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Holiday Gifts for Your Animator

Finding the perfect holiday gift for the animator in your life.

Up first on this year’s list of gifts are BlueLounge CableClips. These are terrific stocking stuffers and every animator I know needs at least a dozen.

That’s not an exaggeration. I’m looking down at my desk and my computer is connected to a screen which is connected to my Wacom tablet, and my keyboard is connected to a mouse, and a USB port is connected to a Contour Shuttle and…. in other words there’s no end of cables on this desk. And they could sure use some cleaning up. 

Blue Lounge CableClips to the rescue! These handy little rubber (no slip) cable holders wrap up excess cable without bending or breaking the wires. Yay, I can finally see my desk!

Up next are the two volume Disney animation master class books, Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes Volumes One and Volume Two from Routledge/Focal Press. The author, Disney master animator Walt Stanchfield, mentored the young Tim Burton, Brad Bird, and John Lasseter among other Disney and Pixar greats. 

Stanchfield put together a training program for these young animators focusing on their drawing skills and knowledge of the principles of animation. These two books are a collection of the lectures that accompanied that training program. 

Both volumes provide precious knowledge on animation drawing techniques and the concepts fundamental to visual imagery in motion. Kudos to Routledge/Focal Press for making these lectures available and keeping the two books in print. 

If your animator is more of a watcher than a reader, there are some fabulous and very reasonably priced online animation classes by Aaron Blaise.

Whether your animator is planning to work in hand or computer drawn 2D, or CGI 3D animation, they’ll get a tremendous amount out of Blaise’s Fundamentals of Animation course. And if drawing animals are their thing, check out Blaise's Animation Bundle: Walk, Run, Trot

Aaron Blaise was a Disney animator for 21 years and he worked on many of the much loved classics like “The Rescuers Down Under”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, “The Lion King”, “Pocahontas”, “Mulan”... It doesn’t get better than that.

Check out Dan Sarto's recent interview with him on AWN. If you want to test drive his teaching style try the superb Animation Lesson - Getting Shape Change. You'll find many more tutorials on his web page Aaron's Art Tips. For some seriously classy animation drawing watch Hippo Funk, and Trunk Troubles. This guy is the real deal.

Third up are a two inexpensive but very effective field recorders. I’ve been thinking a lot about sound for animation recently (see my recent blog posts) and have been recording a wide assortment of interesting and unique sounds for my films. Not to necessarily produce a full soundtrack, but to find and capture the kinds of sounds that will really drive my narrative forward. 

Yes, sound designers will do all that in post, but sometimes it’s just plain wonderful to grab a sound myself and build it right into the early edits of the film.

The Zoom H1 and Zoom H2n recorders both provide built-in mics with stereo recording at broadcast quality 48kHz 24 bit resolution. Both have a stereo mini 1/8” jack for an external mic or line input, record to (micro)SD cards and are very easy on batteries. (Note that good rechargeables like the Eneloop, Apple, or Powerex last a lot longer than alkaline with these devices.)

The H2n is a little more robust and a little pricier than the H1. It has four (count ‘em four!) internal mics for under $200 and will record in surround sound. 

Both the H1 and H2n have some self-noise so my advice is to use them principally for louder sounds like recording a band, or capturing an engine running, or picking up the ambient sounds of a large crowd. 

These two inexpensive recorders are small, lightweight, go-everywhere devices that are incredibly handy for capturing unusual or sudden sounds on the fly. And excellent way for your animator to show a sound designer exactly what they’re looking for. In a pinch short recordings from these little devices are also good enough (with some EQ) to be used even in a full out HD production.

Every year I suggest films as gifts. Every animator learns something new from each film they watch, and your animator can’t get enough viewing experience of the best animated films out there. Not to mention that it’s wonderfully entertaining.

Excellent animated shorts and full length films are getting easier to find, purchase if you have to, and download. 

Most of the National Film Board of Canada’s online animation collection is absolutely free. What? Yes, free. These are films made by some of the finest animators in the world.

A bag or two of popcorn along and a little card with this URL will get your animator a thousand nights of viewing pleasure. 

Don’t know where to begin? Wikipedia's list of Oscar winning animated shorts has the full list of winners and runners up going back to the 1930s and many of them are NFB productions.

For some good anime, or a Disney, Pixar, or Aardman film, an iTunes gift card for an animated movie rental makes a great stocking stuffer. $6 will get your animator at least an hour or two of visual pleasure. 

Most animators I know watch films repeatedly, fast forwarding through scenes they know well and deconstructing the scenes they want to learn from. (iTunes allows viewers to watch the film as often as they like within the rental period - 24 or 48 hours depending on what country you’re in.) Toss in a packet or two of popcorn and they’re all set for the night.

Hope this helps make your gift shopping a little easier. Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday!