Who, What and Are You An Animation Gardener?

Our first public attempt at locking down some specifics about what the animation garden is and who it is for. All a giant work in progress, but you have to stick you neck out at some point :) Who is an animation gardener?
You may be an animation gardener already and not know it :) The animation garden is inclusive, not exclusive. Any like minded individual can be referred to as a fellow gardener. The broader you can think the better. We don’t own any of this or get to set the destination. We are travelling in a direction, towards sustainable self reliance and happiness for artists. Those travelling in the same general direction are more than welcome in the garden.

What is an animation gardener? 
An Animation Gardener aspires to meet one rule, 3 goals and 12 principles.

The Animation Garden Rule
1Don’t Be Desperate

Covered in a previous post (two posts back) this is pretty much the starting point for any Animation Gardener. If you can't manage to keep desperation at bay it will undermine your ability to 
implement everything that follows.

The Animation Garden Goals
1Have fun being productive.
2Learn and grow.
3Share your knowledge.

The Animation Garden goals are pretty self explanatory I feel, they are the things we want out of our lives as artists.

The Animation Garden Principles
1Use your environment for inspiration.
2Set aside time for playful creativity.
3Go with the creative flow.
4Set small achievable goals.
5Value creative relationships.
6Use all work as an opportunity for feedback.
7Improve incrementally.
8Focus on your story. The craft will follow.
9Give your ideas willingly to others.
10Foster a wide range of interests.
11Stay open to suggestions.
12Make your message fun to say.

The 12 Animation Garden principles are loosely bases on the 12 principles of Permaculture.  Basically they amount to a check-list, if what you are doing falls within these parameters you can be sure your activities are sustainable. The Permaculture principles were originally written up with agriculture in mind (sustainable food production) as will be obvious from the language used. They have however evolved and grown over time to encompass a broader context, covering the creation of a sustainable culture, I am not the first to apply these principles to a new situation, and may not even be the first to apply them to this specific situation.

Below I have listed each principle with a little more detail and put the original Permaculture principle with each one so you can see the leaps I have made to keep them relevant. This was a highly subjective process. I'd welcome any feedback on other ways they might have been bent towards our needs.

Use your environment for inspiration
Be inspired by your context, it is unique to you and will lead to more unique ideas.
Permaculture 01 - Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder” By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
Set aside time for playful creativity.
Understand what sustains you creatively, set aside time to maintain relationships and networks that will immerse you in your special creative fertiliser.
Permaculture 02 - Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines” By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
Go with the creative flow.
Produce to feed your creativity. When your momentum is coming from within instead of commercial direction you'll need to listen to your inner child. Spinning your wheels without producing will stunt your momentum, come back to that later and follow your inspiration so you can move forward. Act out & record ideas (audio +/- visual), keep a visual diary of ideas for later, the right ideas for you will last or reemerge later.
Permaculture 03 - Obtain a yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach” Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
Set small achievable goals.
Animation Gardeners are not interested in boom and bust, crunch time, deadlines, creative manic depression. Manage your time according to what your body and mind tell you. Less of higher quality is better than more that can not be sustained.
Permaculture 04 - Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation” We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
Value creative relationships.
Nothing forges new friendship like working hard along side someone. Projects come and go but those friendships remain. These people will pick you up when you are flat, push you to do better and congratulate you on your successes. Value and make time to nurture those friendships.
Permaculture 05 - Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course” Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
Use all work as an opportunity for feedback.
Never throw work away without showing it to someone. Even your worst work can start a conversation that broadens your understanding. Everything you produce has some value, make use of it, most of all learn from it.
Permaculture 06 - Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine” By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
Improve incrementally.
Beware the never finished masterpiece. If you work has improved, publish it and move on. Let your body of work tell the story of your evolution as an artist.
Permaculture 07 - Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race”. Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
Focus on your story. The craft will follow.
Only commercial institutions that desire tools to turn to their own agenda want you to put the craft ahead of the story or message. Keep an eye on the big picture. What are you trying to say with your work? Use this as your compass. Be aware of how small achievements help to bring you closer to your bigger goals.
Permaculture 08 - Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees” By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go
Give your ideas willingly to others.
Share your creative journey with other animation gardeners and offer to help those who share with you. Form good will buffers.
Permaculture 09 - Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
Foster a wide range of interests.
If animation or creative art is all that you are interested it is only a matter of time until you burn out. Look up and expand your view, have other interests and use them as inspiration for your work.
Permaculture 10 - Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work” By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
Stay open to suggestions.
Be open to the changes in direction that might be initiated by interactions with other animation gardeners. Where ideas meet is fertile ground for more original ideas. Don’t be precious.
Permaculture 11 - Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path” The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
Make your message fun to say.
Listen to your inner child and work towards parts of the process that feel like play. Think of ways you can get your message across that maximise your time engaging with the parts of the process that feel like play.
Permaculture 12 - Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be” We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.

