Sunday, 25 August 2019

El Suliman - Lion King Lead Animator

El Suliman
Last week MPC lead animator El Suliman was in London talking about his work on the Disney blockbuster "The Lion King".

El was speaking at Escape Studios, at one of their regular "Evening With" events.  El Suliman was an animation lead on The Lion King, and he animated many of the key shots on the film.

El explained how the animators approached the animation on this hugely complex and ground-breaking movie, which raises the bar for creature animation

Friday, 9 August 2019

Summer 2019 Animation Demo Reel

Take a look at some of the great work done by our students over the past year. Congratulations to Amedeo Beretta, Anna Zielinska, Jeton Lakna, Joe Gamble, Lee Caller, Olavo Lins, Oliver Canovas, Tim Milson and Victoria Bailey.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Student Loan System for Masters' Study

The UK Government's student loan system for postgraduate master's degrees is now well established.

A system of low interest loans now provide students in the UK with access to postgraduate university courses - including our own Online MA in 3D Animation, offered in partnership by Buckinghamshire New University.

Prospective students who would like to do post-graduate study with us can borrow up to £10,906 in the coming academic year.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Animating "Venom"

Troy Saliba, animation director at Double Negative, gave a talk in London earlier this year, to talk about his work on the blockbuster release: Venom.

Troy was my animation director on "Monster House", way back in 2005, so it was a pleasure for me to see him again, and welcome him to London, where he is now working for DNeg in Soho.

Troy's talk was a masterclass in how animators work alongside VFX artists on FX-heavy films, where the final result, with all the FX work added, can often look quite different to the animator's initial keyframe animation.

The result is that, on films like Venom, animation and FX are heavily interlaced, requiring careful collaboration between departments, and plenty of back-and-forth to get the right final result.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Animation Taster Day 7th August

Eagle by Lee Caller
Interested in learning 3D animation, but not sure you want to commit to a whole course? We're running a new Animation Taster Day in London on 7th August, at Escape Studios at 190 High Holborn.

Taster Days are a great chance to learn about character and creature animation, and find out what an animator's job is all about.

You will learn how to use Autodesk Maya and get a hands-on introduction to 3D Animation techniques; the full day costs just £25, and by the end of the day you'll have your own piece of creature animation uploaded to your YouTube channel.  No prior knowledge of Maya - or any software - is required.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Dream On Silly Dreamer

Dream On Silly Dreamer is now available at YouTube - anyone interested in the history of the Disney Studio should watch this film to see how the magic of the Disney Renaissance came about. It's also a window into the making of traditional 2D animation.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Get Ready for our September Class

Animation by Joris Van Laar
Our September classroom is now taking applications, and the new autumn class begins on Monday 2nd September.

It's not too late to book a place; all you need to do to start a conversation is head over to our main site and fill in a form.

If you want to learn 3D animation to a professional level - your journey starts here.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Lion King - Which is Better? New or Old?

I went to a preview of The Lion King last night fully prepared to dislike the new film - how could anyone top the original? And why bother with a re-make, other than to please the shareholders? (But maybe I'm just jealous - I don't own any Disney shares)

Of course, I am very biased, having worked on the original Lion King back in 1993, so I was doing my best not to enjoy the movie and to persuade myself that the original film was still the undisputed king.

But MPC, the London VFX house that did all the animation, have raised the bar for animal and creature animation to such a level that it's impossible not to be impressed by the sheer skill of the digital artistry.

The Lion King is a triumph not just of technology but of great storytelling, as the film-makers kept most of the original film but wove in new elements to keep the story fresh.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Dialogue and Lipsync Tutorial

Dialogue by Joris Van Laar
We've uploaded a new tutorial on animating Dialogue & Lipsync to our Vimeo channel.

In this 8-part video, we explain how to approach the challenge of animating dialogue and lipsync, breaking the process down into a simple, dependable workflow.

Friday, 12 July 2019

"Eat Drink Animate" by Tom Sito

Who knew animators could cook? Tom Sito, USC animation professor, co-director of Osmosis Jones and Emeritus President of the Animation Guild, has written a cookbook celebrating the recipes of animation artists.

"Eat Drink Animate" is where you can learn the secrets of Walt Disney's chili and and Tissa David's Hungarian Goulash.

I should declare an interest here - the book includes one of favourite recipes, Poisson a la BAFTA, which was reverse-engineered a few years ago from a dish I liked so much while dining at BAFTA Piccadilly that I decided to try and make it myself.

Tom is a prodigious author, with many books on animation and animation history to his name.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

How to Animate Eye Darts

Above is a short video using the free Eleven Rig, on how to animate eye darts - fast moving micro-changes of eye direction. Animators should always remember that eyes are the window to the soul - it's the thing the audience will look at most, and one of the most common mistakes made by junior animators is fail to pay enough attention to their character's eyes.  Our eyes are very expressive, and the eyes are what we look at when we seek signals for how another person is thinking and feeling. The human eye is directly connected to the brain, and the audience will watch your character's eyes. There are endless variations on eye expressions, and it's important to get it right. So, how do animators animate a character's eyes?

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Escape Studios Free Summer School 8-10 Aug

This Summer Escape Studios in London is partnering with Access VFX, London SIGGRAPH, 3Dami, and and We Are Stripes to host a free Animation Summer School.

The event takes place over three days in August,  and is aimed at 11-16-year olds interested in a career in the animation industry.

Escape Studios will host a range of free workshops across 3 days on Thursday 8th August, Friday 9th August and Saturday 10th August.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

BAFTA Guru Live Sat 14th September

Mark your calendars - BAFTA Guru Live is taking place in London on the weekend of Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th September.

We strongly encourage our students to attend at least some of the workshops; tickets are very inexpensive (just £6 for each masterclass) and are aimed at students and rising talent.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Animation Apprentice is Going to VIEW

VIEW Conference 2109
Animation Apprentice is going to VIEW, the 20th International VFX & Computer Graphics Conference that takes place every year in Turin.

This year the VIEW conference runs from Monday 21st October until Friday 25th October.

We'll be there, participating in panel talks and also running a one-day masterclasses in Maya demonstrating some creature animation techniques.

Our classes are aimed at complete beginners and require no prior experience with Maya.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Ross Anderson Pulls a Rabbit from his Hat

Ross Anderson
Canadian author and animation historian Ross Anderson has finally finished his book - Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Hat - The Story Behind the Making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Ross was first interviewed by animation blog FLiP back in 2013, about writing of the book, which has taken six years to bring to fruition.

Ross's book has finally hit the bookshelves; he was signing copies this week at this year's Annecy film festival.

Ross's book aims to be the definitive history of the making of the film. I've been looking forward to buying my copy for years. Among the highlights are Tom Sito's hilarious sketches and scribbles that documented the roller coaster ride that was the making of the film.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Pixar Advice for Graduates

Check out this excellent just-released video from Pixar on tips for animation graduates, offering some great advice on how to break into the industry. Among the most interesting comments from Pixar employees: "I applied....three times; friends and family told me to give up, saying, 'they're just not that into you'." (she made it in the end).  Another one says "Every time you get an opportunity for you to improve yourself". And also "the learning didn't stop in college, there are still opportunities to improve yourself".  Great advice from some great talent. To see why animation graduates need to be the rhino, read this blog post.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Nickelodeon Explains the Art of the Pitch

David Steinberg at Annecy
Animation veteran David Steinberg from Nickelodeon made a great presentation at this year's Annecy animation festival on how to pitch animation ideas to Nickelodeon.

Nick does most of the design and creation in house, but the "meat and potatoes" of animation is usually subcontracted out to other studios, often overseas, around the world.

So, what does Nickelodeon ("Nick", for short) look for in an animation pitch?

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

MPC and a Flying Elephant

At last week's VFX festival at Escape Studios, MPC lead animator Oliver Dale explained how MPC approached the Making of Dumbo, the 2019 re-make of the 1940s animated Disney classic.

The starting point for the animators was to begin with live action reference. Dumbo is a baby elephant, so his motion has been based on real footage, and he has to fit into the real world of live action photography.

The animators began the process by animating walk and run cycles, and then added their own embellishments, to make the process "as efficient and as refined as possible".

Bringing Dumbo to life was a big challenge, in part because of the high expectations of this re-make of a much-loved film.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

ILM & "Fallen Kingdom" at the VFX Festival

Fallen Kingdom
One of the highlights of today's VFX Festival at Escape Studios in London was the presentation by Jance Rubinchik, animation supervisor at ILM on the making of Jurassic World, and Fallen Kingdom.

The talk was a masterclass in creature animation, demonstrating how much careful research goes into the creation and animation of the dinosaurs.

The Jurassic World series of movies as are a "balance between science and entertainment", as the film-makers try to keep both audiences and paleontologists happy.

From the point of view of animators looking to tackle realistic dinosaur animation, the lesson is simple: use as much reference as you can, and make sure you use live action reference that is as close as possible to the anatomy of the creatures you are trying to animate. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Why Animators Have Too Many Poses

Art Babbitt & Richard Williams, c1973
One of the most common mistakes made by student animators is to have too many poses, making the overall performance feel too busy, too over-animated.

Veteran Disney animator Art Babbitt used to say that junior animators had too many poses, and veteran animators had too few. When we start off young and enthusiastic we tend to throw in the kitchen sink.

The trick is to have the right number of poses for a shot, and let the characters stay a while in the poses we have chosen. The best way to do this is to draw clear thumbnails at the beginning, with clear poses, and not have too many poses for the shot.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

VFX Festival June 5-6 in Central London

The VFX, Games and Animation Festival 2019 is back again, this time taking place 190 High Holborn WC1 in central London.

This year the VFX festival has been split into three separate but overlapping events. All of the events are well worth attending, and we strongly recommend that any of our students in the London area attend.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Getting Feedback at Animation Apprentice

One of the hardest skills for animation students to learn is how give and receive criticism.  We all tend to be shy about our work (especially when we are learning something new) and, when our work is criticised, that criticism can feel very personal.

There are a number of ways in which students at Animation Apprentice can get feedback and critique. First and most obvious is directly from me - I personally tutor all the students at Animation Apprentice.  But we also have a dedicated Facebook Classroom, where students post their work to get feedback.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

What Goes into an Animation Bible? is an excellent resource for aspiring writers and creators, not just for traditional scriptwriters but also for anyone interested in pitching their own  animated TV series.

Best of all is this link to a full page of animation bibles, including classic TV shows like He-Man and Batman, showing how writers and animators go about putting together the all-important animation "bible", the crucial part of any animation pitch.

Monday, 13 May 2019

AniMates: Thurs 13th June in Tunbridge Wells

Animation Apprentice graduate and Motion Graphics expert Neil Whitman is organising a meet up of animation folks in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

The idea is to get animation professionals (and aspiring animators) together to associate, talk shop, and help each other out.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

How to Plan Animal & Creature Animation

Kiwi animation by Oliver Canovas
Our master's degree animators, studying at Buckinghamshire New University, are currently working on their third animation assignment, DA703 PR1, which involves the creation of a piece of animal or creature animation, combined with a performance.

Animal and  creature animation is among the most challenging work an animator can tackle, because it involves creating believable animation - usually based on live-action reference - and also an element of anthropormisation - making the animal or creature act in a believable way, perhaps including dialogue and lipsync.

So, how should our students plan out a piece of animal or creature animation? Start by watching the 10 minute video below.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Animator's Resource Kit

We're liking this handy blog - The Animator's Resource Kit, a useful one-stop-shop for lots of animation-related stuff.

It has plenty of information on subjects like links to animation forums, communities, animation competitions, Maya rigs, tools - and places to submit work.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Cartoon Forum 2019: Deadline 8 May

Cartoon Forum: 16-19 September 2019
What is Cartoon Forum? And why should animators know about it?

Cartoon Forum is Europe's biggest TV pitch-fest for animation, so if you have an idea for a TV series in your head, Cartoon Forum is the place to pitch it.

The deadline to submit your series project this year is 8 May. So, you have a little more time to sharpen your pencils, fill out some forms - and make your pitch perfect.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Why Animators Need Sound Design

Sound Designer at work
Animators need sound design. If you're animating a shot, remember that the visuals are just 50% of the experience; the rest is audio.

Audio is made up of music, sound effects, dialogue and - sometimes - narration.

Occasionally, good sound design means having no sound at all, or very little. But there is usually some work to be done, and animators neglect sound design altogether at their peril.

Monday, 15 April 2019

How to Write a Cover Letter

How do you write a good cover letter? And what does one look like anyway?  Everyone knows you need to write a cover letter to get a job, but lots of students get stuck at the point of actually writing one. So, to make things simple, check out our sample cover letter below.

A cover letter is like any normal letter. You put your own name, address, telephone number and email address at the top. Make it easy for them to contact you. Add the url of your website and/or demo reel (if you haven't done that yet, do it first).

Below that, you put the company's name and address. Address the letter to the person who does hiring at the company - most likely their head of recruitment or HR.  Below is our suggested template; feel free to edit it and personalise it to make it your own.

Friday, 12 April 2019

April 11 Second Club

This month, our masters' degree student animators are working on DA702, their character animation Module, with a view to entering The 11 Second Cluba monthly character animation competition in which aspiring animators practice their skills.  The Master's students practical assignment for the module is due on Monday April 22nd.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Summer Class Starts on Monday 6 May

"School Run" by Lee Caller
Our Summer classroom starts on Monday 6th May 2019.  You don't need to know Maya beforehand (we teach everything from scratch), but it's always a good idea to do a little preparation.

Below is a brief list of stuff to get you under way. You don't have to do all of it, but tick off a few of the things on this list and you will be a making a great start on your animation career.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Why Animators Should Always Tell a Story

Animators are story tellers. Every animation should have an idea behind it, one that tells a story.

Junior animators focus on learning technique - and technique is very important. But it is also important to think carefully about the story behind your shot.

Who is your character, and why are they doing what they are doing?  What is the scene about? What do they want, and what do they fear?  These things are important because if your shots forms part of an interesting story, it will be much more interesting to watch.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

What is "Successive Breaking of Joints"?

Art Babbitt & Richard Williams in Soho c 1973
What is "Successive breaking of Joints"? It's really another way of talking about flexibility and overlapping action, which are very similar concepts.

The basic underlying premise is that in any action, everything shouldn't happen at the same time.

It was an idea developed by Disney animator Art Babbit, who gave a series of animation lectures at Richard Williams Animation in Soho in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Blender -v- Maya: Which is Best?

Which is better: Blender or Maya? It's a question we often get asked here at Animation Apprentice, and the answer depends on what you need to do.

Both software packages are very good, and both can be used to create excellent 3D animation. But there are some important differences which students should be aware of.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Timothy Stam Talks Houdini Tomorrow Night

For all our students and recent graduates in the London area, why not come along tomorrow night to Escape Studios for one of their free "Evening with.." events. Tomorrow night features a talk by Tim Stam, Houdini Expert at Goodbye Kansas productions in London.

Animation with Houdini is a growing part of the business, and we strongly recommend that anyone interested in animation should come along.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Pete Nicholson's Animation Job Tips

Pete Nicholson
Pete Nicholson graduated from Animation Apprentice a while back and, thanks to a strong demo reel and plenty of perseverance, he quickly found work in the animation industry, starting his animation career at Nano Films and later at King Bee.

Today he is working as an animator at Dead Ready Productions, where was recently involved in hiring a new After Effects animator.  What he discovered, going through the applications, was pretty striking.

You might think that the competition for animation jobs is intense - and it is. But you might also be surprised how many applications go into the bin because of simple, basic (and very easy to avoid) mistakes made by the applicant. 

Monday, 25 March 2019

How to Animate a Reaction Shot

Timing for a classic "take" with Monty
How do student animators approach the business of animating a Reaction Shot? Reaction shots are the bread-and-butter of junior animators.

On a feature film, once you have graduated from walk cycles and crowd shots, you get given reaction shots to test your mettle.

A reaction shot is where animators first start to get to grips with acting and performance. Just like live-action actors, animated characters on a screen must listen - and react.

Friday, 22 March 2019

What is the Best Free Editing Software?

Editing - how it used to be
What is the Best Free Editing Software? Animators need to understand editing, even if only to be competent enough to assemble a demo reel.

The most commonly used editing software these days is Adobe Premiere, part of the Adobe Suite of software and now available through the cloud at reasonable subscription rates.

But if you are on a tight budget and you need a very low cost option, there are a number of free alternatives.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

BAFTA Scholarships for MA Study Now Open

Interesting in enrolling on our MA in animation - but lacking funds? Why not apply for a BAFTA scholarship?

BAFTA has opened applications for its scholarship programmes, worth up to £12,000. The scholarships are open to UK nationals for both undergraduate and post-graduate study.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Keith Lango Tutorials Available Free

Keith Lango YouTube Channel
Animator and teacher Keith Lango has made his animation tutorials free for everyone to learn online.

Keith's animation tutorials include animating a James Brown dance, rigging and skinning animation, and how to approach the business of animating a scene.

It's a great resource, and a very useful supplement to the growing body of online resources available for learning animation.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Blue Zoo Animation Recruitment Tips

Blue Zoo's Bader Badruddin
Animation Apprentice students who attended the recent VFX Festival at London's South Centre had the chance to meet recruiters from Blue Zoo Animation, one of London's animation powerhouses.

Among the Blue Zoo staff looking for fresh talent was Bader Badruddin, one of their lead animators (pictured left).

Bader chatted to animators about the kind of work Blue Zoo is looking for, and to make things easier still the company have also put together a very helpful blog post titled "Top Ten Recruitment Stand Tips" for students and graduates hoping to impress the company at a recruitment stand.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Meet Dana and David - New Rigs from Artstation

Meet Dana and David
Meet Dana and David, two new character rigs created by Gabriel Salas and downloadable from

Dana and David were created by Gabriel to help create more diverse content for animation exercises in Maya.

Both rigs are attractive designed and visually appealing, and present a full range of facial expressions as well as body mechanics. There are a few glitches but these are fairly minor (see below for details).

On the whole we're recommending both rigs as a welcome addition to the growing range of reasonably priced character rigs for student use.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The Importance of Anticipation

Anticipation - Illusion of Life
Anticipation is one of the 12 Principles of Animation, and it is one of the key principles that every animator must master.

Every action tends to have three components: an anticipation, an action, and a reaction. If you make the anticipation clear, then the rest should follow effortlessly.

Consider the anticipation drawing of Donal Duck on the left, taken from the classic Disney instruction manual "The Illusion of Life" - still a must-have book on every animator's shelf.

It's absolutely clear what Donald is about to do - even though he hasn't done it yet.

The trick with a good anticipation pose is that it is made so clear that the audience knows what the character is going to do, before he or she actually does it. 

Friday, 8 March 2019

Free Hare Rig for Maya

Hare by Arman Musovic
We're liking this free Hare Rig for Maya by Arman Musovic. It's a fun rig, available for free download from CGMeetUp, and can be used to create some entertaining cartoony animation.

Hare works best in a cartoony, Tex Avery world, and can be combined with other cartoony characters such as the free squirrely rig, or perhaps Keith Osbourne's excellent Mr Buttons rig.

You could also consider downloading a cartoony landscape, such as this one from Turbosquid, or one of the free landscapes created by Truong for cartoony animation.

To see what can be done with Hare, check out the animation by Animation Apprentice student Dave Novis below.

Friday, 1 March 2019

How to Build and Block a Scene

Mr Buttons
One of the biggest challenges encountered by student animators is how to block out a shot from scratch, starting off with nothing but a blank screen and a character rig.

In animation you get nothing for free. You start off with a digital puppet, usually in a stiff "T-pose", and you have to figure out the rest yourself.

In a new series of videos, we show how to take a reaction shot - a cartoony "take" - from zero to hero.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Why Animators Should Do Facial Expressions 1st

Planning out animation isn't an easy process. In theory it is simple, but in practice there are many pitfalls for the unwary.  One of the most common errors made by novice animators is to leave the facial expressions until last.

You might think to yourself "I'll save time by blocking out the main poses, and then work on the facial expressions later", but the danger with this approach is that you might never get around to doing the facial expressions at all, and your animation will be lifeless and flat.

One of the early lessons I learned at Blue Sky Studios on "Robots" back in 2003 was how to block out the character's main facial expression from the very beginning, thus determining the main acting beats in the shot.

What is the character thinking and feeling? This is a choice you should make at the very start.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Why Animators Should Avoid Jump Cuts

A jump cut
What is a jump cut? and why should animators try to avoid them?

A jump cut is a cut in film editing in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that are almost the same.  The result of the cut is to "jump" from one shot to another, in a way that can be disconcerting and can take the viewer out of the story.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Download Paragon Assets Free

Paragon from Epic Games
Epic Games and Unreal Engine have released their "Paragon" online assets for free. Any student at Animation Apprentice who wants to use these photo-real characters in their projects can use "$12 million worth of assets" for no charge.

The online game Paragon was cancelled in March last year. Developer Epic Games (owners of Unreal Engine) announced that they would release all $12,000,000 worth of game assets for free use by anyone working with the Unreal Engine 4, via the Unreal Engine Marketplace.

The first wave of released content included 20 characters, with their respective skins, animations, VFX and dialogue, along with over 1,500 environment components.  To find the Paragon assets online, follow this link.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

DJV View - Frame by Frame Playback

Animators need to be able to play back their shots frame by frame, in order to analyse what needs fixing. One very useful (free, and open source) tool for previewing image sequences is Djv. You can find Djv at Djv Djv runs on all the major platforms and is easy to use, though it has one big drawback - no audio.  

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Online MA at Bucks New University

"School Run" by MA student Lee Caller
Animation Apprentice and Buckinghamshire New University are now taking applications through UCAS for the September 2019 intake of our part-time online MA in 3D animation.

The online MA is a unique degree which can be undertaken by students anywhere in the world, leading to a formal qualification in the field.

You will not only learn how to animate, but you will engage at Masters' level with the underpinning theory and structure behind the art form.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Why Animators Should Never Cross The Line

The 180 Degree Rule. Wikimedia
What is "Crossing the Line?", and why should animators never (or, almost never) cross it?

"Crossing the Line" is also known as the 180-degree rule, and it is one of the fundamental rules of cinematography.

Like most rules of film-making, the only way to really understand the 180 Degree Rule is to break it, figure out what went wrong - and then work out how to fix it next time.

Let's say you have a shot with two characters talking to one another. Draw an imaginary line between the two characters. This is the "line" that we should not cross.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Film Freeway - How to Enter Film Festivals

Film Freeway is a great way for students to enter short films into international competitions.

Rather than enter your film individually into lots of different festivals, film-makers can create one upload to a single portal, and then apply through Film Freeway for as many competitions as you like.

Film Freeway has over recent years come to replace IMDB's Withoutabox, which is being discontinued and will close down in October 2019.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Why Animators Should Learn to Be the Rhino

Durer's Rhino
Why should animators be like a rhinoceros? Because rhinos have thick hides, and animators need thick hides too, because applying for work in the animation industry is not for the faint-hearted.

Even though the animation industry is booming, and there are many opportunities, searching for work can be a dispiriting process.

Once upon a time you'd get a rejection letter; nowadays the most common outcome is silence - just being (and feeling) ignored.

But it remains true that the single most common reason why animation graduates don't get jobs is a very simple one: