Animating and reading and music and stuff…

Animation studies continue

It’s now week 7 (of 72) of Animation Mentor! The first semester (of 12 weeks) is half way over!

Last week’s assignment involved animating a pendulum. Unfortunately, towards the end of the week (mostly Saturday and Sunday) I caught some sort of virus, so I lost a nice chunk of animation time, and my assignment turned out pretty “blagh.” I mean, it wasn’t completely terrible, but it needs lots of polishing, so I’ll post that up on YouTube after I do a revision. Feeling better now, so I hope this week will be better.


I finished reading The Talent Code the other day. Overall, ’twas a pretty good read, though I still think that in some of the chapters the author kind of goes off on these less interesting tangents. There was this whole chapter about how good some “KIPP program” schools were, though to me they seemed kind of brain-washy. One of the main points of the program, besides instilling militaristic discipline, was to not only get the students to go to college, but get them to want to go to college. Apparently the founders of the KIPP program believe that going to college is pretty much the most important thing in the world. It’s kind of … disturbing. Maybe there’s a grain of truth to it, in terms of there being a correlation between income levels and college attendance, but I don’t think brain-washing children to believe that college is the most important goal in life is necessarily helpful, even if the students in this KIPP program preform very well on tests.

Which kind of leads me to another problem… so often it seems that how “good” a school is is determined by comparing it to other schools. People say things like “this school scored in the 90th percentile!” That sounds pretty good, but it actually really doesn’t say that much. What exactly is the “score” of the 90th percentile? Shouldn’t the actual score matter? With this sort of comparison-rating system, a school (or a student) doesn’t even have to improve for their score to improve… everyone else just has to do worse.

Along the same lines (though this is a complete tangent from the subject of the book), I hate when teachers, both high school and college, grade to a curve. As if a bell curve should naturally arise in the grades, and if it’s not there, you just shape the test scores to it. It makes no sense; you can get a better grade simply because everyone else did lousy on the test? But really this is part of the bigger “grading problem” in general that schools have; they simply use grades in a completely wrong way, as a form to easily compare students and to act as an easy gatekeeper for decision making. Unfortunately how well someone knows facts or a skill is not so easily numbered. (And this is really related to the “school problem” in general; how so many people think it’s a good use of time and money to teach and learn things students are not interested in or are not going to use. I’ll spare myself from going off on that tangent today…)

One last thing I’m starting to understand, from this book and others with similar themes, is that our personalities, as defined by our decisions and interests, are, or at least can be, as malleable as our intellect. They are a product of our environment. Maybe not completely, of course, but the true (often subconscious) sources of interests and personalities are quite complex; they do not simply emerge from DNA. In other words, if you observe that someone is bossy when they are a baby, that’s not necessarily just because they have “bossy” genes. Although, maybe they do… my point is that it’s complex. And people can change, at least to a greater degree than they may realize. Not easily, perhaps. It might take a complete overturning of your environment, and the change might be from “stable” to “completely depressed and crazy”, but it’s possible. I do wish it were easy to understand how interests come about and how they could be changed, but they seem to get so set-in-stone that we think of them as being as unchangeable as stone…

The other book I finished reading was Federations, a collection of sci-fi short stories. It was kind of a mixed bag… I thought some stories were very good, especially Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason and Symbiont by Robert Silverberg. Some were OK. Some were uhhhh-what-the-heck? (I have more traditional tastes. When authors try to get all experimental and stylized, I don’t always get it. One of my big pet peeves is unisex/nonsex pronouns, like “hirs” and “shim”… blagh! You’re not clever! Stop it!)

Will books die soon?

In other news, I read this article in which some guy says that physical books will be dead in 5 years. *gasp* Firstly, the article states that we must consider what has happened to music and films, which makes no sense to me. Those are digital art mediums in the first place. You watch a movie with a digital TV, and you listen to music on speakers (or headphones). Those have required electricity to perceive the art for a long time. Not so with books. So I don’t think the comparison is entirely valid. Also, movies are still quite non-digital, in that they still are sold on physical discs. This not only helps prevent copying (to a degree), but it also allows customers to trade, rent, borrow, return, and resell their movies. In a purely digital world, we can’t do that. Money would only ever flow one way. Great for movie distributors (if they can prevent illegal copying enough), somewhat lame for everyone else (unless you can get free movies by watching ads at certain intervals… but still no returning or trading).

