Thursday, August 10, 2017

An Adventure in Advertising!

I thought I would walk you through the production process of a McDonald's commercial that I worked on at Leo Burnett USA, after graduating from Columbia College in Chicago.

Here's a copy of the finished Halloween Pails :15 spot I worked on.

I remember knowing about the McDonald's Halloween Happy Meal pails back when I was in High School and later in life, my first commercial assignment was to come up with a :15 spot to sell them to the public in a clever way. In this spot, we also had to stress the "Glow in the Dark" ghost happy meal pail as well as other things in the :15 second spot.

Here's the brief for the spot...

In 1989, a :15 closing spot featured a cute Bat puppet who flies through the scene and tells you about the products was made. Here is the photo storyboard of the finished spot and the only thing I could find that exists that shows how the finished spot turned out.
I first got the assignment back early June in 1990, where my Creative Director, Joe DeVivo introduced me to the assignment and paired me up with a young copywriter named John Wilson. Our task was to come up with several ideas for the :15 spot and then pitch them to Joe in a week or two. I forgot what other ideas we had came up with, maybe another one using the same Bat puppet.

After the pitch, it was determined that the Happy Meal characters scaring each other would be the best idea to board up officially. Now again, this was a while ago, so there might have been a few other ideas that we pitched to our group for feedback and revisions. And to save you all the back and forth time revising the boards, I will skip to the point where we pitched the final board in the agency and got a green light. 

The Agency reviews all their work internally before pitching the ideas to McDonald's. There were several other boards taken out to the client and the ones that were sold were given the green light to produce them into final TV spots. 

Here was the production timetable.

Review 1 : 7/6
Review 2 Storyboards 7/13
Review 2 Storyboards 7/20
Bid:    7/23
Pre-Pro  9/13
Shoot     9/18 - 19
Edit        9/21 & 9/24
Ship: "Boo" 9/28

Here are the final boards that were pitched and sold. The Happy Meal characters are in Halloween costumes and are jumping out of different pails. In the end, the all pop out of the middle pail and the Happy Meal logo, also known as a bug, animates and scares the characters back into the pail.

When the boards were sold and producer was brought on to go over all the details that we had to shoot. As this process went forward, I discovered a whole new world called "Legal" which I never knew existed. This is were all the legal issues pop up and must be addressed or else the commercial you are shooting might not be allowed on the TV networks.
I also had to come up with the exact costumes the characters would wear and only had the McDonald's brand and then all the details to help someone create the costumes...
While I was doing the art direction for the spot, John was timing out his dialogue, finalizing the script and production notes. During this process, we discovered that we had to have less then 8 seconds of the puppets on the screen. Legal determined that viewers would assume that the puppets would come with the pails since they are on the screen at the same time. 
Also the "Glow in the Dark" had to glow in the dark on the film. Back then, all commercials were shot on film and transferred and edited onto videotape. No cameras at that time could shoot the "Glowing" pail without UV lighting. Legal demanded to see the "glow in the dark" shot and then would approved the glowing enhancement later on.
The production notes were given to the network lawyers to review and then they gave us notes if something wasn't allowed or was missing.

This was sent out with the storyboards to studios for the bidding process.

Other legal issues popped up! There might be a problem with the McDonald's Happy Meal bug animating to react with puppet characters on set. Legal then said, Animation characters pitching products is not allowed. What?! The Leo Burnett lawyers sent dozens of animated spots featuring animated characters pitching products. What is animation? Are the puppets considered animation? The bug would be an animation character. 

BTW, the Happy Meal box logo was never animated before, here's one from 1996, after my spot.

I also pushed a local animation company called "Calabash Animation" to be considered for bidding on the McD bug logo. The Producer, who had years more experience than me, wanted to give the job their usual LA studios and didn't want me to give Calabash the job. Calabash was just starting out, but could easily handle the animation of the logo since I had worked with them in the past. The Producer finally gave them the job, but told me if anything screwed up, it was on my head. So much for helping out local studios.
I got to fly with a group of Burnett pros to LA for the 2 day shoot. They shot the "Glow in the Dark" in natural lighting for legal and we even had the spooky fog on the set. There was a lot of popping out the puppets and popping them back into the pail as fast as possible. It was a long day of shooting but everything worked.

Calabash did several pencil tests and the animation was approved. The logo was cel painted and the final version was added to the edit of the spot. The editor was able to remove frames to speed up the cut and keep everything under the time limit.

Finally when it was all done and the final spot was sent to Legal and the networks for final approval. To our surprise, one ABC executive came back from a bad lunch experience and would not approve the spot. The brief mentioned "spooky fog" and he thought it was more "mystical fog" than spooky. The legal team of Leo Burnett were once again on the phone and finally the executive agreed and gave his final approval.

So there you have it. I've had this items in a box for years waiting for a way to tell the tale of my first adventure in advertising. I hope you learned something from this and as always would appreciate any comments or feedback. Unless you're that same ABC executive.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Future Cinematography

Virtual Reality is here and the new 360 video format is being used more and more. And with this new format, new ways to shoot and edit shots together are being discovered. Here's a good example, with both live action and animated scenes to tell a story using this format. Use your mouse to click and move around the screen to see other parts of the view.

Bashir's Dream from RYOT on Vimeo.

It seems like this format will allow opportunities where you could focus not just on one story line, but also create several others for the other areas of the screen.

Have you had any experience shoot in this new 360 format? Please comment below.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Animation Post Production

Post Production for Animation

Animatic Workflow, Visual Development and Production Schedule

An Animatic is a rough animated blueprint of your final film and is created from your final storyboard. This Animatic can have temp or final dialogue and music. Sound effect elements can be added later.

Animatic Workflow and Visual Development

These two elements of production should be happening at the same time, one is creating the story and the other shows how key scenes will look in the final film before the animation process takes place.

Animatic Workflow:
1) Lock Picture: Once you have a "locked" Animatic, this is the point beyond which the edit cannot change. It’s necessary to lock picture so while you are replacing rough animation with final scenes, a sound designer and composer can score directly to the picture at the same time. If you change the timing too much or add extra scenes later, you must notify your sound designer or composer of these changes right away before they do too much sound work.

2) Scene Breakdown Chart: You need to go through your final Animatic, count all the scenes and make a Scene Breakdown chart. This should be a sheet or two with a column of Scene #s on the left hand size and a row showing each week at the top. You can come up with a color code to show the different phases of production on each scene. This will make it easier to keep track of where you are in the production.

3) File Naming Conventions: If you are using a program like Maya or Harmony, you need to name your files to keep them easy to organize in the computer. You must do this with Maya, since it sometimes can get confused if the files are labelled incorrectly.

Take the first 2 or 3 letters of your project's title followed by an Underscore.
Example: If your project is called " An Epic Film", then your 
Production code would be AEF_
And Scene 01 would look like this:  AEF_SC01_001, the last 3 digits would be your version number. So you would be able to make 999 different versions of Scene 01 if you had to, but hopefully not.
4) Scene Breakdown:
If you plan to use Toon Boom Harmony to complete your project, you will need to convert each scene from your animatic into a separate Quicktime file. These Quicktime Animatic Scenes should all be on one folder called Animatics_Scenes. 

5) Importing Quicktime files into Harmony:
You can importing these scenes into either Harmony, After Effects or Premiere. With Harmony, you can import an Animatic Scene as a movie into the timeline. Harmony will import the visual frames and sound file onto different layers, which can be moved on the timeline. 

Before importing an Animatic Scene, you need to move the red line on the timeline on frame 60, the default setting. The red line can move back and forth on the timeline, moving it to the right allows you to add more frames to your timeline. If you don't do this first, you incoming sound file will be cut off at frame 60.

After importing sound and animatic frames, you can pull the red line back to determine the end of the scene. You can add another drawing layer to make your clean up drawings from the animatic frames. Save the new Harmony Scene file as AEF_SC01_001 in a folder where you will keep all of your Harmony scenes.

Each Scene = a separate Harmony file

Once you have all your Harmony Scene files labelled and a Scene breakdown sheet filled out, you may now begin animating each scene. When scenes are completed, you can import them as quicktimes or as a TGA sequence into other programs like After Effects or Premiere.

Since writing this, I recently worked at a studio where they imported their Storyboard Pro timeline as one long scene into a single Harmony file. This was an imported animatic where they add their puppet rigs onto each scene.

This is a risky way to work since if anything happens to this file, all the animation will be lost. At least with the scene by scene method, there are more scene files to keep track of, but less risk of losing the work.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Michael Dudok De Wit

This was one of Michael Dudok De Wit's first animated films from 1994 called "The Monk and the Fish". Here is the entire film with a short documentary where the filmmaker explains his process.

Later in 2000, Father and Daughter won an Academy Award, the BAFTA award, the Grand Prix at Annecy, the Grand Prix at Animafest Zabreb and many other festival awards that year. 

De Wit continued making short films and made dozens of animated commercials like these...

In 2016, "The Red Turtle was his first animated feature and was nominated for an Academy Award. Below is a very good review of the Red Turtle won't any spoilers.

And here's a very interesting interview with the director of all three films.

If the real Michael Dudok de Wit would like to contact me for an interview, please email me at

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Freelance Animation 103

Sometimes a project you are working on might be cancelled or the Client might change their mind about your work. I'm reminded of this from Dr. Suess's "Oh the Places you will Go!", when things don't go the way you thought they would.
Except when you don' t
Because, sometimes, you won't.

I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You'll be left in a Lurch. 

It happens every now and then, but sometimes its good for both you and your client. And as long as you are both in agreement, there shouldn't be any problems when things don't work out. 

With all freelance jobs, you need to find out certain things from your Client. When you first meet them in person, in email or on the phone, you need to find out what they need from you. You need to listen and take notes if needed. If the job is something you have never done before, its ok to be honest with them now, rather than say you can do it when you really have no clue. They even might ask if you know of someone else who can do this job.

After this stage of the meeting is over, the Client will want to see your portfolio and ask you questions about each piece. Sometimes they are in a hurry to meet with you and a list of 20 people behind you. Don't take it personal if they rifle through your art and animation samples while asking you, "How much did this cost to do? What about this one? Can you give me a ballpark figure?"

The above situation recently happened to me. the Client had a roomful of people to see, 1 every 15 to 20 minutes. The guy is in a hurry to see people and hopefully find someone he would like to work with. All interviews are different, some may be short and simple. 

"Do you know Illustrator and Cinema 4D?" 
"No, I don't but..."  
"Thank you for coming in, Next!"

If you feel rushed during your interview, you can also send a thank you email and include links or answers any questions that you couldn't answer during the interview. You still might not get the job, but this may be enough info to help the Client remember you. 

Need Content for Freelance Animation 104

Have you ever had an awkward interview or did you have an interview that you learned something from? Any Interview advice? Please share your bad or good interview memories. You can email me



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This week, we got 4 clicks which yielded .39 cents which is the most clicks we have had in a while. Right now, were only at $26 bucks and Google won't write us a check until they get $100 or more in clicks. So click the ads whenever you visit this blog! Thank You!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Animation Visual Development 1

Visual Development: Is a way to explore and figure out the look and style of your final film before beginning the animation process. Visual Development isn't just the background images, but the characters, the props, ways of moving a character or object, the environment and the world that the story takes place in.

Here are a few early VisDev designs for Disney Pixar's "UP". Here are a bunch of simple head designs of an old man... An idea of the House in a different location by Lou Romano.

Another Lou Romano design, Its night and the two characters are talking about what is shown on the right of the image. Your eyes start in the middle, drift to the left to see the horse and night sky in the window and then over to see the house on the mountain with a waterfall.
What starts off as simple concepts and drawings, eventually becomes more visually defined.

As the storyboard is locked and the Animatic is being assembled, Visual Development begins about the same time the storyboard is being created and Character Designs are coming together. Visual Development keeps on going through the rough animation process to figure out how the rough props or environments will look. The Director is the one who is approving what the visual look will finally be.

Your visual development must be explored to make it as interesting to look at as possible and which fits the story in general. 

Here are character designs from "Inside Out" by Chris Sasaki. See how the character designs for Disgust evolves into her final look.

From a Cartoony look...
to a little more realistic...
 A combination of both...
 After all the revisions, redesigning and tweaking, we finally get to our final design!



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This week, we got 4 clicks which yielded .39 cents which is the most clicks we have had in a while. Right now, were only at $26 bucks and Google won't write us a check until they get $100 or more in clicks. So click the ads whenever you visit this blog! Thank You!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Story Graph

Making a story for an animated or live action short film takes a lot of time and thought. Below is a Story Graph which helps show how your story is constructed. While you are working up a story, use this story graph to place the parts of your story before you begin drawing the storyboard. You need to see how your story will fit together and make sense, otherwise you will jump into boarding a story that doesn't make sure or has other problems.

