Meet the Artist: Jason Schleifer


Jason Schleifer
Character Animator

Jason produced his first animated film for his social studies class in junior high school. It wasn’t anything exciting to look at, but the simple fact that he was able to make a clay character walk halfway across the screen before melting into an unrecognizable pile of goop made his heart pound.

Since that time Jason has worked at Alias as a product specialist for the 3D animation software Maya, spent four and a half years at Weta Digital in New Zealand as a character rigger and animator on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, taught two Alias Master Classes about Character Rigging (now available on DVD), co-taught a siggraph course on rigging for animation, is a mentor at, and is currently working as a Character Animator at PDI/Dreamworks where he just finished up on their latest film, Madagascar.
In his copious spare time, Jason enjoys running around with his wife and two dogs, working on his short film, “Jonh and His Dog”, and blogging about various topics which buzz around in his head.

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Sup Jason, Very nice works. congrats on all the success.
Thanks for taking the time to take part in something like this. I know I learn from it.

q-1. What education background do you have?
q-2. What are somethings that can get stressful in a 3d modeling, texturing and animation lifestyle of works?
q-3. Can you describe what a good cg artist would be made of from your point of view?
q-4. What great choices did you make to get to were you are today?

Once again thanks.


Whoa. Sounds like you really get around, Jason. :wink:

Anyway, might as well commence with the onslaught of questions:

  1. 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 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)?

  2. 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.

  3. What kind of dogs do you have? :smiley:


Hi Jason

Its just a fantastic felling to be able to talk 2 someone with such credits as LOTR- the one the only…so Thnx to CGnetworks first 4 this oppurtunity.

I am from Mumbai - INDIA and just one among the other zillion LOTR fans.:applause: I have started 2 learn in this field abt a year now and 'm learning and improving (hopefully) every single day.
Its just very much inspiring 2 b a part of such a platform and it will be 4 ever CG 4 Life. This is just a query if you could share few things from ur work experiences in CG which would help a lot of us to grow further.
Nothing more 4 now.


Hi Jason,

I really admire alot of the work you’ve done and you can be proud that you’ve made it to where alot of us want to be. Live it up!

  • 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?

  • What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from your experience as an animator?

  • 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.

  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years? (clue: it’s very reflective)

Cheers :smiley:


Mr. Jason Shhh-Life-er!

Hi, I have a lot of questions about animation which are mostly basic stuff so I hope I wouldn’t bore you :slight_smile:

…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?

  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?

  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?

…On developing character,

  1. 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?

  2. 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)

…On snappy-animation-style,

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

  2. Please share with us some of the important things you learned about snappy style while animating Madagascar :slight_smile:

…other questions,

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

  2. Who’s your all-time favorite animated character?..why?

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

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

Thanks A LOT for taking the time and answering questions here, we know how busy you are with work, AnimationMentor and searching for that perfect tablet pc :wink: So we really appriciate this.




I have a quick question:

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.



Do You Ever Get Frusterated When You Animate? If So How Many Hairs Did You Pull Out While doing so…just Kiding …How Did You Get Yours seqeunces To Look So Good And Work In The Movies When You Had A Crazy Deadline?


Man…killer resume … im jeleous…


Hey Jason,

  • What were some major obstables you had overcome to get where you are now?

  • How was New Zealand for you?

  • Tell us an amusing CG-related story!:smiley:


Hi Jason,

When I heard you were leaving WETA to go to PDI/DREAMWORKS, I thought you would work on some realistic animations for visual effects …

As you worked in both production pipeline which kind of job do you prefer? Cartoon or VFX ?

Is a Madagaskar cartoon character as complex as a character like Golum (as a rigging point of view) ?

For somebody searching a job in CG what do you think is most important ? The demoReel or the competences (a huge amount of software and a very expensive diploma in a considered art school :eek:) ?

What’s next now Jason ? Are you staying at PDI/DREAMWORKS or will you travel again around the world ?




i just cant wait till you answer Jason … :bounce:


Greatt!! feels like ur a BIG artist! that gollum really attracts people!!:smiley:
i think Rumr has some good questions,will read ur answers…
would u show us some exclusive images of ur workshop or models,or anything cool,which hasnt been showned?!:smiley:


Hi Jason,

I’m gona annoy you with some questions that most likely have been asked from you billion times already :slight_smile:

  1. How did it felt to see LOTR movies first time on big screen? (must have been rewarding:) )

  2. Do you have any ultimate goal/s in your career? …if so, have you achieved it/them yet? OR are you just riding along with the waves, waiting bigger and better ones? :slight_smile:

  3. What would be the one beer to rule them all?

cheers :slight_smile:

  • Jari


Hey Jason!

  1. Just want to see what you experience with has been like so far?

    I’m starting in a couple weeks, and I can’t wait to get going. Hope to see you around the campus! :slight_smile:


Hi Jason, man your one of my favorite animators of all time, my questions are.

  1. After working on LOTR which is highly regarded as one of the best special effects movies of all time, and now just finishing off an excellent feature animation film, my question is what have you found to be the most challenging aspect of your job in both or either experiences you have been apart of ?

  2. Who are some of your favorite character animators or artists and why?

  3. What was your main influence in getting into the business and who do you owe alot of thanks to, if any?

  4. Coke or Pepsi ?

Thanks for your time and continue making mind bogling animations, your demo reel is truly inspiring, and when are you coming to Canada so we can drink beers and I can ask you about another billion questions?


Hey Jason, big up and respect for the thing you do, inspiring for simply every last one of us all. You (and the guyss and gals you worked with) set the standard reference of quality so high, it gets only better and better everyday. At this point, we’re not talking about being skilled, even talented feels a bit thin here, you gotta be gifted, givin life to those empty shapes the way you do is divine Art.
Haven’t got a chance yet to see Madagascar, not out yet around here, but I’m not taking any risk here to assume it’s awesome and probably owes you, just like the other prods you worked on, lots of credits for looking so damn good.

I don’t have a specific question… more like a hundred… so I won’t pop em all out now, I’ll wait to see Madagascar first, luckely the thread will still be open and I’ll shoot about a thousand questions then :wink:

Congrats again and thanks for the thing you do!




this should be fun!

hi jason:wavey:

whats next for u? are u staying at Dreamworks?

and *grrrrr why’d u steal ma name punk?¿



Hi Jason,

very good work from you, happy to see you on Cg Talk. I am a big fan of LOTR.
  1. could you explain your rigging process briefly?

thanX for this opportunity.


Hi Jason, i must tell you, gollum fully freaked me out the first time i saw him, it must be the most living charater i’ve seen on film. Super big respects to you man, i can’t wait to see Madagascar.

I think you might have already mentioned in a interview already, but here it is again:

  1. what kinds of techniues was involved in gollums facial setup (apart from the eml interface, is the structure underneath bones, spines, morphs or mix), and what roles did you split with Bay Raitt and Tom Kluyskens.

  2. what would you think is the most felxible method for a facial setup for individuals at home? (If answering this question reduces sales for your DVD then don’t answer :))

Thanks for giving your few time for this.