Animation

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!

13 Groundbreaking Shows In TV Visual Effects History

TV has come a long way over the years. There have been some incredible highs that have almost literally gotten the whole world talking, as well as some abysmal lows populated with shows that are better left unmentioned.

As things have progressed, so too has the job of the visual effects artist, a job which has changed dramatically over the years and appears to be following an adaptation of Moore’s Law; where the future lies is open to speculation, but it’s always worth taking a minute to review what lead us to where we are today.

So, without further ado, let’s begin our tour of visual effects by going right the way back to the late 50s…

Visual Effects in Television: 13 of the Most Groundbreaking Shows
 TV visual effects

The Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964)

Almost every episode of the enduring pop classic, The Twilight Zone, saw the visual effects becoming increasingly inventive, being driven by ever stranger storylines that pushed the effects team’s abilities to the very limits of what was achievable.

More often than not, they met their mark and set the bar high for sci-fi to follow, especially in an age when nobody was convinced a sci-fi/speculative fiction show would work.

But of course, along came…

Dr. Who (1963 – present)

In the early 60s, a little sci-fi show featuring a time-traveling telephone box appeared on British screens on the same day as John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It arrived with little fanfare – partly due to the breaking assassination news, partly because half the country suffered a power outage that evening – and came very close to being permanently axed from the BBC’s production schedule.

Given the long-lasting impact it would have on not just sci-fi serials and the visual effects therein, but also pop culture in general, the world would be a very different place if it had been dropped in the first series all those decades ago.

Thunderbirds (1964 – 1966)

In the mid-sixties, children’s television was undergoing something of a revolution in the U.K and the release of Thunderbirds marked its apex.

Subsequently released in over 60 countries, it was arguably the most popular British TV export at the time (since Dr. Who had yet to find an overseas audience) and went on to inspire numerous other “supermarionation” shows, none of which quite lived up to the bar set by the original puppeteers.

Star Trek: TOS (1966 – 1969)

While all of the Star Trek series could be considered as boundary-pushing when it comes to TV visual effects, it was the 1966 magnum opus that laid the foundation for what would become one of the most popular and influential shows ever made.

As with all of the early entries in this list, you’ll need to apply a little historical perspective to fully appreciate how mind-blowing the effects were to a TV audience of 50 years ago, but The Original Series was way ahead of its time even in the 60s.

Cosmos (1980)

From iconic explorations of a fantastical universe to the very real one we find ourselves in, the original Cosmos series was a landmark in public science education. Bolstered by the late, great Carl Sagan and special effects that beautifully brought abstract concepts and cosmological events to life, Cosmos set a precedent that hadn’t really been met until the show’s gorgeous resurrection last year (under the helm of Sagan admirer Neil DeGrasse Tyson).

It’s little wonder the 80s show looked so exquisite, either – the 13 part series was given a $6.3 million production budget, which in today’s money equates to around $20 million (or one and a half million dollars per episode).

The Simpsons (1989 – Present)

While animated sitcoms go back as far as the 1960 (kickstarted by such Hanna-Barbera shows as The Flintstones and The Jetsons), it was a little short debuting on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987 that would thrust the genre into the mainstream, and revolutionized animation made specifically for TV.

The Simpsons is now the longest running U.S sitcom and animation, and arguably the most celebrated with The A.V. Club dubbing it “television’s crowning achievement, regardless of format.”

Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991)

We could fill volumes discussing the cinematography merits and visual effects mastery in Twin Peaks, but it’s best summed up – and left – with three simple words…

… It’s David Lynch.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)

A seminal 90s series that brought makeup artistry to the forefront of the small screen, and even earned numerous Emmy Awards for Outstanding Visual Effects and Makeup during its run.

Sure, it may look a little hammy by today’s standards, but it’s the humor and acting that have aged a lot more than the visual effects that brought the occult to our screens like never before (provoking critic Robert Moore to proclaim “TV was not art before Buffy, but it was afterwards”).

Band of Brothers (2001)

By many measures, Band of Brothers was quite possibly the finest WWII miniseries of the past few decades, and particularly when judged upon its dedication to real (and often harrowing) visual effects.

Then again, could we expect any less from Steven Spielberg?

24 (2001 – 2010)

The premise behind 24 was bold, and the set pieces peppered throughout the groundbreaking show even more so.

Often overshadowed by the incredible performances, the ingenuity displayed by the special effects team who have worked on the past nine seasons is particularly worthy of praise: from the all-too-realistic portrayal of Jack Bauer lopping off a guy’s hand to the makeup department stepping up to the plate for every brutal interrogation scene, 24 is a visual feast that will endure for some time to come.

Peep Show (2003 – Present)

From seemingly out of nowhere came a small-budget, British comedy which fully realized the art of POV-shooting as a regular feature in a way never before (or since) mastered, becoming a huge cult success in the process.

At the time of writing, the longest-running comedy on the UK’s Channel 4 is currently filming its ninth and final series, having been at the risk of cancellation due to low viewer numbers (and saved through high DVD sales) since the very first episode.

Daredevil (2015)

While it sagged a little in the third act of the series, it’s been heralded by many as a near-perfect example of how superhero-centric TV shows should be executed. Particular praise was given to Daredevil for its grit and masterful cinematography (which was very reminiscent of Wally Pfister‘s work on The Dark Knight trilogy), as well as the visual effects employed throughout the show.

Perhaps the beauty of Daredevil‘s visual effects is they were fairly understated. Fully-blown CGI sequences are traded with simple effects that demonstrate how the blind Mat Murdoch’s “powers” work, and fight scenes are driven by nothing more than excellent choreography and stunt performance than overwrought trickery.

Take for instance the 3-minute, single shot fight scene that had many a Netflix viewer picking their jaws off the carpet. If this doesn’t make Daredevil a worthy addition to this list, we don’t know what does:

If anything, Daredevil will hopefully see the action TV genre following suit and going back to basics, which is a savvy tactic if you don’t have $6 million dollars of budget to blow on each episode…

… and speaking of which:

Game of Thrones (2011 – Present)

From a visual production standpoint, TV shows don’t get much bigger than this, and it’s likely to be quite some time before we see a rival fantasy series of this scale…

… and the scale is indeed huge, with the last two episodes of the fourth season being formatted for IMAX (the only TV show we can think of which has had the super-big screen treatment.) Given that it’s officially the most expensive TV show ever produced, we can safely shut the book on the age old argument “what costs more: the cast of Friends or CGI dragons?”

So there we have it – a whistle stop tour of the finest shows to have advanced special effects in television. Any particular titles that you feel should have made the cut? You know where to drop your suggestion… see you in the comments below!

Six Best Options For Free Graphic Design And Animation Software

Creating 3D, manipulatable models without the need to get arms-deep in clay is an attractive idea. Forking over $1,500 every year for a subscription to Autodesk Maya, however, is not.

Given that the price range for professional-grade modeling suites can be eye watering, many amateurs, and even professionals, find themselves looking for free 3D modeling software alternatives. Luckily, there are more than a few free and open source options available. Even with the lack of a price tag, many of these are up there with the best.

If you’re a graphic design school student or attend animation school, check out the below options and we can guarantee you’ll find something that fits your needs.

Free 3D Modeling Software: 10 of the Best

1. K-3D

A mercifully stripped-back, no-nonse piece of software that doesn’t skimp on features. K-3D is centered around a plug-in driven procedural engine for handling polygonal modeling and animation, with one of the most brilliant and unique benefits being the ability to mirror the object you’re working on; add curves and NURBS to one half, and the other half with follow suit with a seamless join in the middle, creating a fully manipulable subdivision surface.

Also comes with support for RenderMan.

2. 3DCrafter

Amabilis have put out a whole suite of weird and wonderful tools over the years, and 3DCrafter is perhaps the best and most polished among them.

The beauty of this free 3D modeling software is that it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, ranging between drag-and-drop and fully customizable sculpting of intricate models from the ground up. The interface is a charm to use and extremely intuitive.

3. Blender

One of the most recognizable names on this list, Blender is incredibly popular due to its versatility. Everything from animation and video games modeling to 3D applications can be created, and graphic designers will love the simulated visual effects that can be implemented to a project effortlessly. It’s free and very much open source, with much of the development being driven by the lively Blender community.

Features within Blender include 3D modeling, texturing, particle simulation, UV unwrapping, skinning and rigging, animation, liquid and smoke simulation.

4. POV-Ray

Vision Raytracer, more popularly referred to as POV-Ray, is an entirely free and open source ray tracing software available for pretty much any platform you can name. It has been in development, in one form or another, for over thirty years and has even been used on the International Space Station. To boot, it’s longevity as a program means that there is a huge amount of 3rd party support for the software.

Features Turing-complete scene description language (SDL), a library of ready-made objects, textures and scenes, several kinds of light sources and atmospheric effects, surface patterns and radiosity. This one is highly recommended for graphic designers in particular given the impressive results that can be achieved with it.

