Bart Bossaert

Interview conducted by Eric Scheur

On April 1st, members of the 11 Second Club eagerly surfed over to the Current Competition page so they could check out the newly-selected dialogue for the month. Within hours, the Forum was teeming with a collective "Wha....??" The dialogue clip had, believe it or not, no dialogue! It was just sounds--beeps and boops and some kind of crash or explosion. Before too long, users were urging each other to remember that the date was April 1st and this was clearly an April Fool's Day joke. Wait for April 2nd, they said, and the real, official audio clip would appear.

But April 2nd rolled around that the beeping and booping sound file remained. Site administrator Aja Bogdanoff assured everyone that it was no joke: this month, all you get are sounds. Have fun!

And boy, did folks have fun! April 2009 turned into one of our largest competitions ever, with a wonderful variety of entries from 162 animators. It was a tight race towards the finish, too, with the top three spots continuing to shift until the final hours of voting. Landing in first place was Belgian animator Bart Bossaert, with his piece about a man trying to fix his multi-panelled computer console. I loved seeing how he took simple principles like curve-reversal and quick vs. slow timing, and used them to his advantage to create a scene full of energy and entertainment.

Congratulations to Bart and everyone who participated in our first non-speaking audio clip challenge. After such a great response, we're already looking forward to the next one!

- Eric

How did you decide to pursue animation as a career?

I didn't start my career as an animator. I went to a regular film school in Brussels were I got a degree in film editing. I had little knowledge of animation back then. In my last year at school I did an internship at a company who did lots of visual-effects and some 3D animation. That was where my interest in animation started. I saw what the guys over there where doing and I was amazed. Being an editor back then didn't seem as much fun as that other cool thing, Animation!

Are there any principles from film editing that you feel helped your education as an animator?

Here are some editing techniques I try to keep in mind that can be very handy for an animator as well. (These are just guidelines, you can break them!)

  • Motivate every cut or transition in your scene. (e.g. A change in eye direction can make a great opportunity for a cut!)
  • Don't cut over the axis of the camera. This link explains it very well.
  • Change the angle of the camera enough to make a cut work. (At least 45 degrees is good rule of thumb)
  • It 's always good to cut within a motion. If a person gets up from a chair, don't cut before or after the action; cut in the action. It will soften the cut and the audience will hardly feel the transition, it will feel natural.
  • Notice that a movement in close up looks a lot bigger than in a long shot. So if you make a cut in a movement, it can work to cut out a few frames to make the motion feel smoother. (or add some extra frames) Animating with handles at the start and end of your shot can be very handy for an editor!)
  • Try to end a camera move before you cut it. Cutting inside of a big pan, travel, or tilt can be a strange jump especially if you cut to a fixed camera. (Again, this is just guideline, if you have to break this rule, do it!)
  • When you're animating a shot, put it into the edit early enough to see if your shot works in relation to the other shots.

    Do you remember the first thing you ever animated?

    I believe it was some kind of skeletal figure, and it looked terrible!!! But hey, at that time I thought it was great! :)

    When you realized you wanted to get into animation, how did you go about learning?

    I didn't have a real animation education, so I studied at home in my spare time and did some editing and compositing stuff for a living.

    I used the RIchard Williams's book, The Animator's Survival Kit, as a starting point. (And I still use it a lot!) That book tells about everything there is to know about animation. It revealed a lot to me; the workflow he explains with the 'pose to pose’ and ’straight ahead’ method opened a lot of opportunities!

    Another great mentor for me is Keith Lango. I am a big fan of his video tutorials service. He also stresses the importance of animating with some kind of structure or plan, knowing what you're gonna do before you do it. He translates a 2D work method into 3D, which is actually not that different! For him, every frame in the computer is a blank page. I never thought of it like that before, but it makes perfect sense. And he explains the terms 'timing,' 'posing,' and 'spacing' very well, which where quite confusing words for me in the beginning. (Thanks Keith!)

    And of course a lot of other great guys who share their knowledge like Jason Schleifer, Shawn Kelly (his Tips and Tricks book is awesome), Carlos Baena, Jason Ryan, and so many others.

    But I think the most important thing is doing it. All the experience you get from setting those key frames is the best way to become better. (So the 11 Second Club really fits that job!)

    You had a commercial accepted at Annecy 2009. Congratulations! Tell me a bit about that experience.

    Thanks! The commercial can be seen here:

    Click to Play

    I did the rigging and animation, it was directed by Guionne Leroy, one of the finest animators in Belgium and it was produced by Creative Conspiracy, a small and talented studio in Gent. So the credit goes to all those guys as well.

    The production was great fun (with some stress of course) and we liked the idea from the start. I just struggled a lot with the amount of movement I could use. Animating a group is a little different than a single character, because every move of a character could draw the attention away from the group. I ended up trying a lot of different ideas but the best choice seemed to be the minimal way: very limited actions and just move what is absolutely necessary to tell the story. All the rest was distracting. A lot of fun moves were left out; they worked well on a single penguin but once inside the group they just distracted a lot. I believe it was the right decision. (I think they call it 'killing your babies?’) :)

    What are some short films that have inspired you, or that you simply love to watch?

    For the Birds, by Pixar is my absolute favourite! I really love the clever way they used those eyes to create such different characters, while they are in fact all the same.

    Then there is Pib and Pog from that other great studio, Aardman. It is so hilarious, the timing is impeccable and they use their medium of stop motion and clay so well!

    And another great short is by Guionne Leroy, who I mentioned before. Her Opéra Imaginaire is just staggering. I'm truly in love with every move those characters make, so elegant and charming. It really is one of my favourites!

    For the Birds Pib and Pog Opera Imaginaire

    And of course I loved so many other shorts that it would become an endless list. I suppose short films really fit perfectly for a medium like animation!

    What were your first thoughts when you heard the sound clip with no dialogue for April?

    I thought it was great! I really love physical animation and that sound clip gave a lot of opportunities for that. However, it took me a while to really get an idea that I liked. I had some ideas about a jammed door, about a blocked chair in a UFO, but they didn't feel absolutely right with the timing of the sound. So I ended up with the idea of a guy slamming a machinery cover.

    Talk a bit about your animation process.

    I spend quite some time planning before I actually start animating. I think for this one I spent about a week just planning and making rough sketches of the poses and ideas I had in mind. In my experience I learned that starting to animate too soon can sometimes drive you into a dead end. So I want to make sure I have an idea of everything before I start. Of course lots of things still change in the animation process but the main idea stays pretty much intact.

    I didn’t use video reference for this piece but I tried the different movements myself and drew my poses on paper together with a lot of text, because some things are easier to write than to draw.


    Then I start blocking out the scene. I don't really bother about timing in this stage. I just try to make the main poses work. These poses tell the story. I try to put in a nice line of action, put weight inside the pose, stuff like that.

    After that I start shifting those poses around on the timeline to get a rough timing and I start adding breakdowns to give more definition to the movement (arcs, drags, anticipations). Then I have a pretty solid blocking and I can start cleaning things up.

    I divided this clip into three parts:

  • The hand part (0-60)
  • The pushing part (60-200)
  • The end (200- 320)

    I focus on one part at a time and start adding as many key frames or drawings as I feel are necessary to finesse the animation. At this point I also start using the graph editor and turn the curves into splines. (before this stage I keep everything linear) I try to avoid using the graph too much, but it depends. Sometimes it's easier to add an extra key frame; sometimes tweaking the curves can help.

    After that I'm pretty much done although there are always parts you want to keep on tweaking till it drives you mental! So onto a certain point I think you just have to let it go. :)

    Click to Play

    You have impeccable timing when it comes to holding poses for just the right amount of time, letting the audience read them, and then moving into the next thought/pose/emotion. Talk about how you timed out this shot in order to get all of the moments to read just right.

    Well thank you for the compliment, but I think it's just a matter of figuring it out. I don't think there are many rules about timing, but just maybe this piece one advice I read in Shawn Kelly's book: That your eyes need at least 6 to 8 frames to read a pose or a facial expression, so I certainly try to keep that in mind. (Although I made some mistakes concerning that as Mario explains in his eCritique)  :)

    I love the way the finger stretches and drags between frames 47 and 52 and the head squash between 188 and 191. Can you talk a bit about adding these kinds of exaggerations into your work?

    It’s something that comes naturally with the movement, I guess. Also the style of this piece allows me to use such exaggeration, while in a more realistic piece it would feel weird.

    Mostly I use those stretch and squash inbetweens to accentuate the arc of a move, or give some extra drag. I think they use it in classic cartoon animation all the time.

    Button Frames
    Head Frames

    I think that the quick pose of the guy's foot coming up at 189 is simply wonderful. Where did that idea come from?

    I originally intended to put a jump there, but I decided that it would be better to keep one foot on the ground. The other foot leaving the ground gave some extra balance to the pose so I decided to leave that one in.

    How have your peers friends helped you with this scene?

    My girlfriend is my main adviser! She likes animation but doesn't care about the technical stuff so she looks at animation from a whole different angle than I do. She could tell me that a certain part isn't really clear while I was just looking at the arc of a finger! So she helps me focus on the main things and not get stuck in details.

    Did you find yourself struggling with any part of the animation?

    I had a lot of trouble with the ending part. I had some serious doubts about the last time the cover pops up again. I was afraid it was a bit too much. I decided to keep it, but it was a last minute decision. Some people like it, some don't; I still don' t really know...

    Talk about one or two parts of the eCritique that enhanced or expanded on the ideas you had originally set out to animate.

    First of all I want to thank Mario Pochat for his wonderful eCritique. To see someone with that experience looking at your work is absolutely wonderful. Can't think of a better prize to win! eCritique by Mario Pochat

    That sitting on top of the cover is a great idea! I also felt that up and down movement was a bit too much of the same, and he came up with a great solution. Making sure I have enough variation is something to think about in the future!  

    Mario says a very interesting thing about the emotional transitions. I often forget to really let the audience read the emotion long enough instead of changing it too fast. And of course I should have used those feet a bit more; they hardly ever move throughout the whole shot while I could have used that space a lot more!

    Do you intend to return to this piece to incorporate the suggestions made in the eCritique?

    Definitely! Once I have the time I'll have another look at it.

    Is there anything you'd like to add about your thought-process or experience in April's competition?

    There were a lot of great entries this month and I liked watching them all! And it’s nice to see that so many people take the time to vote and give comments!

    Is there a simple animation exercise you would recommend beginning animators (or experienced animators) practice over and over?

    There are so many I guess, but in general I think that animating really simple things are always a good exercise. Don’t always go for the highly detailed characters, but use simple things to practice stuff. Even a ball with some arms and legs can work pretty well!

    And walks are definitely good to practice! They have so much going on and the variations are endless . Putting character in a walk can be quite challenging. A walk has some kind of formula and yet every walk is different. Change one thing and the whole walk can feel different. I suppose that’s where the magic of animation comes in!

    - Bart Bossaert

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