Friday, December 22, 2006

The animation industry and me discover humor

One day, I would invite the animation industry to my living room, and together we would sit and watch “Lady and the Tramp” (or any other Disney film from the era).

We would notice how we start laughing where no punch line has been delivered, and no joke was there to be found.

What then, we would ask ourselves in wonder, made us laugh?

Perhaps it was a fun personality, revealed through a well selected gesture, walk, or facial expression. Perhaps it was something we recognized from life - the sort of laughter you get from a shrewd caricature. Perhaps it was a detail so subtle, that we felt the film winked at us. Or perhaps it was just a moment so original and clever, that we laughed simply to express delight.

The animation industry and I would be fascinated to discover that we can laugh from deep within, not just with the mouth.

We would then put on some recent animation films. We would sit there, watching these gag-swollen films huffing and puffing and getting all red in the face in a desperate attempt to push us into a smirk. And it would make us sick.

The animation industry and I would agree that humor and gags are different things, and that we need to strive for a better balance of the two. The animation industry would then go home, get rid of the clowns, and search for insightful people instead; and a few years later, it would start making great animation films again.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Walk test

Here's a walk test for the main character (right click+save as). The first link is a panning camera render, the second is a fixed camera.

Once again, it's not 100% polished - there's a lot of fiddling around to be made, especially around the arms. I tried to suggest an innocent and somewhat anxious personality. Oh, and the thing in his hand is a lunch box. :)

This walk was surprisingly difficult for me to animate. I made four or five really bad attempts before this one, two of which were in 2D. I knew exactly what I was going for, but every time I tried, I ended up with a boring, stiff, strange walk.

The first positive step was realizing that all my failed tests look more or less the same. It meant I was stuck in a pattern that lead me to the same dead-end again and again. The task was therefore to break that pattern; and the way to do that is always to think and to research.

First, I discovered that I was thinking in the classic "four keys" formula (contact, squash, passing position, stretch), whereas this fast walk feels more like a "two keys" kind of thing (up-down up-down, one-two one-two).

Research was a bit tricky, because no real kid walks on six (frames per step). However, I realized that my inspiration for the timing came from thinking of him as an anxious small animal of some sort; so, oddly enough, I chose to use the hind legs of a trotting fox. The research gave me my second hint: the contact position was also the high point of the fox's pelvis, and the passing position was the low point. This was an option I didn't think about, because in a usual human walk the pelvis hits its up/down extremes in other positions.

These two clues were really all that was needed for me to break the pattern and start going in a new and better direction. I hope you like the result.

As always, constructive comments are more than welcome.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

First animation tests!

Here are my first two animation tests for the short (right click + save as on each picture).

Both test have been animated moving forward in space (the render camera simply pans with them). I said it before, and I'll say it again: you understand movement better when you don't try to cheat it into an in-place cycle.

Keep in mind that this is not furnished stuff, but a crude first attempt designed to research the contrast of timing and weight between these two 4-legged types. For what it is, I'm pretty pleased with the result. Constructive comments will be rewarded with a big smile.


I know the bear thing is confusing, especially if you're not used to watching stepped animation. Just keep it running for a few seconds, I think it will fall into place.

For those of you who can't stand the strangeness of smooth pan with stepped animation, here's an alternative render with static camera. Hope that's better :)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Quick & Dirty Storyboarding (2)

[continued from previous post]

As promised, here are some specific things I found useful in my quest for simplicity:

  1. I started out drawing on a 400x225 canvas size, but later decided to go even smaller. The boards I posted were drawn on a 200x112 canvas, which physically limited my ability to refine.
  2. My previous attempts had 2-3 frames per shot, as I would try to convey the progress within the scenes. Later I decided to try and keep to a single frame per shot, which really helped me stay with the big picture (for the final storyboard I will need more drawings, of course - but not for this initial stage).
  3. In an effort to keep the staging simple and clear, I started attaching a short line of text to each frame, describing the "statement" of the drawing (e.g. "takes out sandwich", "notices bird").
  4. Every time I felt a need to start fiddling with something that looked wrong, or I had an great idea I wanted to add - I attached a note instead . My rough board is full of stuff like "could be cut" and "camera closer + pan up". Once it's there, I can relax - I know I'll remember to change it in a later stage.
I hope these ideas would help others avoid some of my mistakes. If you have more ideas about how to avoid complicating stuff, don't hold back! :)


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quick & Dirty Storyboarding

So here it is - the raw, crude, totally not-working-yet storyboard for my silly gag short film. If you don't understand what's in it, that's because it wasn't meant for anybody but me to understand. If you do understand, well, just don't tell anybody how silly it is :). The reason I'm posting it is to share some thoughts about the process.

I know that some people are such master draftsmen and storyboard artists, that they can draw and tell a story at the same time. Not being a master anything, I need a chance to explore my storytelling ideas without having to actually draw.

I therefore decided to go through the whole story and just note (not draw!) visual ideas as they come, trying not to edit myself too much. I knew the result was going to be far from working - but at least it would be something to work with. The result is in front of you. I think it worked - I feel that I now have a solid piece of raw material that I can start molding into shape.

In the next post, I'll mention a few "tricks" that helped me stay out of too much detail. I'll also say a few words about the excellent storyboarding software I used, called springboard. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Smug superhero

Strange, you say? Yes indeed. Feel free to post suggestions for who this superhero is and what he can do.