Breaking up movements : Mulan

One of my regular struggles is breaking up movements so that my animation doesn’t feel pose to posey or that different body parts have the same motion. A few months ago Jason Martinsen gave a talk at Animation Mentor about breakdowns and inbetweens, highlighting the work of Charlie Bonifacio and also the breakdowns used on Mushu in Mulan (supervised by Tom Bancroft).

I went through a couple movements from random points in the film and tracked how the head an hands have been broken up. Note the mix up of spacing, arcs, easing, anticipations and overshoots. I especially love in this first example how the arc of the mallet brings our attention back to Mushu’s face.

*Edit* Thanks also to Charlie and Tom for commenting and crediting the animators. The first was example was by Rob Corley and the following 3 were by Tom Bancroft.




mushu04 mushu04



Twinning : Ratatouille

If I had one shot that had the character’s hands twinning 8 times, is that a bad thing?

I tend to find students are quick to point out twinning when giving critiques, as if to say it shouldn’t appear in an animated performance. But what is it about twinning that makes it something to be avoided? It happens in everyday life and is something we sometimes naturally do. Give “Barack Obama hands” a google image search for a quick example.


If it’s something that naturally happens in everyday life, why try to avoid it when animating? I feel there’s an assumption that twinning = unnatural posing/movements. Yes a lot of twinning does appear unnatural, stiff, mechanical, etc, but it isn’t always that way and there are ways animators can help reduce that feeling.

Coming back to my opening question, I noticed this shot in Ratatouille. It’s a 12 second shot and by my count twinning occurs 8 times.
twinning01 twinning02 twinning03 twinning04 twinning05 twinning06 twinning07 twinning08

I thought this is a great clip for studying how to pull off twinning without seeming unnatural.

Check out the clip for yourself and look out for:
– Small variations in the posing of the hands
– Different timings. The hands come in and out of poses at different moments.
– Different movements. Watch how the hands will move within a pose, one might go up while the other goes down for example.
– Moments where the hands break up into completely different positions. The hands aren’t twinned through the entire shot.

Quicktime: ratatouille_twinning

Another example to study, the opening shot of the Klaus teaser


Animation Styles In CG

The other day I was watching some of the first shots I did on a production and could see one of the main problems I had early on was not fully understanding the style. At A.M shots tend to fall into a “Disney style” or very cartoony, but I think CG animation has become much wider than that and the industry more demanding.

I’m now working on my third production, each time a different style of animation has been required and each with little to no ramp up time. I think it’s a valuable exercise to not just study but try different styles of animation, I’ve found understanding and being able apply a style are two different things.

I’ve made a list of what I think are different styles with examples below, the categories are purely opinion and meant to be just food for thought, but feel free to comment if you think I’ve missed anything glaring.

With motion capture


Highly nuanced

“Disney/Pixar style”
A very loose way of describing it. Both studios use slightly different styles in different productions.


Exaggerated cartoony

Limited animation

Very limited animation

Stop Motion influenced

Claymation Style

Hand drawn influenced

Paper cut out influenced

Stop Motion/CG hybrid

Multiple animation styles in one production

2D Pan/Zoom and Isolate a character script

2 functions I use a lot in Maya:

1. 2D Pan/Zoom
Often when animating things like lip sync, eyes or fingers I’d like to get a closer view of those body parts from the angle of my shot cam. Maya has a simple function that will allow you to zoom in, without actually changing your camera set up.

First, enable the 2D Pan/Zoom in your Viewport (the icon with the magnifying glass).

Second, select your camera, open the Attribute Editor and adjust the settings under Display Options > 2D Pan/Zoom.

Simply clicking the 2D Pan/Zoom icon in your Viewport will now let you flick between your normal camera set up and a close up view.

Update: Thanks to Iestyn in the comments for this tip!
If you really want to speed up your workflow, the ‘ \ ‘ key is the hotkey for 2d pan, if you hold it down (instead of the ‘alt’ key) you can use it to navigate, zoom in & out, pan etc with the normal mouse buttons.

2. Isolate Select
At work I almost always animate with just my character Isolate Selected in the viewport, just for getting better playback speeds and for clarity without having to set up layers in every scene file/unload references. I’ve combined a few different scripts found online into one to make the process isolating a characters much quicker. Basically all I have to do is select one of the main controls (COG, Root, Head, Spine, IK hands), run the script and that character will now be Isolate Selected in the current viewport. The script includes a switch to turn the Isolate Select on/off and also works for all the Animation Mentor rigs I’ve tried.

string $myPanel = `getPanel -wf`;
$onOff=`isolateSelect -q -state $myPanel`;
if ($onOff>0){
isolateSelect -state 0 $myPanel;
isolateSelect -loadSelected $myPanel;
int $i = 0;
string $n[] = `ls -sl`;
while($i == 0){
$n = `listRelatives -ap $n[0]`;
$i = 1;
select -tgl $n;
enableIsolateSelect $myPanel true;
isolateSelect -state 1 $myPanel;

Jules Test

I was recently invited by Animation Mentor to do a shot with their new Jules rig as a way of both testing and showcasing it. It was a tight schedule of 3 weeks in just my spare time, but am happy with how it turned out.

Thanks to Albert Morrissey for his rendering, lighting and modelling skills. Always a pleasure to work with.

Playback range script

This is a simple script/keyboard shortcut I use daily, when setting up my work computer I couldn’t find it anywhere else online so am sharing it here.

All it does is change the playback range of your timeline. In a similar fashion to QuicktimePro, pressing “i” will change the playback range to start on the current frame, pressing “o” will make it end on the current frame. It doesn’t affect the length of your timeline, just what section will be played. It’s much quicker than dragging Time Slider or entering frame numbers.

Set the start of the playback range (assigned to the “i” key):
playbackOptions -min `currentTime -q`;

Set the end of the playback range (assigned to the “o” key):
playbackOptions -max `currentTime -q`;

Figure drawing

I’ve heard so many differing opinions on the importance of drawing by great CG animators, writing my own opinion seems almost pointless. It is however the number 1 skill I’m working to improve on for this year. I have a few books on drawing (mentioned below) but I find there’s enough online to work with, it’s more a matter of sitting down and doing it regularly.

New Masters Academy has some great over the shoulder videos of Glen Vilppu and Steve Huston drawing poses (both artists have taught at Disney and Dreamworks). Even if you have no intention of picking up a pencil they’re great to watch as they both talk about the essence and movement within a pose, a great way of thinking when analysing your video reference.

New Masters Academy offers 26 youtube videos of models posing, but On Air Video also offers a great library. Currently they have 150 model sessions of about 25 minutes each all for free on youtube.

Pixelovely offer a free tool for drawing reference. I like that it has expanded to include hand, animal and expression libraries.

Drawing Force (4 parts) by Mike Mattesi

For those who are complete beginners, this thread might be worth a look. It documents the progress of Jonathan Hardesty who put himself through a fairly regimented program of teaching himself to draw over a few years. As his site shows he became quite successful, but I was interested to see how far he got in just one year:

Some other links:
Why Disney sends its animators to life drawing classes 
Tuesday tips by Griz and Norm
John Kricfalusi, Can Life Drawing Help Your Animation
Jason Ryan, Stick Figure Tutorial
Rad how To
Aaron’s Art Tips

Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth Free Online | Printed
Simplified Drawing for Planning Animation
Drawn to Life
Dynamic Anatomy
Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
How to Draw Animals

Drawing cartoon figures
Tom Bancroft’s books
Christopher Hart’s books
Instruction: Preston Blair’s Advanced Animation

Control Pickers (updated)

*Just updated this post from last year so decided to bring it back to the top of the blog.

The A.M G.U.I picker can be a bit of a hassle to work with as  it’s quite large and doesn’t allow for shift selecting multiple controls. 2 alternatives I used in A.M are Awe Control Picker  and animSelector. Both are easy to set up, take less screen space, allow for controls to be grouped together and also shift selecting multiple controls. While they’re not visual pickers, I have found they are fast to work with.

Of the two I now prefer Awe Control Picker, it’s quicker to set up and found I had less hassles with it. It’s also developed by an A.M alumn who continues to improve on it.

Awe Control Picker:


In addition to those two, AnimSchool offers a  G.U.I Picker. It’s resizable, has the ability to zoom, is easy to set up and allows for selection sets and shift selecting. The only downside is that the Terms & Conditions prohibit the use of the picker with rigs from other animation schools.

One other tool worth mentioning while on the topic is the Studio Library. It’s a pose library that is easy to set up and great if you use the same rig over many classes/shots (thus building a useful library over time). It’s also useful if you have many shots and need to hook up poses between them, if you work in a team and want share poses/animation cycles or like using pre-made phonemes when doing lip sync.

Bill Tytla


I recently saw a compilation of Bill Tytla shots on youtube (posted below) and decided it would be a spring board for possibly starting an “Animation History 101” type series of posts. We’ll see how it goes.

To get an insight into the life of Bill TytlaJohn Canemaker wrote an amazing biography which can be downloaded/read on Animation Resources. I highly recommend it, it’s a well written and researched look at the ups and downs of Tytla’s life. I’ll just offer a brief overview of his career:

Tytla began his career in New York, painting title cards for Paramount animation studio before becoming a T.V animator for Raoul Barré and later joining Terrytoons. His passion though was fine art and he took an extended break from work to study painting and sculpture in Paris, which helped lead to his signature understanding of weight and mass in animation.

After returning to the States and working again at Terrytoons in New York, he was brought over to work at Disney by his friend Art Babbitt. There he became one of the most respected animators, animating on Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia and some Mickey + some war time shorts.

Tytla brought Stanislavsky’s acting approach to animation, performances that were driven by becoming the character and identifying with their inner emotions and thoughts. He had a style of animating “form not function”, basically allowing distortions and imprecise inbetweens into his work if he thought the movement as a whole felt natural. Most of all he was known for his powerful characters which showcased a great understanding of weight; Stromboli, Chernabog and the giant in the Mickey short ‘Brave Little Tailor’.

After becoming unsettled living in California and working at Disney, Tytla quit and moved back to the East coast to work in TV as an animator and director. He was known to become unhappy with his choice, unwilling to adapt to the changing in styles of TV animation, unable to properly manage his own studio and despite his talents and legacy, unable to get rehired at Disney.

Tytla was known to be heavily impressed by Pieter Bruegel while living in Europe, his paintings becoming inspiration for Tytla’s work on The Seven Dwarfs

Tytla animation before Disney. Browse through more on Mike Knight’s youtube page.

Stromboli pencil test:

Montage of some of his work at Disney:

Michael Sporn posted some amazing scans of Tytla’s work, breaking down some of his use of distortions

And also posted this youthful run by Dumbo

Check out the 1:22 mark, an amazing dance scene from his Terrytoon days after Disney. According to Classic Cartoons here it may have also been animated together with Carlo Vinci.

A Chernabog influence on his animation here in Mighty Mouse?

Some of the shorts he directed post-Disney: