Monday, 30 November 2015

Blue Zoo Explains the Challenges of Running an Animation Studio

Tom Box is one of the founders of Blue Zoo, one of the UK’s leading TV animation studios.  Blue Zoo does animation in a broad range of styles, both 2D and 3D, for many different clients.

All their work is done in CG, and almost all of it is made in Maya - they describe themselves as doing “CG character animation with a bold quirky style”. At last week's Blue GFX Expo at London’s South Bank (we highly recommend that our students attend events like this whenever possible), Tom talked about the eight biggest problems involved with running an animation studio, and how Blue Zoo goes about solving them.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Escape Studios Launch New Animation Course in February 2016!

Here at Animation Apprentice we believe in the power of online learning, a flexible tool which allows our students to fit their studies around busy lives.

But, for some people, classroom study can be a more attractive option. We don't run classroom courses ourselves, but I'll be teaching a new three month animation course at Escape Studios in West London next year.

Starting on 15th February, the  course includes twelve weeks intensive classroom tuition plus a further three months on-line mentoring, so that students can practice in their own time and polish their skills.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Meet Heavy from Team Fortress!

One of the rigs we recommend for learning animation is the Heavy Rig, based on the Team Fortress character, and free for download at Creative Crash. He is particularly good for learning the early stages of animation - locomotion and mechanics.

Heavy is a relatively low poly and hence will likely give you real-time playback in your view port. So, no hanging around waiting to playblast. The controls are simple and easy to use, and all the curves are in logical places. It's also pretty stable and tends not to cause Maya to crash.

All rigs have their quirks and foibles.  So, how can our students get the best out of Heavy?

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Simon Otto (How to Train Your Dragon) Explains How the Animation Process Really Works

In this excellent video recently released by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, DreamWorks animator Simon Otto (How to Train Your Dragon) explains how the animation process really works. It's only seven minutes long, and Simon shows succinctly and clearly how animators actually work together in a big studio to create huge projects. Animators are actors, giving a performance.  As he puts it: "Creativity is about searching for something, and when you know it's good, you need to catch hold of it and not let go".

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Stuart Sumida Reveals the Secrets of How Animals Move

Stuart Sumida
Stuart Sumida is the go-to guy in Hollywood for animal locomotion. He has worked on many feature films, including “Spirit”- Stallion of the Cimarron”“Lion King”, and DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon”.

Stuart says he is “a paleontologist who gets to work with animators” and, while his day job is to teach anatomy to medical students, he also consults on movies for Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks. I was personally lucky enough to work with him both on "Lion King" and also on "Spirit". On both pictures he helped the animators to push the levels of realism in our work.

At last week's VFX Festival in Dublin, Stuart showed what makes him such a unique resource for animators dealing with the complexities of animal locomotion.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Physical Sun & Sky - Maya's "Make it Cool" Button

Above is a short video explaining how to use Maya's "Physical Sun and Sky" to light your animation. Physical Sun and Sky is the closest thing that Maya has to a "make it look awesome" button - it's a cheap and quick way to light your shots.  Here at Animation Apprentice we focus primarily on animation, not on lighting, but students still need to light their demo reels to make them look cool. Physical Sun and Sky is a great way to get a quick and polished result.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Great Dane Dog Rig - Excellent for Quadruped Locomotion

This Great Dane dog rig, available for free download at Creative Crash, is one that we recommend for learning quadruped locomotion.

It's quite cartoony, and not ideal if you are aiming for the hyper-realistic visual effects end of the industry, but it's a good stable rig and well-suited to a broad cartoony style of animation.

It has straight forward, simple controls, and it has squash and stretch. The only drawback is its long tail - which means you will have to animate the overlapping action manually.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Try Before You Buy! 3D Animation Taster Day in London on Wednesday 2 December

Escape Studios, London
Not everyone is sure if 3D Animation is right for them, so why not try it out first?  If you are in the London area on Wednesday 2 December, I'll be doing a one-off "taster day" for 3D animation at Escape Studios.

I'm hosting a one-day class to introduce students to the key tools for 3D animation, and get to grips with some cool character and creature animation. The day costs £25, and is bookable through the Escape Studios website. It's gonna be awesome!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Amazing! Fantastic! Incredible! - The Biography of Stan Lee Is Out!

Amazing! Fantastic! Incredible! - The biography of Stan Lee is out! Titled "A Marvelous Memoir" (Geddit?), this new book chronicles the extraordinary career of comics legend Stan Lee.

In fact, Lee was on Radio 4 this morning, talking about his career, and telling great stories (clearly much told, but with no loss of enthusiasm) about turning points in his life like the birth of Spiderman.

Spidey and the other Marvel characters have since gone on to found what is apparently the most successful film franchise in history, bigger even than Harry Potter or James Bond.

So what about the royalties? Mr Lee must be rolling in gold, right? After all, he created the characters. Well, apparently not. Stan Lee was, as he put it: "a writer for hire". It was the company he worked for that got rich on the royalties, not him. And this is an important lesson for all our students:

Don't sign away the rights to your creations, unless you absolutely have to. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Cool Cyborg Spider Rig Free at Creative Crash

We're liking this cool cyborg spider rig, free at Creative Crash and very good for learning to animate multi-legged creatures.

The zoologists among you will spot that real spiders have eight legs, not six, but this is nonetheless a cool rig. It works well and is simple but effective, with easy-to-understand controls.

Cyborg Spider was created by the very talented Xiong Lin and is available for free download - for student and non-commercial use.

Friday, 13 November 2015

2016 Escape Studios VFX Festival - Tickets Now On Sale

Tickets are now on sale for the 2016 Escape Studios VFX Festival. The Festival takes place in London from February 23rd - 25th next year, and brings you the latest in VFX, games, animation and motion graphics.

This year the speakers include MPC - talking about their work on The Martian, and The Mill talking about augmented - and virtual - reality.

We recommend that any of our students who are in the London area should come along and find out the latest in animation, Games and VFX.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

BlueGFX is Coming on 19th November....and It's Free!

Blue GFX Expo is taking place in London on 19th November 2015, an event we highly recommend for any of our students who are in the neighbourhood.  This year speakers include Tom Box from Blue Zoo, the UK's biggest TV animation company, Stuart Penn from Framestore, and representatives from Autodesk showing the latest Maya tools.  For all our students, this is a great chance to catch up with new technology and meet in person people from the UK's top animation and visual effects houses.  And best of all, it's completely free.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Recommended Rigs - Raa the Spider!

One of the rigs that we recommend for student use in the early stages of learning creature animation is the Raa Spider Rig.  Raa is free, and can be downloaded at  He is an eight-legged arachnid, perfect for learning creature locomotion.

Like most rigs, Raa has his quirks and foibles. So how can our students get the very best out of Raa?

Friday, 6 November 2015

Meet Oscar Winning VFX Supervisor Paul Franklin on Thursday December 10th

Oscar Winning VFX Supervisor Paul Franklin is being interviewed in Stoke Newington, near London, on Thursday December 10th, to talk about some of his work in visual effects.

Paul Franklin has collected Oscars for films like Inception, which broke fresh ground in the VFX industry, creating extraordinary effects.

He is also an excellent and entertaining speaker, and we highly recommend that any students who are in the area attend what will be a fascinating evening.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Meet Pixo Jr - The Animator's Favourite Lamp!

Pixo Jr - a great training rig for Maya animators
Pixo Jr is an excellent rig, free for student download at

We recommend Pixo Jr. for the early stages of learning animation - it's a great way to get used to the Maya animation controls without things getting too complex, too quickly.

Pixo Jr. was created in homage to Pixar's pioneering animated short - Luxo Jr. - the film that made the studio's name and proved that CG animation could connect emotionally with audiences.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Still Time to Submit Your Idea for an Animated Feature Film to Cartoon Movie!

Cartoon Movie - pitch your project!
Do you have an idea for an animated feature film project you'd like to get off the ground?  If so, you should submit it to Cartoon Movie!

The Deadline to submit a feature film project to Cartoon Movie is 25 November 2015.  If your project gets selected, you will be able to pitch it to almost 1,000 animation and industry professionals from forty countries.

Present at Cartoon Movie will be around 200 buyers, including 120 distributors & sales agents.

But why should animation students want to pitch their feature film ideas? Because we think all our students should aim high - you could be the next Walt Disney or Jeffrey Katzenberg - an animation mogul!  Most of'll never find out if you don't try.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Andreas Deja on Disney's Nine Old Men

Check out this wonderful podcast from The Bancroft Bros (Tom and Tony) with legendary Disney animator Andreas Deja (Gaston, Hercules, Scar) on his new book about Disney's Nine Old Men.

But who were the Nine Old Men? And why should we still care? The answer is, these were the animators who created, developed and nurtured the original Disney style.

It's not an exaggeration to say that they created the medium of animation and made it what it is today.  

Monday, 2 November 2015

Time to Enter the November 11 Second Club Competition!

Yoda speaks. Copyright Disney
What are you doing this November to polish your animation skills? Here at Animation Apprentice we encourage all our students to enter The 11 Second Cluba monthly character animation competition in which aspiring animators practice their skills and get their work noticed.

Animators from all over the world participate, animating a character speaking a line of dialogue. Entry is free, and this month's competition continues with the recent Star Wars theme.

So what are you waiting for?  Let's get started!