Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Life at Sony

Wow, so much has happened since I last posted. I was on hiatus from the blog and got caught up with work. In September, I accepted an offer to work at Sony Pictures Imageworks---and what an adventure and dream it has been so far!

Recently, I was featured on Animation Mentor's official blog and asked to write an article on my experience. So I thought I might post it here for anyone interested!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"What you know, not what you see"

I'm certainly no draftsman. I can't stand drawing in perspective. And I don't draw as often as I used to. But I have immense appreciation for those who do, and do it well. At film school I was lucky enough to have my first experience with analytical drawing/life drawing. At the time, I didn't fully grasp the impact it would have later on--but I had fun with it. Valery, our teacher, was an incredible character, and one of the most influencial teachers I've had to date. He always told us: "Making a nice drawing isn't hard, making a correct one is." Boy is that true! To him, correct meant anything BUT what we see in front of us. When we were starting out he explained: "Don't draw the model. Don't draw what you see---look at her and draw what you know!" It took me almost two years to really understand that. It's one of the single most important things I've learned and I apply it everywhere.

Ultimately, that's what animators, and most great artists, do. We spend everyday studying. Trying to understand what's around us. And it's not necessarily on purpose either. I tend to rely a lot on memories and draw upon that knowledge bank I've built up  from, well, living! I think my love of animation spurs from that. It makes life so much more fun! It's a way of life in which every day has something to give back to you. Learning keeps us sharp; keeps us young. Getting to a point where you can "know" what you see, or rather understand what's going on is the hardest step I think. And you'll never, ever, learn it all (sometimes that's a bit of an addiction)!

Once you can comprehend what someone is doing, then you can express your INTERPRETATION of that. THAT's what makes our work unique. That's my number one rule for finding appeal. It's about "action analysis" and accentuating it to make it interesting, to show what you feel is important, to give it life; to give the audience a reason to want to look at your work. If you just copy what you see, what's the point? Take a picture---I'm sure you have an iPhone!

When I tackle a shot, I tend to take video reference. While I may stay very close to that reference (in terms of acting and other details), it's a mere template.  I look at a pose, and I figure out what is happening with the body in that moment. "Okay. Where's the weight? What are my hips doing? Why? What's happening with my shoulders? etc."  From there, my next question is:  "What's important, and how do I show it? How do I make this interesting?"  Most importantly, what's interesting to me and what do I want to show to the audience? How do I make it come accross to them?

I can take what I understand and push those elements, draw the viewer's eyes to where I want them to be. It's very complex, and no one does it the same. But that's what makes it great! That's why we recognize the works of great artists like Picasso, or animators like Milt Khal and Glen Keane. Everyone has their own interpretation of life and that's a wonderful feeling---because there's no right and wrong.

It applies to "realistic" animation too. The guys animating big monsters and dinosaurs have a lot of fun with it. They don't just copy what other animals do. They draw inspiration from that, and come very close to the real thing. But it feels dead if you don't "push" and accentuate certain things.

To me, the art and how you translate your ideas is the most important category in the heirarchy of a shot. And you can have so much fun with it! Technicalities come after. It's simple to make a character jump. But it's a lot harder to say, well, yes, he jumps. But how? and why? What are my choices? When a person jumps, where can I accentuate the forces?  How can I really show people this person is heavy? And so forth...

Find the elegance in "real life" and expose that in your work---give it "oomf!"

Being an animator is loads of work. But I've been incredibly happy since I began to practice the art. I strongly believe it is one of the hardest things to do---but incredibly rewarding. We are forced to study and understand so many other things: physics, dance, choreography, rhythm, film, acting, psychology, and a whole lot more!  I can spend hours waiting at an airport and time goes by quickly. It's almost therapeutic. I'll watch people walk or do things and attempt to understand why they do certain things. A woman yells at her kid. How is that kid reacting? Why is that?

