Industry Trends

The Best Animation Studios in the World Outside of Disney & Pixar

From today’s computer-animated films to the hand-drawn classics, there’s no denying the storytelling power of animation. For nearly a century, this art has given us captivating stories taking place in vibrant, memorable worlds. But like any entertainment medium, it can take a passionate and talented team to charm us time and time again.

We all know how good both Disney and Pixar are, together raking in hundreds of awards in the last decade alone. Here we’ll be focusing on the many other animation studios inspiring viewers across the globe with their work. The animation industry wouldn’t be the same without them:

Studio Ghibli
Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke

This Japanese studio has been cementing itself as a prolific producer of anime films for some time now. Co-founded and led by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has won hearts of all ages by using powerful storytelling combined with gorgeous, often jaw-dropping animation. Some of the most visually stunning worlds and characters ever to grace the big screen have come from this Tokyo team.

Spirited Away, perhaps their most successful film to date, earned several awards across the globe, including the coveted Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film in 2002.

DreamWorks Animation
Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon

Despite being around less than three decades, DreamWorks already boasts a number of franchises recognized all over the world. What else would you expect from an animation studio founded by none other than iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg and producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Disney during the company’s groundbreaking Renaissance era.

Responsible for many high grossing animated films, this is one studio that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Kung Fu Panda Dreamworks

Nickelodeon Animation Studios
SpongeBob SquarePants, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Doug, Hey Arnold!

Starting out as a humble little animation studio in California, Nickelodeon Animation Studios wasted no time in creating highly recognizable shows for viewers of all ages. From Doug and Rocko’s Modern Life, to Rugrats and Invader Zim, Nickelodeon has proven their ability to craft attention-grabbing worlds brought to life by memorable, often-silly characters.

Of course, no series has been able to match the wittiness and popularity of a certain yellow-shaped figure. SpongeBob Squarepants alone has earned Nickelodeon dozens of awards, global recognition, and a cool $13 billion in merchandising revenue.

Toei Animation
Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Sailor Moon, One Piece, Saint Seiya

It’s pretty much impossible to have grown up in the 80s and 90s without being influenced by one of Toei’s incredible cartoons. This Japanese animation studio is actually older than most people think, having been founded back in 1948. Since then it’s crafted well over 100 animated series for viewers in Japan and the rest of the world. Today, Toei uses its talented artists to help create everything from full CGI films to video games.

Dragon Ball Z, their most successful franchise, has made the biggest pop culture impact, enough that Goku himself appeared in Macy’s 2018 Thanksgiving Day parade.

Toei Sailor Moon

Warner Bros. Animation
The Iron Giant, The Lego Movie, Batman: The Animated Series, Looney Tunes

With a history as far back as the early 1930s, Warner Bros. has one of the strongest legacies when it comes to animation. The studio saw great success with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes, and for the last few decades they’ve been providing countless hit shows for some of the most watched children’s programming blocks, including acclaimed Fox Kids and Kids’ WB, with shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, and Freakazoid!

Warner Bros. Animation has also gained attention for feature-length films like The Lego Movie films and The Iron Giant, as well a slew of slightly more mature films from the DC comic book universe.

Cartoon Network Studios
Adventure Time, Regular Show, The Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10

The Burbank-based studio began pumping out hit shows at the turn of the millenium, winning kids over with hit shows like Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and The Powerpuff Girls. Their second decade brought them even more success as series like Regular Show and Ben 10 became some of the most popular cartoons on television.

Adventure Time, which just ended its eight year run in 2018, won a slew of awards for the studio, including eight Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and three Annie Awards.

Adventure Time Cartoon Network

5 Animated Short Films That Pull At Our Heartstring

Sometimes all you need is a few minutes to tell a heartfelt story that leaves an impact lasting much longer than the film itself. Here are just five of the countless touching animated short films out there you can seek out and enjoy:

Feast
Directed by Patrick Osborne
Length: 6 minutes

Few animals on our planet offer the same companionship and loyalty as a dog eager to see you return home, share a meal, and follow you wherever you go. Feast touches on this age-old relationship by telling a story revolving man’s best friend.

In Feast, a single man named James adopts a stray Boston Terrier puppy and names him Winston. Along with kibble, Winston also gets to enjoy portions of James’s meals, including the junk food James especially loves. James eventually embraces a healthier lifestyle to impress his waitress girlfriend, which doesn’t please Winston, who’s now slipped vegetables. When James and the waitress break up, Winston realizes his owner’s sadness and finds a way to reunite the couple.

Dear Basketball
Directed by Glen Keane
Length: 5 minutes

It’s in our nature to admire the people who inspire us. From comic book heroes and musicians to filmmakers and our own parents, most of us go through life receiving motivation from those we look up to. Whether you grew up watching Kobe Bryant dominate the NBA, or recall when your favorite athlete played their final game, Dear Basketball is a moving hand-drawn animated film that hits close to home.

With Dear Basketball, co-creator Kobe Bryant chose animation to express the myriad swell of emotions felt on the eve of his retirement from the NBA. Bryant goes on to describe the dreams, challenges, and glory that basketball gave him across a career spanning two decades. The short film resonated enough with sports fans that in 2018 it made Kobe Bryant the first NBA player to win an Academy Award.

Bao
Directed by Domee Shi
Length: 8 minutes

Who knew that a sentient steamed bun could be used represent a bittersweet moment in a parent’s life? Winner of the latest Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, Bao tells the emotional story of an older woman feeling so lonely that she somehow brings a traditional Chinese treat to life. The woman raises the steamed bun, pampering and coddling it throughout its life, only to become devastated when it grows up and prepares to leave the house.

In the end (spoilers), it’s all an allegorical dream. The steamed bun simply represents her actual human son planning to leave with his fiance. A touching story of a woman suffering from empty-nest syndrome, Bao offers a special glimpse at what most mothers and fathers go through when the children they raised for years are ready to set off on their own.

Bear Story
Directed by Gabriel Osorio Vargas
Length: 11 minutes

This film tells the story of an elderly bear and his mechanical diorama featuring a bear similar to himself. The bear takes his diorama down to a street corner and rings a bell, hoping that someone will pay a coin to look into the peephole of his contraption. When a young bear does, he gets to watch the story of a mechanical bear taken from his wife and child by militant figures. Captured, he’s forced to perform in a circus for years before making a great escape and reuniting with his family.

At the end, the bear with the diorama takes out a photo of his family, implying that he too once had a family that he’s currently separated from. Serving as the first Chilean film to win an Academy Award, Bear Story is inspired by the director’s grandfather, who was imprisoned during the 1973 Chilean coup d’état and then exiled for the rest of the dictatorship.

Peter & the Wolf
Directed by Suzie Templeton
Length: 33 minutes

A multinational production, this film was a collaboration between talent from the UK, Poland, Norway, Switzerland, and Mexico. Their efforts paid off as Peter & the Wolf went on to earn plenty of praise and awards, including the Academy Award in 2008 for Best Animated Short Film. Along with its stirring story, this short film is also memorable for its unique puppet animation style.

Peter & the Wolf tells the tale of a young boy named Peter living with his abusive grandfather. Forbidden to enter the forest surrounding their cottage, Peter nonetheless does so to play with his only friends, a runner duck and a hooded crow that can’t fly. When a wolf appears and eats the crow, Peter’s furious grandpa shows up just in time to help catch the wolf and take it into town. When the caged wolf gets taunted and abused by the same bullies who chastise Peter, the boy shows compassion for the wolf by setting it free.

The Top 3 Free 2D Animation Software Tools in 2018

Certain styles of 3D animation have been around long enough that younger generations of animators and animation fans may not remember a time where they weren’t prevalent. But whether it’s a creative indie game, popular television show, or brief video clip just to bring laughs on social media, artists are still finding creative ways of using the gorgeous, emotion-filled style of 2D animation.

The price tag on some great pieces of software, however, can be daunting. The good news is there are plenty of great tools out there that don’t require a dime to use. If this sounds like what you’re after, look no further than our list of the top free 2D animation software tools in 2018.

Synfig Studio

If there’s one open source 2D animation software you’ll find on most other lists, it’s this one. Synfig Studio is one of the best for being easy to pick up while also allowing experienced animators to create high quality animations. It offers several layers of content, has an intuitive interface divided into four different windows, and is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. A notable feature is sound support that lets you sync sounds, music, and narration to your videos.

An interesting thing about Synfig Studio is that its developers offer two different versions. The Stable Version is just that — a simple, highly tested set of features you can rely on for your project. The other version, called Development Version, let’s you check out some experimental features that might not still be polished, yet allow you to do some neat things with your animations.

