Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TAAFI Roundup Day 2

Dr. Stuart Sumida

The absolute highlight of TAAFI on Saturday was a talk by Dr. Stuart Sumida, a paleontologist by trade who consults with the animation business.  Dr. Sumida has consulted for Disney, DreamWorks and Arc Productions in Toronto, and it was Arc who suggested him as a TAAFI speaker.  His talk was on comparative anatomy, pointing out the difference between herbivores and carnivores, between animals and humans and then between men and women.  Those differences in structure had repercussions for how various creatures move.

 I think everybody in the audience learned something about anatomy from his talk.  I know that I did.  After his talk, I approached him to suggest that he lecture at Sheridan the next time he was in Toronto, but the associate dean of the animation program beat me to him.  I hope that Sheridan students have the benefit of his knowledge.

Not having heard of him prior to TAAFI, I did not register for his Sunday master class.  I will not make that mistake again should he return to Toronto.  If he appears at a festival near you, I urge you to attend.  You will not be disappointed.

The balance of my day was spent watching three shorts programs.  Shorts programs are always a mixed bag.  There's no question that I have a bias for narrative.  My general comment, not only about the shorts at TAAFI, is that many films are poorly paced and directed.  I often find myself wanting the films to move faster or be clearer as to what they are trying to communicate. The work embedded below is what I found online and that I felt had merit.  However, few of the films are serious and still entertaining.  That may be asking too much, but it's a direction that I'd like to see animation pursue.

I enjoyed the anarchy of Got Me a Beard and I thought The Right Place was well crafted, though I wish the craft was applied to something other than a scatological joke.  Fester Makes Friends is the latest in a series of Fester cartoons.  They are dopey and politically incorrect, but they remind me of cartoons of the 1930s that throw decorum to the wind.

There was a 21 minute film called Priests whose animation and design were rather spare, but had a great script that dealt with various religious contradictions as well as the relationship between two priests.

Jazz That Nobody Asked For was another anarchic piece that I enjoyed.  The Bravest Warriors is a web series by Pen Ward, the creator of Adventure Time.  I was never able to get my head around Adventure Time and admit that it's probably a generational thing, but I found The Bravest Warriors to be clever.

The last shorts program I saw that day was student shorts.  Four of them were from Sheridan, so I can't be objective about them.   Happily Ever After was from Israel and had potential but he ending was a disappointment.  Double Occupancy from Germany was very solid for a student film, but there were missed acting opportunities.  The two characters could have been developed further.  Probably the stand-out was I am Tom Moody.  What's embedded below is only a portion of the entire film, which is a sensitive look at a character at war with himself.

Jazz that nobody asked for from Benny Box on Vimeo

Mickey Mouse in Gasp!

Saving Mr. Banks Official Trailer

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney

Cheatin' Trailer

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Parallel Posters

If you think that the movies coming out of Hollywood are all alike, take a look at the similarities of the posters that advertise them.

(link via Boing Boing)

TAAFI Roundup Day 1

Anyone who has attended an animation festival knows that the cascade of talks and films tend to blur together.  In addition, TAAFI had three sessions running simultaneously each day.  It's possible for someone to have attended and experienced a completely different festival, so don't take this as a definitive review of TAAFI, merely my own personal impressions.

David Silverman

David Silverman, a director on The Simpsons, gave the keynote address on the series.  Someone asked about table reads and punching up the script and Silverman revealed that the script was punched up at least four times, the final time after footage was already in colour.  He mentioned that people suggested more efficient ways of working, but his attitude was that the show was the most successful animated series in history, so why mess with a good thing?

This was followed by a state of the industry panel.  Ben McEvoy, one of TAAFI's founders moderated and asked if the broadcasting was dying, with so many people cutting their cable subscriptions.  Predictably, the broadcasters on the panel said no.  Whether they believe this or were trying to project confidence, I don't know.

Later, there was a panel "From Napkin Sketch to Green Light," about pitching shows and getting them to air.  Someone on the panel said it could take five years to go from pitch to a show, and I thought to myself that if broadcasting wasn't dying now (and I think it is), who knows where it would be in five years?  Pitching shows to conventional broadcasters and cable channels now is a questionable proposition, as their financial model is deteriorating rapidly.

I have an axe to grind here, but it was clear from this panel that ideas should not be fully developed, as broadcasters like to shape shows to their needs, and a broadcast executive emphasized that even if he liked a pitch, he still had to sell it to those higher up in his company.  The combination of these two things is the reason that I personally discourage people from pitching shows.  Any creator worth his or her salt is going to want to explore their idea and nail things down.  This is precisely what broadcasters don't want.  There are legitimate reasons, such as needing a show to be suitable to a particular demographic, but there is also the vanity of business people who think that their ideas are as good as anybody's.  If this was true, they wouldn't need to take pitches and would create their shows in-house.  Furthermore, after contorting an idea to please a development executive, the executive doesn't have the authority to put the show into production but has to convince the bosses, who are likely to contort the show even more.  While this ugly process proceeds, the creator is being paid peanuts in development money while the broadcast people are on salary.

The game is stacked heavily against creators, which is why I encourage people to get their work to an audience in a more direct fashion: as prose or as comics distributed on the internet.  Besides establishing ownership of the property (something you would have to give up to a production company or broadcaster), it allows a creator to thoroughly explore the idea and develop it without interference.  Finally, should the property attract an audience, that gives the creator increased leverage in dealing with broadcaster interest.

The business we're in is very simple, really.  It's all about attracting an audience, the larger the better.  That audience gets monetized though advertising, subscriptions, pay-per-view, merchandise, etc. and that's what finances the whole shebang.  If you've built an audience, that makes you and your property valuable.  People who want access to your audience will come to you.  Pitching will be unnecessary and instead they'll be making you offers.

There was a panel on funding yourself which I had to miss as it ran concurrently with a panel I moderated on portfolios and self-promotion.  I really wanted to see it.

My panel had Lance Lefort of Arc, Darin Bristow of Nelvana, Patti Mikula of XMG Studio and Peter Nalli of Rune Entertainment talking about the best way to organize your material when applying for work.  These days studios prefer links to any physical media.  Reels should be short with the best material up front.  Applicants should know about the companies before applying so that they know they're showing suitable material.  Resumes should be no longer than 2 pages and cover letters a single page.  All stressed that attitude was as important as skills, as they were looking for people who would fit into existing teams and be pleasant to work with.

The day ended with three talks.  Mark Jones and Sean Craig of Seneca College talked about how the school had worked on professional productions, particularly those made by Chris Landreth.

Jason Della Rocca gave a fabulous talk relating Darwinian evolution to the changing nature of the media.  As I have an interest in evolutionary psychology and business, it was right up my alley.   He talked about how people assume that the present environment extends infinitely into the future without disruption and how inevitable disruption catches people off guard.  He talked about the importance of variation in an uncertain environment as the only way to discover what would work in new conditions.  Failure was a necessity in order to gain knowledge but the failure had to be small enough as to not destroy an enterprise.  Della Rocca mentioned that Angry Birds was the fiftieth project of the creators and that nobody remembered the previous forty nine.  He talked about how the highest quality inevitably came from those who put out the greatest quantity, precisely because that quantity (including failures) gave them more information about what worked in a given environment.  The talk could be boiled down to "fail fast and cheap."  Right now, Hollywood is betting everything on tentpoles that cost $100 million plus (meaning "slow and expensive") and even Lucas and Spielberg are warning that movies are vulnerable to a financial collapse as a result.

Greg Duffel explaining spacing charts

The last speaker of the day was veteran animator Greg Duffell, who talked about timing.  In the past, directors would time entire films down to the frame as a way of guaranteeing synchronization with music that was being written while the animation was being done.  Duffell talked about how this had fallen by the wayside and that what animation directors do today bears very little resemblance to what they previously did.  Duffell gave a longer version of this talk to the Toronto Animated Image Society several years ago and I wish that TAAFI had allowed more time for this important talk.

Coming up will be reflections on days two and three of the festival.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Le jour des corneilles / The Day of the Crows (2012) - Pencil Tests

Animation by Christian Retzlaff Animation by Pablo Navarro
Animation by Paul Dutton
Animation by Nicola LemayAnimation by Jonathan NgAnimation by Jeanne Sylvette GiraudAnimation by Juliette LaurentAnimation by Andrzej RadkaAnimation by Victor Ens
Animations by Bianca Siercke
Animation by Chris WiemeAnimation by Paul Williams
Animation by Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec (from 00:32)

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Day of the Crows

Courtesy of TAAFI (Toronto Animated Arts Festival International), I have just seen a terrific animated feature from France.  It's original title is Le Jour des Corneilles and it was co-produced by France, Canada and South Korea.  It is a drawn feature made for less than $10 million U.S. and is easily one of the best animated features I have seen in the last several years.

The film opens with two characters, a father and son who live in a forest.  The father is a gruff barbarian who treats his son with disdain.  The time period is impossible to determine.  It could be a fantasy setting or could be any time in the historical past as there is nothing beyond the natural world to provide a clue.  When the father is injured, the son ventures beyond the forest for the first time to find help, and we then learn that the film is set during the first World War.

The son has grown up isolated from anyone except his father and forest animals.  At this point, the film becomes reminiscent of Francois Truffaut's The Wild Child, where the feral son has to adjust to life in civilization.  As the film continues, it reveals the backstory of who the father is, how he came to live in the forest and what has determined his relationship with his son.

When I watch animated features made in North America, I always know where they're going.  I hope for surprises or twists to break the film out of the predictable story structure that Hollywood continually falls back on.  In this film, I had no idea where it was going and I loved the film for that.  The characters were intriguing, their background was a mystery and the ultimate resolution was not guessable until it arrived.
Director Jean-Christophe Dessaint (left) with TAAFI director Ben McAvoy
The artwork is beautiful, the characters are well developed and the direction and pacing by , who was present at the screening, were excellent.  I was sitting between Jerry Beck (an old friend) and David Silverman of The Simpsons (who I met today) and the three of us loved the film.  I said to Jerry that this film could easily be the wildcard Oscar nomination for animated feature this year.  Each year, after the major animation studios have been stroked with nominations, the animation branch usually gives a film a nomination based purely on its quality.  This film deserves that nomination this year.  I don't believe that the film has a North American distributor yet, but this is the kind of film that Gkids has picked up in the past and I hope that they, or somebody else, grabs this film.

Apparently, it is already available in Blu-ray with English subtitles, though I don't know where it can be bought.  The DVD listing says that it is bilingual, but there is no indication if it is dubbed or subtitled.  In any case, if it is playing in a festival near you or turns up on Netflix or a cable channel, I highly recommend it.  While the film is still child-friendly (though not for very young children), it has enough adult content that it is a satisfying experience.

It shows clearly that drawn animation is far from exhausted as a medium and it shows how much can be done for a relatively low budget.  More and more, I know that the most interesting animated features are not coming from  North America. 

Animators Resource Full Interview - Zach Parrish

This is my full interview with Zach Parrish. In this interview, Zach breaks down a series of shots from his time as Animation Supervisor on Wreck It Ralph. He also takes us through some of his blocking techniques, chats about his time with Glen Keane and some of his duties as a Animation Supervisor. Sorry for the occasional Audio overlap...unfortunately it's due to the capture of it. Hope you all enjoy!

Animators Resource Full Interview - Zach Parrish from Animators Resource on Vimeo.

Check out more interviews at:
animatorsresource.blogspot interviews page

See Zach Parrish's work:


Calling all Bucks Graduates - Animate & Create Studios is looking for fresh talent

Calling all Bucks graduates! Animate & Create Studios is on the look out for fresh talent.  Animate & Create describe themselves as a "young, up-and-coming animation studio, presently looking for recent graduates or placement year students to volunteer to join our team for a 3 month placement in our studio in Whitstable in Kent".

They are looking for "candidates with a variety of skills including animation, model making, illustration, editing, etc, but are also looking for students who have an interest and skills in project management, marketing and events."

