Animation Graduate Advice, Pt1.2 – Learn What They Do

Learn the Software

…if you need to, anyway.

Once you have found a studio you’re excited to work for, have a look at what software they use and start learning it!

My first animation job used 3Ds Max. Having just completed three years learning Maya, I was dropped into a software completely alien to me. I needed to retrain my mind, and I did it all at the cost of my employer.

That’s not a good thing, and to be honest, I got that job because I didn’t put my first point into practice – I didn’t do any research and I took the job because it was local and it gave me money for CG stuff. It wasn’t necessarily work I had any passion for – in fact they barely did any character animation, it was mostly visualisation. (It may be that my old employers are reading this, if so, HELLO! I am sure they know who they are, and that they are not surprised by my words. Nevertheless, I still consider them family!)

So going back to my point – I learned 3Ds Max on the job at my employer’s expense. So then why am I suggesting graduates learn new softwares your own time?

If I was hiring a junior animator, and two candidates applied with equal skill, but only one used the software I use, I would most likely hire the candidate that could hit the ground running without needing to use my own resources training them up (as much…. There is always going to be the need for training in any job, at any level).

I did not hit the ground running in my first job. I just hit the ground, then wasted the valuable time of my colleagues as they picked me up and showed me how to use the tools correctly.

Don’t be like me. Do your research and get used to the software.

  • Side Note: A good carpenter knows that they need to keep their tools clean and well organised. Same goes for a plumber, or a cake maker. Same goes for an animator. Your software is your tool, and your folder structure is your toolbox. Keep your scenes clean and organised by giving logical names to each element you create, and learn a better way to save files than ‘PunchAnimation_finalFinalFINAL’. I like to save files using a project prefix (PunchAnim), a file prefix (001), a description of what’s in the file (Blocked) and a suffix (01). These will change as you go along (PunchAnim 002 Spline 01), but will mean all files will be organised nice and neatly.

Learn their techniques

… or at least imitate them. 

After ten years in the industry, I got turned down from one job purely because I didn’t showcase the sort of work they needed. It didn’t matter that I felt confident doing the style they needed – I could be confident I could jump to the moon, but unless I could showcase that I could, my confidence would be meaningless to anyone other than myself.

You have found the studio you want to work for, you have discovered what software they are using and got hold of a copy (no questions asked, you’re graduates, we all know what you get up to).

Now you need to analyse the studio’s work, see what they are doing to create their style and try to replicate this. I’m not saying you need to learn how to do some iconic rendering or compositing work, I am speaking solely to the animators here – how do the subjects move.

If the company’s work is on youtube, you can use the comma (,) and full stop (.) hotkeys to nudge through frame by frame. Watch through the video until you find a movement you are excited about, then go through it frame by frame, considering each actor present, be that a bouncing ball or an elbow or a hip or a flicker of flame (For clarity, I consider an ‘actor’ anything that is moving, even individual parts of a whole, so, for example, I would look at the hips of a character, their head, their arms and legs, all as separate ‘actors’ for the sake of analysis).

Take in each frame, see what the animator is doing at each point, not only on it’s own merit, but in relation to the frames around it. How do they pose their characters? How do they use spacing and timing? Is there something specific about the camera lens they use? Does it feel fluid or static?

Start sketching out poses you like. Take a certain point (like an elbow or edge of a prop) and map it out across the screen as it moves, this will help you understand the trajectory and spacing used. Look at full poses, how do they use anticipation and overshoot – is it extreme or minimal, and over how many frames? Look at hands and other smaller actors, what level of attention to detail is in there? How do they use secondary motion and overlapping action? Using a website like https://syncsketch.com/ would really help with this.

Once you have analysed a shot or two, give it a go! Try to do an animation in the style of the studio that you have been studying, after all if you want to work somewhere specific, you have to show them that you CAN and WILL produce what they need.

However, I would caveat this by saying that if you copy a piece of animation frame by frame as a means of studying it, DO NOT put it in your reel, claiming it as your own. Studios do not like that, and it is considered plagiarism. Instead, be inspired, and animate a shot in the style of what you have studied.

