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5 Great Tips from an Animation Pedagogy Forum

The panelists from Pedagogies for Practice.

The panelists from Pedagogies for Practice.

“Ummm, pedagogy? Is that like a Ped Egg for your foot?”

Nope! It’s the forum I attended on the weekend where professionals (including Academy Award winner Adam Elliot) discussed how animation should be taught to students. They also shared tips about the industry and these are 5 points I took away!

1. ANIMATION DIRECTING SHOULD BE PURSUED; ANIMATION SUPERVISING CAN BE OFFERED

Having experienced the role himself, Florent de la Taille (a GOBELINS graduate) pointed out that if you want to become an Animation Director, you have to pursue the role from the outset. Waiting for the role to float gently down to you from the heavens in a halo of gold is probably not going to happen.

On the other hand, you can be offered the role of Animation Supervisor based on your excellent work. You just have to give an indication to your studio that you want to be considered. Animation Supervisors bear a lot of responsibility for the sequences they’re supervising, so not everyone puts their hand up to keep the kids in check.

In addition, Florent advised that if you’re really gunning for the role of Animation Supervisor, you have to check that the studio where you’re working even NEEDS one. If they don’t, then apply elsewhere specifically for that role. Be aware: some studios don’t take on outside supervisors. Some studios work on a Japanese system where you have to work from the bottom up. I feel like I can hear Drake rapping as I wrote that…

What a polite ass. Shrek 2 (2004, Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon). Source: Reflectionary.

2. CREATURE ANIMATION – DECIDE ON A VIABLE REALITY

How can you layer human behaviour over creature animation?

By deciding on the rules of that world before you begin animating.

Myrna Gawryn (a teacher of character behaviour and movement) answered my question by giving  an example of Donkey from Shrek: sometimes he walks on all fours like the quadruped he is and  sometimes he sits with crossed legs. Ergo, sometimes his physiology is respected and he walks  like an ass (tee hee!) and sometimes he’s given human behaviour like washing his hoofs to ramp  up the humour. Each creature should have rules to follow so that we as an audience  understand  why Donkey can sit cross-legged, but isn’t walking upright like a pig in Animal Farm.

3. SCRIPT, SCRIPT, SCRIPT

Audiences can forgive bad animation but they won’t forgive a bad story.

This one is especially true because it comes from Adam Elliot, a claymation animator who says  he’s never animated a walk-cycle in his life. Seriously. Check out his Academy-Award winning  short film Harvie Krumpet. It’s just a lot of it blinking eyes.

But I would take his lack of walk-cycles and Harvie’s endearing story any day over Frozen. Pretty  pictures are one thing, but not knowing who is the villain is another.

If only they’d followed the mantra: SCRIPT, SCRIPT, SCRIPT.

4. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE MORE TALENTED THAN YOU

WOAH, epiphany! No one has ever told me this before. Now that I’ve heard it, I realised it’s something you should ALWAYS do.

If you surround yourself with more talented people, then they can fill in for your weaknesses and also help improve them. Now I know how to fight you, my terrible texturing skills!

5. ANIMATION IS A PART OF A LARGER ECOSYSTEM

If you think about ‘art’ as being an ecosystem, then you realise that animation is just one part of it. Go explore what the rest of the ecosystem has to offer!

Like my cousin’s theatre performance that involved crazy nuns. Or trying to play ‘Edelweiss’ on the harmonica. Or learning how to make croissants from scratch!

*Note to readers: You need to have foresight into your croissant cravings. If you think: “Mmmm….yeah I do want croissants in 72 hours”, then go ahead and bash the butter into that pastry!

5TipsPedagogies_Ecosystem

The point is explore – try – create! Everything you experience can help you to evolve in your chain of the ecosystem. Who knows what your outside interests can influence next?

 

How I Animate a Lie

For my final assignment at Animation Mentor (aww!) I was tasked to pick a 10 second piece of dialogue to animate to. After rifling through various movies, how could I go past the brilliant young Saoirse Ronan in this scene of Atonement?

It’s a SUPER subtle scene (*background context provided below) that has everything you could ask for in a character performance: hesitation, conviction and also – A LIE.

Ughhhhh. That’s the sound I made when I delved deeper and discovered how hard it is to create a good lying reference.

As with all assignments at Animation Mentor, it’s crucial that you have video reference of yourself or others acting out what you want your animated character to do in the scene. For my character Briony (Ronan), I had to put myself in her shoes and think what she would think while trying to convey deception.

“No duh Stephanie, that’s acting 101. What’s so hard about that?”

The tricky part was this: you can’t be too good at lying.

After my first attempt at lying:

– the feedback I received from my mentor Erik was that the body language looked nervous but too convincing. If you want to show deception, you have to let slip hints of the truth.

The ultimate question you have to ask yourself is:

How good of a liar is your character? Will they give it away very easily or can they hide the truth pretty well?”

Lie_ranking

If I had to set it on a lying capability scale from 1-10 (1 being Cindy Brady who can never hide the truth and 10 being the sly deceiver Hannibal Lecter) I would say my character should be about a 6. She’s a doubtful ten-year-old girl who is hovering between believing the lie and confessing the truth. She can look the person in the eye while lying but at some point she’s going to give the game away with a few pieces of hesitant body language.

So to gather a better video reference, I had to study the shifty body language that gives the game away, commonly called “tells”. This was weirdly fun and interesting to do. Think of watching videos of poker players who bluff their way through high stakes and President Bill Clinton shifting in his chair when questioned about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

There are also various videos (eg. How to Read Hands) and writings (eg. I Can Read You Like a Book by Gregory Hartley) analysing what certain gestures or expressions mean. These interpretations were fascinating to study but also conflicting depending on the source, so I took any analysis with a grain of salt and tried to be merely an observer of body language.

What my research led me to conclude was that everyone deceives differently and I don’t think there’s a definitive guide to lying. Sorry Samuel L Jackson, but when you look left I don’t believe it ALWAYS means you’re lying.

However I do believe some deceptive behaviours can be repeated amongst different people, like this picture shows here:

524dc7abe691b226d3c4428d_736

Source: LittleFun.org

I found the best thing to do when researching lies is to watch a variety of lies in progress and pick some behaviour that a liar exhibits which you can replicate. I liked the idea of my character shifting her body weight, rubbing her hands and darting her eyes around.

With a bit more knowledge in mind, I set about to re-record video reference. And man oh man, did I live in front of a camera:

The reason I have so many pieces of reference is because when I was on camera, it was hard to remember all the details I’d planned for the action, like wringing my hands while shifting my eyes and frowning. Compartmentalising the actions of my hands and face helped me to overlap them later, even if I didn’t use every piece of reference in the end.

Once the action was roughed out in my animation, the main piece of advice I kept receiving was: “Contain the action.”

Huh? CONTAIN the action??? What the heck does that mean?! As far as I know, when you want to show off your animation chops, you create big, broad pieces of action that loop-de-loop all over the screen like this:

Lie_loopdeloop

Doing subtle performances where your main focus is the face is the complete opposite of what I’d been encouraged to do previously. In short:

Big actions = comforting.

Subtle actions = TERRIFYING.

However, Erik was right. You can hear in her voice that she doesn’t need to prance around like a unicorn and you can see from the original film performance that Briony is almost completely still in her chair. If she had sounded more nervous, I might make her move around a little more, but minimalism was what this piece required, so no muss, no fuss.

And there it is! As you can see she began by moving around a little too much in the early stages but I eventually stripped it back at the polishing stage. I still have some more passes to get through to refine the action further, but at least I now know that when you animate a lie you should:

  1. Determine how good the character is at lying.
  2. Research different lies and pick behaviours your character could exhibit.
  3. Compartmentalise your reference if it’s difficult to act out all at once.
  4. Strip back the action if it doesn’t suit the dialogue.

P.S. If anyone else has ideas for improvement with my animation or tips about lying, please feel free to comment! It’s always very much appreciated :D.

 

*SPOILER SIDE NOTE: This is a scene where 10-year-old Briony is testifying that she saw the groundskeeper Robby (James McAvoy) rape her cousin. However she never saw Robby’s face, she has just misjudged his character and assumed it was him.

We Made the Shortlist

2:30am – for whatever reason, I can’t sleep. Then like a little Dobby that appears out of thin air, the thought hits me: “Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts! Oh and Stephanie, DID YOU CHECK WHO WON THE SCHOLARSHIP?”

Yeesh, the winner’s been announced since yesterday and I’ve been too busy with animation and this “new” restaurant –

Yes. That is a yellow Ashes' KFC you're seeing.

Yes. That is the yellow KFC we pulled into.

– to have even checked!

Fumbling in the dark for my phone, I flick to the World Nomads Travel Film Scholarship page. Here it goes, the first scroll down.

WINNER peaks out…….don’t bring your hopes up…read part of the name…”Andr-” – DANGIT. Not us.

The first thing you feel is this guy:

Just your typical AA meeting.

Just your typical AA meeting.

– but then you watch Andrés’ video and read his story and realise he’s a real travel go-getter. Like long-hair-part-beard citizen of the earth. He totally deserves it!

But still – dangit. Then begins the slow scroll-down through the RUNNER’S UP (in no particular order). Where are we, where are we, well we didn’t get a bloody email so we’re probably not here……nothing.

Shoot. Then it’s the mad scroll of insanity through the final group: Shortlist (again, in no special order). Quick scan…come on!…nothing, nothing, noth- AHA!!! In small beautiful letters:

Doth my eyes deceive me??????

Doth my eyes deceive me??????

Ok, so they spelt the name ‘Brisbane’ incorrectly and we didn’t win but WHO CARES!? WE DID IT BABY!

We (my boyfriend Jonathan and I) had entered the competition at the beginning of November. Get this – if your 3 minute film entry is chosen, not only do you win a 10-day trip to New Orleans, you get to make short travel films about the city and events like Mardi Gras. Our thoughts: Umm, making films, free trip AND huge party? Where do we sign up!?

This was our film:

– and out of 224 entries from around the world, we’re ecstatic we beat 200 other films to make the top 24 films!

Last year, we received a brilliant graduating speech from a ballet dancer who imparted wisdom that went something like:

As artists, we should not seek recognition for what we do. Often we will work hard and achieve something great but it will go unnoticed. We should do what we do not for the accolades and recognition, but because we are passionate about our art.

I agree with him 100%.

However I do have to say, for someone like myself who has thought they could only excel in academia, has watched friends enter Cannes Film Festival, seen her brother bring home piles of plaques for cinematography and in general is surrounded by AMAZEBALLS  human beings, being recognised for your passion with a silly little duck film feels preeeetttyyy damn good.

Take THAT jealousy.

Take THAT jealousy.

Thank You, Come Again!

If you’ve filtered through the waffle of my ‘About’ page, I talk about how I freelance with Graphic Design jobs. I won’t pretend it’s a full-time job (or that I’m a pro) but some of the jobs I’ve done in the past have been posters, illustration cards and corporate presentation-y stuff.

Pretty much all of the jobs I get are through people I know, which is awesome not only because it means networking really does work, but also because somehow (without me even trying) I’ve given off the impression that my degree in Animation is also a degree in Graphic Design. To some that may seem frustrating, but to me it’s a win-win! Hooray for temporary jobs while I animate and learn about compositing!

I’m posting about this job:

Graphic Design Wedding

– because my client was really happy! That’s not to say I’ve ever had an unhappy client, but this one was especially thankful and sent me this photo:

Wedding Invite Package

– of when she’d had all the designs printed and bundled together with a piece of fabric! It’s especially nice because I’ve never done a wedding invite before, let alone worked with typography (which is actually really tricky). Nonetheless I found it really fun to learn about, the invite looks beautifully rustic and I’m glad my customer is happy! So thank you, come again!

P.S. If you like what I’ve done (and you’re willing to negotiate a fee that doesn’t constitute slave labour) then feel free to contact me about a job! Also check out my friend Emma’s website if you need commissions for awesome illustration or design:

http://www.emmaaustin.com/index.php

Or my friend Anya for more illustration work:

http://tasteslikeanya.deviantart.com/

Playful Poses

Sloan Play Poses

 

These are my final poses incorporating quadrupeds at play.

It’s inspired by this great video I found of two dogs playing but which I now can’t remember the name of. My brain is doing that whole “I might have Alzheimer’s, but at least I don’t have Alzheimer’s” thing. I’ve tried to bribe my brain with chocolate in exchange for the memory of the name but alas, no luck.