5. Google SketchUp

Quickly becoming common place within the modeling and graphic design community, Google’s SketchUp is geared towards open-ended sharing. Either working from scratch or by using a ton of free, pre-built objects, it’s a great tool for projects that will be worked on and shared between multiple team members. While it has something of a learning curve for beginners, the amount of support and tutorials available is unparalleled, and it also boasts an incredibly large and active community base around the globe.

6. Art of Illusion

Highly recommended for beginners or traditional graphic designers who only want to model occasionally, Art of Illusion offers an intuitive user interface and is stripped back of any distractions. At the same time, it does offer a few bells and whistles that aren’t prevalent in the other software listed on this page; the free access to online repositories, a live chat function which lets you tap straight into the fantastic AoI support community and an array of view modes.

Other features which come as standard include: Boolean operating; wireframe animation (complete with weight systems, constraints and reversed kinetics), texture mapping by face or vertex, fully customizable light refraction and scattering.

Know of any other free 3D Modeling Software we should be checking out? Don’t hesitate to share with the group via the comments below!

Disney’s Next Live-Action Rehash: Winnie the Pooh?

News has just surfaced that Disney Studios is continuing with its slew of live-action adaptations of old, cherished animations, this time with Winnie the Pooh coming at an unspecified date… and the Internet hasn’t reacted too kindly.

Winnie the Pooh live action

Although many are decrying the live-action retelling of the A.A. Milne classic, which is particularly noted for its 2D animation style, the news probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The recent slew of adaptations have proven extremely viable from a commercial standpoint, even if critical reception has been hit-or-miss:

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 2010. Cost $150m to make, took $215m at the box office. Scored at 42% on metacritic review site Rotten Tomatoes.

Alice in Wonderland, 2010. Production budget of somewhere between $150m and $200m, went on to bring in an incredible $1.02 billion despite only receiving a 51% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Maleficent, 2014. The live-action Sleeping Beauty derivative took $758.4m against a budget of $180m – Angelina Jolie’s highest grossing film – and gaining a 49% approval rating from critics.

Into the Woods, 2014. Based around numerous fairytale sources, the star-studded musical quadrupled its budget with $204m in takings against it’s $50m budget. Fared well on Rotten Tomatoes with a 71% rating.

Cinderella, 2015. Still screening at the time of writing, but has so far grossed $397m at the box office and a budget of $95m. Currently stands at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The current wave does not represent the first time that Disney have given classic animations the live-action treatment. For that, look to 101 Dalmatians released in 1996 and the 2000 sequel, both of which did notably well at the box office.

An unsubstantiated rumor about a Cruella de Vil movie being planned (a la Maleficent) is also doing the rounds, but that’s a story for another day.

Cruella Dalmations live action Disney movie

With profit margins like this, it’s little wonder that Disney Studios are planning on plumbing these depths for as long as the numbers hold strong. Of course, other studios are following suit given that a lot of the source material (namely Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen) is out of copyright and open game.

As for Winnie the Pooh, it’s historically been one of the most profitable intellectual property licenses on Disney’s books and they have put out a few feature-length, theatrical releases in the past. Sadly, they’ve never quite hit the financial heights that were hoped for and the most recent 2011 Winnie the Pooh movie, which was traditionally animated. It only took in $44m against a $30m budget. Again, in light of this it’s no surprise that Disney are giving the franchise a lick of live-action paint for the next release.

Winnie the Pooh live action remake

In a nutshell, the reason for the current trend is all down to cold, hard cash (as it often is). But let’s stop looking back, and instead turn our attention to the live-action remakes that are scheduled for the next few years:

The Jungle Book: April, 2016
Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass: May, 2016
Beauty and the Beast: March, 2017
Dumbo: Unknown
Mulan: Unknown

Dumbo and Mulan are both being directed by Tim Burton. No doubt this is due to the financial success of the first Alice in Wonderland movie (its 2016 sequel has been entrusted to James Bobin). In addition to all this, Sofia Coppola is set to direct an adaptation of The Little Mermaid, albeit for Universal rather than Disney.

Little Mermaid remake

And that leaves us with one question…

What Will a Live-Action Winnie The Pooh Movie Look Like?

At present, it’s anyone’s guess. All we know is that it’ll feature a more “grown-up” Christopher Robin revisiting Hundred Acre Wood.

The other recent live-action anthropomorphic bear movie, Paddington Bear, which came out in 2014 made sense. The bear himself was animated and set amongst a host of real-life actors and sets. With Winnie the Pooh, however, it’s the other way around. It’s hard to imagine humans playing all of the Milne animals. Could everything be CGI animated with the exception of Christopher Robin?

In the meantime, there’s sure to be healthy debate as to whether or not the entire project is doomed to failure or should even be attempted in the first place.

pooh bear live action

What’s your take? Any live-action adaptations you’re actually looking forward to, or are you longing for this current trend to fizzle out? Let your voice be heard in the comments below…

Stop Motion Animation: 5 Award-Winning Stop Motion Films

Stop motion animation is a discipline that has been around for almost as long as the film industry itself, but it’s been in the last few decades in particular that we’ve seen some incredible innovation in the field.

Whether you’re simply an avid fan of stop motion or currently working your way through animation school, the following 5 award-winning stop motion films will serve to inspire you and deserved all the recognition they received. Continue on and you’ll see why.

Fresh Guacamole (PES)

PES has become something of the go-to name for stop motion animation, particularly in the YouTube era. As we mentioned in our guide on How to Do Stop Motion Animation, PES (born Adam Pesapane) garnered a lot of recognition for his short Fresh Guacamole:

PES himself has picked up a great number of awards for his quirky stop motion to date, but Fresh Guacamole in particular is a notable short given that, at 1:36 long, it’s the shortest film to have ever been nominated for an Oscar. The film was in the running for the 2012 Best Animated Short Film, but subsequently lost out to Disney’s Paperman.

Out of a Forest (Tobias Gundorff)

Shortly following graduation at animation school, Gundorff’s thesis short, Out of a Forest, went on to do exceptionally well on the festival circuit and launched his filmmaking career spectacularly.

The short itself features a nighttime gathering in the woods of a group of rabbits, blissfully unaware that something moves in the darkness. We won’t spoil the ending of course, but we can guarantee you’ll enjoy the seamless addition of live action elements into the mix:

It’s little wonder that this fantastic example of stop motion animation went on to win multiple awards given that it’s packed with both style and substance.

Bottle (Kirsten Lepore)

Creating any kind of stop motion is difficult, but when you’re trying to accomplish intricate results on location in nature, using sand, sea, and snow no less, the challenge level increases manifold.

That’s precisely what Kirsten Lepore and her team accomplished, and to great effect, in this tale of two animated chunks of landscape communicating to each other via the ocean:

We can’t begin to imagine the amount of work that went into keeping this animation as consistent and flawless as it is, but it deserved every award it was given and stands as an inspiration to stop motion animators the world over.

MUTO (Blu)

Known only by his pseudonym, Blu is a street artist who has been honing his craft since the late nineties in Bologna.

His art is intricate, imposing, and subversive; above all, it’s highly distinctive. Blu’s style was brought vividly to life in a graffiti/stop animation crossover titled Muto, which is unparalleled in terms of the project’s scale, and went on to give Blu both international recognition and awards:

The animation was released in 2008 and involved hundreds (if not thousands) of individual paintings of various sizes, but usually massive, across the streets of Buenos Aires. It is unknown how long this bizarre creation took, or how Blu managed to evade authorities during the process.

Stanley Pickle (Vicky Mather)

In the award-winning UK filmmaker’s own words, “Stanley never goes outside. He likes to play with his clockwork toys and every night his mother kisses him goodnight. Stanley is twenty. The trouble is that Stanley thinks this is all quite normal, until an encounter with a mysterious girl turns his world upside down…”

An undeniably interesting premise, made even more compelling through its innovative use of a stop motion technique called ‘pixilation,’ everything was taken as still images as with conventional stop motion, but using real actors instead of puppets or models. As can be observed in the short itself, the resulting aesthetic of the film is very peculiar indeed (and even a little unsettling):

Know of any award-winning stop motion animations that we’ve missed off the list? Drop a comment below and let us know what we should be watching next!

A Quick History of Animation

The animation industry has grown to become an absolute behemoth in the world of cinema. As of the last reliable estimates, which surfaced around 2008, the industry was reported to be worth a cool $68.4 billion alone, and that was before the world had ever heard of a little movie called Frozen.

history of animation

And even though modern animated movies require massive teams working solidly for years, they’re still the most profitable of any film genre. They have been since 2004, with gross profit margins at 52% compared to the second-most profitable genre, action, at 48%. It’s appears that the industry has stumbled into a gold mine, and it’s still way too early to predict when we’ll hit the peak.

