Saturday, March 30, 2013

My Neighbors, The Yamadas and Pom Poko

While I am very familiar with the Studio Ghibli films directed by Hayao Miyazaki, I have to admit that I haven't paid as much attention to Ghibli's other directors.  In the last week, I watched My Neighbors, The Yamadas and Pom Poko, both directed by Isao Takahata.  Both films, though very different, were excellent.  I wish that I'd watched them sooner.

My Neighbors, The Yamadas is basically a sitcom and based on a Japanese comic.  However, there are sitcoms and sitcoms.  Lucille Ball getting her fingers stuck in a bowling ball when Desi Arnaz is bringing home an important business contact for dinner is one kind.  The characters in I Love Lucy are well defined, but shallow.  The pleasure comes from seeing how the characters react in a given situation.  There's real craft to this kind of show, but it's not really about character.

The other kind of sitcom is one where the situations reveal more about the characters' inner workings.  Shows like M*A*S*H or Frasier are not only funny, but also dig deep to reveal their characters' humanity.  For all her talent, Lucille Ball doesn't fit into this kind of show.

On the surface, My Neighbors, The Yamadas is a series of vignettes built around a five person family: mother, father, son, daughter and grandmother.  That's not very promising material; we've seen this kind of thing hundreds of times.  However, while the character designs are far more cartoony than the typical Ghibli production, implying a shallowness to the content, the characterizations are at least as good as anything Ghibli has produced.  The film is quiet and unspectacular, but the characters are so beautifully developed that they have depth that few recent animated characters have.  What is so appealing to me is that these depths aren't revealed through overwrought drama, but through thoroughly mundane daily events.

I've always admired Bakshi's Heavy Traffic for it's combination of cartoony design and emotional depth.  My Neighbors, The Yamadas resembles Bakshi in this way and it stands in stark contrast to the current crop of cgi films that fill the screen with detail while presenting characters who are not nearly as rich.

Pom Poko is radically different film than The Yamadas in terms of design and story, but like it in having so much going on beneath the surface.  The story concerns the expansion of human suburbs destroying the forest home of the tanuki, a species that Disney has labelled racoons in their dub and subtitles, but apparently is a form of badger.  The tanuki have a rich folklore in Japan and are supposed to be shape shifters.

On the surface, this is another ecological fable, something Ghibli has dealt with on several occasions.  However, the various ways the tanuki attempt to deal with the human expansion says more about the plight of aboriginal people than it does about wildlife.  I don't know enough about the Ainu, Japan's aboriginal people, to know how this film relates to their experiences, but Pom Poko could have been written about the natives of North America.  One tanuki contingent wants to violently resist and kill the human interlopers.  There is real death in this film, unusual for a film that seems to be family-friendly.  Another contingent ends up assimilating, using their shape-shifting abilities to live as humans.  The remainder of the tanuki attempt to maintain their way of life under greatly reduced circumstances.

How unusual for a animated film to deal with issues of terrorism, assimilation and the attempt of colonised people to maintain their culture.  Name a North American animated feature that even comes close.

Pom Poko is also unusually frank by North American standards about biology.  The male tanuki are drawn with visible testicles and have no reservation about using them in their transformations as well as singing with pride about them.  Given Disney's skittishness about Song of the South, it's amazing to me that Disney released this DVD.  I can only guess it was due to a contractual obligation rather than a willingness to stand behind the content.  The film is as subversive a family entertainment as I've ever seen though I'm not aware of any flak aimed at Disney as a result.

After watching these films, I will be doing my best to see the rest of Takahata's work.  These two films have placed him high on my list of the most important animation directors.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Does Education Kill Creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson is an educator who believes passionately in the importance of teaching creativity in our schools. In this fascinating (and very entertaining) 2007 TED talk Robinson explains why he thinks our system of education is broken and needs fixing.

Here at Bucks we believe that creativity can be taught. Studying 3D animation and the digital arts is not just about learning the right tools and which buttons to press. Yes, technical expertise is necessary, but creativity matters too. Good digital artists are just that - artists. Inventive, creative, funny and entertaining.

Soho VFX houses charge far more than their counterparts in Asia. How can they afford to charge a premium? The answer lies in a unique blend of technical excellence and creative talent. The perfect digital artist knows the software inside out - and also knows what to do with it. Clients come to London because they get - and expect - something extra.

Pleasing clients is what commercial artists do for a living. This means coming up with ideas, creative solutions, ways to make the client look good. Creativity and creative thinking is at the very heart of the process.

So a BA in Animation & VFX isn't just about technical excellence - though this is also vital. It's about coming up with great ways to apply what you have learned. Creating great projects is what we aim to do here at Bucks.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Who needs a website?

Create a blog - it's free!
Who needs a blog or a website? Only everyone who is a freelancer. And, in the entertainment industry, we are all freelancers. Jobs for life, if they ever existed, are long gone, and for most of us a gig that lasts a few years is a long one. a freelancer, you need to be selling your wares. You need a shop front, a glossy window to flaunt your talent. The bad news is - this will involve work. The good news is - it has never been easier to build your own blog or website.

