Personal Tests

Something mentors in later classes of Animation Mentor often said is “keep doing your own personal shots”. It’s a no brainer for graduates still looking to get their start, but also good advice for animators in the industry who may not always be getting shots that will progress their skills or fulfil their creative itches.

Something I soon realised after Animation Mentor is very few people follow through on that advice. In my personal experience I have never finished an acting shot on my own, there’s been multiple attempts but all end up gathering dust after some time.


One thing I’ve found is I personally can’t work without an outside expectation on me to deliver a large amount of work. In a class you have expectations of your mentor/teacher to meet, you have weekly deadlines, grades to uphold, a financial outlay you’re trying to get the most out of and classmates to compare your progress against. Once you take all those elements away, you’re down to just self discipline to to go through a shot from start to finish. When a shot takes weeks to complete, it’s not hard to fall off the bandwagon and stay off it.

For those who find themselves in a situation like this and would like to keep adding to their reel, here some suggestions to combat the problem:

  • Offer to help out on a short film.
    This brings back deadlines, meeting a director’s expectations and comparing your own progress against your peers. If you’re able to jump on a project with a director from an animation background you’re also able to gain useful feedback that pushes your skills and understanding of animation. I’ve helped out on shorts for former Pixar animators Carlos Baena, Bobby Beck and Everett Downing and have enjoyed all experiences. From the various projects I have about 2 minutes of completed animation, way more than I would be able to complete on my own. If you’re looking for projects to join, check out Artella or Nimble Collective. Tip: before jumping on a project ask about adding your completed shots to a private reel. Side projects take years to complete, when you’ll be able to show your shots publicly is anyone’s guess.
  • Loop De Loop
    Loop De Loop is an online animation challenge which offers a theme, a 2 month deadline and screenings in multiple cities. The 2 month deadline is adequate time, there’s no minimum time frame for your shot, there’s a guaranteed audience and is also a great step to challenge yourself in a bit of directing a shot/concept development. Here is a post breaking down how I collaborated on a Loop De Loop with an old university friend.
  • 11 Second Club
    Well known within the industry, a line of dialogue about 11 seconds in length is supplied and a 1 month deadline is given to complete the shot. Shots are voted on and winners are announced. Completing an 11 second dialogue shot in 4 weeks is tough, but definitely doable, the short time frame means the ball has to be continually rolling and helps stop the “I can do it later” excuse.
  • Find a mentor
    This can be as simple as approaching someone you look up to and saying “do you have time to look at my shot?”. Be sure to apply their feedback before showing them again, if they see you’re not applying their notes then it won’t be long before they stop replying. I’ve approached various people I’ve met for their advice, and always have received replies/notes to work on. Tip: think of people you know or may have met personally rather than reaching out to complete strangers. Have something ready to show and don’t approach them saying “can you be my mentor?”
    Some animators such as Jean-Denis Haas also mentor for a fee much lower than schools. If you’re paying money always check reels, not just credentials of the mentor. I have seen junior level animators offering mentoring for a fee, something I’m quite skeptical of.
  • Take More Classes
    This is very common, even for animators who already have their foot in the door. The structure of a reputable school in my mind beats all the above options, but obviously comes with a high price tag. Animation Mentor offers discounts for alumni retaking classes, Animsquad, iAnimate, AnimSchool, CGtarians and Animation Collaborative are all great as well. I know numerous animators who have tried a mix of the schools to find the best solution for what they wish to work on. Some offer specific classes in cartoony animation, creatures, facial performance, etc.

I should mention, for current students it might be best to hold off trying any of these until after graduation. I often had students asking to help on DUEL and often see students taking multiple classes, try an extra shot on the side, etc. In my mind it’s spreading yourself too thinly and not getting the most out of your education.

New Project

I’m happy to announce I’ve been directing another project, this time a VR short film as a collaboration between Artella and Sketchfab. We’ve got a tight team, a budget for the artists and a goal to produce the short form start to finish in under 8 weeks, everyone working on it as a side project. It’s a huge undertaking, but so far everything has been completely on schedule.

Our crew is split between members of both communities, spread across 8 countries and most of the Artella community members have come from our DUEL team.  The working title is Petrified and you can see an overview of the project + updates on our Artella page.

Concept art by Hyuna Lee:

Character design by Carlos Quintero.

The team:

Industry Life

I recently heard about Double Fine’s documentary on the making of their Broken Age game. It’s quite long but I thought it gives one of the best insights into working in a creative field, being valuable for both people looking to enter into the games or animation industry and also experienced animators looking to develop their own projects. Here is a link to the documentary and below it some take aways that I thought might be of interest.

