Category Archives: Director

Things I wished I had known… part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately, and the foggy parts of my mind are starting to become clearer in regards of working with animation. Maybe is a little bit of the sleep deprived status I’m in, or the books and posts of blogs I’ve read recently. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that there were some mistakes I did and I´ll make my best to not repeat them. I hope that you can learn from those mistakes and do it even better than anyone else has done it before!

One of the articles that resonated deep within me was this one, wrote by Patrick Smith at the Scribble Junkies blog (his partner in the blog is Bill Plympton, so bookmark it!). In that post, Smith has 4 vital points and adds a fifth by Plympton. This article, and the one I’m quoting, are focused on animated shorts, but I think it will work anywhere else.

The first advice tells you to Be honest, be yourself, push originality and base your idea for your film on personal experience. I agree even more now than at the beginning of my education at Vancouver Films School. I couldn’t copy much, because I’m not the greatest and most skillful artist on the planet… so I tried to tell a story that was close to my heart. Now I know that it was a good call. No one sees the world in the way you see it, and that’s the plus you can give. Having heroes is a great deal of inspiration, and they say imitation is flattery but at the moment of developing an idea, that comes across as a “Me-too” look, instead of an “I-am”. That originality is what sets apart a Chuck Jones from Tex Avery, Ted Newton or Brad Bird. But what comes across as originality is that they were honest enough to let some parts of their personality shine trough their work.

The second one says: Make all your ideas as simple as possible, and try to keep films short in length I learned that the hard way, by stumbling upon the same rock twice. You can tell a story in 30 seconds, flat, with all the action you might want (for a character driven piece, full of acting, I think you need more, at least 1 minute…but then again, I might be wrong as well). I wish I knew that one from the start. Here’s a video that proves that short short film can be good:

The third advice is Make your film for yourself, don’t make it to get a job after graduation, or a series on cartoon network, this thinking will only backfire. I couldn’t agree more. You have more than enough learning how to animate, storytelling principles, timing, etc. to add the total and unnecessary pressure of thinking that this is your golden ticket for stardom (and a Job). It might be, but If you have something that they haven’t seen so far it would be better, making advice number one even more important.  Also, Joe Murray describes the process of developing animated shows in his book “Creating Animated Cartoons with Character”. There is no way on earth that you can do all of that in your student film while learning how to do it. It will come across as half-baked and rushed. And that’s precisely what you don’t want. (Powerpuff Girls started as a student film from Craig McCracken in 1992 called ” Whoopass Stew!, but he continued to develop that short idea for some time after graduating from CalArts. It debuted as a series until 1998.)

David Levy got a big break as an Indie Director/Animator after working in Blues Clues and other shows with his animated short called “Good Morning”. In his book “Directing Animation”, Levy explains that he did that personal short in a period of 10 days, with several personal and professional problems… Quoting the book, he says: “I made Good Morning because there was something I needed to express, whether I understood what that was or not.”

That led to a lot of success, both personal and professional… but he never sat down to write an “Award Winnign short film“.

And last: Most important of all… live a life filled with challenge… push yourself artistically and personally. This is the one that I’ learning right now. Sometimes, you need to do stuff that WILL take you out of your comfort zone. And going out of your comfort zone is scary, but usually is rewarding in both experience and personal fulfillment.  Go offline if you’re hooked to the Internet. Read even if you don’t like it that much. Push it, push it and then push it some more!

(The Bonus was Plympton’s philosophy of making the animated short as funny, short and cheap as possible! )

Hope this post helps a bit. It helped me as I wrote it. If you think I’m missing something, let me know and I’ll add it!

The nerve-wrecking process

Yes. Animation can be a nerve wrecking process indeed.

At a given time, your animation is all over the place…you can’t figure out what it’s working and what needs to be tweaked a little bit more. As you go deeper in compositing, painting, making the proper camera moves and deciding if all the work that you did on the Layout stage translated well into the digitalized version of the animation, it feels like the pieces of a huge puzzle start to fall into place. (The mantra becomes “JUST trust the process.”)

Now, a image speaks a thousand words, and just as a special treat, I’ll show you a little bit of the behind the scenes for now: the first 10 seconds of my animated short. One part is pretty much finished, the other is not so.

Can you spot the differences? Tell me what you think!

First Preview of Hedgehogs’ Dilemma

Sorry for the delay on the posts, but it has been a hectic ride this year so far.

Right after Christmas break and after my New Years post, I dived into finishing my rough animation. some technical difficulties regarding the school being closed delayed me for a couple of days and have been working pretty much non stop since then, until an ear infection knocked me out for a week (more than 40 hours worth of work were used in battling the illness).

But all the work trying to catch up with my great friends of the Classical Animation 76 class has been paying off nonetheless, so I have some cool stuff to show you. I was going to document the whole process, but for the time being I think I’ll skip all the layout explanation and jump right into rough, clean and color animation examples… plus a surprise.

It’s just a sneak preview, the animation is pretty much final at the Clean Up stage but everything else might change, like color, timing and even framing.

