‘Walk Before You Run’: Golden Pieces of Advice about Animation

‘Walk Before You Run’: Golden Pieces of Advice about Animation

The US$220-billion global animation industry is currently one of the more lucrative industries in the world right now. Even in the Philippines, animation remains a strong player for its established reputation for quality work and its inherent and creative talent pool.

Animation Council of the Philippines Inc (ACPI) attests that Filipino animators were behind some of the world’s best-loved cartoons and animated films (Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, Addams Family, The Mask, The Jetsons, Dragon Ball Z, Captain Planet, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles), all under entertainment giants such as Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Cartoon Network, HBO, Marvel Comics, Hanna Barbera, and producers of Japanese anime. They are also able to render graphics in different platforms for the gaming industry (Nintendo, Sega, Game Gear, Game Boy and Sony PlayStation). And in the future, co-production and animation outsourcing will continue to boost and create opportunities for Filipinos.

While some have pursued a full-time career in animation, a few have started their own studios locally, too. iACADEMY professors are also practicing professionals, which gives Game Changers first-hand industry insights that they can apply in their chosen profession.

One of them happens to be the newest full-time faculty at iACADEMY, and one of the two iACADEMY lecturers of the workshop entitled, From 2D to 3D and Beyond at this year’s ComicCon Asia 2018, Mr. Amado Juan Siytangco. 

Realizing the talent within
When he was a kid, Sir AJ (as students and his colleagues call him) used to doodle abstract designs and sketched cartoons at the back of his Filipino notebook. He knew that he can do something in animation. After studying at the Center for Digital Imaging and Sound (CDIS) in Vancouver, he began as a part-time teacher and animator. Then, he ended up working for an internationally renowned production company called Lucasfilm, where he worked on Rango, a 2011 action-comedy animated motion picture starring Johnny Depp.

When he went back to the Philippines, Sir AJ began writing film reviews on the side while continuing his passion for his craft. This Manila-bred geek now holds fifteen years of solid professional experience in animation and teaching under his belt.

Sir AJ shares his golden pieces of advice about animation that students and professionals should always remember. Ready your notes!

What is your favorite digital animation project that you’ve done, or you’re inspired by?
Beauty and the Beast (1991) is one of my favorites. The other one would be Lion King (1994). You could call me a “Disney baby”. Although I knew about Bugs Bunny.”Why do you like Lion King and Beauty and the Beast?

Why do you like Lion King and Beauty and the Beast?
The quality of the animation. Lion King also for the story. There was something about it that connected. And great voice cast, plus the animation also.”

Demo reel for Cherry Mobile

Speaking of story, how important is storytelling to animation?
Almost anybody you will ask will say story is the most important thing. There was a saying that, “Story is king.” You do everything according to the story. The kind of story you will create will dictate the kind of art direction you might go into. Not the other way around.

“The story is what really connects to your audience. There are great films with amazing visuals, but you forget about it when you leave the theater. It didn’t latch on to you. It’s nice to look at. Whether or not the animation is the greatest, or the effects are great, you go home thinking about particular moments that you liked. That’s the hook. It’s more on the story.”

How does a good story translate into a good design? What constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ design?
Good designs are always simple and memorable. You will hear animators talk about silhouette. If you look at the Disney characters, if you line them up and paint them black, you can tell which is Mickey, Goofy, Minnie, because they’re all different and there’s something about them that you will remember.

“Good and bad design...it’s hard to explain. If it were easy, every character would be memorable. There’s something that catches you. An example would be Nightcrawler from the X-MEN. Wolverine has changed designs for so many times. Nightcrawler has been redesigned so many times but he’s always the same. They don’t stray too much because they know that it is a good design. Good designs are iconic. If they weren’t good to begin with, they wouldn’t stay.

You know I wished there were some designs that never existed in the beginning. Some people would say a design is outdated and it needs some updating. But for me, sometimes a design is good that way. And style comes along the way. If your animation fits the theme or the story, you can go different ways: you can go photo reel, you can do cartoon-y. You see that a lot. If I’m not mistaken, look at Mulan (1998). When you see the smoke, you get to see oriental designs of swirls. If you look at the old Sleeping Beauty (1959), a lot of it, you can see in the intro, most of the designs are flat. If you look at artwork from the Medieval ages, it’s really flat. Egyptian art has no perspective at all.”

Demo reel for Calbee Potato Chips


How do you encourage iACADEMY students to explore new techniques in animation? 

For my Texturing and Lighting class, I give my students different examples so they learn how to tackle different approaches. I can give them an assignment or final exam that will make students create original work. In this manner, we make them realize that they are being trained to be versatile. When they do real work in the field, they need to be resilient. When the clients don’t like it, it hurts. But it’s not against you. It’s the work that they don’t like. That’s the first thing you need to learn. iACADEMY students are aware of that.”

How do you foresee the future of your animation students? Or the industry?
They have a good shot in the industry. To begin your career, you can start animating for commercials, or games. There’s a lot of other industries that can support the students and combine these experiences to enhance their skills. If they’re good in drawing, they can do concept art or do illustration for a comic book.

“We are also aware that the industry is getting a bit more technical. In the future, if you really want to get ahead, you need to have some technical skills like coding. The big thing right now is automation. If you can scrape repetitive things, you can get stuff done and faster.”

Tell us more about your lecture, ‘From 2D to 3D and Beyond’.
While Sir Peter Brown will talk about the history of animation and 2D, mine will be more 3D, a quick overview of the pipeline, what does it take, what steps do you go through, where do you use 3D, and my experience abroad, plus a short demo on 3D.”

What are the takeaways we will the bring after your talk?
Attending the lecture will help you understand the entire history of animation and why it matters today. It gives you first-hand industry insights from Sir Peter who worked for big animation studios in the US. I can share with you tips to make your work stand out, which are based as well from my experience. The learnings we will share will help you as you pursue animation. ”

How can your talk empower the youth?
It’s entertainment, and the industry is growing. You don’t notice it, but movies you never thought would have 3D, do have 3D. There is always a place for animation. You can say it is part of the overall technical and artistic shift. Generations ago, there was no school for it. You’re weird if you’re into it. Now they are able to explore because they have schools and such. How you use these software and skills will set you apart.”

AJ’s personal work: a sample VFX demo reel  

What tips can you give to budding animators, and to those who wish to excel in this field? Number 1: get your fundamentals done. Get them solid. Whichever field you go--gaming, illustration, animation, effects--as long as you have your color theories, composition, light and shadows correct, it’s going to be easier from there. You’re work is obviously going to be better because you have a grasp of the fundamentals.

“Number 2: pick a specialty. I got more into effects. But even effects, you can have a subspecialty. Even if you’re a generalist, there is always something you are good at. You can be good at texturing and lighting, but you can be very, very, very good at modelling. So pick one.

“Lastly, Always surround yourself with people who are better than you.”

Catch AJ Siytangco’s talk entitled From 2D to 3D and Beyond on March 24, 2018, 5:00pm-7:00pm at Meeting Room 1, SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City, Philippines.

Learn more about iACADEMY's Animation program for Senior High School and College


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