Welcome back for Part 2 of our interview with animator Sandro Cleuzo who has worked in the industry for decades, including at top animation studios like Walt Disney. While he has industry experience, he is a self-taught animator. His art education background stems from personal creative development without the need for expensive art education.
If you want to learn more about his background, read Part 1 of the interview: Interview with Sandro Cleuzo – an Awarded Character Designer and Storyboard Artist
Today, we will discuss questions related to animation techniques and skills, as well as how to develop a strong mindset to succeed in animation. As Sandro’s career shows, you don’t need to have a flashy degree in order to succeed in the animation industry. With perseverance and dedication to your craft, you can also aspire to create the animation films of your dreams.
Since Sandro’s background resembles a lot of the eager learners who use Animation Desk, we asked if he could answer some of your questions and share how he found his way in animation.
Animation Techniques & Tips
Character Body Movement
While there are a lot of moving parts to an animated production, many people like to animate characters, at least to start. You might have the drawing skills down for creating characters but are unsure of how to put their bodies in motion.
As a character animator, Sandro offers some suggestions on how to get started with character animation. “The first thing is body movement and then lip sync and expressions. The best way to make characters look natural is to understand human emotions and how to express them. To do that, you need an understanding of basic drawing and how the human and animal form is put together.”
For a better understanding of human emotions and how they can be expressed in animation, consider expanding your learning and reference material. You can look at yourself in the mirror for reference on expressions, or you can observe other people in real life or in videos. There is also plenty of instructional material that offers human and animal poses and anatomy breakdowns to help you learn how to draw these forms.
Sandro offers these suggestions as good practice exercises as well. “With the knowledge, you can then caricature and push a pose. A great exercise is to quickly sketch people and animals. Create a habit of drawing people from life or from the TV, and animals.”
Also, consider the fact that some art styles call for movement that is outside the typical human form. In that case, it is still important to understand the fundamental appearance of movement, so you can make alterations for your own style or purposes.
Sandro is an artist who was inspired by Walt Disney and his animation films. With his extensive experience in the animation industry, including working at such prestigious animation studios as Disney, Sandro proves that practice makes perfect. It is clear that these techniques are not just good in theory or for amateur artists; they are good exercises that even veteran animators use.
One of the most important concepts in animation is timing. If you make movements too fast or too slow, the animation can appear uncoordinated, sloppy, and in the worst case, nearly unwatchable. Some animation styles may call for more hectic and fast-paced movements or slowed-down scenes for a certain effect. Yet, it is important to understand how to present a fluid scene in the style of the project you’re working on.
In our discussion, Sandro offered some great advice about developing your understanding of timing in animation. “Timing is what makes good animation. You need to understand how fast or slow a certain movement is. Using a stopwatch to time an action you need to animate helps a lot.”
Sandro suggests studying live-action and animated movies frame by frame in order to understand the timing involved. This technique is especially important for animators, as it can help you understand how many drawings will be needed to animate a certain movement, and how you’ll need to space the poses for fluid motion. As Sandro explained, “That is how I learned and the only way to grasp it is to do it. You need to do it yourself and making some mistakes is part of the process.”
For some animated projects, you may have the help of body tracking and motion capture for recording movements with maximum realism. But when practicing on your own, your references may be less exact.
Many people get into animation because they want to bring characters to life in the ways that their favorite animated films have before them. For many people, this desire to design will be the highlight of their animation journey. While that enthusiasm is important, remember how valuable it is to get a grasp of all the components of the animation process.
Also, it is important to understand the intense amount of work that can be associated with character design. While this workload is true for your own projects, animation studios may have more stringent rules and requests. In Sandro’s experience, “When designing characters, we do a lot of drawings, sometimes hundreds. It depends on the show, the time we have for a certain assignment, and sometimes luck. It depends too on the director, some of them are clear in what they want to see, and others are not and you will have to show many versions for him to decide.”
This is an important thing to think about when considering your career in animation as well. It’s wonderful to plan and create your own art in your own style and developing your portfolio is important for gaining attention for a job in the industry. However, when working in an animation studio, you need to remember that you will be creating for larger production and need to adapt to the needs of a team.
Sandro expands on this point. “You can have a project where you do 2 or 3 passes in rough and then a final pass and it could be approved easily. Then, there are times when we do dozens of rough passes and lots of final passes to get approval. So, there is no formula or number of passes for the best results. Attempts can vary depending on the complexity of the style and director’s decisions.”
Developing the Right Mindset as a Character Animator
Outside of your technical skill as an animator, it is also important to develop your mindset and think about how you will approach the animation process to achieve a stunning final result. Animation, much like other creative pursuits, will involve a lot of intense effort and dedication. This persistent work can begin to take a toll over time, so you should have the techniques in place to handle common issues that may occur in your creative journey.
For help with explaining this to inexperienced artists and animators, we asked Sandro about how he has approached key issues on the path to becoming an animator, including developing your own style, handling perfectionism, and staying creative and inspired.
How to Develop Your Own Style
All artists, including those studying animation, will encounter an important question at some point in their art education: What is my original style?
