Tips for Animation on TV Series Projects

It’s been a few years since I finished Animation Mentor, and I have learned a tremendous amount in that time! Shortly after finishing, I got very lucky in my job search and managed get a position as a freelance character animator for a brand new children’s TV show that was just beginning production (YOKO). As a freelancer it is a pretty rare opportunity to find gigs that last much longer than a couple months. Heck, even if you are an animator that is traveling from studio to studio on contracts it can be rare to find jobs that last much longer than a year, due to the nature of the business and it’s project schedules. Needless to say, a steady gig with more than a years worth of work a head of me was great way first foray into the animation industry!

Since then, I have worked on 15 episodes for that series as well as started work on another fun TV series (Fantasy Patrol) with a new studio. In that time I also got a chance to do some feature film work and a few commercials. All of these experiences have taught me new skills and brought forward new challenges I’ve had to overcome. I wanted to take some time and write out a post, maybe even a couple posts.. discussing some of the things I’ve learned. Some things I discuss will be relevant to any part of the animation industry whether you’re working in film, games, or TV while others may have more weight in specific mediums than others. I am by no means an expert, or have as much experience as someone who’s worked in any one of these areas for a long period of time but I think some of these experiences could be helpful for others to read about. So first…

Speed is Important!

Deadlines. Part of being a good professional is being able to be creative on a deadline. This is not an easy task and takes a lot of time and energy. In both big studios and small projects there is always a deadline. In features there are deadlines but they are typically much longer. Television animation often has tighter deadlines and requires animators to work much faster. If you are not good at managing multiple different shots all at once in various different stages of progress, it can be a big challenge. Using your time wisely and finding workflows that speed up your progress are essential. It is not uncommon for an animator working in television to do upwards of 20 seconds of animation in a week. This can seem like an insane amount of footage to those use to feature film quotas of roughly 3-5 seconds a week; however, it is all relative when you factor in many other variables such as complexity of characters and the level of polish required. When I first started in TV, I was a little worried about the quantity of animation, but once I got into working on the show and found faster methods of working it has been quite manageable. The longer you are on a project and start to learn the style and characters your speed will naturally begin to increase as well. Of course there are some days where you just gotta push through and put in the extra hours to hit your deadline but that will always be the case. 

Find tools and scripts to help you!

Depending on the show and how much time and planning the project has had in pre-production you may have an awesome animation library or a strong set of add-ons and scripts at your disposal starting day 1 of production. Thanks to having a really awesome animation supervisor, and team of technical directors on both YOKO and Fantasy Patrol we are able to animate very fast for some scenes that would normally take way longer. That being said, I have never had a single shot where a cycle or pose just worked perfectly, but if you work smart you can use these tools to greatly increase your speed. I have found it as a fast way to lay down a strong foundation in a blocking stage and help you get to the end result much faster. Sometimes, for example, you can also find interesting ways to utilize a run or walk cycle and modify it using animation layers to build on-top of it. Problem solving is a lot of what animators do, and finding ways to solve these problems creatively and quickly will set you up for success, especially when you have a lot less time to get a shot done.

Simplify, simplify, simplify!

I am always thinking about simplicity when animating my shots. How can I do a specific action in the cleanest way, and convey the message of the scene clearly to the audience. That doesn’t mean making things less entertaining, but it does mean knowing what areas are the most important to focus on. When you have a large amount of footage to animate it is important to understand that perfecting a finger pose is not as important as nailing down the timing, spacing and overall silhouette of the action or pose. Simplicity comes in many forms when working; from finding the clearest poses for your character, to making sure your constraints are set-up correctly. It all comes down to finding simple methods to achieve the desired performance in a reasonable amount of time.

Working on YOKO really challenged me to simplify. The characters are extremely simple designs, and have some interesting challenges when it comes to finding appealing poses. Sometimes, having these limitations on a character actually can bring about some really fun end results because you have to start to think about solving problems in the scene in much different way than you might with a more naturalistic character or style of animation.

Take time to plan!

Planning is always an important aspect of animation and something that should never be skipped. However, planning a shot when you have a large quota and a tight deadline can be tricky. I do not always have time to shoot video reference or draw a bunch of thumbnails, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take time to study the animatics and storyboards provided to me from the Layout Department. It is always a good idea to take even just 10-20 minutes before laying down keys and think through your shot. Scrub through the animatic and look for possible problem areas, think about how you will need to set-up your constraints, how you will handle any props in the scene. Think of ways you can utilize any animation cycles or saved poses to speed up the process. I always make sure to have a pretty good understanding of the possible challenges a shot will throw my way before diving in. It is also a great idea to discuss your shots with either other animators or your supervisors when you find a specific spot that might be a problem.

Be Flexible! Don’t be afraid to adjust your workflow!

Depending on the project, or even in many cases, the individual shot I am working on, my workflow can change. I used to think you HAD to follow the more traditional method of blocking in stepped keys and then eventually moving into splines and polishing the shot. However, as the variety of the shots I was cast in would change, I quickly learned that some workflows just do not work as well for specific types of shots as they do others. For example, in really subtle shots, I might start out working in splines right away, because to me I wont be able to get the proper subtle body motions figured out when thinking in static poses. I really like to work more layered in these cases. However, in broad actions or more cartoony and exaggerated scenes where you really need to highlight specific graphic shapes and poses, I like to work in a more common stepped blocking stage and refine from there.

In other cases, if I have a very movement heavy shot or a lot of body mechanics, I will often switch back to working in a layered approach starting in spline tangents again. It helps me get a sense of the rhythm of the shot and know that the timing is working before I get too detailed into it. Then there are times where I will start with stepped keys and block that way but consistently switch all my stuff over to splines to check the timing is working pretty well, then switch back to stepped and keep pushing. This is a workflow I have used more commonly in the feature work or higher polish work. I think learning to work in various different workflows and being comfortable switching between them and understanding what works for YOU is a skill all animators can find valuable and it is something that comes with just doing a lot of work and a variety of scenes. I think this is the biggest thing I have changed over the years, learning to adapt my workflow for the situation at hand.

Pose Libraries are your friend!

Many projects, especially film and TV series have characters that need to stay “on-model”. In most cases they will often have very specific ways they should be posed for certain actions or expressions based on the style determined by the animation director.

Using a pose library to store approved poses, expressions or even just basic mouth shapes for lip sync is a huge time saver! You will almost always need to push these poses and tweak them but it can be an excellent starting point to get you where you need to go.

Stay organized!

Utilize anything you can to keep you on track to complete your shots on time and to the best quality. Directors, producers and animation supervisors love animators that complete work on time and meeting the quality standards! Most studios have some form of pipeline tool like Shotgun to help you keep track of everything. However not every project will have a budget for that and you will likely have multiple shots to keep track of. It is not uncommon for me to have 5-10 different shots on a show assigned to me at once, all that have varying deadlines and degrees of difficulty. Knowing which ones to tackle first or which ones may require more revisions is important. Don’t let poor organization be your downfall.

Don’t be this guy!

 

 

 

 

 

That is all for this post, check back soon and I plan to have more interesting content! If you enjoyed the post please, feel free to comment or send me a message and let me know what you think!

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Interview with Alexey Medvedev – Animation Supervisor

New interview! Hot off the presses! I’m really excited to share this interview with Alexey Medvedev, Animation Supervisor at Wizart Animation – TV Series Department. Alexey is my Supervisor on the TV show YOKO. I’ve worked with Alexey for about 3 years now, and it has been awesome! I owe a lot of my improvement in my animation abilities to him. Alexey has a huge passion for animation and also a great eye for detail. His feedback on my shots and guidance really helped me grow as a animator and push my skills. He is a great guy to work with and really knows how to lead a team of animators. I hope you all will enjoy this interview with him, he has some really great answers. First though, check out his demo reel below:

Alexey Medvedev Demo Reel 2017:

 

Where are you from and how long have you been working as an animator?

I was born in Lugansk (Ukraine), but for more than 15 years, I’ve been living and working in Moscow (Russia).

Have you always worked in the animation industry, or did you have any other jobs before becoming an animator?

I have a Master’s Degree in Political Science and Master’s Degree in Project Management, however, I did not work in any of those fields. Ever since high school I really loved music and planned to do it all my life, but my parents said that music is just a hobby and you need some real education… bla-bla-bla.. I know that many of us have been in the same situation. So, I went to University to study Political Science, as my parents wanted. But, at the same time continued to learn music and play in a band.

After University, myself and fellow band-members decided to level up and move from Lugansk to Moscow! The city of big possibilities and broken dreams. You can actually find me behind the keyboard in this video from 2002 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er2-cb9sM4E

Sadly, this trip ended as a total epic fail. We were all good friends in Lugansk, but when we moved to Moscow and forced to live all together (5 men) in one small room in the hostel it became difficult. We were not ready for that new big family. So, after one year our band broke-up. Moscow broke our dreams to become famous stars and we parted just as friends. In that moment I understood, that I never want to depend on anyone in this life, and I stopped playing music.

How did you learn animation? Did you go to school for it?

After Moscow,  I came back in Lugansk. My mother convinced me to enroll in the Public Administration Magistracy and get a Master’s Degree in Project Management. But during all those boring lectures about politics and management I read the book “3Ds Max Bible” and started to learn Photoshop. I did not have a PC at home, I just read this book all the time. Sometimes I was given the opportunity to work on the PCs of my friends as well. I often tell this story to young people, who have iPhone 6S, MacBook Pro and more yet, they tell me that they cannot learn or do something 🙂

So, I got my Master’s Degree in Project Management and came back to Moscow. Some of my friends helped me to get a job as a Junior Modelling Artist in a small animation studio. At that time I could create models of sofas and vases and I thought that I was a God in modelling! But, once in the studio I realized it was quite the opposite..

This was around 2004, and I had worked there for about a year when my boss made an offer for me to try animation. (Actually, it happened because he had just fired another animator. Yeah, crazy times…) So, that is how I became an animator.

After that, I spent many years learning and studying animation by myself. In Russia there was no special animation schools and there was almost no information on the internet back then to learn from either. After 5 years of my blind practice, Sasha Dorogov, a famous Russian animator who worked at Disney for more than 15 years came back to Russia. Sasha started to teach animation here in Russia. I was not his student directly, but got a lot of information from my friends. It was like a breath of fresh air after being imprisoned in a stuffy cave.

Since that time I have worked on many projects! Then one day, a friend of mine who worked as a producer in the new series department of Wizart Animation made me an offer to join their team as a Supervising Animator. They were starting a a new co-production Russian/Spanish TV Show called “Yoko”. I decided to give it a try and now it has been almost 4 years that I’ve been doing it!

What is a typical day like as an Animation Supervisor?

Actually, my working day is not that big of differences compared with a regular animator’s day. I’m also looking at animation all day!

How is working for TV different from working on feature films?

I think the main differences are that TV has small production teams and is more forgiving in production mistakes, it also has less strict quality requirements. It’s like comparing a small fishing boat and the Titanic, really. Also, when you are working on feature, you know that the audience will see the final result after several years and you do not actually know if it will be successful or not. As said Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Studios said “Even we cannot predict success of our movies.”

What is different from being a Supervisor versus a regular animator on a show?

Here I can point two main exceptions:

  1. I need to hire the animation team and organize their work.
  2. I do almost no animating myself. Instead, I spend most of the time reviewing other animators work.

Also, there are other responsibilities that are important for a supervisor, because you have to stay between your team and the Director. It is the Supervisor’s job to transfer clear information from the Director to the team and constantly monitor the quality of animation according to the Director’s and Producer’s requirements. Sometimes, it’s not easy either! Almost always animators on your team have different experience levels and you may spend 80% of your time reviewing 20% of the animators to the get necessary quality.

How is it working with a team of remote animators on Yoko?

On “Yoko” we had 2 teams of animators – one Russian and a second international one. I’m working with the foreign animators. It was a big challenge for me, because it was first time I needed to communicate in English. Also sometimes I needed to work nights through the different time zones.

Do you think using remote animators is helpful for a studio?

Definitely yes. The main reason why studios are working with freelancers is to save money. This is because freelancers often get their salary by episodes with a fixed fee.

Do you have a favorite project that you have worked on in your career?

My favorite project for this moment is “August 2008” created by studio MainRoad|Post http://mrpost.ru/projects/28

It was the first Russian movie with a lot of scenes involving character animation. For me, as an animator, it was a big level up! Also, working with MainRoad|Post was the best time of my life. I call them the “Russian ILM” 🙂

What do you do outside of animation to stay motivated and creative?

I’m an ordinary person. Sometimes I get frustrated with the work as well. But, when I return to the animation, I realize: what may be better than this? Damn it, I have the best profession in the world!

Do you have any advice you can offer newer animators that want to work in the industry?

I can say only one thing, beginners should spend a lot of time and attention to learn and practice the “animation basics”.  A person, who may perfectly animate a bouncing ball, can rule the world! 🙂

 

Thanks again to Alexey for taking the time to write out these great answers! I hope everyone enjoyed this interview and please, if you would like to reach-out to Alexey, below is his IMDB and Linked-In page.

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2324626/?ref_=nv_sr_1
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexey-medvedev-831b3376/

 

Interview with Kaveh Ruintan – Freelance Animator


It’s another Monday, and that means only one thing.. a new post! This week we have another interview! I had the pleasure to chat with the one and only Mr. Kaveh Ruintan!! Kaveh is such a talented animator and great person to work with. I have had a great time working with Kaveh on two different projects now and he is a huge asset to any team. Kaveh is one of those animators who no matter the shot, he is going to give you something awesome to look at when it’s finished. He has such a great eye for animation. Oh yeah, and he is also just a super fun guy to chat and work with! Please, take a look at his demo reel below then give his interview at read! Kaveh has a ton of great answers and advice for all animators!

 

Where are you from and how long have you been working in animation?

I’m from Iran and I’ve been working in animation since 2009

What made you want to become an animator / do you have a specific moment that sparked your interest in the field?

As long as I can remember I’ve always loved animation, I remember watching Disney’s Jungle Book as a kid and wanting to grow up and be just like Baloo The Bear. After Toy Story came out I started thinking that perhaps I can actually do animation for a living but still wasn’t sure. It was always in the back of my mind, then came a movie called The Incredibles and that did it for me, man, that film was so awesome that I knew then that life wasn’t worth living if I wasn’t an animator!

Are you self-taught or did you get some type of formal education / training?

I’m self-taught in animation, but I have a degree in Fine Arts so I guess a little bit of both?

Have you always worked remotely/freelance or have you worked “in-house” jobs as well? If so which studios?

It was around 2013 that I got into freelance/remote work but I actually started my career working in house for a studio, back in 2009 I think, it wasn’t a very good experience for me and I got a bit discouraged in animation. After that I worked in house for another studio called Tuca Animation, it was a great place and I learned a lot, unfortunately that studio is no longer active but I met some amazing people who I’m still in touch with and two of whom I’m currently working with on a secret project!

Can you describe your typical work day as a remote freelancer? If you worked in a studio setting before how does it differ compared to working remotely? Are there things you like better about working remotely and vice versa?

The typical day as a remote animator for me starts around 9am, armed with a big cup of coffee, sitting at my desk, I usually like to start my day with watching a few clips from my inspiration folder. It’s a folder where I’ve gathered art works that I find inspiring over the years, there’s animation, live action, drawings, photography, paintings, you name it. It gets me excited for my day and also is a good reminder that I have so much more to learn!

The actual part of animating isn’t very different whether you’re at home working remotely or at a studio. You just sit at your computer and do animation. The one thing that is great about the studio environment is that sense of collboration that happens when you’re physically in the same room with other artists and you talk about your work, ask their opinion and bounce ideas off of eachother. Which of course nowadays we can almost replicate with online meetings where everyone joins in but it’s not quite the same.

Do you keep a regular set of hours?

I try to, but with remote work it’s not always easy to do. Sometimes other people are in different time zones and you have to attend meetings. But as much as I can, I try to stick to a 9am to 6pm working hours.

I have noticed the industry often has a bit of a seasonal tendency at times, with more jobs during certain times of the year and less at other times. Do you have advice for things to do during those slow periods of the year?

Yes! Improve your skills and grow! Start drawing, join a life drawing class if you can, if not just set aside an hour or two every day for drawing. Study film making, there are some great books out there (I’ll share some of my favorites below).

Study the work of masters, the 9 old men, James Baxter, Glen Keane, Sergio Pablos. Study acting, join an improv class if you can, study film, break them down, pay attention to composition, to lighting, to camera moves, the great directors always have a reason for moving the camera. Go outside and do some photography. These things will add to your knowledge and also help to keep you inspired.

In your experience working remotely, what is the most common method of interacting with the client? Do many studios utilize some form of pipeline tool like Shotgun?

I’ve worked on projects that we’ve done everything through email and I’ve worked on projects where there was a great pipeline setup with an online software like Shotgun or Cerebro. Usually it depends on the number of people involved and the production budget for that project.

How did you break into the freelance market, specifically remote work? It can be tricky for new comers trying to get that first gig, do you have any advice?

I owe my first remote gig to my good friend and super talented animator Chris Mayne. He knew of an opening for a remote animator on a TV show that he had worked on and he recommend me, thankfully they liked my reel and I was hired!

I’m not sure if this would be helpful but, for breaking into the industry, there are two things that in my humble opinion are the most important. First is your reel, which should be good, there are a lot of great info on how to make a kick ass reel out there. Just Google it!

Second thing is your attitude and professionalism. It doesn’t matter if you have the best reel in the world if you’re not a team player and can’t collaborate effectively with others.

Also remember that animation industry in the world is a very small, tight community and most people know each other. Try to be respectful and professional to your colleagues, even when you’re in school, be nice to your fellow classmates. Try to help others if you can. The person sitting next to you right now might end up hiring for a project a few years later.

I have found scheduling jobs can be tricky at times, sometimes deadlines are extended or project start dates get pushed around making it difficult to always plan. How do you handle this? Do you ever double up on projects?

That is so true! It can definitely be tricky, it’s not always easy to plan ahead. I’m not sure if I have a good answer for you. I have doubled up on projects before and sometimes it’s been difficult. To me, I just try to plan ahead as best as I can as far as how long each project would take and go from there.

What advice do you have to upcoming animators and students who want to work in the industry but maybe cannot get into a physical studio right away?

Keep at it! This is going to sound like an old cliche but if you work hard, keep improving and getting better, sooner or later someone will give you a chance. If you can’t get into a studio right out of school, don’t be discouraged, keep learning, do small animations for practice, reach out to experienced animators, show them your work and ask for feedback. When I was learning I found a veteran animator through a forum and he agreed to give me feedback on my bouncing ball exercises. He didn’t ask for anything in return, he just helped me out and I learned a lot from him.

On that note, I’ll be more than happy to give feedback if there’s anyone out there who would like to show me their work, you can find me on twitter or vimeo.

Have you done any freelancing/remote work in the games industry? If so, how has that work differed from the more “film/tv” based side of things?

I’ve done one small gig for a game a few years back. the game was never released so I can’t talk about any details. But overall, you need to pay close attention to mechanics, physicality and weight and to make sure to check your work from all angles.

Do you have any other skill sets that you use, like modeling, rigging, lighting, stop-motion? Has having more of a broad range of skills provided more opportunities for you?

When I started learning 3D, I learned some modeling, rigging and lighting. I wanted to learn everything so I could make my own short film! But I soon found out that it’s almost impossible for one person to master everything.

Having said that, I would encourage student to learn about other aspects of production, even if their focus is on animation (Just to clarify, by learning other skills, I mean to get a general understanding of how things are done). Those skills will definitely come in handy one day, as an animator, a general knowledge of modeling and rigging would be helpful just so you can understand how things work under the hood.

There’s been a couple times that I was asked to work with the rigging team to test drive rigs and to make sure they were production ready, and having an overall understanding of the technical side helped me to communicate more effectively with the TDs.

Part of doing freelance work is having to learn some minor business skills. Do you have any advice for learning the business side of being a freelancer? Do you have any tips or good resources you would recommend on topics such as quoting, invoicing, taxes, contracts?

I’m probably the worst person to ask this from! I’m not very good at the business side of things, thankfully I’ve been lucky to have had jobs where people on the other side were more than fair to me.

What are your thoughts on the growth of remote workers in the animation industry? Do you think it will become more common as years go on and the technology continues to improve?

I’m seeing more studios nowadays willing to do remote work, and it looks like it will be more common as we have better tools for online collaboration.

Do you have any favorite projects that you have worked on?

Almost every project that I’ve worked on has had some great memories and it’s difficult to choose one as my favorite. Usually the people that I get to meet and collaborate with are the highlight for me! But I think one of the best projects that I’ve worked on to date has been La Noria. The short film directed by veteran Pixar animator Carlos Baena and produced by Sasha Korellis.

Man, working on this project has been like an animation grad school for me, I’ve learned so much, and not just about animation, but about directing, editing, lighting, etc. Carlos and Sahsha are very generous with sharing their knowledge and also with letting us see what other departments are doing, I’ve worked on other projects where animators were only allowed to see the animation and not other stages, which is fine, but being able to see the whole pipeline and learn from the work being done by other artists  has been invaluable to me.

Any last bits of advice, words of wisdom or anything you definitely want to mention before I let you go?

One thing that I believe in, is to give each shot my absolute best effort, regardless of how much it pays, how long the shot is or whether or not it’s a juicy shot. Take pride in your work, always try to do your best work in the given time, don’t cheat your audience, because what you’re animating will eventually be part of a show or a film that people will pay for with their money or their time.

Let me leave you with these words from the legendary animator Glen Keane:

“There come times when you’re so sick of a scene that you just want to say good enough, move on and be done with it – but what you’re really doing is cheating your audience.

You’re the only one who knows that you didn’t do everything you could have with it, and the audience doesn’t know they’ve been cheated. I just want to make sure I’m not cheating anybody by taking an easy way out.”

 

Recommended books:

On Film Making by Alexander Mackendrick
Director of The Sweet Smell of Success and the original Lady Killers. He also tought film at Cal Arts. Great book to get an overall understanding of story and film.
Five C’s of Cinematography
Great book to learn the fundamentals of photography, camera, composition, etc.
Adventures in Screen Trade by William Goldman
Awesome book by the writer of The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. He shares his experience as one of the top screen writers in Hollywood
Drawn to Life Vol. 1 and 2 by Walt Stanchfield
The lessons from a life time of animating and teaching. Priceless!
Acting for Animators by Ed Hooks
Great book to learn more about acting.
Artists Guide to Facial Expression by Garry Faigin
Probably the best reference on how the human face moves, and it’s written for artists! Highly recommended for animators!
In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch
By the editor of GodFather III and Apocalypse Now. He talks about the essence of editing.
On Directing Film by David Mamet
By the writer of The Untouchables and Glen Gary Glen Ross. Need I say more?
Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
Director of 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Network shares his experience from some of his films.
Bill Peet: An Autobiography
An all around inspiring book by the legendary Disney story artist Bill Peet.
Painting with Light by John Alton
By John Alton, the master of film noir lighting. Great book to learn about light in live action films.
Story by Robert Mckee
The bible of storytelling in cinema!

 

Thank you so much to Kaveh for participating in this interview. I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to get in-touch with Kaveh, below is his IMDB and Linked-In page.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm7699224/?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kavehruintan/