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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!

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.

Working in a studio (in Japan)

polygon

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.

Loopdeloop

Because I’m a little bit loopy myself, I decided to do another shot on top of my A.M assignments and submit to the loopdeloop.org animation challenge.

The final animation needed a bit more polish on it, ran out of time in that department. But otherwise am pretty happy with it. Thanks to my friend Albert for his help in setting up an environment and rendering. Will try and submit another time.

Check out our submission.

still

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

To no real surprise I’ve developed RSI in my right wrist, which was causing me to consider taking a Leave of Absence. Luckily my doctor said it’s not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, I’ve strained some tendons that won’t do permanent damage. He’s told me I can continue on and see how it goes.

To get back into better work habits I’ve gone back to using the Strict Workflow add on (based on the Pomodero Technique) in Chrome. Basically it gives me 25 minutes of work time then will sound a short alarm. That gives me a 5 minute break before going back into another 25 minute work block. In other words it’s forcing me to give my wrists a 10 minute break every hour, and helps make I’m out of my chair for 5 – 10 minutes every hour to have a stretch and a walk around.

The added bonus is the app will block web sites of your choosing for that 25 minute period. Great for escaping Facebook and getting work done. It’s also easy to add up how much time you’re actually spending on a project. At the end of the day, hopefully it will lead to better health and a more productive workflow.

pomodero