A thank you to Animation Mentor

It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that Animation Mentor is over. I am now an Animation Mentor alumni! I still find myself thinking: “Hmmm, where am I on my assignment? Oh, wait… it’s over…”

I recently filled out my last Animation Mentor survey, and I just wanted to make a public record of my final words in the “say anything” field. Not that it’s tremendously poetic or inspirational or anything, but I do want to sing my praises to Animation Mentor because it’s made a huge difference in my life. Not that I’m now off to Hollywood to make a fortune being the next John Lasseter, but that I went from being someone who only dreamed of animation to someone who actually feels confident in pursuing work in the industry. And whenever I stop and think about that, it never stops feeling incredibly awesome!

To Animation Mentor:

THANK YOU!! I went from being a bored computer science major daydreaming of the art of animation to being someone who can actually animate something! I thought I was doomed to a life of computer work for at least the next few decades… I never thought I’d be able to learn animation. Now, two years later, I have not only learned a TON about animation, but I’ve also learned that I can do more than I thought I could. Animation Mentor has truly completely changed my life. I THANK YOU so much for the opportunity!

I think Animation Mentor is not only a leader in the field of animation education, but in the field of education in general; so many traditional educators put so much emphasis on prerequisites (“we must approve your portfolio before we let you learn here!”), and so many traditional educators put too much emphasis on grades (by rewarding higher grades with certificates and awards). At AM, I never felt like I was being overly judged; instead, I was constantly being encouraged and inspired. Animation is a lot of hard work, and I am so thankful to have had such welcoming support for AM’s staff and mentors, and not the sort of grade or degree or achievement-driven judgmental mentality so prevalent in brick-and-mortar schools which does little to actually encourage the passion for the art.

Keep up the great work! You are truly changing lives.

Animation Mentor, Class 6, Week 7

It’s very scary (but also a bit exciting) to think that I’ve only got 5 weeks left of Animation Mentor. Time has flown by way too fast.

Anyway, here’s some of my recent work:

The first shot is from last semester, when I was just starting to learn to do facial expressions. The second shot is a more polished version of the first shot. The last sequence, with the kid and the old man, was what I was animating over the last month or so. I’m still not done with any of these shots, though; still more polish to do. I’ll work a bit more on that gun-lady shot over the weekend. I’m also polishing up some more physical-action shots from past semesters: the back flip and the box lift. Will post them later.

Peering over the Cliffs of Insanity

I will confess: my Animation Mentor classes have not been going well. They haven’t been going awfully, but my work is struggling. I’ve been in an anxious panic mode lately because I’m afraid my work is not going to be nearly good enough to send out to studios. But anxious panic mode only makes the work worse; it makes me work slower and more anxiously. It makes animating anything an awful tedious chore, when it should be fun and interesting. While animating, my mind focuses on other things I’d like to do: watch a movie, play a game, compose music, work on my novel, work on my cartoon series pitch, work on my melody generator, etc. Things I just hardly have any time to do… and when I do have time to do them, I do them knowing I’m eating into animation time.

I won’t complain too much about my job; it’s provided me the money for tuition to learn animation in first place. But it’s the sort of job that can really drive you mad because you can’t really concentrate on anything. And I think most human minds cherish the ability to concentrate on something; to really get lost in a project. Even mopping a floor is a nicer job when your thoughts don’t have to be interrupted every ten seconds. And having your thoughts consistently interrupted mentally wears you down, so you don’t have as much drive or energy to do anything later on when you do have time. It would also be nice if I had more regular hours. As it is now, I can’t get into any sort of routine. It’s mornings these days, evenings these days, weekends these days. Blagh!

And then there’s the Animation Mentor graduation in California. Part of me thinks it would still be fun to go, but another part of me isn’t sure it’s worth the trouble, time, and money. I have yet to get to know any classmates as well as I would like; certainly not enough for a trip out to California to seem like something I must do. I’d rather save my money and try to get a pitch meeting for my cartoon series idea…

Anyway, fortunately, so I don’t completely fail out of Animation Mentor and/or go completely insane, I’ll be taking a leave-of-absence for at least a month and a half (maybe more?), starting two weeks from today. I can’t wait to have all that extra time to put into animation and polishing my shots. And hopefully the time and energy to pursue my other creative endeavors.

While I look forward to the leave, it makes these last two weeks of work complete torture. It’s like the last days of school before summer vacation — the mind can concentrate on little else besides the presumed luxury of the impending freedom.

In other news, I rewrote my novelette from 2009 called Dreamgiver, which is now out on submission.

I also caught site of this: Strange Chemistry Open Door 2012. A pro publisher accepting submissions from unagented authors? Definitely looks interesting. They’ll be accepting submissions during the last half of April 2012. So last week I posted on Facebook a request for first readers and sent the first half of my novel-in-progress Moonrise Ink out to five or six friends. My hope is to use their feedback to help me finish the book, then rewrite the portions of it that will need rewriting, and I’m pretty confident I’ll have a draft finished by April so that I can try submitting it. That doesn’t leave as much time for editing as I would like, but I think it may still be worth a shot.

Stuff I’m doing…

Been a busy week here. Animation Mentor semester 5 started this week. My mentor this semester is animator Jay Jackson, who has a very impressive 2D background. I’m very excited! Our assignment for the next few weeks will be to add facial animation to our last assignment from last semester, which I am both excited and nervous about… I’m afraid my work is going to stink. But I’m new to this, so I forgive myself in advance. Just as long as I don’t fail out! Anyway, our assignment for this week, which I haven’t done yet, is to shoot video reference and draw sketches planning out our work.

Novel-writing-wise, my novel is at around 29,000 words. The three main characters are currently traveling through the sky in an airship headed towards the kingdom’s castle. I am a few chapters away from the mid-point of the story, so my current guess is that the novel will end up being around 70,000 to 90,000 words total. We’ll see.

I also started writing some more music earlier this week. Not sure what I’ll call the piece, but it’s almost finished. Watch for it on YouTube this week or next week or the week after that… not sure when I’ll finish. It’s pretty standard Hannifin work, but I’m quite pleased with it. In fact, I’m tempted to offer myself much praise, but, being me, I’m quite biased towards myself, so I consider myself at an unfair advantage to receive such praise.

TV-wise, if you care, I started watching Person of Interest (mostly because it was created by Jonathan Nolan). I’m not exactly impressed, but it’s not horrible, so I’ll give it a chance; but if I get pressed for time as the Animation Mentor semester continues, it’ll probably be the first to go. I also started watching Terra Nova as I enjoyed the sci-fi-ish previews for it, but the pilot for that show I also found to be rather unimpressive, and, at times, downright awful. But it’s interesting enough that I’d like to see what the story will turn into. Fringe returned on Friday, which was OK, but not nearly as good as last season’s start. But the “Where is Peter Bishop?” story line should provide me with enough interest to continue watching. The first half of last season was excellent, but I thought the last few shows that ended the season were quite weak, and the cartoony-CGI episode was one of the worst TV-watching experiences I’ve ever had. I’d rather watch HR Pufnstuf several hundred times than suffer through that episode again. (OK, maybe I wouldn’t go that far…) I’m looking forward to House starting on Monday. So… four shows for me this season, plus I’m still slowly working through Burn Notice season 2 on DVD, which is a great show. And Shark Tank will return for a season 3, but I’m not sure when. And we might get a DVR sometime next week, so that will be nice, but I can’t complain too much if I miss something, since Animation Mentor must be the priority… not TV.

Reading-wise, I’ve been enjoying Neal Stephenson’s Reamde: A Novel. Definitely more mainstream (so far) than Anathem (the only other novel of his I’ve read so far), but still quite captivating.

Oh, and in other news, I can now touch my nose with my tongue. I couldn’t do that before. Two decades of practice have finally paid off.

Animation Mentor, Class 4, Week 11

Here was my last Animation Mentor assignment (the end of class 4), rendered in HD with motion blur… And if you don’t know what that audio clip is from, shame shame shame!

Still needs some tweaking. We should be studying and adding facial animation in our next class, which I’m looking forward to. Why so serious? Let’s put a smile on that face!

Animation Mentor class 4 almost over… and the airship…

It’s week 12 of class 4 of Animation Mentor, the final week. There are no animation assignments the final week, so maybe I’ll have a bit more free time this week for novel writing, but I probably will try to touch up my last assignment a bit more since it will probably go on my first demo reel. I’ll upload my last assignment tonight after it finishes rendering; I’m rendering it at an HD resolution with motion blur, which takes about 6-7 minutes per frame, and there are 195 frames. Takes a while. But it should finally be done by the time I get off work today. I think my animation is definitely getting better, though I still need more practice. I’ll probably save my animation job searching until Animation Mentor ends (for me) in March 2012.

I didn’t write anything at all over the weekend. It was dedicated to working on my animation homework, and then just to reading and napping on Sunday afternoon, after I turned in my animation homework.

I didn’t write anything this past Friday either, but I did draw some maps of the layout of the five-story airship that’s about to appear in the novel, which was fun. Perhaps my future house will be based on it. OK, maybe not, but it has some cool features, such as a two-story library with a glass ceiling (good for exposition, when the characters need to research history or something, which won’t really be that important until later novels in the series, if I stick with this story), the helm is located in front of a huge 3-story wall of glass (though it can also be elevated to the top of the ship if the Second Captain (who is the main ship steerer) would rather be outside for some reason). The airship has air-conditioning, a water-recycling system, and an intercom system (anything is possible with a magic system, right?), as well as voice pipes (kinda like phones, used to communicate with the castle and other ships, which is very important during airship sky battles; these may play a very important role in a future story, I have some fun ideas).

Anyway, should be fun to write about; hopefully I can refrain from getting into too much exposition. It’s always fun for the author, but it can bore readers.

September 2011

A few things to look forward to in September 2011:

September 16th – Disney’s The Lion King returns to theaters in 3D for a limited time. I definitely hope I get the chance to see it. I think I blogged about seeing the 3D trailer before Cars 2. Some shots looked nice, but the character close-ups looked funky, as if they just “bubbled” the 2D images. But I still want to see it in its entirety.

September 16th – Class 4 (Intro to Acting) of Animation Mentor ends! If animation is this hard, do I really want to do it for a living? Yes, definitely. Will I be good enough to get a job after Animation Mentor? I guess we’ll see. After this class ends, we’ll have a 1-week break from classes, then Class 5.

September 20th – Neal Stephenson’s new novel Reamde comes out. So far, the only other book by Stephenson I’ve read has been Anathem, but it was fantastic; easily one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read (not that I’m all that well-read). The world was rich, and the characters’ philosophical discussions were so much more captivating than most authors tend to manage. So I’m really looking forward to reading his new book. I’ll try to finish reading The Wise Man’s Fear by then, but if I don’t I will have to temporarily abandon it for Reamde.

September 26th – Class 5 of Animation Mentor starts – Advanced Acting. Will go on for 12 weeks until December 16th, filling out most of the rest of 2011. (The last class will start in 2012.)

Got a Wacom tablet… and other random things I’d like to say at this point in time thank you very much and how long can I make this title anyway? I guess this is too long already so I’ll just stop

Animation studies

Whew, busy month! It’s week 3 of class 4 of Animation Mentor. Last week I got through blocking out another practice shot, which I’m continuing to add breakdowns to and I hope to start splining soon; next week will consist of polishing. I’ll upload a video eventually… maybe.


In other news revolving around the self, I bought a Wacom Intuos4 Medium Pen Tablet! I can’t draw very well at all, but this device should at least make it much more fun and convenient to practice, if I can ever find the time. (I am still quite interested in learning the craft.) But it’s also great for animating in Maya; it’s just easier to move around the screen than a mouse. There’s so much more precision you can get in your cursor movements, and it’s much more comfortable for the arm, hand, and wrist when you’re animating for hours on end (though my back posture is still awful since I have no way to get a monitor at eye level or higher). I really should’ve bought one earlier.

I also bought Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics, which I’ve been scanning through. It seems to give a great beginner’s overview of the comic-drawing process, but I wish it went into more depth; it sort of just touches the surface of a bunch of topics. It’s still nice as an intro, but I’m going to want more eventually… If anyone out there knows of any good drawing books, let me know! Especially if they’re oriented to the more cartoony side. Or good drawing videos on YouTube… I found a few, though I haven’t spent any time with any of them.

My eventual amibition (perhaps years or decades down the road, if I actually put in the practice hours), aside from trying some simple 2D animations, would be to write and draw a graphic novel. Maybe even turn the novel I’m writing now into a graphic novel; it’s very visual, especially since it takes place in non-Earth worlds. It could be so much fun to come up with a look and feel for different worlds, yes?

I don’t have any fancy drawing software like Photoshop yet, but since I’ll just be practicing, I can probably just make do with some simple free programs.

Google plus

Thanks to Luke for Google plus invite! A while back, somewhere, I blogged about how Facebook needed to allow you to “follow” strangers and celebrities as you can on Twitter, instead of having to mutually friend everyone. Google plus allows just that, along with privately organizing friends into “circles.” For example, you could group some friends into “old annoying high school classmates.” Then you can easily hide their boring annoying updates and shared links, hide your own updates from them if you want, and they’ll have no idea that they’re in such a group. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook soon steals this concept.

So I like the overall concept of Google plus; it’s just the kind of social network I want. But they still need plenty of more features (something like Facebook’s “fan” feature, “tag” feature, verified celebrity accounts, integration with more stuff so it’s easier to share links, etc.) and more users, and if it doesn’t get them soon enough, people will lose interest and it’ll quickly become archaic. I’ll be interested to see where it goes.

Hugo trailer

The trailer for Hugo (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret) came out recently. Aside from some awful cheesy dialog here and there and some awful cheesy feel-good pop music accompaniment which does not at all go with the magical mysterious spirit of the book, the trailer looked interesting. Visually, it was quite good; I think they really captured the look and feel of the world, and the casting seems good. I hope Howard Shore’s score suits the film better than the trailer music. Shore is responsible for the brilliant Lord of the Rings scores, but most of his other scores have been more standard; I hope his work for Hugo is more melodic and fantastical. I look forward to hearing what he’s come up with. And I do hope to see this film in 3D.

Cars 2

I saw Cars 2 the other day. Despite hearing many bad reviews, I thought it was good! It just doesn’t try to make you cry like many other Pixar films do, which is fine with me, because those sentimental moments tend to seem forced and cheesy to me anyway. (Finding Nemo and Ratatouille are the ones that really work for me; the beginning of Finding Nemo just gives me shivers, as does Ego’s flashback.) But the story was fun and the humor, though sometimes corny, had me laughing out loud like a big dork. (“That’s right Mater, you are the bomb!”) Overall, the movie reminded me of being a kid playing with toy cars. You don’t imagine them going through some Doc Hollywood story about a small town in troubled times; you imagine them racing and shooting and crashing and falling off cliffs and flying, and that’s what Cars 2 delivers; it’s what the first Cars should’ve been. Pixar is still standing strong in my books.

(Although that Toy Story short that preceded the film was as awful as watching the Disney Channel.)

The Lion King 3D

Preceding Cars 2 was a trailer for The Lion King 3D rerelease. I have mixed feelings about it. Some scenes looked really awesome in 3D, when they were really able to separate the different layers. Other scenes just look funky, especially facial close-ups. It looks like they just “bubbled” the characters, stretching them out in one direction for one eye, and the opposite direction for the other eye. The overall effect is: “Uh… hmmm… huh? Eh…” My overall judgment: Disney, you either have to put more effort and money into 3D-izing something like this, or forget it. But I’m a hypocrite, because I’ll probably still go see it.

Animation Mentor, new camera, and LOTR on blu-ray

Last night at 12 AM I had my 2nd first Animation Mentor Q&A, and it was awesome. The mentor, David Weatherly, was great, as were the classmates. The mentor’s actually from Virginia and went to Virginia Tech, one of the universities I had been accepted to and was thinking about. He’s currently at Dreamworks, which is a bit envy-inducing (in a good inspiring way) when he mentions how great the working conditions are.

Anyway, it’s so far shaping up to be a fun semester! Then again, I haven’t started doing any of the work yet, so I hope I don’t stink too much…

I also bought a couple things yesterday. Bought a new camera, the Canon PowerShot SX130IS. It’s not nearly the super-fanciest camera in the world, but for my simple purposes, it will work wonderfully. It’s great at auto-adjusting to almost any lighting conditions, whereas my cheaper camera can’t deal with lack of light very well. It’s also great at focusing on very close things; you can put something up to almost the lens, and it can get it in focus. It also shoots video in 720 HD, which will be great for shooting animation reference. My only complaint is that it seems to suck up battery life, especially when shooting videos. None of that may seem all that impressive to those of you with very high end cameras, but I’ve only had much cheaper cameras up until now.

I also bought The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition on blu-ray. They had a good deal for it at Best Buy, so I cancelled my Amazon.com order for it and picked it up. Testing it out, it looks fantastic. It looks a little too good, in fact; you can notice some special effects mistakes. For example, when Gollum gets the ring at the end of RotK and the camera zooms out above him as he’s happily looking up at the ring in his hand, his feet wobble unnaturally in front of the ground; you can really tell how he was inserted digitally into the scene. There are also plenty of scenes in which you can really get that blue-screen effect, in which the edges of the characters are strangely blurry and the lighting doesn’t quite match. Actually, that happens on the DVDs too, but I think it’s even more noticeable on blu-ray. But I don’t think anything is so bad that I won’t be able to enjoy it. Overall, it still looks fantastic. I can’t wait until I have time to watch them… I’d love to try watching all three right in a row, though I know that will take all day.

Animation Mentor – Semester 4!

After a 12-week leave of absence, Animation Mentor has started again for me!

Probably the worst thing about Animation Mentor is when they assign you a Q&A time that’s difficult or impossible for you to make, even though you requested to avoid that Q&A time. They gave me a Q&A time of 3 PM on Tuesdays, right in the middle of my job’s Tuesday hours. Animation Mentor will let you switch Q&A times with another student if you can find one, but if you can’t, tough luck for you. And I couldn’t; it seemed there were several students who wanted to swap out of 3 PM Tuesdays. So I thought I’d have to try to get my hours at work switched, which tends to be quite an annoying problem.

Anyway, my mentor was animator Jay Davis and I went to the first Q&A yesterday and it was awesome. Jay Davis was great, and the group was full of students from all over the world, UK, Hong Kong, Switzerland, etc., so it was a lot of fun. But just as the Q&A was finishing up, I got a message from a student willing to swap his Q&A time of Wednesdays at midnight, forcing me to make a quick decision. I was really looking forward to Jay Davis and the international class, but swapping to late Wednesdays completely elliminates having to find subs every Tuesday, so I made the swap. So now I’m looking forward to another first Q&A tonight at midnight with animator David Weatherly!

In other news, I went to a special event at the movie theater last night from Fathom Events. They were playing Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Extended Edition. Nothing like seeing a big epic film like that on the big screen. Unfortunately about an hour into it, the power went out. We sat waiting in the theater for 25 or 30 minutes before the manager came around and said they had to close the theater. Ugh!! We got a refund, but since that was a one-night only event, I don’t know if that’s a chance I’ll ever get back… at least not until I’m rich enough to own my own big screen or have a rich friend who does. Leaving the theater, it was obvious that power was out for many of the surrounding shops, so lots of businesses probably lost some profits. Some traffic lights were also out and there were cops lining the roads. A storm had passed through, but by the time the theater was closed, the skies were clear and actually sported a rainbow. It was as if God was saying “Leave the fantasies of your mind’s eye and see my rainbow!” Though in my opinion, LOTR > rainbow.

So I sadly went home wondering why such suffering must exist (because being kicked out of a theater is one of the worst tragedies that can befall man), and finished watching the film on DVD. The blu-rays of the extended editions should be out now, so I have to wait for Amazon to ship mine (they take their time when you request free shipping), and then I’ll probably watch the whole trilogy yet again, if I can ever find the time.