Archive for September, 2011

John Lasseter – Tricks to Animating Characters with a Computer – SIGGRAPH ’94

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I was going over the importance of weight and materials with my class this week and it reminded me of some really great notes I had read when I was in school.  Thankfully the wonderful people of SIGGRAPH still have them on their site.  These are notes from a presentation John Lasseter gave at SIGGRAPH back in 1994.  I love how these notes are 17 years old and they are as true and relevant today as they were back then.  I remembered them for the part on weight and size, but there is so much more. If you are a student learning animation, bookmark this link.  For everyone else, enjoy the read…it’s an oldie but goodie!!

About Comparison Reels

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There’s been a trend developing over the past few years of showing off a side-by-side comparison of the various stages of your animation work.  Video Reference, Blocking, Spline, Final, or any combination therein.

We’ve seen this trend among students and professionals alike, and we’d like to describe what it feels like to view them.

It’s a real drag.

For a number of reasons.  First, let’s examine the possible viewer reactions:

1) Your animation lacks (but your reference is awesome)
Seeing someone who is talented as an actor is inspiring, and their failure to communicate those ideas through animation becomes frustrating.  Of course this shows great potential, but it also means you have a lot to work on before you can get your ideas to connect.

2) Your animation lacks (because your reference lacks)
This is the most common result.  It becomes clear why we have trouble believing or connecting with your character.  If you start with poor reference it’s hard to end up with anything but poor results.  Many people are under the impression that good animation consists mainly of smooth, flourishy movement (and lots of it).  Respectfully, we’d like to disagree and state that good animation consists of a believable performance that the audience can connect with.

3) Your animation is good (but your reference is not)
This is rare, but it happens.  You wonder how the hell they got the animation to look good when their reference is not supporting it.  Don’t ever leave your audience scratching their heads.

4) Your animation is good (but you missed nuance)
The animation would have stood just fine by itself.  But place it right next to the reference and suddenly it’s clear how much nuance you failed to see in your reference.

You may have noticed there isn’t a single overall positive reaction to seeing comparisons of your reference and your animation.  This is purposeful.  If you are making a demo reel let your work speak for itself – it’s really as simple as that.

“…But it’s educational!”

Is it?

Showing the (perceived) ‘order of operations’ for creating animation provides very little educational substance.  It is tantamount to a video of someone playing a piano comped next to sheet music.  “…And that’s how you write a symphony.”

Symphony Comparison Reel

Animating a shot – similar to writing a symphony – is a constant ‘back and forth’ process full of experimentation, exploration, nixed ideas, and purposeful decisions at every moment.  Showing a start, middle, and end completely ignores the ‘WHY’ – the educational part.  Why was the decision made to put a crescendo there?  Why was that idea cut? Why was that part modified? Why were only parts of the reference utilized and not others?

What was it failing to do originally, and why is it more successful now?

Answering these questions is paramount.  The progress comparison cannot stand alone as a piece of educational material.  However, when coupled with critical thinking the viewer can actually learn something about the animation process.
example | example | example | example

So here’s a general rule.  If it’s a reel – let the finished product speak for itself.  If it’s to teach others – then break down the process and articulate what choices were made and why.  You will learn more by dissecting what you did, and so will your audience.

In future posts we’ll discuss the process of actually pinpointing usable reference, and how to utilize it effectively.

|Jacob, Ben, and Steve

The Human Animal

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The documentary The Human Animal can be seen for free on (all 6 parts of it!)

It’s a fascinating documentary about our species. PART ONE focuses primarily on body language across all cultures.  Really interesting stuff.
Fair warning though, the first few minutes features naked people.  Just sayin’.


Thanks to Eric Buescher of BGSU’s Computer Art Club for the link.

Screen-Capture Warehouse

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It’s called Leave Me the White ( ) and they store countless screen captures from LOTS of films and tv-shows.  Including seasons of Battlestar Gallactica, all of Firelfy, comedies like Arrested Development or 30 Rock, films like The Usual Suspects, Pirates of the Caribbean, Fight Club, the list goes on and on and on.  The actual amount of images is quite mind-boggling.  For a random example, there are over 2,100 images captured from the film The Departed, and between 600-1000 images per episode of Firefly.  Wow.

“Why is this relevant?” you may ask…
Well, this can be a great source of inspiration for staging ideas, color keys, lighting concepts, facial expressions, posing, etc.

Random screen capture of screen captures from a random episode of Firefly.
(The above sentence actually makes sense. Honestly.)

I suggest you bookmark it.  You never know when you might want to reference a film/show for inspiration.  A series of still images forces you to see composition and color far more than when you’re distracted by movement.  Note that in the image above there are 10 pages containing over 900 images.  It’s almost too much.  (almost.)


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