Coming soon. Tangled

Now on the Disney Animation website! Also Winnie the Pooh is announced. Quite the gear change from Princess and the Frog.


“FINAL” thoughts on Refining and Polishing a shot.

My thought process when I’m refining and polishing animation.

With 3D animation today, we as animators are able to reach an entirely new level of performance because of the ability to control the most subtle of details, tiniest performance quirks, and it is all visible at 24 animated frames a second. Now with films being released in IMAX, and then on Blue Ray high def DVD, the level of polish in an animated shot should be pushed to the highest mark possible. I can’t stress how important it is for an animator to take charge of his or her shot, and make sure that it is held to the highest level of the animators abilities.

Polishing an animation is my favorite part of the process. This usually means that your nearly finished with the animation. Now its time to relax because the performance is at the right place, and now it only needs refining. This is the time to really dig deep and make sure you can be proud of every frame of animation. Taking this extra care with your shot will make your shots exceptional, and really show a deeper skill set.

These are some things I think about when I’m going about refining and polishing my shot.

I make sure I have a solid foundation to work with.

-Am I hitting all the right beats clearly.

-Is my phrasing helping my shot move forward.

-If there is dialogue, is it leading to a point, is it stagnant or boring?

-Are the physics in the shot working and believable.

I make sure the actions are smooth (if they need to be) and there are no hitches in the shot.

-I’ll track the nose through the shot to make sure the arcs are smooth.

-Depending on the action and what Is moving I’ll track all the arcs of the movement. starting with the base of the movement and working my way out from that. So the elbow, then wrist, and fingers, so on and so on.

-Along with tracking the arcs I’ll check my spacing to make sure there are no hitches in the spacing aswell. Sometimes you can have a clean arc, but if the spacing is messed up it will still read as a hitch.

-I’ll plus all my ease ins and outs to make sure there are no hits or floatyness.

Then I’ll do a facial pass.

-I’ll make sure my facial poses are appealing. I’ll usually start with the eyes, and brows since they are somewhat connected to each other. I’ll make sure all the lid shapes are appealing, and work with the brows.

-Make sure I have asymmetry in the face. I treat the brows and mouth like the shoulders, and hips. I offset them to each other when I can to keep the expressions more dynamic.

-I’ll make sure all my mouth shapes are clear but interesting. I usually off-center the mouth shapes to give a little more asymmetry and organic-ness to the expression.

-Animation wise, I track the corners of the mouth to make sure they’re traveling in arcs, and not hitting walls etc. This makes a huge difference in the readability in the lip sync.

Final Polish

-I’ll usually start to offset things in the face. With the brows, in most cases I’ll have them lead when the eyes are opening, and drag when they are closing. Sort of like they are pulling the eyes open, or the eyes are pulling the brows down when they close. Offsetting them slightly helps get a more organic feeling to the face. I’ll also lead with the inside of the brow when bringing them down, and the outside when raising them. This will also break things up. Be careful though so that you down get wavy brows. Sometimes its only a matter of sliding the curves over half a frame to get the feeling you need.

-I’ll go through all my blinks and make sure I don’t lose the pupil. I’ll also add a compression frame on the closed position so that you read that upper lid pushing down on the lower lid. Sometimes I’ll also lead or drag one side of the lid or the other to help get a more fleshy feeling.

-eye darts!   Usually this is the last thing I’ll do. I’ll add eye darts when I feel they should be. I usually do eye darts on two frames. The first frame favoring the end position about 60-80% or so. This keeps them from feeling to clicky. I’ll also add the lower and upper lids following the eye dart. I usually do this in three frames. I really make sure the lids follow the eye dart so the eye ball feels connected with the lids.

-Sometimes I’ll copy the jaw animation curve to the nose and cheeks. This helps me get the tip of the nose, and the cheeks following the jaw animation. After I get that working I can go in and refine the animation but it gets me most of the way there quickly.

-The last thing I do usually is start offsetting the keys in the face. I’ll offset the brows and lids depending on how I want to lead the eye of the viewer etc. I’ll usually only offset things by half a frame, and usually only on the breakdowns. I still want the lids to open and close at the same time, but everything in between I like to keep offset from each other.

So These are some of the things I think about when I’m polishing and refining a shot. It’s so important that you start off with a strong animation or all the polish and detail you put into the shot will be wasted. If you have a hitch in the arm, nobody will notice the detail you put on the fingers etc. Another thing I think is very important is that you don’t polish just to polish. Everything needs to feel supported. You don’t want to just noodle the curves to death. This can cause a shot to lose all its punch and energy. So it’s a fine balance between polishing a shot, and sanding it down to nothing.

I hope this is interesting for some people! Its my favorite part of animation so I really wanted to share my thoughts on it. This is only the tip of the iceberg on whats possible! So thanks for reading and let me know what you think!

Malcon Pierce

Some great examples of animation with wonderful polish


human animation at its finest!

-Horton hears a who

Excellent cartoony animation!

-Runaway Brain

(hand drawn, but still by favorite animation to date)

-How to Train your Dragon.

Very nice subtle creature animation

-Ice Age 3

anything with scrat!

and many many more.

Lets over Analyze a 260 Frame shot. (And learn something from it.)

This is a write up on my thoughts on a 260 frame shot I animated. Out of all the choices I could have made, I feel I learned alot from the ones that ended up on the screen. This is an over analytical overview of what I was thinking, when working on the shot, and why. In the end, The shot got a 4th place finish in the 11 second club’s aug 2009 competition. Thanks for all the kind words and support!

While I was between jobs I needed to keep animating in order to keep learning. I wasn’t around many animators at the time so feedback was minimal. While I did have feedback from what I would post online, I really wanted to dig in and just see what came out the other side. After working in a studio for a while, I was excited about getting to animate a shot how I wanted to. I checked out the 11secondclub.com to see what the AUG 2009 audio clip was. Usually I dont really like the clips on the site, but I thought the Aug. clip was fun. I started brain storming ideas and the only real solid Idea I had was that I wanted to have the character typing at one point of the shot.

Not having a very strong idea of what I wanted to do, I started thumb-nailing shot ideas while listening to the audio. I could only do this for about 30 min before I felt like throwing the speakers out the window. ha. Eventually I had this idea of a mad scientist. It was one of my first ideas so I figure it would be to cliche’. And it was…There were about 9-10 mad scientist shots in the contest, BUT I decided that I would still have fun with it, and that this was for me, and not so much to win a contest. I knew that I could do whatever I wanted with the animation, and that was all i needed to motivate me. I only had about two and a half weeks to come up with an idea and animate the shot so “pre-production” went out the window.

here are the thumbnails…I didn’t do alot of thumb-nailing. I did some video reff, but it ended up being pretty useless in this situation.

I had some fun ideas for the shot and I decided I’d like to try all the ideas out with the animation. I know I wanted to have the character Type… I know that sounds like a strange thing to want to animate, but I had never animated typing, and all the shots I’ve seen of characters typing always felt the same. It usually feels very muddy, and broad. I wanted to try a new type of typing animation. Another thing I wanted to do was to see how I could try pushing the Lip-Sync. I felt like I needed to get the personallity of the character to read through the mouth shapes. I wanted to try animating the mouth first, before the eyes and brows… Normally I find that this is done the other way around.. but I was thinking that if I could get the personallity to read with the eyes closed.. then maybe that would lead to new “methods” of acting, and or animating…. In the end it led to a bunch of over-animated lip shapes…. but I did learn from it. And I’ll take that anytime.

One thing I really wanted were to get some cool posing and contrast into the shot. I did some thumb-nails that I really liked so I figured I’d try them out in 3d and see if I could get the same feeling as the drawing. I feel like I got most of the way there but when I played the animation I felt like I just had to much going on. It felt like I wanted to animate breakdowns instead of story telling poses…Well I could blow it all away, or see if I could make it work. Knowing that I was getting very “pose to pose-y” with the shot I decided to go ahead with it, and see if I could still make it work. Why not… I’ll only learn from this. The new challenge for me was to now playing with breakdowns, and making the Lip sync read through these poses. I feel like I did ok with that part. over all, I find the shot has a very “animated” feel…and because of this, the character seems flat.

my layout idea.

Another thing I really wanted to play with is seeing how I could simplify the lip-sync and still have it read as strong as the characters actions. Its a find balance between chattery lip-sinc, and a performance that is soft and muddy. I feel like I got both the Chattery feeling at some parts and the soft and Muddy at others. Although some of the lip-sync works and is interesting, I think I could have done a better job at animating the lip sync to help the movement of the shot. But I gained some knowledge from it.

So While animating this little clip I was constantly trying to figure things out, and try something that was a little bit out of my comfort zone. Most of the shot was animated straight ahead, so it took longer than it needed to, but I wasn’t in a hurry so I didn’t mind that I kept having to redo things.

If I had to crit this shot, I’d say its way to over animated. There are to many poses in the shot. I could have probably done two  or three and it would stronger. The lip sync is competing with the eyes and brow animation a little to much. The same with the acting. It reads as a battle between the facial animation, and the body movement. Because of all this the shot seems very flat, and there is no real point to connect with the character. So over all, the shot feels very animated and flourishy.


What are some things did I learn.

1. Keep things simple. This doesn’t mean the character cant move and act. but more so, keep the main idea of the shot clear, and supported. Dont add to much fluff.

2. Make sure your animation complaments itselt. For example. the facial animation isnt competing with the body animation. Its like watching tv and listening to the radio at the same time.. you’ll loose focus on one or the other.

3. Keep your Lip Sync moving some place. think of the lip-synch sort of like phrasing. you dont want the shapes and movment to be the same all the way through. Have it lead to an accent, or into a pause etc.

4. Dont just “animate” the character. some of the breakdowns in the shot seemed too animated. There is no reason for the hand to do a real flourishy arc. Its distracting, and feels fake. Make sure everything is supported. If its an animation style, thats fine, but the rules still apply.

What ended up being my favorite part of the shot….

My fav. part of the shot is the tiny adjustment the character does on the microscope with his fingers. And thats one of the first and easiest things I did.

I hope you find this interesting. Its sort of tearing apart the shot from the inside out.

I think its so important with animation that you keep pushing yourself and trying new things. If it gets easy, you got lazy…

As animators, we have to keep out own standards high so that we never stop learning. If something In your shot seems weird, keep taking passes, and talking to people to figure out the problem. If you just pretend it’s not there then you have wasted your time. Keep pushing and learning and you will always be satisfied with your shot, untill the you have animated your next shot.Try to explore new ways to animate, this is an art form so please try new things. This will only make animation grow. The last thing we want is for every film to be a cookie cutter version of another animation style.

So thanks for reading! Let me know what you think!