Thursday, 31 July 2014

Hair Simulation in Maya 2014 - the XGen Tool

Rapunzel - great hair!
One of the best features of Autodesk Maya 2014 was a big step forward in its hair simulation capabilities. The new tool is called XGen, and is embedded free with Maya 2014. It was developed by Disney/Pixar and was used on their film Rapunzel, to generate the heroine's gorgeous, bouncing tresses.

At the BlueGFX Expo in London last year, Autodesk demonstrated their new hair simulation tool, giving us a step-by-step tutorial in how to go about creating great hair effects in Maya with this new instancing system. So how exactly does it work?

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

What Makes Animation Apprentice Different? - Seven Reasons Why We Think We're The Business

Welcome to Animation Apprentice!
Nowadays there are a number of places you can study animation online, without needing to spend three years or more of your life at University. So what makes us different from the other online schools? We believe that Animation Apprentice is unique among animation schools, and that we offer the best possible student experience. So what exactly makes us unique and special?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Getting Ready for our January Class - How to Get Started...

Winter Draws On. Photo: Wikipedia
What kind of preparation should students do before starting with us at Animation Apprentice on 5 January 2015?  Needless to say, we don't want to spoil your holidays, and it's always good to have a proper break, but it's worth casting half an eye forward to the New Year and thinking about some of the things you might do to get ready for our new course. Below is a brief checklist of stuff to get you started. It's not comprehensive, and 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.

Monday, 28 July 2014

All About The Eleven Second Club

The 11 Second Club is a monthly character animation competition, and a great way for aspiring animators to practice their skills and get their work noticed. Animators from all over the world participate, animating a character speaking a line of dialogue, which is provided every month by the club.

Throughout the competition, participants can share their progress with one another and critique each other's work - just like in a real animation studio. At the end of the month, all the participants vote for the submission that they consider the best for that month - so it's a very democratic process. The idea of the 11 Second Club is "to give animators a chance to practice their skills in a fun, challenging environment".

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The ParentMaster - a Great Free Plugin for Maya

Parent Master
Autodesk Maya is free to students, and now has a huge user base around the world. Many Maya users have sought to improve the software, developing free plugins that can be plugged in to your free copy of Maya, adding to its usability.

The ParentMaster is a plugin created by Paolo Dominici which greatly simplifies the business of attaching and un-attaching objects in Maya. Say you want to animate a character picking up a ball and then dropping it. This free tool will make your life much, much easier.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Alex Williams, founder of Animation Apprentice, talks about his latest book, The Queen's Counsel Lawyer's Omnibus

The Queen's Counsel Lawyer's Omnibus - 20 years in The Times
Animation Apprentice founder Alex Williams initially trained as a barrister, and since 1993 he has published a weekly cartoon strip Queen's Counsel in the law pages of The Times. Recently he published a new book, The Queen's Counsel Lawyer's Omnibus, a compilation of his favourite cartoons printed in the newspaper over the past 20 years. We asked him to talk a little about the book, and also about how a lawyer became a cartoonist and an animator.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Free Bonus Week at Animation Apprentice - cars!

Free Bonus Week at Animation Apprentice
Animation Apprentice recently became a 31 week course - at no extra cost to our students. We've added a free extra week as a way of saying thanks for completing our existing 30 week course in character and creature animation.

The new bonus week is listed as Module 6 - week 31, and it's completely free. In Week 31 we will cover vehicle animation - a big source of work in the visual effects world where, increasingly, digital effects are tending to replace stunt cars. Animating vehicles and cars is fun to do and in many ways less complex than character and creature animation, but it's still important to have a good variety of work on your demo reel. Producers like depth in animation reels, and an animator who can tackle a variety of work will rarely be out of a job.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Animator's Survival Kit for the iPad

The Animator's Survival Kit
As every student of animation knows, the best book for learning animation is The Animator's Survival Kit. For over a decade it has been the industry standard textbook. The only problem with the book is you can't see the animation - which is where the iPad version comes in. It's like having both the DVD series and the book rolled into one, because it doesn't just tell you how to do stuff - it shows you how to do it as well.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Animation producer Claus Toksvig explains how to finance an independent animated feature film

How do you produce and finance an independent animated feature film? It's far from an easy task, but not an impossible dream. In this interview last year at our sister blog FLiP, Danish producer Claus Toksvig explains how it all works, and what are the challenges of making an independent animated film outside of the studio system.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Think You Know Your Animation History? Test your Knowledge with our QUIZ!

Call yourself an animator? Think you know the history of animation? Remember that plenty of studios want to know not just that you know how to animate, but that you have a decent general knowledge about the industry you work in. Can you tell the difference between a Merry Melody and Looney Tune? We think of animation as a modern medium, but in fact it has a long history going back at least to the ancient Chinese. So, it's time to sharpen your pencil, get yourself a piece of paper, and test your knowledge with our Animation History Quiz! The story begins 18,000 years BC....

Monday, 21 July 2014

A Freelancer Animator's Guide to Taxes and Self-Employment

At Animation Apprentice we train digital animation artists with practical, real-world skills which are aimed squarely at a successful career in the industry. And we like to practice what we preach, by bringing in small freelance jobs to help our students get live experience on client projects.

One of the questions we often get asked by students is - do I have to pay tax on my freelance income? The answer of course is yes. The bad news is, the tax code in the UK runs to 10,000 pages, and there is no human being who knows the whole code. But every freelance artist needs to know at least the basics. Below is a short introduction to how the system works, from a self-employed artist's perspective. It is by no means complete, and it is no substitute for paying a qualified accountant to give you proper advice (which is highly recommended), but it should explain some of the basic rules of tax survival for freelancers, and get you pointed in the right direction.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Animation Producer Don Hahn explains How to Make it in The Movies

Don Hahn, Producer of "The Lion King"
How do aspiring film-makers break into the entertainment industry? It's not an easy question to answer. Digital media and outlets like YouTube have made it easier than ever to gain exposure, but increased competition can make it seem harder than ever to get that first job in a mainstream studio. In this 2013 interview in our sister blog FLiP, producer Don Hahn explains how students can break into the business.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Pixar and the Twenty Two Rules of Storytelling

John Lasseter famously described the three most important things about film-making as "One: story. Two: story. Three: story". Obviously, Pixar do a bunch of other stuff really well too, like, say character animation. But there is no doubt that great stories are at the heart of their work and their success. So what can we learn from Pixar about great story telling? Fortunately, Pixar are not guarded about their secrets. Recently, these "22 rules of storytelling" were tweeted by Pixar Story Artist Emma Coats.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Other Book Every Animator Should Own

The original animation bible
The Illusion of Life was first published in the 1970s. It caused a sensation among animators, because it represented for the first time in print the accumulated wisdom of the Disney studio - set out in detail for anyone who cared to learn. The 1970s were a lean time for animation; Walt Disney was dead and the revival that would come with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Little Mermaid was still far in the future.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Story Masterclass with Frank Gladstone in London on 16th August - just £6!

Lupus films, the folks who brought you The Snowman and The Snowdog, are running a one day masterclass with animation industry veteran Frank Gladstone on August 16th in London - for just £6. Anyone who is serious about story telling in animation should attend - I'll most likely be there myself, furiously taking notes. Frank is a world-class talent whose credits include some of the biggest hits in animation history. I attended his month-long story seminar at Lupus last year. Full details below:

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

"Charlie & Yip" Wins Best Animation at the British Animation Film Festival

Charlie and Yip
My short film "Charlie & Yip", animated by Tumblehead Animation in Denmark, has just won Best Animation at the 2014 British Animation Film Festival.

The short was screened on June 8 in London at the Empire Leicester Square, competing with dozens of other shorts in three successive screenings over the course of the day.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

creative agency Clearhead are hosting a free conference on 23 July for students looking to forge a career in creative media

Clearhead: a digital creative agency
Confused about how to develop a career in the creative industries? The creative agency Clearhead are hosting a free conference for people hoping to forge their own way in creative media. Interested in a creative career? Come along to their Careers day and find out how to make it happen.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Join the force in Singapore!

Lucasfilm are looking for Jedi masters to serve an apprenticeship in Singapore. Their "Jedi Masters Program" offers talented digital artists "the chance to learn from the masters in a variety of creative disciplines -- from visual effects on live-action films to animated feature films."

I worked myself in Singapore a few years back and can personally recommend it. The Singapore Government is highly motivated to bring in international talent, so acquiring a work visa is rarely a problem. And once you are there, you have the chance to explore South East Asia on your weekends, or just hang out at the Raffles Hotel in downtown Singapore and pretend you're Ernest Hemingway. Plus, it's nice and warm all year round and the local cuisine is seriously delicious.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A Facebook Group worth joining - VFX Jobs

How do you find work in the Animation and Visual Effects industry? Networking, scanning the jobs pages of websites like; there are many ways to keep your ear to the ground. The best method of all is to build up a network of like-minded individuals, friends and colleagues who can keep you posted on the latest news - and even get you hired when the time is right.

Traditionally, in London, jobs would get "announced" in the pub over a pint on a friday night, the news would spread up and down Wardour Street, and hires would be made on Monday morning. Now, with great Facebook pages like VFX jobs (see above), you can keep up with the endlessly changing ebb and flow of VFX vacancies.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Secret of Animation - by T Dan Hofstedt

T. Dan Hofstedt - animation supremo
My old friend and former kumrad at Disney animation, T Dan Hofsted, recently posted at Facebook a reply to a student asking how to become an animator. T Dan is one of the best animators I know, a veteran of countless Disney hits including The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules and Mulan, so he ought to know a thing or two about how to make it as an animator. Here is what he wrote:

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Maya speed animator - how to be both good and fast

Part of the secret of having a successful career as an animator is learning how to be good and fast at the same time. Directors want quality, Producers want speed. You must please both. Animation producers like animators who do the job well, on time, and are nice to work with. If you have all three of these qualities - a long and successful career in the industry will be yours. Below are our top tips for animating in Maya - how to be both good and fast. We don't say that this is an exhaustive list, but it's a great place to start.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

What Does a Visual Effects Producer Actually Do?

Below is a 2013 blog post from our sister blog FLiP, which interviews visual effects producer Martin Gabriel on what a VFX producer actually does for a living. When I first started working in VFX, I genuinely had no idea. Martin carefully explains the process, and in doing so reveals the nuts and bolts of how the VFX industry actually works.

Martin Gabriel is a visual effects producer with a long list of successful feature films on his resume, including Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireX-Men, The last Stand, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. He also worked on the TV series Band of Brothers and The Prisoner.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Bionic Group in Pinewood Studios are looking for 3D modelers

Bionic Group
Calling all Animation Apprentice students with strong 3DS Max modeling skills....Bionic Group are looking for 3D modelers to work at Pinewood Studios. The job will involve creating "technical animations for a range of leading contractors within the construction Industry". The role will be suited to "a promising graduate with an interest in construction, architecture, civil or structural engineering."

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Book Interview - The Noble Approach - Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design

The Noble Approach - Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design
One of the best books on animation design in recent years is by animation designer and director Tod Polson, who spent over a year researching and writing about the life and art of legendary designer Maurice Noble. Noble enjoyed had a 60 year career in the animation business and was responsible for the look of some of the most famous Looney Tunes shorts, including What's Opera Doc?, Duck Dodgers and the Road Runner series. We reprint this 2012 interview with Todd at our sister blog FLiP, in which he talked about the genesis of the project.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Animation and The Mind - The Neuroscience of Animation

Your brain, but animated
At this year's SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, a number of presentations focused on the subject of Animation and the Mind - The Neuroscience of Animation. This field of research tries to look at animation from a neuroscientific point of view, asking what it is about the design and structure of our brains that influences how we watch and enjoy animation.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

How do you produce an independent animated film? Max Howard explains

Max Howard
In this interview last year at our sister blog FLiP, independent producer Max Howard reveals the secrets of financing independent animated films.

Animation producer Max Howard began his career in animation working on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", after which he joined Disney in Florida to set up their fledging Orlando studio. Since then he has worked for many of the biggest animation studios, and for the past decade has forged a career as an independent producer, as well as consulting for the animation industry and giving lectures and workshops all around the world. We asked him to talk about what it takes to produce an independent animated film.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Ten Reasons to Study with Animation Apprentice

Why study with Animation Apprentice? We think we offer the highest quality, best value animation training anywhere in the world. Here are ten reasons why we believe we are the best place to learn the art and craft of 3D animation - all without having to leave your home.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Mery Project - a new free rig for animators!

One of the many benefits of animating in Maya is the large and growing global community of artists who collaborate on freeware projects, bringing to life excellent animation rigs like Norman and Morpheus. The latest free character rig to be released looks like being The Mery Project - available to Maya users very soon.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How do you handle a tricky client?

Every freelancer occasionally has to be deal with a difficult client. In fact, in happens all the time. Talk to any freelancer, especially after a few drinks, and they will gladly tell you stories to make your hair stand on end. Clients, even the good ones, drive everyone crazy. Tricky clients are so common that there are websites such as are, dedicated entirely to horror stories written by freelancers about having to deal with hard-to-please clients. So, if you are starting off on your career, how do you handle a difficult client?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Escape Studios and MPC to host free webinar tomorrow on careers in VFX. Register now!

Free webinar with MPC
Tomorrow Wednesday 2 July Escape Studios is hosting a webinar on the subject of careers in visual effects. Join them (it's completely free) as they broadcast live from MPC London, with the heads of recruitment at both MPC and Framestore. They'll be giving you a behind the scenes snapshot of their work as recruiters in VFX, the variety of work their company does, and the kind of Artists they hire. In addition, you will have the chance to send them your questions about careers within the VFX industry.