AM Class 2 – Complete & New Progress Reel!

First off, let me apologize for not updating the last couple weeks!! I really wanted to but I decided to hold off and focus on finishing the term at Animation Mentor strong and spending the extra bit of time I had to keep polishing my shot. Anyways, it feels good to make another post and this one is a good one… at least I hope.

When I last left you, I had just finished week 9 and was moving into the polishing phase of my Army Stew shot. Weeks 10 & 11 were spent really getting into the nitty-gritty of cleaning up the graph editor and splines, as well as focusing on a lot of smaller details in my animation. I focused a lot on fixing some problem areas my mentor had pointed out, as well as tracking my arcs, especially in the arm, and torso movements.

The overall feedback I got on my final shot from my mentor was positive! Of course I have plenty of room for improvement but overall, I am pretty happy with how my shots turned out this term. I certainly learned a great deal while animating each shot. I think one thing I especially will take into account for the future is really thinking through some of the technical challenges a shot brings with it. This 3rd and final shot brought about a lot of little problems that I didn’t really think about when initially planning the shot.  I found myself spending more time than I would have liked addressing technical issues rather than focusing on just animating the character. However, that is what is great about AM, it forces you to learn by doing and I have a great community of fellow students, mentors and resources at my disposal so I was able to work through it.

I am so excited to move on to the new collaborative Class 3, in just a few days! There is no break between Class 2 ending and Class 3 starting, except for the weekend. I met a lot of great people during Class 2 and my mentor Steve Cady was a superb teacher, and always made class fun and exciting. I cannot recommend him enough for anyone about to enter Class 2.

So without making everyone wait any longer, here it is my newest progress reel! I spent a little extra time playing around with Viewport 2.0 to make my newest shots look prettier with some simple lighting, textures etc. This is mostly because I learned about all the awesome features of Viewport 2.0 and thought it would be a great time to try it out. Anyway, the reel starts with Class 2 and works back to Class 1. This is the format that AM likes us to turn them in.

Progress Reel:

Matt Sackley – Animation Mentor Class 2 & Class 1 Progress Reel from matt sackley on Vimeo.

AM Class 2 – Week 9: Blocking Plus

Another week of animating has flown by! This third and final assignment of Class 2 has been quite a learning experience. Thankfully, we have been given 1 whole extra week to complete this assignment. I really think that should help because it’s amazing how much more work gets added to animating a character when you add arms to it! All of a sudden you have to figure out the best methods for dealing with your character interacting with props, and tracking arcs on two extra appendages. I certainly have had my fair share of obstacles to overcome with this assignment, especially with the process of dealing with an FK/IK switch in the arms and re-timing animation that has all sorts of constraints on it. I have dealt with constraints in the past but it was not as involved as this. Thankfully, I think I have managed to solve my issues and found a decent workflow to complete this assignment.

This week, we were told to take our assignment out of stepped tangents and start moving into spline tangents. The next two weeks will be just constant tweaks and polishing until the assignment is due. I really didn’t touch many of the curves yet other than a very general pass over them. The next two weeks are going to be where I really get into the graph editor and start going to town on the curves! The final version is due week 11 and during week 12 we have to create our progress reel and take the end of the term survey. We only have 2 days off between Class 2 ending and Class 3 starting so I am going to be busy until sometime in June!

Anyways, that is it for this week; below is the first version of my splined shot.

AM Class 2 – Week 9: Blocking Plus from matt sackley on Vimeo.

AM Class 2 – Week 8: Blocking Final Assignment

Week 8 has just ended and it was a busy and fun week! I had to begin blocking my third and final assignment for Class 2! I am really trying extra hard on this assignment to make it the best one I’ve done so far. I have already had to deal with some interesting obstacles while tackling this assignment. First, I had to figure out a good method for constraining the bomb to Stewie’s hands and also learn how to make a seamless IK/FK switch while animating. I really feel like this shot will be a great learning opportunity for me to grow. I am really looking forward to how it will turn out. One of the biggest things I have focused on while starting my assignment is creating really strong poses and treating every key in Maya as a “drawing”.

Part of the great thing about Animation Mentor is being exposed to so many different professional animator’s workflows for animating a shot. I am still working on “finding” my workflow but with each assignment, I learn things I like and things I don’t like and am slowly starting to “find” my workflow. It is something that changes depending on each shot but you will always have some parts that are consistent and it is important to have a well thought-out and logical workflow when animating because it makes for a more enjoyable and stronger animation.

Well, a little bit of a shot post this week so here is my blocking! Hope you enjoy, and stay tuned for next week’s update.


AM Class 2 – Week 8: Blocking from matt sackley on Vimeo.

