Wednesday, 15 September 2010

2 person shot progress

Class 5 is now over - just had my last Q&A. I say this every term, but where is the time going?! As my AM experience draws nearer to the end, it becomes even more unbelievable.

It's been a fantastic term - I have learnt so much from my mentor Michelle Meeker. She has worked on some fantastic projects, both in big studios (Pixar, Dreamworks, Weta) and independently, so has a good variety of experiences to draw on and lots of brilliant advice to share.
While I've learnt loads, it's also been a really tough term, and am a little disappointed with how my shot finished up. I try to take comfort from the fact that it was quite a tricky shot to do, with lots of physicality and cuts, as well as the acting, but the perfectionist in me is quite frustrated that this is what I handed in as "final".
However, I will keep working on it and hopefully turn it into something a little better.

I've decided to take a Leave of Absence before doing the final Polishing class. It was a difficult decision, but working full time and doing AM was starting to take its toll, and I really want to get the most I possibly can out of the final class. So I'm taking some time out to try to consolidate all my learning and work on a few new shots to practise my techniques and then return to AM in January for the final class.

So watch this space - I'll be posting up work in progress on my new shots here and would be even more grateful of feedback and comments!

For now, here's where I got up to on my 2 person shot:

2 person dialogue in progress from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Bishop 2.0

So it's all very exciting over in AM-land at the moment, because they've just launched a new version of their classic rig - Bishop!
The little introductory video they created shows him off to full effect - you can see it over on the Animation Mentor home page.

It is now so easy to create a range of very different looking characters, and I am really excited about the multitude of possibilities. Previously I would probably think twice about doing a shot with a child, especially a really young child in it, or a very old person as you'd have to do a fair bit of remodelling (and with my modelling skills, they wouldn't be very convincing), but now it's so easy to create new characters that it really does feel like my imagination (or animation skills at any rate!) is the only thing limiting me. Even just having them dressed in clothes is SO much easier than it was.

I've already substituted in a new old lady character for my monologue shot. It's definitely highlighted all the little glitches that my eye had got used to. So once I've polished that up a bit, I'll share that here.

For now I'll leave you with a still of the characters I've created for my 2 person dialogue. I think the guy looks quite a bit different from the classic Bishop, and while the woman looks a bit more Bishop-esque, she's wearing a chicken costume which would have been impossible for me before (I just had to model some feathers), so I'm pretty pleased with how it's looking at the moment!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

General update

Just saw that my last post was back in May! Apologies for the long silence. Have been quite busy, and also not really felt that I had much to show as progress on my shot has been incredibly slow until recently. So here's a little update on everything.

In June I attended the Annecy International Film festival for the first time, and it was just as good as everyone assured me it would be! The setting itself was perfect - Annecy is a lovely little town, easy to find your way round (important for me as my sense of direction is beyond bad), with a nice lake, and a lovely old area with cobblestones and canals. The festival itself was fantastic. Lots of things going on, films, talks, gatherings etc. There was a great atmosphere, with everyone there to have a good time and share a love of animation.
I watched a lot of great films - and some pretty terrible ones! It was great to have the opportunity to watch films in other styles or from countries that I might not otherwise be able to see. It was fun to be a part of special events, like the European premier of Waking Sleeping Beauty with a Q&A afterwards with Don Hahn, Ron Musker and John Clements. I also attended a Dreamworks talk that went into the research and preparation they did for working on How to Train Your Dragon. It's always fun being shown video reference used for particular shots you recognize from the film, that you wouldn't otherwise get a chance to see.

Because there were so many people at Annecy this year (apparently a couple of thousand or so more than last year) I didn't get to see everything I wanted, but didn't feel that I missed out on too much, and there's always next year!
The other huge benefit of Annecy was getting to meet fellow AM students in person - some of whom I've seen around online, or been in class with, others who I'd never heard of but quickly made friends with! It's great just being able to turn up at an event like this and know that you already have a ready-made group of cool people to hang out with!

All in all it was a pretty fantastic week, and I'm already looking forward to next year!

So the week after Annecy was the last week of term, but I was quite behind due to my trip, so didn't finish the term as strongly as I would have liked.

So now we're just beginning Week 4 of Class 5. I can't quite believe that I'm about to embark on the final shot of my Animation Mentor experience. Guess I'd better try and make it a good one! It is scary that I'm nearly finished, and still don't feel particularly competent at this animation business. However, I've decided that I need to try and make the most of it before it's all over, and learn as much as I can. And while I may not feel confident about my animating skills, even I can see that I have made a huge improvement from when I first started just over a year ago!

So this week I'll be picking my 2 person dialogue, and starting to think about costumes and scenarios.

In the meantime I'll leave you with the latest pass of my monologue. Still some polishing up to be done, but I think it's getting there.

Monologue polishing phase from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Drum roll please ...

Ladies and gentlemen, the moment that every AMer dreams about has arrived ... starting dialogue shots!

It's really weird to actually be here now. I still feel like I've just started, but actually all of a sudden I've worked my way through all the classic AM rigs - and have finally got access to the Bishop rig. He's got eyes that blink, and fingers that move and is generally a fairly complete humanoid character.
However, as with everything at AM, they ease you in gently. So we don't have full facial controls yet - just a jaw that can open and close, and eyelids that can open and close. All the rest of the goodies come next term.

So the assignment is to find a piece of dialogue, spoken by one person, that has some kind of texture or emotional change in it, and animate your character to it. I've been thinking about this assignment pretty much since I started, so have been keeping an ear out for great dialogue. I think one week isn't really enough time to come up with something good when you've got the entire history of film, TV and radio to trawl through so I think it pays to start early.

That said, the piece of dialogue I actually ended up using, I think I found in the last week! But it's nice to know you have some other options.

I decided to go with this piece of dialogue for several reasons:

- I'm confident that very few people will have heard it before, so won't have any pre-conceived ideas about it.
- It's English, so a bit different to the usual reel stuff and, you know - I'm English.
- There's a nice change in emotion and timing.
- It's by Joyce Grenfell, one of my all time favourite comic actresses.
- It makes me laugh.

My original video reference that I shot was of the character sat down writing, but my mentor said that was too boring and that I should re-shoot with the character stood up and working with props. I thought I was going for nice subtle acting, but as he pointed out, all the acting is in the face, and with no facial rig till next term, I wouldn't have a whole lot to work with.
So after gathering together my slightly crushed ego, I re-shot the video reference, working with a tray and some teacups, and my mentor loved it.

So here's how the shot is looking at the moment - this is my blocking plus pass.

Dialogue - Blocking plus from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Pantomime shot

Apologies for the delay between posts, I've basically been ill for the whole of April, so have been struggling to keep up with my animation assignments and the day job, let alone blog posting!

However, I'm feeling much better now, so thought I'd get you up to date on my animation.

Class 4 is going great (illness aside!). I have a fantastic mentor who gives great feedback, and lots of it! He is Justin Martinsen, currently working at Double Negative in London, so I actually have a decent Q&A time! 8 in the evening - woohoo! My eyes are open, I'm not wearing pyjamas - it's incredible! You can check out his work (and even his acting skills - check out the Reference comparison section in the animation menu) here.

Our first assignment of the term was a pantomime shot (i.e. telling a story with no dialogue) where we had to pick a scenario that had two contrasting emotional beats in it. Originally, I was going to have Stewie sat crying, and Tailor (the ball with a tail) comes along and snuggles up, trying to cheer him up. That doesn't work, so then Tailor jumps on Stewie and runs all around tickling him and making him laugh.

I really liked that idea, and got a lot of positive feedback from other students about it. HOWEVER, it's my mentor's opinion that counts, and he thought that having Stewie sat there would be too static and that it's good to keep practising the ol' body mechanics. And I agree.

So after several re-thinks and different variations, this is the final shot. Still a story with Stewie and Tailor, and I'm relatively happy with it. Still don't feel like I've really made my animation sing though ... but maybe nobody feels like that about their own shots. Got a fair bit of polishing left to do, but it's getting there.
Let me know what you think!

Pantomime shot from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Class 3 finished!

So I have now completed a term of Advanced Body Mechanics! I honestly, do not know where the last 9 months have gone. I'm halfway through Animation Mentor already - how did that happen?!

