Category Archives: Animation

The Great Job Search

I was laid off from my job at Trilogy Studios a few weeks ago.  For people who know me, this isn’t news.  Still, I thought it might be nice to share some of my thoughts on the whole Animation Industry / Getting-Laid-Off paradigm / Looking-For-Work cycle.

Being out of work is this weird combination of stress and freedom.  Ostensibly I have tons of free time.  I wake up in the morning and I have very few deadlines I have to worry about.  I often think to myself, “Self,” I think, “You should take this time to do something creative.  What about starting that web comic and/or animated series you’ve been thinking about?  How about writing on your blog?”  Fantastic ideas!

But then there’s the whole money/work thing.  I currently have an income of zero, relying on unemployment insurance, my wife’s income, and savings.  Definitely not a sustainable lifestyle.  It’s vitally important, therefore, that I find a new job.  Well, that severely diminishes my available time, and reduces the percentage of my thoughts that can be put toward creative endeavors.

As an example, one of the things I need to do is update my demo reel.  Updating the resume was easy – just a new “work experience” entry, a few edits and adjustments, and it’s done.  The reel is huge, though.

A demo reel should only be about a minute long.  This is the advice I’ve always heard, and I absolutely believe in it. Having been “on the inside”, looking at applicants’ reels, I can attest that I know within seconds whether someone is a promising applicant when looking at their reel.  If there’s mediocre stuff in the first few seconds it’s a big problem.  The reel needs to show right off the bat what you’re capable of.  Timing, weight, easing, acting, subtlety, expression, variety of style of movement – you pretty much want to show them that you understand and can apply the twelve principles for their characters.  Remember that the employer doesn’t care about you – they care about what you can do for them!

To fulfill this requirement of a reel – that it shows the best that I have to offer – I pretty much have to go through all the animation I did in my recently lost job, as well as all that I did for my recently completed film, and find the best examples of my work,  Then I have to take only the best few of those to actually add into the pool of clips I currently use in my reel.  For the most part I’m going to trust my past decisions on what was worth including, since I really don’t want to have to go through all my old work again to figure out what was the best stuff.  Actually, if I did that I might end up with a slightly better product, since time lends distance in judging one’s own work, but I really can’t face the tedium that that would entail.

So now I have a set of clips of animation that I created within the last few years, as well as older ones that I included in previous reel iterations.  Now I have to decide what, among this combined collection of animated clips, is worth including in my finished reel.  I’ll have to make some tough decisions to throw out some animation that I’m quite proud of, but that perhaps isn’t quite as good as some other clips.

Then comes the question of editing.  Am I going to stick with the basic structure I had in my previous version or should I make a whole new edit?  It’s kind of daunting to think about throwing all the clips together in a new and interesting way, but also refreshing.  I’ve been looking at this demo reel (or variations of it) for four or five years now, and it would probably be nice to get something different going.  I’m not sure yet what I’ll decide, but in theory you, the viewing public, will see the results soon enough.

If you’re interested, you can see my old demo reel on my main web site: (Warning: that’ll probably soon be replaced with my updated demo reel after not-too-long)

Seven Years in the Making

I turned in Don’t Fear the Sitter a few weeks ago, finishing off the last step toward getting my Master of Fine Arts degree in animation. I was working really hard the last few months to get it done, leaving my fiancée lonely and bored as I worked into the night perfecting all the little details.  We were both very happy when the deadline came, I turned in my finished product, and I could finally relax.

It screened at the UCLA film school’s end-of-year show.  I think it was fairly well-received, but some people had a different reaction to part of it than I had expected.  I’m not going to say what exactly, because I don’t really want to give out spoilers.

Actually, though, it’s not quite done.  There are still a few more details that I want to work out as a final polishing step.  There are some things that I’d like to do but I might decide not to, as well.  At some point you just have to call it done.

I’m aiming to get this thing into festivals, though.  I want to make it really good.  That’s been my goal pretty much since I graduated the film from being my second-year film to being my thesis.  I wanted to make something that would make people at festivals take notice.  Something, dare I dream, that would get me into Annecy (the most important festival in the animation world).  If I really stick to that goal then there are a number of things left to do – the biggest being set dressing.

I’ve always been pretty bad at making a background look lived in.  At the moment the house in which the story takes place looks kinda sparse – like a model home that no one actually lives in.

I want to get it done so I can move on to the next project, whatever that may be.  I have a big list of possibilities.  I have time now to do all those things I wanted to do over the last seven years but never did because my film was hanging over me.  For the time being, it probably won’t be animation, though I reserve the right to do something animation-related: a web comic, develop a TV pitch, write a script or storyboard, etc.

Just some thoughts.

Keep on Plugging

I keep on plugging away on Don’t Fear the Sitter.  It’s slow work.  On average, since I last reset my accounting in April, I’ve gotten through about one character-second of animation per three days.  That is, if there’s one second of footage in which two characters are moving the whole time, that represents two character seconds.  Keep in mind, though, that I probably only average between half an hour and an hour of work per day.

According to the spreadsheet I keep for tracking my progress I’m set to finish all the animation in DFtS at the end of January.  It’s a little weird to have that goal actually approaching after all this time.  I first started working on this thing in the Summer of 2005, so I’ve been at it for more than five years.  It’ll be almost six by the time I actually finish (assuming I finish when I’m planning to).  It brings up the question in my mind: What Next?

I suppose first I’d like to take a little break from having a project that I’m always working on.  It’s a little wearying to always have to come back to the same tasks every night, working with the same assets.  It helps, in a way, that I have several characters in my film.  Switching between them keeps things fresh.  That would suck if I was only animating a single character the whole time.

I really like Falling Lizard, though — the yearly party at UCLA where everyone makes a complete (though admittedly minimal) film in a single weekend.  It’s a weekend when I know I’m going to be able to work on something a little different for a change, despite whatever other big project I might be working on in the rest of my free time.

As an example of something I might do at Falling Lizard, I present to you the film I made at Falling Lizard ‘09.  It’s a little snippet of an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while for a TV series, movie, or graphic novel:

But back to that question: What Next?  It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’m going to start a new personal project after I’m done with DFtS.  The question is, what?  Here are some of the possibilities:

  1. Start a new animated short.  Nice and simple, going down a path I’ve been down several times before.  This option doesn’t require much risk on my part.  Right now this option doesn’t seem that appealing to me, either.  I mean, yes, it’s satisfying to create stuff, and it’s awesome seeing/hearing the audience reaction to a freshly finished film, but it takes so freakin’ long!  It’s a little distressing to have to wait five years to see the fruit of my creative effort come to completion and finally be shown to the outside world.
  2. Create a graphic novel or web comic.  This one is a little more appealing.  There’s potential for getting an actual audience going if I were able to either get a publisher or draw a web audience.  That said, I’ve never done this sort of thing.  I’m sure it’s fraught with its own perils that I would find out about along the way.  It also has potential, though, assuming I could draw an audience and craft a good story with strong characters, of leading to TV development or maybe even a movie (witness: Scott Pilgrim, perhaps my favorite movie so far this year).
  3. Write a screenplay.  This would probably be in the NaNoWriMo vein, sitting down and hammering out 120 pages of something – doesn’t really matter what.  It’s that whole thing about getting through it being the important first step – worry about whether it’s any good later.  It’s hard to imagine that writing a screenplay would take me where I want to go, though, which is really toward more of a creative leadership role in narrative animation.  It’s also a path that I’d be breaking new ground in for myself, so I would be putting myself at a high risk of no one ever seeing the result of my efforts.
  4. Try to develop a TV series.  This one is probably the one I’m leaning toward most right now.  I really like the idea of creating a whole new setting and being able to follow my own vision of how a show should be developed.  I have a couple ideas I’ve been toying with for several years, never taking the time to really develop them.  Whenever I think about working on them some more I say to myself “No, David, if you’re going to work on something then you should work on Don’t Fear the Sitter.”  Yeah.  Tell it, self.  But anyway, TV is also what I’d like to get back to eventually, so this would be a definite trying-to-move-forward-in-my-chosen-career maneuver.

Hooray for Re-Use!

I just burned through about five character-seconds of animation in about five days.  That feels really good.  It’s significantly faster than my general rate that I’ve been keeping up ever since I resumed keeping track in April.  When I finish a scene I get to mark it off in the spreadsheet I created for the task, which always feels great.  It’s all set up with color-changing fields that give me pleasant feedback when I finish a scene.  They say, “Hey David, you’re doing a great job!  Look how much you’ve done in the last five days!”

Part of what let me get through these two scenes so quickly was that I was able to re-use some stuff.  For the first scene the framing was very similar to an earlier one, so setup was fast (pretty much just copy the previous scene’s file and the new scene is set up).  For the second it was even better.  I was able to use a side-view walk cycle that I created a long time ago for another scene, with only slight modifications.

One of the great advantages of Flash animation is the ability to adapt old animation for new scenes.  That’s a major reason why it’s a good medium for television animation.  When I worked on Foster’s we tried our hardest to find reuse for as many scenes as we could.  We had libraries of walk cycles, character poses, hands, arms, legs, and endless gobs of uncategorized old scenes that the animation director was able to help us find if we needed them.  The thing that’s great about it is that it’s not carved in stone.  It’s pretty easy to make little tweaks to old animation in Flash.  Need that old walk cycle but with the head looking to the side?  No problem.  Different lip sync?  Easy.

Unfortunately reuse hasn’t been as helpful on Don’t Fear the Sitter, since it’s just this one episode.  If I could stretch it out into a series that would be great, since I wouldn’t have to build the character models again, and I would have a bunch of reusable animation from the first one.  I may some day try and figure out a way to adapt it into a series, particularly if the short ends up doing well on the festival circuit.  If it comes to that, I’ll definitely be glad I made this thing in Flash.

