Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Newer Animated Feature

The Sponge Bob trailer:

Interesting thing about this movie?

It's been a long time in work. Viacom set up a development unit in Burbank a block from Warner Bros. As one staffer said to me ...

"The picture kept going. We thought it was going to be a six-month project, but it turned out to be months more than that. Not that I'm complaining." ...

So now the trailer is out (we're late to the party on that), and no doubt Paramount has high hopes. Naturally enough, we hope it does well too.

Of Surveys, Work, and Wages

One more report before the weekend.

We now have a 30.3% return rate from survey forms issued. This is, by a country mile, the highest return rate we've had since the 1990s, and will mean after we tabulate all the numbers, there will a good overview of animation wages in and around Los Angeles.

The deadline for survey forms (digital and paper) is tomorrow. ...

The last few weeks, I've been asked where I think wages are. My answer, I think they're up from '13, because there's a hell of a lot more work around town. But how much? That will be known when we crunch some numbers.

But there's still abuses going on. We get reports that some studios with Animation and Editors Guild contracts are having board artists work on animatics (the Editors Guild's jurisdiction). And there are still tight schedules, uncomped overtime, over-long board and design tests, etc. etc.

In short, some things haven't changed from the days when Depression-era cartoon studios had applicants work free for a week or three (you know, to "show what they could do") before getting put on payroll.

But it was the freaking Depression. And there were no rules against that kind of crap. And now there are. But un-enforced laws/rules/regulations (or whatever) are like having no laws/rules/regulations at all.

And Steve Kaplan and I have talked to board artists and designers at some signature studios over the past few weeks, and whattayaknow? There are abuses going on there too. (Who would have thought?) Extra long workweeks, lower pay and all the usual things that make America what it is today: A fine, bare-knuckled corporatist state, out to drive the best bargain -- for the conglomerates -- possible.

Just ask the wage-suppression crowd up in the Bay area. They'll tell you.

Deadpool : Test Footage Leaked [HD] - 720p - "DEADPOOL MOVIE TRAILER"

Queue The Cowboy

Beyond Fantastic - this made my day!

and it's a game too!  What?
This film is dedicated to the launch of Ready Steady Play.

Google Play

DreamWorks Animation Loses Money For the Second Quarter in a Row

DreamWorks Animation reported a loss of $15.4 million in the second fiscal quarter, the second consecutive quarterly loss for the company. It reported earnings per share of -$0.18, a result worse than analysts had expected that sent the company's stock down nine percent in after-hours trading.


More insider info on the TAG Blog: The quotes below were lifted from the TAG Blog.  Does anyone really believe the business model will change?  What do you think will happen if it does?

But of course, all these things take time. And as one DreamWorker said to me away from the studio:

"The company needs to get the costs of features down. Management doesn't seem to want to restructure at the top and upper middle very much, which is where it would help a lot. Production is supposed to squeeze and cut. I'm not sure how well that will work. ..."

And Jeffrey speaks to that issue:

We are also exploring the opportunities of actually making some films -- some original films on a very different scale altogether, where it's not incremental changes in the film cost, but the concepts of the movies and the style with which we would make them would have us working on a very different business model.

Tutorial Hoarder's Dump / Collage of tutorials

Sound designer Scott Benson Explains How to Mix a Movie in 72 Hours, and How Sound Designers can work with Animators at Bucks

Bucks sound design student Scott Benson just recently finished mixing and editing the sound on a feature film  - all done within 72 hours. We asked him how he managed to pull of what looks like an insurmountable task, and also how our animators can get the best out of collaborating with sound designers to make great films here at Bucks.

The Confusion of Tongues

Bucks: You just recently finished mixing and editing the sound on an entire feature film - tell us about it!

Scott: yeah I have literally just finished! It's been one of the most demanding yet satisfying projects I've worked on to date, The idea behind it was that a whole feature film could be shot and edited within 72 hours. And, having personally stayed up for 60 or more of those hours, I'm proud to say that it's not impossible!

The Crew

I personally mixed the whole feature film as well as cleaning up all the audio and placing appropriate sound design where needed. The film was shown in the Imax cinema in Birmingham the same day it was finished, which was the most scariest thing ever, because i hadn't heard the sound after it had been rendered to picture. To my great relief it all went perfectly in my eyes; there were a few bits and bobs out of place here and there, but that is to be expected!

Sound Designer at work at Bucks

Bucks: What software did you use?

Scott: The software that I used was completely Pro Tools (Warren Bassett, my lecturer, would be proud of me!) Before starting at Bucks I had never used Pro Tools or even really wanted too, as I much preferred Logic, But when it comes to audio post production, in my eyes, nothing can hold a candle up against Pro Tools.

Bucks: How big a challenge is it to mix an entire feature film?
Scott: Mixing a whole feature film under normal circumstances is a huge undertaking in its own right, usually calling for a team of mixers each having their own jobs, but doing it with in 72 hours, that's crazy. But, as they say, pressure creates diamonds, and that couldn't be more true for this project. I really surprised myself at how well I worked and how fast! Even though it was constant non-stop mixing, I'd do it again in a heart beat!

Bucks: What should animators at Bucks do if they are hoping to collaborate with a sound designer?
Scott: When looking for a sound designer, there are a few main things to look for I think, and they are: 1. keenness and contactability. Now, it's all fine and dandy having the best sound designer in the world, but if they're not going to keep in contact with you then what's the point? Having someone who is keen will help to ensure the project's smooth running and completion on time.

The second would be, obviously - skill. Most sound designers will have worked on a sort of show reel, even if if its just muting their favourite films scenes and playing around with them. That's what I did; I didn't have much of a show reel when I started Uni, so I made one!

And finally, ask around, being on an animation course I'm sure plenty of your peers will have worked with sound designers and they'll know which sound designers collaborate well!

