MEL Script Install and Hotkeys for Dummies

•April 3, 2012 • 4 Comments

Before any of my kind readers take offense, allow me to clarify that the dummy referred to above is none other than myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to quickly install a MEL script and then found that I can’t quite remember the correct sequence or where it’s supposed to go. So, if for no other reason than making sure I have a permanent record of how to do this on the internets, here goes:

1. Download your desired MEL script. My most-often used MEL script is probably AutoTangent, which I’ve gotten from a variety of sources, but you can reliably find it at Comet Cartoons.

2. The MEL script belongs in the scripts folder in your preferences for maya. For Mac users (sorry Windows folks, you’re on your own. In many ways.), you’ll put it here:


3. Once you’ve dumped it in the right folder, open Maya and open the Script Editor. Navigate to File > Load Script. Once again you’ll need to navigate to the /scripts folder to retrieve your MEL script. Hit the play button.

4. Another way to do this is to open the MEL script in a program like TextEdit. The command for the script will be located by “global proc”

5. You can then copy and paste this command (here it’s autoTangent()) into the MEL script bar and hit enter to run.

6. To create a hotkey for your new script, go to Windows > Settings & Preferences > HotKey Editor.

7. On the left side of the window, scroll down to Users. Then, on the right side, select “New” and give your hotkey a name. In the Command box, type the short command (autoTangent()).

8. On the right side of the window, you can pick your hotkey and its modifiers. I’ve selected “K” because I know off the top of my head that it’s not by default assigned to anything else. Hit “Assign.”

9. Hit “Save” and you’re ready to go!

To my more tech-savvy readers, thanks for bearing with me! This process has frustrated me every time I reinstall Maya or wipe my hard drive. I ALWAYS forget to back this sort of stuff up.

Ollie Johnson-CHECKLIST

•March 30, 2012 • 3 Comments

Below is a great checklist when approaching a scene. Maybe it will help someone. I like to xerox #16 and have it in front of me as a reminder.
1. Can you visualize your plan of action ?
You can’t draw it if you can’t see it.

2. Do you know what the character is  thinking, how he feels ?
How are you going to show that he is thinking ?
His mood will affect how much you move him and the speed with which you do it.
Texture in timing.

3. If you have dialogue, study it carefully and keep in mind things mentioned above.

4.MOST IMPORTANT – are you looking for ENTERTAINMENT ?

5. Try to think personality on action scenes as well as close-up personality. Every drawing in the scene should show attitudes and

6. Know all about the sequence you are working on. Your scene has to fit into it.

7. Don’t start animating until you are sure the layout is right and your character fits into it.

8. Work for good silhouette with interesting design. A good test is to colour your drawing in solid.

9. Be sure your action is clear and that you are only doing one thing at a time. You can’t put it all in one scene.

10. Don’t forget squash and stretch.

11. Does your character have weight and balance – is it solid ?

12. Do some small thumbnails of your action and staging for a series of scenes.

13. Watch out for static drawings where everything is facing the same way. Look for rhythm-twists, check for parallels.


15. Teamwork


– – – – – Ollie Johnson

Using live action as a reference

•March 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Shawn Kelly:
Using live action as a reference

” I think live-action reference can be incredibly valuable as a tool for analyzing both physical and emotional aspects of a performance. We use it like crazy over at ILM – especially because our characters are going to end up interacting with live-action characters, so we try hard to get them to hold up under those circumstances (sometimes more successfully than others!)

Anyway – as far as how literally you should “copy” your reference…. Well, part of that will depend on the style you are going for. I know guys over at Pixar who are using reference all the time in their work, so it isn’t like you can say “well, I don’t want to use reference because I do cartoony animation.” That’s crap. It’s always worth recording yourself or a friend performing a scene to at least see what would have happened in real life, and taking from that whatever you can.

Even “cartoony” work needs to be grounded in reality (both in physical motion and in a believable acting performance) for an audience to identify with it. I think that’s really important to keep in mind.

Sorry – got a little sidetracked. Okay – so you filmed reference, now how much do you “trace” it. The previous poster is correct that the Disney guys found the rotoscope stuff to be lacking a lot of the vitality, energy, and “life” of their regular work. That’s actually something that many companies have also discovered about straight mocap. Same principle, different medium.

I would recommend filming yourself performing the scene/dialogue TONS of times. Perform it until you no longer have to think about the actual words the character is saying, or the rhythm that the character is saying the line in (if you’re using a pre-recorded line). Record yourself until you reach the point where you don’t have to think about that any more. THEN you can start to get into that character’s head and think about his “internal monologue” and the subtext of what he is saying more than the actual words. You need to become the actor in a scene like that and truly feel the emotions as honestly as you possibly can in the scene.

Once you reach that level, film a few more takes that are honest takes. If your scene is a line of someone pleading for his life, get to the point where you aren’t think about the words he says and are thinking more about the emotions that guy is feeling – the panic and sadness and frustration and fear – and then just see what your body naturally does.

Okay – so then you’ve found a solid performance that is grounded in reality and that people can identify with. For me, the next step is to find my key poses and breakdowns in that performance, and for me, there’s a LOT of them. I rarely would go more than 5 or 6 frames without a key or a breakdown in my blocking (remember, the computer is the world’s dumbest inbetweener – you need to hold its hand). And a lot of times, for my blocking, I’ll just take the literal frame count from the reference. Pick my favorite moments, my key poses and my breakdowns, draw thumbnails of them and mark down the frames they really happened on. (if you’re doing 24fps, don’t forget to convert the frame-numbers from the 30fps reference).

Now you get to do the really fun stuff! Next, I take those thumbnails and start layering the principles of animation on top of them. I’ll push the poses, try to make them more dynamic. Exaggerate this arc, push that line of action, exaggerate a reversal here, dip the head a bit extra there, get a nicer sillhouette, etc.

I’m a terrible drawer. I’m crap at drawing. I used to be only medium-crap at drawing, but after nearly 6 years at ILM in front of a monitor only having to draw thumbnails, I am now plunging into the dark depths of “full-crap.” But that doesn’t matter. As long as I can draw a thumbnail of a guy that describes his hip position/angle, the angle of his shoulders, and the position/angle of his head — you’re set! A stick-guy like that can be used to thumbnail damn near any character you can think of.

Do yourself a huge favor and figure all this stuff out on paper FIRST before you ever save a key. Ideally, by the time you touch a mouse, you already know exactly what pose happens on what frame. You already figured out your paths of action and your arcs and anticipations on paper – then just get into the computer and plug that stuff in!

Once I get those poses and breakdowns into the computer, my poses might be exaggerated, but my timing is probably the same as my reference at this point. For me, now I’ll go in and layer the animation principles onto my “timing” in the scene. Punch up the rhythm of the actions, make sure things aren’t happening on these metronome boring evenly-timed moments, find places to push an anticipation or add a bit of extra overlap, speed up an action for effect, etc. For me, this phase is easier to do in the computer than it is to do on paper. When I block it in, I’ll save a position on every possible part of the body for ever key and breakdown pose – then to move the timing, all I have to do is grab all the keys on all the curves at one frame and shove ’em over.

Once I have the timing down, I’ll get in there and start the polishing phase – checking my arcs, making sure things read, offsetting different body parts, checking overlap, etc.

If anyone ever tells you that live-action reference is cheating, they’re either not a professional animator, don’t have much features experience, or they’re feeding you a line of bullcrap. It’s really important, and you can bet that you’re favorite animators, whether they work at Weta, Pixar, or Disney, are all using it, at least to some extent.

That’s probably a really long answer to a simple question, huh!?

Short answer: don’t copy it, but learn everything you can from it. Layer your knowledge of animation principles on top of it. And do as much as you can in the planning stage first. My best scenes, and the ones I finished the fastest, are the ones I spent the most time planning… “



•March 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

What Kind of Workflow Do You Use?

 You’ve probably heard it said that being an animator means being a lifelong student. That couldn’t be more true. My workflow is constantly changing. With every shot or task I complete, there’s almost always something I end up liking or disliking about the way I went about it. Or, sometimes the technical requirements of a shot will dictate what kind of workflow I’ll use. Also, observing the workflow other animators use allows me to pick up new things that I want to try with my next shot or task. The point is, finding a good workflow means trying things out until you find what works for you. I, personally, am still trying things out. However, I’ll write down the workflow that I tend to use most often.

 Step 1 – Research:

– Talking through the shot with the director or supervisor

– Checking out the storyboards

– Checking out the surrounding shots for continuity

– Researching any available information about character personality

– Gathering model sheets or other character resources


Step 2 – Planning:

– Shooting video reference, trying various takes and editing the best together

– Gathering online video or photo reference

– Studying reference

– Sketching rough thumbnail drawings of major poses to find the best silhouette


Step 3 – Blocking (on the computer):

– Blocking major storytelling/acting/action/key poses, most often in

stepped curves mode, and most often keying the entire character

– Blocking in extremes and changes in direction

– Blocking in important facial expressions

– Blocking in important hand poses

– Pushing poses around in time to find the right rhythm for the shot


Step 4 – Breakdowns:

– Putting in breakdown poses between major key poses, often still in stepped

– Defining rough arcs, overlap and spacing

– Repeating for the face and hands

– At this point I’m usually trying to put every major idea into a pose

– At this point if it’s a dialogue shot, I will go through a similar

process on the mouth and face that I went through with the body


Step 5 – Spline

– Hitting that dreaded button to convert to spline curves (or clamped,

or linear, or auto-tangent, whatever you prefer to use)

– Usually making some slight adjustments to overall pose timing

– Shaping and cleaning curves to more accurately define spacing


Step 6 – Polishing

– Focusing on details

– Finessing contact points, often frame by frame

– Offsetting keys as necessary to refine overlap

– Layering in minor secondary action, like breathing or eye darts

– Doing anything required to make the shot as clear and refined as

the deadline will allow


Step 7 – Watching the shot get pried from your fingers and forcibly taken away

– It’s rare to feel like a shot is as finished as I’d like it to be

Often deadlines come quicker than we obsessive animators would like


One final thought to keep in mind: this workflow is rarely linear.


Getting notes and changes from a director or supervisor can often mean

going back a step or two to blocking or even planning stages. It’s just

another part of the crazy process!



•March 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

freewater commercial

•March 6, 2012 • 1 Comment

The 12 (er…24) fundamental principles of animation

•March 5, 2012 • 2 Comments

The 12 (er…24) fundamental principles of animation (updated 06/28/03)
(As partially listed in “Disney Animation – The Illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston)

Jeremy Cantor – Animation Supervisor – Sony Pictures Imageworks – May 4th, 2002

1. Squash & Stretch:Organic objects tend to have some degree of malleability. When forces act upon them they will deform appropriately depending on the nature, direction & degree of the forces. When applying squash & stretch in your animations, it is important to remember that, if volume is not maintained, your object will appear to be expanding or contracting. If you squash a tennis ball vertically, it should simultaneously widen horizontally. Squash & Stretch can also be applied to rigid, articulated structures. When the structure compresses, certain joints will rotate off to the side. When you drop from a standing position into a squat, your hips move down while your knees move sideways. Your legs can be said to be squashing and stretching, even though the individual joints are not compressing or expanding.

2. Anticipation: The setup before the main action. It lets the audience know that something is about to happen. For instance: reaching behind you with your fist before delivering a punch. A boxer tries to avoid anticipation (telegraphing) when throwing a jab.

3. Staging & Composition:The clear presentation of an idea. What is the story being told? What is the best way to tell this story? What are the appropriate camera angles & screen direction? Is the flow of the scene guiding the viewer’s eyes as intended? Are your poses strong? If you arbitrarily “freeze-frame”, will the resulting still-image be a well-composed work of art? Do the elements of your scene work together visually? Are your object’s trajectories too linear? Or perhaps too complex? Are important elements of your scene hidden behind less important elements?

4. Straight Ahead Action vs Pose to Pose: Two methods of animating. Straight ahead involves stepping through the individual frames of your scene & manipulating them sequentially. Pose to pose involves defining the extremes and then filling in the spaces inbetween. Stop motion can only be done via Straight Ahead. Cel animation can be done either way. Straight ahead usually requires more pre-planning.

5. Follow Through & Overlapping Action: Follow through is the extension of a main action. For instance, the continuation of a tennis-stroke after the ball contact. Follow-through is also evident when a secondary appendage (tail, antenna) is indirectly driven by the primary motion of the body. Follow-through will occur later than the main action because the force dictating the main action takes longer to reach the appendages. When an object in motion changes direction, stops accelerating or stops completely, secondary parts of that object will continue in the original direction after the change in the main force. A woman’s dress fluffing forward after she stops walking. A ponytail bouncing in an “S” motion when someone jumps up and down. Follow-through is often reduced if an appendage has (and uses) its own muscles. When a cat runs, the muscles of its tail often tighten to reduce follow-through & maintain balance. Overlap is the concept that not all moving parts of your body will start and end at exactly the same time. If you turn your head and point, your arm movement might begin before your head finishes turning. Overlap is nonexistent if the head and arm start & stop on the same frame or if the arm waits to move until the head has completed its motion. Such non-overlapped motions tend to look robotic. 

6. Slow In/Slow Out: Organic motion tends to accelerate and decelerate into and out of action. (Except when met with a force that causes an abrupt stop or direction change.) This type of motion often does not apply to mechanical objects.

7. Arcs:The parts of an articulated skeleton move as a result of joint rotations. When a wrist travels from point A to point B, it does so as a result of elbow and shoulder (etc) rotation. Therefore, the motion will tend to arc. It is possible to move one’s wrist in a straight line, however, continuous compensatory adjustments in the rest of the arm are required to achieve this motion and such movements tend to look less organic (or at least more deliberate – like a straight punch). If you want a character to move like a robot, ignore the concepts of arcs, overlap and slow in/slow out.

8. Secondary Action:Any motion that is 2ndary to the main action. For instance: drumming your fingers on your knee while talking. 2ndary actions often reveal emotional subtleties or hidden thoughts. If the 2ndary action pulls the viewer’s attention away from the main action, however, it becomes the main action.

9. Timing:Varying speed of motion can indicate different types & strengths of forces. Timing can demonstrate different attitudes. Turning one’s head very quickly implies a different motivation from doing so slowly. Fast walks can imply determination. Slow walks can imply depression. Metronomic timing is usually undesirable.

10. Exaggeration:Exaggeration is used to increase the readability of emotions and actions. Animation mediums don’t deliver all of the same information as does real life. A video screen is not truly 3-D. Sound comes from a single source. Depth perception is not interactive. Because of the limited information being delivered, it’s often necessary to exaggerate in order to effectively tell the story of a particular performance. Effective exaggeration isn’t always a matter of making a motion larger, though. Significantly decreasing an action is also a type of exaggeration. Accentuating the subtleties, that is. Completely stopping a character’s motion for an unnaturally long period of time can demonstrate a particular emotion: Perhaps impatience or disgust. Exaggeration is, of course, especially apparent in cartoon-style animation.

11. Solid Drawing:In cel animation, each individual drawing should be a successful work of art on its own. This adds to the appeal & readability of a performance. It is also important to stay “on model”. Each drawing should look like the character being presented. It is distracting when the size of a character’s head is inconsistent during the course of an animation.

12. Appeal:Is the presentation of your idea pleasant to look at? (Or unpleasant if that is the intention). Are general aesthetics being effectively applied (composition, character design, color, camera angles, etc)?

And 12 more…

13. Simplicity & Readability:
Don’t unnecessarily overcomplicate your scene, character or performance. Do just enough to tell the story. Too much secondary and too many details can sometimes confuse the issue and make the idea being presented unclear.

14. Posing:A subset of “staging”. Interesting poses are extremely important for effective & natural-looking animation. Pay attention to center of gravity issues (does your character look like he’s going to fall down?). It’s usually a good idea to avoid too much symmetry in your poses. One hip is often a little higher than the other. Weight is rarely distributed evenly over both feet. How does the silhouette read?  

15. Forces:An object moves when forces are applied to it. Consider where these forces are coming from. Are they being generated from within (desire, intention, muscle movement) or from without (gravity, the wind, a push from another character)? The origin, magnitude, direction & duration of these forces will dictate how your characters move. How is your character affected by these forces? Does your character resist them or does he “go with the flow”? Do multiple forces cancel out one another? Understand a force’s “attack & decay”. How powerful is the initial “hit” of the force? How long does an object continue reacting to the force? Consider the material of the object. Rubber “decays” slower than cloth.  

16. Weight:Demonstrating the implied mass of a character. This is a function of the proper application of squash & stretch, anticipation, follow through, overlap, timing, exaggeration, and slow in/slow out. Whether or not a character looks especially heavy or especially light when getting up from a chair is dependent upon how these principles are applied. A heavier object requires more force to set it in motion. This is often demonstrated by increasing anticipation. Likewise, it requires more force to slow, stop or reverse the direction of a heavier object. Placement of your character’s center of gravity is an important aspect of weight. Physics rules indicate that a static object’s center of gravity must be directly above or below the average of its point(s) of suspension. For instance, when you stand on one foot, your COG needs to be directly above your support foot. Otherwise, you will begin to fall. Of course, this all changes if you are in motion. Pay attention to pivot/leverage points as well. Watch out for isolated body part movements. Even the simplest arm move often involves contributing motion from the shoulder & torso. Keeping your individual body parts appropriately working together is another way of indicating weight.

17. Twinning & Texture:To maintain natural-looking performances, it is usually desirable to break up the motion of individual body parts so they are not doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. ie: when slapping your character’s hands on a table, you might want the left hand to hit a frame or two before the right. A variation of the twinning concept is when members of a swarm or flock are exactly mimicking one other. Pay attention to the overall “texture” when animating groups of objects or characters. Consider a flock of birds or a field of grass reacting to the wind. What is the overall feel of the group? Is there enough variety in the trajectories of the individual elements? Is every bird flapping its wings at the exact same frequency? Is the wind affecting every blade of grass in exactly the same manner at exactly the same time? Are the individual elements supposed to be working together? If so, are you using an appropriate amount of variation between these individuals? Are your synchronized swimmers exactly synchronized? If so, is this intentional? Even when individual members of a group try to copy one another exactly, minor variations often occur.

18. Details:Sometimes the difference between a good animation and a great animation comes from effective attention to detail. You never know where a viewer’s eyes may be wandering. Just because the main focus of a shot is on your character’s face, don’t forget to animate the toes. Details like thigh muscles jiggling when a foot hits the ground add to the naturalism of a performance & can help tell the story. Introducing naturalistic imperfections will also add to the believability of your shot. Keep in mind, however, that it is usually not desirable to confuse the action with too many details. (see principle #13) Watch out for technical glitches such as geometry intersections and IK “pops”. Material integrity is also an important detail to consider. Is it appropriate to squash & stretch a rigid object such as a stone? Some animators will do this as an aesthetic choice. Others prefer to follow realistic rules of physics. And don’t try to hide animation errors behind overly detailed modeling, lighting, texture maps & particle effects. This is an undesirable variation of the “attention to detail” concept. Consistent style, physics and quality are also important details to maintain.

