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

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

Stuff I done gone and did terday

Hey, it’s my 300th blog post to this blog! In celebration, I will do nothing, because I do not want to seem arrogant towards those who don’t blog as much.

I finally finished reading Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, a biography of Walt Disney. ‘Twas quite educational, since I really didn’t know very much about him or the history of his company. I might dedicate a future blog post to some thoughts on his life and work, but not tonight. I will say he must be a goldmine for biographers. He had a lot of influence, there are a lot of different opinions about him, and he got his hands into a lot of things. There’s a lot to write about.

I also bought The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation from Amazon earlier this week, and have started reading through that. I read bits and pieces of it in college from the library, and I know I browsed through it at some other point in my youth. I am wondering if we have an older family copy somewhere (though I don’t think so) or if one of our grandparents or relatives had a copy. But I just know I browsed through it years ago before college. Anyway, it’s full of wonderful pictures and art. I really wish it came with a DVD or something so I could watch the examples, but I guess that would only double the price. Anyway, as I’m trying to learn computer animation, this book seems like one of the must-reads.

And speakin’ of animation, next Wednesday night I’ve got my first Animation Mentor thing. Classes don’t officially start until near the end of June, but the thing on Wednesday is I guess a bit like an orientation. It will allow someone to give an overview of the structure of the course and the site, and will allow us future students to ask questions. Not sure I’ll have any questions, but I do want to test out the technology and the experience of doing one of these Animation Mentor meetings. So I’m looking forward to that.

Music wise, I’m almost finished writing the music for a documentary. I’ve got one cut left, and it will be a fun one to write. I’ll share more info (and maybe some music clips) from that when the project is actually finished.

I’m participating in a long Facebook conversation about the problems of college and high school education. I was going to post the conversation here, but it is still going on, and it is very long. Our plan now is to, at some point, organize our points and disagreements and write a book on the topic. Probably won’t get professionally published or anything, but I think would make an interesting book.

Finally, movie wise, I just finished watching The Men Who Stare At Goats. It was … uh … interesting I guess. Had some funny parts, but by the end I didn’t really get the point of any of it. It was like a very long joke. If there had been just a bit more humor, it might’ve been OK.

I also watched Where the Wild Things Are a couple night ago, which was actually better than I thought it would be (I had low expectations), but it was weird (and I imagine one could really psycho-analyze the heck out of it if they wanted). The director’s soundtrack choices did kinda make me think the Wild Things were a bit like hippies at some points, which made it weirder. But there some other very hilarious parts (Bob and Terry are my favorite). Overall, though, it was a bit soap-opera like, because all the Wild Things want to talk about their emotions and feelings rather than do anything particularly adventurous. Which isn’t necessarily bad, I still found it engaging, but I can understand why some mind find it boring. (What I don’t get is all the debate about whether it’s too scary or adultish for kids, which perhaps was played out for publicity. Or perhaps because it was based on such a famous picture book. But the movie itself didn’t push any thematic boundaries.)

And that’s what I’ve been up to lately.

By S P Hannifin, ago

I’ll officially study animation soon!

Today I got accepted to Animation Mentor! (Not sure how often anyone ever really gets rejected.)

Anyway, I’m really excited and I can’t wait to start, though I’ll have to wait about 2 months, since the next session doesn’t start until the end of June. But, in that time, I can learn more about Maya, the 3D software the classes use.

So, for better or for worse, I’ll probably blather about animation a bit more for at least the next year and a half.

I don’t know how apparent it is from this blog, but I’ve always been interested in animation; it’s one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to learn to draw. And, of course, I’ve always been interested in the art of film making. But I always thought I’d have to learn drawing skills slowly over time to get ever find a way into the industry, so it was just one of my many pipe dreams. Then I suddenly came across Animation Mentor, and … ooohh! … looks like it could very well be a way in! If not a direct path to working on feature films at a studio, it could at least lead me to full time job doing something I actually like the idea of doing (and being able to do): animating. Gah, it just feels so good to be able to type it: I’m going to study animation. Ha ha ha!

After spending 4 years in college majoring in Computer Science, the prospects looked grim. I was interested in Computer Science because I wanted to design video games. Well, Computer Science actually has nothing to do with video game design, at least not around here. When I started looking at available jobs, it was mostly boring looking programming jobs (I once told someone that I wanted to help design the games, not merely program what someone else told me to, and the guy went off on how wrong my attitude was) or IT tech support. Now having discovered Animation Mentor, I’m a bit glad I didn’t get any of those jobs. (Though, of course, I’m glad somebody out there is interested in them and will take them! I met a guy in college who was immensely interested in the inner workings of RAM. I found the topic to be the epitome of mundane, but I’m glad some people out there are worrying about it or I wouldn’t have all the things RAM makes possible.)

I did a few job interviews, but I’m sure they could tell how uninterested I truly was. I once interviewed for a military contractor programmer position, and they asked “So what interests you about radar?” and I almost burst laughing… “Um… it kind of looks like a little TV screen?” The job description didn’t say anything about radar. Which, by the way, is another huge complaint: some programming jobs out there have the worst, most vague job descriptions I can imagine. They say things like: “You will implement and analyze systems for integration with current modules. Will work closely with supervisors and coworkers to provide up-to-date support for vital systems.” What the–?

I once asked some people what was more important in job searching: a good portfolio, or good grades? They answered that both were important. Lazy and wrong answer. If you’re looking for the kind of job in which you can send a portfolio, a portfolio is always more important; it shows what you can actually do. I guess people are afraid to admit (or just can’t understand) that the entire structure of college (and high school for that matter) is pointless for many career paths. But I’ll spare this blog yet another rant on that topic… (and actually you’ll want to ask the employer what’s more important, though I can’t imagine an employer being impressed with a portfolio, then dismissing it because of a bad grade)

Anyway, the structure of Animation Mentor looks very much like the way I think almost all education should be. Almost like an apprenticeship with a direct line of communication between the student and the pros working in the field the student wants to enter. (Rather than a student doing worksheets and writing essays for full time professors in a hodge podge of study areas.)

So… hopefully Animation Mentor won’t go bankrupt or a list of other bad things that could go wrong won’t.

The only thing that worries me now is the natural fear that I won’t be good enough. I do have the advantage of having only a part time job at the moment, so I should be able to dedicate a lot of time to this, but I don’t have a big drawing background, and just about no experience at all in this field, save for some little fooling around I’ve done now and then on my own. But this is definitely worth a try, and I’ve got plenty of interest. If I have to go back to trying to get a programming job, I guess I’ll have to delete this post, or edit it.

By S P Hannifin, ago