And here is an interesting little point, I'm not sure how useful it is beyond maybe making them easier to remember. But there just happen to be 12 Animation Garden principles and of course 12 animation principles. If you arrange them in the right order, turn your head sideways and squint there is even a kind of relationship between them.

The Animation Garden Principles
The Animation Principles
Use your environment for inspiration.Anticipation
Set aside time for playful creativity.Exaggeration
Go with the creative flow.Overlap and follow through
Set small achievable goals.Ease-in and ease-out
Value creative relationships.Secondary actions
Use all work as an opportunity for feedback.Solid Drawing/Technical skills
Improve incrementally.Timing and Spacing
Focus on your story. The craft will follow.Appeal
Give your ideas willingly to others.Staging
Foster a wide range of interests.Arcs
Stay open to suggestions.Squash and Stretch
Make your message fun to say.Animation type/style

Are you an animation gardener?
If from where you are it seems I've been stating the obvious so far during this post then chances are you are at least in part already an animation gardener. If so that is great, maybe this can just serve as another way of articulating how you feel, or identifying kindred spirits. If not then hopefully I have challenged you to look at your creative life in a different way.

Even during the time I have been researching and exploring these concepts I have encountered other on the same wavelength who I now think of as fellow gardeners.

What are we planting next in the garden?
Now for the next and perhaps most challenging part, to put our work where our mouth is. We want to spread the word about the Animation Garden, so we are going to attempt to produce a short animation for each principle. As we do we will attempt to use the principles to guide us, we will be testing them as we go. If they are any good we should come up with something we are proud of that was also fulfilling to produce.

Any feedback is more than welcome.
( Anim Garden Principle 6 - Use all work as an opportunity for feedback ;)

A New Name For A New Way Of Thinking About Creativity

So in case you haven't noticed we have a new name and it kind of blew out to become a new look for our whole Blog and Facebook Page.

If you have been following the posts of late you will have seen I have been struggling for a name to go with our current path, but now we have it. I've re-branded this blog twice in the last 6 months which can't be good for attracting and keeping followers, but it seems an unavoidable part of using a blog to express your thoughts as they evolve. For what its worth I love our new name and can't imagine wanting to change it for a long time now. I hope you will stick around as the journey slowly continues.

Welcome to the Animation Garden :)

Cultimation - THE RULE

Nobody like rules much, and the last thing I want to do is be "the man". But thinking it over as I have the last month or two I can't really see how we are going to redefine animation as a sustainable community unless we can agree on one thing before moving on to the details.

So here it is, the one essential rule at the core of Cultimation  (still working on that name :P)....

That's it. Seems simple. But I have run into some different opinions about it so I will elaborate a little.

What I am NOT talking about here is your creative drive, one student put it to me that all artists should be desperate in a way. Sure you should be driven and maybe even desperate to initiate new creative experiences, based on my personal experience there is not much point in continuing with a creative career unless you feel this desire down to your bones. But what I am talking about is the context within which you will live your creative life.

So what are the things you need or want in life apart from the sheer joy of being creative every day? For me these can be boiled down to one thing, approval.

I've identified three main kinds of approval :
  1. Fundamentals -  Getting a job in the first place, keeping your job, helping to keep a studio in the black, generally justifying your continuing presence in the creative industries. This one evokes the strongest desperation of all in my experience.
  2. Money For Extras - This makes all material things and life experiences away from work possible (family, house, travel etc). Any industry's main form of approval is extra money.
  3. Status - Getting a promotion with more creative input and responsibility, getting more people to see your work, improving your reputation among your peers, even getting better grades or praise from teachers like me.

We also have to acknowledged the difference between understanding your needs and desperation. If you have a family, you need to support it, if you want to travel then you will need money and so on. I'm not about being militant. There are plenty of grey areas, but my argument is that our industry or even our nature has come to be underscored by a certain kind of desperation. A burning desire for approval that leads to a kind of consensus on compromise, deep compromises that effect how we work and what we produce.

Over and over in my career I have witnessed a kind of race to the bottom, the very minimum an artist can live on for the maximum amount of work on a product no one is proud of. I did type up some examples, but my feeling is that the post was getting too long, lets just say it has happened with every single full time employer I have had spanning Film, TV, Internet products and Games. Often it has happened in spite of that employers very good intentions, its just the nature of economic survival to squeeze and squeeze for maximum efficiency.

What is most perplexing is that while companies and corporations are more than happy to cash in on this situation, it is usually as situation supported or even driven by artists. Artists willing to work longer, be paid less and compromise on what they are capable of. All in order to save their job, the studio or further their career (I include myself in this).

That what we have to offer has become so flexible in value is quite bizarre. Here is a funny little video that puts the same values in different situations.

And here is the final kick in the guts, not once out of the many places I have worked has this strategy actually succeeded in saving the studio, building more jobs, a better standard of work, more creative freedom or strengthening the workplace stability. When you and your co-workers prove you can do more from less it is the nature of the system to expect you to meet that price from then on. In spite of my past desperation and that of my co-workers, non of the studios I have worked for full time are still producing today, does that sound sustainable?

I could understand us setting up a different set of values for ourselves than those observed by other professions if there was some kind of trade off. But I see no evidence that there is one. If anything, creative industries is one of the least stable and underpaid professions in the western world.

I could go off about the evils of the corporate system, tell horror stories about friends (or myself) drained of creative life while trying to cut back on how much they can work for etc. But that's old ground and you can draw your own conclusions. But what I can do is focus on a positive example, what would happen if we did all draw a line in the sand.

A quote:

I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don't have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I'll solve the problem for you the best way I know how. And you can use it or not – that's up to you. You are the client. But you pay me.

Steve Jobs Demoes Quick Look

This is Steve Jobs paraphrasing one of his hero's Paul Rand (designer of the Apple logo). Its so audacious, its terrifying for an industry veteran like myself. But whether you love or hate Apple, you can not deny we are talking about one of the most successful designers of the past century. Compare the progress and evolution of Apple while Steve Jobs was in charge with a company at the other end of the scale, maybe someone like Acer computers, who make cheaper stuff (I don't know a lot about Acer the company, so sorry of its offending anyone, I could have picked almost any other computer company, its just an example). Now think of your reputation and career as being one of these two, would you rather be known as the Acer of animation, or the Apple? Would you rather have the income of the Acer company, or the Apple company?

So if money is important to you, I'd put it to you that avoiding desperation will not only save you from less rewarding work experiences, but will also lead to you making more money in the long run. Ensuring you are associated with good work will lead to your work having a greater value.

Meanwhile the city where I work (Brisbane) has generally become synonymous with getting creative work done fast and cheep. It may not be quite as good as what you can get in other places, but its cheep and dependable. Ultimately in an attempt to get more work (being more desperate than others) it has become expected of us that we will meet the required deadlines, but not be quite as creative. We are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The chicle's conjured up to get us desperate are many, and I've peddled a few of em myself in my time. Doing work experience while still a student I was told by my first boss, I had to be willing to do anything to get a foot in the door, another great story my dear friend Frank told me about featured a successful industry bloke who said he succeeded because while others were sleeping, he was creeping. Goals are another common tool used to fit us square pegs into round holes, list them, tick them off, achieve them, want them more than the next guy.

All of that can be fine, IF the processes and work environments you are entering into are in line with your dreams. The reasons you got into this whole crazy pastime in the first place. If they are not (and they often are not) then its probably desperation that got you there. You are probably working harder, longer and at a lower quality (spreading your skills and time thinner and thinner) so you can prop up a system that will not give you anything that lasts in return. Its not that the people employing you are necessarily evil, its just the system demanding the best economic outcomes without taking individuals into account, that is after all what it is designed to do. For an artist it is quite simply unsustainable.

Work for free or a full price but never cheap

I appreciate this creates a  tricky situation for someone trying to build a career. When I was younger and hungry for success (Oops there is another of those clichés, should I say more desperate for approval) I probably would have called this arrogance. Back then I might have characterised this as advising artists to think they are too good for certain jobs or tasks. But that is not what I mean, it is more that some jobs or expectations probably don't line up with your dreams as artist, in fact they are often sold to us as being a path towards our dreams while they really just erode them. I don't think its arrogant to know what you want, to know that you want your love of this medium to last, and understand your environment enough to know when you are really making progress.

Please remember, I am not necessarily preaching any kind of extreme or fundamentalist position, where you draw the line is your call in the end. I'm just saying I think you need to have a line drawn somewhere in the first place, and that collectively we could and should be setting that standard a lot higher than we are.

So a lot of this is about knowing yourself, knowing why you do anything creative at all. I'm willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases it has to do with things that can not be measured by a growth obsessed economic system and has more to do with things that are harder to measure. Things like learning something, trying something new, working with other creative people, and most of all creating emotional connections with the people who see your work. These are the things that I think can create a positive feedback loop that feeds an artists sole, and lead to a better quality of work that must in the long run create more wealth (in some shape or form) for us all. This positive feedback, a system that creates its own energy and momentum, a context and community of artists that provides its own fuel is right out of the Permaculture textbook, and it is what I plan to explore from here on.


So its time for this blogger to stop beating around the bush and get to the point that's been gnawing away at my mind since kicking this blog back into life a few months ago.

The bottom line is, I'm not happy with the statuesque in the world of animation. I've spent about 20 years coming at it from every angle and the sad truth is it has never really turned out great. There have been some good times for sure, but ultimately studios of all kinds play the short term game, use up 'talent' like it is an endless resource and consistently put the all mighty dollar ahead of the very thing they need to survive. Creativity

I've also tried the indie path, making my own TV show and working on several indie games, but the market had become virtually impenetrable for anyone unwilling to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

I'm not going to dwell too much on the negatives, but they are the starting point. I feel the potential creativity within most artist ends up being stunted by the systems they are forced to exist within so they can pay the rent etc. I'm sure we could argue the finer points of how the industry treats people till the cows come home, but there isn't much point. What I'm saying is that I think we could aim for something better and I bet I'm not alone.

So this idea has been kicking around in my head for a while, but I've been unable to pin it down. The vocabulary I needed ended up coming from an unlikely source, I hope to be moving to the country soon and doing a lot of gardening, and my research into gardening led me to Permaculture. I found this to be a fascinating movement, and immediately began to see connections between it and what I was trying to put together in my mind about animation.

What is Permaculture? Its essentially about designing sustainable environments with the focus being on how to provide for our needs in a way that works with nature’s processes and ecology, it can apply to almost any other part of your life, the garden, the house you live in, the way you get to work, the products you buy, etc. It is about working towards a system that creates more energy than it uses (just like nature does), now think back to animation, doesn't that sound like the kind of animation studio, school, club or community you would like to be a part of? Can you imagine a creative workplace where people leave at the end of the day feeling more inspired and invigorated than they did where they arrived? Is that even possible? It seems so far removed from the studios I have worked in where everyone leaves exhausted and zombiefied at the end of the day (or night). It seems like a pipe dream, but could it be that usually its just something people never think to try, something dismissed because of financial concerns.

What feeds the creative spirit? We know its not money, no-one was paid to do ancient cave paintings but they still happened. We know its not fame, most animators I know are shy when out in the "real world".

