Who Are The Pioneers?

Well – these guys. They’re a new London startup who hired my brother and I to produce a number of short animated films. These films were to use the characters created by the graphic designer who put together their branding, be super-simple 2D in terms of aesthetics, and be relatively light and funny where possible. They’d be providing the scripts, my brother would do the sound design, and I’d do everything else.

The process was straightforward. After receiving the script, I board the film out and those boards are then signed off on by the client. This is usually happening concurrently with the recording, with two or more scripts being recorded on the same day to keep costs down. At that point it’s a matter of creating all the artwork (put together in Illustrator) and doing all the animation (all done in After Effects).

Creating the different characters based off the original designs was fun and an interesting challenge. I think I ended up producing better stuff building off the initial framework than if I’d had to design them myself from scratch.

I’m currently working on the next film and will be updating with that in a week or so. The “Shot A Week” project I’ve been doing will return once I have a bit more time in my schedule.

A Shot A Week – Week Two

So, first of all, this shot was supposed to be week two. There’s a not-so-interesting story about the Godus beta and a hard drive failure that required a restore and lost me a week of work but that wouldn’t be that useful to explain to you, so I won’t. That being said, here’s the shot for this week, which was “kick a ball”.


– I never got the blocking phase of this uploaded, so this shot was done without feedback from anyone. In my opinion, it shows.

– I was looking at the reference pretty heavily for this shot, and that certainly seemed to be getting the feel of the kick through, including the really strong twist in the button when she follows through the ball, was something I was really happy to find in the reference itself, but I don’t feel like I did it justice.

– I did discover that you can turn off Stella’s bunches. I quite like her with a pixie cut. I’ll look at adding her bunches back in to the shots once I’m getting more into my stride with them.

– This shot in general has kind of disappointed me, as I ended up rushing the splining, and I just feel like it started to get a bit muddy. I felt good about my blocking, and the kick which is essentially frame by frame animated from the launch into it through to the foot landing at the end of the kick. The beginning and the end aren’t working for me.

– I didn’t know what to do with the hands at the end, and kept fiddling and playing with it in the splining process. I also wanted to have that feeling of being up on the toes on the run in (as the reference) but it just doesn’t look right.

As I was watching this back ready to upload it I keep spotting endless things that I want to fix – but I’m out of time to work on this, and even though it’s taken an extra week to get this post up this shot certainly hasn’t had two weeks spent on it, thanks to other commitments. That said, and to paraphrase Beckett; try once, fail once. Try again, fail again, fail better. This shot certainly feels like a fail. With the next one, I’ll fail better.

Quite a short write-up these week, I’ll try and expand upon these a bit further with the next one!

Here’s the reference for those of you that want to check it out. All feedback is always welcomed, and please feel free to click through to the Vimeo site and download the original file if you want to frame by frame it. If you do want to leave feedback, a comment on this post would be utterly fantastic.

All good learning experiences, of course. On to the next shot! Week three is “jump over a gap”.

A Shot A Week – Week One

“Take a big step to the side”


Here we are at the end of week one. It’s been a lot of fun this week getting back into animating and a big thank you to all those people on Twitter and Facebook that gave some critique on the blocking pass I posted earlier this week. I think I’ll look at posting the blocking passes to Vimeo and just asking for feedback there in future just to keep everything in one place.

At the end of each week I’ll post the shot as it was when I hit deadline and then leave some critique as to how I felt things went.

Things that worked

– Stella rig is great; easy controls to work with but still loads of flexibility. First time animating with it and loved it, which bodes well for Stan and the imps.

– Overall am happy with how the shot turned out … ish. It could’ve been worse, I like the idea and the movement more now, but I feel like I could’ve done better.

Things that didn’t work

– Arcs, still clunky in some places. Aiming in future to use the grease pencil tool to track the shape of things (like the edge of a hand, say) rather than using motion trails.

– Need to work on breaking up motion, offsetting stuff more; I try really hard to work clean when blocking, but I think I hang on to that too long when I’m getting into splining, I need to learn to offset things to get better overall movement.

– Context; putting more thought into this at the beginning of the process. The final context for the shot came at quite a late stage (Wednesday), so I did a bunch of thumbnails, shot more reference – for shots in future I need to lock that down by Monday evening at the latest.

– Hair pass didn’t happen as I ran out of time. Ditto a proper polish pass.

– Scheduling the shot through the week, and avoiding that slipping. I ended up splining on Saturday and Sunday, rather than Thursday and Friday as I meant to. That meant no time for feedback on the splines.