That's what's cool about being an animator. You can find joy in the smallest things in life. It's very hard to make others understand why we get so excited about these things that seem redundant to the average person. That's probably why many animators tend to be introverts, or misunderstood. We've grown a certain affinty and appreciation for things that pass most people by. Since my move to Vancouver, I've been lucky enough to hang out with some amazing people and animators. While we actually rarely ever talk about animation specifically, we tend to always be on the same page about things. We have a seemingly deeper appreciation for things and that makes for great conversation. I can spend a day with Maxwell, Dave, and Tania and learn so much about life. It's as if everything is interesting to us, and that's awesome! And a large part of the population will never be lucky enough to stop and experience life the way we do. It's our job to show them and to emphasize those little things! That's probably why animated films are doing so well and are on the rise. It's a different take on everyday life, and "what we see".  It's about understanding all the little things and making it come together in an interesting way.

So that's my two cents! My take was probably a bit philosophical. And I talked about this mostly for posing, but it applies to timing for sure, among other things!  Mike Amos, a good friend and amazing animator wrote a post about "pushing" things on his blog, which is slightly more technical. And probably way better!  pop by and check it out :)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

First demo reel! Featured in OnAnimation (hi res)

Yesterday night I finally posted up my rendered student reel, after a year and a half at Animation Mentor! Alex was incredibly patient and created some fantastic light setups for he shots, I can't thank him enough. He's a phenomenal lighter, and just as good at animating! (you can view his stuff here

I'm so grateful for everything I've learned from my peers and mentors. The community is amazing. To this day, everyone still helps out and checks in on how I'm doing. Mark was a fantastic mentor, and he's supported me like crazy since I finished! He's now at the head of the CG Spectrum program, which looks amazing!

This morning I was featured in On Animation, the leading animation blog. What an honour! I'm truly humbled and super excited! Thanks Dan :)

This is my first ever animation reel, and serious dive into 3D Animation. Everyday, you learn something new---and I can't wait to start working on some new shots, and see what the future holds!

Saturday, March 31, 2012


Finished rendering the first acting shot on the reel!
Huge thanks to Alex and Samir, and Genevieve for her fantastic colouscript!

We started with this idea of what we wanted for the look:
And achieved something pretty darn cool! It'll be great to work on a short film with such a talented bunch :)

To me, appeal is one of the most important principles. Your audience should be attracted to the shot just by glimpsing at a moment within the shot. If I can make someone smile or have an emotional reaction, especially when the video is paused, then I've done my job!  This is something I learned early on when I was learning gesture drawing, and it's stuck by me ever since. If you aren't searching for ways to push things and really look for what feels nice, then what's the point?!  I remember looking at my drawing instructor's drawings and being fascinated by how great they looked, even when it took him 10 seconds to make one. I thought to myself, if you apply those principles to every frame, imagine the possibilities!
Part of appeal, to me, when animating, is readability. It's a comforting feeling to understand and be able to relate to the character, as an audience member. Ed Hooks taught me that. Feeling empathy is in itself an appealing thing! That's why we go to the movies. To escape through the characters on screen, and if we can't relate to any of them, we won't be hooked. This is why a lot of early student work sometimes feels off, or uncomfortable. The poses aren't pushed, and the emotions are lacking. Sometimes, you have no idea what the character is THINKING, regardless of the audio clip. (I like to animate the later passes with the audio turned off). A good practice is to find a frame in your shot, pause it, and ask yourself--or a friend-- "Hey, what do you think she/he is telling herself right now?"   The marriage of strong posing and facial expressions should provide the base for that answer!   (This is a start, because other principles that involve motion are also really important to sell appeal and emotions, like Timing!).

The eyes are VERY important. You should be able to hide the mouth and understand the character. Sean gave us wonderful lectures on eye animation at AM. Finding the appeal is a mix of how much "white" you show, and where the iris and pupils are with respect to the lids. There's a lot involved, and it takes practice. I recently discovered a great graphic novel, Lackadaisy. The artist was kind enough to post a lot of pages on her website, including some awesome reference drawings!  Look at how appealing the poses and eyes are!   It's this kind of stuff that I aim for, and hope to eventually achieve.

For this shot, I was very happy with the playblast (low quality set, no lights or colours) and raw animation. That had enough appeal. But when Genevieve showed me her take on what the colours could be (see the drawing), I HAD to see this shot lit! I strongly believe that the lighting, play in depth, and other cinematic tools can seriously help add appeal. Composition is just as important. When we see a movie poster, or a picture we like, why is that? Humans are drawn to certain symmetries, and asymmetries; and there are ratios we like, and some we don't. The trick is to apply these things to your work. This was the experiment, and I'm super happy with it!

(All animation done by myself, rig courtesy of AnimationMentor, modelling by Samir Mesbah, and lighting by Alex Ronco)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Finish Line

There are five weeks left. FIVE. I really never expected it to go by so fast. I've been absent from writing this blog for a very, very long time. Now that class is almost over, I'm going to start again. It was always a great learning tool--writing my thoughts about new material and animation. I shouldn't have stopped!  Adam, I'm sure you'll be psyched about this one. Thanks for busting my chops. Call it nostalgia, because the end is near, but, dammit, I feel like writing! I want to make it clear how much all of it has meant to me, and the impact it's had.

Firstly, I've got to give a shout out to Bobby, Shawn, and Carlos. You guys have really made it possible for us to follow our dreams. The school has given me a whole new outlook on the industry, as well as my self. What an experience it's been. Bobby, you've always been super approachable during my stay at Animation Mentor. And you remember the individuals. That's a big deal. Your encouragement has meant a lot to me, man! I hope being a father has been nothing but a blessing so far!

I have to thank the alumni that have given their time so generously, and made me feel so comfortable with seeking out help. I look up to you guys, and your humility is inspirational. Jude, you are a total sweetheart. I can't stress that enough! Thanks for all the help, the partying, and tips :).  Michelle, you rock! You were so cool about helping me out early on. I hope you're having the time of your life at Pixar. Nelson, I'm glad I met you man, it's always a blast talking with you! James and Kelly, you guys know how to have fun. Thanks for bearing with all those questions James! And I've learned a lot from you, Kelly. Fred, you're awesome man. Have a blast in Germany. You've seriously been like a pseudo mentor for me during the last few months. Here's to the beers to come! Dhar, it's always a pleasure to bump into you and touch base! Mike and Tony, you guys are nothing short of inspirational. Always willing to give a helping hand, I learned my fair share from you guys. Jarrod, your work is crazy---and your encouragement has really meant a lot to me man. Fes, you totally rock. Can't wait to see you again. Alexiss, you're a wild one! You totally knew how to make us feel like we belonged. Glad to see you animating again! Liz, we haven't chilled enough! But I'm sure we will. Congrats on Digital Domain. You deserve it. You really are an awesome creature animator! Mike (Schanbacher), you've been the best peer buddy a student can hope for! Matt, you're such a cool dude! It really meant a lot to me at the BBQ when you talked to me about my work, and took me around to introduce me to people. You really made me feel comfortable around people that I may have otherwise been intimidated by! You really included me, and I thank you for that.

The community at Animation Mentor is nothing short of incredible. I don't care what people say about online programs, this is WAY beyond that. I've had a seemingly unlimited pool of resources and help, and I've built the kind of friendships you'd think is only possible in person. In the spirit of things, this is an open letter to my classmates, and my friends. The day I work with one of you guys will be a dream come true.

Rusty. We're here. I am so thankful that I started the program at the same time as you, and that we decided to go to CTN, 7 weeks into our journey. I've found a brother, truly. Going to all those events with you was, and always will be, a total blast. I feel like I've known you since I was five.  Here's to everything that awaits us in the "AM afterlife".

Zach, Matthias, and Reed. You guys blow me away. The attention to detail you have, Matt, is nuts! You're a total polishing boss. Zach, your ideas have always been so great. And the stories on vent are always hilarious. Reed, you, sir, are amazing. You're going places. Thanks for all the support and notes you've given me when I needed it!

