Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How and When Do You Clean Up Animation?

In traditional hand-drawn animation, the "clean-up" phase (usually done by someone called a clean-up artist), is when the rough keys, breakdowns, and in-betweens are "cleaned up" into nice, smooth solid lines and forms. In a sense, the clean-up artist is tracing the animator's
often rough drawings, but it's more than just tracing.

Even if you've never done traditional animation yourself, you've probably seen what rough pencil keys/breakdowns look like. Depending on the animator, they can be somewhat precise or thick, bold lines more concerned about movement than perfectly drawn body parts. Glen Keane, unarguably one of the best animators of all time, often has particularly "messy" breakdowns, but they are always very powerful, and clearly illustrate the pose, force, and movement in the body.

This is all a good clean-up artist needs to turn those rough drawings into the finished drawing we will see on the screen, but this is no easy task! The clean-up artist has to make sure the final line they are choosing is keeping the character on-model, is accentuating the proper facial expressions, is keeping things on nice organic arcs, etc. They work closely with the animator to ensure that the final product is what the animator envisioned, but it is truly a team effort, and the art of clean-up work is truly an art all on its own.

The best clean-up artist can take mediocre rough animation and make it look pretty darn nice, while a poor clean-up artist can ruin even the greatest animator's pencil roughs.

So, in traditional animation, the clean-up stage is incredibly important. But what about in CG?

At the vast majority of studios, animation is less compartmentalized for computer animation than it is for traditional animation. Whereas hand-drawn animation often would have an animator doing the keys and breakdowns, an in-betweener doing the in-betweens, and a clean-up artist polishing it all up, we usually wear all of these hats at once as a CG animator.

For us, the "clean-up" phase of the animation is pretty much exactly what the clean-up artist would be looking to accomplish in hand-drawn work. Once our animation is to the point where the timing is solid, the body mechanics are all working, the weight and balance is correct, the emotion is clear, the story points and character intentions are clear, and all of these things are nailed down, it's time to dive into our clean-up phase.

For me, the clean-up phase can actually be the most fun part, because it really can become a big puzzle to try to wrap your brain around. The biggest thing for me during this phase is to work on my arcs. In theory, my arcs should all be pretty close to working already (if I've done my planning and blocked my scene in correctly), but I almost always have some little arcs to fix or add, or find ways to make various arcs work better together (such as the arc the tip of a sword follows, and making sure that feels driven by AND interconnected to the arc the wrist is traveling along, which in turn should be related to the arc the elbow follows).

So, clean-up can be anything you do during the polishing phase. It's making sure the tip of the nose is on a subtle arc, or making sure all your face shapes are working together in a way to feel like one cohesive face rather than a ton of disconnected shapes. It's finding and fixing problems in your graph editor, or offsetting the weight just a tiny bit more to help your character feel that much heavier. It's fingers and toes and getting that nice whip action to look perfect on the character's tail.

Basically, in CG, people tend to refer to the "clean-up" phase as the time when you polish up all the little rough edges of your animation into a gem that truly shines. I can't stress enough that in my opinion, it's this attention to detail where you add that last 10-20% into your work that will really set it apart and help it stand out to recruiters and audiences.

Planning is a blast, because you get to brainstorm dozens of ideas and really work out the performance. Blocking is fun because you get to see those ideas finally come to life. But sometimes it's the clean-up or "polish" phase that can be the most rewarding, because all those little, tiny things you add can come together to take the animation to a whole new level, and even though an audience might not notice many of these little tweaks and overlaps and perfected arcs, they will FEEL them, and enjoy your work all that much more.

Hope that answers your question - Thanks for coming by the blog!

Shawn :)

Guest Blogger Shawn Kelly


11SCRig said...

First comment.

Awesome post Shawn!

Unknown said...

Hey Shawn,
excellent post. It is so good to get refreshing posts like this to renew your mindset. I am embarking on a 2d film right now. It is good to know the concept is the same in clean up. I know 2D? Crazy, what was i thinking. But, hey, it is forcing me to draw and get better at planning animation. Thank God for Wayne Gilbert's book and The Illusion of Life and The Animators Survival Kit!

- Joe Young

Shakaib said...

Woah, woah, woah!

Shawn Kelly strikes back!!

Dude, what is it with you? I just can't get enough of your articles. It was your blog and your eBook that helped me improve my work and get a Trainee job at my country's finest studio. Even during my training at the studio, I kept my eyes glued to your eBook. It just kept fueling my passion for animation. The way you write, man!

Now that my JD has changed, and I am more into overseeing production and I don't get much time for hands-on animation; this article hit me like a ton of bricks, and I feel like animating again.
I won't spare you if my current productivity suffers because of your article. :P (Just kidding)

Keep up the great work, Shawn! Animation Mentor is the place to be! ***someday***

Herman Gonzales said...

Enormously helpful, thank you. The least topic addressed at times, I think its the make it or break it part and an art form of its own, polishing the crap out it. To get it fluid and Gleam!

Andy Holden said...

great post Shawn ;-)

tonychauzer said...

Great meaty post! Thanks for takin' the time Shawn!

Herman Gonzales said...

Could you elaborate on animating and cleaning hands and fingers? I haven't seen that tackled yet.

Jeremy Jutras said...

Another Great Article Shawn!

Herman G- I believe shawn was referring to adding the subtlety and offset movements on things like fingers in the cleanup stage. In blocking, it makes things like timing and arcs easier to edit when you have fewer keys. All the controls on the fingers and toes can sure pump up the amount of keys you have in no time. This can clutter the timeline and keep you from adjusting you're keys when needed. Hope that helps.

Winston Chee said...

Can I ask?

How does one plan for a short film?

How long do you need to create a short film?


csappu said...

hello, shawn
i am swapneel and i am learning 3d character animation at home with the help of digital tutors. i just wanted to ask about ACTING.

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