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  • A Q&A at NYFA Los Angeles With Disney Head of Animation Amy Lawson Smeed

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    This August, Head of Animation for Walt Disney Studios Amy Lawson Smeed gave a rousing Q and A at the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy, after a screening of her latest work “Moana.” Smeed’s work includes “Treasure Planet,” “Paperman,” “Frozen,” “Tangled,” and “Moana.” The event was moderated by NYFA Chair of Animation Craig Caton.

    Students were excited to hear from one of the few leading women in animation. A recurring theme of the night was how much animation is accomplished by private performances no one ever sees. Smeed described working in an isolated room trying to capture the feelings and actions of a character. “I don’t ever want the character to look like me.”

    The performance is less about being the character and more about finding the truth and nuance in the scene. As an example, Smeed spoke about the scene inTangled” when Rapunzel sings over a dying Flynn Rider. Smeed drew on a personal family loss and her favorite tearjerkers to study how the throat gets tight when a person cries and how their eyes widen and tear.

    Smeed explained to the screenwriters in attendance that as an animator she does not often see a script. The collaborative nature and time intensive work requires a lot of planning up front. The workflow generally begins with a polished script, that is then storyboarded and screened (an animatic) for the entire studio. Everyone then has an opportunity to give notes on what they saw.

    Those notes are considered, a new draft is written, and the new and improved animatic is screened. Scenes that work are then given to the voice actors to record the dialogue. The recording sessions are filmed as a reference for animators. Finally, the recorded dialogue is given to the animators and they go to work making their character walk and talk.

    The reference tapes can be used to help define the character. Dwayne Johnson’s character in “Moana,” Maui, maintained “the people’s eyebrow” made famous during Johnson’s wrestling days. Smeed says the performance aspect is her favorite part of the job. Animating her first Disney kiss in “Tangled Ever After” was a particular highlight.

    Smeed was asked to give the best advice to students getting started in the industry. She said the reel is the animator’s key to getting into the exclusive club of working creators.  She highlighted three key elements to improve a reel. The first is to flip images of characters. If a something seems off about a pose, reverse the image. If it still seems off or if the pose becomes worse, it means something is wrong — perhaps the weight is distributed oddly or an angle of the limbs slightly askew.

    Smeed also shared that incorporating entertainment value is vital to impressing a veteran reviewing your work. “This can be something funny, a line or a gag, or it can be a moment that moves you,” Smeed said. What matters most is that an emotional reaction is elicited out of the viewer.

    Finally, students were encouraged to make sure the animated scenes in their portfolio include texture. Smeed defined texture as the way characters react to objects, tasks, and people when they are not speaking. Giving their hands and face definition is vital to making the character feel like a living being.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Amy Smeed for taking the time to speak to our students. Smeed’s next project is “Wreck-It Ralph 2,” and she noted that she’s excited to be animating the reunion of all the living Disney Princesses.

    Watch the full Q&A here:

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    August 16, 2017 • 3D Animation, Academic Programs, Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 4516

  • NYFA LA Welcomes Special Guest Eric Goldberg, Disney Animator: “Moana”

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    On Wednesday, Nov. 16, legendary Disney animator Eric Goldberg brought an exclusive preview of Disney’s latest project, “Moana” to New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. The chair of animation, Mark Sawicki, moderated the event.

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    Goldberg’s career is extensive. He’s worked on classic animated television shows such as “Looney Tunes” and “The Simpsons.” His work at Disney includes supervising the dance sequences in Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” and serving as supervising animator for the Genie in “Aladdin.” His specialty is 2D animation. For “Moana,” he oversaw the animation of Mini Maui, the mobile tattoo of Dwayne Johnson’s larger-than-life Maui.

    The theater was filled with animation and game design students both eager to hear from someone with over 25 years in the business and excited to catch a sneak peak of “Moana.” Goldberg did not disappoint in either area, treating students to over an hour of behind-the-scenes footage — including messages from the cast and crew, works in progress, and clips from the film.

    Many students wanted to know how 2D animators could survive in a 3D animation world. Goldberg assured students that the fundamentals wouldn’t be disappearing from animation anytime soon. “I always encourage people to look at the principals,” he stated, “They’ve held together for 100 years.” Mock up, character design, and landscaping are still all animation jobs that are originally drawn by hand.  “It’s about creating characters people can identify with. It’s a blend of both sensibilities: theatric and artistic.”

    Walt Disney Animation Studios' artist Jin Kim showcases the look of the title character in the upcoming adventure "Moana." Says director Ron Clements, “Moana is a vibrant, tenacious 16-year-old growing up on an island where voyaging is forbidden. But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she can remember and is desperate to find out what’s beyond the confines of her island.” Directed by Clements and John Musker and featuring the voice of Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli'i Cravalho in the title role, "Moana" opens nationwide on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

    ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

    For those hopefuls trying to get into Disney, Goldberg had some additional advice. “Disney is always looking for talent.” He suggests going to the Disney website and looking at the portfolio requirements. He also suggests a tactic that he called “observe and caricature” to up one’s game. “How can you identify a friend in a crowd from behind and 20 yards away?” Goldberg asked.  “It’s their walk. You know how they carry their weight. How they walk when they’re sad or mad.” Goldberg suggests practicing nailing those walks and gestures in order to improve basic skills.

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    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Goldberg for sharing his wealth of knowledge with humor and humility. NYFA would also like to thank Tova Laiter for bringing this presentation to the school.

    “Moana” will be in theaters near you on Nov. 23, 2016.

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    November 18, 2016 • Guest Speakers • Views: 6967

  • Disney Animator Darrin Butters Shows off “Zootopia”

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    In what looks like a sure hit for Disney, the masters of animation have created an environment consisting of a modern mammal metropolis in their 55th feature Zootopia. In the film, there are habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything.

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    “Zootopia” Animator, Darrin Butters

    Providing the New York Film Academy 3D Animation School with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at this world was Darrin Butters, who has been an animator for all of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ top hits including Big Hero 6, Frozen and Tangled.

    In front of a full house of animation students, Butters introduced the story, which focuses on rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), who discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery.

    Perfecting the motion of each animal was the main focus of Butters’ and his team’s research before beginning to animate the production. “We’re not shooting for realism, but it has to be believable,” said Butters before adding a joke. “The most important animation problem we had to figure out—how does a tiger dance?”

    Butters had the privilege of working on what could be the funniest moment of the film, where Judy and Nick enter a DMV run entirely by excruciatingly slow-moving sloths. As he was animating the slow laugh of one such sloth, Butters recalls going against everything he was ever taught in animation—he purposely dragged everything out to play into the humor of the situation. The risk paid off tenfold.

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    NYFA Animation Instructor Robert Appleton and Darrin Butters

    His best piece of advice for young animators working on an animation team: “Show your work early and show often,” said Butters. “You want that collaboration.”

    Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Zootopia, a comedy-adventure directed by Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, The Simpsons) and co-directed by Jared Bush (Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero), opens in theaters on March 4, 2016.

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    March 2, 2016 • 3D Animation, Guest Speakers • Views: 8690