Animation

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

Frozen Is Actually Extremely Overrated. Here Are Five Reasons Why…

Frozen overrated overhyped

You’ve heard that song a thousand times. You’ve seen all the merch. If you’ve got kids, you probably know the entire movie word for word.

Frozen has become the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and by a mile (Toy Story 3 took $1.06bn, Frozen smashed it with $1.27bn).

It has also been heralded as the finest Disney movie made since the studio’s golden era, and won its fair share of awards to back it up.

Even ten months later—with a full summer almost behind us—everyone is still pouring praise over a winter-themed movie released to appease (and capitalize on) the Thanksgiving family crowd.

But can we be honest here for a second?

It’s not all that good a movie.

Best ask the kids to leave the room as we reveal why Frozen is overrated.

1. The Soundtrack Sucks

Frozen is overrated

Shock! Horror! Blasphemy!

No, we’re not saying “Let It Go” sucked, although even by Disney’s standards it was overly saccharine and chintzy. But when you compare the entirety of the Frozen soundtrack with some of the better earlier Disney movies, you’ll quickly realize one thing: that there are very few good songs here.

In fact, it’s a pretty unmemorable soundtrack. You’ll probably remember “Let It Go” and the little refrain from “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” and perhaps “Love Is An Open Door” (but for all the wrong reasons).

Other than that, the rest of the movie is bereft of anything catchy or long lasting; the soundtrack of Frozen is overrated, and if someone claims otherwise, you know that they’re only really talking about “Let it Go.”

2. No Bad Guys

Jafar. Cruella de Vil. Maleficent. Scar.

These are all great examples of Disney baddies. This, however, is not:

Frozen no antagonists

The Duke of Weselton (yes, the character had a name) was about as intimidating as a wet blanket, and his evil plan relates to enforcing bureaucracy to leverage greater trade deals.

Skyrocketing to a nail biting 0.5/10 on the threat level, this is about all that happens with the Duke and he’s largely forgotten about for the rest of the movie.

“Ah, but the real villain is Hans!” people cry. Sure, but he only reveals his true intentions in the third act.

Not only are the Frozen baddies a bit lame, but for 70% of the movie, there isn’t even a baddie.

3. These Things

Trolls in Frozen pointless

There’s absolutely no reason why these troll things should be in the script, and the only reason they are is that the merchandising department stuck their oar into the writing process at some point during development.

They’re a deus ex machina device that, if anything, are an overwhelmingly negative force in the story: they dish out terrible advice, practically destroy Elsa’s childhood and her relationship with Anna, can only heal injuries caused by ice magic when it suits them, and fail to identify that it’s Elsa’s love Anna needs to save her, not a man’s (totally undermining the ‘yay female independence!’ message people take from Frozen).

Oh, and they also urge Anna to cheat on her fiancee and forcibly tries to wed her and Kristoff, despite the fact that they show no romantic affection for each other at this stage and that he isn’t suitable for him until she ‘fixes him up.’

Nice going, Love Experts.

4. This Thing

Frozen Olaf not funny

From the character designers: “He isn’t just funny, he’s also got a big role to play representing the innocent love in the scale of fear versus love.  Olaf couldn’t just be thrown in, he had to have a purpose and that one of his purposes was to be the embodiment of the sisterly relationship that had gone cold.”

Except he doesn’t do any of that; the only time we get a glimpse into the characters’ relationships with each other is when they’re sharing dramatic scenes together, not through Olaf’s idiotic observations. And given that these dramatic scenes are easily the best bits in Frozen, it’s more than a little annoying to have tensions rise in a masterfully crafted way only for Olaf to dive into the scene and souffle the whole thing.

Not nearly as funny as past Disney sidekicks, he really is just the token “wacky” character the studio has to throw in to appease younger kids and sell toys (and “wacky” is Disney’s word, not ours. Ugh.)

