Beginning the Task
Last Semester’s WALK CYCLE, RUN CYCLE and BODY MECHANICS animations were challenging and rewarding, and I learned a lot in every stage of the process.
While there were areas in my animations that were a success, I also received a lot of constructive feedback for how to move forward with my 3D animation skills. I felt like I could have incorporated feedback and research more consistently throughout my blog and development for the last project, and I wanted this to be a large focus for myself going into this assignment.
What I did well:
- Poses and timing were overall solid, with nice followthrough and overlap on the arms.
- Strong facial animation to establish personality.
What I could do better:
- Weight – my character often swayed side-to-side too much and this felt clumsy.
- Fingers and thumb positioning felt slightly unnatural.
- More could be done with secondary animation on hair and clothes.
- Could look into animation layers on Maya so specific animations don’t feel overcrowded.
- Sometimes the character’s feet were not quite touching the ground when it should have been.
Knowing I wanted my outcome to be 3D doesn’t weaken my interest in looking at 2D studios for inspiration. In the first week of Semester 1, I attended the NI Screen one-week 2D pipeline course. During this week many studios visited, including Alt, JAM, Sixteen South, Dog Ears and Makematic.
All of these studios were grounded in the 12 animation principles (which JAM went into in one of their workshops) so I want to refer to these specifically in my animation. I read and studied Richard Williams’ Animator’s Survival Kit for my last animation project and will continue to apply that in this one.
I also looked beyond 2D into 3D-driven studios. GIANT Animation in Dublin are very appealing. I love their clear, contrasting poses that sell a very expressive personality. It’s smooth, but they’re not afraid to have slightly sharper movements where key frames are maybe closer together than usual. I think this creates a nice hybrid between 2D hand-drawn animation techniques and smooth 3D keyframe techniques. I would like to use this technique in some way for my key poses. This is kind of reminiscent of what Sony are doing – rather innovatively – in films like Spider-Verse.
I also took inspiration from international studios, such as Disney and Pixar – cliché but so helpful. The use of exaggerated and extreme poses creates for an engaging and emotional performance. These scenes from Turning Red really inspired me. The Azri rig is nowhere near as expressive as this, but I love the way the eyebrows move and also how the entire face moves to accommodate the lip sync. This makes it more visceral and intense.
My Audio & Gathering Reference
This is my chosen audio (1:49-2:02).
The character, portrayed by actress Rosario Dawson, is stoic, stern and inquisitive in this scene. This will be an interesting challenge to translate from live action into a more exaggerated Disney / GIANT style, where stoicism is not as common and the same emotion is often represented by more exaggerated expression and body movements. It’s a little longer than the 8-11 second range (13 secs), but I feel like I want to challenge myself with this audio. The fact it has 3 distinct line deliveries creates room for contrast and variety in my animation.
I took this audio and acted it out in a more exaggerated way for animation, which would later help out with my blockout.
Animation Study / Development
Book: Character Animation: 2D Skills for Better 3D.
Roberts outlines a thorough and helpful pipeline for approaching a dialogue scene, and it’s to look for mouth shapes in this order:
- Silent sounds (M, B, P, F, V)
- S sounds
- T and C sounds
Mouth shapes references:
Most words begin with a consonant and end with a vowel, i.e. the mouth opens more. And, generally, the more open, the louder the sound. So, this order is effectively searching for sounds in increasing noise level.
He also stresses the anatomical importance that the mouth can open and shut independently of the jaw, but to fully open, the jaw must be dropped.
All this being said, Roberts recommends leaving the mouth shapes themselves until later, and instead focusing on body movements and facial movements using Emphasis Points. Emphasis Points – often known as ‘Phrasing’ – are key words in the dialogue that require onset of a new facial position or action. He exemplifies in ‘Hello, how are you?” that the emphasis points would be at ‘hello..’ and ‘..how’.
Roberts states that for an aggressive character personality – which mine is – to execute these emphasis points 2-4 frames early, and to also move quick from pose-to-pose.
These emphasis points can also be classed into different kinds of expressional movements:
For my animation – using my audio – I have established the following emphasis points. All are negative and high intensity:
- “Your…” (Rejection)
- “Tell…” (Engagement)
- “..to know.” (Rejection)
- “Where…” (Engagement)
- “…your Master?!” (Engagement)
Also, I don’t think it’s an emphasis point in the way Roberts outlines, but I noticed that when Dawson says ‘bounty hunter’, the sound is quite a bit louder, and therefore the mouth shape to be more exaggerated in that moment to emphasise that.
Animating the Scene
Using these as key action markers/emphasis points, I animated this 2D blockout using Procreate. This was massively helpful in allowing me to think of dramatic key poses to work around. I put a red star on the extreme keys to know what to go to first in Maya.
The first 3D blockout (see below) worked well and I believe I managed to achieve the emotion and energy of my 2D key frames, but it was super interesting as I could really see some of the key differences that come with 3D and 2D here. First of all, faster, sharper movements with juxtaposing moments of stillness are required more in 3D – especially with the Azri rig – to avoid a ‘floaty’, game-like energy which is not what I am going for here. I find in 2D it feels stylised and rustic, whereas in 3D it can look lazy if unintentional.
I began with in-betweens and this was my next pass:
I like it, but something feels off. It’s too quick and I keep thinking about what Roberts said about the sound coming later. I decided to shift the key poses for the ‘”Your bounty hunter failed…” section forward about 8 frames and it resulted in a much more intentional and confident character. I think this made for a big improvement.
I showed it to my boss today in work to see if she picked up anything that felt unnatural – I knew because I’ve been staring at it for days my radar is maybe a little crowded… and she actually made a great point. In the “what I want to know” emphasis point she questioned why Azri makes two gestural movements with her arms in such a quick space of time. In my 2D blockout it was really meant to be an anticipation/action/reaction, but I think in my 3D polish stage it became more of an anticipation/action/action/reaction in a sense. I think this results in a lack of contrast between the squeeze-in/down and the opening of her arms. I updated this accordingly:
I next took the polish to Discord to ask some classmates and Alec for feedback.
Here’s what they said:
The key thing I seemed to hear back about was to do with what she’s looking at. People seemed to be confused at either the pointing moment and its sense of direction as well as the break just after the second and third line where she turns her head. I decided that this scene would be better approached as an eye roll-type gesture than a full body/head turn. Using my reference and sharp poses like Sony and GIANT, I implemented a revised version of this.
I also included secondary animation with the hair and clothes (I thought this would compliment the wind sound nicely to have it blowing). I used classic pendulum swing techniques that I picked up from the Berkeley Class. I believe this adds a great sense of drama and power to her posing as well as directional contrast with her head.
Bonus: Lighting and Editing the Scene
I wanted to go for a Samurai-style sunset that felt dramatic and powerful, that also made her silhouette and shape stand out.
I used a Sky Dome, two directional lights in complementary colours and some point lights to provide a full lighting setup, as well as some point lights and a sunset background.
See final links and portfolio files here.