I led more high school-age animation workshops this year, expanding on the morphing workshop from last year. This time everyone who took part was in complete control of their own piece of animation between their character and the next person’s. Whether the character melts, explodes, shatters, or morphs, this was planned out in thumbnails before it was animated. I also asked those taking part to begin with simple shapes – this encouraged them to animate the movement before animating the details.

The results are fantastic!


Recently I animated a couple of elements for the new Skoog advert, which you can watch below.

I animated the girl’s moustache, plus several ‘flourishes’ throughout the video. I’ve added a couple of examples as gifs below.


Recently I taught some animation workshops for groups of mainly high school aged children and youth. This is the first time I’ve taught animation in any depth, though I ran one workshop on pixelation a few years ago. My main goal was to give a basic framework for people to think about animation in a different way, and teach skills that they can use themselves.

In the two and a half hour workshop everyone drew a character or object on a piece of animation paper. This became a key frame. I gave a very brief overview of key frames, breakdowns and in betweens and explained charts so each person could add a chart to their key frame. Using the chart, everyone then created breakdowns and in betweens to morph between their key frame and the next. For anyone who is unfamiliar with 2D animation, this blog post may help if you want to learn a bit more.

I ran two of these workshops, and you can see the results of both in the video above.

At the end of the workshop, I gave everyone paper and clips to make flip books. I left the direction of these completely open, and the results were varied and brilliant.

The final session I ran was a day and a half long specialism workshop, where I began by going much more in depth with the technical aspects of animation. I showed a few short animations as inspiration including The Illusion of Life, which is a brilliant little video summarising the 12 principles of animation in a clear way. As individuals and as a group they worked through a couple of exercises exploring timing and weight. I was impressed with the way people picked up on some of the principles from the video, thinking about squash and stretch and anticipation in particular.

After drawing thumbnails for their ideas, they began animating on paper. I encouraged everyone to key out their animation, using their thumbnails as poses. The group really thought about how many drawings they wanted between each key, and after the exercises they’d learnt a lot more about breakdowns and in betweens, especially the fact that they don’t have to be exactly halfway between one drawing and another.

Given that there was only one lightbox I pushed everyone to learn to flip the pages, and seeing people pick it up in only a couple of hours was incredible. Flipping the entire scene was also fantastic. I think there’s something really tactile and fun about animating on paper, and I’m glad I could share that.

The films that were created are far beyond anything I anticipated. Real thought went into the making of them, and everyone made an effort to put into practice principles they’d only just learnt. The end results are beautiful and funny. I’m thrilled to have been a part of it.


My short film “Dreid” is screening at British Shorts in Berlin on the 25th of January!

For those of you who haven’t yet seen it (or want to see it again!), you can view the short here.


Here’s a little sneaky peek at a project I’m working on right now! I’m having fun with the simple palette and design. I’m building all the characters, props and backgrounds in Illustrator and am animating them in Flash.

This is a walk cycle WIP from a short scene I’m animating. It’s the first time I’ve animated with the Mery rig (available from meryproject.com) and it’s been a lot of fun to use.


I’ve been going along to several events at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this week. As part of the EIFF’s Youth Hub events I took part in a filmmaking competition. Each entry had to be made in under a week, and include the dialogue “young and the wild” and the prop of a mobile phone. “Create” was my entry, drawn in about a day and a half. It won second place.

The narration was kindly provided by Philip Todd. You can see more of his work here: philip-todd.com

I’ve also added “Create” to my Shorts page.

New Portfolio and Showreel

I thought it was time for an update of my portfolio and showreel!

Here’s a peek: click on the image to view the full portfolio.


My latest animation showreel, featuring Maya and paper animation:

Music: “Dial Up” by Kris Oliver www.krisoliver.com

Paper Animation (Photoshop / ToonBoom): All character, background and colour design by myself.

Maya – Personal Project (1): Character (Morpheus) from here: www.joshburton.com/projects/morpheus.asp, chair prop provided by Aardman.