AM Class 2 – Week 7: Polishing the Car Push & Planning Final Assignment

Week 7 was quite a full week, first and foremost I got a great e-Critique from my mentor which included some excellent feedback on how to really polish up my shot. Overall, the feedback was really positive and he gave me some great ideas on how to solve the area of my shot that I was struggling the most with which was the final push before the fall.

Part of being an animator is learning not to get too attached to a specific idea, because in production directors (or mentors) will change their minds. After my critique I tried various different solutions to try and fix the final 60-70 frames of my assignment but it eventually just came down to the solution of scrapping it and just re-doing the last chunk very carefully. Honestly, I’m very happy with that decision because I think overall it greatly improved the last section of the animation from where it was at.

Polished Shot

AM Class 2 – Week 7: Car Push Polishing from matt sackley on Vimeo.

This week we also had to begin planning our third and final shot of the term. This assignment we get to use the full Stewie character who now has arms to work with! Below is the planning I did for the shot, including some embarrassing video reference for your enjoyment!

Video Reference

Planning Sketches and Story Breakdown

I am off to enjoy a little bit of a break before the next hectic week of work and animating begins! Stay tuned…

AM Class 2 – Week 6: Car Push Refining

I can’t believe it but Class 2 is already half-way over! Week 6 was full of work taking my shot from blocking to spline. During this refining stage, I had to address the notes I received during my critique as well. Week 6 was also interesting because, my normal mentor had gone on vacation for the week and we had a substitute mentor for both our critique and Q&A session. My substitute mentor was Jay Jackson! Jay is an old-school Disney Animator and has also worked on some really great high-end VFX and CG productions as well. Jay started his career at Disney back in the late 70’s and actually got to work with the last few remaining 9 Old Men. Currently, he works as a freelance animator doing a lot of commercial and television spots. He had some really great advice and information during the Q&A session and some really helpful notes on my shot as well.

I’m really enjoying animating this shot because I’m learning a lot about strength of pose and adding “force” into your poses. Both external and internal forces are very important when animating, especially on a shot like this where I need to show weight. Well, I’m going to keep this another short post, but stay tuned for my next one, as I will have a polished/final version of this shot completed! I will also have my planning for my third and final shot of the term!

Refining Pass:

AM Class 2 – Week 6: Car Push Refining from matt sackley on Vimeo.

AM Class 2 – Week 5: Car Push Blocking

Hey everyone, week 5 has come and gone at AM and I have another quick update this week. So after getting my planning accomplished last week for my “push a heavy object” assignment, I had to start blocking the animation this week. The first thing I realized when I began to lay out my scene was that, without several camera cuts, or a decent amount of camera animation I probably was not going to be able to achieve my first idea for the shot; which consisted of Stewie pushing his broken car up a hill and it rolling down the other side.

So I had to rethink my shot without having to totally start from scratch and plan it all over again. I decided to have him push his car up a ramp into the back of a truck, only to have him slip and have the car roll back down the ramp. Overall,  I think I’m happy with the blocking so far, I’ll have to wait and see what feedback I get. I am already having a lot of fun with this animation though! Its been fun to get to work with a brand new character that had more ability to show emotion — hooray eyes! Anyways, going to keep the post short this week. Check by next week for another update on my shot after it goes into refining.


AM Class 2 – Car Push Blocking from matt sackley on Vimeo.

AM Class 2 – Week 4: Polishing & Planning for Heavy Push

This week was another busy one! Not only did we have to finish polishing our first assignment, we also had to begin planning our next assignment. The week started off with me spending a good portion of time addressing a lot of the notes I received on my first splining pass from my mentor. Steve gave me some really good feedback as to how I can really make my shot feel like it has more energy and overall more entertaining to watch. He gave me a lot of little tweaks that I could address and he said that by addressing all of these little changes the overall effect would likely make the shot feel more “aggressive”.

Below are the notes I got from Steve and worked hard to address:

  •  New camera angle and even some camera animation
  •  I adjusted the arc of Ballie’s jump so that it feels more like a “dive” rather than a nice and easy parabola style jump (shallower curve)
  • I lengthened the stretch frame on the launch of the jump so that it holds for about 3 frames now instead of 1 frame. Still very fast but it is felt more than seen.
  • Exaggerated stretch A LOT more.
  • I payed close attention to how Ballie’s feet travel while in the air, Steve said to have more overlap in that movement, so they kind of trail behind him at first then catch up and actually land before his body.
  • I also trimmed about 30 frames off the animation and sped it up. Steve said that a common thing many of us new animators do is not get to the action fast enough, we like to play up the anticipations so much and it slows down the cadence of the shot. He suggested I work on “getting to the point faster.”
  • Finally, I really worked extra hard to get the weight shifts and the hips to work properly. Weight shifts are HUGE in animation for selling life-like motion, and the hips are where just about all motion in the body originates so spending a lot of time getting them right helps a lot!

Here is the “Polished” shot (the absolute final version you will see in my progress reel at the end of the term; nicely rendered too):

AM Class 2 – Week 4 – Polishing from matt sackley on Vimeo.

For my new shot, I will be using a brand new character — Stewie! Stewie has legs, torso, head, two eyes but NO arms! I am going to be animating him doing a heavy push, of a car up a hill. Below is my video reference that my wonderful girlfriend helped me film, and my planning sketches. Next week I will be posting the blocking for it, so stayed tuned. In the mean time, enjoy me making a fool of myself in my reference….

Reference & Thumbnails



AM Class 2 – Week 3: Refining

Well week 3 of class 2 at Animation Mentor flew by! This week all we had to work on was taking our mentor’s notes on our blocking and then moving into our first splining pass. This is always a scary time as an animator because when your move your tangents from Stepped to Spline everything looks like it breaks. This is the time when we have to hunker down and chip away at our animation slowly and very carefully, controller by controller until it starts to get smoothed out and we iron out all the kinks. From here on out it is just constant tweaks, to fix various different issues from weight transfers, re-timing of specific actions, knee pops etc.

We then submit this pass and get one more week to put on the final touches, the last 10% of the animation during a “Polishing” pass. In the animation industry, you are never truly “done” with a shot, it just get’s taken away from you, because of deadlines, so you have to get it as close to perfect as possible with the time-frame you are given. So here is my Refining pass.

AM Class 2 – Week 3: Refining from matt sackley on Vimeo.

AM Class 2 – Week 2: Blocking

Week 2 is here, and that means it’s time for another update on my progress at Animation Mentor. This week we moved from the planning stage to the blocking stage of our shot. A little review of what blocking is for those that are just reading my blog now or are unfamiliar with this term. Blocking is the process in animation of getting your idea across as clearly as possible and as fast as possible. A blocking pass is what an animator will do after he has planned out his shot. In the blocking pass you want to get as much of the shots information in it as clearly as possible. The idea is that a director/supervisor should be able to look at your blocking pass and know exactly where the shot is going and have a rough sense of the timing of the shot. The blocking pass may look “rough” because it is typically done in “stepped” tangents where no inbetween motion is shown, just the main Key Poses, Breakdowns, and Extremes.

So this week, was the first pass of blocking, and next week we move into Blocking Plus/Refining stage, and the final week is a Polishing phase where we just are adding that final sweet 10% of the animation, the “salt and pepper” as Bobby Beck calls it.

Below is my first pass at Blocking the shot:

AM Class 2 – Week 2: Blocking from matt sackley on Vimeo.

AM Class 2- Psychology of Body Mechanics: Week 1

It’s finally time to get back to work with AM! I am so excited to be starting Class 2 with my awesome new mentor Steve Cady! Steve is a veteran animator who has been in the industry for 14 years. He has worked all over the world and all different parts of the industry from smaller projects, to TV commercials, video games, and feature films. Some of his most impressive animation projects include most recently: The Amazing Spider-Man, Avatar, Chronicles of Narnia: Lion The Which and The Wardrobe. He has a very long list of amazing projects he has worked on and I am honored to get to learn from such a great animator. I have heard nothing but good things about Steve.

Class 2 is structured very differently from Class 1. In this class we only have 3 actual animated shots to turn it, but we have 4 weeks to work on each assignment. Each week is a different stage of the animation process that we submit and get critiques and help on. The main focus of Class 2 is to get a solid understanding of Body Mechanics (how the body moves, and why). The first week of the class we had to choose from a pretty vast list of actions to animate with the Ballie character. I decided to do an animation of Ballie as a soccer goalie and headering the ball away to save the goal!

For the assignment we had to sketch two different pages of thumbnail ideas for poses, and record video reference of ourselves to study the motion and really understand the action we are going to be animating. The entire first week was devoted to PLANNING the animation. This is one of the most important stages of animation, because if you do very detailed and accurate planning, laying down the keys and animating in Maya goes a lot smoother and makes for an overall better experience animating and a more clean/polished shot as well.

Below are my two pages of sketches and the video reference I shot. You get to see me jumping around like an un-coordinated animator in my living room pretending to be a soccer player heading an invisible ball (I didn’t have anything to be thrown at my head.. well anything safe).



I also went a head and for some extra work to get an understanding of my character I did a character study for his personality and mood of the scene.


That’s all for now. Until next week- when you get to see my first Blocking Pass of the assignment!