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Comedic Timing in Animation: A Student Showcase Behind-the-Scenes

by | Apr 18, 2018


It’s our final behind-the-scenes look at the 2017 Animation Mentor Student Showcase! This time, we take a look at some awesome comedic shots by Fernanda Cruz, Cyrille Ferry, Anton Khlebnikov, and Nick Kondo. Meet the animators, find out where they’re working, and learn more about what it takes for students to create showcase-ready animation.

Comedy can be a tough nut to crack in any medium—and it’s all about timing. Get the timing right, and you’ll get the laughs you’re aiming for. But getting it wrong can mean sympathetic groans at best and all out crickets at worst.

You need to distill your animation down to the pure essence of what you’re trying to communicate—making sure your ideas, poses, and actions are easy for the audience to understand. You want them focused on the storytelling unfolding before them, and not trying to parse what’s happening. You can boil that idea down to clarity, an important tool in your comedy belt!

Fernanda Cruz

Mexico City, Mexico

The first thing that grabbed us with Fernanda’s shot was how it’s filled with personality and character. The acting is executed so well that we’re immediately drawn into the story unfolding before us. Just when you think the shot has wrapped, the hand shoots up with a comedic accent. A great example of how important timing is in comedy!

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your process for creating a showcase-worthy shot!

Fernanda: During my journey and throughout the classes at Animation Mentor I met a lot of amazing animators, mentors, and friends. So when our last class came up, it was a joy to be able to finish it with a lot of them and with a mentor we had been looking up to for a long time. We all wanted to do our best piece for our reels, and we were all inspired by the work people had done before us, so we all helped each other to get the best out of ourselves.

My shot was the result of many helpful hands and a lot of hard work. To choose a dialogue I was excited for, I had Anthony Brewster’s help. One of my favorite parts when starting a new shot is picking out a dialogue and playing with all the different ways I can take it out of context—it’s the first time I can tell for sure if I’ll stay passionate about it or not. I had good lines, but nothing I was too excited about, so Anthony shared with me a lot of the lines he had gathered along the way and Violà! I found the one! Once I heard it, I started to think about all the possibilities and I was in love with it. Talking to your classmates and brainstorming with them can help you do so much more than you’d be able to do on your own.

Then came the time to shoot reference, and for that I had Teresa Falcone’s help. I’ve always been a shy actress, so I look up to a lot of the AMers that shoot awesome reference, and Teresa is one of them. I asked for her help to shoot reference, and even though she didn’t get to act the dialogue I went for in the end, I was very inspired to see what she had done with my other ideas. I moved the furniture away, set up my camera, put on an old halloween witch hat and shot and reshot for hours while I tried my best at acting. I learned to love the power of good reference during my time at AM, so I was happy I was able to use my own, but it helped a lot to see what she and others had done before.

Then it came up to the technical aspects, for which I had some help from Leandro Adeodato, who had modified Aia into a witch before. I only ended up using his texture image, but it was very helpful to chat with him and just to know that what I wanted could be done. Posing my witch Aia was helpful, and it kept me excited about starting my shot.

Once I had an audio I was excited about, good reference, and an appealing character, I had all my classmates helping me with feedback about everything; the set, the colors, the staging, and of course, the animation. We would have hangout sessions to give each other feedback, talk about animation or any other random topic and mostly to encourage each other with all the work we were doing. I was doing remote work at the time and was always home at my desk, so having my AM friends around while we worked lifted my spirits a lot.

Our Q&A’s were one of the best parts of my week too. We tried a different workflow with Sean, staying close to reference, basically blocking every 2 to 4 frames. It’s a workflow I’ve stuck to on most of my shots now. Having our blocking working so well in a matter of days or weeks made the splining stage so much easier. After that, all we had to do was push our poses even more, exaggerate reality and feel free to push aside the reference and animate our butts off. And that was my biggest challenge to be honest. I had a hard time detaching from my reference and exploring my shot without it. I tried my best, but everytime I watch it, I wanna go back and keep pushing it.

Nonetheless, it was one of my favorite shots to do, and I think it was mostly all about the pre work I did before starting animation. Never underestimate the importance of planning of your shot. 🙂

AM: What made you want to become an animator?

Fernanda: One word… Disney. I grew up with Disney movies, and I basically understood life through Disney. I wish I had one of those “I was always drawing” or “I did my own movies at age 6” stories but I only gave animation a shot once I was 18. I was enrolled to study International Affairs, but after I took a trip to my favorite place in the world, Walt Disney World, I decided I’d go for my dream: To work for Disney.

I thought about the different possibilities that would bring me there, but I chose my favorite branch of Disney: feature films. So I went for it, and it was the best decision in my life. And it also made me realize there’s a world of studios apart from Disney and a world of possibilities in animation apart from feature film.

AM: What will you remember most about your time studying with Animation Mentor?

Fernanda: I think what I’ll remember most is our Q&A’s and hangout sessions—sometimes they took place even after class was over. I had amazing mentors and amazing classmates that made Q&A’s even richer because they all asked really good questions which gave me courage to ask my own.

Q&A’s, where no one’s afraid to ask or comment on things, are golden. AM gave me the chance to meet and be friends with so many talented animators and mentors that inspire me to keep working and do the best I can do.

AM: Where are you working? Tell us a little about your job and your day-to-day!

Fernanda: I currently work at MPC – Moving Picture Company in Vancouver, in the Academy program, where we learn the vfx pipeline and work on realistic animation. Our academy training is almost over, so soon we’ll have real movie shots, which makes every day more and more exciting.

We work from 9 to 6 every day with an hour for lunch. So, every morning before noon we work on our current shot, and we ask our peers for feedback. At noon we have dailies, we walk into the theater where our supervisor or lead reviews our shots and gives us feedback. Most times after that it’s lunch time, so we head out to the kitchen and eat together. Then it’s back to work till 6 and the cycle starts again!

AM: Last but not least, what’s your favorite animated movie?

Fernanda: The Little Mermaid was my favorite Disney film growing up, basically because I wanted to be Ariel.

Then, as a teen, Persepolis opened my eyes to a different style of movie making, one that combined animation and world history, which I was very interested in. Once I chose animation as my career path, I watched Ratatouille again, and it blew my mind in every aspect. It inspired me to keep working to get to the level of Pixar animators. I still have a long way to go, but it has been the most joyful and inspiring journey.

Cyrille Ferry

Montesson, France

Cyrille’s shot is a great example of how subtext and secondary action can be used to great effect. In effect, there’s a whole secondary storyline unfolding for the audience that the main character isn’t aware of. The humor comes from us knowing what’s happening before the main character does. Clear staging helps us to easily read the main actions as well as those of the secondary character.

AM: Tell us about your process for creating a showcase-worthy shot!

Cyrille: Whether it’s laughing or crying, I want a reaction. I wanted to make something fun and also something that can make the viewer react in an emotional way.

I think a good shot starts with a good idea. I took my inspiration from former animators like the nine old men, and from movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Mister Bean.

The most challenging part for me was to create the reference, because I am not a good actor. Sometime I can imagine what I want for my shot, but when the time comes to put my idea on screen, it doesn’t work the way I thought it would. So I need to create reference, but I dislike that part of the process.

AM: What made you want to become an animator?

Cyrille: Miyazaki’s movies like Castle in the Sky made me want to become an animator when I was young. It was beautiful. I love the subtle animation in these movies. It’s very inspiring for me.

I always thought animators were impressive because they have the ability to make things come alive.

AM: What will you remember most about your time studying with Animation Mentor?

Cyrille: What I will remember most from Animation Mentor is the amazing community and everything that goes with it—especially the people that I have met, both student and mentor. Also the Q&As and hangouts were very helpful and a great way to meet some friends who have the same passion.

Cyrille: Currently, I worked in a French studio: Blue Spirit in Angoulême. I worked for TV series where we have to make 9 seconds per day. Sometimes it’s really hard to maintain the goals, but we learn every day how to work with efficiency.

AM: Last but not least, what’s your favorite animated movie?

Cyrille: My favorite movies are Tangled and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Both are really funny and touching.

Anton Khlebnikov

San Diego, USA

Anton’s shot is a great example of using the characters’ personalities to illustrate a funny moment. The acting choices made were very intentional, highlighting the differences between these two characters. The punchline comes through miscommunication and misunderstanding.

AM: Tell us about your process for creating a showcase-worthy shot!

Anton: To be honest it was my love of Parks and Recreation that inspired me to do that shot. I love all the characters and their rich personalities, sometimes to the point of being grotesque. I just wanted to pick a dialogue from the show for my class 6 assignment.

The second thing is that when I was a kid and living with my parents, we lived in a large high-rise residential complex and there were all these cars parked on the street and in tiny parking spaces around the building. Sometimes a car alarm would go off in the middle of the night, and because there were lots of them out there it happened pretty often and you couldn’t sleep until the owner turned it off.

So when I approached that shot I knew exactly what the character felt, so it was just a matter of depicting that feeling through the lens of a particular character and exaggerating it. So I thought it could be fun to have a tough retired military guy, a little bit crazy—to the point of keeping an actual landmine under his pillow when he sleeps)—who will not sit and wait in his bedroom, but act on that car alarm noise that is disturbing his sleep.

I was so excited to do something like that, that I started thinking about all the little details of the personalities of both characters, their backgrounds—Who is his wife? For example. How will she behave? Does she have a sense of humor?

When I submitted my 3 ideas in compliance with the syllabus, I was crossing my fingers that my mentor Sean Sexton would like it, and he did, which made me really happy. I cannot stress enough how important it is to like the idea that is in front of you, as well as the dialogue before you start making the shot—it helped me a lot during the challenging periods of working on this shot.

When approaching the video reference, I usually shoot my own; however, for the wife character I asked my wife to do it. There are lots of body mechanics in the shot, and I didn’t want her character to feel like a guy acting like a girl—I wanted to go to the source. So I gave her instructions on what I wanted to see, but at the same time left a little bit of room for her imagination. It definitely paid off. The part when she is dancing—she just naturally started to dance on the first take, when she heard the music—something I wouldn’t have come up with if I was just doing it myself.

As for the challenging parts, I think the biggest challenge was time—the shot was long and there were moments when I was not sure I was going to pull it off. During moments like this, I was lucky enough to gain support from everyone around—especially my family and my mentor. Each week I was uploading my assignment and thinking I had so much left to do it was just unbelievable, but Sean’s critiques were extremely supportive. I left them feeling inspired and dove back into it and kept going.

AM: What made you want to become an animator?

Anton: The biggest influence was animation itself—starting from classic 2D Disney films. Then the rise of 3D animation with Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Shrek, Finding Nemo, Ice Age, also played a huge role. I also really liked what some video game developers were doing, too. I remember I was blown away when I saw the video cutscenes that Blizzard did in Warcraft 3.

I was never thinking that I can be a part of that world, though—the world where people actually make all those characters feel alive. But the desire was strong, and I decided to do that as a hobby at least. So one fine day I started researching online schools and found Animation Mentor. I think that was one of the turning points of my life, because I quit my job in order to make the most of my studies here.

AM: What will you remember most about your time studying with Animation Mentor?

Anton: It is difficult to describe, but there is a special feeling being a part of this school, the feeling that I didn’t really remember having when I was studying in college. It felt like I was part of a huge family, and everyone around was so nice and so excited about what everyone is doing. I do think that animation community is extremely friendly and AM has opened the doors to this community for me, so there is a lot to remember!

AM: Last but not least, what’s your favorite animated movie?

Anton: It is the most complicated question from all of the above because I like so many. If I would name one, I would pick my childhood favorite, The Lion King. I consider it a 2D-era masterpiece, and I don’t think we have something of that magnitude in the 3D world yet. That being said, from the recent movies I really enjoyed watching Zootopia.

Nick Kondo

Bothell, USA

The acting in Nick’s shot blew us away and feels like it could have been straight out of a classic TV sitcom. The acting choices for each character are very distinct and immediately allow us to read who they are. Again we see a contrast and conflict between differing personality types used to highlight a funny moment.

AM: Tell us about your process for creating a showcase-worthy shot!

Nick: I had been holding on to this audio clip since Class 05 and looking for a chance to use it. It always made me laugh no matter how many times I listened to it. I also wanted to push to see where my limits were as far as managing multiple characters, so I knew early on that I wanted to have at least three characters in this sequence. I was also really looking to include a lot of physical interaction between the characters. There was originally going to be a dog that came to the door with Penny, but he ended up getting cut early on due to time constraints.

A lot of people have since asked me if I have relatives like this, but sadly (luckily?) I don’t. The inspiration for Penny’s predicament with her Aunt Helen and Uncle Fred is based on personal experience though: When I was around her age, 13, I was always a lot smaller than the other kids, so while I felt mature myself, people around me continued to treat me like a little kid, and it used to drive me crazy! At that time, like many teenagers probably, I also wanted nothing to do with my parents or other relatives. So that teenage angst is where the idea for this character was born from.

The reference was mostly acted out by me, but my daughter, Sophia, helped me out a ton with the character interactions by acting out Penny for a couple shots. Here’s a breakdown of what was one of the more challenging shots where Aunt Helen pinches Penny’s cheeks.

Nick Kondo’s shot progression!

AM: What made you want to become an animator?

Nick: I didn’t know I wanted to become an animator specifically until college, but as soon as I read a behind-the-scenes article on Jurassic Park (the original), I knew that “that” was what I wanted to do.

AM: What will you remember most about your time studying with Animation Mentor?

Nick: What I think I’ll remember most is actually how hard it was for me in the beginning. I was pretty unsure of myself, and didn’t really know if I was going to be cut out for feature-quality character animation. Pushing through that in class 04 with my mentor, Steve Cunningham, was really the moment everything else started opening up. After that everything seemed to really begin to flow.

AM: Where are you working? Tell us a little about your job and your day-to-day!

Nick: I am working in Vancouver for Sony Imageworks now, and really enjoying it! Honestly, loving every minute of it. Coming to work every day to animate awesome characters is really my dream-come-true!

AM: Last but not least, what’s your favorite animated movie?

Nick: There’s a long list of animated films and shorts that have a warm place in my memories. But if I had to choose, my all-time favorite feature has to be Monsters Inc. for its super detailed alternate universe and adorable little girl. And my all-time favorite short is “Paperman”, because the art style and animation is so beautiful, and I am a sucker for a good love story.

Want more? Here are some other posts we think you might like:
Mastering Body Mechanics: A Student Showcase Behind-the-Scenes
Creature Animation: A Student Showcase Behind-the-Scenes
Animating Musical Shots: A Student Showcase Behind-the-Scenes

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