Animation Mentor Launches 'Animals & Creatures Master Class'

Animation Mentor raises its game with new course for quadrupeds and fantasy creatures.

A cat from the introductory session. Images property/courtesy of Animation Mentor.

Given the ever increasing industry demand for fantasy creatures, Animation Mentor launches a new advanced course today: Animals & Creatures Master Class. Devoted to animating quadrupeds, flying animals and fantasy creatures in a realistic style, the 24-week course (divided in two-parts) also covers how to effectively integrate animation with live-action footage, introducing new visual effects skills and bringing a new dimension to Animation Mentor's core curriculum, according to Bobby Beck, CEO and co-founder of the popular online school (www.animationmentor.com/school).

"We created the course for two reasons," Beck explains: "The industry (ILM, Rhythm & Hues, Weta, Tippett) told us they need this kind of expertise. They said they have to take a big gamble on these people coming out of schools because they know how to animate bipeds and characters acting, but not what they do, which is different. They do dinosaurs eating and tearing people in half and having them match what actors are doing. And then when we asked our alumni and students what they wanted to learn more about. And this was the number one request, so we created the perfect match between what the industry needs and what our students want."

Animals & Creatures has been in the works for the last two years in collaboration with ILM and Tippett Studio, which helped develop the curriculum and have lent animators for instruction. "Each class has a new video lecture, anywhere from an hour to an hour-and-a-half in length, where the animators go over very specific details and discuss their shots," Beck continues. "So, students get the same kind of Animation Mentor instruction with a real world mentor to guide their work. Classes will still be small (10-15 students). They will get critiques of their work each week and assignments. It's a full-on curriculum for the visual effects world to help with that side of character animation."

A dragon from the advanced session with real world foundation.

The first session teaches all about animals and predatory behaviors, with the goal to demystify how to animate quadrupeds since students are intimidated by their complexity. Yet it is vital that they master them since they are in both animated and visual effects features.

"How do you animate this type of character, which is based on the real world?" Beck adds. "We study a lot of reference, a lot of wild life and then the Oakland Zoo has been incredible for us. They let us go behind-the-scenes with the animals and let us do interviews with the handlers, who talk about the different types of personalities that these animals have. For instance, the only way you can tell that a giraffe is old and lethargic is by how it moves. They differentiate movement and then we take those behaviors and apply it to animation."

Concept art by Glen McInstosh, ILM animation supervisor.

Then the second session transitions to fantasy creatures and vfx-style animation while adopting the same real world principles from the first session. "We have three new characters in the overall program: a cat, an ogre and a dragon," Beck explains. "We went out into the real world and filmed a bunch of live-action plates and then matchmoved those plates and created environments inside the computer, so we can have our students have their characters fully interacting in those environments. That is what the second class is all about: best practices for the industry."

Meanwhile, in the lectures, leading vfx character animators share their experience by creating original animated scenes using the new Animation Mentor characters, discussing animation theory, and breaking down shots from various features and helping students apply these theories and workflow tips to their own work.

"It's really exciting to see that Animation Mentor is starting this whole new curriculum focused on the creature world of animation," adds Peter Kelly, Animals & Creatures lecturer and mentor, who is also a senior animator at Industrial Light & Magic. "Now students can learn both character animation and can now study animals and effects-based animation."

An ogre from the advanced session to interact with other characters and integrated with live-action footage.

"I am really excited about this amazing new course," adds Jean-Denis Haas, Animation Mentor campus mentor and senior animator at Industrial Light & Magic. "Animation Mentor is doing a great job of providing what animators really need to grow while keeping it fun and useful in the real world."

Enrollment for Animals & Creatures: Master Class is now open for alumni of Animation Mentor's character animation program. The program will begin accepting new applications from professional animators and non-alumni on April 11, 2011. Register to view a live webcast where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at this course at www.animationmentor.com.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

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