James Baxter Sinbad tests

While we’re on the subject of James Baxter (and if you’re not listening to Clay Kaytis’s first podcast with James, go do it now), I found a beat up old video tape with some early animation tests for Sinbad – Legend of the Seven Seas that James did. He did a test each for Sinbad, Marina, and Proteus. I’ve done a quick and dirty digital transfer, which retains some of the quirks of the video/pencil-test machine interface, but they’re still watchable enough.

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Animation by James Baxter. Copyright DreamWorks Animation.

Damn, I love that little hop Sinbad does to get up on the railing. I recall that these were done just as animation on Spirit wrapped. After his incredible workload on that film (and someone please tell me again how James didn’t even get nominated for an Annie for his staggering work on Spirit), he decided to step back and not supervise on Sinbad. Jakob Jensen would step up to lead on the character of Sinbad, with William Salazar on Marina and Rodolph Guenoden (my main man from the amazing Chel) on Proteus. But before that, James did some test scenes of the lead characters. The scene above is 364 frames, mostly on ones. My Xerox of the scene is a good inch and a half thick. The scene shifts from 1’s to 2’s throughout, and James showed us the proper way to deal with those transitions (all of these test shots were assisted by my officemate Randy Dormans and me).

By the way, all these scenes were charted for the most part. In my previous post about working James, I described the system for not using charts. From looking at the photocopies, I think we only did that here in the middle section where Sinbad is romping across the screen. In the rest of that scene, and the next two with Marina and Proteus, we used charts. And true to James’s style, there’s usually one chart, sometimes with a secondary chart for an arm or the head, and very rarely a third chart for some detail of the dialog.

Next is Marina. There’s some wonderful facial work in the second shot, along with lots of beautiful overlapping action in both. I remember lovingly coloring in the hair, irises, lips, and so on in blue col-erase. For those who love minutia, the first 13 drawings (on 2’s) are all keys.

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Animation by James Baxter. Copyright DreamWorks Animation.

And here’s Proteus, the poor sap of the picture. What a thankless role, being a character who has to be happy to have his fiancée stolen away while he sits on death row in place of the guy doing the stealing! Anyway, this is a particularly sure bit of animation, with some absolutely ass-kicking assistant work.

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Animation by James Baxter. Copyright DreamWorks Animation.

Unfortunately, I think these are the only pencil tests I have from this film (I don’t even have my own shots). When I get my scanner fired up, I may put up individual keys, since I have lots of photocopied scenes, but that may be awhile. 😉

For anyone with a renewed interest in the behind-the-scenes of Sinbad, Jakob Jensen has posted some of his development of the character here and here (and be sure to check out his very cool book of satirical illustrations).

Now go back and listen again to podcast, and especially check out Nik Ranieri talking about the way James burst onto the animation scene. It’s humbling for the rest of us, but then, people like James give us all something to aspire to. I can’t believe how fired up about animation I feel after revisiting these scenes.

28 Responses to “James Baxter Sinbad tests”

  1. Alan Cook Says:

    Thanks so much for posting these! Amazing and inspiring stuff.

  2. Alonso Says:

    These are great! I love 2D, I love how it moves, how fluid and free it is! I think we’ll never really reachieve that looseness in CG because in CG you start with a perfect on model character and you have to try and think outside that box, but in 2D you start with a blank page every frame. I wish I could learn 2D, but after bouncing balls with tails, and then hopping flour sacks I didn’t know what was the next progressive step.


  3. bobby pontillas Says:

    Damn. Absolutely beautfiul. Are these his roughs?
    That James Baxter sure can draw his ass!

  4. Benjamin De Schrijver Says:

    If you do get to scanning, it would be wonderful to see a penciltest with only Baxter’s drawings (+ charts). That’d be great study material, getting to see exactly how much work he does (and in what order) before he feels he can give it to an assistant.

    Thanks for all the great info!

  5. Olivier L. Says:

    amazing. Everything is there.

    Squash and stretch, asymetry of the face, weight, smeared frames, drag and overlap … but more than anything I am amazed by how much details he is putting into his shots to make them more organic.

    Baxter is a great observer of life. You have to be paying a lot of attention to things around you to be able to bring so much life to your animation (no “s” right?).

    I love the little hop Sinbad is doing with the few smeared frames jut before.

    It would be great to do something similar to that page from Walt Stanchfield handouts, you remember the one on the Principles of animation, but this time by writing on the video itself.


  6. Maciek Gliwa Says:

    Wow! This is really fantastic post Kevin. Pure gold to learn from. Thanks so much for doing this!

  7. Amanda Says:

    AWESOMESAUCE!!! Thanks so much for posting!

  8. Andre Barnwell Says:

    These are great. Thanks for posting.

  9. Adam Strick Says:

    Wow!! These are great to see. Thanks a ton for posting them and for all the other posts with a lot of information and things to think about.

  10. Kevin Says:

    Everyone, thanks for the comments and enthusiasm! Yeah, there is absolutely <em>nothing</em> in animation like seeing good pencil tests.

    Bobby, yes, those are the rough scenes. They’d go to clean-up next (where the very able Helen Michaels, James’s long-time clean-up lead, would work her magic. You can usually tell which roughs are James’s and which are by Randy or me by the line intensity. James would be drawing in graphite most of the time, and we’d be working in dark blue. That’s why you’ll see some drawings with just the mouth and eyes, for example, drawn much darker than the rest of the figure — that’s where James would do a partial drawing of something that wouldn’t follow a chart.

    Benjamin, it’s probably be easier for me to drop the digital files into Final Cut, edit out the inbetween, duplicate the appropriate keys, and repost that. Probably won’t happen soon, given everything I have on my plate right now, but it’s an interesting idea.

    Oliver, that’s a great idea to “mark up” the scenes, though I think it might be overkill, since the goodness in this animation is pretty overt. You’re right that there’s an amazing amount of distortion going on (which Alonso alluded to) — when we can do that in CG in a reasonably effortless way, CG animation will take a great leap forward.

  11. Karen JL Says:

    There’s nothing like seeing rough (?) pencil tests to get you enthused about the whole process. These are pretty clean roughs!

    I never get tired of seeing good 2D pencil tests. Love it. You can just feel the weight of the character. Same as in the color samples you showed…you can ‘feel’ the weight of the girl as he carries her.

    I find that’s one area that can be lacking in (bad) 3D. It’s frustrating to see a huge character that looks light as a feather. Just not quite the same. Thanks for those, they’re great.

    I never saw Sinbad, but ‘Spirit’ is one of my favorites from Dreamworks. James did amazing work on that film. And I really love the storyboard sequences on the DVD. Perfect combination of clarity and ‘roughness’.

  12. Todd Jacobsen Says:

    Seeing this reminds me of James’ test of Chel when I was at DW in the early days. Hubba Hubba!

  13. Kevin Says:

    Hi Karen. You’re right that the roughs are clean, in the sense that James put every line exactly where he wanted it, and was never one to leave stuff for clean-up to figure out or put on model. That said, if you saw his roughs projected on the big screen, you’d probably see that he drew with a very controlled ‘haystack’ kind of line, so cleanup was needed for that.

    The weight thing you mention is all about the spacing. I’ll give some examples of that in the future.

    Hey, Todd, yes the Baxter Chel test was amazing! I have some color Xeroxes of some of the keys from that scene, and I’ll have to dig them out and post ’em. I wish I had that pencil test, as well as some of Rodolphe’s Chel scenes that were cut from the film (I know you remember those!).

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Absolutely awesome animation!

  15. Todd Jacobsen Says:


  16. David Says:

    Thank you so much for posting these Kevin.

    What a charge to see these pencil tests of James’s amazing animation ! So inspiring . More please if you’ve got ’em !

  17. robcat2075 Says:

    Geez, those are so solid! That movie had some really amazing stuff going on from the animators.

  18. oriel Says:

    Great stuff! Kevin, thank you so much! I’m a 2d animation student and your posts about spacing and the way you worked is like gold to me. They don’t teach us these things.
    I would like to read more and see more great penciltests.
    mmm… I know it’s a lot to ask,but I’ll be so greatful if you could post the actual drawings from James Baxter’s scenes,with numbers and charts so I can print them and flip trough them on the pegs.
    It will be amazing to finaly see how a master works and thinks.
    I understand it’s a lot to ask but it is really really important to me.
    Thank you !!

  19. Nick sung Says:

    Incredible! Thanks so much for posting these!

  20. Kevin Says:

    Thanks, everyone!

    David, I’m not sure I have any more pencil tests. I have a few more boxes to go through in my garage, and I’m hoping I have some from Spirit. It’s looking like I don’t have any from Chel, which is disappointing, because some of those would knock your socks off.

    Oriel, I have lots of photocopies of entire scenes by a bunch of great animators, but scanning them requires an oversized scanner, and a lot of time. If the stars align just right I may do that, but it might be awhile.

  21. oriel Says:

    I’ll try to make the stars move faster…

  22. David Martinez - Character Animator » Sinbad linetests Says:

    […] Koch has posted some Sinbad linetests by James Baxter. Check it out HERE. […]

  23. Erin Says:

    Hey there, can’t believe i haven’t ever come across your site before, truly awesome.Also a 2d student this site is quite inspiring. i see that you mentioned that you worked on The Road to El Dorado if you could post any rough work from that film what so ever i would be forever grateful. The animation in that movie Blew My Mind… just sheer, pure brilliance, i was in awe for every second of it. weather its the most subtle change in expression or the most eccentric swinging movement… i cant get enough of it.
    off the note; personally, i thought sinbad had quite a neat story, but it was mostly the characters that made it. i do see your point though. if you pause through the first clip-you can see the construction in most of the drawings thats awesome to look at also. moves so fluidly!
    Its really sweet to be able to see the rough rough keys before any detail (another page) but it really helps ones minds eye to get a grasp on how it starts and where it comes from. (if that made any sense at all>.

  24. Mike York Says:

    Wow…. Thank you sooo much for posting these Baxter pencil tests. These are awesome . His use of the “S” curve just makes me drool every time I see a scene he has animated. You can learn so much and see how great he really animates when you go frame by frame. WOooo
    man…. It makes me want pick up the pencil again to do some more traditional animation. Ive been lost in the Graph Editor for 2 long 🙂

  25. Darlene Says:

    Keep up the good work.

  26. Bik Says:

    Love the advice. Thank you.

  27. Fred Sposito Says:

    I am from Brazil and we do not a animation bussines here, because of this I have to say it is so good when you place these animations tests here. James did a great work in DreamWorks and i love his job in Sinbad. I study animation by my self and i hope you can put more animation tests from DreamWorks animation studios to inspire me and other ones.

    I will put your blog link on my blog.

    Sorry for my english errors.

  28. Sarah Says:

    Hey Kevin,
    I love reading your posts..they are inspiring and insightful..I love how you are able to be so critical it is the best way to improve. Could you please post work of Chel..I would love to see some tests and drawings of Chel she was hands down one of the most appealing, interesting characters I’ve witnessed..
    Keep it up

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The animation and animation-related musings of Kevin Koch