Animation Mentor Adventure

Chad Swanson’s Journey at becoming a Character Animator!

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  • Siggraph ’09 New Orleans w/ Animation Mentor

    Posted by chad3d on August 9, 2009


    Let me just start off by saying this years Siggraph was a blast! The convention center was huge, It lacked nothing from the Los Angeles  center. I think the Exhibition floor might have been a bit smaller. The Animation Mentor students started off the week on Tuesday by gathering together in the Lobby of Hall H.  It was great meeting other students from all the other classes as well as a bunch of graduating classes. The Alumni where just as eager to meet other students as the upcoming classes.


    After we got tired of each others awesomeness we hit up the exhibition floor and job fair. There were plenty of studio’s there looking for some animation talent.  Lucas Arts Animation, ILM, Ubisoft, Red 5, Rhythm & Hues, Blue Sky, Animation Lab, Pixar and Moonbot just to name a few.  There was a ton of lectures and animation going on between the  computer animation festival and the conference. After that started to wind down the AM crew went out to DBA in the french quarter to do some more mingling. Mentors, students, and  industry professionals all got together and met and talked over a few drinks.

    studio collage

    Then came the AM packed Wednesday! We started off the day with an Animation Q&A with Shawn Kelly & Industry Experts. Paul Allen – Mentor and Senior Character Animator at Terminal Reality, Bryan Engram – Animation Director at Reel FX Entertainment, Robin Linn – Artist Management at Radium/Reel FX Entertainment, and Scott Benza – Animation Director at Industrial Light and Magic where answering questions moderated by Shawn Kelly.  Many great topics where covered from what studio’s look for on your reel and how likely it is for someone to complete a feature film by themselves.

    CIMG0577CIMG0578Q&A Panel

    After that was the Birds of a Feather event Bobby and Shawn. They went over the Demo Reels that were submitted with a fine toothed comb. It was wonderful to hear every little thing that catches peoples eyes when they look at your reel. What kind of things would actually be a better idea to just scrap and take off your reel as apposed to leaving it on there and hurting you. After that event carried a hour longer than it was scheduled a few of us went over to the Disney booth to get a Disney animator look at your work and and review it. When we where done with that we came back to the birds of the feather room and Bobby and Shawn where still out in the hall giving others there Reel reviews. What great guys taking the time to do that for the AM students. I definitely have to give them props for taking the time to do that!


    The day finished off with a after party at Gordon Biersch. Was a great time rounding up all the potential AM students as well as the crew and students to end the lot of the AM events. It was great times meeting Becca, Molly, Shawn, and BOOM. They really did a good job keeping AM alive at this event as well as all the volunteers. Thursday things started to wind down and I got to talk to a lot of people about reels and new studios opening up. I was talking with some fellow students about last years LA Siggraph and how it compared. On Tuesday it was so easy to walk around the exhibition floor and see everything. At that point I was thinking that there was not as much to do because it was smaller. By the time Thursday rolled around I could safely say that New Orleans ’09 was the best Siggraph I have been to. The smaller crowds made it so much easier to meet people and get a lot of one on one time with Alumni, and industry professionals to look at my work. Plus the unofficial goodbye dinner/party with the AM students on Thursday night made it all worth it! We really did it up and I can’t  wait till next year!

    GB partyCIMG0623CIMG0624CIMG0576

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    Progress Reel Class 3

    Posted by chad3d on June 19, 2009

    Here is my progress reel from Animation the online animation school for this term.  I had a ton of fun making this!  I still see a lot of things that could be fixed up however It still made me smile after I got to see it rendered and 6 hours of sound effects.  Long live star wars haha!

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    Get Your Hopes “UP” Pixars New Movie Is Stellar!

    Posted by chad3d on June 18, 2009

    hey everyone I know I have been away from the blog awhile. I apologize It has been Crazy this term at Animation Mentor. I have been doing advanced body mechanics and it has been stressful to say the least. I made the huge mistake of trying to do shots with 2 characters. It ends up being twice the work lol!

    So now that I have had more free time on my hands with things winding down at AM. I went and saw UP, Pixars new movie. It was absolutely Stellar! It invoked every emotion and kept you going throughout. I think this is by far Pixars best flic yet. The characters where very stylistic and had great shapes. As well as wonderful contrasting personalities. I really can’t type enough about this movie. So I’m not going to, If you haven’t seen it… go see it it!

    Be back later when I finish rendering out my Terms work.

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    Sedona International Film Festival

    Posted by chad3d on March 2, 2009

    This is my 4th straight year attending the Film Festival in wonderful Sedona Arizona. Its always great to see the animated shorts that get selected and what ones actually win the awards!

    The Highlight of the Animation spot light for me had to be a short by Peggy Stern and John Canemaker, Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood.  It was simply wonderful listening to Chuck Jones, one of the animators from Warner Bros. He did many things from Tom & Jerry back in the 1960’s and my favorite growing up, Wiley-E Coyote and the Roadrunner. John Canemaker animated parts of the film as Chuck told his great stories. He was a wonderful man and I can only hope that my life ends up being as great as his was.  Chuck Jones is definitely going on my wall of Hero’s after this one.


    Among the other animated pieces was Bill Plymptons Idiots & Angels. It was the only feature length animated film. It was stylistic and well… unique. Its not My style of film nor was the animation but it was definitely inspiring knowing he did over 25,000 drawings in less than a year. It did not win any awards. He did already get a distributing deal for it though. So as a Independent film maker guess that is the best you can hope for.

    Daniel Finds his walking stick won the animated division for the directors choice. Interesting I thought, since the only thing appealing about it was the story and maybe some of the cinematography. The animation was definitely lacking.

    The winner of the best animation for audience choice award went to Sebatian’s Voodoo. A cool short I saw a few months ago and then watched again at the festival and still enjoyed it. The animation wasn’t top notch but you really get into the doll character and what he is feeling and thinking. That is enough to make this one a winner!

    Another animation I saw at the festival worth mentioning was from Ellenora Ventura. She did a stop motion that was pretty terrific. It really made me wanna try some stop motion animation of my own. I had the pleasure of talking with her for a bit after the chuck jones movie and from her great personality I hope she does well in the field.


    Taking courses at animation mentor now I really have more of a eye of what makes good animation. Its interesting to look at stuff and say ah they could have done that or this a little better. Now I just need to look at my own stuff and make it better! Guess only more experience will start to fix that for me.  The film festival Is great it reminds me how much i want to be a animator.  I almost pursued the roll of  modeling or rigging before I went to the film festival a few years back and met Dave Burgess and Jason Reisig. After that I knew what path I wanted to Pursue.  I hope to one day to be in there shoes!


    Well next year at this time I should be graduating  from Animation Mentor so I might not be able to attend the festival. Hopefully I will be able to and I will actually have something in it next year or one of these years! Well till later! I’m off to Discipline myself on becoming a better animator!

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    Coraline, Simply Divine

    Posted by chad3d on February 15, 2009

    Well this might be a little late however I have been crunching on my Animation Mentor assignment this week and finally have time to post about it.

    Opening weekend for Coraline was great! It grossed a cool 16.3 million which was 3rd in the box office for that weekend and more than the projected ticket sales.  Not to shabby for the Portland Oregon’s based studio Laika‘s first feature film. I expect to see great things in the future out of this studio.  I didn’t get to see it in 3D as non of the theaters around here had that feature available.

    I did get to check them out at Siggraph this year and was waiting to see this movie for some time. They maquettes that they used in the movie where there. It was amazing to see all these little hand crafted puppets that they used to make an animated feature. A lot of work went into this piece making it all that it is.

    The story was much of what I expected until it took a very creepy twist at the end (which I liked!). The characters where all very cool and gave it a beetlejuice like feel. The only one I didn’t care for was the evil mom when she was in her true form. She looked to much like Cruella De’vil from 101 Dalmatians. They also added a piece in the movie that let Coraline see the eyes, which was clearly a rip off from Spiderwich Chronicles. The rest was pretty original and fun!

    Here are some Photos I took at Siggraph and The Trailer.

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    Furthering myself for a higher education!

    Posted by chad3d on January 6, 2009

    As I had my first break from Animation Mentor, before we start up the 2nd term I seized the opportunity to learn more about animation!


    During the break I got a hold of Richard Williams, “The Animators Survival Kit“,  on a 16 DVD set. I just got finished reading his book about 2 weeks ago. It was great everything that didn’t make 100% sense was cleared up watching it in full motion. Richards personal notes on things and fully animated examples made it so much more fun and  easier to understand. It was like having Richard Williams give you lectures right there in your living room. I was glued in front of the TV from dusk till dawn on Sunday and still have 2 DVDs yet to watch. I recommend this one to anyone looking to get into animation 2d,3d, or stop motion, no matter what level you are at. He starts off with the basics and grind them into your bloodstream and then gets into more advanced concepts that ever animator should know!

    I have also Signed up for Jason Ryan’s Webinars at .  So far I have learned the most advanced stuff from Jason. Its great to see how a highly respected, proficient animator goes about his work. I have learned a great deal of AWESOME techniques to incorporate into my work flow (that work well for me) as well as grasped a better understanding of how important golden poses and breakdown keys really are! I have also started his tutorial services he offers on the site. So far I have only purchased a few of them but they are great and I plan on getting more as I finish these. So far this has been my favorite source of education. I think everyone could at least benefit from the webinars.

    I bought the animation cartoon characters set from Digital Tutors this year at SIGGRAPH in LA. They are a great learning video. They give you the ability to rewatch things and go at your own pace. I would say they are mostly geared towards the beginner. There are some things that get more in detail, however they just dont have the beautiful level of animation that you see in Richard Williams or Jason Ryans work.

    I have also just started watching some of Keith Lango’s Video Tutorial Service.  So far its good information, I like that he has a different style of teaching. I wish the Videos where longer and of better quality. He seems like a great guy and knows his stuff. For the price and the quality and quantity of work I would suggest Jason Ryan Animation over this one.

    Among the great visual training sources I have found, I have also Invested in some books. Among the already read and highly recommended are

    “The Illusion of Life” – Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (read twice!)

    “The Animators Survival Kit” – Richard Williams

    “Timing for Animation” – Harold Whitaker and John Halas

    “Simplified Drawing for Planning Animation” -Wayne Gilbert

    “Acting for Animators” – Ed Hooks (currently reading)

    “Character Animation Crash Course!” – Eric Goldberg  (currently reading, highly recommended)

    I also have been looking through some Eadweard Muybridge, Mark Simon, and Harold Edgerton books I bought for reference footage. Motion and Emotion are simply amazing and these books are great for showing that.  I would look up these authors and check out what they have to offer.

    Well I’m back to Animating, my 2nd term at Animation Mentor started today so I have some thumbnails to go plan out.

    Till next time!

    Chad “3D” Swanson

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    Door closes on the first term

    Posted by chad3d on December 21, 2008

    Well after 12 weeks of cramming as much animation knowledge as I could, the first term has finally come to a end. I finished out the term with a A- and a great letter of recommendation from my mentor Steve Cunningham.  Here is my Progress reel from my lessons from Foundations of Animation!

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    What makes a good pose?

    Posted by chad3d on December 21, 2008

    What makes a good pose? How should you come to a decision on what pose to use? When should I put “golden” poses?

    These are question’s  I have been asking myself,  so I decided to study into it a bit and here is what I found.

    Animation is like communication. Does everything read well with no dialogue?  So your poses should do the same. They should tell something about the character and it should read very well what he is doing and feeling, all this in a single snapshot!

    Com-mu-ni-cate – To express thoughts,feelings or information easily or clearly.

    “Every pose in your animation should be this way. So you could grab them frame by frame and want to post them on your wall”        -Steve Cunningham

    So what does this all mean!?  Well lets break down the aspects of posing to get a better feel for it.

    -Line of Action
    -Eye Direction
    -Balance (center of weight)
    -Body Twists (adds appeal)
    -Avoid Straight lines if there are bends and make good use of straight lines for force
    -Avoid Parallel lines
    -Avoid Symmetry
    -Knee direction should align with the toe direction
    -contrast (angles, this can also add appeal)

    *Good poses instantly communicate character
    *Each pose should have the ability to work as a single frame illustration
    *Poses are a gateway to your character. Good poses allow the audience to see inside the characters soul.
    *Emotion, Clearly express the true feeling in the heart of the character for that given moment. (even if its not what he/she is feeling on the outside)
    *Guide viewers eye (flow lines)
    *Pose variety- vary the intensities of your poses and lines of action. Make one pose of greater importance than the rest. Use all other poses in concert to lead to the golden poses.
    *Most of the best poses will have motion in them

    What is Line of action?

    Lets break it down like this. It is a imaginary line through the characters body that shows the primary force of a pose. Indicating direction and energy (kinetic or stored) of the characters pose.

    reversing the line of action- Builds contrast in the scene. It also builds up and releases energy to move the character and story forward.

    Why ever use a vertical line of action? Well vertical lines of action are useful for adding a point of emphasis to the scene. Vertical Lines of action when contrasted against other strong directional lines are like exclamation points, useful to make a point.

    How do lines of action differ from flow lines? Well a now that we know what a line of action is. Flow lines are simple used to guide the viewers eye. Like in any painting of complex scene. All parts of the character should work together to create a visual flow for the viewers  eye to follow.

    Why is this needed? Well viewers tend to “feel”  the body language, not necessarily focus on it. Viewers generally focus on the characters face.The best poses lead the viewers eye where they should be looking in a given scene. Use arms, legs, torso, props etc. to lead the viewer to see what they need to see in order to follow the story. Plan and understand what is important to look at in your scene. If you don’t know what that is ask the director! For this reason flow lines are more important than silhouettes. Good flow in your poses make your animation easy to understand. “It’s easy on the eyes”. If you have multiple characters in your scene make the flow lines cross multiple characters to better incorporate what is being told in the shot. If you have props in the scene incorporate those as well. Your story is better told, and your ideas are more clearly stated with good visual flow!

    You can add contrast in many different ways and it will all add appeal to your poses.

    Tilt the head- People don’t hold their heads up straight very often. Head tilts will also add weight to a pose.You can also use a head tilt as a useful indicator of attitude and/or emotion.

    Torso Torque- You can make the shoulders, hips, and face different directions to really push a pose and add appeal.

    Hips & Shoulders – You can also add contrast in the hips and shoulders. If one hip is up than that same side shoulder should be down.( ex.  hip= \  than shoulder = / )

    Weight- Uneven distribution of weight can really help you make a pose feel more alive and really push a pose!

    How do I avoid cliche poses?  Well after you apply all these things and have that in your bloodstream, concentrate on personality! Who is doing it and in what situation. Get into you character. What is he doing? Why does he feel the way he does? From that convey it in the pose!

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    The 2009 animation lineup

    Posted by chad3d on November 23, 2008

    The one great thing about going to see a animation in the theater even if its good or not is the previews! I went to go see Bolt today and I got to check out all the upcoming animations. Among my favorites was Dreamworks Monsters Vs Aliens! I’m sure that my mentor Steve Cunningham having had worked on it and it coming from Dreamworks had no influence on that though….  .   Then there was howls moving castle, err wait I mean UP! A new movie by Disney and PIxar. It looks like another must see. There was the Stop motion feature by Laika, Coraline. It looks pretty amazing as well.  Among the other previews there was The tale of Despereaux. I have read the childrens story before and as cute as little mouses are when they are animated I think I will wait for the dvd release on that one.

    Here are some trailers.

    Monster Vs Aliens



    The Tale of Despereaux

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    Disney’s Bolt ! In the words of Rhino “Super Awesome”

    Posted by chad3d on November 23, 2008

    A adventure that takes Penny and her dog off to save her father Inspector Gadget from the evil clutches of The Claw and his cat…. Actually wait wrong Penny and her dog.  Disney’s New Movie Bolt might remind you of some cartoons in the past at first, however once you get into it there is a lot more to it. Its a story about a Hollywood dog that doesn’t realize hes not what he was trained to be and how his true place is just being happy with his “person” (Penny). The characters where great. Especially one in particular “Rhino” the hamster who is Bolts biggest fan and set out on a adventure with him in his hamster ball. The character was full of “the cup is half full” and  “We can do it quotes”. I have to say with out him I don’t think the picture would have been half as good. Mark Walton definitely added some extra personality to him as the voice. Like Rhino would say “when the worlds got you down and it seems like there is no hope left, you have to do whats inside you and be SUPER AWESOME!”

    Here is the Trailer as well as some of my favorite scenes from the movie.




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