Here are some links to sites that will walk you through step by step how to create a free blog or website to host your work:
  1. Blogger. Sign in through your Google email account. If you don't have a Gmail account - get one. It's free.
  2. BBC Guide - a simple guide to creating a blog. 
  3. is a great website for setting up a free, simple website to host your work. Just follow the instructions.
OK, so you've got a blog, or a simple website. Now...what should your website look like?

Look for inspiration in other students' showreels. What does/does not work? If you see a reel you like, consider copying their format. There is no shame in being inspired by other people's work.

Equally, if you see a website or blog that you like, use that as inspiration for your own.
Here are some examples of animator's websites and/or blogs that work really well:
  1. Brendan Body A nice clearly designed website with excellent character and creature work.
  2. Kiel Figgins. Excellent website with a great animation demo reel and also many free rigs. 
  3. Josh Burton. Website by the creator of the Morpheus rig and an excellent animator. 
  4. Curlymation. Blog of Matt Rees, Aardman animator. This is a very simple blog that does its job very well.
  5. Wouter Tulp blog. A simple blog that is a clear and effective showcase of talent.
  6. Wouter Tulp website. A clear, simple website.
  7. James Woods. Excellent clear, simple site
  8. Reel Barrow. A list of animator's demo reels.
So, you've got four days off (at least) over the Easter weekend. If you don't have a blog - build one now! No excuses!

It's free!


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Student Showcase - SyFy Channel Ident by Krzysztof Michalski.

This is an ident (that is to say, a "station identification") created for the SyFy channel by Krzysztof Michalski, now in his third year at Bucks. Krzysztof completed this short piece in his second year; the brief was to do an ident for a TV channel. Broadcasters use idents to remind viewers what they are watching and also to help develop their brand identities. Motion Graphics work is a big and growing market for animators and digital artists.

Idents like this, as with any short pieces of animation done for a client, can be great ways to get professional work on your demo reel. Short pieces work to your advantage because you can really polish the details and bring your work up to a high professional standard, rather than getting bogged down in something excessively long.

The most common mistake students make when they start a film project is to be too ambitious. Better a short project skillfully made than a long one which is incomplete.  Remember the golden rule of demo reels - they must be completely free of mistakes.

And the golden rule of student films - keep it short!

Many congratulations to Krzysztof on an excellent piece of work.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Wreck it Ralph Reel

Bobby Pontillas- Wreck it Ralph Reel from Bobby Pontillas on Vimeo.

Here is all of the work I did last year on Wreck-it Ralph!  My 2012
in a nutshell. Man I feel so fortunate to have worked on this Disney film.
I've said it before but Rich Moore was amazing to work for, and I can't
sing his praises enough.  He was always the one laughing in dailies
the most, and I just always felt that he was so excited to be here.

So thanks to him, the Supes, and Mike Gabriel for making it such a
wonderful experience for us.  To Disney Animation!

Thanks for watching!

2 Days left to back Allen Stroud's ELITE project at Kickstarter!

There are just two days left to back Bucks New University tutor Allen Stroud's ELITE project at Kickstarter.

Allen has found a highly entrepreneurial approach to teaching at Bucks, raising money through Kickstarter to get his ELITE novel off the ground, and helping to create opportunities for students at the same time. Alan runs the excellent Film and TV department at Bucks and also teaches creative writing.

Old Fogeys like myself get misty-eyed at the mere mention of Elite - one of the first video games available for the 32k BBC Computer back in the early 1980s, and one of the chief ways in which I wasted much of my pre-teen years.

Allen's goals at Kickstarter are multi-layered - if he gets the full £15,000 he will have enough to make a short film project.

So, Bucks animators - start polishing your spaceship animation skills. Allen may be calling on your talents.


Sunday, March 24, 2013


Here's a little piece I got to do for Gennie Rim's GR Works!  The creature's name is BlahBlahpeePlopoop and was created by Ramses Zepeda.  I hope he likes it.

Now that the Talent Development program has ended I'll have more things to post! (It was as amazing/inspiring/push-you-to-your-limits challenging as you might guess, but more on that later!)  I had both Bill Schwab and Minkyu Lee as mentors.  I'm not sure what I did to become so lucky.

Since the program occupied so much of my time the past 6 months, I want to go back and share the work that I did and the experiences that I had , with you.  That will all happen once I get the artwork signed off on from Disney HR.  So come back for it soon!  Also, I'm working on compiling the work I did for Wreck -it Ralph, and I'll post it up tomorrow.  Til then, let's enjoy the rest of our Sunday friends!

The Twelve Principles of Animation - start learning today!

What is Animation all about? For a general introduction to the medium, and a beginners guide to the language and basic principles of animation, watch this video above.

The original "12 Principles" date back to the Disney Studio in Los Angeles in the 1930s, and we still apply the same rules today. So hop into our animation time-machine and travel back to the glory days of Hollywood and find out what makes the medium tick.

Here is the second part - it will take you about 20 minutes to watch both videos.
Watching videos online is an excellent way to learn. As long as you have a decent broadband connection, online study is no longer the poor relation of learning in the classroom. Here at Bucks we believe in Blended Learning, a mixture of online lectures and classroom tutorials.

Watching lectures online frees up precious classroom time for individual tutorials and one-on-one study, giving students a better experience and enabling us - the teachers - to give more individual tuition. We believe that this is a better way to teach and represents the future of education.

Just as importantly, it's the only way to deliver a really high quality training in our complex and growing industry without increasing course fees. We have a keen eye on the bottom line and we want to offer every student the very best value we can.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The 10,000 Hour Rule - why practice makes perfect

It is a cliche that practice makes perfect, but in his 2008 book Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell argues that in order for any person to become really good at any cognitively-challenging task, they have to practice a lot. 10,000 hours-worth of practice, in fact.

His argument is simple. Getting good at something takes time. By way of example, he cites the case of The Beatles who performed live in a club in Hamburg more than 1200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, and thereby getting really, really good at what they did.
Gladwell also cites the example of Bill Gates, who met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of just 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

Gladwell argues that the key to success in any field is largely a matter of practicing, with the proviso that you need constructive feedback so you don't simply practice your mistakes.  So, doing some simple sums, if you practice something for 20 hours a week, it will take you around 10 years to get really expert at it.
Malcolm Gladwell. Photo: Kris Krüg

Gladwell also notes that he himself took exactly 10 years to meet the 10,000-Hour Rule, working as a journalist at the American Spectator magazine and The Washington Post, polishing his craft as a writer.

Animation is no different. Getting good at it takes time and diligence. The Nine Old Men at the Disney Studio became the best by virtue of years of practice, competition - and being pushed by Walt to be the very best they could be.

It's the same for all of us. My father understood this when - in his mid-40's - he brought legendary Hollywood animators Art Babbitt and Ken Harris to his London studio to train his staff - and himself. Below is a picture of Dad taken when I was a kid.

So is a 3 year BA at University enough time to get really good? Well, let's do the sums. Add up the hours of formal teaching you get at university (around 16 hours a week) and multiply that over the course of 3 years, not forgetting to exclude the holidays, and you end up with around 1,500 hours. In other words, it's probably not enough.

So what is the answer? The solution, of course, is to practice in your own time. Consider the tutition you get at University to be just the beginning of the time you will need to invest to get really good at what you do. It's a springboard, and an opportunity to get great feedback, but time spent in the classroom is not the whole story.

The good news is this: if you are prepared to invest the time and effort to practice your craft, you will in all likelihood get really, really good at it.

And, if you don't believe me, buy Malcom's book and read it for yourself.


The Croods (2013) - Drawing Tutorials

by James Baxter by Sean Sexton

Friday, March 22, 2013

Limited Time: AnimSchool Webcast with Lluis Llobera

Head on over to AnimSchool and check out the webcast on Appeal in Animation with Lead Animator Lluis Llobera. Lluis is over at Blue Sky and chats about his experiences on Rio. His reel is below which has a breakdown from one of his shots..pretty sweet to see the workflow process.

Lluis Llobera - "Rio" animation reel from Lluis Llobera on Vimeo.

Sign up here to get the link while its only available for a few days to non-students.

Great stuff..thanks Dave!

Animated Film Festival in Spain seeks entries - for free!

Entry is free!
Calling all animators! Taking place this summer, from 4-6 July in A Coruña Spain, The "Mundos Digitales" festival is an International Animated Short Films Festival which includes conferences on 3D Animation, VFX, videogames and digital architectural visualisation.

The festival organisers are currently looking for entries to exhibit at the three day event.  If you would like to participate, registration is open until the 24th of May. Best of all, it is completely free of charge!

If you get accepted, your work could be featured in the official program - a great way to showcase your skills before an international audience.

Entering an international animation competition is one of the best ways to hone your skills. Win a prize, or a get a mention, and any future employer is going to sit up and take notice. But, even if you don't win,  the mere fact of entering the competition will help you to focus on doing your very best work, raise your game, and take your efforts to a higher professional level.

So get moving and polish your animation, and make sure you have something cool to submit by 24th May.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Alex York comes to Bucks on Friday 22nd March

Architectural Visualisation by Alex York
This is a reminder to all our digital artists that Alex York, who specialises in 3D architectural visualisation, is coming to Bucks tomorrow, Friday 22nd March at 9.30am, to talk about his work and career.

Alex is one of the top 3D visualisers in London and has worked on many prestigious jobs in the industry. He'll be sharing his experiences on Friday morning and then, in the afternoon, running a workshop to help our students improve their work - taking it to a professional level.

