I was recently asked about animating fast/quickly, as well as what my take on it was. I figured this was a good opportunity to extend my thoughts on priorities as well as organization in workflow to whoever else may find them helpful.

When you have insane deadlines or depending on the type of animation job you have to do (films, TV, videogames, commercials) you are not always going to have the luxury of having a lot of time to work on your shots. Sometimes the shots suffer from it…other times, it may work to your advantage. Somethings that I wanted to point out that will help, or that at least it helped me a lot to me personally are:

Get to know your character previously if you have the chance. Know which controls to use…what you’ll need, and what you will not need. Do you need every single squash/stretch control in the character? or only certain ones? Can you build/save libraries that will speed up the process? Maybe hand poses…maybe expression poses. For example things like this not only will help you pose your character quicker…but additionally will help you keep your character on model.

Start out with the basic questions: What/who is important in the shot? Ask yourself that constantly. 12 years later I still struggle with this in every single shot. This will determine how you approach animating this shot and will obviously affect the workflow/speed of it.

Polish only the areas the audience will look at. This is where composition plays a big role. You have a character talking and gesturing at the same time. Spend the time/energy polishing the areas that our eyes will look at (for example, an arm gesture)…and obviously less time/polish on those areas that basically people won’t get to actually pay attention to. However, you don’t want the work to be so rough that maybe our eyes look there instead. If your splines are so rough in the other arm that’s not doing much, and they almost seem blocky…then that’s working to your disadvantage.

Keep in mind that less is more. This applies to both Acting and Spline Workflow:

Acting: This you’ve probably heard it before…but just because a character is gesturing a lot, doesn’t mean his/her performance will be a meaningful one. Quite the contrary…it can potentially hurt your perfomance. Also, it’s a lot of unnecesary extra work. So plan your acting ahead…maybe shoot reference, shoot thumbs and edit them roughly to geta feel for the entire shot from an acting point of view. I found working rough and going back and forth from reference to blocking and viceverse to work well for me, especially when I’m exploring ideas before showing the Director/Supervisor.

Spline Workflow: Sometimes you can get a lot more mileage by animating a few controls very well than animating a million controls very bad. Some of my favourite shots were done before controls like squash/stretch were even available in 3D…however, the limitations on the controls and how certain animators used the few controls they had available is what made certain shots a great source of study for me.

Always know what controls are doing what. Be organized and you control the shot/computer, don’t let the computer control your work. This will help you constantly especially in rough deadlines. If you have major changes, and only a couple of days to finish the shot, be ready for those changes…even if you end up not having to do changes at all.

On my own workflow

I have certain groups of controls that I use to animate basic poses while staying in blocking. Sometimes the only part where I’ll throw detail even in blocking is on the up/down of the root of the character, as I can start selling things like personality, attitude, physicality and/or weight. There are huge advantages in organization when using minimum number of controls. For example, if there are major changes I know I’m only using those controls to move the character around so I can change things quickly. Additionally, sometimes I’ll won’t get into breakdowns for a bit just to be flexible about changing things as well.

Most of this goes into animating efficiently. Figuring out what your priorities are in your shot and how to keep things organized. It’s basically all about knowing what you are animating…and knowing exactly what the keyframes you are setting will do, without getting carried away and setting keyframes everywhere to the point where your shot starts to get lost. Some of this is difficult, but the cool thing is we always have time to learn and create new more efficient habits in our work.

I hope this helps.
Have a great week.