This important question can be incredibly difficult to answer. Developing your own style is a personal journey and will be based on your tastes and perspectives. For many artists, copying other artists’ styles is how they start off, but is this the right approach? Sandro offered some great insight for those wanting to understand the best way to get started.
“Copying is the natural way of learning drawing. I think after copying for a while, you start to understand where the parts of that character you are drawing are put together. For example, if you copy Donald Duck for a while and learn how to draw the character well and then you decide to do a duck character, you will naturally draw the beak, the eyes, and other features in the right place.”
It is after gaining this familiarity, Sandro says, that you can begin to make your own deviations and develop your own approach. “When you start to create your own original characters, you will first think of things you learned about when you were copying and you can start to apply but in different ways, such as exaggerating more components or changing forms.”
Copying is also a great way of developing your fundamental animation skills. Having your own style is important for self-expression and setting yourself apart in the industry, but every artist should understand the fundamentals before they seek to expand beyond them.
Sandro went through this process as well and ended up with his current style, which he defines as, “…mostly Disney style because I like it so much, especially the classics like Sword in the Stone, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and Robin Hood.”
Sandro notes that this Disney animation style helped him when working on a project for the video game franchise Angry Birds. “Having that style makes it easier to apply to projects like Angry Birds, which had a more unique design done first by Francesca Natale. I just started based on her design style and fleshed out more using my knowledge of Disney to make the characters animatable.”
So, in your animation journey, don’t feel too rushed to define your own style. Go through the steps of learning, consider copying some of your favorite artists and reflect on what you value in an art style. Over time, you can begin to add in your own flavor and start to develop your personal style.
How to Cope with Perfectionism
Perfectionism is one of the biggest obstacles to productivity. It can feel pointless to delve into your work if you feel like it will never live up to your expectations. It can also feel difficult to finish projects as you feel like your effort is leading nowhere.
This concept is not foreign to Sandro either. “There is a desire to be perfect in any artist, but we need to know when something is good enough to let go.” For artists, the phrase “good enough” can feel underwhelming. You put in a lot of effort, and it can feel like you failed your vision if you don’t achieve a certain level of “perfection.”
For Sandro, he helps manage these feelings by regularly refreshing his perspective on his art. “What I tend to do is a lot of rough drawings, exploring many possibilities. I then put them aside and work on something else. Only on the next day or so, I look again at the first rough drafts and see the problems or things I like in them.” This is a great piece of advice that artists should consider when trying to avoid stalling on one particular project. The need to be “productive” and always moving forward can make some artists forget the value of taking a step back and letting things breathe.
Sandro feels like this process of stepping back has greatly assisted his art process over the years. “It is good to distance yourself from the drawings for a day or two and then go back to them so you can see with fresh eyes…”. Sandro follows this up with a point of advice that all artists should understand: the importance of the value of your work versus others. “Remember also that maybe what is not good for you might be amazing for other people. If you work on something and it gets approved, it was because it was good enough.”
For aspiring animators looking to work in the industry, consider this perspective and remember to let your work breathe. Know when you’ve done your best and when it’s time to let the work go. Your best may change from day to day, and you will get better over time through your consistent effort, so celebrate the work you have done. And if you receive any suggestions, do your best to consider them.
How to Stay Creative and Inspired
The creative process can be an incredibly exhausting one. For many artists, their work is their livelihood, and so being able to constantly be on top of your game and generate unique ideas can feel impossible. This can lead to a creative block where you are in a constant struggle to find your next idea.
For Sandro, his many years of handling character animation in the industry have led to him identifying the ways that he stays inspired. In his case, it is by surrounding himself with brilliant animation.
“I love animation and what motivates me is being surrounded by it in the form of books, movies, and animation art, which I collect.” For artists facing their own creative blocks and looking for inspiration, consider what made you love art in the first place, and always look to cherish what art feels meaningful to you. Art is never made in a vacuum as it is a process of inspiration, so never forget to seek it out.
Sandro also suggests looking beyond your particular interests however and studying art in general. “One thing I would add to that is reading books, good stories, and studying art in general.” Sandro also draws a lot of inspiration from fine art, particularly the Renaissance. “When I see masterful works by painters of the Renaissance, for example, I get so inspired to use some of that in my designs. It applies to any art style I like.”
This interview will continue in Part 3 of our discussion with Sandro Cleuzo
Animation is an incredibly complex process. While today we discussed certain techniques and skills in relation to character animation and design, these represent just a few components of a finalized animated production.
In Sandro Cleuzo’s extensive career, he has been able to contribute to many character designs, for various studios including Walt Disney, and produce character animation for films that people will cherish for generations to come. To end this second part of the interview, we will leave you with this parting quote from Sandro in regard to what he values in good character design. “Good character design to me is when you can come up with a drawing that has everything in it and well-balanced appeal, personality, and originality. I think a good design has to have appeal, even if it’s a villain.”
We hope you’re eager to hear more from Sandro and his experience in the animation industry in Part 3 of this interview! The final part will be released soon, so make sure you’re subscribed to be notified when the article goes up.