Attending lectures like this is an excellent way to find out more about what it takes to get that crucial first job and survive in a competitive but rewarding field. We're lucky to have Alex York come in so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity.

The lecture and workshop will be held in g1.13


Open Day at Bucks - April 27th

Our next Open Day at Bucks is April 27th. Open Days are all about meeting the tutors (for Animation & VFX - that's me and Dave), finding out about the courses, and also exploring our campus.

Got any questions about Animation and VFX? Want to know about careers, what kind of jobs are available for animators and digital artists? - We have the answers.

Higher education is a big step and it's even bigger now that course fees are going up. We want to make sure that all our students get excellent value for money, and receive an inspiring top-quality training that will ensure a successful career in industry.

So, come along on April 25th and find out if Bucks is for you. Check out the video above to learn more. The official page, which has more details, can be found here.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

51 Great Animation Exercises

A great post over at Animator Island, 51 different animation exercises and it even breaks them down by levels.

Have a look and enjoy!

found via splinebomb

Sheridan Industry Day Promo 2013

It's that time of year again. As Sheridan Animation's industry day approaches, here's a sneak peak at what some of this year's films look like.

Sheridan College industry Day Commercial 2013 from Elaine Chen on Vimeo.

Student Showcase - Jens Kopke's "highly commended" work for AD&D

This very stylish short video is by Bucks graduate Jens Kopke, who entered it for the Design and Art Direction (D&AD) awards and was "highly commended" for his work.

D&AD is an educational charity which exists to promote excellence in design and advertising. They aim to "reward great ideas that are well executed and appropriate".

Entering competitions like D&AD is a great way for students to test their skills and compete internationally. Winning prizes is an excellent way to build a profile and also get noticed by employers.

Getting that first job is always the hardest step in launching a career. But having an award on your CV is the best start you can have.

And, even if you don't win, the process of entering competitions imposes its own discipline, forcing you to raise your game and do the very best possible job you are capable of. Which is something that few people ever regret.


(Editor's Note: For more impressive work done by our students and recent graduates here at Bucks, check out the work of Sabah Masood. Also take a look at the work of Andy Thomas here, see our latest commercial project for Rocketseed, our short film done for a global aid agency, and take a look at the excellent work of designer Monika Dzikowicz, architectural visualisation specialist Krsytof Michalski, Alex Whitfield and the 3D artwork of Mike Swan.)

The Bucks "Big Deal" - free stuff!

What's it like studying at Bucks? One of the University's big selling points is the "Bucks Big Deal", a package of free stuff (yay!) and general support for students.

You can find out about it here at this page. There is also a short video (above) of students explaining what it all means - from their perspective.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Student Showcase - The Art of Monika Dzikowicz

Monika Dzikowicz is a 3rd year student at Bucks who has developed a very strong portfolio in visual development and concept design. She draws well and has practiced her craft to develop her skills as a concept designer, visual development artist and storyboard artist.

Monika has also taken the hugely important step of creating her own blog to showcase her work. As a freelance artist (and which artist is not, in the end, a freelancer?) you need to make your work available to prospective clients so that the world can find your work and (hopefully) pay you for your services.

Concept Art for class project
Nowadays there is no excuse for not having a blog or a tumbler account to display your work. Blogs are simple to set up, they are free, and they can be easily customised to suit your own taste and design sense.

Any student who does not have a blog or website is effectively cutting themselves off from potential employment.

One of the best aspects of building a blog or website is that it helps you to organise and sort your work. What is good? What is bad? What works? What does not? And, most important of all, what gaps do I need to fill?

When I built my first website around 7 years ago, the best part of the experience was the pleasure in realising that (a) I did have some decent work to show and (b) there were many gaps that needed filling - but that this was the first step in filling these gaps. It became a to-do list of skills that needed upgrading.

Monika has already carved out her own space on the web and even attracted followers to her page - showing that her work is enjoyed and appreciated by other artists in the blogosphere. This helps to show an employer or client that her work is popular and capable of reaching an audience.

Congratulations to Monika on building her online portfolio and inspiring the rest of us with her excellent work.


Bucks - in One Word

Here is a video Bucks put up last year in which a group of students were asked to sum up the university in one word.

It’s a short video, but it helps to explain in very simple terms what Bucks is all about to the students who study here.



Monday, March 18, 2013

More New Ken Fountain Video Lectures

Ken has been buys getting some more video lectures out! I did a post a while back on his Attitudes and Acting Beats a while back, and since then he has released two more. One on Vowels, Consonants & Character Shapes and his most recent looks like Breakdowns & Body Forces. Have a look at some teasers.

"Breakdowns & Body Forces" Teaser from Ken Fountain on Vimeo.

"Vowels, Consonants & Character Shapes" Teaser from Ken Fountain on Vimeo.

They are great and Ken is truly a great communicator when it comes to explaining process. Head on over to SplatFrog store and have a look around the store and his site. For only 10 BUCKS pretty great deal!


Virtual Tours of Bucks

The Gateway building - crammed with state-of-the-art equipment
The best way to figure out if Bucks is the right place for you to study is to come in a visit us. We have regular Open Days (watch this blog to find out more about the latest one - coming up soon on April 25th).

But in case you can't make it in to see us in person, check out our virtual tours instead from the comfort of your keyboard.

First up is the High Wycombe Campus. This is a general overview of what the campus looks like. The big blue building that looks like TV set (above) is the Gateway building, and has tons of ultra-modern facilities like sound design, dance studios, green screen facilities as well as space to shoot live-action and record music.

Next up is a Production Studio. This shows one of the sound design rooms in Gateway - crammed with hi-tech hardware.

Also check out our Dance studio - "Studio 101" - here, and the "Gateway Studio" here. We have a strong dance department at Bucks and, using motion capture technology, animators can collaborate with dancers to make better and more sophisticated films.

And we have actors too - take a look at our drama studio here. Actors can help animators through motion capture collaborations, and also by doing voice-over work. Again, collaborating with other departments helps to raise the level of quality on any project. Film is a collaborative medium and a good director wants to squeeze the best talent out of everyone.

Finally check out the Library (aka "Learning Resource Centre"), which is crammed with books, computers and helpful staff. We're currently beefing up the library resources for animation, which you can read about here.

Of course, there is no substitute for coming in and taking a look around. But these virtual tours at least give you a flavour of what life is like at Bucks.




Sunday, March 17, 2013

Who Are the Next Inspirations?

Sheridan College was lucky to host Disney writer-director John Musker last week.  There's some coverage here.  In addition to talking to students about their work, Musker gave a two hour presentation about his career, where he generously included the work of animators.  The names were no surprises: Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn, etc.

Musker also talked about the early days of his career, particularly his time with Eric Larson and being taught by Jack Hannah.

Listening to Musker and staring at the young students in the audience, I started wondering about the next animators who would serve as inspiration.

Animators were pretty much invisible through the greatest part of what we call the golden age.  Bill Tytla got some publicity in Time magazine at the time of Dumbo's release and many of the Disney crew were anonymously featured in the live action portions of The Reluctant Dragon, but it really wasn't until Disney moved into TV that behind-the-scenes material started to appear.  When Disney was publicizing the initial release of Lady and the Tramp, there were segments with Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Woolie Reitherman, etc.  Those shows, and Bob Thomas's book The Art of Animation were really the public's first view of the people who made the characters move.

The TV audience for those shows (as well as Walter Lantz's copycat segments on The Woody Woodpecker Show), was the generation that grew up to enter the animation business in the '70s and '80s.  At the same time they were entering the business, others in their generation were writing about animation history, further publicizing animators, and not only those at Disney.

In the '90s, the TV generation had risen to prominence  in animated features.  Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg, etc. were all used to publicize the films on their release and then appeared in DVD extras.  These are the people that the Sheridan students were familiar with and who were featured in John Musker's talk.

But who are the animators who have risen to prominence in animated features in the last 15 years?  I'm not talking about directors (though only Pixar has really publicized them to the point that they have independent reputations).  Since cgi has taken over feature films, are there any cgi animators whose work is known to the general public? The same question can be asked about stop motion animators.

At Sheridan, it's been clear to me for years that the students seem to gravitate more to design than to story or animation.  There are relatively few who have stories they're desperate to tell or characters they want to bring to life.  I wonder if the flood of "Art of" books is responsible for this in some way.  It's one of the few places where animation artists get credited, but the books are mostly pre-production art. 

Whatever the reason, I think that the writing of history and publicity is having an impact on students' career aspirations.  Without animators as examples, there are fewer who aspire to follow that path.  There are fewer "ignition moments," when someone sees an animator bring a character to life and is struck by the desire to do the same thing.

This may be happening at the various online animation schools where students are interacting with working animators.  That's all to the good, but it doesn't reach the same number of people who see a DVD extra or work credited in a book.

In thirty years, when the audience for John Musker's talk is firmly established in animation, will there be any star animators known outside the studios?  While there were always star animators even if the public didn't know about them, I'm convinced that the lack of publicity does impact their number.

If I'm right, then that's something that animators can do to maintain the health of the field.  Animators, publicize yourselves!  What shots have you done?  What moments have you given audiences?  The more that human faces can be attached to performances that audiences remember, the more likely that we'll get more of those performances in the future.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tom Sito's new book on the History of Computer Animation

FLIP: Tom Sito's History of Computer Animation: Ivan Sutherland demonstrates Sketchpad, 1963. Being of a generation for which computers represented the future, it is a bit unset...

How Much Does Our Course Cost?

As the cost of higher education rises dramatically, the issue of costs and fees is more important than ever. The Animation and VFX course costs £8,000 per annum (at the time of writing) but this includes a free laptop loaded with all the right software, so that every student starts the course with the tools they need to start making their own short films and even take on freelance work.

For more information on fees, loans, financial assistance (it is available - there are around 100 scholarships you can apply for at Bucks), and all the rest - check out this page at the main Bucks website.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Building a great animation reel - the problem of weight

The secret of a great animation reel is simple - it must be completely free of mistakes. As Aardman animator Matt Rees puts it: "you are only as good as the worst thing on your reel".

3rd year Bucks animation student Dave Berry has been working hard on his animation reel, polishing the exercises set in my friday afternoon animation class and turning them into demo-reel-ready material.

Above is an excellent version of the "flour sack suicide", a relatively simple exercise which which tackles the problem of weight (ie how to make stuff feel heavy), and also performance, that is to say making an inanimate object come to life.

You can find the rig, which is a free download, here. And here are some thumbnail sketches to get you started.

Dave has also gone to the trouble of adding some simple textures, lighting and a camera move to make the shot feel finished. Nothing too complex - for animation purposes you want to keep things simple, lest you end up getting judged for the wrong things.

Congratulations to Dave on a very skilled piece of animation.


(PS If any Bucks students feel they don't have enough animation in their lives and want to come along on Fridays from 2-4 pm in G1.13...come and join us!)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

[LA] International VFX Town Hall on Pi Day

I have added a VFX news section (top left of the menu) to the blog where updates to the plight of VFX will be posted.  Not everyone is on FB or Google + so I will do my best to keep the information updated.  if you have VFX news you want posted there, please, send email to angie {at} spicycricket {dot} com

Now that we have mobilized, what's next? Let's get together for a town hall meeting and discuss it.
- State of the Industry by Scott Squires
- Moderated panel discussion with Q & A
- Panel includes Scott Squires, Scott Ross, Steve Kaplan, Gene Warren, Jr.
- Connecting multiple locations via Google Hangout
- Broadcasting live on YouTube at 8:00 PM PDT

Post questions for the panel in the comments section. In order to get an accurate headcount, please RSVP only to the location you plan to physically attend.  Big thanks to Gnomon for providing the space!


Parking: Biggest lot is one attached to Arclight Hollywood, about a half mile north of Gnomon. Walk 4 blocks south on Cahuenga through Gnomon gate at 1015 N. Cahuenga. Look for signs to direct you to the Stage area.  Easiest entrance: through Gnomon gate at 1015 N. Cahuenga, we'll have signs to direct you to the Stage area.

Austin will be watching 

Bringing the Digital World to Life

Modeling, texturing and lighting by Mike Swan
Here at Bucks we don't just tackle animation - we also train our students to be experts in a full range of digital skills. Students often ask "should I become a specialist - or a generalist? Which is best?". The answer of course - is both.

Survival in the 3D industry means being comfortable with the full digital pipeline. But, at the same time, a skilled graduate should be able to identify an area in which they shine especially well.

Modeling? Lighting? Texturing? Animation? All of these disciplines tend to be done by individual specialists in the big VFX houses, such as Framestore, MPC or Double Negative, where complex pipelines and big budgets mean that artists tend to specialise in one area of work.
Artwork by Mike Swan
Conversely, any student who wants to tackle a small freelance project by themselves - and this can be a great way to build an independent career - needs to know how to manage the whole pipeline from start to finish.
Modeling texturing and lighting by Ryan Meader
These images are modeled, textured and lit by our talented 3rd year students Mike Swan and Ryan Meader. Mike and Ryan show that they can handle the complexities of the 3D process to produce very attractive images, which will look great on a demo reel or website.

3D render by Ryan Meader
And these are skills which are highly transferable. Architectural visualisation, visual effects, animation, games - all these industries need skills such as these.

Nice work Mike and Ryan!


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Vimeo on Demand

Here's a potential game changer.  Video hosting site Vimeo has started an on demand service.  You can upload your videos, charge what you want, and keep 90% of the revenue after transaction costs.  That's a better deal than iTunes.  There are no restrictions as to video length or the number of episodes.  You can also sell through Vimeo or on your own site and the videos are viewable on a variety of devices.

This continues the trend of disintermediation, cutting out the middle man between creator and audience.  With alternate means of fundraising such as Kickstarter already in place (and Kickstarter also serves as a marketing tool), the pieces are in place for independents (and studios with foresight!) to start developing their own intellectual property and generating income from it.

The lessons of TV (and before that, radio) are that you want a series.  It's got to be a recognizable genre and needs a definite demographic (whether that's an age group or people who like something specific).  Then add appealing characters and start turning out episodes that appear regularly.  Price the work so that it's an impulse purchase.  On Vimeo, Don Hertzfeldt is selling his feature, It's Such a Beautiful Day, for $2.  At that price, it's cheaper than a cup of coffee and it lasts longer.

The people who can deliver on the above formula will succeed.  They'll get to keep ownership of their work and the lion's share of the revenue.  I hope we can return to a time, like the days of Vaudeville, when creators who can satisfy an audience are free to create without anyone else getting in the way.

I Shill for Wacom

Take a virtual tour of the student accomodation at Bucks

All this could be yours
One question I get asked a lot at interview is - "what kind of housing is available for students?" Since I'm an animator, not a housing expert, I usually say something like "er...I'll get back to you on that...".

However, thanks to the helpful folks in the marketing dept I can now provide a slightly more impressive answer in the form of a virtual tour of the student acommodation buildings in High Wycombe.

There are four Halls of Residence available for first year undergraduates and international students, living outside a 25-mile radius of High Wycombe.

You can find the virtual tours here:
  1. Windsor House: 
  2. Brook Street: 
  3. Hughenden Park: 
  4. Alexandra House:
Other important information about student acommodation at Bucks can be found here:


Monday, March 11, 2013

Captain Canuck Web Series

Captain Canuck, a comics character who first appeared in 1975, will star in a web series produced by Toronto's Smiley Guy Studios.  You can read details here.

I'm interested in this on two counts.  The web is increasingly being used to bring properties to the audience on a smaller scale and lower cost than would be possible on TV.  This opens up possibilities for independents to get their work in front of audiences without having to deal with gate keepers.  I would hope that this would lead to more diversity in content.

The other interesting thing about this is that it will be financed through an Indigogo campaign starting on March 28.  Here again, independents are going straight to the audience, this time for production money. 

Angry Birds, the iPhone game, is moving to TV.  Instead of TV being a primary market, it's evolving into an aftermarket.  Independents, with luck and hard work, can maintain ownership of their ideas, develop an audience and then move the property to other media based on its success.  That's a situation where creators have a much better chance for controlling their work and benefiting from it financially.

I wish the Captain Canuck crew much luck on their series.

Disney turns away from hand-drawn animation

Studio says none of its animation companies are working in the traditional 2D format, and there are no current plans to do so again.

Speaking at an annual shareholder's meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday, chief executive Bob Iger revealed that none of the studio's animation companies was working on 2D, hand-drawn material for the big screen. While Iger did not rule out returning in the future to the style which made the company famous, the long gestation period for Hollywood animated productions means a gap of several years before any new film might emerge.
"To my knowledge we're not developing a 2D or hand-drawn feature animated film right now," said Iger. "There is a fair amount of activity going on in hand-drawn animation but it's largely for television at this point. We're not necessarily ruling out the possibility [of] a feature but there isn't any in development at the company at the moment."

Read more here... 

Bucks Careers Fair - Tuesday 12 March

Tuesday 12 March is the Jobs, Careers & Volunteers Fair at Bucks New University. This is an opportunity to speak directly to employers and voluntary organisations who are offering employment opportunities to graduates.

The event takes place in the events hall at the High Wycombe Campus and areas covered include advertising, graphics, customer liaison, finance, HR, IT and media.

Gateway to your new career
Visitors will have a chance talk to businesses that are looking to recruit, ask out about job opportunities, and find out about internships and work experience.

Below is a list of companies and organisations that will be attending and/or exhibiting:

4C Partnership
64 Digital
Age UK Buckinghamshire
AP Security
Army (7th Battalion, The Rifles - Territorial)
BNU - Careers
BNU - Chaplaincy
BNU - LGBT Society
BNU - Postgraduate Courses
BNU - Volunteering
Buckinghamshire Library Service
Bucks Sport
City Year London
Community Impact Bucks
Eden Care at Home Ltd
Explore Learning
Four Group Ltd
G4S Secure Solutions
Girl Guiding UK
Greens Ltd
Harrow House International College
Hertfordshire Constabulaty
Jobs Teaching Abroad
Lattitude Global Volunteering
Maxteam Ltd
Place Rec USA Ltd
Parkwood Community Leisure
POhWER advocacy
Red Gecko Ltd
RELATE (Mid Thames & Bucks)
Riverside ECHG
Sevacare UK Ltd
Wycombe Youth Action


Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Martial Art of Kendo by Lydon Fleisig

Lydon Fleisig is studying animation at Bucks in his final year, and has just completed an excellent short film, The Martial Art of Kendo, for one of his final year projects. 

Animation is a lot of work and Lydon pursued his goal with dedication and tenacity, finishing his film on time and getting the job done with considerable flair. He was also able to utilise some of the many other film-making disciplines here at Bucks, such as sound design and acting talent, to provide voice-over skills and audio effects.

One of the best things about studying at Bucks is the opportunity to collaborate with other disciplines. Film-making is a collaborative medium and every film-maker is only as good as the people he or she works with.

We're proud to showcase Lydon's film. Many congratulations to him on the successful completion of a very skilled piece of work.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Careful! You'll Hurt Disney's Feelings!

Who knew?  The mighty multinational conglomerate that is Disney can't stand to be criticized.

You are probably already aware that Disney has refused permission to use Disney artwork in Amid Amidi's biography of Ward Kimball.  Chronicle Books, the original publisher, has decided against publishing the book as a result.  Amidi is now making other arrangements for publication. (It appears that has de-listed the book or I would provide a link.)

But it doesn't stop there.

Don Rosa was a writer/artist of Disney comics whose work was hugely successful, especially in Europe.  He has written material in a nine volume collection of his work about the creation of his stories.  That is, until he got to the reasons why he retired.  Disney refused to allow that piece of writing to be published.  Perhaps because it highlights the medieval treatment of people who create Disney comics and how they are taken advantage of.  Perhaps because Disney's licensees exploited Rosa's name without compensation, so that he had to copyright his own name so that Disney licensees couldn't use it without his permission.  Rosa decided that he wasn't willing to be muzzled and put his explanation for retiring on the internet.

In a recent podcast, author Sean Howe explained why his book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story contains no images from the comics.  This quote comes from 1:15:43 in the podcast.
"I was going to license about 20 images and I got approvals for captions for those images and everything was typeset, the whole thing was laid out, and then I got the contracts. A price had been agreed on, but when I actually got the paperwork, I was going to have to agree that I would say nothing critical about Marvel Comics in the entire book.  A lot of people have asked me why there are no pictures from the comic books and that's the reason.  If I had used illustrations, I would have had to take out half of the book."
Disney is so sensitive that it cannot tolerate anything that casts aspersions on its behaviour or the behaviour of its subsidiaries or licensees.  And look how absurdly ineffective they are at squelching it.  While they are busy attempting to suppress books, their behaviour is being noted all over the internet.  Amidi's book will eventually be published and I hope that Disney's refusal to grant permission to use images becomes a major talking point in the book's reviews.  Don Rosa's writing would have been limited to Europe, but is now readable by anyone in the world.  Sean Howe wrote the book he wanted to and has a tumblr where he has published more images from Marvel than he ever could have squeezed into his book.

Disney's failure doesn't address the bigger issue.  From this point forward, any book on Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars or the Muppets that includes copyrighted images is tainted.  The author, rightly or not, will be suspected of compromising the text to satisfy Disney.  The books will be damaged goods.  The use of Disney-owned images will be proof that the book contains nothing critical of Disney.  So while Disney is trying to protect itself from criticism in print, it has essentially neutered any praise it may receive as it is biased.  Meanwhile, on the internet, Disney provides ammunition for those who want to criticize it.  Good thing nobody ever looks at the internet.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Disney kills 2D Animation - Official

The Princess and the Frog - Disney's last 2D feature
According to an article in yesterday's Guardian, 2D animation is officially dead at Disney, the studio which took the medium to its greatest-ever heights. At the annual shareholder meeting in Phoenix Arizona, CEO Bob Iger said:

"To my knowledge we're not developing a 2D or hand-drawn feature animated film right now. There is a fair amount of activity going on in hand-drawn animation but it's largely for television at this point. We're not necessarily ruling out the possibility [of] a feature but there isn't any in development at the company at the moment."

It's a sad end to a great tradition. But at least it's official. I am still amazed at the number of animation students who believe that Disney is still in the hand-drawn animation business, and will be hiring animators for 2D features.

Here at Bucks we are making sure that all of our students learn skills which will get them employed in today's job market. That means using the latest software and giving our students all the vital skills they need to get find jobs and set up their own mini-studios. Soho VFX houses are constantly bemoaning the skills gap among UK graduates. It's time to fill those gaps.


(Editor's Note: To find out more about how we're keeping on top of technology here at Bucks, you can read about how we are partnering with the animation industry, how we're talking to Creative Skillset to get early accreditation, and use our floating licenses for online tutorials - perfect for any student who wants to upgrade their skills.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Animation Magazine features our new course at Bucks

Animation Magazine, one of the longest-established publications on the animation business, has written about our new course at Bucks New University. The article by Mercedes Milligan explains what we're up to at Bucks, and how we are going about trying to create one of the best and most accomplished animation and vfx courses in the country.

To find out more about studying animation at Bucks, you read about how we are partnering with the animation industry, how we're talking to Creative Skillset to get early accreditation, and find out what goes into a good portfolio.  And you can watch our short video here, where Dave and I talk briefly about what this new course is all about.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bucks Animation - Maya "Taster Day"

Autodesk Maya
We just finished our animation "taster day" here at Bucks - showing students the basics of Autodesk Maya, the leading software now being used in the animation, games and VFX industries.

I was delighted by the excellent turnout and the quality of the candidates - all of whom I have already met during the interview process here at Bucks. It was a pleasure to meet such enthusiastic students and help them to get started on their professional journey as animators and digital artists.

Maya is very deep software and the learning curve - especially at the  beginning - is steep. But everyone was patient and managed in just 3 hours to get some great animation going - no small achievement given that the tools are complex and take time to master.

The morning got me excited about starting formal teaching in September - and looking forward to meeting everyone in our new cohort.