After two entire years in which LuMAA couldn’t take place, it’s finally back!
From the 18th of July until the 26th of August students from HSLU and its partner schools participated in the 6-week CGI animation course. During the whole LuMAA they were accompanied by industry professionals coming from all over the world. Every week focused on different subjects: From walk cycles in the first week to creature animation and finally full body shots in the last week.
Let me tell you in detail what happened during those 6 weeks of animation! Fun, chocolate filled bellies and a lot of computer frustrations.
Week 1 – Walk cycles with Nicole Ridgwell
The first day of LuMAA was quite eventful. The school was still on semester break and none of the students have ever participated in a LuMAA before. After gathering all of the students and making sure Nicole found the room, the LuMAA could officially begin.
Nicole Ridgwell, an animator from Pixar, started the first of 6 introduction rounds and with her happy demeanor she raised the spirits of the students. With an almost 50/50 split between Swiss students from all 3 years from HSLU and students from abroad, we were a wild bunch, ready to animate.
The goal for the end of the week: finishing a walk cycle!
But first we had to get to know Maya better. Most of us haven’t animated in Maya in a long time so the first day was dedicated towards setting up a nice workspace and creating custom hotkeys. By the end of the day our brains were fried. Literally! The room was almost 30 degrees warm, as Switzerland was experiencing a heatwave. And our room, with 20 computers and 16 students, did not have any air conditioning.
For the following days, Nicole made sure to take us outside of the school to go to the Nordpol, a small riverside beach. She made us draw from life, to learn specifically from real humans and to observe how they move and walk. The cool river water was much appreciated. The next few days were spent shooting references, learning more about drawing and animating the walk cycle. The students also slowly got to know each other.
One of the LuMAA Students would play soundtracks from animated movies and Nicole sang with him. Later, the other students would guess the songs that the student played on the piano and it turned into a game that would continue on the evenings of the following weeks.
Before we knew it, Friday had arrived. We held a “daily” where we reviewed all of our finished animations in the Cinema Rex of the school. To celebrate the end of week one the LuMAA class together with Nicole visited the Inseli in Lucerne. We enjoyed live music and some beers and talked about animation, Nicole’s career, Pixar and Swiss potato chips flavors.
Week 2 – Lip Sync with Allison Rutland
For week 2 Allison Rutland was teaching us about lip sync and dialogue shots. She also comes from Pixar and told us about the movies she worked on such as Inside Out and Coco. Her inputs were valuable and helped a lot while animating the shots. Every day in the morning she took her time to teach us about a different aspect of the lip sync. We learned about how many frames it takes to blink or in what way eyes move, and more.
We got a library of dialogue shots that we could choose from, or we searched our own online. We reviewed our shots every other day and got encouraged by Alisson to give feedback to other classmate’s animations.
This week another tradition started. On Tuesday we watched the animated Netflix movie Sea Beast with the whole class and Allison on the Rex Cinema. It sparked a great debate afterwards as well as regular movie night in the following weeks.
We also learned a lot about the rigs that were provided to us and how to make a 3D character look lively.
At the end of the week we had one last daily in the Cinema Rex in which we reviewed our lip syncs. And before we knew it, the week was already over and the students were looking forward to their next subject!
Week 3 – Creature Walk with Michael Aerni
Starting with the third week, we entered the creature animation section of LuMAA. Michael Aerni, a Swiss animator coming from Weta Digital, taught us the first part of the two weeks of creature animation.
We started by analyzing a walk cycle of a lion and then continued with looking at references of quadrupeds. He showed us a new way of animating: animating in layers. Compared to the blocking workflow we used in the first weeks, this workflow was quite different. It turned out to be extremely helpful when it came to creature animation: We would section off the body and start with animating the cog of the animal. Only then would we go on and animate the legs, making sure we go axis by axis, rotation by rotation. By the end every part of the body was animated.
At lunch and after class Michael told us a lot about the industry. Having worked at Weta for 13 years already he had a lot of insights into the VFX company from New Zealand. We had a lot of discussions about the studio, how the contracts work and how the work culture at Weta is. He patiently answered all our questions. Halfway through the week we started a new shot, one where we could decide for ourselves what we wanted to animate. Michael taught us about how important reference is for creature animation, so everybody made sure to find a video and a rig of the animal they wanted to animate. By the end of the week the shots of the different students progressed at different speeds, but we would work on them further the week after.
Michael also introduced our class to the job of previs animator, something that intrigued a few of our students as a potential career path. Friday was used to get to know Michel even further and asking a lot of questions about New Zealand as country to live and work in.
Week 4 – Creature animation with Lukas Niklaus
After a weekend of watching movies at school and playing Gartic Phone we met again on Monday together with Lukas Niklaus. He is also a Swiss animator working abroad. He formerly worked at Weta and is therefore teaching us the second half of the creature animation block.
Just recently he formed his own studio also in New Zealand, Floating Rock, for which he gave us some insights on. With him we either continued working on the shot we began in week 3 or started a new shot. Lukas started making us have daily dailies. Every morning at 9 we looked at our shots together on SyncSketch and he encouraged the whole class to give feedback on each other’s shots. Additionally, Lukas took his time to visit each student at their workspace to look over their shoulder for a short while, giving feedback and encouragement where he could. After lunch he would talk about his experiences and his work at Weta and his new studio.
During the creature animation weeks some of our students went on holiday and therefore didn’t participate. One student specifically joined for these two weeks, but we were still only 12 Students. Two of our classmates also caught Covid and sadly couldn’t participate but luckily no one else got infected.
Next to daily feedback, Lukas talked a lot about his own work and shared a lot of other animators works and websites. Week four ended with all of our animations on the big cinema screen and exhausted but proud students looking at them.
Week 5 – Full body acting shot with Stephanie Parker
We welcomed Stephanie Parker to Switzerland on week 5. She’s the co-founder of Floating Rock together with Lukas and she taught us about full body acting shots. As she has been part of TV animation (Monster High, which brought back childhood memories for most of the students) and Sony animation (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), she taught us a lot about different work environments and how work speeds differ from studio to studio. She told us to plan the shot for this week (and the next if we decided to continue with it) and think of a pantomime or lip sync we wanted to do.
So most of Monday was used to find reference or an audio file and analyzing it. On Monday evening, we met up in the cinema and watched the movie Pinocchio: A True Story. This movie is a reimagination of the Pinocchio story made by a Russian animation studio with very poor English voice acting and low budget animation. The movie was very amusing and a great way to spend an evening with the right people!
We also showed Steph the Japanese food truck that came to the school grounds every Thursday.
We would look at our shots progression day by day and get feedback. We also got inputs by Steph on how to correctly take reference, animation layers and more. She took her time to listen to our feedback and adjusted her inputs accordingly to tell us about aspects of animation we haven’t heard of yet.
Week 6 – Full body acting shot with Sean Sexton
Before we knew it, week 6 had come around. On the first day we got visited by both Simon Otto and Sean Sexton. We got a big introduction from them and having both of these talents with so much experience and knowledge in the room was almost overwhelming!
Sean took over the rest of the week of teaching us. While a lot of the students decided to finish their shot from week 5, a few started a new one. Sean held inputs every morning and afternoon with very concise and structured presentations about various topics: Facial animation, spacing, timing, physics, acting and much more. His inputs were highly valued, and he told us a lot about his work at DreamWorks as an animation supervisor and lead.
His feedback was extremely valuable, and he taught us about different workflows on how to approach an animation shot.
Friday was not only the last day of week 6 but also the last day of LuMAA in general. Getting one last input on animation reels and the interview process by the person who actually hires animators at DreamWorks was awesome!
After that we received our official LuMAA certificates. In the evening we organized a big pizza party and cooked 16(!) Pizzas in the Ani Kitchen of our school. Additionally, we played Animation Jeopardy together with Sean.
The farewell to Sean and the students from abroad was heartbreaking. Promises to meet up at animation festivals and to keep in touch were made, Linked In Profiles were exchanged and the final goodbyes were said.
So, this was LuMAA!