Saturday, November 24, 2012

Motion Capture comes to Bucks

Animators don't like Motion Capture. We fear it because it threatens us, threatens to replace what we do so carefully and painstakingly and slowly with fast, inexpensive, automated technology. I first heard about it way back in 1987 on the set of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" when it was rumoured that a technology existed whereby a computer could capture an actor's motion and express it instantly as a piece of 3D animation. Well, that'll never catch on, I thought (or hoped, more likely). Phil Nibbelink, one of the most talented animators on The Rabbit, called Motion Capture "the battle cry of the untalented". How we laughed.
Andy Serkis at Comic Con 2011, photographed by Gerald Geronimo

Well, we're not laughing now. Motion capture snaps at our heels, getting better all the time. Just like 3D animation got better and better, and all the 2D drawn-animation geezers were proved wrong when they said "it's just a passing fad". Ever since Andy Serkis dazzled us with his extraordinary performance of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, we have had to face the fact that Motion Capture is here to stay.

Last week Stephen Partridge, head of Production at Bucks, invited me to meet with Phil Stilgoe, one of the founders of Centroid, a British motion capture company which is partnering with us at Bucks, creating opportunities for students to get real-world experience and also to help develop new technologies.  Centroid is based at the legendary Pinewood Studios, and we'll be taking a small group of lucky students to visit them in December.

Phil was almost apologetic when we were introduced, obviously well used to animators grimacing at him and wishing he didn't exist. But I had the opposite reaction, finding myself swept up in his enthusiasm for what he does. What if, he asked, you could go to a movie premiere and see Jessica Rabbit on the red carpet, a holographic projection created by a motion capture actor in a hidden studio, creating a real-time performance in front of a live audience? How cool would that be? Pretty cool, I thought. I'd pay money to see that.

In fact, this isn't so fanciful. Motion Capture technology has already become so good that it can be used now to create real-time performances. Here's a video clip of what the future holds.

Animators may not like it, but motion capture isn't going anywhere. Like any new technology, we need to embrace it and make it work for us - not wish it away.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Who Owns History? Who Owns Culture? Who Owns Speech?

The Walt Disney company is responsible for delaying the publication of Full Steam Ahead!: The Life and Art of Ward Kimball by Amid Amidi.  The reason, according to the author, is that Disney is unhappy that Kimball's life doesn't conform to the company's exacting standards.  Disney has had the book since January of 2012 and has yet to approve it.  The publication of the book has been delayed a minimum of seven months, preventing those who pre-ordered the book from reading it and delaying earnings for both the author and publisher.

I have not read the book and I certainly don't know the specific text that Disney is objecting to, but I find this situation to be very troubling for the chill it casts over our ability to comment on the world we live in.

We are now in a time where entertainment corporations have run amuck.  I have recently written about Sony taking ownership of any artwork submitted by job applicants.  In Finland, the police have confiscated the laptop of a nine year old girl for downloading a single song from the Pirate Bay.  In addition, they have fined the girl 600 Euros, even though the girl's father has proved that the girl later bought the album and concert tickets for the band in question.  Several countries have instituted laws where three copyright violations can result in a user being banned from the internet altogether.

One of the problems with this ban is how arbitrarily copyright violations are enforced.  All over the web, there are sites which could be construed to be violating copyright.  I say "could be" as a court could decide that material qualifies as fair use.  And the copyright holder gets to selectively decide who to prosecute and who to ignore.   In other words, if the company thinks the copyright violation is good marketing, it will turn a blind eye. 

Beyond the logistics of corporations using the law to arbitrarily punish people, there is the much larger question of who owns history, culture and speech?  When culture is manufactured for a profit, do we have the right to discuss it, criticize it and respond to it?  Can we use examples to make our case or are we limited by the legal rights of the manufacturer?

As the entertainment corporations are now multinational behemoths with whole staffs of lawyers charged with protecting intellectual property, they use the threat of legal action as a deterrent.  The Kimball book is a case in point.  In court, it could be argued that any Disney artwork used in the book is fair use.  What's one still image from the more than 100,000 frames in a feature film?  How is the publication of a still depriving Disney of income?  Disney could not suppress a book based on its text without proving libel, but it can suppress a book before the fact by denying the use of artwork and the threat of a lawsuit if a publisher decides to take a chance and publish anyway.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.  Disney owns Marvel and denied Sean Howe, the author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, the use of illustrations unless they could approve the text of the book.  Howe and his publisher decided to forgo illustrations, so the history of a comic book company has no images of the artwork that made the company worth writing about.  And as I mentioned above, copyright prosecutions are arbitrary.  Howe has a tumblr where he has included images that should have been included in the book and so far, Disney hasn't complained.

