Thursday, December 1, 2011

CTN-X 2011

First off, hello to any new CTN friends!!

It's been a couple weeks since CTN now, and my head is still reeling with everything that happened in those short three days. But before I forget about how awesome it was, I wanted to go through day by day and break down my experience for all those who might be thinking about going next year. Hopefully you can get a good feel for what it's like, and learn from my experience.

I went alone, which turned out to be both a pro and a con. It would have been nice to have others from CCS there to go to things with, but in the end I met a lot more people than I probably would have had I not been alone. Plus I got to just go to all the panels that I personally wanted to see. (AKA I made sure to hit all Disney stuff :) )

First things first. If you have any questions about CTN, how to go about getting out there, or just my trip in general, feel free to shoot me an email. Also, if you search back a couple weeks on my twitter feed @mdewater, you can see some "in the moment" updates that I posted as CTN was happening.

I flew into Burbank Thursday afternoon, and headed straight to the Marriott Convention Center, where they had already started early registration pick-up, so I went and did that first. Got our passes, name tags, schedules, etc… They also had a big long line for "fast passes", which turned out to be a pretty cool thing. Each 3-day pass holder was given their choice of 3 fast passes, which basically meant that you could pick three panels or events that you definitely wanted to see, and you wouldn't have to wait in line for them. So I chose the Andreas Deja panel, the Ron Clements and John Musker panel, and the Pixar Gesture Drawing workshop (more on all three later). Since there were no events held that night, that was the extent of Thursday.


I got up bright and early Friday morning, even though the schedule said that the first event was at 12:30, thinking that there HAD to be SOMETHING going on. So I walked down there, and of course, it was dead. No one around except people setting things up. So I spent my morning stealing McDonald's internet. (Yes, I was stuck on WiFi the whole weekend. I haven't moved into the glorious world of 3G yet.) Once people started showing up, I met some other artists and just showed around my portfolio. This happened a lot throughout the weekend. You can see my portfolio that I took to CTN in the next post down. After what seemed like forever, it was finally time for the first panel.

"Acting for Animators" - with Darrin Butters
Darrin Butters is an awesome guy. He's been a CG animator at Disney since Dinosaur, and has worked on Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Tangled, and Prep and Landing. He did some of the best shots of Flynn in Tangled ("Why is he smiling at me?!"). He also hosted Disney Inspire Days (see my post on my experience at Inspire Days here) and so we had met before. For this panel, he basically walked us through his workflow, and how he uses live action reference to create believable acting for animation. There were only about 40 people in the room, so it was a nice small setting. Here are some of my notes from the workshop (I hope all my notes from this weekend make some kind of sense. I'm not going to go through and make a full sentence out of all of my scribbles. If something doesn't make sense, feel free to ask):

-What makes good acting? BELIEVABILITY.
-Live action references - a TON of takes before he gets the right one.
-Action analysis - pay attention to muscles, eye darts… little stuff. DETAILS
-A character running down stairs is very hard to animate, and will look impressive on a demo reel.
-He uses live action reference almost as a blocking pass.
-Pulls in the video as an image plane in maya
-IMPROV CLASSES are a huge plus in animation. They teach you about shooting reference, getting into character, listening, being an active member of a team, accepting ideas, being positive and agreeing, building on others ideas, exploring the impossible, mirroring - mimicking someone's styles, playing, and excuses.
-The only way to avoid cliches is to KNOW the cliches. Learn them.
-Find golden poses (this is a Glen Keane thing) - The iconic, memorable poses in a scene. When you think about one of your favorite movies, you don't think about the scene in motion, you think about individual poses. For instance, if I say "Ariel's Grotto", you don't see anything except the poses like Ariel splashing up on the rock, opening her box of "thingamabobs", and lifting her hand towards the surface. Find those poses before you start animating.
-For dialogue, write down your analysis. "He is angry here. I can hear him smile here."
-Look at acting influence and inspiration. This DOESN'T have to be from the golden age of Hollywood, as everyone seems inclined to believe. There ARE good actors out there right now.
-Thumbnails for loose, action stuff, but doesn't always use them for more realistic stuff or for dialogue.
-When making changes, BE BRUTAL. "Kill your babies."
-Putting a personality of your own into your animation will eventually put into a "go-to-guy" position. On Tangled, Darrin was the directors' go-to guy for any of Flynn's one-liners, simply because he knows comedy and improv.

Thanks again Darrin for all of the examples you showed. They were extremely helpful.

"Portfolio Review" with Ryan Woodward
If you haven't heard of Ryan Woodward, then GO LOOK HIM UP. He created "Thought of You", which is an extremely emotional and moving short. For this review, they had pre-selected five people to have their reels and portfolios looked at, so I didn't personally get a critique from Ryan. But everything he talked about was very helpful. This was even smaller than Darrin's - there only about 20 people in there:

-If a character comes to a complete stop, be sure to use overlapping action.
-Try to inject a sub-personality that isn't so obvious. "What if this character was a germophobe? How would they act different in this shot?"
-Acting is understated. It's all about acting.
-Improv classes are important
-Directing the dancers for Thought of You was a great opportunity. He told a great story about how he chose the dancers. He had narrowed it down to two pairs - one older, more experienced pair, and one younger, newer to dancing. He said that even though the older couple had the movement down PERFECTLY, there was something missing, some emotion that just wasn't hitting him the same way it did when he watched the younger pair dance, even though the younger pair wasn't as technically good. So he went with the younger pair for his reference. He found out afterwards that they had been in a relationship that was several years long, and had recently broken it off, but remained dance partners. Ryan believes this is why the emotion came through so well in the short.
-CONNECT to your animation.
-If you have work that you don't like, don't put it on your reel. One guy had Green Lantern shots on his reel because it was his first and only professional work he had. But he said he didn't like working on the film, so Ryan suggested he leave those shots off, even though they were his only professional work, to avoid giving recruiters the wrong impression as to what kind of films you want to work on.
-When a character grins, the whole face smiles.
-Video game work is limiting to your reel. Recruiters for feature studios will probably not even look at it.

I then spent a couple hours on the main exhibition floor.
Booths and booths full of animation awesomeness. I wandered and talked to people for a while before making my way over to the Disney booth (or should I say the three booths that Disney had taken over haha) and talked to one of the recruiters I have met with previously. He reviewed my new portfolio, and gave me some great advice on things to work on for next time.

"Deja View" with Andreas Deja and "special guest" (oooooo!!)

This was the "big" panel for the night. I would guess somewhere between 600-800 people filled the room for Andreas Deja. Not surprising. Basically, it was like a live blog posting from Andreas' blog. If you don't already, go FOLLOW HIS BLOG at He just posted some early Black Cauldron stuff, which is really awesome. So for the panel, he showed us a lot of Nine Old Men drawings he had with him, and talked about how they went about working with each other. I won't go into much detail here, he talks about this stuff a lot on his blog. He also talked about his work on Mama Odie and her snake, Juju, for Princess and the Frog, showed us some early Tigger pencil tests he did while figuring out Tigger for the new movie, and drew a few things while he was talking. The highlight of the panel though was during questions at the end, when someone asked "I noticed that Juju and Kaa from the Jungle Book have very similar designs. Was this done on purpose?" I had seen interviews before where Andreas talked about this, so I was eager to hear how he reacted. He stared at the kid for a moment, then shouted "somebody switch the screen back to showing my desk here, cuz I'm gonna PROVE YOU WRONG!" And then he looked down at the other Disney folks up front and said "of all the questions for somebody to ask!" His reaction was quite hilarious. So, he did what he set out to do. First he drew Kaa, and explained that Kaa has a very long snout, with small beady pupils set way back, and a short little jaw behind his head. He then drew Juju, and said that he specifically went the exact opposite direction when designing the character. This is what he came up with:
Of course, a major round of applause followed.

