Become a Professional Character Animator
When I was 12 years old, my parents took me on “The Magic of Disney Animation” tour at Walt Disney World, where I saw REAL Disney Animators creating real Disney Animation. Less than 10 years later, at the age of 22, I became one of the youngest animators ever hired by Walt Disney Animation.
That day, I was just a child who formed a dream of working as an animator for Disney. That dream turned into a goal, and that goal turned into a burning desire that wouldn’t let me stop until I achieved it.
This isn’t just a course on “how to animate” or “how to become a character animator”. This is a course on how to achieve your biggest dreams!
I’ve reverse engineered the steps I used to turn the dream of a 12 year old into reality. You’ll learn what it takes to get your Dream Job at an animation studio, and how to keep that job.
Of course I’ll teach you about the 12 Principles of Animation (the fundamental principles that ALL animation is based on), in fact I’ll help you turn all 12 Principles into Habits.
But I’ll ALSO teach you about yourself: How to motivate yourself to reach those big dreams, and how to STAY motivated even when everyone around you tells you to give up.
You should have a basic grasp of animation, and be able to use animation software such as Blender 3D, Maya, 3DS Max, or any of the 2D animation packages.
The techniques and practices taught in this course can be applied to any form of animation, but you will need to practice them throughout the course.
I explain the concepts clearly, and there are video clips of each exercise being performed or animated, so you can follow along.
The course is 12 weeks long, and requires you to do a small animation exercise every single day. It is broken into sections by week, with each week having 7 videos (one for each day of the week) plus a quiz at the end of each week.
There were many ‘dark days’ where even I lost faith and felt like giving up on my dream of being a professional character animator.
Now, in my mid-30’s, I’ve worked for Disney, Fox Studios, and I run my own film and animation company – as well as an online animation community. I’ve managed to live and work in 7 countries around the world on everything from Feature Films, to Television Commercials, Video Games, and even Scientific Research. It’s time to share my knowledge.
I’m here to tell you that you SHOULD Dream big, and you CAN reach your Dream Job as a character animator in games, film, television, or any area you desire.
Join me for 12 weeks of mentoring, motivation, and animation training.
I’ll see you on the other side.
YOU Can Become a Professional Animator!
- Why should I learn about the 12 Principles of animation?
- Why is Personal Energy management so important?
- What is burnout, and how can I avoid it?
- Can't I just rely on talent or natural ability?
We've identified our 4 Personal Energies, now how do we Increase those Energies?
This video is based on more than a decade of research into personal achievement and success.
Week 1 - The First 6 Principles
One of the first things we need to do, is break our association of "Squash & Stretch" with deforming our characters in a cartoony fashion.
This lesson will show us how every human, animal, and character literally squashes and stretches. This is a simple physical compression and expansion, and is explained fully in this lesson.
Personal Energy: We will learn about the importance of drinking plenty of pure water throughout the day.
Often times, what happens before an action is more important than the action itself.
This lesson will explain the Principle of Anticipation and why it is so important to good animation.
Personal Energy: Today we learn about our comfort zone and do a simple exercise to push ourselves outside of it!
When you look at this webpage, where do your eyes go first? A properly designed page will direct your eyes exactly where they should go first. This is the same with a properly Staged animation.
This lesson will teach us about Staging and how this innocent little principle can ruin your entire animation - if neglected.
Personal Energy: We begin to do some simple stretches throughout our workday.
Straight Ahead what...? Pose to pose...?
This lesson covers two different approaches to animation at the most fundamental level. There is no right or wrong way to animate, but these two methods have been tried and tested since the 1920's.
Knowing when to use each can save you hours of frustration and maybe even prevent you from punching your monitor.
Personal Energy: We will learn about the dangers of multi-tasking and leaving 'programs' running in the back of our minds.
These are two of the most confused principles in animation, but understanding them can make your animation 100% easier to animate and more fluid to watch.
We will start be examining the Wave Principle and how using a simple sine wave can add lifelike fluidity to your work.
Personal Energy: We will do some simple excercises to strengthen our imagination and creativity.
Mechanical objects move in abrupt steps and stops. Organic creatures always Slow In and Slow Out of their movement. This principle is extremely important in conveying the weight and mass of an object or character.
Personal Energy: We will learn about a simple technique to keep our minds active and fresh.
Week 2 - The Final 6 Principles
Similar to Slow In and Slow Out, most things in nature follow Arcs. This lesson demonstrates what a bouncing ball looks like with and without arcs.
Personal Energy: Imagine playing football or basketball without any goals. It just wouldn't be any fun after a while. Well the same is true with life. It's time to learn about setting goals.
Scratching your face while talking is what we mean when we refer to the principle of Secondary Action - it is secondary to the main action or acting point of the scene.
Personal Energy: It's time to rest your mind and emotions for today; in a way that is simple yet surprisingly difficult!
How do you time out your animation? How do you know how many frames it takes to pick up a coffee cup? This lesson helps to demystify Timing in animation.
Personal Energy: Small adjustments to your daily habits can make a big difference in your energy and fitness. Learn one small change that can really add up to big improvement over time.
We tend to get conservative when we animate, but you'd be surprised by just how much things move and deform in reality. Exaggeration is often the key to getting things to look more realistic.
Personal Energy: Taking time to laugh and enjoy life is extremely important to your long term health. Today we get to laugh!
Many animators tend to just animate movement, but animation is much more than just movement. Solid posing is where you get a frog to feel like a frog, or an angry character to feel angry. This is a difficult, but critical aspect of being the best animator you can be.
Personal Energy: Just how important is a good night's rest? You might be surprised to find out!
The way your characters moves, and the poses your character hits as they move, all should have plenty of Appeal.
This is one of the most misunderstood of all the principles, but it really separates the good animators from the great animators.
Personal Energy: From time to time, it's important to take a look back in order to see how far we've come. This lesson helps us do just that.
It's time to review the lessons we've learned this week.
Week 3 - Diving Deeper
Let's look at some examples of various real world items that squash and stretch in ways you might not believe unless you've seen it.
Personal Energy: Stand Up for Yourself!
In addition to anticipating a physical movement, we also have emotional anticipation.
This is more of an acting technique, but it can really help you plan out how your character behaves while waiting to speak, or when they are less active and more passive; like when listening to another character speak.
Personal Energy: Let's go out and have some fun with a pencil and some paper!
Staging can mean how your character is positioned in the shot, where the camera is positioned, and even how the character relates to the camera or viewer.
We need to think of our staging in terms of telling the story and expressing our characters emotions. This can be very tricky and takes time to learn.
Personal Energy: Let's feed our minds with some classical art.
When should you animate 'straight ahead' and when should you animate 'pose to pose'?
Understanding the mechanics of movement can help you understand when to use each workflow.
Personal Energy: We talk to ourselves all day every day. Are you encouraging to yourself, or do you put yourself down?
There are 5 main categories of Overlap and Follow Through:
- Actual action that "follows through" after the main action; such as the follow through of a golf swing or a punch.
- Body parts that Overlap and Follow Through,such as the limbs of a running or walking character.
- Loose flesh such as fat or saggy skin. Anything that isn't bone will actually drag behind your character.
- Tails, hair, clothing, that Overlaps and Follows Through.
- Moving Holds.
Personal Energy: Do you understand how your food affects your mind?
The more massive an object is, the more it will slow in and slow out of movement.
Let's use this principle to add weight to a simple bouncing ball!
Personal Energy: Your body is a system. Changing one part now can affect the whole system later. Let's get to know our system and understand how we can tune it better.
There is a very simple and low-tech way to get good arcs, even when doing computer animation. This one trick has saved me literally hours of pain and frustration.
Personal Energy: Physical Energy is the foundation of all your other energies. Let's learn why this energy is so important.
Secondary Action is like Salt on a meal: too little and it's boring, too much and it's disgusting.
Personal Energy: There are mental states that help your creativity, and mental states that hinder your creativity. Learn how to keep yourself in the most creative state possible.
Today, you'll need to open up your animation package and play with the timing of one of your animations.
Personal Energy: Physical Nutrition is extremely important. Limiting your intake of a few small items can make a big difference!
If people wanted to see reality, they wouldn't need movies, tv shows, or video games. Exaggeration is part of what makes entertainment entertaining.
Personal Energy: Setting a goal that motivates you is proper Spiriatual Nutrition.
Animation should be limited by your imagination, not by technical limitations. Solid Drawing means your character deforms well, even when pushed to the limits of it's rigging.
Personal Energy: Step outside of your Emotional Comfort Zone and ask the rigger to fix any issues you might notice, even if you're using a free rig from the internet.
Your animation needs to Appeal to your audience's mind as well as their eye. What does that mean?
Personal Energy: Setting a massive goal might seem intimidating, but sometimes that is exactly what is needed to push us to the next level.
We will look at how a real cat can Squash and Stretch, then we will pose one of our own characters into an extreme squash pose and an extreme stretch.
Personal Energy: Relationships are what life is all about. Make sure you keep your relationships healthy with regular communication.
Let's actually stand up from our chair. Notice how your body Anticipates standing up.
Personal Energy: Holding a grudge against someone (even yourself) can drain all of your personal energies. So just let go!
The direction your character's are facing in relation to the camera (or viewer) can influence where your audience looks. This is another aspect of Staging.
Personal Energy: Try swapping one cup of coffee (or coke) per day with a cup of Green Tea instead. Research shows that Green Tea can actually reduce anxiety.
Anything that moves due to a thought process can be considered Acting, while anything that moves due to physics can be considered Action. Typically Action is animated Straight Ahead, while Acting is typically animated Pose to Pose.
Personal Energy: Did you know that a 4-5% reduction in body water could result in a 20-30% reduction of your mental and physical capacities?
Today we're going to animate some Follow Through and Overlapping Action on two sphere's. This simple exercise will teach you a lot about how to animate fluid movement.
Personal Energy: Drawing people is one of the best ways to observe their bodies in motion. I highly reccomend two books by Walt Stanchfield.
Today we're going to animate a ball rolling under it's own power. This will help us to better understand the principle of Slow In and Slow Out.
Personal Energy: Try sitting down to a complex task (like animating) while sipping some Green Tea and listening to Classical Music (preferably Mozart). Research shows this can greatly increase your creativity and positivity.
Today is your day of rest, but why not go back and review one of your favorite lessons?
Let's grab our Dry Erase Marker and draw on our monitor!
Personal Energy: Schedule a meal with a friend or loved one.
Secondary Action can easily get lost during a big Primary Action. So it's best to plan in pauses (of at least 10 frames) in order to highlight the secondary action.
Personal Energy: Write out 10 things you can start doing regularly that will help you reach your dream job.
The 3 Pillars of Animation are:
In order to keep our animation interesting, we need to include texture in our timing, or texture in rhythm. The Japanese call this "ma".
Personal Energy: Step outside of your Emotional Comfort Zone once again, and schedule a meeting with your boss or supervisor. Ask them for feedback on how you could improve, and how you could become more useful to the company.
Today we're going to animate a simple ball bouncing once. But we'll apply some Exaggeration to it and make that bounce entertaining.
Head out and draw people for at least 10 minutes. Don't spend more than 30 seconds on any one drawing (just capture the essence of their pose, as described by Walt Stanchfield).
Personal Energy: Doctors and researchers are finding many awesome health benefits to drinking Dark (or Red) Grape Juice.
Get our your Dry Erase Marker and find several clips to analyse:
- 3 awesome animated clips
- 3 awesome 'live action' clips
- the torso or main body of your chosen character
- the legs or driving force of the same character
- the arms or overlapping appendages of the same character
What makes the path of each object Appealing or unappealing?
Personal Energy: Look up some words in the dictionary to feed your mind new information. Try to use these new words in your everyday conversation - just not in an arrogant sort of way.
Squash and Stretch even applies to my face!
Personal Energy: Feed yourself Emotionally with a nice romantic comedy... aww.
In Entertainment, jokes and peak moments also need Anticipation. The formula boils down to:
- The the audience what you're going to do (create Anticipation)
- Do what you told them
- Tell them what you've just done
Proper Anticipation actually prepares the audience for what is about to happen, so they don't miss it.
Our brains are programmed to notice someone looking at us. So use that knowledge in your Staging to help direct the audience to look where you want them to look.
Personal Energy: Get out the piece of paper or file where you've written your goals, and go over them again today; adjusting them and refining them.
Keep a sketchpad and pencil with you. Then you can sketch down every time you see someone striking and interesting Pose. This will start training your eye to recognize good, solid poses.
Personal Energy: Did you know a single can of coke has nearly 13 teaspoons of sugar?
Open your file "Overlap_01" and add 2 more spheres to the end of your bouncing ball. Animate these as they Follow Through behind the main ball. But only key them on the same frame as the main ball - no offsetting keys!
Personal Energy: Find a good replacement from sugar. Honey Bears are the only animals in nature to suffer from tooth decay, so be careful with Honey as well.
Look for examples of object that do NOT Ease In or Ease Out. Knowing when not to use a principle is just as important.
Personal Energy: All of the 'White' foods (white sugar, white rice, white flour) have been processed to make them last longer. This makes them harder to digest, and robs them of vital nutrients.
Let's learn exactly how many keyframes you need to create a perfect circle. We will do this by animating a sphere flying around a circle.
Personal Energy: Eating imbalanced meals can rob you of Physical Energy. It's time to stop eating just for taste, and start eating for nourishing your body and mind.
Facial Animation is often thought of as Secondary Action, however it might be more entertaining to have them lead your main action, such as leading a head turn with your eyebrows.
Personal Energy: A.L.I.V.E. - A Lifestyle Intervention Via Email - has delivered proof (via large, randomized, controlled trials) that regular reminders to make healthy choices can have very positive effects on overall health. So this course is clinically proven to improve your health!
Get out your stopwatch again and Time some of your gestures. Try to get down to exact frame numbers.
Work out the timing of at least 5 gestures, then head over to the forums and discuss your findings.
Personal Energy: Plan and Schedule a day to visit your local Museum!
Depending on whether our character is seen in a closeup or a long shot, we may have to add or tone down our Exaggeration.
Personal Energy: A planned and structured visit to the Museum will be much more rewarding. So take some time to list 7 things you'd like to see when you visit your local museum.
An athlete might do pushups, even if they're a sprinter. So don't avoid drawing simply because you use a computer at work. Each little exercise will strengthen your overall creativity.
Try to force yourself to draw for at least 10 minutes. And don't spend more than 30 seconds on any one drawing.
Personal Energy: Learning includes doing, so be sure to put into practice the ideas that you learn.
Giving your characters clear and believable motivation for their actions gives them emotional Appeal. Don't have them moving and flapping around for no reason. But also don't have them standing still when the emotion of the scene calls for frantic movement. We need to balance the emotional and kinetic energies of our characters.
Personal Energy: Rewrite your Goal and your Dream Job, based on what you've learned so far. Really believe that you can achieve it!
Get a character rig (download one from the resource section if you don't have one) and pose your character into 3 Squash Poses.
- Curled up into a ball (the fetal position)
- Crouched, ready to jump
- Sheltering from a collapsing building
Just as 'ma' has been applied to clapping, let's apply it to a simple bouncing ball to build in Anticipation.
Personal Energy: Small things over time add up to big changes. So keep doing those small things!
Every frame of a production must serve the story. With that in mind, you might have a great idea on how to change the Staging of your shot. Don't be afraid to speak up!
The director's job is to tell the story of the entire story, but the animators job is to tell the story of our particular shot, so look for ways to improve the staging to better tell that story.
Personal Energy: Nobody will reach your goals for you. Take that next step towards your goal, even if you're afraid to.
Use Pose to Pose to block out your animation, and then do "Straight Ahead runs" between those keys to get nice motion.
Personal Energy: Keep trying to add fresh vegetables to every meal.
We're going to add 2 more spheres to our bouncing ball, and animate Overlap and Follow Through on those spheres as well. Once again, we will not use offset keys at all!
Personal Energy: It's time to create a Specific Morning Ritual for yourself.
This may be the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do for yourself!
Here is my morning ritual, so you can understand how specific to be:
6:00am: Wake up and drink about 1/2 liter of water, then brush my teeth.
6:05am: Sit down and do some animation practice for 25 minutes.
6:30am: Do my morning exercise (for this I have also created a calendar of exercises, see resources for good websites for this)
6:45am: Stretch for 5-10 minutes.
6:50am: Shower and get ready for my day.
7:10am: Make a healthy breakfast and enjoy time with my family. Make sure your breakfast includes fresh vegetables, and don't think that bacon and eggs is a healthy breakfast, it's not.
8:00am: Head off to work.
Even when I work from home, I follow this routine, and instead of heading "off" to work, I head into my work area and focus on work.
SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW AND CREATE YOUR MORNING RITUAL.
Let's animate a large, heavy object hitting a small, light object. The shows an object that moves without and Slow In (or Ease In).
Personal Energy: Ok, you've made your new morning ritual, now stick to it!
That is your physical, mental, emotional AND spiritual exercise for today, and everyday from now on.
Let's animate a sphere going around 2 circles, in a figure 8 path. Figure out the least number of keys required to get good Arcs.
Personal Energy: Stick a copy of your Morning Ritual to your bathroom mirror, where you'll see it every morning.
Try to incorporate some emotional nourishment into it too. You feed yourself physically with food every morning, so why not feed yourself emotionally?
Thumbnail our a character balancing on one foot. Then revise this by adding in some Secondary Action.
Come up with some poses that could make the balancing character look:
- Dreaming (about their Love)
- Tired and trying not to fall asleep
Personal Energy: Try using this course as part of your morning ritual.
Get out your stopwatch and time your facial expressions and changes of expression. Get into the habit of thinking of actions in terms of frames, and don't be afraid to get up and act things out!
Personal Energy: Keep going with your morning ritual.
You may soon find that the work you do in the few hours after rising will actually be the most productive hours of your entire day!
Keep Exaggerating things in your animation. Get over that fear of moving things, and just do it!
Personal Energy: Everything we do is either a habit, or it's temporary. So if you want to make lasting changes to your life, you must form new habits.
Head out and draw people once again. Feed your mental store-house of poses and actions from real life!
Force yourself to draw for at least 10 minutes, and don't spend more than 30 seconds on any one drawing.
Personal Energy: Don't be afraid to change your morning ritual as you grow and change.
Let's plan out (thumbnail) a short animation of a character about to jump. You can use the poses from the Squash and Stretch exercise.
But for now, don't open your animation package. Just use a pencil and paper to thumbnail out some Appealing poses.
Personal Energy: You should be buzzing with your Morning Ritual! Head on over to the Animation Forums and start up a thread about your morning ritual and how it's affected your life.
It's time to Layout our shot, and plan the Staging of it. Will it be a closeup? Viewed from above? Profile or front-on?
Personal Energy: Whatever you do, do your Morning Ritual.
Focus on you Key Drawing, or the poses that tell the story. Make sure these Key Poses have a strong silhouette, and are Appealing.
Personal Energy: Make sure your morning ritual is fun and rewarding. That will motivate you to keep going with it! It helps to get out your target, and remember your Dream Job.
Open up your file "Squash & Stretch 03" from our previous exercise.
This time we're going to pose our character into 3 Stretched Poses:
- Stretching and Yawning
- Holding up a collapsing roof
Really exaggerate the Squash and Stretch on your poses.
Get out your stopwatch and Time how long it takes you to act out your thumbnails.
Personal Energy: A healthy Morning Ritual can make those first few hours of your day the most productive!
As we begin to block in the Poses of our scene, it's helpful to keep our animation in 'Stepped Key' mode. This means there is no interpolation between key poses. Out character literally just snaps from pose to pose.
Personal Energy: Don't forget to exercise your brain!
Try doing some Sudoku over your lunch break.
As with any muscle: Use it or lose it.
Here's a great tip I've learned for easily creating good Arcs in your animation by 'stealing poses' from your own animation.
Personal Energy: This workflow is the fastest and easiest workflow I've ever scene in the 20 years I've been animating. I hope you're internalising it!