Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Annie Awards: Best Student films

The 43rd annual Annie Awards are just around the corner! On Saturday, February 6th, 2016 at UCLA's Royce Hall in Los Angeles, CA beginning at 7pm PDT. The event is usually streamed live, so viewers can watch the show online. Here are links to the Annie Awards website, the live stream and a link to all the nominees.    More info below...

Below are this year's student animated films!

Can I Stay.
a film by Paige Carter, Kathryn Knudson, and On Yee Lo
produced at Ringling College of Art + Design
Department of Computer Animation
Class of 2015

by Yon Hui
Cal Arts

Dodoba (どどば) from Yon Hui on Vimeo.

by Taha Neyestani
Sheridan College

ed from Taha Neyestani on Vimeo.

Life Smartphone
by Xie Chenglin
China Central Academy Of Fine Arts
Life Smartphone--Trailer from Chenglin Xie on Vimeo.

by StephanieC
Sheridan College
Mother from StephanieC on Vimeo.

Nice to Meeteor You Trailer
by Yizhou Li
University of Southern California
Nice To Meeteor You_Trailer from Yizhou Li on Vimeo.

by Maria Cecilia Puglesi
School of Visual Arts 

The Casebook of Nips & Porkington
by Melody Wang
Sheridan College

The Casebook of Nips & Porkington (2015) from Melody Wang on Vimeo.

And the winner is!  Taha Neyestani for "Ed", Congratulations!

To watch the entire Annie Awards’s the link:

If any of the filmmakers would like to contact me for a quick and painless interview, please email Jimr (

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sergio Pablos Interview

To kickoff 2016, here is an interview with animation director Sergio Pablos, who was very kind to answer a few question I had about his animation career so far.

In addition to directing, Sergio has spent 20+ years in the animation industry as a creator, writer, executive producer, character designer, supervising animator, and studio owner.
His screen credits include ‘Despicable Me’, ‘Rio’, ‘Asterix and The Vikings’, ‘Treasure Planet’, ‘Tarzan’, and the upcoming ‘Smallfoot’ for Warner Bros.

Sergio’s work has twice been nominated for Annie Awards: for his character design work on ‘Rio’, and for his character animation on ‘Treasure Planet’.

Sergio helms The SPA Studios, where he created ‘Despicable Me’, ‘Smallfoot’ and the upcoming ‘Klaus’. In addition, his studio does work for Blue Sky/Fox Animation, Paramount Animation, Sony Pictures, Dreamworks, and many others.

I was wondering if you could let us know how you first discovered the process of animation?

My parents tell me I was five years old when I first decided I was going to become an animator. I was always mesmerized by the idea that you could breath life, movement and soul into drawings. At the time, I knew nothing about the process, but it was always fascinating to me.

If you could provide a brief timeline of your animation career so far. You first worked for Disney and then you created "Groo" the evil bad guy in "Despicable Me". Did you only design the character or did you animate him too?

I attended Cal Arts, where I was privileged to share the classroom with some of the most talented individuals working in animation today. I got my first break working in small animation studios in Spain, then got a chance to work at the now-extinct Disney Paris Feature Animation Studio.

 After Cal Arts
Chris Buck, Craig Maras, John Ripa, Sergio Pablos, Dean Wellins, Randy Myers, and Randy Haycock.
From then, I made the jump to LA to supervise my first character on a Disney film, Tantor the elephant on Tarzan, followed by Dr. Doppler on Treasure Planet. 

After that, it came time to leave Disney and return home to Madrid, Spain. I set up my own small studio and I started trying to get better at story-telling and content creation. It took me a while to get any good at it (I developed several failed projects), but eventually, something clicked and Despicable Me came out of it.

I didn’t animate on the film, and the designs we produced early on look nothing like the ones that ended in the film. My contribution was mostly coming up with the original idea on which the film is based on. We also did some Visual Development and Story Boarding early on.

Then you worked on the Smurfs and Metegol. When did you form SPA? and what did you do on Nocturna, which looks really interesting.

In addition to creating animated film projects, we offer Development and Animation services as a means to finance our operation. We did about 30 minutes of character animation in Nocturna, did a good chunk of the animation for the Smurfs TV Special and Metegol, among many other European and North American productions.
Click here to view animation clip

Futbolin / Metegol / Foosball Character Animation The SPA Studios from The SPA Studios on Vimeo.