Generating ideas
I thoroughly enjoyed how much time the documentary spent on Tim’s idea process, it seems to be a topic that I don’t see covered all that much. The depth he goes to in brainstorming ideas was great to see, literally showing endless titles before landing on “Grim Fandango” as a name for his game for example and not being afraid to shoot out fairly random/bad ideas to get it. I was also intrigued about his process of free writing as a warm up before getting into generating ideas specifically for the project and also that he still brainstorms offline, with pen and paper in his office, library or cafe. If you’re working on a shot or a short film, how in depth do you go before starting up Maya?

Listening to notes
One of the earlier episodes features an intern, who later in the production is employed to do some remote contract work. Tim states one of the reasons the intern became so valuable wasn’t so much because he did amazing work in the first pass, but because he was able to listen to the director notes and apply them well in the second pass. It’s a nice reminder that being a great animator isn’t just about talent or skills, but the ability to listen and achieve the director’s vision.

Unfavourable notes
To delve deeper on that same point, there was another stage of production where an animator was screening for director approval, only to be told that the scene needed a complete reworking from the ground up. The animator later mentions to camera that the scene is 4,000 frames long, a huge amount of work to delete and redo. The thing to take note of is how he handles himself in that situation, there is a brief back and forth between himself, his lead and the director, but there was never a complaint or bitterness voiced. In a similar point to the above, being professional and easy to work with in my opinion is as important as how good your showreel is.

Productions are tough
One of my take aways from directing DUEL was the realisation that everything goes wrong. Everyday there’s a new problem to solve and the process of delivering a project is tackling those problems one by one until it’s finished. It seems the Broken Age project was particularly hard and it shows. There were mentions of people sleeping in the office, Tim mentions stress maybe helped lead to gallstones being removed, one programmer was forced off work for a week during the intense crunch and the audio engineer was close to tears when looking back on the project. We’re often given a pretty image of the industry on production documentaries, it was nice to see this one not being afraid to show that productions can physically and mentally affect those working on it.

Business drives decisions
Throughout the documentary we get insight into seeing how the business side of a company affects a project, one of the reasons of starting the project in the first place was to avoid laying off members of staff. It is nice to think that we choose to work in a creative industry, but at the end of the day the work we do is largely influenced economics. One example being the decision to split the game into two acts in order to have enough funds to complete the project, but it also later becomes depressingly clear when the studio does indeed go through lay offs due to a project cancellation. Just how dire the financial positions of some studios can become is something that few talk about while studying.

Finishing a project
One moment I particularly liked in the documentary was when the trailer was screened for the first time. The smiles on the crew’s face as it played on a big screen in an industry event is a great feeling and I think the film makers captured that well.
I thought the documentary also captured the strange feeling of releasing a project out to the public. There was a lot of reading comments on forums, watching analytics and generally.. just sitting in front of a computer. Premiere screenings are a great experience, but after that, the feeling of releasing a huge project can be somewhat anti-climactic. The amount of effort vs instant gratification is severely mismatched and the cliche of “enjoy the process” starts to hold a lot more meaning.

They were just some moments that stood out to me, hopefully you can also enjoy and find your own takeaways from the documentary. Kudos to the Double Fine crew for being so open about the production process.

Making of DUEL

DUEL was the first project to be completed using Artella, as such we were invited to do a 1 hour Q&A about the process and making of. Some topics we covered
– Coming up with ideas
– Hair without simulation
– Problems encountered
– Keeping a team engaged on a distributed project

Watch below:


Proud to finally share our short film DUEL. It marked my first time directing, an amazing experience working with 46 artists around the world. The short premiered at the CTN Animation Expo as its opening animation, followed up by a fun panel talk and a Cartoon Brew exclusive online release.

The level of support and enthusiasm my the short was inspiring, thank you to all those involved. We’ll be doing an online Q&A on Wednesday December 14th, 9pm Pacific Time. Come and say hello!

06_still01 07_still02 08_still03


It was announced this week that the short film I’m directing will be the show opener for CTN, followed by a panel discussion about the making of. We’re currently pushing hard to get things done, but will post more about my thoughts on film making, directing and online collaboration once it’s done. Looking forward to posting more frequently again on this blog.

Announcement on Artella.
Article on AWN.

Master Studies 2

A while ago I posted about Master Studies.

It’s something I still continue to do and usually upload them to my Twitter account.
I thought I would do a follow up post since I’ve made some changes to my studies but also would like to address the most common question, “how are you doing the animated studies?“.

