What is the best way to approach editing splines when animating? Should we block-in and get overall motion for the whole body done THEN fix the splines, or should we add motion piece by piece and fix splines along the way?
There are as many different ways to block and animate as there are animators. There's no one right answer to this question; what's important is that you find a workflow that works for you. Something that is consistent, methodical, organized and clean. Once you have a predictable workflow that becomes second nature, animation is so much more enjoyable, because you can focus more on the performance and less on the technical issues of managing your shot.
I myself have different workflows, and my way of working is always evolving. I will block differently depending on the characters and action in my scene. For example, I'm currently working on some naturalistic human acting animation for Toy Story 3. I find that blocking pose to pose with stepped keys, and doing lots of breakdowns (down to 4’s and 2’s) helps me to sort out the complex body mechanics early, while finding some appealing poses. Once I'm done blocking, I will convert all my keys to flat-tangent splines, and begin smoothing the root controls manually. I do constant playblasts and revisions until I get the timing and patterns right for the root, then I move outward through the rest of the body. For WALL-E and Cars, which are simpler, more stylized characters, I would work in a more layered fashion, starting with just a few root controls and shaping the splines right away to get my timing and texture early on. Then I would layer on other parts of the body as needed, until I have a full performance. Sometimes I'll work in a hybrid method, where some parts of the model are splined, and others are stepped-key poses. And sometimes I'll work pose-to-pose with copied pairs!
No matter how I'm working, I'm always keeping an eye on my splines, even if they're in stepped mode. Splines help me to visualize my eases and overshoots, and to make sure that my rotational values are not going crazy in between keys. I've gotten accustomed to analyzing, diagnosing, and even creating animation right in the spline editor, as you know about me if you've ever seen one of my lectures! But not every animator relies on the spline editor like I do, and that's OK. The important thing is that you do visit all your splines at SOME point during your workflow (especially near the end) to make sure the polish is there. I find that the sooner I visit my splines, the easier my polish phase is and the faster my animation comes together.
It really helps with arcs and spacing, too. Your mileage may vary.
Guest Blogger Victor Navone