Tuesday 24 January 2012

Jason Hendrich interview

Character Design Hey guys and gals,
In November, we experienced a rare treat of a feminine vocal. Taking the crown of first place was Blur Studio animator, Jason Hendrich. His traditional animation was a joy to watch and a nice reminder to keep your work pure and free.

Thank you Jason for your time. Hope you all enjoy the read!

Please talk a bit about your experience at Blur Studio?
I started at Blur Studio in 2007 after working in Film and TV Animation for DNA Productions, Reel FX, CORE DP, and STARZ Animation(ARC Productions). I've always enjoyed Blur's work especially in their cinematics. It really bridges the craftsmanship of film and the 'cool factor' that games can get away with. Working on projects with realistic animation then transitioning to cartoony animation always keeps things interesting.

Your wife, Jenni Hendrich, also works at Blur Studio. Please talk abit about your experience of working together?
We've worked together at Starz Animation(Now Arc Productions) before coming to Los Angeles to work at Blur. Her specialization is in Rigging, Modeling, and Design work. We compliment each other well and whenever I have questions of how to do certain things, she's always there with great ideas.

(please click here to view Jenni's reel)

How are the projects distributed? Is there a type of shot which would normally be handed to you?
Blur's animation department does a mixture of motion capture and keyframe animation. The majority of the projects tend to be realistic animation primarily driven via motion capture. The projects are fun and we hold a high bar for cinematic quality. I tend to get character acting, crowds and complex action shots but I also enjoy subtle stuff as you really get to concentrate on small weight shifts and timings.

Looking at your reel, it presents many complex body mechanic shots, with lots of jumping and running around that would be pretty difficult to shoot your own reference for. Please talk a bit about your production process for this type of shot and how you approach animating its movement.
I shoot reference for everything but for things that are a bit too crazy, other forms of reference work just as well. Films, cartoons, animal studies, youtube, online video sources, and especially peer/supervisor input help a lot. Maintaining camera work/cuts in the reference give a better feel for pacing and communication especially if you're trying to sell a slightly different idea to a supervisor. Strong reference is important.

When we're working with mocap animation we usually have a video file of the actors with notes from the director. We go through First Pass which is basic blocking/timing, or for mocap it is cleanup and asset attachments like guns and weapons. Second Pass continues the idea further with breakdowns, smoothing out keys, basic facial, etc. With Mocap we add weight, strengthening actions and then keyframe to push attitudes and actions. It's pretty rare to have the motion capture unedited as raw motion capture always has a weird feel to it. Final Pass is Lipsync, full animation, etc. Sometimes there's a super secret final pass for even more refinement but we try to lock it down during Final Pass.

In contrast, your reel begins with a great clip from ''The Goon''. In this shot, the characters have a subtler tone of movement that speaks volumes when they don't react to the blast in the background. The best film actors can often say so much with just their eyes, or a twitch of the mouth. When a shot demands this type of performance, please share some advice on how to keep the character alive.
Usually people think as long as something is moving that it's now officially 'alive'. It's important to make sure there's no dead pixels but constant motion tends to have a watery feel. Long holds deliver a good comedic anticipation and help solidify the focus of the shot. Note, the zombies crashing the car in the background. The audience's eye will always go towards either the most motion surrounded by nothing or lack of motion surrounded by movement. In this case the hold on Frankie and Goon setup the sudden impact of the zombies in the background. Animation in it's beats and rhythm is like music in that sense. Jeff Fowler, the director for The Goon, had amazing vision and it shows.

(Jason's reel including the Goon shot)

Recently on the 11 Second Club, we have seen a community thread titled ''Is this now a render competition?'' It discusses an idea that voters are overlooking solid animation to merit entries with nice renders. I believe the placement of your last two entries has flipped this theory on its head. I apologize for putting you in a spot, but please talk a bit about this and your own motives for entering.
The 11secondclub allows for some great experimenting for film and animation. I haven't done 2d in a long time and when I did do it seriously I honestly didn't know a whole lot about animation. I still have much to learn. The scope is rather daunting and 11secondclub is a nice way to crank a test for an idea out in a month. A lot of the planning is already taken care of as all you need is character and a story within a story of the audio piece. It's a great excuse to learn something new.

For September's competition, I loved your choice to use the B Boy rig while delivering a powerful performance. What advice would you to anyone using a similar ''limited'' rig?
I always wanted to try doing a character piece with a really simple character design to see if it would still emote well and B Boy seemed pretty good for that purpose. His general hunched over posture is very difficult to adjust so I used poses and ideas that worked with it. A hunched over, tired old grump and a nervous kid trying to do his best. I couldn't easily get opposing actions in his spine so I used different camera angles to hide certain areas to try to sell the different posing.

