"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Catch Up Time : Done With Animation Mentor, What Next !

P.S - It will be a long post but hopefully worth your time ! Thanks in advance for reading.

(This image was chosen after a lot of thought and purpose! Read on to find out why!)

I am writing this post after considerably introspecting my life as it happened in the last 2 years with more emphasis on the course I was doing at Animation Mentor (AM) and how it has influenced my life for good.

First things first, my course finished last week and now I am officially an Alumni of AM and not a student. This feeling itself is wrapped in different layers of excitement, growth, optimism, sadness, inspirational and so on. More on this below.

Almost around 2 years back in September 2007, after working as a full time 3D Character Animator for close to 4 years, I found out that getting up in the morning to go to work was a painful chore and I was really not enjoying my work. The reason I was not enjoying my work was that I was not learning anything new, I was animating like a mechanical mass of flesh, getting scenes, animating, showing for approval to my Animation Director, sending to client, getting it approved....this process went in a circle and on and on. So I felt it was the right time to take a hiatus and get back to some learning before I get totally disconnected from Animation all-together. Around the same time AM had released a couple of its student's work and I had no doubt this was the place to go to and re-invent myself or rather discover myself all over again.

I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason and looking back at my life, every event (good and not-so-good) makes total sense as to why it occurred. I also feel it was my destiny that the timing of the release of AM's student work coincide with the time I was not feeling good about my work and it was a signal that it was time to take the plunge.

Now in my community/culture/social circle/mindset of many many people I know....leaving a job and going back to education was considered foolish/stupidity/throwing your leg on the axe and so on. In short it was not favored at all. It was more like once you get a job, work for few years, then get married, start a family and so on. I was strictly against this normal course as I felt we get one life and it’s not about going from one station to next but rather enjoying the time in between. What’s the point of doing things just because others have been doing it and what’s worse is doing it unwillingly. If you strongly believe in something and which you feel is right in the long run, by all means go for it. There will always be naysayers because they don't want others to do the things, which they want to do but cant. They are like fire, you pay heed and it’s like putting fuel to it, you ignore them and they will smoke out soon enough.

So after a month of leaving my job, my journey began at AM and it seemed as if I was in a total different mindset now and that the whole world was working together to make me happy. It was a fantastic change from the mundane job to being a student and learning so many new things day after day. I used to stay awake way past my normal time, yet used to get up with so much energy and passion to start a new day of learning.

Joining AM was without any doubt one of the best decision I would have taken regarding my career. The mentors are top notch people working in the industry since many years in the form of Animators, Lead Animators, Animation Supervisors, Creative Directors and so on. In the last 2 years whatever new Animated Features have released, almost all the mentors are featured in the credit list of different movies. I have never really waited for Credits before, but now it’s one thing which I will not miss for anything, as the joy of watching your friends/mentors name in the Credit list is amazing.

Also what’s the charm of being in AM, apart from the education is the community of people including Mentors, Students and the AM Support Staff. Everyone is so very helpful, down to earth and wants each other to succeed. Now considering that majority of the mentors have a full time job in creating the next blockbuster to entertain us, they make sure to be there whenever we need them. Be it E-critiques, Live AV QNA, emails, forums, they respond as soon as they can. Which in my honest opinion shows them how much they care about people having the same passion and tells a lot about how wonderful they are as human beings. Hats off to the entire AM community!

Its crazy to look back how fast 18 months passed by (It was actually 21 months since I had taken one term break(3 months), since me and my family moved to a new city). The curriculum at AM is very well structured, tight, it forces you to be disciplined and have a very good way of managing yourself and your time. This is where AM tricks you. You join AM thinking it’s all about animation, but you get so much more apart from Animation. You become more disciplined, you value time so much more, you plan your day in order to make it as efficient and productive as ever, you meet so many different people from diverse geographical locations and cultures, you cultivate new lifelong friendships...I can go on and on. In brief AM is a complete package provided you are open to learning and personally speaking it had a very profound positive impact on my life. An impact for which the results are definitely not instant but in the long run, I know and I can feel it that I made a very judicious choice of doing AM.

