Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lego WALL-E Meets a Vacuum

Day 3: Meets a Vacuum by lk.lkaz

Day 3: Meets a Vacuum, a photo by lk.lkaz on Flickr.
A friend just sent this to me. It's based on a promo scene I did for WALL-E back in the day, and I love the simplicity of the Lego design!   Here's the clip it references:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Cars 2 reel

At long last, here is my Cars 2 reel.  This contains most of the production shots I did for the film, but unfortunately none of the prepro tests (which I find the most interesting and fun to do).

This was my first feature film as a Directing Animator, alongside Michal Makarewicz, so I had a lot of other responsibilities besides animating.  Director Animators are responsible for supporting their fellow animators creatively and technically, as well as representing animation in other departments' reviews.  For example, we would often visit animators at their desks to give feedback between Director reviews, and I was responsible for training many of the animators who had never worked in the Cars world before.  I would also attend reviews for FX, Crowds, and other downstream departments in case there was a question or note for animation.  Supervising Animators (the highest ranking animators) drive the animation production, and are responsible for casting shots, budgeting time, giving feedback to animators, and working with the director and producer, as well as the leads from other departments.  Usually Supervising and Directing Animators don't get to do a lot of actual animation footage on a film because they're so busy attending meetings and helping the animators.  However, on Cars 2 the department was able to produce record-breaking amounts of footage every week, because the rigs are so simple.  This allowed me and the other leads to contribute more footage to the show than would normally be possible.

Being a lead on a film is (obviously) much different than being an animator.  You have a lot more responsibilities and you don't spend a lot of time at your desk.  On the upside, I really enjoy having a larger influence on the film and getting to interact with so many people inside and outside my department, including the Director.  On the downside, I often miss the zen focus of just sitting at my desk and losing myself in the process of animation.  Cars 2 afforded me both opportunities, and I don't expect that will come again.  I also don't know if we'll ever see John Lasseter direct again, so it was a wonderful chance to work with him again.  John is a great boss, as you can imagine, and he really invites his team to bring their own creative ideas and solutions to the film.  On Cars 2 in particular, because the production timeline was so short and his availability so limited, he really relied on us to take initiative and solve problems on the show in his absence.  This gave the team a greater sense of investment in the film, and made for a more enjoyable experience (even if it is more hectic and stressful at times).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Interview on Animated Views

Here's an interview I did for Animated Views a few months back, which has just been posted.  Thanks Jeremie!  Now that the Cars 2 DVD is out I'll try to put together my reel for the show and post it here soon...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brave trailer online!

Our trailer debuts online today at 9:00 am PST at disney.com/brave and apple.com/trailers/brave.

It will likely be attached to a family film opening this weekend...

I'm doing a brief tour of duty on Brave right now in between preproduction on future films. I'm having a great time animating these characters, but this movie has been extremely challenging for the entire company, both creatively and technically. It's been a loooong time in the making. But just like hard weather produces the best grapes for wine, I'm confident that all our hard work will pay off, just like with Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cars 2: Getting Behind the Wheel

Here's a sneak preview of one of the supplemental documentaries from the upcoming Cars 2 Bluray.  This one features interviews with myself, Supervising Animator Dave Mullins and Co-Director Brad Lewis, talking about the "research" we did at Infineon Raceway.  Don't know if it helped our animation much, but it sure was fun!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Goodbye Steve

I haven't felt compelled to post anything on my blog for a while, but with the passing of Steve Jobs I feel like I have to say something, because he has had a direct and positive influence on my life.  Not just because of all the cool gadgets, but because he created Pixar, a place where an artist like me could work with hundreds of other like-minded artists on films that we love, and that touch audiences around the world.  He created a safe-haven for us, away from Hollywood, and I still scratch my head that a studio like this can even exist, much less persevere and thrive.  I was there when Steve used to walk the halls, and while I never had a real conversation with him, I was always glad to see him around, and I'll admit I was starstruck as well.  He used to lead the company meetings and was always very straightforward and honest.  I always felt that with such smart guys as him, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter running the company, we couldn't go wrong.  When Disney bought us in 2005 he stopped coming around as much, for various reasons, including his health, I'm sure.  Then I only got to see him a few times a year, like the rest of the world, in those keynote addresses for Apple.

Now that he's gone I feel like there's a little less magic in the world, but I'm proud to be a part of one of his greatest creations, which will live on like so many of his others.

Thanks, Steve.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Animation Collaborative

If you follow animation blogs like mine then you may have heard about the Animation Collaborative, which is a new workshop for animators and artists.  It's conveniently located right across the street from Pixar.  I will be teaching there starting in the Fall, so if you're interested in joining me for a class then check the availability on there web site.  No, I'm not leaving AnimationMentor.com, I'm just mixing it up a little bit.

AnimC (as we call it for short) is having an open house tonight at 6pm, so if you're in the neighborhood swing by, check out the space, and meet some cool people!

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Day in the Life of John Lasseter

What a life! Check it out:

If you watch closely you might see me in animation dailies...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Animation Insiders book is back online - for FREE!

A few of you have contacted me about getting a copy of the Animation Insiders book by Patrick Beaulieu, which features interviews and workflows of many working animators, including myself.  It was released in print last year, then as an eBook, and then it disappeared.  Now it's back, and Patrick is making it available as a free PDF download.  Here's a link to the download site.

Thanks for your generosity, Patrick!

UPDATE:  Link seems to be working again!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Some thoughts about my remarks at the CTNX panel...

Hi All,
I made some snide remarks about the Character Riggers at Pixar in this panel, and I want to say that I didn't mean it seriously!  Those guys are great and they enable the animators to do what they do.  We've developed a great relationship between Animation and Rigging over the years, and I don't want to upset that.  To be honest, we had been drinking a bit before the panel, so I was a little more flippant than usual; I know that's not an excuse, but I sincerely respect those guys and hope that no one in the rigging community takes offense at my remarks.  Here's to you, Chars TD's!

Monday, June 27, 2011

CTNX panel is back up on Vimeo

This video was marked "private" originally but now it's back up for public consumption.  It features Carlos Baena, Aaron Hartline, Michal Makarewicz, and myself, with Adreas Deja (!) as the moderator.  We all had a few drinks before the panel, so things are pretty loose...

Tools of the Trade of a Successful Animator Yesterday Today and Beyond from Creative Talent Network on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Local boy makes good

Here's an article on me from hometown new source, SignOn San Diego.  Surprisingly accurate journalism, except for the part about me being 40.  I'm still 29...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cars 2!

If you don't already know, Cars 2 opens in the US on June 24th, and I'll be attending the world premiere tomorrow, June 18th, in Los Angeles (my first premiere - yay!).  I had the honor of being a Directing Animator on this film which meant, among other things, getting to work closely with John Lasseter again.  Once the movie opens I'll talk more about my involvement.  Until then, I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Animation Mentor Student Showcase 2011

Just in case you haven't seen this elsewhere:

 AM is over 5 years old and still going strong!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tango for Jansjo

Here's a great little stop-motion animated short from fellow Pixarian Carlo Vogele. He shot this on his spare time in his kitchen, and he makes me sick! For those of you who speak spanish, there's some adult language in here. Otherwise, enjoy!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rain Town

I just discovered this beautiful short film, written and directed by Hiroyasu Ishida.  This is the kind of film you'll want to watch in HD, full-screen, with no distractions.  Gorgeous, haunting and bizarre.  Make sure to watch past the end credits!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Animation Insiders" panel at CTNX

Last October I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd annual CTNX in Anaheim, and I got to speak on a couple of panels, including the one below. I was in humbling company - Andreas Deja, Tony DeRosa, Eric Goldberg, and Pablo Navarro.  I'm the guy whose head is hidden behind the speaker, and I was pretty ragged from a night of heavy drinking, which is why my voice is about an octave lower than usual.