Scott Benson

Bucks: What is the single most important thing to know about sound design?

Scott: The single most important thing to know about sound design....this is a tough one, because I could go on for hours about technical specs of certain methods of additive synthesis. But, at the end of the day, knowing that won't get you a job, yes granted it'll help, but if you don't apply yourself you wont get anywhere, you can have all the knowledge and graduate with a 2:1 but if you haven't made contacts and built up your people politics you'll fall flat on your face. It's as simple as that, I can see it on my course, there are so many gifted students who could do so much, but they're not always applying themselves.

So, in my opinion the single most important thing to know about sound design is to know how to find work and make contacts who will last and grow alongside you, because without that, there is no sound design!

For more about the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK. Find out why we're giving free laptops to all our students, and why we give all our students free access to videos at Also, see what financial assistance might be available to you. Learn which is better for animation, a PC or a Mac? Get hold of a copy of a map so you can find your way around campus, and learn about motion capture at Bucks. And find out about how our online video tutorials work 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jeffrey K. Speaks

There was a DreamWorks Animation phone conference with stock analysts, went like this:

... How to Train Your Dragon 2 is already the 9th highest grossing movie of the year so far on a global basis, with a number of major territories yet to go and will be a highly profitable film for the company. Today, it has opened as #1 in 33 territories, and it continues to perform very well in many countries around the world. Dragon 2 was released to Germany just a few days ago, where its opening weekend was by far the best of any family film yet this year.

Up next for us is The Penguins of Madagascar. As we discussed on the last earnings call, a key area of focus for us is making sure that we have the right release window for every one of our movies. An example of this was our decision, 2 months ago, to switch the release dates for Penguins and Home. Because the Penguins movie is a big broad comedy featuring some of the best-known characters from one of our most successful franchises, we think it has a big opportunity to stand out during this year's Thanksgiving timeframe.

Just last week, in San Diego, we screened 20 minutes of Penguins footage for the Comic-Con crowd, which Mashable reported, "It played extremely well in the room, with big laughs at almost every beat." ...

Mr. Katzenberg, like any good CEO, is accentuating the positive.

And there are positives. Dragons 2 will turn a nice profit (though I'm sure there was hope that the profits would be fatter, but lousy box office summers will break your heart every time). The TV division is cranking into high gear and the hours of cartoons now schussing down the log flume will be money spinners for years to come. And Awesome TV will add to the bottom line, as will toys, games and other knick knacks.

But of course, all these things take time. And as one DreamWorker said to me away from the studio:

"The company needs to get the costs of features down. Management doesn't seem to want to restructure at the top and upper middle very much, which is where it would help a lot. Production is supposed to squeeze and cut. I'm not sure how well that will work. ..."

And Jeffrey speaks to that issue:

.. We are also exploring the opportunities of actually making some films -- some original films on a very different scale altogether, where it's not incremental changes in the film cost, but the concepts of the movies and the style with which we would make them would have us working on a very different business model. ...

So will DreamWorks Animation return to profitability in the next quarter? My crystal ball is cloudy, but Mr. K. is a smart businessman. So there's a reasonable chance that the charts will turn up again.

Wage Suppression

At last night’s General Membership meeting, Dean Harvey of the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein spoke to a packed room about the wage suppression litigation that is now entering its end phase in the bay area, and what the take-aways have been.

In 2009, the Department of Justice commenced investigating Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar for collusion in suppressing the wages of tech and creative workers at those companies. The DOJ settled their investigations without monetary penalties, but the civil lawsuit continued. As the L.A. Times reported in late May:

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of more than 64,000 technical employees, claimed that Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe Systems had a pact not to recruit one another's workers. That alleged conspiracy, spanning four years from 2005 to 2009, kept salaries down, the employees said.

It’s come to light that Disney, DreamWorks, and other studios may have participated in a similar wage suppression cartel, and our members have been interested in the Guild taking action on behalf of those who may have been damaged by having their compensation suppressed unlawfully. To that end, the Guild is asking anyone who worked at DreamWorks Animation, DisneyToon Studios, or Walt Disney Animation Studios at any time during the past ten years or so to contact Steve Kaplan at with a summary of your work situation and contact phone number and/or e-mail. Steve will be forwarding the message on to Mr. Harvey.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the above matter, please email Steve Hulett or Steve Kaplan. If you wish to contact Mr. Harvey, his email is

Miracles and Inspirations by Bucks Graduate Monika Dzikowicz makes the Official Selection of the Festival de Cine de Madrid

Monika Dzikowicz graduated from Bucks last year, and recently completed her short film Miracles and Inspirations, which has been entered in to short film festivals all around the world. Most recently the film has been accepted for the Official Selection at the 23rd Festival de Cine de Madrid, taking place in Spain in October of this year.

Visual Development for Miracles and Inspirations

Miracles and Inspirations is a short film completed by Bucks animation graduate Monika Dzikowicz, which shows what could happen if art could take us back to the times it was created in.

The film tells the story of the unusual friendship between a young girl and an ancient Roman sculpture of a woman. It explores themes of imagination, the creativity of children, and the inspirations we take from our memories and from everyday life.

The film was produced within the scope of the online competition - The Animation Talent Award  2013. It was designed, directed and animated by Monika Dzikowicz. Music was by Boris Nonte, and the Executive producer was Paolo Polesello.

To see the film, which runs about two minutes, see below:

Miracles & Inspirations - animated short film by Monika Dzikowicz from Animation Talent Award on Vimeo.

We strongly encourage all our students to enter competitions. Even if you don't win, you gain invaluable experience just by competing. There is nothing like a competition to make you raise your game and try harder; ultimately this is how digital artists improve their skills and forge successful careers in creative media.

