“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!


Guide to help give more benificial Feedback for animators!


How to give awesome Critiques!

So Giving feedback will not only help out the person you’re giving feedback to, It will help you learn also. This seems obvious, but when you break down somebody’s animation and really look at it on a micro-analytical level(yes i think i made that word up… and I like it) Your forcing yourself to think about every action and you end up rationalizing every move. for example, You learn why the weight is off, or how the animator got the weight just right. You can see clearly why the animator made certain decisions, maybe to make an idea read clearly, or even to confuse the audience. By doing these things your animation vocabulary will grow. Not talking about words and definitions, but methods, and or tricks that can take your animation to a higher level. So in my opinion, giving really solid feedback involves breaking down the animation and thinking about why the artist made decisions, and how did the artist accomplish ideas. This applies to all animation, Highly polished feature level, or somebody that is just starting out. You’re going to learn from both and I think it’s Vidal if you want to improve. So if somebody needs feedback on their shot I think it is important to consider a few things in order to give the best, and most beneficial advise to help the animator improve upon their shot.

1. How far along in the workflow is the animator.

– Obviously if something isn’t working. It isn’t working. BUT if somebody is in spline, you don’t want to give them feedback that would derail their shot if at all possible. Try and figure out possible solutions to the problem with the least about of backtracking possible. It may be easy to say “instead of having the character land on both feet.. maybe have him land on his hands, do a front flip, and then stand up on his feet” OBVIOUSLY I’m exaggerating. but you get the point. This comes into play big time in the studio. You will have tight deadlines, and no time (usually) to reanimate a shot. By finding a way to fix a problem without having to take 6 steps backwards is a good approach when giving feedback. Of course there will be times where the animator may have to reanimate a section, weather its because the animation just isn’t working and that’s the best solution, or if the director makes changes and needs you to take your shot in a different direction. Both will happen, but problem solving is a huge part of animation, and getting good at problem solving will make you a faster, better animator.

2. Will my ideas Plus the shot or just change it.

– Being artists, we all have great ideas, and approach challenges differently. This a good thing, it keeps out animation unique and keeps animation entertaining. But when giving somebody feedback try an avoid challenging the animators choices purely for sake of change. Really think before you suggest a possible idea that may be different from the one in the shot. Think about what all would need to be adjusted in the shot for this to work. Would the animator need to reanimate only a few frames, or would this cause a train wreck through out the shot. Think “will this idea plus the animation, and make the idea more clear?”, “is this change going to help make this animation more appealing?” Make sure you have solid reasoning for suggesting ideas. Keep in mind that this also plays a great deal in how far along in the workflow the animator is in. Obviously you can suggest as many ideas as you want, when the animator is brainstorming. That’s a fantastic thing to do! I know its helped my animation. Most of my ideas come from other animators adding better ideas upon my original idea. BUT when the animator is splining his shot, you don’t want to change anything unless its vital, or will make a drastic change for the better.

3. Performance VS Preference

– I think this is a big one. When looking at somebody’s work, No matter where they are in the pipeline, be careful not to give feedback one something just because you personally would do it a different way. This sort of feedback is good for brainstorming, early blocking stages, where maybe suggesting ideas is easier because the animator can tackle changes faster and easier. But remember that animation is art, and it is personal. Telling somebody that the idea, or joke isn’t funny just because it isnt what you would do is not helping anybody. Try and see the animators “vision” for the shot. Sure we all have different personalities, but trying to relate your ideas to the ideas of the animator is the best way to ensure a positive and helpful critique. Otherwise it just causes frustration and can confuse the animator.

4. “Just because” feedback is a waste of time.

– Giving feedback just to get your name on a person’s workspace is a waste of time, for yourself and for the person who needed feedback. Alot of times I see feedback on a persons workspace that says “looks good.” when maybe the animation is not at a level that it needs to be. THIS IS NOT HELPING THE ANIMATOR LEARN. Pointing out flaws and mistakes in animation doesn’t make a you a bad person. You will not be unliked if you give somebody feedback that will make a difference in the quality of animation. (a higher quality) I think some people are shy and are afraid of offending people., Well If you check out #’s 1, 2, 3, I can almost guarantee that you will not offend anybody, and they will appreciate the time you put in to critiquing their shot. Try and be personable when giving feedback. For example if somebody you have never met or have never seen work from, just leaves comments like this ” F58-90 fix arm, 25-25 fix weight, f 50 needs better pose, F 70 hand not reading”, that person can come across as arrogant and rude. If it is your first time giving feedback to an animator, Introduce yourself. Point out things that ARE working as well as things that could be more clear. and Follow the ideas I mentioned above. This Way your not going to offend anybody. Imagine if your in a studio, and its your first day.. and somebody comes up that you don’t know and gives you all sorts of notes and just leaves. They don’t introduce themselves, or say anything positive about the work. That would make most people feel pretty bad about themselves. So remember to be personable when critiquing somebody’s animation for the first time. Also Its important to respect higher level animators such as senior animators etc etc ( applies more in a studio environment more than AM) Try to avoid giving notes to somebody that has been working or animating far longer than you, unless they have a shot up for crit, or ask you. You dont want to be that guy that comes in and things he owns the place. This can make you seem aragent , even if your just trying to help.