Maya – Personal Project (2): Horse rig by Tomasz Jurczyk and Carlos Contreras, from www.mothman-td.com/portfolio_items/horse_rig/

Maya – Aardman / NFTS: All characters and props provided by Aardman.

All sound effects from www.freesfx.co.uk


I cleaned up and inbetweened the deer over the last couple of weeks. At first the movement appeared very even, so I removed some of the inbetweens and rejigged some of the remaining drawings to get back to the feeling I wanted. Once I was happy, I coloured it, added a little more to the background, and had fun with sound effects from freeSFX.co.uk to create some atmosphere!

You can also view the first line test and the line test with breakdowns.

Deer Background and Breakdowns

I returned to my deer animation today, changing quite a lot of the ending and adding more breakdowns and inbetweens. I’m planning to clean it up in Photoshop, something like the deer shown below: quite loose and free, hopefully keeping some of the rough nature of the original.Deer03 copyHere’s one of my favourite breakdowns from today:


Deer Line Test

This idea I’ve had for a while, but today I had the chance to get all the keys and some of the breakdowns drawn. Lots of issues here still, so I look forward to working on it more.

Rude Awakening

Character (Morpheus) from here: http://www.joshburton.com/projects/morpheus.asp
Chair prop provided by Aardman
All sound effects from http://www.freesfx.co.uk

This is a short animation I created while a Trainee Animator at Aardman. I wanted to push my animation and go for a more cartoony style. For reference I watched a lot of Tex Avery takes! However I still struggled to push the rig (even Morpheus) to get the same exaggeration as a drawn figure while keeping it looking good.

I’m glad I tried to replicate part of the Popeye test a few months ago, because what I learnt doing that (see here) was very helpful with this.

Here are some of my favourite frames:

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 20.51.25 Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 20.51.43 Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 20.51.49 Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 20.52.14

Animating a Horse III


Previous posts: Posing and Breakdowns.

This is actually the hardest stage to describe, I think; there are so many small things that I do it’s hard to summarise them. But I’ll give it a shot!

I normally don’t use the graph editor all that much before the polishing pass as I know I’ll have to come back to it again anyway. What I do is pick a point on my character (in this case, illustrated by the horse’s head).

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 13.03.27

I then open the graph editor to see how the head moves. As seen by the graph below, the curve begins and ends smoothly but in the middle it changes direction quite sharply with the points all over the place.

Graph_01 What I do is adjust the points until the whole curve is smooth. I try not to make it perfect, otherwise everything will move evenly. The idea is to keep the general shape while smoothing out the kinks.Graph_02

It’s at this stage that I make sure to get rid of all evenness and stiffness in the movement. I adjusted the horse’s feet so that the hooves don’t lift off the ground all at the same time, and so the hind legs don’t kick out at exactly the same time. I adjusted the tail so it follows the movement of the body. The ears were looking pretty stiff, so I added a little flick in there – hopefully just enough to keep them alive. If you look really closely, you’ll also be able to see the horse briefly open its mouth.

There are many things like that which have been tweaked and adjusted since the last video I posted. The aim is to recreate life, to make it believable – an illusion people want to believe. By rolling the body from one side to another as it lifts and lands, I’m making the horse look like it has real weight.

As seen by the graph editor, smoothing things out is important. This is also seen in the arcs of the character – how the hoof moves across the screen, for example. Below I’ve used Maya’s handy sketch tool, Grease Pencil, to examine how the left fore leg (on the right) picks up and then sets down. I’ve already adjusted this leg in terms of timing (slower as it lifts and falls, faster in the middle) and the arc is getting there. You can see by the purple line that it is quite straight in the middle, and wiggles around at the end.

GreasePencil_01 Using a different colour I add another line to my sketch – this is the arc I want the leg to have. (The leg is now on the left.) I’ve picked out the keys I want to change the position of: 16 needs to be slightly raised, 18 needs to be shifted quite significantly to the right, and 19 needs some adjusting to fit between the new 18 and the final key. Once these are changed, I’ll get that nice smooth arc.GreasePencil_02It is possible to use Maya’s editable motion trail, but I prefer the old-fashioned way because then I can measure the arc against exactly what I want to, in this case the point of the hoof.

Here, then, is the final animation:

The problem with the polishing stage (and 3D in general) is the ability to go back and revise and revise again. Even while making this post I discovered more things to change – and I certainly can see many more things in previous animations I’ve done! However I’m pleased with this little project and I hope to use this rig again.

Previous posts: Posing and Breakdowns.

Animating a Horse II


Find parts I and III here: Posing and Polishing.

What with Christmas, applying for jobs, and so on, it’s taken me longer than I hoped to do some more work with my horse animation. Today I’ve had the chance to do so! To find my first post about this animation, click here.

I began by looking at my reference video again. My first pose (horse crouched down) was from frame 2,


and my second pose (horse in the air) was from frame 6.


I found my breakdown pose on frame 5.


This is important for describing the action because it shows when the feet lift from the ground. Rather than the horse drifting upwards, it will lift up suddenly.

I repeated this process of “breaking down” the movement between each set of key poses for the whole animation. I also adjusted the posing and timing of the keys when necessary. Once I had all my keys and breakdowns, my Maya file looked like this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 12.40.06

The graph editor shows how the horse moves between keys. In the image above, the position holds until the next key: it’s stepped. This is somewhat like 2D animation (which is often shot on “twos”, or twelve frames a second; in other words, held for two frames) which I’ve found familiar and very helpful.

When I’m happy with the keys and breakdowns at the stepped stage, I spline it. That means taking the stepped graph editor and turning it into this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 12.40.35

You can see the different stages of the animation in the video below:

Version 6 is the first four key frames, stepped. Version 13 is the keys and breakdowns, stepped. Version 14 is (almost) the same keys and breakdowns, splined.

The next stage is to adjust the timing (getting rid of any evenness) and to polish (like fixing that wobbly knee).

Find parts I and III here: Posing and Polishing.

Animating a Horse


Find Parts II and III here: Breakdowns and Polishing.

One thing I’m determined to do is to keep animating in 2D and 3D. There are lots of free 3D rigs available online, so I downloaded Tomasz Jurczyk and Carlos Contreras’ horse rig from here. I want to add variety into my reel with some four-legged creatures. Today I found some videos of horses rearing and bouncing about. Then I sketched some quick key poses. sketches Next I opened up Maya and, after struggling for a while with the controls (I like mine to be in layers most of the time, so it usually doesn’t look like what’s below – I prefer to only look at the controls for the head, tail etc. if that’s what I’m moving) I posed out the rig using the sketches as reference. If you’re interested in learning Maya (or other software), I’d recommend starting with a simple rig. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but once you’ve learnt a couple of controls adding a few more is much easier. There are many fantastic tutorials online to learn from. HorseRig Below are the key poses for my animation – they tell the story. The horse crouches down, pushes up, kicks out, and settles to a standing pose. 1 2 3 4Though there’s an overview of what happens, there isn’t yet enough detail to show how the body moves from one pose to another. When Maya splines between these poses, the horse moves evenly between poses like a PowerPoint on a default setting. The next stage is to add breakdowns (poses between two keys that describe movement) which I’ll be working on soon.

Find Parts II and III here: Breakdowns and Polishing.

Short Animation Idea

I have an idea for a short 2D animation, drawn and painted in my rough sketchy style. I drew this test one morning last week – it was great to sit down at an animation desk and draw. As I don’t have an easy way to linetest traditional animation at home, I just went for it and saw what it looked like once I’d scanned it all in. It’s pretty rough (the jump is dreadful) but it’s adequate for a test!


I’ve now finished the Aardman / NFTS Character Animation course … twelve weeks over already!

