Saturday, 21 September 2013

Shorts Worth Watching

Here are some shorts/adverts I've seen recently that I reckon are worth the watch. Inspiring and beautifully made.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Scarecrow

I just came across this short and it's amazing. First off, it's by moonbot, so beautiful animation is guaranteed! Secondly, it carries a very strong message that I personally care a lot about. It was great to see an animation that tackled the subject of food.

Anyway, take a look for yourselves and then watch the behind the scenes video too!

Sunday, 1 September 2013


First off, apologies for how long it has taken me to get to this post. Things like contracts ending, getting a job, moving house and forgetting happened. But now that some of those things aren't happening any more, we can get on to the topic at hand. THUMBNAILS!!!

To explain why I wanted to write about thumbnails and get others involved we have to travel back in time. Imagine a world where dinosaurs walked the earth...sorry, not that far back. Back when I was working on LEGO: Lord of The Rings at TT Games I noticed that some people thumbnailed shots for their scenes and some didn't. It really interested me, especially how the use of planning appeared to change how shots/scenes were completed.

Personally I find a little bit of planning better than none at all. It helps me clear my head, get my ideas down and create goals for my shot. Without thumbnails I will often find myself flailing about, wasting time trying to find the right pose, trying to figure out how something should move and so on. Thumbnails help me to tie all of this down, drawing a few (or many) poses out is way faster than playing around in Maya. In short, it keeps me organised and on the right path. They might not be as helpful for everyone but thanks to some kind folk we have some examples to look at and opinions to ponder over.


Below are examples and opinions from animators of all skill levels and projects. They all show a valuable insight into how they work and break their shots down.

"My process always begins with thumbnails. I like to start with drawings since I can play with things a little bit faster. It is kind of like shooting reference because I get up and act out to the dialogue but without the camera rolling. I hit body postures and then exaggerate them on paper. I then shoot reference to look for interesting nuances that I can add within my performance."

Prep And Landing thumbnails:

Dan was kind enough to share some thumbnail sketches he made whilst working on Hotel Transylvania at Sony Animation. Excellent examples of how you don't need complicated images to convey great poses, lines of actions and thought process.

Hotel Transylvania thumbnails:

"I didn't always plan things out with thumbnails (why add an extra step, right? Plus my drawing skill isn't great...) but once I made the switch I can't imagine going back. It allows for such freedom because you can try as many things as you like without committing to a finished drawing that you'd hate to throw away. Plus I've found the more I thumbnail the better I get at boiling down art to its essence, which really helps simplify things when I work on a complete piece.

I think what holds a lot of people back from doing thumbnails is just a lack of confidence drawing, especially in the realm of 3D animation. It wasn't until my late twenties that I really set myself to practice drawing in earnest, and then I was pretty terrible at it. Yes, it does take work, but it's absolutely worth it in the long run! I know folks often say "Well I know such-and-such animator who's amazing but can't draw! I'll just be like them." It's true you can take that route, but if you add drawing on TOP of your animation skills it only makes you that much more well rounded. Plus I've never spoken with a single animator who didn't draw well but still didn't wish they were better. (And honestly even the masters say they wish they could draw better!)

I once heard Glen Keane say that when he animates it's like he's living through the character. When I thumbnail, I get what he means. I'm drawing fast and really feeling the motion and action and emotion. Sadly once I get to roughing it out on keys I tend to become more technical and want to do it "right" instead of living it out through the character being drawn... And often the keys suffer for it.

The biggest benefit to my thumbnailing that I ever found was learning and practicing gesture drawing. When you have under a minute to get the feeling of a pose down on paper it makes you go straight for the story-telling jugular. You leave out the extra bits of fluff and rush to throw down sweeping lines that slap the audience in the face and say 'LET ME TELL YOU MY STORY!' Thumbnailing should be like that. Leave the fluff for later."

Mudasir shows us that he breaks his planning down into key pose thumbnails with notes based on the characters actions and motion.

"Thumbnailing is really useful since it reminds you to solve posing in CG animation in the way you would do it 2D."

LEGO: Lord of The Rings thumbnails:

Shaun shows us that he breaks his shot down by camera cuts and extreme poses paying lots of attention to line of action (S and C curves) and pushing poses.

"Unfortunately I usually toss my thumbnails when I'm done with them,but here are two pages I still have.

The first page is my attempt at solving how a young girl would act as she's being cornered by a more imposing figure. I wanted to balance fear, as well as confidence in her knowledge of self defence - which she's never had to act on before. I also have a few drawings used to explore what the menacing figure might look like. Should he be solemn? Angry? Sadistically grinning? And finally I did a few thumbnails to explore my staging.

The second page is a series of very loose thumbs for a thirty second scene I did. I wanted to create an apologetic looking female character, and a very defensive, upset male character. Skyscraper (the male character) is meant to be hurt, afraid, nervous as well as feeling betrayed by his significant other in her efforts to make him change his ways. He's firmly rooted in his current life and has no aspiration of moving beyond that."

Stephen not only sent a picture of his thumbnailing process but also included a video that he'd made where he describes exactly what he does. He calls it "stickyboarding" Check them out:

"My school Head-Mistress always said, "Life is like a jam sandwich. The more you put in, the more you get out of it." 
Now, while I wouldn't particularly want to eat a sandwich that had about six-jars-worth of jam in it... that's just asking for a heart-attack surely!... I do see what she was trying to say.

And nothing is more true about Animation. Preparation, preparation, preparation! The more you put into your ideas, concepts, design, story and characters, the richer and more rewarding your final creation will be.Even if what you come up with is total garbage, you know what your idea is not meant to be.

However, all of this does kind of depend on what your working on, and who you're working with.
If you're working solo, while it's still very important you sketch down your ideas first, it only really matters that you understand them. If you can remember the exact emotion you're looking to convery with nothing more than a crude stick-figure, then no problem! But if you're working with a team of people on a single project, in many ways you face some more difficult challenges. You may have everything from start to finish mapped out crystal clearly in your own head - but nobody else can see that. No one can crawl into your brain and see exactly what it is that you see. So, you have to illustrate your ideas and show them to people, and your drawings have to be so good, that they can see exactly what it is that you see.
Pixar are the Gods of this. If you haven't already, pick up a copy of "The Art of (insert name of any Pixar Movie here)" and you'll see just how much hard work, time and perpetration they devote to telling stories. It's almost as though they make the movie before they actually make the movie.
But that's not to say that your thumbnails have to be a masterpiece. Take the thumbnails from Ratatouille as an example, simple, yet extremely effective.

Just from these sketches we as animators can get the perfect idea of Remy's weight, flexibility and movements. Now imagine trying to animate Remy without having seen these first. Where on Earth would you start?

It could be argued that putting more time into your preparation actually saves time in the long run.
I'd like to include some of my own work as an example too. Back in 2008, when I was still fresh out of Uni, I made a music video for an up-and-coming Dance Music artist, Jess Carroll. The video follows the story of a young girl who has lost her true love as she travels through the city. Not a huge project, but fairly big for me as I was working by myself.

I found using thumbnails extremely helpful for timing, camera angels, and progress management - but it was also very nice to be able to see the entire video mapped out right there in front of me. 
It keeps you able to see the big picture."


"Doing thumbnail sketches really loosens me up; when I sketch, I get new ideas on how to play the next scene, or come up with a whole new plotline altogether, which was the case with this cartoon.

I also get an idea of what new props to create, and which sound and visual effects to use."

"I tend to draw stick figures more than actual thumbnails.

Pages 1 and 2 are from an animation I did during my MA called Fear. Probably the best example I have of my animation planning. Page 1 is mainly a page of rough poses I could use for the character to try and show this feeling and considering his actions throughout the scene. The second page, is a very rough storyboard of the character moving through the scene and a plan of the route.

Page 3 is some poses for a dance animation."

"You absolutely HAVE to storyboard/thumbnail/scribble and sketch down your ideas. It can be one thing in your head but it never really sticks till it's on paper, wether traditional or digital. It's also a great way to visually test if what works in your head actually does work. And an acidental stroke, or even an intentional one can be interperted in new ways after stepping away from it and coming back. A half finshed, quick sketch can spawn new ideas and solutions to problems you've had. I always do tons of small thumbnails with pen paper when brainstorming. Then move on to create more fleshed out storyboards digitally. The ones attached are by no means perfect, as this was just a project for myself and done in maybe a very short while. If it's a personal project as long as YOU understand it, that's all that matters. The storyboards below pretty closely resemble the final piece, in this case. But it doesn't have to be that way. A lot of the time (for non client work) the storyboards can just be a good jumping off point and you can transform and morph them into something completely differnet throughout the journey of creating the project.

For client work it's also veery important to storyboard before hand. The drawings definetly don't have to be perfectly rendered beautiful drawings here either but it's important that they are clear. So the client knows exactly what you mean and can comment on it early in the process. THis is a great step to do before going in 100mph on a project and then get a ton of changes from the client because you hadn't been clear enough in the begining when discussing the project."

"Thumbnailing helps me to throw all of my ideas down on to paper/photoshop so that I am free to worry about the animation side. I like to work out my ideas first so that I know exactly where I am going with my shot. This is especially important for me in a professional setting as it means I will be more efficient with my time.

My thumbnails are nothing fancy, mainly stick figures but they give me more than enough information about what I want to do. I usually draw the key poses I'd like to hit and often draw out arcs across the image. You can see in the second image I have arrows pointing in opposite directions on certain sketches. These are opposite action notes that come from acting it out at my desk or visualising the pose."

LEGO: Lord of The Rings thumbnails:

iAnimate shot planning thumbnails:

Friday, 12 April 2013

Disney 2D Veterans Fired

Yesterday Disney fired most of their traditional animators, keeping only Eric Goldberg and Mark Henn. The veteran animators who lost their jobs are:
Nik Ranieri, Ruben Aquino, Frans Vischer, Russ Edmonds, Brian Ferguson, Jamie Lopez and Dan Tanaka (two names are unknown).
And apparently Disney are still calling meetings with people to discuss pay cuts or buyouts.
It’s awful news but it makes sense considering Disney currently have no interest in pursuing traditionally animated features. The sad fact is it seems that they’re going off the back of Prince and The Frogs not so great reception and most people agree that that movie suffered from a weak story. Techniques don’t ruin films, it’s all about story and characters. Whenever a VFX film bombs we don’t start crying that VFX are dead. We just make another one and hope it does better.
Traditional animation is a technique, it is still appealing and it still sells to both young and old. Give people bad stories and they won’t like your product regardless of how you created it. A lot of folk are commenting on the fact that 2D animation hasn't evolved enough to keep audiences interested. I think that's true to an extent with Western animation but there's a ton of great films coming from plenty of other countries that are doing much riskier things. And on that note, CG films can be judged in the same light.
Massive shame that such skilled people are being let go instead of trying for another feature. It’s not like Disney are short of cash but if they've already made the decision to turn away from 2D then it makes sense for their business plan. Sad times.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Suitable for animating?

I've been thinking about this topic recently, mostly after watching certain films and thinking back to things I've heard a lot of people say. How many times have you ever heard somebody say or write:

"It should only be animated if it needs to be."

By this they mean that a project should only undergo an animation process if it will benefit from it. An example would be, if you have a talking dinosaur could suggest animating it straight away because it doesn't exist in real life. It wouldn't be possible to grab a camera, hunt down a talking dinosaur and film it acting out your script. It's something that has to be created because it doesn't exist.

That's the argument I hear most of the time. The attitude of "If it's mundane, why bother?". I completely see where people are coming from when they say this. I even believe it myself, to an extent. But surely that point of view could be damaging for our medium? In the west animation is mainly for kids, feature films are colourful, have whacky characters and movement and are pretty much mostly aimed at being hyper entertainment for the younger generation (not a bad thing, I love that stuff). In the east they have some of that too, but they also have the opposite. They have films aimed at adults with largely quite normal (within the style) designs and movement.

I don't know if our opinions in the west are stopping us from creating different projects, some that could be more appealing for the older generation but I think it can be limiting. Take a look at Mary and Max. If you gave that script to some producers/directors there's a good chance they wouldn't even think of making it into an animated feature. It's such a real world story, there are no crazy characters, no strange worlds, nothing very animation-stereotypical about it but the film is beautiful.

It totally works.
What I'm trying to get at is how great things could be if we didn't set so many rules for animated films. If we didn't have to tick boxes to OK something to be animated we could explore a lot more. I know some people might think it could be damaging, animation could lose it's charm and become too realistic. And I guess that mocap is something that's drawing the line there at the moment. And it comes down to money too. Rise of The Guardians for's an awesome film. A proper family adventure kind of deal, but it didn't do as well as Dreamworks had liked. It made a profit but not enough. These days, for films to get made the studio has to believe it's going to make a ton of cash, and we all know kids will drag their parents to the cinema to see the latest animated feature (for kids).

What got me thinking about this was watching some animated films from Japan, y'know, the stuff the kids call "anime"? The stories can be very mature. I really wish that we had animated features for older age groups in the west. With such skillful folk as the guys at Dreamworks/Pixar/BlueSky and pretty much everywhere else...imagine the kind of projects that could be made! I feel so frustrated that the potential possibilities won't ever happen for x and y reason. Which is awful...but hey, more folk are making short films and working on projects in their spare time. There are countless short animated films online that most certainly aren't for kids that are doing very well and definitely have an audience (see end of post). If only folk with lots of money would take notice and take a chance. And maybe if we animators didn't put up so many boundaries we might explore a few different areas.

Who knows :)

And just to be clear, I'm not implying that we should dumb down our designs and style of animation to accommodate more mature stories. I'm focusing more on what we think is suitable to be animated. The examples below are all pretty stylised and have different styles of animation but they all deal with topics that are more suited to an audience who are a bit older than the target audience for Rio (for example).

Some recent examples of more mature animation:

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Reward Kickstarter

Great news! The guys from SunCreature Studio have hit their kickstarter target and will definitely be making a brand new episode of The Reward. There is only less than 70 hours left at the moment, but that's plenty of time to help fund them even further and to pick up some awesome rewards along the way.

Head over to their Kickstarter page and throw money at them whilst you still can!

And if you haven't watched The Reward yet, then you're in for a treat:

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Epic Trailer #2

I’m really excited to see Epic after watching this new trailer. The first one was good but didn’t do that much for me but the adventure and scale in this looks awesome. And Christoph Waltz voices the bad guy…..come on, that’s amazing! I'm hoping that the villain and threat will be sincere and actually threatening. I feel that the villain/threat has been watered down a bit too much in Western animation and it's a shame. However, recently Guardians did a fantastic job with Pitch.

Here's hoping for stronger bad guys/girls in animation!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2

I loved the first film, and it looks like there's a seriously fun looking sequel coming our way! It appears to be packed with tons of witty food related animals, funny gags and animation goodness. Check out the trailer:

Oh, and it seems they team made a Harlem Shake video...only I'm not sure if they actually had permission judging from the uploaders comment. Either way, it's the best Harlem Shake meme thingy video you will EVER see.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Monday, 11 February 2013

Paperman & Animation Process

Here's a great clip that shows the animation process of Paperman. It's pretty short but you get to see the journey a shot took from start to end.

(Click image to go to video)

And if you haven't seen Paperman yet're probably slightly behind on your animation news but hey, nobody's judging you. Watch it below:

I have to admit when I saw Paperman for the first time I was a little disappointed (note: LITTLE). I loved it but it had been severely hyped up for a long time (I'm in the UK so all my American friends had seen it about four months in advance). I did get a bit of an emotional hit from it but not as much as I'd hoped for, what with reading tweets from people saying it left them crying etc. Still, it's an absolutely beautiful short. Great animation, music, a lovely story and the visual style is awesome. I'm hoping that Papermans success will open the door to more 2D projects and perhaps CG/2D crossovers. Well done to Disney, those guys are really nailing everything they produce again.

Monsters University trailer

I have to admit the first teaser that was released didn't do much for me, but this trailer does a lot more. It sets up the story, has funny jokes and awesome animation (as always). Quite looking forward to seeing how this one turns out as it's been a while since I really really really enjoyed a Pixar film.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Animation Scripts

I planned to write a blog post about scripts for a while, but either totally forgot or...totally forgot. My good animationer friend Kane wrote a great blog post about scripts today and reminded me that I was planning on doing the same. So here we go!

Like Kane, I've only really been using animation scripts since I left university and even then I didn't really find out about them until I started at iAnimate. They can save you a ton of time, and they're not cheating either. They way I see it, they fight the silly things that your software is trying to do and give you smarter results. Or at least, results that are closer to what you want (you still have to click them to tell them when to do things so it's not like you can sit back and relax whilst the computer runs an "animate" script).

These are the scripts that I use the most:

AutoTangent - Download
This is my most used tool once I'm working with splines. Maya has a tendancy to throw overshoots everywhere and do weird things. For example after you've finished your blocking and have everything looking awesome, Maya might throw this curveball at you:

Overshoots and pretty linear looking curves. Slap autotangent on it and it looks much closer to what you probably want:

This isn't the best example but you can see the difference, especially on the first 4/5 frames. You'll still have to go in and fiddle around but using this script will get you much closer, much faster.

[I have autotangent set to a hotkey, so that whenever I want to use it I can press a key instead of moving my mouse/pen away from my rig to press a button.]

Tween Machine - Download
This is a great one, and it's a script I've not been using for all that long. Basically, you can use this it to favour certain poses. Have an example:

I want to animate a ball travelling from left to right. The orange balls show my start and end poses and the blue ball shows what Maya gives me I hit spline.

Now, I want my ball really slow out of its first pose. I certainly don't want it to have an even spacing as it does right now. What I can do is open TweenMachine and move the slider to the left. This indicates that I want the new pose to favour the last one I had.

As you can see, from pulling the slider to the left it has given me a pose that is 75% closer to my previous pose. This will give my ball the rough spacing it needs to have a long slow out before it speeds along and quickly slows in to its final pose.

That's a very basic explanation of how it works and how to use it. I like to use it as a rough guide for spacing during my blocking stage. If I know I want a slow out then I can dial a number in or pull the slider to where I want the certain part of the rig to be and I can change things from there. You could use it on a foot, a limb, a whole character or an eye lid. The point of it is to help you quickly hit a rough area of where you want your character (or part of your character) to be so that you can correctly pose it out from there.

If you're clever, you can use it to great effect on a full character by choosing different percentages for different controls of the rig to create lead, follow and so on.

AS_motionTrail - Download
This is the same kind of thing as Motion Trail but a little different. I couldn't tell you the differences because it's been so long since I used Motion Trail but I found this script to be much faster and easier to use so I stuck with it. This script is used for tracking arcs and checking spacing. It gives you a visual representation of your motion and the path that it's taking as well as the spacing.

Here you can see the arc of the hand on a walking character.

Zoomerator - Download
This has been around for a while but I only discovered it last month. It allows you to zoom in to any region of your camera without actually changing the camera settings or messing anything up. This is great if you have a locked off camera and need to zoom in to, for example, check out an arc/path on a really small object or on a small movement.

Take a look at the witch craft in action:

I've applied the motion tracker script to a hidden sphere I parented to the nose in order to track my arcs. She's moving her head really subtly so you can't really see anything right now. But, if I start zoomerator up and use its powers to zoom in...

I can see the arc her nose is following! It's not moving much but at least I can get close enough in there to make sure it's following a nice path and isn't doing anything weird. Once you're done, you hit the reset button and your camera goes back to how it was. Magic!

Those are pretty much all the scripts I use. I make my own for smaller tasks such as opening the outliner, script editor and graph editor. I also have one for playblasting. These are really easy to make and I'm sure most people know how to set small scripts like this up but if you don't drop a comment on this post or send me an email and I'll share my ways.

If you have any awesome scripts that you can't live without then please feel free to share! After reading Kane's post I am definitely going to try the ShotView script. There are a ton more scripts out there, it's all about finding what works best for your workflow/s and utilizing them.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Reward

This has probably been posted all over the animation related parts of the internet already but I HAD to share it here just in case anyone who reads this blog has somehow missed it.

The Reward is an amazing short film from The Animation Workshop. It contains lovely animation, character development, emotion and a ton of awesome. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

DmC released!

Another project I had the pleasure of working on has finally been released! That's right, DmC is currently sitting on shelves (and hopefully within the safety of peoples consoles) across the UK (and other places?). I think America get it on Friday. Either way, it's out, it's awesome, it's sexy to look at, it's sexy to listen to. What else could you want from a game?

I had a great time working on it and will forever be grateful for Ninja Theory taking me in under their wing and showing me how things are done. Please check this game out if it looks like your kind of thing. It's a remarkable achievement and absolutely visually stunning. Not to mention it was scored by Noisia!

Here's the launch trailer:

And here's my name chilling out with other awesome names in the credits:

Sunday, 13 January 2013

LEGO: Lord of The Rings Cutscenes

Last year I was lucky enough to be a part of the LEGO: Lord of The Rings video game. TT Games took me in under their wing, sat me down at a computer and threw cutscenes at me for seven months. I had a great time, but more about that in another post...this one's just for the cutscene videos.

I'd been planning to put my work from TT up for a while now. Then, the other day my fellow animator James Hobart threw his cutscene reel online, which egged me on.

So, here you have most of the work from my time at TT. I realised that I actually hadn't rendered all of my scenes out, which is why there are a few playblast videos below.

Main Outro A

Council D #1

Council D #2

Towards the end of the game I was given the chance to animate some in-game fetch quests. These were really fun and challenging because I had to do one a day. 12 and 14 seconds a day was scary but fun.

And here's a test animation I did on my first day at TT. We had little to do after arriving so I played around with Boromir:

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Workflow Toolbox

Animators are obsessed with workflow.

Ok, ok, I know it's not fair to generalise but a lot of animators I know/have met/have spectated on forums, twitter and facebook seem to be, in my opinion, overly concerned and worried about workflow. Not that workflow should be overlooked, not at all. But I'm of the mindset that you should just do it. Get on with animating the way that feels comfortable and do what works for you.

I think it's healthy to look at how other animators work, especially if they're professionals or very skilled. And even to try and emulate that workflow. But sometimes it just won't work the same for you and it's not worth trying to force it.

The truth, at least for me, is that there is no such thing as the golden workflow. There is no one workflow to rule them all. At least not when you're working within a professional environment. That's where workflows get interesting. You are given deadlines and are expected to deliver high quality work by a certain day and time. I have found that sometimes to be able to do that, you have to have what I call a workflow toolbox.

The Workflow Toolbox

What is the workflow toolbox? Well, let me's not really a thing. It doesn't exist, because I made it up. But, it is something that you can develop if you're adventurous enough. I say adventurous because, unless you're at a big studio where the production requires you to have a certain feel to your work that can be more easily attained by a certain workflow then chances are nobody will care how you create and deliver your animation as long as you do it.

I've always been a blocking guy. I don't know why but I love blocking, just something about it. My usual workflow goes like this:

Block all the story telling poses > block the breakdowns > block the secondary breakdowns > block until I'm on 4's >  block until I'm on 2's if I need to > hit spline and be happy that hardly anything changed > clean curves up and polish


This is how I worked for a long time. It's very fun but I was only blocking so much because I was scared of hitting spline and polishing. I hated that I freaked out every time I hit spline because all of my lovely animation suddenly became a giant mess that I had to fix all over again. Imagine you paint a lovely landscape then smudge it all with your hand and have to fix it up but make it look even better than before you ruined it. It's not a fun concept is it? Obviously, this isn't really what you're doing when you go from blocking to spline/polish but that's how it felt.

Long story short...I started a new job where I had to animate cutscenes and have one done for pretty much every two weeks. I was having an awesome time but whenever it came to hitting spline and polishing I'd completely stress out for days and wouldn't enjoy myself. Then it struck me, I really wasn't enjoying myself...and that's not a good thing. Not when you're doing the job you've always wanted to do. I had to change. I pinpointed that it was splining and polishing that was causing me this stress and decided to have fun with my workflow to snap myself out of it.

I made myself go into splines earlier to start with. That got me feeling more confident outside of blocking and got me used to making changes after blocking. That fixed everything, I no longer felt that all my fun was over when I hit a certain part of animating.

After making this breakthrough, I decided to go further and try something else. I was given a lengthy cutscene that was mainly two characters talking and walking small distances. So I splocked the whole thing. To anyone who doesn't know what splocking's blocking but you stay in spline mode the whole time. It makes polish shorter and can get you some nice results quickly as long as you feed the computer enough information (you always should). By this time all fears of splining and blocking had totally blown away.


But I haven't stopped there. I started a new personal shot before Christmas and decided to try a workflow I've never tried before. The layered approach, it's hard to explain. Or at least I find it is. You don't use animations layers, that's a big misconception. It's more that you feel it out from the root whilst in spline mode,  building the motion from the root outwards. So far it's been a lot of fun despite no blocking at all. And it's confirmed that I no longer fear the dreaded spline and/or polish stage. In fact, I love polishing now. It gives me a chance to add even more to what I already had. And who doesn't want that? I remember when I used to think that polish was only cleaning up curves in the graph editor and deleting keys that I didn't need. How wrong I was, it's so much more. A huge thanks to Mike Walling and Kevan Shorey for showing me that.

[Using The Toolbox]
If you've made it this far, you'll know that I tried a few different approaches. The awesome thing that I discovered was that none of them were the perfect workflow for animation in general. Depending on what I was animating, there was a worflow that fit it best. By the end of my job I developed a hybrid workflow method where I'd use different workflows within the same scene. I found that blocking worked well for wider shots containing body mechanics and splocking was great for medium close ups and close up shots. It was great, it felt like I had a toolbox full of different workflows that I could choose from based on the scene or shot that my director threw at me.

Don't be scared to experiment if something doesn't feel right. But don't get obsessed with finding a single awesome workflow either. And there's nothing wrong with only having one method and sticking with it. What ever works best for you is what's best for you. Just because Jason Ryan goes blocking > linear > spline doesn't mean that you need to. And if there's a part of animating that you don't like much or that scares you...grab it by the face and give it a good talking to. Tell it "NO! BAD! BAAAAAD!" and show it that you can master it.

I forgot to mention that this blog post all came about from an email conversation that I had with my good friend Michael. Here's a quote from the good man:
"It's funny you mention your approach to workflows as, over the last workshop, I've (finally) realised that different workflows work for different shots. As you say CUs & MCUs are great for the layered approach and I definitely think those wider shots are more suited to the blocking approach. So I'm now more open to the idea of different workflows. I guess after reading books like Animators Survival Kit and the like, that it was easy for me to think that there was just the one way of animating. But it's cool now to think that not only do people have different methods, but that people use multiple methods themselves, depending on the shot. Kinda like having a handy little toolbox I guess."

[Thanks to Rachelle Fryatt for the workflow toolbox picture at the top of the blog. Click her name to check her out or have a looky at her facebook page here.]