Sunday, July 27, 2008

Video Reference

Video reference is pretty useful, especially when animating scenes where there is a lot of complicated body movement. For example:

(with classmate Paul Shepherd)

Rough Animation:

Final animation:

Another Example:

A lot of things change during the animation, but the reference is a great way to avoid starting with a blank piece of paper.

(I also feel that reference video footage will soon be replaced by low-cost motion capture systems. Same idea, but the reference will automatically be available as 3D information in the computer, and then you can either layer keyframe animation on top, or use it purely as a traditional reference.)

Yet Another Example:

Reference (starring myself and classmate Joanna Griebel):


Motion Capture Performance Final Project

Should've posted this a while ago - my final from the Eric Furie/Robert Zemeckis Motion Capture Performance class which includes more crowd work. (I also shot some fight sequences that were not yet reconstructed in time for this video but can be seen here.)

The foreground and middle ground crowd elements are motion captured (the performers are my classmates John and Nahomi, myself and an actor, Kevin), and the background crowd elements are generated out of Massive. This is my new approach to the crowd because I can still art direct the crowd manually and then just give it additional volume using Massive.

I liked where this is going, but my advisor, Christine Panushka, wants to see A LOT more people and some children so I need to work on that. RenderMan for Maya 2.0 supports instancing, so my plan is to create instances of the FG and MG crowd individuals that I already have, giving me a lot more volume closer to the camera without a substantial performance hit (I hope).

Other than that I got good feedback on the look, the design of the crowd, etc. from the faculty.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ollie Johnston's Notes on Animation

These are posted on an old Siggraph site, and John Lasseter got them from Glen Keane who got them from Ollie.

  1. Don’t illustrate words or mechanical movements. Illustrate ideas or thoughts, with the attitudes and actions.
  2. Squash and stretch entire body for attitudes.
  3. If possible, make definite changes from one attitude to another in timing and expression.
  4. What is the character thinking?
  5. It is the thought and circumstances behind the action that will make the action interesting. Example: A man walks up to a mailbox, drops in his letter and walks away OR A man desperately in love with a girl far away carefully mails a letter in which he has poured his heart out.
  6. When drawing dialogue, go for phrasing. (Simplify the dialogue into pictures of the dominating vowel and consonant sounds, especially in fast dialogue.
  7. Lift the body attitude 4 frames before dialogue modulation (but use identical timing on mouth as on X sheet).
  8. Change of expression and major dialogue sounds are a point of interest. Do them, if at all possible, within a pose. If the head moves too much you won’t see the changes.
  9. Don’t move anything unless it’s for a purpose.
  10. Concentrate on drawing clear, not clean.
  11. Don’t be careless.
  12. Everything has a function. Don’t draw without knowing why.
  13. Let the body attitude echo the facial.
  14. Get the best picture in your drawing by thumbnails and exploring all avenues.
  15. Analyze a character in a specific pose for the best areas to show stretch and squash. Keep these areas simple.
  16. Picture in your head what it is you’re drawing.
  17. Think in terms of drawing the whole character, not just the head or eyes, etc. Keep a balanced relation of one part of the drawing to the other.
  18. Stage for most effective drawing.
  19. Draw a profile of the drawing you’re working on every once in a while. A profile is easier on which to show the proper proportions of the face.
  20. Usually the break in the eyebrow relates to the highpoint of the eye.
  21. The eye is pulled by the eyebrow muscles.
  22. Get a plastic quality in face — cheeks, mouth and eyes.
  23. Attain a flow thru the body rhythm in your drawing.
  24. Simple animated shapes.
  25. The audience has a difficult time reading the first 6-8 frames in a scene.
  26. Does the added action in a scene contribute to the main idea in that scene? Will it help sell it or confuse it?
  27. Don’t animate for the sake of animation but think what the character is thinking and what the scene needs to fit into the sequence.
  28. Actions can be eliminated and staging "cheated" if it simplifies the picture you are trying to show and is not disturbing to the audience.
  29. Spend half your time planning your scene and the other half animating.
  30. How to animate a scene of a four-legged character acting and walking: Work out the acting patterns first with the stretch and squash in the body, neck and head; then go back in and animate the legs. Finally, adjust the up and down motion on the body according to the legs.
I pasted them here in case the source site disappears.


