Feb 16, 2011

Quick Trick: Draw your Timing

Not too long ago I started using 'drawings' at work to figure out timing beats for certain animated shots, and it was one of those great moments when you discover something that you instantly use over and over again, so I thought it best to post the process here on Flip.

I found myself looking for a fast way to record a timing reference for certain shots, I wanted a way to quickly get an idea of the timing of certain actions or beats without having to go into blocking and actually start posing stuff out, but also without having to go to the reference room and go through the motions of recording myself, converting video to Linux and basically taking a load of time from my schedule. For me, when I'm figuring out a shot early on, I pretty much use the basic building blocks of story, posing ( with staging ) and timing to construct my blocking. I really enjoy posing characters, in fact its my favourite part of animation, but I find that having some kind of 'map' of the timing in a shot early on can be a tremendous help, because then you can really take the time to construct those poses with care.

So to cut a long story short, we have the option to draw over our shots in the camera view, and do very basic animation this way, and I found a way to mirror this specific process in maya one to one using fCheck. Instead of drawing the animation however in the traditional way with sketches, I simply move my mouse around to record the 'timing' of the shot, or particular beats or actions in the shot and it records that timing in the form of a little dot moving around on the screen. I`m not thinking about shape or anything like that here. After deleting the drawing and doing a bunch of takes, I usually get a decent feel for the timing of an action and I start using the specific frames the dot hits extremes on to time my poses in stepped blocking.

To make this clearer I made a few examples using maya and fCheck to illustrate what I mean, this is pretty much exactly what I see doing a similar thing at work:

This shows a timing idea for the wingbeats of a large flying creature like a dragon or something similar.

In the above example, I can get an idea pretty much instantly of the timing of those wingbeats without having to do any posing in the shot at all. All I am doing is drawing with the mouse. I can make the timing as even or as varied and complex as I like. Once I have some timing that I like, I can use the movement of the dot as a guide for what frames I need to start posing my extremes, for example, the up, the down, and a very good indication of the ease-in and outs that I need to get the feel that I'm going for.

To 'record' your timing using fCheck in maya, you do this; Set your playblast output as fCheck and playblast a blank screen with as many frames as you think you'll need ( usually the exact length of your shot ). Press play when fCheck loads, and as soon as you press and hold the right mouse in windows, it will start printing a small dot or line depending on how fast you move the mouse per frame.. this results in the perceived capture of your mouse motion. Luckily enough when you choose 'save animation' from the fCheck menu, it saves these drawings into the frame renders so you have it for good.

Agreed, the application of this idea is limited to certain actions, but let your imagination help you here... I have used this for very obvious and easy things like jumping and bouncing, but its also fantastic for subtle things like eye darts and weight shifts. You will start to find that the little moving dot often makes no sense to anyone but you as you start to use it to map more abstract actions.

Basically, anything that can help us "see" our animation quicker before we labour over posing and spacing is gold.

Here are a few more examples I did quickly for different timing beats:

( a samurai style decapitation! - the timing is clear for the antic, the swing and the head drop/bounce. Of course, the beauty of this method is trying many different variations really quickly until you have one you like. There is an indication of the arc on the sword and the spacing with regards to how far the sword/head moves, but this is really not important... its the timing I'm looking for. )

( Basic up/down timing for a really proud horse as he trots along )

( Angry guy picks up his pint, necks it, and slams it down again )

( A couple of different head turns )

Its possible to visualize a variety of different timing beats using this technique, so give it a try and see if it lets you experiment a little more.


AFightingPanda said...

I am going to have to give this a try. Dude the stuff you offer up on your blog is pretty amazing. That post about real life arcs vs animation style arcs really helped open my eyes about that stuff. This is really interesting too. I don't know if it suits my style or not but its probably going to help a lot of people. On a side note your reel has been a huge inspiration for me and a lot of people I know. Trying to catch up to that reel has been a personal goal of mine for awhile now. I don't know if you realize how big of an impact that has had on student animators and guys that are new to the industry. I would really like it if you could let us know which shots are yours in the dream works films you have worked on! That way we can share in some more of your awesomeness. Anyway man, I appreciate the post as I am sure many others do. Have a good one man, I look forward to your next great post.

-Keith G.

Niek said...

HA! I discovered this drawing thing by accident one day. But i used it to write my name and stuff, and let lines chase each other :)

But what you found out here is brilliant! Even though its just a line. I can totally feel the timing of, for example that dragon wing!

Thanks a lot Cam!

Remi The Rockstar said...

great post!!!

I was wondering how I could do something like this!

Thanks a bunch,


Krzysztof Boyoko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aishwarya said...

Hey Cameron. Great post, But I think it will take some time to understand it totally. I loved the different head turns timing variation. i could literally see that happening in mind. Gr8 tip.


Matthew Maners said...

To some it may seem abstract but I was totally getting it. The clearest is the samurai sword and head fall but after you get the idea of that the rest really start reading. How did you learn about the drawing trick in fcheck though, I find that interesting. Thanks for the great tip.


Anonymous said...

Hello Cameron,
Very cool tip. I'm using Maya 2011, however, and in my Playblast Options window (or in the save as dialogue window) I can't seem to find the fCheck option as output. What version of Maya are you using? And where exactly are you finding the fCheck option? Thanks. You're an inspiration to us all.

Anonymous said...

Where exactly is the fCheck as output option? I'm using 2011 and I can't seem to find it. Can you upload a screenshot perhaps? Thanks Cameron. You're an inspiration to us all.

erica said...

Ooh, that's a sweet little trick! I loved the samurai timing test, you could really feel the weight of the head dropping to the floor. I'm definitely going to try this out on my next assignment. :)

Unknown said...

Sweet jeebers!

I think i just had one of those moments where you realise something incredibly nice is setting up home in your thought process.

So nice to hear from you again and thank you very much for the tips.


Krzysztof Boyoko said...

Thanks a lot for such a great blog.
I too, have been looking for a fast way to include timing in the planning process but haven't been able to find something so ingenious. It looks like a very intuitive way to work.

Michael Cawood said...

Hi Cameron. You caught our attention over here at the office and we had a go at this but it didn't quite work. As long as we hold down the right mouse button and keep drawing a line the frame counter stops and waits for the line to break or the mouse/wacom to deviate it's direction. So it won't actually record the timing. it's very interesting though. You can change the colour to black if you hold shift as well.

Do you have a rapid fire feature on your mouse? As that might achieve the result we're aiming for here. It could be really useful for shot reviews then as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
What is Fcheck and how do I access it?

Unknown said...

It's surprisingly addictive.
Wonderful idea!

Unknown said...

For those wondering about using fcheck in 2011, set the format to "iff" in the playblast settings. Cheers!

Joey said...

This is great! I found that it also helps to make a lot of sound effects while you're doing it. Whizzz... bip, bip, zooooom... etc

Michael, I had the same problem as you when I tried it out at work. But now at home it works perfectly. All the settings seem to be the same. Maybe it depends on the hardware or something.

Jamaal Bradley said...

Sorry Cameron... I think I posted my comment to the wrong section:

Anyway man. I have been playing around with this and it is really great for R&D. I just did a few tests and I can see where this can come in handy.

all the best


F*cker said...

Been using this a lot ever since I saw it on your screen and bugged you about it. Especially with our software, there is certainly no faster way to test out and store timing tests.
Thanks again for sharing, man!

Say hi to your mom for me.

Mr T said...

Hi Cameron, and everyone else actually who has this working.
I'm animating a character at the moment, who is fast and bouncy. So this looked ideal to test his motion quickly.

However when we tried it in the office we didn't get the results you showed. Michael Cawood's Post says the same thing.

It shows individual sweeps of the mouse but only on one frame. How did you get it to capture a clean motion across a few frames?

Do we need to change any settings perhaps ? We're using maya 2010 By the way!

Pandalope said...

