LifeKids Project Launch


Timbuktoons recently had the privilege of producing a show intro and several animated music videos for LifeKids next project which officially launches tomorrow!

On Friday, April 1, Mr. Music is back, now with Emily and Guy the Bible Guy to bring you the latest LifeKids album, Bible Adventure Worship! Sing along with your kids to 14 of their favorite songs like “You Are Awesome,” “My BFF,” and “Count on Jesus.” Mark your calendar to get it on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Apple Music.

We’ve been working with LifeKids for years and have made so many great friends there. They give most of their resources away for free on their Open site. If you are looking specifically for KidMin resources, here’s the latest free resource (animation by Timbuktoons of course 🙂 See animation sample on the Timbuktoons Facebook page.

Foundations, Jello, and Ugly Babies

foundationIt’s been a very busy couple of months. We visual developed and produced English and Vietnamese pilot episodes for the International Humane Society, and have been eyeball deep in development and preproduction for an educational series for another international non-profit organization (which I’m dying to share but we need to keep it confidential until we finish producing season one).

All of this development reminds me of the last mission trip I took. For an entire week, we dug and poured the foundation of a church in the Dominican Republic. In previous trips, we built entire structures or did all of the finishing, but on the last trip all we did (as far as construction) was build the foundation and it was literally the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life.

Development for Animation is very much the same. It’s awesome work and we all love the blank canvas, but it moves slow and you have to get it just right. You have to consider the end game and make sure what you are measuring for the foundation is going to be adequate. You also have to dig hard and make adjustments as you go. Like concrete, it takes time to set. Like rebar, you must carefully build the skeleton correctly and make sure it’s going hold up under the pressure.

At the same time, development is like nailing jello to the wall. It’s formless and playable and doesn’t initially feel like it’s going to amount to anything. You have to trust the process and follow your gut.

John Lassiter and Ed Catmull of Pixar have both talked about how every one of their movies starts out as an ugly baby. The idea is that parents love their kids but new borns are usually messy odd looking creatures and it takes time to get cute. It takes time for a show to find it’s center, for characters to feel like they fit, for environments and backstories to feel cohesive.

But what a fun ride it is. I’m blown away that I get to do this for a living. It’s not easy work but it’s passionate work. Passion means suffering. You love something enough that you are willing so suffer to see it happen. So whatever creative work you are doing, enjoy the ride. It’s a journey not a destination. If you are just starting your creative career or education you may feel like the work is hard and progress is slow, but you are laying a great foundation for the future!

Character Design Course Review

DArriegaOne thing all artists need is continuing education. It doesn’t matter if you have an established career and have been working for years. Artists (and leaders) must continue growing in their craft and in other ways that stretch them.

I recently completed a Schoolism character design course from Pixar’s Daniel Arriaga and loved it. Arriega has worked on such films as Monsters Inc, Monsters University, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. He also worked on projects at Disney including Wreck-It-Ralph and (as art director) on Prep and Landing: Naughty vs. Nice.

The course covered topics like: shape language, silhouette, rhythm, design and composition, gesture and mood, exaggeration, character moments, and expressions and I really enjoyed his perspective on each of the topics.

Most lessons started with a famous artist highlight featuring the work of various illustrators, comic strip artists, character designers, or visual development artists who displayed mastery of the specific area Arriaga was going to cover in that particular lesson.

Next, he would show how that principle was applied in character design for feature film by showing specific behind the scenes examples from Pixar. I really enjoyed this aspect. Many of the examples he showed I had never seen (and I have just about every “Art of” Pixar book ever published).

Finally, Arriaga would demonstrate the principle and talk about the process. Watching an experienced master character designer draw characters while talking about his thinking process is invaluable.

I won’t give away much more than that (so as to not step on Schoolism’s proprietary toes) but I highly recommend this class to any serious character designer. This was an amazing class and is available as a “go at your own pace” course, or as a specific date range course (check dates/availability) where Arriaga actually critiques your work after each lesson. The second version is obviously limited and only offered a couple of times per year (and more expensive, but justifiably so).

I should also mention, that I am not affiliated with Schoolism in anyway. I don’t get any affiliate commission to recommend them. I simply took the course, really enjoyed it, and want to recommend it to any serious character designer. I’m definitely going to take more courses there myself.

Elements of Art: Shape

shape2Early in my animation career, I heard visual development artists and art directors mention shape language. Somewhat baffled and intrigued by this term, I started looking into it. I had learned about artistic voice, color scripts, and other strange right-brained terms, but was not familiar with shape language.

Shape language basically refers to how the shapes in a piece of art (character design, background, object, etc.) intentionally tell you something about the story, character, mood, or tone (or all of the above).

In previous posts, I listed the elements and principles of art, then unpacked the first element of art, line. This brings us to the second element of art. Shape. Understanding shape will help you in all aspects of the visual arts. A good understanding of shape will help you break large complex objects (even animals or the human form) into it’s simpler shape components.

Understanding shape will help take the intimidation factor out of drawing and will give you direction in what shape choices you make when creating a character, prop, background, or other type of artwork.

Shapes are basically made up of closed contour lines. They are two dimensional and do not have depth (or Z-space for my CG friends).

Shapes can be positive or negative. Positive shapes show the contour or silhouette of an object. Negative space is the space around an object. We often think of positive space, but good artists are just as cognizant and intentional with negative space as they are with positive space.

Shapes can be geometric (triangle, square, circle, etc.) or they can be organic. Organic shapes are freeform. They have no rules and are random. Organic shapes reflect nature. Most objects including characters, props, and landscape elements can be broken down into organic and geometric shapes.

Once a basic understanding and use of shapes is integrated into your work, you can begin to understand and define more complex uses of shape such as the concept of shape language I mentioned above.

One of the clearest and most well defined use of shape language I use to describe or talk about shape language can be found in the animated film The Rise of the Guardians by DreamWorks. Each of the 6 main characters has a clearly defined shape language which carries emotional, story, character trait, and inter relational weight.

The book The Art of DreamWorks Rise of the Guardians by Ramin Zahed does a fantastic job of unpacking each character’s shape language, the reasoning behind it, and how it impacted the film. For a great primer on shape language, I highly recommend this book.

In the next post, we’ll look at the third element of art. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Elements of Art: Line

In my Art Direction 101 post I listed the 7 Elements and 7 Principles of Art. I want to write a post on each of them to explain their role in art direction for composition and motion media.The line is the most basic building block of an artistic piece. It’s basically a moving dot and there are some basic things to remember about how line can influence emotion and how it can guide the viewers eye.

As an artist, you are a story teller, a director, a puppet-master. You control where the eye goes, so it’s very important to understand how your line choices can impact your artistic vision for a piece of art (any art form: animation, video, oil painting, watercolor, illustration, graphic design, etc.). I’ll admit that when I was in art school and heard all of this talk about the elements and principles of art conveying and impacting emotion, I thought it was all heady elitist fluff.

The longer I’m an artist, however, the more I understand these principles and how they work. The more I analyze film and animation, I see (and feel) how these elements are used to guide the eye and effect the emotions. Here are a few tips.

Horizontal Lines
Horizontal lines convey calmness and serenity. Imagine a calm sunset setting with a horizon line with no tilt.

Vertical Lines
Vertical lines are slightly more dynamic and convey strength and alertness. Envision a soldier standing at attention, or a sky scraper in the middle of a composition.

Diagonal Lines

Diagonal lines are the most dynamic and convey action. Even in a still image, a leaning figure appears to be in motion. A tilted camera conveys action.


• Line can also give the illusion of form. Contour lines show the “edge” of a character or object.
• Lines can be organic and irregular.
• Line quality can also vary with different thickness/thinness of line. Thicker line has more visual “weight” and can be used for emphasis or guiding the viewer’s eye. Variety creates interest and feels more energetic.
• Cross contour lines show even more form. In addition to the outline, cross contour lines help “map out” the Z-space so to speak. Not so much like a 3D character grid, but finding contours that show the illusion of dimension.


In Film, sequential art, animation it’s critical to think of how the lines play off each other from shot to shot. What emotion does the sequence need? Do you need contrast of affinity as you line up shots or compositional elements? (Contrast basically means “different”, affinity means “the same”). Is it a cross cut sequence between a peaceful meeting and a crazy car chase? Then the line choices should support that. Line also works in conjunction with other elements like space (flat lines vs. perspective).

There are 2 great books I highly recommend. Framed Ink, by Marcos Mateu-Mestre
and The Visual Story, by Bruce Block. Both cover line really well. There are also some great “art of” books for most of your favorite animated films that are great to read as well (mostly regarding art direction for that particular film).

Key Advice From 12 Industry Leaders

In addition to 20 chapters of practical content, there are also 12 interviews with some key creative industry leaders in my new book “Calling All Artists”. One question I asked each  of the interviewees was this;

“If you had one overarching piece of advice for an artist trying to find their way, what would it be?”

I don’t have the space here to include their full answers, but I wanted to grab one or two lines from each to provide an overview. Even in these short statements, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience. These are in reverse alphabetical order (I thought that would be fair since they are in alphabetical order in the book :).

Note: If you would like to see a list of credits, click the contributor’s name.

The word Animation means the state of being full of life or vigor; liveliness. What could be more fulfilling and joy-filled than being part of a process that creates animation? So have fun!
Marcelo Vignali — Production Designer, Sony Pictures Animation

Try to always have fun and enjoy creating art. Try to turn even a small project into a great oportunity to learn and advance.
Narina Sokolova — TV animation background artist, Disney Television

This is not a career where you can be lazy. It requires determination to push you through your goals you must set, it requires passion, because you have to love what you are doing or you will give up to soon.
Stephen Silver — character designer, drawing teacher, entrepreneur, author

When does time stop and the world become quiet? That’s the discipline for you.
Ashley Postlewaite — Co-founder/Executive Producer, Renegade Animation

Study story structure. Write!
Michael Maurer — film and TV writer

I would say, be humble, be good at what you do.
Heather Martinez — director, writer, story board artist

My advice to writers would be to read scripts and watch cartoons.
Shea Fontana — Children’s TV writer, development and distribution consultant

Do it everyday. You’re competing with people who take art seriously. If you’re not serious, go sell insurance. It will be a lot easier.
Phil Cookefilmmaker, media consultant, and author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do

Build relationships by being humble, willing, and then once you get the job over deliver.
Kathleen Cooke — Co-Founder Cooke Pictures

Always bring you’re “A” game. Be the absolute best you can be in all that you do. It’s hard work, but again, it’s worth it.
Cassie Byram — actress, singer, song-writer, and Executive Creative Producer, Oodles World Inc.

You must have a tremendous amount of passion and drive to be in the business. You must also have an outstanding work ethic.
Amick Byram — feature film and theater actor and singer

To go out and do it. Don’t feel like you have to research, research, research.
Tom Bancroft — former Disney Supervising Animator, Director, Studio Owner, Character Designer, Author

There are 10-14 questions in each interview and some great back-and-forth discussion. To read the full interviews along with the rest of the book, click here to go directly to the Amazon page.

Official Book Launch: Calling All Artists

forpostSee details and purchase options here.
(or go directly to Amazon)

Well it’s finally here. Six months in the making (although I could argue decades) with many late nights and early mornings, encouragement from my wife, kids, and great friends, I’m proud to announce the official release of my first book: Calling All Artists. (See printed manuscript from last week at left.)

After compiling and editing 210+ pages (39,790+ words), setting the master manuscript up with all of the correct styles needed for e-readers, uploading to Amazon it’s finally ready for purchase.

It’s available for Kindles (and Kindle app on iPhone/iPad and other devices) at


I was extremely humbled by these generous endorsements from some very kind industry veterans. Some also have some amazing interviews in the book along with several other TV, Feature Film, Broadway, Music, and Video Production veterans!

An immensely practical guide for the creative in all of us. Todd Hampson’s work has blessed me and thousands of others – his writing about the nuts and bolts of being a working creative will bless many more. Highly recommended!

Phil Vischer — Creator of VeggieTales and What’s in the Bible?

When someone with Todd Hampson’s credentials and experience talks about creativity, I listen.  In fact, his new book, “Calling All Artists” was the kick in the pants I needed to move forward on my next project.  If you live a creative life (and all of us should), then I recommend the book.  You won’t regret it.

Phil Cooke — filmmaker, media consultant, and author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do

Having been an adjunct professor in the cinema and media departments of two major universities, I know firsthand the positive impact this book will have on students.  Whether graduating from college or deciding what to do with your life, this book answers hard questions,  provides insightful information, and gives you life changing tips on how to make better choices and start a creative career in the 21st century.

Kathleen Cooke —, Co-Founder Cooke Pictures,

Todd Hampson’s “Calling All Artists” e-book is a GREAT tool for anyone just getting into animation or even those that have been in it a while and want to reinvent themselves and/or reignite their passions.  As artists, we are not very good at looking internally or into the future, so planning our careers is a mysterious journey.  Todd really gets you to organize your thoughts and aline them with your talents!  That is THE path to success for any artist!  Additionally, his optimistic viewpoint toward the industry, and his excitement about it, is a breath of fresh air we all need to hear!

Tom Bancroft — former Disney Supervising Animator, Director, Studio Owner, Character Designer, Author

Todd Hampson listens and delivers! I have personally had the privilege of working with Todd and his company Timbuktoons developing an animated series for kids. He and his wonderful team were able to grant my every wish, and then some. The information he shares in this book will absolutely help artists on their creative journey.

Cassie Byram — actress, singer, song-writer, and Executive Creative Producer, Oodles World Inc.

Needless to say, I’m really excited about this book, most of all because I think it is going to help thousands of artists discover their creative calling and how to thrive in a creative career. I’m planning a few promotional events to help get the word out about the book but I couldn’t wait to share the news. Please tell your friends and share this link ( on social media to help get the word out!



Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Creativity Inc

This book by Pixar, Disney, and DisneyToon Studios’ President, Ed Catmull is amazing. As a long time Pixar geek I have soaked up just about everything available in terms of Pixar culture, special features, documentaries etc. I’ve watched The Pixar Story by Leslie Iwerks, and read The Pixar Touch by David A. Price. I’ve watched YouTube lectures by Ed Catmull, Lassiter, Stanton, Doctor, and of course Jobs.

So, when I started reading Creativity, Inc., I didn’t think there would be much new information to be honest. Boy was I wrong. This is the first extensive work published by a Pixar leader and it’s an in depth look at the management style and studio culture development thought process of one of the most unassuming and effective leaders of our generation. It covers the same history and facts and highlights some of the same Pixar culture principles, but I was amazed at how much rich content each chapter had. I can’t think of another recent book where I’ve highlighted so much. Just about every line is tweetable.

This book drips with wisdom for leaders of any organization, not just creative shops. For me, it was the perfect storm of creativity, healthy organizational culture, and leadership principles. It really transcends industries because creativity and leadership transcend industries.

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Let me know what you think once you’ve read it. You can leave a comment below.

Project Highlight: “Bible App For Kids”

This is an amazing time to be a creative. Location is not a factor for most creative projects. With online collaboration tools giving organizations the ability to hire companies based on their key creative strength, it makes it possible to produce complex projects without having to hire an onsite team to pull it off.


Timbuktoons worked with Bible App, One Hope, and Ovenbits in the latest story launched in the Bible App for Kids available for all devices and found in the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon.

“Two by Two” depicts the story of Noah and the flood through 8 interactive story panels with user triggered animation and a ton of characters. Timbuktoons handled animation planning, character rigging using interactive game software, rough animation and final animation production, as well as setting the files up to dish off to Ovenbits to program the interactivity.

You can read more about it here.

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The 5 Key Steps To Animation Development

In a previous post I introduced the 4 phases of the animation process using characters to help give an overview. Today, I’ll use one of the characters to further explain the first phase of the process and unpack 5 critical steps in the process.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 7.59.50 AM

Development Guru (Progressum Instruo) is a wise sage who’s here to guide you thru the tangled land of developing your idea, determining a budget, and mapping out a schedule. His special powers and years of battle-tested development techniques will help you on your journey thru the Development Jungle.

This first phase has to do with your concept itself. Occasionally, we have clients come to us with a complete concept developed but more often than not, clients come to us with a partly developed concept or just a basic idea. Our job in development is come up with a solution. What is the best concept to use to solve your problem? This is where experience and a development process is absolutely necessary.

Research the demographics of the target audience, find out what creative approaches have been taken before for similar concepts (believe me, there’s nothing 100% new under the sun), determine what the concept possibilities are (style, setting, type of characters, unique situation, etc.), who the stake holders are, and why certain approaches may be more or less effective than others. This is also the phase where reference is gathered (or reference trips taken) to help with visual and treatment development.

This is where the nebulous idea begins to take shape. The rules of the concept world are defined. Character personalities and back stories are fleshed out. Secondary characters are developed, and story arcs are crafted.

Once we get a basic understanding of the concept, we move into visual development where we begin to design the look and feel of the concept. What do the characters look like? What do the backgrounds look like? What are the art direction rules of the concept.

Once visual development is underway, we usually develop a treatment. A treatment is a short (5-25 page, depending on the scope) description of the concept, characters, world, special features, rules, etc. and has artwork to help convey these aspects.


Once the treatment is approved we write a script. Everything leading up to the script is absolutely necessary and helps make for a great script. Fully developed characters (likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, quirks, backgrounds) and the specifics of their interpersonal dynamics will GREATLY influence and strengthen the script. The more time you spend in development the more interesting and stronger your project will be.


This is the foundation of the house. You can’t go back (without additional time and money) once you move into pre-production. Think of the development phase as the blue prints for a house. You don’t want to start cutting 2×4′s and pouring concrete until the blue prints are finalized. Development is the surveying and architectural process for any creative story and character driven project.

This process can take a few weeks (for small projects), a few months (for medium sized projects), or a year or more (for very large projects). TV shows are often in development for 1-3 years and animated feature films even longer. Pixar films, for example, have a minimum 4 year development phase (in most cases).

Once the planning, concept, final script, and key visual development are all completed, it’s time to move down the pipeline to Pre-Production.

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