Shooting reference is an important part of my animation workflow. I've found that the following tips have helped me to get the most out of my reference.
Shoot at various times during the production of the shot. I like to shoot reference a few key places. I'll shoot at the very start to document my gut reaction to seeing the shot for the first time. After some planning, I will shoot some more reference to do some exploration. When I have my choices solidified I will act them out again and study the mechanics.
Switch it up between acting and doing. When I am "acting" I will try to feel the line out and see what comes naturally. When I am "doing" I'll have a specific idea in mind that I will try to imitate with my body.
Shoot with a partner- Ideas tend to develop faster when you are getting instant feedback. Bring a buddy into the reference room and take turns acting and directing.
Let the camera roll- Sometimes it takes a while to feel comfortable when acting out a line. Be patient, just let the camera roll and keep running through the material until you forget that the camera is there. That is when the good stuff starts happening.
Act through the line. Load up at least one or two shots before and after the shot you are working on to bring a sense of context to your acting. This will give you time to get into character before your shot starts and help you deliver a solid performance right through the end.
Get into character. Do all that you can to make sure that you are in the characters mindset. Use props such as clothing or a sword. Try shooting the reference in an environment similar to the one featured in the scene. If you have a friend or co-worker that fits the description of that character, ask that person to act the scene out for you.
Analyze your reference. Anyone can get jump around in front of the camera. The true skill comes in analyzing your reference, extracting the truths and tossing the dramatics aside. I like to start the editing process by cutting the reference into takes and comparing the takes to one another. I will eliminate the takes one by one until I feel like I have the best 3-5 takes. Once I have the best takes I will analyze the individual acting beats and pick my favorites.
Create super takes. If you have acting choices that you like in different takes, try cutting your favorite takes together into a super take. Sometimes this will give you the best combination of acting choices but other times you will find that a nice beat in one spot can steal the show from one of your other favorite beats.
Show your reference. A lot of animators tend to keep their reference somewhat private. Showing your reference to your peers and anim sups is a great way to get some quick feedback without investing a ton of time.
Guest Blogger Mike Stern