Animation Mentor: Complete!

blog_picThat’s all folks! 18 months, came and went at lightening speed! It is hard to believe that it is already over. I had such an amazing experience attending Animation Mentor. I met so many inspiring people and was fortunate to learn from the best in the industry. Animators from the most respected studios around the world. Each and every mentor I had brought new and unique views to the art of animation. I learned more in this last year and half about animation as art but also as an industry that I ever imagined. If you have been following my blog from the beginning then you saw as we started with the most basic of exercises the “bouncing ball” and as I progressed through the program we finally finished with multiple character acting shots.

As I prepare to attend my final Q&A session tomorrow evening, I’m reflecting on all that I learned and all the areas where I still need to learn more. Animation Mentor really taught me how to animate. Prior to coming to Animation Mentor, I knew I wasn’t ready to animate professionally, but I didn’t realize just HOW far away from that goal I was. After going through this program, I feel like I finally have a real solid foundation to work with. I plan to start searching for jobs and I am willing to take any sort of paid opportunity I can get my hands on. However, I know that I still have a lot of room to grow as animator and there are so many topics that I wish to delve into and explore. Things, like creature animation, video game animation, and of course always improving my acting shots. One of things about pursuing animation is that you are ALWAYS a student. There is always something to learn, and even many students at Animation Mentor were professional working animators. This industry is always progressing, the characters get more complex, the movies and games get more detailed and that requires that the animators continue to keep learning and pushing the art form forward.

Aside from all the technical and artistic knowledge I learned from AM, I got to make a TON of new friends with fellow animators and artists from around the world! I always loved being in class and seeing animators from India, Brazil, Norway, Germany, USA and countless other countries. This art truly is global and animation can communicate at so many levels. The community at AM is the most helpful, friendly, supportive and inspiring group of people I’ve ever been around. Everyone is always offering feedback, and advice on how to improve or how to fix a problem with a shot or even just sharing great animation with each other. Even though it was an online school, it never really felt that solitary. There were so many opportunities to hop into video chats on google+ and talk with your friends while animating to the wee hours of the morning.

I am eagerly awaiting when I get to meet all my classmates in-person at our graduation in November. The graduation is going to take place at the same time as the CTNx Animation Expo in Burbank, California! I cannot wait to get out there and celebrate and meet everyone.

I am more inspired and more eager then ever to keep animating. I already have tons ideas that I want to animate and get to work on to improve my reel. Getting into this industry can be extremely tough and it takes a lot of determination and hard-work. I plan to keep treating this blog as I did while I was in school. I am going to keep posting regular updates on my new shots as I develop them, because I enjoy doing it and it keeps me accountable and motivated!

I could probably go on for days about my experience at Animation Mentor, but I don’t want to keep rambling and I’m sure you are all eager to see my graduation demo reel! I just wanted to thank Animation Mentor and all my mentors for such a great learning experience. I also couldn’t have done it without my super supportive fiance who has put up with all my late-night classes and days spent animating. Finally, my awesome parents and sister who have always supported my dreams and goals.

Finally.. here it is, my graduation reel (I highly recommend you watch it on vimeo in HD):
Also – the 2 person acting shot was lit by a good friend of mine from Purdue, Andrew Kennedy – check out his work at www.andrewkennedy3d.com
[vimeo https://vimeo.com/89750510 w=720&h=405]

AM Class 4: Complete & New Progress Reel

Well it has been a very busy few weeks and I have not gotten around to making an update post. Last time we looked at my shot it was in the blocking plus stage. This time, it is the final version of what I had to submit for the end of the term. I do plan on going back in and polishing a few more pieces of it after getting the final critique from my mentor. I also will be practicing my lighting skills eventually to make all my shots lit and rendered for my demo reel.

Working on this shot taught me so much. This was my first attempt ever at doing a full acting shot with dialogue. I learned how important having a clean and focused workflow really is. One of the biggest challenges for me on this shot was incorporating facial animation into my workflow. Prior to this assignment the faces of our characters were very simplistic and limited so having to think of all the minute details like eye darts, blinks, lip curls and everything in-between added a whole new level of difficulty and fun! As I move into the next Class (5), with a two character dialogue shot I will be tweaking and refining my workflow even more. Below is progress reel for Class 4. As for now, I’m going to go and enjoy the rest of my vacation before Class 5 with begins!

Class 4 Reel:

Classes 4-1 Progress Reel:

AM Class 4: First Spline Pass (Blocking Plus)

Another quick week has gone by and it was filled with a lot animation! This week we were asked to begin the Blocking Plus stage of our shot. We have two weeks of blocking plus and then one week of polishing before it is to be turned in. My mentor encouraged us to try and get into smoothed out curves aka “splines” this week if possible. This is the stage of animation where you find out if your blocking was done well enough or if you probably need to go back and breakdown your poses some more. This week, was spent mostly “tying down” the shot as many say. After switching from my stepped keys over to splines, I decided to follow the workflow that many of my mentors have recommended — focus on the core.

