall, etc. But also the appealing design, he has no eyes. His blindness to Shaun is exemplified in his design and tihs also makes him a little goofy and appealing when he squashes the dog. He’s presented in humorous ways in his first 2 shots.

In contrast the officer wears military style clothing, but also the neck tie, gloves and protective eyewear give us a sense that he’s a bit nuts, threatening and highly organised. There’s nothing fun or warming about him.

Speaking of good/evil, a nice homage:

How are thought processes shown?
In this shot watch closely as he detects something in the corner of his eye, blinks, sits up, eyes dart around and then finally turns.

How is focus kept?
Watch how despite having so many characters, the dog is the only character that continues to move until the very of the shot. He obviously also stands out with the use of colour, but also the moving car starts form directly behind him.

Is everything animated to a high level?
Basically, no. There is some amazing detail to some of the animation. The hen for example has feathers moving, a beak animated on 1’s and even the legs and feet move on the turn.
Also watch how the farmer’s toes wriggle while he is in bed. Very subtle.
Then compare to the shot of the guys taking a photo, apart from the mechanical feel of the shoulders going up and down the characters basically just twist on the spot. More attention is paid to some shots than others.

How are animation principles used?
There’s a lot in this one shot. The hand comes up and anticipates the action. It then tries to hit the alarm clock and misses. There is drag on the wrist, a nice arc and easing in/out. The hand comes back, pauses again and then jumps to the clock. Much greater spacing is used compared to first attempt to give impact to the slam and also give texture to the timing.

What would I have changed?
Just a personal thing but I think the mouth positions to the side of the head don’t work so well, I often didn’t realise a mouth had appeared. Maybe that becomes less of a problem with longer viewing, but right now I feel it’s too disconnected/abnormal to be easily readable.

Genndy Tartakovsky – Goodnight Mr Foot

I’m a fan of Genndy’s work so thought it would be interesting to break down something of his. I’m using Goodnight Mr Foot which is on Youtube (unfortunately with subtitles) which he both directed and animated with the help of Rough Draft in Korea. gnmf16

Smears and multiples
There are so many smears or frames where body parts multiply that I don’t think they need to be highlighted here. There are plenty of examples in the other points below.

Major pose changes The style of the animation is very snappy and I noticed a few ways he gets this feel. Often he will go from a starting pose -> anticipation -> pop straight to an extreme pose -> then settle over about 6 or 8 frames. gnmf01

Sometimes there are breakdowns between the starting pose and anticipation as seen above, sometimes there will be no anticipation and just a breakdown. (the first frame is actually a held pose from the previous action) gnmf09

This is a bit more rare, there is no anticipation or break down at all. But also notice here how the body is settling over 6 frames but the eye pupils remain in the same space on screen. They retain our focus easily by staying in the same spot. gnmf05

Notice here how the hand in the breakdown is placed exactly where the nose will land. I made a gif below to show it more clearly. I tend to think it keeps the snappy movement but reduces things popping around on screen, retains a similar silhouette and doesn’t confuse the viewer. gnmf06 gnmf07

If we look at the start and end pose they feel quite different, he’s looking in different directions and with different emotions. But if you pay attention to the turn, there’s little to no body movement at all. The lack of change in the body helps us focus on the face and in my opinion keeps a comedic aspect to the move. gnmf10

Here he adds texture to his spacing a bit. The witch goes from anticipation, pops up into an extreme, settles a bit but then the body pops down again into another extreme. It’s all very quick but he establishes a rhythm through spacing and then pushes it for a snappy finish to the move. Watch the progression of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frames below for example, then look at how different it is by the 6th.  After that the body settles over 8 frames.gnmf03

A similar thing happens here, there is a rhythm built in the spacing which then jumps and also suddenly introduces depth to the hand for two frames. gnmf08

Change in emotion
We see two changes in Mr Foot on the right. He goes from sleepy to alert to annoyed. Both changes have the character blink, anticipate slightly and then pop into the new pose. Again there’s only subtle changes to the body, his arms and head raise, but his big torso remains in the same pose. Keeping it fairly still helps keep our attention screen centre, where the desk clerk is moving and also where Mr Foot’s face is. gnmf02

Mouth shapes
Check out the range in mouth shapes when the character is talking in close up. From completely sticking the tongue out to speaking out of the side of her mouth. They are unique and completely exaggerated. gnmf14

I also like here how the character’s lips go from one side of her face to the other. They don’t just pop, the mouth shapes are formed so the lips progress across the face. gnmf13

Breaking rules
When studying animation principles it’s often said that when using squash and stretch the same volume should be retained. Genndy breaks those rules here for some visual fun. gnmf15

And also breaks body parts to exaggerate a motion. gnmf04

Animation Mentor Reel

I’ve finally got round to uploading my reel from Animation Mentor.
I’d still like to get in there and fix a few things, but for now I think I’ll focus my energies on a new shot. I’ve also updated the links to my fellow classmates on the side of this blog, be sure to check them out too.