How strange is it that in the western world, it is permissible to comment on governments but not on companies that make cartoons?  As corporations have increasingly lobbied governments to write laws for their own benefit, we may soon reach a point where criticizing governments is irrelevant and the corporations who should be criticized will stifle all dissent.

Tappers Caricatures

When Ralph goes to Tappers bar and runs into the Hero's Duty soldier for the first time,  John Musker and I did those caricatures of game celebrities on the wall.  

The idea was to have it replicate the feel of a famous New York restaurant called Sardi's, where the walls are lined with caricatures of celebrities.

Here are a few of the ones I did.
 Centurion- Altered Beast
 Chun Li- Street Fighter
 Dhalsim - Street Fighter
 E-Honda - Street Fighter
 Guile- Street Fighter
 Ken- Street Fighter
 Neff- Altered Beast
 Peter Pepper - Burger Time
 Ryu - Street Fighter
 Sagat- Street Fighter
 Sorceress- I'm not sure which game
 Space Invader
Zangief- Street Fighter
 Fix-It Felix

Our director, Rich Moore.
Big thanks to Rich for giving me the chance to do these!
All images are property/copyright Disney

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Animation Workflow: Patrick Przybyla

Found this workflow post over at Patrick Przybyla site. He's an animator at High Moon Studios and recently worked on Transformers:Fall of Cybertron. In this post he breaks down his workflow on some of the challenges of animating Transformers. It's a quick insight to his process and the process I would imagine was a basis or starting point for most over at High Moon during this game.

Head on over and check it out, there may be some things that you can take away and it's always great to see other animators workflows.


More Artist Exploitation

In the past, if you pitched an idea to a studio, they would ask you to sign a release form before pitching.  The form stated that the studio might already be developing a property similar to what you were about to pitch and that you acknowledged this.  The purpose of the form was to prevent the people pitching from launching lawsuits if they felt their ideas had been stolen by the studios.  In truth, at any given moment, studios have multiple properties in development and coincidences do occur.  There were also cases where the release forms allowed studios to rip off ideas without paying for them.

However, the release form made no claims to ownership of the material being pitched.  The pitcher was free to take the material anywhere else.

The world has changed for the worse.  Sony is hiring storyboard artists and visual development artists.  They are not looking for ideas here; they are looking for artists who can draw and develop ideas that Sony will provide.  It is clearly a work-for-hire arrangement.  Yet Sony, in its terms of use portion of the online application for both jobs states this:

7. Submissions
Subject to applicable law and except as otherwise expressly provided in any other agreement that you (or your employer if you are not employed by SPE) may have with SPE with respect to the resources made available on this Site (a “Base Agreement”):
• You agree that any intellectual property or materials, including but not limited to questions, comments, suggestions, ideas, discoveries, plans, notes, drawings, original or creative materials, or other information, provided by you in the form of e-mail or electronic submissions to SPE, or uploads or postings to this Site (“Submissions”), shall become the sole property of SPE to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law and will be considered "works made for hire" or "commissioned works" owned by SPE;
• To the extent that any Submission may not constitute a "work made for hire" or "commissioned work" owned by SPE under applicable law, you hereby irrevocably assign, and agree to assign, to SPE all current and future right, title and interest in any and all such Submissions; and
• SPE shall own exclusive rights, including any and all intellectual property rights, and shall be entitled to the unrestricted use of Submissions for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without acknowledgment or additional compensation to you.
In the event applicable law operates to prevent such assignment described above, or otherwise prevents SPE from becoming the sole owner of any such Submissions, you agree to grant to SPE, and this provision shall be effective as granting to SPE, (with unfettered rights of assignment) a perpetual, worldwide, paid-in-full, nonexclusive right (including any moral rights) and license to make, use, sell, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, communicate to the public, perform and display the Submissions (in whole or in part) worldwide and or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed, for the full term of any rights that may exist in any such Submissions.
By making Submissions, you represent that (i) you have full power and authority to make the assignment and license set forth above, (ii) the Submissions do not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party, and (iii) SPE shall be free and have the right to use, assign, modify, edit, alter, adapt, distribute, dispose, promote, display, and transmit the Submissions, or reproduce them, in whole or in part, without compensation, notification, or additional consent from you or from any third party.

Essentially, the above states that Sony takes ownership of your portfolio material when you apply for the job.  If you are submitting samples of work you have done for other companies, Sony wants you to assign the rights to them. You clearly don't have the authority to do that for work you don't own, so that means that you are not legally allowed to show Sony work you've done for other companies.  Sort of defeats the purpose of a submission portfolio, doesn't it?

What's clearly disturbing though, is that any original work in your portfolio becomes their property.  This does not depend on whether they hire you or not, they get ownership because you applied.

How absurd is this?  It means that legally, you could not take your own work and use it to apply to another company later, as it would now be owned by Sony.  Furthermore, what right does Sony have to take ownership of your work without payment?  And of course, it's not enough that Sony owns it, they list all the ways that they can use and mutilate your work "without compensation, notification, additional consent from you or from any third party."

Sony's lawyers have been overzealous here.  It means that nobody should be applying for these jobs, as you can't show them your work for others and shouldn't show them your personal work.

Undoubtedly, someone will say it's just boilerplate.  Sony would never exercise these rights, they're just trying to protect themselves.  People sign what they have to in order to get work.  But it remains a legal document unless it is successfully challenged in court, and that takes time and money.

Imagine this scenario.  I may hire you, but before you apply, I say you have to sign an I.O.U. for $100,000.  I have no intention of ever collecting.  It's just a formality.  But the fact remains that by applying to work for me, you've given me the right to collect $100,000 from you.  Would you want that hanging over your head?  Would you want to hire a lawyer and go to court if I decide to collect?  Isn't it doubly absurd if I don't hire you and never pay you a nickel but still want the $100,000?

Sony needs to rewrite their terms of use. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Acting Notes: JP Sans nuggets on Character Performance

I believe this is the 2nd snippet from JP Sans(aka Juan Pablo Sans) over at the AnimSchool Blog. I watch it a couple of times because there are some great tips on really plusing up your characters performance. Lots of good details that you see from a polish pass. Of course it starts with good planning and blocking but this shows you some great insight to JP's thought process in the polish phase.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kickstarter: Funny Feet - The Art of Eccentric Dance

Hey Everyone

I just wanted to introduce this great little Kickstarter Project called Funny Feet: The Art of Eccentric Dance. Long time Disney Animator and ChoreographerBesty Baytos is doing a Documentary about the Art of Eccentric Dance in films and animation. There are some great people involved and you can really see the passion she has when you watch the video. It's a great and original project that is really interesting.

Have a look around the kickstarter...not much time left!
Check out her site as well to find out a little more about Betsy.

Also check out the guest post by Betsy about it over at the Comedy for Animators Blog


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Children's Hospital

Brent Homman, Melissa Fanfassian, Chad Sellers, Michael Woodside, Ruben Aquino
Sarah Airriess, Myself.

Last Friday, a few of us had the amazing opportunity to spend some time with the kids at Children's Hospital in LA.  We got to screen Wreck it Ralph, pass out some Ralph/Disney goodies, and draw Disney characters!

It was really touching getting to watch the film with these kids, and being able to give them a little reprieve from their daily struggles.  It really cuts to the core of why I do what I do and I'll be forever grateful for the experience.  Thank you kids for letting us be a part of your lives, and thanks to the Children's Hospital for having us!

What's Wrong With This Picture?

That's Mark Andrews, the final director of Pixar's Brave.  He is the recipient of the Global Scottish Thistle Award, for "those who have helped to put Scotland on the world stage."  So far as I know, Andrews had nothing to do with setting the film in Scotland and Visit Scotland, the organization that gave him the award, seems to have no knowledge of Brenda Chapman, the film's original director.

Friday, November 9, 2012

About Animation & VFX at Bucks

Here is a short video (5 mins) about our new Animation and VFX course at Bucks. This helps to give a flavour of what we are up to. In short, we want to create the best animation and visual effects course in the country.


How long does it take to become a good animator?

Animation is a complex craft and it takes a long time to master.  I have been teaching animation since 1996 and I have spent a good deal of time trying to figure out what should go into a really good animation course. How does a school get its students to a professional level of skill within the shortest possible period of time? Many students emerge from 3 years of animation study at prestigious schools with only basic skills, which most likely says more about the quality of training they received than it does about them.

Until starting at Bucks this year I was teaching at Escape Studios in London where the animation courses were just 3 months long, which is a very short space of time to teach someone to animate. We had very little time to spend on any individual exercise - no more than a day or two. What surprised me about this approach was how well it worked. Everyone worked like crazy and we didn't waste any time. Every hour of every day was precious and the challenge was always to figure out the fastest and most efficient way to get the best work done. In three months almost all of the students had become proficient in the art of animation.

Here at Bucks we'll be applying the same principles, that is to say intensive animation training to get students to a professional standard as fast as possible. By the end of year one everyone should feel comfortable with the medium, able to give a performance and create an entertaining piece of work. By the end of the final year we want to see the students completing high-quality short films, able to compete and succeed at the highest level in the industry.

Anyone interested in learning more about our new animation and VFX course here at Bucks should get in touch with me or Dave Creighton - we're delighted to answer questions.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is Hasbro Next?

The Beat is reporting that Disney is in talks with Hasbro, which currently holds the toy licenses for Star Wars and the Marvel characters as well as owning Toy Story's Mr. Potato Head.  Here is a list of the other things that Hasbro owns or licenses.  While this could be as simple as a renegotiation of toy licenses, given Robert Iger's history it may be an indication that Hasbro is Disney's next purchase.

Come to Our Next Open Day!

The Gateway Building at Bucks - a state-of-the-art media hub
Our next open day at Bucks is November 21st 2012 from 11am to 4pm at our High Wycombe campus. Full details here. Come and meet me and the other course tutors - we'll tell you about the new course here at Bucks and answer any questions you have. You can also look around our state-of-the-art media building where we teach not just animation but music, sound design, green screen, live action film-making and dance.

One of the best things about studying animation at Bucks is the opportunity to work with other film-makers and artists in different departments. Film-making is a collaborative art form and we strongly encourage students to share their skills and work together as a team.

--- Alex

Student film showcase - Georgia Woods, aged 13

Above is an excellent short film done by a recent graduate of the Bucks New University animation course. The film is by Clare Hunt and is narrated by Georgia Woods, a 13 year old girl who was subjected to cyber bullying at her new school.

Clare's film packs a strong emotional punch and she shows how animation can be used not just to entertain an audience but also to tackle important social issues. I also love the simple animation style, which does exactly what it needs to do.

Many congratulations to Clare on an excellent piece of work.

--- Alex

Free Rig: Bonnie

Josh Sobel has released his character Bonnie. It's a girl rig that is free. Her design is great and seems to have many great features including:
  • Expressive Facial Deformation
  • Optional Hair Dynamics
  • Render-Ready
  • Selection GUI

    Bonnie Rig Promo from Josh Sobel on Vimeo.

    Head on over and check it out!

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    I Say, I Say...Son!

    While many gaps in animation history have been filled in the last 40 years, gaps remain.  That's why any new book that fills in some blanks is to be celebrated.  While Warner Bros. cartoons and certain of the directors have been covered relatively well, Bob McKimson has been present only intermittently in writings about the studio.  Part of the reason is that he died just as animation history was moving into high gear and partially because he never attracted the critical or fan attention that directors like Chuck Jones did.

    This book (with excerpts available at the link), written by McKimson's son, Robert Jr, also covers McKimson's brothers Tom and Chuck, both of whom also contributed to Warner Bros. cartoons in the areas of character design and animation respectively.

    While the book covers their entire careers, it doesn't go into as much depth as I would have liked.  Given that the author was a relative, I wish there had been more about the brothers as people.  I didn't get a good picture of their personalities or their relationship.

    As well, the book isn't specific enough about some of the work.  Chuck McKimson animated for Bob for several years in the post-war period, but no scenes are identified as his work and there is no discussion about how his animation differed, if at all, from his brother's.  While the author is right to point out that Bob McKimson was the only Warner Bros. director who continued to animate on his cartoons, with the exception of The Hole Idea (animated entirely by the director due to the studio shutting down temporarily), there are no animation scenes identified from his years as a director.

