Face and Hand Breakdowns : Zootopia

I thought I’d continue looking at breakdowns, this time using the Zootopia teaser as an example. To see a larger version, just click on the images.

When studying the face we can see the animators have used a variety of principles on the breakdowns.

A slight anticipation/squash:zootopia07

A slight overshoot/stretch:zootopia05

A breaking up of the eyes from the eyebrows:zootopia08

A simpler breakdown for a move where less emphasis is needed:zootopia06

When looking at the keys on the hands we can see they’re often in a similar position to each other, but when  breaking down the movements the animators have been careful to differentiate the movement. Notice how one hand leads the other into the next pose, this will cause the spacing and general feel of each hand to be different.

zootopia01 zootopia02 zootopia04

Interview: Job, Joris & Marieke

Job, Joris & Marieke are a small studio based in The Netherlands who produce independent short films, music videos, commercials and illustrations. Their most recognised short thus far, “A Single Life”, earned an Academy Award nomination earlier this year. They have recently followed it up with “( Otto )” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has been selected as the Dutch submission for the 2016 Academy Awards. I recently spoke with Joris and Marieke about starting their studio after college, their inspiration for ( Otto ) and their unique style.


I read you studied graphic design and product design at university, how did you learn your storytelling and animation skills?

Joris: Well we learned by ourselves for the most part, we started out with stop motion and we looked at a lot of making of clips and tutorials to learn that part. After our studies we did a traineeship at a puppet/stop motion studio, I think we learned the basic craft of animating there. When we decided to go for CG we had to learn that ourselves. A lot of tutorials were pretty good to do and Cinema 4D isn’t the hardest package to learn so that helped a lot.

So how long after university did you start a studio?

Joris: I think we were already kind of a studio when we were in college, we did some commissioned work with the three of us and we already had the Job, Joris & Marieke URL so we were starting a little bit. Right after college the two of us did a year of stop motion on the series Miffy, I don’t know if it’s famous in Germany?

Tim: Yeah, I definitely know it.

Joris: So we did that. After that year Job also joined us in this city, so we teamed up in the studio and really started.

So when you were starting out how were you finding the commissioned projects to work on?

Marieke: I think we did a lot of acquisition at the beginning. Once we did this sort of campaign for the ad agencies because we really wanted to work for the bigger agencies. We made a small toy octopus, maybe 10 or so, and we put them in a box and sent them to ad agencies with a note that they should fight over who gets to keep it on their desk. We also wrote that we’ll know when they don’t choose us for an assignment because we said we had implanted listening devices in them. So that was a fun campaign, I think it worked, after some time we got some emails. I think the good thing about that, we could also send DVD’s, but they would just pile up on a desk and they wouldn’t even watch them. But this octopus would be on someone’s desk and they would always think of you.

Joris: It worked really well. And then I think we did a music video for Job’s music project, Happy Camper. Because of that a Dutch hip hop label got interested in us and we were able to do a music video for a guy called Gers Pardoel. He had the summer hit in the Netherlands that year and after that a lot of commercial parties found their way to us because that video clip was such a hit. As acquisition we find music videos and short films are a better way to promote ourselves than doing commercials themselves. They see a music video or short film and say “we want something like that”, for us that’s perfect as right away the commissioned work starts in the direction we like.


So you find that your personal projects and commercial projects overlap and influence each other?

Marieke: Yeah, so sometimes people see our short films and want something similar. And sometimes, like last year, we were asked to do a commissioned film for the city of Utrecht. The Tour De France was starting here and we had to do this video which would feature the city but also the Tour De France. I think we did a pitch, but our idea was a short film. So then it’s like something in-between, it’s commissioned work but it’s also a short film. That’s like the perfect commissioned job you would ever have, but it’s also very rare.


Joris: It’s also the length of the typical commercial, with 20 seconds or something like that, it’s very limiting. But if you get to make a short film for a brand, that’s ideal. Music videos also feel a little like in-between projects. For instance, Mute, the film with people cutting themselves a mouth, we did that on our own which basically was costing us money to make. But afterwards we got an assignment for the London Metro because of that. That was for us, pretty lucrative. That way we can finance the independent work best. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have funding from the Dutch government and sometimes we try to pay for them with what we made from the commissioned work. It’s always a balance, but we really prefer it if people saw our style and asked for an assignment rather than already having a style in mind and asking us if we could do that. We prefer not to do something like that, we always hope that people like our style and ask us for that.

Speaking of style, I’ve noticed you have tried a wide variety, with 2D, stop motion, etc. But your short films tend to keep quite similar, what are you thoughts on continuing a house style over various projects?

Marieke: For us it doesn’t feel like one style, we all think “we’re trying something new” and then when we’re finished people say “oh yeah, it’s the same style” and we’re like, “no we did something new!”. But I understand it feels like that but we also recently did a music video for Fedde Le Grand with robots, and that’s completely different. So yeah, that happens as well. I think because we’re more into telling stories, we find it’s easier to tell stories which are emotionally moving by using human characters. So I think that’s why they start to look alike.

Joris: With for instance, we did a few music videos with a Yeti and we did a children’s series called The Tumblies with these characters made out of discs, which were fairly abstract characters. That’s also a bit of our background, we love for instance Pictoplasma and those kinds of more contemporary character platforms. But like Marieke said, it became a little less weird than in the beginning because of the stories we wanted to tell. With ( Otto ) you have to connect with the people and understand where they are looking, so that’s the reason they have a neck, which most of our characters don’t usually have. With Mute, they didn’t have to convey that much emotion, so the designs are a bit simpler. It always depends on the story. We’re working on a 25 minute short right now and because it will be more of a comic film there are less emotions involved, so that’s why the characters are a bit more simple and stylised. The story always dictates it a little bit, but the really weird characters are more for music videos.

Marieke: Yeah we like that as well, so if we get a nice song and we think “oh we can do something weird” then that’s really nice.

So what was it about ( Otto ) that excited you?

Marieke: Well it started with an experience we had with our daughter. She had an imaginary duck and we went to a party where she took it with her. All the people at the party were excited about the duck and were playing with it. It was really funny but then at some point she wanted to show the duck to my mother. The party was very loud and my mother didn’t really hear what she said, my daughter came up to my mother and said “Look, I’ve got a little duck”. But my mother thought she said something about food, so she took the imaginary food and ate it! My daughter was crying so hard, that was the beginning of the idea to do something with an imaginary friend.

Joris: We had also read something on a news blog that there was a guy putting his imaginary friends on Ebay. He said “you can buy my imaginary friend, he’s got these characteristics” and we loved the idea that you can trade or hand it over.

Tim: Did he sell them?

Joris: I don’t know actually.. We should check that out, I’m not sure. We also thought that’s a production benefit, having a character that’s invisible. It would work very fast if there is interaction but you only have to animate one of them. It turned out we did need an actual Otto in the set and we put it on mute when rendering, just to know where he is or where his eyes are.


So you’ve been running your studio for about 8 years, and I’ve seen pictures of your studio where you literally sit side by side. What do you think makes your collaboration work so well?

Joris: I think there’s a lot of overlap with what we do. In the end everyone has their own specialisation. Job would be more music and art direction and a bit less story and script. That’s a bit more of what Marieke and I do, we also do all of the animating. Marieke does more the part of writing and I do more the part of directing. Then the character designs we do all together, so there’s no real hierarchy. Each person has an area which they think is the most important area of the film and that works really well.

Marieke: We sort of grew up together, when we met during our studies we started watching films and listening to music, so we have the same education. I think also, and very importantly, we have the same taste.

Joris: We’re only three people here, so for the next project we’ll probably have a few freelancers but most of the time it’s just the three of us. That works really well.

Do you watch other much animated shorts or features?

Joris: We watch mostly live action and do we watch quite a lot of films. With short films, it happens quite often that someone names a director who we don’t know, so we’re not really up to date. But for me that really helps, if I knew everything that’s being made then I would be completely bummed out, I would think “everything is done” and “nevermind”. It’s ok not to know everything that’s going on.

I’d like to thank Joris and Marieke for finding time to answer my questions and wish them well with ( Otto ).
For more info about the studio:
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Joris Oprins Talks ‘A Single Life’
Job, Joris and Marieke Open Up About Life After An Oscar Nomination

Animation Master Studies

I’ve always been interested in methods of learning, whether it be animation, language or any other topic. In the creative fields a musician will start by playing popular music, a writer will read profusely and a painter will spend some time copying masters. With modern CG animation schools and their relatively short course lengths it seems that idea of copying masters as a way to learn the craft is often sacrificed.

Long before going through Animation Mentor I stumbled across John Kricfaluci’s blog and his thoughts on learning animation through his self made curriculum. For about a year I followed his process of copying from Preston Blair’s book as a way to study appeal, poses and construction of characters. It was essentially the way I learned to draw.

Fast forward to 2014, where I attended a talk by Mark Oftedal on cartoony animation. He outlined ways of studying and copying the masters of animation then applying those observations into your own shots. It reminded me a lot of John Kricfaluci’s methods and was also a bit of a kick in the butt to get back in the habit.

Below are some examples of the studies I’ve done recently.

Pose studies

Figure studies

Animation studies

Some thoughts on using this method of studying animation:
– As a CG animator I find drawing quite a refreshing way of skill building and observation, especially after a day of sitting in front of Maya.
– Mark recommends doing quick gestural type sketches, John recommends taking time and aiming for accuracy. I tried both and felt I was getting more out John’s method of paying attention to details, I thought more experienced illustrators may prefer Mark’s method.
– In both the poses and animation studies, it’s often quite clear where your understanding or analysis falls short. John recommends overlaying your sketch on top of the original and noting the differences. I found when doing the animations, I’d often miss getting the feel of the original. Going through and finding the points where the 2 differ were often eye opening.
– I also found this method a great way to ramp up for a project. My current project at work is quite cute, so I spent some time going back to Preston Blair’s book and also copying Mickey Mouse poses as a way of getting used to the style.

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 in the same pose 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 very symmetrical twinning does appear unnatural, stiff, mechanical, etc, but it doesn’t always have to be 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 twinned posing 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`;