19. Planning Ahead:It’s always a good idea to plan out a performance before starting. Act out the motion with a stopwatch and take down some numbers. This is very important in stop motion where it’s impossible to go back and fix an individual part of a performance after it has been filmed. It’s especially important to plan ahead when you have a deadline. Most of us rarely have the opportunity to animate by trial and error. As the carpenters say: Measure twice, cut once.

20. Hookups & Continuity:To maintain flow and readability, each scene needs to “cut” properly with the next. Are the spacial relationships between your characters consistent from one scene to the next? Does an object’s trajectory look like it continues sensibly after a camera cut? Does the new camera position confuse the clarity of the action? If you cut away from a particular action then return later, do the changes in the scene make sense with the length of the time lapse? Do your actions overlap? Should they?  Sometimes it is desirable to intentionally break the rules of continuity, but care should be taken when doing so.

21. Acting:Animation is acting. Always keep this in mind. What is your character’s motivation & emotional state? Such information should be revealed in your performances. A shot’s story can’t be told if the characters are simply moving through the scene without any indication of intention or personality. Always ask “why?” Every movement should have a purpose. Arbitrary motions rarely contribute anything to a character’s performance. Contrasts are an important element in acting as well. Animating the same character with significant contrasts in timing can imply completely different personalities & motivations.   

22. Blocking/Refining:A third method of animating as opposed to Straight Ahead or Pose to Pose. This method (very often utilized in CG) involves initially establishing the overall posing, timing and trajectories of your character as a “blocking” phase. Details are added after these global issues are refined and approved. Similar to the (sometimes) preferred method of painting where the overall composition and colors are established rather abstractly and the image slowly comes together as a whole as the details are refined with smaller and smaller brushes. As opposed to finishing one corner of the painting before moving on to another. This blocking/refining method is especially desirable in CG so that global timing can be refined before there are a huge number of keyframes to tweak.

23. Understanding The Principles:It’s not enough to simply be able to recite these principles from memory. To animate effectively, you must truly understand them. These principles need to be applied appropriately, and sometimes certain ones need to be left out entirely. For example, a cat does not always need to crouch down in anticipation before jumping up (except on big jumps or specifically predatory/playful actions) because its natural posture is already an anticipatory crouch. And while it is certainly okay to squash & stretch a bowling ball, bending the laws of physics thusly should be the result of an aesthetic choice rather than blind implementation of the squash & stretch principle. If you are asked to make your character look heavier, you can only accomplish this if you truly understand which principles need to be applied and how.  Rules are made to be broken, but one must truly understand a rule before it can be broken creatively and appealingly.
24. Forget the Rules: After you’ve studied and understood the fundamental principles of animation, strive to use them instinctively rather than methodically. Try not to get too caught up in the idea of applying them academically at every turn. Often, it’s better to turn off the analytical side of your brain and follow your gut instead. Your best weapon as an animator is your ability to self-critique objectively and effectively, especially in CG, where trial and error is such a viable technique. When you review your own work, don’t ask yourself which of the fundamental principles are being applied properly, rather simply ask yourself whether or not your animation feels right. The ability to use the vocabulary of these principles is indeed important when you are teaching or supervising, however, never forget that your instincts as well as your innate and objective sense of style and appeal are much more powerful production tools than any available list of rules or principles.

Glen keane- notes

•March 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Glen_Keane_Animation (click)

Shawn Kelly + Delio Tramontozzi animation notes

•March 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Shawn Kelly + Delio Tramontozzi Animation Lecture:

April 9th, 2004

Ringling School of Art + Design

Transcribed by: Jeremy Collins

-Carefully choose gestures.

-Gestures should hit on vowels.

-Choose 1 or 2 of the most important poses and make sure they carry emotion and read.

-Avoid clichés at all costs. (i.e. using the first pose that comes to mind.)

-Watch out for “showing” in your animations instead of “doing”.

-Use gestures from NOW, not 1950.


-Essential but commonly overlooked in animation.

-They have a wide range of motion and “emotion” in them.

-The shoulders often lead many actions.

-When your arm is completely extended your shoulders touch your ears. Their range is very wide.


-Computers inbetween with math, not with the principals of animation.

-Specify exactly what the pose needs.

-You must define the timing from ears to toes in your animation.

-“The computer is the dumbest inbetweener there is”.

-Watch for twinning in your poses.