You can find my updated showreel (with lots of animation from the course) here and my new portfolio here.

And now for something a little different … we had some free time at the very end of the course so I tried to recreate some of the very poppy Popeye test animation (you can see the original here, at about 2:05).

I’d like to try more animation similar to this – with a rig that’s a little more suited to it!

Animation Referencing

I’ve wanted to post a little about how I’m animating in Maya, but when I began to look at what I’d done I realised that there was more I wanted to say. So I’m beginning here, and we’ll see how it goes!


This is, by far, the most important thing I’ve learnt while I’ve been on the Aardman course. I knew about it before, but I didn’t really use it (somehow I thought it was cheating). While at VFS I became comfortable with using myself as an “instant” reference for mouth shapes, hands, etc. It was only once I’d left that I figured out how important looking at real life was – not for drawing things, but for understanding how things work.

Take cats. I know of cats, and I like them, but I’ve never owned one. I didn’t draw them lots growing up (I drew dogs and horses, mostly) but I figured that, as an artist, I must be able to magically draw them. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Once I started looking at pictures of cats and drawing from them, and then drawing real cats I encountered, I finally began to understand how cats work. I’m still no expert, but my cat doodles look a whole lot better now.

Yet somehow I still expected my animation to come from that magical artistic place inside of me. Thankfully after nine weeks at Aardman I’m thinking differently. The following pictures are all pages from the notebook I keep on my desk, and I hope they’ll illustrate a little of what I’m trying to say.


Referencing often begins with finding out what other people have done. On this page I have sketches from Richard Williams’ Animator’s Survival Kit and Pocahontas. Both great (and useful for learning how to break down the movement) but not necessarily 100% accurate or, indeed, showing what I want to accomplish with my run.

The final group of drawings on this page is from a video reference of Frej, a stop-motion animator on the course. By using contact / down / pass / up positions from the Survival Kit I learnt how to break down the video reference of Frej.


Referencing a specific piece of acting is a bit different. The drawings above come from a video I took of myself. It was quite easy to pick up the important poses – where my hand was raised to the highest point, when it settled back onto the desk, when I slumped into my hand – and sketch them out.

The numbers by the images refer to the frame number on the video. We’ve been using QuickTime Pro which has a timecode / frame number option.


With this I was working to a line of dialogue. I had a video of me talking and moving all over the place, so it was difficult to figure out what the key poses were. By stepping through the video and watching my movement I chose moments where my head and body hit the most extreme positions. On frame 107, when I said “seven”, I hit the bottom of my head and body movement; in the following frames they didn’t move any further down. So that became my third pose.

I normally do different levels of referencing depending on what it is I’m animating. For the piece I’m doing at the moment there are two characters, a lot of dialogue, and a lot of action. So I take it in stages. I used the body and head breakdown shown above to create the first poses. I wasn’t happy with the hand positions in the reference, so I used another video to draw new hands. These can be seen below.


The next stage is taking these drawings to animation. I hope to cover that in another post!

Walk and Run Assignments

Character provided by Aardman, animation by myself.

The last few weeks have taught me a lot. There have been a few difficult days when I’ve really doubted my ability: “I’ll never be an animator!” Somehow those dark moments were followed by days where everything worked beautifully.

I wanted to show a little of the referencing I’ve been doing for my assignments. You also get to glance a small part of Aardman!

Lunge and Baseball Swing Exercises

Animation by myself, characters provided by Aardman.

I’m now about to begin my fourth week on the Aardman course. This video’s made of the assignments I completed over the last two weeks.

The lunge is the first character animation I’ve done in Maya. I had lots of helpful comments on how to improve it, and after a week on the other assignment I now see other things I’d change.

We began the baseball exercise using the stepped function in Maya, something which felt familiar to me after 2D! I felt much more confident with the controls this time around. I’m really pleased with the result. (Let’s see what I think in a week … )


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