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Educational

A Disney Animator Shares The Moment He Finally Understood CG Animation

Do you sometimes feel like giving up on your dream of being a great animator? Well, read this first. Trent Correy, an animator at Disney, shared a post on Instagram last night that is a must-read for any young animator looking to break into the biz or struggling to grasp key animation concepts.

In it, Correy shared an underexpressed sentiment, describing his creative hurdles after being hired at Walt Disney Feature Animation, and the ‘ah ha’ shot where he finally felt that he broke through.

Below is the shot of Olaf – from the Disney California Adventure projection show World of Color – that Correy says is when he “finally understood the graph [editor] and how to benefit from it.”

A group of friends and I were chatting the other day about our "AH HA" moments. A shot where something clicked. I can clearly point out a few of these in my career, but this one comes to mind first. I was STRUGGLING with CG, big time. In fact before getting to Disney I had decided to give it up and try my hand at storyboarding. Then I was accepted into Talent Development as a CG Animator and decided to give it one last shot. I spent 6 months in Tal Dev and there were some clicks but I still had a hard time using the graph and a lot of the other tools. Here's an embarrassing fact…I went through all of "Frozen" not knowing how to switch between IK & FK and not knowing what constraints were. I just brute force everything. A lot of frame by framing. After Frozen I was asked to work on a water projection show for Disneyland called World of Color. This is the shot. I Finally understood the graph and how to benefit from it. I had been using CG for about a year at this point and finally started to get comfortable with the tools. Which means, I started to enjoy the process more. All this to say, stick with it. Persistence and patience is key. We all learn at different paces, so just keep at it if you're struggling and you'll have your "clicks". I still have them all the time, sometimes for a technical hurdle, sometimes in drawing, sometimes for body mechanics or animation principles. It means we're growing, so keep at it! • • • #disney #disneyanimation #olaf #disneyland #california #californiaadventure #worldofcolor #joshgad #frozen #animation #letitgo #inspiration #fun #artistsoninstagram #artwork #cganimation #student #art #learning #school #tips #anna #elsa

A post shared by Trent Correy 🇨🇦 (@trentanimation) on

Correy explains that when he had worked earlier on Frozen, he didn’t understand how to switch between inverse kinematics (IK) and forward kinematics (FK), and wasn’t comfortable with the idea of constraints in cg animation. It reaffirms a simple truth that isn’t spoken about enough in animation education: every artist develops at their own pace and faces their own battles on the path to competency, and one doesn’t need to be perfect to get a job (even at a major studio).

The takeaway for artists, Correy says, is to “just keep at it if you’re struggling and you’ll have your ‘clicks.'” But there are also lessons for management here; Correy’s story is a reminder that studios need to provide spaces for artists to fumble around and struggle because those spaces are often what leads to breakthroughs and creates better artists. As Correy explains, he had already given up on animation before being accepted into Disney’s internal talent development program, which is where he gave cg animation another shot and found his calling.

Here’s the full text of his Instagram post:

A group of friends and I were chatting the other day about our “AH HA” moments. A shot where something clicked. I can clearly point out a few of these in my career, but this one comes to mind first. I was STRUGGLING with CG, big time. In fact before getting to Disney I had decided to give it up and try my hand at storyboarding. Then I was accepted into Talent Development as a CG Animator and decided to give it one last shot. I spent 6 months in Tal Dev and there were some clicks but I still had a hard time using the graph and a lot of the other tools.

Here’s an embarrassing fact…I went through all of “Frozen” not knowing how to switch between IK & FK and not knowing what constraints were. I just brute force everything. A lot of frame by framing. After “Frozen” I was asked to work on a water projection show for Disneyland called World of Color. This is the shot. I [f]inally understood the graph and how to benefit from it. I had been using CG for about a year at this point and finally started to get comfortable with the tools. Which means, I started to enjoy the process more. All this to say, stick with it. Persistence and patience is key. We all learn at different paces, so just keep at it if you’re struggling and you’ll have your “clicks”. I still have them all the time, sometimes for a technical hurdle, sometimes in drawing, sometimes for body mechanics or animation principles. It means we’re growing, so keep at it!

  • Wesley Wilson

    that’s incredible… getting through a whole movie with no FK IK switching and not using any constraints… I can’t even imagine how long all that took…

  • Troy

    I can say this post really gives hope for those who were unable get in because of whatever absurd reason a studio isn’t hiring. On the flip side this would really piss off a lot of people who went to school that actually learned basic 3d animations for more than a year. I can’t deny the fact it is a case by case basis if you’re not in California or New York, but it is not unlikely that people will view this as unfair.

    • Trent

      Thanks! I’m from Canada😂

      • Troy

        I’m not sure if you should be thanking me as I was referring to cartoonbrew’s article not the actual posting. Still I do applaud your never give up attitude, however personally I pretty much view this as serious problem for those that don’t have any opportunities, resource, talent or having personal issues to be even considered to enter a program like disney’s talent development.

  • RickyButler89

    cry me a river!!

    His “last chance” was being accepted into Disney?!

    • PickleBreath

      He’s a 2D guy…….He was ready to give it up and stick with 2d till Disney came a calling. An opportunity worth giving CG another go. I don’t get your negativity…

    • Mr. T

      You have no idea how hard he worked to get into the TDP at Disney. He had a very long journey just to get there and he was exhausted at the start of something that you need to pour every aspect of yourself into or else you don’t make the cut.

      He spent 3 years learning traditional animation in college and after graduating he worked for a few years in television (2D). All the while he continued to animate pencil tests for the 11second club to push himself further. Then he took animation mentor as he worked a full time job in television. He then slept on my tiny couch for months while animating as a junior at Sony and finishing Animation Mentor. After wrapping up his short stay at Sony he didn’t enjoy 3D animation at all; 2D was his passion. So he did a few more 11 second club pencil tests.

      He then went to study at Eric Goldberg’s school (more 2D) and when that was done he applied to Disney to see if he was lucky enough to get picked up, and if that would help him enjoy 3D animation. As he mentions after a year at Disney he still wasn’t sure if 3D was for him. So ya, he kept his eye on the ball and it payed off, which is exactly his point. And I’m sure I’m missing much more of the story here but I think I made my point.

      It really comes down to his constant pursuit of knowledge and unquenchable enthusiasm that makes him a great animator. So I would suggest thinking long and hard about the wisdom this man is offering if you before you stick your nose up at it.

      • hannah

        He took animation mentor and they didn’t teach him the ik/fk or constraints?

        • Mr.T

          They of course go over constraints and ik/fk, but coming from 2D it’s difficult to wrap your head around the reason why things are flipping and twisting when switching between ik and fk when you start. So you just force it to get it to do what you want, or you stick to only one of the two and don’t bother combining them.. You also don’t know exactly the best time to make the switch or if it should be over 1 frame or multiple frames. Understanding why or type of constraint you should use takes experience time, and like he says, sometimes it takes longer for others.

      • Troy

        Not to be rude, but it is unnecessary for you to state his story to the point of white knighting. If anyone wanted to hear his story, cartoonbrew would reach out to him for further explanation. While the guy above on this comment thread is at face value rude, he also had a point. Based on what you said the guy went through a lot to get there and I do applaud that he deserves this accomplishment. However there are plenty of instances of others having much worse situations that beat common stories like his, particularly minorities and recently women. If there is one person who needs to think hard, I believe you need to read this article again and reflect on people who aren’t as “lucky” as him.

        • Mr.T

          How you took the fact an artist works hard and focuses on the craft before the technology and make it about race or gender is beyond me. Does cartoon brew write articles about gender equality and minorities and their struggles? They sure do and they are rather good. But cartoonbrew focuses on the artists; and this is clearly an article for animators that have doubt in their abilities no matter where you are in your career. Of course you are right in saying there doesn’t need to be a “white knight” to defend Trent. I’m simply trying to inform another artist who appears to feel cheated about something and try to have them realize that it’s about the craft not the tecnology. I have read the article and had some insight that I thought would help a artist think about their efforts. Clearly I got trolled and sucks in. But the article is not about luck. It’s to share a common doubt that all artists feel.

          • Troy

            I did not intended to steer the conversation toward that topic as I have stated those as one of possible instances that artists may have.

            “I’m simply trying to inform another artist who appears to feel cheated about something and try to have them realize that it’s about the craft not the tecnology. ”

            I do not know if the person above is cheated, but you did acknowledge that it would seem that way. It is true that we should be more concerned about crafting but there is a difference between those who are able to learn and those that had nothing to learn from (in a professional standpoint). If we’re talking about going in a different direction due to what I stated I did not mention that type of luck you are stating and repeating what I’m trying to make a point on. To further address an attempt at understanding, what you stated may work for artist that is persistent and still have an ounce of passion, but that wouldn’t apply to those that already accepted and gave up a long time ago; it would only kick them down.

          • Mr.T

            That is fair, but I’m sure he never meant to kick anyone while they where feeling down about their struggles in the industry.

          • Troy

            I said I was stating your post though….

        • Valjean

          “Not to be rude, but it is unnecessary for you to state his story to the
          point of white knighting. If anyone wanted to hear his story,
          cartoonbrew would reach out to him for further explanation”

          …Or you could listen to the guy who’s couch he slept on while he suffered at Sony. And you know, just not be rude about it.

          • Troy

            Or we can just straight up ask the person in question if someone wants to know more about him, just so know.

    • Strong Enough

      lmfao

    • Fried

      I don’t think you realize what an awful feeling it is when you’re at a top tier place surrounded by people you believe are way more skilled in a field you’re in. No one likes being the “worst artist” in a room full of artists or seeing other people do the same thing you’re doing at a much speedier rate.

      • Strong Enough

        i rather be that dude then work where im at. sign me up!

    • KW

      Wow this is a surprisingly hostile comment section, and the article isnt even about a Dreamworks movie.

  • Strong Enough

    i’m so happy you found your groove after you were hired by Disney. so magical. like a fairy tale

  • Elsi Pote

    If everything stated here is true as is, i have to say the Disney talent development program is truly remmarkable to say the least.

    I’ve seen many people, with no talent whatsoever, being transformed into good animators by tal dev. Sadly, some of them became douche bags just because they work at Disney, but to each their own.

    Success has a luck component you should not ignore. And although hard work matters, you have to be surrounded by the right people at the right time to make it.

    I’ve personally never gotten any leniency or empathy while working at any studio i’ve worked at. It’s being do or die all the way, with no room to learn along the way while getting tons of flask if the quotas were not met (like everybody else).

    So how Disney copes with an animator that doesn’t know how to do a half decent ik/fk switch totally beats me. Just thinking in the amounts of counter animation you have to do puts you in a big disadvantage against the rest of the pack.

    • KW

      Thats my biggest complaint about nearly any job in CG animation. For something that can be so incredibly complex and technical with a million possible things that can go wrong, they sure dont allow for a lot of time to learn and understand. They expect everyone to be born knowing how to do everything, its bullshit and only harms the studio in the long run.

      • Troy

        I don’t think they were expecting that. They are more inclined to expect people to actually do their job professionally the moment they send their resume with the assumption that the artists already know how truthfully. If it was a small studio, sure that actually makes an impact, but larger studios with endless supply of hopeful artists willing to take spots? Might as well try saving a sinking ship with an ice cube.

  • Rob

    I know in the early days of CG, Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks/etc all hired 2D animators with the idea that they would train them on the computer. I sometimes think all you had to do was be WILLING to use the computer in the ’90s and Pixar would have hired you! These days, as a working CG animator and fellow AM alumni, I have to say the industry feels incredibly competitive and like one giant hustle, really.

    On one level, I relate to Trent as I always felt “behind” my peers at AM, and still feel unworthy on the job even though I’ve been doing it professionally for six years now. Hearing Glen Keane say that he too felt like a fraud while at Disney gave me the courage to relax on myself, and just accept that while I might not always feel good enough, if someone hires me, then they think I’m good enough and that’s what matters.