-Try working with curves other than the default splines to develop your inbetweening.

-Spend the most time on the first post. It is the most telling in your whole animation.

-Use all of the controllers provided. There should be animation on every possible curve.

-Nothing truly is ever at rest.


-The ocular muscles usually move before anything else. Brows lead the action and the mouth typically comes last.

-Avoid changing facial expressions in the middle of big movements. Do it before or after.

-There shouldn’t be any expression changes at all in the first or last 6 frames of an animation.


-Start with the core of the motion and move outward from there.

-Arms and often legs move in figure 8 patterns.

-When in FK, do the arms last. The motion of the arms is almost always dictated by the torso.

-Be aware of the orientation of the wrist to the elbow.

-Apply the waves principal (add overlap to all joints.)


-Plan when and why your characters eyes dart.

-Too many eye darts = spastic characters.

-Allow the eyes time to focus on the objects they’re pointing at.

-Unanimated eyes = doll eyes.

-The eyes always convey the emotion and truth of a character’s performance.


-Blinks are never random.

-Plan when and why your character is blinking.


   Convey a shift in thought.

   Sell the emotional state of a character.

   We blink to change a shift in thought or emotion.

   When we blink we are “cutting the film of life”. Our eyes are the cameras.

   Blinks always occur on quick head turns.


-The jaw doesn’t always open on every syllable or word.

-Get a mirror and keep it by your desk. Place your hand in a stationary position under your jaw and feel how many times it opens and closes per line of dialogue.

Feature Animation Demo Reel Tips:

  1. Keep it under 2.5 minutes.
  2. LABELS!
  3. Always use a NEW VHS tape. (Always label the spine!)
  4. Include a log sheet (breakdown sheet). Show thumbnails of the shot on the log and mention what you contributed to each shot.
  5. Include a resume and cover letter. Always spell check these two docs.
  6. Only use your best stuff.
  7. Short film? Show your best shots first. Include the full film at the end.
  8. Tailor your reel to the studio and position your applying for.
  9. No offensive content.
  10. Avoid cycles in your reel.
  11. Reel Order:

-Second best shot – FIRST.

-Weakest shot (but still good work) – MIDDLE

-Best shot – LAST

-Full short film (if applicable) – at the end.

19 Common CG Animation Pitfalls (and counting) – Causes and Solutions

•March 5, 2012 • 1 Comment


19 Common CG Animation Pitfalls (and counting) ~ Causes and Solutions

Jeremy Cantor – Animation Supervisor – Sony Pictures Imageworks – May 4th, 2002

1) Fearing the technology

Cause: We fear what we don’t understand. Fearing a computer, or believing it is more powerful than it really is comes from not having a fundamental understanding of how a computer works.

Solution: Learn enough about the computer so that you understand its strengths and limitations. Remember that the computer is not a magical device. It can’t think. It just runs programs. It can’t do anything a person can’t do; it can just do things faster. It is only a tool. A very sophisticated pencil. Assuming the user has learned how to speak the computer’s language, the user is the master of the tool, not the other way around.

2) Motion is too robotic…linear.

Cause: Letting the computer simply write linear f-Curves that have no slow-in or slow-out.

Solution: Understand how f-Curves translate into motion. Learn & apply the fundamental principles of animation. Manually insert additional ease-in/ease-out keyframes when appropriate.

(My earliest computer animations were done with software that created linear keyframes and did not have an f-Curve editor. I could not tweak the slope of the curves to create ease-in & ease-out. I had to rely on the application of traditional animation principles and create additional keys to achieve such results.)

3) …or the opposite: Motion is too spliney…watery….”computery”

Cause: Allowing computer to do too much “unsupervised” work. CG software usually creates smooth f-Curves automatically when you set keyframes. “Watery” motion comes from just leaving f-Curves in their default spline shapes. This is why rubber is the easiest thing to animate in CG. Spline f-Curves result in rubbery motion by default.

Solution: Don’t trust the computer to make properly shaped f-Curves. Study how f-Curves translate into movement & manipulate their shapes/slopes accordingly.

4) Characters not displaying a proper sense of weight

Cause: Not understanding the basic principles of timing, slow-in/slow-out, squash/stretch, gravity, etc.

Solution: Don’t let f-Curves just remain in in their default shape after keyframes have been set. The slope of your curves translates to how the forces are acting upon your animated objects. If an object is falling, for instance, make sure your Y-translation curves are accelerating (gravity does not apply itself as a constant force, rather it causes objects to accelerate as they fall). Understand the differences in how characters of varying mass will move. It takes more energy to initiate, stop or reverse the motion of a heavy object or character than it does to do such to a light object or character. Think of the difference in the force it requires to set a bowling ball in motion as opposed to that which is required to initiate the motion of a balloon. And similarly, the force it takes to slow, stop or reverse the motion of such objects.