Taking a broad perspective I believe it is two main things that make an animator tick.
  • A connection between something from us and those who see our work.
  • The opportunity to learn about the nature of that connection and explore its potential.
What if ensuring this happened was the first priority of a creative community every day, the first priority of a school, even the first priority of a business?

Could one design a system that achieved this? An ecologically inspired design for a creative environment, this has become my new fascination ( along with Permaculture itself, but that doesn't belong on this blog :P ) and will I think become the focus of my animation related blogging for the foreseeable future. I hope you'll come along for the ride and give me some feedback too :)

Overcoming hurdles for teaching and learning Spacing - Part2

The other thing that makes it hard to teach spacing, is that when animating you have to think about what you intend to do with the spacing at a different time to when you apply it.


Because the spacing (or what you intend to do with the spacing when you get around to it) will potentially have an impact on what you can do with the posing and timing. This creates a chicken and egg scenario, the timing and posing needs to be done before the spacing, but the spacing is needed to inform the decisions you will make about posing and timing.

Experienced animators who have seen their spacing in action many times over form a mental image of what their spacing will be for a scene (not always how it turns out in the end, but an educated guess to use as a starting point) and then often without even realising it they will factor that into the poses they create. But for a student who has not yet seen much of the spacing they have produced in action this can pose a problem, I find that the uncertainty of how spacing will effect the animation can lead to a reluctance to embrace and practice it.

So an example.

Here (above) I have created two poses to start my scene. Its not all of the keys, its the two main storytelling poses, there needs to be anticipation and overshoot keys added in there yet, but before I can make them I really need to think about the spacing a bit. Its set to stepped tangents so you can't see any inbetweens.

So next (above) I have made a piece of animation you would probably never make, just so I can make my point I have applied some spacing to the basic poses. If this wasn't being done just to illustrate a point it would be a complete waste of time, because all the work I did on the pacing here will need to be re done when I add more keys. The animation here is something like what an experienced animator would imagine before adding more key poses.

But you can see I have decided to make him accelerate up into the final pose, there are going to be lots of inbetweens around the start of the scene and not many at all towards the end. In fact at the end of the movement he moves really fast, not because of the timing, but because the inbetweens are spaced out so that he covers the whole second half of the movement between two frames. As it is here we have heaps of time to absorb the movement around the first pose because there are lots of inbetweens close together there, but the end of the movement seems to pop because there are so few inbetweens that we can hardly take in the movement at all.

OK so now we can delete all that spacing (back to stepped tangents for a bit) and get back to the real process, I am happy with the main keys (well maybe not, but its just an example and time is a factor :P) and I have taken some time to imagine the spacing to the best of my ability. You can see I have added and anticipation key where he bends his knees and and overshoot key where he stretches out and then settles back into the final position.

I know there will be lots of time to take in the anticipation pose because it is where he is moving lowly, so the pose probably needs to be towards the believable end of the range I'm shooting for in this movement. Anything strange will stick out because the viewer will have time to study this moment. The overshoot pose on the other hand will be quite different, the spacing will make the movement will be very fast at this point, this is where I can be a little more adventurous, viewers may not be able to study the pose, but I still want it to have impact.

On this still of the overshoot frame you can see that I have stretched out his body and arms a lot (obviously 'a lot' of stretch depends on the style of animation you are doing). Looked at as a still it is a very unusual pose, but when seen in motion you wont be able to see this, because I know what the spacing will be doing at this point in the scene I know this key is more about creating something that you feel than something you see. Knowing what I will do with the spacing informs what I do with the key. it provides a great place to play and be creative, you still have to test your work a lot, I'm not talking about anything so extreme that it breaks the continuity of the animation, but in some cases you would be amazed what you can do.

With some spacing added you can't really see the stretch at all, but hopefully you can feel the impact of the overshoot. If I had more time, I'd refine it further (and go on to add overlap etc etc), what I would be aiming for is the most impact I can get out of the poses without it seeming to pop (loose its continuity).

I remember seeing a key frame of Rafiki in Lion King 2 where he is spinning around with his arms out as he sings and for one frame his hand almost completely fills the shot. Not only is the hand completely blocking the view of the characters face, but the hand is all stretched out. I was a newb inbetweener at the time and remember thinking that it must be a mistake, but when I saw the scene playing later I realised you couldn't even see the frame because the spacing dictated that it was moving very quickly at that point, but you did get a distinct feeling of the hand swooshing past the camera. Its about 2:03 into this video, see if you can spot it :P

There are some really fun examples on this site http://animationsmears.tumblr.com/, BUT don't get the wrong impression. These are extreme cases, its not a chance to go crazy every time you have some fast movement, hopefully you can see from my example above that you can be quite subtle about how you use this too. As with everything in art and animation, its about choosing your moment, creating contrast and being selective. I do think though that when it comes to exercising these kinds of tools, student animators generally tend towards the conservative and I'd love to see students pushing things a bit more, while you are a student is the perfect time to push things and see what you can get away with. Chances to play around can rare once you are in the industry.

Spacing is a key factor in how you block and time out your animation. Its hard to taking into account when you are first learning because you can't necessarily see how it will help. The solution is to produce, but keep an open mind, be adventurous about how you uses spacing. Explore the extremes, find that point where a scene breaks and then come back a bit from there. How much can you push the inbetweens around between two keys and what impact will that have on the keys themselves. I think a good animator knows where the edge is, and isn't afraid to step over it every now and then to see what happens.

The Art of Animation Business... and Freedom


What was that worth? The animated film you just watched.

Value for money.

Value and money. Do they mix?

Thinking and feeling are often erased by dollars and nonsense.

Beancounters, shareholders, alleged 'creative' teams, investors, committees and risk managers; all assigned to tuck the expression of creativity neatly under the bulge of the bell curve. The combination of aversions and blinkers grinds deep furrows, ruts, for artists to stumble toward the mediocre.

Nelson Boles.

How did you do?

What did you invest? "flash and AE and love"

Then to present such a beautiful creation for free on the Internet.

How will you live?


Ahh, you're a student. Your work markets the animator, not the other way round.

There is a wonderfilled freedom in being an animation student that is sometimes only noticed in the rearview mirror.

A return to study for skilled animators can yield a lost sense of freedom satisfaction that money can't buy.

It is personally why I think the Gobelins "student" films are so good and why many of us will always be animation students. Even if it's for free using the Internet.

Animation (a) Compulsion

Play the clip and ramble through the animation bramble with a song in your head.

The words were writ while listening to the music. So in attempt at communication amplification, if the mood set for writing is matched to the mood set for reading, hopefully the communication achieves a greater clarity.

While many animators are spending time worrying, some are animating. They need to.

Each morning they wake dreams driven by what they wish to animate.

In the moments before the (grand) opening of an animator's eyelids the scraping and plonking of life's hurdles penetrate the deep creativity of dream sleep to needle the animator into the day.

Fuelled with creativity and hastily scribbled thumbnail sketches the animator is ready to leap, side-step or barge through the everyday to get nestled in the timeless alpha zone and start (or continue) animating.

Animation is a compulsion in a rare few creative people rather than a career choice.

They take it into their grasp and hold it like a malleable hot chocolate hug mug. Either the animation forms around the animator, or the animator forms around the animation. In some cases they blend so that the creator is indistinguishable from the creativity. Animation is no longer the illusion of life; it becomes life.

A life spent in a timeless state is to touch upon eternity.

I have spoken to a few recent graduates of the animation course recently. They have tried other things. They have found work and scrape together crumbs. Now, with real-life jobs and tasks pressing sticky fingers, and looping coils like a crushing python upon them, find themselves back to exploring the magic of creating animation.

Overcoming hurdles for teaching and learning Spacing - Part1

Spacing is one of the hardest issues I encounter as a teacher. Its so vague and hard to pin down compared to its cousins Timing and Posing. Students can display a reluctance to sit down and break bread with spacing, instead opting for the more familiar and easier to understand rellies at the other end of the table. Spacing is a beautiful nuance, a powerful subtext, but in an age where capital letters and more exclamation marks are the standard fall back for extra emphasis it can be hard to communicate its importance.

If you are not aware what spacing is yet, then you can check out our resource page HERE

I think one problem is that it can be quite hard to find a good example of spacing..... Ok Ok, calm down. I know there are some amazing animators out there executing spacing with breathtaking precision and examples of their work all over YouTube. But the problem is that its hard to find an isolated example of spacing that is truly powerful on its own while I can easily find specific examples of great posing and the impact of timing is so clear (relatively speaking).

So examples of good spacing tend to fall into two categories in my experience.

The First is to take an abstract example, the bouncing ball is the classic. Everyone who has ever studied animation and taught it has been through the bouncing ball thing, and with good reason. Every animation teacher is in furious agreement that the bouncing ball is a great example in that it clearly demonstrates the two extreme applications of spacing, easing in and easing out (Here is the kind of thing), I certainly have no intention of trying to remove it from the course I teach in.

There are other good abstract examples too, I love this piece by Michel Gagné as an example spacing used to great effect.

But what I have observed is the creation of a disconnect in the mind of some students, a notion that there are specific contexts for considering spacing, and that when it comes time to animate a character acting it is put aside. Sometimes I would even say students get the impression that spacing is all about weight and gravity, when in my animation I find it to be an integral part of portraying emotion too. Now just to be clear, none of that diminishes the importance of the lessons to be learned by animation bouncing balls and exploring the use of spacing in abstract contexts. I just wonder at the wisdom of so many teachers sticking to the one kind of example, it potentially creates the impression that it is about the bouncing ball its self, instead of the tools used to create it. A student of mine found this great quote from Kevin Koch.....
"Slow-ins and slow-out are important, but they’re a specific spacing solution to the problem of making something decelerate to a stop, or accelerate out of a stop, in a pleasing way. They’re a subtopic of the subject of spacing."
So I guess I'm saying that while abstract examples are a good starting point, there is still a longer conversation to be had. That conversation doesn't fit into a web tutorial, blog post, or promo video for an online school very well. I for one am hungry for a deaper conversation.

The second kind of example is to find a an excellent scene from a movie or something, where the spacing has been used to great effect.

But this represents a problem from the students point of view as well. As I said at the start, the student is pre disposed to looking at and understanding the power of posing and timing ahead of spacing. This scene is firing on all cylinders, not only is the spacing great, but so is the posing and timing. When I try to break down a complete scene and discus the effect of the spacing with a student I am often greeted with a blank stair or discordant statement that leaves me inclined to deduce that they are actually giving the credit for the impact of spacing to the timing or posing. So I suspect that some students have trouble seeing what the spacing achieves when it is presented within a complete context.

So I thought I would try to create an example of my own. The goal is not for these videos to show how to do spacing, but to provide a clear and relevant example of how spacing is going to be important in your animation. Its tricky, I want it simple enough for it to be clear what effect the spacing is having, but complex enough to try and open some doors in the mind of a student. I also want it to be clear that spacing is related to attitude as well as weight. I've decided to try a walk, but have put my ego aside and kept its simple and unpolished. So you will see there are some off balance frames and IK pops in the legs etc, but that's ok because I want the focus on spacing alone (plus time is a factor :P)
An important note, I'm taking a risk here by breaking one rule to demonstrate another, in your own work I think you should always nail your posing and timing before moving on to spacing.

Its quite confronting for me to post work on the net that is structured this way, it could easily be taken out of context and used against me, maybe that's why I haven't seen much like this around anywhere else :P

There are only 4 key frames, extremes (where the feet are furthest apart) and passing points (where one foot is passing the other). The timing and posing for these keys is exactly the same one each walk. All I have changed is the spacing between the keys.

Hopefully you can see that the feel of the walk can be completely changed through the power of spacing alone. In the angry walk I have as a general rule made things accelerate towards the extreme poses and slow down when approaching the passing points. The Strutty one is the opposite. slowing down as it approaches the extremes and speeding up as it approaches the passing point. Just as with the bouncing ball, these are two extreme solutions, there are limitless variations between them. Remember that the time taken for each step is exactly the same in each walk.

I think it helps also to look at some parts of the walk in isolation and focus on one thing at a time to get a feel for its impact.

With some points the difference in the feel of the movement it's so dramatic that it is hard to believe the timing is the same. For example look at how hight the foot coming forward seems to be coming up off the ground in the middle walk and now focus on the same thing on the feet on the right. The key frame where the foot is up off the ground is exactly the same on each example I promise, and yet the character on the right seems to be shuffling his feet along closer to the ground, all because of the spacing.

Now I'm hoping you can fill in the blanks, imagine if you combined this impact with your own specific poses and timing. Just imagine how much more powerful your animation could be.

Thank yourself for not growing old

Animation. The pursuit of improvement is in the doing.

The most difficult part of jumping off a bridge with a large elastic band around the ankles is to jump.

Getting into an animation project, opening the software to start or continue work is sometimes a great hurdle for some. That is why it is good to form some basic habits in the studio.

Arriving at your work area open the software you will be animating with and open the project that is being worked on. Do it. Do it as a habit. Every work day for at least 6 weeks, that is, do it 30 times before even thinking about what you are doing. Do it before opening any emails or social networking pages. If you haven't done it yet, do it now.

It all boils down to the old animation adage, "Getting started is all about getting started".

A wise animator also said, "Jump in, don't over think it, just jump in [and animate]. Do that for awhile, then look at what you've got. That's when to start thinking. When you have something to think about." It's an interesting approach. Best not applied in some North Queensland rivers as the something worth thinking about may have hold of your leg.

Another wise animator used to espouse, "Beware of paralysis of analysis." Whereas marriage may be a thinking person's game, it would appear that animation is about releasing a subconscious flow of creativity, releasing the animation animal within, before caging it up with too much thinking.

Which brings us to thanking yourself.

There are a few things that an animator can do in the present. The first is mentioned above. The second is actually unplugging the modem from the computer, thus unplugging the Internet dopamine drip from receptors in the brain. Freezing winter farmyard fowl, going cold turkey. Some animators are now choosing to work at computers that have no Internet connection capability.

The third is to sketch or write down your goal for the animation in the next hour or three. Then repeat the process after each coffee sucked Tim Tam to form a habit. A good one.

The future you, who is the current you, will thank you, when the future you becomes the current you in a few hours time. Knowing that the goals have moved from the brain to page, and having made a contract, of sorts, with one of ourselves, is a great way to take personal responsibility to animate and get the job done.

In the alpha wave take off zone

As we all have found, once in 'the zone', surfing the alpha waves, a creative artist steps outside of time. While all those in the 'real world' are aging, animators remain young, youthful and timeless in the zone. You have yourself to thank for putting you there.

Work on your good habits. Happy animating.

Blaming Software

At the moment in my teaching I am introducing a class to a whole bunch of new stuff to do in Maya, and like clockwork I have noticed the little comments starting to creep in about the program preventing the students from getting the work they want.

This kind of thing makes me wish we could lock students away from all computers for the first few years of their animation life. Not because I want to save them from the frustrations of using software, but because I want them to realise that their short comings have nothing to do with software and everything to do with experience.

My first animation job was at a completely digital free studio, everything drawn by hand, photocopied onto cel, painted with real paint and shot on film. Even the line testers used video editing stations.

Just as I am introducing my students to new things, those teaching me at Disney were pushing me way out of my comfort zone. And just as my students are discovering, I often found that my work lacked the polish, precision or appeal that I hoped it would. But because I and all my peers and teachers were only using paper and pencils I had no one to blame but myself. Its pretty hard to blame your lightbox for a bad drawing.

Its normal for your work to be sub par when you are trying things for the first time (or even 10th time), its been that way since long before computers were around. If you can see your work could be better that is a good thing, it means your eyes are being opened to the potential in a situation, that you will be aware of ways you can do something better the next time. That is of course as long as you accept the responsibility instead of blaming some external factor.

Make no bones about it, every time you blame a program for poor factors in your animation it is a lost opportunity to learn. Every time you blame something else you give yourself permission to blunder on the same way a bit longer, instead of asking how you might improve your approach or frame of mind next time. When you sidestep the responsibility  you also sidestep the changes that have to happen within yourself if you are going to grow and develop as a creative individual.