Cat Animation Test – Dragana Mandic

Dragana Mandic is an animator and a rigger in the Visual Effects and Animation industry. With over 5 years of experience, she’s worked for studios like Crater studio, FullScream, BunkerVFX and a few others. Some of the films and TV series she worked on are Thugs of Hindostan, Baahubali 2, The Pig on the Hill, A Series of Unfortunate Events etc. After finishing her Bachelor degree in Computer Graphics at the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Novi Sad, she switched her pen from designing math matrices to designing characters. Over the years she handled tasks from muscle and skin simulation, motion graphics and rigging, to roto and key. So why does animation sing the sweet song of her heart? It is, after all, the only field where you can put your stalky observation and drawing skills, rhythm from Zumba, and the love of theatre into one place.

We love the cat. What is her name?

Gustav the cat 🙂

How did you get idea for the video and how did you approach your test project?

This was long overdue. The idea came from a pure desire to do something creative, without client supervision, tight deadlines, stressful comments, and the usual industry environment. In a busy production life, we artists often forget why we do it at all, so I wanted to get back to my roots and remind myself why I’m an animator in the first place. What started as a simple project quickly snowballed into countless ideas. At first, I just wanted to test how closely I could match an animal’s behavior from reference footage. One reference led to another and quickly a story idea was born, just from stitching 3-4 main videos. Then, of course, as you move on every idea leads to a new idea and countless others that can escalate to creative chaos. A particular challenge for me was to discipline myself in making order out of chaos, and not letting imperfection stop me from finishing or sharing my work. Even now I see a lot of places where the animation could be improved since the polish phase never ends :). I just had to let it go at some point since I didn’t want it to end in a bin with countless other unfinished projects.

Rendering was done by Petar Stamenković, associate professor at Metropolitan University in Belgrade, using 3DS Max and Redshift. I like how you can communicate an idea just by using black and white values, without fancy textures or crazy render hours.

What are the subtleties of animating the cat and what was the challenge on this short?

The biggest challenge was staying motivated after long work hours, coming home tired, and working instead of falling asleep 🙂  What helped me stay on a steady schedule were continuous reviews by Jean-Denis Haas (ILM animator) and Dhanu Muddikuppam (MPC animator). These amazing fellas hold workshops at Spungella and Creature animation workshop, so I’d definitely recommend checking them out!

On a more technical note, the hardest thing was filling the gap for the places you can’t
find a good reference, and trying to think of what would a real animal do in that instance. In cases like that all what remains is just watching countless hours of cat videos from all kinds of angles, to get a grip of the timing. Studio breakdowns where skeletons are shown, are also super helpful to figure out what a cat spine can and cannot do. Another important thing was to keep it clean from all angles. Certain glitches from top, side and front view all had to be fixed. The thing I would change, if I could go back, is to keep it shorter and much simpler.

What is your specialty in animation?

I tend to lean more towards creature animation for film. But both feature and vfx animation have their perks.
Motion graphics also has a special place in my heart, since it’s a mix of design, color and
animation. I always get a sweet butterfly feeling inside when I do short mographs 🙂

Any plans for the “Cat: The Sequel”? 🙂

The next step for this baby is to do a full muscle and skin simulation with Ziva Dynamics, and transfer it into Unreal Engine with some friends and colleagues. Stay tuned! 🙂

Find out more about Dragana on Instagram, LinkedIn, Vimeo



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