But of course, animations weren’t always multi-million dollar affairs. Only a century before 3D animation schools rose up to help people study the craft, there were pioneers out there trying to figure out how to get it started.

The First Ever Animation

What was the first ever animation? That is a trickier question than it might appear, because it depends entirely on what is classified as an animation.

Given that animation, at its heart, is simply the act of creating the illusion of movement through still images, you could argue that the craft began hundreds of thousands of years ago. We’re all familiar with the stereotypical cave painting imagery which usually depicted hunting in motion.

The Victorians also figured out how to create moving stills to trick the eyes into thinking the image was animated:

History of animation: first ever animation

But that’s probably not what you wanted to know. Even if we’re talking about the first ever animation in the era of film, though, we’ve still got a problem: are we including only drawn images? Stop motion? Animations that only featured a few frames?

Let’s skip ahead a little and take a look at the first verifiable animated feature-length film… although that may be a little tricky, since no surviving copies exist.

The First Animated Feature Film

After a number of pioneers began creating animated shorts in the early 20th century (1914’s Gertie the Dinosaur being a notable example), the very first feature-length animation created using traditional methods was entitled El Apóstol.

Released in 1917 to a South American theatre audience, the 70-minute long movie – running at an impressive 14 frames per second – also holds the distinction of being the first commercially profitable animated movie ever made.

According to those who saw it, the political satire was exceedingly good. Those who didn’t catch it the first time round will never have the chance to find out, however, since the only copy of the film was destroyed in a house fire.

Alas, we’ll never know how good the first ever feature-length animation truly was.

Moving on…

The Rise of the Mouse House

A few more experimental animation techniques were developed over the next decade (including methods like rotoscoping), which produced some hit-and-miss results. It was the opening of a small studio in Los Angeles, however, that changed the game forever.

Walt Disney studios history of animation

To many, the word “animation” begins and ends with Walt Disney. With more innovations and notable works over the 20th century (and beyond) than we could ever hope to list here, Disney’s studio and tumultuous history set a precedent for the entire animation industry.

Interestingly, Pinto Colvig, famously known as the voice of Disney’s Goofy, was an extremely talented illustrator and is reputed to have made the very first animated feature film himself a couple of years before El Apóstol, but this is now impossible to verify.

As a result, some commenters point to the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the first feature-length animated film since it was fully hand-drawn and isn’t classified as a ‘lost movie’.

The First Computer-Animated Feature Films

If the founding of Disney Studios is the biggest turning point in animation history so far, Pixar’s release of Toy Story in 1995 could be deemed the second biggest.

While it’s amazing that Toy Story still looks incredible two decades later, it’s undeniable that the CGI animations released since are following some kind of Moore’s Law effect: every year the rate of technological increase is growing exponentially, leading to mind-blowing results which are light-years ahead of titles released just a couple of years ago.

modern animation then and now

With CGI animation now a hugely profitable staple of the industry, it certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. The only thing left to see is how the students of animation school today are going to revolutionize the world of animation tomorrow.

How To Do Stop Motion Animation

Before the advent of fully-blown CGI animation, traditional animation – in which every single frame is drawn by hand – was the industry standard. If you wanted to create something involving 3D models, stop motion animation was your only option.

But even though there are now many more ways to skin the proverbial cat, stop motion hasn’t waned in popularity. If anything, it’s becoming even more appreciated as an artform as people push the boundaries of what can be achieved with stop motion. Adam Pesapane – more famously known as PES – is a great example, with his work having delighted animation fans for over a decade:

Alongside the numerous accolades and awards PES has picked up over the years, the above animation (titled ‘Fresh Guacamole’) was also the shortest film ever to be nominated for an Oscar.

But how to follow in his footsteps? Join us as we explore…

How To Do Stop Motion Animation

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: stop motion animation is extremely time consuming work, which is instantly apparent to anyone who has ever seen even a basic film created in the medium. It is something that should only be attempted by those with patience, dedication, and an extreme amount of attention to detail…

… the reward for these is a level of job satisfaction that is simply off the scale.

Assuming you’re already in animation school or ready to embark on your first stop motion animation project, let’s take a look at how to do stop motion animation by first looking at the essential things you’ll need:

Models to Shoot

how to do stop motion animation

The props and models you’ll need can vary wildly, and depend wholly upon your vision for the animation and what you’re hoping to create. Many people just starting out figuring how to do stop motion animation find a lot of use and versatility in Lego, although the downside is that it can be fairly expensive to buy a large set from scratch.

A Scene in Which to Place Them

stop motion tutorial

Again, the setting can be just about anything. PES uses a simple kitchen counter and lets his props and models take the main focus . You can also hand draw imagery or use other props to build a backdrop to the scene. A green screen can also be useful if you’d like to experiment with digitally inserting backgrounds in post production.

An HD Camera

stop motion animation camera

Given that stop motion animation is as much about animating as it is an exercise in photography, you’ll want the best camera you can get your hands on. Using a phone or tablet is also an option. Although the overall image quality may not be as sharp, there are apps out there that can automate the editing process (we’ll come to this a bit later on.) Also make sure that you’ve got a big enough SD card or storage space to store all the images during the shoot.

An Extremely Stable Camera Rig

stop motion animation camera rig

And ‘stable’ is the operative word here. If the tripod isn’t 100% stationary for the duration of the scene (or the slightest knock will move it), you’ll end up with very chaotic footage in the final edit.

A Lighting Set Up

stop motion lighting

Uniform lighting is also paramount. A simple desk lamp can suffice in many occasions, but make sure you don’t have natural light coming into play which will change over the course of the shoot.

Editing Software

stop motion editing software

Software developers have become attuned to the needs of stop motion animators in recent years, so there are a number of options that will help make the editing and file management part of the job a lot easier – check out our guide on Stop Motion Animation software here.

Above all, you’ll need a clear idea of what you want to achieve. One of the biggest pitfalls that many people fail to consider when working out how to do stop motion animation is the storyboard. There is no room to work things out on the fly, and any attempts to do so will result in a mish-mash of unworkable stills. Every hour spent planning will pay off dividends in the long run, so be sure to meticulously lay out your storyboard ahead of time.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start shooting!

  • Get all set up. Rig up your lighting and camera, and put your models and scenery into place. Bear in mind that you’ll likely be in it for the long haul, so make sure you’ve got enough time to prevent having to deconstruct everything mid-shoot.
  • Take a test shot. This is simply to make sure your lighting and camera settings are optimal before you take hundreds of photos!
  • Begin shooting. Take a photo, move the model by a tiny amount, then repeat. Do make sure your own shadow doesn’t make it into the shot…
  • Ending the Shoot: Hopefully you’ll have allowed for enough storage space to get all the images you need! Once you’re done, export all the files to your main editing suite (you may want to use a batch renaming tool to make the file names logical and in sequence.)
  • Edit the project. How you go about this comes down to which stop motion animation software you’re using, but a good rule of thumb is to make sure the individual stills are all of equal length. You’ll also want to cut in some audio or speech to make the film more dynamic from an audio perspective.

Stop motion animation tutorial

Once you’ve completed your first stop motion animation, you’ll be able to analyze the finished results and identify areas for improvement on your next project.

Golden Rule: Start off small, be patient, and keep on practicing until you create even bigger and better stop motion animations. Best of luck, and be sure to share your results in the comments below!

Best Stop Motion Apps for iPad & Desktop

If you’re studying the craft at animation school, you’ll have every professional tool imaginable at your fingertips. But what about when you want to work on the go and experiment away from campus? We’re guessing you don’t want to blow multiple thousands of dollars setting up a home studio, but the good news is you don’t have to.

If you’re looking to get started in stop motion photography, you might want to start with our guide on the basics of the craft. But if you’ve already got all your image stills lined up and just need some free or budget software to process them, then here are…

The Best Stop Motion Animation Software and Apps

Smoovie (Mac & iPad)

best stop motion software

Featuring precision editing, onion skinning, chroma key effects, direct-to-YouTube publishing, and an intuitive interface, Smoovie is specifically designed for stop motion animation. While it’s not the most powerful or beautiful software ever released, it’s ideal for getting to grips with the basics. To boot, the iPad version makes good use of the tablet’s camera, meaning the entire production can be conducted right from within the app.

Smoovie offers a free trial for its desktop version (the full version is priced at a budget level $39.99) while the iPad version is currently $6.99 in the App Store.

iStopMotion 3 (Mac & iPad)

stop motion animation software

iStopMotion by Boinx Studios has long been the go-to software suite for both amateur and professional stop motion animators alike. It’s updated regularly and is already packed full of brilliantly implemented features. It also comes with unparalleled developer support

A trial version is available to use without limits for 5 days, and the full desktop/iPad version is yours for $49.99. A similar app exists for the iPhone by the same studio, albeit under a different name (search for iStopCamera on the App Store.)