As a last note, I think I kinda moved away from the initial direction for the shot – which was “take a big step to the side” – whereas what I ended up animating is more like a sideways jump. Something else to bear in mind when blocking the next shot.

With regards to scheduling things through the week, I’m going to aim for Monday planning, Tuesday block and post for feedback, Wednesday fixes and start splines, Thursday and Friday splining and post for feedback on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday polish (and then final on Sunday night). Any feedback I get after final is posted I can save and come back to once I have a few shots done and want to polish any rough edges for inclusion in a showreel. One problem I had with this week’s shot was recognising that I didn’t have any context for it early on, which meant redoing things halfway through the week. I also didn’t get the shot online for feedback until Wednesday morning. Uploading it on Tuesday evening would mean being able to catch people when they might have a chance to look at it for five minutes before heading off to bed, and of course tapping into all the animators in different timezones while I’m snoozing the night away.

So shot one is finished, lessons to be learned. On to the next shot – “kick a ball”.

A Shot A Week

So this week I’m starting a new thing to up my character animation skills, and develop a new showreel composed of entirely new material. I’m calling it A Shot A Week because things need names (it’s a very Ronseal name though). Also because giving it a name makes it more of a thing.

So here’s how I see this working. Every week I do a new shot. To start with I’ll be working my way through a list of body mechanics shots from my time at Animation Mentor. Each week I’ll be going through the whole process, planning, blocking, splining, polishing, with a view to finishing the shot on Sunday evening. I’ll be uploading in-progress shots to my Vimeo account and probably posting on this blog as well – I’ll certainly be publishing the final versions of the shot on Sunday. If I don’t get the shot finished by Sunday, tough. It gets sidelined and I start the next one. So the posts on Sunday should be a good indicator of how far I’m managing to take each shot.

So not only am I working on developing my animation skills, but also on finishing shots, and how fast I get through those shots as well. Should be fun!

Ten Keys Project

Working from the titles of the different chapters of a guide to creating successful projects; each shot was conceptualised from the title, working to find fun and entertaining ways of opening each short film.

Shots were then storyboarded and the initial concepts signed off on by the client. Assets were then created, animated and composited together. Final renders were then handed off to the editor who added sound fx and completed each shot. Each title sequence begins with the same motif of doors opening before moving into the original animation for each key. A fun little project to do, and one where I got to do some 2D hand-drawn animation; the magic trick of drawing a few lines and then seeing them move never gets old.

Animation Mentor Graduation Speech

… from Andrew Stanton no less. My commencement speech when graduating from Animation Mentor was done by Lee Unkrich, and was fantastic.

Animation Mentor Commencement Speech

There are a couple of things that he mentioned that really struck home – the idea of answering simply “I animate” rather than titling myself as an animator, that the title is something you earn through work not something that you can bestow upon yourself. Also, I just love Stanton’s delivery, he’s a great public speaker, and here’s his TED talk which I also think was fantastic, and well worth taking the time to watch.


Most recently I’ve had some models back for a short film idea that I’ve been kicking around for a while, running through different possibilities for the story, and which I’m now pushing forward; will put up some work in progress material before too long I’m sure. Thanks to Adam Dewhirst for getting the models knocked out in the midst of everything else that was going on.

So a short update, but more will be forthcoming. Working my way through Jason Schliefer’s Animator Friendly Rigging at the moment, as I do have very simple characters to rig and hopefully it won’t be massively complicated to do. I also picked up Ryan Woodward’s ‘Thought of You’ in high-definition and the ‘Conté Animated’ book that accompanied the film, which has just made me want to work on my drawing skills far more. I am a big fan of the style of Ryan’s drawing.

The Wedding Project

This was an animation project I got involved in after a call for animators on Twitter; great fun to work on, even if it did involve rather a lot of long days and late nights, not to mention there are a few things going on in there I wish I could fix. The deadline for getting it all rendered meant I had to rush it all, but it was a great experience working on something different for someone else with less-than-perfect rigs and still trying to give a little bit more to the performance than was expected.

I worked on two shots here, the introduction of the girl’s parents, and the car journey shot.

The Success of Pixar

I found this as part of an interview that Victor Navone did for some blog – a decent interview but one answer caught my eye. I thought it neatly summed up why Pixar is so successful, and why their films have always done so well.

This answer here: The company is run by creative people – John Lasseter and Ed Catmull – and not by business executives. They know how to make movies and how to support artists, and they’re not willing to release mediocre films just for money. We have a very collaborative culture, a spirit of openness and communication between artists and departments. There’s not as much politics and manoeuvring as you will find in a typical Hollywood studio.

A lot of different people have commented on how successful Pixar is, and why. I think Navone nailed it pretty well.