    That said, I’m rather shocked Disney still hires 2D animators to teach them CG animation even as interns. I mean, I think it’s great – I bet Trent’s work was pretty astounding to get hired not only at Disney, but also at Sony WHILE still in school! I used to hear rumor of students at AM that would get hired before graduation, but it is NOT the norm, so even though he says he hated CG animation, he must have been pretty solid even as a student to get work so soon.

    I just feel like Disney wouldn’t have to bother teaching interns how to use the computer anymore…? I mean, some kids graduate literally making films that look legit like Pixar. I’m confused that Disney gave him a Tal Dev slot when he so clearly didn’t want to do it, but maybe they saw some serious talent in his 2D work. I just didn’t expect Disney to care that much to give someone like him such a chance! Good for him!

    • KW

      Thats my biggest surprise from this. They were willing to hire someone that could hardly do 3D animation. Just the fact that they took the time to let him learn is impressive enough.

    • Doconnor

      When they where making Tangled they made a big deal about how they where trying to create a system that combined the best aspects of 2D and 3D. Perhaps they still have that vision.

  • Raubaute Mitchoume

    “no FK IK switching and not using any constraints”
    “There was a time” where all that did not work so well in Maya (for example) :)
    And conversely using all that all the time like does not guarantee a good animation in any way.
    As a rigger, I am always a bit sad when animators don’t use every tool made at their disposal but as long as the result kicks ass, who cares.
    When I started animation I struggled learning exactly the contrary.
    I was always at ease with the graph editor or constraints or anything technical but it can really gets in the way of actually doing a good animation when you’re thinking at it too much.
    In some cases “no FK IK switching and not using any constraints” can be the better way – like for very short interactions. Also getting the good arc of motion straight in the graph editor can be a hassle, it’s often easier to “brute force” it with poses and then, cleaning it in the graph.
    So I think what he did in the past is also good knowledge as well.
    Anyway you know when you’re not using the adequate technique as it’s longer and more difficult to do minute adjustments.

  • Mike

    man..there is alot of bitterness in this thread.
    Good job, dude.
    Thanks for sharing!
    I would dig if Cartoonbrew did an interview with him or other animators getting going at various studios.

  • KW

    I think everyone can relate to feeling like the most inadequate in the room. I’ve been feeling that way since my first day of art school and ive been at this professionally about 5 years now and that feeling almost a constant in my work life.

  • Matt Shepherd

    Love it, hate it, it makes no difference. At the end of the day Trent Correy is working at one of the most revered companies in animation history. He’s working on memorable characters creating top notch animation and shaping our youths perception of the art form.

    His animation mentor classes lasted a few months or a term I believe, so his mentor training was cut short. Why? He got hired to work at Sony Imageworks, so lets hold off on being so judgmental there.

    Trent is an incredible talent and has achieved a level of animation and status that most animators will never experience, so lets all take a minute to think about that before we start smashing this article.

  • Adam Davis

    Would someone mind explaining to me what kinematics are?

    • Troy

      In 3D Animation we have Forward Kinematics (FK) and Inverse Kinematics (IK) on a given character model. In a generally oversimplified term, Kinematics are what gives us the illusion of how we move the 3D characters.

      For the sake of an example we will use an anchor & rope from a boat (IK) and a Robot arm (FK).
      In IK, you place the anchor where you want in the ocean and the rope will follow. Since the boat is out at sea it obviously tends to move around and would also affect the rope position, but not the anchor as it stays in one place to prevent it from going adrift.

      For the FK, you input commands of the robot arm on, say picking up a soda can.
      The command is as follows:
      Rotate Shoulder
      Bend Elbow downward
      Rotate wrist
      Bend Finger 1, 2, etc.
      Bend Elbow upward
      If you want to crush the can to the ground instead, you can’t just move the hand to the ground as at best will just make a less of a dent to the can. You have to go to the shoulder and rotate it. If it didn’t crush it you do the elbow next, then the hand, then back to the shoulder to try a different position until you got your result.

      Animators can just use one or a combination, depending on the scene in question. Typically whatever can accurately get the best results with less hassle down the line.

  • ♥ FM$

    I am such a Trent admirer right now. I am currently in school for CG animation, and from a students point of view, this was definitely a motivating post.