I can't listen to music when I'm doing the thinking part of the animation e.g. poses, but I do listen to it when I'm watching the edit. This way I have some internal rhythm to edit to. Of course, this doesn't have to be the final music but just something to set the mood in my brain. The music I listen to varies widely depending on the scene and its emotional intensity/tone. For the more dramatic slower scenes that I've been working on recently, I listen to Zakir Hussain's Kalpana a lot. Not that I listen to a lot of classical music but this track is one of my favorite pieces of music. I would've liked to use it in the final music but it may be too meditative for the film.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rope a dope

Often, my scenes have funny intermediate states. Sam's hand grab is particularly good when looped.

Thoughts on Animation

How has my approach to character animation changed over the course of this film?

I plan things out a lot more. Probably a third or half the time on each shot is spent planning out the camera and poses. Earlier, I'd rush through the scene and go straight to subtle stuff like the fingers, but now I spend the bulk of my time trying to iron out the timing of the main actions.

I also step the keys a lot more, which is making 3d animation seem more and more like 2d animation since I feel like I'm animating keys and holding them on 3s, 4s or 6s before doing in-betweens. It's all perfectly obvious now, but it's taken me a while to start thinking like that.

I go a lot broader on facial animation and close-ups. A lot of my earlier scenes are quite stiff because I was being too subtle. Some of the faces were so rigid that I went in and reanimated them, particularly with Bir.

On the other hand, my body animation is a lot less broad than the usual manic stuff I churn out. Part of the reason is that Looney Tunes animation wouldn't really fit the content and style of this film, but I also try to plan each scene around fewer big poses than I used to. That way, I only emphasize what I want to in each scene by balancing big and small, fast and slow gestures. So if there's enough slow and medium paced action, fast action stands out more, and vice versa.

Similarly, less is often more. By resisting the temptation to do a zany wrist snap or an overexaggerated take, I am trying not to distract the audience in order to give them more time to digest a shot and understand its main point.

Of course, my animation might still not be any better, but I like to think that it's clearer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Anatomy of a Shot

I picked a random shot to illustrate the steps that I go through. I'll keep updating this post until the final render.

Shot 53: Goon moves toward Bir
Animatic Duration: 2 sec

Stage 1: Storyboard/Animatic - mid-December 2007

Stage 2: Layout Create Maya scene and import characters. Rough out camera angle/scene composition. - July 2, 2008

Notice that the screen direction is flipped horizontally compared to the storyboards as a side-effect of some story edits that I made during the animation phase of the film.

The character design has also changed significantly. I didn't feel that this character (Sam) needed a beard because the hat is the point of the story. Also, Maqbool already has a beard which will contrast well with Sam's lack of one during the final confrontation scene.

Angle 1:

Angle 2: Roof lines up better with his eyes

Stage 3: Animation July, 2 2008

1st pass blocking/rough animation

More blocking - the hand wipe was really slowing down the momentum of the scene, and felt out of character/confusing i.e. is poor Sam sweating and tired after a long day of killing people? I considered other options such as having Sam wipe his mouth instead or maybe spit, but none of those actions seemed to fit either. So now he's just going to walk towards Bir. By framing the shot wider, Sam doesn't need to raise the knife as high, again making the shot less over-the-top as compared to the storyboards.

Several hours later, this is the final animation. I also adjusted the camera movement.

Since I use RenderMan to smooth the models at render time, I usually do a quick render to preview the animation without paying much attention to lighting.

Sure enough, I ended up tweaking the camera angle based on the preview render - I widened the shot by changing the lens so you can see Sam's leg stepping over the dead body. No one will probably notice, but I like having it in there because it also breaks up the walk cycle a little bit.

Stage 4 - Crowd - November 25, 2008
I usually add in the crowd right before I render, because my pipeline involves getting all the crowd animation into Maya, and this makes the scenes really heavy. At this stage, it takes about 5 minutes just to open the Maya file for the shot.

Stage 5 - Lighting/Rendering - November 27, 2008
I'm not the best lighter :) so everything comes out looking pretty flat usually.

Stage 6 - Compositing/Final Shot: March 8, 2009
Here's where I add dust, depth of field and color correction.



Should Sam have a dagger or a machete? The machete has drawn some strong reactions from classmates about potentially being over the top ("too Arabian Nights"), but more threatening and a lot easier to see. At the same time, I've heard accounts that swords were used in these riots. So I have a decision to make. For right now, I'm leaning towards the dagger because I've tried to shy away from overstating the violence in the film to make it feel a little more realistic as opposed to exaggerated. Of course, using the word "realistic" is a contradiction because I just mentioned that swords were used in the Partition riots, but I need to be conscious of both historical accuracy and cinematic stereotypes.

I'll ask the faculty what they think at a later date



And here is the same comparison with movement:
(The difference is more subtle when the characters are animated but there are going to be enough scenes with the dagger/machete that deciding between them is important.)