Sunday, February 22, 2009

VES Awards

So Candy scooped me on this, but it's only fair since she ended up stuck at home with the kids. It was a great night for all of us Pixarians, and a real honor to be recognized by the VES. Neat trophy, too! The official category name was "Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture" and I shared the award with Designer Jay Shuster, Modeler/Articulator Austin Lee, and legendary Sound Designer Ben Burtt (Ben couldn't be there since he was accepting a lifetime achievement award at another ceremony). WALL-E also won for Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Motion Picture and Outstanding Animation in an Animated Motion Picture. Right after I received the award I came down with a messy stomach virus which kept me in my hotel bathroom for the rest of the night. I just don't have luck with my health at awards ceremonies. Sorry to anyone at the Century Plaza Hotel who had to clean up my mess!

It looks like WALL-E just nabbed the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, too, so it's a good weekend for us. Thanks to all who left nice comments!

Victor Won the VES Character Animation Award Last Night

Posted by the Wife. Just thought you would all like to know. Obviously I couldn't be more proud of him and it's about time! A full list of winners on the Visual Effects Society website in PDF format can be found here.

I am sure he will swoop in and edit this when he returns. And he'll also point out that it was in the Animated Feature category.

Monday, February 16, 2009

WALL-E: Design With A Purpose

There's an interesting, in-depth interview with Ralph Eggleston, Production Designer for WALL-E, on the Animation Art Conservation site. Ralph talks about the process of designing the look of the film, and there are some great examples of preproduction art which you can compare to the final film frames.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

James Brown shows you how to dance

I stumbled upon this on LiveLeak. James has some amazing moves, and it's great to see all the dances whose names I've heard of but never knew what they were. And how about that outfit? This clip is definitely worth downloading and framing through for animation reference. Watch how he bows his knees out to change the shape of his silhouette and create graphic squash and stretch! Hit me!

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Brows Have It

I wanted to do a post about eyebrows after seeing Carlos' post on his blog. If you haven't read it, you might as well do it now, since I'm not covering the same material here. Eyebrows are one of the most important parts of facial animation. Sure, the eyes are the "windows to the soul", but the brows are, like, the window dressing. Okay, that's a crappy stretch of the metaphor. Eyebrows are hugely expressive, though, and can go a long way towards communicating your character's thoughts and emotions. They are capable of bigger shape changes than the eyes alone, and often read better from a distance. Brows also change the shape of the eye; make the shape of your character's upper lids echo the shape of the brows so they feel connected and fleshy.

If your character doesn't have brows (such as the characters in Cars) then you must use the upper lids to mimic the behavior of brows.

One of my favorite actors to look at for brow expressions is George Clooney (and let's face it, he's pretty easy on the eyes all around!). George has dark, prominent brows and his white scleras stand out against his dark skin, making for really clear, graphic expressions. He also has great comic timing, and when he's directed by the Coen Brothers you end up with some really entertaining performances, like this scene from "Intolerable Cruelty" (click picture to play movie):

See how clear his attitudes are and how the brow changes lead his turns. He actually does very few gestures and pose changes; most of the acting is in the brows, eyes and the angle of the head. I also love how the wrinkles in his forehead echo the shapes of his brows and emphasize the accents. Here are some choice frames:

Animation tip: have your brow animation precede any head or body movement. Otherwise the brow action will be lost in the movement and the audience will miss it. This technique also helps to make the character look like he's thinking before he's acting.

Below are some stills from a scene in Ratatouille (animated by Michal Makarewicz), in which the deposed chef Skinner tastes the titular dish. Skinner is largely hidden behind the table and his sunglasses, so his brows end up doing much of the acting. You can clearly see the sequence of his emotions in his brow: angry determination, surprise, ecstasy, and back to anger.

And here are some interesting behavioral facts about brows:
  • As the pitch of the voice raises the brows go up
  • As the pitch of the voice lowers, the brows likewise drop
  • When asking a question where the answer is already known, the brows raise
  • When asking a question where the answer is truly unknown, the brows lower
  • Spontaneous facial expressions (surprise, fear, pain, etc.) tend to be symmetrical, where as expressions we choose to make (curiosity, suspicion, contempt, etc.) can be more asymmetrical.
These are just trends, not rules, but they're a good starting point and they work well. Try them!

I'm not going to break down all the muscles involved in brow animation, but I'd like to give special mention to the Corrugator muscle, which pulls the brows together in the middle and results in a tell-tale furrowing above the nose. This is important for intense expressions:
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Concentration
  • Stress
  • Disgust
  • Deep thought

Note that you can't raise your brows and furrow them at the same time. You can raise the inner brows and furrow them, which gives a sad expression, and usually results in a twisted fleshy mass as the muscles pull the skin in different directions. It's a good idea to study facial anatomy to help you understand how the muscles of the face work. You don't have to memorize all the muscles' names (I haven't) but it will help you understand how to make more natural expressions and movements. It's also a good idea to study behavioral science to give you some insight into when, how and why humans make the faces they do. Here is some recommended reading on these topics:

The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression
by Gary Faigin
Unmasking the Face by Paul Eckman and Wallace Friesen
Manwatching by Desmond Morris

I hope you have enjoyed browsing this article.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

VES Nominations Sneak Peak in LA

On Saturday, February 7, the VES and the UCLA Film and TV Archives are jointly sponsoring a Sneak Peek event at the Billy Wilder Theatre in the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood. Several groups of nominees will have the opportunity to present their nominated submissions and answer questions.
I'll be there with the Pixar team talking about our WALL-E work, so feel free to come heckle us if you're in the LA area. It's free! More info here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Okay, so obviously I didn't win the Annie. But at least I lost to James Baxter, who is one of the greatest animators working today. It was a rough weekend all around - I was sick during the awards ceremony and I couldn't party with my Pixar pals afterward because we were taking the kids to Disneyland the next morning. Ah well, I'm still looking forward to the VES awards! In the meantime, AnimationMentor student Adam Juhasz was kind enough to award me this:

I'd like to thank Adam, Pixar, Andrew Stanton, my wife Candy, my daughters, all those who read my blog, and of course, my thumbs!