What I’ve Learned So Far

Well, training’s over, I get my first shot on Monday. Woo hoo! As my sup said, “We’ll start you out with something easy, and from there it will just spiral into madness.”

I’m anxious to start some real work, but after a week an a half of playing with the character I can appreciate a little training time. I’ve learned quite a bit just by animating this week, so I thought I’d write a couple of them down, so I can remember (and share).

Squash and Stretch: I wouldn’t think that squash and stretch would apply as much in realistic “effects” animation as the cartoon type animation that I’ve been learning. But I’ll be damned if rodents don’t squash and stretch as much as most cartoon characters. It’s amazing!

Arcs: Like we’ve been told time and time again, everything moves in arcs. But it’s good to remember. Even the aforementioned squash and stretch moves along an arc. Drawing arcs on your monitor can really help you get a clean motion.

Posing: Wow, I have a totally different outlook on building a pose now. It’s almost like sculpting; rotating joints, but also pushing and pulling and scaling them to get the silhouette to look correct and appealing. Having a lot of control in a rig can be daunting when animation time comes, but for building a pose you can pretty much get whatever you want with the right kind of tweaking. Scapulas, for example: Not a key body part by any means, but they can really add a lot to a quadruped walk. Sometimes you can’t get exactly what you want just with rotations.
About rotations: Not all pivots are created equal; a spine doesn’t rotate exactly the same amount at every joint. It’s different depending on the pose. It might bend more at the base of the ribcage, making less of a smooth arc to the back, but possibly a more interesting pose.

Followthrough and Overlap: I think in the past I’ve tried to be very clean with my followthrough and overlap, designing nice smooth curves and arcs. However, after watching a bunch of tails, there was hardly a clean smooth path of motion to be found. Followthrough can be really random and messy looking, but still look correct, and real. I think animating straight ahead can help you get this kind of random movement, since it’s hard to plan, especially with a long joint chain.

Weight: So, guess what, heavy things move slow and light things move fast. I know, it’s a crazy revelation, but I was still surprised at how quick a move I could get away with on a small character.
Also, I had to remind myself that a running character is being pushed along by his feet, rather than the root moving and the feet getting pulled along underneath. The foot is pushing down, and when it hits the ground the force gets directed up and forward, which keeps the body going in the right direction, but now it’s falling until the next foot gets pulled into place. The whole character is made up of these interacting parts, which all have weight, and all affect eachother. And for smaller and less intelligent creatures this process gets more sloppy, which makes it even harder. I don’t think I could possibly animate all these little nuances (yet), but it can’t hurt to keep them in mind.
Even tiny little twitches can reverberate throught the body. Turn your head quickly, and there will be a tiny bit of counter twist in your chest, which affects your arms, balance, etc, ever so subtly. So much to think about!
Erratic movement: This is really hard. This ties in with followthrough, arcs, and well, pretty much most movement on a realistic character. But it’s not as easy as just throwing random keys at it and seeing what works. You’ve gotta come up with erratic patterns, plot them, and then match the character to your crazy arc. Just like the run, it can’t hurt to remember that a character is supposed to be moved by muscles attached to tendons attached to bones, and it’s a very messy process with lots of room for overshoot and error. It’s amazing that people can move as fluidly as we can.

Reference: Alright, this has come in handy before, but now I’m convinced that it’s key. Especially for realism, I don’t know how someone could possibly come up with a convincing performance without looking at a ton of reference.

Drawing: Even on top of reference, I think drawing is important. I’m not the greatest artist by far, but even just drawing frames from your reference or the pose you’re trying to fix can help you find where problems are or emphasis should be. Doing a drawing of a pose is a lot quicker than trying to pose the whole character out.

So, I know this is just the beginning, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back to refute some of these next week. But you gotta start somewhere! I think this stuff is hard, and there’s a lot to remember, and writing some of it down helps.

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9 Responses to What I’ve Learned So Far

  1. rini says:

    i’m absolutely confused and amazed… so many thing to think about before we even animate…akh..

  2. Aaron Koressel says:

    wow this is gold Morgan! come down and hang out soon, i wanna hear about this stuff first hand!
    -Aaron K

  3. myung says:

    what an interesting read morgan. I completely agree with the getting the right movemenet doesnt mean nice curves. it really matters whats on the 2d medium.

  4. kate says:

    Thankyou for posting this – I’ve just started trying to learn realistic animal animation for visual effects, and there doesn’t seem to be much out there that’s helpful. So hearing of your experiences and tips is really useful. Cheers!

  5. Anonymous says:

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