Sunday, July 27, 2008


Once in a while a student will ask me this question: "Which of the 12 principles of animation is the most important?" That's one of those questions that's impossible to answer, like "which organ of the body is most important?" You need all of them to live, Silly! But invariably I will try to answer the question, and I start to wonder out loud which principles may be more vital than others. For me it usually comes down to: Posing.

...Or maybe Timing.

Which one? I think that depends on what you're animating - they type of character, the situation, and the style. For this article I'm just going to focus on posing, and hopefully I can talk about timing more in the future.

Okay, I know that "posing" is not one of The 12 Principles of Animation as handed down on stone tablets by St. Frankenollie, but it's really darn important. It's actually kind of an uber-principle, as it combines elements of other principles within it, such as staging, appeal, exaggeration, and solid drawing. Again, it's a foolish pursuit to try to pick the most important animation principle, and you might rightly offer this counterpoint: posing without timing is just a comic book. Touché! But consider this: still images can suggest motion. And a good animator could animate an entire acting scene within a single clear pose. Live actors hold poses all the time. A good pose can communicate your character's physiology, personality, emotion and intent, even when the scene is paused. Animation is storytelling, and a good pose can tell a story.

The thing that really got me wanting to talk about posing is this photo:

I saw this at an art auction (onboard the Disney Magic, of all places) and it damn near knocked the wind out of me. I had to stop and stare at it for a while to figure out if it was real. I had seen lots of photos of Muhammad Ali, but never this one. Incidentally, I've never been a fan of boxing, nor had I considered it much of a sport until I saw this documentary about Ali. Simply amazing. You must see it.

Anyway, back to the topic. This photo is rad for so many reasons, and it's one of those images that gets me excited about animation all over again. The lines of action are so clear, so extreme in this photo, that it almost feels staged or manipulated. You can feel Ali's lean back onto his right leg, and your brain wants to see the invisible arc of that left hook coming around. Look at the way the other boxer's body leans into Ali with a simple curve, while Ali's main line of action is a strong, straight line. The convergence of these two lines at the boxers' feet creates visual tension, and Ali's supporting right leg makes his silhouette huge and grounded. Check out this article from Carlos Baena for more about lines.

I was so excited about this photo that I had to Google some more. I found this:

Boom! Another stunning image. There's a slightly more famous version of this photo in which Ali has his right arm at his side, but I like this one better. This image tells a clear story. The composition is so strong, it feels like it could have been a Michelangelo painting. Granted, I'm talking about posing, not staging, but the two are very intertwined, as I mentioned above. Check out all these triangles:

That's some amazing graphical composition! I love how all the triangles are pointed up like pyramids, except for the right arm, which points down at Liston as if to say, "don't even think about getting up!" You can't help but be impressed by Ali's dominance of Sonny Liston, and the posing and composition are reinforcing that story in every way.

Okay, one more Ali picture, just 'cause he's the man:

To me, this one is all about rhythm. Visual rhythm, that is. The way that line of action snakes up from his left foot all the way up to his head, the way the right leg echoes and supports that line, and the way the two arms complement the line, drawing your eye to their sharp angles, without ruining the flow of the pose. You can feel the twist of his hips, the lunge forward, the looseness of the wrists. There is a sense of lead and follow, of weight and momentum. You can imagine what came before, and what will come after. Your brain wants to see the action - it's begging for another pose, or at least a breakdown!

Posing is an art form in itself. After all, still poses have been around a LOT longer than animation. For that reason, we have a wealth of imagery and knowledge to draw upon. Look at Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Goya... Hell, look at Rockwell!

Say what you will about Rockwell's subject matter, but he was a master draftsman and storyteller. You can tell so much about every character in this picture just by the body language. In this case, the way the poses relate to each other is just as important as the poses themselves. As I mentioned, posing is an art from in itself, and has it's own set of principles. Say what?! That's right, if the 12 animation principles weren't enough, here are 28 from master animator and artist, the late Walt Stanchfield:

pose and mood
straights and curves
shape and form
primary and secondary
model or character
squash and stretch
staging and composition
beat and rhythm
line and silhouette
depth and volume
action and reaction
overlap and follow-through
working from extreme
tension to extreme
positive & negative shapes

Notice that there are a some overlaps with the list of 12. Yes, you can indicate "anticipation" in a still drawing! A few of these are specific to drawing and don't concern the CG animator as much. I'm not going to go into all of these principles here, and I don't purport to have one one-hundredth the talent and experience of Stanchfield, but I think I know what he's talking about, at least. Walt's copious notes on the subject of figure drawing used to be posted over at Animation Meat, but apparently they've been taken down pending their publication of a book. That will definitely be a must-have title! At Pixar we are lucky (I could just end the sentence right here) to have animator and artist Tom Gately, who was a student of Stanchfield, and now instructs his own weekly figure drawing class. While I haven't been exactly regular in attendance (sorry, Tom), I have found that practicing my figure drawing with an emphasis on these principles has improved my drawing and my animation. Not all CG animators draw, but for a lot of us drawing thumbnails is an important part of planning. Knowing how to improve those initial sketches will help clarify your ideas before you get on to the computer. Personally I find that I push my drawings much further than I would be likely to push a CG character, so it's good to start with an extreme drawing rather than the limitations of a computer model.

In closing here's an image that Disney animator Sergio Pablos handed out during a visit to Pixar a few years back, which shows many of the above principles applied. Notice the similarities to the third Muhammad Ali pic, above. I hope Sergio doesn't mind me posting this... Thanks, Sergio!

That's all I've got to say for now. There went my Sunday night. Thanks for reading this far!

P.S. A good supplement to this article is Travis Hathaway's "my not necessarily the principles" post on Spline Doctors

Nice AWN article on WALL-E

There's a good article on Animation World Network about the making of WALL-E, with a specific slant towards the cinematography and the acting approach (the latter featuring Angus Maclane again).

