Planning an acting shot

Currently working on a new acting shot for my reel, so while in the planning frame of mind 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 itself and also every mentor I had said it, don’t use audio clip web sites. 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 you will enjoy animating.

2. Ideas
Build on what’s already there in the audio. Read into the subtext, change the context, bring something fresh to the table. Replicating what happens in the original scene isn’t having an idea.

3. Animatics
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.

Storytelling images for 3 different clips/ideas:
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4. Shooting reference
First, two breakdown vids that hopefully most have seen before, both from Blue Sky animators.

Epic Animation Tips – by Patrick Giusiano
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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.

Camera.
I like to use the FiLMiC Classic app over actually using a dedicated camera. It lets you shoot in 24FPS and 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. Don’t shoot 30FPS, if you convert it later 6 frames of every second will have to be dropped, it’ll be hard to really analyse spacing.
Set the camera up in the same position as the camera in your scene and occasionally check what you’ve been shooting.

Lighting.
Make sure your area is well let so you can clearly see the reference. Just a quick comparison of what happens when you change the position of your lights.
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Clothes.
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. Plaid, striped, dotted clothes make it easier to study the body mechanics in your acting.
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Clap.
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.
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6. Show people
Pretty simple, show others and get opinions before getting too deep into an idea. Facebook groups are great, though I like to pick people whose work I like and mail them directly. Everybody is pretty open to helping out.

Loop de Loop 2

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 and watch them with a few beers.

» Watch our clip here.

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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 idea.
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.

The animatic.
It’s quick and rough, but you get the idea. I don’t think anything changed during our production process.
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The animation.
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.

The environment.
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.
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Hopefully here you can see how the set/design process went down as a collobaration.
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I liked that I could send simple sketches to Albert and he could come back with his own spin on them.
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Lighting/rendering.
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.

Post production.
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.

After Effects file, with truck and bad naming conventions :P
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The reflection + glowing seat we decided to fix in post:

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LoopdeLoop:
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.

Shaun the Sheep Teaser

Another analysis of something I enjoy, the work of Aardman Animations. They’ve just released a new trailer for their upcoming film, check it out:
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What is similar in Shaun the Sheep and Goodnight Mr Foot? (see previous post)

  1. 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.shaun12 
  2. 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.
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    Examples where depth is used to highlight drama.
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  3. 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
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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.
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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.
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Speaking of good/evil, a nice homage:
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How are thought processes shown?
In this shot watch closely as he detects something in the corner of his eye, blinks, sits up, eyes dart around and then finally turns.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Genndy Tartakovsky – Goodnight Mr Foot

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. gnmf16

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. gnmf01

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) gnmf09

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. gnmf05

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. gnmf06 gnmf07

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. gnmf10

Spacing
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.gnmf03

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. gnmf08

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. gnmf02

Mouth shapes
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. gnmf14

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. gnmf13

Breaking rules
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. gnmf15

And also breaks body parts to exaggerate a motion. gnmf04

Animation Mentor Reel

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!

Transformers

The trailer for the show I’ve been working on has just been released at the San Diego Comic Con, I’ve got one pretty simple shot in there. I think it’s a fun show, hope it does well and hope you enjoy.

Animation Mentor

I completed the Animation Mentor course a few weeks ago so wanted to offer my thoughts to those who are considering enrolling. I know there are quite a few write ups online, but I hope this post differs in some way. I should note that I went through Classic course, I haven’t experienced the collaborative classes or creature workshops.

Firstly I will say (and I know this does sounds cliché) I do feel my experience was amazing and what I got out of the course has indeed been life changing. My skills have exploded, the way I perceive animation + the industry has changed, it has already helped me kick off my career and I have made some great friends. It has been the most challenging, the most exhausting but also the most personally fulfilling period of my life.

The A.M curriculum definitely gives you what is needed to succeed in becoming a character animator. It’s a very well designed course, it’s not hard to get an amazing mentor and there is a strong sense of community + supporting each other.

I think the key point though, is what you get out of the course is entirely dependent on you. It depends on your motivations. It depends on your willingness to listen and apply what you’ve been advised. It depends on your amount of time, your amount of effort, and your willingness to help others.

