Meet the Artist: Simon Otto

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  11 November 2006
here come question.
  11 November 2006
Hey Simon,

Congrats for the awesome work so far, Prince of egypt is still a reference for me.
Question about the animation of flushed away, how hard was it to mimic Ardman style of animation?.Did you animated in 12 fps to give the feeling of a more stop motion film? How was interpolation do you used any or actually animated every single frame as it would be done in stop motion?

thanks for the answers keep the great work.

  11 November 2006
Red face As many as I can for now....

Well, first of all thank you very much for having me here as a guest!
This sounds like fun and your questions are already way more interesting than the ones most journalists have asked me over the past few weeks.

Also, thank you Paul for the invitation and for putting up an image of an actual shot of mine (that one where he's hanging from Rita's pants. I'm sure you'd find it interesting, that the original line of that shot was: "No, no, don't break (to belt), I've got my whole life ahead of me, two good years at least!", which I always found very witty. The directors opted for a more suiting line, that every kid in the room is going to get and that set up a physical gag a few scenes after. But I won't give it away until you've all seen it!)

Ok. Here we go:

<Tevih>: Thank you so much. Yeahh, the reviews are coming in and people (and critics) seem to enjoy the film a lot, which is always very rewarding. Especially when you work on a picture for 2 1/2 years like me on this one...

<sekhmet> Salut Pascal! As Paul had mentioned above, I went to "Les Gobelins" in Paris, which is one of the most prestigious animation schools in the world.
In my year, there were about 900 applicants and after 3 rounds of testing, they finally accepted 20 students into the program.

The great thing about it was, that not only were we surrounded by extremely talented students, but also that it was (and still is) taught by industry professionals (at that time Disney Paris and other great French studios sent teachers in for weekly exercises). Most of us progressed extremely fast and were aware of the opportunity we had at hand.

So, the big Hollywood studios of course knew about this school since a lot of their talent actually came from there. I had a contract offer in my hands about a year later. I came to Los Angeles right after my graduation.

To your second question: I don't really know, since I never actually worked in France. The differences between the French Animators and the American Animators definitely lies in the cultural backgrounds. The French are extremely influenced by their vast comic book culture. I personally think that the French are generally the best draughtsmen in the field because of that...also, they take more cigarette breaks!

I'm sure I'll answer your last question a little further down...

<rblitz7> Thanks Richie. In 2D, there really were only 3-5 schools that the big studios visited regularly: CalArts and Art Center in Los Angeles, Sheridan College in Toronto, a couple of the NYC schools and "Les Gobelins", because they would teach the actual profession as it was practiced in the studios.
Today there are at least a dozen more. Like Ringling in Florida, Gnomon in Los Angeles, Supinfocom in France, Filmakademie in Germany etc.
The American Schools are great, because they offer actual College/University degrees and not just diplomas. They also are very job oriented and not too "artsy".
I think the "renowned" part of your question I already answered above...

<SNoWs> Hey Angel, thanks!
The biggest challenge for us was finding the right path in our animation style. I am always careful with that term, because I think it makes people forget the characters when they think about style too much.
But in this case we clearly needed to find a way to maintain the Aardman simplicity and charm while introducing a more complex acting and human caricature that the story was asking for. We resolved it in finding a separate touch for every character. Roddy and Rita have different ranges in their acting than for example Spike and Whitey or the frogs. Roddy and Rita caricature more realistic human behavior. Whitey, in contrast for example is very simplistic and we hardly animated his upper body, which is what Aardman does with almost all of their characters.

The great benefit from that is, that we don't have generic animation; every character clearly behaves differently. I bet, even if it's only subconscious, the audience is aware of that and that it adds a lot of depth to the characters. And in the end, it was the mouthshapes, the eyebrows and the typical eyes that pulled it all together and created a coherent style.

<LGM> Nathan, Yes, Supervising Animators usually do the casting of the scenes in their sequences.
Supervisors oversee sequences that are animated by a team of animators including ourselves. Usually the supervisors have each developed one of the main characters in pre-production and are then cast on sequences that feature "their" characters.

The problem with character supervision in CG is that for technical and budget reasons you have sequences travel as a whole through the "pipeline". A team is assigned in every department to that sequence, whether it's in lighting or in animation or in layout. That team is responsible for animating that sequence from beginning to end. Whether it's this character or that character doesn't really play a role. That has advantages in terms of efficiency because an animator takes the whole shot and animates everyone in the shot. The benefit from that is, that you don't have five animators working on the same shot, trying to steal the show. The downside, of course, is having character-specific style or acting ideas. To supervise that, is very difficult if you have fifty animators working on all the characters.

<BobbyPontillas> I definitely want the animator to "own" the shot. That means that an animator acts the shot according to his/her feeling but in accordance with the directors instructions. It gets much more difficult and usually ends in less satisfying results if we have to copy somebody else's acting. I personally step in, when I feel that the directors vision is not being followed or when there are problems with the animation itself.
As supervisors, we are closely involved with the modelers and riggers during the development phase of the characters.

<B-Mac> Thanks, Ben! I think studying the world and people around you every day will make you a good animator/artist. I personally sketch a lot and build personal libraries in my memory with that.

Have a look at my blog that I am sharing with a couple of co-workers, it should give you an idea...

Personally, I am a pure bread animator and want to concentrate on acting and storytelling.

<nards26 and ivanisavich> Thanks a lot! Our weekly quotas are somewhere between 5 and 6 feet. Which is more like 4 seconds. A senior animator will do around 3 to 5 minutes of animation on a show, but some of it will end up on the cutting-room floor. I have about 4 minutes in the film and animated around 5.

<Capel> You're one heck of an animator, chris! People, mark that name...See you soon, buddy!

<PureMoxi> Ryan. I try and be as little distracted as possible, except for good music to keep me in the mood. I also prepare myself as good as I can, before I start a shot; making the right choices as early as possible. I have studied the old Disney stuff extensively and therefore have tried to make the principles of animation become second nature to me, so I can fully focus on acting.
I still thumbnail a lot, although they're not real drawings. They are wild scribbles, but well thought through. Then, I start posing in the computer with a fairly precise pose-to-pose approach and then do my breakdowns. Once I have my acting figured out, I rework the shot in layers.

<Larsen et riri284> Bonne chance a vous deux et felicitations! Dessinez et bossez un maximum, ca vaut la peine les gars, c'est un millieu formidable...!

I think making good films and distributing them successfully is very, very difficult. Hollywood has a huge advantage, because of the different financial realities and the incredible distribution and marketing networks they have in place. Only extremely good and fresh movies from Europe will probably be able to generate a big financial success....I see the future for French Animation in their diversity. With smaller budgets you can be more risky and less conventional. I am sure we will continue to see new and exciting stuff that Hollywood can't do. Then some studios here will jump on the bandwagon and follow the trendsetters, hoping for a piece of the pie...

  11 November 2006
...what's it like working with wee brian??
steven blake - senior visualiser | designer - homepage
@pandachilli - twitter
  11 November 2006
How we can become a imaginary animator (unblievable)?

Hi Simon how are you? i'm a Maya fan

i have lots of questions :
what softwares (i mean Maya, Motionbuilder, XSI, ....) has helped you to overcome the animating of the characters in the 3d(Flushed Away) and 2d world?
what is the best way to perform a very realistic motion in a production? does it need many facilities or not?
How can a person really advance in animating of a character ?
is there anything you want to say that would help us improve our work?

thanks a lot for your cooperation.
  11 November 2006
Hello Simon

Man you are awesome. You have worked on all of my most favourite animation films spirit, eldorado, sindbad. That's really cool.

Here are my questions:

-> Which artist inspires you the most?
-> What did you practice the most while studying at gobelin?

Thanks a bunch for taking time. I cant wait to see flushed away.
[ myRiggingBLOG ]
[ myAnimBLOG ]
[ myWebsite ]
"Life is animation and we are our own animators." -i
  11 November 2006
Hey Simon

Don't really have a question, just wanted to drop in and say hi! We've met at the FOCAL Talk in Bern (I'm the guy with the pink hairs) Nice to see you here.
It was a really inspiring and awesome day.. made me come back to my passion (more to the art than animation though ;-)
Good luck with your future "Dragon" project. =)
my portfolio:
follow me on twitter
  11 November 2006
Hello Simon.
I have really enjoyed your work through the years and I am looking forward to Flushed Away.

I am working on my graduate thesis short film and will be graduating in May of 2007. I was wondering if you could take a look at my current animation reel. I realize you probably don't want to take too much time on your critiques but is there any chance I could get a quick over-all impression?

Chris Myers Character Animation Reel QuickTime-10 megs

Thanks a lot,
My home page and Portfolio

Last edited by Wilson-3d : 11 November 2006 at 02:28 PM.
  11 November 2006
Smile a modeler

A question about the modeling pipeline? Is it polygons/subdees or nurbs? Any details about the modeling pipeline would be great.

  11 November 2006
Thematt, steveblake and SuperHero

<thematt> Thanks Matt! It was very challenging in terms of keeping the simplicity and charm. Learning the classical Aardman lip sync-style wasn't as hard as I had imagined.

We got on to that pretty fast. But there is definitely a slightly different animation philosophy in Aardman films. The comedy is more based on the silly nature of the characters and the impossible situations that they are put in. A lot of it needs to stay simple in order to fully realize the comedy idea. "Less is more" was one of the most important animation philosophies on this production and is very hard to do. Especially with complex characters like Rita and Roddy.

For me the two big differences from 2D to 3D are the fact that in 2D most of your time is spent on creating what you want to see and in 3D you spend a lot of time “massaging” the computer out of your scene. Plus, animating on 1's versus 2's changes the spacing approach entirely. It's much harder to have good and vivid spacing in 3D.

We did some test shots early on, where we animated on 2's (12fps), but we were just unnecessarily fighting the medium of CG. A lot of expensive problems arise from that (FX-integration, strobing etc). I am a big believer in using the medium you're in for it's advantages not it's disadvantages.

<steveblake> Steve, Wee is my neighbor here in the studio, we're training on EMO (DW proprietary animation software) together right now and light candles together every day. It's very romantic!!! (just kidding, but he's a great guy and very talented!)

<SuperHero>Hey Yasin! We animated in a juiced-up version of Maya with lots of little DreamWorks helper programs, like a retiming tool, drawtools that helped us work with and retime our scenes as if they were 2D scenes etc.

You know, if you're a good observer realistic motion is not that hard to do. It's the stylized part, the right choice of exaggeration and of course the right acting that is hard to do. For realistic action, all we do is study reference as much as possible and then try to reproduce it accurately. We don't use any tools for that (except for hair and cloth simulations of course.)

The only real advice I can give without going into specifics, is to look at good animation over and over again. I think you should know “The Jungle book” inside out, frame by frame. Also, study from real life. I often like to look at gymnasts in slow-motion.

  11 November 2006
Originally Posted by sotto: Steve, Wee is my neighbor here in the studio, we're training on EMO (DW proprietary animation software) together right now and light candles together every day. It's very romantic!!! (just kidding, but he's a great guy and very talented!)
erm...Nice.yep he's a cool fella - did he ever tell you he got his arse signed by Matt Groening?
steven blake - senior visualiser | designer - homepage
@pandachilli - twitter
  11 November 2006
Hello simon,

First off your works are very impressive you have some great films under your belt.

my first question is after watching the trailer I noticed before Ardman studios was even mentioned that the style was ardman, I was wondering what sort of chalanges the dreamworks animators faced keepin the Ardman look.

second every animator know that you need to plan your shots otherwise you become lost and the animation suffers as a result, now with you being the lead on this film and other animators looking to you for advice and direction was there anything you did to help you keep ontop of the workload.

and lastly looking back on your carear was there ever a time when you though you wouldnt be able to reach that level.


chris bacon
Animator at Double Negative VFX London..
  11 November 2006
Hello, Simon.
Movie looks great, I am going to see it very soon. What kind of advice can you give to someone that is just starting out in school. I get rather frustrated from time to time, there is so much to learn, but that is part of the challenge. I was just curious if you ever felt the same way when you started out. If so, what kind of advice could you give. Thanks
  11 November 2006
Hi Simon,

I would be grateful if you could answer a question concerning the direction / approval process for animation, and how that ties in with the process of actually creating the animation ?

So for example..

Were the animators required to block in their shots fairly heavily ? ( by "heavily" I mean a progressive level of detail, that would be approved in stages ) or were they allowed to block mainly the story poses, and then work in a more straight ahead manner between them ?

I would imagine that there was no "strict" method that the animators had to adhere to, so if that was the case, how did you manage to direct animators that liked to work more straight ahead ? did you find this problematic ? did you find that these animators had trouble making changes to their shots if direction required it ?

Thanks, I would love to get an insight into this...

Last edited by Winner : 11 November 2006 at 07:15 AM.
  11 November 2006
Do you draw?

How much do you spend on drawing?
or how much you used to?
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