I felt it was important to avoid full body shots and for fk/ik switching the camera cuts helped. As for facial I threw on some basic eyes and I tried to really push opposing shapes for key sections especially anything that had Mmm or Ooo to make it read. I also used his limited eye shapes for secondary and to push his eye directions and feelings. For blinks his eyes just translate into the head. Overall it was quite tricky but it was fun thinking of how to deal with the limitations.

Between around frames 117-137, I love how you reveal so much about the coach. With just a simple turn, the coach appears powerful and authoritative, a statement that contrasts beautifully against the story's ending. Please talk us through some of your other acting choices in this clip.
When I acted it out I wanted a character that obviously had a lot of power but was ultimately disappointed with his protegé. It allowed for a nice progression of character going from self reflection, to explosive, to pleading, then ultimately to disappointment. I tried working in attitudes that would work with the default posings of B Boy without breaking him too much.

I put together a quick reference of what I did for B-Boy with one of the references I used, camera layout, blocking, then 3rd pass. Looking at this, I probably should've redone the reference as my facial isn't too good as I was concentrating a bit too much of what I wanted my character to do instead of being that character.

Switching attention to your winning entry, during your eCritique, David Tart mentions that your choice of style is reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes. Please tell us a bit about what inspired and influenced the design of the animation.
I pretty much grew up reading Bill Waterson so that's quite a compliment! I actually tried incorporating simple designs as I wasn't comfortable enough to actually animate a character with loads of details. I think it hurt me a little bit since in doing so, I threw away tools that could've strengthened it much more. Like adding in animated clothing and pupils.

Please talk a bit about the character's background and who he talking to?
Sadly I actually didn't plan this one out as much as I should have. My wife actually did most of the real work by just acting it out with little input as I was somewhat lost. She turned it into a Shakespearean performance of speaking outward towards an audience. I worked with it as reference.

I have found that, when acting out shots, in some cases it's actually better to instruct others to act it out for you.  A lot of the time when you yourself act out the shot, you focus a little too much on creating 'fun animation' like overacting or doing weird motions.  It doesn't come across as natural.  So when you direct someone else, not only do they showcase and practice their acting ability, you can direct them to get the sort of motions, feelings, and timings that you want.  They get to concentrate on their acting and you get to concentrate on getting good reference for animation.  Win win in a lot of cases.  

I must compliment you on your wonderful use of poses. It delves deep to the heart of the audio, presenting a rich variety of emotion. The child's warm thoughts of innocence towards being a child balances beautifully against the headache of adulthood. However, David advises about the use of emotion arcs to strengthen the overall performance. Please share your thoughts on this.
Character Design I would like to say Dave Tart's amazing by the way, and I learned a great deal from him when I was at DNA. He's absolutely right and I should've reworked a few things instead of resorting to extra posing/breakdowns, facial that doesn't push the character, and another hold near the end. His comment of speeding that one section at frame 183-200 faster so I could get in on that accent on 'adults' is dead on. Same with 'frownie eyebrows' killing some moments.

(please click here to watch Jason's eCritique)

On the 11 Second Club site, you have wrote that it took you three weeks. Yet, it was uploaded on your Vimeo channel on October 13th. I wish to ask how long the animation took you to make? Also, please talk a bit about how you divided this time for the production process.
I totally forgot about that feature. I actually used Vimeo during the work in progress to send to a few friends for critique so that's probably what's messing with the date. It'd be pretty hilarious if I pulled that off during evenings in 13 days. Hopefully one day I'll be able to consistently create high quality work at that speed but I pretty much used most of the month to do even this test animation.

Not only are the volumes handled well, but I really like your use of weight shifts. Please talk a bit about how you approached this in your 2d animation in order to get the feel of weight and balance.
I setup some basic layout for the character in 3d to help where I wanted the character to be and then did the main poses, breakdowns, and facial in 2d. Having a 3d layout helped to maintain 3d volume and keep me on model.

John K: creator of Ren and Stimpy
In both your entries, you have a lot of really wonderful expressions going on with the character's eyes and mouth. Talk a little bit about what you think about when posing the face.
I remember that John Kricfalusi mentioned how it's really important to push things so that they're never generic. I probably could've went further with them but I felt it'd make them go off model too much for the read.

As you have grown in your animation career, your responsibilities to character and story have surely evolved. Please tell us a bit about the important stepping stones in your career and how you feel these have contributed to the animator you are today?
The Ant Bully
I'm lucky in that I got to work with some amazing animators. DNA Productions was probably where I learned the most as I got to animate on Jimmy Neutron and then Ant Bully. Experiencing film production really forces the bad habits out of you rather quickly. One thing that is important is to be a clean animator especially if you don't have access to finalers or cleanup animators. So, if you're doing weird silly stuff to the character like intersecting limbs or bizarro constraining, you'll still have to deal with them when it's time for rendering.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I'm happy for the resource that 11 second club provides as it's a wonderful exercise for all levels of animators.