I was wondering if you had any tips on how to speed up animation workflow, and animating faster in general. In many situations, the faster you have to animate, the less quality you can afford to achieve. But even in the "big budget" movies, there can be stressful crunch times when you have to animate pretty darn fast--but you can't sacrifice quality either. Since you have so much production experience on big projects that require high quality animation, I was wondering if you've found out any time-saving tips, if you ever felt you took a big leap forward in speed, yet managed to produce great work.
Great question, Kyle!
Ten quick tips for speeding up your work:
1) Don't skip the planning process. Seriously - I know a lot of you feel too busy to plan your scene before you open Maya or Max or whatever you're using, but even if you can only dedicate 30 minutes to creating and/or studying some video reference and writing down some notes, it will help you finish faster. SOME amount of planning will *ALWAYS* speed up your work, no matter what. The best scenes I've ever done, and the quickest that finished, were the shots where I spent the most effort planning before sitting down at the computer.
2) Hot keys are your friend. Any time you find yourself doing anything repetitive in Maya (or whatever animation program you are using), create or find a hotkey for it. I have and use hotkeys for working quickly in the graph editor (hiding/showing tangents, hiding/showing channel curves, etc), for saving keys, for hiding/showing animation controls on the model, for x-ray mode, to make joints visible or invisible, for scrubbing time in the graph editor, and for instantly creating more workspace when I don't need to see all the menus and channels. Those are just some of the hotkeys I use every day, and boy have they sped my work up.
3) If you have the ability to create or use a GUI that allows you to select your character's animation controls, that can be a big help, especially for working with hands, tails, toes, etc.
4) Don't get too bogged down in changes. If your director wants you to change the middle of your shot, just block it off (construction-zone style, as I wrote about in the newsletter), and create all new keys and breakdowns. You can really get slowed down if you start trying to make any major changes simply by tweaking the curves you already have in the graph editor. Very often, it's just faster to wall that part of your animation off (so you don't screw up the surrounding bits the Director *does* like), and redo that section from scratch. Cleaner and easier to edit, too.
5) Don't be timid! Push your ideas and go for that dynamic pose. It's much easier/faster to take something too far and then back off on it than it is to slowly push your pose or idea a little bit further, a little bit further, a little bit further, etc. Just go for it and then reign it in if you need to.
6) Use light models if possible. Something that speeds up my work like crazy if the ability to just hit play in Maya and watch my animation play reliably at 24fps without having to do a playblast or render. Use the lowest-rez version of your character possible, at least for your initial blocking.
7. Avoid the black hole that is (insert favorite website here). For me, I have to be careful with sites like Digg, Youtube, Gizmodo, etc - these websites that I really love can suck me in if I'm not careful, and suddenly I've lost an hour of time that I could have spent animating. Discipline yourself to only check your favorite sites when you have to, when you're on a break, or when you're rendering.
8) Same with email. Between ILM, Animation Mentor, my personal email, the blog, and the newsletter, I get hundreds of emails per day. Prioritize and only read the most essential emails until you're on break or finished with your work for the day. For me, I try to only read email at work that is directly related to the show I'm working on, and then try to catch up on the rest before bed. (by the way, if you've emailed me and I haven't emailed back - I'm really sorry! I'm kind of behind on my email, but I'm trying to catch up and will hopefully get back to you soon!)
9) CPU, RAM, a decent-sized monitor, and graphics card. Don't underestimate the boost you'll get from investing in the core bits of your computer. Beef up that machine for fast interaction with your character! The quicker you can interact with the character, and the quicker your program will update the frame, the quicker you'll get your animation done. Along those same lines, a larger monitor will give you a lot more screen-space and make it much easier to see your character, saving a lot of "zooming in and out" time...
10) Use the 15 minute rule. If you come up against a technical problem that you can't solve on your own in 15 minutes, give up, and find help. If you're in a studio, ask a peer or pick up the phone and ask tech support. If you're at home, jump online and start searching through google or post your question on the forum. In the past, I've wasted half a day trying to solve some problem on my own and it turned out that I could have solved it in 10 minutes if I had just asked someone for help.
11) I just thought of another great tip someone once told me, so I'm adding it to this post!
If you're given, or give yourself, a list of changes for a shot, don't do a test render of that shot until you've addressed all those changes. In other words, if you're given 10 things to fix, don't fix one and then re-render. Wait until you've fixed a bunch or all of those 10 things, and THEN do your playblast to see how it's looking. The goal, of course, being to cut down on the time it takes to playblast and analyze the shot.
Hope that helps, Kyle! Thanks for coming by.