    There's also no discussion of the evolution of the McKimson brothers' art over time.  It's clear from the illustrations that their styles changed over the years, and not always for the better.  By the 1950's, there's a tightness to some of Bob McKimson's drawings that compare unfavourably to his work during the 1940s.  In the '50s, he had a tendency to draw arms and legs on characters like Bugs Bunny with parallel lines, causing the character to flatten out considerably.  The liveliness and energy that he gave to Bugs in earlier years seems to have dissipated.

    The best parts of the book are the illustrations, which cover a range of fields: animation, comics, colouring books and publicity artwork.  The McKimson brothers had a definite influence on the look of Warner Bros. cartoons, especially in the years before the end of World War II.  Bob and Tom were major contributors to the Bob Clampett unit and Bob McKimson was arguably the main artistic influence on the look of Bugs Bunny, first for Tex Avery and later for Clampett.  As a director, Bob McKimson is probably best known for Foghorn Leghorn and the Tasmanian Devil, who appeared in his cartoons exclusively.

    The McKimson brothers are certainly worthy of a book and this one is a start.  As it is the best currently available, it is worth having, but there's a lot more to be said about the brothers and I hope that this isn't the last we'll read of them.

    Saturday, November 3, 2012

    Opening weekend

    I promise this will be the last Ralph-related post!  But the film is finally out this weekend,we are all really proud of Ralph and I hope it shows in the work.  I'm really excited to hear what you think!

    This was such a unique experience for me.  Not only was a I lucky (but unworthy) enough to be a part of this world-class animation crew doing 3D and 8-bit animation, but on  the heels of the Caricature Show (see below), I was tapped by Art Director Mike Gabriel to create some art for the movie!  I'm very grateful , and that experience eventually helped me to move into Visual Development training program here at Disney! 
    So I guess there are lessons I am learning here ; Take chances especially when they scare you.  Even when you feel like you aren't as good as the next guy, don't be afraid to put your work out there.  And keep forcefully pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
     All of the above will help us to fall flat on our faces.  But we secretly know that's how we get better;)

    So if you've taken a break from your all-day-all-night animation session to visit this blog, this post is for you!  I feel you and I know you're workin hard and this medium is a challenging as it is gratifying.  But keep going and I promise you your big dreams are going to start to happen!

    And when you do get there...dude it's awesome.  There's nothing like banding together with a team of talented artists and working together to put something special up on screen!
    Such an honor to be up there with my heroes!
    My dream comin' true. Being part of the amazing animation crew at Disney.  Our future's lookin pretty bright!

    PS - Let me know if you spot this little piece somewhere in the film=)

     Congratulations to Rich Moore and the whole crew!  Thanks for the unforgettable experience!

    Friday, November 2, 2012

    Ken Fountain's Kickstarter

    Ken Fountain and a talented team of artist and designers are working on a great little project called Geo-Me. Many of you may know Ken from or from his lectures. They only have a few more days left to meet their goal and they need your help!

    "Geo-Me!" from Crackerbox, on Kickstarter! from Ken Fountain on Vimeo.

    So head on over and check it out!!

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Animation Demo by Jason Ryan

    Check out this Demo from Jason Ryan. It is from one of the weekly demos that he does over at

    Scarecrow animation from iAnimate on Vimeo.


    A couple of Great Podcast: ParaNorman and Tangled

    Animation Podcast has just put up the "Unofficial Commentary" for Tangled. There has been a bit of a hiatus from the podcast over there and because of your the readers bugging Clay Kaytis every time you see him about when there will be a new podcast, he sat down the Disney Animators for commentary on Tangled. The idea is to sit down with your copy of Tangled and listen to the podcast as you watch...pretty sweet.

    And you can also head on over to Speaking of Animation and check out a podcast all about ParaNorman. They got a chance to sit down with co-directors Chris Butler, Sam Fell, and Lead Animator/Producer Travis Knight, to discuss being an Animator and some of the creative process behind Story and Character.

    So enjoy these two different Podcast! Great stuff!

    also check out another interview with Clay Kaytis about Tangled