Saturday, 31 January 2015

Luis Trebino Interview

Hello 11 Second Clubbers,

Luis Trebino joins us for this month, to discuss his winning entry for November's audio clip. His entry presents the tale of little troublemaker, who got caught by his teacher.

About the interview; the 11 Second Club receives entries from all over the world. Doing these interviews, I have been able to ask and discover about other cultures and approaches. But still, as an Englishman, I feel I had taken for granted that a lot of online education for animation, is in English.

Luis was rejected from a school, as his first language was Spanish. To hear how he learned English, before applying to a different school and succeeding in producing beautiful work... for me, it was a simple mind opener to discover an artist's endeavor to learn the craft.

Thank you Luis, for your time.

Animator's portfolio
Winning Entry

Jay Jackson compliments some of your choices, as those coming from an experienced artist. Please can you talk us through your four years in the animation?
First of all I want to thank you, Steven, for your time and dedication to this interview. I’m very happy about winning 11 Second Club's November competition. I’ve learned so much from this site since the first time I participated 4 years ago. Winning the competition was very important for me and completely unexpected due to the high level of all animators participating.

Jay Jackson did a great critique and said very cool things about my shot, coming from him makes me very happy.

This last 4 years I’ve been studying animation hard almost every day so wining eleven second club is for me like a prize for all the effort I’ve made.

All animation students know how difficult is to improve and how difficult is to be confident with our work. the last years have been stressful because I have worked and studied at the same time and that’s very hard.

I started studying animation after the university in a self-taught way but I discovered quickly that I needed to enroll in a animation school to be able to improve. The first animation school I tried rejected me because of my English level, it was very hard for me. I still remember how it feels not be able to do what you really want. Therefore, I didn't surrender and I started to do English classes. Finally, after 3 or 4 months of English classes , I tried it again in a new school: Animschool, and they accepted me.

I’ve learnt so much from Animschool and their instructors. It took me almost 2 years to be able to graduate because I did several breaks due to my job and personal affairs. But I didn't stop practicing and working hard to improve. In the next months I will do a workshop in Anim Squad to continue learning.

You noted that you work in 3d modelling and rendering. What inspired your choice to explore character animation?
I’ve done visual arts in the university, where I first met 3d modeling, rendering and animation but in a very basic level. When I've completed my visual arts degree I chose to became a 3d artist so after some time studying modeling, rendering for myself I found a job in a architecture studio, where I’ve learned a lot about these disciplines.

 (A sample of Luis's work)

I've always loved animation, since I was a kid. I grew up with Disney movies and Warner Bros pictures. So I quickly discovered that I wanted to become a professional animator. That idea was always in mind.

''Any particular favourites?''
I think Looney Tunes are fantastic, so simple to understand for kids and so funny as well. From Disney I love movies like Lion King and Toy Story. And I also remember Jonny Quest from Hanna-Barbera. It's funny, when I was a child I've always imagined Hanna Barbera as a woman. Just a few years ago I realized that it was from William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

Were the Disney/Warner Bros movies dubbed?
Yes, they were. The Spanish version always try to be as close as possible to English version. Adding that little things that makes characters differing. Like for example Bugs Bunny nasal voice or Daffy Duck lisp. You can check the differences in this two Space Jam videos.
First the original one,
And the spanish version,

Of course the original version is better, but I think the Spanish dubbing actors did a great job as well.

In Spanish we have 2 different dubbing accents: one for Spain with Spanish accent and another one with a more standard accent for latin american spanish speakers (like a Mexican-neutral accent). I was born in Argentina, so I grew up watching cartoons with Latin American neutral accent,despite the fact is completely different from Argentinian accent.

Now I live in Spain, I think its is funny to see the difference between the two dubbing versions. There’s always fight about which one is better. Personally I prefer Spanish (from Spain) dubbing.

(A particular favourite of mine, is the Polish version of Be Prepared. I love the richness in the voice). See link - here -)

Have you found your modelling and rendering skills, influencing your animations?
I haven’t, I think the animation must influence the modeling and the rendering and not vice versa, but rendering can be some plus to the final shot. I thought it would be a great idea to add some motion blur especially for the paper and the first big movement.