My workflow was as follows:
I started out with focusing only on the hips, and center of gravity. I wanted to get the weight shifts and overall base movement all worked out, from there I moved up the spine to the head and then I moved outwards to the arms, hands and fingers. Finally, I did a basic face pass where I added some overshoots and subtle eases on the facial expressions, mouth shapes, blinks and eye darts. The face and hands still have much more work to be done on them. So hopefully next week will be spent doing more work on those areas.

That is pretty much all for this week, stay tuned for next week’s update!

First Spline Pass

AM Class 4: Second Blocking Pass

Whew, I’m glad this week is over. It was a stressful one as I dealt with the stresses of technology failing. On Wednesday morning, I opened my file only to realize all my animation data I had worked on from the night before didn’t save! Maya 2012 was causing my file to get corrupted every time I saved. Luckily, thanks to the AMP Pipeline tool from Animation Mentor all our work is saved on the cloud in their servers. This is great because it has a versioning feature so I was at least able to roll back to my second most recent version of the file. This meant I only lost about 2-3 hours worth of work rather than ALL of it. After working with tech support we found out that it was an issue with Maya 2012, which is known for being a pretty buggy version of Maya, so I opened it in Maya 2013 and I was able to save animation data again and continue working.

After that set back and a couple long nights and days working on my shot, I was have completed my second pass of blocking. This week, I worked in the mouth shapes for my lip-sync and also added many more breakdowns to my poses. Next week, I’ll be moving into my first pass of blocking plus where I will really get down to work on smoothing out the animation and working in splines. My biggest hurdle aside from fighting technology on this shot has been getting used to that fact that the body and the mouth will be moving at different timing from the body. Up until now everything all moved as a “whole”, but now we have to animate essentially two different timings and keep everything feeling as if it is still part of one cohesive character. It is a tricky situation at first, definitely a process that is just going to take some practice to get used too. Either way, I’m learning so much going through this process and am eager to see how this final shot turns out.

And now, my second pass of blocking:

AM Class 4: Story & Initial Blocking Pass

It is the end of week 6 and I’ve just gone a head and submitted my first pass of blocking for my one character dialogue shot. This pass can also be called the “story” pass because its main goal is to just get the essential key poses and breakdowns in. It is important to make sure that the idea and the acting beats are selling the story correctly. It was a busy week and posing a complex rig like Bishop takes time. There is quite a steep learning curve to this assignment because we have now added the face to the character. Not only are we making sure all the body mechanics are spot on but we have to start thinking about proper facial expressions, eye darts and everything else that goes on with a characters face.

For this pass, we were told not to worry too much about the actual lip-sync but to just get the general facial expressions down for the main beats of the dialogue. Given that this is such a big step up in difficulty, this assignment is going to progress much slower as we are given 8 whole weeks to work on it so we get a lot of extra time in the blocking stage. Next week, I’ll be addressing all my mentor”s notes and moving into a second pass of blocking where I will add more breakdowns and really try to solidify the poses more, as well as more lip-sync.

Until next time, enjoy!

Story & Initial Blocking Pass:

AM Class 4: Dialogue Planning

Week 5 has come to an end for Class 4 of AM and we had to complete the initial planning for our dialogue shot. For the assignment we had to pitch three different dialogue choices to our mentor. However, for brevity of this blog, I am going to only post the planning for the clip that my mentor chose for me to do.

The planning consisted of video reference, thumbnail sketches, facial pose tests and a phonetic breakdown of the dialogue showing where the emphasis of certain words are. Choosing dialogue for a piece is actually rather challenging, because it needs to be interesting, have nice cadence and rythmn, tell a story, and also not be so iconic that it takes the viewer out of the piece.

The planning process of this piece is much more in-depth because of how much more detailed this shot has to be. The video reference is probably going to be the most useful piece of planning because I am going for very naturalistic style of animation. Adding in facial animation brings a whole new level complexity and problems to solve while animating. I will be tracking my workflow on this piece quite closely to learn areas I can improve and which areas worked well. It is going to be a really challenging yet fun assignment and I am really excited to tackle it!

Below is my video reference, thumbnails, facial poses and dialogue breakdown.

thumbs

pose_comp

dialogue_Breakdown

AM Class 4: Pantomime Final

It is the end of week 4 and I have just put the finishing touches on my first assignment for the term — the pantomime. If you have been following my previous posts you will have seen my shot throughout the various stages of it’s completion. From the early planning and video reference until now; the final polished version. This was my first attempt at a pantomime assignment. The main goal and focus of the shot has been to show a clear change of emotion in the character and to sell the character’s internal though process as it goes throughout the shot. After a lot of great feedback from my mentor and peers, I have come to a version of the shot I can say I am quite happy with. I know there are still areas that I will likely tweak some more before it is time to put on the demo reel, but the deadline is here and I had to submit it.

My shot has had some substantial changes over the course of it’s progression, all in regards to keeping it as simple and clear as possible. This is been the note that I have had to keep referring back to throughout the weeks of working on this. I was always thinking about how my poses and acting choices push the character and the story forward. I tried to make it so all the actions that the character does are purposeful and not just to show movement. They are there to support the internal thoughts of the character.

I am so excited to be going further into acting shots and for the next 8 weeks, we will be tackling our very first acting shot with dialoug and lip-sync animation! It is going to be a challenging and really exciting assignment to work on and I am eager to get started.

Below is the final version of my pantomime shot:

AM Class 4: Pantomime Refining

It is the end of week 3 and I have just turned in my blocking plus/refining pass. My mentor wanted us to take the shot out of stepped keys and transition into splines because the final shot is due at the end of next week. This week I had a good amount of notes to address from my blocking, most of them were tweaks in my posing and overall idea of the shot. My mentor, Joe, gave me some great feedback during the eCritique. The biggest changes I made were switching the hand which Stan uses to grab the beer and toning down the overall grabbing of the beer. The other biggest change I made was to remove the wiping of his mouth. Joe’s comments were that for this assignment we didn’t want to make it too complicated. Simplicity is key, this is something we continue to hear in our lectures and throughout the curriculum at AM. By removing and making these changes, my shot has a more naturalistic feel and is not quite as “showy” which is really what I was going for.

Workflow Notes
Once again, I kept a close eye on my workflow for transitioning over to spline keys. This is usually the area where many animators including myself struggle. I took my mentor’s advice and kept my shot in it’s blocking stage and added as many breakdowns and ease in/outs that I could while staying in stepped keys before switching it over to splines. This really helped make the transition go a lot smoother. I also made sure when tweaking sections of my animation to work in smaller chunks of frames at a time — roughly 20-40 frame sections. This was actually a workflow tip that I received from my class 2 mentor and has really helped me not get too overwhelmed with a shot.

That is all for now, below is the first pass of refinement on my shot.

Refining Pass

AM Class 4: Pantomime Blocking

Week 2 has just come to an end and I have just finished my first pass of blocking on my pantomime shot. After getting some really excellent feedback and notes from my mentor during my eCritique. I managed to come up with what I think is a pretty solid start for my shot. The biggest notes I addressed from my planning and video reference were that it was too long, and I needed to shorten it even more to make it as simple and clear as possible. Joe offered some really good suggestions of ways I can simplify the shot to really make the characters internal thought process read more clearly.

First Pass Blocking:

Workflow Notes:
Throughout the week, I also paid very close attention to my workflow on this shot. As I continue to grow as an animator, I’m always trying to perfect my workflow to make myself a faster and more efficient animator. On this shot, I took the advice of one of our lectures by Dave Burgess (Head of Character Animation at DreamWorks). His method was when posing the character to really take the extra time and pose every part of the character, even in the blocking. He encouraged going into the details of the fingers, the eyes, face etc. I tried extra hard to make it so every single pose in my blocking was very clear. I didn’t worry about timing at first, I just posed the character out every 4 frames very evenly, then after I was happy with my poses, I got some feedback and tweaked them some more. Next, I went in and did a rough timing pass, where I took the poses and shifted them around on the timeline adding holds where they needed to be. Then I sought more feedback and continued to tweak away until you see what is above.

So far this workflow seemed to work really well for me in terms of getting work done faster. I was only thinking about one stage at a time, first posing, then timing, then spacing.

AM Class 4: Introduction to Acting!

Hey everyone! Week 1 of class 4 here at Animation Mentor has already come to and end! Class 4 is titled “Introduction to Acting”. My mentor for this term is Joseph Antonuccio, from Blue Sky Animation studios. Blue Sky for those of you that don’t know is the amazing animation studio that has brought you the titles such as the Ice Age movies, Rio and most recently Epic! Joseph is a Senior Animator and also an alumni of Animation Mentor. The first Q&A with him was really exciting and I cannot wait to see what all this class has in store for me.

Now that I am starting to dive into the real meat and potatoes of animation — acting — the assignments require a lot more from us as animators. The assignments also require a lot more structure and planning in the early stages. This term we are going to be creating a total of two shots. The first shot is a Pantomime assignment. Pantomime is essentially the area between Mime use of no props and no dialog, and Acting which is use of props and dialog. So in a Pantomime shot we are allowed to have props but all of the emotion, and storytelling has to be conveyed solely through body language and facial expressions. This is actually quite challenging. The guidelines for this assignment are to show a very clear change of emotion in the character and we have the limitation of only 5-8 seconds of animation. The second assignment for the term will be a dialog acting shot, with lip-sync and everything so stay tuned for the later weeks of the term to see my progress on that.

As for what I had to turn in this week, it was all my planning my pantomime shot.

The idea for my shot is:
Stan (my character) will be sitting at a bar after having a bad day, he is quite down on his luck and doesn’t have any more money to buy a beer. As he sits there sad and depressed, suddenly a big full mug of beer slides right in front of him from off-screen. This catches his attention, he sits back and looks around wearily. Stan is wondering why and who sent him this beer. After taking a moment to realize what has happened, Stan gets excited and scoops up the big mug of beer to his face. He then takes a long gulp from it. Stan then sets down the mug and is in a state of complete happiness and an overwhelming sense of relief because his day just got a lot better.

Video Reference

Thumbnails

Planning_sketches_2

Pose Tests

stan_pose_sad_enjoyment