Monday, October 13, 2008

What Should Be the Main Goal in a Scene?

Animation is narrative through movement. A painter expresses an idea, a story, a concept, or an emotion in a single image. An animator is tasked with the same thing, but instead of paints, brushes and colors, his job is to use posing, principles of movement, and most importantly experience and observation to communicate a concept. If I work on a single shot in a sequence of 30 shots, my ability to do my job well should be measured by the strength of my animation in so far as how it tells the story. Through my small contribution, if the viewer can be led safely down the narrative path without for a single moment questioning the validity or believability of my frames, then I know I’ve done my job well.

Narrative can be something as concrete as a physical action, like a punch, fall or jump. In this shot the character punches, or in this shot the character falls. Or narrative may be as complex as an abstract emotion such as pity, sincerity or revenge. Whatever the narrative is trying to convey, the animator’s primary and fundamental goal is to communicate the very essence of that idea in the limited frames of their shot. If you are asked to animate a punch in a particular shot, the very first question you should have is “why?” Why does the character punch? Is it an accident? Maybe he slips and falls forward, lunging out with his arms to catch his fall and accidentally punches the man beside him in the mouth? Is the punch out of anger because the person being punched slept with the character’s wife? Whatever the answer may be, when you animate a shot you must be concerned first and foremost with the character’s motivation, purpose, intention, drive, etc. You need to understand the actions in your shot contextually. What is happening in the shots surrounding yours? You must look at the animatic, read the script, analyze the storyboards, speak with the animators working on the same sequence, and listen to your supervisor as he explains in his words the purpose of your shot.

Guest Blogger Aaron Gilman


Copper said...

To be honest, my narrative skills are one of the main things I question.

When I start animating (after I finish learning Maya, and by "finish learning" I mean "know enough to operate") I'm curious to see how clear I communicate the ideas I need to in order to get the story across in a believable and entertaining way.

But this was a good post - thanks for your insight!

Aaron said...

HI there Copper. Thanks for the feedback. Obviously one great way to define the critical narrative moments in your animation is to act the performance out using a stop watch. Forcing yourself to compress time into the bare essentials so you can squeeze in all the required elements in the limited frames of your shot is extremely helpful. Video taping your performance also adds to your critical eye as you can watch it over and over again and even show it to others to see if the narrative registers strongly with them. If acting isnt your thing, try directing. Get a friend or relative to do the performance on camera for you and direct them as best you can. If that still doesnt work, sketch the key poses. Never sketch anything ambigous when doing this exercise. The pose, all by itself, should register the critical moments in the narrative. They are like self-contained stories. Notice how none of these examples have anything to do with actually sitting down and animating. Not locking these concepts down before sitting down to animate is the worst thing you can do. I call these guys "arm chair animators". Get out of your chair and make sure the blueprints of your narrative have been layed out before even keying a single pose in maya. Good luck!

Jess Morris said...

Hi Aaron!

Thanks for insight, this was a nice reminder for how important planning is to animation! And not only just thumbnails and acting it out, but really understanding the intention and meaning behind the shot.

Great post, thanks!


Aaron said...

Thanks Jess! I appreciate the positive feedback. I have a handful of much longer articles coming soon, but I wanted to keep this one short and sweet.