Oct 10 2015

A simpler site

Like the homepage update says, there aren’t any new podcasts coming. So sad. I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I decided, since my site was crippled last week by a cheesy exploit, that I would clean things up and do what I’ve wanted to do for a LONG time – put all the podcast episodes on the home page. So there they are! You can now get to them easily and play them all non-stop. Some things may still be out of order, but this was a quick fix. 🙂

Yesterday I found an old notebook with a letter to myself that I never intended to share with anyone. It was written 13 years ago in 2000. It’s about me finding my process of hand-drawn animation – a collection of things I was finding to be true along my way and some pumped up advice on how to be courageous. I was going to post it here, but felt that it might better serve Willie Downs’ Animator Letters Project and he was gracious enough to post it there. I got a kick out of reading it all these years later and I hope someone else does too. If you have any comments, please leave them on the post on Willie’s site. I’ll be disabling the comments on this post.

Tangled Animators' Audio Commentary

“You knew that every ounce of energy put into it, you were going to get it back in the theaters.” – Zach Parrish

Wreck-it Ralph comes out this week in America and it got me thinking that I should do some sort of lead-in to it. Everyone in this podcast also animated on Wreck-it Ralph, but in a completely different way and it’s fascinating to me to follow that progress. So I dug up this recording I made on April 14, 2011. It’s been a long while, but most of the gang’s all here for your listening pleasure. I wasn’t sure how it would come out so I sat on this one for a long time and NEVER listened to it. Shameful, I know. I played it this weekend and had so much fun listening and laughing, that I knew I had to get it out. After far too long, THE ANIMATION PODCAST LIVES!!!

Show 32 is a departure from the regular format. It’s an experiment. After Tangled (Amazon link) was released, I heard so many people wondering why there wasn’t any audio commentary on the DVD or Blu-ray, so I got all the animators who were available to join me in watching Tangled to talk about the experience of making it. Here it is: the UNOFFICIAL Tangled Animator’s Commentary made by the biggest group of animators you will probably ever hear in one room.

Here’s the plan: queue up your copy of Tangled to frame 1 of the actual film (before the castle logo) and hit pause. When we count down 3-2-1-PLAY, you un-pause and hear us talk through the film. Like I said, it’s was an experiment and we may not always talk about what’s on screen, but it’s a great opportunity for you to hear many of the voices behind the film.

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Continue for audio file download links, and comments. No show notes on this one but plenty of links for all the animators…
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In the comments on my last post, Alonso asks a great question. He wants to know more about entertainment. I don’t have all the answers but here are some thoughts…

It’s that old phrase “give ’em what they want in an unexpected way.” Easy to say, hard to do because if you keep throwing away the obvious choices, you run the risk of just doing weird or quirky for the sake of it and maybe taking the idea way off course.

I wrote down this hypothetical for myself a couple years ago:

“If the director sees your shot and decides they don’t like your idea, what would you do instead?”

I like exploring this possibility when conceiving a shot because if this happens, you have no choice, you have to come up with something that not only satisfies the director but also your interest in animating the shot. You have to believe in the work you’re doing.

“Emotionally authentic” is what I mean by the first section of “believable performance,” so “entertainment” is something else. “Emotionally authentic” and “believable performance” is the standard. Every shot has to have that but when you push beyond believable and do it in an unexpected way, the audience gets jolted out of their boredom. THAT’S entertaining for THEM. The audience is the one who matters.

We see people being normal all day. Even worse, we see people acting normal in movies (and especially animated ones) all too much. It’s the brilliant animators/actors who turn ideas on their ear and make the audience see something that rings true, but new.

Of course, entertainment takes many forms – acting beats, timing choices, poses, etc. I always think of Milt Kahl as someone who never went for the first idea, at least for a great pose. Look at this image from Andreas Deja’s great blog as an example:
Milt Rescuers Thumbnail
Or this Milt image from Mark Kennedy’s blog:
Milt Tigger Thumbnail

There are tons of examples of Milt always searching for the most entertaining and clear pose for an action. And it’s not even always crucial shots but he continually searched for a creative way to solve problems visually. That’s just one of the reasons why people still study his drawings and scenes. As great as he was, he didn’t go with his first thought.

So how to learn to be entertaining? That’s the trick, isn’t it?
It’s part taste – what do you like and what do you respond to?
It’s part personality – do you have your own take on things that other people wouldn’t have?
It’s part observation – watch people, keep a sketchbook and STEAL their behaviors for your scenes. This is why EVERY animator should have a sketchbook to record life.
It’s part discipline – don’t allow yourself to do the easy, obvious choice. Any good animator can do that so make yourself irreplaceable and bring what they aren’t thinking of.

Here’s a great compilation of Cary Grant moments. (It won’t play here, but click it then click through to YouTube.) He endures as one of cinema’s greats because he repeatedly created memorable performances by doing things with his unique spin. He was an ENTERTAINER! You’ll probably want to turn off the music, but maybe you’ll like it. Notice the parts you respond to. When do you smile? (That’s you being entertained, by the way.) I bet it’s when he does things that you don’t expect.

First of all, hi everybody. I’m inching my way back to the site. So much clean up, dusting off and re-learning how to do things around here but that’s for me to worry about, not you. Here’s a baby step in the right direction.

I received an email this week asking for some advice on what would help someone get into the animation trainee program at Disney. My answer applies to any level of animator. Of course, I think this advice would help many people, so here is my brief, but fairly complete, answer.*

Four things that make a reel work, in order of importance:

Believable performance. Not necessarily “realistic” but believable for the style of animation and situation. This is the part that is hardest to teach. Do your characters show that they are thinking, making decisions, judgments, choices on their own. Do the expression, body posture and dialog shapes accurately reflect what is being said (or what isn’t being said)? Over acting, bad acting, unbelievable acting, and acting that does not fit the situation – those are the the biggest turn offs.

Convincing physics. Do you know how to move characters? Do they have weight? Will I believe they exist in a reality that has gravity? Do they feel like they are built of flesh and bone and not just filled with empty space? Are movements motivated by internal forces – both mental and physical?

Entertainment. Do you have original ideas and ways of solving problems that aren’t typical? Show us how you think that’s different from the crowd. Do you pass over the obvious and make choices that are surprising AND appropriate for the situation?

Polish. This is the bonus round. All of the above are most important but if you can do them along with great polish – spacing, arcs, timing, slow-ins/outs, no pops or wonkiness, obvious care in the details – then your work will stand above the rest.

You may look at your body of work and think that you’re missing some of these things. Well, what is stopping you? You have the tools to animate. You can carve out some time. Do it and animate something new that gives us all of these things and your chances of getting the position you want will greatly improve!

*Of course, this is my own opinion and I am not attempting to represent Walt Disney Animation Studios. With that said, I have worked there forever and I’ve seen thousands of reels and hired scores of people.

UPDATE:
Here’s a follow up post.