First, we have the layout version, which was a perspective accurate version of the storyboard version of the short film idea:

Here we have the rough animation stage, where the keyframes were defined and the suggested timing was used:

The Clean animation stage is next, the final timing is used and also breakdowns and must inbetweens are added:

The first color test is this. There are color issues still, but is a good point to work from:

As an extra bonus, this is another scene (final in artwork and timing, but not quite there in color):


Oh, layout…

Layout is one thing that can get you right on track or make your animation project a total nightmare. And I really mean nightmare! Basically, layout in animation is the blueprint, the foundation if you will, of the whole short or feature. As where the storyboard helps you define the story and the way you tell it, layout is the process in which you decide ALL the technical stuff to actually make it.

Technical stuff in animation, you might ask. My short answer would be: Yep, and lots of technical stuff indeed! And we haven’t got to the actual animation process yet, we’re still in the pre-production phase. Storyboarding to make the story flow right and then layout, to make it feasible to animate properly.

An example of how layout works: If you have a close up of a character, you might want to animate it in a certain size: not too big (because it’s really hard to control and maintain similar quality overall) or too small (lines start to get all cluttered and messy if you draw it wrong only once). This is where Layout really shines, because you define the size that would work best and lock it! You do all the basic poses of the action “on-model” (the term for “stay-in-the-approved-character-design” in animation jargon) based on the character model sheet and then the animator would have a foundation to make the animation happen. (He or she would go from pose to pose, adding or removing things as he might judge proper, but that’s a different subject and I’ll add more on that on next posts).

Also, in Layout you define all the camera movements: panning, diagonal pans, dutch tilts, zip-pans, etc. and if you have multiplane camera shots or movements, you define all the “layers” in which that action it’s gonna happen. An example of that (and how complex you can get) can be seen here:

Layered composition

layered composition

Every “box” represents one piece of artwork that combined makes a composition. In this particular example, the first red box “level” belongs to the branch at the lower left part of the composition and so forth. Some layers interact with each other and some others interact with the characters, making things fairly complicated really fast: that’s when layout can become a life vest or an anvil in the middle of the ocean.

You also design the final backgrounds without colour and major rendering at this stage. Now, this makes the importance of layout stand out because at this stage, is fairly simple to solve staging or composition problems than trying to make an animation work in a bad planned environment.I’ll post a couple of videos showing a little bit of the layout process later on…


As a little present, I’ll let Walt Disney himself explain what a multiplane camera is:


Leica reel signed off!


I know it has been a while since my last post, but it was for a good reason.

After Peter challenged me to do better and improve the way my story was being told,  I stepped up my pace and did the amount of two weeks worth of changes in about 4 days. A lot of blood, sweat and tears but all the good advice of Peter MacAdams, Moose Pagan, Dieter Muller and Marv Newland was enough to keep me going and trying to make it better.

Right now, Im starting the Layout process, which Corey Evans (one of our instructors) has dubbed as the “problem solving phase” of the animation process. It’s kind of annoying, but it’s quite interesting how all of the pieces of this animated short start to fall into place.

Thanks for stopping by! Now, time to go and continue working on some more layout!

Reality check 1… *sigh*

Hi again!

I’ll need to postpone the One sheet post I promised because some more important questions came up yesterday morning.

We have now an assigned Final Film instructor: Peter MacAdams. Peter is awesome! Is the only teacher that constantly pushes me to achieve even more than I push myself (And I have suffered some major drawbacks because I push myself really hard… I try to learn and do some stuff that sometimes grows way out of hand! More often than not, I try to chew more than I can swallow.) So it is great for me to have Peter as my final film instructor because it will help me make it better and then learn a lot more… but I have to control my own perfectionism impulses and keep everything in check so things don’t grow out of hand!

So my first honest reality check was yesterday. We saw the latest Leica Reel together (The Leica reel which I already posted about here) and he was… how can I say it? … Not convinced.  After questioning him a little about it, the truth came very clear to me as I finally saw things the way he did: The story has major composition problems and there are two major points of the storytelling that don’t actually help. This points are there, but it wouldn’t matter if they are removed because they don’t help the story to grow. The great part is that he understood the story just the way I wanted to be so THAT’S GREAT! Once again… time to draw a lot and polish, polish and polish it some more!

Now, that’s a major issue for me. I’m rethinking the whole story as I write down this, and lucky for me, all this happened on this part of the process. Wish me luck, I’ll need it!

On a different note, autumn is starting to leave and winter is starting to come… So sad, I  sure love the colour of winter!

Leica Reel… second round.

Oh, what a day!

Finally, after working more than 8 hours straight on the second pass of the Leica Reel, I was able to finish it. It was a marvellous feeling!

Then again, I had just a few comments regarding poses of my two characters on the first presentation so everything was supposed to go smoothly. That wasn’t the case, but it’s gonna make a stronger, even better film at the end! But, oh boy… was a tough ride!

My timing of the scenes was a whole lot better overall. Specially after tweaking some poses, the time got a lot more accurate. Also, the “acting” part of my characters improved a lot. Apparently, with those changes a lot of new details surfaced during todays presentation.

I won’t lie, I started to panic. It was A LOT of details to fix… and fixing details is as much work as doing it for the first time (and we have to deal with some homework and stuff, besides the classical film). But then I asked Marv Newland for help, and he was generous with both his time and advice. It was actually priceless! THANKS MARV!! He not only helped me with the storytelling part, but he also helped me regain the confidence that I sort of lost during the pitching process…  I felt like I was back on the game again!

I won’t post the Leica Reel until later, but I promise to post my One Piece later this week. More on that next time.