You can read more about Monika's work hereTo see more work by our talented undergraduate students and recent graduates, see this recent post about the art of Sabah Masood. Also check out the work of Andy Thomas here, and 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 architectural visualisation specialist Krsytof Michalski, Alex Whitfield and the 3D artwork of Mike Swan.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Prime Time Cartoon Ratings

There's a reason that Fox Broadcasting is pleased with half-hour animated cartoons in prime time.

Sunday Night TV -- Ratings (Share)

8:00 -- 1) Big Brother -- 2.2 -- (6)

2) The Simpsons -- 1.0 -- (3)

8:30 -- The Simpsons -- 1.2 -- (4)

9:00 - 1) Family Guy -- 1.4 -- (5)

2) Unforgettable -- 1.0 -- (3)

3) Rising Star - Live -- 0.9 -- (3)

9:30 -- 1) American Dad - 1.3 -- (4) ...

After Big Brother, the animated fare is pulling the best numbers, which explains why Fox keeps making cartoons. The question I have (as always) is why Fox is making all the prime time animation money, and all the other networks studiously avoid jumping in to the big vat of cartoons.


And not really a big surprise (at least to some).

DreamWorks Animation on Tuesday reported a net loss of $15.4 million, or 18 cents per share, much wider than analysts had expected as How to Train Your Dragon 2 awaits release in several significant international territories, including China, Spain and Italy.

Dragon 2, CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said Tuesday, "will be a highly profitable film for the company and DreamWorks Dragons will remain a very valuable franchise for many years to come."

While Dragon 2 has made $428 million worldwide so far, it only contributed $2.6 million in feature film revenue during the second quarter.

The more bullish analysts had expected DreamWorks Animation to break even in the quarter, whereas the more bearish ones figured on about a 7-cent loss per share. Revenue came in at $122.3 million while analysts predicted $138.1 million. ...

The starry-eyed optimists thought the company would be at break-even, but it turned out that even the pessimists were short of the mark. The losses were wider than analysts expected.

I guess it shouldn't be a huge surprise. The company has been doing a lot of spending lately, what with Netflix/tv production, outside acquisitions, and far-from-inexpensive features. Until more of the products now in the pipeline hit the marketplace, there will likely be more outgo than income.

TAG General Membership Meeting TONIGHT!!

Tonight's General Membership meeting promises to be a special one thanks to recent events that have kept us busy. On the agenda for this evening are two hot-topics for discussion:

  • The TAG 401k Switch To Vanguard

    Representatives from Vanguard will be present to give a small presentation on the new plan funds as well as answer questions about the move

  • The Wage Collusion Allegations - Disney and Dreamworks

  • Any members who have worked at Disney and Dreamworks and wish to discuss the Guild's actions in this matter are encouraged to attend

The meeting starts at 7:00pm with pizza, salad and refreshments available starting at 6:30pm. All members are welcome to attend. The Animation Guild is located at:

1105 N Hollywood Way

Burbank, CA 91505

Bucks Animation Graduate Ben Chalk Launches a New Campaign for United Agency

United Agency
Bucks Animation graduate Ben Chalk works for the design agency United Agency, doing digital and social campaigns for commercial clients. We asked him to tell us about his latest work, how he got started, and what advice he can give to our students at Bucks in order to forge a successful career in the world of design, animation and motion graphics. He has just finished the design work for a new campaign, The Great Outdoors app for Thomas Cook and Brand USA, which launched this week.

Design by Ben Chalk

Bucks: You do digital design for United Agency - what does that involve?

Ben: We are a social media-marketing agency, we come up with digital & social campaigns to support or promote artists, brands and products. My job is to come up with & design ideas for apps and microsites, I also get to work on short motions graphic animations or video work depending on the campaign.

Design by Ben Chalk

Bucks: What is your most recent project?

Ben: We have just launched a new campaign, The Great Outdoors app for Thomas Cook and Brand USA, which just launched this week.

Bucks: How did you first get the job with United?

Ben: Originally I did a three months internship after finishing my degree; which then progressed into a full time job.

Great Outdoors app for Thomas Cook

Bucks: What is the best thing about your job?

I love the variety. As an agency we get to work on projects for a number of different clients, which means each design and executions is different from the last. This keeps the job exciting and a lot of fun.

Great Outdoors app for Thomas Cook

Bucks:  What skills did you learn at Bucks, which helped you to prepare for a career in digital media?

Half of my course at Bucks [Animation, Games and Interactive Media] was interactive design, which has played a huge part in what I use every day.  Digital design doesn't just stop at the visuals, it extends further into designing the user experience and how people interact with the designs.

5. What advice would you give to a student at Bucks to get the most out of their time at Uni?

Go wild and make the most of your first year - then look for an internship, or some other way to get out and get some studio experience. Experience is the key - I wish I hadn't left it until I finished university.

You could also possibly submit live projects as University, doing work that would depend on client approval. After all, you would be working in exactly the same way as you would for real clients.

Ben Chalk
You can see more of Ben's work at For our guide to internships and how to get them, follow this linkTo see the impressive work done by our students and recent graduates here at Bucks, check out SuperFergy in 3D by Anton Alfy, see the work of Jens KopkeBen Gray's Moonbeam, and the architectural visualisations of Sabah Masood and Anton Alfimenko. 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. And don't forget to see the simulation work of our students done in RealFlow. To see our student demo reel, click here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Small Sad Factoid From China

In the midst of a trade paper's review of the latest box office tally in the Middle Kingdom, there is this:

... There was no such charm for “The Magical Brush,” a Toonmax-backed Chinese-made animation, which managed $4.73 million (RMB28.3 million) from three days for fifth place. ...

It appears from the evidence that the foreign-based makers of animated fare have not found the magical formula for making a long-form cartoon. Indian cartoon studios make domestic features and go down in flames, and now China has created a flop in the home market.

I think these studios have a way to go before they connect with their intended audiences.

Burbank to Glendale

A new hire at DWA.

DreamWorks Animation has promoted Ann Daly to company president and tapped former Disney executive Mark Zoradi as the studio's chief operating officer.

The Glendale company said the management changes were intended to help DreamWorks grow as an increasingly diversified family entertainment business. ... "As DreamWorks grows, we are focusing on creating a strong management structure that has the expertise and capacity to best serve the changing needs of our company," said DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg in a statement. ...

Jeffrey is trying to replicate the Mouse House by branching out in ways Walt Disney Productions expanded in the fifties and sixties. New technologies, amusement parks, t.v. product, it's all there.

Whether recycling a long-time Disney exec is the best way to do it? I guess we'll have to wait and see. But DWA is putting its mini-conglomerate pieces together:

DreamWorks Animation Has the Building Blocks For Future Growth

1) DreamWorks' core portfolio of films and its 'Classic' division will provide a stable yearly income.

2) DreamWorks cannot continue to dump money into unproven franchises.

3) Focus needs to be on marketing and expanding distribution. ...

The Animator's Survival Kit for the iPad

The Animator's Survival Kit
As every student of animation knows, the best book for learning animation is The Animator's Survival Kit. For over a decade it has been the industry standard textbook. The only problem with the book is you can't see the animation - which is where the iPad version comes in. It's like having both the DVD series and the book rolled into one, because it doesn't just tell you how to do stuff - it shows you how to do it as well.

The Language of Animation
The iPad feels as if it is made specially for a book of this kind. The digital ASK has many of the traditional features of a book - plain text, nice illustrations.  But, as you scroll through the pages, you keep bumping into little video icons, peering out at you invitingly from the pages. Click on these, and you get a video introduction to the chapter, giving a personal view on why it's important to read it, and what you will learn.

Other little icons pull up a short animated video explanation of the principle being addressed - much of this material is pulled from the ASK DVD set. Confused about overlapping action? Ones vs Two's? Straight Ahead vs Pose to Pose? A short video shows you what it all means, and shows you in simple clear terms exactly how these principles get applied in practice.

Scroll bar feature lets you scrub frames in real time

And even the videos are interactive. You can pause them, scroll through them, step through them frame by frame. It's like having the perfect animation tutor right there in the classroom with you, equipped with all the right bits of kit - video, power point, lectures books - but all at your disposal in exactly the format you want. And best of all - you don't have to go to school to learn it.

It all starts with a bouncing ball

It is obvious that a great deal of thought and effort has gone into the presentation. The interface is very easy to get the hang of, and simple to operate. Tap the screen and the chapters are revealed on a scroll bar at the base of the screen - so you can easily navigate to the bits you need. 

In short - it's the best £25 you will spend on any device to help you learn animation. But you have to buy an iPad first, of course.

Here's a list of stuff that comes with it:
  1. The Animator’s Survival Kit Expanded Edition - that is to say the whole book - for the iPad
  2. More than 100 animated examples of the principles of animation - taken from The Animator’s Survival Kit Animated DVD series, and inserted into the relevant sections of the text. You can slow these down and watch them frame-by-frame.
  3. Dad's 50-years-in-the-making Circus Drawings animation
  4. Video introductions for the chapters - by the author. 80 this year!
  5. "Sensitive navigation", which "fades away gracefully away when not needed"
  6. "Onion skinning" - to see multiple frames of animation at once. 

To see other books we recommend for the study of animation and visual effects, click here.

      Sunday, July 27, 2014

      The Growth (and Influence) of the Comic Convention

      Five thirty-eight, the go-to site for stats of all kinds, put up this about San Diego's Comic-Con.

      [San Diego's Comic-Con] has never been more relevant for the entertainment industry. Expanding beyond the comic book industry, the annual gathering has become a prime place for TV networks and movie studios to announce future projects.

      Only recently did these conventions, which originally appealed to a small subset of media consumers, begin to get coverage in the mainstream press. Comic-Con started with 300 people in the basement of a hotel in 1970. Today’s Comic-Con is a hive of commercialization; State Farm Insurance, for example, is sponsoring all of Adult Swim’s panels.

      Over the past several years, coverage of “comic-con” — be it the big event in San Diego, or any of the other popular conventions, such as New York Comic-Con — has exploded. ... And while the commercialization of the San Diego Comic-Con may rub some purists the wrong way, it has become the definitive genre event of the year. ...

      The trade press (unsurprisingly) covers this whoop-dee-dooh with gusto. And the studios have long-since bulled their way in to publicize (exploit?) their upcoming crop of science fiction and super hero movies.

      What's a wee bit amazing is the amount of space the mainstream press gives to the event. But (on reflection) maybe it's not so amazing after all. Maybe the world is turning in to one big Hollywood Reporter-Variety-Star magazine, and space operas and movie stars are what's important now..

      Animation Tools

      And the advance of technology:

      ... How To Train Your Dragon 2 marks the first feature created using DreamWorks Animation’s new Apollo animation platform, developed and implemented over the course of the past five years. ...

      [D]irector Dean DeBlois said Apollo let him do things he couldn’t before, specifically, get more complex. “We used to have to simplify a lot of our characters, and animators had to work on characters individually, waiting lengthy time to render,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “They no longer have to do that, it's real time and it allows us to have detailed characters.” ...

      The director added that it also gives the animators an intuitive way to work. “They used to work with pull down menus to make simple adjustments, now they work with a stylus and tablets, just like a stop-motion animator would work with a clay puppet. They can go back and tweak and finesse and bring subtly to the performance,” DeBlois said. “They could have always done that, but they can do it much more efficiently now, allowing them to tweak more that in the past.” ...

      When I ask some CG animators who've made the jump from hand-drawn animation about the differences between the two, the response is:

      "You need to know timing, and arcs, and acting. That's the same, but you get there by a different way. I still like to thumbnail the scene out with a pencil, do the keys, figure out where I'm going. Then I animate the rig. ..."

      Puppeteering is a good description for CG animation. If Apollo makes the work more intuitive, that's a positive development. Because it's not so much about moving a figure through space; it's about the acting, about making the moments on the screen resonate emotionally with an audience.

      Your International Box Office

      The animation, she is going good.

      Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (Total Accumulations)


      How To Train Your Dragon 2 -- $24,000,000 -- ($425,800,000)

      Planes Deux -- $6,900,000 -- ($56,100,000)


      Dawn of Apes -- $54,500,000 -- ($355,900,000)

      Maleficent -- $5,200,000 -- ($715,019,000)

      Transformers Extinct -- $37,500,000 -- ($966,400,000)

      You will note that the Planes franchise , inexpensive though it is, takes in much less money than its bigger theatrical cousins. But it keeps the toy business humming, which of course is a major reason for its production.

      And Dragons 2 keeps flying along:

      ... How To Train Your Dragon 2 continued its strong run overseas with $24M this weekend for a cume of $260.2M internationally. Debuting in Germany this weekend, it was No. 1 in admissions, and No. 2 in box office earnings with $6.1M on 1,074 screens.

      In Austria, it outperformed the first film in the franchise by 210%, taking $1M on 163 screens. The DreamWorks Animation adventure also took off in Korea, which is a non-Fox market. There, it placed No. 2 behind anticipated local movie Kundo: Age Of The Rampant. ...

      Book Review: Miyazaki's Turning Point: 1997-2008

      Turning Point is the second collection in English of interviews and writings by Hayao Miyazaki.  It covers the period from Princess Mononoke to the pre-production of Ponyo.

      The breadth and depth of Miyazaki's interests are on display here.  Where North American animators talk about the craft and the history of animation, perhaps also speaking of live action films, Miyazaki ranges much farther afield.  His interests include literature, Japanese history, social class, gender roles, consumer capitalism, geography, nature, environmentalism, economics, child rearing, mythology, religion and comparative religion. 

      Miyazaki is conscious of his need for knowledge.  "It's up to the individual whether one reads books while a student, but the penalty for not reading will eventually come around for the individual. Increasing numbers of people think knowledge and cultivation are not strengths, but ignorance is, after all, ignorance.  No matter how good-natured and diligent you are, if you don't know about the world around you it means you don't know where you are.  Especially in our age, when each of us has to think about where we are going, there will be a heavy price to pay for ignorance about past history."

      Miyazaki reflects on the people who enter the animation industry.  "We animators are involved in this occupation because we have things that were left undone in our childhood.  Those who enjoyed their childhood to the fullest don't go into this line of work.  Those who fully graduated from their childhood leave it behind."

      The people who talk to Miyazki are not just reporters.  They include authors, academics and scientists.  It is a sign of the respect for Miyazaki and his films that he is not considered just an entertainer, but a social commentator with important things to say. 

      It is Miyazaki's curiosity and wide-ranging knowledge that makes his films so satisfying.  He's not focusing on the box office or on story formulas.  He uses his films to try to figure things out and the uncertainty as to whether characters or events are good or bad lends a complexity to his films that is completely lacking in North American animation.  He says that American films "seem too manipulative, so I hate to give into that and get all excited.  And with splatter films, as soon as the music starts warning us about what's coming up, well, they just make me want to leave the theater."

      "[People] delude themselves into thinking films are all about identifying with something and finding momentary relief in a virtual world.  But in the old days, people went to see films to learn about life.  Nowadays, when you go into a supermarket, you're presented with a dizzying array of choices, and, similarly, people think of the audiences for film as consumers who just grumble, or complain about things being too expensive or not tasting good.  But I'm not creating something just to be consumed.  I'm creating and watching films that will make me a slightly better person than I was before."

      The seeds of future work are revealed in some of these interviews.  In an interview about cities made at the time of Mononoke, Miyazaki says, "I would like to see an expansion of workplaces for [older people] rather than insisting they have a comfortable old age.  A town where everyone, from children to the elderly, has self-awareness and a role as a member of the community is a town full of energy."  He's describing one of the main themes of his yet-to-be-produced feature Ponyo.

      In writing about the 1937 book How Will Young People Live by Genzaburo Yoshino, Miyazaki reveals concerns that he dealt with in The Wind Rises.  Both are set in the Showa period leading up to the second World War. "When Yoshino poses the question of 'How will you live?' he means we should go on living, despite all our problems.  He isn't saying that if we live in a specific way that the problems will disappear and everything will be fine.  He is saying that we must think seriously about things and that, while enduring all sorts of difficulties, we must continue to live, even if ultimately to die in vain.  Even if to die in vain.  Yoshino was unable to write directly about the violence of his times, so all he could tell us to do when such times arrive is to keep living without giving up our humanity.  Genzaburo Yoshino-san knew that was all he could do."

      I have one disappointment with this book.  The period of articles that date from the period when Howl's Moving Castle was produced do not cover that film at all.  It is a problematical film for me, and I was hoping that there would be a clue as to Miyazaki's thoughts that would serve as a key to that film.  At the time, Miyazaki was also involved in the creation of the Ghibli Museum and the day care centre for Ghibli employees.  Did these distract him from Howl?  Unfortunately, this book gives no indication.

      I sincerely hope that there is a third volume, as I am interesting in reading what Miyazaki has to say about The Wind Rises.  In any case, this volume, and the earlier Starting Point, are essential reading for anyone interested in animation and particularly for those in the field.  Miyazaki's erudition shames us.  While many of us call for North American animation to break free of genre conventions, it will take more than wishes for it to happen.  It will only happen when animation artists engage more with the world as it is and let that be reflected in their work.

