Basic Foundations, week 2

Sketches from this week:
We were to draw people in public places, then select a pose and pose the Stu rig in this position.

I found it quite interesting how I had to adapt my drawing style for the context. I began all "artsy" with stuff like this:

But I quickly realized that although I was putting in all sorts of "visual interest", information most useful for constructing good poses was sparse. The combined factors of focusing on pose and needing to be quick to capture fleeting moments caused me ease into a more pragmatic gestural approach like this:

This look ends up being more in line with "standard" drawing methods for animators, such as those outlined in Walt Stanchfield's "Gesture Drawing for Animation". It's pose-focused and efficient. In this context, the details of a figure are a secondary thing. If it were a matter of 2d animation, visual-interest details would also be time-consuming liabilities.

I chose the following sketch to submit:


Why did you choose to get into animation?

I'd like to have a go at introducing myself a bit better.
The following is a bit long for the context, but it's the best I can bring it down to for now:

Animation has always “been there” in my life. However, it has taken a long time for it to “come around” as a career choice to be seriously considered. I have always wanted to be an animator; but I had not believed it possible to actually accomplish a career in the field until just a few years ago.

I was brought up in a creatively rich family, surrounded my music and art. Though my parents worked in “somewhat more normal jobs” as Salvation Army missionaries in Africa, any free time (including vacations!) was spent with musical instruments, painting, drawing, doing carpentry, inventing.

I must mention my father (Jim Watt) particularly on two counts. 1) He had invented a moving picture device, an item similar to a zoetrope. He and I got a joint patent on the item (http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=hkc4AAAAEBAJ). While it has not been successfully commercialized, I did test animations for it at an early stage while I was a teenager. 2) In similarly somewhat inexplicable bursts of creative passion, he was (and still is) a puppeteer and constructed, from scratch, puppets props and theaters; sound effects, stories. He would pull together troupes and do all sorts of performances, often in churches and for Sunday schools, under the (now-somewhat-politically-incorrect-sounding) name of “Gypsy Joe and his puppet show”. There were also somewhat-more-typical family community drama productions along the way.

All of this was accomplished on a voluntary basis, which in turn tended to mean that our own family was co-opted more often than not (and whether we liked it or not) to get the job done. I learned how to build puppets. I learned how to do voices, to perform – though I never really “took to” drama. Both in Zimbabwe, where I spent my childhood, and in Calgary, where I grew up when my family returned to Canada. When I was a teenager, these things were a self-conscious aspect of what at times I wished could be a “more normal” life; now I look back on all of this with a sense of irony, bemusement, and warmth. Good baggage, I’d declare it.

When I graduated from high school my interest in animation was strong enough that I visited the Vancouver Film School as a potential route of further study in this field. I do regret having been overly critical of what I saw. Perhaps I was already spoiled by the polish of movies and a lack of appreciation of the true levels of complexity involved, but the graduate animation work did not seem to be of particularly good quality -  not at all what I had expected. I was especially interested in 3D computer animation, so I was also dissuaded by the seemingly impossible cost of the setup at that time, and the generally clumsy output in this media at the time. That was in the 1990s.

After spending some time painting, I took education and fine art (studio art: painting and printmaking) instead at the University of Calgary, graduating in 2000. This then led to youth camping, educational, and development work in Zimbabwe for about five years (which, incidentally, also involved a certain amount of puppetry work once again)

By around 2003, the cost of computers and software had finally come down enough for me to be able to tinker with digital 3D media and 3D animation once again, and there was no way of stopping me once I did so: I was hooked.
I jumped into the deep end and began work on a 15-minute-long movie in 2005, “A Hero Book In The Making” (http://stanleywatt.com/animation.html for an overview).

It was my intention to pull the whole thing off via self-directed learning and as a solo effort, and then to apply for and get work in the field. I naively believed I could finish the project in about a year. 6 years later, the movie has about 2 minutes’ work completed. I’ve modeled, textured, rigged, done facial animation, composed and edited sound, rendered, composited, learned a lot. It became apparent that I was in a poor position, becoming a liability to my family by doing work that no longer had sufficient funding. I was now married, with two kids; my wife the primary breadwinner. Struggling, was I, in the deep end. Yes, I had been forewarned, with words from the wise, that this could happen. However, it had still  seemed the best way forward.

I then proceeded, in early 2010, to apply to various animation studios with a demo of my work-to-date. I got zero-interest-response. Perhaps a combination of recession, poorly focused demo reel, and an insufficient degree of networking would account for part of it.
But when I examined my suite of skills, I could honestly see that the skill of animation was one thing that was still lacking; and yet it was also still something that I closely identified with. Once again, I fell back on my freelancing, now involving tutoring, publishing, and some illustration work. But I was not arriving at my intended professional destinations. I was moving toward this goal in a far-too-circuitous route.

I could clearly see now that I might never manage to be good at animation, and so be a demonstrably obvious good choice for studio hiring, unless I got some real professional help. As an all-important bonus, I knew that I still enjoyed animation as much as I had when I first began studying it and practicing it. I investigated available learning options, chose Animation Mentor, applied, and got accepted.

I’ve diverged into a life story, and yet I still don’t think I’ve really answered the question “why”, my apologies.

There was a line in the first lecture that I really noticed:
Jeremy Cantor noted how animation combines the disciplines, and said “I don’t have to pick. It’s the ultimate artform”.  I believe that animation is the ultimate artform. That really sums it up for me. And of course, I enjoy animating, and I think I have the potential to be quite good at it.


Class 1, first class.

My first mentor: Jon Collins, animator at Pixar, CA. Originally from Canada. Great first class session on Animation Mentor today.  First week eases into things. Lots of videos and tutorials to work through. Lots of people to meet and get to know. First animation assignment to be given next Tuesday.



Tomorrow will be my first day of school at Animation Mentor. I'm opening this blog to accompany the learning process. A new world of learning and challenges lies before me.

Animation work to-date can be seen at my website:

I am particularly looking forward to participating in the community of animators, and to the expert instruction of the mentors. I've already had the chance to chat with many of the students online. It's a positive turn on a road that has, up until now, been all too often an "island experience".

Special thanks up-front to:
Mom and Dad, and especially Dad's unparalleled creative spirit.
My wife Tsitsi: yes, I should have done this years ago, as you had first suggested.
Uncle Ron: in ways that can't be expressed.
Jay: you're in there too. I know you will celebrate my successes.
David Grantham: For pointing me to Animation Mentor, and showing me from the onset just how long this road is.

And btw Dad, thanks for buying me that way-too-expensive animation program on the old Atari 1040 ST, 20+ years ago. 3D computer animation has stuck with me ever since. Even though it was barely functional, and all the work done on it was lost years ago.

Tsitsi & us are just back from a great Christmas in Calgary with my family there (we're based in Toronto, Canada).
A special treasure I managed to dig out of boxes from long ago:
Two flipbook animations, my official first animations.

Made in 1985, when I was 11.

If I can manage to find a good way of doing it, I'll share a clip of this.
Perhaps my "number 1 dime" in this adventure. Not for luck, as such. But rather, for me, a point of reference.

And now here we go.