Going back to my hypothetical; if I was hiring a junior for a stylised cartoon with snappy movements, I would hire a candidate that can demonstrate that style on their reel over one that doesn’t!

  • Side Note: by techniques I am talking about use of animation principles and animation style, not necessarily design style. That being said, the two are closely linked, after all, I wouldn’t animate a hyper-real soldier character like a loony toon, and probably wouldn’t animate a looney toon like a hyper-real soldier. Though if I chose to, there is nothing you can say that would stop me! For 2D animators, I assume this is maybe easier for you – design a character that could fit in with the style of your chosen studio and animate them. However, I don’t know if that’s how it works – your world is a mystery to me. For 3D animators, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS GOOD AND PURE! Do NOT go through the pains of designing and modelling and rigging a character unless it is your design skill, modelling powers or rigging magic that you want to show off. Find a rig that would work for your chosen studio, download and animate it. If a studio is hiring an animator, they want to see the best of your animation, not animation limited to a mediocre model or rigging attempt. Download a rig, it’s so much easier.

Animation Graduate Advice, Pt1.1 – Learn What You Want To Do

The other day, a guy got in contact on LinkedIn. He had just graduated from the same animation course that I did 12 years before and simply asked for advice about getting into the industry.

A lot has changed since I graduated – most significantly the course had changed from teaching 3D animation to 2D animation – and that’s a world I know less about. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about what advice I would have liked to receive when I graduated all those years ago, and more specifically, what advice I could give that was non-medium specific.

I had a think about it and came up with a simple, almost obvious, almost idiotic answer. 

Learn. 

There is still so much to learn, even after three years of Uni. Heck! An animator is gonna spend the rest of their life learning – learning software from online resources, learning techniques from mentors, learning how to humble yourself when that director makes a decision you disagree with – it’s all learning. But at this moment, speaking to recent graduates who are trying to get their foot through the door and break into the industry, there are a couple of key things I think should be learned.

Learn what you want to do

It might seem strange – graduates just want to get a job and get money, and that’s fine – but learning what sort of stuff you want to do at an early stage will really help steer your career. This particular lesson might take years of job-hopping from studio to studio, but I think it is important for an animator to recognise what they actually want to do, then aim for it.

Is there a show or game you have always wanted to work on? Is there a specific animation style that you love, or industry you want to work for? Do you want to work in the TV industry or work in games or motion graphics? Do you love character performance or is there a thrill or effects like water or explosions, or do you want to do something a little more contemporary?

Figure out what style of animation you want to produce, what audience you want to animate for, and seek out the studios that do that work.

Ask yourself, what about this studio’s work draws you to them? Is it something about how they use line, colour, motion or camera angles? What techniques do they use? Analyse their work, frame by frame if you need to, see if there is something specific about their animation that makes it a specific style of that studio. Is the animation language realistic or stylised, soft or snappy? What software does the studio use? I can tell you now that it will be easier to get a job if you already know the software!

But all of this starts from a place of recognising what you want to do and finding studios who do it. Analyse their work, start experimenting and get excited!

  • Caveat: This is not to say you should idolise studios, merely give yourself something to aim for. It is easy to become so focused on one studio that any rejection (and there will be rejections) can be very painful. Alternatively, you may find yourself working for very little, just to get the experience. If this is what you want, then go with confidence, but remember, this isn’t sustainable a way of working. By all means, get excited about work, but please keep your emotions in check and don’t get lost down that rabbit hole.
  • Side Note: It might be worth mentioning that you may have to relocate to get a job you want. This can be more difficult for some than others, especially if you have a good community around you where you currently live. For others, it might be the most natural thing in the world. Either way, I feel I must state that relocation is a very real thing in this industry. 

Two Headed Animation

So for a few months throughout 2020, I had the privilege to work with Derek Friesenborg (Moana, Frozen, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) on a personal project he had been working on for a while.

I joined several other very talented animators to help bring the animation to life, taking a short, 15 second section and running with it! Above is a proxy render I did of the final 15 seconds. As you will note, the cloth sim has not been done and lighting/rendering is my own work for the purpose of sharing the piece.

This project, done in spare time, was a really great opportunity to work with such a great animator. Derek has such a keen eye for motion and was able to direct wonderfully from the other side of the Atlantic, using a mix of written feedback, draw-overs and a number of in-depth zoom calls.

At times, the feedback really tested me, forcing me to look at the animation with a level of detail I hadn’t reached before, considering how the personality of each character should come across, even in this, a very subtle scene.

When I got the approval and permission to share the work, I set up a basic lighting rig and played with layers and effects in After Effects to create a visual style I have been using for my Finngirm Studios work. it’s pretty basic, but I think a pretty cool style.

For more on the Two Headed Cop project, visit www.figmentanimation.com.

Working with Derek was a great learning experience as well as an opportunity to be part of a really fun project. I look forward to seeing the final piece hopefully later this year.

Cheers!

Oz

Christmas Illustrations!

Every Christmas, my wife and I meet up with a group of friends, have a big board games night in and exchange gifts! A lovely festive event that, if I am honest, I find quite stressful. The reason being that, frankly, I am pretty bad at picking gifts for people, and their gifts always seem quite thoughtful.

I have tried to mix things up in the past (to varying degrees of success – mostly of the ‘fail’ category), but this year I tried something out, and I am very proud with the results!

First thing that you need to know is that I am pretty sure these guys would all describe them selves as being fairly geeky! Comics, cartoons, boardgames and DnD are pretty standard passtimes, and so I thought I would present each of them with a personalised, hand-drawn (well, Cintiq on Photoshop) illustration of themselves in a style fitting them!

As all things good in life, these ideas started out as simple sketches, then exploded from there!

Alex

One great thing about Alex and Lorna’s place is that they have an entire room decorated with early Jack Kirby-esque illustrations of Marvel characters. I have no idea why, but I knew I had to draw him in this style, and it had to be as a Galactus style figure – I think he has a t-shirt with Galactus Breakfast Cereal, or something.

Either way, I knew this would be a challenge, as Kirby’s style is something I had never tried before, and felt very alien to my own style! Reference was key, especially for the line work! There are so many interesting things going on with the inking that I have never really understood, so I just… well… copied! the colours on the other hand were so simple! Block colours! Thank you!

As Alex is quite a handy chap, always happy to help with any DIY issue we might have, the thought of him being the “Fixer of Worlds” and his weapon being a roll of duct tape amused me! To add to the feel of a comic cover, I recreated the box in the top left corner with illustrations of the five of us I did for my wedding.

And then we have the background. The famous Kirby Crackle. If this is my first time replicating his inking style, it is for sure my first (and possibly only) venture into a wold of abstract dots. The less time spent dwelling on that the better, but I should point out that the final version is the best of many terrible attempts!

Finally, I added a Multiply and Screen paper texture to give it that early print feel and a little “FROWNED UPON BY THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY” gag!

Lorna

The first thing to note about Lorna is her love for her dogs, Yoshi and Zelda. When I first started this, I wanted to keep a marvel/DC theme for each illustration, my mind drawing to the likes of Squirrel Girl for this one, but it never sat well. Then I decided to go full Pokemon and it all fell into place! Plus, I spent most of my early teens practicing a manga style.

Still, reference was key. What did a Pokemon comic cover look like? I dunno. Turns out it has more of an illustrative colouring style than the block colour I was hoping for! But a key element was the composition and laying out of the characters, which changed time and time again through the process.

The lines for this piece were fun, and I have regained a love for the standard Photoshop brush! I also found a great Pokemon style font that, with a bit of adjusting, gave me the title I wanted.

I messed around with the 3D settings (which as a 3D animator I found remarkably frustrating) to get the final title and started blocking in flat colours, and from there, another layer to add shade and highlights. As you can see, sometime I forgot to use the new layer, and just went on painting! Yey for a destructive workflow!

So initially Yoshi was going to be a more suave and calculated character, whereas Zelda was more ‘leaping-into-battle’, which I think suits their personalities well, but Yoshi just ended up looking a bit annoyed. So that had to change!