5. It Doesn’t Make a Lick of Sense

Frozen contradictions

Frozen is overrated, but not only that, it’s full of poor logic and outright contradictions. Including… (deep breath):

  • How did the sisters not go clinically insane having grown up in isolation?
  • Why is their reunion so weirdly nonchalant?
  • How on earth does Elsa not know she’s plunged the kingdom into eternal winter until Anna tells her?
  • Why does Elsa blast Anna with ice powers immediately after stating she wants to protect Anna from her ice powers?
  • Why doesn’t Elsa just tell her sister about the childhood accident? In fact, why doesn’t Kristoff fill her in given that he knows the entire story?
  • Speaking of which, how did Kristoff pitch ‘selling ice in Scandinavia’ to his bank manager?
  • Why didn’t the family take up the trolls on their offer of teaching Elsa how to use her powers properly?
  • What the heck is the deal with the trolls, anyway?
  • And why do people herald Anna as the embodiment of female independence when she swoons into love with not one, but two unsuitable guys at the drop of a hat?

The list goes on and on, and perhaps you can explain the answer to some of these puzzling paradoxes. If so, feel free to hit the comments below… and feel free to tell us how wrong we are, too (like Frozen fans need any prompting.)

Want to pick a fight with the author in person, or tell him how undeniably right he is? Twitter is your friend.

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.

Interview With Elize Ohira: How World Travel Prepares You For A Career In Animation (And Other Tips)

Elize OhiraNYFA: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and what first got you interested in animation?

Elize Ohira: I have always been more “right-brained.” As a kid I would spend hours drawing little storyboard comics. When I was 17 years old I had my first fine art exhibition, where I gained some recognition and was able to sell two pieces.

I was born and raised in Brazil to a Japanese father and a Chinese mother. Cultural differences were a big part of my growing up, making me curious to learn more about them. I decided to come to the US for college and graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor of Science in Advertising.

I moved to New York City to work as a graphic designer and after three years I felt a need to expand my knowledge in the creative field. I have always loved animated movies and was always fascinated with visual effects, so studying 3D animation was the next step.

NYFA: You serve as a member of SIGGRAPH’s NYC chapter. Would you recommend that students join the organization while still in school? If so, why?

EO: I highly recommend joining NYC ACM SIGGRAPH.

It brings the NYC-area professionals, educators, students, and organizations together through a variety of events. It’s a great way of networking and getting involved in our growing animation community.

One of the events that I benefited from as a student, and am still benefiting as a professional, is called BYOA (Bring Your Own Animation). BYOA happens every month, encouraging CG artists to show their work, whether it’s in progress or finished. It’s a great way of getting used to talking about your work, learning to accept criticism, and seeing what other artists are working on.

NYFA: How has living in five different cities around the world impacted your outlook on life, and how has it influenced your artistic side?

EO: Living in different cities around the world requires change, and change fuels creativity. Experiencing and learning to adapt to multiple cultures widens the perspective you have on yourself, on others, and the many creative possibilities.

NYFA: Having studied and worked in several different countries, are there cultural differences that dictate an artist’s job? Or are the skills and knowledge more or less universally applicable?

EO: Ambition and perseverance are what dictate an artist’s job. Having worldwide experience opens your mind and sharpens your artistic eye.

NYFA: What role did your time at the NYFA animation program play in establishing your career?

EO: Some of the greatest professionals in the field teach NYFA’s animation program. They guide you in the right direction, and help you grow as a professional. Don’t be scared to ask them questions, they are like eyes to the blind.

NYFA: What made you choose the New York Film Academy for your studies?

EO: NYFA offered a hands-on, intensive 1-year program that covered all the areas I was interested in learning in animation, and more!

One of the most exciting experiences was working with a motion capture studio. It gave us the opportunity to learn about the different mocap systems out there, and how to integrate that in our pipeline.

NYFA: Is there anything that is particularly memorable from your time at NYFA?

EO: I will never forget the all-nighters I spent rendering out my final project in the 3D animation room at Union Square. There was a lot of laughter, but also a lot of despair. You work crazy hours, but you still have fun because you are doing something you are passionate about.

NYFA: Is there anything you wish you would have known before beginning your studies?

EO: That your computer becomes your new best friend. You spend days and nights with it, and all your money on it.

NYFA: What is your ultimate career goal?

EO: Making the next Disney animated movie. I have always loved Disney movies, so working for the Walt Disney Animation Studios would be a dream come true.

NYFA: Any parting words of advice for aspiring animation pros?

EO: Be patient, don’t give up, and a smile goes a long way.

Most Expensive Animated Movies Of All Time

Forget hiring a cast of A-list actors or shooting at a number of exotic locales around the world; if you want to totally blow a movie budget, incorporating dazzling animation sequences are the way to go.

Given how costly animation sequences can be, it’s of no surprise that many of the most expensive movies ever committed to film are animated features. The returns, however, can be equally gargantuan; coupled with the wave of new talent emerging from animation colleges, these profits have ensured the market for animated features is only going to continue growing.

Here we present the Top Five, including only movies which are fully animated (rather than live-action movies with animated elements such as Avatar).

Interestingly, all of the most expensive animations on this list were released in the last four years. We’ve listed their budgets, box office takings and metacritic scores from Rotten Tomatoes along with each title, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether it was money well spent…

Brave (2012)

most expensive animated movies

Budget: $185m
Box Office Revenue: $539m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%

Pixar’s Brave took things to the next level. The world’s fifth most expensive animated movie not just looked incredible, but it delivered on every level; Princess Merida’s adventure is deep, smartly written, and puts out the message that female characters don’t need a male counterpart (something sadly lacking in the genre).

A lot of the budget was spent on rewriting Pixar’s entire animation system in order to deliver the visual goods, and we’d imagine the remaining time and budget was spent on Merida’s hair.

Cars 2 (2011)

Cars 2 budget

Budget: $200m
Box Office Revenue: $560m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39%

While the original Cars was a fairly solid addition to the Pixar canon, it was no Toy Story 3  or Monsters University despite all three films matching in production budget (see below).

Although the story of Cars 2 was wafer-thin, it’s clear that a lot of the budget went into the visual effects given that the finished product is nothing short of eye candy. For all its failings, it’s did push the envelope of what’s achievable in special effect-laden, high octane animation.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 budget

Budget: $200m
Box Office Revenue: $1.06 billion
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 99%

The third and final entry in the Toy Story franchise was well worth the wait from a critical perspective, and it didn’t do too terribly at the box office either. Toy Story 3 was the first animated movie to ever make over $1 billion in revenue, though this has since been surpassed by Frozen’s $1.26 billion in takings.

Tom Hanks stated in an interview that he heard that Pixar were planning a sequel, but all other sources deny that anything is confirmed. Given how satisfying the conclusion was at the end of Toy Story 3, we hope that Hanks heard incorrectly.

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters University budget

Budget: $200m
Box Office Revenue: $743m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%

Also a member of the $200 million club, Monsters University – the first prequel film ever made by Pixar – came a good twelve years after the original Monsters Inc.

Apparently Disney wanted to do a sequel almost immediately after the Monsters Inc. brought in the big bucks, but Pixar wanted to bide their time and an entire script got discarded during the disagreement. We’re glad things transpired as they did, however, because once the wait was over we were treated to a great story on the origins of Mike and Sully’s friendship.

Tangled (2013)

Tangled most expensive animated movie

Budget: $260m
Box Office Revenue: $592m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%

Tangled snags the top spot and is the second most expensive movie of any kind, surpassed only by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (which overtook its budget by a wide margin at $300m).

While Tangled undeniably looks like a super expensive production, it was the languished six year production period that caused the incredible costs. It was worth it in the end, however, since it over doubled its money back at the box office and scored nearly unanimously positive reviews from critics. Curiously, the name was reportedly changed to Tangled from Rapunzel due to fears that a Disney princess movie wouldn’t appeal to younger males.

From Italy To Hollywood: NYFA Animation Graduate Francesco Panzieri Shares How To Become A Visual Effects Artist

How to become a visual effects artistIn 2008 Francesco Panzieri (website, filmography) finished his studies in Italy with a degree in Audiovisual and Mass Communication Media. Soon after he moved to New York to master 3D and digital composting at the New York Film Academy’s School of Animation

It didn’t take long for Francesco to become one of the most successful students of the school. That translated to success in his career as well, as he has worked on some of Hollywood’s biggest TV shows (Mad Men, House M.D., Castle, Revenge, etc.) and films (Clash of the Titans, Warrior, For Colored Girls, etc.).

Beginning in May 2015 Francesco will be teaching an annual one-day course at New York Film Academy’s Battery Park Campus on the topic of “Job Search Preparation / How To Be A Successful Visual Effects Artist.” The seminar will show students how to break through into the industry and have a successful career. But you don’t have to wait to attend the seminar to get into the head of this great artist.