And now you are working on "Klaus", which you are not promoting as a 2D film, but as what?  Are you finding traditionally trained new talent to help you animate this feature project?

Click on the poster to see preview...

We’re promoting Klaus as a film, hopefully a good one. We see no advantages in advertising it as a 2D film in a marketplace that’s clearly biased towards CGI. I’m not speaking of the audiences here, but of the gatekeepers, the producers and investors you have to convince in order to get your film made.
If we accomplished something with the unique look of Klaus, is that most untrained eyes assume it’s done in CGI, so why shoot ourselves in the foot? 

Regarding talent, we’re full aware that it’s going to take a combination of veteran talent and newly trained artists, but based on the response we’re getting I’m confident we’ll be able to recruit a great team.

Are you using ToonBoom Harmony, TV Paint or some top secret animation software you have created?

We’ll be using ToonBoom Harmony as a main production software, combined with other software that we adapted to our needs. It’s still an ongoing R&D process, but hopefully all the tools will be ready by production start.

What advice would you give to 2D animation students about animation? 3D Animation students?

I don’t really make a distinction. Learning animation is a battle against your own limitations. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of information and to get overwhelmed. Line of action, arcs, timing, acting. It’s important to remember that all these are terms created to help you achieve believability and appeal, but the end goal is always relatability and entertainment. Don’t forget that.

Which part of animating do you enjoy the most? Writing the script? Character Designing? Storyboarding? Voice recording? Animating?

I would say that the early stages of creating a new film idea are the most interesting. You’ve found a diamond in the rough, a great idea that needs shaping. You know there’s a great story in there and it’s your job to mine it out. Also, Character Design and Animation are at the top of my list as well.

How many people are working at SPA? Are you sending work overseas or working with animators in other parts of the world?

Our core team fluctuates between 15 to 20 artists, including artists and management. We tend to favor working with In-House artists, as it is my believe that’s the best way to achieve the right climate where artists will get challenged on a daily basis, but we also have freelance artists that work for us remotely.

Do you have a sample animation test to send out to Animators? Are you looking for employees?

We don’t have a standard animation test. Rather, if a test is required, we will want the applicant to work with the actual characters from the film he’s being evaluated as a potential animator for. But generally, we tend to base our decision on the applicant’s reel. If there’s a good sense of acting and mechanics in it, we’ll be interested.
We’re always looking for new talent, although the categories vary depending on the nature of the upcoming jobs we have lied up. Right now, we’re reviewing 3D animators and Concept Artists, but we’ll start looking for artists with other skillsets soon.

When will the animation on Klaus be finished? 

Not sure exactly when animation will be completed on Klaus, but the tentative release date is Christmas 2019.

"The preview is amazing and I know I'm all excited to see the final film when it comes out. I hope to meet you sometime before 2019 and good luck on finishing the film!" Just then, a large white bearded man burst into the room, carrying a giant old brown bag. Sergio nodded and had to return to work. AE

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5000+ VIEWS!

To celebrate our WatchCat Files 5,000 all time view. Greg Bradley and I will be live streaming from the WatchCat Studios in Burbank, CA. 

Join us Friday, February 26th, 2016 @ 7pm PST on our youtube channel WatchCat Films.

Like Superheroes? Like Cats? 
Checkout for WatchCat.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Organizing your Animation work: Part 2

When you have an idea which grows into a 2D animated short, each step of production adds more and more information which you need to keep organized. For traditional animators, this means going from idea to thumbnail drawings to storyboard drawings, with more and more drawings generated along the way. And when you finally have a final storyboard worked out, now begins the task of making layout drawings, then rough Key poses which will then add inbetweens and finally all end up as Clean up drawings. 

Scene Folders

To keep track of all the paper being added during this process, you will need to keep folders for each scene. Here is a label which you can put on each scene folder to keep track of what stage of production the scene is in as well as other useful information.

The Production Manager's job is to keep track of these folder as well as to track the production schedule and keeping it up to date. Below is an example of a production schedule which you can use to keep track of your project.

