Monday, November 30, 2009

Character Animation

Blocking Second Pass (part 2)
I have taken the second part of the sequence through the same process I described below. This time however I filmed some reference footage for the first shot because I was not happy with the blocking. I recorded myself repeating the dialogue several times on my webcam until I got a few interesting gestures. I especially wanted to get rid of the "For Me..." gesture where he put his hand on his chest. That just seemed too obvious and in fact when I acted it out, that was the last thing I would do when saying those words.

In fact it still needs some tweaking because I haven't captured the second part of that gesture properly, but this is looking much better and more interesting than before. Now I could do with some feedback before taking it further.
Next Installment: Splined

Friday, November 27, 2009

Character Animation

Blocking Second Pass (part 1)

Here I have taken the first few shots of the piece through the second stage of my blocking process which adds breakdowns and inbetweens to further define the actions. Hopefully you can see that working in this way allows you to build up a nuanced and complicated performance from a very simple foundation.

At this stage I am generally not even touching the facial expressions or lip-sync. You want the performance to work without, so don't add it until you're happy with the physical acting. There are points in this where I want Karl to be thinking to himself and you can already see that coming across just because he stops looking at the other two and sort of retreats into himself physically. Ricky is quite manic and so his character is fast moving and dynamic but the other two are both quite dead pan deliveries. It should make a nice contrast and also it allows for some more subtle acting. It can be quite tempting in animation to over act but when a character is not moving, generally it means they are thinking. And that is when an audience starts to get drawn into a performance or character when they see a thought process stirring up inside.

Next installment: Blocking Second Pass (Part 2)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Character Animation

Blocking (first pass)

I've transferred my thumbnails into 3d now, and as you will see it has already changed quite a bit from the initial sketches. I found that some of the poses needed pushing for clearer silhouettes and also you start finding nice contrasting lines of action in the body and head when you are flipping between the poses. I like to pose out my shot with the keyframes next to each other before I time them out along the audio so you can do the 3d equivalent of flipping your drawings.

I have changed one of the camera choices from the animatic too beacuse I needed to frame the characters a bit differently. Some of the acting/pose choices have evolved here too. I am constantly acting it out in my head and getting up and doing little gestures to see what might work better for the character. Some people would shoot reference before starting to block out the shot but I like to get quite well into the second pass blocking before I shoot any reference on something like this. Really I will only use that to get ideas for where I can refine and add extra realism which comes much later. It's important not to get bogged down in details at this stage. For now I'm happy with the first pass and where it is leading... you might want to get some feedback at this stage or show it to your director to make sure you are getting what you want from the keyposes. Even though I have blocked it very simply it is important to have some idea of where you are going to elaborate on actions in the next phase.

Next installment: Blocking (plus)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Character Animation

Now that we have our shots layed out we can go into photoshop and rough in some thumbnails. We have the characters basic positions in the frame and we can run through some rough acting/pose ideas to get things rolling.

This has the advantage of being able to try out ideas and experiment a bit without wasting time posing the rigs in 3D. Sometimes I would just use pencil and not bother scanning them in and putting it together like this but I thought it would show my ideas better.

Ok, so for first pass thumbnails we have some interesting ideas developing here. We've got enough to take into MAYA now and begin fleshing out these poses. I like to keep things loose throughout this process because I find I can feel out stronger poses and acting once we are in 3D.
Next installment: Blocking

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Character Animation

Breaking Down Audio/Camera Animatic

The first stage in my process is basically layout. I take the characters into the 3d environment along with any props and models I may need. I set up the characters sitting around a table as I wanted to make it feel like this dialogue was part of an interview (I may elaborate on the gag further down the line). So two guys interviewing and one interviewee. I sit them down in a neutral pose and then go in and set up some camera's that will determine the shots I want. With this done I take a render of each camera angle and then edit them together in After Effects to see how the sequence will break down into seperate shots. Here is the video of that edit:

I think this is a pretty good pacing for the sequence, keeps things interesting focusing on different character's at various points. Obviously the more you know about cinematography the better you will be able to set something like this up. You should be aware of things like the 180 degree rule so that things are clear and readable. At various points we are not actually looking at the person who is talking which will give me a chance to animate reaction shots which will add to the cinematic feel. I may add changes and subtle zooms etc in MAYA but for now this does it's job and gets the ball rolling.
Next installment: Thumbnailing
Character Animation

Software/Rig choice
Now that we have the audio file, we need to decide what we are going to animate with. If like me you decided to specialise in animation then you may not be able to model and rig your own character. That's ok though because there are a multitude of rigs out there built by clever people who do have those skills and are willing to share their generic/practice rigs for us animators to use. Just don't go using them for commercial or profit making films.

Here are some of the rigs I found at 11 second club. They have a great website where you can enter a character animation competition each month. Some rigs are better than others, the three in the middle of the above picture are the ones I have chosen. Partly because I have used them before and know they work well and partly because they fit the characters of the dialogue.

As you can see I have chosen to use MAYA. This is the program I am most comfortable with but there are a multitude of choices around. The best bet is to decide based on the industry standard software of the field you want to crack into. High end character animation almost always uses MAYA. Games animation would be 3DS Max. Investigate the companies you want to work at and see what they use.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Character Animation
A look at the process and progress of an animated scene.

It has been a while since I animated a really juicy dialogue shot in 3d animation so I've decided to create one as a centre piece for my show-reel. Since I always learned a lot from seeing other people's working method I thought I would also document it on this blog. I will try to go into as much detail as I can. Before we start I suggest you look at my current show-reel.

Picking the audio
To begin with you have to pick a piece of dialogue to animate. This is a very important part and there are many options. The industry standard method of creating a piece of character animation for a show-reel is to take a clip from a film or TV show or similar source, and animate a short clip in your own unique way. It is down to personal preference but you have to consider who you want to see it and how they may react so don't have anything offensive or nasty. I try not to pick anything too well known, if it is from the latest blockbuster film then your audience already has preconceptions of the audio. And if you're trying to out act Robert DeNiro you might come away looking a bit silly.

I have picked some audio from a podcast that I listen to. It is from the Ricky Gervais podcast and features Karl Pilkington and Steve Merchant. It is quite well known I suppose, but it has only ever been in audio format so you don't know how they would act it out themselves which gives me free reign to invent a performance.

There are a lot of clips I could have gone with but I narrowed it down to this 39 second clip. It has some very interesting rythm's and beats in the dialogue which is what you should look for and also it inspired me (probably the most important thing) and made me laugh. I would suggest a shorter clip if you are just starting to animate. About 10 seconds is good. But I want to go for something that requires some different camera shots and movement. We will see if I have taken on too much!

Friday, November 13, 2009

I want to share some links that have been keeping me inspired over the last few months, most of it is comics related... some animation related. All inspiring artwork and thoughtful blogging. So in no particular order: Jason Brubaker is working on an independent graphic novel called Re-Mind which looks stunning and I am following the progress on and off. Scott Morse is a Pixar story artist I believe. I first found him through his graphic novel Ancient Joe which I'd recommend by the way. His blog is full of artwork he does outside of work. I have no idea how he finds the time! Darren Rawlings working on a graphic novel. Agent Orange. I don't know how close to completion it is but the development work is fantastic. He also has a cool webcomic, The life of Rex Bunyan. Yet more graphic novelly goodness from Evan Dahm. This one is epic and I've barely scratched the surface. Will probably just get the book when I can afford it but I like to check out the site now and then to see what's new. Chris Grine's new site launching soon with Chickenhare 3 which is being released as a webcomic. He is a published comic creator and yet he's decided to release this latest book online. Perhaps that means publishing on the web IS a potential money maker. Hmm. I love this site for an inspirational monday lecture. Davis B Levy has created several tv series and even published a book on how you can do the same. It is quite New York indy scene orientated but very interesting none the less. Fun comic about a kid in school who tries to be a super hero. Foul mouthed but often hilarious comic about a chicken (cock) and a cow (bull).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My plans to update the blog regularly have faltered again... I need to integrate this more into my website so that everything is easily updatable. Anyway my comic K-9Lives is coming to a close I think. It is just not keeping me interested enough to continue and there are other things I feel would greater benefit my time. I am considering taking December off from updating all my comics anyway so that I can come back fresh in the new year.

I recently attended FLIP '09 and took part in a portfolio review session. Basically 6 animators volunteered to display their show-reels in front of an audience and then receive an in depth critique from a panel of industry experts. It was a valuable experience and after the initial rush of nerves I quite enjoyed it and felt that the feedback given was well thought out and useful.

This is the showreel I cut after the feedback. I am currently searching for either freelance or fulltime work in animation. I am hoping to animate some commercials or idents for tv/online portals. I am always on the look out for high end character animation too so if you are an employer or interested party feel free to contact me. Details on my website.