I’m also considering options for when my current work contract is up later this year, so please feel free to drop me a line if you have/know of any suitable opportunities. Thanks!


The trailer for the show I’ve been working on has just been released at the San Diego Comic Con, I’ve got one pretty simple shot in there. I think it’s a fun show, hope it does well and hope you enjoy.

Animation Mentor

I completed the Animation Mentor course a few weeks ago so wanted to offer my thoughts to those who are considering enrolling. I know there are quite a few write ups online, but I hope this post differs in some way. I should note that I went through Classic course, I haven’t experienced the collaborative classes or creature workshops.

Firstly I will say (and I know this does sounds cliché) I do feel my experience was amazing and what I got out of the course has indeed been life changing. My skills have exploded, the way I perceive animation + the industry has changed, it has already helped me kick off my career and I have made some great friends. It has been the most challenging, the most exhausting but also the most personally fulfilling period of my life.

The A.M curriculum definitely gives you what is needed to succeed in becoming a character animator. It’s a very well designed course, it’s not hard to get an amazing mentor and there is a strong sense of community + supporting each other.

I think the key point though, is what you get out of the course is entirely dependent on you. It depends on your motivations. It depends on your willingness to listen and apply what you’ve been advised. It depends on your amount of time, your amount of effort, and your willingness to help others.

A.M likes to promote the idea of ‘following your dreams’. I see A.M itself as being the sign posts along the road to a dream, or more realistically, to the goal of becoming a character animator. Actually travelling down that road and reaching that destination isn’t something that A.M – or any other school for that matter – will ever give you.

If I were asked if I would recommend Animation Mentor, then I think my answer would totally depend on who is asking. In general I will say the workload can get incredibly demanding,  there are often decisions by the school you don’t agree with, I do think it needs to be supplemented with your own study (drawing, story, animation/art history, etc) and there are other cheaper + highly reputable schools online. A.M does have its flaws and limitations.

But I do think in terms of what it is – a course specifically focusing on character animation – it is very well structured, it can definitely help you reach new levels, challenge your abilities and be an all round fantastic experience. It’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to put into it that will determine how far it will take you.

Exaggeration – Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

Something I notice in a lot of student work is what I tend to think is a misunderstanding of the principle of exaggeration. I feel that many think the idea of exaggeration is just making every movement bigger and over the top, especially when trying to do a cartoony style. I think a different way of looking at the idea of exaggeration is not necessarily making things bigger, but to exaggerate the contrast between elements. Quick timing vs slow timing. Big movements vs smaller movements. Light vs dark. Pinky vs Brain. Etc.

There’s a few problems with making quick+bigger movements across an entire animation.
Firstly It doesn’t let the audience breathe and take in what is happening, it affects the clarity of your storytelling. But also without the smaller/slower movements, the bigger/faster movements lose their impact. Emphasis and texture in the shot are lost.

I just came across this deleted scene from Cloudy WIth A Chance of Meatballs 2. The style of the show makes great use of exaggeration and think we can take some things from even just 3 shots in this sequence.

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Firstly we see Flint racing down the street in a very exaggerated way, big crazy movements and very fast. He then swings around the parking meter and bursts in through the door. A key point though is that he spends longer at the parking meter than he needs to, about 18 frames. Just having that extra little bit of time to pause gives the audience to take in the scene, what’s happening and also an idea of what’s going to happen next. So while his run is exaggerated, his pause is also exaggerated.
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We see Flint in a hold, a super quick move in 2 frames but then another hold before he makes the mark across the calendar. This isn’t all just one big/quick movement that leaves the audience behind, there’s a deliberate use of fast vs slow that gives the audience information they need and texture to the timing.