Great trick, but I'm having the same problem Michael Cawood is having. If I make a mark too quickly, it just pauses the video and makes a really long mark. Is this maybe an option I can change, or is it more probably my computer?

Katie Orcutt said...

Hey Cameron! Great post, but i'm having the same trouble as Michael Cawood is - when the line breaks or deviates direction, the recording stops. I am using Maya 2008 with these playblast settings;

view: checked
show ornaments: checked
viewer: image viewer
remove temp files: checked
Save to file: checked

Any thoughts, anyone?

Cameron Fielding said...

A few of you have mentioned that you have had trouble getting this to work in FCheck. As far as I know, this is probably not a maya setting problem and likely more to do with your graphics hardware setup ( but thats just a guess ) ... I think it just depends. I used maya 2011 to make the videos here on the blog, but I remember this as far back as maya 2008, so I doubt the version you are using makes any difference. Would be great if someone could veryify why it works for some and not others...

Unknown said...

Hi everybody,

Thanx a lot Cameron for this trick and all others too!
I knew it was possible to do this on non animated frames but what you've find is really much usefull!
I've found something which might help understanding issues with fCheck.
I've try it at work with Maya 2008 and it works perfectly with my normal mouse but I have the same problem than others people (fCheck stop playing if I move too quickly) when I try to do it with the pen of my graphic tablet...
So, this is weird but the problem don't come from Maya's settings or fCheck for sure...
I hope it will help someone to find the solution.
Long life to you and your blog!

Alexandre A

Dave said...

To the folks trying this and having the issue of fCheck pausing while you hold down the mouse button, try disabling any mouse software/drivers you have running. I have a Logitech mouse and use their SetPoint software to customize the mouse buttons. I had the same issue until I disabled the drivers, then it worked flawlessly.

(note that after disabling your mouse software/drivers, you may need to adjust your mouse settings using the Windows control panel)

Nice tip, thanks Cameron!

Juan Couto said...

Hey Cameron, thanks a lot for this tip. It´s the kind of thing I will be using my whole life after reading it! I had the same problem than most people here, I couldn´t draw a fast line. But, if you press "f" key while playing,"Switches between single and double buffer mode. Default mode depends on machine's graphics card." extracted from fCheck help. I have no idea what it means but now you can draw as fast as you can. Make sure it is playing in real time also pressing "t".

Hope it helps everybody!

- Juan Couto.

Pandalope said...

Oh man, this is really awesome. I popped open my nVidia and told it to adjust based on performance over quality and this works perfectly now. I'm even using my Wacom Intuos tablet and it doesn't freeze fCheck when I do it.

Thanks for the tip!

-John Fielding

Arian S said...

I made it work!
a quick fix...albeit with some drawbacks.

I reduced the size of the playblast window considerably to take up less memory.
I also dropped out of the windows 7 theme mode to windows classic, again freeing up more memory.

You get less resolution for your tests, but you should be able to draw quite a bit faster before fcheck chugs and you stop on a single frame.

At work, my station can handle pretty much anything I throw at it, but my home PC just isn't so able.


Anuj Garg said...

thanks for the trick. I like it very much.but i am having some problem it is working on my laptop but when i am doing it in my Pc as soon as I press my right click the playblast gets paused and resumes again when i leave my right click..so I am unable to get this in my PC..please help me....

gonzalimator said...

I too had the pausing while drawing problem. Pressing "f" while it was playing solved it! (my guess is it toggled to SINGLE buffer mode) Thanks Cameron for a great tip and thanks Juan for the fix! Using Maya 2010 on Windows 7 x64 and Wacom Intuos4 with nVidia GTX260.

Dao Luong's Animations said...

This Tip is just awsome Cameron. Thanks alot man.
Anyway the trick that some folks mentioned above is perfect. Press"f" while the video is playing will solve the problem. Thanks guys.

Unknown said...

Awesome tip!! I've been getting into rythm and texture of my shots and haven't found a good way to do it yet. I usually video myself tapping the beats and accents of my scene in an interesting way... But this looks really great. I will be using it from now on.