Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Describe Your Workflow When You Start Animating a Shot. Is There a Right or Wrong Way?

I've definitely learned that there is no "right way" to animate a shot. I've seen people animate in ways that seem insane to me, but somehow they get amazing results. I've also had some co-workers look at my method with puzzled looks in their eyes, but it works for me. So anyone that tells you there is one way to animate hasn't been exposed to enough animators yet.

However, there is a right and a wrong way to plan your shots. It's very simple. ALWAYS PLAN YOUR SHOTS!!! I have been guilty in the past of trying to rush through my planning and start on a shot to save time. Inevitably, I end up wasting more time stumbling through my animation, and my work never looks as good.

My work flow has become pretty consistent since I've started working. If my shot has dialogue, I will listen to it repeatedly until I have a very solid feel for the timing and dynamics. No matter what kind of shot it is, I always shoot video reference. I try to take the time to do many different takes so that I have a lot of options to choose from. It is a lot quicker to explore ideas in front of a camera than it is to animate them. One thing I always try to keep in mind when filming myself is to try to not be too conscious of what I'm going to look like on screen. I've found that if I am thinking about how I am posing myself my reference will end up looking unnatural and will also be filled with generic animation ideas. However, if I simply try to put myself in the mindset of the character, forget the camera, and actually react to the situation in a natural way, my reference will be full of little ticks and behaviors that I probably wouldn't have thought of. It makes for more believable and interesting animation.

Once I have a direction that I am happy with, I thumbnail out my key poses and take notes for myself. I don't worry about whether the drawings are good or whether anyone else can understand my notes. They are a blueprint for me to be able to build my shot, and the process of drawing them forces me to really study what is happening in the reference. I always make sure to pay attention to not only the main poses, but how the different body parts move from pose to pose. I often find it is the spaces between the poses that can make the difference between a character feeling real or animated. Clean arcs are of course one of the fundamentals of animation, but sometimes you need a little messiness in the movement. This is especially true in visual effects animation for live action films.

At this point, I can finally jump onto the computer and start my blocking. My first blocking pass usually sticks very close to the thumbnails and reference. I personally like to have my first set of keys be a performance that I know is already solid before I start deviating. My final animation may end up vastly different than my original reference, but it gives me a great foundation to start with. Once I feel like that is working, I will begin pushing the poses, tweaking the timing, and exploring ideas. Also, this is around the point when I try to get feedback from my leads or co-workers to see what they feel is or isn't working well.

After that, it is hopefully (but not always) a painless process of getting notes and making revisions until you end up with a fantastic final product!

Guest Blogger Travis Tohill


Unknown said...

With video references - something I heard a few days ago that at least one studio does is to have reference buddies. You get someone else to act out the video reference. That way they aren't acting out the pre-conceived idea of motion that you have going into the shot, giving a fresh perspective.

wattana / dhruv said...

Hey there Travis... I am an animator as well but a new comer. I would just like to know that how long do u get or for that matter take for planning ur shots. How much time do u take to plan if ur on a reeelllyyy tight deadline

Bala said...

I'm doing a 200 frame dialogue shot at the moment for college, and spent nearly 3 out of the 5 weeks I had for it on planning. This is the first time I'm actually doing such planning and I could already see the benefits. Throughout the planning stage it was so tempting to just get into maya and posing the characters coz I could already picture it in my head. So why sit around drawing stick figures? Boy was I wrong. One question though. While animating the shot, do you ever come across happy accidents like slight weight shift or hand gesture that you didn't shoot reference for but did it while animating and found the pose totally appealing and much better than the reference? If so, where do you go from there? Do you shoot another reference this time trying to emulate that pose, or do you just wing it and see where that pose takes you? For my shot, i went along with the new pose and now I'm in no-man's land trying to find my way back to my reference. Wondering if others have had this dilemma.

Travis Tohill said...

I know some guys at work that like to do that when shooting video reference. Sometimes it is great to get someone else to give you their take on it. Also, it is great for someone if they feel like they don't have the strongest acting abilities. For me personally though, I like to do it myself. Mainly it is because coming up with the ideas for a shot is one of the aspects I enjoy the most and I'm selfish :)

Hey there,
How much time I get for a shot at work always varies. I don't usually set a specific amount of time for myself when planning, but I make sure that I plan until I know what I'm going to do and have the ideas solidified in my head. If I have 3 or 4 days to do a shot I may spend the first day planning... maybe a bit more or a bit less.
When a schedule is really tight I actually think it is more important than ever to plan well, because you don't have the time to just try things. If you only have 2 days for a shot and it takes a whole day to plan it well, then that's what you should do. One day of animating a well though out idea will still be better than 2 days of just winging it.
Thanks for checking out the blog!!

I come across happy accidents all the time. Sometimes a shot really benefits from unintentional movements in the animation. Usually those mistakes need to be cleaned up and refined, but never shy away from using a happy accident if it helps the shot.
If you have gotten stuck feeling like you are too far off of your planning and are kind of lost then I think you have 2 options.
The first would be to scrap the new idea and stick with the planning that you originally had.
The second would be to replan that portion of your shot. Try shooting new reference and/or doing thumbnails with whatever the new idea is. You can even shoot new reference and edit together the portions of each that you like. You don't want to be trying to animate your way out of it without a clear idea. So definitely get the planning back under your feet again.
Hope this helps and have fun setting those keys!!

Jerry Gonzalez said...

Awesome tips! I never thought of the "Don't think about the camera there or the poses will be generic". That was wayy helpful.

Travis Tohill said...

I'm glad I could help! :)

Bala said...

Thanks for that Travis. I ended up going with Option 2 and shot another reference to complete the shot. I was under the impression that reference and thumbnails are something you do at the very beginning and dont go back to much after that. Didn't realise sometimes I'd have to shoot reference till the very end. How linear of me!

Travis Tohill said...

No problem Bala. I reshoot reference and rethumbnail all the time. You should do anything you can do that helps you have a clearer idea of how you want to animate, regardless of whether you think other animators are doing it. Everyone has their own process and if yours includes jumping back into planning (as mine often does) then so be it.

Best of luck!

Nathan Ingram said...

Awesome post Travis! Whenever I shoot reference, I always find it tempting to match up my animation as close as I can to to that, granted it's a solid performance. I noticed in your post you said you like to stick pretty close to your thumbnails during your first blocking pass, but as you continue to work, your final animation may look completely different than your original reference. I was wondering, how do you know when to deviate your animation away from the original? I know it is something that needs to be done, or else all animations would look like real life and be oober boring! I guess I just have trouble defying realistic movement. :P Any idea how to get past that?

Travis Tohill said...

Hey Nathan, Thanks for the kind words! I used to have a hard time pushing my animation enough as well. There is a fine line to tread when doing realistic animation of having it feel real but also be entertaining. I think a good way to break out of the mold of being a slave to your video reference is to do a couple pieces that go beyond what you could actually do in the real world. I did a mime piece back in the day that really helped me get out of my comfort zone. My first pass on it was extremely faithful to what a real mime pulling a rope would do... and it was boring. My second version was WAAAYYY over the top. I had the Mime literally being dragged around by an invisible rope. The third version that I settled on was somewhere in the middle so that it had enough realism to not be distracting, but also had elements that no real mime would be able to do.

I would recommend trying to do something of that nature so that you are forced to do something other than the reference. When you are learning (which all of us are) it is always a good idea to get out of your comfort zone. Other than that, it just takes time.

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