Dragonframe (Windows & Mac)

free stop motion software

Dragonframe is pretty much the most widely-recognized stop motion animation software in the industry, and has been used to create numerous box-office hits such as Coraline and this year’s Shaun the Sheep.

This is one of the pricier pieces of software on the list at $299 for the full version (which comes with controller hardware), but it deserves a mention here since there is a free trial which is well worth checking out. The full version, although expensive, represents great value for the money for a professional suite.

MonkeyJam (Windows)

Free windows stop motion software

MonkeyJam is the only free stop motion animation software we’ve been able to find that is still operational and worth trying, and by free we mean it isn’t just a free trial with the need to pay for access later on.

MonkeyJam is slightly (and sadly) neglected, having not had an update in four years. This naturally means it looks a little rough around the edges and new features aren’t likely to arrive any time soon, but the ones already in place are still effective at getting the job done and the program is delightfully functional as a whole. If you’re a Windows user and don’t have the budget for Dragonframe or any of the professional-grade suites, MonkeyJam remains the best free stop motion animation software out there.

Stop Motion in iMovie (Mac)

free Mac stop motion software

Not looking to pay for a dedicated piece of stop motion animation software? Never fear, because iMovie – packaged for free with all new iMacs as of 2003 – can get the job done quite nicely even if it wasn’t designed specifically for stop motion. All the features are there and great results can be teased out of the software. Although, you’ll probably want to look for the latest tutorial online since the interface can (and does) change dramatically with each update.

You may also like to check out our quick guide to the best apps for photography and other editing duties, since many of them work alongside your stop motion setup to streamline workflow. In the meantime, do let us know which stop motion animation software works best for your needs (and feel free to share your creations) in the comments below!

10 Best Twitter Accounts EVERY Animator Should Follow

Animation is a big business these days. Many of today’s top television series and major motion pictures are animated, and there’s a high demand for animation professionals. One of the best ways for both up-and-coming animators and current professionals to stay on top of news in the animation industry is through social media,  so without further ado…

10 Best Twitter Accounts EVERY Animator Should Follow

New York Film Academy
@NYFA

New York Film Academy’s own 3D animation school has helped countless students achieve success with animation, so our Twitter stream is a good start for gleaning news about the entertainment industry in general and the animation world in particular.

Autodesk
@autodesk

Autodesk makes Maya, a 3D animation software platform widely used in the animation industry and widely taught in film and animation schools. Autodesk’s Twitter stream posts everything from tips to using Maya to news in the animation world, so it truly is one of the essential Twitter accounts every animator should follow.

3D Printing Industry
@3dprintindustry

Technology affects every field of the entertainment industry, especially animation. In the past decade, 3D printing has emerged as one of the fastest-growing technologies, and savvy animators will want at least a passing knowledge of news from the 3D printing world. 3D Printing Industry keeps track of such news.

hitRECord
@hitRECord

Founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, HitRecord bills itself as an “open collaborative production company.” Creators of all types, including animators, can contribute material and collaborate with other creators on various projects, from books to movies. HitRecord’s Twitter stream is a good source for seeing what projects need animators.

Lino DiSalvo
@LinoD

Lino DiSalvo is a veteran animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios and was the head of animation for Frozen. His inside expertise in the animation world makes his Twitter stream one of the most useful accounts for animators to follow.

Disney Animators
@DisneyAnimators

Although not an official Disney account, the Disney Animators’ Twitter feed collects the thoughts of animators working at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

 Jessie
@jslipchi

Jessie Slipchinsky is a freelance animator who has also worked for Disney, and her account provides a candid, slice-of-life look into the life of a working animator.

Animation Jobs
@animationjobs

Looking for a job as an animator? Animation Jobs does what it says on the tin, keeping a running list of openings for animators. If you’re looking for paid positions or are soon to graduate, this is pretty much the best Twitter account an animator can follow.

Bardel Entertainment
@bardelent

A Vancouver-based animation studio, Bardel Entertainment has worked on various projects for Nickelodeon, Disney, and the Cartoon Network, to name a few.

Animation World
@AnimationWorld

Animation World Network is an animation news site dedicated to the animation industry. Its website is one of the best sources for up-to-date animation information, and its Twitter stream is a quick way to keep tabs on new articles.

This concludes our list of Twitter accounts every animator – professional or hobbyist – should follow, but feel free to add your own to the list via the comments below. In the mean time, be sure to check out our guide to the various types of animation jobs in the industry.

The Most Anticipated 2015 Animated Movies

2014 was, all in all, a pretty decent year for animated movies. At one end of the spectrum, we saw some exemplary work coming to life at the hands of students at our animation school in LA while animated features like The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Mr. Peabody and Sherman did well in the wider industry.

It’ll be a tough year to match, but some of the most anticipated 2015 animated movies may be up to the challenge. With everyone waiting with baited breath particularly to see what Pixar and Disney are going to do next, let’s take a tour of the five biggest releases hitting the big screen in the near future.

Frozen Fever (March 13)

Frozen Sequel official trailer

We can’t go any further without addressing the highest grossing (if one of the *cough* most overrated *cough*) animated movies ever to hit the screens.

Given that Frozen has pulled in $1.27 billion at the box office and who knows how much more in spin-off revenue, the prospect of a Frozen 2 is pretty much a certainty at this point even if details aren’t forthcoming.

One thing we do know, however, is that there will be a sequel (of sorts) packaged with the theatrical release of the Mouse House’s Cinderella in March. It’ll only be a 7-minute long short, but with the original vocal cast and characters returning, you can guarantee Frozen Fever will restoke the fires of… well, Frozen fever.

Inside Out (June 19)

For anyone growing weary of franchise sequels and formulaic features, Pixar’s upcoming Summer release is definitely one to watch.

Created by many of the Up team members and with the soon-to-be household name Amy Poehler voicing the lead, Inside Out is set within the head of a girl driven by five characterized emotions – Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Sadness. With a synopsis like that, it could well be one of the most conceptual and quirky films the studio has ever released.

Minions (July 10)

Much like the idea of a Frozen sequel, it’s hardly surprising that another Despicable Me movie would be on the cards given how successful the first and second movies became (both commercially and critically).

The fact that it’s a spin-off featuring the titular Minions characters is even less surprising – after all, they practically stole every scene they were in for the first two movies. Unlike some of this year’s upcoming releases, unless the writers do something catastrophically risky with the script it’s a nigh-on certainty that Minions will perform well when it hits this Summer.

The Good Dinosaur (November 25)

THE GOOD DINOSAUR trailer

For a long time, Pixar’s second 2015 release (the only year to date in which we’ve had two major releases from the studio) was doing the rounds under the name The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs.

Any Pixar release is usually highly anticipated, but perhaps moreso given that The Good Dinosaur has been rumored since 2009 and has continuously pushed back from its original 2013 release date (with the project falling apart several times.) Based around the simple premise of ‘What would have happened if dinosaurs didn’t become extinct?’, those worried that it’ll be a knock-off Flintstones affair will be pleased to hear that “they’re dinosaurs… they won’t be walking around with clothes on or anything like that.”

Finding Dory (June 17, 2016)

Finding Dory trailer

Okay, so this one isn’t a 2015 release but that doesn’t make the sequel to Finding Nemo any less anticipated.

It nearly never happened – Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of both, originally stated ‘no sequels’. And we nearly got it this year, before the documentary Blackfish required a total rewrite of the ending.

The original movie (which will be 13 years old at the time of Dory‘s release) hit a bullseye with 99% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and we’re all eager to see whether the sequel will live up to this impressive legacy.

Which of these most anticipated animated movies are you most looking forward to? Any we’ve missed? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!

Jobs in Animation: Average Salaries & Career Paths

To someone who is passionate about animation, gaining paid work in the field can be something of a dream come true. The only downside is getting your foot through the door in the first place, especially given that the industry – much like any creative profession – is saturated with competition.

But don’t despair. Those armed with information are better prepared for success, and you’ll find plenty of it below as we delve into the various sub-professions within, and related to, animation.

We’ve also listed the typical career paths people usually follow to break into them (for instance, is animation school a prerequisite?) as well as the average salary one can expect and difficulty of attaining regular paid work (not the difficulty of the job itself).

All figures correct at time of writing, but should be taken as estimates only. Salary can vary wildly depending on location and experience level.

Art Director

art director salary

While many industries – from publishing to marketing – employ art directors for any project or campaign that requires heavy visual elements, the role is even more prominent in animation.

An art director holds a very high position on an animation team, and most creative staff involved on a project report directly to him or her. Not only do art directors have the final say on what footage or stills are to be included in the final cut (as well as helping to coordinate and shape the entire project), but may also be required to train junior staff and manage budgeting requirements.

Art Director Career Path: Typically working up from more junior roles, with qualifications from an animation school helping accelerate the process.

Pros: Being in charge of calling the shots is often the biggest pull for art directors.

Cons: Nobody knows pressure like an animation art director, particularly one who also has to manage budgetary issues.

Art Director Salary: Averaging $70,000 to $80,000, but wholly depends on the scale of the project.

Difficulty: 8/10

Stop Motion Animator

Stop motion animation jobs

Stop motion animation is a very laborious discipline which takes an incredible amount of skill, attention to detail and, above all, patience. What sets stop motion animators aside from traditional 2D or 3D animators is that they must also set up physical rigs, usually to specification, in which to work with the models and camera equipment before using specialist software to bring it all to life in the editing suite.

Stop Motion Animator Career Path: More often than not, stop motion animators are self-taught and break into the industry gradually having honed their skills through freelance work.

Pros: The job satisfaction when you see the finished animation – usually after weeks if not months of painstaking work – is truly off the scale

Cons: The painstaking work.

Stop Motion Animator Salary: Most stop motion animators earn a fairly steady $60,000, with no great difference being seen depending on experience or location. This is similar to how much somome earns while playing blackjack for a living.

Difficulty: 5/10

3D Modeler

3d modeler jobs

Working with a number and combination of industry-grade animation tools – Maya, 3DS Max and Blender to name a few – a 3D modeler works from the ground up to bring fully rendered models and environments to life. While this may sound like a fairly niche job, a skilled 3D modeler can find work not just in film and video games but also in engineering, advertising, manufacturing, architecture and many other fields.

3D Modeler Career Path: Given the steep learning curve, many modelers get their leg up onto the career ladder via 3D animation school. Internships usually follow, or the modeler can sometimes get straight into paid work if they’re based in an entertainment hotspot.

Pros: A fair amount of creative control, as well as no two days ever being the same (for the most part).

Cons: The competition for paid work is pretty stiff.

3D Modeler Salary: Very hard to calculate averages given that most 3D modeling work is offered on a freelance basis. A contracted modeler for a major studio like Disney or Pixar can expect as much as $100,000, but it can be less than half that for a smaller company.

Difficulty: 7/10

Flash Animator

Flash animation jobs

Predominantly working with the Adobe suite of animation tools, Flash animators combine skills in illustration, graphic design and composition in order to create compelling 2D and 3D animation in Adobe Flash. Given the prevalence of the format in modern usage, Flash specialists are employed in just about every area in which animation is required but particularly in web applications and advertising.

Flash Animator Career Path: A standard career path for those specializing in Flash is to self-teach before seeking out freelance work.

Pros: As long as Flash is as popular as it currently is, work is plentiful for a skilled Flash animator.

Cons: If you work in web advertising, client demands can get almost comically outrageous at times. A lot of work is being outsourced overseas, too, leading to greater competition at lesser rates than previous years.

Flash Animator Salary: As above – quite difficult to calculate given most Flash animators are self-employed. The median average lies around the $60k mark, but this is a very rough ballpark figure.

Difficulty: 4/10

Compositing Artist

compositing artist salary

Compositing artists hold a great degree of responsibility over the final appearance of an animation, working closely with the other animation staff (particularly SFX specialists, lighting and texture directors) in order to add a layer of polish and keep the entire project looking consistent. If you’ve ever been impressed by the stylistic quality of an animation, that’ll probably be the work of one or more compositing artists.

Compositing Artist Career Path: There are numerous routes to becoming a full-time compositing artist, and while many studios hire professionals who have undertaken specialist study in this area, it’s usually a case of working up from a junior animator or SFX level.

Pros: An opportunity to use your artistic flare to the fullest and leave your own creative stamp which is immediately apparent in the final animation.

Cons: It’s an under-appreciated artform, and you’ll be forced to satisfy the demands of numerous departments.

Compositing Artist Salary: Between $50,000 to $75,000 per year depending on location and experience.

Difficulty: 7/10

Storyboard Artist

storyboard artist jobs

While not strictly a branch of animation, storyboard artists usually work hand-in-hand with animation and/or filmmaking teams to help map out a story from start to finish long before work starts. Taking input from writers and directors, it’s the storyboard artist’s job to produce conceptual artwork from stills from which the production team can work – given that a skilled artist can save everyone else an exceptional amount of time (and, ergo, money), they’re highly sought after on film shoots, traditional animation, music videos and commercials.

Storyboard Artist Career Path: Like many professions in the creative industry, it’s all about having a solid portfolio and leveraging connections. This can take years of working on smaller projects for very little (or no) money, but studying the craft at illustration school can help you get there quicker.

Pros: Getting to be pretty much the first person to start the transformation process from written script to polished animation.

Cons: Being sandwiched between a director making demands and an animation team trying to make sense of the whole project.

Storyboard Artist Salary: In LA, the salary for a contracted storyboard artist can be as high as $80,000 to $100,000 but once again this can be half as much in other locations (and depending on the sector in which the artist is employed).

Difficulty: 6/10

Mathematical Modeler

mathematical modeler animation jobs

Arguably the most specialized branch of animation in the industry (and with a commensurate pay scale to go with it.) As the name suggests, a mathematical modeler uses complex formulae in order to generate equally complex models for use within animation; typically this skillset is mainly used in precise engineering such as aeronautics, but the increasing advancements in video gaming have seen a call for such specialists in recent years.

Mathematical Modeler Career Path: Intensive. A degree in math, engineering or similar is virtually essential, and coupling it with a program specific to 3D animation and modeling doesn’t hurt either.

Pros: Let’s not mince words – the main attraction here is the money.

Cons: Have fun digging through 20,000 lines of code to find the one mistake causing the model to act that way.

Mathematical Modeler Salary: Expect no less than $80,000.

Difficulty: 10/10

Forensic Animator

forensic animator training

Declaring that you’re an animator will usually fire up interest and conversation at a party, but being a forensic animator is guaranteed to turn heads.

Pretty much exactly as it sounds, a forensic animator will utilize his or her unique skills to help investigators piece together crime scenes and collate evidence for presentation to a jury. Forensic animators are also used often in insurance and/or liability claims, requiring strong experience in both 3D and 2D animation as well as terragen software in order to recreate real life locations and scenarios.

Forensic Animator Career Path: An already established animator can transfer over to forensic animation via specialist courses, but be warned: your flashy portfolio of superb SFX won’t do you any good since the field calls for technical attention to detail over dramatic embellishments. A criminal record will kill this career dead in the water, too.

Pros: As you can expect, playing an instrumental part in solving crimes is its own reward.

Cons: It’s not quite as ‘CSI’ as most people think, and it can take a strong mind (and stomach) to deal with some of the work you’ll undertake.

Forensic Animator Salary: Nearly always freelance based, a forensic animator can charge anywhere between $20 to $100 per hour, depending on experience.

Difficulty: 9/10

Render Wrangler

render wrangler jobs

When an animation is complete, somebody needs to make sure it is rendered down into a format fit for public consumption. That’s where a render wrangler comes in.

Modern animations typically comprise of many terrabytes of data per minute; this necessitates entire banks of computers to provide both the RAM and storage required to handle the rendering, and it’s entrusted to the render wranger (sometimes referred to as a data wrangler) to come up with workable solutions to facilitate this.

Render Wrangler Career Path: Computer science skills a must; animation knowledge secondary.

Pros: If you dream in zeroes and ones, this job is the epitome of high-powered computer geekery.

Cons: Trying to explain to non-technical staff the limits of what’s achievable. The pay is also fairly dire.

Render Wrangler Salary: Surprisingly low given the technical expertise required – typically only around $15 per hour.

Difficulty: 3/10

Texture Artist

Texture artist salary

Texture is an often overlooked aspect of animation, but it’s also one of the most crucial.

As one can imagine from the title, a texture artist concerns him or herself with the finish of any models (and sometimes terrain) to be featured in the animation. Often the main goal is to achieve a realistic look, but texture artists may also have to use all their graphic skills to create effects not usually found in nature. 

Texture Artist Career Path: Texture artists typically come from a graphic design school background, becoming proficient in texture creation first and foremost before transferring those skills to the animation sphere.

Pros: As well as always having to push your own boundaries to get results, if you enjoy using artistic skills to solve logical problems, this is the job for you.

Cons: Sometimes spending many hours just to get one particular texture on one character right, which may only get half a second of screen time.

Texture Artist Salary: $60,000 is a fairly standard mean average, ranging up to around $80,000 in some location hotspots.

Difficulty: 6/10

Ready to learn more about future possibilities in the world of 3D animation and visual effects? Check out NYFA’s Animation School for program offerings, and apply today!

See Also: Filmmaking, photography and broadcast journalism guides for jobs and salaries in other fields.

The Best Free / Open Source Animation Software

The Best Free 3D Animation & Drawing Animation Software

For the most part, animation is not an expensive craft to pursue but it does come with some fairly pricey overheads when you’re first getting started out.

If you’re in animation school, chances are you’ve got access to all of the equipment and software you could possibly need. But if you’re interested in kitting out your home setup with animation software, the price tag can quickly rack up. Luckily, there are some free animation software alternatives which are good enough to see you through the majority of animation projects you’ll undertake.

Presenting…

The Best Software for Animation: 2D Animation

Pencil

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux

When it comes to free and open-source 2D animation programs, Pencil is by far the most well-rounded and comes with a surprising number of features given that it comes with no charge.

Although it looks simple from the clean interface, it is packed with all the main tools you’ll find in some of the Pencil’s paid counterparts. It supports both vector and bitmap images, multiple layers and has its own in-built illustration tools (so you can either import graphics or create them right there and then before animating them).

Synfig Studios

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux

Right up there with Pencil, Synfig is very similar in design but arguably comes with a steeper learning curve; reason being, it throws in even more advanced features, and the results which can be achieved once you master them border on the professional level.

Stykz

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux

Given the above two open-source suites which offer an impressive level functionality, why are we featuring a simple stickman animation tool?

Simply put, Stykz has got a lot of use for anyone who likes to draft things out before getting down to fully-fledged artwork and animating. It’s completely free with no strings attached, works on any platform and can produce fluid .GIFs incredibly quickly (which will no doubt lead on to bigger things).

One particularly neat feature is that it also integrates with Pivot, another node-based (and free) animation tool.

CreaToon

OS: Windows

An entry-level animation program, CreaToon is cut-out based (all graphics are imported) that takes a lot of the headache out of creating cartoon-esque animation. While it isn’t quite as polished as some of the other names on this list, the real-time editing, auto in-frame filling and versatile file format support are real pulls.

Ajax Animator

OS: Windows, Mac, iPad

Not to be confused with the coding language, Ajax started life back in 2006 and was developed by a 6th grader as a replacement to Adobe’s expensive Flash MX. From such auspicious beginnings emerged a robust and fully functional animator that is well worth checking out despite its primitive look, especially if you’re an iPad user.

The Best 3D Animation Software

Blender

OS: Mac, Windows, Linux, FreeBSD

If you’ve heard of Blender, that’s because it’s one of the most widely-used free animation softwares still in active development (even professional animators and video game developers turn to it from time to time). Although it may take some time for beginners to get to grips with, those who manage to put even half the features Blender offers to use will be able to produce very impressive results.

Bryce

OS: Mac, Windows

Although it’s not strictly an animation suite, free terrain generation software (of decent quality) is hard to come by. Bryce has really stepped up to the plate in this department – as a terragen, it’s both as simple and as elaborate as you need it to be depending on the scale of your project and works seamlessly with most other modeling software.

Incidentally, Bryce is developed by DAZ 3D, who are also responsible for:

DAZ Studio

OS: Mac, Windows

This fantastic modeling and animation software wasn’t always free, but as of 2012, the professional version of DAZ is yours simply for signing up for a free registration account. The rendering engine is lightning fast, and the huge library of pre-created component content will have you creating in no time.

Clara.io

OS: Browser-based

Not only is Clara free, but it’s the only web-based one we can think of that is fully functional (and you don’t need any browser plugins to get it going). Not only does it feature a good system for polygonal modeling and skeletal/keyframe animation, but due to its 80,000+ user base there’s a strong community feel and plenty of people with which to chat shop.

Know of any great free or open source drawing animation software/tools which we’re missing? Do help the animation community out by leaving your suggestions in the comments below. And, if you’re interested in learning more about 3D animation and visual effects, check out NYFA’s 3D Animation & VFX School to begin your journey.

How to Make a (Good) Kinetic Typography Animation Video

Kinetic typography is a fantastically engaging way of delivering text information in a visual way. It’s a great marketing vehicle for those looking to spread a heavy message without losing their audience, and is equally as good simply for entertaining the viewer – particularly with the advent of YouTube, there have been so many great examples of kinetic typography that it’s become something of an artform.

Rendering text in an appealing manner is a fundamental skill taught at graphic design school, and there are a lot of resources out there to get you started with the animation aspect. But putting technical factors aside, what makes for an aesthetically pleasing kinetic typography animation that stands a chance of going viral?

The Key Ingredients for a Great Kinetic Typography Animation

  • Don’t Go Over Three Minutes. This is a real biggie – no matter how excellent you think your material is shaping up, your audience’s mind will wander around this point (and all those hours you spend putting into the superfluous two minutes will be wasted). Keep it tight and concise, and your viewers will love you for it.
  • Don’t Use A Weak Soundtrack. Another huge mistake that can kill an otherwise good animation is using an audio file with a terrible bitrate, distortion or other issues. Although kinetic typography can be seen as primarily a visual media, it’s very much an aural one, too.
  • Render The Exported Video on the Highest Settings. Again, it’s all about not selling yourself short – why bother spending hours on a crisp-looking typography that would get you accepted into animation school, only to stick it on YouTube in a pixelated 320p resolution?
  • Triple-Check for Typos. This one sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how often we see excellent kinetic typography laden with spelling (and grammatical) errors. It can ruin the experience for an eagle-eyed viewer, and it’s very difficult to go back and correct these, so be sure to triple check for typos.

These four major guidelines should stand you in good stead and get you most of the way there, but next we’ll take a look at some nuanced aspects of kinectic typography when executed brilliantly…

… and dissect some poorer examples, too.

Picking Workable Audio

Having good sound quality is key, but that isn’t the be-all and end-all of an audio track that will look good when animated.

Let’s assume you’re looking to take some movie dialogue and give it the kinetic typography treatment purely for entertainment purposes (a great place to start out).

What you should be looking for is a scene that isn’t too “messy”, with numerous actors talking at once or overlapping, a big soundtrack detracting from the spoken words or abrasive sound effects that will be tricky to represent in animated form.

While there’re no strict laws here, you’ll probably want to start out with just a one or two actors speaking at a fairly even rate (more on pacing in a bit). If the script itself is instantly recognizable and/or iconic, even better – a superb example from Breaking Bad:

Do set aside some time to fiddle with the audio track in the editing suite before you begin animating to get the best out of the finished product; a little time spent tweaking the EQ and lowering any ambient noise that may be in the clip so that the words shine out can pay dividends.

Working in the Third Dimension

Check out this kinetic typography video from Zombieland (a movie which actually employs kinetic typography during the scene itself):

You’ll notice how – particularly towards the end – the animator employed back and forth motion with the type and graphics rather than just scrolling text along the X and Y axes.

One of the great benefits of the medium is that you’ve got an infinite canvas to work with, so do make good use of it in all three dimensions – it’s a lot more engaging to see the ‘camera’ move through the frame, especially since this technique makes it hard to predict which direction the font will start moving in.

The Art of Pacing

In the above two examples, it’s clear that the animators paid a great deal of attention to the pacing of the script; sticking with some words or lines longer than others, and dramatically speeding up or slowing down at points.

How you approach this depends hugely on the audio you’re working with, of course, and more often than not you just have to go with your gut as to what feels ‘right’.

That said, the best way to demonstrate the importace of pacing is perhaps to look at a poor example. This one comes from the movie Inception:

Hit Them With a Surprise

Much like any visual medium, throwing in the odd curveball or twist can be a very effective way of leaving an impression on your audience. This is especially true of kinetic typography, which is, at its heart, simply text moving around a screen.

Check out this delightful animated clip from The Social Network, which not only incorporates a lot of the above advice, but features a delightful twist at the end: 

The Best Way to Make a Killer Kinectic Typography Video? Practice!

Your first few videos are likely to be very rigid and not particularly mindblowing, but that’s very much to be expected. The only way to better yourself is to have fun playing around and discovering what works and what doesn’t – by the same token, feel free to contravene every piece of advice offered above!

There are already a lot of tired clichés when it comes to typography, so there’s nothing wrong with trying to stand out from the crowd by experimenting. To demonstrate this in action, we’ll finish off with this marvelous Pulp Fiction clip in which the animator has even managed to incorporate video into the mix: 

12 Movies That Revolutionized Visual Effects

Special effects have been part and parcel of moviemaking since the days of Thomas Edison and the dawn of cinema. King Kong revolutionized stop motion animation as action filmmaking, The Ten Commandments commanded meticulously detailed miniatures, Jaws scared millions with life-like animatronics.

But as comic books and science fiction transition from niche genre flicks to mainstream blockbusters, and Hollywood makes things bigger and brighter to compete with an ever expanding number of entertainment options, special effects have only become more prominent.

As even the last vestiges of analog give way to creating art digitally, computer effects have become the chief way of creating images that would otherwise be impossible to film.

Where once the question filmmakers had to answer was “How can we make this?” the question now is “What should we make now?” seeing that literally anything a screenwriter can come up with is now possible to put on screen.

In the new age of cinema, digital animating is as important to the filmmaking process as cinematography and editing. The following twelve movies were milestones in the art of computer visual effects.

This is by all means not a complete list—computer technology is a complicated, subtle science. Hollywood effects houses, indie animators, and even intrepid film school students make breakthroughs in technology all the time, and lucky for audiences, movies are constantly showing us something new.

These are 12 milestones. Feel free to add and talk about the many others in the comments.

Movies Visual Effects

1. Westworld

Before Westworld, any movies about killer robot cowboys had to make do with practical analog effects. The box office hit used computerized raster graphics to represent the pixelated point-of-view of Yul Brynner’s cyborg Gunslinger, a clever trope later made famous by The Terminator and Robocop.

2. Superman

It wasn’t until 1978 that a Hollywood film had its first computer generated opening credits sequence — the iconic flying Superman titles backed by John Williams’ heroic score. The floating blue names are still more exciting than many contemporary action scenes, and never before have the words “Associate Producer Charles F. Greenlaw” looked so cool.

3. The Last Starfighter

The 1984 space adventure replaced all of its spaceship models with CGI, a move remarkably ahead of its time and not even considered by George Lucas for a Star Wars film for another fifteen years.

The Last Starfighter was also the first movie to use integrated CGI, using computer-generated images to represent actual real world objects. Before then, computer images were only used to portray other computer images, or blocky holograms with corners sharp enough to cut yourself on.

Computer VFX

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Besides being the first blockbuster to use a personal computer for major 3D effects and including multiple morphing effects, Terminator 2 is really more famous for making CGI a cool water cooler topic for the average layperson.

In 1991, everyone was talking about the T-1000, Robert Patrick’s killer cop made of computer-generated liquid metal that moved realistically like a human. We movie audiences love shiny things, and it didn’t come shinier than the T-1000. Suddenly, moviegoers were wondering aloud just what Hollywood would make next.

5. Jurassic Park

Steven Spielberg is considered one of the all-time best directors for a reason. He knows how to draw an audience into his world, and how to best utilize technologies of all kinds to make a collaborative work of genius like 1993’s Jurassic Park.

He didn’t limit himself to his trademark animatronics to create larger-than-life dinosaurs, including the use of state-of-the-art CGI. By combining both effects, the photorealistic full bodies of brachiosaurs and Tyrannosaurus Rex caused us to drop our jaws as they opened wide theirs.

6. Casper

The kid-friendly film Casper was the first Hollywood feature to include a completely computer-generated protagonist, in the days before Andy Serkis held a monopoly over that particular niche.

It was also the first big film to have its CG characters interact with real-life human actors, a revolutionary idea that is now standard training for those looking for careers in acting.

VFX in Film

7. Toy Story

In 1995, just a few months after Casper and his brothers hogged up screentime from their flesh-and-blood costars, Pixar released the first CGI feature-length animated film.

Toy Story was a smash hit, with Tom Hanks’ non-robot, non-killer cowboy Woody becoming a Disney star and computer animation soon replacing traditional hand-drawn animation as the king of Hollywood kids movies.

8. The Matrix

Like T2, while The Matrix’s technical milestones were somewhat small, it was the first film to use CG interpolation for the now-ubiquitous “bullet time”— the 1999 release did wonders for the public perception of computerized special effects.

Today, modern blockbuster filmmaking can be seen as either pre-Matrix or post-Matrix, with the use of CGI transforming from a Hollywood gimmick to an essential part of twenty-first century filmmaking.

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Using Weta Digital’s Massive software, 2001’s epic Middle Earth opening chapter includes a colossal battle scene with thousands of battling elves and orcs.

Rather than recruiting half of New Zealand to portray the armies, Peter Jackson used computer-generated imagery. And rather than having animators painfully orchestrate the motions of each and every soldier, the software allowed the digital extras enough artificial intelligence to battle each other on their own, a Hollywood first. Because teaching AI computers how to wage war isn’t a terrible idea at all….

Best Visual Effects in Movies

10. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

How do you top a battle scene with thousands of sentient CG creatures? With one incredibly charming and technologically advanced CG creature, by the name of Gollum.

Andy Serkis’ motion-captured creature was the first photorealistic CG character that movie audiences took seriously, at least seriously enough to believe he was the same part of the world as Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood.

Serkis became the first recipient of an acting award without ever actually appearing on camera, heralding the age of motion-capture thespianism.

11. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

2004’s Sky Captain is not remembered as a particularly good movie, but it doesn’t have to be. It did its service to the cinematic arts simply by being the first movie to use all-CG backgrounds with live actors. While producers love this because it’s much cheaper than practical sets, it also allowed for a greater creative freedom to the filmmakers behind the movie. While Sky Captain was a flop, it showed us at the time yet another use for computer VFX in Hollywood moviemaking—one that, if fine-tuned, could make something as mesmerizing and memorable as, let’s say, Avatar.

12. Avatar

James Cameron’s working title for Avatar might as well have been The Kitchen Sink, because he threw everything into his 2009 space epic.

Not content with the most advanced technology of its time, Cameron even delayed production and invented his own techniques to bring the world of Pandora and its blue-skinned inhabitants to the big screen.

Avatar was the first mainstream feature to combine both photorealistic backgrounds and motion-captured characters, making an adventure that completely blurred the line between live-action and animation without taking the audience out of the movie.

It was also a boon for motion-capture actors and filmmakers as the first production to use real-time animation to show live feedback as what the mo-capped performers would like as their virtual characters.

Avatar Computer Animation

It’s hard to say what milestones are left to be reached, but that’s a good thing. After all, the stop-motion animators behind King Kong would have never imagined the 3D renderings of the Na’vi.

A film with visual effects that would blow the mind of James Cameron will definitely be something to behold. That is, if the AI extras from Lord of the Rings haven’t revolted and killed us all by then.

 

Are drawing or artistic abilities necessary to attend animation school?

One of the most common questions asked in terms of prerequisites for attending animation school – like the New York Film Academy’s animation school in New York or Los Angeles – is whether or not one must have artistic skills prior to attending. 

Robert Appleton, chair of animation at the New York campus, dives into this question and answers below…

Robert Appleton: Art school and/or drawing experience is a great asset as it provides training in visualizing characters and scenes.

For modelers drawing skills are definitely an advantage. It is not uncommon to see modeling job postings which state “Traditional art skills and ability to draft occasional concept drawings/paintings is a major plus.” The ability to design a character and draw a decent turnaround, then draw him/her in an action pose, and model the character accurately with correct topology can be a nice addition to an artist’s showreel.

However, not all good modelers are great draftsmen, and in a lot of companies artists specialize. One person does the drawings and another does the models.

Students with skill in drawing (or, again, other areas such as programming) will definitely be able to exploit those skills. Students who have not done much drawing will get the chance to develop and subsequently flex those muscles thanks to the instruction offered. For instance, character design, storyboarding, and life drawing classes are all part of the NYFA animation curriculum.

Technical abilities are valued in the animation industry as much as artistic abilities. so you can be lacking artistically and still do well in such areas as shading and lighting, rigging, rendering, and simulation. These areas require good skills in scripting languages such as Python, Maxscript and MEL, and programming languages such as C++.

Computer animation attracts a wide variety of personalities and incorporates a variety of interests. A glance at the credits of any CG or visual effects-heavy film will show just how many different roles and people are incorporated.

Not only are there the artists, character designers, and modelers, there are also people in charge of dynamic simulations (i.e. cloth, crumbling buildings, explosions) and developing and maintaining the pipeline (i.e. streamlining the interaction of various departments through programming and scripting).

Not everyone has to be da Vinci — or, on the flip side, a tech genius! — to find a niche in CG.

The 7 Must-Watch TED Talks For Anyone Interested In Animation

Animation is one of the most unique artforms in modern media – a unique blend of creative imagination and technical prowess, animating is something that isn’t particularly difficult to pick up but can take a lifetime to master. The rewards and sense of achievement, however, make the hard work more than worth it.

Given the multi-faceted nature and technical intricacies of animation as a whole, it’s something that is often best learned at an intensive 3D animation school but those getting into the craft can benefit hugely from the wisdom of those already working in the profession. Presenting:

The 7 Best TED Talks on Animation

TED-Ed – Animation Basics: The Art of Timing and Spacing

Who: The TED-Ed collection of practical lessons.

What: A beautiful, well-presented, and highly useful gem which explains (by example) what transforms graphics from a simple slideshow to a finely crafted animation.

Why: You’ll learn more in this six minutes than you probably would a month of trying to figure this stuff out on your own. And even seasoned animators are likely to find some fresh perspective which they can apply to their existing work habits.

Tony DeRose – Pixar: The Math Behind the Movies

Who: Senior Scientist and Lead Researcher for Pixar.

What: A surprisingly accessible presentation on animation mathematics delivered by a man that knows a thing or two about it.

Why: There’s a lot of material out there on creativity and storytelling, but not a lot on the hard math that lies behind it all. Outside of animation school, this is one of the best opportunities to have a professional at the height of his field explain the intrinsic link between math and art.