That's one reason why I am having mixed feelings now since I am no more a student. I am happy to be able to finish AM and excited for what’s in store for me in the near future, but I am also a bit scared to not go off track and get into a comfort zone. Since AM is based on a real industry environment, we have weekly deadlines and a very strict structure of constantly evaluating our work. Now out of AM (at least till I am able to get back to working), it would be no easy task to keep animating and make sure we have deadlines on whatever we do. Without deadlines it’s only a matter of time before I start slipping and losing sight of my goals and tasks. I will keep you all posted on how I fare on this one.

Now a little about using the image in the beginning of the post. Before joining AM, I was not sure about where my life as an animator was going. I was just going with the flow and was totally oblivious of the path forward, whether it was a corner or a turn I had no idea and in all probability either of the two would have thrown me back as I was totally ignorant to see the things in a broader perspective. But now I feel like that little plant/sapling, who at least knows where he has to grow and move on next. It may be small now, but the key is that the foundation/root has been laid and now it’s all about nourishing and taking care. Similarly by no means I am animation-ninja yet, but at least I know (and thank you AM for that), about my strengths and weaknesses, what makes a good animation and an animator, developing and eye for detail, having a good workflow to name a few. (Though I have come across many people who when I say I am doing AM, believe that I need not study anymore and that just being from AM, guarantees me a job in PIXAR or equally big studios. How misinformed can people get? I am planning to have a separate post on this though as this really frustrates me to no end.)

Coming to the million dollar question of what next, now since I am done with AM? Well to start with, my short is far from completion. Only if I was able to limit my short to 30 secs I would have been able to wrap it while in AM, but not compromising on the story I had to increase the duration and now it’s almost double to around 55 seconds or so. I don't regret it one bit, since it’s better to have a longer duration than to trim it to 30 seconds and confusing the audience as to what the short is about. Having said that it’s not that we can do just 30 seconds, I was clocking close to 25 seconds a week when I used to work, but that's a different story and many factors were responsible for that. Each short is different with its own challenges and complexity and each animator have their own skill level. So finishing my short is one the top priorities for me.

At the same time, I am going back and polishing my old shots for my reel. Yes it’s time to enter the big (bad?) world of job hunting and then being a professional animator (good!). After going thru the grind, I am raring to contribute all that I have learned (and continue to learn) to where ever I get an opportunity to work.

I am also thinking of starting new animation shots in different categories like Pantomime, Body Mechanics and Acting. I may also have a progress log here, right from planning to the end to get as much feedback and share a bit about my workflow and also to continue learning from others and growing. Let’s see how it goes.

There is one more area where I have gone a sea change in the last 2 years and that is personality development /self-growth. I have had numerous personal challenges (and continue to have) and thanks to many people and resources online and offline, I was able to overcome many and I am working on overcoming others. This is one area where EVERYONE struggles at some point of time in their life, but are to scared of feared to admit (and it amazes me why, we all are human it’s OK to err at different level and to learn from it). So it’s my deepest endeavor to help people overcome their personal struggles and to share my experiences with them and vice versa. It’s my way of paying forward (and paying back) all the good things I learned from different sources. It’s very important to pay forward any good deeds anyone has done for you, because if everyone does it, the world will be a much better place to live.

So as you can see, I have a LOT on my plate as of now. I just hope I am not eating more than I can chew. Yes I will be stretching myself definitely which is intentional but I don't want to let my task(s) overwhelm me and end up avoiding everything all-together. This is the part where my readers - YOU, can play a huge part to help me be on track. Nothing like having a diverse group of people to bounce ideas constantly. It helps to elevate our perspective at various different levels. This is the beauty of technology and the internet; it makes collaboration and communication so seamless 24x7.

Before writing this post I had a certain idea of what I want to share here, but as I began, more ideas, more thoughts, more content kept cropping and I felt appropriate to share them too. So if you feel this post looks a bit unstructured, my apologies, but please do let me know.

