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Old 06-07-2005, 04:12 PM   #46
Mike Feil
Character Animator
Sydney, Australia
Join Date: Apr 2002
Posts: 422
Hi, Jason. First off, you have been an inspiration to me since I started doing cg a few years ago. That first little interview you did with cgnetworks (back when it was called 3dfestival) about the cg industry and your general background was really fantastic, it also gave me alot of direction. I also frequent your blog as much as I can (always seems to give me a laugh). Anyway down to the questions.
        • What is the most influential idea, philisohpy, quote etc you have learnt in your character animation career, and how has it impacted on your work?
        • When animating characters for "Madagascar" and for "Lord of the rings" etc how did you crawl into the characters mind, and basically let the characters drive the performance?
        • I will be starting Animation Mentor this fall, what do you think I should be doing to prepare myself till then.
        • Do you think in order to become a 'great' of animation, you need to be born with some sought of special ninja talent, or can anyone become one with hard work and persistence.
        • And now seriously, how much coffee do you drink a day, on average? As I know your a big coffee fan.
See you at am this fall.
Old 06-07-2005, 04:13 PM   #47
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Mauricio Vasquez
Character Animator
Encino, USA
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hey jason!

-when do you think you will restart work on your short film?

] Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence [

The Journey Begins
Old 06-07-2005, 04:14 PM   #48
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jason schleifer
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Holy moly!

thanks folks! Wow.. I log on thinking that there's going to be, like, maybe 2 or 3 questions and BAM! 3 pages! oy vey! I'll do my best to catch up & answer as much as possible!

I look forward to spending the next week wearing out my fingers typing away! heh

oh, in case you couldn't find it.. here's a link to my demo reel, so you can see some shots moving! it doesn't have anything from Madagascar in it, 'cuz mad's not out on dvd yet.. but you can at least see some stuff from LOTR.


Okay, now on to the questions!

Thanks very much! I feel really lucky to be in the position I'm in & to have had such sucess. My wife likes to say "the sun shines out of my butt", which I think means that I'm just a really lucky person.. heh either that, or it's warm back there.. <shrug>

q-1. What education background do you have?
a. my "official" education is from the University of California, Santa Barbara where I graduated with a degree in Art Studio. What that really means is that I spent a lot of time in the art department taking courses like life drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, etc.. and then spent even more time sitting in front of the computer in the art lab learning photoshop, director, pagemaker, and various 3d animation software. However, at the time i went to school, most teacher's didn't know very much about 3d animation software, so I was extremely fortunate to get a chance to go to the Alias\Wavefront offices in Santa Barbara and take courses in Wavefront software and Alias software from the developers themselves. My animation education comes from a lot of books and self-study. I've only taken two animation courses in my life.. one was a history of animation course while in Santa Barbara from Dana Driskell. The other was a 3 day seminar from Richard Williams, which was AWESOME. Other than that, I've learned everything through trial and error, and from watching others and getting good critiques.

q-2. What are somethings that can get stressful in a 3d modeling, texturing and animation lifestyle of works?
a. There are different levels of stress. The first stress is whether or not you can actually do the work which is assigned to you. With every shot I get my first fear is that I've been faking it all along, and that people will soon find out that I'm a total hack, that I can't animate at all, and they'll go "what were we thinking???" and kick my butt to the street. Then there's the stress of showing your first pass of the work to your co-workers. Will it make sense? Will they understand what I'm trying to do? Will the blocking read? Then, you stress about the timeline you have to get the shot done in. A lot of money is being spent based on certain assumptions about your ability to get work done in a certain period of time. So there's always stress knowing that you HAVE to finish by a certain date.. no matter what. Then there's the stress of showing the work to an audience and seeing if THEY like what you've done. The other big stress with a lifestile like this is knowing when to put the work asside and focus on your family. Sometimes it's important to realize that work is only that.. work, and family is more important. Family should ALWAYS come first. But because we all love the industry and what we do.. sometimes it's hard to juggle the love of family and the love of work. That can get stressfull. Then there's always the stress about where to sit in the caffeteria. Do you sit with the animators? the riggers? the new people? aaagghh!!

q-3. Can you describe what a good cg artist would be made of from your point of view?
a. A good cg artist is someone who is able to focus on their art with extreme passion, but also knows a lot about the world outside the cg world. they should have a good idea about how to approach solving a problem, even if they don't know how to solve it immediately. What that means is, CG is always evolving. The solution which worked for something yesterday, may not work tomorrow. The technology changes, bugs appear in the software, the bar is continually raised. A good CG artist will be able to approach problems from different directions, and be able to try various things in order to come to a solution. My favorite CG artists like to share ideas and grow and come up with new things, and don't hide techniques and solutions because they're "afraid" of letting others know their secrets. They haev a well rounded knowledge of art AND technology, and get excited by learning new things. They're always striving and pushing and working towards something fun.. but they can also go out and talk about things non-cg related.

q-4. What great choices did you make to get to were you are today?
a- I made so many choices throughout my career, and had so many lucky things happen, it's hard to say which choices in particular put me where I am. The main thing I've done, however, is always been honest with myself as to what I want. I take an active role in determining where my career path will lay. For example, when I went to work at Weta, I knew that I wanted to be an animator and not just a rigger. So I worked towards that goal by using my spare time to animate the rigs i was building. This allowed me to build better rigs (good for the company), learn more about animation (good for me), and proved to the company that I cared about the film and how it was doing (good for me and for the company). I'm a firm believer in actively persuing what you want, as long as it doesn't hurt others. If you want to get to a certain position, find out what it is you need to do and go for it. Just thinking about it won't make it happen. The only way to get there is to take the first step.
Cheers! Yeah, I've been pretty lucky to be able to travel quite a bit. I think it's important to get out and see other cultures if you can.. nothing teaches you better than learning from others who don't have the same background you do!

q1. Were you originally from New Zealand (the profile mentions some studios based in the US)? I know that Weta's policy is to initially look for local applicants, rather than to try and pull people from abroad. So how much of a struggle was it for you to get that job?
a. I'm from california, originally (actually, I grew up about 5 miles from where I work now! yikes!). Weta definitely looks for local talent first.. partly because they want to grow the industry in new zealand, and partly because in order to get a work visa for an overseas applicant, they have to prove that nobody else in NZ can do the work that the particular applicant can. I was very lucky (again!) in that I worked for the software company which made the 3d animation software that Weta was using (Maya). They needed someone with specific Maya expertise, who could also communicate their needs with Alias|Wavefront. I had their exact requirements.. someone who knew his way around the software, had worked with developers and other production companies (part of my job at Alias was to go around and work with companies like Disney, DreamQuest, Square, etc and help solve problems they were having with Maya), and I also had a desire to work in production. So for me it was relatively easy. Right place, right time!

q2, A lot of people would consider their dream job to be working at Pixar, but I've always had my eyes on Weta. The projects they handle are amazing, and New Zealand is just beautiful. On the otherhand, when I hear of people that worked at Weta, it always seems like they only worked their for a few years before moving on. Not to pry too much, but is there any particular reason why you left (work beginning to get tedious, perhaps)?
a. Weta does indeed get amazing projects, and you can learn a TON there. New Zealand is one of the most special places in the world. I love it there, and certainly look forward to moving back sometime in the future! The main reason I left was that I had been there for 4 and a half years, and I missed my family. I also wanted to expand into cartoony style animation, and see where that would take me. Most people sign contracts at Weta for 1 to 3 years, and at the end of those contracts if Weta doesn't have enough work for people, they do indeed end up leaving. It's a sad fact of the industry that a lot of jobs are short-term contract based.

q3. Of all of the different aspects to 3d, character rigging is probably what I have the least amount of experience with. So I'm curious, but how long does the typical character rig take for you to construct? Along those same lines, what would you say has been the most difficult or complex rig that you've taken on, if you can think of one? Certainly they all present their own unique challenges.
It's difficult to put a timeline on creating a rig. At Weta I focused on creating the animation rigs (not the skinning rigs.. another group did that). The first "humanoid" rigs I created certainly took quite a while to get right, as there was a lot of feedback, and I wanted to put a number of features in to make things easier on the animators.. ik/fk snapping without any popping, a stretchy back rig, orientation compensation, etc. I was developing the techniques while trying to create the rig, so some things took longer than others. In addition, while creating the first rigs I was creating a system for generating rigs which would make rigging faster on future creatures. Basically, I created a mel script "macro" system.. almost an object-oriented approach to rigging. I would have a script for arms, a script for legs, a script for backs, for fingers, for heads.. etc. Then I'd have a global script for Aragorn, Gollum, Frodo, Sam, etc. Those global scripts would call the individual "macro" scripts, and generate the rigs on the fly. So if there was a change to the foot rig, all I had to do was modify the foot script, then re-run the global scripts and it would update all the rigs in a matter of seconds. So the first rig took months.. each subsiquent rig took seconds.

The most difficult rig I built was the Watcher in the Water rig.. that one was tough because there were 12 arms on him, some of which had to be hero foreground arms, some background. Every animator wanted a different way to animate.. some wanted FK arms, some IK. Some wanted half IK, half FK. Some wanted 5 IK controls, others wanted 10. It totally depended on the shot. So I had to develop a system which would let the animator choose the type of control they wanted, per tentacle! It was simply a mel script that they could call up which would show them the tenticle they wanted and the style of rig it had, then they could change it from, for example, a 5 control IK tentacle, to a 3 control FK tentacle. That took quite a bit of time.. but it was totally necessary, since each tentacle had to do something specific.

4. What kind of dogs do you have?
a. haha! ah.. an easy question! I've got 2 dogs.. a Border Collie, and a Lab x Border Collie x Golden Retriever. They're bot from New Zealand, and are awesome (if a bit psycho).

Thanks very much!! The main thing I have to share is that it's important to follow your dreams but keep them balanced with the rest of reality! Know that you should work really hard.. but also play really hard. Focus with severe intensity.. but also relax. Work overtime.. but take time off. Watch everything around you. Never for a moment assume that you know the only way to do something, or that you're the best. There's always something you can learn from someone!

Okay, I've gotta get to work.. I'll be back later to answer more questions!

thanks again everyone!

jason schleifer
Animator -
Co-Founder -

Last edited by jschleifer : 06-08-2005 at 03:49 PM.
Old 06-07-2005, 04:20 PM   #49
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steven blake
United Kingdom
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 1,071
Hello Jason, I have a couple..

- When reviewing a shot with others, how much do you think it is the animators responsibility to argue the case for a certain direction that they feel the character is going in? I suppose I'm talking about shot 'ownership'. Is it theirs, their leads or supervisors, the directors?

following on...

- How much do you allow yourself to really run with a new idea that's popped into your head before it's time to get approval? I mean, do you prefer to thumb,block or animate it through to a 'reviewable' level or just wait to get up and explain or act it out in front of the director?

Just wanted to add how great it is that you're willing to give so much time over to the community!

Great stuff
steven blake - senior visualiser | designer - homepage
@pandachilli - twitter

Last edited by steveblake : 06-10-2005 at 10:34 AM.
Old 06-07-2005, 04:47 PM   #50
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jason schleifer
Head of Character Animation
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Thanks so much! I feel extremely proud and lucky lucky lucky!

q. Did you always want to focus on and move into character animation/rigging or did you delve into other related areas when you were young to find what you really enjoyed most or what you were good at?

I always wanted to focus on animation, as I feel like that's where my "natural" inclination always takes me. You know how you can be doing something, and it just "feels" right? Like when you go snowboarding, you're either goofy or regular.. one of those stances will just feel more.. natural? That's how it is with animation and rigging.. I can certainly force myself to model something, or force myself to light a shot.. I've done so, and I can wrangle things to look the way I want.. but the animation and rigging side of things just seem to.. I don't know.. flow. It excites me. I get thrilled by little things like wrist flips and weight shifts.. by the movement of hips, by the difference between leading with an elbow or leading with a hand. It just .... drew me to it.

q. What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from your experience as an animator?
I've learned a few things in the years I've been animating. The first is to observe. I get such joy watching people DO things.. how a tired person will wipe their eyes.. how teens flirt with eachother.. how people in love who have spent a lot of time together perform these dances while doing simple things.. like making coffee.. one gets the cups, while the other pours the water, while the other gets the milk, while the other pulls the spoons.. it's all so fascinating! So I've learned to watch things, and observe. I've also learned how to pour my heart and soul into my work, but not be destroyed when it has to change and someone critiques it. It's so important to be able to separate a critique of your work from a critique of YOU.

q. When animating for film or any big production (e.g. LOTR), do you have alot of creative freedom and room to experiment or are you on very strict deadlines to get things out in time.
Yes and yes! You can be extremely creative and experiment.. as long as it's on budget and does what the director wants. So you learn to be creative within those limitations.

q. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? (clue: it's very reflective)
I'd like to be an animation director either at my own studio, or working for someone I respect. I love animating and I love working with motion, so if I could continue with that.. why, I'd be a happy happy camper!

Holy Magoley! What an awesome birage of questions! I'll do my best to answer them!

...On walks,

1. How do you go about creating a unique walk cycle for a given charatcer? a walk that defines a certain personality, What are the questions that you ask yourself before and during animating?

I try and focus on various aspects of the character.. their age, weight, gender, state of mind, things like that. A happy old person is going to move very differently than a happy child. Once I have a good idea of who the character is, then I'll try the walk myself.. I do it over and over and over and over (and over) until I have a good sense of what it is theyr'e doing physically.. not just "okay, my leg is here, then here", but what it is that's driving the legs and arms to do the things they're doing. Is the character bouncy and excited? If so, then that's why their arms flop around. Are they angry? Tense? That's why their arms hardly move. If you can understand the emotional base behind the motion, it makes it easier to stay in that state when animating instead of going into animation auto-pilot and start adding more overlap and followthrough than necessary. When animating it, I'll keep asking myself if it feels right .. I'll watch it backwards and forwards, flip it from left to right (if your animation player allows you to do that) & make sure that the attitude and emotion are getting through. Quite often I'll have to keep myself IN that emotion in order to do it.. after doing some shots with gollum I'd go home and have to force my face and back to relax, in order to get out of the emotion!

2. Do you think the weight of a character should stay consistent in all walks cycles througout the movie, for instance, if in one scene he is happy, in another he is sad, should the animator make him lighter when happy or heavier when sad?

Sure, if it works! I think playing with gravity is a great way to exaggerate emotion.. we certainly feel lighter when we're happy!

3. When creating a cycle, do you start with the hips? and work out from there, Layering? or do you make poses for Up, Down, Pass, etc. and then work the walk that way?

I try not to animate too much in cycles, as I'd rather animate the walk or run throughout the shot.. but if I am doing cycles, then I start by making key poses.. first the contact poses, then the passing pose, then I break it down further, doing that all on stepped curves. Once I have the basic attitudes, then I go and work on the hips and body first, going to spline or clamped curves. Once the body's working, then I'll do the head.. then the arms.. then the legs. (unless the arms are just swinging, then I'll do the legs before the arms). The reason I do the body first is because that's the major body part which is moving. It's motion affects the motion of everything else! If you have a pop there.. you'er going to have a pop everywhere. Any change to the body is a major change to the rest of the character.. so it's important to get that done before the rest of it.
...On developing character,

4. How do you get into the characters head? what are the things you study and ask before animating? What is your thought process from the begining to the point where you can exactly visualize the scene in your head?

Awesome question! It's sometimes very difficult to get inside the character's head. Sometimes it helps to watch other shots around yours that you or other people have done. I like to watch a sequence over and over again so I know exactly what the character is going through in my particular shots. I think an important skill for any animator to have is to be able to empathise.. if you can have empathy for your character, it's much easier to be able to get inside their head. WHY are they angry? Why are they happy? You can even do the method acting thing if it helps.. think about a situation which made you have a similar emotion.. experience it again.. force your body to experience it, and once YOU can get to that place, it's easier to learn to translate that from your body, through your mouse hand, onto the screen. I try and spend as much time in the beginning doing that as possible, so once the foundation is there I can relax a bit and just work on the animating, knowing that the emotional foundation is correct.

5. How do you inspire yourself to come up with the most original idea for acting? (because usualy it's really difficult to come up with something thats not cliche)

That's so hard, because part of animating is observing.. and part of observing is remembering.. so if you remember things you've observed many times, it's really easy to approach a problem with a solution you've seen before. However, those solutions aren't always the best! So I like to write down the first solution I have, and then explore other options. Don't throw it away imediately.. just put it aside. Try other things.. see ifthey work.. write them down as well. Then, sometimes you'll come up with a better idea.. sometimes you won't. But at least you'll have tried a few things and you'll have a reason for taking a certain position, as opposed to just picking the first thing that pops into your head.

Another good trick is to use secondary action to break up a cliche'd idea.. for example, if a character is in "love" and is doing the swoony eyes thing, try doing something different with their hands that you wouldn't expect.. twisting a piece of grass, scratching their arm a different way, etc. Something which breaks up the action and makes it less cliche, but gives the character an interesting personality.

okay! I'll answer the rest of yours a bit later.. gotta work work work!

jason schleifer
Animator -
Co-Founder -
Old 06-07-2005, 05:18 PM   #51
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Mike Rhone
21st level Ninja
United Kingdom
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 3,179
Hi Jason.

As soon as I saw your name on the frontpage, I knew you'de have pages of superfans posting... So right to it:

In this industry, so many people develop or learn little tricks that they never share with others. I call them 'one trick ponies'. You have always done the opposite. Every rigger out there knows the "Schleifer" rig, the fast animation DVD's, your master classes etc. Do you keep any ideas to yourself, or do you open your doors as soon as you develop a new trick? (Your auto-shoulder, stretchy spine, various MEL scripts etc.)

During your time at Alias, how hard was it to get your own ideas pushed into software releases? I ask this because it took many Maya releases to get jsOrientJoint or equivilant into the program. I would argue that its the most essential rigging tool out there. (In my early rigging days I remember trying to orient LRA's by hand... YUCK) Are you still in close contact with the developers at Alias? And on that note, do you have a top-secret email address for someone at Alias so I can make software requests of my own!?!

And finally, at which studio/position do you feel you learnt the most from your peers/co-workers?

Thanks again for all the rigging tricks, mels, and crit on the forums...!

Mike R
Mike Rhone
-VFX Artist-

Dust Rig - tutorial for Maya

Tonga the Fox - Free cartoony rig for Maya!
Old 06-07-2005, 05:55 PM   #52
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Manuel U. Martínez
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 118
Hello Jason,

First sorry for my english.

Only I can says.. you're my idol. Fantastic work!!
When be me big, I want to be like you, but I think... i can't hehehe, all is other world. I can't make a question to you because my english is very poor :/. Only says to you my appreciation of your work and your effort, which has given his fruit.

Have a nice day
3D Artist on future? me? i don't know...
only that I am an apprentice of 3D Artist... of all of you. Thanks.
If you don't understand nothing of im saying... is because my english is bad :)
Old 06-07-2005, 06:21 PM   #53
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jason schleifer
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Kaven -- continued
...On snappy-animation-style,

6. What is the secret to making snappy animation look believable, specialy in areas like weight and balance?

The true secret is having very strong key poses. You have to have a strong, solid, pose which the audience can read instantly, then if you snap to another pose, you need to make sure that when you move, you don't do so in a linear way, drive the character to those pose and create what's called a "smear" pose, where you stretch the body and distort it so it has a nice flow and directional shape towards (or away from) the previous pose. That doesn't mean you put lots of motion blur on it, but you actually stretch the arms & head.. push the body into a shape which looks silly on the one frame, but helps draw the eye where you want it to and shoves the force of the motion where it needs to be. Then, when you reach the new pose, leave a few things to overlap more slowly and settle into place. For example, you can snap into a pose with the body and head, but let the arms come in 1 or 2 frames later. One of my fav ways to do this is snap the head somewhere & if the character is wearing a hat, have the hat overshoot, pop off the head, then slowly come and settle.

7. Please share with us some of the important things you learned about snappy style while animating Madagascar
I learned to push and push things.. and to try something new! To throw in little tricks and twirls in the middle of moves to help break up the action. I re-inforced ideas of strong posing blocking. I also learned a bit more about how to break up snappy motion.. when to go snappy and when to go a bit more fluid. It's important to have a reason to be snappy, you shouldn't just do it because snap is fun.. but because there's a reason behind it.
...other questions,

8. What would be some piece of advice you could give to a student interested in
learning the art of animation?

I would suggest reading and observing as much as possible. Film yourself doing things and watch the movies frame by frame. Draw, draw, draw, draw, draw. Try and get an idea of what causes things to move.. what causes them to stop.. how do they react when they stop? Then get the Illusion of Life and read it.. and The animator's Survival Kit. Then get a cheap animation package, start with a bouncing ball, and go from there. ( is a great place to go if you want to learn from the best!)

9. Who's your all-time favorite animated character?...why?

That is so tough.. so hard to answer! I'd say... ugh. Hmm. I love Tarzan.. Woody.. The Beast from Beauty and the Beast.. Daffy Duck.. Julian.. Gollum.. the cat in The Cat came Back.. Merlin..
too many to count.

10. What are some of the BIG mistakes that beginners make when learning animation?

They try and bite off more than they can chew. I've seen many people (including myself) just starting in animation try and animate a drunk character learning how to conduct themselves in church while running and firing machine guns and wooing their latest flame. And they still don't know how to do a bouncing ball. it's important to learn the basics FIRST. You must have things like spacing and timing and weight and composition in your blood before you try and get all complicated.. make sure you understand why you need good arcs and squash and stretch before you just throw it in there. You wouldn't try and fight a black belt in karate before learning how to throw a punch!

11. What was some of the important stuff you learned from animating Gollum?

I learned a ton about trying to create realistic motion.. how to break up poses and timing to make things feel more natural. I also had some amazing animation directors and supervisors who really taught me a ton. Randy Cook, Richie Baneham, and Adam Valdez were AWESOME, and would really work with you to help you come up with better ideas, and more interesting solutions. Also, watching some of the phenominal animators like Mike Stevens, Atsushi Sato, Melanie Cordan, Stephen Hornby, and others.. how they would approach things really helped me learn a lot more about working with Gollum.

11 1/2. (just skip this one if you think it's a personal question and you dont feel like answering) Are you happy animating at PDI/Dreamworks? do you ever want to go to Pixar? or Sony or maybe starting your own animation studio?

I'm having a blast working at PDI.. I feel like I've really gotten a chance to try different types of shots w/out having to "prove" myself at the studio first. I've learned more here than anywhere, and my animation has improved 100x! I also love the work they do at Pixar & Sony, and would be honored to go to either studio. Same with BlueSky! Starting my own studio would be a great dream.. I'd love to do it as well if I could find someone else to handle the financing & just let me create great movies! For now, however, I'm very happy in my current role & would like to see what else PDI/Dreamworks has further down the track.

whew!! thanks man!


q. In LOTR, when the witch king dies, how did you get his head to crumple in like that? I was very impressed with that part and would love to hear how it was done.

That technique was achieved simply by keyframing the verts of the model! I first animated the body shuddering and shaking like I wanted, then I selected the verticies and pushed and pulled them as I needed, setting keyframes for them to move the way I wanted. It was important to make their compression happen just before a big move, as it would then look like the crumpling caused his convulsions. Then Chris George (the td on the shot) put in some animated displacements, and did a number of other tricks with particles and lighting to make it look more interesting. That was actually the last sequence of shots I did on the Lord of the Rings!

jason schleifer
Animator -
Co-Founder -
Old 06-07-2005, 06:28 PM   #54
Animation Peon
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Dan Lowe
Senior Animator
Ubisoft Montreal
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 709
Hi Jason. I have actually met you before, in passing, two years ago at the Animex festival in the UK. You gave an awesome talk and it'd be great to see you back there one year.

I'd like to know how you feel about the process of working with an actor like Andy Sirkis to develop the motion and personality of a character, compared to working on something like Madagascar, where I presume you develop the motion of your characters more by yourself (at least for your own shots)? Which of those two processes have you enjoyed the most, and do you ever see a time when actors might be employed in an Andy Sirkis, Ahmed Best, or Alan Tudyk type capacity, for a full length CG feature like Madagascar or The Incredibles (i.e, having actors on-board simply to act out scenes and help develop the characters)? Not to say that I don't think animators can hack it on their own.

Another quick one: What's your favorite piece of animation (2D of 3D), or visual effects work, ever?


Last edited by Headless : 06-10-2005 at 10:59 AM.
Old 06-07-2005, 07:05 PM   #55
Albert Barrera Albert Barrera
Austin, USA
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 33
Love your work, man!

Your fingers must really be hurtin' by now! Love the work you do. Keep it up and good luck in all future endeavors! If you ever need a screenwriter drop me a line!
Old 06-07-2005, 07:33 PM   #56
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Eric Lyman
DreamWorks Animation
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 1,051
Hi Jason, thanks for taking the time to do this Q&A session, it's invaluable to aspiring animators such as myself.

I am wondering if you can share any tips on how a recent college grad might break in to the animation for film industry. Tips such as what to focus on the most, what type of studios to try first, if said grads should first try lesser studios and work up from there, etc. etc... I would also be extremely interested to hear about your 'first feature film ever' experiences. THANKS!
Old 06-07-2005, 07:56 PM   #57
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Do You Ever Get Frusterated When You Animate? If So How Many Hairs Did You Pull Out While doing so....just Kiding .....

Haha all - the - time!! it's easy to get frustrated.. you spend lots of time working on stuff, and sometimes it's just soo difficult to get to work right, it can be extremely frustrating. sometimes you'll be working on a shot and the audio will change.. and the direction changes.. or the shot gets cut. There are two things I do to keep myself from going nutso and bring an AK47 to work:

1) I always remember that this is the DIRECTOR's movie. It's their vision. Not mine. I can do stuff to help them.. but in the end, it's their call, no matter what. That's why they're the director! So if I need to re-animate my shot to work in their picture.. then so be it, that's what I gotta do. As long as I know I'm doing the best I can to make the best movie possible, I can deal with the frustrating shot cuts and changes.

2) I try and make it easy for the director--and myself-- by knowing where I'm going before I start getting into the nitty gritty of a shot. I block shots out in a way that's easy to manipulate if necessary.. using stepped curves and keying the ENTIRE character to get across ideas before spending time getting the weight and timing right. I want to be sure the director knows what he's getting & I've tried out all my various ideas & picked the best one BEFORE starting to animate. If you plan your shots properly.. you'll be able to make changes quickly and painlessly, and thus, keep most of your hair.

How Did You Get Yours seqeunces To Look So Good And Work In The Movies When You Had A Crazy Deadline?

That's all part of getting experience. Like I mentioned before.. block and plan your shots so you know what you're going to do. The only way to get your work done on time and at a high quality is to know where to spend the energy and when. It makes no sense spending 2 hours animating fingers, if you haven't had your ideas approved by the director! that could be 2 hours wasted! So block the shots first. Then once the blocking is approved, do a first pass where you work out timing and spacing. Then once that first pass is approved, then go in and do another pass on fingers and toes and overlap and facial and stuff like that. Then get THAT approved. Then go in and sweeten everything. That will save you time and heartache!

Heh. Thanks! I feel pretty durn lucky and fortunate!

More to come...
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Old 06-07-2005, 08:13 PM   #58
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WHOA !! I feel sorry for JASON now that I See how many questions he has to answer....

BUT Unfortunately For Jason I got another question for him to answer...
sorry but maybe this question has already been answered but :

Jason, What software do you use?

simple enough?
Old 06-07-2005, 08:46 PM   #59
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Hey Jason, Great work so far in your career. I just have a few questions.

1. Does Dreamworks have internships for High School Students?

2. Is College necessary to get into the industry?

3. What/who did you actually animate in LOTR?

4. What software do they use at Dreamworks and Weta Digital?

5. How long did you have to wait after applying to Weta and Dreamworks to get a call back?

6. What made you want to be a Character Animator or get into 3d as a whole?

7. Can you check out my website( and tell me what I could work on to make it better ?

8. Do any of you have a messenger tag that I can get to chat with you? You can PM me that if you dont want EVERYone to know it. Or you can add me.

Thanks in advance for answering my questions and keep up the good work.
Old 06-07-2005, 08:48 PM   #60
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- What were some major obstables you had overcome to get where you are now?

Well, there was that horrible bout of hemorrhoids back in '92... j/k! I think the biggest obstacle was just learning to assert myself when necessary and learning to accept criticism of my work as just that.. criticism of the work and not myself. You have to have faith that you can do what it is you're trying to do.. even when it seems like you can't! That's pretty tough, especially when you have to show your work daily to your peers and it feels like you're falling behind. Quite honestly, I can't remember any particular episode where things were so tough that I felt like the world was falling apart. I tend to approach life from a very positive viewpiont.. everything that I experience, I try and learn from. Thus, even if something really sucks donky butt (as things can), I try and focus on what I can learn from it.. and pretty soon I won't remember the painful bit as quite so painful!

- How was New Zealand for you?

New Zealand was AWESOME! I LOVE it there.. it's such a beautiful country and the people are so amazing. Some of my best friends in the world live there. Love it love it love it love it!

- Tell us an amusing CG-related story!

Lesse.. when I was working on Film 3, there was a few weeks where Randy Cook and Richie Baneham were both out of the office, & I was trying to cover their roles (Randy is the animation director, and richie was animation supervisor). During that time, Andy Serkis was doing motion capture down in the studio. I was asked by our producer to go down and help direct him for the shots. Having never done that before, I was sutibly worried that I wouldn't be able to do it right, but when asked to do something like that.. you go ahead and do it anyway! So I went down to the mocap stage and met all the people working there. Andy was suited up and ready to start, and began working on his shots. Luckily, both Fran and Phillipa were there, so they did all the real directing.. I just sort of made comments here and there about what would read, and what wouldn't in terms of his body positioning. but they were the ones doing the real direction. At the end of the day, there was a bit of time left, so they asked if I wanted Andy to do some quick acting examples of Gollum doing various things which we could use as reference. So I said "sure!" and asked him to crawl around.. climb over things.. run.. do all the things that we could use as reference to animate him better, basically. So he's crawling around.. and running.. and climbing up.. and down.. and crawling.. and sweating.. and the whole time I'm just thinking "wow.. this is great reference! just great!" And andy's getting more and more tired.. finally, Lisa elbows me in the ribs and whispers "cut.. you're supposed to say cut.." and I'm like "what?" and she elbows me again and goes "say cut! you're directing this!" and I'm like "oh! right! CUT!!!" and Andy just collapses.


Great reference tho!

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