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. 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.

Note taking. There’s no video playback on the notes you get :P Sometimes you might not work on the notes for a couple days, so they’re no longer fresh in your mind. Taking notes quickly & properly and also asking questions is really important, supervisors are busy people.

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.

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 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. To balance work, putting in the time and effort into assignments while having some kind of social life is actually harder than it sounds. I’m almost at the end of the course so will be sucking it up and finishing it off.

Green ticks

This is an incredibly simple thing, but something I use almost everyday. The code will set a key and make the tick in your timeline green instead of the red.

$now=`currentTime -q`;setKeyframe;keyframe -time `currentTime -q` -tds 1;

It’s great when you’re past the blocking stage and either have a section where you want to either completely re-do the animation or just clean up your keys so they’re easier to work with. Changing to green just helps make the process clearer, sometimes I might set up to 4 of them and delete what’s in between. To change back to red you can just key the frames again and they will automatically switch back.


Recommended Reading #2

There’s more to animation than the 12 principles, so I’ve been doing less reading on animation itself and more in other related areas.

Just click on the images to find out more, I’m not the greatest of book reviewers. All I’ll say it The Visual Story is an absolute must have, Invisible Ink is a great (Kindle) bargain, still reading Story and Shot to Shot.

02books01 02books02 02books03 02books04

I think you’ll find these on a lot of recommended reading lists. A lot of people also recommend The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression and Emotions Revealed when recommending books about understanding the face. The Emotions Revealed book is a very interesting read, but I found them both to be a bit too detailed for learning how to animate a face. I thought a great explanation was in Scott McCloud’s Making Comics book. He goes over the anatomy of the face and Paul Ekman’s research in a super concise and visual way. If you’re lucky you might be able to google for those specific pages.

Another common one is Acing The First Six Lessons. Again I don’t highly recommend it, I think body language has more relevance to what we do than books on traditional acting.

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Working with Bishop (updated)


Personally not a fan of the rig, I think it’s a few years out of date. But meh, for now we’re stuck with him. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up and use frequently:

1. Channel Box.
Middle mouse clicking and dragging to change values is almost an impossible way to shape Bishop’s face, the increments are just too big to fine tune things. Luckily you can change the sensitivity of the Channel Box to make it more workable. One way is to make it a lasting change by clicking in the top right corner:

Or you can simply hold down Ctrl or Shift while dragging. Ctrl will increase the sensitivity, Shift will decrease it.

2. Fingers
With the default controller you have to select the hand, scroll through the channel box, find the joint you’re after, middle mouse click and drag.. arrgh! Luckily though you can switch to FK fingers and make the process much simpler.

Select the root layout controller, press your right arrow key and you’ll see a bunch of extra attributes. Set FKfinger to Curve. I’ve gone through and delete all the peaks off the pyramid shaped curves, so I’m left with cleaner looking squares.

If you want to make the body selectable, follow the same steps and change Geo Display to normal.

3. Selecting teeth/eyes
For my shot I want to have more control over the teeth than the rig affords me. You can easily go into the rig and unlock teeth or the eyes so you have full control over them. First find them in the Outliner and then in the Attribute Editor change the Drawing Overrides to Normal. Your teeth should now be selectable in the viewport. For the eyes you’ll need to unlock the attributes just by right clicking in the Channel Box.

4. Mods
2 great vids on modifying Bishop by Jack Parry. I found for the first video, you will need to make sure the Uniform Scale of Bishop is set to 1 (not 6) for it to work.
YouTube Preview ImageYouTube Preview Image

*For my Batman mod I actually used a wrap deformer for his mask.

5. GUI
Ditch the A.M GUI, use AnimSelector which I’ve written about here.

6. Changing the controllers

7.  Viewport render problems
Noticed this in my shot and also some other who are working with Bishop. Pretty simple fix, but Wira has pointed out it doesn’t work if there’s an alpha on your shader.


Focus – The Incredibles

Over the past couple months I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the importance of focus in a shot, in other words directing a viewer’s eye so they understand what’s happening on screen more easily. I just had the Incredibles playing in the background and noticed a couple of clear examples in quick succession so thought I’d highlight them.

