So I managed to go a head and do my second write up of the things I have learned as I have tried to Up-Skill my animation game throughout Lockdown.
In the Lockdown and Up Skill Part 1, I discussed the concepts of Leading and Following body parts, Separation of body parts, and the use of reference and drawovers. I based these comments around my first AnimSquad assignment – Overmine.
I also outlined where a lot of this info has come from, with a lot of great resources for you to check out, so if you would like to know more about what I’m talking about below, some of those resources are great first places to look!
This time I would like to use my second AnimSquad assignment to discuss a couple of other concepts in animation.
1 – Animators are Actors, find the emotion!
Animators, especially character animators, are Actors. If you don’t like that, you’re welcome to read on and learn something.
As animators, it is up to us to sell the performance of a piece. Sure we can sometimes be provided with a storyboard or animatic that suggests some of the key story beats, but how those story beats are portrayed as final actions is up to us (with the directors approval, obviously). And acting all comes from one place – Emotion.
If we are doing a pantomime piece, we need to figure out what the emotional changes are in the piece – is it a transition from happy to sad, bored to excited, a place of calm to a place of pain? And to what extent? Have they just pricked their finger or hit it with a hammer#? How would the contrast between calm and pain differ in each of those examples?
If we are doing a dialogue piece, we need to figure out what the underlying subtext of the text is, and where the energy is coming from. A simple example of this is thinking about the number of ways you could read this line; I didn’t take his money. How would the subtext change depending on the emphasis of the voice actor’s delivery?
I didn’t take his money. – I’m innocent, honest!
I didn’t take his money. – I’m innocent, now stop pushing me!
I didn’t take his money. – But I did hide it somewhere…
I didn’t take his money. – I took her money…
I didn’t take his money. – I took his soulllll, mwah hah hah haaaarrr!!!!!
Either way, the point is this, Animators need to be in the emotional head spaces of their characters. I think I said it in my last post, but all movement is motivated by emotion.
Oh yeah, here it is…
2 – Animators are Actors, so chill the heck out!
There is acting and then there is overacting.
For this shot I filmed my own reference, but also got a friend of mine to film some stuff so I could see a more feminine take on the audio. There was one point in my reference that I really wanted to hit – a look where she says ‘came knocking’. I wanted to screw her face up, almost disgusted by the thought, but my friend went super subtle.
The thought that I had, the pose that I had created and loved, was shot down as being over acting, and Marlon Nowe (my mentor at AnimSquad) loved the subtleties of my friend’s reference.
One piece of great advice I have hear is from Jellyfish Pictures’s Arron Baker. He mentions in an AnimDojo video that an animator shouldn’t shoot reference to the text, but the subtext of a piece.
When shooting to the text, animators tend to spend more time in a headspace which screams ‘WHAT IS THE NEXT LINE AND WHAT SHOULD I DO!!!’ A performance would be stunted and less natural. Try it. Act out in front of a mirror the following line.
“What would you do if someone came knocking?”
Now try to act to the subtext, dont worry about the line, just the feeling of it.
“I’m worried that I might have to sacrifice my own safety to save others.”
Acting to subtext will open up a more naturalistic motion because you are in the emotional headspace of the character. The most difficult part of this is fitting the acting to the beats of the dialogue. This is something I haven’t quite got my head around yet, but with a more practice I hope I’ll get there!
3 – Character Separation
I say character separation, but this concept can relate to anything. Simply put, remember those shots in the Transformers films where everything is happening on screen at the same time. Well I’m talking about that. Or at least the idea to avoid that.
Audiences aren’t stupid, but most of them only have one pair of eyes, and if you have too much happening on screen at the same time, your audience is going to be unsure where to look, or even worse, be distracted from the purpose of the scene.
In this shot, I have two characters, one reacting to what the other is saying, but my animation was so overacted and overlapping the action of the other character, that it became a distraction. The audience was only going to look in one place, and like a well trained magician (trained? do you get professionally trained magicians?), it is part of our job to direct the attention of the audience.
Simply offsetting these movements, so only one character is acting at a time, really helped the shot work holistically. The audience has time to recognise that the first character’s action is over before looking at the second character.
I had this feedback in my previous piece as well, two hands were moving when I wanted the attention to be on the character’s face. Simply reducing those movements – making them more subtle – turns them into background movements, something there to suggest life but not distracting, which was what my shot needed.
4 – SyncSketch, again.
I mentioned SyncSketch last time, and I’m gonna mention it again.
I noticed during the AnimSquad workshop, that I was getting quite strong, physically. You see, I bought some dumbbells just before Lockdown, and have them next to my desk. Every time I did a playblast of my work, I could either sit and wait, or I could stand and weight!
And I found that I was doing a LOT of playblasts!
But rather than analysing them in Quicktime (which, don’t get me wrong, is a nice piece of kit allowing you to frame through the anim), I found it easier to make notes on SyncSketch. You can watch and scrub through (with audio) and make notes and drawovers.
Again, you can do this in Maya by doing a playblast, throwing that back into Maya as an Image Plane and going at it with Grease Pencil (as shown below), but this adds another step, and is less easy than using SyncSketch.
So that’s it for this part of my chatting… have a great time, and please let me know if you find this sort of info interesting and useful!