Monday, August 4, 2008

Reader's Question: Workflow and Timing for Animating Wings

Reader's Question: I would to know a little bit more about having different layers with different timing. Can this workflow be applied to the wings of character?

Hello Javier! Thanks for stopping by!

I think for me, animating the wings as their own "layer," or their own entity, would depend mostly on the side of the creature. If I were animating a small insect or a hummingbird, I'd probably hide the wings completely, animate the bird zipping around, and once the bird is blocked in, only then would I turn on the wings and flap the heck out of them superfast, possibly even with little regard to what I animated the body doing.

However, if I were animating a dragon or another creature with big wings (a large bird, an angel, etc), I would be thinking more about those wings being integrated with the overall poses of the character, and the timing of the wings would be very integrated with the timing of the body. As the wings heave down, they are going to affect the body and be affected by whatever the body does, particularly near the connection points to the wings. Because they are so intertwined, I'd animate them together, which would work out better anyway because it presents a lot of great opportunities to get strong poses where the wing pose can accentuate the body pose.

Check out the great animation of the fell beasts (dragons) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Study how the wings affect the body and vice-versa. This type of animation would be very difficult and time-consuming to tackle if you were attempting to animate the body and wings as completely separate passes. At the very least, you would have to go back and edit your original body animation after you added in the wings in order to refine the way they are working together, so it's probably best to do it all as one thing. One complete creature - that's the way to think about it.

So, I guess it all depends on the character or the creature, and there's no universal answer, in my opinion. Like pretty much every other aspect of animation, none of this stuff is hardcore etched in stone 100% of the time for 100% of the shots you will animate. Animation is an art, you can't nail it down with a mathematical formula. Every rule we talk about can be bent or even broken in the service of the style you are working in.

There really isn't a right or wrong for how you choose to animate the wings. All I can tell you is that from personal experience including the wings in your overall keys and breakdowns on a large creature will result in achieving stronger poses much easier and quicker than doing them on a separate pass, and that hiding the wings on a small creature and forgetting all about them until your little guy is all blocked in is a great workflow as well - but that's just my opinion. The more experience you get, the more you'll find workflows that make sense to you, and I'd encourage you to not be afraid to try new ways of working if you are finding any particular "workflow" idea to be difficult to deal with.

There's no right or wrong to this stuff - it's an art! Have fun with it, and see what works best for you, and what gives the best result!

Thanks again for reading.

-Shawn :)


Francisco Javier Loredo said...

Hello Shawn!

Wow! Thanks so much Shawn for taking the time to answer my question. Great info!

I'm glad you talked a little bit more about character with bigger wings like an angel or vampire because the characters I'm animating are two vampires. I tried before animating the body and then the wings, but I found myself spending more timing figuring out how the body was going to react and overlap the wings.

I hope this question help others animating with similar characters.

Thanks again Shawn!

-Javier Loredo

N said...

Hi shawn,

This blog is a lifesaver.
Your tips are AMAZING,
and i am personally really gratefull for them! =))

I don't know if this is the appropriate place but i want to ask a question.

Do you have any tips for avoiding
or reducing knee pops ?
because this is driving me crazy.

Thanks in advance!

-Nassos Yiannopoulos

Kevin said...

Hey Nassos,

I'm not exactly sure what your referring to by "knee pops" but I assume you are talking about the problems associated with using IK when animating legs.

One reason a knee will appear to pop is because the IK handle that you are using to animate the leg is pushed too far, causing the knee to lock at its maximum rotation value and appear to pop or stick for a frame in your animation. Essentially what is occurring here is hyperextension, or an instance when a joint is forced past its normal range of motion. Many character rigs limit the rotation of the knee to avoid hyperextension, but this means that any time the knee reaches that point it will appear to pop because it can rotate no further.

Even if you are super careful with the placement of your key frames, knee pops can still occur between those frames as the result of how your animation curves are set to interpolate. I would suggest opening your graph editor and checking for any curves that appear to shoot beyond the value that you keyed, as that might be telling your rig to rotate beyond its limit, resulting in a pop. One solution would be to flatten the tangents of the curve at that particular point to ensure that the knee will not rotate beyond the keyed value.

Hope that helps, and if I guessed your problem completely wrong, please leave a more detailed explanation.


sdembel said...

what's your worklflow for action heavy shot?

N said...

Let me clarify, by "knee pops" i was refering to the jerky motion of the front leg knee, of a biped using IK, during the "contact" position when the leg straightens.
And as far a animation curves go, i use linear interpolation and rarely clamped tangents.



Kevin said...


If your curves aren't the issue, then it sounds like you might be pushing the IK handle too far to the point where it causes the leg to reach full extension, resulting in a pop. By pushing it too far I mean that the distance from the IK handle to the hip is such that the leg is forced to fully extend. In reality, human legs rarely reach full extension when walking or running. They are almost always bent even at the contact position because otherwise we would be jamming our knees every other step.

At your contact position, is your knee completely straight? If so, try leaving the knee bent just a bit. This should give you a few degrees of breathing room and allow for a smoother transition at the contact position.

If that still isn't the case, maybe post a playblast of your animation so we can see what's going on?


N said...

At contact position I try to make the knee as straight as possible, so that it reads better (at least according to "Animator's survival kit"). I made a couple tests with the knee bent at contact but it feels too smooth/soft.

Anyway here is the dailymotion link and the vimeo link (where you can download the original MP4 file) for one of my attempts.

Kevin said...

Okay, so I frame-by-framed the video and here's what I came up with:

The problem appears to be the way in which your walk cycle loops. The pop occurs at the contact position, also the exact moment at which the walk cycle repeats. For the right leg, this is between frames 24 and 1. For the left leg, this is between frames 12-13. Pay close attention to the difference in both translation and rotation of the legs throughout the cycle, and you'll notice that the rate of change jumps dramatically between the previously mentioned frames. The rest of the animation appears smooth because there are relatively small changes taking place from one frame to the next. However at the point at which the cycle repeats, the difference between the last frame of one cycle and the first frame of the next is so drastic in comparison to the rest of the animation that it appears to pop. So I would say focus on the in and out of the cycle and see if you can make that transition more transparent.

N said...

Now that you mention it, it seems so obvious, that i wonder how did i not notice it before.
Thank you, i will try to smooth things out.
Cheers :-)

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