A LOT is coming from my side in the coming days. Tighten your belt and watch this space.

Talk to you soon!



Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weekly Movie Recommendations : 27th June 2009 - 4th July 2009

Genre - Drama/Western

Directed By - Clint Eastwood

Cast - Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgon Freeman, Richard Harris

Whats It About - Retired Old West gunslinger William Munny reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his old partner and a young man.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Animation Mentor Co-Founder and ILM Lead Animator - Shawn Kelly, On Radio Alice@97.3

There is a super fun interview of Shawn Kelly(ILM Lead Animator and Animation Mentor Co-Founder) on Radio Alice@97.3 where he talks about Transformers, what its like to be animator, what does an animator do and many more cool crazy stuff.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Weekly Movie Recommendations : 20th June 2009 - 26th June 2009

Genre - Crime/Drama/Thriller

Directed By - Neil Jordon

Cast - Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard

Whats It About - A woman struggles to recover from a brutal attack by setting out on a mission for revenge.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Weekly Movie Recommendations : 13th June 2009 - 19th June 2009

Lost In Translation(2003)

Genre -

Directed By - Sofia Coppola

Cast - Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson

Whats It About - A movie star with a sense of emptiness, and a neglected newlywed meet up as strangers in Tokyo, Japan and form an unlikely bond.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Animation Mentor June 2009 Newsletter Is Out !

Animation Mentor's (AM) monthly newsletter is a great resource of things related to Animation : industry trends, short films, tips and tricks, etc and to an extent what AM is all about.

Their June 2009 newsletter is out.

If you havent registered yet, I suggest you do it here and check out their stuff.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Weekly Movie Recommendations : 6th June 2009 - 12th June 2009

Tender Mercies(1983)

Genre -

Directed By -
Bruce Beresford

Cast -
Robert Duvall, Tess Harper

Whats It About -
A broken-down, middle-aged country singer gets a new wife, reaches out to his long-lost daughter, and tries to put his troubled life back together.

Monday, June 1, 2009

#2 - In Conversation With AM Student Christiaan Moleman On His Short Film, Animation and Life In General

This is #2 of the series of conversations I started with my fellow Animation Mentor(AM) schoolmates. You can find #1 here.

This time I am in conversation with Christiaan Moleman who went out of the way and made a very beautiful 2D Animation short film - "Teddy" during his time at AM.

Anirudh Bhalotia (@|b) -
Hello Christiaan! Thanks for your time and getting this conversation started. Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into animation, how did you hear about AM, when did you graduate from AM and what you been doing/working on currently?

Christiaan Moleman (CM) - I started animating using trueSpace when I was still in high-school. I went to college for game art and animation (though the course was labeled Game Design) in the UK and after that I started as an animator at a games outsourcing company in Amsterdam.

I heard about AM from Shawn, whom I'd been asking a bunch of newbie questions about animation. Just before I started my first job, I enrolled in the second ever class of AM, doing assignments evenings and weekends.

In Class 5 I decided I needed more time to focus on my short film so I quit my job and did Class 6 full-time. I graduated in 2006 with a film that was very much not finished yet, so as I set out to look for jobs, I continued working on it.

I got hired at Arkane Studios in Lyon, France, which is where I am at the moment.

@|b - Congrats for your short film - Teddy. It has come out beautifully and to see a short film in 2D is so very refreshing in today's 3D world ! How much time did it take for you to get this done right from getting the story to completion?

CM - At AM, I did three months of part time pre-production, and three months of full-time production. After that I got a new job so my time was limited(evenings and weekends again), but I spent about another year and a half working on and off to complete it.

@|b - What made you choose 2D as a medium for your short? Have you been working as a traditional artist since sometime ? What are the advantages/disadvantages of using 2D over 3D and vice versa?

CM - I do 3D all day at work so if I'm going to animate in my free time, 2D makes a nice change. I also like that it's more spontaneous. You spend less time fighting with your tools and more actually animating. I like 3D, but I think the software we're stuck with is pretty counter-intuitive. Another reason was a purely practical one : I wanted to do a film with three major characters and a fairly elaborate exterior background. I know how to model and rig, but building three characters and an environment in the time we had was clearly not feasible. The cost of drawing an extra character is minimal.

