looks like I hadn’t enabled reCAPTCHA propery in the community area so people couldn’t log on and leave messages! D’oh!
No WONDER it was so quiet!
Anyway, I’ve fixed the problem and you should now be able to sign up and chat away!
The past two posts have looked at techniques I use to animate as efficiently as possible. They are common tools for time management, and can really be used for any endeavor. I definitely find them useful for managing my stress level and allowing me to crank out more footage.
But you’ll notice that the title of these posts have also included the word “Quality”. In this post, I’d like to focus on that aspect of this equation, since without quality, quantity means.. well.. poop.
Seriously. If given the choice, I would rather have an animator on my team who created one frigging mind blowingly amazing shot than an animator who created 15 piss-poor shots.
But those are extremes, right? In the real world, each animator can’t only produce a single shot in a film, and I certainly won’t be happy if all my animators just crank out pure drivel at a rate of 15 feet per week. (for those of you who haven’t worked in “feet” before, 1 foot is 16 frames of film. There are 24 frames per second, so 2 seconds of film is 3 feet of animation. At most studios a weekly quota for an animator can range from 3-6 feet per week depending on complexity. That’s 48-96 frames per week of finished animation).
Crappy animation produced quickly is still crappy animation.
So how do we hit that quality mark that is so important?
Before I answer that, I think it’s important to qualify what we consider “quality” animation.
To do this, I’m going to use a fun technique of organizing ideas that I learned about recently. It’s kind of similar to a mind map, but instead I’m going to use stickies or “post it notes”. I heard about this while listening to a class by the “sticky-note-ninja“, a woman named Kate who works at Adaptive Path, a “user experience” company.
The podcast had a whole bunch of really interesting techniques of using Post-its to come to common themes and ideas when designing user interfaces. I think that the same idea can be used to quickly throw down a bunch of thoughts, and then organize them into common themes for further exploration for animation.
To try and see if I could use this technique to come up with a clear definition of “quality” for an animation shot, I went to the website Edistorm, and quickly threw together a bunch of “virtual post-it notes” that each had a single idea of what I thought of when I thought of a “quality” shot.
As you can see, there are just some random phrases in there like “rhythm”, “contrast”, “emotional”, etc. You can certainly expand on this and add a few more of your own, but you get the idea.
This in and of itself isn’t very exciting. What is exciting however is what happens next. We take each of these “post-it” notes and start arranging them into clusters. Pretty soon, you can start to see some patterns emerge.
We have grouped this random collection of thoughts about what adds quality to a shot into 3 sections. I’ll color them so we can see them a bit better:
On the left we have words like “focus”, “intent”, “funny”, “emotional” “connect with the audience”. To me, these all feel like acting and directing words.
On the right are things like “graphic”, “timing”, “arcs”, “polish”. These are animation terms.. technical and artistic things we do to make the movement look nice.
In the middle are words that I think can apply in both areas.. “contrast”, “entertaining”, “unique”. Really great acting has to be unique to the character, just as it’s important for the rhythm of each shot to feel unique and special. I kind of feel that these terms can be defined as over-arching themes for quality work… things I want to be thinking of while working on my two main areas of focus – acting and animation.
What interests me about this image is that even though I threw it together rather quickly, I can easily see that if I want to have a really great shot, I need to focus on both animation and acting. I know this seems basic and obvious. The thing is by doing this exercise with stickies I can give myself some concrete goals to focus on to MAKE my acting and animation better.
If someone says I need to work on the quality of the animation on my shot, I can look at these things specifically and say to myself “did I check my arcs? Is my timing off? What about the rhythm?” The same is true with acting: “Am I hitting the right emotion? Is the shot funny enough? Am I connecting with the audience?”
We’ve talked a little bit earlier how making beautiful animation can take time. Creating nice arcs, beautiful spacing with unique rhythm means that you’re going to have to take the time to finesse the heck out of the shot. There’s only so much you can do there to make this process go faster, so let’s take a look at the other side of the equation..Acting.
How do we make sure that the acting we’re working on is the best it can possibly be? There are two things we need to know in order to make sure we’re hitting the mark on this. The first thing we have to know is who the character is. We’ve got to understand as much about the character as possible in order to have a clear idea as to what they would do in any given situation. What was her relationship with her parents like? Does she have any sort of physical deformities? If your character was once attacked by a stapler when she was a child, how do you think she would handle walking through an office building? Does she think before reacting, or does she react and then think? Would this cause her to lead her movements with her head or with her heart? Is she open to new ideas? Closed? How would she hold her arms in social situations? Down at her side? Crossed? Hand on her hip? Does she bite her lip when she’s nervous, or pick her fingernails?
All of these things help clarify your character’s style of movement, the acting choices you might make, the way the character will react in a situation where they aren’t the main focus of the shot, the subtle shifts as another character leans in close for a kiss. Know these answers before you start animating, and you’ll have more confidence in your shots as thus your work will be stronger.
The other thing that is imperative and is probably the most important thing you can do is clarify the intent of the shot.
This… will be the topic of my next post.
In my previous post I talked a little about the challenge we all face when trying to decide whether to spend our energy on quantity of animation or quality. The conventional wisdom says that you can’t have both. Given a set time period, you can either get a few shots great, or a great number of shots good.
I mentioned a few techniques I used once I became a supervising animator to help me focus and get more quality animation done in a shorter amount of time. I wanted to get a little bit more into the details of this technique.
Think about the very next task I want to complete before I leave my desk.
Before getting up to go to a meeting, to lunch, to a tea break, or to the bathroom I would take a moment to think about the very next thing I wanted to do with my shot when I sat back down. I would try and make sure it was something that I could complete in 20 minutes or less like a really nice face pose, or a quick arm move, or map out the rhythm of the next 15 frames, or draw some thumbnails for the brow movement. Then I’d think about that thing and work out my plan while away from my desk so that when I sat back down I could jump right back into the swing of things.
The key to this is making sure that the task I’m thinking about is small. There are a few reasons for this. First, it’s easier to focus on something if it’s contained. Second, because I was forcing myself to think of a quick task, it would essentially be a simple task. This means I could sit down, complete it quickly, and then by the time I was ready to tackle a more complicated animation task I would already be in the flow of working on the shot.
Finally, the most important reason to do this was a psychological one. Knowing that I didn’t have a lot of time to work on my shots, I was already stressed out about getting them done on time. This stress, combined with the short time period to do the work and the knowledge that I wanted to produce work at the quality I did when I had double the time caused a mini mental crisis. I would look at all the work I had in front of me and freeze. Where could I start? By choosing a small and simple thing to do that I could check off I was giving myself a little mental “attaboy, shhlife! you did it!”. Simply marking one thing off my list made me feel less overwhelmed and I could tell that I was making progress.
This feeling was incredibly addictive. Every time I completed one task I felt more confident and more sure that I could actually get this shot done.
It was stupidly simple, but it really worked!
If you think about it from a GTD perspective, every task we have to do in life is like a little agreement you’re making with yourself. If you break that agreement, then you feel guilty and it pulls you down a little bit. It adds a bit of stress. Stress sucks.
For example, if you make an agreement with your friend that you’re going to meet them at the coffee shop and you’re on time, you feel good. If you’re 5 minutes late.. maybe you feel embarrassed. 30 minutes late and you start to feel bad. You forget to show up.. and oh man, do YOU feel crappy. You are a horrible friend. You don’t deserve nice people in your life. You feel like you totally let your friend down, and you wouldn’t be surprised if she never wanted to talk to you again.
All of these feelings are because you just reneged on your agreement.
When you’re animating a shot, in the back of your mind you’re making a little agreement with yourself that you’re going to get this shot done on time. If you look at the whole shot as a “I have to get this done!!” it can be quite stressful. However, if you break the shot down into small little tasks.. spend 5 minutes thumbnailing ideas, create 3 key storytelling poses, make a great hand pose, pose the start and end frame of this segment, then think about how the body movement should feel… these tasks are all small and can take only a few minutes. Finish them, and you’ve successfully completed an agreement with yourself.
It’s a very satisfying feeling knowing that you’re meeting your own agreements and promisses.
The important thing here is not the time that I had to work on the shots.. it’s the planning I was doing before I started working so I knew exactly what my task was. By making this plan, I always felt like I was making progress.. and feeling like I was making progress caused me to make even more progress.
When I had more than 20 minutes to work, I felt like I could really get a TON of work done. I mean, if I could complete one task in 20 minutes.. imagine what I could do in an hour! What if I had 2 hours to animate?
Holy crap, imagine all the meetings in a day are canceled and I can work all day.. I could FLY through my shots!
I know what some of you are thinking.. you’re thinking “that’s great if you know what to do, but what if you’re exploring? I don’t KNOW what kind of pose I want to do, or what my shot is supposed to be! ”
And that’s totally fine! Here’s the agreement you can make with yourself that will reduce your stress 10-fold. Agree that you will give yourself 3 hours at the start of every shot to explore ideas. Give yourself 10 minutes to write down the emotion that you want the character and the audience to feel. Give yourself 20 minutes to talk to another animator about it. Give yourself 1 hour to thumbnail (do you know how many thumbnails you can do in an hour?) . Give yourself 20 minutes to look at other shots of the character that other animators have done.
Those are incredibly small tasks that will really improve the quality of your shot because they will help you focus on what’s important..
and that is something I’ll get to in my next post.
I was sitting with some of the other animators at lunch the other day and the topic of “speed” came up. Not the drug, but the eternal challenge animators face between “quality” and “quantity”.
Most artists feel that it’s a see-saw.. we all want quality, which means it’s going to take time. If you want it faster, then the quality will have to drop.
This seems to make sense, as one of the trademark features of really great animation is attention to detail. Massaging those arcs, making sure there are no pops in the knees, double-checking eyelines, finger contacts, pushing the spacing until it feels just .. perfect.
I don’t think there’s a single animator out there who wants anything less. We all will take exactly as much time as we have to work on the shot until it’s literally wrestled from our hands and sent on to the departments down-stream.
There are obviously a lot more variables that go into the amount of time it takes to get a shot out the door.. there is the clarity of direction, whether or not the shot is ready, the software speed, bugs in the rigs, camera changes, dialogue adjustment, etc.. all of which are natural parts of the movie-making process. However, all of that stuff is out of our control. What we own.. what we work with day in and day out are the poses, the frames, the keys, the rhythm of the shot.
This passion for perfection.. that desire to make each and every frame the best possible frame it can be is what gets my blood pumping when I animate a shot I love. It’s what drives me when I see another animator produce something that just blows my mind. It’s what makes leaving on a friday night difficult because I can’t think of anything except what that next pose is going to be, and how would it look if I just broke the elbow for a frame as I cushioned into the next pose?
But the realities of production set in and we have to keep the shot moving, to get it going further down the pipeline. Those downstream artists are chomping at the bit to make the shot even sweeter, and that next shot is just sitting right over your shoulder, whispering into your ear, pulling at you..
When I became a supervising animator, one of my biggest fears was the fact that I knew I would have less time to animate. I was excited about working with the other animators, and knew I wanted to spend time focusing on that aspect of the job.. but I sure as hell didn’t want to make my shots worse. I still wanted to produce good work, and I still wanted to do a lot of work.
I found that I had only 4 or 5 hours a day to animate vs my usual 8 or 9. Literally half my time was devoted to dailies, reviews, meetings, rounds, and more. Some days I would only have an hour or two to animate. To top it all off, this was not a solid chunk of time, but sometimes only 30 minutes here and there spread throughout the day.
For those of you who animate on a day to day basis, you know that it can take 10 to 20 minutes of warming up each time you sit down to really get into the swing of things when you’re animating–especially when you’re dealing with a some complicated acting, or a technically challenging movement. If I had 30 minutes to animate, and 15 minutes was taken up getting back into the proper head space.. well, you can guess how much I’d be able to do.
I quickly found that I had to learn some way of handling this situation, otherwise I would never get any animation into the film.
I talked to a few animators to see what their tricks and techniques were. One of our Heads of Character Animation said that even though he only had an hour or two per day to animate, he thought about his animation all the time. He would be sitting in meetings and would be working out his shots in his head, so that when he got to his desk he knew exactly what he was going to try and accomplish the moment he touched the keyboard.
That made sense to me, so I tried that. I would picture my shot and try and get the whole thing in my head. Unfortunately, I found that focusing on my shot like that caused me to have trouble paying attention to the meetings I was in. I was distracted, because I couldn’t hold all that information and focus on the questions people were asking me.
So I tried something different. As I was getting up from my desk to head to a meeting I would think about the very next thing I wanted to accomplish in the shot. If it was a pose, a simple movement, a rhythm, whatever it was I would decide on a small chunk of animation that I felt I could accomplish in about 20 minutes. In-between meetings (and while the meetings were covering things that weren’t important to me), I would try and get that next idea clear. Because it was such a small chunk, I could “pause” my brain very easily when I had to focus on outside things, and then hop right back into working out my shot in my brain as soon as I could.
When I then got back to my desk I had a pretty clear sense of direction. Not only did I have a good idea of what I wanted to do, but I also found that I was able to jump back into my shot really quickly! I would sit down and within minutes would be back where I was when I left!
I then started experimenting with other techniques to keep me focused.. I stopped listening to music so nothing else was distracting me. I used my noise canceling headphones to keep out other distractions. I kept my thumbnails right next to my monitor and made checklists of things I wanted to do before my next meeting. I analyzed my workflow and tried to remove any other distractions that would take me away from my work (email, web surfing, etc). I found all of this really helped!
There’s one more thing that I tried that helped more than anything else…
and I’ll discuss that in my next blog post!
I’m really hoping that the community forum becomes a great hub for people to discuss the Animator Friendly Rigging series. If you’ve bought the dvds, please come chat about your experience using them! If you’re thinking about buying them, come ask questions!
Hope you’re all doing well, and I will see you in the forums!
I’ve added a post on how to fix the -labelAlign warning that some people have been getting with a few of the scripts in Maya 2011.
Check it out..
Howdy kids! Happy saturday!
I’ve upgraded the forum to now be using Vanilla Forums which I really like.. it’s fast, easy to use, and seems to suit my purposes quite nicely!
I’ve also been working behind the scenes a bit to simplify the site. You will be seeing some changes over the next few weeks.. hopefully it’ll make everything just easier to find and any issues people have will be easier to fix!
For some reason today I’m into typing a paragraph, then finish it with a single word exclamation. I’m not sure why. Must be because I’m hungry for lunch.
Anywhooo.. come check out the community forum! I’ve moved the downloads that were previously under a Downloads heading over to that thar community space.. enjoy it!
You can log in with Twitter, your google id, or just log in regularly. Fancy feast of awesomeness!
I think I’ll have a little time this week to update some stuff after work, and was thinking that it might be useful to update the Animator Friendly Rigging shelf.
My thought is that I would combine all four AFR shelves into one.. including all icons (in png format). The trick is.. it would check and see if you have the appropriate scripts installed before displaying the icon. Thus, only one shelf necessary to install!
Is it worth it? What do you think?
I’ve added a forum to the site in order to foster better communication between all the amazingly wonderful people who have purchased and/or used the Animator Friendly Rigging tools. I get a number of emails and questions about various tips, techniques, etc.. and I realized that there are probably lots of people interested in finding out the answers to these questions.
So I’m trying this new forum software.. it is relatively simple, but the nice thing is that you can log in with your standard facebook, twitter, openID, etc accounts. Cool!
Anyway, let’s give it a shot and see how well it works!
One of the things that people have asked me about over the years is why are there two different versions of the shelves in the Animator Friendly Rigging series. There’s an OSX version and a PC version. They also ask about whether or not there is a linux version.
The only version of Maya I personally own is the OSX version, so I’m unable to test the shelves on anything else.
It used to be the case that the icons on the Mac used to need to be in .iff format, while the pc versions had to be .bmp.
I think that with 2011, Maya allows for .png files for all of their icons, but I’m not positive. I’ve attached a zip file to this post that has the shelf for part 1 of the Animator Friendly Rigging series with new icons in .png format.
Would anyone be willing to download them and test to see if they work on Windows, and/or Linux?
Thanks very much, I appreciate it!
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