I love these jump cuts. Take note that his arms are flailing in big/quick movements. But watch his body, there’s hardly any movement. That stillness gives us just enough to read what’s happening in such a short cut. Our eye doesn’t have to jump round the screen following his body in each shot, but we still get the emergency of the scene through the exaggerated arms and poses.cloudy06

Lighting & Viewport 2.0

My most asked question from this blog is how I light/render my shots. My basic answer is I don’t render anymore, and I start with a simple 3 point lighting set up.

Instead of rendering I use Viewport 2.0. So for example this is actually what I see in my viewport in Maya:

To render I just do a playblast. The quality isn’t as good as a render, but it allows me to easily touch up shots and continually update my reel. I think that’s more important than render quality.

I’ll use a more simple example to give a quick run down of how I light my shots. For this character it takes about 2 minutes and I can just simply do a screen grab for my assignment. I should note there should be a ground plane so the character casts a shadow, see below for turning on shadows:

Switch to Viewport 2.0. I generally turn the anti-aliasing values up to their highest:viewport03

This is my lighting set up. I tend to use Directional Lights unless there’s just a specific area I want to light.


If I just have each light on, you should get an idea of what each light is doing.

Key Light = the main light source.

Fill light brings some detail into the shadows, you can see here I like to add a fair bit of colour to it.
The rim light just helps separate the character from the background. It’s just a subtle touch.

That’s all there is to it, just 3 lights and a change in viewport rendering. Simple.
I don’t recommend working in Viewport 2.0, it’s more intensive and can be quite buggy at times

To turn on shadows you need to do it both in your viewport and on the light you want to be casting shadows.

Frozen Teaser – shot analysis

I was watching the Frozen teaser and noticed the first shot is very similar to what we do in class 4 in A.M, a single shot showing a character change emotional states. I quite like how Disney handled this shot, so will go through why I liked it.

» View the full teaser on youtube.
» View a quicktime of just this shot.

the setting is established. In this case the character isn’t even in the frame. Everything is fairly muted except for the flower. There’s also no texture behind it, it sits on the rule of 3rds and is the only object in the foreground. The flower draws our attention straight away.

the character is established. Notice how he walks, it’s clearly not a vanilla walk, the character has personality and also a clear emotional state. He’s happy.frozen08

the character notices the flower. Key point here is how Disney showed the character is thinking. He sees the flower, but doesn’t react instantly. The animators gave him time for him to process what he’s seeing, blink and then change expression. Now he’s excited. Notice the squash and stretch in his face during this process and also the character does a couple half steps, his walk changes slightly along with this facial expression.

– the character becomes enchanted. 
They almost spent 40 frames of the character just looking at the flower. It really gives us time to absorb the situation. There’s some nice touches with secondary action, which aren’t all that important to the story but help establish character and appeal. The posing is clear, we know what he’s looking at, we know how he’s feeling, there’s some nice negative space between him and the flower and they’re also angled towards each other, marking a visual relationship.

– the character smells the flower.
 He doesn’t just give it a quick sniff, it’s another good 40 frames. Compare that to going from standing pose to smelling only taking only 5 frames. The use of timing helps highlight what’s important for the story.

– the character becomes satisfied. 
Is the flower important anymore? No, it has done its job, now the focus is completely on the character’s reaction. You can see the film makers tried to reduce the importance of the flower with a subtle change in composition, it’s now half out of frame. Throughout the shot they are only keeping objects in frame that are necessary. There’s nothing extra.

Also worth noting is the lines, they all lead to the characters eyes, this is where our attention should be, they will be key to helping us understand the characters emotional state.

The eyes also fall almost perfectly on the rule of thirds. Everything in the frame is working to help guide our attention.

- the character sneezes and loses his nose. I love the build up here, he doesn’t instantly just sneeze. Again we’re being spoon fed, the film makers are giving us time to understand what’s going on. There’s some nice timing to the build up, there is a bit of a rhythm in his breaths which are broken when he completely loses control of the sneeze. The timing and posing of this is completely different to the start of the shot, he has clearly changed emotional states and his driven the story forward with a new conflict.



Working in a studio (in Japan)


I’ve been working at Polygon Pictures here in Tokyo for the past couple months as a full time freelance character animator, so I thought I’d write up a blog post about my experience transitioning from A.M to a studio.

