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.

Shaun the Sheep Teaser

Another analysis of something I enjoy, the work of Aardman Animations. They’ve just released a new trailer for their upcoming film, check it out:
YouTube Preview Image

What is similar in Shaun the Sheep and Goodnight Mr Foot? (see previous post)

  1. Character introductions
    Shaun and Bigfoot are introduced on screen in the same way. It is a coincidence, but the movement is visually entertaining, cute and also gives a sense of vulnerability to the characters. In my opinion this introduction instantly gives the characters appeal.shaun12
  2. Flat perspective
    Both mainly use flat perspective throughout, only bringing depth to exaggerate dramatic points. Read this on flat vs deep staging or grab a copy of Visual Story for more on that idea.
    Examples where depth is used to highlight drama.
  3. Snappy animation
    In the Goodnight Mr Foot post I mentioned the characters go from starting pose -> anticipation -> pop to extreme -> settle over 6 – 8 frames. The same is done in Shaun the Sheep

How is good and evil established?
The farmer and the Animal Containment officer’s goals are in direct conflict with Shaun’s but have a look at how the characters are presented differently.

The farmer has a stern face but we know he’s not a threatening character; there’s the warmth in the colours, he struggles to wake up, flower patterns on the bed cover and the wall, etc. But also the appealing design, he has no eyes. His blindness to Shaun is exemplified in his design, this also makes him a little goofy and appealing when he squashes the dog. He’s presented in humorous ways in his first 2 shots.

In contrast the officer wears military style clothing, but also the neck tie, gloves and protective eyewear give us a sense that he’s a bit nuts, threatening and highly organised. There’s nothing fun or warming about him.

Speaking of good/evil, a nice homage:

How are thought processes shown?
In this shot watch closely as he detects something in the corner of his eye, blinks, sits up, eyes dart around and then finally turns.

How is focus kept?
Watch how despite having so many characters, the dog is the only character that continues to move until the very of the shot. He obviously also stands out with the use of colour, but also the moving car starts form directly behind him.

Is everything animated to a high level?
Basically, no. There is some amazing detail to some of the animation. The hen for example has feathers moving, a beak animated on 1’s and even the legs and feet move on the turn.
Also watch how the farmer’s toes wriggle while he is in bed. Very subtle.
Then compare this to the shot of the guys taking a photo, apart from the mechanical feel of the shoulders going up and down the characters basically just twist on the spot. More attention is paid to some shots than others.

How are animation principles used?
There’s a lot in this one shot. The hand comes up and anticipates the action. It then tries to hit the alarm clock and misses. There is drag on the wrist, a nice arc and easing in/out. The hand comes back, pauses again and then jumps to the clock. Much greater spacing is used compared to first attempt to give impact to the slam and also give texture to the timing.

What would I have changed?
Just a personal thing but I think the mouth positions to the side of the head don’t work so well, I often didn’t realise a mouth had appeared. Maybe that becomes less of a problem with longer viewing, but right now I feel it’s too disconnected/abnormal to be easily readable.

Genndy Tartakovsky – Goodnight Mr Foot

I’m a fan of Genndy’s work so thought it would be interesting to break down something of his. I’m using Goodnight Mr Foot which is on Youtube (unfortunately with subtitles) which he both directed and animated with the help of Rough Draft in Korea. gnmf16

Smears and multiples
There are so many smears or frames where body parts multiply that I don’t think they need to be highlighted here. There are plenty of examples in the other points below.

Major pose changes The style of the animation is very snappy and I noticed a few ways he gets this feel. Often he will go from a starting pose -> anticipation -> pop straight to an extreme pose -> then settle over about 6 or 8 frames. gnmf01

Sometimes there are breakdowns between the starting pose and anticipation as seen above, sometimes there will be no anticipation and just a breakdown. (the first frame is actually a held pose from the previous action) gnmf09

This is a bit more rare, there is no anticipation or break down at all. But also notice here how the body is settling over 6 frames but the eye pupils remain in the same space on screen. They retain our focus easily by staying in the same spot. gnmf05

Notice here how the hand in the breakdown is placed exactly where the nose will land. I made a gif below to show it more clearly. I tend to think it keeps the snappy movement but reduces things popping around on screen, retains a similar silhouette and doesn’t confuse the viewer. gnmf06 gnmf07

If we look at the start and end pose they feel quite different, he’s looking in different directions and with different emotions. But if you pay attention to the turn, there’s little to no body movement at all. The lack of change in the body helps us focus on the face and in my opinion keeps a comedic aspect to the move. gnmf10

Here he adds texture to his spacing a bit. The witch goes from anticipation, pops up into an extreme, settles a bit but then the body pops down again into another extreme. It’s all very quick but he establishes a rhythm through spacing and then pushes it for a snappy finish to the move. Watch the progression of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frames below for example, then look at how different it is by the 6th.  After that the body settles over 8 frames.gnmf03

A similar thing happens here, there is a rhythm built in the spacing which then jumps and also suddenly introduces depth to the hand for two frames. gnmf08

Change in emotion
We see two changes in Mr Foot on the right. He goes from sleepy to alert to annoyed. Both changes have the character blink, anticipate slightly and then pop into the new pose. Again there’s only subtle changes to the body, his arms and head raise, but his big torso remains in the same pose. Keeping it fairly still helps keep our attention screen centre, where the desk clerk is moving and also where Mr Foot’s face is. gnmf02

Mouth shapes
Check out the range in mouth shapes when the character is talking in close up. From completely sticking the tongue out to speaking out of the side of her mouth. They are unique and completely exaggerated. gnmf14

I also like here how the character’s lips go from one side of her face to the other. They don’t just pop, the mouth shapes are formed so the lips progress across the face. gnmf13

Breaking rules
When studying animation principles it’s often said that when using squash and stretch the same volume should be retained. Genndy breaks those rules here for some visual fun. gnmf15

And also breaks body parts to exaggerate a motion. gnmf04

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.

Lighting & Viewport 2.0

My most asked question from this blog is how I light and render my shots. My basic answer is I don’t render anymore, and I start with a simple 3 point lighting set up.

1. Rendering:
Instead of rendering I use Viewport 2.0, this gives a higher quality image in my Maya viewport:

To “render” I simply do a playblast. The quality isn’t as good as a render, but it allows me to easily touch up shots and continually update my reel. As an animator I think that’s more important than render quality.

2. Lighting:
I’ll use a more simple example to give a quick run down of how I light my shots. I should note there should be a ground plane so the character casts a shadow, see my edit below for turning on shadows.

Firstly Switch to Viewport 2.0. I generally turn the anti-aliasing values up to their highest. I don’t recommend actually animating in Viewport 2.0, it’s more intensive and can be quite buggy at times.


This is a view of my lighting set up. Here I’ve used Directional Lights as it’s a such a simple set up, when lighting a more complex scene Spot Lights might often be a better choice.

If I just reduce the scene to one light, it should get an idea of what each light is doing.

Key Light = the main light source.

Fill light
brings some detail into the shadows, you can see here I like to add a fair bit of colour to it.viewport05

The rim light just helps separate the character from the background. It’s just a subtle touch.


The combination of all 3 lights should give a good starting point to your lighting set up.

To turn on shadows you need to do it both in your viewport and on the light you want to be casting shadows.

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.

Maya Hotkey Placement

Ever thought about where your most used shortcuts are on the keyboard? Wouldn’t it make sense to have them together and in easy reach of your free hand?



My new set up, and I’m sure this will change/improve over time.
Q, W, E, R, T, S, D, F = remain the same.
Y = activate insert key (graph editor)
A = playback toggle
G = time dragger tool (formerly by holding K in the graph editor)
Z = last keyframe
X = previous frame
C = next frame
V = next keyframe

The following shortcuts are from Aaron Koressel
Option + W, A ,X, D = moves my keys up, left, down and right in the graph editor (ackMoveKeys)
Option + C = snaps selected keys to the current frame in the graph editor (ackSnapToTime)
Option + S = snaps values to be the same as the last selected key in the graph editor (ackSnapEndKeyValues)

Texturing Tribe Rigs


This is hopefully a simple way of changing textures without digging too deeply into it. A fairly basic-intermediate understanding of Photoshop is needed.

First up.
If you open the texture file you’ll see something like this.texturing02

Save another version with a new filename. I tend to work with Tiff to retain layers, though I’m sure somebody will tell me why Targa is a better filetype.

If you open up your reference file of any of the characters, go into the Window > Rendering Editors > Hypershade and go into Textures. You should see anim_color_MAP(file) (this may be a different name for other characters). Click on that and in the attribute editor you should see Image Name under File Attributes. Click the small folder, find your new texture map and load that in.


In the texture map each area corresponds to a different area of the body. If I change it to simple colours you should be able to see what area of the texture map applies to which part of the rig. The red area is the right arm, the green is the torso, etc.


A good way to get a general guide of where things will be on the texture map is to use the 3D Paint Tool. You can basically roughly paint on the mesh and then clean it up in Photoshop. Select your mesh first then, go into your Rendering shelf click the 3D Paint Tool icon (should be the last one). Next, in the Attribute Editor click Assign/Edit Textures. Now you should be able to freely paint on the mesh.


When you’ve got a rough idea painted, hit the Save Textures button in the Attribute Editor. In your project’s Source Images folder, you should have a new 3DPaintTextures folder with the the new texture map inside. Using this you can now make a cleaner final version in Photoshop.


Continue reading

Character/personality walk cycles

I decided to collate some references for when thinking about what character/personality walk you want to do. Just sitting outside and observing people around you as I did recently will bring out a whole variety of walks. Films also have a never ending number of personality walks, compare how Wreck it Ralph walks for example to Vanellope and you’ll see two distinct characters.

If you use one references below I recommend using it just to get some ideas and then shoot your own footage, you’ll end up having a more unique base to build from.

I also like how in this clip around the 33 second mark Richard Williams recommends mimicking how a person walks, in order to really get a feel of the body mechanics at work:

A great blog with some animated walk cycles: http://walk-cycle-depot.blogspot.jp/



From Preston Blair’s Cartoon Animation book:

Endless reference has a few good walk cycle reference clips on youtube. Check out their channel.

How to walk in high heels:

How to walk with a cane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFMEmG6YKDI

Charlie Chaplin walking:

Seven Dwarfs (around 2:00 mark)

Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks

A few student reference videos with a variety of walks:

(It is in 15fps, definitely shoot your own material)