5) Characters seem off balance.

Cause: Not paying attention to the proper location of character’s center of gravity. Simple physics: A static object’s center of gravity must be directly above or below the point (or average of the points) of suspension, otherwise the object will fall. When a biped character lifts one leg, he must shift his center of gravity over the supporting foot in order to maintain balance. (Variations to this rule apply when the object is in motion, however).

Solution: Pay attention to general physics of center-of-gravity. Study posing and the concept of contraposto. Use yourself as a guide. Study the shifting location of your center of gravity when you transfer your weight from one foot to the other. When you walk. When you run. When you hang from your hands. Etc. 

6) Isolated body part movement. Lack of overlap.

Cause: Because it is so easy to animate individual body parts separately in CG, there is a tendency to create movement where separate body parts don’t seem to be working together, or where one part comes to a complete stop before another part begins moving (no overlap). Such inorganic motion also, of course, results from not learning and understanding basic animation principles.

Solution: Study and understand the fundamental principles of animation. Don’t allow all of your keys to remain lined up on the same frames (unless there is a deliberate reason to do so). Work locally but think globally. Always remember that even when you’re focusing on a single limb, it is connected to the rest of the body and all of the parts need to work together, not individually.

7) Twinning (unnatural motion symmetry)

Cause: Twinning is when opposite body parts move as exact mirrors of one another. When the left arm motion starts and stops on exactly the same frames as the right arm. This is usually not desired for natural looking animation (although there are certainly times when it is appropriate) This happens when the animator gets lazy and animates multiple body parts simultaneously, or simply copies/mirrors motion from one limb to another & then leaving the resulting twinned motion as is.

Solution: To avoid twinning, after simultaneously animating multiple body parts or copying/mirroring motion, be sure to go in and add keyframe offsets or other naturalistic variations to the movement.

8) Repetitive or metronomic movement

Cause: Relying too much on the computer’s ability to copy and paste motion. Leaving cycles as is.

Solution: As always, remember that you control the computer, not the other way around. Don’t just blindly copy or cycle movement. Each step in a walk will often be (at least) slightly different from the one before it. Add some naturalistic variation and imperfections (unless of course, repetitive, robotic motion is the desired effect).

9) Squash/Stretch used on inappropriate objects (ie Bowling Balls)

Cause: Learning but not truly understanding the fundamental principles of animation.

Solution: Apply an artistic eye and understand when it is appropriate to apply squash & stretch & when it is not. It is certainly okay to add squash & stretch to a bowling ball, but only if doing so is the result of an aesthetic choice to deliberately bend the rules. It is not acceptable to do such if it is the result of simply applying the fundamental animation principles blindly. It is not enough to simply memorize the principles of animation. You must truly understand them so you can apply them appropriately (or deliberately ignore them if the animation at hand calls for such disobedience in order to most effectively tell your story.)

10) Volume changing when Sqashing/Stretching

Cause: Squashing & stretching an object in CG is a 2 step process. You must scale the object in one axis then oppositely scale it appropriately in the other axes. Neglecting this second step causes the object to appear to shrink when squashing & grow when stretching. Volume changing during squash/stretch is also the result of not truly learning & understanding this fundamental animation principle.

Solution: Learn & understand this principle & don’t forget the second step of scaling in the other axes.

11) Linear wrist/ankle movement (the “marionette look”)

Cause:  A wrist does not move from here to there via translation of the wrist itself, rather, such movement is the result of elbow & shoulder (and clavicle…and back…etc) rotations. Therefore the resulting trajectory of a wrist will tend to follow an arc. A wrist can certainly move in a straight line, but that requires simultaneous compensatory adjustments in the shoulder & elbow joint. Such linear movement does occur in such instances as when throwing a straight punch, but the natural tendency is an arc. When animating limbs with IK, the resulting motion often looks like the character is a marionette with its wrists on puppet strings. This is the result of simply animating the trajectory of the IK handles in straight lines.

Solution: One solution is to animate your character’s limbs with FK, which will result in arc motion by default. However, it is often desirable to use IK, so, when doing so, remember to (usually) make the motion an arc. Simply setting an initial translation keyframe at point A then a destination key at point B will result in a linear trajectory and a “marionette” look. Intermediate keyframes are often required to create an arc trajectory. Linear trajectory is okay, assuming that is the intended result. Just remember that such motion is not the normal tendency of a jointed character.

12) Frozen holds

Cause: In traditional cel animation, it if often desirable to completely freeze a character’s motion for dramatic effect. CG animators can sometimes forget that this is one of the few traditional techniques that does not always translate successfully into 3D. Because of the additional dimensionality, the ultra perfect perspective, texture mapping & super-accurate shadow casting (etc) displayed in a 3D CG scene, the viewer tends to have a “higher” expectation of reality. And since very few real-live characters ever actually freeze completely, when a 3D character does so, it can look unnatural and the action of the scene can die completely.