      (For more Miyazaki quotes, please see my review of Starting Point.)

      Bucks Graduate Jack Strood talks about his new job at Firebird Films

      Jack Strood recently graduated from the Animation Games and Interactive media course at Bucks, and right away found work at the Swindon based animation studio Firebird Films, where he is working on a number of new projects. We asked Jack to tell us about his job, and how he managed to start his career in animation so soon after leaving Bucks.

      Jack's graduation film "A Spring in her Step"
      Bucks: You are working at Firebird films; what are you working on? 

      Jack: From the beginning of June, I started back at Firebird Films in Swindon. The first week consisted of a move to a bigger office space with a separate studio area. This was much better as we can be neat and tidy in one space and have the other space with the lights setup for product shots and animations.

      One ongoing project that we recently finished and debuted at RadFest last weekend was '#TrainsPlanesAutos'. This project was a short trials bike sports film featuring Matty Turner that incorporated a slight bit of rotoscoping to coincide with the narrative.

      So, in the last few weeks we were drawing the last pieces of animation, drawing the credits and editing together the 'Making of' documentary as well.
      Last week we also worked on an animation test for a pitch we're making for Ford Motor Insurance. We used replacement animation of paper cut-outs of myself walking to a model Ford car. We also made our one foot signage out of lego bricks, that was pretty fun too!

      Tester Pot Ford from firebird films Ltd. on Vimeo.

      Bucks: How difficult was it for you to find work after graduating?

      I was extremely lucky to know Ross Mackenzie (The Company Director) through the network of film makers through college, and he's been more than generous by asking me to come back and help on a few projects. In the position of getting clients, we are very aware that we have to produce a small test for free to attach to our pitch. Getting clients to agree to our crazy ideas is the struggle. I know a bunch of people who apply for every job hoping for an interview or even a call, but it's keeping the momentum going is the tricky part.

      Jack Strood

      Bucks: What sort of work do you hope to do in the future? 

      To fill the working day with producing stop motion aired TV adverts or short films would be wishful thinking. Video editing comes with the territory, so enhancing skills in After Effects, Premier Pro CC and Dragonframe is a definite must. The next goal of ours is to film a stop motion promo ident for Firebird which is an ongoing challenge.

      High Wycombe awaits our new students

      Bucks: What advice would you offer to our new students starting in September who hope to find work in the animation business?

      Follow what you love doing; the tutors at Bucks will see that and encourage your potential. If you can, ring as many studios as you can asking for work experience or even a five minute tour around their working space. It will put you in better form if they know what kind of person you are, if and when you ask them for more work.  Keep one eye on the current trends too, it might come in handy one day.

      To see the impressive work done by our students and recent graduates here at Bucks, check out SuperFergy in 3D by Anton Alfy, see the work of Jens KopkeBen Gray's Moonbeam, and the architectural visualisations of Sabah Masood and Anton Alfimenko. 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. And don't forget to see the simulation work of our students done in RealFlow. To see our 2013 student demo reel, click here.

      Saturday, July 26, 2014

      The Drawing Game

      I get a lot of newbies coming through my office asking, "How do I get into the animation biz?" I tell them there are a lot of different goat paths in, and everybody has to find their individual way. But I always mention that it's a good idea to have multiple arrows in your quiver, among them the time-tested skill of drawing.

      Here's why. ...

      ... For 82 years, Disney’s in-studio life drawing classes have helped evolve its animated characters. But as increasing reliance on computers lures young animators away from classical drawing, three of Disney’s current master teachers are reminding them why figure drawing is still crucial.

      Since 1932, Disney has been the only entertainment studio to continue an unbroken tradition of offering free life drawing classes for its artists within its studios. The idea is that understanding and capturing the anatomy and sense of motion from a live model improves animated drawings and gestures.

      In the ensuing decades--while other animation and visual effects studios in the U.S. and Europe intermittently followed suit, pending budgets--Disney’s classes have not only continued unabated, but expanded beyond features to its TV animation, theme park, consumer products, and straight-to-DVD divisions. ...

      The Disney life-drawing classes began in 1932 with an artist named Art Babbitt, who developed Goofy, the Queen in Snow White, Pinocchio’s Geppetto, and the dancing mushrooms in Fantasia, before leading a movement to make Disney a union shop. Babbitt, who often studied live action footage to better illustrate motion in his animated characters, began hosting uninstructed life drawing sessions with nude models at his home. Word of mouth spread until Disney got wind.

      “When Disney found out, he brought it to the studio. He didn’t want it to get out that there were naked ladies at his house,” laughs Babbitt’s widow, Barbara, who demurely offers her age as “flirting with 90.” ...

      The increasing reliance on computers and digital modeling tools in animation can insidiously deteriorate such skills if artists aren’t careful, because the technology encourages more of a surface rendering than getting at the soul of a character.

      “3-D art often suffers from a lack of those skills by the practitioners,” says [instructor Karl] Gnass. “They’ve become accustomed to manipulating a virtual reality puppet without the skills of a puppeteer, attention to natural movement. I’m finding that many of these digital artists attend my classes to see if they can get at some of the secrets behind the sense of movement and authenticity through studying the human structure.” ...

      Drawing, I think, is still at the center of animation. The art form is a visual medium, and if you know how to visualize on paper or a Cintiq, you're ahead of the game.

      H/t to Jeff Massie for bringing this piece to our attention.

      And Other Comic-Con Animation Panels/News

      So let's highlight some additional animation thingies from the Con, shall we?