I didn’t modeled any prop for this shot but I usually do. Basic modeling skills are important for animators, not essential but sometimes you can't make a animation you have in mind because you need some props or some stage and you don’t know how to do it, so is important to not have any obstacle that impede doing your shot.

About the final render, I did it everything in Maxwell Render. Maxwell is very easy to use, it works like a real camera, so you don’t have to set photon settings or technical stuff. You only need to set the ISO, F-stop and Shutter like real life cameras and you get a really good result without investing a lot of time.

Please talk a little bit about your classes with AnimSchool.
Animschool is great, they have a very structured way of teaching and that’s really good for starting animators. Students learn directly from professional animators now working in the industry. Every class is very structured, in this way you learn the whole process of a shot, from the basic idea, thumbnails and video reference to the layout, blocking, splining and polishing.

In addition to your animation classes each term there’s a new animation related class for students and graduated, like drawing or storytelling plus the animation general reviews, where you can attend for additional review of your work.

Another strength is that Animschool have so expressive and appealing rigs, really easy and intuitive to use. All characters are joint based. In opposite to blend shapes, joints are more flexibles so you can find better poses without breaking the rig.

I must ask about an earlier entry, ''That Creepy Game''... do you play video games and if so, which is your favourite? Is it as scary a choice as the fish's?
I used to play video games, nowadays I have no time for that, I spend all my free time animating. I played lots of video games when I was a kid, My favorite genre of videogames is strategy, i get so invested thinking how to defeat the enemy, planning attacks. I think there’s not other genre of games can do that, squeeze your brain. I think one of my favorites is Sid Meier's Civilization, Is the perfect strategy game. I’ve played civ 1,2,3 and 4, no time nowadays for civ 5.

I didn't think in a specific game for that shot, I just thought in a horror game. I focused in the characters reaction, the nostalgia of “Charlie” seeing that video game and remembering how fabulous was playing it when he was a kid.

Tell us a little bit about your animation process?
When I have a shot in mind what I do first is planning, I think about the characters, how do they think, what happened before the shot and what is going to happen after it, I think is necessary to keep in mind a whole idea about the situation. With time I realized that this is the most important part of the process, you can’t start animating if you don’t have a very clear idea of the what is going to happen in your shot. This is the most creativity part and creativity works in the same way for all artistic disciplines, there’s isn't a way to learn how to do something creative, but there are some tricks that can help like writing down thoughts wherever you are.

After that I search in internet for images and ideas according to what I have in mind. Sometimes I get really good ideas for the shot with a image. Especially about the staging and the composition. I use, because you can filter results in order to search exactly what you need.

At this point when I have my basic idea sometimes, depending of the shot, I do some thumbnails or I do a basic layout cinematic in order to see if my idea and my staging is going to work or not. After that I start my video references, I explore different ideas and acting choices in order to find the most believable acting according to the character. Finally I start animating. I first do a pass with the 4 or 5 basic poses being sure this poses are the best I can. Then I add some breakdowns and I start a basic lip sync. When I think everything looks the best as possible I go to splining and I clean all curves and fix timing. Finally I polish everything.

I must join others in compliment the acting choices on the teacher, particularly the head and hands gestures. Please talk about your approach to this character.
I first tried to think in a typical school principal, listening the audio I decided that Marshall rig from Animschool was the best pick for that voice. So I started thinking his thoughts, he is very big guy with a strong voice so he should move slow and show weight in his movements. The audio sounds very calm and confident, but I tried to look deeper: He is very upset about something, but he is controlling himself because he is the school principal so he can’t show anger.

At this point I thought about something wrong or bad that a student can do in order to justify that annoyance , the first I thought was in a slingshot but I've noticed that it’s a very difficult thing to handle. So finally I decided to use a firecracker, very easy to handle and to model.

To achieve the character I did several video references. In this case the audio is very uniform, there aren’t big beats so the acting should be delicate without big movements or reactions. I tried to hit the beats carefully in order to not overact, this was the hardest thing to do.

Looking at your layout, an interesting difference to your finished animation is the pose on ''smart guy''. In your finished animation, on the exception of grabbing the firework, the hands gesture together (e.g. they place the paper down, rest and fold arms). Please talk about this choice?
I did the layout in order to have a basic idea of the poses and the camera changes. After having a overall idea of the shot I started to do some video references of myself. I found better choices for the acting, a more realistic way to show the character thoughts. So I added this new acting to the shot. There are big differences between the layout and the final shot due to the video reference, about expressions, weight, movement...

Starting an animated shot with a new character is exploring uncharted territory so video reference is an essential tool for all animators. Shooting yourself you can know which acting choices, movements and expressions work better for your animation Also, while you are recording yourself you can find fresh ideas to add and you can realize that some of your initial ideas do not work as you thought. 

The comments offered from the community, provide constructive feedback on lip sync. Jay Jackson adds to this, inviting both yourself and others to take a look at the Illusion of Life for tips. How have you found the challenge of approaching sync? 
Lip sync is always challenging, especially for non- native English speakers. Participating for the 11 second club November competition was really good for me to realize that lip sync is my weakest point. The feedback from the community and specially from Jay Jackson was absolutely accurate.

I checked The illusion of life as Jay said, I found it very useful. Something I already know and is very important is to not hit the sound in the exact moment, is more like trying to give the impression of speaking. In order to get this feeling I hit the sounds 2 or 3 frames early. Another thing that Jay said and I read in the illusion of life is to keep the last mouth shape for some frames when a phrase ends to keep it alive.

There are such a good advices from page 462 to 465 that every animator must know about lip sync and gestures to make a good feeling of speaking and there are some good examples to take a look.

Lastly, do you mind if may I ask what bit of advice you would give to others entering the competition?
11 second club competition is a perfect way to know the animation level you can reach. I participated 4 times and I see a improvement from the first time I did to this time. So I completely recommend to try it, is a good way to learn from the community.

Don’t forget to plan your shot! listen meticulously the audio, write it down and start from the beginning, researching ideas, thinking about the characters and their personality. If you start animating from the first day, for sure your shot will be poor. Behind a good shot is a really good planning. 

Interview by Steven Hawthorne

Monday, 22 December 2014

Yonatan Tal Interview

Hey guys and gals,

Its been a while. Please excuse my absence, but I have wanted to bring back the 11 Second Club interview for a little while.

In October 2014, Yonatan Tal, a student from Calarts, won with his beautiful traditional piece. His answer to my first question, sums up why I had to bring them back. The interviews allowed me to step back from my own work. That the winning animator could come from anywhere, be inspired by anything... it allowed me to look, ask and learn.

To those who I have interviewed in the past, thank you sincerely. To those who read the interviews, (past, future and present), I hope you enjoy!

Winning entry
Artist's website

1) Tell us a little bit about your studies at Calarts.
My studies at CalArts have been great so far! I feel like I grow every semester in ways I could never have imagined. In short, the three things that make this place what it is are: The program, the environment and the people. They are all pretty amazing, and CalArts is everything I believe art school should be. There is always something going on. Musicians play in the hallways, art students exhibit in gallery spaces, and dance/ theatre performances take place on a regular basis. It’s refreshing and inspiring to constantly observe other artforms, and it lets you get out of your animation bubble!

The Character Animation program provides infinite access to knowledge and sources of inspiration. The attitude of the program is to let you discover who YOU are as an artist. In the beginning, it's terrifying, but it gets easier once you understand that it's a learning process, and a constant one. My peers are incredibly talented, so it’s very encouraging to learn together, to make films together and to complain about how we have no life together. I also enjoy getting to know students from other courses. On my last film I worked with a brilliant composer, as well as actors who gave me advice on how to achieve the right performance in my animation. I even took a dance class which was... wow!

2) Please talk about meeting the challenge of creating a short film, Blossom, in your first year. How much animation experience did you have prior?

Making "Blossom" was a challenge for many reasons. First of all, the film is about overcoming the fear of leaving your comfort zone. This was a very difficult topic for me to deal with at the time, since I had just left my home country and everything that was familiar to me in order to pursue my dream. Second of all, I actually had no experience in traditional animation prior to starting at CalArts, even though I had worked as an After Effects artist in the Israeli industry. I was fortunate enough to have Brian Ferguson as my first year teacher, and I soon learned traditional, hand-drawn animation. It really didn't take long until I fell in love with it!

3) Siri is short film produced as participation in the 48hr film challenge between CalArts and Gobelins. It sounds like a very busy weekend. Please talk a little about this experience.

Although it's always very busy at CalArts, the 48hr film challenge is the second most exciting time of the year, apart from our actual film production time. It’s amazing to see your peers come up with very different, sometimes crazy ideas. Also, where the actual films are often taken very seriously, 48hr films are a justified opportunity to spend a decent amount of time on something that’s purely for the sake of a challenge and for fun. Once the theme is announced at midnight on Friday, it's non-stop. I personally can't go to sleep until I have an idea that I know I can start working on the day after. This year I initially had a different idea, but after I boarded it, I just didn't feel like spending my weekend on it. So, I hysterically called my younger brother in Israel (we think quite similarly especially when it comes to humor, so it was kind of like brainstorming with myself), and we came up with the idea of what Siri's actual life would look like, and how she couldn't possibly be happy. We played around with some ideas for gags and laughed a lot, and then I knew that this was it. It was great fun to work on, and to be honest, it turned out to be way bigger than I intended. To be even more honest, although I worked like crazy that weekend, I had to do some additional sound editing and a bit of compositing later on!

4) In Blossom, Siri and Sweet ride, you explore tiny characters and their perspective of the world around them. What interests you about this type of theme? 
To me, animation allows you to create an imaginary world that can reflect the way you see your own, from a different perspective. I would say that the majority of what we are taught at CalArts is simply visual storytelling – learning how to communicate a strong idea clearly to the audience through visuals. When I first started developing the idea for “Blossom”, I felt like the story was so personal and serious that all I could envision were scenarios from real life or from memory. I was far too attached to reality, and it stopped me from taking a step back and exploring something creative and cinematic. Finally, once I committed to finding a parallel world that could function as a metaphor, I was able to develop the idea of the flower as a setting. Even though there is a pattern of tiny worlds in my previous work, I am keen to explore new worlds of a different scale. The characters in my current project are actually human, and I will treat it as an even bigger challenge. 
5) I admire your use of colour, in both Blossom and also your concept assignments, posted on your Tumblr account on 29/09/2014. In the third artwork, the style reminds me of both Mary Blair and also 101 Dalmations. Which artists inspire you?
Thank you so much! I love playing with colour, and it's crucial to my thought process. I guess I’ll have to narrow down my inspiration to what I have in mind right now. In terms of animation, I grew up with Chuck Jones’ cartoons, so I’ve always been influenced by them, especially those with Maurice Nobels’gorgeous layouts. I also enjoy the old UPA shorts (Gerold McBoingboing!), and, more recently, the consistently amazing work of Headless Studios. Needless to say, my peer students here at CalArts are amazing, and I'm sure we're inspired by each other all the time. I also love music videos (I wish that Stremae and Lady Gaga would make one together), as well as fashion and photography. In terms of film, I enjoy the works of Edgar Wright. There is so much more than what I mentioned but I think that narrowing down your inspiration is really important. Information and art today is easily accessible and that’s great, but when you just scroll down endlessly on blogs it makes you passive. When doing research for a long-term project, I actually start at the library. I like to read and digest my thoughts without being immediately influenced by visuals.

6) In regards to Sweet Ride, where did the origin of the idea (using a cake decoration) come from?
Finding an intriguing idea for this one was tough. In order to make the dialogue feel new to the audience without changing the lines, the context had to be very different from the original scene. I had two things to figure out: 1. What kind of car, that’s not an actual car, can be eaten or what kind of character can eat an actual car? And 2. What kind of character would be incredibly frustrated about his/her car being eaten?
Originally, it was a wedding cake featuring a couple and a car, but the context still didn't suit the character. Then I turned to my roommate, Tiffany, one morning, and she said “Why not making it a birthday cake?”. After that, the idea of the race driver and his precious came quite naturally.

7) Please talk about your production workflow.
As I mentioned, research means a lot to me, and I don’t move into production before I feel like the idea is properly fleshed out. However, I try to stay flexible if I see that a shot/scene can be improved or needs rethinking. Before I start animating, I have a clear character design, video references, storyboards (if needed), a rough layout (that might change a bit while animating) and a few notes. Then I draw my key frames very loosely and move on to breakdowns and timing. Once I have a clear sense of the movement and timing with very rough drawings, I start to tie things down and clean up. Next, I in-between the remaining frames with a clean line. I use TV-paint for animating and colouring, Photoshop for backgrounds and After Effects for compositing and effects. If it’s a relatively long piece that requires a heavier use of sound effects, I edit everything with Premiere.

8) You use video reference to help plan your traditional animation. When did video reference become part of your workflow and can you share your thoughts on its use.  (have you always used video reference? If not, what difference has it made to your work?)  
For me, using video references for animation is an extremely important part of my research, and it has its pros and cons. I love it because it lets you explore your performance options quite intuitively. When I explore an action myself, I feel like I can understand it a lot better, and, even when I’m animating, I make hand gestures and facial expressions in front of the screen in order to feel what the movement, timing, arches and spacing should be like. Sometimes, I have to look up certain actions on youtube (if my character needs to do a parkour jump, for example!). Also, if my character is physically very different to me (in terms of age, size or sex), I find other resources. In any case, before I nail the ideas for the performance, I remind myself of the two enemies of acting in animation to me: 1. clich├ęs, over-acting and the danger of animation inspired by other animation, 2. the fact that I’m not a professionally trained actor. I can take lessons, but I respect the skill of a trained stage or film actor. I am therefore just as likely to use live-action films as references as well as actors I know. They can help me understand certain things about good performances that I might recognize in my head but not necessarily be able to physically reproduce. Lastly, I always try to push my key poses through a personal interpretation of a reference, so the performance feels like its my own and supports my animation style.

(Animation reference)

(The high jump - don't try this one without a safety net)

(Rough Animation)

9)  The main character has a curved plush-type bodysuit,  but there are moments where angular shapes of the arms contrast beautifully. The audience are also drawn to the thick black eyebrows. Please can you talk a bit about the character design.
Racer Design
In order to put the emphasis on the animation, I wanted the design to be as simple as possible. Once I'd figured out that the race driver was made of sugar dough, it was clear that he needed to be soft and cute (which would contrast well with his anger). I also wanted the face to be big enough for the audience to notice every change within the facial expressions. I then realised that the sudden changes from the curvy design to angular shapes in extreme moments had to be emotionally driven. By creating little shifts in the design for brief frames, I was able to reinforce the anger and frustration that the character feels. After reading the critique by Dana Boadway-Masson, I appreciate that the eyebrows are, in fact, probably too contrasty. Eyebrows are naturally very expressive, and you want the audience to pay attention to them, but at the same time, you don’t want them to compete too much with the rest of the facial features. Overall, it was a really fun character to animate.
10) In this world you've created, the human doesn't understand a word he's saying. However, he is flicked/thrown back down on the cake. With this moment in mind, how do you envisage the relationship between the two characters?
The way I see it, the human is either not intelligent enough to figure out that the race driver is alive, or he simply doesn’t care. All the human wants is to eat the sugar dough car, and to him, the race driver is just an annoying piece that he would rather just throw away. He is like a kid who doesn’t understand what he’s doing, and the patience of the race driver is lost once the thing most precious to him is taken away.

11) After the production of your short film, and winning an 11 Second Club competition, what are your plans for new year ahead?
I’m already working non-stop on my second year film at CalArts. There are no words to express how passionate I am about this story. It is about a closeted guy and his secret boyfriend, who decide to spend the day at an aquarium. I will start animation production at the beginning of the second semester in 2015. It's safe to say that this project is the biggest challenge I've yet had to face.

12) Lastly, do you have any advice to those pursuing animation? 
Think, think, think, be critical of your work, plan, think, be inspired by other art forms and by life, think, learn how to draw better, think, take breaks (please!), love what you do, have a tiny moment when you finish a piece you’re satisfied with to smile, before you see it the morning after and think that it’s bad, think, have an actual life so you can sometimes just enjoy without thinking too much!

Lastly, if I may, I would like to thank my animation teachers Daniel Gonzales and Robert Domingo, Dana Boadway-Masson for the extremely helpful e-critique and a great friend of mine, Lisa Laxholm.

Thank you again from the bottom of my heart Steven! 

Interview by Steven Hawthorne