Monday, March 27, 2006

Animation Birthday

Today is the one year anniversary of when Animation Mentor opened it's doors for business. I can remember it like it was yesterday. So much has changed in a year it's so incredible to think about it. I had stumbled upon the Animation Mentor website about a year and a half ago. I was determined to learn animation but so far up until that point all my attempts had failed. Through grad school, internships, night classes, none of my efforts had gotten me any closer to my dream. After all that I still didn't know the basic fundamentals of animation or even where to begin.

I had applied to Sheridan a few years before, at the time the best traditional animation school, I didn't get in and cried so hard, now looking back it was probably a blessing in disguise, I was available when AM opened. I remember waiting eagerly as the time was coming up for AM to open, I remember calling Francis at least weekly to see ask "can I apply yet?". Then it happened, they announced the school was opening and ready to take submissions, it all happened so fast, I filled out my application and barely got it in on time, then the calls to Francis and Rosie began again, this time I was asking "did I make it in the school?"

I had no idea how many people they would accept and after so many disappointments in my previous attempts to learn animation, I didn't want this opportunity to slip past me. I just knew from the teaser trailer on the website that their philosophy and approach was going to work for me and I was instantly hooked. It didn't matter that no one knew what the heck I was talking about when I blabbed on about this internet school and how it was going to change animation forever, I 'm pretty sure most people thought I was nuts and didn't take me seriously, but I just knew it was something very special.

I was working a full time job in NYC at the time when AM opened, it was pretty crazy timing because I had just started the full time job about a month before and had also signed up for improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade not knowing that AM would happen on top of all these things. My job at the time wasn't rewarding, I wasn't learning anything about animation or any art for that matter, most of the stuff I had to do was technical which is not my fortay, and I didn't see any room to grow as an artist. After AM began I was overwhelmed, it was hard, the hardest school I've ever been to, maybe it was so hard because I was such a complete noobie to animation, or maybe it was hard because I could sense what was riding on my progress, all my animation goals, my entire future depended on my performance at this school, and the way I saw it, it was my absolute last chance to make something of myself.

After so many failures in my attempts to become a working animator, I didn't want to mess this opportunity up. So I made a tough choice and quit my job to do AM full time. I had to do it, I had no choice, I could see that I was messing up my chance by not having enough time to work on my homework, which left me frustrated and upset that I wasn't making progress. The answer was simple, just try harder, which meant spending more time on my assignments. That was the best decision I could have made to help myself, and my work began to improve.

By class 2 I had moved to LA and was deep into the obsession of AM, so much to do, so many friends, so many resources. It was awesome having so many new experiences and meeting so many people. Siggraph was a major turning point, and I had the time of my life hanging out with my internet friends. After Siggraph I was even more determined to improve, I still wasn't meeting the high expectations I wanted to achieve. So I tried even harder. The healthy competition atmosphere of AM really motivates you, there are all these amazing students, most who have much more experience than me, and when I finally felt like I was keeping up and not falling by the waste side anymore, it was a major achievement for me. I mean here I am with all these students with so much more talent and experience than me, and I'm actually holding my own, it was empowering. And in turn, it made me want to try even harder.

By class 3 we had gotten into acting, and a lot of the time I felt over my head. I was satisfied with my assignments but always knew I could do better, I knew my lack of experience was a hindrance, I was holding my own but there's no way you can make up for years and years of animation practice in a few short months. I had a long way to go. I kept focused on my assignments and got a surprise a few weeks into class 3, it was Walt Disney Feature Animation, they were offering me a position as assistant animator on Meet the Robinsons. Is this really happening? This is crazy! I couldn't believe I was so lucky. I have only AM to thank, because without them I would still be trying to figure out how to animate a bouncing ball believably.

I finished class 3 while working full time, it was a struggle but totally worth it, I wouldn't have felt right if I didn't put the effort into finishing my assignments. I wasn't able to register for class 4 because of the workload and I have been working on animation tests here in my spare time. I have been working here for 5 months so far, and every day is better than the last. I am learning so much from the amazing talent here, and it's been really fun getting to work on this movie. And that's a year, what a year.