@|b - As someone who is into the process of making his own short, I had quite a tough time brainstorming ideas and then finally get onto some idea which can be used for storytelling in an interesting way. What was your process for getting the basic story outlined nailed down ? Or rather, from where did you get this idea from, was it your own experience or remembering someone else's or something like that? What advice in this context would you like to give to aspiring animators who would like to get started with their own short films at some point of time?

CM - Train rides ! Sitting with a pencil and notebook and writing down random ideas until something sounds good...

The inspiration has to come from somewhere though. I considered what I wanted my film to achieve. I didnt want to try to be funny. I wanted to do a story I had an opinion about. I remembered seeing the documentary "Death in Gaza" and thought his could be something different...

Now I have never been to Palestine and I dont know what it's like to grow up in a warzone, but I have two brothers, so I know what it's like to fight over toys with your siblings, and I'm often struck by how children seem to see the world a lot clearer than adults. Even if your chosen theme doesn't map directly to your own experience you can find something in there that you can speak honestly about.

@|b - What was the biggest challenge you came across during making this short film and how did you overcome it? Were there some problems which kept cropping up time and again during the pursuit of getting your short done?

CM - I struggled with the drawing and definitely staying on-model was a problem. Keeping proportions consistent while getting the right expression out of the characters was a constant fight and the final frames a result of many many revisions.

@|b - How important was the research/pre-production/planning process on getting your short done and looking back what is that one thing which you wished you had done more of?

CM - Crucial. Without research and planning you are stumbling around in the dark. You can't know everything, so read up, get reference and figure out what you want to do. If I could go back I would have quit my job sooner so I would've had time to do proper model-sheets and character tests before starting production.

@|b - Different animators have their own ways of reference and planning. Some prefer doing a lot of thumbnails, some just can't get by without doing video reference or some do a bit of both. What's your way of reference, something to keep you in check and avoid taking a detour from the main essence of the shot/scene you working on?

CM - I thumbnail a lot, but I also try to do (or get) reference when I can. Big fan of BBC Motion Gallery, but You Tube is also great. Getty Images also has some good stuff, though more for locomotion than acting reference. A lot of it is staged.

@|b - For any beginner in animation, there is always the temptation of making an epic right from your first independent short. What's the ideal duration a first timer should strive for so that he doesn't eat more than he can chew and also enjoy the entire process of actually seeing the short from story to screen?

CM - 30 seconds is perfect.

@|b - What keeps you inspired as an artist as I am sure there would be times when no matter what you do or how hard you work, things just don't go your way. What keeps you inspired and motivated and are there any other creative endeavors you pursue to keep your creative juices flowing and keep things in perspective? As I understand it's very important to take a break often rather than struggle with something for extended periods of time and not getting anywhere. Your thoughts on this ?

CM - Hmmm... seeing the awesome work done by everyone around me is a constant inspiration and going back to my favorite films and games (or trying new ones) always helps remind me what I'm doing in this medium.

I love traveling to new places and experiencing new cultures and languages. I definitely think it's healthy to have interests outside of animation and personally I find ancient history and mythology endlessly fascinating.

@|b - What's the best advice you ever got and something which you want to pass on to your fellow animators?

CM - This advise was not given to me directly, I read about it on James Hull's Seward Street. It's something Eric Larson said to Glen Keane (paraphrased slightly) :

"Don't cheat your audience"

The audience will never know all the things you "didn't" do, so never take the easy way out when you could have done something more true or entertaining...

@|b - On a concluding note, any words to students who are waiting to get their first job in the industry?

CM - Don't get discouraged, never wait and keep working on your portfolio. If you have the drive to keep improving, getting your foot in the door is a matter of time.

@|b - Thanks once again Christiaan, it was an interesting and inspiring conversation.

CM - My pleasure!

You can reach Christiaan thru his site here.