During my time as a Lead Animator on productions for Television I've witnessed that the schedules just don't allow for the the kind of planning that you really need for a piece of animation to be the very best that it can be. The purpose of this tutorial is to try and express some of my insights and opinions about what goes in to making a piece of animation more than just "good enough". This kind of planning is unfortunately not always possible on production, but if you simplify the process you can still spend time planning and get your shots approved on schedule.
I have lots of video clips and photographs in my very large collection of videos and photographs that appeal to me. That way, when I'm struggling for an idea I turn to my "Morgue" and pull something out to look at. In this case I happened upon a clip of a weight lifter that I had saved away.
I watched the video several times, making lots of mental notes but it's hard to really single out the important frames when you're looking at everything so I exported an image sequence from Quicktime and began identifying (in my opinion) the Keys. I narrowed it down to 8 poses:
In the most basic sense, the poses tell this story:
001) The character is in position at a set of weights but has yet to psyche himself up which is evidenced by his shrugged shoulders. He's sitting on his heels.
053) He's sidling up to the bar, getting into position.
100) Similar to the first pose, but now his Center Of Gravity is much higher, his shoulders are no longer shrugged, and his chest is puffed out. He feels ready.
249) Anticipation for the lift
265) A physical struggle as he applies his force to the weights.
285) He gets them up into the air
295) He's in position to receive the weight of the bar
316) Something goes wrong, and he has to bail.
Great! Now I've simplified the information from several hundred frames to eight. Next, I identified the Extremes which work to fill in all the gaps of how the character gets from one Key to the next. The Extremes add a lot more information into the mix, but since I have such a clear idea of what the Keys are doing, it's easy to build the performance around them.
Lastly, after identifying the Extremes and adding them to the story I went in and got some ideas for how the Breakdowns might look. So now with all of the important poses singled out, I'm left with 43 frames to study as opposed to four hundred and something. And that's something to be happy about.
Next, it's time to start thumbnailing and exploring. SInce all of the footage has shot this poor sap from the front, I decided to explore the poses from profile, thus giving me a well rounded understanding of his weight and posture:
Thumbnailing is such a fast way to explore ideas, and you don't necessarily have to be a good artist. You just need three tools:
1. To observe
2. To understand
3. To communicate
As long as you can communicate your ideas, it doesn't matter if your drawings are pretty or not. Everyone can draw a stickman and most of my thumbnails are just glorified stickmen. I like to try and capture the character's design in the thumbnails so that I'm coming up with poses that create the appropriate shapes, but I'm not getting into anything fancy. No surface details, just weight and physicality.
After exploring the story in thumbail form I have a solid idea of what I need to do. Now I can build my props (which I'll cover in another tutorial) in such a way that they meet the story needs. It's very important that you understand the needs of your story before you try to design anything. Remember the three F's:
Form Follows Function!
With my simple prop built I can now start posing out my scene. For the timing, I'm just using the frame numbers that correspond the the frames that I chose from the image sequence. After I have it posed out I can start adjusting and refining the timing of certain elements. After all, I'm trying to create something entertaining. I don't want to animate something that looks just like the reference that inspired it.
The posing follows the same pattern as the initial study of the action, first doing a test of just the Key Poses:
Once I'm happy with my Keys the next step is to carve out the action a little more with the Extremes:
Then, on to my Breakdowns. This is where the transitions between the Extremes start to take shape. It's not necessary to illustrate a Breakdown between every Extreme, but all of the important ones should be addressed:
Now I can start refining the posing and timing, and I can use extra poses to help illustrate certain movements in finer detail. There's some subtle stuff that will be going on as he's breathing deeply and psyching himself up so I'm going to continue to refine that section. Some the of the things that I'm focusing on with this pass are:
-Plussing my poses. Adding assymetry and pushing the shapes.
-Getting all the little shape changes and reversals in his movement
-Adding squash and stretch to his body and limbs
-Adjusting the Timing of certain events so that they have time to read.
Something to be aware of is that everything, everything in this scene is still on Stepped Tangents. Don't believe me? Take a look at this. I find it horribly detrimental to work with Spline or Linear Interpolations from the beginning because it focuses attention on information that is not yet relevant.
This is as far as I've gotten through the animation so far, but I'll continue to update the tutorial as I go, so make sure to check back from time to time so you can see how this shot continues to evolve!