CNN article on 'Mars Needs Moms' box office failure

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 2 comments
Interesting article about how the animated movie 'Mars Needs Moms' has flopped. Some conjectures about mo-cap and bad story being some of the prime reasons.

I find myself still trying to figure out how mo-cap is going to figure into animation in the future (and what animators will be doing or how much they will be needed). I'm not overly concerned, but I am curious what people think.

Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.

CNN's Article:
'Mars Needs' Help

Basic MEL script I use to set up my scenes/workspace

In order to save time I created a script to handle some of the things I always change with any scene I create or ones that I open if they are missing this stuff.

The script first sets the animation play time and end time to 120 frames (instead of the default 24 and 48) and then creates an extra camera (ShotCam) that I use to frame my scene for render or playblasts. This lets me play around in perspective view and have a second window up on my other monitor with the ShotCam view with everything hidden except the character or scene elements (that is not in this script).

So nothing fancy but in case it might be useful to someone here it is:

//Basic Scene Setup. This will set your playtime and end time to 120 frames. It also creates a ShotCam with the translate settings below. Alter the values to suit your preferences. (Created by West Decker)

playbackOptions -e -min 1 -max 120;

camera -centerOfInterest 5 -focalLength 35 -lensSqueezeRatio 1 -cameraScale 1 -horizontalFilmAperture 1.4173 -horizontalFilmOffset 0 -verticalFilmAperture 0.9449 -verticalFilmOffset 0 -filmFit Fill -overscan 1 -motionBlur 0 -shutterAngle 144 -nearClipPlane 0.1 -farClipPlane 10000 -orthographic 0 -orthographicWidth 30 -panZoomEnabled 0 -horizontalPan 0 -verticalPan 0 -zoom 1; objectMoveCommand; cameraMakeNode 1 "";
rename "camera1" "ShotCam";
setAttr "ShotCam.translateX" 23;
setAttr "ShotCam.translateY" 28;
setAttr "ShotCam.translateZ" 56;
setAttr "ShotCam.rotateX" -15;
setAttr "ShotCam.rotateY" 20;

It has begun!

Wow. There is so much going on, I don't know where to start. So I will just say it is great. I'll follow up with some separate posts on some specific things as the week goes on.

Check out my bouncing ball (not dirty)

Sunday, March 27, 2011 1 comments
So for all of you out there who have been "practicing" and "studying" before class starts tomorrow (in 15hrs) and showing off your bouncing ball animations and walk cycles, well get ready to be blown away!!!

In a matter of mere minutes (about 60 of them) I too animated my first bouncing ball.  Ha! And some people (*cough* Adam) implied I might not have been doing any real studying.  Well here is the proof:

Second version with initial spin added:

As you can see a bouncing ball!  So I can now say to my fellows that while I played around with Maya's nCloth this weekend, it in no way interfered with my ability to animate said ball.

DISCLAIMER - Actual animation was created using Maya nCloth and dynamics and at no time did I actual animate the ball in the "traditional" sense.  I cheated :)

Pixar approach: "suck to nonsuck"

Friday, March 25, 2011 0 comments
A good quick read on Pixar's approach to making great movies. I really like the idea of letting things suck and then improve vs. trying to get it perfect from the beginning. In my experience the latter approach means I never get very far or get stuck. Participating in NaNoWriMo (write a novel in a month contest) really brought this lesson home for me. No doubt, I will need to remind myself of this during my studies at AM.

Here's the link: Fast Company article on Pixar

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Check out the New AM badge on my blog

Thursday, March 24, 2011 2 comments
From Animation Mentor Fan to Animation Mentor Student!

Oh crap I think I forgot to...

study for the last month :)

This week my status at AM turned from Applicant to Student.  That means I am now officially in limbo in terms of access to certain AM website features like the forums and my Inbox.  My fellow classmates seem to be unaffected, so it probably means I have already been kicked out of school.  AM tech support did reassure me that all is normal.

AM is good about continuing to build the excitement and anticipation.  They posted a new welcome video and now our schedules show our mentors and our weekly QA times.  My new mentor is Scott Lemmer who has a long list of accomplishments.

Only 3d 20h 36m to go before class starts!

Excitement and panic

Sunday, March 20, 2011 0 comments
This morning while cruising our internal AM forums I ran across the blog of someone (Chase - blog link below) in the Winter term journaling his Class 1 lessons. On the one hand I am really excited to see what we will be doing week to week and on the other hand I am suddenly kicking into an emergency cram session with a healthy dose of panic fueling my motivation. I didn't realize we would start with human characters so quickly. Mostly it looks like posing early on and not animating. The animation exercises relate to different situations with balls moving. I also see that each week he sketches out the animation timing which looks really useful. It seems simple now that I saw his sketches, but I was reminded of the acceleration due to gravity (check Wikipedia if you want a refresh). Timing just became a little easier for me. Ironically I worked on a 2d animation of a ball rolling down a ramp yesterday and was just guessing - this would have helped.

Chase's blog is

Back to my emergency studying.

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Home stretch

Saturday, March 19, 2011 0 comments
With only 9 days to go before the Spring semester starts the excitement and a healthy amount of anxiety surrounds March 28th at noon PST when the virtual doors open for school.

Recently I spent more time on the Skype group that fellow soon-to-be-students hang out on. For future classes I highly recommend creating a group like that. I've gotten to know quite a few people, and hearing their stories about what led them to AM makes the whole thing more real. People have varied backgrounds and I've been learning some interesting things and the people are great.

Yesterday was the weekly AM coffee talk/Q&A. This week one of the engineers at AM named Kevin described how engineers at studios work to help create the tools to support the production pipelines at studios. I found it interesting, but perhaps because of my background in engineering, I wished that we had animator from a studio describing the same workflow from their perspective to balance things out. He told a lot of stories about past jobs and I could tell he really loved what he does. He's working on some top secret projects at AM that we will see in a couple of semesters but no word on what they might be.

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Get the inside scoop on digital animation history and future

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 2 comments
One of my fellow AM peeps posted a great link to a video of a talk with some of the digital animation pioneers from Pixar.  It is an investment of about 2 hours of your time and well worth it.  In some ways, it reminds me of reading The Illusion of Life (link below), as you get a chance to hear from the people who have invented and pioneered 3D animation.  They'll be in the history books of animation, no doubt.

I'm kind of a "mid-ager" (vs. "old-timer") in the the computer tech world and spent a good deal of my career at Apple and SGI seeing the technology first hand being used by some great artists.  And that seems to be the general point of the panel of speakers.  The technology is not why 3D films from Pixar and others are so popular.  The artists and story tellers make the movie great.  Technology is just another tool.

I jotted down a couple of notes while watching it for those who are interested:

  • Tell stories
  • Observe - see what is happening in life.  Don't get stuck only observing other animators' work.
  • 2d animation is not dead
  • Real is bad - believability is what engages audience - hyper real.  If a scene looks too realistic then the hyper real characters seem really out of place.  People want to see the hyper real of our imaginations
  • Passion.  This is one of my personal mantras - passion is key to success. Next is people.  Great companies are built on those two principles.  With great people who are passionate about a common goal the sky is the limit - just ask Apple and Pixar.
  • Technology is just a tool and not the reason animation resonates with people.  Good animation fades into the background and people stop noticing that they are watching a 3d animated movie, for instance.
  • Great communication helps tell/ animate a story.  If you can communicate your ideas through your animation you'll likely be a better animator
  • Practice drawing, sculpting, etc.  Don't just stick with computer based work all the time.  Get out and touch things. SEE things.
  • Animation skills - observation, timing, story telling - not software make an animator.  These skills will always be in demand.
  • People are key to a great movie (see above)
  • Make mistakes - don't get stuck by not trying (waiting to get something perfect) - be like a shark - always be moving (sharks die if they don't have water flowing through their gills (which is the analogy I think they were making)
  • It is the story that makes the movie.  They kept hounding on the fact that other studios time and time again blame their failures on lack of the latest tech and not on their bad story telling.  Lots of Pixar copycats think it is their 3d technology that makes them successful.  It is the story.
  • Don't just watch or copy other animation/animators - go out and observe.  Use your own experience and observations to build your animations - just like original animators.  Watch movies, actors in plays, friends and family, etc.
  • Animators (people) will never be replaced by tech.   

Definitely worth a watch.  Below you will see a link/ad pointing to Amazon for the Illusion of Life.  If you are so compelled and would like to order the book, please use this link.  It gives me a minuscule referral fee which will go to support my animation addiction :)

Coffee talks

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 0 comments
Each Friday Animation Mentor students-to-be can participate in an online chat/video session hosted by the always amazing Victoria from AM.  These are great opportunities to ask questions about what to expect or how to get everything in order to be ready to start school.

Last Friday a current student in class 2 talked to us for about an hour and shared his experiences and gave us some advice on how to be successful.

Here are some of his tips (a brief note: his tips seem spot on and a good reminder of lessons I have learned in my previous life in the tech world.  You get out what you put in.):

  • Don't over complicate your work.  Focus on the basics. Trying to make things look cool or trying to do really sophisticated animations will backfire.  Stick to the assignment.  When in doubt ask your mentor.
  • Reach out to other students and make friends.  The more people you meet the better your support group and the more people you can tap for feedback
  • Upload your work in progress for peer feedback early in the week (Tues.).  This gives you a chance for people to catch things that you need to address before you have gone too far along.  Gives you time to correct.
  • Put your work up in the critique forums.  The more feedback the better.
  • Alumni tutors are available to offer additional help.
  • Saturday make up sessions can be a good way to catch up if you missed something or to reinforce the lesson.
  • Take advantage of all the extra resources available from day one.

Not animation related but pretty damn cool

Thursday, March 3, 2011 0 comments
Yesterday, while announcing the iPad 2, Apple showed a video that truly made me proud to have worked at Apple for 10 years.

In a video called "iPad Year One" Apple highlighted how the iPad is being used in a variety of ways, but the most powerful story showed it's use in helping children with Autism.  One blogger at the event remarked, "Man this is actually really emotional ... Damn you Apple for making everyone here cry about the iPad."

Please take a minute to read this article by the mom of boy with Autism featured in the video.

Apple, 3rd party developers, and most importantly the amazing people who dedicate themselves to helping children are remarkable in how they use technology to help people.  It is a powerful reminder for me about what is important and why technology should not be about what product has more RAM or adding the latest "must have item" on a spec sheet.  Technology should make our lives better.  With animation, I hope I will discover a way to put that lesson into similar practice.

If you want to do something to help children with Autism I encourage you to consider donating to one of the many organizations doing really wonderful work with these kids.

Here is a foundation that I happen to know that I hope you take a moment to look at: The Horse Boy Foundation.  They work with kids and their families using horses as part of their therapy.  Amazing stuff.
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