This is a timing breakdown chart for frames under 1 foot and how to calculate footage.
                                                             Frames    =    Footage
This is a formula still used by some timing directors to time their storyboard scenes. These timing numbers can be converted to frames when creating an animatic. Here's how it works...
1 foot = 16 frames, so if the timing was 3oo , this means the scene would be 3 x 16 or 48 frames, which equals 2 seconds exactly.

Once you have the storyboard, you must time out each scene in seconds and convert them into frames in order to know how much time or frames are needed to show the action. The best thing is to actually act out the scene yourself and either timing out your action or shoot reference footage of it. This timing info is usually written under the storyboard panel's shot description. 

After the timing for each scene has been determined, an exposure sheet is created for each scene and a folder is created for each scene. A scene is what you would call a shot in live action film-making. 

The exposure sheet is used in the beginning to plan out your scene and to keep track of the drawings, allowing for camera movement and breaking down the dialogue frame by frame. Animators need to use these sheets for every scene they create or are given to work on. Many beginning students don't understand their importance or know how to use them.

Your storyboard panels will soon grow from layout drawings, to rough key poses, to Keys and rough drawings, then inbetweens and finally Clean Up drawings. Each step of production will be added to the exposure sheet to establish what frame has which drawings. And if you have separate levels, you have to use an exposure sheet to keep track of all this information. It also comes in handy if you are scanning in your drawings into a 2D software such as ToonBoom's Animate Pro. Once scanned in, you will have to reassemble the drawings to the correct layers and frames. How can you do this without an exposure sheet?

 The Exposure Sheet

The Exposure Sheet or X sheet is your friend!

When beginning a 2D animation project,  you begin creating more and more artwork, creating key poses, you need an exposure sheet, X sheet or Dope sheet to list what frame they will be shown on. This long sheet contains a bunch of horizontal lines, sometimes labelled. Each line represents a frame or exposure of film. Back when animation cameramen roared the earth, they used this sheet as a guide to shoot the folder of animation drawings given to them. The name "Dope sheet" meant, that all the instructions for shooting this scene were on the X sheet, so that any dope (stupid person) could shoot it.

Each space between the lines on an X sheet represents a frame of film. There are 16 frames in one foot of 35mm film, the space between the darker lines lines equals 16 frames. Some animation studios would pay Animators by the footage of a scene length, however today, CG animators deal with frames and seconds instead of film footage and are usually paid by the hour or by the project.

Exposure Sheet Info. 

Prod: Title of Production
Seq:    Sequence #
Scene: Scene #
Sheet:  Sheet number. Many Scenes require more than one X sheet.

There are several column headings that are for different things in the scene. 

Action:  The Director's or Animator's notes of the action happening in the scene as a frame by frame breakdown.
Dial:  Dialogue info is added here either as Narration or Broken down dialogue for lip sync animation.
Extra:  An extra level if needed. 

Numbered Levels 1 thru 4:  Levels for animation to make up the scene.

BG:  Background Level is the first level with all the other levels of animation on top.
Camera Instructions:  Field Info, Camera movement such as a Zoom, Pan or rotation as well as camera effects like fades, wipes or dissolves.

Now you have to imitate an old man as you read this... "Back when we had cel animation, you could only have 3 or 4 levels, anymore and the artwork color on the bottom level would become darker the more levels of acetate placed on top of it." Ok, now you can stop.

Actually with 2D animation software, you don't have to worry about levels of animation or waiting for your cel paint to dry, because this part of traditional animation has happily bit the dust. You are so lucky you didn't have to paint cels, Hooray for Digital paint!

Organizing your Animation work: Part 3
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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Organizing your Animation work: Part 1

Ok, recently, I was going over how to do a Pose Test, having my students figure out their scenes by filling out X Sheets and adding timing charts to their animation Key drawings. Then putting all this information into a Scene Folder as if they were handing off their rough animation scenes to someone else to inbetween and clean up.

I talked about the process of pose to pose animation, but unless you actually prepare a Scene folder for yourself, its all just words in the air. And so, when I got all the scene folders back from my students, I could see that I needed to go over this process by reviewing the process in a little more detail.

Learning drawing animation takes time, patience and practice as well as learning from ones mistakes. And we work towards learning the animation principles to create a story that our audience will eventually see. However, there is another part of the animation process that Animators must learn in order to keep the process organized and moving toward to the final product.

This production work is the behind the scenes stuff that your audience will not see or even care about. The kind of stuff, 2D animation studios invented long ago to keep the work moving forward and under control as it went through the different production stages of Layout, Rough Animation, Clean Up and finally as the final Render

Here are a few things that you can do to keep the 2D Animation production processes alive and well. 

The Pose Test

As simple as this sounds, its very important that every Animator label their drawings in the same way to help keep everything consistent. Often Animators will do their rough posing to figure out the motion in the scene, jot down drawing numbers in the corner and then shoot a pose test to figure out the best timing. 

Shooting the Keys along with the missing inbetweens will show the Key poses popping from one pose to the next. This is a preview to the final action and an experienced Animator can tell how the scene will look once all the missing inbetweens have been added later.

The Animator will show his work to the Director who may have him revise something or approve it. The goal is to keep the Animator working on the animation as quickly as possible and the Animator's assistant is to help refine the Animator's roughs and figure out the Inbetweens. The Assistant will also fix up the drawing numbering, refine the timing charts and keep the character(s) on model throughout the scene.

Labelling Drawings

Let's start with a sheet of animation bond. After you have worked out some Key poses on several sheets, all Keys need to be circled to show they are the Key poses and not Breakdowns or the Inbetween drawings. Breakdowns should be underlined and you don't have to do anything to the Inbetweens.

As a team of 2D artists, everyone must keep their characters looking as if one person has drawn them, this is known keeping the drawings "on model", something that doesn't happen in 3D animation.

Here's a Milt Kalh drawing. You can see he has a timing chart in the upper right and a # 4 in the lower right corner. 

This is the animator's key frame which has been cleaned up by an assistant animator, notice cross register lines and the line across the bottom of the drawing. This might be the camera framing.

All animation drawings must be labeled with a letter and a number. So, if you draw a glass of water in your scene, don't write it as Glassofwater 1, rather shorten it a one letter; G1.
Sometimes you might have a scene that has a series of G drawings for other objects or the first letter of character's name in the scene. If you have a character named Gary who has to pick up a Glass of water which sits on a Glass table, you need to relabel each layer with a   second letter to show the difference, so G for Gary, W for Glass of water and T for Table.

Again as I write this, I think, isn't this obvious. Do I have to really write all this out? But as an animation instructor, I want my students to learn the right way to produce their animation and learn the process that makes sense

I've noticed that students will label their drawings as tiny as possible, some in the lower right hand corner of the paper as requested. But others, will lable in the lower left, upper right or upper left hand corner of the paper as well. If it was possible, they would label the edges of their paper.  

Back when the world was black and white, the drawings were labelled in the lower right for the cameraman see what drawings he was going to shoot on his Oxberry animation stand.
All the drawings were labelled the same to allow the cameraman to shoot them quickly and accurately in a dark room, under two hot movie lights aimed at the artwork below.
ALL DRAWINGS, even its only one, MUST BE LABELED IN THE LOWER RIGHT HAND CORNER OF THE PAPER. Big enough to view from a distance. Many students think this info will be seen on screen and either draw it very lightly or very, very small. These same students are in shock when it comes to drawing timing charts on their Keys.

Timing Charts

Timing Charts are the Animator's notes to the Inbetweener explaining how the inbetween drawings should be drawn from the Keys. Each Key has a timing chart on it with that Key number circled on top of the chart. Here are a few examples of the various timing charts and what they do.

The timing chart below shows the inbetween action as an "Ease In " or slowing down to stop at B9.
Here are two Timing charts, the first shows an "Ease Out" where B9's inbetweens are speeding up as it gets to B13. The second chart shows "Constant Motion" of B9 moving into B 25 position. Below are Keys B13 and B25. X1 is the arms holding the bat on a separate layer.

Notice the T/B B1 beside the character's left foot. This indicates a "Trace Back" where the assistant animator needs to redraw that foot exactly, so it doesn't slide around during the scene. Little notations like this are all over an Animator's drawings and are removed during the cleanup process.

Timing Charts need to make sense and are not sloppy.

But Wait, there's more!
Visit: Organizing your Animation work: Part 2!

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