I'll go over what my method of working is NOT from a Technical point of view, but more from a Planning point of view. Each area is a big area in animation. I wanted to share my thoughts and things that help me in planning a sequence. First of all, whenever I start working on a new shot, I try to keep it as fun as I can regardless of whatever deadlines we have going on. So I try to spend a bit of time at least exploring out the CREATIVE OPTIONS and POSSIBILITIES of whatever shot or sequence I'll be working on. In the end, I keep reminding myself this is work that I want to be as good as possible for years to come, however, I also want to have fun during the process. That part to me is just as important. Because of this, a part of the process I always enjoy very much is this exploration and the planning of the shot. An example I found was in a physical sequence I had to animate on The Incredibles. This is a Mr. Incredible sequence I wanted to talk about:
I had some of this material from a talk I gave at Siggraph a few years ago, and I felt it would be helpful for those interested in what are the planning elements I've used in shots, to help me dive into a sequence. This was a particularly difficult sequence for me as I couldn't obviously shoot actual reference of me performing that action. It's easy for physical actions to simply look off in the animation world. We are used to seeing physical actions constantly in our everyday basis. Because of that, I relied on several different types of planning materials to prepare for this sequence before I even started blocking not only to be ready to animate something as complex and physical but also to explore the different creative possibilities ofthe seuqence itself.
Some of these materials were:
The first one is an obvious one. Before animating anything, it always helps me to know what's been done with a character before and how it's been done. It goes from pre-production scultptures, sketches, drawings, all the way to animation tests. I don't get a chance to do this all the time unfortunately, sometimes due to lack of time in a production. But anything helps to put my head in the mood of who this character is. So when I started working on the film I went through a lot of great sequences previously animated before I entered the production. Other materials include 2D and 3D Model sheets for keeping a character on-model.
Then, in terms of my shot I started by taking a look at what the storyboards gave me. These are acting/posing ideas on the sequence done by story artists and approved by the Director. In here I'm just basically looking at what the Director primarily wants, to see if there are areas I can try to plus the sequence, or add something additional. It always helps in getting a good idea, early on, on who it is that I'll be animating:
Then I look at the layout created for the sequence. I basically loop it a million times, and I start thinking ideas about how to stage the character I'm animating to the camera. While it's a great thing to make sure the physics of the character work in most 3D angles, it's more than important for me to be concious of how the character will look like to an audience through the camera composition wise.
After that I try to find clips in different movies that could help me in some way to what I'll be animating. The purpose of finding film clips with similar content is to see if I can learn something additional to what I've shot myself from those actions in the film clips. This applies just as well to acting, in that sometimes the acting/performance from an actor will be considerably better than anything I will ever be able to do. In the following clips from Matrix, Happy Gillmore and Tarzan, there were some particular sequences I learned from, especially from a locomotion point of view. Early on I realized I can't really jump from one building to another building. I wish I could. That would be awesome to tell my friends "Hey, you see that building? check this out...". Ok, nevermind, I should get back on track. Anyways, so these clips and many more that I found had elements that really helped me. Things I was looking for in these clips were rolling around&contact human motion (Happy Gilmore)/ agile, light&fast moves (Tarzan) / running&jumping (Matrix):
Another planning element I used on this sequence were thumbnails. So I did my first pass at my own ideas, and I kept those drawings rough. I was mostly looking for posing ideas. My thumbnails are usually more like rough stickfigures with notes instead of detailed drawings since I usually don't feel like I can rely exclusively on my thumbnails to plan/prepare a sequence. Some things I wanted to figure out through these thumbs were line of action (from jump to rolling around), maybe thoughts on moments of the shot, and main sequence poses. In some cases, I would rely on a co-worker's drawing skill to help me on a shot. In this case, the lower left corner drawing was done by animator Bolhem Bouchiba, who was kind enough to draw many of these to help me figure out a pose. So don't be afraid to ask for help in the areas where you feel you could use help from others.
Some of these drawings I was looking into finding snapshots within a shot. Meaning KEY images of a shot that I wanted to try to have the audience remember from that shot somehow. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. But it helps me to think about shots in terms of one or two key poses that give the feel for what that shot is about. It's important to think in terms of animation and motion, but when maybe you have a fast shot or a bunch of stuff going on, it's also helpful to think about the composition of the shot in very little time and what people will get out of the shot visually. The next two images represent a couple of snapshots what I'm talking about and what I was trying to achieve:
So key images or poses within a shot. Then, I go onto Video Reference. Like I mentioned...since I couldn´t rely just on drawings to prepare this sequence, I shot tons of Video Reference. Video is something I use constantly to prepare my shots. I feel like I get many more things out of video reference than any other planning materials, because I get to try out different things and try them on the spot. In the next clips you'll find certain Video Reference choices I made for different reasons:
In the previous clip, I positioned the video camera similar in staging to that in the layout. The reason was because I wanted to see how the camera angle would limit my expressions since it was a pretty low angle. Sometimes eyes/eyebrows or mouth poses are hard to read from different angles. Then I basically let the camera rolling. First few times I'm always self concious of the camera, and after 10-15 times you start to forget the camera is recording you...and that's when you start to get pretty valuable reference in my opinion. In that clip, I try different things, serious things, comedy things, anything goes. Later I can decide what fits, but I try to have my options open.
In the last two clips, basically I'm looking for help with locomotion, to study, take more notes, etc. So I shot footage from the back (as in the shot) and from the side. Something really difficult I've found to get right in animation in general is weight distribution as well as foot work. It's so easy to get it wrong. So by shooting all this and from two different angles I was mostly paying attention to weight and what the feet were doing. I was trying to learn from real life and apply what I learned to my shot and since before this sequence I never animated anything similar hopefully I'd learn for future shots. It is important to try to not copy real life, but instead think of it as a chance to try to push movement and make a caricature of motion while still keeping the character with weight, since he is a superhero jumping from one building to the other. Additionally, something I'm also doing in here is to try different things each time I get ready to jump. Ultimately I tried to sell the idea of him getting ready as a tennis player where they are ready to start playing and their ankles are going up and down. I was trying to sell Mr.Incredible not only as a big guy, but a big guy that could be very fast and agile. In terms of the motivation, I kept thinking Mr. Incredible kept telling himself "Think fast, think fast!!".
I included this last clip hopefully as a tip for people. Since I have a hard time drawing poses sometimes, I use video also in a way to figure out poses that may work or not...and to see how the different parts of the body relate to each other. The next clip was to figure out all the arm/shoulder motion of the fall/impact as well as starting to get up. It was shot at 7 in the morning before going to work, and that's why I look so great in it. 7am is way too early for a spaniard. It was too ridiculous not to be shown. I was waiting for my laundry to be done, so I was shooting video reference in the meantime. :)
Anyways, so hopefully this shows a bit of the importance of having some stuff planned in a shot or sequence. It's really hard for me to go into any shot without having a real idea about what it is exactly what I'll be animating...or without at least exploring. The great thing is there are many ways of planning, and great tools for us to use.
Have a great week everyone.