He also says that the sales of Kindle books has outnumbered the sales of hardbacks. OK… that in and of itself is not really evidence of anything, as far as I can tell. We’d also have to see a decline in hardback sales, and look at paperback sales. And publishers would have to at some point conclude that publishing a hardback would not be worth it. And then conclude that paperbacks aren’t worth it either. These business decisions would, I think, be way too drastic for publishers to figure out in just 5 years. Unless, of course, Kindle and other ebooks take off so well and make publishers so rich that they have nothing to worry about by going all digital. So I guess I’d really have to look at the publishers’ records to know…

Eventually, books may very well die, or at least become mostly dead… but in just 5 years? I highly doubt it.

Some beautiful music!

Lastly, as a reward for reading all that blather (or for scrolling down), here’s some beautiful music for you!

Want more? Of course you do!

These pieces were brought to you by the Portsmouth Sinfonia which I came across last week (or yesterday or something)… what beautiful sounds!

By S P Hannifin, ago

Stuff about schools…

Valedictorian hates school…

I came across this valedictorian graduation speech yesterday. It’s quite well-written and agrees with just about all my anti-current-education-system rants that I give on this blog every now and then. It’s always nice to read a reflection of your own beliefs, especially from someone who writes a bit more formally. It’s kind of annoying that you have to be a valedictorian for certain people to listen to you, but that’s how it is. (And listening doesn’t simply lead to agreeing anyway.)

Unfortunately I can’t seem to find any more direct source of the speech. It’s pasted on the Internet in a few places, but not from any official-looking sources. I’d love to know how parents and teachers reacted. Ultimately making any real changes to the currect education system is a tough business as people get all scared that students will get too dumb if we don’t at least hold on to what we have.

Another online animation school…

In other news, someone in my Animation Mentor group mentioned, a new online animation school opening up next month. From what I can tell, it looks like it’s pretty much modeled after Animation Mentor, with some slight differences. The semesters are 14 weeks (so I guess it would take an extra 6 months to get through) and the tuition is a bit less. It looks like they also have less teachers, so maybe they’ll accept less students? Maybe it will be harder to get in?

(There might be more differences; I didn’t study the site super-thoroughly…)

I wonder if Apple will sue them, though, for all this ‘i’ stuff… and I wonder what a good name for an online animation school would be… I don’t really like the name “Animation Mentor” or “iAnimate”… they kind of give off auras of online cheapiness. You need like a “International Animation Institute” or something.

And I wonder how their business will go. Besides the smaller tuition price, is there any incentive to go to their school rather than the already well-established Animation Mentor? (Is that the reason for the smaller price?) Does Animation Mentor reject people that iAnimate would take? How many prospective animation students are out there that will now have this choice, and how will they make it? I always think some competition can be healthy, so I guess we’ll see…

My real concern though is… how is the US job market for new inexperienced animators? Is it already oversaturated or is there a risk of it becoming so? Or is there plenty of room for us? How will these schools affect that?

Anyway, just an interesting development in the business of online animation schools…

By S P Hannifin, ago

Books I done went and checked out

So yesterday I made the long journey back to George Mason University to use their library.  The same girl was working there as when I worked there years ago.  I’m not sure if she recognized me or not, but if she did she didn’t say anything.  Then again, neither did I.  Anyway, I found a lot of books I’d like to check out, but I only checked out 6 for now.  Not that I’ll read them all cover to cover; some of them are more of the scan-through kind.  So here’s what I got:

  • Timing for Animation, Second Edition – Well, actually, I got the first edition, but the second edition is what’s on Amazon now.  This book was in Animation Mentor’s “recommended books” section, and just flipping through it it looks like it will have some helpful tips.
  • Acting in Animation: A Look at 12 Films – I’m not really sure exactly what this is about (besides animated “acting” of course) but it looked interesting.
  • Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama – Someone mentioned this book in the comments of this blog. I forgot to look for Mamet’s book on directing though. Anyway, this book is very short. So I got it. Looks interesting. It’s just on story writing in general, I think, so could be interesting since I’ve always got screenplay and novel ideas floating around in my head.
  • Pure Animation: Steps to Creation With 57 Cutting-edge Animators – This is definitely just a scan-through book with lots of pictures in which animators make a few points about the creation of some of their short animations.
  • Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers, Directors, and Videographers – This was also recommended by Animation Mentor. It’s obviously about cinematography. It looks like its full of great and interesting film-making stuff. I’d like to read it cover to cover, though I don’t think I’ll have time, especially since I need to focus on actual animation. But it looks like it will definitely be interesting to at least flip through.
  • Autodesk Maya 2010: The Modeling and Animation Handbook – Here’s another one I’d like to read cover to cover if I had more time, which I don’t, so I’ll just flip through it. It’s just about how to use Maya. I think I’ve got an OK handle on the animation side of things, at least the basics of it, but modeling, lighting, rendering, etc. are all still kind of beyond me. Though I don’t necessarily need to learn those things for Animation Mentor, I still think they’d be useful.

As I said, they’ve got some other books I’d like to check out in the future, but I’ll look through those for the next few weeks and should definitely learn some things.

Some of those books make me want to subscribe to Netflix (or Blockbuster) so I can have access to a lot of movies (both animated and non-animated) just to study film in general. It’s very tempting, but I’ll save my money (and time) for now. Maybe as I get closer to finishing Animation Mentor…

Lastly, I also checked out a book from the local library called The Talent Code. This kind of seems like a good sequel to The Genius in All of Us, which I read a few weeks ago. While that book was about how almost anyone can be a “genius” with the right kind of work and dedication, this book is more about just what the “right” kind of work is. What is the best way to gain a new skill? What is the best way to practice? As I’ve concluded from reading a few books, it’s not just about doing something over and over, it’s more about figuring out how to do something you can not yet do. So it’s like “the art of learning” which I find to be very interesting. So it seems like it will be a good book. And it’s pretty short, only around 200 pages, so it shouldn’t take too long.

I guess that’s pretty much it today, just wanted to blather about books I got from libraries! Hope it was interesting! If not, too bad!

By S P Hannifin, ago

Animation and NurtureShock and other stuff

Animation Mentor

It’s week 5 (of 72) of Animation Mentor! Things are going OK so far. I’ll upload a video of last week’s assignment later. Our assignment last week was to animate balls of different weight and bounciness. This week our assignment is to animate a ball with squash and stretch bouncing around an opsticle course, so it will be quite tricky. I spent the morning fooling around a bit with animating squash and stretch, and it does take some getting used to, especially timing-wise. But it’s also easy to tell just how much more “alive” it can make something look.


In other news, I recently finished reading NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. Overall, it was very good, and could change the way parents (and people in general) think about child development and (what I’m interested in) education.

However, I still have some disagreements with how they interpret certain scientific results. Though they mention somewhere in the book that they believe “intelligence” is malleable, they sometimes seem to imply that they believe it’s only malleable in children, or at least not as malleable in adults as I believe it to be.

They also don’t seem to realize how influential environment can be on intelligence, personality, decision-making processes, mood, etc. In fact, a lot of people in general don’t seem to realize this, so people are always searching for other reasons people act the way they do, such as “oh, the teens’ brain is just not done developing and that makes them take more risks, and their hormones make them all moody” or “prodigies are born, and we pulled him out of school so he can study chess and violin for 15 hours a day to nurture that genius.” I’m not arguing that environment complete dictates everything … obviously it doesn’t … but neither does DNA and hormones and the size of the prefrontal lobe. The environment still has a huge effect that should not be ignored.

I haven’t read it, but there’s a book called The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo about Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment. In the experiment, students basically took part in a mock prison, some playing prisoners, others playing guards. As you might know, they had to stop the experiment early because people went mad; they got way to into it, the guards started torturing the prisoners, and the prisoners became insanely miserable (and forgetting it was just an experiment). The point was: change the environment enough, and you can become a completely different person. You still have to pay the price for your evil deeds, but the environment can still have a huge effect on your decision-making. And isn’t imagining the wonder of Heaven and the bleakness of Hell all about imagining certain environments? (As we can’t very well imagine a change in being or a change in the nature of our consciousness … that is beyond the limit of our consciousness, leading some to believe it’s altogether impossible.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the authors of the book simply don’t give enough credit to the influence of environment. They do give it some credit, since some of the experiments they mention are all about changing the environment in specific ways. But other times they seem to ignore it.