And finally a colourful, magic background and a couple of additional comic inspired overlays!

Andy

And finally it was Andy’s turn! I was really looking forward to this one, as it is very rare that I get the opportunity to just paint!

Andy is a big DnD fan, so I figured his illustration had to be of him in a DM’s role, in an art style similar to the DnD books. As I didn’t have all the time in the world, nor the crazy skills those artists have, I knew it wouldn’t quite hit the mark, but I am very proud with what I created nevertheless!

Where to start? Maybe references. Andy used to wear a big fedora and pirate-esque coat. It was a cool look, and the classic look when I think of him. He also likes ravens, so I knew I wanted one on his shoulder.

Once I hand the sketch down, I started messily locking out shapes using one of KNKL’s brushes (Chalk – it’s amazing for this sort of stuff!). Then it was a simple case of building up the layers. Adding more detail here, duplicating the later and adding more detail there.

I spent far too long trying to get his face to look right. I was painting and repainting, liquifying and nudging, using all the tools I knew to shape his head and get it as close to him as possible. I might do a gif of all of the layers of different Andy heads I have!

Finally I found myself in a position where I was happy with the foreground, but the background was lacking. So I looked at a couple of the DnD books and found that the Dungeon Masters Guide had this great magical misty fog which brough a bit of light and a splash of a different colour into the piece, so I spent a while painting something similar into my scene.

Print

When I had the three up to a point where I was happy to call them finished (and had run out of time), I had them printed at a local specialist and my wife and I framed them up.

The whole project probably took me three or four weeks of evenings and weekends, interspersed with other Christmas projects I had on. I have to say, I am really proud of the way these have turned out, so I got a little print for myself!

We passed the wrapped frames to the guys and opened them up over zoom, then proceeded to have a nice festive evening of online board games!

I hope you all had a great Christmas, making the most of what we can this year! It has been a difficult year, no doubt, but I hope you have been able to keep well and safe.

Thanks for reading! God bless!

Oz

A couple of Freelance Projects – 2020 retrospective

Hey guys! It’s been a while. I mean, it’s been a LONG while! I still have “Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 3” to do, and I’ve been meaning to do that for MONTHS!

But today I’m gonna talk to you about a different subject – how nice it is to see freelance projects get released!

Now it has always been a pleasure to see something I have worked on released into the wild, and see people’s reactions to it, be that good or bad. The fact of the matter is that either way, something has been released, and I was part of bringing it all together.

What has been interesting is, as a freelance animator who prefers the shorter contracts, I have seen a couple of projects released this year, rather than waiting years for one project.

In this post I will share what I can, and talk a little bit about my involvement in the project.

Gods Will Fall – Clever Beans

This is probably the project that has inspired this post. Released a couple of days ago, this is an announcement trailer for a project I worked on as a freelance animator for the first 6 months of the year.

I primarily spent that time animating bad guys, and these are pretty sick and twisted characters, each one with a unique style and backstory – I’m not sure how far in to the lore the game goes, but the game designer created a world rich with story and lore!

It was a fun project with different characters and therefore different challenges and opportunities! it has a very intriguing art style, and I’m looking forward to it’s release!

Hercules Journey – BlackBoard Studios

After working on a game where you killed gods, I worked on a this lovely project; an in-game promo for a casual game about Hercules!

The great and difficult thing about this project was that I was the only animator working on it! I had four weeks (FOUR WEEKS!) to pull this together from layout to polished animation!

Now, for me, that was quite the feat! I am really proud with how this has turned out. Sure, the story is a little cheesy, but it works for the target audience of the game, so that’s good. And the rendering that those guys did is incredible!

I have just finished a follow-up project for these guys. This time it was a total of 5 weeks work – good fun, but pretty full-on!

Godfall Combat Trailer – The Trailer Farm

Man, games today really push the ideas that men can triumph over gods, ey? Very greek indeed.
I had a couple of weeks between projects, and was ready to sit back and relax for a little while, when I got a call from the Trailer Farm. What they wanted literally slotted into the 8 days I had.

This was an interesting project, not like anything else I had done – taking in-game animation assets, laying them out and blending them together to be rendered super slow-mo for this trailer. I only worked on a couple of shots at the start of this trailer, and one of the shots was literally 7 frames long that would be slowed down in-engine for the render.

This, along side the already animated assets, made the project surprisingly difficult. There were a lot of restraints with what you could do with in-game animations. Sometimes what works in-game doesn’t work for cinematic trailers, but due to the nature of the trailer these assets couldn’t be messed with in any major way.

Still, for a couple of days work, it was a really interesting project with a great group of people!

Old Spice – Red Knuckle

This was another 4 week project, working with a small team of people to put together a Madden-style advert for Old Spice.

Now, I have always been a fan of the Old Spice adverts – they bring so much off-the-wall humour to their marketing, so this was a a really fun opportunity.

This time, we were given a bunch of mocap assets used in an American Football game that we needed to blend together and animate on top of.

For this project I found myself in more of a Lead role. I spent a lot of time working with the other animators, making sure they had the correct animation assets, applying the mocap data to the rigs and sending them over. I also felt, due to the quick turn around, that I needed to keep on top of the organisation of the team. After a couple of moments of pandemonium (some artists having too much work to do whilst others didn’t really know what to get on with), it was really important for me to know who was working on what shot at what point. I made real good friends with spreadsheets for this project!

As such, apart from some initial layouts of a couple of shots – and a centralised run-cycle animation asset for Derrick Henry for animators to work on top of – I only really took control of one shot. I bit the bullet. And spent a lot of time on the first shot.

As you can see, this shot has two American Football teams attacking each other! That’s like 22 high-poly characters aggressively interacting with each other. It was a nightmare of manipulating mocap data to fit the interactions, adding hand-keyed poses, and doing all of this across about 5 different Maya files as my machine at the time couldn’t handle everything at once!

It was a great challenge to overcome, and though it could be polished more, I am really happy with the shot I ended up with, all things concidering!

Further Projects

Needless to say, they year hasn’t ended yet, and there are more projects to add to this list. And I will do, as and when they arrive. But for now, this is all I can share, so watch this space for more of my work.

And I promise I will get round to doing the Lockdown and Up Skill Part 3 some point soon!

Cheers!

Oz

Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 2

Hello Everybody!

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.

Enjoy!

Rifle – AnimSquad Expert Assignment 2 – Mentored by Marlon Nowe

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.

A game of Spot the Autobot.

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!

Cheers!

Oz

Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 1

Hey guys!

I hope you are all doing well, especially through these unprecedented times. I really hope that you have all been able to be fruitful during lockdown, and as for me, I would like to share a couple of animation things that I have learned through this period.

Before Lockdown started, I had made plans to learn as much as I could and develop my skills as an animator. I had purchased Yuri Lementi’s Animation Box programme, signed up for Marlon Nowe’s AnimSquad Expert Workshop, and discovered that Ken Fountain had added a load more tutorials at Splatfrog.com.

I scoured a load of other online resources, including Sir Wade’s youtube channel, Eddie Chew’s Griffin Academy live sessions, and Blue Zoo’s AnimDojo, which had generously been free throughout lockdown.

All of these are great resources that you should definitely check out if you want to up skill your animation work!

I just want to take this opportunity to share my latest animations and a couple of insights I have gained during this time.

WARNING! This is not an animation tutorial in the sense of how to get timing and weight correct, but a couple of principles I have found deeper than that! I am also writing these down as a way to cement the ideas in my mind and use as personal reference later. If they help you, then that’s amazing also!

Overmind – AnimSquad Expert Assignement 1 – Mentored by Marlon Nowe

This animation was a super fun, super cartoony shot, and my first shot for the AnimSquad workshop. From this, I want to point out four key points.

1 – What is Leading, what is Following?

I remember an animation director once telling me that he could ‘see’ my keys when reviewing my work. What he meant was that my actions all tended to start and end on the same frames, splined together. And, man, it was ugly.

So… say you have two key frames.
These are Story-based keys (which is to say they describe the story of the piece) and not Animation-based keys (which is to say how the how the movement flows – a breakdown).