Whitstable harbour. Animation by the seaside!
For more information email Liu Batchelor at: You can check out their show reel here.

As ever, applying for jobs and placements is always strongly recommended. Even if you don't get the gig, the self-discipline imposed on by going through the application process will force you raise your game, polish your demo reel, and assess your own strengths and weaknesses. You'll be amazed how you improve your own work when you apply for a job.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wonderland | A Short Form Doc on Creative Commerce

SIGGRAPH 2013: Marc Davis Lecture Series Keynote Presentation.

Siggraph may suck on the floor, but this keynote sets the tone for having some of the best papers and presentations documenting and inspiring the production of animation, CG and VFX.


What's the point of an animation degree?

What price a piece of paper?
What should universities teach on their animation courses? Academic theory, art skills, or tech skills? Or a combination of all three? The answer isn't as obvious as you might think. Yesterday, in a piece titled "Degrees of Talent", Steve Moore, co-author of the animation blog FLIP (and an Oscar-nominated director), kicked off a lively debate by criticising the many animation schools which fail to prepare their graduates adequately for the job market.

The article produced a passionate response. What is a university education for, and what do those magic letters BA actually stand for? Should students be taught technical skills which will help them to get a job? Or should they be taught academic theory, the kind of thing that (in principle at least) leads to critical analysis - the traditional hallmark of a Liberal Arts education? In this second piece at FLIP, animation professionals Sterling Sheehy and David Davis face off on what, exactly, animation schools should be teaching.

Here at Bucks we come down firmly in favour of practical and artistic skills. I want every student who graduates from Bucks to have the kind of killer demo reel that will help them get a job. Jobs in the arts are competitive - just ask your friends who went to drama school, and are now working as waiters. I think we do our students a huge dis-service if we don't help them to develop a demo reel that is of a professional standard.

That is not to say that we have no academic content in our course. It's there, and it's important, and we make sure that academic theory is "embedded", meaning that it is relevant to the practical skills being taught alongside it. After all, tech skills are in the end only as good as the imagination of the user. The digital arts are an art form, and if you have nothing to say, your work will never entertain an audience.

And entertaining audiences is what we do for a living. That, and keeping clients happy.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Café Kickstarter

The Café is an independent short animated film in Production by Dana Boadway Masson (Director) and Terrence Masson (Producer).

Dana has been working with professional animator friends volunteering their considerable skills, while Terrence has been using it as an interdisciplinary teaching project for his students at Northeastern University. A unique and successful collaboration so far!

They have launched a Kickstarter to pay professional lighting/comp TD's and get us wrapped up in time for the 2014 festival circuit.

3D Maya look development - Northeastern Univ. student work

Café sketch by Dana Masson and rough 3D model

Young Woman sketches by Dana Masson and Carlos Arancibia

Small Dog sketches by Carlos Arancibia

Look dev of Young Man's room by Jason Clarke

Gene Kelly inspiration reference

Controversial Miyazaki

I would look forward to any new film directed by Miyazaki, but I'm especially curious about The Wind Rises.  It's about Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero, the Japanese fighter plane that was used extensively in World War II.  The subject matter is far from films like Totoro and very far from North American animated features in theatres this summer.

What's also interesting is that the film is politically controversial in Japan (this article is now behind a login and password.  Using, I got in using a login of what@yourmom.dom and a password of updude).  Miyazaki has written that that it was "a truly stupid war," which has angered Japanese nationalists who want to change Japan's constitution to allow for military aggression.

I'm wondering what company, if any, will pick up distribution for North America.  A Disney too afraid to release Song of the South hardly seems a candidate.  While Gkids has released Ghibli films, this subject matter is not aimed at their usual audience.  Perhaps some other indie distributor will pick up the film.  As there is a dearth of animated features specifically aimed at adults, I hope someone does.

Needless to say, I won't be holding my breath waiting for a North American animated feature that tackles Viet Nam, Iraq, drone warfare or the national security state.  While I can point to live action features that have questioned government policy or the official interpretation of history, North American animation is too timid.  Mustn't upset the kiddies.

(link via The Comics Reporter)

Tumbleweed Tango


Mickey Mouse in Tokyo Go

Patrick Rig

Long Winter Studios has released another rig, Patrick! I got a hold of him the other day and began animating immediately. If you have played around with Long Winters' other rigs, Günter and Action Bot, then you know how fun and appealing these characters are. Again this rig is simple but allows you to get so much range to help in creating fun and appealing animation. The Facial setup is what you come to love in the other rigs and doesn't disappoint!

Patrick Rig Demo from Long Winter Studios on Vimeo.

Patrick Stills Promo from Long Winter Studios on Vimeo.

Rig Details
Long Winter creates the base for its rigs with The Setup Machine. All Long Winter Studio characters come with the simplicity and dependability of The Setup Machine's body rig.
Patrick has even MORE stuff than Gunter when it comes to face control.
The face rig is a unique setup by Long Winter Studios and contains all the features any animator needs to get the most for the time and their money. You can watch a demo of the face rig on the projects page.

Patrick's features include:
-Advanced IK Spine
-Stretchy everything!
-Lip Seal
-Skull controls
-Simple fin controls
-Fin minors
-Eye scalers
-Fin scale
-Squash and stretch on all major facial features
-Eye lid minors
-Lip minors
-Brow minors 
-Visability switches 
-Tounge and teeth controls
-Tounge and teeth sliders
-Lip sliders

So head on over to Long Winter and Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Paperman (2012) - "Color" Keys

© Walt Disney Animation Studios

by Scott Watanabe
by Scott Watanabe

by Shiyoon Kim
by Scott Watanabe

by Shiyoon Kim
by Shiyoon Kim

by Mingjue Helen Chen
by Mingjue Helen Chen
by Mingjue Helen Chen
by Mingjue Helen Chen
by Mingjue Helen Chen

by Mingjue Helen Chen

by Shiyoon Kim

by Mingjue Helen Chen

by Shiyoon Kim

Tumblr & The Big Network Ocean

Upcoming exhibition "ANIMATED!"

Upcoming exhibition "ANIMATED!" at Greenhill (Art Gallery located in Downtown Greensboro, NC) 

Artwork information attached:  
(1) Michael Carpenter,“Umbrellas” from The Flower of the Holy Ghost, 2010, digital composite
(2) Thomas Spradling, The Great Wave of Iwate, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 24” x 48”

ANIMATED! (September 6 - November 9, 2013)
Curated by Edie Carpenter, ANIMATED! presents 23 artists who investigate animation from 19th century animation devices to the elaboration of original animated worlds. The exhibition will explore sequential art from flip books and storyboards to Claymation, and present works on paper as well as digital media.  The influence of animation on other art forms including jewelry, pottery, sculpture and painting will also be explored.   Associated programs include talks by Marc Russo on the conception and design of his award-winning animated narrative The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; by Dr. Heather Holian on contemporary art and Pixar, and panel discussions by participating artists touching on topics such as comic book heroes and the influence of Japanese animé.   In collaboration with Georges Le Chevallier, Greenhill will host a screening of selected animated shorts from the 2012 BLOC PROJECTS animation project.

Participating Artists:
Advanced Media Lab
Julie Armbruster
Ryan Buyssens
Jason Carpenter
Michael Carpenter
Paige Cox
Jill Eberle
Bill Fick
Patrick FitzGerald
Heather Freeman
Stephanie Freese
Paul Friedrich
David Huyck
Tyler Jackson
Jim Kransberger
Brett McDonough
Marc E. Russo
Eliseo Santos
Thomas Spradling
Francesca Talenti
Sarah Tector
Trevor Van Meter
Izel Vargas

James Young

Paperman (2012) - Characters

© Walt Disney Animation Studios

by Scott Watanabe

by Shiyoon Kim
by Shiyoon Kim
by Shiyoon Kim
by Shiyoon Kim
by Shiyoon Kim
by Andre Medina
by Andre Medina
by Andre Medina

Tumblr & The Big Network Ocean