Saturday, October 29, 2011

Part 4 Spline pt2 Facial --Walkthrough A Shot: Step by Step

 Spline Part 2: Facial

 Ok so now we are ready to start facial. I do this by thinking of going from one emotion to the next. I ignore everything else. Just focus on that, put in the little details of the eyes opening nicely, the eyebrows going up settling, holding and then moving. (No floaty eyebrows) I've found less is more when it comes to facial. I also look at my video reference very carefully and notice when my eyes open and squint and how the eyebrows are a few frames behind, ect... very careful study of my vid ref is a must! NO MOUTH ANIMATION YET, hold off, focus on getting the eyes to read clearly and emote clearly.

Eye line is super important. Make sure the eyes look like they are looking at the other characters eyes. Careful not to loose them on the inside of the eyes, so we only see half an eye. 

Here is my video reference, pay close attention to what my eyes are doing.

Here is my first pass at the dad in shot 1:


Here is the boy's facial pass which was much, much harder. This had to be very clear. I even had some ideas I really wanted to put in like a quick look up but it was too crammed and repetitive so I had to simplify.

Here is my first pass on the boy, I did this one emotion at a time. I didn't tackle this all at once, but for not uploading too many videos here is after I went through a few emotions on the boy. As you will see there is way too much happening. I like the extra look up idea, but it's just not working so I have to simplify!

So then I simplified, it was very hard the previous video was version 47 and the video below is version 60. So I had to work really hard to find the essence of the boy and what would read the most clearly.  You will also notice I make changes to the body animation to fit with the facial. (the character is one whole unit, nothing works independently, they all affect each other)

So I think this is in a good place, still needs a lot of work and polishing. But I think it's reading well and now I move on to shot 3 and create the dads facial. Once again I look very closely at my video reference (frame by frame) to see all the little details in the eyes, cheeks and eyebrows.

So that is my facial pass. I had to focus on eye line, clear emotions and I made changes to the body to fit the facial moves.

Here is the entire shot. It still needs more work and refinement. But for this part of my workflow it's working well and I can move on to the next step. With each pass I always spot out new floatyness and things that need to be tweaked. When you see it again it's from a new set of fresh eyes.


Now I'm ready to go back to the frame 1 and start on the lip sync. That will be the next post :)

Hope this all make sense and helps! Feel free to leave a comment if you need some clarification.

Part 4 Spline--Walkthrough A Shot: Step by Step

7. Spline:  Body (no facial or lip sync)

A lot of people fear spline because everything goes terribly mushy and soft and it seems like all your hard work disappears. If this is happening to you, then you probably have not done enough work in all the previous steps I mentioned. You basically haven't thought of what your character is doing, down to the last little arc. It's crazy how precise this industry is, but that is the truth. YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT YOUR CHARACTER IS DOING. You're not going to make any groundbreaking discoveries in your spline.

Here are a few ways of easing the pains:

1.I usually will spline like this: Key Pose, Breakdown, Key pose. 
So if I have my first key pose on frame 1, my breakdown on frame 5 and my second key pose on frame 13 I will select those keys and flatten the tangents (and the rest of my shot is still in stepped mode). This should be 
one movement, and that is how I think about it, as simple as possible.
2.I will also set my timeline to only show me 1-13, so I can just focus on this one move.

3. I hop into my graph editor and I go through all my controls, to turn handles on the tangents and make sure my line are flowing through. (I go through these in this order: hips, torso, head, finger tip, toes, heels,elbows, knees)
So I would grab my key pose 1, breakdown and my key pose 2 and I would just select Translate X in the graph editor and look at those three dots, make sure they are flowing through. Then go through all the rest: Translate Y, Z, Rotate X, Y, Z. 

***Here is the point especially in the Translate Y for the hips where I start adjusting my tangents (btw my tangents are set to "weighted tangsnts") to pull out tangents and make those v shapes with the linear button. This is how I set my character when he goes down, I want him to go down fast, so I will make key pose 1, translate y be a steep line down with the linear button. Then I would take the breakdown translate y and stretch out the bottom tangent between key pose1 and breakdown. Now I have my character coming down fast and easing in to his down position. So NOW we have timing, we are making decisions not letting maya do all the floaty animation.

Then I will do this for all the other controls Translate X, Y, Z, Rotate X, Y, Z and go through all my controls in these 3 poses. It's a lot of work, but that just the business we are in. If you follow this formula you will get good results, have interesting movement and most importantly telling maya what YOU want and NOT what maya wants :)

Here is  the dad just going from his key pose to breakdown to key pose:

I go through and do all of the above just for the body. I COMPLETELY IGNORE THE FACE. (Set it to proxy so it won't distract you.  

Then go down your timeline little by little move on to the next breakdown and key pose and repeat all the steps above. I usually take a break after each one, so that when I go to the next set I feel fresh and ready to give it a thorough pass. 

4. Go through shot by shot until I have both characters bodies in a good place. Resist the temptation to work on the face, just focus on the body.
5.  Then after this is done I go through and give the body a second spline pass. Because I will now have fresh eyes when I go back and see all sorts of floaty parts. So I go in and make sure there is overlap and offset keys, and make the ups and downs faster or slower, add the eases in. (I've already done this in the previous pass, but sometime your eye is not as fresh since you have to go through all your controls in the graph editor)

Here is shot 2 and 3 after going through all the steps:


Ok so that is the first part going through the body. In the next pose I jump into the facial. Everything is done in order to manage your time as efficiently as possible. You don't want to do facial and body, cause you might do something with the face that messes up the body, but then that facial doesn't make sense, so you have to go back and forth and you never polish and clean anything up. 


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Part 3 Breakdowns--Walkthrough A Shot: Step by Step

6. Blocking: Breakdowns

Follow this order and you will have awesome Breakdowns:
Follow this list in this order: 
--hips, torso, head, finger tip, toes, heels,elbows, knees--

For each item mentioned above, follow the list below:
 1. Favoring 
(Favor pose A or B. Choose one, Never put in the middle)
2. Arc 
(Decided on your arc)
3. Offset 
(Build in your offsets, hand drag, ect.)

So here is my next pass with Breakdowns. As you can see I went in and made even more changes with the original key poses. Never be scared to make changes. 

The more you think of what you want your characters to do, the better your animation will turn out.
 If you notice I have not blocked in much for the characters off camera. A bit lazy on my part, but I feel like I need to get moving on this shot. So my focus is the characters that you fully see. Time Management :) BUT I will block them out later on, exactly as I did in this process. I'm also putting them off a bit, because whatever they do will have to be minimal to not steal the attention.

7. Spline Shot 1...Coming VERY Soon

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Part 2 Blocking--Walkthrough A Shot: Step by Step

5. Blocking:Key Poses

Most Important thing to remember is: Don't be Afraid to Make Changes! Here is my first blocking pass with just Key Poses, based on my drawings.


Once I laid out all my key poses I found that Luke (boy) scene seemed way too busy. Also that he became happy to quickly. I basically wasn't giving myself room for him to get happier. You never want your character to reach their maximum emotion early in your shot, because then you have nowhere to go. 

So I went into my blocking and I simplified, here is the next pass.

This is what I fixed:
-Simplified Boy
-Smaller smile and facial for Luke, he was getting out of character.
- Bring him closer to his dad in last shot
-Dad toned down facial, way too happy, the line was a bit more subdued.
-Tone down Dad's second pose, he gets to close to his son. That moment is left for the last scene. Each scene the characters get closer as their relationship and trust grows with each scene

Now I feel a bit more confident in the character's performance, cinematography and I'm hitting my emotional Beats! Let's start adding some Breakdowns!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Walkthrough A Shot: Step by Step

So I'm starting up a new shot and I thought it might be fun to document the process so that anyone interested can view my workflow :)

1. Choose a line! 
-Try to pick something that calls to you, that moves you. Make sure you love it, because you will be hanging out with it for a long time.

“Look at that, how magnificent. The boy is gone. Somewhere during the last 30 seconds you’ve become grown up. Like that.”

2. Think about your line. Back-story & Emotional Beats
Be sure to really listen to your line of audio and make sure that your scenario and your characters match the line. Don't try to force a gag in there, if it's just not in the audio. Don't choose an old man as a character if it sounds like someone in there 20s. Give your character's names. 

Write a Back-Story to help you understand who they are. For a backstory all you need to know is:
 1. Where is the character coming from? Their past
2. Where do they intend to go? Their wants

Here is my back-story for "The Boy is Gone:"

Daniel Silvers was one of those people who lived at his job. He just couldn’t find the time to come home to his family and much to his dismay had missed out on a majority of his son’s life.
 “Not today” he told himself, it was his son Luke’s middle school graduation.  Today was a day of family and specifically a day to be with his son.  He was immensely proud of his son.
Luke had quite a different point of view of his dad.  He is always uncomfortable and tends to look down, as he is never quite sure how to feel around his dad. So while he is glad that he is there, he doesn’t quite know how to behave around him. Luke believes his dad never pays attention to anything he does, basically making him feel like a ghost in his eyes.
On graduation day Luke was feeling a mix of shyness and nerves at his dad spending time with him. On the other hand Daniel was completely gracious for being able to spend time with his son and was trying to be playful to cut the awkward tension.  As they were on their way out the door, Daniel couldn’t help but think that just yesterday his son was learning how to walk. He was humbled and overjoyed at the man his son was becoming. He wanted his son to know all this and to know that he loves him more than anything in the world.  
“Look at that, how magnificent. The boy is gone. Somewhere during the last 30 seconds you’ve become grown up. Like that.”

Break your shot down into emotional beats:


1. "Look at magnificent. The boy is gone"
-Taken back at how big his son is. (A memory of Luke flashes back of the first time he held him in his arms)

2. "Somewhere during the last 30 seconds you’ve become grown up."
-He is proud. Straightens up, like a military sergeant giving a promotion.

3. "Just like that"
-Playful, bends down and snaps fingers to signify how quick it has all happened.


1. "Look at magnificent."
-Uncomfortable, having trouble looking him in the eyes. Looking down at the floor.

2. "The boy is gone"
-After he says this he begins to see that his dad has been paying attention to him this whole time and a small smile begins to form.

3. "Somewhere during the.."
-Happiness grows, his dad is becoming Superman in his eyes. He begins to feel a bit embarrassed, like when your parent brag about you to their friends while your in the room.

4. "last 30 second you've become grown up"
-Proud of himself for his accomplishments, begins to lift himself up, throw his chest out a bit.

3. Storyboard & Video Reference

Now begin to do a roughs storyboard so that you know how you are going to stage your characters and where you want the camera to cut. I just made some quick stick figures in paint and changed when they cut using premiere. I experimented with a few different versions until I settled on the video below.

Video Reference:
Begin to film yourself acting out your line. Be sure to use all the information you've gathered up in the previous steps. Keep the emotional beats at the forefront of your mind. Record and experiment over and over again. It took me about two days of recording myself to finally settle on this final video that captures the shot I want to create.


5. Drawing

After I've solidified my video reference to a perfectly planned ballet, I jump into my drawings. Drawings are a very functional way of deciphering information from your video reference, so that you don't have to go back and grab this information while you are animating. It forces you to think of what you want to do before you jump into the computer. It's very important that you only draw your Key Poses, you do not need your Breakdowns or inbetweens. (Use small arcs and words to describe the movements in between, not entire poses) Try to find the poses that are super essential to telling your story.

Here is the information I take from my video reference:

-Line of action on my characters
-Staging, who has higher or lower status? (Who is higher up on the frame or lower) Does this change?
-Hip direction, which side is up, which side is down. Which side is facing camera or away
-Shoulder direction. (Same as hip info)
-Head/Eye direction
-Negative space between limbs, torso, legs and head 
-Watch overall path of the body for variation and changes in line of action
-Facial/Emotional Beats. (Eyebrows, eyes, cheeks, mouth)

I also like to write small notes for myself on the path of the motion between these poses, a simple arc up or down illustrating the path of the head or torso.

Ok, so now that all that hard work is behind us it's time to jump into the computer! YAY!!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Anticipations, Hips and Footwork

Anticipation and Hips
It is SUPER important to track the arcs of your hips. Your hips will dictate how the rest of the upper body, head and arms react. Use your video reference to spot out the ups and downs, lefts and rights.

In this video example I show how there is almost always an ANTICIPATION in every single move you do. If you try to step Screen Left you must move your hips Screen Right in order for the weight of your torso to lift off of the Screen left foot so that it can lift itself up. If you don't do this when you lift you foot up your balance will be completely off and you will fall. Because when we stand our weight is balanced perfectly on both feet. STAND UP AND TRY THIS ON YOUR OWN.  
(I learned this from Shawn Kelly's e-book from tips and tricks site:


This concept basically applies to every single move. If you want to lift your arm up, dip down a bit (anticipation) and then go up. If you want to step left, anticipate right and then go left. If you want to turn the head to the right, anticipate a tiny bit left before you go right.

KEY: All these anticipations are very small, and they all have nice little arc. (Well everything should have a nice arc, unless you are purposely dirtying up the arc) Be careful not to over do, unless you really want a build of energy or momentum. Of course with any rule, there are exceptions where you just want the arm to spring up. But it always feels soooo right when you have a tiny anticipation.


Every time we do any move we are constantly throwing ourselves off balance and then recovering our balance.  When we do this, it's usually not a simple plant of the feet. They are usually doing all sorts of tiny adjustments and steps to regain the perfect balance. I KNOW it's hard to animate all these little steps, but it's absolutely ESSENTIAL! Don't fall into the common mistake of cementing the feet throughout your shot and your legs stretching like crazy to adjust to the hip moves.

Here is a video where I am doing a variety of moves, pay attention to all the little steps I have to take to regain my balance.

KEY: Don't be lazy and put in every single one of those footsteps you see in your video reference. Don't try to be slick and skip one or two, get them ALL:)

Feet Landing and Drag

Running Feet Landing

Side Note: Every rule can be broken, but you must fully understand these concepts before you can turn into a rebel animator.

Animation is super hard so take the time to sit back and enjoy your accomplishments in this crazy  field we all love.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Applying Theater concepts to Animation

So here are a few simple Theater concepts I learned while sitting in on a Theater Directing class at Florida International University.

1. Western/American audiences will always look at the Left side of the stage or the Left side of the screen first.
When observing many audiences researchers found that the first thing the audience looks at is the Left of the stage and then scans over to the Right side of the stage. They are not quite sure why, but they believe it has to do with the way we are taught to read from Left to Right. In Asian cultures it is reversed be the audiences will scan Right to Left, based on their system of reading.
What does this mean for animation?
Well that you area almost certain your audience will always scan your shot from Left to Right, so if you have something important for them to see put on the Left side of the screen. If you want to hold something back and reveal second place it on the Right side of the screen.
Ex: We are in a room where a man is considering canceling his wedding. You might stage a wedding cake on a table on the Screen Left and the character over by Screen Right. When the audience scans from Left they will see the wedding cake, and instantly know there is a wedding about to happen, then they will see the groom looking terrified over on Screen Right. Just like that you've told the audience a lot of information just from one glance.

2.  Movement from Stage Left to Right will always appear easier and more fluid. While movement from stage Right to Left will always appear as more of a struggle/hardship.
This concept has to do with the same concept as mentioned above, where Western/American audiences are more comfortable viewing Left to Right movement as we do it all the time when we read and view the world. So it's a bit more effortless for our brains to process.
When a character walks Stage Right to Left it feels a bit more uncomfortable, almost as if a wind was blowing in the opposite direction they are walking.
What does this mean for animation?
You can use this simple idea if you have a character who is struggling to something. Or with a character that feels completely at ease and happy with himself.

Ex: The groom is struggling with the idea of calling off his wedding. You might have him walk from Screen Right to Screen Left and have him place his wedding ring on the table (with the wedding cake) as if to say "I can't go through with it, I'm leaving."  You will be communicating to the audience in a very subconscious level.

Ex: Head Shakes: You can always make the timing faster when the head shakes Screen Left to Right and the timing slower when he goes Screen Right to Screen left. It's harder to go Screen Right to Screen left and now you've solved a timing and variation problem!

Ex: Jane Westmont is excited to have been promoted to head of Animation, so you set up your shot where she walks out of her supervisors office on the Screen Left and walks high as a kite on cloud 9 going towards Screen Right. 

You can apply this concept to many, many things. Enjoy it, it's a fun one :)

3. Status Swapping occurs all the time in theater and it's usually very graphic as the maid is cleaning the floors while the lady of the house is combing her hair upstairs.

The person who has the higher ground (head elevated, on a higher floor,ect..) always has the higher status. The person who is lower even if they are taller,  have their head bowed down and their shoulders hunched, to try to appear smaller because they have the lower status. It's basically a power struggle, whoever has the higher status has the higher power.

What does this mean for animation? 
 This is a very powerful tool that can be used in many ways in your animation. Status swapping is very crucial in storytelling as we always want the underdog to be victorious in the end. It's always interesting to watch character evolve and go from the house maid to the lady of the house through hard work and dedication. Audiences are always looking for that change in character!

Ex: A brother and sister are fighting in a room and the sister is curled up into a ball in the Screen Right Corner while the older/bully brother is looming over her. This tells us he has the higher status/the power, while the sister has the lower status. (Notice how the sister has to move Screen Right to screen Left, stand up and overcome her fears of her brother. It's a harder journey for her so going SR to  SL will appear to be more of a struggle to the audience) (On the opposite end the brother is bigger and he is going SL to SR with more ease because he has the power/status.)

Ex: You can also plan your cameras positioning with this idea as a camera looking up at a character will indicate the character has the highest status in the scene. While a camera pointing down at a character will indicate that character is pretty low in status/power. 

Ex: If you have an over the shoulder shot, you might place the character with the higher status on the top on the screen, while the character with the low status on the bottom of the screen. This could change as the scene progresses and the characters swap status, and now the character who was on the bottom of the screen is now on the top as the dominant high status character.

Notice in this video how the character are staged so that the male character is on the top of the screen, always taller and higher than the female. Until they swap status and then she dominates the top of the frame as she gains the higher status.

4. Small sticks of dynamite exploding  one by one until the big nuclear bomb explosion. This is a simple way of thinking of your scene as building up to it's final climax.
You can apply this concept in any scene or story. The main idea is that everything builds up little by little until the final climax.

Ex: A river is overflowing and the northern most bank has broken (explosion1)and a second river is now flooding into the main river. This happens 2 more times (explosion 2 and 3) until the main river is flooded and rapids are beginning to form from all the power of the excess water. All this extra water is creating enormous amounts of pressure on the Countries biggest dam. The pressure builds until it can't hold anymore and the entire dam explodes (Climax) and massive amounts of water and rubble shoot through the air creating a complete catastrophe.

Ex:  The groom is trying to cancel his wedding and he put his wedding ring down on the table (explosion1) , but then picks it up. He then  looks in the mirror and sees it on his ring finger and is terrified (explosion 2). His shock is so great he grabs the ring and throws it at the mirror (Climax) and sharp reflective pieces of glass go flying through the air as the ring falls and hits the ground with the broken glass.

In conclusion:

I hope these concepts have been helpful. There are hundreds more to learn and discuss out there. But, I can't recommend enough that you go and watch live theater. All forms of entertainment (theater, animation, dance, ect) all have many overlapping concepts. It's always beneficial to observe and take in as much as you can from every single form of entertainment.

So go out and branch outside of animation, and you will learn more than you can ever imagine!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Figuring it ALL out in your Video Reference

"Spend half your time planning your scene and the other half animating." -Ollie Johnston

I'm going to break down my shot frame by frame so that you can see how close the final animation is to the video reference and planning. I always think you should have your entire shot in your video reference. In your drawings you refine the motions, poses and timing. In Maya you take your drawings and push the poses and timing to create your final work. Always advancing from you previous stage in your work-flow.

Fishing Shot Video Reference: 
Notice how I used multiple shots to create one final shot. I had a vision in my head and I created a rough video for it. Also pay attention to how the videos cut pretty well into each other. I am always conscious of what foot is stepping forward first when I do a new camera, so that my mechanics are always matched up. Keep a close eye on those details when shooting a variety of video reference.

Based off of the video reference above. 
Golden Poses-Tell your story in 3-4 poses. 
Key Poses- Super important poses needed to sell acting physicality.
Notice the difference between Golden Poses and Key Poses.

I even include a phrasing pass because a lot of the motions will be similar, so it is my job as animator to create an interesting rhythm to the shot. Very important in motions that repeat themselves, such as the pulling forward and back of a fishing rod. It's good to write down your phrases so that you can have an overall feeling of the rhythm of your shot.

Final Shot: 
Pretty close to the original video reference!

Frame by frame breakdown of all the elements above:

Subtle Acting examples:

I created a back-story before I did any video reference so that I understood the character thoroughly. Sort of like an actor doing his research on his character, but in my case I had to create the research so I could study it.

"Mother Hurt" Animation Backstory by Kelly Perez

   Thomas James was a wonderfully charming 10 year old boy. He was raised in a small upscale community, called Hartford. He had a younger brother which everyone affectionately called Timmy, and an older brother of 15 named Roger. They all live together with their mother Catherine, Grandmother Delores and his best friend in the world, his uncle Jim.
   What once was a perfectly happy home for Thomas has recently been flipped upside down and turned into a battlefield with the introduction of Mr. Malnestro. This new man in their lives is intended to marry his mother and become his new father.    Grandmother seems to think the world of Mr. Malnestro and his ohh so perfect upbringing. She feels they are a perfect match, and it doesn't hurt that Mr. Malnestro owns the largest estate in Hartford.
   While grandmother has already begun to prepare for the wedding, Uncle Jim sees Mr. Malnestro in a completely opposite light. He has had awful fights with both mother and grandmother over his true intentions, his questionable financial practices and most importantly his devotion to mother. These are certainly frightful nights in our once peaceful home and it seems as if things have taken a turn for the worse.  
   Grandmother has affirmatively asked Uncle Jim to leave the house stating he is a threat to their family’s future. It certainly doesn't make any sense to Thomas and the boys, but they do remember how terribly depressed their mother became after Uncle Jim ran off Mr. Holmes a simple southern man who intended to marry their mother a few years back. 
   Thomas can only suppose grandmother intends for the best possible outcome with Uncle Jim out of the picture and so with a sad heart Thomas runs out to see his beloved uncle and tries to console him as best a 10 year old can. "It isn't you uncle Jim, she just, she just doesn't want so see mother hurt anymore."

 Video Reference:
Final Animation:

Two person acting shot example:

Video Reference:
Notice how my rough storyboard has very rough Golden Poses that tell the entire story in 3 or 4 panels. 
You don't have to be the greatest artist, just make sure you think of your character's emotions and you will be fine.

Final Animation:

I hope this blog posting has helped you understand the importance of planning. It is SUPER important to think of your animation as much as possible. Think of how the setting affects your characters, think of the emotions, think of the differences in personality of your characters, think as much as humanly possible. Animation is hard work, but once you put in a lot of the thinking in the beginning it will make the end of your work-flow easier. You have to put in the work at some point, why not get an early start on it :) 

Keep pushing your animation: this is hard work, but fun work!