Take a look at the commercial below and then study the Story Graph underneath to see how everything fits together and builds to the conclusion.

The story graph sets up the beginning of your story by establishing the normal world and introduces your main characters. The first thing that changes the "normal world" is called the Inciting Incident, which sets the story in motion. The character then encounters the first plot point, which is the first turning point in the story. Conflict occurs to stop or delay the character from their goal. Without Conflict there is no story and we don't get to see how the is something the character must overcome or solve to get to the next plot point. When we come to the 2nd plot point, this is where something happens to the character which is the lowest point in the story and it looks like the character will not get what they want afterall. However, this is where the character might learn from his past mistakes or there is a twist and we come to the climax, the highest point in the story! And now, we have the end to our story called "the Resolution,"

Here is another story breakdown for a short called "The Saga of Bjorn".

Here is the actual film which is broken down showing the plot points below. 

Use the Story Graph to help figure out your story first, before moving onto boarding it. Its a great tool for building a story with a solid beginning, middle and end. You can also use this formula to plot story points in other shorts as well.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Animation Dailies and Review

I like animating, but unfortunately, you have to do a lot of tweaking after the broad strokes have been done. This is true for all forms of Traditional and Digitial animation while our Stop Motion friends, have to get it the first time.

Rough Key Poses

A lot of studios have "Dailies" at some point during the workday to check the progress of each animator's scene. Usually a small team will meet with the director or Supervising Animator, which could also be a one on one situation. Your job as Animator is to take notes on what the Director wants you to do. This is where you can ask questions or bring up any problems you are having with the scene.

For Animation Professors or Instructors, we need to review our student's work as if we were making a feature film or commercial. This will help students get use to the work flow and understand that every project has a "pipeline" throughout production.

Clean Up Final
 When reviewing animation, you need to find a way to look at individual frames in order to take out the bad key frames to add better poses. In the past, a supervising animator would flip through animation drawings to find the problem, but now we do it digitally.

Here are two free programs which allow you to upload your scene and send it to someone else to review it and add notes to your work. If you know of a better program, please let me know and I will add it to this post.


Allows you to review notes during a real time session which is very helpful in online teaching situations. The free service allows 5 uploads a week and you get more features if you pay for them. It doesn't

RGB Notes, 

Allows you to upload a scene which you can open and make notes to and send back to the student. RGB has added the ability to add extra layers on top of the original animation, allowing you to send different versions of notes. You turn on all the layers or only the ones you need, this helps to see how the scene has been revised over time.


2 things I don't like about both softwares.

There is a lot of things I like about both of these softwares, here are only two things I'm wondering both companies might add to future versions.

1) There is no text tool option. All your notes have to be written with a mouse or stylus

2) Once you drew some notes on one frame, you cannot adjust the positioning or copy/paste the info to another frame. When making notes, you have to be as accurate as possible. This can be a bit embarrassing if you are watching this live and the notes keep changing.

Whoever animated the above clips, please let me know your name and I will be glad to give you credit in this blog. 

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Caroline Leaf Interview

Caroline Leaf's early films were first introduced to me in High School. They were amazing to watch, because all the images were created under the camera on glass, with sand and later with ink and paint . They were the first non-traditional animation films I had ever seen.

Fast forward, I mentioned Caroline Leaf's work on this blog and recently met her at this year's Annie Awards in LA.

I invited her to write a post about herself and her work. She agreed, and so, here's Caroline Leaf.

As a kid, I don’t remember looking at cartoons. I don’t think I knew what animation was.  But in my last year of college, I took an animation class. In 1968, liberal arts colleges were beginning to offer film courses, and film was taught like creative writing, as a form of personal expression. Film stock and lab processing were getting cheaper, cameras were getting smaller, it was affordable. At Harvard/Radcliffe, where I was a student, Derek Lamb, an animator/writer/director who came from London England and had been working at the National Film Board of Canada, taught the 1 year course. Since students came from all parts of the university, medical school, engineering or the business school, for example, we were not expected to be able to draw. We did pixilation and stop motion and animated cutouts. We did exercises like moving keychains and giving personality to the movement of dimes and quarters.

