Creatures in Motion - Animation Mentor launches new Animals & Creatures: Master Class program
Dustin Driver
January 12, 2011

Creatures in Motion - Animation Mentor launches new Animals & Creatures: Master Class program

Creatures abound in cinema. They run, crawl, leap, flutter, and smash across the silver screen, perfectly rendered by skilled 3D animators. But those artists weren't born with an innate ability to bring lifelike movement to animals and creatures. They learned the hard way, through careful study and lots of trial and error.

"You really learn how to animate creatures on your own," says James Brown, animation supervisor at Tippett Studio, a leading creature shop that has crafted creatures for films with other studios ranging from Robocop to Cats and Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore to The Twilight Saga: New Moon for more than 25 years. "You look at reference material and you match your animation to that. It's how a lot of us learned and it's not easy or fast."

Brown wants to change that. That's why he helped Animation Mentor with its new 24-week Animals & Creatures: Master Class program for animators. "There are a lot of little tips and tricks that I've learned over the years that can help animators getting into the field," he says. "If I can pass on that knowledge, animation in general will be better for it."

Animals & Creatures: Master Class is an advanced course on animating quadrupeds, flying animals and fantasy creatures in a realistic animation style. The curriculum is grounded in sound principles of animation theory and workflow principles equipping students to work anywhere and grow with the technology, not just learn software. Students get workflow tips and tricks, industry best practices and production stories to help them with animal and creature animation.

"The idea of animating a four-legged creature can be daunting for new animators, but animating a four-legged dragon that has a neck and wings and a tail and breathes fire can be overwhelming," says Animation Mentor cofounder Shawn Kelly. As a senior animator at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Kelly has animated many animals and creatures with credits that include Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Rango and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But like Brown, he learned quadruped motion by trial and error, and by working with other animators. "When I started at ILM 13 years ago, there really wasn't anything like Animation Mentor, and there was no way to learn about animating creatures except for working on the job. When I cofounded Animation Mentor, I dreamed of adding a creatures animation program based on what I learned at ILM and what other animators learned in their studios. Now that dream is a reality."

To create the Animals & Creatures: Master Class, Kelly and Animation Mentor cofounder and CEO Bobby Beck asked major creature shops across the country, including ILM, Tippett Studio, Sony Picture Imageworks and Weta Digital, what they look for in new hires. Then they spoke with animators in the film, video and game industries to craft a curriculum that would give Animation Mentor graduates and animators a leg up on the competition.

The course includes the basic techniques of quadruped locomotion, as well as working with match-move plates to place 3D creatures in film footage.

"The key to animating a quadruped is weight," says Brown. "Four-legged animals carry weight differently than bipedal subjects, and different animals carry weight differently as well. We'll try to give students a sense of how to look at and work with weight in animals."

The program covers basic locomotion for familiar animals like cats and dogs, then focus on how to observe and recreate the motion of other animals.  "I study a lot of anatomy and look at a lot of reference material," says Brown. "We recently did the wolves for The Twilight Saga: New Moon. I had a poster of a wolf skeleton and photos of wolves everywhere. I watched wolves on YouTube, on TV, anywhere I could. A wolf moves differently than a dog, and being able to see those differences is key to creating believable movement."

The program fills a gap in training for Animation Mentor graduates and animators who want to get into creature animation, says Kelly.  Other contributors of the program say that the program fulfills a need in animation education,

"I am really excited about this amazing new course," said Jean-Denis Haas, Animation Mentor Campus Mentor and ILM senior animator. "Animation Mentor is doing a great job of providing what animators really need to grow while keeping it fun and useful in the real world."

"Animals & Creatures: Master Class is a super exciting offering for us and one that will help our students and other animators grow," said Beck. "The most rewarding part about this new program is seeing animators learn this style of animation that has never been taught before."

Recent Animation Mentor graduate Daniel Harman is excited about the program and looks forward to learning about animal locomotion. "At Animation Mentor, I learned how to move a human, to make a biped perform and do anything I want. But I didn't learn how to move anything with four legs," he says. "There's a strong need for people who can animate animals and creatures effectively. Studios, visual effects houses, video game companies all need skilled creature animators. Having that training will open up more opportunities and ultimately lead to a better career."

Animation Mentor graduate Miurika Valery agrees. "I've never had the chance to animate animals or creatures," she says. "This is an excellent opportunity to make my reel shine, to be different and to explore new styles of animation. It'll make me more flexible as an animator and help me in my career tremendously."

For Kelly, the animals and creatures program is the realization of a long-time aspiration. "I have a personal passion for animating creatures and it's exciting for me to see the school exploring the type of work I do," he says. "It's something that we've been working on for a very long time I'm very proud of this program."

Enrollment for the Animals & Creatures: Master Class opens January 11, 2011. The first class begins April 11 and will be taught over two 12-week classes.  The program will begin accepting new applications from professional animators and non-alumni on April 11, 2011. For more information visit
“Imagine getting some of the biggest visual effects studios together and asking them what skills they are looking for and what their dream demo reel would look like. Then imagine assembling some of the world’s top creature animation talent together to bring every detail to life. Well, that’s just how Animals & Creatures: Master Class was born!” -Bobby Beck, CEO and cofounder of Animation Mentor

What is Animals & Creatures: Master Class?
A first of its kind in the industry, Animals & Creatures: Master Class is an advanced course that teaches students how to tell a different kind of story. Taught by leaders in the visual effects animation industry, the course focuses on animating quadrupeds, fantasy creatures, flying animals, as well as effectively integrating animation with live-action footage. Students use three new advanced rigs and match-move plates provided by Animation Mentor.

During two 12-week classes, students are introduced to the basics of locomotion, quadruped walks, weight and behavior in the first part of this series. In the second part of the series, these skills are further developed as students create believable animal and creature performance that’s integrated with live-action footage. In addition, the course includes workflow tips and tricks and best industry practices from industry professionals who are currently working on animating animals and creatures.

Animals & Creatures: Master Class is taught using Animation Mentor’s signature mentor-based instructional methods.

Who is a good candidate for Animals & Creatures: Master Class?
A good candidate for this course is someone who has graduated from the Animation Mentor Character Animation Program or a professional animator who is working in the industry. A good candidate will have a solid understanding of the principles of animation, posing and body mechanics. Admissions for new applicants is based on the demo reel and other animation experience.

When does registration start?
Enrollment for Animals & Creatures: Master Class is now open for alumni of Animation Mentor’s program. The Master Class will begin accepting new applications on April 11, 2011.

Animation Mentor alumni are eligible for a 30% discount when they pay for Master Class tuition in 2011. Applicants that pay for both classes at the time of enrollment are eligible for a 5% discount off tuition.

Tuition: US $3,300 per term
US $6,600 for two terms

Discount for Alumni: US $2,301 per term
US $4,620 for two terms

Registration Fee: US $175

Cost of application: US $50 (Waived for alumni)

Age requirement: 18 years or older

Language requirement: Have a good understanding of the English language as measured by a passing score on the Wonderlic test.

What do students gain from the Animals & Creatures: Master Class?
Animals & Creatures: Master Class introduces students to the basics of animal and creature animation and explores it deeper in the second part of the series as students create believable animal and creature performance that’s integrated into live-action footage. Students receive face-to-face mentoring from top animators and visual effects professionals and an access to a rich library of lectures where mentors share tricks of the trade.

Weekly access to 24 video lectures taught by working industry professionals.
Learn how to animate different forms of locomotion. Gain animation skills in transition, behavior, weight and physicality.

Animate with advanced rigs for three new characters designed by an industry professional.
Learn how to integrate animation into live-action photography, providing stand-out shots on a demo reel.
Learn the essential skills for animation work at visual effects-focused studios, such as Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Weta Digital, as well as in studios producing games, advertising and TV.

School Awards: 2006 Best Practices in Programming Award Gold Level and the 21st Century Distance Learning Award from the U.S. Distance Learning Association; the official honoree at the 10th and 13th Annual Webby Awards.

National Awards: 2009 PRSA Bronze Anvil Award – Publications, Behind the Character: Job Satisfaction, Career Outlook, and Salary Survey Report

School calendar: This is an 18-month program with quarterly starting dates in January, March, June and September.

Designation: Certificate in Advanced Studies in Character Animation approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education.

Animation Mentor has developed a host of proprietary tools to help give better support, guidance and feedback to our students. One of the school's tools is the eCritique, which allows mentors to critique each frame and draw directly on a student's work to correct lines of action, blocking, and movement, and to provide visual direction for how to improve the shot. Each student receives a weekly eCritique for the assignment. To see an example, go to where a contest winner receives a free eCritique from a mentor each month.

The school provides direct instruction through rich media lecture and demos, filmed documentary style, with top experts in the field. These instruction videos are posted on the online campus for students to view. Students also participate in live, interactive, weekly Q&A sessions with their mentors and up to 15 other students. These sessions make use of Web conferencing technologies and other tools developed by Animation Mentor. During these sessions, the students and mentors discuss the lecture/demos, their assignments and other important animation-related topics.

This formal instruction takes place on an online campus that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is similar in format to popular social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace. All students have personal profile pages where they post their eCritiques, assignments, tests and feedback. Students and mentors constantly cruise the campus, commenting on each other's work and offering helpful suggestions as posts, in forums or through Animation Mentor’s instant messaging tool.

Maya, published by Autodesk, is one of the most popular and advanced high-end 3D computer graphics and 3D modeling software packages used in the animation, film, TV, and computer and video game industries. Maya’s open architecture allows users to script and program actions. In 2003, Maya won an Academy Award for scientific and technical achievement.