And Alex, I don't know how you do it, man. You've got kids!! And yet you find the time to amaze everyone. Don't worry about that visa, they'll get you one. Your work is inspirational. From the very first weeks I was always looking at your stuff, and learning. Manu, your energy and enthousiasm keeps all of us going. And your work speaks for itself, and reflects that attitude. Belen, it has been an absolute delight to see you grow as an animator. As of class 3, you really started to blow me away, and I look at the things you come up with nowadays and it's just crazy inspirational. You have such a great sense of appeal!  Jamie and Ellen, I always look foreword to seeing you guys. You've got to be some of the most entertaining peeps around. I'm really thankful for you guys! Dana, you are crazy. In the BEST of ways. Thanks for all the hard work and dedication you've shown us. Jane, your hard work is really paying off! Svein, man, your work has gotten to such a crazy level of polish! I can't wait to chill with you again!  Scott, thanks for the support and honest feedback. And Bob, thanks for being, well, Bob! You've been one of the most entertaining people at AM, keep up the awesome work :).

Ross, thanks for everything. You have been a big brother to me. I mean it. You are always there to support me, and I never tire of those texts and calls. I look up to you, I really do. I always look forward to going out with you and Rusty! If Ross is my big brother, I'd have to say you're easily the big sis', Alexa. I can't wait to see you guys down in Germany. Frankie, you're really something, you know that? I'm so happy you got that job at DD. The life of the party, but an incredibly hard working animator when playtime is over. You never fail to help, and those random texts are always entertaining. Agnes, you really take the time to help everyone. And your work is absolutely beautiful. (And your pencil tests are craaazzzy!). Thierry, I loved getting feedback from you! Thanos, I really hope to chill with you in Greece. Jen-Pin, thanks for all the notes you gave me. Can you believe it's almost over?!  Boat  (Thawatchai, for those who don't know), my gosh you're inspiring. You have an amazing style, and I have learned SO much from you. Aris, you're a master of cartoony animation!

Daniel, It was great to see you in VanCity. Keep going. I'm so glad you're back in action, cus damn you're good! Your animations are really entertaining. Thanks for all the random posts :P   Dono, we need to hang out more--you're friggin' awesome! Good times ahead, i'm sure.

Botir and Stefanie, you guys were always giving me hell--in the best of ways. Stef, I could always count on you to kick my butt and make me feel like crap about my shots! Thanks for keeping me in line. That's something I needed. I am always so thankful for your brutal honesty; which is matched only by how incredibly sweet you are as a person. You have always been there to to lean on when things got hard, or when I wasn't sure---and that's everything. Botir: we always joke around and tease each other, but I think tonight I'm gonna take some time and get serious with you. You may not know this yet, but you're an incredible animator. You've improved beyond belief, and when you give us notes---you sound like a supervisor! You have this way of seeing movement and understanding it in such depth, it's crazy. You may be the young one in our group, but you've proven to be wise beyond your years. Don't doubt yourself, Botir. I'm sure there are many people ten years older than you that would look up to your work.

Marshall, you're a star. Since you started the program, I've been following your stuff. I may not have always commented, but I always watched your new stuff! I'm so happy you'll be graduating with us. Adam, your work has been stellar since the beginning. AM was totally the right choice, and I'm glad I convinced you!
Here's a shoutout to my Montreal gang. Sebastien, I can always count on you to bounce ideas. It's such a pleasure working with you! Julie, you are a superb animator! I'm completely mesmerized by the quality you put out. Max and Sam, I can't stress enough how awesome it is to meet up and relax and brainstorm. Christine, You still have a long time left in the program, hang in there! Your work is great!!

I don't want to give one person more credit than another, but there is one that I absolutely cannot thank enough.  Cheryl, I don't know where I would stand in this program without your support. If it wasn't for your constant encouragement, we would not have had the courage to do the things we've done, and speak to the people we've spoken to. You have been, and always will be, my West Coast Mom. You gave us the confidence to "go for it" and believe in ourselves in a way that I think no one else could have. I think I can speak on behalf of almost everyone when I say that every student that has dealt with you has fallen in love with your charisma, sincerity, and joie-de-vivre (love of life! For the anglophones) within minutes. I mean that. You've never failed to support me, and that has meant the world to me.

I can only hope to give back to a school that, in a mere year and a half, has given me so much. Confidence, unparalleled knowledge, support, and, above all else, friendship.  I've had the time of my life. Thanks guys.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On my way to San Fran

I'm currently waiting at the airport, anxiously waiting to end up in San Francisco later tonight. This morning, Rusty texted me that his flight was cancelled, and that he was transferred to a different flight. That meant one thing: we weren't gonna be on the same connecting flight---which we had planned!  Not too long after, I got a similar call from my airline. Turns out I'm transferred to CHI instead of Phili, and I'll only arrive in San Fran at 11pm.

And here I was, planning to have SOME time to work on the polishing phase for my assignment in the hotel room tonight! Well, looks like I'm gonna pull an all-nighter again!

Tomorrow Rusty, Ellen, Belen, Jamie, Fes, Dana, and I are volunteering at AM HQ to help out for the Grad's industry night! (well Dana works at AM, so she's not really volunteering :P). Can't wait to see everyone again!

When I get to the hotel, I'll post a more thorough update, as well as my take on these first few weeks of class 2!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reflection on Class 1

It's 5 AM, and I can't sleep (A pattern of late...). Class 2 (Psychology of Body Mechanics) began last week, and as of now I've got no reason to continue this hiatus from my blog! Since I can't sleep, I figure this is the perfect time for a fresh start.

I'd like to begin with a reflection on my experiences at Animation Mentor thus far, because I know that, years from now, I'll want to look back on this!

After three months, I feel extremely confident. I've gotta admit how nervous I was starting AM--worried I wasn't ready, or that my work wouldn't keep up to standards. A lot of students come into AM with a lot of prior experience, and that can be intimidating for someone who has virtually none, like myself! Today, I know I'm ready to move on. The lectures were spot on, and Royce was a great mentor. I learned about the foundations and how important they are. I'm now ALWAYS thinking about the basics! You can't build anything without raw materials.

Three months go by quickly, but it's felt like ages! In three months, I've improved tenfold, and I've grown an even deeper appreciation for Animation.

I have met incredible, inspirational people; both online and in person! All this possible because of AnimationMentor. Early on in the program, a bunch of us class 1 students formed a tight clique, and since then, most of us have kept in touch everyday. There is no competition. Each and every one of us thrives to make the other stronger. We push each other's limits and, in the process, improve as a group. We brainstorm, we discuss, and we learn! I'm incredibly thankful for you guys!

In Los Angeles, I met Rusty, Jamie, Ellen, Belen, and Dana in person. We met with Alumni that made us feel so welcome--and made me realize that I actually can achieve my dream! Its intimidating when you first talk to these people, because they now work at the biggest studios in the world: Pixar, Dreamworks, Bluesky---you name it! But you come to realize that they're just like you, and they share the same passion. The Alumni keep in touch with us from time-to-time, and its great to see how happy they are working at the big studios. And I can't forget Cheryl, the student Administrator. What an incredible woman. Here is a joyous person, full of life (and stories!), and filled with this undeniable passion for what AM represents, and, of course, works so hard for the students. And Bobby and Carlos are such great people! I'm so thankful and proud to be a part of this family.

To top things off, I've been invited with Rusty (and the girls, but they already live there!) to fly over to the AM Headquarters and volunteer for industry night for this year's graduating class. I'll be in San Fran on the 27th of January !! Can't wait to see everyone again. (thanks Cheryl!)

Thanks for such a great start:  Rusty, Botir, Reed, Matthias, Steff, Svein, Alex, Jamie, Ellen, Dana, Belen, Frankie, Rana, Aris, Jen, Ross and Fes!   And thanks Cheryl, Bobby, Jude, Nelson, and Michelle for being so darn inspirational. You guys all rock!!

And Rusty, the day we work in the same studio, wouldn't that be something?

Here's my un-rendered progress reel.   Thanks for being such a kickass mentor, Royce!