Alright, I know that posting a series of links to WALL-E articles does not make for an interesting blog. I have some ideas for some original posts, but I'm really slammed with work lately and don't have much brain juice left to spread on this site. I'll try to make some useful posts about posing and timing in the next few weeks. It may just be musings or rants, but it'll be something.

In the meantime, head on over to Spline Doctors - they've always got something good!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Interview with Angus MacLane

Here's an interview with Angus MacLane, who was Directing Animator on WALL-E (not Supervising Animator, as the article erroneously credits). Enjoy!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

WALL-E breakdown

WALL-E's been out for over a week, so hopefully you've had a chance to see it. It was a really fun show to work on for me. Because there was so little dialog, the animators had a lot of leeway for adding acting beats and ideas to help further develop the characters visually. Very often I would end up adding time to my shots (sometimes even doubling the length) and really indulging a moment. Here is a breakdown of most of the work I did on it:

-------------SPOILERS AHEAD!---------------

"Day at work" - I did the shots of Wally opening the twinkie and the roach jumping in. Then Wally boxes up, parks in his shelf and rocks himself to sleep. The rocking thing was something I had done in a test animation and Andrew liked it so he had me add it to this scene. I also did the next scene where Wally wakes up, batteries low, and tries to put on his treads. At the time we had a newborn baby, and I wasn't getting enough sleep, so I was involuntarily doing lots of research for the scene.

"Eve arrives" - I did the stuff of Wally coming home, then seeing the red laser dot and starting to chase it down the freeway offramp.

"Courtship" - The scene of Wally watching Eve scanning from atop a reactor, then boxing up as she zooms by and shuts down.

"The plant" - The loooong scene where Eve tries to shoot the Big Mouth Billy Bass, then Wally starts handing her objects to play with: eggbeater, bubblewrap, lightbuld, Rubik's cube, etc. Then she pulls the tape out of the VHS tape and he freaks out. He rewinds the tape and puts it in the machine. It plays back and he presents the video to Eve. She scans it.

"Eve vigil" - Wally and Eve, sitting on the bench. He pries her arm open to hold her hand, it clamps down on his hand, he tries to free himself and falls off the bench. This is a scene that I added a lot of time to, and Andrew let me "go for it".

"Spacewalk" - I did the initial stuff of Wally flying around with the fire extinguisher. He and Eve whiz past each other, then he slowly works his way back to her and sprays her with it. She says to get going, and he instead uses the extinguisher to spin himself around and fly away. The sequence was changed after I finished my shots, so some were omitted and others were reworked a bit.

"Garbage airlock" - I did the shot of Eve staring at the plant for a while, then tossing it and offering her hand to Wally: "Directive".

"Showdown" - My only human scene on this film. I did the stuff of the Captain hotwiring the video system and taunting Auto: "Look what I got, Auto! That's right, the plant! Oh, you want it? Come and get it, Blinky!" Then he yanks the cables out. The cable rig was really hard to work with, so I animated the Captain first pantomiming the action, did some 2D animation of the cables on top of the 3D, then match-moved the 3D cables to the 2D motion on 1's. It was hard.

"Back on earth" - I did the stuff of Wally rebooting after he has just been repaired. Eve tries to jog his memory, but he doesn't recognize him. He cubes some of his souvenirs, then exits, squashing the roach. Eve watches him from the doorway of the trailer, devastated.

-------------END SPOILERS---------------

That's all I can remember off the top of my head. This is definitely the most work I've done on any film so far. Including the Superbowl commercial, I think I did about 7 minutes of footage. I was involved very early in animation (I was on for 2 years, total) and this list doesn't include the test shots I did. When the DVD comes out around Christmas I'll post a reel. Thanks for reading!

Cruise News

I got back from my vacation last Tuesday, and am finally caught up on (most of) my email and stuff. On board the Disney Magic I got to present WALL-E at a midnight showing, and I did two presentations: one about Pixar Animation in general, and one about the Making of WALL-E.

I would estimate that about 80-100 people showed up for the first talk, and overall it went very well. I had expected that it would be open to general audiences, and had therefore included some sillier, kid-friendly material, but it turned out that these events were limited to adults. Nevertheless the audience was receptive to the silly stuff as well and the more sophisticated stuff. This was a Disney cruise, after all! My prepared material for the first talk lasted for exactly 45 minutes, as planned, and then I opened it up for Q&A. They had plenty of questions, and I was prepared to run longer than 15 minutes. At noon on the dot, my microphone cut out and the captain came on the PA to start making some announcements in a droning voice. It was annoying, but funny, and after about 5 minutes I got my mic back and could finish the last few questions.

My second presentation was at 1pm the next day. I expected everything would go smoothly, since we had worked out the tech setup the day before. Of course, that was not to be the case. Around 12:15 as we were setting up my computer crashed, and my Keynote presentation file got corrupted. I could no longer launch my presentation! I tried for about 20 minutes to resurrect the data, but with no success. Luckily I had burned a backup copy to DVD before we left home, so I ran back to our room to grab it. In the time remaining before the presentation started I was able to update the backup with most of the changes I had made over the past week. Always back up your data, kids! From there the presentation went off without a hitch. I think I had more people in the audience this time, and there were many repeat visitors from the previous talk.

I was also happy to see that people didn't seem upset by the portrayal of the human cruise-liner passengers in the film. I'm sure you can appreciate the irony of this venue. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed WALL-E, so it was a friendly and fun experience.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I'm Back

I finally got back home yesterday. I'll post some details about my "press junket" as well as my work on WALL-E very soon, but in the meantime, here is a cool interview with director Andrew Stanton.