      Seth Myers:

      Season 2 of his animated superhero Hulu series [The Awesomes] is truly upping its testosterone with the addition of his Saturday Night Live pals Amy Poehler, Maya Rud0lph and Will Forte voicing new characters. While season one focused on a rag-tag misfit superhero team (inspired largely by DC’s The Justice League), in season 2, we find The Awesomes getting more respect. ...

      “This show wouldn’t have worked on a network. We don’t have to chase ratings with this model,” said Meyers about the perks about airing The Awesomes on Hulu. ...

      Box Trolls

      Boxtrolls producer Travis Knight gave an update on cast member Tracy Morgan during the Focus Features panel for the pic today at Comic-Con. Morgan was seriously injured in a June crash that killed his mentor, comedian James McNair, in New Jersey. “Thankfully he’s home with his family now and recovering …

      Walt Kelly

      ... I spent yesterday in business-type meetings and doing interviews and moderating but one panel. ... But the one panel was a good one, a panel noting the 101st birthday of the great Walt Kelly, creator of (arguably) the greatest newspaper strip ever done, Pogo. Oh, if you thought it was Peanuts or Krazy Kat or Doonesbury or Marmaduke, I wouldn't argue. I might if you said Little Orphan Annie and I'd win. But I just think Pogo is great and so do a whole lotta folks who filled Room 8 yesterday to hear Leonard Maltin, Maggie Thompson, David Silverman (director of The Simpsons), Jeff Smith (that Bone guy), Willie Ito (who once did some ghosting on Pogo) and Carolyn Kelly speak glowingly of it. Carolyn is, of course, the daughter of Walt K. and she's also co-editor of the series of books from Fantagraphics that are reprinting every single Pogo newspaper strip in chronological order. ...

      Family Guy

      ... [T]he Family Guy creators and cast also revealed a number of storylines for its upcoming season. In no particular order, Meg (Mila Kunis) becomes a foot fetish model, Stewie is impregnated with Brian’s baby, Jesus returns in the Christmas episode and “the guys help him get laid,” said executive producer Steve Callaghan. ...

      Family Guy and producer Peter Shin confirmed that there’s a looming feature film of Family Guy, but it’s currently on hold while creator Seth MacFarlane directs Ted 2. ...

      Marvel Animation

      ... The Marvel Animation universe just got a lot bigger today. With perfect timing to the upcoming live action pic, the superhero giant revealed a new Guardians Of The Galaxy animation series this morning at Comic-Con. No news on when the series will debut but it will be on Disney XD . A literally explosive 1-minute preview of the series was shown today with the Rocket Raccoon and Star-Lord characters appearing. ...


      ... Laika has made a name for themselves with their hand-crafted stop-motion animated feature films like Coraline, ParaNorman and the upcoming movie Boxtrolls. But the Portland-based animation studio wants to help hand-drawn animation make a comeback. During the Boxtrolls Hall H presentation at 2014 San Diego Comic Con International, Laika head Travis Knight [said he] would like to do a 2D hand-drawn animated feature film. ...

      (Hmmm. I know a number of animators who'd be delighted to work on a Laika hand-drawn feature.)

      The amount of cartoonage being hyped at the convention is (to me) pretty astounding. As I said yesterday on the animation industry panel, the amount of L.A. based work in hand-drawn t.v. product and cg features is at record highs., and would be even higher if not for the free money being handed to entertainment conglomerates in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.

      You Weekend B.O.

      The numbers as of Saturday.

      Weekend Accumulations

      1). Lucy (UNI), 3,173 theaters / $17.1M Fri. / Total est. cume: $43.3M to $45M / Wk 1

      2). Hercules (MGM/PAR), 3,595 theaters / $11M Fri. / Total est. cume: $28.5M to $30M+ / Wk 1

      3). Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (FOX), 3,668 theaters (-301) / $4.75M Fri. / 3-day cume: $16.2M to $16.7M (-54%) / Total cume: $172M+ / Wk 3

      4). The Purge: Anarchy (UNI), 2,856 theaters (+50) / $3.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10.3M to $10.6M (-64%) / Total cume: $52M / Wk 2

      5). Planes: Fire & Rescue (DIS), 3,839 theaters (+13) / $2.75M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.9M to $9M+ (-48%) / Total cume: $35.5M / Wk 2

      6). Sex Tape (SONY), 3,062 theaters (0) / $1.9M / 3-day cume: $5.7M (-62%) / Total cume: $26.5M / Wk 2

      7). Transformers: Age Of Extinction (PAR), 2,476 theaters (-748) / $1.285M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.4M (-54%) / Total cume: $236M+ / Wk 5

      8). And So It Goes (CLARIUS), 1,762 theaters / $1.34M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4M to $4.3M / Wk 1

      9). Tammy (WB), 2,562 theaters (-840) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.3M (-54%) / Total cume: $78M+ / Wk 4

      10). 22 Jump Street (SONY), 1,613 theaters (-616) / $773K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.55M (-45%) / Total cume: $185.8M / Wk 7

      How To Train Your Dragon has now fallen out of the Top Ten. Collecting $607,000 on Friday from 1,358 theaters, the pic will collect a couple more million this weekend and likely stall out in the $170 millions range. Globally, Dragons 2 has collected $391,377,000.

      Summer Pleasures for our Freshmen Students - and a Reading List

      Not that we want to spoil your summer. Photo: Wikipedia
      What kind of preparation should students do before starting with us in September at Bucks? Needless to say, we don't want to spoil your summer, especially given the glorious weather that we are currently enjoying. Still, it's worth casting half an eye forward to September, and thinking about some of the things you might do to get ready for your studies. Here's a checklist of stuff to get you started. It's not comprehensive, and you don't have to do all of it, but tick off a few of the things on this list and you will be a making a great start on your animation career here at Bucks.

      First, here is a reading list to get you started. Buy some of these books online or check them out from your local library. All the books on this list are in our library at Bucks, of course, but get one or two for yourself and do some reading while you're getting a suntan at the beach.

