The Making of Cursed, a Juba Polati Animation Tutorial

The Making of Cursed – Animation Workflow Tutorial

Hello there, my name is Juba Polati and I am the animator who created “Cursed” – that short film where a bunch of stuff happens in Maya, yes the one with the T-Rex. If by any chance you haven’t seen it, I would love for you to watch it, it will make things a lot easier to understand from now on.

The Animation Process

Before we begin, I want to clarify that there are many ways to create a project, here I will briefly talk about how I tackled my Short film, just bear in mind it isn’t the only way. Also, I will be using a lot of terms and words that are part of the CG and Animation world, I will try to explain as much as possible, but if you don’t know a specific word, then it’s a great way to familiarize yourself, look it up online and find out what it means.

My process is a lot like what DJ teaches here at Animation Salvation, but still, a little different, here I’ll explain. These are what I would call my steps in regard to DJ’s.

  1. Foundation – Research/Pre-Production
  2. Structure – Production/ Golden Poses
  3. Details – Blocking/ Splining
  4. Polish – Splining/ Polish

With that being said let’s begin, but first Research!

The Research

After I came up with the idea, which is the easy part by the way, I went and did some research! What I mean by that is, I thought about what I wanted the film to be, so I went online to find images that had the same look, and same style I was going for. I tried to find things that would help define what I wanted to create, so the transition of what’s going on inside my head to reality was as close as possible.


On the other hand I also needed to find out how I was going to make it. My first major road block was figuring out a way to have everything inside a Maya scene. I started experimenting with screen capturing & practicing the mouse movements to fit the action of the character; but I soon realized that would take more time than I had. So I figured out another way to approach it, I would “fake” the scene, by measuring the width and height of the Maya UI (User Interface) and creating a 1:1 plane in the scene I was able to project the texture of the UI onto it. I then created a simple rig to control the interaction with the mouse and there it was, the basis of the project. I maintained the same idea for everything else, creating other planes with projected textures for the file menu and Import screens, and a simple 3D rig for the Cursor.

That let me have absolute control over the timing and interactions, which in the end saved me a lot of time. After figuring that out, I could actually start planning the film, and move on to the animatic.

The Animatic

For those of you who don’t know what an animatic is; it is the simplest form of showing your animation or movie. You make storyboards and compile them to show the pacing and timing of your shots. Create an animatic! It becomes incredibly easy to tell what works and what doesn’t in your film, and so, easy to fix at this stage. Watch these clips, they will explain it a lot better than I can.

What is an animatic?

Avatar Animatic:

I can definitely say this was the hardest part for me, since the idea I had let me explore several different situations, and it was hard to pin down the story and interactions to fit the short time frame I had. But with this process I was able to figure out what story I was telling and how I would tell it.

For me it was easier to go straight into a 3D animatic since my staging was incredibly simple and I didn’t have any complex compositions. So I shot some live reference of me playing out what I imagined the interactions would be like, cut and edit my footage to play like the film and added most of my golden poses to the scene, and there it was, I had my 3D animatic. I make it sound simple but this stage took weeks of work and planning, and the contents of the film changed several times.

Looking back now and seeing how much the final product changed from my initial idea, boggles my mind, but I was aware of every change along the way

and knew I was changing it for the better. I have to say I had a lot of support from my animation teachers and friends, and without them, the film wouldn’t be half what it is. So in this stage, show your stuff to other people and ask them what they think. It really helps to have that different perspective.

At this stage it’s all about experimenting, creating, showing, reiterating… Rinse and repeat. And after you have something that works and that you like, well then my friend, it’s time to get your hands dirty!

Animation Production

Animate, animate and ANIMATE! That is all.

Well there is a bit more to it than just saying animate… In my case I had a huge scene (time wise, not in actual file size) that held all my golden poses, but if I started animating within that scene, for one it would become really heavy and give me immense heartache at the end of production, and lastly I would never feel like I was accomplishing anything, since the shot would never be done until the last moment. So I got some great advice from my mentor to break the movie down into separate shots, that way it would become a lot more manageable, and by separating them into difficulty, from easy to hard, it became easier to judge how much work I had to do.

I started with the easiest shot I had, to get the animation juices pumping to my brain, and immediately jumped to one of the hardest, I made it my priority to finish the hardest ones first, because leaving them to last was too much of a risk. I would always go from a hard shot to a medium, back to a hard and then maybe an easy one to regain my spirits.

But you must be asking: how do you take on a shot?

Taking on a shot

Where to start? A lot of places, first and foremost, on your computer desk. Sitting with the correct posture, and also taking breaks every hour to stretch, because kids, maintaining your physical health also keeps your animation “alive”, see what I did there? I mostly start on paper, writing down my character motivations and actions I imagine would happen in the shot, and with that in mind I move on to shooting live reference.

Reference is incredibly important to your shot and Animation in general, so I focused on learning a lot of the process and how to make it work for me. I would get a camera that shot in 24fps, go inside a room and stay there for hours at a time, thinking of silhouette and staging, character reactions and motivations. I had a lot of help from my friends, but if you’re not comfortable with shooting in front of other people, that’s totally fine. Find what works for you.

After I got my reference, I would cut and edit the shots I thought worked best, and mash them together into a single clip. That made analyzing and studying my body acting a lot easier. I analyzed the clip to understand what was moving when, and where the center of gravity was; all that good stuff.

Golden Poses

These are the most important poses in your shot, with only Golden poses, you should be able to tell exactly what’s going on in the shot. I would find what my main poses were and time them to my reference. That way I could work really hard to make them shine! Like they are made out of gold, because gold is shiny, and they are the “Golden” Poses… That worked better in my head…

Blocking Your Animation

After I had my Golden Poses, I would block in the key poses to tell the timing, extremes and movement in the shot. Keep in mind in this phase I’m still in stepped mode, working to find the right timing and spacing in my action.


After I was happy with my blocking, I would start adding breakdown poses, to help define my arcs, overlapping actions and follow through. This helps to read the action better and get a better sense of the movement.


Splining Your Animation

This is the part where you take your animation from Stepped mode, into the smooth Linear, or Auto mode. I experimented a lot in this phase, changing the modes to see what I preferred for the shot. This is also the part where I started to clean up my Graph Editor.

Polish That Animation

This is the last 10% of your animation, the cherry on top! I spent a lot of time in this part, just adding detail and texture to the animation, but one thing I always kept in mind is knowing when to be done with a shot and move on, since I had another fourteen to work on. It is hard, and a lot of times I left a shot with the feeling of it not being done, but that let me touch every shot then go back, polish and fix what I already had.

In this clip Jeff Gabor masterfully shows all these processes at work:

What did I do after I finished animating? Ha! Surely you jest my friend! I was never done animating! I had a deadline, and so couldn’t animate anymore =D. But either way, what about rendering?

Post Production

Rendering is for FOOLS! No, I joke. Rendering is awesome! But I had a choice: spend time rendering or animating? I chose the latter and playblasted my film. I just found a way to get a decent quality out of the playblast and since I was doing that anyway to check my animation, I had all my shots getting updated every time I polished something.

All I had to do was some editing, titles and picking my soundtrack, which I did from 5 Alarm. The Sound Design was done by Matt Thomas from VFS. Thank you to him!

Final Words

Well this was mostly my process, and there were times where a lot of these overlapped each other in production time, I was editing and doing titles, while I animated, I was blocking a shot and polishing another. Also what I describe was a process taught to me by incredible artists (aka animation Teachers and friends) that supported and helped me through making the film, so for that I’m always grateful. If you made it this far I congratulate you on the conviction and thank you for reading! Now, all I can say is, go animate!

Cursed | Animation Tutorial

How to Animate Complex Character Interaction

“So how do you handle a scene with two or more characters interacting?
Specifically, how would you handle physical fighting or wrestling?”

Once again, it comes down to the 4 main stages of any animation:

  1. Foundation
  2. Structure
  3. Details
  4. Polish

Lets look at these and how they specifically apply to complex character interactions.

Stage 1. Foundation

Before you ever start posing or setting keys, you must have a solid plan.

You will need to know the choreography of the fight. When do the characters come into contact with one another? Where is the driving force coming from on each contact?

Really, the fastest way to plan such a scene is to film a few people acting it out. It will take much longer if you just sit down and try to thumbnail it out without any Video reference.
With live actors, you can direct them in real time and experiment with different ideas.

Once you’ve filmed your Video reference, go through and sketch out every key pose.

  • Look for changes of direction in weight or poses
  • Look for contact and transfer of force between your characters.

Make sure you have all of these sketched out with a note of the timing according to your reference.

Now you’re ready for…

Stage 2. Structure

Set all of your key poses on your characters in 3d.

Many animators like to use Stepped keys, but some software packages don’t allow stepped keys.
At least try to use linear.

Make sure you get all points of contact keyed in on all of your characters.

Check all of your key poses from every angle to ensure they contain proper weight, balance and force.

Stage 3. Details

Here we can begin to smooth out our animation and add in breakdowns and inbetweens, but don’t
start offsetting keys and try to resist the urge to start really polishing.

A great way for getting the contact between two characters to stick – is to link a null or a dummy to the point of contact, then align the end effector of the other characters limb to that dummy on every key frame.

Make sure you have your weight and force worked out before you do this, that way you know which character or limb is leading the motion.

Stage 4. Polish

Now you can go to town and really polish your animation.

Go through it many times, each time focusing on one of the 12 principles of animation.

Perfect every arc on your pelvis, hands/arms, head/eyes and any other main moving object.

Make sure that the ease in/out of every key is what YOU want, not what the computer has given you.

Make sure you have overlap and follow through so that everything doesn’t come to a stop all at once in any part of your scene.

Ok, that’s a very simplified breakdown of how to approach a complex interaction scene, but really, you’re not going to learn much from reading emails. Get outta here and go try it!


Should I Use IK or FK?

Ah, the age old question: IK, or not IK…

Really, these days this question is almost obsolete. No matter what program you use for animation, it most likely has a switchable IK/FK solution.

Personally, I wouldn’t animate and character without one anymore. B)

It’s important to understand what is happening to your characters joints at all times, though. The problem with IK is that it allows animators to become lazy. There, I said it.

You see it all the time in reels and newbie animation.

Heck, we all do it sometimes. When we let the computer worry about where the elbow (or knee, or spine, or tentacle joint) is, we can easily get lazy. This is the path to average character animation (at best).The important thing is arcs and force, not just in your end effector or hand, but also in the hinge joint, or elbow. Do both express an arc that shows the mood and attitude that you want for this particular movement? Your character is more than just their end effectors, and being a good character animator means maintaining control of every aspect of your scene.

Is it the rigging of your character, or the ik of real creatures?

The “IK Lock” that so many animators try to avoid is quite present in everyday motion. An extreme example is a boxer throwing a punch: his arm (or her arm if you’re in my family) snaps to full extension and then jerks back to slightly bent. Yet this same thing occurs in less extreme cases such as:

  • Rasing your hand quickly to answer a question
  • The extension of a leg just before contact while walking
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Any movement where you fully extend a limb!

I personally find IK is the best system for mimicking this type of motion on my characters. These days, I rarely use FK limbs in my animation, unless I am having real trouble with my arcs or poses.

I find IK allows me to pose faster and thus try out more poses, ultimately leading to better animation. It also allows me to place the limb exactly where I want it.

As long as I don’t get lazy and just let the animation software sort it out for me, I’m quite fine using pure IK limbs.

So really, in your animation, whether you use IK or FK on your characters should be your choice. However, as animators, we often must work with the tools we are given. If you are asked to animate a character that ONLY have IK arms or only FK legs, you should do your best animation with whatever you are given.


Why not practice animating both? Why not build a simple arm rig right now, and make two copies of it: one FK and one IK.

Then practice animating both and getting the same results. Try animating many different types of motion, and see what it is you have to do to get the same animation our of BOTH rigs!

It’s by doing little animation exercises like this that will really boost your skills as a character animator.

So get out there and Start Animating!