By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationBooksInspirationInterviews

The following is an excerpt for Digital Arts Masters: Volume 4. In Digital Art Masters, you will meet some of the finest 2D and 3D artists working in the industry today and discover how they create some of the most innovative digital art in the world. In this excerpt, Jelmer Boska walks you through his creation of his own personal work, Portrait of Keith Richards.


It all started in a Vancouver theatre around May 2007 where I watched the third part of the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End for the first time. About half way in, Keith Richards made his introduction in the role of Captain Teague. When he appeared on screen I had goose bumps; the way Keith looked in his red pirate costume reminded me so much of an illustration of the infamous pirate, Blackbeard, in a children’s pirate book I used to own – I loved that image and have kept it in my head ever since. A few months later, Disney released the book The Art of the Pirates of the Caribbean where I once again met with Captain Teague. This time he appeared in the form of an amazing drawing done by one of my heroes, Mark “Crash” McCreery. There the idea was born.

I felt it was time to add something new to my portfolio, and this would be something I’d very much enjoy doing. Although I started off with the intent to create a portrait of Keith Richards as Captain Teague, he never made it to that state. I changed my mind during the process and decided to go for a realistic portrait of the man himself instead. Well … at least it got me a good “piratey” introduction for this article – Yarr!


I started off the way I usually start any project, which is by gathering related reference imagery. I found a couple of decent photos of Keith and also took some screen grabs from the movies, where I had the opportunity to see him from more specific angles. During my search for references it was inevitable that I came across some of the famous caricaturist, Sebastian Krueger’s work. He has portrayed and caricaturized the Rolling Stones, and Keith personally, quite a few times. Throughout the process I constantly had to be aware not to caricaturize my portrait too much. Keith has got a lot of characterizing features in his face, and sticking close to his real proportions, instead of caricaturizing them, was a challenge!


I mocked up a base mesh for the bust in XSI fairly quickly, with the idea to get working on the likeness in ZBrush as soon as possible. I kept the base model very simple, since it would be used for still purposes only, and wouldn’t have to deform (Fig.01).

Fig 1


When doing a likeness, details hardly matter; it’s the main proportions that matter, and in particular the visual triangle indicating the relations between the eyes and tip of the nose. I found that once you nail those proportions, the character usually starts to become recognizable. You do start to stare blind after a certain amount of time, so I tried to get as much of the main work done as possible within the first hours after starting work on the model.

I tend to start off by subdividing the model about three times right after importing it into ZBrush. From there I start to refine and build the main forms. I have become a big fan of the Clay Tubes tool, which allows me to change and add volume in certain areas in a very natural way. After getting the bigger primary forms down I carved in a couple of Keith’s most characterizing wrinkles, which are formed mostly around his mouth and cheekbones.

Having a dual monitor setup was most helpful for this project: I find that being able to have my main reference images up on one screen, while working on the other, is almost mandatory for this kind of work. Once I started sculpting it was just a matter of constant refinement: looking at the reference photos and comparing them to the model. I didn’t really find any shortcuts or tricks doing a portrait – it seems to be just a matter of training your eye and trying to sculpt what you can see (Fig.02 – 03).

Fig 2

Fig 3

Texturing & Shading

The texture painting was completely done in ZBrush as well. Using the polypaint tools I quickly painted a diffuse texture directly on the model. Knowing the final image would be black and white, I didn’t spend too much time on this.

After having exported the diffuse map from ZBrush, I hooked the image up in a pretty simple shading tree using Mental Ray’s standard fast skin surface shader (Fig.04). I applied this to the high-res model, right out of ZBrush. The model sits at about 2 million quad polygons at its highest subdivision level, and I sadly wasn’t able to render this in XSI without crashing my machine. I ended up exporting the second highest resolution mesh and generating an additional map, based on the volume differences between the highest two levels and applied this as a bump map to the model in XSI.

Fig 4

The hair was done in XSI, too – the hair tools are great and pretty easy to use. I grew about eight different selections of hair to form his haircut. I looked at sections and strands that characterized his hair most to base my hair selections on, and focused on those specific areas. The hair was very much modeled to the camera, and looks rather ridiculous from any other angle (Fig.05).

Fig 5

Lighting & Rendering

The final light rig was made up out of a standard threepoint light setup using area-lights. The key light was placed on a sharp angle high above the model to create deep shadows under his eyebrows – something I found to help sell the likeness a bit more. A bright rim light was placed directly behind Keith, to separate him from the background a little. To soften out some of the shadows on one side and generate some nice contrast in the lighting, I placed a soft fill light on the left side of the model (Fig.06).

Fig 6

The image was rendered in 4 passes, those being two specular and beauty passes for the head and the hand plus the cigarette. The beauty pass showed the model lit and fully shaded, but without any specular highlights. Those were rendered out separately in a specular pass, so that I could have a bit more control over it later on in Photoshop.

Compositing & Finalizing

There wasn’t too much work left to be done in Photoshop besides combining all the passes, desaturating the image, adjusting the levels a touch and adding a depth of field effect using the blur tools. The smoke was painted in later, and to finish the whole thing off I added some grain, which I found added a lot of character to the final image (Fig.07a – e).

Fig 7a

Fig 7b

Fig 7c

Fig 7d

Fig 7e


And that’s about it! I very much enjoyed working on this portrait and am happy to call this one done. I hope you like it.

Excerpt from Digital Art Masters: Volume 4 by 3dtotal.Com © 2009 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Art Masters can be purchased,, and wherever fine books can be found.

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By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationInspirationInterviews

By the time you’ve figured out your conflicts, reactions and tactics you probably have your events in some kind of order. This is where you want to see if it is creating the experience for your audience that you want. Sometimes you have all of the elements for a story but it still isn’t entertaining. Often this is because the story is laid out and the audience can see what is coming. It makes it boring. We already know how it will end.

What engages an audience and keeps it engaged is carefully laid out narrative questions. Narrative questions set up curiosity, intrigue or suspense in the mind of your audience. Some questions you will answer immediately—they are setups. For example in Defective Detective the first thing we see is an apartment building when a light in one window is on. Immediately your audience is wondering—who’s in the apartment? And then we can show them. Other times, when answers to the questions are given too quickly the audience loses interest. So the key to good storytelling is to make the audience wait. But it is also important to determine what it is waiting for. (more…)

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By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationBooksInterviews

What is a storyboard? Author, Mark Simon, explains that it is the “visual blueprint of the director’s vision that the entire crew uses to be able to work towards that one singular vision.” Check out this interview where he explains AND shows the art of storyboards.

Check out the book here.

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By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationInterviews

By Tony Bancroft

Be confident.

This is probably the polar opposite of what you feel when you pick up a pencil to create.  I know it was for me when I was as a young artist.  Feeling confident in your drawing, animating, sculpting, painting or anything artistic can be the difference between success and failure in your work.  For me, I usually judge a drawing as successful if it communicates my intent to myself or others around me.  When I was young, my audience was my Mother.  When she came home, I would hold up a drawing and ask, “Look Ma, what do you think?”.  She would always lavish praise upon my scribbles.  In your professional animation career, success will be judged by an invisible audience who turns on the TV, buys a ticket to the movie or plays your video game.  For this reason, an artist must be able to muster his own confidence as well.


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By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationInterviews

By Tony Bancroft

Make friends not enemies.

Every “good thing” I received in my career came because of a friend or close relationship.  Every job, every promotion, every new opportunity.  Every single one.


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By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationGeneralInspirationInterviews

Last night at the star-studded 86th annual Academy Awards, Hollywood paid tribute to the incredible work in animation and VFX this year.

Frozen, directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

“Let it Go,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, won Best Original Song. This win gave Robert Lopez the rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), in which he is only the 12th person to ever achieve such a feat. Though, with Idina Menzel’s wickedly (pun intended) good performance, none of us were surprised that this song captured the Academy’s heart… and likely a few downloads on their iTunes account.

The French short, Mr. Hublot, by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, took the award for Best Animated Short.

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By: admin                Categories: AnimationInspirationInterviews

Your time with big “name” actors is minimal and you must be overly prepared for recording sessions. For a main character in a film the studio will usually only have 5–8 recording sessions agreed upon in the voice actor’s contract to be used over the term of the movie. Each recording session takes forever to schedule with the actor’s agent and by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG – the actor’s union) rules, a session can only go for a maximum of four hours with any one actor. The studio is paying a lot of money for that actor to come in and probably pulled a lot of strings to make it happen. The studio heads and executives will be anxious that everything goes well so they may request to be in the recording room with you. Their stress slides down to the producer and then her stress to the director to make sure that session runs efficiently. The concern is not only that the actor is happy but most importantly, if you do not get all of your script material recorded in that session, it may be months before you get that actor back again.

The great Patrick Warburton (Kronk) pondering the readiness of his spinach puffs for Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove.


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By: Elyse                Categories: Interviews

Recently, one of our authors and renowned Disney Animator, Floyd Norman, was interviewed by HLN TV. In this interview, he speaks of his in career in animation, working on animated features like Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book. Despite the changing face of animation, Norman explains that, at its core, animation is still the same – it is about telling stories. Watch the full interview here:

Interview with Floyd Norman

For more tips, tricks, and advice from the Disney legend himself, be sure to check out his new book The Animated Life! Here is an excerpt from the book –

Chapter 7: Taking my Best Shot
“Learning to Be an Animator”

We all remember our first car, our first job, and certainly our first date. Like everyone else, I’ve got a “first” as well. However, mine is going to be a little different. I’m speaking of my first animated scene in a Disney cartoon and how that scene ushered me into the highly coveted position of “animator” at the Mouse House. We’ll get to that scene in a bit, but first a little Disney history.

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By: admin                Categories: AnimationInspirationInterviews

Tony Bancroft, Director of Disney’s Mulan will publish Directing for Animation with Focal Press this summer. Directing for Animation integrates Tony’s personal stories, experiences, and tips learned at Disney and other studios with interviews of A-list animation directors including Nick Park, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, John Musker and more. In anticipation of Directing for Animation, we have decided to give you a sneak peek at some of the interviews captured for the book. Full interviews, tips, and techniques can be found in the forthcoming Directing for Animation.

Also, please check out some of the other interview sneak-peeks:
Chris Wedge

Striving for Spontaneity: Interview with John Musker

A member of the legendary CalArts class of ’76 and one of the directors of the “Disney Renaissance” of the ‘80s and ‘90s, John Musker, along with his directing partner Ron Clements, has undoubtedly made his mark as one of the animation industry’s most prolific and successful directors. Originally from Chicago before he moved to California, John started at Disney Studios as a character animator on The Fox and the Hound before quickly working his way up the ranks and making his directorial debut in 1986 on The Great Mouse Detective. Next, he and Ron wrote and directed the smash hit, The Little Mermaid in 1989, heralded by many as the return of critical and commercial success for feature animation, followed shortly after by Aladdin in 1992. For the next 20 years, John and Ron would continue to write and direct some of Disney’s biggest films including Hercules, Treasure Planet and, most recently The Princess and the Frog in 2009. John continues to work today as one of Disney’s most famous writers and directors.

Tony: What do you like most about working in animation?

John: Well, I like to draw, so I get to keep drawing. When I started, I wasn’t sure if I would go into comics or what. I wanted to be an editorial cartoonist at one point. I like graphic design -“postery” things. I’m a caricaturist, and I still get to do all that by being in animation, but I also did live action films. I like being a storyteller, and, it sounds goofy, but I don’t think of myself as an artist – I think of myself as an entertainer. Despite my verbosity now, I grew up a fairly introverted guy. I was part of a big, Irish-Catholic family. I had five sisters. I never needed to talk ‘cause they were always talking. But I saw plays when I was in high school. I saw Guys and Dolls at my local high school and I just thought that there was something so cool about seeing guys I know being on stage and communicating to an audience. And then I could do it through my drawings as well.

I would do these drawings, I’d do caricatures of teachers in my school, and next day, after the paper came out, there’d be a buzz in the school, “Oh, did you see this, and that?,” and it was like communicating with people I didn’t know. I did these little, live action Super 8 films, and they were shown at my high school, and people I didn’t know saw them, and laughed at my jokes, and things like that, and I got a rush out of that. I just felt like, “I’m connecting with people,” I mean, it’s that connection with people, and storytelling, and entertaining that I’m addicted to.

Tony: Maybe you get this question a lot: What does a director in animation do? What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities at Disney?

John: I always do this joke, because people always ask about being an animation director: “How’s that differ from a live action director?,” and I say, “Well, in live action you get to yell ‘Action!’, and the actors do their thing, and then you say ‘Cut!’ when they’re done. But what we do when we deal with the animators is we say ‘Draw!,’ and then we wait. And then we say, ‘Erase!” (laughter) But day-to-day responsibilities, that’s the other thing, people feel, of course. You tell them about animation, “It’s tedious. You’re doing one-million drawings ”and“ Oh my God.”

I think Bill Kroyer’s father once said something, I think it was about animation. He said “That’d drive me outta my box!,” and I think that a lot of people have that feeling. The irony, of course, is that with animation directing, actually every day is different. The production process is such that, over the course of the years that you’re working on a film your responsibilities vary hugely. Now Ron and I, traditionally, have written our films, so an initial period is spent coming up with the story, and outlining that story, and developing the characters, and then we co-write the script, and our writing system is such that I kind of do improv on paper, and Ron’s more of a structure guy, and he helps pull it all together. I’d say even though I think of myself as having a fair amount of ideas, and being a fairly creative guy, we are also very collaborative guys, and we encourage input. Not every director does that, nor is it a job requisite. You don’t have to do that to be a good director, but I think we have found that the films are enriched and the film becomes more than it would be if it was confined to what we do. Every film becomes different depending on the team of people that’s connected to it. So because of all that, as directors, our day-to-day things vary. We are looking at color. We’re looking at animation. We’re dealing with voice actors. We’re dealing with the marketing of the films.

One of the good things about the Disney system is that we try and keep the film as fluid as possible for as long as possible to accommodate new ideas that may not necessarily change the whole film, but perhaps new ways to tell the story that we’re trying to tell. Being able to incorporate those things and do it efficiently becomes more and more important the smaller your budget is. “Why can’t we just write a script, storyboard exactly that script, animate that script, put it on the screen…”  However, that doesn’t take into account, first, and foremost, the fact that in live action you shoot coverage. You shoot the scene from many different angles, and so you have opportunities to re-fashion the film in the editing room. Animation is more akin to theatre, where you try something out on the road, and you re-write on the fly… Because it takes longer, you have more time to make mid-course corrections, and that, I think, is part of the reason why the Pixar films and the best Disney films have been so good, because you can make things work better while you’re doing it and find things that work, and tailor things to some of the things that work, and things that aren’t working. That’s one of the pluses of working in feature animation, where there is enough time built into the system to fix things, and money, obviously. It’s time, and money.

Tony: That is one thing that live-action has going for it.  They have the gift of spontaneity as a resource.

John: And that’s one of the challenges in animation: To produce a film that has a feeling of spontaneity, because it is the least spontaneous medium imaginable. You have to work hard to get that spontaneity, but the best animated films, whether it’s  Pinocchio, The Incredibles, or Toy Story, have an “improvy” feel to them.  Even in the straighter scenes, it feels like it’s playing out in front of your eyes spontaneously.

Tony: Can you talk about storyboards a little bit? Nowadays animatics are a valuable tool. How important is the animatic to you, in your process?

John: At a certain point the script becomes immaterial and the boards become the next thing, but more important, even than the boards, are the reels. The reels are the working draft of the movie, and they’re the most malleable clay. They are the blueprint of the movie, but they are an organic, fluid, dynamic, ever-changing writing instrument for the movie, and so they’re really a crucial step. We’re exploring different ways of staging things, and cutting things and putting over story ideas, and putting over jokes, and getting emotion… And now with the new technology, you can work out performance in even more detail, and staging ideas, effects animation ideas, color- you name it. It’s become a very useful tool that we didn’t used to have in terms of exploring ideas, developing them, and communicating ideas to people in the various departments down the road. (They can review them and know), “Oh, this is what’s going to be coming for my department,” whether that’s the effects department, or background department, or whatever, you know. It’s just extremely helpful.

Tony: As a director, how important is it to you to keep up with current technology – The latest software and hardware?

John: Technology’s a funny thing, because back when I was studying animation, Chuck Jones came and spoke about animation at CalArts and he made the joke: “When you talk about technical stuff with me, I am someone who has never understood past the infinite mysteries of the screwdriver.” (laughter) I’m not that technically savvy either, but you surround yourself with people who are. I think in a broad sense it is good to have some sense of what technology can do, and to evolve with the technology, or to learn about new tools. I think that is good. If you’re really stuck, if you really haven’t embraced that…  I know some directors who came out of story, and they wouldn’t use a Cintiq. They’re like, “I really think it should be drawn on paper,” and, to me that was a little bit crazy. I would say “Wait, if you’re boarding then a Cintiq is an ideal tool for storyboarding!” In terms of efficiency, new technologies can be an aid to you.

The other thing I think, when you talk about keeping current, is that it’s good to see contemporary live action films, and contemporary theatre, and contemporary animation. You need to see the animation of other studios, see what they’re doing. The other thing that we have nowadays that is a fun thing is how much content there is out there on the Internet. Different people have their blogs, and there’s just a lot of interesting people around the world. Artists whose work I look at and I just enjoy seeing that. That’s all work that I would have never seen without the Internet. Then you see student projects with Vimeo or YouTube and things like that, where you can see work from studios and artists from around the world – student work from around the world even. That’s a whole world that didn’t exist when I was in school. I think it is a resource, and I don’t know if it will develop into a system that people can make money from or make a living doing it but the Internet can be the platform that people see these things on. I think it’s changing and evolving. I don’t know where it’s going to wind up, but there’s an aspect of it that I think is exciting. It’s kind of decentralizing animation and artwork and there’s such a huge appetite, I think, for stories and visual stimuli. I don’t think there’s any less of an appetite for that than there was thirty years ago, yet somehow I think the Internet is going to play a huge role in that, or whatever the Internet evolves into.

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By: admin                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInterviews

The following is an excerpt from The Animated Life: A Lifetime of tips, tricks, techniques and stories from an animation Legend. In this book, legendary Disney Animator, Floyd Norman gives you a guided tour through an entire lifetime of techniques, practical hands-on advice and insight into an entire industry. In this excerpt, you will learn the history of our childhood favorite, 101 Dalmatians.

Note: Because of increasing budget concerns, animation had to be reinvented at the Walt Disney Studios.

After six long years crafting the animated classic Sleeping Beauty, the Walt Disney Studios found itself at a crossroads. Walt’s brother Roy, who oversaw the company’s finances, presented an ultimatum to the studio boss: reduce cost, or the future of animation was questionable.

THE LEARNING CONTINUES A quick sketch of the spotted doggie.

Sleeping Beauty had taken a serious toll on the studio, with its lengthy production schedule and massive staff. Plus, a disappointing opening and the film’s failure to make back its cost didn’t bode well for the future. The market for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy shorts, once the bread and butter of the company, had dwindled as more and more kids watched cartoons on TV. Disney Animation needed to make some serious changes, and make them soon. Fortunately or unfortunately for all of us, the studio was prepared to do just that. First of all the sizable animation department was reduced to half its size. That still left hundreds of workers in Disney’s Ink & Paint department where the acetate sheets called “cels” were inked and painted by hand. However, that department would soon see a change.

Ub Iwerks was well known as Disney’s technical wizard. Ub ran the process lab, where the optical work and photographic effects were created. Most of us looked at this Disney facility as a “secret research and development lab” where technicians crafted masterful solutions to the studio’s technical challenges. The photocopier had emerged on the scene as an amazing new technology destined to revolutionize business. Could this device revolutionize putting animation drawings onto cels as well? Ub Iwerks decided it could. He deconstructed a Xerox photocopy machine and rebuilt his own. Animation tests were completed and photographed using the new process. When the time was right, the Disney technician screened the results for Walt and it appeared the experiment was successful. Animation cels would no longer be inked by hand. This meant considerable cost savings. Characteristically, Walt Disney gave his approval. “Look into it,” he replied.

WALT DISNEY STUDIOS The 1960s brought changes and a new technology to Disney Animation.

However, the new Xerox process meant changes for art direction as well. Disney’s art directors would have to consider how this new production process affected future motion pictures. The Xerox process lacked the subtlety of hand inking. Characters could no longer be done in “self-line”—meaning that the outline colors of the character were the same colors of the characters—to increase their three-dimensionality. Because the Xerox machines could not yet do color, they would have to go back to a hard black outline, like they had in the 1930s. Could there be a way to incorporate this new process in a film’s design? Art director Ken Anderson was convinced that he had a solution. Working with character designer Tom Oreb and color stylist Walt Peregoy, the team crafted an exciting new look that would move animation in an exciting new direction. Inspired by the brilliant work of British cartoonist, Ronald Searle, Disney’s new film would feature a more linear design and a richly expressive “thick-thin” outline for the characters. Because the animation drawings were being photographed by the photocopier and not traced by an inker, you could even let the outline be of a rougher, less smooth texture, with some hint of construction lines. In addition, the color palette by Peregoy would be bold and provocative. This motion picture represented a whole new design approach for Disney.

Downstairs in the Animation Department, things were no less revolutionary, as the studio artists struggled to adapt to the new way of producing animation. The sizable crews of the previous feature film were reduced to a handful of animation artists. The animators would more than double their output, and the clean-up process would slowly evolve into something we eventually called “touch up.” The smaller units were clearly faster, cheaper, and more efficient. In almost no time, these new animation units functioned like a well-oiled machine cranking out reams of footage that would have been unimaginable on the previous feature, Sleeping Beauty.

With smaller crews and a greatly compressed production schedule, 101 Dalmatians was completed in a fraction of the time it took to create Sleeping Beauty. That meant a huge cost savings and a new lease on life for Disney’s Animation Department. Looking back on this remarkable film, I’m reminded of the stories I’ve heard over the years. Many still believe that it was the Xerox process that enabled the creation of multiple spots on the Dalmatians. Though the process did allow us to duplicate multiple drawings of the puppies, the spots on the dogs were still drawn by hand. Clever animation assistants worked out a system that allowed them to keep the multiple spots in the right doggie location. 101 Dalmatians was still very much a hand-drawn feature animated film, although the elimination of the venerable Inking Department and the incredibly talented women who traced the drawings would change animation forever.

101 Dalmatians was a turning point at Disney Animation. Though it seems like ancient history today, the film’s production represented technology’s first impact on the animation process. It changed the way we worked in animation and pushed styling in a bold new direction. Of course, this was only the beginning of the technological shifts in cartoon making. Though digital techniques were still decades away, it was clear that they would one day affect Disney Animation as well.

However, this Disney film also taught us all the importance of remaining flexible and adaptable—open and willing to change and to accept any challenge as an opportunity to become even more inventive and creative. I have little doubt that Walt Disney would have encouraged that.

Excerpt from The Animated Life: A Lifetime of tips, tricks, techniques and stories from an animation Legend by Floyd Norman © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. The Animated Life can be bought on Amazon,, or your favorite online retailer.

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