Lets say a teenage girl looking at her phone – first key. She is then distracted by something behind her and turns to look – second key. We have 20 frames to fill.
Now, if all body parts start moving and ending at the same time, even with anticipation and overshoot, this would look robotic. As humans, we don’t move this way, we tend to lead with certain body parts, getting them into position, then allow the other body parts to catch up.

And why?

Because all human movement is motivated by emotion.

So what does this mean? Well we should figure out, what emotion is motivating the movement and then separated the body parts to start and end at different times in order to relay this emotion.

In my example of the girl and her phone, how would the movement read if her body moved before her head her head moved before her body?

Well, if her body moved first, and then the head, it would suggest more of an interest on whats on her phone, and really not bothered about what’s going on behind her. She’s looking at her phone until the last moment. We would probably get the body into position by frame 5, keeping her head looking down. Then she finally looks up.

A very basic anim to illustrate a point. body leading, head following

If her head moves first, then the body, it suggests that she is more concerned with what is behind her. The head – being the describer of the individual’s attention – looks up quick, and her body then comes into position after. This could suggest she is shocked by whatever it is that made the noise.

A very basic anim to illustrate a point. Head leading, body following

This is basically the idea of overlapping actions, but in a way I had never considered before, and it really helps the movement feel good, flow, and convey emotion.

2 – Separation is a great thing!

So what we have with Leading and Following body parts is separation. And separation can be used with great effect when animating a cartoony shot.

Because of the dynamics of timing and spacing used in this shot – the fact that some movements are super chill, then super fast, then super chill again – I could really use separation to a high degree.

to show the lag on the head, and how it’s translation had been animated

There are parts of this animation where the body moves, but the head lags behind, stays in position before following. And though it might not be physically accurate, it is more appealing to see than if everything was connected – it’s more organic. It also gives us the ability to perform very quick movements without confusing the audience, allowing the audience to recognise a pose before moving on.

3 – Blocked Vs Layered

Now this is all keeping in the same ballpark at the moment. With Lead/Follow and Separation, we aren’t considering the story-telling poses themselves, but how our character is moving from one to the other. This is the idea of adding breakdown, and there are two main approaches to this: blocked and layered.

The blocked approach is the one I am used to. Your keys are set to stepped and you will key all controls on every other frame if you have to (this is called ‘animating on 2s’ – the idea that you leave nothing to chance and sculpt your pose every 2 frames).

This gives a LOT of control over your animation, but you end up with a billion keys that might not work as you had hoped when you go into spline. Therefore, you’re gonna spend a LOT more time polishing your animations, getting each key to behave how you want in relation to it’s neighbouring keys.

This is the approach I am more used to, and tools like Animbot really help here. But the Layered approach seems more fun and free.

Simply put, the Layered approach is like a mix of pose to pose and straight ahead animation. You have your two poses to want to transition between, now you animate straight ahead to get those breakdowns. Nothing is on stepped, everything is on splined, and you grab and move and twist your controls, keying them wherever you like, with no regard to the keys of the other controls.

This seemed really alien to me – and still does – but if you start from the hips and radiate out, you can create some really fluid motions quite quickly, and means that you don’t have to spent as much time in polish as you would with the blocked approach – the polishing is almost part of this method!

This is something I will be striving to incorporate as part of my own workflow, but this will take a lot of time and a lot of practice! So wish me luck!

4 – Re-shoot Reference and Draw Overs.

Let’s change the subject and talk about reference for a moment.

For the most part, reference is meant to be just that, reference. It is not meant to be rotoscoped so that each frame is matched exactly (unless, obviously, that’s what you’re going for), but is there to influence your ideas of key attitudes and little flourishes you may not have considered if you’d just animated from your imagination.

With this in mind, there were a couple of points through this shot where the animation just WAS NOT WORKING. No matter how close to the reference I tried to get it, the movement just looked wrong and ugly. I spent days trying to get one thing right and to a point where it would do, but I wasn’t happy with it.

After having the opportunity to consider what actions I really wanted, I reshot the reference to suit. I reanimated that section and polished it in no time!

It really made me think; there is nothing wrong with re-shooting reference, and would save time in the long run if you’re not happy with what you have.

Obviously there are some movements that work really well in animation, but impossible to shoot reference for. For me and this shot, it was the stylised, arcing arm movements during those fast moments.

I had a plan in my mind – had even drawn out some pencil tests – but getting them to work in Maya was a nightmare! I spent ages posing these movements in Maya, often frame by frame as they were so quick, and still they didn’t work.

an early drawover for the ending


Then it struck me – why spend so long posing when you could do a simple draw over in a fraction of the time? So I made a playblast of the section I was struggling with, got it into a fresh scene (as an image plane), and used grease pencil to sketch out how I wanted it to look. It took me a fraction of the time it would have if I had posed each frame, and allowed me to get a better sense of how the movement would look sooner.

Once I was happy with it, I brought it back into my scene and posed to the sketches.

This worked so well, and saved my so much time! I would definitely recommend doing a quick draw over, frame by frame, using Grease Pencil or SyncSketch if you are struggling with a quick and cartoony movement!

Ok! So there are my thoughts, the first part of my Lockdown Up skill blogs. I hope this has been an interesting read, and possibly helped you in your journey to up-skilling your own animation.

Cheers for reading! See you next time!

Oz

Character Reel 2020!

Responsible for all animation
00:04 – Overmine – AnimSquad Assignment
00:14 – Truth – AnimSquad Assignment
00:24 – Spiderman – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:30 – Splinter Role – Animation Mentor Assignment
00:36 – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:39 – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:47 – Rifle – AnimSquad Assignment

Wowzers, it’s been 2 years since I updated my reel – I almost can’t believe that…

But here we are with a brand new reel, and I’m so excited to share it with you all!

I have really learned a lot in the past 6 months, not only due to the amazing critique from Marlon Nowe, but just a general thirst to learn! I hope to write a couple of blog posts about my experiences and the key things I have learned soon, so stay tuned!

Thanks for watching, God bless!

Oz

New Year, New Career, New Website

Happy New Year, Everybody!

I hope that 2020 brings you all many blessings and much joy, coz – let’s face it – it would be wrong to start a new year holding on to any negativity caused by the year just gone.

The start of 2020 heralds in a large change for me. At the end of 2019, (and I mean the very end), I made the decision to quite my full-time, permanent position to pursue Freelance work. This effectively meant that I dropped any form of job security to do the 2 weeks worth of work that I had lined up for January.

Oz has gone full FREELANCE!

Needless to say, this has proven to be quite a worrying decision. Not only for myself, but for my wife. That being said, it has been something that I have wanted to do for a long time, an idea that has been burrowing away in my head for what feels like ages, but I had never had the confidence to do anything about it. I kept telling myself that I just didn’t know what was involved, how to do taxes, how to seek out new work, how to promote myself. All of those concerns battled with the longing to go freelance, and proved a significant stumbling block.

The announcement video I made when I joined NSCC for the second time

So then the question would be: What’s Changed?

First off, I want to say that I love the guys at my old studio. NSC Creative are a really talented group of artists, and friends. I have known some of them for around ten years, and when I re-took my job with them at the start of 2019, I knew that it would mean a step back from continuous animation and into more generalist lines of work. This was a situation I was happy to place myself in, I had my reasons, and I feel like my time there served me well.

However, whilst I was doing some non-animation work (that is, experience design, narrative ideation and other cool stuffs), I found that I kept getting approached by companies asking if I was available for work in, like, two weeks. These quick and urgent jobs seemed to come at me quite regularly, but the urgency meant I had to turn them all down – two weeks? No! I have a four week notice period, and no matter how much I would love to work with you, I simply cant!

So with all of this stuff running around my head, the fact that freelance work seemed to find me rather than me seeking out work, I started to persuade myself that dropping everything and becoming a freelance animator was a good idea. And the more people I spoke to about it, the more encouraged I got. It seemed that people thought that now was the best time to do it (not too sure about that – thanks Brexit), that I would kick myself silly if I didn’t do it (yeah, probably… maybe?… I dunno), and that I had nothing to lose (wasn’t too convinced by this last one, either).

Nevertheless, it all appealed to me, and after I signed my first remote contract for two weeks worth of work at the start of 2020, I wrote up my resignation letter and handed it to my boss at NSCC.

Needless to say, this was a step in bravery for me, but the fact was this – I wasn’t planning on moving away from Leicester. I was going to be around,the corner, so if they needed me, I would be there. Personally, however, I needed to allow myself space to pursue other job options. My boss was understanding – swore at me under his breath a couple of time (which proved a source of amusement for myself) – and, recognising the value I had been on the projects that year, struck up an understanding that, should the need arise (as well as my own availability), they could get my on board for a couple of weeks or months.

On Friday the 20th December, 2019, I silently slid through the doors of the National Space Centre, ending my time there.

you can’t spell Office without Office Plant.

Do I now know how to do Taxes? Do I now know how to seek out work or promote myself? Do I know what I am doing when it comes to the business side of my work? Well, no. Not yet anyway. But if I didn’t try, I wasn’t going to learn. I knew that with ten years experience, finding work was going to be easier than when I first left uni, but there are no certainties in that.

Nevertheless, I have my home office all set up, and we will see how it all works out. After all, this is only my first week of doing this stuff!

Work Finding Me

Now I don’t want to sound naive or big headed when I said that the freelance work was finding me – more that I wanted to state that, at that time, I had a few opportunities open themselves up to me, and it was this that really persuaded me to change my career.

At the same time, somebody at my church prayed for me and – though they knew nothing about what I did or what I was planning – told me that I was going to have a career change and that I was worried about it, but that I should not be. Instead stand firm knowing that God has planted in me an entrepreneurial heart that He will bless. Take that as you will, but as a believer it was a sign that God was with me in this – as excited for me as I was.

But the truth of the matter is that I know that I cannot rely 100% on work finding me. I recognise that this is going to be hard at times, and that I must push myself to get the work I want or the work I need. I have already been speaking with recruitment agencies, contacting companies who are advertising on Artstation and similar sites, and I have also poured a bit of time changing up my website.

A New Website

With a New Year and a new career, I needed a new look. My website had gotten a bit tired, and so I whipped it up. Great news: I now know how to use WordPress better!

The new look works better for me and my purposes and though I am sure that I will be adding and tweaking bits for the months to come, it is feeling a lot better. I have been able to un-clutter a lot of things, make it all a bit more streamlined, and focus on the purpose of the website – to promote myself as a freelance animator.

In Other News

I have got together with a few local animation professionals and started a regular meetup. The Leicester Animation Meetup is a small group of like-minded individuals who want to sit around and talk key frames for the night. We have our second meetup at the end of the month, where I will be giving a short talk about the importance of effective poses, but this is all a story for another time!

For now, thanks for reading!
God bless
Oz

Merry Christmas! – 1 week animation challenge

So last week I had a bit of time to devote to a quick little personal project. I wanted to put something together to celebrate Christmas, but knowing that I had a relatively short amount of time to get it done, I didn’t want to get too bogged down in creating a new character.

So I did everything as balls.

Amending the simple Sphere Rig I created for the Dracula Piece, I modeled a very basic Santa, Sack, Reindeer and Sleigh, and got to animating.

One of the most fun challenges I faced whilst animating this piece was how I would convey character and weight to something that is literally a ball. I know this is a fairly common challenge, but one that I haven’t attempted in quite some time.

Again, knowing that I didn’t have a vast amount of time, but that the snowy footprints would be important, I chose what I considered to be a clever and simple solution; manipulate a simple torus object with FFDs. This gives a surprisingly effective result!

One of my favorite parts of this project was adding the sound effects. Finding snowy footprints, swoops, bells, engines and hoof noises was easy enough, and editing them together to meet the animation was a complete joy!

Finally I decided to add a few particles. Using tyFlow, I put together a couple of simple systems to bring some snow and Christmas magic to the scene.

All in all, it’s not a bad piece for a 5 day project. I’m quite happy with it, and use it to share the Christmas joy to all!

Merry Christmas!

Oz