...underneath, we're all just little nudie turtles
show me your process!
Learning to see
Watching “This is Not for Tears”, the final episode of season 2 of Succession, was the first time that something in the back of my brain started kicking around, trying to get me to notice that there were intentional choices being made with costuming, lighting, and camera angles that had more of an impact on the story than making it “look nice”. It’s not that I haven’t felt the effects of a director’s choices in the past — I have! We’ve all been manipulated by lights, costumes, and camera angles to feel specific feelings, but this was the first time I had started to become aware of it.
I couldn’t quite place what it was about this specific episode that had kicked off the thought process in my brain until I serendipitously came across Rachel Syme’s New Yorker article addressing the costuming choices from this episode, and I remember feeling the paradigm shift in my brain when I realized that costuming went beyond how something looked and integrated the actual brand to speak volumes about a character.
In the years since first watching this episode I’ve done a mish mash of self-study and coursework (with a good deal of internet rabbit holes) to get to a place where watching any kind of visual media sets off an analytical chain of thought and engages me on a deeper level. I’m an amateur, and a fledgling one at that, but casually studying film has unlocked new ways of consuming media and seeing the world.
This, in turn, has pushed my approached to animation in new ways. I’m very much in the gap that Ira Glass so eloquently describes, where my taste is killer and my talent is, well, kind of a disappointment.
Show me the graph editor!
Over the last few weeks my animation instructor has started opening up one of our files in Maya and shown us how to improve that particular animation. As she’s animating it’s clear that she’s at such a high level that so much of what she’s doing is muscle memory for her, because she’ll push and pull on the graph editor while telling us stories about different films she’s worked on, or lessons she’s learned over her career.
There’s a hush that falls over the Zoom call during these moments, not dissimilar to when your grade school teacher would pull out a well-worn copy of Charlotte’s Web as you gathered on the reading rug, anticipating the adventure you were about to embark upon.
And what I think is happening during these moments is two-fold:
1 — We know enough about animation to understand what she’s doing, and we know enough about what we don’t know to interject and say “Wait! Why did you that particular thing in that particular moment?”
2 — She’s at the top of her game and doesn’t quite remember what it is to be a beginner and what’s challenging for newblets like us, and this invites us in to her process to see how she thinks and approaches animation and compare and contrast it to our own processes.
Bring it home, Mostipak
Learning to animate — to animate 3D characters specifically — continues to be orthogonal to my experiences in learning to do data science and machine learning.
In animation, the process is invisible. We focus solely on the final product - the animation that’s been created - even as students. There’s nowhere to go to look at someone else’s graph editor for a specific shot, let alone copy it into your own environment and tinker around with it to pull it apart and understand it better. I can only know another artist through their product, and by reverse-engineering what they’ve done with what I know how to do.
In data science, the process is part of the product. Think back to your experiences learning to code in R or Python, where it’s considered best practice to put your code up on GitHub either for the world to see, or at least other individuals within an organization to investigate. There is no point in coding where someone says “ah yes, you know enough now that you no longer need to share your code with anyone - all we care about is whether or not it works.”
But I think there’s extreme value in letting animation students and junior animators in on the processes and workflows of more experienced animators, not just in terms of lessons and tutorials, but also opportunities to watch, internalize, and ask questions as they arise. The field is well-suited to an apprenticeship model, and yet this entire avenue of learning and experience has yet to be cracked open.
Release the drafts!
I have been absolutely swamped this past week, as the previous version of myself did not account for all the things happening in rapid succession of one another this week. But I have made it through my Game of Thrones re-watch!
My god I love The Hound
Jon Snow leaving Ghost behind - without even saying goodbye - is one of the most incongruous moments of this entire series
If Bran is truly the keeper of the entire world’s history, why is no one writing down what he knows?!
Locked behind the walls of King’s Landing is the last place I’d be going if Dany were headed my way on a dragon
Shoutout to Dany for being the first person to beat Cersei at her own game
I have a lot to say about season 8 of Game of Thrones - enough for its own post - so I’ll summarize it with this: season 8 is nowhere near as bad as I remembered. In fact, it’s quite good (albeit rushed) and follows the various story lines to their (albeit contrived) logical conclusions. They’ve also been Dany’s destruction of King’s Landing for seasons so I’m not really sure why that took me by surprise the first time around. And while there are some cheesy as hell lines (looking at you, Bran), it all ties together just fine.
Disagree? Let’s talk it out in the comments!
One of my favorite books on this subject is Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Sijll
If you’d like more advice on storytelling from Ira Glass, I strongly recommend these 10 minutes of video: Ira Glass on Storytelling Part I and Ira Glass on Storytelling Part II
You make a great point about how animation doesn't "show work". One weird genre of videos I'll occasionally watch are live streams or time lapses of artists drawing 2d art because it's fascinating to me to see the million little things that they do as they work. Since animation is harder (and IP issues)I guess there's much less of that going on =(