A.M likes to promote the idea of ‘following your dreams’. I see A.M itself as being the sign posts along the road to a dream, or more realistically, to the goal of becoming a character animator. Actually travelling down that road and reaching that destination isn’t something that A.M – or any other school for that matter – will ever give you.

If I were asked if I would recommend Animation Mentor, then I think my answer would totally depend on who is asking. In general I will say the workload can get incredibly demanding,  there are often decisions by the school you don’t agree with, I do think it needs to be supplemented with your own study (drawing, story, animation/art history, etc) and there are other cheaper + highly reputable schools online. A.M does have its flaws and limitations.

But I do think in terms of what it is – a course specifically focusing on character animation – it is very well structured, it can definitely help you reach new levels, challenge your abilities and be an all round fantastic experience. It’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to put into it that will determine how far it will take you.

Exaggeration – Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

Something I notice in a lot of student work is what I tend to think is a misunderstanding of the principle of exaggeration. I feel that many think the idea of exaggeration is just making every movement bigger and over the top, especially when trying to do a cartoony style. I think a different way of looking at the idea of exaggeration is not necessarily making things bigger, but to exaggerate the contrast between elements. Quick timing vs slow timing. Big movements vs smaller movements. Light vs dark. Pinky vs Brain. Etc.

There’s a few problems with making quick+bigger movements across an entire animation.
Firstly It doesn’t let the audience breathe and take in what is happening, it affects the clarity of your storytelling. But also without the smaller/slower movements, the bigger/faster movements lose their impact. Emphasis and texture in the shot are lost.

I just came across this deleted scene from Cloudy WIth A Chance of Meatballs 2. The style of the show makes great use of exaggeration and think we can take some things from even just 3 shots in this sequence.

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Firstly we see Flint racing down the street in a very exaggerated way, big crazy movements and very fast. He then swings around the parking meter and bursts in through the door. A key point though is that he spends longer at the parking meter than he needs to, about 18 frames. Just having that extra little bit of time to pause gives the audience to take in the scene, what’s happening and also an idea of what’s going to happen next. So while his run is exaggerated, his pause is also exaggerated.
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We see Flint in a hold, a super quick move in 2 frames but then another hold before he makes the mark across the calendar. This isn’t all just one big/quick movement that leaves the audience behind, there’s a deliberate use of fast vs slow that gives the audience information they need and texture to the timing.
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I love these jump cuts. Take note that his arms are flailing in big/quick movements. But watch his body, there’s hardly any movement. That stillness gives us just enough to read what’s happening in such a short cut. Our eye doesn’t have to jump round the screen following his body in each shot, but we still get the emergency of the scene through the exaggerated arms and poses.cloudy06
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Lighting & Viewport 2.0

My most asked question from this blog is how I light/render my shots. My basic answer is I don’t render anymore, and I start with a simple 3 point lighting set up.

Instead of rendering I use Viewport 2.0. So for example this is actually what I see in my viewport in Maya:
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To render I just do a playblast. The quality isn’t as good as a render, but it allows me to easily touch up shots and continually update my reel. I think that’s more important than render quality.

I’ll use a more simple example to give a quick run down of how I light my shots. For this character it takes about 2 minutes and I can just simply do a screen grab for my assignment. I should note there should be a ground plane so the character casts a shadow, see below for turning on shadows:
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Switch to Viewport 2.0. I generally turn the anti-aliasing values up to their highest:viewport03

This is my lighting set up. I tend to use Directional Lights unless there’s just a specific area I want to light.
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If I just have each light on, you should get an idea of what each light is doing.
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Key Light = the main light source.

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Fill light brings some detail into the shadows, you can see here I like to add a fair bit of colour to it.
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The rim light just helps separate the character from the background. It’s just a subtle touch.

That’s all there is to it, just 3 lights and a change in viewport rendering. Simple.
I don’t recommend working in Viewport 2.0, it’s more intensive and can be quite buggy at times

*EDIT*
To turn on shadows you need to do it both in your viewport and on the light you want to be casting shadows.
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