Show 023 – James Baxter, Part One

James Baxter

“I think the thing that came to me quickest was probably the understanding of how things move… It took me a lot longer to try and conquer things like good communication and character and drawing and expressions and acting and the really important stuff.”

James Baxter is one of the most talented animators working today. As a supervising animator at Disney and Dreamworks some of the characters he brought to life include Belle, Rafiki, Quasimodo, Moses, and Spirit. On the CG side, he also served as a supervising animator on Shrek 2 and Madagascar. James’ latest work was creating all the animation sequences for Enchanted at his studio, James Baxter Animation. This is the first part of this interview.

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Continue for Show Notes, audio file download links, and comments…

Get the MP3 here: Show 23: James Baxter, Part One
Animation Podcast Show 23 MP3(18.4MB, 39:48 minutes)

Or get the enhanced version playable only with Quicktime, iTunes, or iPods.
(Includes pictures and links in addition to the audio.)
Get the enhanced podcast here: Show 23: James Baxter, Part One
Animation Podcast Show 23 Enhanced(16.7MB, 39:48 minutes)

SHOWNOTES

  • 00:00 The Intro Voice
  • 00:05 Sponsor
  • AnimationMentor.com

  • 00:21 Theme Song by DJ Sweettooth (Joe Moshier)
  • 01:06 Intro – James Baxter Animation
  • 01:47 Education and early animation
  • 08:34 Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  • 12:19 Spacing and the technical aspects of animation
  • 14:49 Framing through animation and live-action
  • 16:40 Animating on Roger Rabbit
  • 21:41 Struggling early on – The Little Mermaid
  • 24:46 Rescuers Down Under
  • 27:32 Finding a workflow
  • 29:27 Analysing Milt Kahl
  • 36:19 Working hard and learning
  • 38:38 Conclusion
  • 38:47 Feedback info – Link to Voicemail
  • 39:22 Sponsor
  • AnimationMentor.com

  • 39:35 Closing

Related posts:

  1. Show 024 – James Baxter, Part Two
  2. Show 025 – James Baxter, Part Three
  3. Show 006 – Nik Ranieri, Part Three
  4. Show 021 – Dale Baer, Part One
  5. Show 026 – Ken Duncan, Part One

35 Responses to “Show 023 – James Baxter, Part One”

  1. ross says:

    Hi Clay, Awesome interview, thanks so much i’ve been waiting for you to interview James Baxter for a while, good to know he struggles with animation too! great start to a monday morning :o )

  2. Amanda says:

    AWESOMESAUCE!!!!! THANK YOU FOR THIS INTERVIEW CLAY!!

  3. K.Borcz says:

    WOOT!!! A new and AWESOMELY Exiciting ANIMATION PODCAST!!!!

    I <3 James Baxter

    Can’t wait to hear it
    Thank you Clay

  4. Marin Petrov says:

    Thank you again! Great interview as always! Keep it up!

  5. Ron says:

    That was a great interview – looking forward to hearing part two.
    Thanks!

  6. Wow! Thanks Clay! Informative and fascinating interview as always. Sigh…I should have gotten into animation. =)

  7. Alan Cook says:

    Thank you so much for this!

    Great interview!

  8. Oh man. This should help keep me inspired at work.
    Many thanks (as usual), Clay!

  9. Alonso says:

    Great Show thanks a lot! I love these podcasts, I wish you had more time to do more, they are much appreciated!

    I’ve heard it said before that contemporary animator’s should learn to work without testing/playblasting all the time. But I have never heard how. How do you know if your timing is working, or if your poses are too big because your timing is to fast, if you don’t playblast?

    -Alonso

  10. Kevin Koch says:

    Excellent work, Clay. You’ve inspired me to do a post on my blog on arcs and spacing, featuring as much as I can from what I learned from assisting James. As he said, good spacing doesn’t make for good animation, but I’d add that bad spacing can sure kill it.

  11. Magnus Yu says:

    Awesome podcast wooot!!! Heard so much about James Baxter, truly inspiring work he has done and keeps on doing. Thanks so much for doing this!

    How do keep on trying stuff without testing them? What things should you concentrate more?

    Magnus

  12. As I’ve always heard, James seems very humble and honest about his skills, and makes no secrets about his struggles. It was pretty cool to he1ar his side of that infamous roger rabbit scene from Nik’s podcast!

  13. Chelsea says:

    Hi Clay,

    Thanks so much for the interview with James, I still feel so lucky to have worked with him at his studios. He is one of the talented few.

  14. PEter says:

    A great addition to a great podcast, thanks for continuing to make time. In particular I liked seeing your questions pushing him to get more specific about the technical aspects of his approach to animation in general as well as his early days learning and studying.

  15. ed says:

    WOW! Haven’t listened yet but AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nice one Clay!

  16. shawn says:

    Thank you for doing these podcasts Clay! They are so inspiring! James you rock! BTW: I like the little animation of your caricature on your site. Really cool!!

  17. Sean MacNeil says:

    Hi Clay and James! Awesome podcast as usual Clay! These podcasts are very inspiring when you’re animating away in the trenches all day long, they provide a refreshing boost/nudge to help you keep pushing yourself when you get tired. It’s great! Many many thanks!!

    James, your animation is quality at it’s strongest! Thanks for putting your animation up on your site for us to study. It really helps and I want to say thanks for sharing like this.

    Thanks again guys, i can’t wait to listen to the next part,
    Sean

  18. Andy Seredy says:

    Clay,
    Thanks again for an awesome pod cast. I’m probably sounding like a broken record, as I’ve said this about 23 times now, but…

    APC = Gas on the fire!

    Thanks for keeping us motivated!

    cheers,
    andy

  19. Clay,

    Thanks a lot for sharing this great podcast! James is really one of the best and I’m his big fan. This podcast is really very inspiring.. Thanks again! :)

    -A

  20. Benjamin De Schrijver says:

    Once again a fantastic podcast, Clay! This definitly is one of my favorite ones so far. I really appreciated how deep you went in discussing technical aspects… it’s really valuable information that is very hard to find. It definitly has inspired me to re-evaluate my workflow.

    Hope all is well!

    - Benjamin

    PS: Seems like your introductions are loosening up too! I guess you’re getting used to it? ;)

  21. Doron Meir says:

    Thanks man, the interview is excellent! Can’t wait to hear part 2. Makes me want to animate something…just anything :)

  22. Jim says:

    This podcast makes me sad. :(

  23. Clay says:

    Not much time, but had to reply: Ha. Why am I not surprised, Jim?

  24. Dave says:

    This podcast makes me want to animate again! 2D Or CG! its very inspiring! congratulations on going this far too. Theres a lot of work getting to #23.

    you’re awesome!

  25. Rudy Agresta says:

    The best yet Clay – can’t wait for part 2!!

  26. Andy Seredy says:

    Clay,
    Hey man. What exactly is James talking about when he says “spacing”?

    Is it the distance something moves realative to the starting pose/position?

    cheers,
    andy

  27. Hi Clay,
    I’ve been listening to the Animation Podcast archives while I’m working. I have to say it really gets me feeling fired up. I had wanted to be in the film industry growing up doing creature shop work or maybe animation. For a long time it looked like I would be in animation, but currently I’ve been doing creature modeling for video games instead. I’m really tempted more than ever to try and get into animation again. I think that possibility is still a ways off. I was wondering if you have any interest in interviewing a 3D character modeler? I’m interested in learning more about the relationship between 3D animators and 3D modelers in film. What do animators appreciate in a modeler? What are ways in which a modeler can make an animator’s life easier on the job? Etc.

    Another question I have is that it seems like animators may be unaware of or even ignoring the games industry. Is this true? There is so much work in video games for animators, but they seem hard to come by.

  28. Clay says:

    Ross, Amanda, K.Borcz, Martin, Ron – Thanks!

    Patrick – Don’t sigh too hard, you’re doing work that many people only dream of.

    Alan, Ben – Thanks to you too!

  29. Clay says:

    Alonso – I wish I had more time too. Oh well, we all do what we can, right?

    As far as working without shooting, I’d say the key is to learn from what you’ve done by paying attention. This sounds really simple, but it is much harder than it seems because the playblast is right there, waiting for us to shoot. You will only learn timing if you force yourself. I would expect a good animator to know exactly how many frames a hand gesture should take, or how long a look needs to be on screen for it to read, or how fast a character drops to the floor when they trip.

    In The Illusion of Life, there’s a breakdown of speeds for doing a head turn. I can’t remember the exact examples but it goes from something like a 20 frame burning stare to a 1 frame hit with a frying pan. The speed determines the feel.

    One thing about shooting your work is that it takes time. Add up all the time you may spend shooting just one shot. It’s probably tons of time – more if it’s drawings on paper. If you could skip all that time by knowing what to expect, think of how much faster you would be.

    Here’s a way to look at timing your animation: There are holds and there are transitions. Ask yourself how long a hold (call it a pose if you like) should be on screen. In the old days, a stopwatch was used and I don’t know why that’s not still common. At the same time, try to pre-determine how fast a transition should take. Like I said before, this comes from experience and paying attention. If all you ever do is move timing around until it feels right, without making a mental note, you will keep repeating the same search, shot after shot. This was kind of a ramble, but I’m sure I have solid ideas in there so maybe it can help.

  30. Clay says:

    Kevin – Thanks for commenting. I wouldn’t have known of your blog otherwise. Good reading!

    Magnus – Woot back at ya! To learn, you do have to keep testing. Otherwise, you’ll never get closer to knowing what your poses and timing will produce. The key is to not always rely on it. See my reply above to Alonso.

    Bobby – Yes, it was cool. My master plan is slowly coming together.

    Chelsea – You’re welcome. I feel lucky too. James was a great resource for me when I was doing my first animation tests at Disney.

    Peter – I’m glad you noticed my pushing. The next part of the interview is crazy-deep! I can’t wait to get it out.

    Ed, Shawn, Sean, Andy, Amrit – Cheers! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Benjamin – Good to hear from you. Like I said before, the next part is going to go deeper in to the gory details of animating. Actually, I should probably do all my intros when I’m too tired to think about being in front of a microphone.

    Doron – I hope you’ve animated something by now!

    Jim – Ha.

    Dave – Your excitement encourages me! Thanks for commenting.

    Rudy – That’s quite a compliment! It’s really appreciated!

    Andy – Spacing is the visual distance of an object from one frame to another. In CG it’s fairly simple to see since everything (generally) is on ones. It’s a little more complicated in hand-drawn animation when things may be every frame or every two frames, but the concept is the same. Bad spacing happens when something that should move consistently across the screen moves with uneven patterns. This is only good when you want something to feel erratic. It does all come down to slow-ins and slow-outs. I find that I have a quirky way of explaining stuff that sometime offers that alternative perspective that makes the concept click so I’ll try to do some posts that illustrate some of these things in more detail.

  31. Clay says:

    Katy – I do have plans to interview 3D modelers. As I have more experience working with modelers, I’ve been building a catalog of topics I’d like to discuss. I can tell you now that your site shows exactly the types of skills I appreciate in a modeler. Your drawings are great, you explore color and design, you seem like you’re continually creating. In short, you don’t just model. One of the hardest things for inexperienced modelers to interpret is the character of shapes. Sometimes, the style of a drawing is just lost in translation from design to model. Something I would always expect is that every person in the process who touches a character (or prop, or whatever) does something to make it better – or what we like to call “plussing” it. Whenever something is lost from one step to the next, there’s a problem. When I see your work, I’m fairly confident that you bring a lot to the table.

    As to a lack of games animators, I think a lot of animators have their sights set on features. What I tell people is to get a job where you can, learn as much as you can, and don’t ever stop growing. That may lead someone to be the best game animator out there. It may also lead someone to move from games to features. The problem I see is that some people may ignore video games as a viable place to learn. Because of that, they don’t get in to games and never get enough experience to get good enough for features. In the end, their career never goes anywhere. Video games are definitely not the only way in to features, and I’d say that I actually don’t know many animators that worked in games before, but they are a place to animate. I think games are great – and not just as a stepping stone. Like I tell people all the time, working in any of these formats (web, video games, television, or feature animation) is a hell of a lot better than bagging groceries for a living.

  32. Andy Seredy says:

    Clay,
    Thanks for the reply. I found Kevin’s post on the subject which helped ton also.
    Cheers man, for all the info you’ve provided through the years.
    **Tips a beer at Clay.

    Cheers,
    andy

  33. I’m very glad there will be some focus on modeling. Your response was really well put and detailed.

    Thanks so much Clay!
    (Also thanks for the encouragement!)

  34. Brad says:

    A very nice podcast clay =) Very inspiring, thank you and keep up the good work!

  35. Yuni says:

    Hi Clay,
    It’s great to hear your interview. I’ll liiking forward your interview! Take care :)