Solution: Use “moving holds” instead, where your character maintains a small degree of motion. Just enough so that the scene doesn’t entirely stop dead, but not too much or the pose will no longer be a “hold”. Perhaps he continues moving ever-so-slightly along his previous trajectory. Perhaps he takes a breath or scratches his ribs. Some animators will put their character’s central pivot point on a very small figure-eight path, so that he will sway just a little bit.

13) Character motion starts & stops exactly in synch with camera cuts

Cause: When an animated scene is made up of several shots, the simplest screen direction for each complete action (or group of actions) to be perfectly book-ended by a camera cut. This creates a scene that looks as if a director had yelled “action” at the very beginning of each shot (just after the camera had started rolling) and then “stop” just before the end of each shot. This is rarely considered good screen direction, as the camera does not appear to be operated by a human being, rather it has the unnaturally cold, perfect & predictable feel of a computer that always miraculously knows exactly when to cut.     

Solution: It is usually more visually appealing when the illusion of a human camera operator is created. A human camera operator will suffer from human error. He will invariably end up following just behind the action on occasion, or sometimes actually anticipating it. Overshooting will occur once in a while. Etc. Maintain some degree of overlap between your animation and the camera cuts. Addition of such real world “imperfections” can help to make your scene feel more natural.

14) Arbitrary poses & motions

Cause: The difference between “animating” a character and simply “moving” a character is that “animation” implies life…and character…and purpose. Because of the power of the computer, it’s very easy and often tempting to simply add more & more to your scene simply because you can.

Solution: Remember that every motion of a thinking character must have a purpose. Movement for movement’s sake doesn’t communicate anything & only contributes to unnecessarily increasing the length of your performance and reducing the clarity of the story being told. Ask yourself what is the reason for each pose & motion in your performance. More is not always better. Most often, “elegant simplicity” is the key to telling your story most effectively. The well known acronym KISS means: “Keep it simple, stupid!”   

15) Geometry intersections

Cause: Not paying enough attention to the details of your scene. Since CG involves working with virtual objects that are intangible, there is only visual feedback to inform the user when objects intersect one another. Therefore it is sometimes easy to overlook such errors.

Solution: Pay attention.

16) Relying too much on automated processes

Cause: Expecting the computer to do too much of the work for you. With expressions, constraint systems and various other software “bells & whistles”, it is possible to create a variety of automated motions in your characters, such as automatic lagging ponytail bounces that occur whenever the head moves. Such processes usually look automated. Too perfect. Unnatural.

Solution: You should do the work, not the computer. There are certainly occasions where automated processes are effective time savers, but it is very important to implement controls into your character setups that allow you to override or completely disable such processes. This way, even though certain things are happening automatically, you still have ultimate control over them.

17) Unnatural facial animation – not enough shapes, not animating enough parts of the face

Cause: Using too few morph target shapes and animating too few parts of the face. Unless an extremely simplified style is the desired effect, facial animation usually requires a good number of target shapes and plenty of detail in order to effectively create a natural feel to the motion.

Solution: Make enough morph target shapes. Don’t just animate the mouth and the eyebrows. Add appropriate motion to cheeks, eyes, forehead & even ears. Add some corresponding head movement. Apply squash and stretch.

18) Too much camera movement.

Cause: Disregarding the notion that just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. CG software gives you complete control over the motion of your camera. You can add all sorts of crazy camera motion that is extremely difficult or downright impossible in the real world. Because of this power, there is often a temptation to overdo it. Too much camera motion can confuse the action and distract the viewer, and in extreme cases, cause dizziness and queasiness. Sometimes it is certainly appropriate for the camera’s motion to have “character” but it shouldn’t steal the action from the scene (unless the camera is being used as the primary storyteller of that particular shot, like in situations where we are “looking through a character’s eyes”. But such staging should be used sparingly).

Solution: Keep cameral motion to a minimum. Study films and notice that cameras usually don’t move all that much. Sometimes big, sweeping camera motions are appropriate. However, just make sure that you are adding such exaggerated camera motion to help tell the story, and not simply because you can.

19) Motion blur turned up too high

Cause: The motion blur button in your CG software package is a fun toy and, much like the ability to animate your camera, there is an initial tendency to play with it too much.

Solution: Remember, motion blur is an effect that is more sensed than seen. With most motions, you can only see the blurring when you freeze-frame. Watch live action films & you’ll notice that you can only really see blurring when there is extremely fast motion happening. If you can see the motion blur during the normal motions of your characters, it is turned up too high.

The bottom line

a) Study and truly understand the fundamental rules of animation before you start breaking them.

b) Don’t rely on the computer to do too much of the work for you. Remember that the computer is just a tool. You are the artist.