      Character Animation Crash Course by Eric Goldberg
      1. The Animator's Survival Kit. We recommend that any serious student of animation should buy a copy of The Animator's Survival Kit, by Richard Williams. It is now the standard textbook for animators and easily the most comprehensive book available for learning animation.
      2. The Illusion of Life. The Illusion of Life was written by Disney animation legends Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnstone, and represents the accumulation of knowledge of the first "Golden Age" of Disney animation. An invaluable resource. 
      3. Cartoon Animation. Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair was the first available book on animation, and has been in print since the early 1950s, regularly updated since then. Still full of very useful material. 
      4. Timing for Animation by Harold Whittaker and John Halas is another very useful book on animation. It was first written some years ago but was recently updated and edited by former Animation Guild President Tom Sito. 
      5. Character Animation Crash Course. The Character Animation Crash Course by Eric Goldberg is an excellent resource by one of the most talented 2D animators in the world - the man behind the genie in Disney's Aladdin.
      6. The Complete Digital Animation Course. The Complete Digital animation Course by Andy Wyatt is a very useful overall guide to all the processes involved in digital animation and film-making. Especially good for the technical bits that the older books don't cover. 

      OK - so you've bought a book or two - what else? The next thing to do - if you have a laptop at home, or access to one - is get yourself a free copy of Autodesk Maya, and open it up. Maya is the main software we animate with, nowadays it's the industry standard. Below is a free tutorial in the Maya interface (there are tons of similar ones) hosted at YouTube.

      Don't be daunted - just take a quick look! It does look a bit confusing at first but it's good to get familiar with the layout, and learn where the main hotkeys are, and how the interface works. You can register and get a free Maya student license here.

      Animation Apprentice

      Once you have done that, take a look at the week 1 videos on my website Animation Apprentice. The week 1 videos are all free and this gives you a general introduction to the medium of animation, helping you to get familiar with the language, and a good idea of what we'll be up to starting in October.

      Fill sketchbooks!

      Other useful things you can do include going to life drawing classes, and especially filling a sketch book with sketches, doodles and ideas. Being able to express an idea in a simple sketch is still a very useful skill, even in the digital age. We don't expect our students to be brilliant draftsmen, but we do expect you to be able to pick up a pencil and do a sketch - even if it's a crude one. All great ideas begin with a drawing - however simple and basic.

      Gateway Building at Bucks

      If you do some or all the things on this list - you will have a great head start with us in September. From all of us at Bucks, we look forward to meeting you!


      For more about the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK. Find out why we're giving free laptops to all our students, and why we give all our students free access to videos at Also, see what financial assistance might be available to you. Learn which is better for animation, a PC or a Mac? Get hold of a copy of a map so you can find your way around campus, and learn about motion capture at Bucks. And find out about how our online video tutorials work

      Friday, July 25, 2014

      Animation Panel at the Con

      I was privileged to participate in TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito's Comic-Con panel, which was good fun.

      Tom (as I'm guessing he usually does) drew a packed house. Tom's panelists were Danny Young, yours truly, Brooke Keesling, Raul Garcia, and Miguel Jiron.

      Here's a short thumbnail of the topics covered by the panelists and moderator:

      * The animation industry is currently robust. L.A. animation work is at record highs (with 3340 artists, writers and technicians working under Guild jurisdiction).

      * There were 22 animated features released last year. In the 1970s, there were usually two or less: whatever Disney did and one other independent feature.

      * Cartoon Network has doubled the number of shows in work that it had four years ago. The studio is constantly on the lookout for new, young talent. CN is focused on hand-drawn animation.

      * The gaming industry (a branch of modern animation) is doing gangbuster business. And it's possible for young game creators to create their game with a small crew, and own and market it themselves, since there are a variety of digital platforms from which to sell it.

      * Many young animators are breaking in to the business through their personal shorts displayed on YouTube or Vimeo. Vimeo, in particular is pretty egalitarian in giving newcomers a viable platform to showcase their work.

      * The recent layoffs at DreamWorks Animation came about because the company was going to reduce the humber of produced features going forward and needed to reduce staff that was not assigned to a feature or not under a loner term contract. The layoffs were done without prior notice, but companies have a way of being abrupt when it suits them. Companies, despite what the Supreme Court says, are not people.

      * The visual effects business has taken a hit in Southern California. Sony Imageworks has moved its business to Vancouver, where the Canadians are given away free money. Montreal and Toronto also have large subsidy programs and now do work previously done in L.A. There are a number of boutique visual effects studios operating in Los Angeles, where work is being done on various television shows and some limited feature work. But big players like Digital Domain and Rhythm and Hues are kaput.

      * Wage suppression/control is something that has gone on in the animation industry for some time. (It was represented that Cartoon Network doesn't participate in any "wage cartels").

      Before the panel, I walked around on the main floor. It was a zoo, and somewhat bigger and gaudier than the last time I visited in 1977. (What the hell happened?)

      One thing that struck me: the movie displays and exhibits were roaring, with costumed super heroes everywhere; the areas that were selling old comics were relatively quiet and sleepy. (And comics were the reason the con got started.)

      And here's Danny Young, yours truly, Tom Sito, Brooke Keesling, Raul Garcia, and Miguel Jiron right after the panel's conclusion, when Comic-Con staff was saying, "Okay, we got the picture! Now get off the stage! There's another panel coming in!"

      (I swiped Tom's photo(s) of the event from his Facebook page. Mea culpa.)

      Animation Workflow: Jakob Jensen

      Great to see such fun story boards from Chris Sanders. It really helps provide some context to the characters and their personalities.

      Jakob_Jensen_Croods_progression_reel from Jakob Hjort Jensen on Vimeo.