Feb 6, 2007

Dont worry... Be Thinky !

When I'm working on a challenging animation, something that happens to me often, and must happen to every animator is a feeling of being overwhelmed; mainly by the millions of different ways you can approach a certain action within your sequence.

We've all been told over and over you must plan your animation. This is true of course, but I find no matter how much you think things through - there are always details left out, and spaces that you would prefer to leave to "evolve", after all that's part of the magic of animating... but these are precisely the bits that make us worry !

When I find myself worrying I'm often asking myself these questions:
  • Does this bit fit with the rest of the shot ?
  • Is there a more interesting way I could do this ?
  • Is this action entertaining enough ?
  • Does this really contrast to show any character ?
  • Is this cliched ?
  • How am I going to get this character to move to where he needs to be and look good ?
  • Is this going to disrupt the pace of the shot ?
  • Is this actually going to look any good when its animated ?
  • Is my point going to be clear enough ?
These kind of thoughts are strong enough to make us want to switch off and do something easier. Like watch TV.. but I found something recently that really helps me through this.

Get away from the computer, and think objectively about what needs to happen. Its SO EASY to worry and waste an evening scrubbing back and forth through your poses trying to think of what could happen, or what should not happen. Just going over and over what you've already done.
The only real way to solve this is to get a pencil and paper and just have fun thinking about what would be really entertaining at that point.

These are the basic idea generators:
  • What is the character thinking at this point ?
This is the real golden ticket. This is the blood and guts of what makes animation work or not, and its also the easiest starting point to help you think of ideas about what actions to animate. I always find that just by imagining myself in the character's scenario - that I suddenly get lots of ideas just from my own experiences. They serve as great starting points - then you can adapt those ideas you had to match what the character would do ( and not yourself ).
  • What would I like to see ?
If you were in the theatre watching your shot ( but as animated by someone else - you've never seen this shot before ) , what would be really cool to see ? what would look really interesting ? or thought provoking or surprising ? what would you want to see if you were watching that shot for the first time ? not knowing what was going to happen next. What would you like the character to do to satisfy the way you feel about him ? This is really the nuts and bolts of filtering out whats entertaining.
  • What does it look like ?
When I`ve filtered out a few acting choices using the 2 starters above - I find it really helps to act them out. In fact I find that acting it out is the best way to understand "what is the character thinking" .. act it over and over, with the webcam recording, and you will find that different acting choices evolve naturally. Things you would probably never have thought about on paper will start to happen as you act out ( i don't just mean body movements - but also actual actions that you would do it that situation ) - the key is to try and lose yourself in that moment and imagine yourself there - smelling the smells, feeling the rain, whatever it is that would effect how you act.
When you have a good basis, you can extend the idea to how your character on screen would act, and not yourself, but getting your own acting down first is the crucial step.

what about creatures / monsters / animals ? ( basically things that dont look like you ! )

All of the above still work. You will find that getting video reference of similar animals will help you a lot, just because you will see things you didn't think of or expect. I usually find that just taking the time to imagine myself in the creatures scenario is enough to generate ideas.

So that's it. I find that if I follow these three steps above I usually come out the other end of a frantic "worry fest" feeling much more confident, and with good solid ideas of what to do next. The most surprising thing is that its often clear as day what the right acting choice is, just because exploring by acting out ( in your mind or on video ) lets you understand what happens naturally, and not just pondering on what "moves well" or what "fits" or what will "look good".


Unknown said...

ha...great post..Thanks for the Brain food....real meat to chew on


DL said...

Thats what always happens to me. I'ts amazing, its like this was written for me. Thanks so much for all the quick tips! I read them all several times.

Hope there will be some more soon!