The job/company:
I’m working on an international TV series and while it has just been announced, I’m not quite sure how much I can publicly say here about my project so won’t go into it.
The studio is also working on a TV series for Studio Ghibli and in the past worked on Transformers Prime, Star Wars:Clone Wars, Street Fighter IV and Tron Uprising. They have also just released their own anime TV series, Knights of Sidonia (シドニアの騎士). There are currently around 300 people, with the animation department taking up about 50 – 60 people. I think there are 3 others who have been through A.M.

Thoughts on working on a TV series and not a film:
The plus is the variety of work you get. All kinds of shots, characters, etc. There’s a high turnover so you’re always working on something new and different. I think it’ll also help to make you more confident in your choices, there’s no time to noodle things around. You really have to push things too far and bring them back, rip parts of animation out, trust your instincts, etc.

The downside is there’s no time to really go deep into planning or polishing. I haven’t seen anyone doing thumbnails or shooting reference. The other downside to the high turnover is I can see how it could be easy to become lazy in your animation.

What’s different between work and school:
Time. This isn’t a film studio and A.M is definitely gearing students towards film so a difference is to be expected. But  working with TV quotas (30 – 40 seconds a week) is a massive difference to what we get in school.

Style of animation. Being TV based the style of animation is more limited. It’s not like you have to relearn animation, but is a bit of shift in thinking. I’m also faced with types characters that aren’t available among the A.M rigs, especially creatures that can fly or have more than 4 legs.

What I found useful from the A.M course:
Surprisingly one thing I noticed was having animated a quadruped was a huge help, I was animating one in my first week on the project. Taking time to study the mechanics really made the process easier and it was something my supervisor actually commented on.

The way A.M is set up is really quite similar to how the studio runs, so it was quite easy to adjust. Feedback is similar, workflow is similar, rigs are similar, etc.

My thoughts on A.M’s collaboration classes:
Now being in team environment, I can say I don’t feel any disadvantage in taking A.M’s classic classes instead of their new collaborative classes. If anything I feel my reel is stronger and was a bigger help in landing the job in the first place. I would however love access to that line up of new lectures on story they’ve created.

Unexpected problems:
Repetitive strain injury. I spend way too much time on a computer now that I work in a studio and do A.M on the weekends. Luckily i haven’t had any serious pain, but did feel a bit of wrist strain in the first couple weeks. Stretching and making sure to take breaks has sorted out those problems.

Procrastination. Wanting to check Facebook, email or whatever doesn’t simply just disappear because you’re at work. I have a workflow where I do blocks of time, purely doing animation and then set aside short breaks for anything else, from writing an email to grabbing a snack. It works pretty well. There are people who leave at 7pm and there are people who leave after 10pm. I want to be one of the former.

My impressions of working in a Japanese studio:
It’s quiet. Japanese animators from what I’ve seen so far are incredibly introverted. Put a beer in their hand and they’ll be quite open and willing to talk, but the next morning they’ll be back to being very introverted.

The studio has about 8 or 9 translators in house, so people have widely varying degrees of English and Japanese fluency. The pay is quite a bit lower than what I would expect in a western country. Contrary to what some might believe, working long hours is actually discouraged.

You quickly get a sense of how lucky you are to be an English speaker. You don’t have to look far to find someone who dreams of working at a top Hollywood film studio but can’t speak a word of English. It also explains why there are so few Japanese students in schools like A.M, I’ve met a few animators who’ve said they’re mainly self taught.

The application process:
I applied directly through their site and actually just sent shots just from classes 2 and 3. From there I was asked to do an animation test. All applicants receive one round of feedback and are asked to refine it. From there I had an interview with HR, an Animation Director, Animation Supervisor and Line Producer. I also showed work which I had just completed from class 4 around the time I sent in my animation test. It took a few weeks from applying to receiving an offer (I should note I was already living in Tokyo).

About working in a studio while studying:
It’s hard. Really hard. To balance work, putting in the time and effort into assignments while having some kind of social life is actually harder than it sounds. 80 hour weeks and getting to bed at 4am on assignment days are a norm. Doable for short stints, but definitely not healthy. It affects the way you eat, sleep, socialise and simply move your body.

It also affects your quality of work. To do one well you have to sacrifice the other, or you have to do both at a level that isn’t your best. Working a full time job (especially any kind of demanding job) while doing A.M is not something I recommend. Luckily I’m near the end of the course.