Animating was the most time-consuming phase of production. Since I was a novice, it was a learning process from start to finish. By the time it was about half-finished, I had improved so much that my earlier work looked relatively inferior and needed to be redone.

The Ornament

Santa's movements were intended to be cute and bouncy, yet physically realistic. I tried to make his body parts appear to have mass so that he wouldn't move like a plastic toy. His hat turned out to be a great tool for expressing secondary motion as he ran and jumped around.

Santa's body parts were linked using forward kinematics, with the torso at the top level of the hierarchy. This meant that to animate him walking, I first had to animate the torso's position and rotation. Keyframing the legs followed, and anchoring the feet to the floor meant setting a LOT of keys.

I used simple bend modifiers to animate Santa's arms, hands, toes, hat and mouth. When Santa is on the train and airplane, his hat flaps in the wind. This was achieved with an animated noise controller applied to the hat's bend modifier.


The tinsel was made of a dozen transparency-mapped cards extruded along a helical spline up the tree. To make it flex I just animated the vertices of the spline. And to achieve the effect of the candy cane squeezing the tinsel strands as it slid along, I used a cylindrical freeform-deformation space warp. The falling tinsel strands were created with a particle system using instanced geometry.

MAX's animatable link controller was used when Santa falls off the candy cane, train, and airplane. It also came in handy when animating the train cars themselves, since they had to unlink from each other in the train crash.


The train was one of the more complicated props and it was important to set it up properly. Each train car was parented to its front trucks. To animate the cars rocking I applied a noise controller to each car's rotation channel. I then set the caboose's front trucks as a child of the center car's trucks, and did likewise between the center car and the engine.

What remained was to animate the train traveling around the circular track. I created a dummy object inside the engine and made it the parent of the engine's trucks. After moving the dummy's pivot point to the center of the track circle, moving the train was as simple as rotating the dummy. An expression rotation controller made the engine wheels rotate automatically.

All the aforementioned links were configured using the link controller, so I simply unlinked everything when the train cars had to fly off the track. The train crash was then animated manually with the help of a few more dummies, which are visible to the left of the screen.


The airplane was configured just as methodically as the train. I used two concentric dummies to animate its motion: one for position, the other for rotation. This made it conceptually easier to animate the plane moving in one direction and facing another, as during a stall. Santa was held to the plane using another dummy centered on his hands. Rotating this dummy allowed his torso to rise up off the plane while his grip remained tight, which happened mostly during negative-G situations.

Since I wanted the plane to look flimsy, I used bend and twist modifiers to make it flex. And though you might not notice it, the wingtips flutter as the plane is flying. I achieved this subtle effect by linking a wave space warp to the plane and assigning it to the wingtip vertices. Animating the wave phase created the flutter.


Almost every shot was timed to the musical accompaniment. That includes the shot length, camera movement, and object animation. As classical songs are a series of melodic themes and their subsequent variations, I tried to coordinate the camera movement to match. For example, if you watch closely, you will often see a dolly-pan shot followed by a cut, and then a variation on the dolly-pan that roughly coincides with the variation in melody.

Of course, this often meant compromising between the music and cinematography. I had to cut many of the shots more quickly than I wanted to. In retrospect, I would have been less concerned about matching the camera to the music, making the melody subservient to the cinematography instead.