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The journal of an aspiring animation filmmaker. Inspiration, Film Analysis, Animation Art, Student Work, Book Notes, Book Store, Composing Pictures, and much more!

Apr 24, 2008

Instructor Critique: Hands and Feet

Ever since I asked my instructor for more critique, I've not only been receiving just that, I've also been getting graded faster. It just goes to show you have to speak up in classes. If the instructor knows you want it more than the other students, he will devote more attention to you. You gotta be hungry.

Here's some great instructor critique, with better results than I expected:
(For some reason Blogger is putting a GIANT space at the beginning of this part of the post...)

See how all the complexity that you see in the ecorche of the flexors and extensors simplify into a cone shape and above that it is rectangular and below it as well. The palm is a pentagon shape and the deltoid is a 3 sided form with small downturn at the end. See at the arrows how they wedge together to give the characteristic look of the arm . If there is a trick to the arm , then this is it.

Grade: A-
See how the rhythmic dotted lines tie the forms together lyrically. It makes the forms beautiful as in art , weather it is forms or colors or tones or words or sounds, it is not the individual thing but the RHYTHMIC relationship between the things that matter so much.

Grade: A-
Look especially at the thumb here , It is really two shapes . There is the form of the knuckle on top and then the nail and the fat pad combine into one form that tilts up. there is a line around it that separates the form facing up from the form facing down.

Grade: A
At A you can see how the fingers curve back in toward the middle finger. They would eventually meet if you extend the lines. Most miss this and it is very important for the sense of elegance to the hand. Also ,everything goes toward the middle finger. It is the longest on each knuckle and the fingers curve toward it. Notice as well that the ends of the finger tips are shaved toward the middle finger.

Grade: A
The palm is a pentagon and then there is a triangle is the base for the thumb. Look for the lower arm to be a rectangular cross section . R is the ramp form that comes off of it and sits on the top of the back of the palm making it a little swelled there. Look for the pattern of the ovoid muscle on the side of the palm. It has a top plane that starts low and rolls over the top and then goes down again. The first row of knuckles is a soft diamond form with a chord running over it. The second is a raised square as is the third but much softer. There are 2 planes on the side plane The bottom of the fingers are rounded, flat and then tapered with a bump. The second digit tends to taper more than the others.

Grade: A
I would look for the pattern of the sole to continue back to the heel. I think of it like it is a little horizontal balcony on the side there that never completely goes away. The arch at A sits on top of the sole. Look at the gulleys that run behind the ankle bones and then sweep forward under the foot. See the little plane at the top at B. If you tie your shoes to tight it will hurt at the plane change at C

Grade: A
The outside ankle bones are diamond shape on the outside with a chord coming off the back of it. It is in the middle of the side profile. The inside ankle bone is flattish and has 3 planes on the bottom and it takes the front half of the inside profile of the ankle

Grade: A
Look at the bottom of the foot. At A you have the arch which is that part which will come off the ground and matches the ball shape at the top . S is the sole of the foot and it makes the foot print and it matches the platform flat shape on top. Look at the big toe to try to see that end form.

Grade: A
The one thing that I would have liked to have seen more clearly was the ball of the foot on top of the sole. It has a ridge on it that runs to the big toe. Look for the knuckles of the big toe to be squares that are raised. The big toe is very similar to the thumb and it tilts up at the end in the same way. The toes goes down. Look at the big forms to make the large value areas. In the toes I would have looked at the changes in value that describe their tilt across the toes Despite the shapes and wrinkles , knuckles often describe them selves as just deeper tones as the blood in the skin there makes it deeper and more red.

Grade: A-

These critiques are great for me, and it's important for me to post them up here, because once the semester is over, they're gone for good. And the purpose of this blog is for me to share information, and look back on my progress. You know, to actually make sure I'm getting somewhere...

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Apr 23, 2008

Instructor Critique: Triceps Brachii

This is another example of getting lost in one area of the figure. As I was studying the muscles of the arm, that's where I focussed almost all of my attention. Notice how the instructor didn't comment on the triceps?

By spending too much time in one area, I lost the opportunity to even basically flesh out the major landmarks of the back.

Instructor Feedback
C is the bump on the shoulder which represents the end of the clavicle. A is the flat Acromion which is he extension of the spine of the scapula. D is the deltoid which has a down plane as well. L is the bottom of the trapezius. T is the tube shape of the spinalis. R is the bottom of the ribcage and it segways into the oblique in a u shaped curve. These forms all show up as variations in value. On your piece here you have really just a few tones. I would look at these forms and see if you can pull them out of there.

Grade: B.

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Hands and Feet

18x24, Charcoal, 2 hours
This week were studying the hands and feet. I think it's insane to clump these two extremely complex forms into one week, but what do I know?

We had a nice change of pace. Instead of doing the same half hour (or in my case one hour) sustained drawings followed by a homework assignment, we did several quick 5 minute studies of the hands and feet. I guess the idea is that we have to simplify them to basic shapes to be able to get a good likeness on the page in five minutes. This results in a better understanding of what shapes both of the forms are composed of. I was pretty excited about this one so I dove right in. I officially suck at 5 minute drawings, but I had so much fun, and I'll be doing a lot more of this in the summer.

For the homework assignment we had to draw our own hands and feet in the same composition. As you can see I have the ugliest feet in the world (left). What a fun week for anatomy. My goal is to understand these forms (especially hands) well enough to be able to draw them accurately from memory. Then I can focus on cartoon hands.

Here's my quick 5 minute studies:

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Apr 22, 2008

More Instructor Critique

These are so valuable to me. I guess my instructor has been getting busy, because his comments aren't as numerous as they once were. So I asked him to give me more feedback. He suggested I read his feedback of other students work as well, which I haven't been doing this semester, though I usually do...How did he know!?

I've been looking forward to the critiques on these ones.

Well there is nothing here Dan. Actually, I remember critiquing this as few students redo their work like this (and I applaud you for it.) So what I am saying is that I must have somehow erased it as I was putting in the grade. I remember saying that I could not bring up the other image along side it which I tried to do to compare them and so I just have to do it with the model. Sorry. So for here, the angles are better . Use of straights is pretty good as well. The angle of the front leg extends too far and should go down more. There are always 3 angles on the front of the thigh if you count the little down plane to the front of the pelvic box at A. At B on the rear I think that you will see that if you stick to straight lines into the smaller forms that it forces you to see the small variations and to not gloss over the details. This adds to the resonance of the image. That would be a way to push your drawing to a more finished level. If you think that you cannot see anymore then it is perhaps that the rounds are glossing over the little formats that you would see if you forced them in your mind to be flat and straight. The front of the ankle is an example as it is a big curve C. The values are much better and there is another area to push the drawing in. just as the outlines can be more particular , the values can reveal the form inside the outline with more particularity. Look at the large light from below the pectoral to below the knee. There is much more information in there but you have to be able to strike those values with some precision in order for it to work On the backs of the calves you have made these areas too light. What happens often is that you stare at the highlight and make it that. The highlight is just a variation on top of the larger value so look at that. The bent arm is too dark, so the very bright highlight may have made it look darker than it was. I would push these two areas of more particular outlines using straights and pushing the subtlety of the values.

I hate to repeat but so much of the issues with drawing comes down to angle changes and judging the angle correctly that is where you have gone off in areas here in the legs anyway. In the torso I would insist on those planes in the plane chart as they are what gives him his abdominal muscles. The legs are a bit short. I would find the halfway point. Without any perspective it will tend to be around the pubic bone but with perspective it will be slightly different. Measure. The values are better and better. Look from area to area to compare. They are not correct by themselves but only by comparison to other area. for instance look at A and see how it relates to B. I would say that B is deeper. The arm on the left side is lighter as a unit that the other and yet yours are pretty close. The foot on the right descends lower down. so compare with straight line measures

On the first assignment I received a B+, and the second a B. I'm happy with those marks. I'm already looking back on these drawings with disgust. I guess I must be getting better.

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Apr 21, 2008

Fired Up About Animation: New Inspirations

When I first decided to go back to school I really only had one school in mind: Cal Arts. It seems to be the be all and end all of animation education; partially because of the faculty and networking available to students there. One thing I learned from a year at film school is that it's all about who you know. Now I was delighted to find out my government can provide financial aid for Cal Arts, but heart broken when I found out they would only provide a certain amount, not nearly enough to cover even the most modest living situations.

So I went to what I considered was second best: Academy of Art. Why? Because they have an online program, which I can afford to take. I've been here for a little over one school year, pursuing my degree off and on part-time and full-time. But I'm always trying to figure out how I can transfer to Cal Arts. It's pretty hard doing it all on your own. I think the creative environment helps you absorb so much more. Especially when I read Mario Furmanczyk's four year Cal Arts journal. Mario has chronicled the ultimate success story in my eyes. His journal is filled with all the things we students go through: enthusiasm, passion, insecurity, epiphanies, inspiration, the list goes on. I recently read the entire thing, and I honestly feel like I've got a good idea what four years at Cal Arts is like. This only wets my appetite even more. I have got to find a way to get down there!

Here's a little taste of his journal, some of these quotes really speak to me. If they do the same for you, then I would highly recommend giving his whole journal a read. After all, the end result is that he got into Disney. I'm sure you can learn something...

"The artist places time, money, and people at risk because his ambition has life-defining force."

"The measure of the value of a character's desire is in direct proportion to the risk he's willing to take to achieve it; the greater the value, the greater the risk."

I'm beginning to realize that becoming an artist isn't all about how well you can draw. Sure you have to master your medium but you should also express something in your work that you feel passionate about. You must bring your experiences into your art instead of trying desperately to copy something someone else has done. The same films are being done over and over again. There are so many untapped possibilties in animation and I'm hoping that some of us at Calarts will be brave enough to do something about it and get people interested again. I feel really inspired and motivated to do something cool with my career but I have a hell of a lot to learn.

Another good tip that David talked about was to have confidence in yourself as an artist whenever you're drawing. If you have doubts about the way you draw when you're animating, the drawings WILL turn out to be crap. You need to believe, at least while you're animating or drawing, that you're Glenn Keane.

Ok. Just so you know, it's not easy to make a short film. You'll go crazy and your friends and family will hate you because you'll never call them. When you do, all you talk about is animation and they'll hang up midway through the conversation.

Being a student at this school can be pretty frustrating because the minute you start thinking that you're actually any good, you see something five times more amazing from one of your buddies.

I would say that if you can't boil your story idea down to three images your story is most likely way too much to handle for a student film. So for all of you who are thinking about ideas right now do this and save your ass!

But hell, she said that it still could be pushed a bit more! Wow, I really just gotta let loose. So everytime I think of a story idea or gag, instead of questioning whether it's good enough I gotta ask myself if there's any way of taking it further. I wrote down a bunch of quotes and stuck them to my animation desk to remind me that I need to push and pull and squash and stretch more. I need to let loose dammit!

The more I learn about animation and the art making process the more I realize that you need to find your own process and path othewise you'll just be a cheap rip off. I'm constantly fighting with my self confidence. I gues it's all part of becoming an artist.

Confidence is huge when you're an artist. The flow of creativiity is completely shut down if you don't believe in yourself. It can almost seem like you're going backwards when you don't have the right mindset. It's like anything in life. Confidence is key. Always believe in yourself. And when you're not feeling well one day whether it's emotionally, physically or if it has to do with confidence, just take a break. Treat yourself to a movie or take your girlfriend out on a date. Drink some wine. Just live life again and soon you'll put things back into perspective and realize it's not the end of the world if you don't get the overlap right on a particular scene! You'll get it sooner or later. Just remember there's a life out there that's full of experiences for you to go through. Without those life experiences, we can't produce art.

We were talking about how stressful our films were. He told us to "just do it". Stop thinking so damn much about it and just do it. And if somebody tells you otherwise, fuck'm. If anybody sees that you're slightly questioning something about your film, they're all like sharks waiting for a kill.

Whenever you have a doubt that crosses your mind about your art, just think of it as the devil trying to convince you that you suck!!! Ignore it and just go with your instincts!

We shouldn't try to achieve such high standards to the point where it becomes stressful. Shoot for high standards by all means but just keep your sights set on a standard that won't stress you out to the point where it all stops being fun. For God's sake we're making freakin' cartoons! We should be having a blast!So that was like music to my ears because it's one of the struggles I've had to go through all year. I've tried to shoot for standards so high that it completely messed up my self confidence when I realized where I was really at. Wow, what a lesson!

"An Animator's job is to be a decision maker" Basically make a decision and move on. From my experiences, I've encountered so many situations where I would let indecision drive my life. Ultimately, you have to pick something (acting choices) and just do it. If you overthink it it'll drive you crazy and you'll never get anything done! Of course spend time planning the shot but just be a decision maker when it comes down to it.

Sometimes it's so easy to dive right into rendering volumes or forms in the torso before you get the gesture down first. A good teacher will come by and smack you upside the head with one of those rulers and yell, "Gesture first!". So it's kind of a principle, I'd say. Just tatoo it on your hand or something.

If anyone reads this blog, you'll notice I've touched on a few of these areas. Most recently the last one about gestures. It's always refreshing to hear someone else drone on about the same things, especially when they've made it somewhere like Disney in the end.

Another GEM I found, or rediscovered rather, through this journal, was another Cal Arts alumni named JG Quintel. I remember Spine Doctors posting about him a long time ago regarding a student film he did called the The Naive Man from Lolliland. At the time I didn't get it, I didn't see the entertainment in it. I guess I have learned a bit since then, because this is a totally refreshing and original story idea. CLICK. I get it now! But Quintel's best work wasn't even mentioned. Check out 2 in the AM PM. It's absolutely hilarious, and so original. I couldn't stop laughing. You can find it here.

Well that's enough for now, I have my own storyboards and animatic work on. And I sure have enough inspiration now.

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Apr 19, 2008

Arm Study, Self Critique

Here's my latest arm study. All the studies from the last few days did warm me up well for this sustained drawing. I think I spent close to 2 hours on this one. Not too bad considering the recommended time was an hour and a half.

I always find it amazing how quickly I spot errors once I've put everything away and pulled it into Photoshop for compression. So lately, in an attempt to see my errors, I'm using exactly that as a tool. I'm pulling it into Photoshop, then going back to the drawing board (pun intended) once I see any major errors. The arms on this one bugged me all the way through. They look so long, but I measured them a few times so I was pretty sure they were the right length.

Well I brought it into Photoshop and overlayed mine over the original, and low and behold I was right. The arms are pretty close to the right length. But the torso, hand, and arm widths are slightly off, which all result in the arms looking like that of an orangutan! I got so preoccupied with these unique arms, I messed up on the basic angle of the back. I'm also pretty surprised how far I was off on the angle of the pole.

Oh well there's always the next drawing. Live and learn!

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Triceps Brachii

I'm a little happier with this effort, though I stopped short again. I followed my own advice (from the last post this time, and it worked out better. I'm learning there has to be a tough balance between method and madness. Method being drawing technically, and madness being loosening up and not thinking so much (bogging yourself down). If only I could get something like this out in half the time, I'd actually be able to "finish" an image. The value is completely unfinished here, as you can see:

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Apr 18, 2008

Upper Arm Study, Lower Leg Feedback

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. Well actually, yes I am, I don't like it. I think if I enjoy the process, I enjoy the drawing more. It's been one of those days again, struggling to get things on the paper. I hope I can use this as a warm up for the other two studies this week, which I'll tackle tonight after work.

This week were studying the Biceps, Triceps, Flexors, Extensors, and the Brachioradialis. Personally I think its too much for one week. Not that I can't handle it, I just think we could use more time to study this complex area. But I guess that's what Intermediate Anatomy is for.

Here's some instructor feedback from one of last modules studies on the legs:

Look at the use of straight line relationships to see how drawing an angle from another spot will help you to figure a form out. The foot was obviously too large so I drew angles from areas that looked pretty good and saw that a lot of it had to come off. Line A shows the difference in tone between the area above and that below. See the convex curves coming forward on the inside of the leg from the soleus and gastrocnemius. The box of the pelvis is clear here.
Once again I'm having trouble with angles and finding the form before moving onto blocking in the shading. I tend to move back and forth between steps which I should stop. Instead I should be taking it one step at a time, because I'm clearly rushing myself and running into all sorts of problems at the end.

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Ecorche: Muscles of the Upper and Lower Arm

This week were studying the muscles of the upper and lower arm. There's lots of work to do so I got a head start on my ecorche figure. I've added the arms to the anterior and posterior profiles. I also shaded it at my instructors request to better identify the planes. More assignments to follow tomorrow.

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Apr 17, 2008


I just got back from, Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution. Michael Rubin is on tour promoting his latest book of the same name. Droidmaker is essentially the first true and complete account of how Lucas and Coppola basically revolutionized not just the film industry, but our technological generation. After watching the presentation I was reminded of just how many of todays modern luxuries can be attributed to these two film makers.

It was a good show, and Rubin was very energetic and entertaining. He's a great storyteller, as he ought to be, promoting a book and all. He was accompanied by Dr. Alvy Ray Smith, one of the founding fathers of the Lucas Film Computer Division that eventually became Pixar.

The best part about these presentations is learning about personal relationships and stories of struggle and adversity, with pay offs. That's an understatement in the case of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, not to mention Smith, Catmull, Lasseter, and all the rest of the Pixar founders. It was quite an immersing experience, and I recommend you take a look and see if Rubin is on his way to your home town in the near future.

I was already familiar with about 80% of the content of this presentation, which is why I didn't buy the book (which you should buy if you are not familiar with this story as I was). But a couple of things I wasn't aware of was the survival of Pixar (financially) because of Steve Jobs inability to admit failure publicly, how Dr. Smith and his colleagues came up with the name Pixar, and how they reluctantly ended up giving their new company (separated from Lucas Film) the same name. And can you guess how Ross Perot is connected to all this? Check out the book and you'll find out...

Take a look at Rubin's blog, and the official website for more information.

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Apr 16, 2008

Rest in Peace Ollie

Well it's been a couple of days now so I suppose I should chime in about Ollie Johnston. After reading all the heart felt stories and personal accounts that so many artists and animators have had with Ollie, it makes me sad. I loved reading Brad Bird's story of Ollie's desk, and pencil shavings. That's exactly the sort of thing I would have done. Unfortunately I have no interesting personal stories about Ollie, just complete and utter respect. I've only been aware of the Nine Old Men for the last few years. But I remember being happy when I found out that one of them was still alive (Frank was still alive when I was getting into animation, but I didn't know of him until after he died).

I've always hoped the old boy would hang on a little longer so that I might get the chance to meet him (That sounds horrible, but I don't mean it that way). If only for small talk, I'm sure he would have imparted something on me that would have stuck to me throughout my future years in animation. But I guess it's really time for the new generation to step up and prove to the world that that level of skill in animation didn't just die with Ollie two days ago. I think it's fitting that we seem to be approaching a second renaissance of traditional animation. I must be a part of it, so I must get back to work. But I will leave you with this:

For the past two years I've been slowly, in my spare time, compiling data for a tribute site to the nine old men. I secured NineOldMen.com so that I could create a site about those guys for two reasons:
  1. I couldn't believe there wasn't an ultimate resource on the internet dedicated to these guys
  2. To self-educate myself about each and every one of them.
I think Ollie's passing might give me a kick in the butt to get more work done on the site. This type of a site is needed now their era has concluded. So if anyone out there has any information, pictures, videos, or anything they would like to share for the site on any of the nine old men, that would be greatly appreciated.

I also think it's about time I give the Illusion of Life another read, but that will have to wait another month until after school.

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Apr 15, 2008

More Irv Spence Studies

The first two sketchbook pages of my Irv Spence studies. Thanks to John K for getting me into this, I'm learning a lot.

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Apr 14, 2008

The Importance of Plumb Lines: Instructor Feedback

Here's my latest instructor feedback. Once again I thought I did quite well on this assignment. But this time I'm actually pleasantly surprised that I didn't. That's because after I've finished a drawing that I think I've done quite well for my abilities, I often doubt myself whether or not it's actually any good. At that stage I cannot see the errors either because of inexperience, or because I've stared at the thing for far too long (which brings me back to loosening up and drawing quicker). Or a combination of both.

But I like how the Academy doesn't reward effort, but rather result in these foundation classes. I've been in too many classes where the grades were weighted. The best student work received an A, and it descended from there. At the Academy, an A drawing is an A drawing, and it's remarkably difficult to achieve as well. I've only achieved it a handful of times, and I think that's great. This always keeps me fighting to get better, and I think it helps me achieve it that much quicker. If I were to have graded this I would have said a B+ or A-. Well I got a B, which is the lowest grade I've received in this class, and it's extremely humbling. It also fires me up to perform better, and be more aware of the fundamental of drawing, like plumb lines. Here's some inspiring words from my instructor:
I would drop some plumb lines down and see how the upper body sits back more. Also the back leg is off in its angles. Light and shade is excellent but it will not make up for the angles and thus gesture being off significantly. Three words for you here Dan; angles angles angles. Try to strike them as best you can and then carry them through to see where they go. Use the vertical and horizontal plumbs to check what is going on.This is the one thing here that held you up. Don't be discouraged by it. If you had gotten that it would have been 100% better. So get it next time as your other elements are good.
Here's the photo of the model and the overlay, showing just how far off model I actually was.

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Apr 13, 2008

Irv Spence Studies

After reading John K's post on Irv Spence, I decided to do some cartoony stuff for a change. I gotta admit I was pretty intimidated jumping into this stuff. Here's a few drawings I did from one of the model sheets in John's post.

This is the first I'd heard of Irv Spence, but I'm an immediate fan, and I've already compiled a fan folder of his stuff on my computer. More to follow later, I'm hooked.

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Apr 12, 2008

Lower Leg Muscles: Assignment Redo

18x24, Charcoal, 1h 30 mins
Some poses just get the better of you. Here's my second attempt at one of my assignments from anatomy class this week. While I achieved a much more accurate rendering, the head is still off and it took me over an hour to do this. I spent a whopping 40 minutes just blocking it out. By redoing this drawing I've gained a better understanding of a difficult pose so I think that whether or not I'm happy with my result, it's a great way to accelerate my drawing progress. At least I hope that's how it works :P

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Apr 8, 2008

Muscles of the Lower Leg

Today we studied the muscles and tendons of the lower leg. We also covered the basics of the knee insertions. It's amazing how complicated things start getting at joints. The feet are coming up soon, and they look ridiculously complicated.

Today was one of those days where drawing just does not come to me. On these days I spend a lot of time just trying to get to grips with the pencil, and I'm not able to maintain a clear focus. This usually eats up a lot of time, and leaves me sore and cranky. This drawing (left) was supposed to take me about 40 minutes, but it actually took me about twice that.

The three major muscles of the lower leg that we covered this week are the Tibialis Anterior, Peroneus Longus, and Gastrocnemius (Calf).

This drawing shows exactly what I'm talking about. I clearly have proportional problems here, notably in the arm and torso lengths. These are things I'm completely oblivious to during drawing, but see immediately after I'm "finished". The head is also too small. It all turns out to look quite gangly and deformed.

Having said that, it was quite a difficult pose to draw, and I'm surprised I did this well on such an off day. I completed this one on time in about 40 minutes. Nonetheless I'll be redoing this one for sure, as soon as time permits.

My main focus has to be on blocking in the major planes quicker and more accurately as I continue to progress. These proportional problems I always seem to have should all be solved in the first ten minutes of the drawing, not realized at the end. Both of these drawings are done on 18x24 paper with charcoal.

Here's the updated Ecorche including this week's three muscles:

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Apr 7, 2008

A Different Kind of Dreaming

I took a break from animation to check out the Vancouver International Auto Show this weekend. If this animation thing ever works out for me in a big way, I'll probably look like this without the show room background:

My dream car: Jaguar XKR

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Apr 6, 2008

Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Adductors...

I loosened up my approach on these, and it was very liberating. I had a lot of fun, even though there are some obvious errors. I am getting faster now. It funny how when I stop thinking so much I can draw better and faster.

18x24 Charcoal - 45-60 minutes

18x24 Charcoal - 45-60 minutes

Ecorche Assignment (Muscles of upper leg added):

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Apr 1, 2008

Andrew Gordon Master Class

I'm debating on whether or not I can afford to attend the upcoming Pixar Master Class with animation veteran Andrew Gordon. It's not often these guys come to Vancouver, at least not to teach. I'm already spending every penny I have on AAU, and I'll eventually get some class time with other Pixar vets. But the thought of doing so at the end of the month as well as at the end of my degree is just too good to pass up. It's really testing my patience. I usually cave and dig myself deeper in debt in these situations, but why have a dream if you don't pursue it relentlessly?

Time will only tell if I cave.

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