Jun 3, 2007

The Power of Pyramids

First off, sorry its been so long since I posted anything. I don't intend on letting this blog sit and rot... I've just been super busy with work and my little boy. I have a small scale animation that I'm working on ( not the vampire thing right now ) and I want to post a detailed breakdown of the process - should be a cool post I hope, so keep watching.

The power of pyramids ? whats he talking about ?

I've been wanting to write a post about this for a while. Its something that I think about, and use, every day when animating - but to be completely honest I don't fully understand it, so this post will serve as an exploration of this idea, rather than a hard set 'technique'. Bear with me as I try and clarify this in my own mind too... ;) I will try and keep all observations at objective as possible.

Ok... so I'm sure we've all heard of "poses" and "lines of action" and their massive importance in animation, but something that I like to include in my thinking is the idea of creating solid shapes.
There is a very common shape that we all use often - the curve. Its nice to contrast between backwards and forwards curves in our poses, and also straight against curve. I love these tools, but really I don't so much regard them as shapes. To me they are still lines ( but not necessarily "lines of action") .

I use a particular shape over and over, and it repeatedly helps me define strong poses and dynamic shapes.... the pyramid.

So check out this image below. I'm sure you've seen it once or twice before...

Something strikes me about the pyramids. Ignoring all the stone, and the sheer scale of these things - the shape itself says a lot about weight, stability, pressure and origin ( or direction ).
the tips of the pyramids look light and are supported high by the wide bases that seem firmly planted on the ground. You can see the "direction" of the weight, i.e, it becomes heavier as it approaches the ground, and the heaviest part of the pyramid is right at the bottom. A single 2D pyramid also has two straight lines that contrast against each other in their direction of travel. They also have a built in way of naturally leading the eye to a particular point, at the tip of the pyramid.

If we look at pyramids of different proportions - it seems the same ideas still ring true, but with varying strengths (i.e the tall thin pyramid still has the same 'feeling', but the short wide pyramid feels much more weighty and planted to the ground )

If the pyramid is turned upside down... something interesting happens. It seems as if the point of contact on the ground is an area of high pressure, supporting a strong weight above it. The shape of the inverse pyramid points downwards and amplifies this pressure. There is also a strong sense of balance and equilibrium when the pyramid is seen this way around.

It also seems that the pyramid can be distorted - yet still retain the same visual ideas.

So, there seems to be a subliminal strength associated with the pyramid... and we can tap into that shape, and use it in our poses.

Application to posing characters, and its effects...

Below I have taken a number of images from around the net that I feel illustrate this idea in different ways. They all use some kind of pyramid shape, that helps to strengthen the attitude of the character ( click on the images to view them more clearly ).

The blue pyramid shows the direction of the wolfs attitude, and places his weight back behind his head, and plants his overall shape firmly on the ground. In a sense it summarises the broad pose. The red pyramid shows the pressure exerted on the small paws of the wolf, at the point at which they meet the floor - illustrating the weight of the creature, and the energy needed to counter the weight as it travels up into the chest and shoulders. The red pyramid also suggests a feeling of careful balance, inertia and poise - that lends a certain natural anticipation to this image.

I can only really see one pyramid in this image - but I think that's reflective of the power and straight forward nature of this pose. The pyramid plants the characters feet and weight firmly on the ground, and the edges lead our eye to the point of interest - the hand that is delivering the force of the blow.

The blue pyramid describes the weight of the character - and the direction of the attitude - the tip also leads our eye towards his face. The red pyramid is the interesting one in this example - the bottom tip ( at his elbow ) shows the point of pressure as the character leans his body weight to be supported by the chair. His upper arm creates one side of the pyramid - but contrasts a little oddly with the relatively straight edge that runs up his forearm.. is this why he seems a little off balance ? like hes not quite leaning on his elbow ? almost as if his pose is a little forced ? maybe I'm being too subjective now.

In this instance the red pyramid describes the broad attitude, and leads the viewer towards the left foot, which is also the point of pressure as the character bears down her weight to take the next step. On its own, the red pyramid is a little off balance, and by itself it would seem as if she might fall backwards. The blue pyramid solves this problem by grounding her weight between both legs, and providing support for the tall pose.

These images are interesting in comparison because the top red pyramid seems to describe a pose that is off balance. Despite the fact that the character's feet are firmly planted on the chair, all the pressure is concentrated in the small area of her feet, and there seems to be no blue pyramid to provide any grounded support. The red pyramid also seems to be off balance - making the overall pose seem tall, un-centered and looks almost as if she may fall at any moment.
In contrast, the second set of images has a strong blue pyramid. despite the fact that we can't even see the characters feet, we have enough of a strong shape there to show that the pose is firm and stable.

As a last example - this pose is interesting because it seems to have a blue and red pyramid working directly together. The red pyramid shows the downward forces of the body, coming to a high pressure point at the feet, taking all the weight from the hips. This alone could possibly seem off balance, but the upper body pose can be summarized with a blue pyramid that works to produce a harmony. Together the two shapes seem to describe an eloquent balance of forces, that could be used to nicely describe the attitude of the female character.

So I hope its not just me, and these things really are going on in these images. I find it useful to think of these shapes when I animate, because above everything else - they seem to provide a certain approach to the aesthetic stability of the character - but can also add that extra uncertainty or anticipation when the shapes are not balanced, or deliberately jarring.

Keep your eyes open and maybe you'll see some of these... Drop me a mail if you know of any more!

( oh yeah .. and I did realise after a while... they're triangles not pyramids.. but then where would the catchy title be ? ;) )


Marin Petrov said...

Interesting post! That`s another confirmation that the silhouette in the animation /and not only../ is important!

Chan Ghee Leow said...

This is truly a most insightful tip. Thanks for sharing!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Great post, love the pictures that prove your point.

Henk said...

Super thoughts. I love to express myselve better in drawing. This is yet another great golden tip. Thanks!

Clinton said...

Very insightful! I'm glad I found this blog! I hope you dont mind me linking you

versat said...

Great article,my animation mentor from VFS recomended this site and I love it.

Anirudh said...

hi, just came across this post from somewhere else...truly very informative and insightful...now begins the search for pyramids !!!

thnks for sharing ! cheers!

Anonymous said...

People should read this.

anthonymcgrath said...

In drawing characters I always start with triangle for body/shoulders and hips and work from there so its mad that I've never looked at images in that same way to be honest. This is a really good trick for breaking down the weighting and I am going to try and employ it in my own work and animation in the near future! Thanks for sharing :)