Stephanie_Tomoana_sloan03_v01

This is my initial version of the playful poses. The great thing was there wern’t too many changes! Basically the critique was to bring the screen left dog’s head down and push his legs back. With the screen right dog, it was more about adjusting the front legs and finding the right interaction with the other dog.

I’m pretty happy with it! Hooray for satisfaction!

 

Move and Play – Sloan Sketches

Sloan Sketches - Movement

These are my Sloan movement sketches from 2 weeks ago. I had quite a bit of fun researching these poses, partly because I got to laugh at the Corgi Flop over and over again:

– as well as Crufts competitions like Flyball!:

Then last week we had to draw quadrupeds at play.

Sloan Sketches - Play

And I got to watch this amazeballs orangutan roll around:

Ahhh, animation study. Such a hard life :D.

Go Get it Boy

4 LEGS!?!?! 2 legs are hard enough! And 4 legs? That’s like…………….*calculates lengthy mathematical equation*…………….*uses CSI science lab technology*……………………………TWICE AS MANY LEGS!!!! HOW CAN WE ANIMATE 4!?!?

If you can tell, I’m just slightly freaking out. Our new rig Sloan is both an exciting and daunting new addition to our curriculum. Exciting – because quadrupeds are still fresh territory for me – and daunting – because last year I tackled a quadruped in our graduate film ‘The Button’ and it was SUPER hard. Like really. Super. Difficult.

Ah well, best stop crying and just rip the band-aid off quickly.

Here are my final poses for Sloan:

Searching for the Loch Ness monster.

Searching for the Loch Ness monster.

– and here are the initial poses:

Reachy reachy!

Reachy reachy!

The main critique for both poses was to revise the leg positions. I think a lot of study has to go into where quads take the weight and how their legs fold. They’ve kind of got a cocertina thing going on, where if you move one section, another should follow.

Hmm, more study is required. To the library!

Batter Up!

Last week’s posing assignment was similar to the first one: creating poses with Stella that show movement.

I was casting around for some cool inspiration and I came up with….baseball!

Damn girl. Throw that.

Damn girl. Throw that.

Swing, batter batter, swing!

Swing, batter batter, swing!

I’m pretty happy with the poses and I’ll post up my sketches for these poses later. For now, here are the before poses and the critiques I received:

Before

Pose 01: Plant the screen right foot and pay attention to the twist and arch in her back.

Pose 02: Lean her back more as she is in the sketch and really twist her upper body. My peers also gave me reference images to help with the angle of the bat. Thanks peers!

On a side note, my cool German friend Al liked my work and he mentioned me on his blog, so I’m gonna do the same and throw a shout out back at him! He has fantastic animations and his blog can be found here:

http://alexdiestel.tumblr.com/

– and his website is here:

http://www.alexdiestel.de/

Danke!

New Title FAIL

I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. I’ve realised my website is more bloggy than portfolio website-y, so I would like to create a more professional website with my name as the URL and no posting, and keep this website as more of a blog format. The only problem is that I would need a new name and URL for my blog and I’m kind of stumped/indecisive when it comes to picking a new name.

Going about my normal troubleshooting ways, I Googled “how to name a blog” and got onto SpinXO, a name generator that spits out variations of keywords you type in. Some of the best (and by “best”, I mean “most hilarious”) ones it spit out included:

Thug Animation

“Thug Animation”

Genius. It reflects my thug life in the projects as I animate illegal movies (eg. Donald After Dark).

Steph Stewbum

“Steph Stewbum”

Brilliant. This has nothing to do animation and vfx but EVERYTHING to do with my cannibal cooking adventures.

NameFail_shatsteph

“Shat Steph”

SERIOUSLY!? In what fields that I entered (steph, vfx, animate, visual) is this solution warranted?! And who (outside of Star Trek fans) ACTUALLY wants a blog that includes “Shat” in the title????

It doesn’t even sound like it’s about “Steph”. Moreso, it’s about the aftermath of someone eating me and passing me through their bowels, whereby my being eaten created enough dilemmas with their health that it warranted a whole blog.

Thank you SpinXO for your hilarious (but failed) attempts at naming my blog. Guess I’ll have to think of a new name the old fashioned way – rip it off a movie.