Enjoy our Q&A with Francesco Panzieri… 

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

Francesco Panzieri: I was born and raised in Italy. At an early age I remember being mesmerized by the visual effects in movies such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Ghostbusters. Those are the same visual effects that kept me playing video games such as the LucasArts Graphic Adventures and many of the first-person-shooters such as Wolfenstein 3D.

I was always attracted by entertainment and media. As a child I could appreciate visual effects and understood that they had an ability to catch the audience through their quality and storytelling. At some point I realized this is what I want to do.

Now keep in mind – I’m in Italy. No one really thought this was even a career choice. However, after some convincing my parents, who both have been tough yet very supportive at the same time, I was able to attend a top-notch Cinema University in Italy, The Academy of Image Arts.

After obtaining my B.A. in Cinema Sciences I decided it would be best to make a move to the US. I felt I need more knowledge and guidance. I also built up an appetite to chase my dream while attending the Cinema University in Italy and there was no stopping me now.

After doing some research I found myself at The New York Film Academy attending the 3D & VFX Program. Four months after graduation, countless attempts trying to get my first job, living a life of a dreamer, I got a call. I was hired in California to work on my first feature film, “Clash of The Titans”.

I was so happy! Excited about my new job, the fact that it’s always sunny in California! (That’s a lie). Since then, I have been working on about 10 feature films and more than 50 HD television series.

NYFA: You have worked on some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV series. Is there any one project that really stands out for you or is your favorite?

FP: I am very proud of my work on Tyler Perry’s feature “For Colored Girls”. During that time, I was the one in charge of 3D-modeling, texturing, and compositing the NYC skyline visible from Janet Jackson’s office.

It was a stimulating procedure that started in Maya with 3D-modeling low-polygon buildings and unwrapping their UV’s; and ended up in Nuke, importing each single geometries and projecting RAW still images of NYC buildings (shot from our VFX supervisor on the city’s rooftops) on the corresponding 3D model through its UV’s. The final result looked terrific; very photo-realistic. Tyler Perry himself couldn’t tell the difference when my team showed it to him.

However, every project I have ever worked on,  no matter how big or small, I keep close to my heart.

I’m a perfectionist, so I always aim to give my best. I have an ongoing competition with myself. I pixel-pick everything that comes across my desk. And believe me it’s not an easy task since perfection – especially now – takes more time than the deadlines allow.

For me this is a passion-driven job. Therefore it’s almost an inspirational process to handle a shot and make it look better, bolder, and more emotional for the audience.

I must say that there are projects that will forever remind me of the sleepless nights and some of the most talented people I have worked with in this industry. Teamwork and networking are the master keys in this industry. It’s also very important to never stop doing your best work just because someone doesn’t give you credit right away.

NYFA: Do you find any difference between working on movies and working on TV Series?

FP: If you were to ask me this question five years ago I would have said absolutely, but not so much today. Unfortunately, visual effects have become much more of a commercial process and much less of an artistic one.

Many movies nowadays get shot in digital rather than the 35 or 70 mm, the budget gets cut, and the delivery deadlines are half of what they were before. Consequently you find yourself dealing to inevitably sacrifice a pinch of the VFX quality as well.

I feel that in the early days the artistic process was more complete and genuine. Today, we are also faced with huge globalization in visual effects created by production subsidies in countries like Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, China,  and India. As this industry became a really global one, more competition emerged willing to do your work faster and cheaper. But this is rarely at the same quality standards.

The final result is a “rush” (called the “911” in our lingo, same as the emergency phone number) into finalizing each single picture you are working on, whether for TV or for theater release, just because the delivery deadline is always literally around the corner. Features’ deadlines are now same as TV’s ones. You get to work hard, mostly overtime, hitting 14-16 hours a day very often.

NYFA: What role did your time at the New York Film Academy animation and visual effects program play in establishing your career?

FP: I am very thankful to have had the chance of attending the New York Film Academy program. My academic year was memorable from every point of view. But the reason I am thankful to it the most, other than its teachings, is the actual hands-on time it forces you to spend in the lab in order to meet deadlines and make it through the semesters.

I can very well say that it was the perfect training in terms of times, demands, expectations, and preparation in order to get along with the industry pace. I used to be in for classes 8 in the morning; and after getting done at 6 in the afternoon, I still had to spend 3-4 hours in the Academy on homework and projects.

Man I was tired at night…but such a meticulous training to keep up with is the right way for the entertainment industry.

NYFA: What made you choose the New York Film Academy for your studies?

FP: During my Cinema studies in Italy, I was heavily fascinated with visual effects and 3D. And while I already had some solid knowledge of VFX artistry, I wanted to become a real good 3D artist too. So I started taking some private classes for 3D that eventually helped me with some projects at my University.

After graduating, I was truly in love with 3D and wanted to get even better at it.  So I started looking around for the place that could offer the best preparation. At that time, my home country didn’t have much to offer. So I searched out other places like schools in Dubai until I discovered the New York Film Academy on the web. I visited its campus in Manhattan, and then the one in Abu Dhabi, and I fell in love with the spirit of the school and the way the courses were structured.

NYFA: Is there anything specific that stands out from your time at NYFA?

FP: Since day-one at NYFA I understood immediately that I had made the right choice. There is a multi-ethnic vibe in the school that makes you always feel like a rock star. The people there make it so special because of their different backgrounds coming all together.

I studied like a boss, yet I had the most entertaining, hysterically hilarious time of my life with my classmates there. It was roughly 20 people coming from literally all over the world sharing all the same passions and interests.

I also had the pleasure to have a chat with the NYFA founder, Mr. Jerry Sherlock, who had happened to produce one of my favorite childhood movies: The Hunt For Red October; I was finally able to tell him how thankful I was for such a thrilling cinema piece.

NYFA: Is there anything you wish you would have known before beginning your studies?

FP: I believe part of what makes anything exciting is the unknown. I moved from a town in Italy to New York City to be able to attend the New York Film Academy. It was all a challenge.

I must admit my accent was an advantage. However, with any academic hardships I may have stubbed across I always felt I could rely on the teachers’ and/or classmates’ prompt help.

I have never been strong on life-drawing, so I had to oil my hands on that. But if you enjoy what you are trying to achieve, you will succeed.

NYFA: You will be teaching a one-day class at NYFA about the best way to enter the professional world of visual effects and entertainment. Is there one big takeaway (or theme) from your experience that can really make a difference in an artist’s career?

FP: A couple of years ago I came across a great line by the NBA player Kevin Durant: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

I believe the essence of the right attitude to keep at all times, in any workplace, lies in this quote; especially for those high-productivity-oriented environments like the entertainment industry. This quote is the very first tip (of many) that I am going to address to the NYFA students.

There are so many talented artists with potential out there, many much more skilled than I am today,  however they don’t work hard enough and eventually end-up wasting their abilities and chances. I have learned great results come through hard work. Talent only makes it easier and faster.

My experience so far is built on the will to learn as much as possible. Always ask questions! I made it this far because I’m stubborn and I endure chasing my dream even if that means working hundreds of hours. I made mistakes that made me more knowledgeable and experienced. I hope I can pass down the same values to the NYFA students and make my “class” less of a theoretical session and more of a motivational shake-up with plenty of examples and curious facts.

I want students to understand why what I’m trying to teach them is important, and how they will benefit from my advice in the work field. I want them to know that in order to succeed today you need to be the best at one thing while knowing your way around with more than one software. I will also make sure to share useful links for job-searching and highlight how important is for them to attend events such as SIGGRAPH.

NYFA: What is your ultimate career goal?

FP: I was fortunate that my parents raised me with an American influence. I was exposed to American movies, video games, music, food, and apparel. Therefore living in the United States and being given the privilege to do what I love to do is a dream. I love this country and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

With that said, my ultimate career goal is to win an Academy Award. I would love to be able to share such an award with my parents who have been such a huge support system in my life. I believe aiming high, being realistic with who you are, being honest with what you can and can’t do, along with modesty, and the will to learn is the best recipe to achieving that kind of goal.

NYFA: Any parting words of advice for aspiring pros in animation and visual effects?

FP: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Steve Jobs truly couldn’t have said it any better. Always be curious, purposeful, and humble. Strive for perfection by improving yourself and always be eager to learn about the new technologies in your line of work. Stay forever young mentally…and possibly physically too!