After Andreas was done with his part of the panel, he introduced the "special guest" which turned out to be the amazing Richard Sherman, to the excited surprise of everyone there.
I certainly didn't expect that, but it was quite the treat. He played songs from Jungle Book, the original Winnie the Pooh, and Mary Poppins. The highlights of the set were "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Feed the Birds", both from Mary Poppins. He had a great story about Feed the Birds being Walt's favorite song, and how Walt would always ask him to play it at the office after a day's work before they went home. At the Walt's 100th birthday celebration at Disney World in 2001, Mr. Sherman was asked to play a few songs in front of the Castle. He played some from the parks like "It's a Small World" and "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow", and to end he played "Feed the Birds" one last time for Walt. He said that as he was playing, a bird flew down and landed on his piano for just a few seconds, and then flew away. He teared up as he said that he knew that it was Walt's way of saying thank you. Everyone in the audience cried like a baby. Or maybe it was just me.

All in all, a fantastic start to an amazing weekend.


I had hoped to be able to sneak into the "From Trainee to Journeyman" workshop on Saturday morning, which was all recent hires at Disney talking about their journey from… well, Trainee to Journeyman. From what I understand, Journeyman is kind of the in-between phase of trainee and full on Disney artist. But, it had filled up online before I knew about it. Thankfully when I talked to those involved afterwards, they said it wasn't anything I hadn't already heard this summer at Inspire Days.

Instead, I spent the chunk of the morning in the exhibition hall again, watching demos and getting more portfolio critiques. While I won't go into the details of each critique, just know that CTN would have been worth it for the number and quality of the critiques alone. Disney had about ten people at any given time, some recruiters and some artists, from all three Disney studios (WDAS, DisneyToon, and Disney TV), reviewing work. I wish the other studios had a setup like this. Thanks again to everyone at Disney.

"Creator Conversations" with Eric Goldberg
Now THIS was definitely a highlight of the weekend. Meeting Eric would have been awesome enough, but the "Creator Conversations" type panels were created to have an intimate setting with the bigger names in the industry. And they definitely delivered. It was myself and only about 10-15 others in a little conference room with Eric Goldberg - fantastic. He started the session by saying (in his hilarious Eric Goldberg voice), "Now, I'm not here to take photos or sign autographs… we're just here to take the opportunity to… converse. About animation." I took a LOT of notes in the 1 1/2 hours we talked, so here goes:

-Unique character poses come from character's personality
-"go until you think you can't go any further, then go more" - Art Babbitt
-Avoid cliches
-Settle on the poses first (more of what Darrin was saying)
-Think like a cartoonist instead of like an animator - one drawing ought to be enough to get the idea across.
-What is it about drawing that is entertaining to people?
-Show something in a way it hasn't been seen before. Eric used an example of Phil from Hercules that he animated. In the storyboard, Phil had a very typical "surprised" look with his hands on his cheeks when he sees how strong Hercules is. After a few different tries, Eric settled on a pose that was more like "Oh my god. Wtf." because he hadn't seen that pose in animation before.
-Animate in this order - Storytelling poses, keys, breakdowns, and finally in-betweens.
-Doesn't thumbnail very often, because he likes to work full size.
-Music scenes - for the scene in Princess and the Frog with Louis bouncing across the log bridge, first he determined the beats in the music. Up, down, up, DOWN, up, down, up, DOWN.
-Frame by frame the fingers to make sure the instrument is actually being played correctly for that ONE fan in the audience who will notice.
-Level of detail in the planning leads to more believable action.
-Once you determine the personality of a character, figure out WHY they are like that.
-Create a personality based on the characters surroundings.
-Most difficult project was Pocahontas, because executives couldn't figure out what level of humor they wanted to put in it. At first they brought Eric onto the director's chair so he would add his humor to it, but then they kept wanting to pull back and have it be more serious. He told a funny story about how Jeffrey Katzenberg didn't want John Smith's hair to be long, but the animators kept doing it that way because so many of Smith's scenes are him just standing there, so a little bit of hair blowing in the wind gave them something to animate… but Jeffrey always said "trim the hair!!" in dailies. So one day someone animated a scene with longer hair and showed it to Eric, and Eric warned him that he would probably have to trim the hair down, so he might as well do it now. Then that same day Eric heard that Jeffrey had resigned (to go start Dreamworks) and so turned right back around and told the animator "Don't worry about the hair anymore!" So he says if you go through Pocahontas there are scenes where John Smith's hair is longer and blowing in the wind, and scenes where it isn't, depending on when the scenes were animated.
-His favorite projects were the two he did for Fantasia 2000, because there was the least amount of interference, and both ended up pretty much exactly how he had pictured them.
-Pick your battles at a studio.
-2d relates to CG examples: Roger Rabbit CG test, Toyko Disneysea attractions, poses are like hand drawn, using 2d cheats in 3d, distort and change things that will support the action. Linguini from Ratatouille is a good example. Wreck-it Ralph models are very 2d oriented. Scrat from Ice age uses separate head models in order to push poses farther than possible. Matt O'Callahan's WB shorts in CG.
-In portfolios: good academic drawing, clear communicative animation, range of acting, dialogue, personality walk cycle, weight, performance - laugh, cry, fun, how well can you define your characters? They are really looking for POTENTIAL, as opposed to super awesome right now. Even timing seems to be the biggest issue among young animators. Make it uneven. Remember during critiques that you can't please everybody. Opinions will be different.
-Eric is planning a second book to go with his first, "Character Animation Crash Course" (a great book)

And here's a quick sketch I did of Eric during the panel. Thank you so much for everything, Mr. Goldberg.

"One on Two with Ron'n'John" - with Ron Clements, John Musker, and Clay Kaytis
I was only able to catch about the last twenty minutes of this one, because Eric Goldberg's cut into it. But what I was able to catch was a lot of fun, if not quite as informative as the other panels. They showed a lot of old tests from their earlier films, such as when they used a Jack Nicholson dialogue clip for a Hades test, when they had the intention of him voicing the character. Also two shots they did of Robin Williams as the Genie, which they took Robin to convince him to do the voice. Lots of crazy caricatures from around the studio… just fun stuff. I did get to talk to Mr. Musker very briefly afterwards, and take a picture!

"Animation Demo" with Tony DeRosa

Even though Tony DeRosa is maybe not quite as big a name as say Glen Keane or Andreas Deja, he has absolutely been a powerhouse in animation for YEARS, and he as done some of my absolute favorite animation ever. I mean, check out this list of credits: So when I heard he would be doing a demo on the main stage, I was pumped. He animated a short scene of Mickey (I saw this and the Disney geek side of me exploded). He had already worked his keys out beforehand, so he was really doing breakdowns and tiedowns for the demo. Mickey runs in from the side of the screen, stops in the middle, and puts his hand up to say hi. I was disappointed that Tony didn't have a mic on him to talk while he worked, but it was still very cool to see him work.

"Late Night with Lion King"

This last event for Saturday night was less on the professional/educational side that the rest, and more on the "We love Lion King let's talk about how awesome it is" side. I was all for it by that point in the day, having done critiques and learning and stuff like that all day. The panel consisted of:
Mark Henn, supervising animator on Young Simba
Ruben Aquino, supervising animator on Adult Simba
Andreas Deja, supervising animator on Scar
Brenda Chapman, story supervisor for Lion King and original director of Pixar's Brave
Roger Allers, director of Lion King
Rob Minkoff, director of Lion King
Irene Mecchi, screenplay, Lion King
Andy Gaskill, art director, Lion King
with Charles Soloman moderating.
So basically they just shared stories from during the production of the movie, and how it was initially a "B" movie that no one wanted to work on, then as soon as they screen the Circle of Life opening sequence, everyone wanted to all of a sudden! It was quite a fun panel.

"CTN-X at Night"

This was the networking party that went from 9-12 at night, and I stayed for most of it and just mingled and talked to people for a while. Another highlight of the weekend: I'm walking along, trying to spy out someone who isn't heavily involved in conversation that I can say hi to. Standing there by himself, looking like he was doing the same thing, was Andreas Deja! I was like… why is Andreas Deja standing there looking lost by himself? lol… So of course I introduced myself and he must have just walked in or something when I saw him, because before long he had a crowd around him. But I got to talk to him for a couple minutes. I asked him about the books he has said he would like to publish about each of the Nine Old Men, and he said that Disney won't let him right now because they are focusing on the Archive Series, and so he is doing is blog in the meantime. But he is worried because apparently the Archive Series isn't selling well (what?!?) so he's afraid they won't want to do it. So, IF YOU HAVE A SOUL, go buy these books, right now. I highly, highly recommend them for any animation and/or Disney fan. They are FULL of pictures of artwork from the last 80 years at the studio.




Layout and Background:
I figured I'd end the night on a high note, so I said thank you to Andreas and headed back to the hotel. What a Saturday.


Sunday morning was the Gesture Drawing with Pixar panel, which, in all the hustle and bustle, I had lost track of my Fast Pass for, so I unfortunately wasn't able to get in. But I was able to see the video from outside of the panel room, and they basically just showed lots and lots and lots of drawings form around the studio, and they drew some and I assume they talked about what makes good gesture drawing (they didn't have sound outside the panel room). So, kind of a bummer, but there were bigger and better things coming.

"The "LINE" Kings: What Inspires You to Keep Drawing?" with Character Designers
This panel was all about the importance of drawing in a Computer age. They had four character designers: The awesome Bill Schwab from Disney, Jason Deemer from Pixar, and two others that I wasn't able to catch their name because their accents were fairly heavy. But they each went through individually and showed a lot of their work (the early design stuff from Pixar was awesome) and talked about how they go about their design process.

-When doing a character line-up it's all about contrast in body shapes
-A conversations with the director determines what ideas will explored today
-Usually around 2 hours of research and doodling, then start working
-Be a people person - OBSERVE
-They really only use Cintiqs anymore. Only time they draw on paper is for personal stuff, with some exceptions.
-Even though sketches can be rough, you have to be thinking about how it WORKS, because the people modeling the character in CG will be asking about it down the road.
-Strong academic draftsmanship is STILL the best skill to have.
-Inspiration: "Stop worrying about it. You'll make it"
-They often see other's work and feel like they suck, and then go and start all over again. It's normal.
-Show that you can adapt to different styles, but show who YOU are as well.

After the LINE Kings, I took the couple hours before the next panel to shop. It would have been very, VERY easy to spend a LOT of money on goodies, but I was already broke so I had to limit it. The Stuart Ng Books Booth ( had me salivating since day one. I was able to pick up "Dreams Come True: The Art of the Disney Fairy Tale", which I didn't even know existed, so that was awesome, as well as Brittney Lee's book "Confetti". Brittney had reviewed my portfolio the previous day and was very helpful, so I was really happy to get her book. She even signed it and did a little doodle for me! If you don't know Brittney Lee's work, YOU SHOULD.
Here's Brittney doing a demo of a cut-out piece.

I also had time to talk to some of the booths I hadn't yet, so I made sure to stop at Sony Animation, Duncan Studios, Digital Domain, Powerhouse Animation… among others. All great to talk to.

So it was finally time for the last official panel of CTN -

"How to Create a Rockstar Portfolio" with Dominic Domingo
This was another very small panel, maybe 20-25 people. Dominic is an Art Center teacher and has worked in illustration and background painting since the 90s with Disney. He did the backgrounds for Hunchback and Tarzan, which are amazing. Check out his blog:

-Academic skills balanced w/ showcasing your voice
-Do your research on each particular studio you show your portfolio to
-Understand the studio's influences
-Look at portfolio samples that have made it into the studio
-Decide whether you want to be versatile and adaptable, or do your own thing and work project to project.
-Don't be TOO specific
-Sometimes you don't see your own style, when others do. Try to see your own gifts.
-Know yourself through feedback from others
-Take it with a grain of salt. Each opinion is only one person's opinion.
-Think about a personal logo or creating a brand for yourself.
-Themes, color, border
-Bare-bones portfolio vs. bells and whistles
-Show thumbnail, rough layout, final layout, value study, color key, and final
-Start with a bang
-You're as strong as your weakest link
-Don't be derivative
-What inspires you?
-Don't do "stylized" for style's sake.
-To show your voice, find the "essence" of the giraffe, not what a giraffe looks like at Disney, Dreamworks, etc…
-Most people fall into a chasm between stylized and realism
-Know your relationship with your craft
-Don't ever give up on a piece - come back to it later if need be.
-Less is more, but more can also be more. (Haha wut.)
-You can't do it all in one portfolio
-Be objective
-Work in sections
-Organize by property (or project), or by category (story beats, environments, assets, etc.)
-Think about supplemental inserts - business cards, leave-behinds, postcards, etc
-GET AN ONLINE PRESENCE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Know your way around the industry on the internet.

And thus, the official CTN Expo came to a close. (I missed the closing ceremony thing because the last panel went forever, but oh well).

BUT WAIT! There's more… they had sent out an email to RSVP for a Disney event at the end of the Expo, and RSVP I did. 400 people were invited to a screening on the Disney Studio Lot that evening. So, all the business, professional, learning stuff was over, and it was time to be a Disney fan.

"Close the Show with Disney On the Lot"
This was such an amazing way to end the weekend. I had been to the Disney Studio before for Inspire Days, but it just has this amazing aura to it as soon as you see the gates. Seeing the Studio Theater was really awesome, as I had never been there before. (The carpet has Mickey heads! Geek out!) Darrin Butters hosted this event as well. To start things off, he told us that hidden underneath some of our seats was a post-it, and that if we got one we would win some cool stuff. I was lucky enough to have one! He said "and for those of you who didn't get one… there are some empty seats towards the sides of the theater!!!" so everyone rushed over lol… and throughout the night, he told us what the different color post-its meant. They gave out Prep and Landing Ornaments, Winnie the Pooh mugs, Winnie the Pooh DVDs… I had to wait for the very last color, yellow… "Ohhhhhh not many yellows out there, are there??? Hmmmm… let's see here…. is this right? Everyone with a yellow post-it wins…. …. … AN INTERNSHIP!!! (*Gasp*) Just kidding!!" Hahaha… not cool. But we did win a Cars 2 blu-ray which was ALMOST as cool as an internship.

So they screened the new Tinkerbell special, "The Pixie Hollow Games":

The new Phineas and Ferb Christmas episode:

The old short that was done for Fantasia 3 that was never released, "Lorenzo":

And the new "Prep and Landing 2: Naughty Vs. Nice":

All four were a lot of fun, I really liked Lorenzo and Prep and Landing. (Prep and Landing will be showing on ABC this Monday, Dec. 5. Check it out!)

All in all it was a fantastic way to end a fantastic weekend. I can't wait to go again next year, and I highly recommend everyone start saving up now so they can for sure go. It's well worth it.

A very special thanks once again to Dawn, Matt, Kelsi, Darrin, Brittney, and the rest of the Disney crew. You guys really made the weekend what it was for me personally, and I can't thank you enough.

Happy Holidays everybody!