Main Features:

  • Vector Tweening: transform any vector shape into another
  • 50+ layers & several layer types to choose from
  • Full-featured bone system for cut-out animations and vector artwork
  • Advanced controls for experienced animators
  • Cross-platform: Windows, OS X, and Linux

synfig animation software

Pencil2D Animation

This free 2D animation software is recommended for beginners looking to get a better feel for animation and how it works. Pencil2D boasts a simple, clutter-free interface that makes it easy to create basic graphics and drawings as well as complete animations. This program is compatible with three major operating systems (Windows, OS X, and Linux) and lets you use both vector and bitmap graphics.

The ability to quickly switch between vector and raster workflows means nothing can slow you down whether you’re using ink, paint, or sketching. And if you’re ever stumped or want to learn more about certain features, you can either check out valuable docs or ask the community forum or social media pages.

Main Features:

  • Simple, easy-to-use interface design
  • Can switch between vector and raster workflows
  • Active community sites to get help and ask questions
  • Cross-platform: Windows, OS X, and Linux

Opentoonz

Opentoonz is the free alternative to Toonz, an advanced 2D animation software used by some of the top film and game creators in their industries. How can you not get excited at the thought of using the same tools as the likes of legendary Japanese animators Studio Ghibli or the creators Futurama and SpongeBob SquarePants? Although you won’t get all the features of Toonz Premium, the free Opentoonz version still provides an impressive number of features and tools.

With the help of a plug-in effect SDK, users can seamlessly swap picture styles and also apply powerful effects such as Affected Incident Light and Wavy Distortion. The inclusion of Studio Gibhli’s GTS scanning tools provides four types of scanning: colored, black/white, and with or without binarization. Opentoonz is also frequently improved based on the opinions of production professionals, which helps make it an amazing tool for 2D animation pros and newcomers alike.

Main Features:

  • Users can modify source code
  • Frequent updates and improvements
  • Used by top animators in the business
  • A host of features and helpful manuals

opentoonz animation software

Conclusion

Don’t let money be the reason why your exciting ideas will never leave your mind or sketchbook. No matter where you are in terms of experience, the top free 2D animation software tools listed above can inspire you to finally turn your visions into visuals, ones you can be proud of and that others can enjoy.

Interested in researching other free 2D animation software tools? Here’s some Honorable Mentions:

Tupi

  • PowToon
  • Animation Paper
  • Anime Studio

The 6 Latest & Greatest Trends in Animation

The art of putting together images to depict a sequence of events is much older than we think. Egyptian murals with carvings showing the steps to wrestling moves have been found in tombs left behind more than 4,000 years ago. A thousand years earlier, someone in the area of modern-day Iran painted sequential images of a goat leaping up to bite a tree leaf on a pottery bowl.

Today, animation continues offering us a captivating way of telling stories and providing information. Thanks to advancements in techniques and technology, here are the latest ways you can impress with your own animation talents:

  1. 3D Looks to Retro & Vintage

To keep their content fresh and unique, many 3D animators are looking to art styles from the past for inspiration. One of the more popular trends looks to Gouache, a ’60s era water-based painting style which involved heavy use of color layers and dry brushing. Another cool 3D animation style that’s becoming popular again is retrofuturism. This makes use of sci-fi aesthetics from what people in the late ’70s and early ’80s thought the future might look like. Use of lush lighting effects and pixelated digital elements serve to create places and characters that feel both retro and sci-fi.

  1. High Contrast Cel Animation

Converse Chuck Taylor II Shield Canvas from Golden Wolf on Vimeo.

This is an animation trend that’s been on the rise for a few years now and has been used by some of the top companies in the world, including Nike, Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, and even fo the Winter X games. Vibrant, contrasting colors combined with an angular design are used to give the animation a simplified, almost cel-style look. The result is a fun, in-your-face sequence that’s hard to look away from. Some of the best examples are from Golden Wolf, an animation production company based in London.

  1. 2D and 3D, Together

A trend that began in recent years and has continued picking up steam is creating animations that look like a mix of 2D and 3D. You don’t have to look far to find a tutorial that shows you how to end up with a flat 2D look by using a cel shader to render 3D. By giving 3D objects a 2D look, animators are able to make expressive, illustrative elements that immediately attract a viewer’s attention while delivering information in a clear and colorful way.

  1. Hyper-Surrealism

HONDA “The Dreamer” from Roof Studio on Vimeo.

If there’s one great animation trend that makes full use of the power of CGI imagery, it’s this style. The effect of hyper-surreal animation relies on combining photo-realistic elements with fantastical imagery to create dreamlike worlds and action. There are few examples better than Roof Studio’s “The Dreamer” add for Honda, which takes viewers along a whimsical journey as a realistic vehicle drives across outlandish locations.  If you’re interested in an animation style that lets your creativity and imagination run wild, look no further.

  1. Dynamic Function Animation in Apps

App developers are also now seeing the power animation can have to give users a memorable experience. Instead of using static images or just text, many apps in 2018 are using functional animation that keeps a user’s attention with a vibrant, interesting user interface. This includes using animation to brighten navigational elements, confirm user input, zoom in and out on content, and more. Since there’s nothing better than motion, mainly because our eyes are designed to follow it, 2D animation offers an unmatched level of visual feedback.

  1. Resurgence of 2D Animation in Marketing

In entertainment industries like film and video games, 2D animation took a back seat when 3D arrived. Since then, companies have felt there’s no better way to captivate audiences, players, and potential customers than with 3D animation, even if it requires more time and effort to create. But now that more people are using the internet like never before, be it on their smart devices or computers, companies need attractive yet cost-effective ways to grow their marketing brand. Thus, a big trend in animation these days is having the ability to whip up simple, attention-grabbing 2D animation videos for use in mobile and web advertisement.

Learn more about 3D Animation & VFX at the New York Film Academy.

Here’s What It’s Like to Work for Walt Disney Animation Studios

For many who grew up watching Disney movies the opportunity to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios would be an incredible experience. Many aspiring animators wonder what it’s like doing what you love at the most accomplished and iconic studio in the world. To prepare for what could one day be your dream come true, here’s an idea of what you can expect:

Working for Walt Disney Animation Studios is all about…

Taking Big Risks

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.01.06

No company has ever reached worldwide recognition by only playing it safe. People who want to make an impact know that success doesn’t come from only doing what’s expected. To truly stand out and raise the bar you have to be willing to take risks and hope it pays off.

No one knows this better than Darrin Butters, an animator who has worked on Walt Disney Animation Studio hits like “Tangled,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Frozen.” During a recent talk at the New York Film Academy 3D Animation School, Butters spoke about how the slow sloth scene from “Zootopia” required going against the top principles of good animation. Despite this, the scene ended up being one of the highlights of the film and well worth the risk.

Giving Your Best To Make Disney The Best

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.06.55

Most would agree that Disney wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the Disney Renaissance. During this era lasting between 1989 to 1999, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced hit after hit with no signs of stopping. Some of the most admired animated films were created during this time, including “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Hercules.”

The animators that worked for Disney at the time inspired today’s animators to do one thing: make Disney the best. Working at Walt Disney Animation Studios means remembering that the competition is fierce, so you must always do better than before. Of course, it also requires passion and love for animation to walk under Mickey’s wizard hat while on your way to work each day.

Remembering The Fundamentals

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.08.47

Whether you prefer working with 3D graphics or prefer 2D drawings, there’s a place for you in animation. This is because no matter how 3D-dominated the industry gets, animation will always need people who know the fundamentals. No one understands this better than Eric Goldberg, a man who has worked in the industry for 25 years.

With animated TV shows and movies like “Looney Tunes” and “The Simpsons” under his belt, Goldberg knows the importance of mock up, character design, and other animation tasks originally done by hand. During his exclusive preview of “Moana” at the New York Film Academy’s LA campus, Goldberg expressed that all animators who want a future at big studios like Disney should remember that many fundamentals of animation have held true for decades. It’s why a 2D animator like him can survive in a 3D animation world like today.

Doing Whatever It Takes & Loving It

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.09.32

There’s nothing like watching a finished animated film after countless hours of hard work have been poured into it. While a lot of people assume creating animated characters and worlds is all fun and games, animators know how much hard work is required to make something special. If you’re not willing to push yourself in order to come up with something unique and creative then perhaps working for the “Mouse” isn’t for you.

In a guest post on Chronicle Books, Maggie Malone of Walt Disney Animation Studios talked about how one of the artists went above and beyond while working on “Wreck-It-Ralph.” This artist was tasked with building the world for the Sugar Rush candy go-kart scenes. In order to make sure her candy world was authentic and reliable, she spent weeks creating actual models out of real candy. This resulted in a deliciously wonderful scene that might’ve never looked as good if she hadn’t put in the extra mile.

What are your goals as an animator? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about 3D animation and visual effects at the New York Film Academy.

The 6 Best Animated Shorts From The Last SXSW Films

This year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, was another success in film showcases. Running March 10-19, the festival hosted filmmakers from all over the globe, all representing a variety of styles and genres, including animated short films. This year there were 11 total accepted animated shorts, but only one could receive the high honor of Best Animated Short.

But just because there was one winner doesn’t mean there weren’t other quality pieces in the ring. With Cannes in full swing, we’re taking a moment to celebrate festivals and to remember great films that have debuted already in 2017. To celebrate animated film, here are six animated favorites from this year’s SXSW festival:

“Wednesday with Goddard”

The winner of Best Animated Short was created by the UK’s Nicolas Ménard as a commision for Channel 4’s “Random Acts.” It is about a man named Eugene seeking God. Combining 2D animation with pencil drawings by Manshen Lo as well as a soundtrack by David Kamp, the film takes viewers on a surreal journey to find Eugene’s idea of the divine.

“Pussy”

The short film by Polish filmmaker Renata Gąsiorowska received Special Jury Recognition at SXSW for its unapologetic and hilarious take on female sexuality and every absurd thing that gets in the way of it. The protagonist of the short tries to spend alone time with herself and is interrupted from her private bath.

“Hot Dog Hands”

Created by San Francisco-native Matt Reynolds, “Hot Dog Hands” is a strange but hysterical film about a woman who can’t stop growing fingers. Even when she tries to type her condition into the infamous WebMD, her hot dog hands get in her way. The rest is comedic chaos.

“Catherine”

Calling all cat ladies! “Catherine” is all about a little girl who loves pets, especially her bright blue cat who brings her comfort and joy. Being bullied at school plus living alone means the cat is Catherine’s only confidant and friend. But Dwight, a boy across the street, is having a hard time getting Catherine to notice something other than her cat … him! The film was created by Britt Raes and produced by Creative Conspiracy.

“Tough”

Created by Jennifer Zheng, “Tough” is about a grown British-born daughter and her Chinese mother speaking for the first time as adults. The result is a bridge between cultural understanding and childhood clarity. The film combines both Mandarin Chinese and English language for a fulfilling four-minute multicultural experience.

“Birdlime”

This family-friendly stop-motion film by Canadian animator Evan Derushie, who has previously worked on films such as “The Little Prince” (2015), follows a bird dodging birdlime, a substance used to trap birds for export and illegal trade. Though the grey-blue bird in the film successfully averts the dangerous birdlime, he is still captured within a cage and cannot make sense of the strange creatures around him.

What animated films are you most excited to see in 2017? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about animation at New York Film Academy.

 

Technical Innovations in Star Wars Through the Ages

We have now marked 40 years since the first Star Wars, “A New Hope” astounded moviegoers with its otherworldly look and stunning special effects. Since then, special effects have morphed into CGI and the growing pains of this change and subsequent balancing act between analogue and digital mark the three distinct “Star Wars” trilogies. As the triumph of “The Force Awakens” subsides and excitement mounts in anticipation of “The Last Jedi,” we take a look at how technical innovations shaped the look and sound of some of the most beloved (and reviled) “Star Wars” moments.

A long time ago … There were SFX.

In order to make his first Star Wars movie approximate his elaborate storyboards, George Lucas hired special effects wizard John Dykstra to head up a new company — Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Lucas’ ideas required Dykstra and his team to invent as they went along, as this quote from Dykstra in a The New Economy article demonstrates: “Back in the days of ‘Star Wars,’ we kind of walked into an empty warehouse and sat on the floor and went ‘How are we going to do this?’”

ILM has since been responsible for some of the biggest special and digital effects of the past 40 years, including the incredible leaps from SFX to VFX.

“But,” continues The New Economy, “a mere two decades after Dykstra destroyed the Death Star in ‘A New Hope’ using nothing but a cardboard box and titanium shavings, Lucas turned his back on animatronics and practical effects in favour of expanding his ‘Star Wars’ universe digitally in the prequel episodes…”

The literally unbelievable.

by istolethetv on Flickr

by istolethetv on Flickr

Indeed, the prequel trilogy pushed the limits of CGI, creating incredible virtual sets, and “the first CG star” in the form of Jar Jar Binks. But the technology was not quite there yet, which brought a little too much attention to the fact that the actors inhabited a post-production world. “Worse,” as this Wired article points out, “the special effect that was meant to be ‘The Phantom Menace’s’ crowning glory instead ended up as the biggest albatross around its neck.” Wired concludes that Jar Jar Binks “became instead emblematic of the film’s flawed CG heart.”

Sounds of a galaxy far, far away.

The famed sound designer Ben Burtt was a student at USC when he began collecting sounds of the real world destined to be manipulated into the iconic sounds of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. In an article detailing the sounds behind those sounds, Burtt is quoted as saying, “In my first discussion with George Lucas about the film, he [said] — and I concurred with him — that he wanted an ‘organic,’ as opposed to the electronic and artificial soundtrack. … Therefore we wanted to draw upon raw material from the real world: real motors, real squeaky door, real insects; this sort of thing.” An example is the use of his TV set blended with an old 35 mm projector to create the hum of a light saber.

The sound designers for “The Force Awakens” continued in Burtt’s footsteps. In a Daily Dot interview, David Acord tells how he turned his cat’s purring into Kylo Ren’s Force rumble: “It’s pitched and kind of slowed down, and it’s got a ton of low-end added to it. But you listen to it, it’s one of those things … it’s tough when you sort of pull back the curtain for sound effects, because then that’s all you’ll hear, is that. [laughs] But yeah, that’s Pork Chop purring.” Perhaps it is this seamless melding of analogue and digital that most beautifully captures the spirit of “Star Wars.”

A new movement.

The development of motion capture — the use of the physicality of actors to animate CG creations — melds together the real and virtual worlds to great and seamless effect. Although, in an effort to reclaim some of the original trilogy’s magic, “The Force Awakens” director JJ Abrams famously eschewed much of the CGI available to him, Lupita Nyong’o enlivens her CGI character with motion capture as space pirate Maz Kanata.

Supreme Leader Snokes, another CGI character played by Andy Circus of Gollum fame, will be physicalized as a giant puppet in “The Last Jedi,” according to Making Star Wars, assuring fans that the union of real and virtual wizardry continues.

What is your favorite “Star Wars” sound effect? Let us know in the comments below. And learn more about Filmmaking and 3D Animation & VFX at New York Film Academy.

 

5 Great Sites for Animation References

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It’s a good time to be an aspiring animator. Access to many useful sites are only a few keystrokes away, giving you a look at what other talented people are working on. While nothing compares to your own ideas and creativity, it doesn’t hurt to get a little inspiration from other people’s work.

The following are some of the top reference sites for future and veteran animators alike:

1. Reference! Reference!

This is easily one of the best databases for animation on the web, and the best part is that it’s completely free. This reference site is run by Martin L’Heureux, a Canadian artist with more than 20 years and 30 projects under his belt. They include not just movies and television but acclaimed video games as well, such as Nintendo’s Metroid Prime.

L’Heureux started the site to share the knowledge he’s picked up over the years in the animation industry. A deep interest in physics and mechanics of human movement mean there are a lot of human animations on the site. If that’s your cup of tea as well, definitely check out his clips.

2. Living Lines Library

Here you’ll find one of the more impressive collections of pencil animations and concept art from actual projects. Whether your goal is to find inspiration or you want to see how some of your favorite shows and movies started out, look no further.

Living Lines Library has everything from production drawings and character designs to model sheets and storyboards from movies and shows both new and old. A few of the many include content from classic Disney movies like “Bambi,” Hayao Miyazaki films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and even 3D movies like “Rise of the Guardians.”

3. Temple of the Seven Golden Camels

Don’t let the quirky name fool you. This blog is run by none other than Mark Kennedy, an animator and writer who worked on some of your favorite Disney shows and movies from the last two decades. His filmography includes “Tarzan,” “Hercules,” “The Emperor’s New Groove,” and “Wreck-It Ralph.”

In other words, Kennedy knows his stuff. His blog offers a wealth of knowledge that every animator can benefit from, including breakdowns of scripts, videos, and plenty of great advice. Although the blog is updated rarely nowadays, there’s already plenty of stuff on there to check out.

4. Deja View

This website is a blog run by Andreas Deja, a German-born animator who worked on some of the best Disney animated films of all time. During his 30 years working at the House of Mouse he had the pleasure of creating memorable villains for top animated films, including Jafar from “Aladdin,” Scar from “The Lion King,” and Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast.”

Deja uses his decades of experience and ever-growing passion for animation to help others sharpen their skills. He doesn’t just show sketches or drawings he made, he also talks about his process, inspirations, etc. One of his more recent posts is of him comparing the live action performance of Bill Condon’s Gaston in the new “Beauty and the Beast” to his own animated version from the 1991 film.

5. Animation Insider

This website serves as a hub for animators looking to land an interview for a new job. It offers various resources to push your animation career forward, including a jobs board that’s frequently updated with new gigs.

Animation Insider also has sections where artists from around the world post their work, informative videos, and more. Just from skimming the site we found a great video detailing why cartoon characters wear gloves. This site was started by Mike Milo, a two time Emmy award winning animator who has worked for just about every major animation studio you can think of.

Are you an aspiring animator? Learn more about your craft through one of New York Film Academy’s 3D animation and visual effects programs!

Animated Series to Watch for Inspiration

Visual effects and 3D animation have really grown over the last few decades with the help of improved tools for animations. If you are interested in learning the theory of animation and visual effects, and getting the professional skills you’ll need, the New York Film Academy’s 3D & Visual Effects School is for you.

The professors of NYFA’s Animation School are working animators and visual effects artists who have designed a hands-on curriculum for students to help prepare them for a competitive industry. Our students use programs such as Maya, ZBrush, Mudbox, Motion Builder, and Nuke.  

Speaking of animation and visual effects, there is something about animated series that brings the kid out in all of us. If you’re feeling nostalgic or need some inspiration for your own animated series, take to Netflix, Hulu or just resort to some Saturday morning cartoons. We’ve rounded up some great animated series to watch for inspiration:

“Rugrats”

In the early years, “Rugrats” used cel animation and the show’s animators drew everything by hand. But by the time “Rugrats in Paris” movie hit theaters, the team used a combination of 2D and 3D animation. The animators created more than 300,000 drawings by hand and then scanned the drawings into Toon Boom Technologies US Animation software. For the 3D animation, the team used Maya. Once all the images were created, they used Animo Inkworks renderer to seamlessly combine everything.

“The Wild Thornberrys”

Nickelodeon’s “The Wild Thornberrys” was about 12-year-old Eliza and her family, who travel the world to record a nature documentary. It was full of travel and excitement for the family, and Eliza even had a secret power – she could communicate with animals. For a children’s animated series, there are a few notable entertainers who voiced characters. Lacey Chabert, who played Gretchen Weiner in “Mean Girls,” voiced Eliza. None other than Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers voiced Donnie, the jungle wild child. Tim Curry voiced Eliza’s beloved yet quirky dad, Nigel. The all-star cast is just another reason why we love “The Wild Thornberrys.”

Here are some other great child-friendly animated series to watch for inspiration:

  • “Looney Toons”
  • “Tom and Jerry”
  • “Scooby Doo”
  • “The Flinstones”
  • “Spongebob Squarepants”
  • “Pinky and the Brain”
  • “The Bugs Bunny Show”
  • “Dexter’s Laboratory”
  • “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
  • “The Jetsons”
  • “The Powerpuff Girls”
  • “Pokemon”
  • “Hey Arnold”
  • “Doug”
  • “The Fairly Odd Parents”

The list of animated series goes on and on. If you’re into animated series featuring mature content — which you can find on channels like Adult Swim — that’s cool too. There’s nothing like staying up late to get some good chuckles. Many of the animated series for older audiences rely on bawdy humor, adult topics, and mature language — a recipe that many animation fans appreciate as they cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood.

“Family Guy”

“Family Guy” follows the dysfunctional Griffin family and the animated series is now in its 15th season. Creator Seth MacFarlane attended the Rhode Island School of Design and, two weeks before graduating, received a surprise job offer from animation studio Hanna-Barbera. He moved out to Los Angeles and joined Hanna-Barbera’s team as a writer. Before “Family Guy,” he worked on other shows like “Johnny Bravo,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” and “Cow and Chicken.”

If that isn’t enough reason to love McFarlane’s “Family Guy,” actress Mila Kunis voices the outcast daughter Meg, and Carrie Fisher voiced Peter Griffin’s boss, Angela.   

“South Park”

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This year marks the 20th anniversary for Comedy Central’s “South Park.” The show focuses on the lives of four elementary students, Kenny, Kyle, Cartman and Stan, in the quiet town of South Park in Colorado. When the show first aired in 1997, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker used photos and cardboard cutouts for the show. Then they started scanning the cutouts into computers, where they imported the images into PowerAnimator and linked to a 54-processor that could render 10 to 15 shots an hour. Now, Stone and Parker use a 120-process render that produces 30 shots or more an hour. Watching how “South Park” has evolved with new technology and software is truly impressive.

On a side note, Stone and Parker helped co-write the book, music and lyrics for the hit Broadway show, “The Book of Mormon.”

Here are some other great animated series with mature content to watch for inspiration:

  • “King of the Hill”
  • “American Dad!”
  • “Bob’s Burgers”
  • “The Simpsons”
  • “Futurama”

What are some of your favorite animated series? Let us know in the comments below! And check out NYFA’s animation programs to learn more about animation.

 

5 Types Of Animation: Finding Inspiration In All Styles

As you pursue your 3D animation and visual effects studies with NYFA’s Animation School, it’s important to understand the history and techniques that shaped the field of animation and led to the development and popularity of today’s advanced technology. Whether it’s the cartoons we re-watched as a kid or the flipbooks we bought, the cute adverts on TV tempting us to buy certain products or even the “Madagascar” and “Ice Age” films we love to watch in 3D, animation is an integral part of how we understand storytelling. As you develop your 3D animation and visual effects skills, understanding the principles of other types of animation can open you to new ideas and inspirations. After all, animation is more than cinema — comics, games, graphic novels and even some toys borrow from this tradition. And your animation work can find inspiration in all kinds of places, as well.

Broadly speaking, there are five types of animation. As you develop your animation skills, interests, artistic vision, and software expertise, you can learn to draw from various theories and traditions in animation as you develop your own signature style.

1. Cel (Celluloid) Animation

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This is the original hand-drawn cel animation where the artist literally has to draw thousands of images on special paper and have them photographed, frame by frame. Before the digital revolution, traditional animation was the norm of the industry, including Disney.

Traditional animation is a great skill to have in your arsenal, especially if you particularly enjoy traditional media: color pencils, glass painting, water colors. The main drawback to traditional animation is that it’s a very lengthy process. However, don’t let the old-world flavor of this style put you off, as there’s plenty of inspiration to draw upon within this style of animation: take a look at A-ha’s music video “Take on Me” and the breathtaking Aleksandr Petrov film “The Old Man and the Sea,” based on the Hemingway tale.

2. 2D Animation

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This is vector-based animation, and has two distinct advantages: it is cheap and easy to access. You need a basic understanding of key frames and know how to use Adobe Animate CC.

3. 3D Animation

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3D animation and visual effects are, quite simply, the way of the future. 3D animation operates on different principles, and is more akin to puppetry than traditional animation. For this, you need to learn how to digitally model a character, sculpt it perfectly and give it a skeleton that you can move and manipulate. You’ll have to pose the model at certain frames, and then let the computer do the rendering.

Why is 3D animation so important to understand? Those who want to break into the industry frankly must master the ins and outs of 3D animation. CGI has become the norm for all blockbuster animated movies and in certain live-action sequences which requires a lot of VFX, because of its attention-to-detail and realism. This is why NYFA focuses on 3D animation and VFX, offering aspiring animators the training they need to develop professional skills.

4. Motion Graphics

This visual effect technique involves moving graphic elements such as text or logos, mostly using software such as After Effects.

Works Best For: Those working in the advertising industry or doing multimedia projects, or even designing the opening of film titles.

5. Stop Motion

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Stop motion is like traditional animation, except instead of drawing, you have clay models and a set that you have to carefully manipulate to produce animation. Stop motion can also be done with puppets, cut-outs, silhouettes and even action figures. In the past, stop motion was used as a form of special effects for live-action films, and has largely been replaced by 3D animation and visual effects work. However, there are filmmakers — like Tim Burton — who work almost exclusively with stop-motion. Think: Laika Films’ “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” and recently “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

For aspiring animators, stop motion can be a wonderful medium to make art, on your own terms. Stop motion has its own flavor, which can’t quite be reproduced in any other medium, and is extremely labor intensive — much like cel animation. Understanding stop motion can also unlock a deeper appreciation for 3D animation and visual effects.

So, as you create your own original animations, think of the film or clip that you’d like to make. Ask yourself, what should this creative product look or feel like, and how can I best achieve that? Think about your artistic skills and the great history and traditions of animation you can draw upon and experiment with inspiration from all animation styles. Ready to learn everything you can about animation? Check out NYFA’s Animation School.

Kids’ Films that Broke Ground with Special Effects

When you think of groundbreaking special effects, you likely think of summer blockbusters and big budget productions. But, children’s films are often a source of innovative special effects.

While early films were intended for general audiences rather than being targeted to specific age groups, some found inspiration in the kid-friendly fiction of Jules Verne and Lewis Carroll. Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon (1902) and “The Impossible Voyage” (1904) and Cecil Hepworth’s “Alice in Wonderland (1903) used pioneering special effects and editing such as multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, substitution splices, and creative use of set design and camera placement to bring imaginary worlds to life on screen.

Gertie The Dinosaur (1914)

One of the earliest examples of animation, Gertie the Dinosaur influenced animators such as the Fleischer Brothers and Walt Disney. In the film, Winsor McCay draws Gertie “live” in a clever sequence that is humorous and graceful. The short film also gives viewers an inside peek at the animation process when McCay references the 10,000 drawings needed to make a few minutes worth of film.

Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The Walt Disney Company’s 1937 film was the first full-length feature film using cel animation. Concept Artist Albert Hurter oversaw every part of the film’s design from backgrounds to individual characters. Disney’s team drew inspiration from German expressionist films as well as mainstream cinema. The Queen’s transformation scene is one example of where the Disney studios borrowed from the likes of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” as well as 1931’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Disney Studios developed the multiplane camera in order to create realistic depth and movement of backgrounds; it was first tested on the short “The Old Mill and used for Snow White and other classics. “The Little Mermaid” was the last Disney film to use a multiplane camera.

Toy Story (1995)

Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story was hailed by critics and audiences alike. The film was the first feature film to be fully animated with computers. As Julia Zorthian discusses in her look back at Toy Story twenty years after its release, one of the keys to its success was excellent storytelling that has helped give the film longevity long after CGI has become an industry standard.

The Harry Potter series (2000s)

Creating a believable world of magic and Muggles has been a task for the director and production teams on each film in the series and they have used every trick from old fashioned optical illusions and model sets to CGI and green screens to pull it off.

Hugo (2011 )

Director Martin Scorsese wanted the opening shot of Hugo to be a seamless long shot from outside the railway station through the clockworks and into Hugo’s hidden home. To bring Brian Selznick’s book to life, Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Legato and Pixomondo Ben Grossman devised many tricks and transitions to create the signature opening and other scenes that pay homage to Méliès and other filmmakers of the earliest days of cinema.

The Jungle Book (2016)

Using a live actor with computer animation and motion capture had not been done on this scale, but director Jon Favreau and visual effects supervisor Rob Legato worked with hundreds of designers to create the seamless animated backgrounds and animal characters. And they did all the previz using VR headsets. The end result is also a testament to Neel Sethi’s talent as an actor, since he had to deliver an emotionally true performance while responding to puppets and stand-ins.

Want to know more about animation and special effects? Check out NYFA’s articles CGI Animation History: Defining (and Awesome) moments in Cinema or How To Do Stop Motion Animation.

Behind the Visual Effects of “The Man in the High Castle”

One of the challenges of filmmaking is making sure your world feels believable. Even when you have “Star Wars'” many species and planets or you’re dealing with various races and magic like in “The Lord of the Rings,” all the visual elements need to keep viewers engaged. This task is even more difficult to pull off when you have a story set in an alternate universe.

“The Man in the High Castle” is a fairly new television show that took on the challenge of alternate history and got it right. The Amazon Studios series has already received numerous awards in only two seasons, including praise for its outstanding special visual effects.

Below are some of the creative hurdles the VFX team faced and how they overcame them:

An Alternate 1962

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In “The Man in the High Castle,” America lost WWII. The Axis powers emerged triumphant after WWII, leaving Nazi Germany and the Japanese to split the U.S. between each other. This means the entire country, especially the major cities the TV series is set in, would look drastically different.

But since the show is set in 1962, the crew had to first study what New York, San Francisco, and Cañon City, Colorado looked like half a century ago. They also had to consider how developed these cities would actually be without the post-war boom the U.S. experienced after the actual conclusion.

Amazon Studios clearly did their homework and created a scary, new 1960s America. Despite the series being shot in Canada, the audience is able to feel like we’re seeing a New York and San Francisco that has embraced an imperial Japanese and Nazi German society.

Getting The Details Right

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It took much more than slapping swastikas and Japanese Kanji all over to make this alternate history believable. Every department had to make sure the people and places look like they actually live in these fictional cities. Wardrobe, for example, had the job of recreating what fashion in America would be like while influenced by two different cultures.

Of course, the visual effects department had plenty of work to do as well. Everything from the signs and advertisements to even the cars had to be thought out and executed well. This is why you’ll see vehicles in the show without any American influence, such as the classic tail-fins made popular in the 1950s and 1960s.

They also had to consider the major differences in style between the two global superpowers. While Germany under Hitler used impressive statues and neoclassical architecture, the Japanese preferred neon lights and propaganda influenced by their Rising Sun Flag.

The Best Kind of Visual Effects

When most people think of visual effects they think of breathtaking CGI monsters and environments. Some shows and movies depend heavily on VFX to create their world, such as Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy. As technology advances, the artist’s ability to create believable visuals with computers gets better and better.

But most of the time, the best effects are the ones viewers never suspect. This was the case with “The Man in the High Castle,” where a lot of the visual elements you see in city streets and on buildings aren’t real. Instead, they were created with computers in such a way that you’d think they were actually there.

Amazon Studios had to rely plenty on their VFX team, especially when certain communities where the show was shot weren’t 100 percent on board. For example, some locations, including Canadian and Chinese communities, refused to allow their buildings to be covered with swastikas and imperial Japanese content. So many of the large Nazi flags and Japanese banners were actually placed in digitally.

Have you watched “The Man in the High Castle”? What are your thoughts about this show’s use of VFX to create an alternate world? Let us know in the comments below!

NYFA Congratulates the 2017 Annie Award Winners

In the midst of awards season buzz and entertainment industry busyness, the animated entertainment industry gets a chance to shine every year during the Annie Awards. More than 30 categories of animated television and film entertainment grace the nominations ballot, begging to take home a coveted award.

The year, Disney’s “Zootopia” swept the 44th Annie Awards by taking home six trophies, including Best Animated Feature. Disney had secured 11 bids before heading into Saturday’s ceremony at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles. NYFA was honored to welcome “Zootopia” animator Darrin Butters as a guest speaker last year. In addition to winning Best Animated Feature, “Zootopia” took home Best Directing, Best Writing, Best Character Design, Best Storyboarding. Jason Bateman tied with “Moana” star Auli’i Cravalho for Best Voice Acting. “Moana” had been presented to NYFA students in a special sneak-peek guest speaker event with Disney animator Eric Goldberg.     

While “Zootopia” scored the most nominations and secured six awards, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” came in second with 10 nominations, but only took home three awards. Disney’s “Finding Dory” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” were nominated, but the sequels didn’t take home any awards.

Here’s the complete list of 2017 Annie Awards winners:

  • Best Animated Feature: “Zootopia”
  • Best Animated Special Production: “Pear Cider and Cigarettes”
  • Best Animated Short Subject: “Piper”
  • Best Animated Television/Broadcast Commercial: “Loteria ‘Night Shift’”
  • Best General Audience Animated Television/Broadcast Production: “Bob’s Burgers”
  • Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production for Preschool Children: “Tumble Leaf, ”episode: “Mighty Mud Movers / Having a Ball”
  • Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production for Children: “Adventure Time,” episode: “Bad Jubies”
  • Best Animated Feature-Independent: “The Red Turtle”
  • Best Student Film: “Citipati”
  • Animated Effects in an Animated Feature Production: “Moana

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  • Animated Effects in a Live Action Production: “Doctor Strange,” Mirror Dimension
  • Character Animation in a Television/Broadcast Production: “Dreamworks Trollhunters,” episode: “Becoming, Part 1”
  • Character Animation in a Feature Production: “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • Character Animation in a Live Action Production: “The Jungle Book”
  • Character Animation in a Video Game: “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End”
  • Character Design in a TV/Broadcast Production: “Dreamworks Trollhunters,” episode: “Win, Lose or Draal”
  • Character Design in an Animated Feature Production: “Zootopia”
  • Directing in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production: “Pearl”
  • Directing in an Animated Feature Production: “Zootopia”

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  • Music in a TV/Broadcast Production: “Pearl”
  • Music in an Animated Feature Production: “The Little Prince”
  • Production Design in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production: “Pearl”
  • Production Design in an Animated Feature Production: “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • Storyboarding in a TV/Broadcast Production: “DreamWorks Trollhunters,” episode: “Win, Lose or Draal”
  • Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production: “Zootopia”
  • Voice Acting in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production: “The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show,” episode: “Ponce de LeÛn”
  • Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production (Tie): Auli’i Cravalho as Moana in “Moana” (Walt Disney Animation Studios) and Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde in “Zootopia”  
  • Writing in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production: “Bob’s Burgers,” episode: “The Hormone-iums”
  • Writing in an Animated Feature Production:“Zootopia”
  • Editorial in a TV/Broadcast Production: “Disney Mickey Mouse,” episode: “Sock Burglar”
  • Editorial in an Animated Feature Production: “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Did you get a chance to watch any of these animated television shows or films? What was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

What Aspiring Artists Can Learn from The New Yorker Cartoons

In The New Yorker you’ll find fiction, poetry, reportage — you name it. But if there’s one thing we can’t imagine disappearing from one of the most popular and successful American magazines of all time, it’s the cartoons. Below are a few things every up-and-coming animator, designer, and visual artist can learn from the cartoons that have been making people laugh and think since 1925.

Find Your Voice

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Of course, learning which style brings out the best of your skills and creativity is only part of becoming a professional visual artist. You also need to find a way to set yourself apart from the rest so that people see something fresh and satisfying in your work. This is by far one of the toughest things to accomplish, and many animators take several years and hundreds of drawings to do so.

Three New Yorker cartoonists who developed iconic voices are Roz Chast, Michael Maslin and Peter Arno. Despite providing countless popular cartoons for the famed magazine, one can tell the subtle yet particular differences between their cartoons. Finding your voice means allowing your own personality to reveal itself and unfold through your work, whether you are animating a film or creating graphics for a client.

Stay On Top of Current, Popular Trends

One of the biggest reasons New Yorker cartoons have remained popular for nearly a century is because they’re made for you and me. In other words, the artists hoping to get their cartoon published make sure their work relates to cultural trends and what’s going on today. They speak to the times, as well as the culture.

The lesson to learn here is that every aspiring animator should have an understanding of what companies and clients are looking for. If your portfolio is brimming with work that’s contemporary and speaks to the technology and trends of the moment, you’ll better demonstrate your ability to speak to a specific audience.

The Career Path Is Competitive

 

It’s no secret that getting your work accepted by the New Yorker is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. They receive thousands of cartoons each year from hundreds of artists looking to make a name for themselves, and yet, only a few will be published. And even cartoonists who do secure coveted space for their work in the prestigious magazine will likely tell you that their success was hard-won, and built upon a pile of rejection letters. The moral of the story: the visual arts are competitive, and you will need determination, patience, and openness to criticism as well as talent in order to succeed.

Even the most focused, adaptable, and talented illustrator will sooner or later face rejection. The key is to have persistence and thick skin, which means never allowing a failure to keep you from moving forward and plugging away to secure and create great work.

Try Different Styles

Whether you’re looking to work in comic books, fashion, design, visual effects, or film, the best thing any artist can do is equip themselves with different tools. Part of becoming a diverse, flexible animator is learning to try other techniques and approaches, even if it’s new territory. The worst that could happen is that you discover your strengths and weaknesses, which is valuable information to help you focus on strengthening your professional skills.

This is why you’ll find all sorts of styles while skimming through the best New Yorker cartoons. Bob Mankoff, one of the most famous cartoonists in America, had over 500 cartoons rejected before he found success with “Surely You Jest,” which was made with a pointillist style consisting of dots to create the images. Although this cartoon served as his first step toward making cartoons for a living, he didn’t stick to this style alone and went on to make countless others via different techniques.

What inspirations have you drawn from The New Yorker cartoons? Let us know in the comments below!

3 Disney Renaissance Lessons on Animation

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The Disney Renaissance changed the way the world experiences animation. Of all the companies that need no introduction, Disney is perhaps at the top. Boasting one of the world’s greatest libraries of highly marketable intellectual property, Disney will no doubt continue as a household name for years to come. What can aspiring animators learn from this company’s continuing success?

There are many answers to that question, but today we’re focusing on lessons from the Disney Renaissance — a time period that led to the creation of some of the most iconic Disney films. From 1989 to 1999, Walt Disney Animation Studios was putting out hit after hit that to this day still serve as some of the best animated films of all time. In fact, many of them are receiving anticipated remakes, including a live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Below are three things both animators and the industry as a whole can learn from the team of animators responsible for the Disney Renaissance era:

1. Animation Is Competitive, and That’s a Good Thing

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It’s easy now to look back and see how successful Disney was during this period. But before the studio began their creative resurgence, they found themselves in a tough spot. Disney struggled for a while; some of their films (like “The Black Cauldron”) failed while new rivals emerged. One of these rivals was Don Bluth Productions, which was founded by an ex-Disney animator who left with 17% of the animators working on “The Fox and the Hound” at the time.

Don Bluth’s team began producing successful films like “An American Tail,” “The Land Before Time,” and “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” This put pressure on Disney to compete at the box office. Many believe the intense competitiveness with Don Bluth Productions is one of the reasons Disney pushed hard to create memorable classics. Though Don Bluth Productions closed its doors in 1995, Disney clearly benefitted from the competition thanks to the work of individual animators who clearly wanted to prove they were the best in the industry.

2. Never Settle: Instead, Do Better

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Of course, those animators we just mentioned wanted more than to simply “beat” the competition. They also strove to surpass their previous work, which is why so many films released during the Disney Renaissance period seemed to have just as much creativity and passion, if not more, than the last.

Imagine releasing “The Little Mermaid,” which earned a whopping $84 million during its initial release, and then being told to do it again — only better. The Walt Disney Animation Studios team did just that, releasing “Beauty and the Beast” two years later, only to follow that up with with “Aladdin.” The next six films of this era, which include “The Lion King” and “Mulan,” were also great box office hits. The lesson? No matter how well you do, try to do better next time.

No matter what field or industry, success can sometimes be a studio’s downfall. Pressure to repeat the same success can be devastating, but it can also push animators to new heights. As an aspiring animator, follow in the footsteps of the animators of the Disney Renaissance era and work to always do better than before, whether your last work was a success or failure.

3. Animate Because You Love It

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Even though Walt Disney had passed on decades before the Disney Renaissance era, his influence is arguably one of the reasons Disney has continued to grow. In fact, many of his principles are still applied throughout every Disney branch more than 50 years later, including his motto: “Do what you love.”

Disney himself began as someone who enjoyed drawing in his spare time. When he decided he wanted to do what he loved for a living, he had to go through many random jobs — including working as ambulance driver for the army during World War I — just to fund his passion. With a desire to draw for a living as his focus, Disney pushed ahead until he had his own animation studio. His love for animation fed his perseverance.

We’re confident that the animators during the Disney Renaissance era felt the same way. Despite growing pressure to release success after success, they simply went on doing what they loved and didn’t hold back. Now, Disney is one of the largest and most successful companies in the world. Coincidence?

What great lessons have you learned from the Disney Renaissance? Let us know in the comments below!

 

How to Do Comic-Con Without a Badge

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It’s only been a week since Comic-Con and if you couldn’t make it you’ve been poring over websites, blogs, and social media trying to absorb the copious amounts of information coming out of San Diego. But here’s the thing… for less than $500 dollars, and a three-hour road trip, you too could have attended the convention. Not just attended the convention, but made lasting connections.

Here’s how…

Comic Con Isn’t Just Hall – H

Look, Hall – H is the sexy part of San Diego Comic-Con. It’s where the Game of Thrones cast meets up every year to mourn the dead. Hall – H is where the first was announced and where we learned Tom Hiddleston was going to be Loki. Fans spend days in line for one of those coveted seats. But, there’s more to the convention than Hall – H.

There’s so much more to explore. If you’re lucky enough to get a badge there are a great number of panels, demonstrations, signings and screenings. It’s not just the big new it’s about the exhibits.

In 2016, just outside the convention center, there were two separate carnivals, a South Park photo staging center, NBC had an entire plaza announcing their new season of shows, Amazon had a giant tent highlighting The Man in the High Castle and other forthcoming shows, Warner Brothers hosted a Suicide Squad virtual reality seminar and Wonder Woman’s invisible jet for family photos. None of these exterior events required a badge and most were completely free to attend.

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Business is Flourishing

The convention center is only open from 10 AM to 7:30 PM. Once the doors are closed all those industry people have to go somewhere. This is your chance to mingle with the crème de la crème of producers, writers, actors, editors, and financiers looking for their next big project.

You can take advantage of this opportunity. Go to any hotel bar after doors close order a virgin drink, and listen intently. Wait until you hear about a latest project or passion and chime in. You’ll be surprised at how friendly and open attendees are. Everyone is here to promote so they’re eager to share their stories, advice, and experience.

Soon there will be an opportunity for you to talk about what you do and where you’re hoping to go. You might not get offered a job, but you’ll walk away with some new knowledge and a new contact. Make sure to email your contacts right away, thanking them for their time and let them know you intend to stay in touch. Anytime you have a project, a GoFundMe, or get a great job, let this person know. They’ll be rooting for you and when they’re ready to hire you’ll be the first person they think of.

Industry Parties are Everywhere

Every major entertainment news outlet, blog, publishing company and production company hosts a party at San Diego Comic-Con. Getting inside can be tricky but the experience trying to get in can be memorable. Usually, there are lines wrapped around the building. When you find one, hop in line and begin a conversation. Get to know those around you.

Once inside, take the opportunity to circle the room. Then find a place where you feel you’ll fit in. Make conversation. Pro tip: don’t talk about business. This is an opportunity for those hired by the company to blow off steam. The last thing they want to do is interview you for a position or explain why they like their company. Instead, talk about your passions. Ask them about their past convention experience. Or, just dance. Just being a cool human being can be the best kind of networking.

So, bring a lot of business cards, a positive attitude, and some samples of your work. Soon you’ll be hobnobbing with the best in the industry. Even if you don’t walk away with your dream job, you’ll have made memories and contacts that can last a life time.

The Average Animator Salary and How Its Changed Over Time

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If there’s one profession that has continually grown in demand each year, it’s animation. More and more aspiring animators dream of creating worlds as captivating as the ones they grew up with. Now, schools all over the globe offer all kinds of degree programs in digital art, 3D animation, visual effects, and more.

Of course, it takes more than just passion and imagination to get the dream job of creating jaw-dropping video game environments or lovable film characters. That is why New York Film Academy designed their 3D Animation & Visual Effects School to equip graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to stand out in a competitive job market.

But the question on the mind of many future animators is the same: can I make a good living as an animator? The answer is, yes! In fact, the need for talented animators has led to a growth in annual salaries over the past several years … and there’s no sign of it stopping.

More Demand = More $$$ for Animators

Animators today are getting paid more than those from 20, 10, and even five years ago. This is because advancements in animation and visual effects technology have allowed for better tools offering more realistic graphics. All it takes is one look at a video game from the year 2000 and one from 2016 to see that animation is bigger and better than ever.

At the same time, costs for animation projects have also gone up. For example, “Toy Story” was released in 1995, made on a budget of $30 million with 27 animators. It is still the cheapest movie Pixar has ever produced. In comparison, “Toy Story 3” was released 15 years later on a budget of $200 million— more than six times that of the first movie.

So why are animated films and 3D video games more expensive to make today than ever before? Simply, more animators are required for projects — and those animators are getting paid more. As visuals grow more complex, so too do the tools needed to make it all come alive. Companies want to hire individuals who have mastered the necessary skills and can work quickly without sacrificing quality.

And they’re willing to pay good money.

The Average Salary Today

As of May 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has “Multimedia Artists and Animators” earning an estimated median annual wage of $63, 970 and an hourly wage of $30.76/hour. Median means that half of professionals in this field earned less than those numbers while the other half earned more. Not including self-employed workers, these averages were taken from the salary of 30,250 animators and multimedia artists.

It’s important to remember that the industry you work in affects how much you can make. The top paying industry for animators is Travel Arrangement and Reservation Services, with an average hourly wage of $41.22 and annual wage of $85,750. However, there were only 30 reported people working in this field. So even though the average annual wage of someone working in motion picture and video is less ($73,270), it has a higher level of employment.

The motion picture and video industry employed 9,930 artists and animators in May of 2015, the most of any industry. When comparing numbers from 2014 and 2015, people estimate that animation jobs will grow up to 7 percent, which means more than 4,000 more positions.

(Source link for more info.) 

8 Movies Where Miniature Special Effects Trump CGI

From the stop-motion animated works of the legendary Ray Harryhausen to that White House scene in Independence Day, effects involving miniatures have long been a part of cinema’s rich history…though some examples have aged a lot better than others.

In this age of rampant CGI, miniature work is an art form all unto itself and today we’re going to celebrate the finer set pieces that have endured in popular culture. Presenting:

8 Famous Movie Miniatures

Digitally blurred miniature fake of Jodhpur

King Kong (1933)

Although stop motion had seen use before this point (most notably in 1927’s Metropolis and the works of Georges Méliès), it was the era-defining monster epic King Kong which really showed off the potential of miniatures.

In the above climactic scene, King Kong scales the Empire State Building in what could be the most iconic movie scene of the 1930s.

Naturally the effects employed 80 years ago have since been eclipsed by modern techniques, but the scale of what was achieved in this classic was nothing short of impressive even in retrospect. Marcel Delgado was commissioned to create four different scaled-down models of Kong (which was then known by the slightly less snappy moniker “Giant Terror Gorilla”) as well as a huge bust of the creature’s head and upper chest to use during close-ups, operating by three workers operating it from within.

Alien (1979)

Miniatures saw a lot of love during the sixties and seventies, particularly within the sci-fi genre. Star Wars, 2001: A Space Oddyssey, and Star Trek all made extensive use of miniatures to depict a huge sense of scale at a lower budget.

Featurette on bringing the Alien universe to life using miniatures.

The introduction of the intricately designed Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s Alien is a premier example of this, and as you’ll hear in the “making of” clip above, the amount of work that went into the miniature effects on this movie was unprecedented at the time.

And really, the term miniature for something so huge doesn’t seem particularly apt. The separate landing leg model—used in scenes where the ship touches down on LV-426—measured an impressive 42 feet high and, like the main ship itself, was moved into shot using a forklift truck.

Blade Runner (1982)

A production steeped in mythology, inter-crew fighting, and bad blood, Blade Runner may have left a sour taste in the mouth of many of those who made it (including Harrison Ford, with whom Ridley Scott frequently butted heads) but to sci-fi fans it remains one of the most visually impressive movies ever released.

Creating an entire city with miniatures and forced perspective, back when 3D computer modelling wasn’t an option.

A huge amount of miniatures were used to bring Philip K. Dick’s dystopian vision of Los Angeles to life (and one which the writer was reportedly very happy with on seeing test footage shortly before his passing.) The model work can be seen most prominently in scenes involving the Spinner vehicles and establishing shots of the city, but we can also thank Imgur user Minicity for uploading this huge collection of behind-the-scenes shots earlier in the year.

Back to the Future Pt. II (1989)

The second installment of Robert Zemeckis’ quintessential trilogy raised the bar for a lot of special effect techniques (digital compositing and motion control cameras in particular were used to great effect in Part Two.)

Miniatures only saw limited use, but when they do appear, you’d still be hard-pressed to identify them let alone figure out how they did some of the shots. Consider this one, for instance, which has the 3-foot scale model of the DeLorean touch down from the sky, pull into the driveway, and then…people get out of the model?

You can re-watch it a few times and still probably not figure it out, but because it’ll drive you wild if we don’t reveal the trick, pay close attention to the street lamp. This is in fact two separate yet perfectly matched shots, with the lamp providing the nearly imperceptible seam between the two.

GoldenEye (1995)

The first Bond flick to feature CGI, but it’s the miniature work that stole the show.

GoldenEye was the final movie worked on by special effects master Derek Meddings, to whom the movie is dedicated. Incredible miniature work was a defining quality of Meddings’ career, and he certainly pulled out all the stops for Bond’s 19th outing—here, fellow visual effects designer Nigel Blake discusses his colleagues work on the movie (featuring some pretty mind-blowing shots of the GoldenEye miniatures without the forced perspective you see in the final cut):

Independence Day (1996)

The aforementioned “Time’s up” scene in ID:4, because it’d be virtually criminal not to tip one’s hat to it while talking about ultra-memorable miniature set pieces:

Everyone’s day gets ruined in Emmerich’s iconic disaster flick.

Miniatures were also used (alongside CGI) for the aerial fight scenes, as well as the skyscraper explosion. In fact, the movie still holds the record for the most miniature model work to appear in a single title (and with the dominance of CGI, it may well hold the title forever.)

An interesting facet of the production is that those destruction shots were filmed with the models placed sideways—naturally, flames go upwards but Emmerich wanted them to appear as if they were exploding towards the camera (as explained in this “making of” segment around the 14:00 mark.)

And as you can imagine, they only had one shot to make sure those explosion scenes were a success, otherwise a lot of model makers would have been on overtime to recreate all the miniatures again (with the original, 12” wide White House model costing around $50,000 to construct.)

The long-awaited sequel nearly ended up on our list of movies that’ll never get made, but it looks all but certain that we’ll get an Independence Day 2 next year. That said, you can bet your bottom dollar that the follow-up will eschew the kind of miniature work that won the original an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in favor of heavy CGI.

The Lord of the Rings Series (2001 – 2003)

For Peter Jackson’s landmark achievement in the world of special effects, lead actors were digitally altered to hobbit proportions… and conversely, the miniature cities were blown up to epic proportions.

The LOTR team on making the “bigature” photography look realistic.

And the team in charge of the miniature special effects had their work cut out for them, working longer than any other SFX crew during the entirety of the production. Coining the phrase “bigatures,” many of the cities seen in the final cut were shot from beautifully crafted models (including Helm’s Deep, Osgiliath, Minas Tirith, Isengard, and the Black Gate.)

Further complicating the work of the special effects and model making teams was the varying height depictions of the characters; Bag End, for instance, was built at two different scales—one which allowed Elijah Wood to walk through doorways of a seemingly appropriate size, and another which had Sir Ian McKellen having to stoop in order to enter them.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Huh? They used miniatures in Christopher Nolan’s Batman epic?

They sure did, and extensively so… though as is the measure of all good visual effects, most audience goers were none the wiser.

Visual effects supervisor Nick Davies discusses the practicalities of using miniatures on the set of The Dark Knight

That incredibly impressive scene in which the tumbler slams into the garbage truck at high speed was all miniature work (as were most of the chase scenes involving the tumbler on the streets of Gotham.) We’ve got New Deal Studios to thank for this seamless piece of work, who also masterminded the miniature shots of the opening plane scene in The Dark Knight Rises.

So there we have it—eight exquisite examples of miniatures proving they’ve still got a place in the world of special effects. 

Of course, there’s plenty more that we’ve not covered here; got any favorite scenes missing from the list? Head on down to the comments below!

Learn more about the School of 3D Animation & Visual Effects at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

CGI Animation History: Defining (and Awesome) Moments in Cinema

When done well, computer generated imagery can allow the filmmaker to achieve results that would be impractical (if not impossible) to recreate by other means.

Done badly, and it can totally undermine an otherwise fine movie.

We could fill an entire post with examples of the latter, but today we’re looking at notable movies that executed computer effects to a superb level, despite the fact that CGI barely existed at the time. And be sure to check out our previous post looking at CGI’s effect on the evolution of special effects.

characters in original tron movie

And we’ll start off with where it all began:

The Vision of an Android (Westworld)

When talking about movies that revolutionized special effects, Westworld is typically the first on the list. The raster graphics used to simulate the titular android’s vision would only take an animation school student fifteen minutes with modern software but it was an entirely different story back in 1973.

Deciding it’d be cheaper than animating the effect from scratch, two computer masterminds instead took the unprocessed footage, separated each frame into tri-color, converted them into blocks, then used a computer to combine it all back together adding basic tone values for each block.

Laborious for sure, but the result is the 2:31 origin of computer-aided effects that you see above. The sequel, Futureworld, also broke new ground by being the first movie to feature a CGI-rendered 3D object (which was actually created four years before its 1976 release):

More interesting still? The gentleman who created that CGI head and hand, Ed Catmull, went on to become the co-founder and president of Pixar.

And speaking of wireframes…

The Trench Run Briefing (Star Wars: A New Hope)

Just after the first appearance of 3D CGI in a movie (and long before Jar Jar Binks arrived on the scene) came an iconic piece of cinema that really got the ball rolling: the briefing scene in which the rebel alliance is coached on how to take out the Death Star, courtesy of some wireframe wizardry.

Here it is in isolation:

Given the extensiveness and detail of the sequence (in 1977, no less) it’s of no surprise that the imagery took weeks of non-stop work to produce at the University of Illinois. Ridley Scott went on to use the same technology in 1979’s Alien, where the Nostromo’s monitors display landing simulations onto the surface LV-426.

But forget CGI being displayed on the odd monitor. Next up, we’ve got a milestone in computer-aided imagery used across an entire movie…

Tron (1982)

CGI animation mixed seamlessly with wireframe graphics, rotoscoping, cel-shading, backlit animation and live action was the order of the day for what was to become a cult favorite.


And it’s a wonder it ever got produced in the first place. So original was the vision for how Tron should look—not to mention how expensive and painstaking it would be to produce—that Disney very nearly passed on the project (especially given that the producer and directors were both first-timers.)

Despite a muddled reception from critics, it did go on to win the Academy Award for Technical Achievement…

…fourteen years after its release.

Not bad given they only had a 2Mb computer with just 330Mb of storage to work with.

CGI progressed onward from this point as computing power increased, with a few attempts to further integrate it into live action over the 80s. Some were good, some not so good, but it was the nineties that really saw the genesis of CGI as we know it today.

The T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

The go-to example whenever the debate concerning “sequels that are better than the original” crops up at the bar, Terminator 2 got a lot of things right and its use of CGI was one of them.

Of course, we are talking about the visual effects that went into bringing the T-1000 to life; a terrifying nemesis with a liquid metal body which could morph into other shapes (or stab a foster parent through the throat while he’s drinking milk.)

Mimicking liquid is difficult in computer generated imagery, as is rendering real-world reflections in metal. Doing both at the same time nearly 30 years ago? That’s cinematic history in the making.

Toy Story (1995)

Very few would have guessed that the first ever fully-CG feature film would age so well, let alone kickstart an entire industry.

That said, given it was created on a relatively tiny $30 million budget by a very small team (half of whom reportedly didn’t know how to use a computer), it’s a wonder Toy Story ever got off the ground in the first place. This goes doubly so when factoring in the brutal development negotiations between Pixar and Disney, which nearly hamstrung the entire project

And that brings us to the final entry in our round-up of notable early CGI sequences in cinema…

Bullet Time (The Matrix)

Because it’s easy to argue that CGI history can be neatly divided into two eras…

… everything before the Wachowskis’ bullet time, and everything that followed afterwards. Join us next time as we look at some of the most remarkable CGI achievements in the post-Wachowski era and please let us know of any movies or moments we forgot to include in the comments below!

Computers Killed the Video Star: Did CGI ruin SFX?

It’s an argument as old as the hills. Did the advancement of ubiquitous CGI kill the art of moviemaking, and has it rendered many of the old school methods of visual effect creation obsolete? Moreover, has CGI sold us down the river as audiences, and taught us to accept digital fakery?

It’s fervent and important for both cinema lovers and those trying to find the right balance at producing school, since it’s widely accepted that terrible effects—be it CGI or traditional—can severely hamper an otherwise great movie.

Today we’ll be looking at both sides of the coin with an unpacking of:

CGI vs. Traditonal SFX: The Common Arguments

CGI vs VFX

“Traditional Effects Look Better than CGI!”

There are many examples that people commonly point to and say, “Man, this scene really benefits from the realism; I’m glad they didn’t use CGI to do Benjamin Button’s makeup, and that they made an actual Iron Man suit for Robert Downey Jr. to wear during scenes when he’s not flying around.”

Nope. That’s all CGI, too.

The only suit Robert ever wears on the set of an Iron Man flick is a green screen suit, and 95% of the aging affects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are achieved with CGI, not makeup artistry. Sandra Bullock wasn’t suspended by expert rigging in amidst of generated scenery in Gravity—for much of the film, Bullock herself was composited into the scene.

In short, we tend to credit a lot of CGI successes to traditional SFX, and give a lot of bad rap to CGI when it goes wrong.

Which Really Ages Worst?

There’s a common charge against CGI that it ages a lot quicker than traditional effects. We’ll probably need a few more decades of cinema before we can say either way whether or not this is the case. At the moment, however, it depends on which examples you cherry pick—The Mummy Returns is a classic example of terrible early CGI, but Gladiator and Terminator 2 still hold their own all these years later.

Similarly, the traditional animatronics behind the original SFX may have aged beautifully, but nobody can claim the Ray Harryhausen-style effects preceding it are convincing to anyone (despite how innovative they were at the time).

CGI Has Created a Whole Industry…

Speaking of movies that have aged well, Toy Story would never have existed without advancements in computer animation, and arguably nor would the slew of evermore-impressive animated features which have come since.

Pixar_-_front_gates

Of course, the argument from the other side is that the prevalence of CGI has created a massive over-saturation of family animations and bombastic action flicks; but a counter to this could be that the industry needs these revenue-pulling staples in order to fund traditional (and more subtle) movies.

This leads us neatly on to…

Job Creation and Destruction

If a thousand-strong crowd can be shopped into a stadium, what’s the point of hiring extras? If Benjamin Button’s face can be manipulated with digital effects, why bother recruiting a makeup expert?

The pervasiveness of automata replacing human labor is something that is concerning to just about every industry. In Hollywood, CGI partly replaces many roles such as set creation, modeling, makeup artistry, stunt work, armory and pyrotechnics. All very worrying for those struggling to find work in an already cutthroat industry.

FilmCrew

In the latter cases, however, one positive aspect of CGI is that it can serve to reduce danger on set. It has also created brand new fields of work that never before existed—data wranglers and software developers, for instance. Though it’s unlikely that the amount of work created by CGI exceeds the amount of jobs it makes redundant.

CGI is Hard to Act Opposite

Sadly for the CGI supporters, this one is hard to refute given that countless actors and actresses have spoken up regarding the challenges of acting in heavily-computer generated environments (and especially when acting opposite characters who literally aren’t there during the shoot).

Worse is that to the viewer, the mixing of live human actors and CGI creations usually looks a little disjointed in the final cut, ruining the suspension of disbelief that enhanced effects should bolster, not detract from.

If there’s any consolation here, it’s that this merging is getting more and more seamless as time goes on, and acting opposite CGI is now a standard, so whether you are in acting school, or a seasoned performer, this is something you should be prepared for.

Over to You…

As we can see, there’s no straightforward answer as to whether or not CGI is, on balance, a force for good in the field of moviemaking. There are a lot of good arguments on both sides.

Where do you stand on CGI vs. traditional SFX? Any strong opinions on either, or arguments we may have missed? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!