Monday, February 11, 2008

guest critique

This is something I've wanted to do for a while, and thought it might be useful to randomly have guests, people I work with and know to pop in and offer their opinion. So here it is, the first guest critic, Travis Howe, an exceptionally enthusiastic animator I work with.

A'right. I want to start by saying thank you to Jeff for inviting me to give my humble feedback on student work. I greatly respect Jeff's work, and am honored to be asked to help out.

Secondly, the best teachers I've ever had were the hardest. We don't learn from flattery; honest, hard critique is where we do the most growing. Thus, I symphathize greatly with you, Andrew, in having to face my critiques, as I am extremely un-forgiving in my criticism. That being said, I do want to preface all that I am about to say with how great I think you are doing. When Jeff showed me the walk cycle he wanted me to critique, I had the distinct impression that he's trying to make it difficult for me. This is a fantastic cycle, one for which you should be very proud. However, animation is never more than an abandoned concept, which means that even when you're "done," you'll look back and see things that you'd like to change. Therefore, I am going to point out to you the things that, I feel, will make this a stronger piece for your demo reel. And always, always take criticism with a grain of salt. If John Lasseter himself comes to you and says "Make this change," take it into serious concideration; however if said criticism goes against what you were aiming for (ie, he's thinking this'll make it more zombie-ish, but you were aiming for sleepwalker), that critique will only take your animation further from your goal (unless they are your boss or lead animator, in which case, they are in charge of where the animation should be headed).

And that's where I will begin. My immediate impression, as was the impression of several other animators that were watching at my computer, was that this was a person doing a comical impersonation of a mummy or zombie. Someone suggested that he appears to be a father pretending to be a monster, chasing his children around the house. I think this is a pretty accurate description of what this is reading as, however, I get the impression that it is not what you are aiming for. Keep in mind that, when multiple viewers are getting the same wrong impression, something needs to change. I am under the impression that this animation is not meant to portray what I've just described, but is, instead, meant to read as somebody under a trance. So I'll critique it based on this idea, and if this is incorrect, then I apologize, and will be happy to re-critique. My other impression is that you're aiming for "cartoony," so I will critique it in that light.

My first concern of what keeps him from feeling entranced is the expression on his face. He is smiling, for starters. If he's meant to be under some kind of "love trance," (ie, walking toward the most beautiful girl he's ever seen), then a smile isn't a bad idea. However, keep in mind that toon animation is at its best when exaggerated. Therefore, if he is meant to be in a "love trance," he should be pulled by his eyes. Think of Kaa hypnotizing Mowgli in The Jungle Book.

Mowgli's eyes, fixed on the snake's gaze, pull the rest of his body forward. This sells the illusion that it is what he is seeing that is pulling him that way. But I'll continue on under the idea that this is not a "love trance," but more of a basic "hypnotized" walk, like a transfixed (deliberate) sleepwalk. Say this guy's been hypnotized by somebody and told to go and get something/do something, and we are seeing him en route. In this scenerio, the head is still not working. In fact, the head is probably one of the least important parts (to the hypnotizee, not to the animator), in that this is meant to feel mindless, so his head should feel "out of the loop" with what the rest of his body is doing. He still needs to be looking forward, because he still needs to know where he's going. So perhaps kick the head slightly back and tilted to one side, so that he's looking out of his bottom lids. Remove the smile from his face and give him more of a blank stare. You can keep it comical, in fact, I think it'd benefit the piece greatly for him to have a funny "entranced" look on his face. Also, give the head a loose quality to it, as tho he's not attempting to support it, so that it swings freely. This may help sell the illusion that he's mindless in his walk (head=mind).

Let's move to the body. It seems like a brisk walk, so I won't spend too much time on this as I do not feel that it is your intention, but if he's hypnotized or in a trance (or even sleepwalking), he's more likely to take his time getting to where he's going. You could probably stretch this out by another 10 frames or so and he may feel more leisurely, which, in my humble opinion, is how a trance should feel. But again, that's not to say that all trances are the same, so we'll stick with brisk.

It took me a few moments of watching the loop before I could really find anything to pick on, so good for you. However, once I spotted the jarring nature of the foot-pops at the back, it sticks out like a soar thumb now. Notice how his foot alters from fully-flat to fully-perpendicular in only 3 frames (3-5), which gives it a quick snap. It could start a more gradual incline closer to frame 30. This would remove that quick jerk, and relieve the painful-looking pop in the knee.

He's also leaving the foot in one spot for a pretty long time. I like that he's got a nice ease to the foot coming forward, but make sure not to allow that foot to linger too long, because it makes the forward z translation feel like a race to beat his falling body.

Given that this is a cartoony walk, I think a bit more of a curve/arc to the x translation of the feet on their way up might help sell the nature of it. Give that x trans an arcing outward-movement as it swings forward, and perhaps rotate on y to allow the toe to keep from pointing forward the whole time... in other words, point the arch of his foot foward like a golf-club on the swing forward. Sort of how Goofy might walk. I think this will help the comical, mindless nature of the walk, and give it a bit of distinction from a regular cycle. After all, if I take my hand and cover up the upper body, while the legs move nicely, there's nothing down there to tell me he's doing anything but walking forward.

A'right, the arms. Perhaps it's the perspective that makes them appear to be offset, but on second-glance, it actually appears as though the arms are twinned to be in basically the same position. (I'm not sure how far along you guys are, so I feel like an idiot explaining this, but just in case; twinning is when opposing limbs have the same silhouette, or posing. It causes an animation to feel too symmetrical; like every other rule, this can be broken or used to your benefit, but I'm not sure that this is one of those cases). In honesty, it doesn't bother me all that much, I just wanted to make you aware that it is happening. My real problem is the rigidity of the arms. It feels as though there's a wire passing thru the chest and down both of the arms, keeping them all together. When the body starts to fall, allow the arms to lag slightly behind. Similarly, you might allow the elbows to lag a bit behind the arms. The hands, I feel, are lacking the loose quality I think would sell this the best. Impersonate this walk for yoursefl, and I think you'll find that your hand don't "reach" forward, but hand limply, swinging almost freely from the wrist. They will be one of your strongest assets in selling the mindless quality of an entranced walk. Rotate the hands so that the fingers point downward, then allow them to swing freely as though on a very loose ball-joint, rotating in both z and x (and perhaps mildly in y). The hands and head are the two important areas of character animation, and giving both of these a mindless, loose, uncontrolled feel will sell the idea very strongly that he's under some kind of trance.

I actually think that the body is working very strongly! I am very impressed with the motion of it overall. In fact, while I'd like to see a bit more of a bend to the spine (rotating the chest and midriff forward more in the x, and allowing a steeper bounce), I think other than that, you've really nailed it. You even got the y translation correct; he's hitting his highs and lows slightly after the contact and passing poses, which is exactly right. So good job to you!

Again, I think this is shaping up to be a very strong animation, one for which you should be very proud. I'd like to see it taken to the next level, to set it apart from every other entranced walk I've seen. Right now, it's a well-executed cliche. You've clearly got the abilities to make it more than that.

If you have any questions about any of this (and this is to all of Jeff's students), feel free to contact me. Jeff has my email address. And GOOD LUCK!

Travis Howe
Secret Level


Joey said...

This is a cool idea Jeff! Thanks for doing a critique Travis.

jeff said...

i have some good guest stars lined up...hopefully this will be a weekly thing, depending on how generous colleagues are with their time.