Wednesday, October 29, 2008

using reference wisely

I notice the preponderance of rotoscoped animation at the Academy and felt obligated to put up some thoughts on how I approach using reference. This isn't by any means a formula - formulas invariably fail in animation.

So let's start with an exercise, as a way of breaking down process. In an earlier post I mentioned the merit of learning for learning sake by doing more of an exercise rather than gunning for a demo reel piece at every turn. Why? Animation is about evolving one's process, and constantly learning how to see deeper. But pushing ourselves deeper into simple exercises is a good way to solve technical problems in animation as well as push your eye into seeing more detail.

In the spirit of doing a concrete exercise, I chose a throw. But what kind of throw is interesting? A baseball pitch is always good, but I've done enough of those, so I found 2 clips to work from from BBCmotiongallery - a shotput animation (clip 1 clip 2)

So the first thing I did was to watch the clips repeatedly. For me, a great way into seeing is by sketching, so I did a rough sketch sheet of what I took to be the key poses and important breakdowns in the scene.

Admittedly, these sketches are pretty rough. But right now they're a way of searching out information and seeing how poses sequentially work together. In analyzing the motion so far, I broke it down into a few ideas.

  • anticipation..athlete getting into the internal headspace to throw the ball.
  • raises arm and bounces a few times..more of an exaggerated anticipation
  • bouncing up and down in preparation for the throw. This seemed interesting to me. In one of the videos, the thrower just bent down, stored up some energy, and exploded outwards. The bouncing seemed like an interested move in that it's almost practicing what's to come, and getting in tune with his body.
  • weight shift onto back leg as pelvis raises
  • front leg kicks up and raises as he hops to build momentum
  • plants on front leg, explodes out into the throw, torquing his body in the air, landing on the other foot
  • land on other foot, balance on it, settle back to watch the result of the throw. More of a contented leisurely pace
So now I've done my research, chosen elements from 2 clips. Now it's time to put our poses into maya. This next part is the most time consuming part of the process..laying in the key poses. It should be the most time consuming part because if the poses are weak, the animation will be lackluster. For this exercise, I'm keeping it in stepped mode as long as possible. I usually don't work this way for motion pieces, but lately I've been pushing myself to work this way because it's a tried and true method of really focusing purely on posing and timing. So here's the first round...just poses and rough timing. I used the reference footage as a guide and approximated how long things took, but as I'm using a different model and don't want to be too slavish to the reference footage, I pushed it aside after I put in the rough posing and did a rough timing pass based on what felt good.

In looking at this version...there are plenty of problems, but there's enough information to get a general idea across. But some of the poses are weak and they could flow better. So my next pass is to refine the existing poses and add in new ones as needed. I'm still being as economical as possible so as not to overload myself with too much information.

Ok. This is better. The animation is flowing better and the arcs are make a little more sense. Right now areas to watch are the flailing up and down with the arm in the beginning as well as the recovery. From experience, I know these are areas that once splined will be problematic and either require toning aspects down or adding more time. In order to better see what's going on with those areas, I'm going to add a LOT more breakdown frames. Probably about double.

This exposes some problems, but parts are working. There is some fluidity to the throwing part, but the scrunching down feels pretty wobbly. The spine is rotating all over the place and fighting itself on the way down. This will be jittery if I spline it right now, so some of this information I've put down is wrong. Time to stop looking at the reference footage for a while as it's served it's purpose so far. On the next pass, I'm going to refine the jitter, reclaim the key poses so there's time to experience them without noisy motion. I'll spend most of my time eliminating wrong poses and strengthening the ones that are in the right place.

Because the beginning part was getting worse, i deleted the wrong keys and reestablished some holds, simplifying the motion a bit. Also, I'm noticing that some of the breakdown frames are too close together, so on the next pass, it's going to be crucial to focus on timing and spacing, as they've been suffering a bit through looking at the motion. I'm also making a conscious choice to minimize the bounce at the beginning, both in the extremity of the motin as well as the amount of felt like it was overshadowing the next moment and to get better texture to this scene, I'm toning it down, again, taking the IDEA of bouncing in place from the reference and implementing it differently. I get up out of my seat here and act out this motion with the goal of figuring out the lean of my chest, and where my cente of gravity is relative to my feet. I've gone back and added in many more breakdowns on the faster action, as it's time to be decisive.

Next, I spline out my curves (plateau in this case, as it avoids overshoot, but you have to watch for flat tangents where you don't want them). Ok. A little disappointing, but time to carve in. The timing is mush in places, snappy in others, so let's pad keys where needed, add more fluidity and overlap to various poses, take out obvious hitches in the spine rotations and pelvis, cleanup that problematic torso hitching in the beginning, and start to fix the rear settle.

And here we are, at first pass stage. Here, I want the timing and spacing and poses as complete as possible. The only thing left after this (which I didn't get to for this demo) is refining. Refining means many things, but let's focus on splining out to first pass. I slowed down and reworked the beginning - it's not there yet and I'll next want to choose a camera angle and refine to that (as it's an exercise, I haven't focussed too much on it. were it a real shot, we would have locked down the camera from the start). I've heavily revised the weight, especially as he does the weight transfer as he throws. There's still plenty of problem areas, but it's closer now and now we can focus on weight mechanics and getting more fluidity into this piece, which will come by pose tweaking, adding new poses, and refining what we have to make it flow better.

This is NOT finished by any means, but I hope it demonstrated a process for you. Really, this is about the appropriate amount of steps to get to the polish state. Go to the splinedoctors site, as they have some great posts about taking your work past blocking. Andrew Gordon had a great quote to the effect of really spending time on the posing and timing takes a lot more work on the front end, but makes finishing the shot much faster.

So where are we at this point. At 50%. That's how much time it's going to take to finish this shot, but that's a lecture on polish, which is what separates the good from the great.

Not that this is good or great by any means, but I had a little more time today to start the polish pass, setting a specific camera and cleaning with that window open in the corner the whole time to see how my changes affect that angle. Let's call this nearly second pass. At this point, the changes get slower - things I might think about at this point are things like really pushing the moving holds..for the throw and hop, when he lands on his front foot, how is his balance? How long does he hold his foot up before placing it is the spacing on it as he plants it. Looking at the animation, it's still pretty rough, but moving along in a positive direction.

A trick I sometimes use in figuring out stepped to spline is to grab keys in the timeline and turn them back and forth from stepped to spline mode. Being lazy, I made some shelf buttons to do this faster. The mel for these is below. Basically, whatever you grab and is red in the timeslider will change tangency.

These 2 mels are like a toggle between curve types for selected curves in your timeslider

evalEcho "timeSliderSetTangent step";
timeSliderSetTangent step;

evalEcho "timeSliderSetTangent plateau";
timeSliderSetTangent plateau;

These next to set your global keying preferences, so the next key you set will be in a particular tangent type (you can also add in linear, etc, but for this demo, i just go back and forth between these two)

keyTangent -global -itt flat;
keyTangent -global -ott step;

keyTangent -global -itt plateau;
keyTangent -global -ott plateau;

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

new lesson coming up

I've been a little silent lately, but as the class size is basically eliminating the possiblity of much lecture time, I'm putting together something for the blog on How to Use Video Reference, from start to finish.

It's been a concern in teaching at the academy that students rotoscope into maya. Rotoscope CAN be a useful tool, but it's essentially tracing, and, like drawing from a photograph and losing likeness, the detail can overpower the understanding of weight, force and motion.

Really, in using reference, it's important to let it work for you and not let it take over the process. How? More to come soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

sindhu sneak cycle

ok..this animation is problematic, but does some things well, and help is on the way.

let's start with the anim..

It's doing some things well..some of the moving holds are pretty good and overall the posing is not bad. But. Always a but. There are major timing and spacing problems. Really, a sneak cycle is like a walk cycle with the torso having more overlap forward and back, while trying to hold a pose. That's the classic 'sneak' a la the Preston Blair book. Right now..there's a lot of quick accelleration to a slow as molasses slowdown on the passing poses..that's the killer at the moment. Also, as the character goes into the passing position the foot pops off the ground with the pelvis. Remember you push off with your foot after the pelvis starts moving....even in a fast paced run..feet are a springboard to moving forwards...

You can see some fundamental weight shift issues by the blue's not terribly off, but enough off to see that the planting of the feet gets a little weightless.

What I think of for an effective sneak above all posing, is the overall rhythm. I did a quick sphere test in place as a (albeit rough and not terribly accurate - but I squeeze these crits in at lunch) example of the sort of rhythm you want.

lift...step...plant...accellerate into the settle...slow settle...repeat.

so watch the rhythm of your cycle. Also, the head/torso tilts right and left a bit...make that more fluid by keeping him aimed forward to minimize the dread 'zombie' effect.

But what do I know. Handily, Jason Ryan has a free tutorial on the sneak.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

animation layers for earlier versions of maya

who needs 2009 when you can get that layers in 7 (which i still use)

Go to NEOREEL and download their maya plugin..

the update they suggested i use caused the plugin to fail, but once you enable it, type in

neoreelLibrary -config

into your script editor and enable what you need, and you have layers.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

steve ly..3 hit combo

Ah, the famous 3 hit combo. Steve is clearly doing a piece targeting game companies, which is great...don't be afraid to do pieces specific to where you want to go. I wouldn't send this to ILM, but it's on it's way to being a really strong piece.

The thing with 'game reels' that you need to be careful of is catering them to the perceived look of a game animation. Game animation is tricky because it has a lot of restrictions on it because of the engine it's going into, and the ability of states to blend to each other. I can go into some of the restrictions if you guys are interested, but suffice it to say, when I do a reel of my game work, I tend to reanimate it as needed to either punch it up, or slow it down accordingly. The biggest culprit is the transition back to a resting ('idle') pose. I see a lot of student reels where the ending happens abruptly. Maybe that's how it is in a game, but the reason is so that the player can get control quickly. What companies of all types want to see is good motion and weight, so don't be afraid to have your character take an extra step, do a shoulder shrug, or anything to finish the action.

So the above action is good...the poses and general flow is correct. Steve did his homework and is doing a good job of taking some reference and starting to move beyond it. Using reference footage can be a certain point you have to chuck it and just periodically glance back at it. Mocap and rotoscoping want your animations to be smooth, fluid, and a little sluggish.

Right now, the 2 things that will improve this piece are purely timing and spacing related..I did some cutting and pasting of frames in quicktime to both sharpen and pad the timing, accellerating into the punches, and holding after the fact...the knee kick definitely needs some holds. See the boxing capture below for slow motion footage of accelleration (link)

The other thing to watch (that i don't have too much time to get into) is how the feet travel. The offsetting is's not too 'stompy', which can be a problem. On the other hand, they feel like they're in slow motion at times, so the jumps forward may need some frames trimmed to accellerate into each step...I'll look at it further, but it's very much improved from last week. You've arrived at what I think of as the polish stage..refining timing, pushing the elements to be stronger..

Monday, October 20, 2008

tae kwan do

Lou is doing some great work on his current assignment. I usually don't come out and sing praises, but the prep work he's doing is great. All the acting choices at this point are very considered and feel really clear.

Being rigorous at the blocking stage - I really can't stress the importance of it. One thing I want to mention is framing your shot. Lou's acting choices are very considered, but this has a long way to go in being a piece of entertainment. I've approved it thus far, as the acting in the main character is entertaining. A piece like this however, demands a context. Right now this feels like a cut from a movie and a complete enough piece of dialogue to hold it's own. Things to think about in a shot like this are questions like.

  • is it worth showing 2 characters interacting. The reaction of another character really amps up the main character's performance.
  • FRAMING. Go to the movie screenshot blog and spend some time. Study how the great ones frame their shot. 16x9 or wider is great, but it also presents some compositional challenges.
  • Are you showing too much or too little of your character. I like the layout of these shots, but I start to wonder why the character isn't moving around more in the space. Quick solution...zoom in. If your character doesn't have any weight shifts it's a medium shot, either move that character around a bit, or zoom in for more of an intimate shot.
I did some quick frame markings to show what would happen if you just zoom in...the character is still prominent in the frame, going with the show as much as you need strategy. This piece feels like the character is talking to the camera, or just slight of it.

I grabbed some screenshots from the movie screenshot blog to show some over the shoulder shots and framing solutions.

Again...this is a really rough smattering of shots I've found, but really pay attention how your characters are framed on set. Think about how far the camera is from them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

golden axe finally out!

I just saw this on youtube...Golden Axe, the game I worked on for the past year just came out today. Someone was kind enough to put up a video of captures from it of some of the work I did on the main character...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Sam did a good thing in submitting blocking- it's really important to be hypercritical at the stepped really is the foundation of what's to come.

I did some quick sketchovers from her animation. The important thing to do, especially in a character without legs is to really pay attention to the shape and tilt of the shoulders to convey weight. Really think about where the legs are underneath the body and how you can get the shape/sillhouette to really read. This animation moves from S to C curves repeatedly, and it would be helpful to really push those as much as possible. Also, if you're carrying a heavy suitcase, your arm will extend out and shoulder will go down or up depending on the tilt of the generally support heavy objects by counterbalancing with your body.

Pay attention to the neck and head as well. the tilt really helps convey line of action.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

jeff gabor's horton comparison reel

Just found a link that someone reposted. Probably the best argument for stepped blocking out there (and for planning your shots)

spreading the gossip...

I guess the adage, 'you're only as good as your last shot' applies even at the highest of levels

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2d programs

Jason Fittipaldi chimed in with a quick question about 2d software.

Ok. First, props to Jason for posting a's the first one this semester and he isn't even at the AAU - but it's a good question. I'm always giving you guys a hard time about sketching out poses and planning your animations. The ultimate way to do this is in 2d. It's time consuming, but even through rough drawings, you can really get to the heart of things.

My favorite program for planning animations is alias/autodesk sketchbook pro. Hands down the best pencil tool out there.

For 2d animating, I use a few -
Pencil - free, which is always good. Pretty stable and finally in a pretty usable state. Did I say free?

Flipbook - Jason Ryan does his demos in these, and he being the badass draughtsman that he is, is a better salesman for it than I. Check out his tutorial - it's pretty inspiring and useful to see how much you can convey with a simple figure. Reasonable price.

plastic animation paper
- a great program, with a free version. the only problem is unless you spend some $$$, you can't hold frames, which limits its usability. Great for bouncing ball practice.

tv paint - a very powerful program with a high level of complexity, but looks pretty nice.

And on that note, a site with cheap tablet pcs.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

kimberlee is looking for help on a production

Kimberlee from class requested I post this regarding help with a production she's involved with

Back in December of 2007 a non-profit organization came to the school and asked for help on there production. The 3-D project is called is an action adventure about robots (society) and targeted for a younger audience. Being an non-profit they already have sponsors...however we are going for ABC! We are in collaboration with many instructors at the academy and Chris Armstrong to get this production up to television standards.

Possibly the most exciting news is that Reprogrammed is well on its way to being converted into HD High Definition 1080! We are also encouraging everyone to invite people they know to gain experience and knowledge working on a real production for television (all departments). Every volunteer will gain professional experience working collaboratively with others, and will be allowed to use the shot they've worked on in their demo reel, and possibly a letter of Recommendation for your future job. Reprogrammed has already been recognized as a special project at the Academy of Art, and a few students have already gotten jobs. We were excited to give a professional reference for one student already! This is an opportunity that everyone should be a part of and you will not want to miss!

We will be meeting up again on Monday nights at 7pm on the 3rd floor of the 180 New Montgomery Building. Our classroom has been moved to the Weta Lab.

If you are interested please attended a meeting on Monday night and bring some examples of your work with you...a demo reel (if you have it) is preferred. If you can not come in on a Monday you can e-mail us.

If you are an online student, you can still help with the project as we have SEVERAL online students working hard on this production!

Best Always and Thanks Again,
Brandon Chappell
-Assistant Director
Kimberlee Lawless