In my experience it has been useful to use a combination of pose to pose, layered and straight ahead. I use them all!! Shall I explain? Oh yes, I shall. So when beginning a shot I will use pose to pose to map out the performance of the shot. I will use stepped keys to do this so that when the animation plays, it's popping through the poses. This allows me to focus on the key storytelling poses, to create nice silhouettes and to work on contrast.
I think of the pose to pose pass as the comic strip of my shot, telling the story through key images. After establishing my keys I will take another pass adding in breakdowns, all while staying in stepped. I want to make as many decisions as I can in stepped mode so that when I move out of stepped and into spline there is less chaos. Chaos is a noun -- a state of utter confusion or disorder, like when animation is taken out of stepped blocking too soon resulting in mushy movement of virtually everything on the character.
With the shot blocked out and broken down, I change into spline mode (I actually use plateau in Maya) and begin to work in a layered method. I like to work from the inside out, hiding everything on the character except the hips/torso since that is from where, all the movement is driven. Once I'm happy with the hips and torso, I will switch layers perhaps moving to the head or the arms.
Straight ahead animation is usually something I will only do on things like floppy ears, tails or clothing. Here I'm starting on frame 1 and steaming ahead through the shot. Since my straight ahead animation will be driven by the body animation, its super important to get the body working first.
That's how I incorporate all three methods into my work flow. I find my approach to be very efficient, however it may not be the ideal approach for everyone. Developing your own work flow, one that works for you, is an important part of the process.
Guest Blogger Ray Chase