Techniques of Animation

While talking to clients I often realize they don’t know the different techniques in creating animation.  This can create confusion when trying to explain what my studio does and does not do. I thought I would give a quick overview of some of the main techniques of animation.

While there are many different types, styles, and techniques of animation I wanted to focus on only 3 of the techniques.  It is understandable for someone not in the industry to be confused about the differences, since I have often heard people in the industry talk about them in different ways.  I won’t go into great detail about each, but instead will give you a general overview.  To get a little more details look up Animation on Wikipedia, and they have a great breakdown which I actually used as reference while writing this post.

Traditional Animation:

This is also called cel animation or hand-drawn animation.  It was originally created by drawing and/or painting each image on a piece of paper or a cel(short for celluloid).  With each image slightly different it would create the illusion of motion when captured on film.

The traditional cel animation process was eventually changed to scanning the images into the computer, or drawn directly into a computer system.  This would allow the inking and painting tasks to be done in the computer.

Some examples of traditionally animated films include Pinocchio, The Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and most recently The Secret of Kells.


Stop Motion Animation:

Stop-motion is created by physically moving an object and capturing each frame one at a time to create motion.  I made some stop motion animation in college, and while it was fun for the first 2 hours the animation looked like something a kid could have done.  Stop-motion has a very unique look to it, and often more blocky in the movements.

There are also different types of stop-motion, and it is often based on what medium which is being used.  For example you have puppet animation that is used in movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline,  and Box Trolls. The puppets generally have armature inside to hold their poses for each frame.  There is cutout animation used in some earlier South Park episodes where they move two-dimensional pieces of paper or other material.  There is also Clay animation, often called claymation, that was used for The Gumby Show, California Raisins, and Wallace and Gromit.

There are of course many more styles, but this should give you a pretty good understanding of what stop-motion is.  I showed this time-lapse video in a previous post, but it is a great video showing the amount of work that goes into making stop-motion.


Computer Animation:

There are several different techniques that fall under computer animation, and I will touch on a couple.  My company does not do traditional animation or stop-motion, but we do computer animation.

Computer animation is any animation technique where it was created digitally on a computer.  I’m going to touch on both 2D and 3D computer animation.

To explain 2D computer animation I’m going to quote Wikipedia.

2D animation figures are created or edited on the computer using 2D bitmap graphics or created and edited using 2D vector graphics. This includes automated computerized versions of traditional animation techniques such as interpolated morphingonion skinning and interpolatedrotoscoping. 2D animation has many applications, including analog computer animationFlash animation and PowerPoint animationCinemagraphs are still photographs in the form of an animated GIF file of which part is animated.

While my company does some 2D animation our main focus is 3D animation.  This is the technique used by Pixar and DreamWorks in their movies.  Each asset is digitally created on a computer, and manipulated to create the animation.  Pretty much everything you see had to be created with digital paintings, and digital 3D models that are digitally surfaced.  Characters and props are rigged to allow them to move, and animators animate them using keyframe animation.

Motion capture can also be used to animate the characters.  With motion capture they record the movements of a live-action actor and use those movements to animate the characters. Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, and The Adventures of Tintin all used motion capture.

At my company animators use animation software like Maya to keyframe animate the characters. There also has to be digital cameras setup and framed to get the perfect shots, digital lighting to set the mood, and to light the scene.

You also have simulations to simulate fur, hair, and other effects such as fire, water, smoke, and more.  These digital simulations are referred to as 3D dynamics.


Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the different techniques used to create animation.  In a future post I can dig deeper into all that goes into creating a 3D animation.  It will give you a better idea why animation is so expensive, and takes so long to make.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.


IMG_6447I finally experienced my first SIGGRAPH conference.  I have always heard about SIGGRAPH, and while at DreamWorks Animation I would often have artists requesting time off so they could attend the conference.  While I had a pretty good idea about what it was I had never gone until this year.

SIGGRAPH is short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques.  It is an annual conference on computer graphics which you can imagine is pretty important for computer animation.

The conference was made up of one really large exhibits floor with all kinds of companies showing off their new technologies, and software.  It also included a job fair, panels, production sessions, discussions, art galleries, and parties every night.

IMG_6426It was a great experience, and I thought I would share some of my highlights from the week.  I took on the full conference this year, and went from Sunday until Thursday which might have been a little much for my first time.  Some of the talks were interesting, some where way to techy for me, and others I learned a great deal from.  I liked some of the conversations the best, since you really got to hear the challenges other people and companies in the industry where facing.

Lets start from the beginning… I first attended a presentation from the guys that started Aardman Animation, David Sproxton & Peter Lord.  It was interesting to hear how they started their company on a dining room table.  Aardman is known for the stop motion films; Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, Chicken Run, and The Pirates.

I seemed to start the conference out with a Stop Motion Theme, since the next presentation was by LAIKA.  You might know them from the movies Coraline, ParaNorman, and most recently the Boxtrolls.  While stop motion is not something I would ever want to do I do appreciate the artists that do this kind of work.  Here is a Time-Lapse of the making of a scene.

Sunday was a lot of these types of presentations, since the exhibit floor was not open until Tuesday.  At the end of the day I went to a Fast Forward where they gave all the people who wrote technical papers on new technologies 30 seconds to introduce, and try and interest you to attend their full presentation later in the week.

IMG_6434I big thing at the conference was virtual reality, and they even had a whole section they called Virtual Village.  There are some really cool technologies coming out, and I’m excited to see where they take them.  One of the exhibits there was two boxes, and… I’m sure I will mess it up trying to explain how it works, but if you stuck your hand in one box you could feel and see the person’s hand from another box.  It is like a touchable hologram, and I’m interested to see where they take this tech.

IMG_6460I went to a really neat presentation for the 40th Anniversary of ILM.  Industrial Light & Magic is a VFX company that was started by George Lucas in 1975 to work on his movies.  Later they started doing work for other clients as well, and now have touched so many great films.  To name a few… Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones movies, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, The Abyss, Jurassic Park, Twister, Titanic, and most recently Ant-Man to name a few.  It is also interesting to note that they had a computer graphics devision that George eventually sold to Steve Jobs, and became Pixar.

Some of the talks I sounded interesting, but after they started going over the codes I realized I was in over my head.

I did find a very interesting discussion about cloud based rendering vs in-house rendering.  One of my goals of the conference was to learn more about rendering, and I got a lot out of this discussion.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to bore some of you.  I did go to some fun parties.

On Tuesday evening I went to the DreamWorks Animation party.  As in true DreamWorks style it was a very impressive party, great food, beautiful location, and of course amazing people.  It was nice getting caught up with old co-workers, and meeting some new people.

On Wednesday I went to the Pixar Renderman party, and got to see their latest short.  I also learned about the world of collecting walking teapots.  I guess people go crazy about these things, and you can sell them on eBay for a decent price.  If you are interested to learn more here is a video from 2013 that gives a little more back story.

IMG_6428Overall it was a great time, and I learned a lot about new technologies coming out.  I plan to go next year, but not sure if I will go for the whole week again.  I got pretty behind on work, and have been spending most of this week trying to get caught up.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.

Introducing Our First Animated Shorts

I’m very excited to be introducing our first animated shorts to all of you.  I have mentioned it a few times in previous posts, but I know some of you have been dying to see some artwork, and hear more about it.  As promised here is a more detailed introduction to the shorts we are working on including some concept art.  Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Earlier this year after finishing with the Toys”R”Us project I wanted to create a series of short animated videos that I could post online.  I had a general idea of what I wanted the short to be, but did not have a story idea.  Really all I knew was that I wanted a character driven short with a cute lovable character.  Something that audiences could connect with, and enjoy watching.  I thought it would be a great way to showcase the kind of work my company could do, and wanted to do.

On March 10th of this year I contacted a very talented writer, and great friend, Charlie Petrek.  He had just left DreamWorks Animation, and I was hoping he could help me with the story.  We met up for lunch, and talked about what I wanted to do, and we had a really great brainstorming session.  The next day I woke up to an email from him with all kinds of great ideas on where we could take these shorts.

Shortly after Charlie accepted a position at Disney, but I had enough to go on for the first few shorts.  Over the next few months the story continued to grow, and the short started to take form.  It continues to evolve every day as we continue developing the story.

valerio_working_creatureI reached out to Valerio Fabbretti about doing the character design for the little creature.  He was the illustrator for the “Action Movie Kid” book that our friends Mandy Richardville and Daniel Hashimoto wrote based off of Hashi’s hit “Action Movie Kid” YouTube web-series.

creature_for_webValerio agreed to do the character design, and in May started his work on it.  Since we were doing a lot of exploring on what this creature would look like we went through a lot of sketches all of which could be a character on their own.  I wanted something that would work great for this short, and by July we had a final design.

At this point we were also in progress on the model for the room environment that all the action will take place.  We are now ready to begin work on the model for the character, and I can’t wait to see how he translates into 3D.  Often times you find out that something that works, and looks good in a 2D drawing does not look good in a 3D model.  It takes highly skilled modelers to be able to look at a flat drawing, and bring it to life in a third dimensional world.

I wanted to get concept art that we could use for surfacing and lighting as a color key.  Unfortunately for me, but great for Valerio, he got a position at Cartoon Network and was not able to help with the concept art. I was able to find the amazingly talented Rachel Wan, and she agreed to do the concept art for the short. She started towards the end of July, and was able to complete it by the 5th of August.



I was very happy with how it turned out, so I asked Rachel if she would do the character design for the mechanical hand(the shadow in the background).  She agreed, and has begun work on the design for it.  I’m very excited to see what she comes up with.

This catches you all up on where I’m at with the short.  You may have seen posts from me looking for different artists to help out.  As you may already know it takes a crew of people to make these things happen, and I could not be happier with the people who are helping me with it.

Before I end this post I’m guessing you might be interested in find out a little more about the story.  So here is a little back story on the creature.

He is not an alien from another world, but actually a creature of Earth.  His species are seafaring, and travel around on the sea.  This is why we have never come in contact with them before.  The oceans are so vast that they could have avoided us forever.  There are stories told by sailors that date back to when we first started to sail the uncharted seas of these creatures, but people took them for nothing more then stories from drunk sailors.

Our main character was curious, and wanted to learn more about us humans.  Contrary to what the humans who “captured” him thought, he actually let them catch him.  It was his curiosity to know more about us that brought him to this secret testing facility.

Each short will be about a different test that the humans perform to learn more about him.  Don’t worry, he does not seem to mind the tests, but what he does seem to mind is the mechanical hand that administers the tests to him.  All he wants to do is observe the humans, and this hand keeps getting in his way.  It is this conflict that creates tension, and comical outcomes during the testing.

As I mentioned the story is constantly evolving, but I hope to have a lot of fun with it.  I will keep you updated as we progress through this blog, and eventually share the completed shorts.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.

Eric Miller Animation Studios Incorporated

Eric Miller Animation Studios Incorporated!  That is right, as of July 24, 2015 my company has been reborn as its own entity.  I thought I talk a little about what this means without getting to technical and boring.

So now what?  You might be wondering what this means.  When I started my company it was a Sole Proprietorship, and basically myself and the company was one and the same. By incorporating it separates my personal assets from my business’ assets, and this basically gives me some legal protection and tax savings.

Currently the corporation is what they call a single-owner corporation, since I’m the only owner.  This makes for some interesting things to happen when operating as a corporation.  I’m now required by law to form a board of directors and have at least one meeting a year.  Since I’m a single-owned corporation the board can be one person… me.  This means I’m the chairman of the board, and the board of directors all at the same time.

If that is not crazy enough, the board also has to name the executive officers to run the company.  The 3 positions that have to be named are president, secretary, and treasurer.  I’m excited to announce who the board(me) has named for each of these positions.

President: Eric M. Miller
Secretary: Eric M. Miller
Treasurer: Eric M. Miller

I know, big surprise.  So yeah, how silly is that?  As long as I’m the only shareholder I have to have a meeting with myself, take notes, and vote myself in to all the above positions.  As the company grows, and if I take on investors this will all change, but for now this is how it is.  I mean I’m already wearing all those hats, but now I have to be officially named, and notes need to be recorded.

I’m also no longer considered self-employed, since I’m now technically an employee of Eric Miller Animation Studios.  I even have to start taking a paycheck.  The IRS says officers of a corporation have to take a “Reasonable Salary”, and give no real explanation of what that means.  If anyone can tell me what that means please let me know in the comments below.  This is a newer requirement to prevent officers of corporations from taking low salaries, and then get paid in dividends.  Dividends are taxed at a much lower rate, so this was being abused to save corporate officers a lot of money in taxes.  I remember hearing about Steve Jobs and Jeffery Katzenberg only getting paid $1 a year, and originally thinking they were doing it because they were cool guys.  I later started to think it was for tax savings, and it turns out I was right.  This new law is why Mr. Katzenberg now takes a $3 million salary, instead of his one dollar salary.  I sure hope that is not what the IRS considers “Reasonable”, or my company will be in debt within the first month.

The take away from all of this is that nothing really is changing for my business other then being a little more official in the eyes of the government.  There will be some tax savings, and added legal protection to me and my family, but that is really it for right now.  There are some other advantages, but I won’t bore you with all the details.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.