Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Learning Animation

Hi all,

I love animation, I love the internet and I love blogging. You get to know so many people- that is really awesome. Bala, a young animation aspirant from India, just wrote me asking me how I would learn animation. Well, my first answer would certainly be animation mentor, since this is the best program I know and have heard of so far. Many of my friends studied at various university all over the world and the more I know the more comfortable I feel investing my money into AM.

But that also means that I am in the lucky position of having a job that allows me to pay for this education. And there are many talented people out there that can't afford any animation university - maybe currently, maybe never. So, what to do, where to start?

Well, this is difficult to answer. Actually, it is funny that Bala has asked me that question since I found one of the most complete link lists to animation tutorials I have ever seen on his blog. And that is more than anyone can read to start into animation. But what exactly would I do to start into animation without spending very little or any money at all? Here is a quick sketch (but remember, there is no ONE way, there are many out there to become a freaking animation ninja):

1.) Get a copy of "Illusion of Life" of Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.
2.) Read it. When you are done then read chapter 3 again.
3.) Draw every single day. Start with circles and lines. Every day. And do life drawings. If you have no money: draw people on the street or (a little easier at the beginning) draw people from photos... they are 2D already. Try to join a life drawing class at arts schools for free. Just ask the professor if you may sit in the backrow. He might help you.
4.) Read every tutorial over at Keith Langos website.
5.) If you want to join the 3D animation community, get Maya PLE or XSI Exp. I personally recommend XSI Exp since I think the program is better but really, that doesn't matter much. A good starting point for 3D animation is Jeff Lew. I really can recommend that DVD. It was a turning point for me for sure. Download a character someone else has build for you. And then animate with that one. Don't model, don't rig, don't render. Just animate.
6.) Start with "boring" bouncing balls. Don't skip the "boring" parts - not in animation and not in drawing. They are the fundamentals and they make the difference in the end.
7.) Read many blogs of animators and try to do what they did: a sidestep, lifting a box, a bouncing ball, a jumping squirrel, a guy falling.... whatever. Take reference and study the heck out of it.
8.) Be patient. Every kind of art takes time to master. Some are faster at the beginning and some are slower. But eventually you will make it. So don't get discouraged. And please, don't start with a "Two people jumping off a helicopter being chased by 20 police men"-scenario.

9.) And finally when your love for animation has grown: If possible, get into an animation school. Once again, there is a reason why I chose Animation Mentor. And I didn't regret that decision a single day since then. Certainly there are hundreds of great schools out there in the world. But I also heard a many complaints. In my humble opinion, AM is the best program out there at the moment and I would take the same route again and again.

So, animation is no Abrakadabra-magic spell... it is a fine art and a craftsmenship. You can learn it and master it. Start with the basics, set yourself deadlines and then keep on going. You decide the course and you will make it eventually.

I hope that helps you. This is what I would do and in some sort did. Sometimes maybe late but that was my way. So, start right now, animation is an incredible experience. Everytime I watch a scene that I have animated myself after hours and hours of work I look at it and say: "Did I do that? How come they are alive but were dead 7 days ago?"...

I love animation!

- Alex

Sunday, February 19, 2006

AM02 - week 06 - Assignment - Re-blocking

This was my original idea but I won't find the time to realise this.

Hi everyone,

this week was re-blocking time. I had the brilliant idea of taking 30 frames each day and polish them so I like them better. So, on Monday I came home at around 10pm after 12h+ of work... and I fell into my bed. The same on Tuesday... and Wednesday... and the rest of the week. Great plan, still lacks the ability to do it, right? My idea is to do the same this week - except for not finding the time to animate 30 frames a day.

Okay, without further adue here is the file - it is 1.6 MB big and a Quicktime 7 h264. I sometimes think that the h264 doesn't run 100% smoothly and studders but that might just be me or my 3Ghz PC =)

Tell me what you think, still one more week to finally nail this animation.

- Alex

Thursday, February 16, 2006

San Francisco Video Report

Hi everyone,

as promised here it is: my video report of San Francisco. Well, before I post the links please remember the following: whenever a camera is put on me a misterious 'bad-English' virus suddenly takes over and I start to studder and make bad grammar mistakes. Then again, I didn't do any rehearsals (which I should have done and will do next time). And finally, I didn't take a tripod with me so the camera is really, really shaky. Nonetheless the video hopefully gives you

- a good impression about Animation Mentor Headquarters
- a funny glimpse of ILM (?!)
- and a look at Pixar's entrance and their main hall

Whatever, I hope you have fun watching it. If for nothing else, then at least for fun, right?

You can find a WMV 10 version here: (38MB)
For all Mac users I also have a H264 version (42MB)

Tell me whether that was a good idea and I should create a better one next time I am there (and then take a tripod, hundred English classes and Steven Spielberg as director).

Well, animate on,

- Alex

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Pixar, ILM, Siggraph - a normal week in San Francisco

Yes, my friends, San Francisco in winter time... well, not always like that, but once in a while... ahh, beautiful!

Hi everyone,

here it is, finally, my blog entry about the travelling to San Francisco, February 2006. Originally I was traveling there because I got the chance of working as ex-student volunteer (XSV) in the Siggraph courses committee which had to decide on the course that are going to be represented this August in Boston. Just click here to get some more information about Siggraph.

That is the Boston Convention Center where Siggraph 2006 will be held.

The process for creating the program was full of fun and getting to know many 'famous' people among the CGI-industry (CGI = computer generated images). Next to working all Saturday there were also times when we went to a restaurant and had the famous 'earthquake' ice which had 20 scoops of ice. Yummy!

In the middle you can see this incredible 20 scoops of icecream earthquake!

In the end we got a nice courses program which will have interesting courses for everyone - on every single day of the conference. I'm really happy that it turned out that way because it is difficult to get everone's interests in one convention. I hope we did succeed.

I got to San Francisco early to meet some awesome people from the animation industry. Among them were Bobby Beck (Pixar, now CEO of Animation Mentor), Rick o'Conner (lead animator at ILM), Shawn Kelly (Ninja animator at ILM), Doug Dooley (my current mentor and body mechanics master at Pixar), Anthony Wong (former Disney 2D artist, now at Pixar) and Michelle Meeker (currently working as a freelance artist, animated on Lord of the rings, Bug's life, Antz etc.). I was pumped just knowing I would meet them and in the end my expectations were all fullfilled and even more than that.

The first day (Monday) I went to Animation Mentor headquarters, located in lovely Berkely not a 5 min. drive away from Pixar - but actually, 1h 20min away from Mountain View where I stayed at Dave Shreiner's house. I had a great car (a 8 people Hertz Gold member Van) which I was given for no other reason than asking kindly - well, maybe asking for a Hummer was a littlebit frank but in the end I got this awesome car for the price of a Honda Civic. Anyway, I drove all the way around the Bay up to Berkely and eventually made it to:

Many of you should know this sign by now due to our weekly videos

Meeting Bobby, Jay, Taylor, Becky, Rosie and all the others was totally fun. I came right on time for lunchtime and so we had pizza together while chatting. I could talk to Bobby about the school and how we as students could spread the word (blogging for instance?) and was able to take a closer look at his office and all the toys he collects there (whoot!).

One of hundreds of awesome toys Bobby has in his office.

Later this week I will be able to release that video to this blog and the AM forum but more on that later.

Bobby right before getting some pizza...

Not only AM is fun online but the headquarters as well. People are as nice as they appear on the video and the overall feeling is relaxed and open. Should you ever feel like going there, do it. The staff is just amazing and they have some awesome stuff to show, too. In the end I made it to the video news to demonstrate people the meaning of timezones and that people from Germany (like me) would sleep at the time we were shooting the video:

timezone demonstration visually expressed

AM HQ was fun and so the week had started off... AWESOME (you are going to hear that word a lot from now on - Shawn Kelly infected me there!). Talking about Shawn. Shawn works at ILM together with Rick o'Conner. Rick is a lead animator currently on a very interesting show. I look forward to it. I was able to visit both and see how they work and what ILM is like. Let me say this: ILM is one of the coolest places to work at - that is for sure.

Yoda fountain - "Me you must seek, ILM you will find"

It was funny to also meet some of the people featured in the videos like Kevin (Martel?) and Charles Alleneck who (btw) has the biggest Lego Star Wars collection on EARTH! Well, that was my impression, at least. At ILM Rick showed me a lot of very, very cool stuff: How they work, which tools they use, how the animators sink into their chairs behind their desk, hundreds of maquettes and photos and pictures and models and Star Wars props... and also their lunch area.

While having lunch in this terrific building (you can see the Golden Gate bridge to the left, Alcatraz inside the Bay and Downtown to your left) we had a question and answer session where I kept bugging Rick and Shawn to the extreme about age limitations, VISA questions or moral issues. It was awesome, totally honest and extremely interesting and the discussion went on in emails even after I left ILM (thanks again, Shawn). Unfortunately I wasn't able to film inside ILM but you just have to believe me that you are feeling like walking through the history of computer animation.

The place is huge, the building awesome but foremost are the people cool and friendly guys creating some incredible work there. Definitely still the top notch place to work at when you are aiming for CG work in live action films!!!

I also met many AM students who were cool enough to leave their seats for one day and come down to the Cha Cha Cha in San Francisco downtown. We had a great time and I tried to talk to as many as possible there. Hopefully I didn't miss too many - in the end, I had a wonderful time just seeing all of them.

One of the few pictures where you can see anything. The ChaChaCha was quite dark....

Thursday was the day were I visited Doug Dooley and Anthony Wong and that way: Pixar. I've been there once for the geeky fact of just shooting a foto of me in front of Pixar but now I was able to turn into the drive way and get into the building as registered guest.

I got into the hallway where people are being picked up by employes. The entrance hall is huge and full of cool stuff. There are a lot of toys around, 4 giant statues of the Incredibles and a brand new car for Daytona racing (for those who don't know yet, Pixar is releasing Cars this year in cinemas). The place is - like ILM - packed with drawings from the movies Pixar has created (remember, together with Cars that are 'only' 6 so far) and walking there you feel like walking through a big version of the making of art books.

Doug and Anthony showed me the cinema they have (wow, that is a bigger one) and the rendering hardware - it is big, loud and has millions of blue and green lamps. I guess it is fast, but that is mostly all I can say about it. Then we turned into the animation "hall" where every single animator has his own little building to live in. And I mean building. They have alleys and walkways and verandas and a huge kitchen, some have a couch and a TV, others a castle made out of bricks, some are pink, some are plain white, some animate while standing... this place was full of creativity.

Doug showed me some cool figures they found on eBay from a carousel. They hadn't been plugged in yet but they are supposed to still work... amazing. The whole place had so much life going on you really have to know where to go to first before starting. Well, I was lucky and got to meet Carlos Baena too and we talked a littlebit about AM and Europe, too. All in all it was great meeting him and he certainly has the same energy that he shows in the videos every week. His office too was awesome. All Pixar animators have a huge 40"(inch) display that is just huge big (well, I guess some 'just' got 23" ones but I'm not sure).

Doug's office was especially cool since it had two levels (one on top of the other) where the second one had a couch and a tv. He was even able to build a staircase into that 3x3m big office... way cool. Anthony has a more convenient office together with Nancy K! Also, a very impressive mentor mostly working as campus mentor there! It was super cool meeting her.

As at ILM I just couldn't resist to buy some way cool stuff (two shirts, the Moma-book and some toys at Pixar, two shirts and a mug at ILM)... and the best thing is: no one cares if you act geeky - everyone is. I mean, even Pixar employees buy their own stuff. Totally amazing.

Then Doug, Anthony and me had an AWESOME discussion about AM and this term. We talked about story and personality and I got to know Doug better which was super cool. I also had a glimpse into how keen Pixar is about story and how well things have to be thought off before animating on them. They teached me a mini-10-min lecture there. Whoot!

I could film some of the entrance hall and you can see that in my video later this week.

Well, that's it for now. The whole trip was more than exciting, mind-blowing, awesome, enormous, captivating... whatever you can say. I'm super thankful to have been able to meet all those people. They were kind enough to show me far more than I had thought of. And San Francisco is a wonderful place to live in, too. So, I will be working hard on getting there some day when I can't stand Munich anymore. For now, I better start animating seriously good stuff to be able to show it around.

Feel free to shoot me some questions. Though I tried not to harm any legal issues I hope I still could tell some interesting stories.

- Alex

AM02 - week 05 - Assignment

Hi everyone,

today I hope to find the time to write some interesting blog entries about my traveling as well as the last weeks assignment. For now, let me start with the assignment first. Well, we could choose between four different assignments each of varying difficulty. I tried the assignment where Stewie (with no arms) is supposed to jump from post to post. This sounded like a fun assignment though I and Doug (my mentor) didn't like the character with no arms attached.

Therefore I tried to make him look like his hands are put in his pockets and Stewie is just totally cool while jumping over this deadly canyon. Quite surprisingly my sister came for a visit which took some time (it was great, though) but I was able to finish the first rough blocking right on time. So, I will definitely work more on the contrast in timing and might as well add some more inbetweens before going into refinement but the overall motion and idea is already put into Maya.

So, check this video file (click on the picture above) - it is just 1MB big - which also means that I had to switch to a new codec called H264. For those of you who never heard of that: it is the new codec that will also be used for HD-video files. It is a very powerful codec able to minimize filesize drastically but you will need the free Apple Quicktime 7.0 player (Quicktime with iTunes - Quicktime Standalone Installer). I totally recommend those programs and even more to go PRO - which means to pay 30$ for a full unlocked version. It has some nice features like creating H264 video streams etc. From now on, Quicktime 7.0 is a must for AM-students which I find a good decision. That way all files stay small and people won't have to wait forever to see the assignment of someone.

Anyway, I hope you like the new assignment. These coming weeks are all about personality in the character and won't focus on story. I will try to put as much personality in the jump as possible. Have fun,

- Alex

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Back from SF - AM week 04

Hi all,

I am back from San Francisco and jet lagged. It is 1am and I am still awake even though I worked all day and stood up at 6:30am... well, anyway, it was AWESOME! And I mean that kind of Shawn Kelly AWESOME! This huge AWESOME! Well, awesome...

I will try to edit a little video about this travel to SF later but for now I just submitted some late planning for last week. Check it out and I will try to get some sleep!

- Alex

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

San Francisco is absolutely awesome

Hi all,

I've been here before and I tend to think that I know the streets here better than in Munich - weird isn't it? At my first visit I was driving around a lot and found several nice places to stay at. This time I stay in Mountain View which is a really nice place 1h away from SF - depending on traffic.

Staying at Dave Shreiner's house (the chair of the courses committee) I have the opportunity to find out how it is living in the States. I can tell you - I really like it. Even though I catched a cold/flu and I have to take some medicine to stay at it I really like the way they are living here. And if 10°C is the worst that SF gets during winter time then bring it on.

Anway, I will drink some more of this bad tasting Vitamin C tea and then work some more.


- Alex