Spooky Animorsels Animation! Pt3 – The Bats of Animation

… And a Page full of Gifs!

Tonight I have the pleasure of revealing the final animation, for which all of this work has been building up.

Three ways to watch

The first way to watch is to watch as intended. Click the YouTube video below on your smartphone (or other device) and get the VR experience. If you have something like Google Cardboard, I am sure you can check it out in that, otherwise just moving your device around will show you what is intended.

The second way to watch is to watch me watching it. The video below was captured from the Oculus as I tested the 360 video out. Unfortunately that means that the video is quite shaky, and the framing can be quite off (larger field of view in the headset compared to the screen, so it seems).

The third way you can watch is to simply enjoy the animation. In order to keep an eye on what I was animating, I created an action camera – one that would follow the main point of action. If I was happy with the animation from this point of view, I would be happy with the 360 renders.

So let’s talk about Animation.

So I chose to split the animation into three main sections. The first section refers to Dracula as a Ball – the second; Dracula as a humanoid – the third; Capes.

Dracula as a Ball

From the off, I knew this was going to be a highly stylised piece. I wanted to have the mysterious character appear on the Haunted House, then jump off, past the camera and strike a Bat-pose before landing. I chose to do all of this using a simple ball rig (described in Part 2) for two reasons.

  1. It feels so much better when you have a single block shape performing large sweeping movements than when you have a detailed character doing the same. Having a full character could be good, but I didn’t want to over burden the viewer’s mind with needless detail. After all, simplicity is elegance, right? I think somebody said that once.
  2. A ball is much easier to animate than a humanoid – far fewer moving parts!

One key in designing this animation was that I didn’t want it to feel two dimensional. The character is moving from a high place in front of you to a low place behind. Therefore there are only two axis needed to achieve this movement; the Up/Down and Front/Behind axis. Adding in the third axis – Left/Right adds so much more interest for the audience.

So I created a simple spline to guideline where I wanted the character to move. I knew that there was a need for arcs and loops to make this feel good, so I designed the motion before I designed the timing. Splines are great for this sort of thing, but I would definitely avoid constraining the character to the path.

As I started to pose my Drac-Ball along the spline, I realised that in order to get the look I was going for, I would have to sway away from the spline, when it came to smoothing my animation curves I realised this further. But in exploring these movements (rather than being constrained to them) I was able to create something I felt worked a lot better.

So having three dimensions in my motion helped appeal, what else would? Well, Timing. We all know that a bouncing ball moves fastest when it is filled with energy (either when coming in to land or bouncing away), and moves slow at that zenith where there is a conflict between forces (top of the arc as the upward force is overcome by the downward). This shows that movement is not always a constant, but demands dynamics – if the bouncing ball moved at the same pace throughout a bounce, it would look reeeeeeal odd.. trust me.

So to keep things super interesting, I played around with the timing (and spacing) a LOT, stylising the holds before before a fast movement. Just look at how he seems to pause in the sky having just jumped from the roof, or how the Bat-pose lingers just a little too long before falling quite heavily.

Dracula as a Humanoid

This (obviously) came right at the end, but required the most effort – an old friend was known to say that everything was a Bouncing Ball, and with a human figure you have many moving parts to get looking right.

Dracula transitions from a Ball into a person over a couple of frames, and trust me, I am surprised at how effective that was! There was no more a trick to it than simply positioning and timing. The poses which he and the ball strike as the transition happens also helped make it look so smooth, but it was simple replacement animation, nothing interesting or fancy.

My animation process is always the same. Block out your major poses in a rough timing, then add breakdown upon breakdown until you have something you’re pretty much happy with,

Then change all keys to splined and watch as all hell breaks loose.

Calm yourself, order a replacement keyboard and apologise to the cat. Then reassure yourself that you have to get through this Daniel Bedingfield style.

Spend the next waking hours smoothing, adjusting and readjusting poses and timing until it looks good again.

This was a simple sequence of movements, going from the land, into the pose, into the prep and finally the attack, but that didn’t mean the animation could be lacking. Again, focusing on appeal, I looked at the dynamics in timing to give a sense of weight, and utilised the idea of adding arcs to everything to make it feel more fluid.

And then there is the end pose, as Drac attacks. I wanted a head surrounded with bats, and so that’s what I created, stretching his head practically off his shoulders in that last movement.

The Bats

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the thing that makes VR unique is the thing that makes it challenging. That is the agency given to the audience to decide where they want to look.

I found that people didn’t want to look at the top of the house, but instead explore the frame, and then missing the animation as a whole (one colleague commenting on my work said ‘yeah, that’s really good, but when are you putting the character in?’).

Because of my set up, I didn’t want to use traditional visual methods of directing focus – Light, Colour, Focus, ect – and couldn’t use spacial sound design (I didn’t know how to), and so I had to use something else to draw the eye – and I am not too sure how successful this is yet.

The Bats were introduced to gather the audience’s attention and draw it up to the top of the house.

Now, I had mentioned in a previous post that I am particle wizard, but that was what I needed. Using TyFlow again, I created a system slightly more complex than that used for the rain. This required new events for each section of animation, wind forces to gather and expel, and turbulence to make it look manic. I wanted the figure atop the house to be formed as they came close, I wanted them to flutter behind him as he flew, and I wanted them to disperse as he stretched his wings before falling to the ground.

And I think I achieved what I was going for.

On the whole, these three elements come together to create something that, I feel, looks really good!

360 Rendering

You cant just animate in 3Ds Max and expect it to look good in VR. This takes a lot of time and tests to make sure everything feels good, and even now there are some elements I wish I had changed.

It is important to render and re-render everytime you have an iteration. You are looking at how close or far things feel, how fast you need to move, from what position to what position. I originally had it where the render cam was facing the house, and therefore the moon was full-on behind you. This worked for the start of the animation – seeing Drac appear right in front of your, but made the speed by which he moved past quite awkward, especially when you had to turn 180 in your chair to see the rest of the animation.

Simply changing the angle of the render cam worked wonders for this piece, and though it means exploring and finding the animation, potentially missing it, this is more favorable than viewers breaking their necks to see what happens!

Lastly, each frame was rendered with VRay, 2048×1024 pixels, spherical with a 360 field of view. It was comped with the thunder render in After Effects and I added royalty free sound effects, edited together in premier.

To get it to work nicely on YouTube, I used the Facebook 360 Director tool to encode it to work as a spherical video.

And now that this is all out of the way…

… I am going to present it at Animorsels tonight! It will be the first time people have seen the original 20 seconds (I mean, come on, even the So Solid Crew had 21), and I am looking forward to seeing people reactions and recieving feedback.

I do hope to get round to adding the lizard characters in there, maybe bulking the piece out to a 1 minute loop, but that will be for some time further down the line.

As always, cheers for reading guys, and give yourself a pat on the back for making it to the end!

Tata for now!


One thought on “Spooky Animorsels Animation! Pt3 – The Bats of Animation

  1. Hope the presentation went great! Romeo done? 🙂 Seriously though, thanks for taking the time to share your insights and work processes thus far! Really interesting and cool stuff, I’m loving how Drac moves heheh. Glad to read your animation process is not without a little struggle, as you do appear to make it look very easy!

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