Much Progress But None On Paper

Last night I did a bunch of work on Don’t Fear the Sitter. The thing is that the work I did didn’t really register on my tracking system. Let me esplain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

A long time ago I created a spreadsheet to track my progress on my thesis project (the aforementioned Don’t Fear The Sitter). I made estimates of how much animation I would need to do to finish each scene in the film, added cells where I could write how much I had competed so far, then created a bunch of cells to calculate statistics about my work rate, estimated completion date, and so on. It’s very pretty and helpful but unfortunately it only tracks animation. It doesn’t take into account any of the other aspects of the process.

Last night I was working on integrating retakes that I recorded last fall with my voice actress, the lovely and talented Ms. Tara Ricasa. After I got the new recordings in place I framed the next shot in Google schetchup, where I had previously built a model of the house in which the film takes place. Then I set up the Flash file for the scene, and by that time it was way past my bedtime. Number of seconds of animation completed: Zero.

No Laurel-Resting

Today was a good day.  Let me list a few of the reasons:

  1. Kung Fu Panda World went live.  I’ve been working on this virtual world since January of Last year and it’s very satisfying to see it “ship”.  This is also the first game I’ve shipped as an animator.  Long ago I was a software engineer and I shipped one game while I worked at Treyarch Studios.  Maybe you haven’t heard of it?image Continue reading

Flash JSFL Commands: The Autotweener

For the folks who aren’t Flash animators but would like to see a little bit of my process when animating, skip down and watch the movie that I link to below.  Starting at around 4 minutes in you can see an example of how I animate one of my characters in a simple motion.

Anyone who’s followed my blog so far and read the entries on Flash commands (not sure if there’s anyone like that yet – I have an admittedly small audience) will have seen me mention the Autotweener.  Well, today’s the day – I’m going to tell you all about it and post it for download.

The autotweener is a tool that does many of the same things as Flash’s built-in motion and shape tween functions, but it works in a fundamentally different way.  It’s incredibly useful, simplifying tasks that used to be difficult or impossible.  For my own animation process it was revolutionary – it totally changed how I do things.  I now rarely use motion tweens and even more rarely shape tweens – the autotweener has taken over almost all the tasks I used to use those for.

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Flash JSFL Commands: Classic Motion Tween Easing

I’d like to talk about the way I use tweens in Flash.  For one reason or another, I never use new-style motion tweens and I rarely use the easing editor.  I’ve found that the easing editor is rarely worth the trouble, and new motion tweens never end up working like I want them to and they frequently crash the program.  I’ll occasionally use the easing editor if I want a really strong ease in or out, or if there’s a very particular motion I want, but for the most part I stick with classic tweens and good old –100 to +100 easing.

Actually, though, I use very few motion tweens at all ever since I created my autotweener (which will be the subject of a later post).  Fully automated tweens like those produced by motion tweens rarely produce the results I need for good animation.  They usually look too linear and mechanical or they don’t work well when multiple pieces are involved.

That said, motion tweens do come in handy sometimes, and I almost always apply easing to them – usually either +100 (out) or –100 (in).  I’ve written several commands to help with setting and removing eases.  I’m going to show you some of them today.

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Flash JSFL Command: Motion Tweens and Sync

Anyone who’s worked with what are now called Classic Tweens will have run into the Sync Problem.  Not everyone will realize what was causing the problem, though.  It’s due to a feature that can actually be useful if you know how and when to use it.

For every motion tween there’s property called “sync”.  It’s a checkbox in the properties panel that you’ll see if you select a frame that has a motion tween applied to it.  Its function is a little arcane, and I’ve run into many Flash animators who have no idea of its existence, let alone its purpose. The gotcha is that it’s enabled by default with most methods of creating a motion tween, and it can cause unexpected and annoying behavior.

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Resolutions and Goals

I’m not generally big on new year’s resolutions but this year I kinda made one.  Well, I don’t really think of it as a resolution – more of a goal.  I set the goal for myself to do at least fifteen minutes of animation every day.  It’s a really short period of time, but I figured that if I could get myself to do that much, even if I’m busy, I’d at least be doing something.  And then once I’m actually sitting in front of the computer, I might as well work longer, right?  At least, that’s how it works out more often than not.

I haven’t been totally successful in my goal but I think it’s fulfilled its purpose so far.  For the most part, I sit down and work on Don’t Fear the Sitter every evening.  I usually try to do more than fifteen minutes, because that seems like such a limited period.  I can’t actually get much done in that amount of time.

And so, after kind of stagnating for most of last year, I’m working on my thesis again.  Now I think I’m back on track to finish the film by the summer of 2011, making it about a six-year project.  Yikes.  But it feels good to be chipping away at it again.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’m accomplishing.  I finished animating this scene a few days ago: