Friday, March 9, 2012

Disney's Peter Pan Sketchbook

If only I had a lot more money! I would buy this book:

But in the mean time, please enjoy these amazing drawings from it. I love how much life and vitality are in the Hook roughs by Frank Thomas.

Thanks to (check their blog out now – great links to some amazing short films and animation inspiration) for posting these some time ago. 

Save The Cat!

I was recently recommended a book by a really good friend and fellow student at Animation Mentor about script writing called, ‘Save The Cat’ by Black Snyder. I found this to be the ultimate book in describing how and why choices are made in story structure for film.

Buy 'Save the Cat' on Amazon!

A section that really stuck out to me was about scene structure (pg.110) and it got me thinking about structure of a shot and character growth in animation.

Synder explains that every scene and shot is in the film for a reason – to help progress the characters. That progress can be a positive or a negative, and suggests when planning your scene or shot to write out the following:

Location: For example – INT. Coffee Shop – Day

Scene/Shot Description: Bob confronts Helen about her secret. (It has to be important – big and life changing for the characters. Otherwise, why is in the film?)

+/-             Bob starts out hopeful (Bob imagines her secret is that she organized them a romantic trip away). But he ends up heartbroken. (Helen has been talking to her ex-boyfriend again).

><             Bob wants to know the secret. But when he finds out, he is upset that Helen is still talking to her ex.

The +/- and >< symbols are what really got me looking at my shots differently. The +/- represents the emotional change the character goes through in the shot or scene. Think of each shot/scene as a mini-movie with a beginning, middle and end. Something must happen that causes the emotional tone to make it change drastically from a + to a - or the other way around.

Michal Makarewicz shot from Pixar's 'Ratatouille'.
Skinner begins disinterested.

And ends up in panicked shock!

The other symbols are >< and represent conflict. Synder suggests the scene should be imagined as two people walk into a room from opposite doors, meet in the middle, and begin to struggle past each other to reach the door on the other side. They each enter the scene with their own goals and standing in their way is an obstacle. It can be physical or verbal and can even just be someone who really needs to pee and can’t find a bathroom that is not occupied or out of order (sounds like a pantomime shot for Animation Mentor!), the conflict must be at the front of your mind when you conceive a scene or shot.

One other great tip I got from ‘Save the Cat’ was the idea of opening and closing image that ties in really well to the +/- of your shot. The opening and closing of your shot should be two really strong keyframes/poses that tell us right away how the character is feeling and thinking. But most importantly, they should be the direct opposite of each other. If you start your scene off really happy and full of joy we want to see that character go on a journey and change, not remain happy. The change is the entertainment in the shot (and the change is the most fun part to animate – remember Chuck Jones’ Grinch? That start and end poses are great… but its how he gets there is what you remember. Its also how you show your character is thinking.)

This has gotten me thinking about expressions and poses. I will do another post on those soon with a great tip I got from Anthony Wong, a Pixar Animator. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chuck Jones Experience

I have always been a huge fan of Chuck Jones and Warner Bros. cartoons. I was lucky enough to meet him when I was 10 years old when he visited Melbourne, Australia as part of an exhibition of his work. I bought my very first animation cel at that time, and had it signed by him and its still one of my favorite pieces of art.

I visited the Chuck Jones Experience in Las Vegas (held at the Circus Circus Casino) last month and was blown away by the amount of original art that was on exhibition and how well the show was put together.

There was some art at the exhibition that had notes that Chuck Jones had made about acting and animation on them. A theory or term that Chuck Jones used was one called ‘Displacement Activity’. This is something I plan on writing a future post about, but what really stuck in my head was this quote:

Displacement Activity:
“A lot of animators only worry about the primary actions. But to create a character, it’s the secondary actions that count. What unique thing does the character do that makes him what he is?” – Chuck Jones

Below are some photos taken of the art along with his animation desk (I so want one like that!). If you are in Vegas anytime soon – go see this! 

Chuck Jones' desk and movieola. 

X-sheet for a cartoon short.


In the 1930’s Don Graham held a class after hours for the staff at Disney, which were called, Action Analysis Class. These classes are one of the many reasons why huge leaps in innovation and art were made at Disney. Never content to remain static in their understanding and knowledge of what makes animation great, these artists would constantly study acting, body mechanics and drawing to improve their work.

But they would not stop there. They would also analyse why some of their pictures where successful and others not as much with audiences. What worked in a scene and how the artists achieved it so that the rest of the studio could employ that technique moving forward.

Recently I graduated from Animation Mentor; an online animation school where one of the many elements that make it so successful is the community spirit of learning. There is no feeling of guarded secrets. Everyone helps and shares what they learn as they go along.

Now that I have finished the Animation Mentor course, I wanted to start a blog that continues in that tradition.  A place where I can post anything that inspires me including short films, art, other student work and tips and tricks.

The tips and tricks however are something that must never be taken as gospel. I am still a student in animation and I certainly don’t profess to hold the final answer (and I constantly keep learning the rules are there to be learnt, bent or even broken). These are just personal observations and things that have worked (or not worked for me) along my journey of animation education.

Please feel free though to take part in this blog. Email me or post your comments to help the discussion further of any of the posts. Or, if you have a clip, drawing or tip to share on the site – please email me now at: