It’s been quite a while since I last updated my blog, so I thought I would blow off the dust and write a little bit about my last two semesters at CCA. Overall, I loved my time at CCA. I made a lot of great friends, gained a ton of invaluable knowledge that will help me tremendously through out my career.
I finished up my BFA at CCA in December of 2011. My last 2 semesters were really challenging and hectic. Spring semester, I started working on my thesis short film. I had the joy of having Bret Parker, once again, as my Senior Project instructor. I had a difficult time coming up with a solid idea for my short film. My goal was work on a story that was emotional and heartfelt. I have seen a lot of student films that rely on gags and slapstick humor to move the story along. While that sort of material is really fun to animate and can make for a really entertaining film, I wanted to challenge my animation abilities with a story with really emotional and subtle acting. I had quite a few stories I had developed before going into the class, but I wasn’t really enthused about working on any of them. One of the stories was inspired by my relationship with my grandfather and spending weekends with him when I was growing up. I was fairly set on moving forward with it, but I decided not to because it was way too personal, and it would have been hard to receive criticism. One evening, I saw a Japanese film from the 80’s called Hachikō Monogotari, which is based on the true story of a dog, who’s owner dies while away teaching. For the rest of his life, the dog, Hachikō, waits at the train station for his master to come back. There is a statue of Hachikō at the Tokyo Shibuya station that commemorates his undying loyalty. You can read more about him on Wikipedia. I was really inspired by Hachikō’s story and started doing some research. I found a ton of articles about modern stories of loyal dogs who wait by their owner’s grave after their death. There is also a Futurama episode, “Jurrasic Bark”, that pays homage to Hachikō. I have a strong love for dogs and have had dogs for most of my life. I felt that these themes would be a strong foundation for the type of film I wanted to develop. The day after I watched Hachikō, I wrote out a story treatment and started to thumbnail out ideas for the boards. Although my story was influenced by Hachikō, I wanted to make it my own by including personal experiences and memories of my own dogs. By the end of spring semester, I had fully boarded out my film and had a fleshed-out animatic. By the end of my last semester, my goal was to have the animation for my film totally finished. I really wanted to focus the majority of my attention to the animation, so I decided to create my film in 2D. I had summer break in between semesters, so rather than spend that time modeling, rigging and prepping for animation, I though I would block out the whole film with keys and breakdowns and spend my last semester inbetweening and polishing. I decided to go with TVPaint as my animation software, because it is really powerful and I could use it for the whole pipeline. I also sided with TVPaint because it is a raster based software and it has a ton of realistic media tools. I know much of the 2D work that is being done in the industry is done with either Flash or ToonBoom/Harmony, but I really can’t stand working in vector. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, and I didn’t get to work much on my film over the summer. I basically spent my time learning the software, doing a few animation tests and converting my animatic from after effects into TVPaint. I also did a lot of time studying dog anatomy so I could be confident about the poses I was creating when starting on the film.
My last semester, I had Andrew Lyndon as my Senior Project instructor. He was the original chair of CCA’s animation department and has since been promoted to Director of Fine Arts at CCA. Andrew’s class is ideally supposed to be taken first and followed by Bret Parker’s class, but unfortunately, because I started the program on an off-semester, I had to take them out of order. In Andrew’s class, the majority of the students are just starting to develop their films and so he has much more focus on story. The opposite is true for Bret’s class, as most students in her class are in the production phase of their films. As a result, I spent the majority of the semester making story changes to my film and ultimately, doubling the length. Coming out of Bret’s class, my animatic was just over 3 minutes, which is already a large mountain to climb to get animated in 1 semester. At the end of Andrew’s class, my film topped out at over 6 minutes. As a result, I wasn’t able to finish my film. Andrew gave me a ton of great feedback and I definitely think I came out of his class with a much stronger story. However, I was disappointed that I didn’t have a finished film to show when I graduated. The same semester, I also was taking an independent study session with Ed Bell. Ed started off as an animator and worked on Who Frame Roger Rabbit. Later in his career he transitioned over to visual development and direction. With Ed’s class, I was focusing on the art direction for my film. He helped me nail down the overall style, refine the character designs, and put together a workbook. Since graduating, I haven’t had a chance to continue work on my film. I definitely want to continue working on it and eventually finish it, but it’s going to be a long process and take quite a while to get to the level I want. If you would like to take a look at where it’s at in its current state, I am embedding it below. The majority of the film is still in animatic form and I was only able to get rough animation done on the first sequence. Looking at it now, I will most likely go back and re-animate what is there. I can definitely improve on the overall drawing quality and I need to try and get Lucky, the dog, more on-model and anatomically correct. I may make a post in the future, and go more in depth into the production process for the film. As as side note, the environments/backgrounds are going to be treated/hand-painted CG, so that is why there is some 3D models in there. Anywho, have a look and let me know what you think!
While I was working on my thesis, my attention was also shared with my other animation classes. Coming out of CCA, I really wanted to have a strong demo reel, so I would have a good chance of finding work after I graduated. Because I was burning the candle at both ends, trying to split my time between my short and my animation assignments, I ended up with a bunch of unfinished work. I spent a lot of time post-graduation continuing to finish up and polish assignments for my reel. In the spring semester, I took Animation Tutorial, an advanced animation class, with Andrew Gordon. His class was one of the most valuable classes I had while at CCA. The class covered advanced body mechanics, acting and dialogue. Andrew treated the class like “Dailies” are held at Pixar. Every class he would pull up our assignments on the projector, give us notes, and do draw overs on our work to show how we could improve our posing, timing, spacing and overall appeal. He also gave a ton of great lectures, many of the same ones he gives at his masterclass sessions. Andrew has a great eye and sense of direction and I definitely feel he helped me get my work to a new level. If you would like to see what I worked on in his class, head over to the Animation Page. The assignments from his class are Dog Trot, Morning Grind, Dim Pickin’s, and Meat Pie. For fall semester I took Animation Tutorial again, but this time with Tom Gibbons, an animation supervisor at Tippett. Tom started out his career as a stop motion animator and worked on James and the Giant Peach, then made the transition to CG. Tom has a different approach to animating than Andrew, which was very refreshing. Tom gave me a lot of great direction during he semester. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to totally finish any of his assignments. I am still trying to polish them up before I post them online. In addition to those classes, I also had the pleasure of having Mark Andrews for Visual Storytelling. Mark was the Co-Director of Brave and also the story supervisor for The Incredibles. Mark’s class was really helpful and enjoyable. He definitely gave me a stronger understanding of story and made me want to find better ways to incorporate story into my animation process.
Looking back, my experience at CCA was incredible. I got the chance to take classes with people that I really look up to in the animation industry. While there, I felt like I grew tremendously as an animator, storyteller and filmmaker. The animation department is still young and is in the process of defining itself. The curriculum is still changing every semester and getting stronger all the time. I think in the near future it will be one of the top schools to go to for learning animation. I saw recently that it was ranked in the top 10 animation schools in the country. As CCA gets more exposure, I think it will get harder and harder to get in. CCA has an advantage that it is so close to all the Bay Area studios and can pull in unbelievable instructors. I think it has one of the best faculties of any on-site, brick and mortar schools. The Oakland campus, where the animation classes are located, has a great vibe, and is a wonderful learning environment. For anybody looking to study animation, I would definitely look in to CCA as an option. For those who are interested, I posted some photos of the campus below.