For those who don’t know of the site 99U, it’s similar to Ted Talks but with a focus on “Making Ideas Happen”. I went through most of the talks a couple months ago and while none deal directly with the topic of animation I think a lot of the information and theories can be applied to animators. I’ve picked out the four that have stuck in my mind since watching them:
The simplest of things – standing naturally for example – show character. It’s easy to get used to defaults: a standing pose, an angry hand clench, a sad face, the action of sitting down, a vanilla walk, etc. But the question we need to remember is how does our character, in their current state of mind do things.
While looking for another example I came across this Disney character line up. While it doesn’t quite show characters in a neutral standing position I think we can still garner a lot from the elements of these silhouettes when posing our characters to show personality. Credit goes to Juan Pablo Bravo for this lineup.
Why do these give a sense of strength and power?
And in my opinion, why are these poses which traditionally show strength not as strong?:
Why would I not trust someone in these poses?:
Why do these have a greater sense of innocence?:
And these a greater sense of confidence?:
What do the way the feet are posed here say about these characters?:
Why does a simple change in Line of Action give Arthur and Mowgli 2 clearly different personalities?
How are 2 characters in the same file contrasted with each other?:
I had to animate a ball bouncing in one of my shots at work this week and it gave me the idea of writing a post on the topic. I think the bouncing ball is the foundation of animation and is absolutely worth spending time to get it down to perfection. Just browsing through the Class 1 Assignments on A.M, I can see a lot of people can pull it off, but for those who haven’t quite got the hang of it I tend to think there are 2 areas where they trip up: planning and understanding how the graph editor relates to the viewport.
If we can’t demonstrate with pencil and paper the arc, spacing and timing, we’re never magically going to get it right in Maya. Take the time to check out the Survival Kit on how a ball bounces and then draw it yourself with all the information.
This is not enough:
I noticed a lot of people show planning like this. While it shows arcs and the fall off in height, it misses spacing and timing. Spacing is key in a ball bounce. Just simple ticks is enough to show the idea that a ball doesn’t have even spacing.
That’s all it takes. It’s not perfect, it’s rough planning but it clearly shows the concepts and gives us time to figure out how things should move before adding all the complexities of working in Maya.
Assuming the above planning is for a basketball, there are also two points to clarify:
1. What is the drop off rate on the bounce height for a basketball? Successive bounces are usually lower by the same percentage, different balls with different weights will have different percentages.
2. How long does a bounce take? Shoot or get some reference and count the frames (if it’s at 24fps). How long is the first bounce, then the second, the third, etc.
Mark both down on the planning sketches. Basketballs take a long time to come to rest, when animating one we’re not going to be aiming for real life precision. We’ll be able to get something more believable though having that information as a starting point.
Graph Editor vs Viewport.
The graph editor takes getting used to, but trial and error will get us a long way. One easier way to get a grasp of it is by having more visual feedback of what the animation is looking like and how changes in the graph editor are affecting it. I’ll point out 3 ways of doing this:
1. Arc Tracking.
In this case I’ve laid down 3 keys and animated a quick bounce just as an example. Now if we turn on Motion Trails within Maya we can see the arc the ball is moving on. To do so, make sure we are in the Animation menu bar (hit F2), select the ball, then go to Animate > Create Editable Motion Trail
What we also would like to see is a representation of the position of the ball on each frame. To do that we can select the curve and in the Attribute Editor turn on Show Frame Markers. Now we can see our arc and our spacing.
Notice how our visual feedback in Maya is looking a lot like how we drew our planning ; ) To delete the motion trail, just select it and press delete.
Another way of visually seeing more of your animation is by using ghosting.
In this case Maya will show where your object will be in the frames following and preceding the current frame. To turn this function on, select your ball, go to Animate > Ghost Selected
I prefer to turn the options on and choose Custom Frame Steps. In this way I can choose the number of frames to show before and after the current frame.
To turn ghosting off, simply go to Animate > Unghost All
3. Screen Drawing.
The last way is to literally draw on your screen. There are two ways, find a screen drawing application or use an erasable whiteboard marker. Screen drawing software ranges from free to about $20 (I will say without hesitation $20 is definitely worth it). At work we can’t just install our own apps, so a lot of animators will have a piece of perspex they put over their screen and then draw on it with a white board marker.
While more time intensive the advantage of this method is I can draw the arc from my current animation and also I can also draw the arc I intend the ball to take. Motion Trails and Ghosting are only able to show what your animation is currently doing, while drawing on your screen gives you the advantage of being able to draw the arcs, spacing, keys, poses, etc that you want to achieve. It can act as a guide as much as it can as visual feedback.
I hope that helps in some ways. To recap: don’t skimp on planning. Planning = getting the concepts figured out before adding the complexities of Maya. And secondly, use some way of visually seeing your arcs+spacing to gain a better sense of how changes in the graph editor will impact the animation.
Currently working on a new acting shot for my reel, so while in the planning frame of mind I thought I’d make a post out of some tips I’ve gathered and now use as part of my workflow.
1. Searching for Audio Clips
Animation Mentor discourages audio clip web sites and I tend to agree with them. Find unique clips with decent audio quality.
TV shows can be a reliable source, if you can think of a character you like then there will be plethora of lines if the show has run through a few seasons.
Some things to look for in clips:
– A story. A start, middle and end. A goal, conflict & resolution.
– Texture in timing and tone.
– A change in emotional states.
– Something that appeals to you.
Make the audio clip work for you. Add sound effects, cut things out, add “white noise” so there isn’t complete silence before your clip starts, etc. Keep it simple though, playing with audio is a new can of worms.
One last thing to keep in mind, if your clip is 10 seconds long your animation could easily end up being 15 seconds. Sometimes you may need time before the dialogue starts in order to set the scene or some time after the dialogue to finish out actions. The length of your clip doesn’t always equal the length of your final animation, it’s something that’s easy to get caught out on.
Build on what’s already there in the audio. Read into the subtext, change the context, bring something fresh to the table. Don’t just replicate the same scene as the film/tv show.
Having basic drawings with timing and audio gives a much better sense if the idea will work. Even just having one quick storytelling image for each idea will give others a good sense of your idea in order to give feedback.
I like drawing in Photoshop with the timeline. If layering audio I’ll use After Effects to assemble the animatic. I’ve also used the Animation Desk iPad app for pantomime shots.
It doesn’t have to be all high tech though, a cheap option is Flipbook which Jason Ryan recommends and also Pencil which is free. I personally haven’t tried either of those apps though.
4. Shooting reference
First, two breakdown vids that hopefully most have seen before, both from Blue Sky animators.
Epic Comparison Reel – by Jeff Gabor
Memorise the lines.
Amazing how many students don’t do this. Without knowing the lines and timing off heart, you’re not going to get into the performance.
I like to use the FiLMiC Classic app as it lets you shoot in 24FPS and you can also lock off focus and exposure. I like the ease of reviewing shots with app but also the frame rate is a big plus, you can precisely count frames for the timing. If you’re using a dedicated camera try not shoot 30FPS, if you convert it later 6 frames of every second will have to be dropped, it just makes it a bit harder to analyse.
Set the camera up in the same position as the camera in your scene and occasionally check what you’ve been shooting.
Patrick in the video above recommends getting into character, including similar clothing. Jeff in the 2nd does a mix, wearing the hoodie for Mary Katherine’s shots for example, but he also wears a plaid shirt in other shots. If you have them, plaid, striped, dotted clothes can make it a little easier to study the body mechanics in your acting.
Sometimes when acting you know you’ve done something spontaneous you like, or just felt it was a better performance than others. I like to clap at the end of the take, it just makes it easier to scrub through and find those specific takes later.
5. Mod your characters
Create new characters. Show their character traits in their design and have something that looks a bit different to other shots on other people’s reels. Some of how to do this was covered in the Bishop post and Texturing Tribes Rigs.
6. Show people
Pretty simple, show others and get opinions before getting too deep into an idea. Facebook groups are great, I like to pick people whose work I like and mail them directly. Everybody is pretty open to helping out.
A year since doing our last Loop de Loop submission, my friend Albert and I decided to collaborate on a loop again. Only this time we ended up winning at the Sydney screening. Yay. The L.A screening this time was sponsored by Nickelodeon who held it at their studio in front of about 400 people. Great to see this little animation community grow. The idea is basically to create an animated loop based on a given theme, then get together in one of four cities and watch them with a few beers.
I thought I’d break down a little bit of how we worked. It’s just 12 seconds of animation, so it’s not too different to any of the Animation Mentor assignments. But having to design the set, do final colour grading, give notes on the modeling/texturing, etc actually made the process a lot more fun. We busted it out from start to finish in about 3 weekends and has been one of my favourite projects.
Working with Albert.
Albert is in Australia, I’m in Tokyo so we did everything via email. He likes lighting, rendering, modelling, rigging and I like animation, designing and coming up with fun ideas so our skills and interests compliment each other well. The only thing I felt we are lacking is in the audio side of things, will have to find someone else if we do another clip.
The theme for the Loop De Loop challenge was “childhood”. My aim was to do a shot without too much body mechanics so we could hit the deadline with some fairly decent animation. I found the clip of a child laughing on youtube and it essentially narrowed down the possibilities from the broad notion of “childhood” to just a child laughing at something. Having that, it was just a matter of coming up with an entertaining reason for the kid to laugh.
My aim was more on getting this done on time than having something for my showreel so there’s nothing special to mention here. I pretty much worked entirely in spline mode and got it pretty much close to done in a couple nights. There’s a lot of parent constraints going on to give the car suspension, so Stan can turn the wheel, give some bounce on the sunglasses and Pinky some eyes.
The rigs are from Animation Mentor, we basically just changed the textures on them and as just mentioned, gave eyes to the second kid in the back.
I roughed this sketch out to get a sense of colour and environment design before hitting Maya. I spent a lot of time on colour variations in Photoshop but found I was getting nowhere so decided to finalise it once we had some of the set modelled.
Albert likes to work in Modo, so I supplied an alembic cache (basically it bakes out all the animation) of the character animation. He cleaned all the unnecessary parts that came with it, applied some sub surfacing scattering to the textures and then pulled it into the lit set he was working with. We rendered *almost* everything in the one go, the environment, characters, motion blur, etc.
There’s not that much going on in post. To keep our rendering times down we had fairly low quality motion blur, which looked a bit extreme on the truck. So we rendered the truck separately and applied motion blur in After Effects. We also did some quick reflection fixes on things we hadn’t spotted before rendering and applied a bit of a colour grade. I find colour grading is incredibly complex, so not sure if I actually improved the renders by tweaking with it.
The reflection + glowing seat we decided to fix in post:
Loop de Loop is an awesome bit of fun. To enter something, to go to the screenings, etc is all free. They are currently raising funds to make it even bigger+better, so if you’re interested in the event be sure to through some support at it on Indiegogo.
What is similar in Shaun the Sheep and Goodnight Mr Foot? (see previous post)
- Character introductions
Shaun and Bigfoot are introduced on screen in the same way. It is a coincidence, but the movement is visually entertaining, cute and also gives a sense of vulnerability to the characters. In my opinion this introduction instantly gives the characters appeal.
- Flat perspective
Both mainly use flat perspective throughout, only bringing depth to exaggerate dramatic points. Read this on flat vs deep staging or grab a copy of Visual Story for more on that idea.
Examples where depth is used to highlight drama.
- Snappy animation
In the Goodnight Mr Foot post I mentioned the characters go from starting pose -> anticipation -> pop to extreme -> settle over 6 – 8 frames. The same is done in Shaun the Sheep
How is good and evil established?
The farmer and the Animal Containment officer’s goals are in direct conflict with Shaun’s but have a look at how the characters are presented differently.
The farmer has a stern face but we know he’s not a threatening character; there’s the warmth in the colours, he struggles to wake up, flower patterns on the bed cover and the wall, etc. But also the appealing design, he has no eyes. His blindness to Shaun is exemplified in his design and tihs also makes him a little goofy and appealing when he squashes the dog. He’s presented in humorous ways in his first 2 shots.
In contrast the officer wears military style clothing, but also the neck tie, gloves and protective eyewear give us a sense that he’s a bit nuts, threatening and highly organised. There’s nothing fun or warming about him.
How is focus kept?
Watch how despite having so many characters, the dog is the only character that continues to move until the very of the shot. He obviously also stands out with the use of colour, but also the moving car starts form directly behind him.
Is everything animated to a high level?
Basically, no. There is some amazing detail to some of the animation. The hen for example has feathers moving, a beak animated on 1’s and even the legs and feet move on the turn.
Also watch how the farmer’s toes wriggle while he is in bed. Very subtle.
Then compare to the shot of the guys taking a photo, apart from the mechanical feel of the shoulders going up and down the characters basically just twist on the spot. More attention is paid to some shots than others.
How are animation principles used?
There’s a lot in this one shot. The hand comes up and anticipates the action. It then tries to hit the alarm clock and misses. There is drag on the wrist, a nice arc and easing in/out. The hand comes back, pauses again and then jumps to the clock. Much greater spacing is used compared to first attempt to give impact to the slam and also give texture to the timing.
What would I have changed?
Just a personal thing but I think the mouth positions to the side of the head don’t work so well, I often didn’t realise a mouth had appeared. Maybe that becomes less of a problem with longer viewing, but right now I feel it’s too disconnected/abnormal to be easily readable.
I’m a fan of Genndy’s work so thought it would be interesting to break down something of his. I’m using Goodnight Mr Foot which is on Youtube (unfortunately with subtitles) which he both directed and animated with the help of Rough Draft in Korea.
Smears and multiples
There are so many smears or frames where body parts multiply that I don’t think they need to be highlighted here. There are plenty of examples in the other points below.
Major pose changes The style of the animation is very snappy and I noticed a few ways he gets this feel. Often he will go from a starting pose -> anticipation -> pop straight to an extreme pose -> then settle over about 6 or 8 frames.
Sometimes there are breakdowns between the starting pose and anticipation as seen above, sometimes there will be no anticipation and just a breakdown. (the first frame is actually a held pose from the previous action)
This is a bit more rare, there is no anticipation or break down at all. But also notice here how the body is settling over 6 frames but the eye pupils remain in the same space on screen. They retain our focus easily by staying in the same spot.
Notice here how the hand in the breakdown is placed exactly where the nose will land. I made a gif below to show it more clearly. I tend to think it keeps the snappy movement but reduces things popping around on screen, retains a similar silhouette and doesn’t confuse the viewer.
If we look at the start and end pose they feel quite different, he’s looking in different directions and with different emotions. But if you pay attention to the turn, there’s little to no body movement at all. The lack of change in the body helps us focus on the face and in my opinion keeps a comedic aspect to the move.
Here he adds texture to his spacing a bit. The witch goes from anticipation, pops up into an extreme, settles a bit but then the body pops down again into another extreme. It’s all very quick but he establishes a rhythm through spacing and then pushes it for a snappy finish to the move. Watch the progression of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frames below for example, then look at how different it is by the 6th. After that the body settles over 8 frames.
A similar thing happens here, there is a rhythm built in the spacing which then jumps and also suddenly introduces depth to the hand for two frames.
Change in emotion
We see two changes in Mr Foot on the right. He goes from sleepy to alert to annoyed. Both changes have the character blink, anticipate slightly and then pop into the new pose. Again there’s only subtle changes to the body, his arms and head raise, but his big torso remains in the same pose. Keeping it fairly still helps keep our attention screen centre, where the desk clerk is moving and also where Mr Foot’s face is.
Check out the range in mouth shapes when the character is talking in close up. From completely sticking the tongue out to speaking out of the side of her mouth. They are unique and completely exaggerated.
I also like here how the character’s lips go from one side of her face to the other. They don’t just pop, the mouth shapes are formed so the lips progress across the face.
When studying animation principles it’s often said that when using squash and stretch the same volume should be retained. Genndy breaks those rules here for some visual fun.
And also breaks body parts to exaggerate a motion.
I’ve finally got round to uploading my reel from Animation Mentor.
I’d still like to get in there and fix a few things, but for now I think I’ll focus my energies on a new shot. I’ve also updated the links to my fellow classmates on the side of this blog, be sure to check them out too.
I’m also considering options for when my current work contract is up later this year, so please feel free to drop me a line if you have/know of any suitable opportunities. Thanks!