Monday, 26 January 2009

Experimentation

Every so often I like to step away from a current project and just have a little fun. These experiments are generally testing something I have read about or want to test for an upcoming shot. Other times they are just playing about because I enjoy making things move. They are all mostly awful and only take a short while to make, but T&P is about experimenting and learning from your mistakes so I figure I might as well upload them. These are a month or so old now and are just some cycles of different actions I was testing, they are rubbish but I learned something from each one and then applied to anything I did for a final product, so they did come in handy.

video

This was a test walk cycle for a character I never used. I was trying to do some limited animation walks, only working with the legs and arms for speed. The results weren't great and I learned I would need to work with more body parts to make things work.

video

This is an unfinished walk cycle I was practising. Every so often I do one out just to remind myself of a few basic things. I didn't finish it because about halfway through I realised I knew this walk well and should be concentrating on learning a new walk.

video

This was my attempt at the Scooby Doo run. It didn't work because I didn't get the action right. The legs didn't come over the back in cartoony manner so it just looked like a real person doing something impossible. This meant it was unbelievable and scrapped. I learned a lot from doing this run. If you want to accommodate such big motions, you need to take the proper time to do so and make them believe able.

Monday, 19 January 2009

X-Sheets or Exposure Sheets

Exposure Sheets or X-Sheets are used in animation to time shots. They generally run down the page and they provide a guide to the camera man for how to shoot the scene and a guide for the animator on the timing of the shot.

In traditional animation X-Sheets provided a way to make sense of a shot when you couldn't just output every time you adjusted your shot to see how it looked. The best you had was holding the sheets up and flicking the paper to see how the animation flowed...you had to develop a sense of timing. Modern animators don't have to do that because if something isn't working they can change it and test output in about a half second to see how it looks. I have been developing my sense of timing for a while now or trying to at least and it is a very difficult thing to do. By using FlipBook, which uses a tradition X-Sheet layout, my timing has significantly improved. I now understand how long certain movements need to last for a required look. To an extent at least anyway. I still output constantly, because I have the fortune and ability to do so, so why not.

The X-Sheet is essentially a timeline and as such I feel it is only fair to get fair cop out of the amount of work I put into making my animations, so I have taken some screen shots of some of my time lines from my animation to prove just how much effort goes into making any kind of animation, let alone traditional animation.

This is a traditional X-Sheet. On it you would write the numbers of the drawings next to the appropriate frames. A certain number of frames represents a foot of film and this is how animators would time things, by referencing to a distance they could visualise. Certain studios expected nearly 8ft of work from an animator every week. Insanity!

The timeline in Flash isn't that different. You have the number of frames along the top. Each black dot represents a Keyframe. Keyframes are the drawings that HAVE to be there for the shot to make sense.

The wonders of modern technology allow use to see all of the drawings in the timeline if we want to, so that we can see how they lay out. This can be handy for checking the timing on things and learning for the future. He we see the cannon extend and then do a flip before returning to its normal position. Above it was see the smoke that puffs out of the cannon and disappears over a few frames.

Click the image to make it bigger. Here we see all of the frames that make up a scene I am still very proud of. The jumping shot from Eligh's Dark Fable.

Here we see Captain Uber crouching down preparing to blast off and defeat his arch rival, Pervert Man! Literally thousands and thousands of minute changes or completely new drawings go into every shot and as I have got better at animating there are now significantly more complete drawings than ever before...which means more time and effort :)

So this is where the heart of animation lies. How things look depend on how you dangle them on the time line. With practise and patience you get better and better at it.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Slurs & Blurs

Slurs and blurs are a common effect in animation and they stem from research done in the 1930's at many studios around America and continue through to Chuck Jones experimental work at the Warner Brothers Studios in some of his films.

When animators slowed down live action films to study the motion in them for practise, they saw an unusually high amount of blurred frames. This struck them as strange because at normal playback speed they were barely noticeable. Cameras back then weren't quite as good as they are today and couldn't capture motion quite as well, that said even today if the eye can still only see at 24 frames a second, so anything faster than that will blur and distort. Because of this, animators started to experiment with blurs and slurs in there films and they soon found them to be quite useful for conveying very fast motions or actions and adding a bit more life to their animations.

Slurring and Blurring are basically the same thing and are an extension of the stretch and squash techniques. By dragging a cartoon out to unrealistic proportions for just a millisecond, the action that follows it becomes immediately more vibrant. To do this you might draw just a whole blur of colours, or stretch the character from one place to another and the following frame have him snap back into place. In traditional animation they often used dry brushing rather than stretching entire drawings. This was the simple are of taking a dry brush with some ink on and trailing beyond a fast motion in the scene.

Chuck Jones experimented with endless kinds of effects to try and get more action and motion into his cartoons especially his faster cartoons like Roadrunner in which you will often just see a blue blur instead of a bird. So how can you apply slurs and blurs effectively in your work?

Here are a few examples from my own work:


In modern animation you don't see slurs and blurs quite as often as you used to because everything is stylised and rubbish. But if you use them effectively they can give a great classic cartoon feel to your work. These two shots above for instance follow on from some fairly straight forward animation without any unnecessary embellishments. But by just adding two frames at the end with the feet and legs zipping out of shot you show the character leaving the scene at inexplicable speed.


To clarify the difference the above shot is squash and stretch, two principle animation techniques. These are not slurs and blurs.


However these two are. Looking at them on their own they make no real sense, in fact you can barely see what they are. But whizzing past at 24/25 frames a second, you get a fluid and lovely motion that gives a lot of emphasis to your work.

Mastering slurs and blurs is difficult. You can over use them and end up with really messy looking scene and at the end of the day, nothing makes a scene look quite as good as just good solid drawing and good solid drawing.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Line of Action

The 'line of action' is a fundamental animation principle. Its purpose it to show how the action is traveling within a character...the mass, weight, direction and pose are all based around the line of action. You might say that it is the characters centre of gravity. Everything starts from the line of action and is built on top of it...it helps a series of drawings to flow into one another and keeps things simple for the eye to see as the film rolls on.

The concept of the line of action was something I didn't grasp at first...I was confusing its purpose with other animation skills and principles. I found the following sheet and it cleared up a lot of things for me pretty instantly.

This was a revelation for me. This sheet clearly showed the difference between right and wrong. Suddenly, I understood how to use this technique to aid my drawings.

It can be put to use on characters, forms, objects and pretty much anything you want to convey action with. This example with the bouncing ball shows that its uses are limited strictly to characters. The direction of this ball, the height at which it enters and exits the shot and the effect that gravity plays on it are just some of the things line of action indicates in this simple shot.

I then started adapting it to my own drawings and suddenly I started to get the results I had been looking for all along.

Even the most insignificant poses can be brought to life by finding the line of action first. The line through the centre of this character tells me that the character is thrusting out his chest and arching his back. I further exaggerated this when I placed the shapes over the top of him and I was quite pleased with the final result.

In this shot I knew I wanted the character the be thrusting his crotch forward. The arm is incidental to the shot, though it does add balance to the rest of the pose. The line is a sharp bend backwards and this line of action really helped bring this drawing of Pervert Man to life.

This is a heavy action shot and I wouldn't have got the result I was looking for without the line of action. In this shot two characters are interacting so the rules change slightly. One line of action affects the other, so I needed to decide from the start which line was more important. I immediately identified the bigger force (The punch), was affecting the smaller force (The recipient of the punch) and used basic physics (Every action has an equal and opposite reaction).

The sharp line through the figure on the left makes the characters intent and action very easy to read. It gives the character purpose and gives his pose balance. Because there is such a sharp force moving to the right, the body must be braced to handle such an extreme movement, i.e. his stance must be wide enough to hand the movement. Because I knew where the force was I could easily place the other leg in a position that gave the impression that a lot of weight was been taken onto it. Without the line of action, this pose would probably have worked out very, very differently and become confusing to read and ugly to view.

The line of action is a significant and important tool for the animator. It helps give characters direction weight and purpose. No amount of research can teach you this skill...it is trial and error and making mistakes to get it right. I made a lot of mistakes and I am still learning some of its broader applications, but this is one tool I have already added to my arsenal.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Layout Artist

A layout artist branches across many different industries, but in each one there job is the same. To put things on a page or screen in an order that makes sense to the eyes and is easy to follow. This sounds simple enough when you just state it, but when you put things into practise it gets a lot more difficult.

In the field of animation the layout artist plays an integral role in the way the film is made. He might decide on lighting, character positioning, background positioning, camera angles and he works very closely with the storyboard artist and director to make sure that the story is put across understandably and efficiently.

Learning good layout is very difficult and is something I have struggled with for a while. I am not very good at it, as much as I try. I get too excited about the overall idea of the scene and forgot to stop and ask questions such as, what am I trying to say to the viewer? Why would these character be stood here? What does the viewer NEED to see? How can I place things in this scene to make the job easier for the other people I am working with? What is the mood of the scene?

These are the questions the layout artist must know the answer to before he puts pen to paper. He must be able to see the shot in his head and know how the dialogue, movement, camera angles and characters are going to fit in the shot. It's like juggling a toaster, frying pan and small mammal all at the same time and it takes a lot of practise.

This is a great article about what it takes to be layout artist.

So how do I fair? Here are some examples of my own layout plans for certain shots in my own animation, Eligh's Dark Fable...

This shot needed to create tension. The dark shadows on the boys face need to ease the audience into understanding the boy was been changed by the forest. By choosing an angle from below the character, the negative space around the character becomes eerie. The audience also focus' on the light coming through the trees instead of just character.

This was a complicated shot. After the boy runs off towards the wood the following shot has to not only show that time has passed since we last saw the boy, but also have one character enter the shot, before revealing the other character has already secretly been in shot the whole time. Putting this together wasn't easy. But, with the use of the cameras focus you can easy direct the viewers attention to the things you want them to see. For instance, the camera pans down, the butterfly enters shot. Then the camera moves further in and the focus switches to the log behind the butterfly. This shot look great in the final piece and I am still pleased with it now.

This shot was dropped because it didn't quite have the right spacing for the image. It was also far too dark, too early on in the animation. The boy discovers the forest after this shot and then the piece takes a dark twist. This idea was eventually used in the shot below but laid out a lot better.

Here there is space for the antic on the right, then the boy jumps onto the log and sits there and mopes. He then falls off of the back of the log and the shot changes. A simple shot, but without planning for the action that is taking place it wouldn't have looked quite as good.


Overall as a layout artist I need work, but when you are planning and then animating cartoons yourself, you don't need to communicate your ideas to everyone else so it is easy to work from your imagination and make changes on the fly. If I was laying out scenes that would cross multiple departments then I would need to be a lot more clearer.