Category Archives: Process

Planning an acting shot

Currently working on a new acting shot for my reel, so while in the planning frame of mind I thought I’d make a post out of some tips I’ve gathered and now use as part of my workflow.

1. Searching for Audio Clips
Animation Mentor discourages audio clip web sites and I personally tend to agree with them. Find unique clips with decent audio quality. TV shows can be a reliable source, if you can think of a character you like then there will be plethora of lines if the show has run through a few seasons.

Some things to look for in clips:
– A story. A start, middle and end. A goal, conflict & resolution.
– Texture in timing and tone.
– A change in emotional states.
– Something that appeals to you.

You can also make the audio clip work better for you. Add sound effects, cut things out, add “white noise” so there isn’t complete silence before your clip starts, etc. Keep it simple though, playing with audio is a new can of worms.

One last thing to keep in mind, if your clip is 10 seconds long your animation could easily end up being 15 seconds. Sometimes you may need time before the dialogue starts in order to set the scene or some time after the dialogue to finish out actions. The length of your clip doesn’t always equal the length of your final animation, it’s something that’s easy to get caught out on.

2. Ideas
Build on what’s already there in the audio. Read into the subtext, change the context, bring something fresh to the table. Don’t just replicate the same scene as the film/tv show.

3. Animatics
Having basic drawings with timing and audio gives a much better sense if the idea will work. Even just having one quick storytelling image for each idea will give others a good sense of your idea in order to give feedback.

I like drawing in Photoshop with the timeline. If layering audio I’ll use After Effects to assemble the animatic. I’ve also used the Animation Desk iPad app for pantomime shots.
It doesn’t have to be all high tech though, a cheap option is Flipbook which Jason Ryan recommends and also Pencil which is free.

Some of my storytelling images for 3 different clips/ideas:

4. Shooting reference
First, two breakdown vids that hopefully most have seen before, both from Blue Sky animators.

Epic Animation Tips – by Patrick Giusiano
YouTube Preview Image

Epic Comparison Reel – by Jeff Gabor

Memorise the lines.
Amazing how many students don’t do this. Without knowing the lines and timing off heart, you’re not going to get into the performance.

I like to use the FiLMiC Classic app as it lets you shoot in 24FPS and you can also lock off focus and exposure. I like the ease of reviewing shots with app but also the frame rate is a big plus, you can precisely count frames for the timing. If you’re using a dedicated camera try not shoot 30FPS, if you convert it later 6 frames of every second will have to be dropped, it just makes it a bit harder to analyse.

Set the camera up in the same position as the camera in your scene and occasionally check what you’ve been shooting.

Make sure your area is well lit so you can clearly see the reference. Just a quick comparison of what happens when you change the position of your lights.

Patrick in the video above recommends getting into character, including similar clothing. Jeff in the 2nd does a mix, wearing the hoodie for Mary Katherine’s shots for example, but he also wears a plaid shirt in other shots. If you have them, plaid, striped, dotted clothes can make it a little easier to study the body mechanics in your acting.

Sometimes when acting you know you’ve done something spontaneous you like, or just felt it was a better performance than others. I like to clap at the end of the take, it just makes it easier to scrub through and find those specific takes later.

5. Mod your characters
Create new characters. Show their character traits in their design and have something that looks a bit different to other shots on other people’s reels. Some of how to do this was covered in the Bishop post and Texturing Tribes Rigs.

6. Show people
Pretty simple, show others and get opinions before getting too deep into an idea. Facebook groups are great, I like to pick people whose work I like and mail them directly. Everybody is pretty open to helping out.

Loop de Loop 2

A year since doing our last Loop de Loop submission, my friend Albert and I decided to collaborate on a loop again. Only this time we ended up winning at the Sydney screening. Yay. The L.A screening this time was sponsored by Nickelodeon who held it at their studio in front of about 400 people. Great to see this little animation community grow. The idea is basically to create an animated loop based on a given theme, then get together in one of four cities and watch them with a few beers.

» Watch our clip here.


I thought I’d break down a little bit of how we worked. It’s just 12 seconds of animation, so it’s not too different to any of the Animation Mentor assignments. But having to design the set, do final colour grading, give notes on the modeling/texturing, etc actually made the process a lot more fun. We busted it out from start to finish in about 3 weekends and has been one of my favourite projects.

Working with Albert.
Albert is in Australia, I’m in Tokyo so we did everything via email. He likes lighting, rendering, modelling, rigging and I like animation, designing and coming up with fun ideas so our skills and interests compliment each other well. The only thing I felt we are lacking is in the audio side of things, will have to find someone else if we do another clip.

The idea.
The theme for the Loop De Loop challenge was “childhood”. My aim was to do a shot without too much body mechanics so we could hit the deadline with some fairly decent animation. I found the clip of a child laughing on youtube and it essentially narrowed down the possibilities from the broad notion of “childhood” to just a child laughing at something. Having that, it was just a matter of coming up with an entertaining reason for the kid to laugh.

The animatic.
It’s quick and rough, but you get the idea. I don’t think anything changed during our production process.

The animation.
My aim was more on getting this done on time than having something for my showreel so there’s nothing special to mention here. I pretty much worked entirely in spline mode and got it pretty much close to done in a couple nights. There’s a lot of parent constraints going on to give the car suspension, so Stan can turn the wheel, give some bounce on the sunglasses and Pinky some eyes.

The rigs are from Animation Mentor, we basically just changed the textures on them and as just mentioned, gave eyes to the second kid in the back.

The environment.
I roughed this sketch out to get a sense of colour and environment design before hitting Maya. I spent a lot of time on colour variations in Photoshop but found I was getting nowhere so decided to finalise it once we had some of the set modelled.

Hopefully here you can see how the set/design process went down as a collobaration.

I liked that I could send simple sketches to Albert and he could come back with his own spin on them.

Albert likes to work in Modo, so I supplied an alembic cache (basically it bakes out all the animation) of the character animation. He cleaned all the unnecessary parts that came with it, applied some sub surfacing scattering to the textures and then pulled it into the lit set he was working with. We rendered *almost* everything in the one go, the environment, characters, motion blur, etc.

Post production.
There’s not that much going on in post. To keep our rendering times down we had fairly low quality motion blur, which looked a bit extreme on the truck. So we rendered the truck separately and applied motion blur in After Effects. We also did some quick reflection fixes on things we hadn’t spotted before rendering and applied a bit of a colour grade. I find colour grading is incredibly complex, so not sure if I actually improved the renders by tweaking with it.

After Effects file, with truck and bad naming conventions 😛

The reflection + glowing seat we decided to fix in post:



Loop de Loop is an awesome bit of fun. To enter something, to go to the screenings, etc is all free. They are currently raising funds to make it even bigger+better, so if you’re interested in the event be sure to through some support at it on Indiegogo.