My family has a house near Boston on a beach with very fine white sand. I remember thinking I could achieve more personality and story telling if I put sand on the lightbox under the camera, and drew shapes in the sand. There was no tradition of drawing in sand, so I felt free to develop my own style. I remember the excitement of seeing my first animated creature move, the duck in my student film Sand or Peter and the Wolf.


I developed sand animation. I liked the feel of my hands in the sand and loved the graphic quality of the images it made. It’s limitations forced me to be creative. 

For example, a pile of underlit sand has an edge, a silhouette. The edge is where the information about shape, character and personality is. I was animating silhouette characters. I liked the economy of sand animation: I could make a film from a bucket of sand and it cost nothing. I liked the fact that after I shot an image, I erased it and drew the next one, and in the end there was no artwork left, just the film. 

We shot 16mm film, and later, when I moved to the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, shot 35mm film. I usually worked for a couple of weeks to accumulate
enough film to make it worth sending to the lab for processing. Until the film came back from the lab, I couldn’t see what I had done. There wasn’t instant feedback as there is now with animation shot digitally.

When I wanted to work with color images, I tried using colored sand. I sent away for bags of colored sand. But the colors got mixed and muddy and it was frustratingly slow. I looked around at my co-workers at the Film Board, and noticed that a medium was added to cel animation paint to keep the paint flexible so that it didn’t crack off the cels. I added some of this medium (glycerine) to water based gouache paint, stirred, and found that it didn’t dry. I could push wet paint around with my fingers like sand.   

I made The Street with paint-on-glass. Again, I love the imagery wet paint makes. 

Here are a few clips from "The Street"

TheStreet (clip01) from Toondini on Vimeo.

It’s important to be happy with the graphic look of an animated image. When the image is a delight, it’s fun to work with and to sit with for the long hours of making animated movement.
Later, trying to eliminate everything between me and my animated movement, I got rid of the camera entirely, and scratched images in the soft emulsion of exposed color film. I made a one minute clip for MTV scratching into 16mm film. My last animated film, Two Sisters, was scratched into 70mm Imax film.

I like to give workshops for sand animation or paint-on-glass. It feels good to get young animators excited about direct under the camera animation. I’ve been teaching animation for animation directors in an MA program. The teaching is about how to tell a story in film. It’s about film language, how sound and picture work together, and how to guage what an audience will understand from the presentation of images over time. I don’t care what technique the animators use, and they are mostly working with computers.

After I left the National Film Board of Canada (1992), wanting to explore the world outside the dark room where I animated, I began to draw and paint more full time. The compositions became more complicated and ambitious. I painted with oils and drew with gouache and ink on paper.

When I animate, individual drawings are unimportant. It is their displacement in relation to the film frame, the change between the drawings, that creates perception of movement. These drawings are line driven and simple. All through my animation years, when animating was my day job, on the side I was making drawings that did not move. They were quick drawings from memory of things seen during the day. They were my daily visual diary entries. I was storytelling about myself.

Early spring on the Lachine Canal

Over time, the figurative element has become less important, and concerns about mark making, perceptions of space and depth, the composition of the 2d surface, and perception of content have become interesting. It is satisfying to explore complex pictorial structures that are not possible with images designed to move. The painted images have become more abstract.

My animation films and paintings both involve hard work, discipline, and concentration, even as they are improvisations. I try to work alittle bit each day. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration.  For both, I am disciplined by the goal of making a total work. Even as I enjoy surprising myself with details in the composition and am happy accidents that occur, I am thinking about serving the needs of the whole image or the whole film story.

You wouldn’t think this is an issue, but improvisation easily gets off track from the main goal. Straight ahead animation shooting film did not let me go back to make changes. It was tough to be focused on getting it right, not making mistakes. The work kept me on my toes. Exciting but tiring! Perhaps I burned out animating like this

Now the paintings are finished in days and I’m on to another idea. I’m not sitting on a stool in a dark room. I’m in sunshine, dancing around, looking up close, standing back, turning the picture upside down, putting it on the floor. I feel lively when I paint.

To see more of my work:

Films are streamed on line by the NFB at:

The Owl Who Married a Goose                 1974
The Street                                                   1976
The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa             1977
Interview                                                    1979
Two Sisters                                                1990

Many thanks to Caroline Leaf for sharing her history, wisdom, animated images and still ones.
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