Time Limits
In my previous post I mentioned I liked taking time to focus on detail. After a while you start to become more comfortable with your ability and found actually having a time limit helped me get through more and focus on the main shapes/ideas. Previously I would easily spend a few minutes on each sketch, now I have it down to somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds depending on my mood.

60 seconds each.Disney pose studies

A mix of 30 and 60 second studies.
Disney pose studies

I then started to apply that time limit approach to animation studies. Here is about 90 seconds per frame.
Great Mouse Detective animation study

And here going down to 30 seconds per frame.
Mulan animation study

I feel I got as much out of those as doing something more detailed, without time constraints.
Zootopia animation study

Actually doing the animated studies.

I simply import a quicktime or gif into Photoshop and use the Animation Timeline to draw the different frames.
Animating in Photoshop

The animation timeline isn’t exactly the most user friendly. To make things easier creating Actions can help by automating steps.
F1 will set the start point of a frame.
F2 will set the end point of a frame.
F3 will create a new frame starting at the current position of the timeline marker.

If you need more information about that, check out Alex Grigg’s video explaining how he animates in Photoshop.

One question I’m often asked is “do you trace the animation?“. My answer to that is simply no. I don’t feel I’d be learning to understand the shapes, negative spaces, line of action nearly as well by tracing. I draw next to the original. To help keep shape, volume and positioning I will
– sometimes use Onion Skinning
– pay attention to background elements to help keep a sense of where things should be
– on harder studies I will use a grid. The problem I found with a grid is you start paying attention to detail again rather than the overall shape/pose. If you do go that route, the bigger the grid the better.

Further Studies.
One limitation of all these studies is that I’m copying what’s in front of me and not necessarily applying what I’ve been getting from each study. As a next step I’ve started doing memory sketching. First copying the pose and then trying to redraw it simply from memory. By doing so it’s easier to see where I can still be pushing poses, shapes, etc.

Pose Studies - Memory sketching

The other limitation I’m seeing is that by doing the animation test next to the original I’m not paying much attention to timing. That’s something I’m yet to figure out a good answer to, will hopefully have more to say on that next time!



Complexity vs Simplicity – Glen Keane

Glen Keane : Duet Posing

In drawing there is a principle known as “Straights vs Curves” which I think ties strongly into what I like to think as, “Simplicity vs Complexity”. The contrast of simple and complex lines/shapes helps to create appeal in a pose and can also often help to lead the eye to points of interest, usually the complex area of the drawing. Griz and Norm visually explain the idea on their blog here and here as does Rad Sechrist here.

While watching Glen Keane’s Duet, it was easy to spot this idea in action.
Glen Keane : Duet Posing Glen Keane : Duet Posing Glen Keane : Duet Posing

I find the principle is easier to apply when drawing than working in CG, while drawing you are much more aware of the use of your lines and negative space than when posing a 3D rig. So out of interest I went through the Tangled Teaser (animation directed by Glen Keane) to pick out points where this idea of Simplicity/Complexity have been applied with CG rigs.

Tangled PosingTangled Posing Tangled Posing Tangled PosingTangled PosingTangled Posing Tangled Posing
Tangled Posing Tangled Posing

Animation School vs Industry


The above 2 pictures popped up on my Facebook feed today, and thought they were a good example of something I’ve noticed having made the transition from Animation Mentor to the industry.

Animation Mentor and other character animation specific schools have set up a great system that reflects the day to day role of an animator in a medium to large studio. The idea of choosing an audio clip, using a prebuilt rig and showing just playblasts allows the student to focus the vast majority of their time purely on the animation.

But even within the assignments you’re still getting a taste of the different departments in the pipeline. You will create your own story for the shot, probably draw up an animatic, mod the rigs to create more unique characters, build a set, establish staging, etc. While the mentor will act as a director, there’s still quite a lot of creative room given to the animator.

If you have a look at the above images though you can see that so much had already been established by the story artist. This to me is a good example of where school and industry differ.

The room given to the animator is going to vary widely. The director’s/supervisor’s directing style, detail in storyboards, the deadline, the type of production, the studio culture, etc is all going to influence how much room an animator will have to move in bringing ideas into the shot. But for any students reading, I think it would be worth finding some storyboards (or progression reels) from films you like and compare it to the final production. While it may not be the most eye opening exercise ever, it will give you a greater insight into the actual role of an animator and what to expect when you do make the leap into the industry.

Animated by Carlos Baena

Animated by Jason Martinsen