Some James Baxter Goodies

Chances are you grew up watching the animation of James Baxter. Recently he gave a lecture at Dreamworks, and lucky for us the mysterious Seward Street blogger was there to take some notes. He was also interviewed recently for the Animation Podcast, and I found this printed interview on Animated Buzz.


Dana said...

Horrah...more ways for me to become a better animator!! Thanks Ian ^___^
I like the idea about assigned lightbox's, it'd be easier and it could help give it a real studio feel.

"Keep moving forward", I love that quote.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ian! Cool links. The 'mysterious' Seward Street is actually animator James Hull, who has worked at Disney, Dreamworks and James Baxter Studios as well. :) He has a link to his own rather awesome showreel somewhere within the Seward Street blog too.


Ian said...

Hey thanks Andy.

Is that Andy F, ex Oska now at Krome, or some other Andy?

Ian said...

If your new to the Animation Podcast blog then you should work your way through the whole backlog. Its one of the best ever online resources for animators and the intervies are great to listen to while your working. :)

frank said...

Hey Ian

I haven't turned off the modem, yet. Am listening to the Animation Podcast.

James Baxter talks about how the thing that he first 'got'/understood in animation was 'spacing'.

Usually I see that timing and spacing are bunched together as a term in animation. I guess timing is when an action happens and spacing is the 'ma' (thankyou Mr. Miyazaki) inbetween the actions.

Are there any good references that go a bit further in depth into timing and spacing that you could direct us/me to? Or any words of wisdom?

I'm looking to get emotional effects. pretty much, in class we take our roughs to the linetester and bumble about guessing and then get your advice. So my rudimentary grasp of the concept is written on that sticky note over there, "line test, line test, line test."

I'm looking to understanding better things like 'holding off' on giving the audience what they need or expect (a'la Glen Keane), or animating calm as per Miyazaki. I'm trying to study Chuck Jones shorts.

I want to understand the application of timing and spacing a bit better and am not afraid to read good articles.

Ian said...

Yeah often when I say timing I'm talking about spacing. Its confusing I know.

In this case I think they are actually talking about the physical space between the drawings on each page, when things are speeding up or slowing down and by how much. At the level these guys are talking about the animators miro manage the scene, they draw every frame (they mention how Richard Williams would even animate straight ahead sometimes), this is why he has to make this distinction between keys (in graphite) and inbetweens (in blue) you mentioned in an earlier comment. We never had the budget to work at this level at Disney in Sydney, and there is nowhere near enough time within our traditional content at Southbank. But if you can imaging the scene arriving at the assistants desk (more confusing terminology, could be Cleanup artist, Inbetweener or Assistant depending on the studio structure) with there being a drawing for every frame in the scene. The animator has intimately chosen the position for each frame relative to those around it (spacing).

In Sydney they established a method based on the most common requirements for inbetweens and then had a system where animators could communicate appropriately when they wanted an exception, I think it was kind of a hybrid between the studios TV roots and its new found place in the feature length (but on a tenth of the budget) field. This meant that they could still keep an inbetweening department that came at the end of the process like a TV studio (using more cheep labour), but to a large degree (as much as we could afford with our budgets) give the animators the opportunity to manipulate the spacing in particular ways (providing inbetween roughs). One up side of this was that as an inbetweener you had to develop a wide range of skills, you had to be able to work clean and understand what was happening in the animation. I’m potentially biased but we often had the issue of inbetweeners contributing more to the look of the scene, while getting paid less than the cleanup artist ahead of them, which suited the produces fine. I can’t complain, I was able to learn a heap about animation at the entry level into the studio, and if we hadn’t been able to make them cheep we never would have gotten the opportunity in the first place.

Here is my vague understanding of what happens in big studios with larger budgets (Get ready to be confused). The animator can have an assistant (sometimes referred to as an inbetweener, but I would say more of an animation apprentice), they would work closely with the animator and one of their jobs could be to put in extra rough drawings between the keys. In other cases the animator would do all this themself (I think this is what James was doing at the early stage of his career in London) , then the cleanup artist (also sometimes called an assistant just to confuse) would produce all of the clean drawings, keys and inbetweens. You can see why I just pick one system (the one I know best) and stick to it, it gets very confusing. Different parts of the world have very different ideas about the roles associated with different job titles. If you are ever lucky enough to get a job in a large traditional animation studio you have to keep your eyes open and ask lots of questions so you can make sure you have your head around their particular roles and structures.

So I think in this podcast they mean James ability to portray weight and emotion through timing just as we have covered in class. This works intimately with how you time out the actions within the whole scene, how long things take and what’s happening within each movement must work together, but maybe they are not quite the same thing.

When it comes to the linetester, it sounds to me like your biggest issue is not knowing what to expect when you watch your animation. Either by having a clear vision of the scene (on paper or in your mind), by acting it out, or by finding some reference you should have a very strong understanding of what you intend to achieve when you scene. What you guess initially is the how to time out your frames to achieve this end, and then you refine towards it. If you are just muddling around until it passes your checklist then you are only getting half the value out of the test, you will remove pops, bad arcs, things that are off balance or don’t flow, but you are not testing the performance.

This gets to the hart of what we have been discussing about appeal. I can look at your test and pull you up on technical aspects, but what about the other half of it? I can’t read your mind and know what you intended to happen, how you intended to make it feel. The responsibility passes from the teacher to the student, because it has to. This is what I’m pushing for in our course, what all the pep talks and drilling is about. The bench marks I can set can not be high enough, we need to put an end to “in class we take our roughs to the linetester and bumble about guessing and then get your advice”. If your heading to the linetester and haven’t yet answered the fundamental questions about what you want to achieve, how you want it to look and why then stop and go back, there is no point otherwise.

frank said...

OK. Got that. Very good. Thanks.

But I still hope to see questions from anyone else, so that we can get it even clearer.

But moving this mule along, I think then, it brings us back to planning and research.

So let's use the example of me, as a student working on an animation of my own devising.

I have limited, close to zero, animating experience in knowing how to generate a good performance that my audience can empathise with.

I have some idea of the 'look' I want for the film and am producing rough: backgrounds, character designs and colour charts to illustrate those factors.

But, say I don't want to spell out what my audience should be feeling in dialogue and overusing music/ soundtrack, I want them to feel certain ways at certain moments in the film as it builds to an 'adrenalin moment' through the animation with the other elements (colour, choice of camera angles, soundFX, music, dialogue, character design) as supporting the animation.

My understanding is this is where I take examples from film and acting performances that have appealed to me and drew out from me the feelings that I want to draw out from my audience. I dissect these performances to try to find out the timing and elements that I want to achieve in my own film.

I bring those ideas back to my mentors, so they can now see inside my head what I want to achieve.

Is that the next logical step before heading (back) to the line tester with a head full of avalanche mud?

animation_student said...

"In this case I think they are actually talking about the physical space between the drawings on each page, when things are speeding up or slowing down and by how much."

Could we have an illustration of what that means, please?

Ian said...

Frank - You still seem to want someone else to tell us if the performance is correct. Its your performance! You'll never get a great piece of animation with a head full of mud.

Make up your mind before any animation. What do you want. A clear picture in your head or mapped out in thumbnails. Glen Keane spends days working at this level, working and reworking the thumbnails until he has something that rings true to his vision.

A leap of faith is required here. You can make it happen if you think it up. I can help with the technical, but its time for you to take the lead with the creative.

I'll follow with the safety net ;)

Ian said...

I found this tutorial from Jason Ryan that shows the difference betwwen spacing and timing very well.

God I love animation. about 15 years I've been at it and I'm still learning stuff.

Thanks to the pokers and questioners for driving me to clarify these definitions.

Ian said...

Hmmm, feedback indicates that you can't open this link unless you sign up for Jason Ryans newsletter. You should do that anyway

At the top of the first newsletter you get will be a link to the Ramp up tutorials and there is one on spacing and timing. Its awesome!