But, as I said, overall it’s very good, and I recommend reading it; I simply advise not blindly believing their sometimes simplistic explanations of the experimental results. (That really goes for any science book meant for the average reader; be weary of oversimplification, especially in complex topics like business and marketing and economics and psychology and quantum physics. It’s amazing how many people sum up Einstein’s relativity as “time goes slower for things moving faster.” It’s usually high schoolers who go on to apply to MIT as a matter of looking smart rather than actually being qualified. There are lots!)

Some other random stuff

Oh, I’m resurrecting my Stuff I Found blog, now at a new location.

Also, I found some local people playing chess on Saturday nights, so I can get back into chess for a little while, playing some real life people on real life boards (which reminds me, I might have some games going on in Google Wave that I need to check). I don’t think I’ll have time to go to any tournaments anytime soon, since I work weekends, but at least it will be some non-Internet socialization.

Lastly, I’m hoping sometime this week to finally go back to George Mason University and use their huge library. I’ve long missed their library, the only thing I really loved about going to university, they’ve got just about every nonfiction book I’ve ever wanted to read. They’re especially great for computer books, which can be costly and which our local library won’t buy. It can be kind of a long drive (45 minutes to, at worst, an hour) but if I can get some books on Maya, and animation, and drawing, etc, I think it will be worth it. (And, looking through their online catalogue, they’ve got a ton. And almost everything is also checked in, I guess since it’s summer. Though even when I was going to Mason, I hardly ever had to wait for a book to come back. A lot of students just don’t use the library unless a professor makes them. (And many people don’t read nonfiction for fun, for that matter.) Which I think is fine… more for me! Plenty of professors and graduate students use it, though.)

OK, that’s all for now…

By S P Hannifin, ago

Some random things that I must say today

A few things…

OK, a few things.  Firstly, I finally updated my WordPress to 3.0!  Woohoo!  I’m all updated!  Not that one can really notice from just reading the blog…

Secondly, I created a new YouTube channel at to post random non-music stuff, probably mostly animation tests so that I can share my Animation Mentor progress.  Here are my first animation attempts:


Um… what else?


I don’t really know much about Comic-Con, except that it’s apparently a pretty popular event. I don’t have the time or money to go to any such conventions (or the social connections that would make going to such an event more fun). Anyway, Comic-Con will be streaming live at MySpace starting sometime today, so I might check it out for about 5 minutes…

A few responses to Nurture Shock

I’m reading this book called NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman.  It’s a very interesting book; each chapter is dedicated to shedding new light and giving a new perspective to a certain topic.  (Just look at the table of contents on Amazon if you really care what those topics are… I might blog about more of them in the future.)  I love books that try to tackle long-standing myths.

Anyway, chapter seven is called The Science of Teenage Rebellion, and while it doesn’t go into too much depth (afterall, you could write entire books on this topic … and people have), it does make some interesting points.

This post is really not about those points, though.  It’s really just my reaction to some quotes from the chapter.

On Page 140, it says:

Pushing a teen into rebellion by having too many rules was a sort of statistical myth.  “That actually doesn’t happen,” remarked Darling.  She found that most rules-heavy parents don’t actually enforce them.  “It’s too much work,” says Darling.  “It’s a lot harder to enforce three rules than to set twenty rules.”  These teens avoided rebellious direct conflict and just snuck around behind their parents’ backs.

Woah.  So, just lying to your parents and breaking the rules behind their backs is not rebellious?  You think the parents would be OK with that?  So… it’s good to set rules as a parent, because, hey, if it’s too many, your child will just break them behind your back…?

I think it’s possible for a parent to set too many rules, and not enough rules, and doing either could help cause rebellion.  And by “rebellion” I mean teenagers disobeying their parents, not just avoiding direct conflict.

That paragraph makes it hard for me to understand what the author is trying to say, so I can’t really agree or disagree with him on it.

Then, in a new section, on page 141, the book says:

The Mod Squad study did confirm Linda Caldwell’s hypothesis that teens turn to drinking and drugs because they’re bored in their free time.

Woah again!  The book says pretty much nothing about how this was confirmed.  It is seems way too simplistic to me.  What about the many environmental influences?  Peer pressure, parental pressure, school pressure, the availability of drugs and alcohol, etc?  I’m not convinced anyone ever does anything just because they’re bored.  There’s always more to it than that.  If you were really bored, you wouldn’t do anything!

The book then talks about how Caldwell creates a program called TimeWise which tries to help kids counter boredom.  And it says on page 143:

For the seventh-graders who started out the most bored, “it didn’t seem to make a difference,” said Caldwell.  It turns out that teaching kids not to be bored is really hard–even for the best program in the country.

Why didn’t TimeWise have a stronger effect?

My guess would be that after TimeWise, kids are thrust back into the environment they were in before.  Yes, their time spent in the TimeWise program could affect their choices a bit, but they didn’t drink and do drugs just because of mere boredom in the first place!  You got your premises wrong.  (The real results Mod Squad study might’ve been more complex than this, I don’t know.  As I said, the book gives no explanation as to how the study confirmed such a thing.)

And then, bum bum bum… the book says:

Is it possible that teens are just neurologically prone to boredom?

According to the work of neuroscientist Dr. Adrian Galvan at UCLA, there’s good reason to think so.

To me, there seems bad reason to think so.  Basically, scientists do these brain scans and watch parts of the brain light up.  And for teens, they find that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t light up as much when the teen is supposedly excited (it shows a “diminished response whenever their reward center was experiencing intense excitement”).  And the prefrontal cortex is “responsible for weighing risk and consequences.”  Therefore when the teen is excited… “the teen’s brain is handicapped in its ability to gauge risk and foresee consequences.”

That’s it?

That’s the evidence?

The prefrontal cortex shows a “diminished response” and therefore teens aren’t as good at foreseeing outcomes and are therefore just naturally prone to risky behaviour?

And nevermind the environment?

And… weren’t you at first trying to say something about boredom?

Overall, it’s a very interesting book.  I think the authors need to do a bit more research in this area though.

By S P Hannifin, ago

Geniusness and whatnot

It’s week 3 of Animation Mentor, and this week we’re learning to animate a bouncing ball. I think my bouncing ball will be so good that Pixar will want to license it for a new short film called “The Bouncing of the Ball” or something. Anyway, it’s going well; the workload isn’t overwhelming yet though I still wish I could get my sleep schedule in order so I could get my animation studying time into some kind of structured groove. Here’s my assignment from last week:


The assignment was merely to observe other people’s poses and then pose the given 3D character. That took long enough; I can’t wait to see how long it will take to actually animate something that complex … *gulp*

geniusbook In other news, I just finished reading a good book called The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk. It basically argues against the classic notion that “genius” is just some innate quality that we’re either born with or without, most of us without. What we call “genius” is actually a set of skills that are highly developed over a long period of time, formed by constant practice and dedication. With enormous amounts of dedication, just about anyone can become a “genius” in any area they desire. The thing is, not many of us are willing to really dedicate that much time and effort to one area of study (and sometimes we can’t anyway, because of the demands of work, school, or family life). But realizing that just about anybody has the ability to become a genius in just about anything (though certainly not everything at the same time) is something few people seem to realize (though if you read through my blog here, you should see that I have long held this notion, as have others, so it’s not really an innovative idea, but it’s still a good book).

Some things mentioned in the book that I though were interesting:


Firstly, there are plenty of prodigies who grow up to do nothing special, and plenty of successful adults (like Einstein) who weren’t prodigies. The qualities needed to be considered a “prodigy” and to be considered an adult “genius” are simply different. So if you weren’t a prodigy, relax, you can still do great things. And if you were a prodigy, you’re a loser now! Ha ha! See what it feels like!

No, what I mean is, if you were a prodigy, you can’t just rely on whatever made you a prodigy to help you compete in the adult world; you have to retain that constant drive to learn and practice and get better still, and this time without your parents and teachers praising how good you are to family and friends on the phone.

I watched this video on YouTube some time ago. A 6 year old girl plays an original composition on the piano.  Take note of what Ellen says at around 4:35.  She asks “How do you come up with this stuff?”  And the girl says “It just comes out!”  And Ellen says “Well, it doesn’t just come or it would come out of all of us if it did.  You’re very very special.” Oh, Ellen. You’re so funny. See? This is what a lot of people really think! Actually, Ellen, you could compose and play like that if you just practice for a few years. It’s really not that amazing. That you think you can’t anyway, however, won’t help anyone at all.  But Ellen is right; it doesn’t just “come out,” it’s practiced and worked towards.

How to be a Genius:

Chapter 7 includes some tips on how to become a genius; that is, how to work yourself to the bone to become good at something. The tips are very good (though easier said than done). The first tip is to find your motivation. Obviously it’s much easier to do something if you want to do it. Secondly, be your own toughest critic and identify your limitations and ignore them. Practice that will help you improve is not just doing the same thing over and over. You have to try to do something you cannot yet do. You have to constantly be finding areas you can improve in. You must delay gratification and resist contentedness. You might get to a point where people start praising you for your work, but you can’t be content with that. (Is praise your motivation, you shallow fool?!) You have to keep pushing yourself; never be happy with your work. I mean, you can be proud of what you’ve achieved, certainly, but the point at which you can’t find anything to improve on is the point at which you’ll stop improving (and become a big dummy). That said, you must also beware the dark side (bitterness and blame). You don’t have to psychologically mess yourself up by constantly thinking you’ll never be good enough, for whatever reason. When you push yourself, you must do it for the desire of getting better, not out of self-contempt. Finally, try to have heroes and find mentors. They will inspire you and teach you their secret ways.  (And, no, I can’t be your mentor, sorry to disappoint…)

Being a genius shouldn’t be the reward. Becoming a genius should be a reward in and of itself. You must learn to love the process, as it never truly ends.

Also, school is stupid and doesn’t help at all. Just thought I’d put that in there.

And all that said, you might be perfectly content with not being considered a genius. Nothing wrong with that. Lazy bum.

But … how does one practice effectively?

I’m still not really quite sure, the book doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail on this point. I shall have to do some further reading and research, I suppose. I guess some of it depends on what exactly you want to learn. And I suspect it has to do with what I mentioned earlier: finding some certain thing you are not yet capable of doing and figuring out how to do it. Give yourself little goals and then work to achieve them, and when you do, give yourself more goals. So I guess the trick is to find little goals that will actually aid you in your larger quest. For example, if you’re learning to play the piano, and you give yourself the goal of playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” even faster, that might not be as helpful of a goal as trying to play it with more accurate tempo or something. Or in learning to draw: If you wish to draw dragons that can only be seen in your mind, redrawing family photos from reference might not be as much help as studying anatomy and learning to recreate bodies in positions you do not have reference to work from. For arts like writing and composing, the art is so much more subjective that coming up with goals might be harder. Having a goal of simply “getting more praise from more people” just seems a bit stupid. Areas like that are, I think, more tricky. I could go into my thoughts about them, but I think that topic is worthy of another entire blog post, and I don’t really feel like getting all into it now.


Overall, I recommend the book, especially if you don’t already agree with its message, because you need to understand how wrong and foolish you are! I only deduct a few points because the author misinterprets an Ayn Rand quote, and gives too much unwarranted credit to Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, the “stupid old foolish scientist” as he’s known in these parts.

Happy reading! (Or happy non-reading, to all you non-genius folks…)

By S P Hannifin, ago

Life is good (with Animation Mentor)

OK, this post is part just talking about Animation Mentor, and part completely me bragging about how happy and excited I am, so look away if you hate that kind of stuff, as I probably would if I weren’t me.

Animation Mentor has officially begun! You can see I’ve got official badge on the side there, haha! My mentor for the first semester is animator Tim Crawfurd, who did some 2D animation before getting hired by Pixar in 1997 (when CG animation was still pretty new), and he continued to work at Pixar until 2009. Check out his imdb profile to see the films he worked on with Pixar, and his showreel on YouTube.

