Animation Mentor!

Animation Mentor

This week I start my first term mentoring students for Animation Mentor. I’ve spent a few days browsing around the site, checking out the work of the students and the critiques of the other mentors, and I am deeply impressed. It’s so well organized, and so much thought has gone into everything, and there’s such a great sense of community among the students and mentors! These guys have really put together something special and new, and I hope it’s a big success for everyone involved.

So, I’m really looking forward to this experience, and I expect to learn as much from the process as the students will. (As a friend of mine put it: a teacher who’s not always learning is not a very good teacher!)

Madagascar DVD comes out today

The Madagascar DVD comes out today. Finally, a chance to geek out and frame-by-frame your way through some of that crazy, snappy animation! They also added the Penguins Christmas Caper short that opened for the Wallace and Gromit movie last month. I’m so glad to have been part of these projects. Both the movie and the short were stupendous fun to work on.

Animated News has a sneak preview of some of the features, including a still frame of one of my shots! Check it out:

Criticizing the critics.

This is the first time I’ve worked on a movie that I felt a real emotional attachment to, for better or worse. I loved working on Madagascar, loved the people I worked with, loved the characters, the look, the animation style, and the story premise. The movie speaks to me as a New Yorker and as a warm-blooded mammal. It’s freakin’ hilarious. And the humor is deeper and more character-driven than any of the others I’ve worked on, and I love that.

So I was pretty much completely shocked to see that there are many critics out there who didn’t love this movie like I did. (My friend Melanie felt the same way.) Was I just too close to it? Does the movie have some gigantic deformity that I just couldn’t see? A face that only a mother could love?

The answer is no. After seeing the movie a few times with real audiences, and taking some time to reflect on all the reviews, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the movie’s worst critics are simply being unfair. Many of them make valid points about problems with the story’s pacing, plot, theme, and so forth. But the conclusions they jump to are completely at odds with everything I know about the experience of enjoying a movie.

Critics of Madagascar seem to fall into three categories: DreamWorks-haters, genre bigots, and the genuinely thoughtful.

The DreamWorks-haters are characterized by the intellectually weak argument that if it ain’t Pixar, it’s crap. These people tend to be more interested in the politics of company A versus company B, and often gloss over the actual films themselves in favor of cheap shots at the corporations that make them. They mistake the messenger for the message. The more sharp-tongued among them can still craft sentences that sting, but the sting wears off once you realize the depth of their ignorance.

The genre bigots are a more subtle bunch. They say things like “The classic shape of a children


Blue Sky‘s new movie Robots is quite an artistic accomplishment. Sure, the plot’s a bit predictable and some of the jokes fall flat. But in terms of animation, this movie is stunningly, wonderfully original. My hat is off to directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha: they have raised the bar with this picture, and we should all take note! These guys set a really tough challenge for themselves, and they consistently lived up to it.

What was the challenge? How to take a ridiculous design like this:

and animate it in a way that’s both believable and appealing. Let’s analyze for a moment just how hard this is. These characters are made of rigid metal parts, so you can’t let the audience see them bending and squishing around, or they’ll start to look like rubber. And yet, if you limit yourself to rigid transformations, you won’t be able to hit those really strong expressive poses that make the character come alive.

What was Blue Sky’s solution to all this? Extremely snappy animation. Hit a pose, stick it, hit another pose, follow through, and so on. If your transitions are fast enough, you can get away with all kinds of non-rigid contortions, as long as you stick to rigid joint movements once you hit that pose. Of course, I’ve only seen the movie once, so I may be misreading it, but I suspect that that was how they made this work so well. Stage magic, folks!

Blue Sky is like the dolphin cousin of the rest of us primates in the animation world. They branched off from our common ancestors lo some twenty years ago (an eternity in CG years), and started doing things their own way. Now they’ve evolved into something sleek and elegant. They make this monkey want to go surfing.

Cassidy Curtis's splendid display of colorful things.