There are a few factors that influence our focus but I’ll just point out 2 things: contrast in tone and contrast in movement.

1. Contrast in Tone.
If I show this picture, where does your eye naturally want to go?focus07

Or this one:focus06

Instantly it will go to the square, because that area has the highest amount of contrast within the frame. In this case the contrast is in tonal value.

If we look at just one frame from The Incredibles. There are 2 guards screen right, one on the ground and one higher up. Bob has picked up a rock and he starts weighing it up, so we get a sense he might throw it. If we look at the frame, which guard is grabbing our attention more?

If you said top right, then I’d agree. Why? Because the higher guard has gained our attention more through tonal contrast. If Bob were to throw the rock at the lower guard, we’d be momentarily confused. The use of contrast can help direct our eye to what is important on screen and also what comes next.

Here we have 2 guards, but a bright moon is competing for our attention. Why? focus04

Guess where the shuttle Bob has thrown is going to come from. focus05


Because this happens in just a few frames, it makes sense to lead the eye to the shuttle as soon as possible.

In the case Helen is much smaller in the frame, but with the aid of tonal contrast and depth of field on the camera she is still able to retain our attention. Also note how the lines of the room also converge to her.


2. Contrast in Motion


If we now look at this shot, the visual contrast between characters is less. They both take up about a 1/3rd of the frame and are lit equally.  If you play the clip below, even without sound we know where to look. But how?

When a character is talking they have bigger movements than the other character in the shot. It’s almost like a tennis game, focus moves back and fourth between the 2 characters simply by the amount of movement each character makes. All of this helps the viewer to understand what is happening more easily.

The same concept can be applied to a single character. Think of a magician for example. If he wants you to look at a hat in his hand, he’s not going to start kicking his legs and shaking his head, he’ll use hand movements to direct your attention to where he wants it.

Finally, give this a watch and notice how viewers eye movements are dictated by contrast in tone and movement.

Rock gets a shock

Rock gets a shock

I animated this in class 03 as the second assignment.
It was quite tough, we were supposed to animate something up to 200 frames but somehow this ended up being 480 frames, roughly the same as my first assignment (still to upload). I’m glad I did it though, it really helped to get me quicker in polishing. My hat goes off to my mentor, Drew Adams for helping me through it.


Blocking Tips


2 things I do in my workflow to help get those key poses right.

Tear off a copy of your shot cam and hide your environment. The go into Lighting > Use Selected Lights (with nothing selected). You’ll get an instant silhouette of your character.

This just helps me really focus on the key poses. I like to go through my reference/animatic and pull out the key poses in Quicktime Pro. I just copy and paste them into a new quicktime. I’ve taken my current 10 second and reduced it to 4 frames. I then export that as an image sequence, create a new camera in my scene file and import the image sequence as an image plane. I then tear off that camera too. Having nothing but the key poses stacked over the first few frames just simplifies things a lot and I focus entirely on those 4 poses before moving on.
It’s a good idea to save the file as a mov as well, that you can easily add more keys and breakdowns later down the track.

Animation books


We always hear about 2 books on animation that seem to be regarded as bibles, The Illusion of Life and The Animator’s Survival Toolkit. So I’ve decided to focus on 3 other books which I’ve found immensely useful. They’re all very simple reads and all very reasonably priced considering the influence they will have on your career.

Acting for Animators - This is a great introduction to acting for any animator, Ed Hooks has been able to breakdown the differences between how an actor approaches a scene and how an animator would approach a scene. The ideas of power centres, creating empathy even in villains, starting a scene in the middle, etc are all golden points to keep in mind when approaching a shot. This video is almost a summary of the book:

Character Animation Crash Course – Breaks down animation to its simplest forms. It covers everything from timing sheets to staging, breakdowns and animation principles. What really makes the book golden in my opinion is the CD where you can easily step through Eric Goldberg’s animations. Studying and reproducing his breakdowns is really an eye opening experience.

Creating Characters with Personality – While character design might not be directly applicable to a CG animator who is given a rig, it’s still a useful resource. I think the book helps to hone your sense of who your character is and how to convey that while also retaining appeal. The book talks a bit about anatomy, posing and also animals.