The structure of Animation Mentor might seem confusing at first, but basically there are six “classes” or “semesters”, each one lasting 12 weeks. Within each class there are 12 to 15 mentors, and each mentor is assigned to 9 to 14 students. So Tim Crawfurd is the mentor for me and 12 others. I think three of us are in the US, and the others are around the world, like in India, Ireland, UK, France, Spain, etc. Each semester you get a different mentor, so you get professionals with a variety of industry backgrounds (but they’re all character animators, obviously).

Here’s how the learning part works: on the Monday of each week, you get a video lecture and a corresponding assignment. The lectures and assignments are the same, no matter which mentor you have. The lectures also feature a bunch of different animators, so you get to hear from a wide variety of pros; it’s not just one guy telling you everything. You have until 12 PM PST Sunday to upload your assignment, so you have almost the entire week to work on it. Sometime during the week, you have a Q&A session with your mentor, live using webcams and microphones, allowing you to talk with the other students in your group and the mentor, asking any questions you have. Lastly, each week you’ll get a (non-live) video from your mentor reviewing and grading your assignment from the previous week, so if you did something wrong or have something you could improve, you’ll know exactly what and why from personal attention from your mentor. These reviews are also made public, so everyone can learn from your work and the mentor’s comments. (If that embarrasses you, too bad! I personally think it’s a great idea! The assignments are animation practice, not strict tests to see how smart you are.) Lastly, the online “campus” has other places to visit, like the perpetual chatroom, a forum, a “library” with book recommendations, and videos of animated-related learning material, like one about stop-motion animation, Maya training, etc. There are profiles to learn more about each other, video journals you can keep, etc. I think it could be easy to forget you have an assignment to do with all the social networking fun on the site!

To more specifics:

The first semester, that I just started, is “Basic Foundations” … so we’re starting with the basics, bouncing balls and such. You obviously can’t just jump right in and animate full characters! You have to progress to that. There’s no real assignment this first week; it’s all about getting introduced to the site, to the other students, and to your mentor. Yesterday I spent some time meeting some other students in the perpetual chatroom, which was a ton of fun. And I just had my first Q&A session yesterday and it was awesome. We mostly just tested out our webcams and how the whole Q&A thing will work, and had the opportunity to ask questions. I could probably sit there and ask a professional animator endless questions, but I only asked one today about how he approaches scenes that combine a lot of physics with character movement; to me that seems like the toughest stuff to animate; I fear I’ll really stink at it. But I haven’t animated anything at all yet, so maybe I’ll stink at even simpler things!

It was interesting to see people from all different time zones as well. It was late at night for some, early in the morning for others, 2 PM for me (which is perfect for me).

And it was really just my nerdy dream come true to be talking LIVE to someone who REALLY WORKED on some of my favorite movies of all time! And I look forward to more!

So now I’m in a state of elation, just so excited at actually having the opportunity to learn this stuff. So I hope I’ll be geeking out over animation for the next year or so, and my other interests, like music, might take more of a back seat. Maybe for eternity. OK, not for eternity.

Oh, I also love how informal Animation Mentor is, by which I mean it’s not like being at a university, with lofty professors who take themselves too seriously and dress up for class and have you worrying more about your grade than the actual subject.

So, overall, life is very good right now!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Computer games

Quite complex

Greetings and such things.

Animation Mentor starts in about a week! I was going to put the student "badge" on the side there, but the student login is closed for the week for a break before the summer term starts. I’m almost ready, just need to review my basic Maya skills and find a camera to record reference with (I’m also practicing becoming double-jointed so that my reference shots will be more fluid and cartoony). I’m nervously looking forward to it.

complexity Hmmm, what else? I’ve been reading this really interesting book on complexity called Complexity: A Guided Tour. It’s got some fascinating chapters on emergent properties and genetic algorithms. Really makes me want to start doing some programming again. And if you like the classic book Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, this book should please you as the author was heavily influenced by the book, seeking out Hofstadter to study under after reading it. (It’s been about 10 years since I read GEB; I need to reread it.) The book is just a wee boring at certain parts, especially in the beginning, but I suppose such chapters can be skipped, as some of them just give an overview of stuff you might already know. The book can also be a bit confusing at times, but overall, since it’s not very mathematically in-depth and only 300 pages, it’s great for more casual (yet fascinating) reading. I’ve still got a few more chapters to go, but it’s a great book.

Oh, I got Mass Effect 2 the other day from I played through the prologue and it looks like it will be a really fun sequel. Too bad I won’t really have any time to play it.


By S P Hannifin, ago

Plans on planning to plan to write

Yo, word up! Whatever that means…

June already… soon the year will be half way over… and what have you got to show for it?

I finished reading a short science fiction novel called Mass Effect: Revelation … yeah, it’s based on a video game, so I guess I’m a dork. But it was a very easy read, and helps kinda flesh out some of the back story to the game (which I thought was great), so I enjoyed it, whether you like it or not, and maybe I’ll read more, haha!

I’m continuing to plan out another fantasy novel. I’m going to try to resist starting to write until my plans are as detailed as possible. So far, all my attempts at novel writing have failed. With The Game of Gynwig, I diverged too far from my outlines and ended up not knowing where to go next. With The Book of Harbringer, my outlines were too loose and vague, and I didn’t put enough thought into how scenes connected with each other. I could (and would like to someday) revisit the stories and try to get them right, but in the meantime, some new ideas are floating around in my mind. But I’m going to try to spend most of my time planning and planning and planning this time around, so that I won’t be having to figure out any plot whatsoever when it comes time to actually write. It might take years, decades, I might even give up, as I often do… anyway, right now I’m trying to get a sense of the overall idea: how it begins, how it ends, and what all the characters’ main motivations are… in fact, here’s my plan:

1) Clear beginning and clear ending, with character motivations and plans figured out (working on now)
2) List of important scenes (this is the step I usually stop at and just start writing, but not this time, I hope)
3) Details of how each scene begins and ends, adding connecting scenes when necessary
4) Purpose of each scene – make sure each scene is important and accomplishes something plot-wise and theme wise (not just one or the other (but plot-wise is more important))
5) Details of all scenes – details on what exactly happens between each scene’s beginning and end, including dialog (like writing each scene into a little screenplay)

Then flesh it all out with description and whatever, and I’ll be done!

Really, I hate to blog about my own future plans, because I hardly ever follow them, but I still think it’s good to have a goal in mind when working on something on the scope of a novel (a novel I’m personally satisfied with, that is; I could write a crappy novel any old day of the week).

My new glasses are waiting for me at Walmart, so I get to go pick them up tomorrow, woohoo! The world will be less blurry!

26 more days until Animation Mentor classes begin! Getting nervous!

By S P Hannifin, ago

Eye exam, Sleeping Beauty, blah blah blah

I finally made an appointment to see an optometrist this Friday. Need to get me a new prescription so I can get some new glasses. My eyes have gotten worse. Though I read somewhere that glasses help make your eyes get lazier and help make them worser. Oh well, I still need some. Right now the distance is a bit blurry even with my glasses on.

I also watched Sleeping Beauty on blu-ray today. Reading The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation makes me want to watch animations. And I’ve actually never seen Sleeping Beauty before. I must say, it looks wonderful on blu-ray, the way all films should be watched. What strikes me, probably because I’m watching it for the first time as a 24 year old, is how short it is. Only 75 minutes. If I had watched it as I kid, I’m sure it would’ve seemed longer, like all 75-85 minute movies did. Anyway, I ended up watching it twice, once just normally, and then again with the audio commentary (featuring a group of people who didn’t actually work on the movie). There are a bunch of special features on the bonus disc that I haven’t looked at yet, but hope to. (The best part of the movie: “This dress looks awful!” “That’s because it’s on you, dear.”)

Also had my first little Animation Mentor experience tonight: just a little Q&A session about what’s coming. So I got some more info on how the program will work, and got some questions answered. I listened for about an hour and twenty minutes, really excited, and then my connection started having problems. I’m not sure how long it went on afterwards, but I think every question I was curious about got answered. Can’t wait until it actually begins! Probably annoying for me to keep saying that…

This animation study, starting next month, might mean I don’t compose much, if any, music over the next year and a half, as my free time will go way down… but we’ll see. I’m sure I’ll still write a bunch of melodies though. I can’t stop doing that.

Guess that’s it for today…

By S P Hannifin, ago