Posted by: Rio | January 25, 2009

How we built my animation desk

It’s been my goal for some time to put together a hand-drawn animation pipeline/station, if you will.  I’ve been acquiring the different things equipment necessary: animation disk, the camera stand, the software, but a big piece of the puzzle is the animation desk.  Now, you can buy animation desk online, but a great part of animation’s history: building your own animation desk, is an all but forgotten hobby.

So, I began making plans.  I wanted to build the whole thing for about $100 dollars.  Yeah, sounds cheap, but it can be done.

My only prerequisite for the project was to find a small hard wood (none of this particle board stuff) computer desk and convert it to an animation desk.  I eventually found the exact desk I was looking for on Craig’s List.   I passed up a ton of larger desk for something small because I didn’t want it to be bulky and heavy.  The desk I purchased is 44″ wide and 26″ deep.

Here’s my initial design that my Dad altered appropriately.


Step 1: Secure a foundation to build the new table top on.  We used 1″x4″ and 1″x 2″ pine for this.  These were screwed in from underneath.


Step 2: I wanted to have the option of adjusting the angle of my desk, so we made slots from the 1″x 4″.


Step 3: We cut the slide arm from a 1″x 2″.


Step 4: For the slide arm to work properly, we needed to a spacer.


Step 5: Before drilling holes, we used a nail gun to hold the spacer in place.


Step 6: We drilled our hole to fit a 5/16″ bolt and fit the the slide in place.




Step 7: We then drilled holes and fastened the slide arm in place using a 1/4″ bolt for the frame side and a 3/8″ bolt for the slide.



Step 8: Click Copy and Paste to duplicate the other side.  Ta Daaaa!


At it’s highest, the desk top sits at a 45 degree angle.  This design doesn’t allow for it to lay flat, but it can angle down to around 20-25 degrees if necessary.  It’s comes in handy when transporting the desk.



Step 9: Here’s Dad nailing a 1″x 2″ to add support.


We added a second support at the bottom as well.


Step 10: We lined up the 48″x 24″ table top and nailed it down.



Step 11: We penciled the 16 1/2″ diameter circle needed to fit the Alan Gordon animation disk.



Step 12: We drilled four holes to help us when cutting it out.


Step 13: I got to work cutting that hole.  I was so afraid I was going to cut it wrong.  This hole is the most important part of the desk cause if cut wrong, the disk will not spin freely.



Step 14: After cutting the hole, we decided to add one final support to strengthen the center of the table top.



Step 15: We added these blocks to strengthen the hold just to make sure it would not slip.


I put the animation disk in place.


Step 16: I spinned the disk to find the spots where it would stick and sanded those down till it could spin freely.


This only took us a total 5 hours to build.  All the credit goes to Dad, who is a great carpenter, and who also owned all the correct tools necessary to build this desk.  I could not have built this on my own.

Here’s the desk set up in my office.  I’ve added all the proper things every traditional animation desk needs.  I plan to stain the wood to match the rest of the desk and add trim to the table top.  I’m deciding if I want to finish the top with wood veneer or formica.  I’m not sure what would look best.

I would love to here everyone’s thoughts and questions.  Plus, how do you think I should finish off this table?


In a future posts, I’ll outline my process of animation from this desk into the computer.

Posted by: Rio | January 24, 2009

Animation Mentor is here

With home life and work, it’s been hard to find a moment to post anything here.  AM has kicked off and the experience is greater than I could’ve imagined.  I liken it to Facebook, except it’s much more video/web cam driven and everyone on the site is a student of animation!  My Class 1 mentor is Joe Mandia.  He’s currently animating online games for Sony Online entertainment, but his resume includes feature animation at Disney and Sony Imageworks.  Joe is a super cool guy and it’s been great getting to know him.

As for school itself, I’m finishing up week 3.  I actually have homework to finish that’s due tomorrow by 2pm central.  I’ll start posting this work shortly when I find the time to gather the files, but in a nut shell, we’ve been drawing lots of human poses.  This week’s assignment was to pose the CG character, Stu, in a pose that expresses “excitement.”  The idea behind the assignment is to learn our to communicate attitudes through one drawing or pose.

Also, this week we have our first animation assignment: the infamous bouncing ball.  With squashing or stretching the ball’s shape, we have to animate it to bounce like a basketball.  Next week, we take the same CG ball and animate it to bounce like a bowling ball and a ping pong ball.  The question being answered is: What is the difference between these very different balls and how do you animate them to convincingly express the differences?

Fun stuff.  I love it to no end.  I’ll be showing this stuff off very soon.  I will also try to get picks of my new old school animation desk up on this blog later today!  Yes I know, animation used to be made with graphite marks on paper.  Sounds crazy, but is true.


Posted by: Rio | November 21, 2008

Animation Mentor – Robot Arm Assignment

Well, only 2 more weeks and the Maya Springboard class will be over.  It’s been a great entry class to get a handle of the 3D software.  We’re animating a robot arm picking up a can.  We can only use 100 frames, which is about 4 seconds long.  So, here’s my planning animation of what I’ll be animating in Maya.

Posted by: Rio | November 1, 2008

More Study on the Figure

It’s been about a month since I’ve made time for life drawing, but here are three quick drawings I did today.

The unique thing about these three drawings is that I drew them into the computer on my Cintiq tablet.  I enjoyed it more than I expected.

Posted by: Rio | October 31, 2008

Animation Mentor-Maya Class

Here’s a few screengrabs from my Maya class assignment.  I had to model a character and set and place the character into the set.  The limbs are separated because part of the lesson was how to create parent/child relationships between objects.  We had to set up several camera angles as well.  Most of these pics are from the camera angles.  The last three I took of the scene in general.


Posted by: Rio | October 28, 2008

360 Walk Cycle Progress 1 and Little Girl

It’s been awhile sense my last post.  Work is picking up and school is too.  I’ve been animating, but I haven’t produced really anything I’d like to post.  However, I started a new walk cycle last night and here’s the first progress video.  I also wanted to post an animation exercise I did of a little girl turning her head.

My goal is to go ahead and work in perspective.  I don’t see any reason not to challenge myself.  So, here’s a 360 walk cycle I’m working on.  It will be a person eventually, but I wanted to keep it simple and animate the parts of the person separately.  So far, it’s not timed and the key drawings are evenly spaced.  I simply animated the 5 key positions of the walk and put them on 2 exposures at 24 frames per second.  The animation is looped four times.

I’ve learned plenty of lessons with my past few failed attempts at animating a basic walk and I’m learning plenty with this walk as well.  The next challenge I have is to figure out how to time this walk and how to space out the inbetweens.  The key of this exercise is to learn the proper approach and though process when it comes to planning a walk or any character animation for that matter.

What I learned on the head turn animation was, cleaning up animation is a not an easy thing to do.  Rough pencil test work great because there’s more information for the eye to follow the animation.  However, when you clean up the animation to a single lines, it will look awful if the lines are not precise.  What happens is, things jump all over the place, things get bigger and smaller and the nice animation you worked out, really doesn’t work at all.

To add to the problem, I’m drawing on a tablet and when you put down a line, if the line is too thin, the computer changes the curve of the line.  So, it’s near impossible to retain the integrity of the line even when I know what I’m doing.  Thus, I end up with jumping lines.  Anyway, here’s my head turn exercise.

Posted by: Rio | October 9, 2008

Animation Mentor Update

Well, I haven’t updated any on Animation Mentor because there hasn’t been anything going on just yet.  The fall class started October 1st, but my class doesn’t start until the 20th.  However, I will participate in my second Q&A tomorrow.

The virtual Animation Mentor campus is more than what you can imagine.  Compared to the traditional distance learning college courses of old, it is nothing like that.  I have to admit that there is just as much interaction at A.M. than any college I’ve ever attended.

Web cams are mandatory and you’re “miked” up as well.  In class, which is on a web page, there is a box on the left and you can see your Mentor (teacher) lecturing live through his web cam.  On the right side is a message board where students can chat and ask questions.  If you type a question, the Mentor can click on your name and another box pops up under his camera window.  Now, he is looking directly at you and you’re looking directly at him and he’ll answer your question face to face.  And, the rest of the class can see this too.  Who needs an actual campus now?

So, there’s lot’s of other cool things about the school, but I’ll save the words for now and posts more about it in time.

The only other significant Animation Mentor news worth mentioning is how quickly I’ve made friends in the program.  I’ve been texting with a real cool guy in the U.K. whose also starting in the A.M. program.  It’s been really great getting to know him and talk about a variety of animation related topics.

These friendships will become part of my network and it will be great to have so many friends in the industry.  It takes the edge off of the competition in the job market as a whole as well.  Even though we never openly compete against each other, there’s no doubt that companies are comparing demo reels.  The way I look at it is, I wish nothing but success for everyone in the A.M. program and hope to have the privilege to work with them in the future.  Who knows, the friends I make today may be the ones considering me for work tomorrow.

Check out the great Animation Mentor web site (in my links) and watch the 2008 Student Showcase to get a glimpse of what I’ll be learning soon.

Posted by: Rio | October 9, 2008

Rabbit Seasoning Lesson 3: The Attitude Walk

In my latest study of Rabbit Seasoning, I’m taking both previous lessons to the next level and applying both of them to this lesson.  Lesson three is the attitude walk.  In Rabbit Seasoning, every action is driven by the emotions of the characters.  As Ollie Johnston, the legendary Disney animator, always was over heard saying, “What is the character thinking?”  The character’s thoughts drive everything they do.  So, in the following sketches, notice how the characters attitude and emotion drives how they walk.  Daffy is always sneaking around making plans to destroy Bugs Bunny.  Elmer Fudd is tip-toeing through the woods with his rifle in a focused, determined stalk.

Here’s where we take lesson 2 to the next level.  Notice in the drawings above, I’ve also made a study of where the shoulder and hip joints are located during Elmer Fudd’s and Daffy Duck’s walks.  When the leg is out front it will pull that hip joint forward.  When the leg is back, it will pull the joint back.  The same for the arms.  It’s ultimately a study of body mechanics and perspective.  In animation, including all the twisting of the torso, the alternating placement of hip and shoulder joints adds more fluid, believable movement.  It adds depth and perspective.  And, all of this is presented with all three characters in Rabbit Seasoning.

Below, I’ve utilized an attitude walk exercise from Eric Goldberg’s book.  I used his directions and drawings as a guide and animated an attitude walk.  Can you guess the character’s attitude?  It may be difficult since the character has no face.  I’ve worked to apply the lessons discussed above in this animation exercise.

Developing a character’s body in perspective is something I really need to study.  I spent most of my teenage years learning how to draw portraits well.  All that study and practice have paid off.  I feel lucky that I chose to focus on the human head considering it’s complexity.

Now, I’m playing a bit of catch up with the human body.  I can’t blame myself for not focusing on the whole body sooner.  Drawing the whole body bored me to tears as a kid, so I avoided it altogether.  However, an animator cannot avoid the body unless he wants to animate floating heads forever.  Plus, I doubt there’s much work in it, either.

Drawing the body isn’t difficult for a good draftsman, but the key is understanding body mechanics.  Animators are concerned more about a series of drawings and how the body moves than any one drawing can express.

The human figure is complex and it occupies space.  It’s range of mobility make it that more difficult to master.  This is why the animator should practice life drawing.  Learn to draw the figure from every angle and in a variety of poses.  What does it look like when an arm is coming toward you or moving away?

So, lesson two from Rabbit Seasoning: understand how Warners animators drew their characters with depth, with perspective.  I’ve included one of my life drawing exercises as well to compare the similarities between the human figure and a cartoon character.

Posted by: Rio | October 6, 2008

October is Rabbit Season!

Everything you need to learn in animation can be found in a classic Looney Tunes short film.  October is Rabbit Season and for my sketchbook, I’ll be breaking this cartoon down to individual animation principles.

You can watch the whole short from my other blog, Drawings in Motion.

Lesson 1 from Chuck Jones’ masterpiece, Rabbit Seasoning: Attitude in expression and posture

A. Every facial expression is crystal clear.  Daffy is not sort of angry, he is clearly angry.

B. The entire body expresses how Daffy feels.

C. His attitude effects how he moves.  Here’s a simplified breakdown of an angry Daffy walking over toward Elmer Fudd to give him a piece of his mind.

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