Matthew Winkler – What Makes a Hero?

Who: Winkler is a journalist and editor-in-chief with Bloomberg News.

What: Not just a video on the hero’s story concept – an important trope in animation – but the talk is also presented in a gloriously animated format (with the animation conducted by Kirill Yeretsky).

Why: Even non-animators can get a kick out of the lush visuals and narrative theory which runs central to most of the great works in literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to Lord of the Rings and beyond.

Torsten Reil – Using Biology to Make Better Animation

Who: Video game entrepreneur, CEO of NaturalMotion, and animator on Grand Theft Auto 4.

What: One of the enduring classic TED talks on animation, Torsten’s humorous presentation puts forward the advantages that a little bit of biology knowledge can bring to your animation work.

Why: Although Reil’s TED talk is over ten years old, the key principles are just as relevant today and the lessons herein can lead to a much more fluid style of animation.

Drew Berry – Animations of Unseeable Biology

Who: Biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia.

What: Whereas Torsten Reil’s talk concerned the use of biology to make animation better, Berry flips this around and looks at how animation can be a hugely beneficial tool in medicine.

Why: Whenever you feel that animation is just an entertainment medium, it’s good to remind ourselves that it is, in fact, an overwhelmingly useful way to educate and help people. It’s one of the best TED talks on animation that also presents animation in a different light. Plus, Berry’s work is fascinating to watch in and of itself.

Andrew Park & Denis Dutton: A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

Who: Park is a British animator; Dutton is an art philosopher, web entrepreneur, and media activist.

What: A talk by Dutton on what lies at the heart of aesthetic beauty across cultures, cleverly animated in Andrew Park’s inimitable style.

Why: While not strictly discussing the craft of animation, the idea of what is visually appealing is naturally a major consideration for animators and it’s fascinating to see Park at work while Dutton delivers his illuminating talk.

Miwa Matreyek: Glorious Visions in Animation and Performance

Who: Short film maker, performance artist, and animator.

What: An entrancing display of mixed-media performance art which is almost meditative in tone.

Why: Want to relax for ten minutes? Watch this. Want to see animation used in an altogether different way? Watch this. In fact, just watch this.

Bring Your Ideas To Life With These Simple Steps For Animating With Clay

Clay animation is a unique way to express your characters and to truly connect with your subjects as you build them. Not only will you learn how to animate your clay figures, but you will learn how to build these clay friends.

Once you have armed yourself with your main attractions, you will learn how to animate your clay creations in your own short video. Let’s make your clay creations come alive.

Some of the materials you will need are bendy wire, polymer clay or plasticine, a camera, a video editing program, and a computer. Once you have all of your materials ready, you can start your clay animation.

Animating Clay Step 1

Begin with your polymer clay and bendy wire. You want to make sure that you can work with your clay without it being subjected to hardening while exposed to the open air. Cut a piece of wire three feet long and fold it in half.

Animating Clay Step 2

Twist both strands of the wire together beginning at the folding point. Mold your wire into the general shape of your character. Think overall shape rather than definitive shape. This is the mannequin for your clay character. You will mold the clay around this wire called an armature.

How-toAnimate-Clay-Step-3

The base of your clay character is gray clay, which envelops the wire frame and is your base.

Animating Clay Step 4

After the base is set, you will add colored clay on top creating detail and definition to your character such as clothing, facial features, etc.

Animating Clay Step 5

Once your character/s are complete, set up your still digital camera at the appropriate angle at which you would like to capture your animation. This is key. Use a tripod in order for the animation to flow congruently. Every shot must be captured at the same angle.

Animating Clay Step 6

Use a flat surface to rest your clay figure. Then find a starting position. This position should be marked for many reasons. The first is that clay animation must be moved slowly, frame by frame to look right. Second, if you need to adjust the clay figure, you can pick it up and then place it back down in the right location without having to start all over again. Use a pencil or a piece of chalk for markings.

Animating Clay Step 7

After the first shot, move the character a little bit into the next position and take another photo.

Animating Clay Step 8

These shot-by-shot photos are called frames. For a film, there are 24 frames per second. You must be precise when shooting clay animation, otherwise it looks like your figure is jumping in the final picture. Continue the process of moving the figure a little bit and taking a photo until you have finished your frames for animation.

Animating Clay Step 9

Load all of the pictures you have taken onto your computer and use your favorite photo editing program to link the photos together and speed up the photos into a movie format.

Animating Clay Step 10

Then watch your animation come alive. This is a lengthy process so take your time. After all practice makes perfect.

Image credits

Interview With Mark Reynolds: Do You Have To Be Crazy To Learn Computer Animation?

Learn Computer Animation

NYFA: What is your personal background and what made you interested in animation?

Mark Reynolds: My Previous Life was one spent dying a little every day in a stiflingly corporate environment and then racing home to apply what little energy had not been sucked from me to teaching myself computer animation.

While I had long been a fan of traditional animation, computer animation had grabbed my attention some time before when I saw Studio AKA’s stunning short, “Jojo in the Stars.”

I spent a few years trying to teach myself CG, and progressed very slowly due to the sheer scope of the undertaking.

One night, after spending seven hours plugged in creating a fairly simple animation, I realized that those had been the happiest seven hours of that week. It was time to resolve the disharmony between day job and night pursuits and plant myself in an immersive environment where I could truly learn CG effectively.

NYFA: You serve as a director of NYC’s SIGGRAPH chapter. Who should join the organization and why?

MR: NYC ACM SIGGRAPH is a great asset to New York’s CG community. SIGGRAPH unites the disparate fields of computer graphics: from the hardcore scientists who work under the hood and emerge with innovative technologies, to the artists who use them.

Local chapter events include various talks, presentations, and screenings. The annual Industry Spotlight allows some of the best and brightest NYC animation houses to give presentations on who they are and what they’re about. MetroCAF is an annual animation festival for regional students. And the monthly Bring Your Own Animation brings artists and aficionados together in a pub with a big TV so they can share their work while sharing a pint.

NYC ACM SIGGRAPH (I’m not shouting – those are acronyms!) offers many chances to meet new people who share your personal and professional interests, and to see new things you might not see elsewhere.

Many of the chapter’s events are open to non-members, as well. But membership gets you free or reduced admission to those events, as well as access to certain talks or site visits that might not be open to non-members of the chapter.

NYFA: What do you think is the most important skill for a professional animation artist to have?

MR: The ability to function without sleep for years, a unique eye, and a good knowledge of your tools.

Much of any computer animation project boils down to problem solving. Does your project need simulation of some sort (cloth, fluids, rigid bodies), or will straight-ahead animation do the trick? Do you even need to model something in 3D, or can you just composite it in 2D without anyone being able to tell the difference? How do I make that hairy banana look even more hairy…but still yellow…and smile?

There will be several ways to do any given task – be able to find one that works using the tools and techniques you know.

NYFA: What made you choose NYFA as your school of choice for your animation studies?

MR: I “did” college many years ago – decent school, decent GPA, decent degree (okay, English Lit, so that last part is up for debate).

Once I decided to return to school to learn computer animation, I originally did investigate going to a four-year school. But so much of the college experience is not one that needs to be relived by a gent in his, ahem, later thirties.

Going to NYFA, I emerged three years sooner and $100K less in debt. So even if I have to spend extra post-school time on my own continuing to beat my showreel into submission, that’s time that, were I in a four-year program, I would not yet be using for my showreel at all!

NYFA: You returned to NYFA as an instructor. How much was your experience as a student a part of that decision?

MR: It was a tremendous part. In department head Robert Appleton I found as much a mentor as a teacher. His love of teaching was infectious.

And I also enjoy helping guide new students to those moments where, all of the sudden, everything clicks; all the tedium and technicalities that are part of the process. And they see the magic, which they themselves created, happening on the screen.

NYFA: Do you find any difference between teaching adults and teaching teenagers?

MR: The teen animation program is essentially a summer camp and is a very charmed environment for working with teens. It doesn’t require an Edward James Olmos-with-a-baseball-bat approach.

So, with teens or adults in these situations, we’re dealing with people eager to learn this art. The main difference between the two would probably be that my own sense of humor is much more in line with a 14-year-old’s than an adult’s.

NYFA: Between being a board member of SIGGRAPH, doing freelance CG animation work, and being a CG animation instructor at NYFA, when do you find time to eat and sleep? Any time management tricks for busy students who are going to turn into busy professionals?

MR: Sleep? What a charming idea.

NYFA: Do you have any parting advice for aspiring animation and visual effects professionals?

MR: Animation, of any kind, is mind-numbingly tedious and mind-meltingly complicated; requiring insane amounts of time, dedication, attention, and love. It truly takes a somewhat damaged person to fall in love with the art of making things move one frame at a time.

That being said, that first moment that wad of pixels, or lump of clay, or scribble of ink comes alive for the first time and dances on the screen is absolute magic and can’t be beat.