Sunday, March 19, 2006


People talk a lot about arcs. At first, I was like, why? What the hell do they have to do with animation? Isn't animation just an imitation of real life? Where do arcs fit in? To some extent, I still wonder that, at least, for realistic animation. If the intent is to simulate real life and the real life motion doesn't arc, then why animate using arcs? If I can make it look real enough without caring about arcs, why the hell should I start?
I think the whole arcs thing trails back to traditional 2D animation. I haven't studied this stuff, so I'm hypothesizing, but I'm beginning to see the value of it in animation. It's just more visually pleasing. Seeing someone move in arcing motions is just more appealing than seeing linear interpolations. The question then becomes, well, what do I arc? Keith Lango has a good tutorial on this, and he says the most important part is the hips. I think I agree. If you arc the hips, you indirectly arc everything that is attached. From there, I think overlapping through time adds more, as well as paying attention to your appendages - the arms, legs, and head. I tend to pay particular attention to the wrists, since I think a lot of the time people keep their eyes on the characters' hands... what are they doing? So I focus a lot on that. Plus there's a lot of negative space around the arms so if they're moving fast, the eye is naturally drawn toward them.
It's funny... the more I pay attention to arcs, the more anal I get about them. This is a good thing, I think. I wonder if you can overkill on them...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Juggles Pace is Slowing...

It's not a bad thing. I'm spending time with family. I've kind of decided to not kill myself anyway. The animation is very close to finished, actually -- I only have about 10 more shots to animate, most of which are facial closeups. There's only one technically challenging shot left, and I'm on it right now. After that, smooth sailings :) I wanted to get done with the animation completely by the time this semester's over, but it looks like it's just not going to happen. I'm going to have to tweak the facial structure of the boy (he just looks creepy when he smiles), set up dynamics, textures, lighting, sound... there's just no way. Better to take my time with it and make it really solid than to rush it. I'd still like to try to submit it for R&H's animation scholarship, though. That's not due until May 16th or so, though.
I worry about the story... I think I worry more about my sense of humor and that people will buy into it. I hope it's well received. I also hope that everything -- the animation, the style, the textures, the lighting, the sound -- will make this piece add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Once the animation's finished, I'll post a playblast of the 1st animation pass (sans cloth/hair dynamics and additional cleanup).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

And the hardest part is.... Blocking!

Blocking is so hard. You wouldn't think so, because basically, it's just crappy animation. I'm referring to thoughtful blocking -- blocking that is detailed enough to the point where you can see all the intricate details in your head, they're just not there yet. It's hard because I think it's where I tend to put the most thought. If I screw up this phase, the rest of the animation may not be as good as it could have been. And I hate moving forward until I think I have my blocking just right. I find that when I'm doing an animation where I just don't care how it turns out, I block quickly, hence I animate quickly. On the other hand, if it's an animation I genuinely care about doing the best I possibly can, I block very slowly and thoughtfully, so the animation takes forever. But then I wonder if the outcome is any better than if I did it quickly. I can't tell. Sooooo.... what's the moral of this story? I dunno. Maybe it should be to block quickly and then think about what you've done. Reevaluate if necessary. I think it causes procrastination more than anything else. I need to just bite the bullet and dig in more often. Or just stop caring about my animation, I guess.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Random Maya Animation Tip #347

Don't be a slave to the 'snap-to-frame' option in the graph editor. Yeah, sure it makes nice, clean keys. Use it most of the time. All I'm saying is, that when you're adding in overlap and that kind of stuff, consider turn it off so you can fine-tune the look as you're shifting keys left or right. Get real-time animation playback if you can, and see what's going on. I just tried this today for adding overlap in the neck/head, and... viola!

Word of caution: Whenever I give any sort of animation tip whatsoever, use caution: I'm quite sure I don't know what I'm doing half the time.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Why is it so loooooong...?

As I animate this short, the time keeps creeping up and up... it's now clocking out at around 3:50. Originally, it was 3:00. It just seems like the scenes get longer as I progress, like I naturally have to add more time. I guess this is ok - either it's genuinely needed, or I'll cut it in the editing phase. We'll see. In any case, it's lowering my morale, because it seems like this thing is never going to get finished. I just want the animation pass to be complete. Then I can take a mini-vacation :) If only.
Guess I should just keep cranking... it's at about 2:40, by the way. It's spring break right now, so this week I should be able to push out a lot more than I would normally. If only I could have it done by April...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Animation Techniques For Different Styles

Something I've been thinking about... As of now, I've done mostly realistic, humanoid animation. I guess The Big Surprise wasn't really, but I didn't really know jack about animation when I was working on that short. I was using what I guess is the layered technique. Essentially I would start by animating the root node, then work my way outwards until the entire character was finished. I find this method provides more realistic (physically accurate) results, since as you move down the chain, each bone dictates how the next bone will move. Consequently you end up with animation that, if you do it right, will look "physically" correct. For the most part, I used this technique on Tombraider: Legend as well.
I've found, though, that using this method limits the complexity of your animation. "Cartoony" animation tends to be very complex, I think... jumping from one pose to the next, sometimes with only a frame or two inbetween. You can't do this with the layered technique. Plus, doing cartoony stuff, you often throw anatomically-correct physicality out the window.
I'm trying to strike a comprimise between the two methods. For the short I'm working on, I'm trying to use pose-to-pose as a guideline -- essentially, making sure there are a few specific poses I hit, and layering from the root node out as I go. I think it's working pretty well, especially for the more complex scenes.
I'd like to try something in a more cartoony style after this, strictly pose-to-pose and see how it goes. Never really done it before.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I Need Some Dialogue!

I'm itching to get back to animating dialogue. The short I'm working on has no speech - everything is communicated through body language. While this is quite an exercise in itself, I think doing dialogue opens up an entirely new area within animation to explore. Seeing some of the stuff out there really inspires me to try to push my abilities past where they are now.
I've seen that lots of people use video reference of themselves to get acting ideas. I've kind of always shied away from this (I think because I hate seeing myself on camera), but it's probably something I should start doing. All those little details become clear when they're recorded, and those details inspire more ideas. Plus it's a good starting point for blocking. Ha, I really feel like I suck when I see things other students (that are FAR YOUNGER than me ;) are pushing out... Check out if you get a chance... That kid's gonna go far.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


I've often wondered about the correlation between drawing and 3D animation. I've heard so many people say so many different things - the traditionalists swear by it, and I hear some people even draw out every frame before they even think of taking it to a computer. I've also heard some people say that the best 3D animators they've seen have never even had to pick up a pencil. I don't know which camp to believe. I've mentioned that I can't draw, and I consider it one of my biggest professional faults. I plan on remedying it regardless, but I often wonder how much good it'll do.
I can see it being valuable in the prototyping stage, especially when expressing my ideas to others. I remember one time at Crystal I was animating a creature whose movement we were still trying to define - our director asked me to do some quick sketches of how I thought the movement might progress, but I couldn't. It was a horrible feeling.
I still find that when I get to a computer, though, the ideas just flow, even without penciled prototypes. I'm generally able to find poses I like and create the motions I imagine, without the aid of a paper and pencil. Still, I think if I want to progress from my current skill level, to give my animation the detail I want to achieve, I need to take this step. At the very least, I need to get proficient at quick sketching - capturing the main ideas behind what I'm thinking in a very quick pose sketches.