Sean Graham's Animation Mental Blog

Sunday, July 16, 2006


If there's one thing I can say, it's that this school keeps me on my toes. But this week's special. For one thing, I'm passing in the final for the golf swing. That's unfortunate, because last week, Scott gave me some pretty extensive notes, which I couldn't possibly fit in. Not that his demands were unreasonable, no. See, we were moving t0 Massachusetts. WHAT?! You might say. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEMESTER?! You might continue.

Unfortunate as the timing may have been for school, it was perfect for most everything else, so we made it happen. Quite a few things fell into place for that to occur, not the least of those considerations was family, our daughter, the selling of our house, my wife's department getting widdled down to practically nothing, and her imminent resignation, but not hidden at the bottom of it, was the fact that I'd have more time to work on school work once the move was finished (about 10 days) and Siggraph will be guessed it, BOSTON this year! Plus at least 10 other pros helped completely out weigh the cons, and we made the trip.

The bad news. My mid-term movie was a disaster. Yep. I tried like heck to get all of those changes in, but alas, in the end, I had to let it go. There was still half a semester to make up ground, so I wasn't feeling like I was done for, but boy, it was really tough to just let it slip. And Scott was really cool about it. He understood, and we worked out a plan to keep me in the loop for the ten days during the trip, and I even attended the live QnA from Arkadelphia, Arkansas via the internet at the friendly Hampton Inn! Those be good folk.

So, here it is in all it's unfinished-ness.

Click on the image, as usual...

In The Rough...

So here's the tricky part, especially if you've used IK arms (please see a couple posts ago for details). Going from stepped to spline*. Now, I do this in chunks, and I also go to flat** first, because true spline gives you too much junk to work out that early in the process. Going to flat and using the copied pairs method*** allows you to work a lot like you're still in stepped, maintaining your snappiness and timing and all that, but you can start working on your transitions from pose to pose and refine in a fairly orderly manner. A few things are evident when you have a look this week. You can definitely see what happens when you go from stepped to flat. Some things are definitely soupy. You can see that the golf club is not actually attatched to his hand! You can see in the take*** that the hands look separated from the body in what they're doing. Feet are sliding, motion is somewhat sloppy...all things that the animator needs to work out. That's not even getting into the more artistic decisions like, how do you get from pose to pose, you're breakdowns, as it were, offsetting parts of the body, easing or overshooting, acting...we're just talking about the mechanics and reality stuff that you don't want getting in the way of the performance. Now, you definitely are thinking about all of that stuff anyway, but you want to wait to actually execute the majority of it 'til you've locked down you're character. At least I do anyway...

Click on the image to see the movie for this week - blocking plus

* stepped to spline - refers to methods of data interpretation from one saved set of data to the next over time. Stepped method holds the value of a set of data until it reaches a new saved set of data. Spline will in one of a variety of ways try to interpret the best way to gradually become the next set of data from the first. Example: Timeline has 10 seconds. At second 1, value is 0. At second 10, value is 10. In stepped, very second from 1 to 9 has a value of 0. In spline, every second has an added value. Second 5 in spline would have 5, not 0.

** Flat - A method of spline mode, which arrives at saved sets of data by easing into them and out of them at equal amounts. Creating a wave look.

*** Copied Pairs - A computer animation technique that allows one to work in spline and still maintain holds by placing equivalent sets of saved data over the length of the hold.


Ok, so that first pass wasn't exactly breathtaking. Agreed. But it gave me a jumping off point, which was exactly what it's purpose is. Scott gave me some really great tips. We changed the camera angle. Tried to build more of an arc into the set up for the swing. I pushed those poses more, and adjusted the timing to really build some tension before he swings through. We also added some time for him to follow the path of the ball before reacting, which I think really helped. I'm now up to about 225 frames, still manageable. I've decided that, given the other demands on my time, 200-250 frames is about what I can get in and really make it polished animation. We'll see!

Click on image to see latest pass...

Mechanics of a Golf Swing...

Last semester, I got a bug in my britches about trying a golf swing animation, but folks thought that, as a 4-emotion test, some of my other ideas had more potential. Well, this semester, I get a chance to do that golf swing! So I planned 'er out, did a whole bunch of video reference of myself getting out there and trying it (which I'll post soon, it's on the other conputer) and blocked out my first attempt at the golf swing shot! And it's not very impressive. But it's a start!

I am, however, starting to regret my use of IK (Inverse Kinematic) arms as a primary animation tool, as getting every thing to work properly is a hellish mess when it comes to arms, because I'm essentially reverse-animating the natural progression of arm movement. With IK arms, the arm position is dictated by the position of the upper and lower arm as they relate to the hand. Not as they relate to each other and the shoulder (which is called FK, or Forward Kinematic arms). IK arms can be thought of as like the muppets. You know how on Kermit, there are sticks attached to his hands? C'mon, I know you're not supposed to acknowledge that they are there, but we've all seen 'em. Well, what happens when you move the stick? The hand moves, and the arm, jointed in the middle at the elbow and connected to the shoulder, moves based on where that hand goes. That's inverse kinematics. Forward kinematics is like G.I. Joe arms. There's a stiff joint at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. The position of the parts is relative to what you've done to move each section around. You move the shoulder, the whole arm will move too. You move the lower arm, the hand will move there too. The hand does not dictate the position of the arm, unless, of course, you grab the hand and force the arm into a position, but it's difficult to do that, because it's not designed for that. However, that would be a way of attempting to make that FK joint system IK. A really good use of IK arms, if when the hand DOES dictate the position of the arm, like when a character is hanging from his hands, or is resting his hand against a wall, or in some way is acted upon by an outside force. Whew. Anyway, my arms on this guy are IK. I won't discover the folly of my ways 'til the next project.

Click on the image to see the first blocking...

Wrapping Up A Good Lesson...

As term two came to a close, I found I'd bitten off a heck of a lot more than I could chew! The down side was that I didn't get a chance to finish this one. The bright side was that, even still, there was a lot I'd learned from the experience. What I have here, is a snippet of the shot showing the character as I started to try to refine him, and the little ball with the tail on it, even going so far as to rough in the later ball actions in something called a "grease pencil tool" that allows you to draw two demensionally in MAYA. It's really cool, and gave me a chance to work out some of the timing and action. And actually, if the length of this had been the entire length of the piece, I probably would have been fine, but the whole thing was better than twice this length, and just killed me. Especially since I was doing a lot of things over, had chosen some methods that were more time consuming because I didn't know any better and generally, was working harder, not smarter. Oh, the life of a student.

Click the top image for the pencil test, click the bottom version for the "final" piece I turned in.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Meet Scott Lemmer, Mentor, Class 3

My Mentor for Class 3 is Scott Lemmer! Really cool guy, actually graduate not too long ago from a rather prestigous animation program in Canada, and then went on to work for DNA Studios in Texas. DNA's just finished up production on 'Ant Bully', a feature that's coming out soon, and they're actually laying off a lot of their talent, I think including Scott, so I'm not sure what he's up to right now, since it's been about 3 months since I've really talked with him. But he's a great example of how quickly you get worked into this industry if you have talent. He's a fairly young guy, baby faced in fact, but has a wealth of knowledge. He was a pleasure to have as a Mentor, even though I'm sure I out age him by at least 5 years, probably more like 8! I feel old.
Looks like he's getting his portfolio site ready to look for a new job (another clear industry negative, the potential that, as an animator, you become ex[pendable once the work load slows) so his website professional website ( is down, but he does have a student site still up, you can find a link to that to the right of this article under my Mentors.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Hi Everybody! I'm coming to the end of my fourth semester at Animation Mentor, and it's been amazing. I can't believe how much I've learned and yet how much there is still to learn. Just when I think I've got something down, I find I didn't have the slightest clue. But that's ok. That's what this is all about, right? Trial and error. Better now than in the middle of a feature production, going into dailies* and getting laughed out the door!

Well, I have a lot to share with you! I have 4 assignments, including the completion of the piece you've seen snippets of from last year, a golf swing test, an acting test and a two character shot which I'm just finishing this week. I also have news on the mentor I had last semester and where you'll see his work, as well as some details about this semester's mentor, Doug dooley, a dry but humorous fellow who's an exceptional animator and working over at PIXAR! I'll probably also touch on our recent move from L.A. to Boston, and why, as it is directly related on some levels with my animation Mentor experience, and what the upcoming plans are before I graduate from teh course and become a full-fledged (hopefully) working animator. This may take a few posts, but I'm dedicated to getting this out now, as it's a good time for me, so I'll be working on it over the next week or so. So here we go!

Over the course of the last few months...ok, let's not kid myself, I haven't posted here since last November. It's been over six months! No way. Well then, there's a lot of catching up to do. I've been listening and relistening to audio conversations on Animation Podcast which is a fantastic site. He talks with some pretty important and influential animators, including Eamonn Butler, Ron Clemmens and John Musker, Nik Ranieri and the venerable Glen Keane. What's really cool about these interviews is not only getting a sense of history (especially Disney history, since both the site's creator and his interviewees all seem to have roots there) but also how passionate these people are about the field and about the future potential of animation as an artform, regardless of whether it's on the computer or hand drawn or stop mo.** or whatever. Plus I'm starting to get familiar with the people, places and work that continue to be important knowledge as I prepare to work my own way itn this industry.

Every now and then, I hear something that sticks, like Ward Kimble's advice to always allow the audience to see the funny picture "There's a funny picture in this scene, make sure they see it!" or learning about new resources that are available, like gesture drawing with Walt Stanchfield, and important figures in animation, like James Baxter (who's apparently in his own studio in Pasadena, of all places!). There also been advice about demo reels from Nik Ranieri: Take chances. Make it polished animation. Don't worry about lighting and rendering unless you want a job in lighting or rendering. Good mixture of physical stuff and expressive stuff, but make sure it's all driven by an idea. Keep reels short. 4 or 5 scenes is plenty.

So if you get a chance, and are interested in the nitty gritty of animation production, politics, and life, give it a listen.

Next segment: Picking up where we left off. How the final assignment from body mechanics failed, and lessons learned.

*Dailies: Showing your animation progress to the director and peers in a closed door meeting where your work is watched and critiqued, usually on a daily basis.

** Stop Mo. or Stop Motion: An animation technique whereby articulate puppets are placed in a scene and a picture is taken to represent 1/24th of a second of film. The puppet is then moved again slightly and another picture is taken. This process is repeated over and over, moving the character through the scene. Playback of the pictures at real-time produces animation.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Rethinking Emotions

So here we go, the whole purpose for the early sketches and the 4 pose emotion test is to start to refine an approach, a PLAN for the animation. One really great critique I got was to focus on just on concept, and have all of the emotions stem from that. Currently, I have the paper acting as the reason for Stewie becoming alert and then engaged, and the dead animal as the reason he become disgusted. After deliberating on this for quite a while and talking to my buddy Tom and then going over it with my Wife Sara, I thumbed some alternatives like this and this.

When I brought it up in the Class Q&A, folks had a really great reaction, and further enhancements for me, leading to the next version you can see here!

Click on the image to see the animation blocking pass.

Four Pose Emotion Test

Bobby mentioned this might be one that we would end up putting on a reel, so, as if I needed extra motivation, I really worked on this long and hard to try to find what I wanted to do. There were a few scenarios to choose from: Scenario Sheet A, Scenario Sheet B, but the one that seemed to hit the mark of the four emotions most was one where Stewie's lying in a lounge chair, throwing a ball for Tailor, (we'll call him Stewie's pet) and Tailor returns with a deasd animal, which Stewie picks up without realizing it, then freaks out as he does realize it and throws it down, leaping over the chair.

The four poses, what they call "golden poses" (although I'm not sure how golden mine are) are in the movie for this week. Have a look! Oh, at the end , are sketches as well, showing more of the progression. We were told, though, to stick to just the four key emotion poses for this week.

Click on the image to see the poses.

Push Final (sort of)

I'm gonna have another crack at this at some point, but for now, we're done with the push. I learned a whole bunch from this assignment, which in the end, is probably the point, but I'd really like to do something more with the ending and clean up the rest of the animation so I could possibly use it as a piece for my reel. For now though, I'm happy that I was able to catch up and deliver this on time, even though I was REALLY behind after trying to do too much in the first few weeks and realizing I'd dug myself a big hole!

Click on the image to the right to see the final (sort of) push.

One idea for an alternate ending involves a monstrous hand busting through the box as he's pushing, grabbing stewie and trying to pull him inside, poping his huge head off in the process, it bouncing and rolling down the ramp, and off screen left.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pushing it. Adding more detail.

So ok, the last version quite a bit to be desired. So I went in and tried to flesh it out some more. The direction I got was that the opening poses were much too cliche' and that there should probably be more pushing and a resolution to the pushing in there.

Well, I got as much of that as I could done this week, which was hard, because we went out of town for half the week. But even though I'm a bit behind, I think I'm getting there...

Click on the image to the right to see the second week blocking.

Makin' Stewie Earn His Keep

Yay! the first assignment is behind us, and no time to waste, on to the next challenge! We have this Stewie guy, a box and we need to have Stewie push the heavy box up an incline. Now that I've moved Stewie around and got him to do a character walk, I'm feeling pretty comfortable with him. But now he has to actually interact with another object. Eek! Wha-- how-- oy. Deep sigh, and off we go. Got to learn a few tricks, like parenting the hands of Stewie to the box so that I can use the inverse kinematic controls and the hands will remain firmly planted on the box. Nice trick. Also, I decided in my ultimate wisodom to add a few moments of acting to the beginning. Kind of a "What? You want me to move THIS thing?!"

So, anywho, blocking, first pass. Have a look...

Click on the image to the right to see the animation.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Adding Polish To Igor.

Here we are, into spline, and whoa! I think it's not too bad now! Not great by any menas, but MAN have I learned a bunch from this assignment. Not to bad, I think for a guy who's never worked with a complex character before. As a matter of fact, in case you're curious, I think it's ok for me to show you what the rig kind of looks like. Check out all of the controls I'm working with!

Click on controls image to the right to see closeup.

And here's the animation. It doesn't go so far as to animate the fingers, so it still needs polish. But for what we were expected to do for the assignment, I'm feeling like it's ok.

Click on the Igor to the right to see animation.

Igor learns to loosen up.

Here I thought I did a good job on the Igor arms, and turns out, they stunk to high heaven. Looking back on it, they DO stink. What was I thinking? I worked long and hard on those things, and they look stiff and completely unuseful. Well, after a long critique, it became clear I had a lot of work ahed of me. No problem, I'm ready to handle it. So, this was the final week of the assignment, but before I could move into "spline" ( basically animating every frame using MAYAs interpolation abilities to in-between), I needed to fix my problems in blocking. So, that's what I did, and ehre's the results...

Click on the Igor to the right to see the animation.

Guess who got some arms!

Igor! That's who! Yep, the guy's got to move limbs other than legs. Well, the first shot at this was less than inspiring, but hey, I'm NEW to arms! Oh! Plus, we had to add an intro to the walk. We needed to take the first 60 frames and come up with a way to lead into the walk we had already created! Actually, it was really cool and VERY educational, as there was a whole lot to consider. Anywho, it's blocking, but you should be able to get the idea.

Click the Igor to the right to see the animation.


Ok, you're all tremendously patient with me. I mena, really, I've left for a long time, and yet here you are, reading this. Wow. Seriously. You are one dedicated Sean Graham's animation Mental Blog fan! You might be the only one, too! It's also possible that noone's reading this, and I'm just talking tomyself at this point, but ok, whatever. ANYWAY! Over the last...holy cramolies! Month and a HALF! I've been working long and hard at Animation Mentor. There's been a TON to absorb and then apply and that is the biggest reason I've been absent. I'm gonna try to get some stuff up, though, starting later today. I have the second pass and final of the Igor walk, which came out "ok", and then the second assignment sketches, blocking, smoothed adn refined of a "push up an incline", which was awesome for me, simply because of everything I learned from it! And now, we're into a four-pose assignment which will take us to the end of term! Whew! So! stay tuned, I promise, later today, I'm-a gonna be postin'!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blocking Igor...

So, you've seen my most excellent sketching, and you're thinking how could it possibly get better than that, right? Well...then do I have a treat for you! Here's the "blocking" for the igor walk. "What the heck is blocking?" do you say, well, blocking is simply getting keyframes in place to see how it's all working. It's not finished, just "roughed" in so to speak. About every third or fourth frame, depending on the situation, and then you manipulate the keys back and forth in the timeline to optimize the timing and spacing, refining the "performance".

Click on the image to the right to see the animation.

Reference and Sketching Igor...

Week 1 was a real test. The idea was to apply the principle of overlapping action to a spine and neck test. Basically, overlapping action is a HUGE part of what makes something look organic and not a robotic. Overlap is what happens as things move. Not everything moves at the same time. Soemthings are attached to other things that move first, then pull the next thing and so on. Like a tail. The tail movement by itself is not overlapping action, but the fact that the tail moves in response to the ball and doesn't all move in the same direction at the same time DOES make it overlapping action. It's the exaggerated physics of elements reacting to each other that's the key.

So for Igor, the trick is to have the back and neck and then the head moving in reaction to the quick leg movement. Video reference revealed that the there'
s also a twist in the torso and hips the counters each other at the same time. Here are the sketches:

The first page here, is an attempt to find some of the key frames that determine the walk, the overlapping action, the reversals and the movement of the dragging leg.

This second sheet is a further look at the shoulder dip and rotation, and the overlapping timing of the neck and head.