This term has been fantastic. I have learnt so much and am really starting to feel like I'm finding a workflow that suits me. The more I learn about animation, the more I realize there is still to learn ... but the more enthusiastic I get about continuing with my education! The couple of days with Pixar reminded me of what being an animator means - you need to understand acting, story-telling, cinematography, physics, anatomy, movement - and life in general. Which I find incredibly exciting - there's always going to be new things that I can learn, and apply, to improve myself as an animator. I bought a load of books and am trying to learn as much as I can about all this stuff to help me in Class 4 - acting! I'm really looking forward to it. Which is just as well, as the break between these 2 terms is only a weekend! However, I'm raring to go, and can't wait till Monday!

Here's all the work from Class 3 - I'm definitely starting to see an improvement in my work, which is so encouraging. Still a loooong, looooong way to go, but it's nice to see I've made a few small steps.

There's still a certain amount of jitteryness on the first two shots, and I plan on cleaning them up later, but have run out of time for the moment.

Progress reel from AM Class 3 from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Weightlifting - polishing

Here's the next stage of my weightlifting shot. Haven't had as much time to work on it as usual, what with the 2 incredible Pixar days. However, have spent the majority of today working on it, and think it's nearly there. Been smoothing out some of the movements, and trying to add more weight.

Weightlifting - polishing from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

When Pixar came to town

I just spent the last couple of days voluntarily shut away from sunlight in a dark, incredibly hot room, at the brink of dehydration with a large group of other sweaty, mostly male people. And paid a fair bit of money for the privilege.

It was worth every penny and I loved every minute.

Why? Because I was attending the Pixar animation and story masterclass, and it was awesome! You know, awesome is a word that has become overused, however, these last couple of days were truly "awe-inspiring" so I feel justified in using it here!

Taught by Animator Andrew Gordon and Story Artist Matthew Luhn, they got through a huge amount of very informative material and by the end I felt like my head was going to explode with all the incredible information I'd crammed in!

Obviously, for them to work at Pixar you know that these guys are among the best in the business. But being a great artist doesn't necessarily mean that you're a good teacher. However, they really are. Both of them had a wealth of examples to back up every single point that they made, which really helped in driving home the information and demonstrated how these concepts are applied in the real world. They were also entertaining speakers, as well as very patient with answering the endless questions that poured from a slightly star-struck audience. And as a massive Pixar fan (as most animators are I think), I was in geek heaven!

Being an aspiring animator, I was unsure what the story-focused second day would really have to offer me. The answer turned out to be "a hell of a lot"! Naturally, Matthew Luhn knows how to tell a good story, but what surprised me was that actually he showed me that I can create stories too - we all can. He did a series of interactive exercises with us, that demonstrated that with just a few simple tools, we are all story tellers. And we can all create characters, and situations, and even gags, out of nothing, in just a few minutes. It really opened up my mind to exploring the endless possibilities and utilizing my own creativity. And all the cinematography stuff he covered is going to come in handy as I move onto my acting shots in the next couple of terms at AM. So I got a bonus day of amazing information and inspiration that I was not expecting!

They specifically requested that we don't post any of the notes online, which is fair enough, so unfortunately I can't share any of it with you here. However, Andrew Gordon has posted a huge amount of information on his blog, as well as some very interesting podcasts, so head over there if you haven't already.

I'm sure a lot of the information that they both covered is available either online, or in books, but having it presented in this way by people from Pixar was really incredible. It was like being in an enormous, live, behind the scenes DVD feature, but with specific information tailored to you, and your interests and that lasts for 2 days! And being live, you get to control it to a certain extent by being able to ask questions and have them answered - right there. It was truly inspirational and has completely reinforced my desire to be an animator, and made me want to work at Pixar even more badly!

I know that a similar masterclass was held last year in London (this one was organized by Escape Studios, so subscribe to their newsletter for any future events) and I've read that Andrew Gordon has taught this class all over the world. So if it comes to a city near you at any time in the future I would highly recommend it!

Oh, and they said that Pixar are hiring right now. So if you think you've got what it takes, send in your reel!

Me? I'm not planning on giving up the day job just yet, and need to get my head out of the Pixar clouds and back to my weightlifting shot ...

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Weightlifting - refinement

Here's the next pass on my weightlifting shot. Tried to address notes given to me about making the weight "weightier" so have taken more time from the beginning to slow things down a bit on the lifts. How is the deep breath looking? Is it reading? Still not sure whether it's working or not. Does the weight look heavy enough?

Let me know how you think it's looking, thanks!

Weightlifting refinement from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Weightlifting splined

Here's the next pass at my weightlifting shot - trimmed the beginning to allow more time for everything else.

I realize I've had to that on all 3 shots this term. I've put in what I think are nice little bits of character, and then had to radically chop them down to allow enough time for the main action.
Maybe soon my planning will improve so I won't waste time on things that are going to get cut!

Let me know how you think it's looking. The video itself should be looking a lot better as I finally got round to altering the playbast resolution to match Vimeo.

Weightlifting blocking plus from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


In case you didn't guess from the title, this week I have started a weightlifting shot. To be honest, I wasn't entirely enthusiastic about this. I got completely carried away by the Winter Olympics, and was thinking about doing some kind of ice related sport as my final body mechanics shot this term. However, in the end I decided to go for something I thought I should do, rather than for what I felt I wanted to do. The first two shots I did were both propelling the body along, so I thought it would be good practice to do a more stationary shot. And everyone loves a good weight test don't they?! I was also attracted to the challenge of making something look really heavy.

And actually, once I started to really analyze the video reference for this, I got really into it! I have no idea why anybody would want to engage in this sport, as it looks painful and dangerous, but once you really go into what they do, it's fascinating! The key to it seems to be to get some momentum going on the weights to launch them upwards, and then get the full body beneath it to power it upwards.

Really interesting body mechanics vs. physics.

So here's my first blocking pass. I'm pretty pleased with it, but feel that it's lacking character and any real oomph. I think I'm starting to get the hang of blocking things out, and continuing with my shot to a certain stage. However, the polishing stage is still a real issue for me, and also, I tend to err on the repressed side of caution. I feel that everything I animate is just a little dull. And the motion might all be correct for the most part, but there's no wow factor to it. So I think I need to start trying to exaggerate things a little more.

...That sentence illustrates the problem exactly. I end a sentence about exaggeration with the words "a little more". Aaaaaargh! I need to get out of that mindset! I'm going to exaggerate things! By a lot! That's what makes it exaggerated!

So anyway, let me know what you think of it so far. Thanks for dropping by, I appreciate you reading my woffle :)

Weightlifting animation blocking from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Tennis Refining Pass

Have worked really hard on the tennis shot, putting in a lot of hours over the weekend. I'm starting to see it come together but there are still alot of areas that need more work. I think the beginning is starting to work, but the running backwards and the fall still have plenty of room for improvement. I'm glad I was able to really put the hours in, but it's a little frustrating to spend so much time working on it, and only see it improve infinitesimally!

Agreed with feedback last week about it all being too fast, so I cut the racquet spin. Was really sorry to have to let that go as it was one of my favourite parts, and I felt it really added to the character. However, I think the shot as a whole is working better now it's got some more time, and that's what counts.

By the way, I've removed the ball at the end as I needed to re-position it, but didn't have time. It will be re-instated for the final!

Thanks a lot for stopping by, let me know what you think!

Tennis - refining from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tennis - next pass

Here's the next pass at my tennis shot. It's starting to come together (complete with new ending now), but still got a long way to go.
However, I thought I'd post it for those interested in seeing my progress - hoping the next pass should be a LOT better! (... I hope)

Still need to work on the hands in a lot of places, and the fall is supposed to be a lunge at the tennis ball that's out of reach, rather than a pathetic stab at the tennis ball that's practically at his feet.

Tennis blocking plus from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Anyone for tennis?

Right, in an effort to keep these posts regular, here is the blocking pass for my next shot. I thought a tennis serve would be pretty cool body mechanics to study, and I also really wanted to do a fall. I think falls are pretty hard to get right, and I fancied taking on that challenge. As you'll see below, falls are hard, and mine still isn't reading properly! T. Dan made some great suggestions in his critique though, about where the weight is coming from and how it would probably work better if the hop to screen right started from further over, to allow a greater weight shift across. So I'll try to apply that in the next pass.

So this is the blocking pass I submitted on Sunday. However, since submitting, I discovered I really needed to have paid more attention to some tricky little things called constraints (that allow characters to hold things). Holding is fine, but letting go ... that's were I came unstuck (unfortunately the racquet didn't, which is the problem!). So basically I had to learn about how to set them up, and then discovered that it messed up all previous animation.
So I ended up spending a precious day off, re-blocking out the arms. And they still don't look as good as they did originally! Grrrrrr.

So anyway, this is how it looked before I had to re-do it. Once the re-done stuff is looking ok, I'll post that too. Sill need to do a final polish pass on the Monkey Bars, but they'll make an appearance at some point too.

Tennis serve 1st blocking pass from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Oscar nominations

Really exciting news about the oscar nominations - Pixar's Up, an animated feature film, has been nominated for Best Picture! This is only the second time (well .. joint second if you count Avatar?!) that this has happened, and I believe this is the first time since the Best Animated Feature category was introduced. This is such fantastic news, as it means that animated films are being taken seriously as films, rather than just "cartoons" or whatever people think they are. This can only be good news for the industry, and it's really exciting that Up is getting the recognition so many of us believe it deserves. (Best Picture is one of 5 nominations).

It's also great to see a variety in the Best Animated Feature nominations - stop motion, hand drawn, as well as CG, reflecting a great year for animation. I'm delighted to see that Disney's re-entry into the world of 2D animation (The Princess and the Frog) has been recognized as well. However, I was disappointed that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs didn't get a nomination, as I thought that was a great film. But on a positive note, it's great to see that Wallace and Gromit are still up there with the best in the animated shorts category!

So all in all, a very exciting time. I would watch Up in celebration, but as it still hasn't made it to DVD in the UK yet, I'll have to settle for listening to the Oscar nominated soundtrack...

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Charity auction - Pixar memorabilia

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich is generously auctioning off mementoes from his time at Pixar, in aid of the Clinton Bush Haiti fund. I think this is a lovely gesture, as these are from his own personal collection, and he's stated on Twitter that he will pay postage to anywhere in the world.
So if you're a Pixar fan, and have some spare cash, what better way to donate some money to a worthy cause while getting some great memorabilia at the same time?!
Check it out here.

I think I've already been priced out of the lots that I had my eye on, however, I can't be too disappointed as it means that even more money is being raised! I think this is a great example of how far a little initiative and personal sacrifice can go towards making a big difference.

I know there's a load of other people out there doing their bit as well, for all kinds of great causes, but this caught my eye, and I just wanted to let you know about this great opportunity to get some one-off Pixar items.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Monkeyin' around

The new term at AM has got off to a flying start - I can't believe it's Week 3 (or class 3 come to that) already! My latest mentor is T. Dan Hofstedt who is an awesome animator and mentor. My Q&A sessions are at 6am in the morning ... and I'm not really a morning person. However, T. Dan once filled in for my Class 1 mentor, so I knew how great he was and decided not to switch classes for a more reasonable hour. And so far, it's been worth getting up for! T. Dan has worked in traditional 2D animation for Disney, among other studios, as well as CG for Sony. Can't quite believe that someone who animated on the Lion King, now knows my name and critiques my work! SO exciting! You can see some of his work on his website.
This term I'm starting off with a monkey bars shot - hence the cheesy title ;p
We can pretty much choose what we want to do, as long as it's got good body mechanics in the shot. So it's great to have that freedom, although can feel a little daunting with so much choice! However, I settled on monkey bars and am really enjoying it. Almost everyone that has stopped by my workspace has commended me on choosing a "challenging" shot though, so I hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew...
It's certainly proving a challenge but think I'm starting to get there. It's certainly going to help me refine arcs in my animation, as that's pretty much all the swinging consists of. However, getting that rhythm and flow is proving challenging.

Here's what I've got so far - Blocking Plus. I've moved past blocking, in stepped mode, and this is currently in linear. Done quite a bit of straight ahead on it to try to get the lead and follow actions working. Still got a way to go though as the action still isn't quite there, and there's a lot of refining to do.
Let me know what you think of it so far!

Monkey Bars blocking Plus from Sarah Knight on Vimeo.