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The CG Myth

by Mike Petrik, Art Director

SolidLine Media

I am a CG artist.  I work primarily on computers making graphics, hence, CG.  Yet I would not be where I am right now without the years of learning, practicing, and massaging traditional fine art.  There is a myth out there that has been floating around for as long as I have been interested in 3D animation, and continues to plague the “computer animation” degree programs at community colleges across the globe.

Myth!

The computer does the work for you.   That to be a 3D character animator, you don’t need to know how to draw, or framing compositions, or color theory.  All you need to know is where the buttons are in the 3D software package and everything else will fall into place.

I got my animation degree at an Art Institutes chain, and I cant tell you how many times I heard other students complaining about the long hours of life drawing class, or saying things like “who needs to learn design fundamentals? What a waste of time!”  So to any of the students out there who are interested in getting into the field of 3D animation and motion graphics, please please please take the time to learn the fundamentals.  They will be vital to your success as an artist and animator.  I think one thing that is key to being a “good artist” is to never stop learning.  Yeah, you’ve been out of college for 5 years now, but the longer you wait to keep at your skills, they will slowly but surely start vanishing from your brain.  Your brain and your skills are a muscle, you need to exercise.  Here are some blogs and books that I breeze through pretty regularly to keep me inspired and to keep me learning.

John K. Blog

http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/

This is a one stop shop for learning traditional animation techniques.  John is a very talented artist, and has come up with some of the most creative and hilarious cartoons in modern history.  Ren & Stimpy, anyone?  Whats great about this is that John is doing the same thing you are doing.  Learning.  He is constantly figuring out design and construction of teeth, hair, muscles, etc, all in front of the viewing public.  I highly recommend the consolidated version of his blog…

http://johnkcurriculum.blogspot.com/

It is organized as an animation college curriculum should be.  Design and construction fundamentals.  Animation fundamentals.  Color fundamentals.  This is all stuff you should know before even touching a 3D program.  Go through it all.  It’s like going to college for free.

Changethethought and FFFFound!

http://www.changethethought.com/

http://ffffound.com/

As far as design goes, you can type in design fundamentals on google and find about a million blogs talking about the same thing.  These two, however, are great inspiration for me when I’m feeling stagnant design wise.  They are both fairly similar, yet Changethethought seems to be more of a cleaned up streamlined version of FFFFound!  Regardless, spend a few hours flipping through these constantly updated collections of artists from around the world.  You will see design and photography ideas that you have never seen before.  Animations that have slipped through the cracks of the more popular sites that will blow your mind.  By sitting and looking, you will be learning, what makes good design, and what makes bad design.

Brendan’s Body Blog

http://brendanbody.blogspot.com/

I just recently discovered this one, but it looks pretty fantastic .  Not only does Brendan thoroughly critique modern films and animation, he goes through very important traditional theories such as weight and silhouetting.   Since Brendan is a 3D animator himself, it’s great to see him encouraging traditional skills as well.

The Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams

http://www.amazon.com/Animators-Survival-Kit-Richard-Williams/dp/0571202284

The only book you will need on how character animation works.  If you are interested in animation, get this book.

The Art of the Storyboard by John Hart

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Storyboard-Storyboarding-Film-Animation/dp/0240803299

If you want to work in the film / video / television industry, you need to know how a story is put together.  Storyboarding is a not only a very important step to not getting yourself into trouble halfway through a production, it will teach you very important skills such as composition, timing, rhythm, and editing.  One thing I think that is very lacking in animation schools and CG programs is camera movement.  It is always something that is overlooked, but is almost as important as the performance of your character.  A camera needs to feel weight.  It should behave as it would in reality.  If a camera cant logically make the move in the real world, it probably won’t work in the 3D world either.   This is the book I learned from and I go back to it with any questions.

Wordplayer

http://www.wordplayer.com/

On the subject of film and editing, if you are working at all in telling a story through your animation, you need to know how story is structured.  Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott are screenwriting partners and have collaborated on some of the most successful recent summer blockbusters.  This is a very extensive archive of writing and story structure technique, so it will take a long time to go through, but every bit is worth it.  These guys know what they are doing, and you will feel very confident and satisfied once you commit time to learning how a story is put together.

So, as you can see, the myth of the computer filling in this information for you is ridiculous.  The computer is a tool, just like a pencil, and should be treated as such.  There is no way a computer could fill in decisions such as composition, character design and structure, weight, etc.  Unless it’s a self-aware learning computer that has decided to animate.  But if that’s the case, we are probably in more trouble than we know.

Mike Petrik