-This is for bother the person giving and receiving feedback. Remember that when its all said and done… your make a cartoon. This is a fun job and should always be enjoyed. Even though there will be times where you hate animating (most likely this will occur on your 75’th hour of your week, when your trying to get a shot INTO spline that is due the next day, or when your going for final notes for your shot, and get reblocking notes) BUT in the end most changes are for the better, and when you see your shot after is gos through lighting and is projected on a 50 foot screen you’ll forget all the late nights of agony and defeat. haha .

So these are a few pointers I find helpful when giving feedback. I think if you think about these ideas, your critiques will be far more helpful to the animator and will be appreciated alot more. Also you will think more about why and how to solve problems, bring it full circle, and learning from the animation your critiquing. Of course animation is a hard thing to give feedback because so much is relative and most things can be done in many many different ways. Most questions i hear asked about animation is usually followed by “Well, It depends on the shot”… and this is very true. So think of this is a guide and not a rule book. thanks for checking this out!

I hope it helps!



An animators demo reel is a key player in getting into any animation studio. Putting together a solid demo reel that shows your strengths, and shows that you are unique can be priceless when it comes to finding a job. Alot of times reels are packed flashy menus and house music. This can really hurt your viewing time and could cost you the chance for a position.

Keep your demo reel simple. If you can set your DVD up so that it automatically plays when it is inserted into the dvd player, that’s better than a huge custom DVD menu that is hard to navigate through. If you do have a menu, make sure there is a big play button that is easy to read so that the employers view your reel can easily start your reel. Remember that studios get many demo reels and when viewing them, the last thing they want to do is have to figure out how to play the reel. If the reel is to complicated just to play, you run the risk of just getting skipped.

Also, be careful about putting in music in your reel. Remember that not everybody likes house music, or country! This can hurt your reel.. it is very detracting. Let the animation do the talking.

Don’t worry about textures and lighting etc in your reel. If your applying for an animation position, don’t get caught up in texturing and lighting your animation. Playblast can work just fine. If you have an animation that is loaded down with bad texturing and bad lighting, it can hurt the animation. So play it safe and just worry about the animation. The people looking at your reel can see right through all the fancy rendering. Spend your time on the animation, that is whats going to get you hired.

When choosing your animations to put in your demo reel, make sure you put your best work forward. A reel usually plays for about 10-15 seconds.. if the animation is not what the studio is looking for, then its time for the next reel. These people viewing your reel have work to do.

I was talking with a Co-worker and he said that “It is better to have 2 great pieces of animation on your reel, than to have 49 great pieces of animation, and 1 ok piece of animation.” He was talking about how that 1 borderline piece of animation could reflect your “true identity”.

Another thing he was talking about is that how studios are looking for unique animations. Dialog shots are the best. They aren’t really looking for fundamentals in the demo reel. fundamentals like, picking up a heavy box, a walk cycle, or a bouncing ball. While those animations are very important and can be quite amazing, they often show that the person is a beginner, and may not have much experience.

If you can grab the studio’s attention with your 2 great pieces of animation, and you do something unique, they will most likely want to see more and you may get a call back. Having unique animation and standing out from the crowd is the fastest way to get noticed.

Make sure nothing in your reel is offensive. I have seen reel with racial jokes, and curse words. You dont know who is going to be watching your reel. There are people from all over the world in the industry, and the last thing you want is to offend somebody. The industry is very small, and everybody knows everybody.

Here is a little list that reviews what I have said

1. Make your reel easy to access, no complicated menus. The faster your animation can be seen, the better.

2. Put your best work first. “saving the best for last” doesn’t work…your reel may get ejected before the “finale”

3. Don’t have loud and annoying music playing through the reel. You don’t want to distract from your animation.

4. Don’t get caught up in texturing and lighting the reel. If done poorly, this can hurt your chances, by detracting from the animation, or hiding good animation.

5. Less is more, don’t put animations in your reel just to make it longer.

6. Good dialog animations are great for your reel. Try not to have to much fundamental animation.

7. be unique

8. Make sure nothing in your reel is inappropriate or offensive.

Good luck with your Reels! I hope this has been helpful and provided some information.

There many more places on line to find more information about this.

Carlos Baena, (co-founder of AnimationMentor.com) did an amazing webinar on this.

You can watch these videos if you go to http://www.animationmentor.com/webinar/index.htm

and view the past webinars.

have fun and happy animating!