Meet the Artist: Simon Otto


Simon Otto
Lead Animator
[Dreamworks Animation]

Simon Otto began his animation career at the right place, studying the craft at the renowned Les Gobelins in Paris. He lives on the US West Coast and is a native of Switzerland.

Otto previously worked as a supervising animator on the title character Sinbad in ‘Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas’ as well as supervising the animation on two of the members of Sinbad’s crew, the Chinese brothers Jin and Li.

In addition, he worked as an animator on the character Spirit in ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’, and he also supervised the animation of the eagle in the film. Otto began his career at DreamWorks in 1997, as an animator on “The Prince of Egypt” and later animated on “The Road to El Dorado.” Clearly some very nice work in those two features.

Prior to joining DreamWorks, Otto received animation training during an internship with Walt Disney Feature Animation in Paris, France. CGSociety is very happy to have Dreamworks’ cooperation for this very timely 'Meet the Artist presentation.

Please make welcome, Simon Otto.

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I’m the first?? :smiley:

Hi! Nothing more! Great work and congrats on finishing flushed away! I heard it was awesome! :thumbsup:


As a rencently french graduated student I was wondering how you got hired by Dreamworks?
What kind of significant differences did you notice between the american way of working and the french one?
I read about the “translation” of stop motion into cg animation, how was it?
Thanks for your answers and your time!!


Hey! Im not sure how much you know about US animation schools…but if you can say, what sets Les Gobelins apart from US colleges teaching animation? What makes it so “renowned”? btw Flushed Away looks awesome!:thumbsup:


Hello Simon.

Congratulations on Flushed Away.

In your opinion what was the biggest challenge for you and the team of animators to overcome in this production and how was it solved?


First of all, thanks for giving us this opportunity to ask questions! I appreciate it a lot.

As a lead animator, do you delegate who animates what? Or rather, what does being a “lead animator” consist of? What are your responsibilities?

How were the animations shots distributed among the animators? Were they distributed by scene (i.e. John animates scene A, Jim animates scene B), distributed by character (i.e. John animates Harvy, Jim animates Kelly) or what?

Thanks so much for your time.

Nathan Dunlap


Hey Simon,

I’m always fascinated about artist’s stories and experiences about making the transition from 2D to 3D animation. So how was yours?


As a lead animator, how involved do you like to get? If you are delegating a lot of work to others, are you keeping a close eye on the development or are you letting them impart a lot their own creative decisions? Also, along the same lines, do you also like to work closely with modelling artists, lighting artists, etc?


Hey Simon, great to be able to talk to you.

Just a couple of quick questions.

Do you think where you study reflects how good you get at animating, or for you, is it an inspiration thing?

Do you enjoy animating? Do you like doing any other aspect of CG that could rival your liking of animating?

Love your work.



i saw the trailer Flushed Away and its really amazing animation, another inspiration good job anyways simon hope we can see more animation from ur group of talented artists / animators


Hi Simon!

Your work truly inspires me…congrats on your position as Lead Animator!

Just two simple questions about workflow…if they’ve already been asked, feel free to pass over them :slight_smile:

  1. Over the course of a feature…approximately how much animation does each animator “own” in the film at the end of the whole process (ie…30 seconds? 5 minutes? more? less?). I realize that the animation is probably distributed pretty unevenly between animators…but a rough estimate would be great!

  2. Approximately how much animation is each animator expected to have finalized each week? I heard an estimate of 8 seconds/week at some of the larger studios a while ago…but I’m wondering if that’s been stepped up due to the fact that more and more CG films are being pumped out faster and faster lately.

Anyways…take care! Thanks for dedicating your time to this Q&A session :slight_smile:


Simon! Hey, it’s me. Chris Capel. you know, the animator that just up and disappeared about a month ago. Just wanted to say it was awesome being under your supervision and i look forward to seeing you guys again soon! can’t wait to see the finished film on the big screen tomorrow! congrats on your amazing work. talk to you later!


Hi Simon,

Thanks for taking the time to field all of our questions. Really great of you to take the time…

  1. What keeps you inspired and “in the moment” for a shot?

  2. How do you rise above the mechanics of animation and keep focused on the performance?

  3. As you have worked in 2D, how much of your workflow is done on paper (i.e. thumbnails/key pose sketches and/or other) and in what stages of your workflow?



Hello Simon, first congrats for your path of carreer from now and your great animation work in the movie quoted above, i’m very pleased to be able to read your opinons here !

I’m french student in 2d/3d animation and will finish my graduation next year with a short movie, my question is large and about the CG here in France… how do you see the evolution and developpment of this field here for the future? You should know that the few CG movies that has been released here didn’t worked pretty well (let’s say Renaissance, Keana for the recent ones), the US animated features are a lot much popular, attractive, so how do you see the future of french CG movie, why do you think it doesn’t work pretty well actually? Because we got the talents but we are missing something… I’ll be very interested to hear your pov :slight_smile:

Thanks again for taking time to answer!



Bonjour Simon,

just dropping by to say hello. i really like your work, it is inspirative.

je vais tenter Les Gobelins l’année prochaine… des conseils?
Encore bravo pour ton boulot.


-Richard Adenot


here come question.


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.



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…



…what’s it like working with wee brian??


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?:wise:

thanks a lot for your cooperation.:thumbsup: