Archive for April, 2010

Podcast: Ted Ty Talk Back

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Ted Ty

After a long delay, we are very proud to bring you the Ted Ty Talk Back!  Ted sat down with us to answer YOUR questions about animation and follow-ups to his first podcast.  Thanks again Ted for being so generous with your time, and Thank you to all the listeners who sent in questions.  We only had a short time with Ted so we picked our favorite out of the bunch.  For those who didn’t get their questions answered by Ted we will  be answering your questions in another post.  So sit back and enjoy the Ted Ty Talk Back!


Stay Connected

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Hey Everyone!  We’ve been working hard to make the site as accessible as possible.  You may have noticed we just added some new links at the very top of the sidebar just under the search.  SOA is now on Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, and YouTube.  We’ve also added a simple button for you to quickly add us to your Google Reader or Google Homepage.  We’ll be updating all these sources when a new Podcast is released!  We also plan on bringing you more news and even more original content! Thank you so much for supporting us and for all the great comments!

The SOA Team

-Stephen, Ben, Jacob, and Adam

Animation is like an Onion

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Oh I get it, It has layers!  Today I wanted to talk about a concept that really helps me when I’m animating.  I don’t know if it has a term but I like to think of it as layers of character.  I know some people like to animate in layers, but what I want to talk about is not a workflow but rather a way to understand all the things that make up your character.  The better you know your character, the better the performance you’ll be able to give.

The bottom layer is the “what” layer.  What is your characters physicality?  What your character is and how it’s built will describe how the character moves.  For example, Shrek and Donkey.  They are not built the same, they won’t move the same way either.  Some things to keep in mind are:  Age, Sex, Weight, Height, Physical ability, ect.  If you are animating an animal do your research.  The more you know about how that animal moves the better off you’ll be.  All of this may sound obvious, but I’ve seen this layer forgotten.  For example, an old man won’t move the same as a child and women don’t walk the same as men, yet I have seen these types of characters animated interchangeably many times.

The middle layer is the “who” layer.  Who is your character?  This layer is all about personality.  Just like in the “what” layer it’s important to do your research and know everything there is to know about your character before you start animating.  Your character’s personality will determine how they interact in their world.  It defines how they see themselves and how the world sees them.  Even the character’s silhouette should tell you something about their personality.  Take Eeyore and Donkey for example.  Both are donkeys (I know one is stuffed) but they both have drastically different personalities.  You can see this in the way they move and how they carry themselves.  Donkey is more like a dog, very playful and has a bounce in his step.  That doesn’t mean that they will only display one emotion, and that leads me into the last layer.

The top layer is the “How” layer.  How does your character feel.  This layer is all about emotion.  How your character is currently feeling about something is the strongest driver in the performance.  Characters are not flat, they can feel the same range of emotions as you do.  It’s their personality that will define how they show them.   Donkey isn’t happy all the time  and Eeyore can feel joy.  It’s how they show these emotions that tells you more about their character.    Your characters current emotional state is the strongest driver in how they will interact.  Emotion drives motion!

Here is one last example to help tie this all together.  Take Bagheera from The Jungle Book.  He doesn’t just move like a believable panther, he moves and performs like a stuffy panther.  When he gets angry he isn’t just an angry panther, but a stuffy, angry panther.  It all layers on top of each other.

So that’s layers of character and how I approach all of my shots.  I hope it gives you something to think about when you start your next shot and can help you keep character in mind and the multiple ways we can show it.  Just remember:  What, Who, and How!



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I’m sure many of you have already seen this on CartoonBrew, but we wanted to help spread the word.  Our friend and colleague Pres Romanillos is in the hospital awaiting a bone marrow transplant for his relapse of leukemia.  His friends are putting together an art auction for his benefit.  You can find out more information by going to  Kevin Koch has also setup a facebook page where you can leave well wishes and find out up to date information.  Pres has recently come back to DreamWorks and I am very fortunate to sit right across from this fantastic artist.  I miss him very much and I wish him a very speedy recovery.

Inspiration: Bill Watterson (Part 1)

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Bill Watterson's process

My good friend Christian Reese pointed out a speech to me recently that I had not read in a long time. I looked on the article and struggled to recall anything other than a vague emotional reaction I once had after reading it some time ago. At that point I decided to drop whatever I was doing and surrender to inspiration.

The speech I read was one that Bill Watterson, creator of the famous comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, gave to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 1990. Watterson is very reclusive and there are very few interviews with him anywhere. The few times he does speak, his words are lean, with purpose and full of wisdom. I had to reread quite a number of parts of his speech to fully digest his meaning. Needless to say, I was inspired.

Here is the speech:

Or on our server:

I also have pulled out a few select quotes that I thought were particularly poignant.

– If I’ve learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it’s how important playing is to creativity and happiness.

– Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running.

– To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work.

– We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.

–  …having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

– To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

– Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.

Watterson’s words remind me of why I’m doing animation. Animation is what I love and for most of you I’m sure the same is true. Watterson speaks to a way of life that centers on loving what you do and following your dreams. While this comes across as cliche, I feel it speaks a very deep truth. Many times in animation, when we are lost in the principles and long hours at the computer/animation desk, it’s easy to lose sight of why we are doing what we’re doing. Remember why you fell in love with animation because it will show you how the “problems” you’re dealing with in your shot are the good problems.

“Ok Ben, that’s enough sappy stuff. Get to showing us those awesome Calvin and Hobbes strips.”

I hear you. 🙂

I will get to some of the awesome Bill Watterson art that is Calvin and Hobbes in a later post, but for now I just wanted to touch upon the roots of why we do what we do. Animation, just like any artform, requires countless hours of work and dedication. It requires a level of love that is irrational and unwavering. I feel that if you begin with that as a base, you are that much more prepared to soak up inspiring material.

My last note is something that I am beginning to consciously think about when blocking out a shot. Watterson says,

“…it’s been liberating to put myself in the mind of a fictitious six year-old each day, and rediscover my own curiosity. I’ve been amazed at how one idea leads to others if I allow my mind to play and wander.”

The intent is to allow your mind to think unconventionally. So often our minds are bound by reality and we don’t think to explore the impossible. Sometimes thinking like a child can allow you to explore new and fresh opportunities in your animation.


P.S. I implore you to read the whole speech. It’s completely worth it and you’ll be glad you did.

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