Hey AM, I'm one year old today too because of you.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Beyond the Word

Right now I have begun reading Beyond the Word by world famous mime Stefan Neidzialkowski. The forward by Marcel Marceau has been a great read. For any interested in mime this is an essential book to have. I also just finished Bip in a Book by Marcel Marceau. This one is mostly great pictures of the Mareau as the character he invented "Bip." Both books were lent to me by my co-worker Dale, he also recommended watching The Red Skelton Show, which I had never heard of before. Red Skelton was a comedian and mime who had a hit TV show for a while. He did stand up routines and live sketch performances, he was also a master of mime and even had Marceau as a guest a few times. The art of mime has been so important to study for animators, they have the most clear staging of ideas in every performance. The audience never misses important story points because clarity is of the upmost importance in mime. It's some great reference to check out if you have the time.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Some Cool Art Blogs

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Animation Youngsters

I've just been turned onto the website Acme Animation. It's a non-profit educational site for young teenage animation students. It's a great way for highschool and college students to learn about animation, and it's free. I think the way it works is beginner animators can submit their tests and move up the ranks, when you reach a high enough level you are eligible to get your animation test reviewed by a professional animator. The way they can earn points to be able to get their work seen by professionals is to give crits to other students. This way everyone learns and is helping eachother. I have been lucky enough to be able to sit in on a few live video confrence sessions with Acme where Clay Kaytis gives live crits to some local animation students, the process is amazing, and the students work really improves. On CG talk a few young animators have been interested in joining Animation Mentor, but aren't yet old enough to apply, this site would be a great opportunity for them to get their feet wet and when they are finally ready for Animation Mentor they will be two steps ahead of the game. Definitely a great resource, pass it along to any animation youngsters.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Today I am recovering from having laser eye surgery. Yesterday was an intense day filled with lots of new experiences. I was able to get the day off from work to go to Saddleback Eye Center in Laguna Hills, CA to get a laser eye consultation. All went well and I decided to go ahead with the surgery same day. First lots of measurements and pictures were taken of my eyes, then after visits with a half dozen doctors and nurses it was time to go under the knife, I mean laser beam. When the numbing eye drops had taken affect I was put under a laser that felt like a lot of pressure on my eye and sinus, but all in all not too painful. The second laser also entailed me having to keep my eye directly focused on a blinking red light. It was pretty uncomfortable at times but was so brief that it was done in no time at all. For the next 6 hours I slept in a nearby hotel for patients. I couldn't see much and everything was blurry. My eyes felt uncomfortable and scratchy all night. I have to sleep with these geeky sci-fi goggles on to prevent anything from scrathing my eyes during the night. Those coupled with the wrist guards my doctor ordered me to wear at night to prevent carpal tunnel make me look like such a nerd!! O well, the things we do in the name of science. Today my vision has already gotten a lot better, I will be on a strict regimin of 3 different kinds of eye drops in a stategical rotation throughout the day, in total about 30 drops per eye per day for the next 5 days, then 12 drops daily for the next 4 months. That is going to be a pain, but for the ability to see well without glasses or contacts, it's definitely worth it!

Friday, March 03, 2006


I have been thinking a lot lately about demo reels since this post on Spline Doctors. I have been viewing a bunch of reels lately and it got me thinking, what is the best length for a reel? Short and sweet is the best way to go in my opinion, too many student reels are just too long. I think another problem some students have is repeating the same idea again and again on a reel. If you have done many shots for a project that are the same characters in different situations, then I would just choose 1 or 2 of the shots to show, if you show 10+ shots of a similar tone it begins to get pretty boring and monotone.

Mix it up, show as many different kinds of characters and acting as you can. You can still show different kinds of character when using the same rig, for example in Animation Mentor most of our assignments were done using Bishop, but Bishop had a million different personalities, all shown by different acting, dialogue, posture, costumes etc. As far as how many pieces you have, I am guessing around 5 pieces would be a good number. Does anyone have any tips on the best way to edit your demo reel?