UPDATE - this video has now been marked as "private" for some reason, and even I can't view it.  Sorry!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday inspiration

Whoah, how did it get to be April already???

Animation on Cars 2 officially wrapped a couple of weeks ago, and I'm just peeking my head out into the sunlight now. We still have some fixes to cleanup up, but for the most part we're really done, and now the lighting department is holding the bag. It's been a challenging year; we had about 10 weeks to animate half the film, but we were able to do it because a) Pixar animators rock and b) let's face it, animating cars is a lot easier than animating humans!  The film looks great and I can't wait to share it with the world.  I'm also looking forward to taking a nice long vacation this summer, and then going on to pre-pro on an as-yet-unannounced film.   In the meantime, here's something nice:

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Google Art Project

This is one of the best uses for the internet I've seen in a while.  No security guard would ever let you get this close to these works of art in person!  Makes me want to start painting again, and I don't mean digital.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Animating Limited Characters

I recently got an email from reader Andy Latham asking me a very good question:
When animating on Cars, is there anything that you have wanted to animate but haven't been able to due to the limitations of using cars instead of people?
The answer is yes (and no), but more importantly, this got me thinking about animation limited characters, such as cars, robots, fish, etc.  I realized that this is a subject dear to my heart, hence this article.  And yes, I'll expand on my answer to the question below.

Given the choice between animating a fully-articulated human character with dialog and silent, abstract character with limited articulation and vestigial features, I'll usually choose the latter.  I like the freedom that you get from simplified characters; the more stylized or abstract the character is, the less the audience expects it to move in a naturalistic way, and (I think) the more likely the audience is to empathize with the character.  I'm not going to get into the whole uncanny valley issue, but suffice to say that a realistic CG human has to work a lot harder than a cartoon blob to win the audience's affection.

Another thing I like about limited characters is the speed at which you can work.  Because you have so few controls to work with, you have fewer keys to set, so you can spend more time experimenting.  For example, on Cars the characters obviously lack arms, legs, spines, necks, etc.  Most of the time I'm just treating the body of the car like a bouncing ball (or bouncing box in this case) and relying on timing and line of action to convey attitude.  This means I can do most of my blocking with about 8 controls, which really speeds up my workflow!  Sure, I'll also throw in the occasional tire gesture, but that doesn't add a lot more complexity to my shot, and I can keep working fast.  My average weekly footage animating cars is almost double what it would be with more complex characters.  I find I shoot a lot less reference when I'm planning for a limited character, because reference isn't as useful.  I move in ways that a car can't, and vice versa.  I can record facial expression reference, and general timing reference from my head movements, but not a lot more.  I find that thumbnails are more useful, and I'll also just experiment right in the computer, because I can lay in poses so quickly and try different combinations in a short period of time.  With a human character I'm shooting a lot more reference, and I'm likely blocking pose-to-pose, meticulously sculpting the poses for rhythm and balance.  With cars I often block in a layered fashion, because the timing is more important to me than the poses (and how much can you really "pose" a car anyway?).  This gives me more instantaneous feedback about the timing and texture of my shot.

Finally, I like animating limited characters because they pose unique challenges.  It appeals to the part of my brain that likes to solve puzzles.  How can I make a robot with no facial controls look sad?  How can I make a car moonwalk?  How can I tell a complex emotional story with no dialog, no facial expressions, and a legless, elbowless trash-compactor?  I think of it like haiku; I have a very strict set of rules I have to adhere to, but within them I have lots of freedom.  Limitations are essential to creative thinking and problem solving.  As long as I have a clear idea of what the character's personality, mood and intent are, I've never run into a situation where I can't communicate what I want.  Of course I don't always get it on the first try!

To expand on Andy's question, I often run into situations where I want to put across a particular gesture or attitude with a car, and I just can't make it read.  The solution is often to not try to force human movement into a car (or robot or fish) but to try to find something unique about the limited physiology of your character that can convey the same emotion in a new way.  Or in the case of an actual living creature, like a fish, trying to find a natural behavior of that creature that could also suggest a human behavior.  Here are some clips to illustrate these points:

Cars - Lightning McQueen and Sally.  These shots were animated by Rich Quade and Dave DeVan.  Note how McQueen's front wheels are animated to suggest feet (usually they suggest hands) and how the gesture is made more "car-like" by rolling the tire on the ground.  Also note the use of Sally's taillights in the three-point turn to communicate thought.

Finding Nemo - Coral.  This is a deceptively simple shot of Coral saying "what?" by Shawn Krause.  Notice how fish-like it feels.  We've all seen fish in an aquarium do this kind of quick turn, and the animator has used this to suggest a take.  Also notice that he didn't try to add in a humanistic gesture with the fins.

WALL-E - WALL-E and Eve.  I animated all of this myself.  There's a lot to see here, but here are some less obvious notes:  WALL-E's neck compresses and expands to suggest changes in posture - when the neck compresses down, it's as if his shoulders were coming up.  His arm joints suggest shoulders when they are at the top of his cube buddy, and they suggest elbows when they are down low.  At around :39 WALL-E's head and body rotate around in opposite directions.  Why?  Because he can!  At :42 I shaped Eve's eyes to look like a standard U.S. electrical socket when she illuminates the light bulb.  At :56 WALL-E examines the Rubik's Cube by rotating his hand around 360 degrees.  Again, because he can.

Bonus clip: Pocoyo - Pato the duck is a favorite character of mine, and he's extremely limited.  Rather than trying repurpose natural duck behavior and physiology, the animators instead have chosen to invent a new vocabulary of motion for him, and use his simple body in unique ways.  See how he is able to stack blocks without the use of arms:

In conclusion, I think limited characters have more fun!  So if you're trying to flesh out your demo reel, why not try bringing life to a really limited character?  It's a good way to develop your storytelling and problem-solving muscles, and it's a fun challenge.  Happy Animating, and thanks for the question, Andy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Toy Story 3 Nominated for 5 Academy Awards!

Nominations for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards were announced this morning.
Toy Story 3's nominations include Best Animated Feature, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song and Best Sound Editing. And for only the third time in history, an animated film - Toy Story 3 - was nominated for Best Picture.

Animated Feature Film
• “How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
• “The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
“Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

Music (Original Song)
• “Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas
• “I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
• “If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Best Picture
• “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
• “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
• “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
• “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
• “The King's Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
• “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
• “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, and Ce├ín Chaffin, Producers
“Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
• “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
• “Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

Sound Editing
• “Inception” Richard King
“Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
• “Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
• “True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
• “Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
• “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
• “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
“Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
• “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
• “Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Day & Night also got a nom:

Short Film (Animated)
“Day & Night” Teddy Newton
• “The Gruffalo” Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
• “Let's Pollute” Geefwee Boedoe
• “The Lost Thing” Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
• “Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois

A complete list of nominees can be found here.  Congratulations once again to our great crew!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I know there haven't been a lot of quality original posts on the blog in a while; I've been wanting to do more tutorials and articles, but I haven't been able to find the time.  I'm currently a Directing Animator on Cars 2, and we're in pretty heavy crunch mode until April, so it's not likely you'll see a lot of updates here until then.  See you on the other side!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A couple of cool animation reference sites

One of my readers, Peter Nagy, turned me on to these two sites with a wealth of reference material.  The first is the Walk Cycle Depot, which is a pretty neat idea, in the spirit of the Pencil Test Depot.

The second and larger site is the Living Lines Library, which features loads of model sheets, pencil tests and other art from 2D animated features and shows.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Free eBook: Animation Insiders

This book has just been made available as a free digital download.  It includes interviews with many animators about their workflows, including myself and Jason Schfleifer.  Check it out!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Deep

I love this new stop-motion short from PES: