Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Talk with JAMES BAXTER!!!

I'm back again with the rest of the California trip!  See, I told you I'm gonna be posting more often - just keep your eyes peeled!
  Well, there's really so much that happened that I don't want to bore you to tears with all the details (then again, I'm not really sure how many people read this blog or how to find out - if anybody knows how,please let me know). There is however, another very high point of the trip that I'll share:  Every once in a while there come opportunities/experiences in your life that RECHARGE  you and INSPIRE you all over again!  Its a moment of RE-INVIGORATION!  I can honestly say this trip was one of those experiences.  In an earlier post I had mentioned meeting Eric Goldberg.  Now, what's better than meeting 1 animation master?  Meeting 2 in 1 trip!  Both of these guys are so humble that they may not consider themselves masters, but in my opinion, there up there & their work shows it!  James Baxter is easily one of the top animators out there today and if you don't know who he is (shame on you AGAIN!):  He was the supervising animator of Belle in Beauty and the Beast.  He animated such great characters as Rafiki in Lion King, Quasimodo in Hunchback of Notre Dame, Moses in Prince of Egypt, Tulio in The Road to El Dorado, and many many more.  Most recently he was the animation supervisor on Enchanted.  You can see a list of his work on IMDB - check it out!   I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet James Baxter and talk with him about animation.  WOW!  Where do I start?   Obviously, I had tons of questions and he was kind enough to answer them all!   As a novice animator, I wanted to know everything!  What's your process like?  How do you approach a scene?  All kinds of questions about timing and spacing.  Planning for 1's and 2's? 
 Charts?   I realize that everyone works differently and each animator has there own approach, but it helps to know and understand how an experienced animator would do a scene; in the end, you have to find what works for you.  In James' case (he was kind enough to demonstrate and animate a quick scene for me):  he starts out emotional/intuitive then gets more technical as he reaches the end result.  His first pass is usually very scribbly/rough because he's more focused on the acting/performance/movement, then as he nails that down, he'll add in the overlap/extras/tie downs.  I was so shocked to see how rough he worked at first -  I knew animators started out rough(Glen Keane for example, more on Glen later), but man was this rough and everyone works differently - I'm sure there are animators out there that don't start out so rough; that doesn't matter - I realized what matters ultimately is the performance!  I think so many new animators (myself included)  focus on making pretty drawings too early in the scene.   That can be SO distracting and it gets you more focused on a single drawing and NOT on the whole PERFORMANCE/MOVEMENT and your animation ends up looking choppy and watery/awkward;  not smooth and fluid.   He also will change the numbers on his key drawings (and re-draw keys) while he's working in this rough pass, if thats what's needed to improve the performance.   I had taken some of my animation flips to show James and get critiqued - I was SO NERVOUS!   I just wanted to know if I was on the right track & to have an animator like James look at your work is really helpful.  It can also be really humbling.   He flipped through my animation a few times, paused in thought & gave me the verdict... Good news:  I'm on the right track!   Not so good news:  I need to animate A LOT MORE and animate REAL LOOSE/ROUGH focusing on the performance/movement/timing and spacing/etc...  He told me not to focus on tie downs (finished drawings) YET, but to just animate REAL LOOSE and A LOT!   To animate everything (all kinds of characters and situations)  so I can get more experience.   Honestly, I wasn't surprised by what he said, I sort of expected to hear that.  And the "Not so good news", I think is actually REALLY GOOD NEWS because it means that I have that much more to grow as an animator!  There was so much more we talked about and James was so gracious with his time and animation knowledge  -  he really is a down to earth and humble guy.   It amazed me how he took a few hours out of his busy day to sit and talk, one on one with a new animator that he had never met before.   I guess that's one of the coolest things about animation.   As animators, new or experienced, we never really meet strangers when we meet another animator for the first time - because who else can truly understand the passion we have for the illusion of life?   Thanks James!                    

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