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Animating A Fight

Down time. It’s what you get when you have a break between ads (isn’t that ironic?).

The by-product is you’re itching like a flea-ridden woolly jumper to do something that keeps you on your toes.

A little while ago when I had down time back in Brisbane and was hunting around with my itchy jumper on, I came across this series of videos from Animation Mentor called “Anatomy of a Fight”. I watched them all and found they were fascinating body mechanics to study.

I’ve loved UFC for a while now and always admired how they can create so much force with a strike. If it weren’t for the fact that I need my money makers (my hands), I would actually take up MMA as a hobby. But never fear! As an animator, we have a tool called the computer that will let you try out your hobbies risk free!

Well, RSI and obesity caused by a sedentary lifestyle aside, practically risk free. So why not save my hands in the short term and just punch something digitally?

SKETCHES

Per usual, I started my study with thumbnail sketches of fighters in action.

sketches_fighting

I was pretty happy with them. Fighters can be as graceful as dancers I found.

STRIKE

I decided to start with a punch or strike first as a test.

I found an elbow strike that I really liked from this video. I chose it because the camera was fairly still, the movement was quick and it looked like the striker wasn’t holding back too much in delivering force:

strike_post

Source: Youtube.

Using the lessons I’d learnt from the videos, I tried to convey the power in the reference while animating. I used the gorilla rig at work from the Vellfire ads to animate my strike along with the reference.

playblast_strike_plate

As you can see the animation follows the timing of the video but exaggerates the poses on some of the extremes for more impact. Like a lot of realistic animation, if you don’t wind up the poses and just follow the reference exactly, the animation feels quite vanilla.

You can see above that most of the exaggeration involved twisting the torso more and changing the angle of the shoulders.

And here’s how it looks from the front with my grease pencil notes.

playblast_strike_notes

I couldn’t see the feet so I assumed there could be a step for a weight change and made sure to capture the snap in the hips.

I never realised how important your core is for driving the slingshot movement of a hit until I watched that series of videos I mentioned earlier. Dr. Stuart Sumida said (basically) for punches:

Your arm isn’t actually where you get the most power. If you just used your arm to punch, you’d look like one of those kangaroo pens with boxing gloves. *Which are awesome in their own right. Hours of entertainment on a writing utensil? Yes please*. Nor is your shoulder the actual base of the power.

It all starts at the root of the chain. So if you can whip the root of the chain around first, your secondary links (your core, your shoulder, your fist) will also follow through like a whip, delivering more force for you to whip it good. *Dun na na na nah! Dum, pshh, dum, pshh.*

KICK

Then after that test I started thinking about kicks.

A great reference for kicks (or any fight sequence for that matter) can be found in the movies of the legendary Jackie Chan. This video not only explains how he achieves such perfect action-comedy fight sequences physically, but how he films them as well:

I decided to focus on finding a kick of Jackie’s that I like with an extra gorilla in there for the sake of showing impact and found this one:

wb_post_kick

Source: Youtube.

I liked it because it has the little hop before the kick where his screen left leg scrunches up and then POW! snaps out.’

Using this video reference I planned it out with thumbnails.

sketches_sidekick

Then I used the video ref to create help with the timing of the stepped blocking and came up with this:

wb_playblast_blockingkick

With a bit of re-timing and polish, I finished with this:

wb_playblast_kickpolish

Not perfect (even now I can see potential tweaks) but it was an exercise so I’ll forgive it.

Luckily my lead animator Chris was on hand to give me tips on the timing and how to make the impact of the screen-left gorilla hitting the wall jolt more realistically. Really throwing the head back and then jolting it forward two frames later makes the impact feel more intense. I did a bit of that on the legs too, making them have some rebounding action off the floor.

With the screen-right (SR) gorilla, it was hard to not make him feel too snappy when he extends that leg for the kick. I had to slow down the SR arm by a frame or two so that the spacing wasn’t too far and the arm didn’t whip back and forth like Willow Smith’s hair.

What Dr Sumida (roughly) said about kicks is also true:

wp_hiptorque

Guess when it comes to finding power in fighting you could TORQUE about hips all day huh? AHHHHHHH *badum tsshhh*.

SEQUENCE

I ended my experiments with fighting there but if I could keep going in my spare time, I would aim to do something like this:

https://gfycat.com/ifr/EverlastingLinearAtlanticsharpnosepuffer

This is one of Steve Weebly’s animated loops (you should totally check out his website for more).

They’ve been travelling around the internet so you may have seen this already but all of his animated loops are AWESOME.

I liked the choreography of the fights so much that I actually sent him an email to ask him how he does it.

To paraphrase his answer, he talked about scribbling down all the ideas he would like to see come to life in the sequence, selecting the ones that work best. Then once you pick the first move, it’s just a matter of figuring out how many of those actions you can fit in so that it finishes somewhat similarly to the first move. After that, animate away!

The whole method sounds like figuring out the steps to a dance (which could be a little complicated for Miss Naturally Clumsy of the Year over here). Yet the idea of trying out a whole sequence one day sounds really fun.

Hopefully someone else reading this might decide to try it too!

Happy animating!

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2016 Reel

This is my 2016 Creature Animation reel! Most of it was created at Alt.vfx with some external personal shots mixed in.

Please free to contact me in regards to my work via my ‘About’ page or the email provided.

Thanks for watching!

Croissants and Squirrels

In the beginning, the Food God (a talking cookie) created the hummus heavens and the eclair earth. And Food God said, “Let there be a buttery vessel that will teach Stephanie a lesson about animation!”, and there were croissants.

I’m assuming that’s how croissants were born because there must have been a divine God to create something so delicious AND wise at the same time.

Thanks for your creation talking cookie! You really helped me to improve this animation:

The lesson all began when I posted about improving your field in the art ecosystem by exploring other areas of influence. So two weekends ago, I decided to explore making croissants!

Now making croissants is no mean feat. It took me 2 days. 2 DAYS. From butter making love with dough to mouth = 2 days. It’s not that I read the recipe at the speed of rock, it’s that the layers of a croissant require butter to be folded into the dough and then left for an hour to rise. Then taken out of the fridge and rolled out, folded, left to rise, rolled out, folded, yada yada and so on for a total of 4 times.

The fatty moon ships of buttery gold that I made.

The fatty moon ships of buttery gold that I made. *Descends into gargling drool pit* – gluhhhghggh…

Where the croissants emphasised a lesson of value was in the rising. In the step where I put the pastry in the fridge to rise and do something else for an hour and come back, the pastry has changed. It’s risen. When I roll out the dough, I can start to see more layers of the butter than when I first began.

That butter must be rich because it's rolling in dough. HEY-OH! Double pun! Source: Girl +Food = Love.

That butter must be rich because it’s rolling in dough. HEY-OH! Double pun! Source: Girl +Food = Love.

Improving animation is sometimes like making croissants. In the time between when you think an animation is finished, and you go back to improve it once more, something has changed. YOU have changed. You’ve gone away from it, thought about Mario Kart/life, and come back to something completely different to the way you left it. Like the layers of butter being exposed in the pastry, suddenly the flaws in your animation rise to the surface and you can see what everyone was talking about when they said something could be improved.

Why does this happen? I think it’s because you stepped away from it and came back with a level of openess to viewing the whole piece, rather than focussing on the individual cogs that make up the machine.

Woah, that’s some Kum Ba Yah stuff I just said right there.

Even Richard Williams says he viewed his work differently after he finished his film The Little Island (1958):

“Three years later, when I’d finished the film, the unpleasant realisation slowly crept up on me that I really didn’t know  very much about animation articulation, that is, how to move the stuff.” The Animator’s Survival Kit: Expanded Edition 2009, p1.

That’s what happened to my Tailor animation. About a year ago, I handed in this jumping ball with a tail thinking that I’d done a great job. Yet I was left with the advice that I should track the tip of the tail to improve it. I didn’t see the point.

A year later, I viewed it back and instantly could see that something was off. I tracked the tail as I’d been advised and voila! I could see the problems with my haphazard motion path:

Tracking the tip of the tail shows a jagged motion path.

Tracking the tip of the tail shows a jagged motion path.

To fix it, I needed a bit more study of tails. So I watched the squirrel tails in the scenes from The Sword in the Stone (Reitherman, 1963). I watched a squirrel’s tail at rest. I watched a squirrel reach victory in an obstacle course:

What I learnt about squirrels is that they can move ridiculously fast. They dart around, a bit like birds. That’s why it makes sense when Hammy the squirrel drinks an energy drink in Over the Hedge (Kirkpatrick & Johnson, 2006) which makes him runs so fast that he sees the world stand still. That’s why Scrat in Ice Age (Wedge & Saldanha, 2002) can hop up and down in just 3-4 frames and it doesn’t phase the audience.

SQUIRRELS. ARE. FAST.

So I did a test at work one day with a new Squirrel rig and made my squirrel bounce fast and low like a real squirrel:

 

The other thing I realised is that if the squirrel is moving fast (and it’s not actively controlling the tail), then it doesn’t look right if the tail moves in huge, glorious arcs. If it’s moving low and fast, the tail is more likely to stream out behind it in a small wave path. Bigger tail arcs are for bigger and slower jumps.

BIG TAIL ARCS = slow.

SMALL TAIL ARCS = fast.

It sounds obvious, but I totally didn’t get that before. This time with the new animation, I made sure to plan the arcs of the tail (using the Blue Pencil Maya plugin) so that the tail movement fit the body:

The new arcs are much smoother and prettier!

The new arcs are much smoother and prettier!

If you want a breakdown of how I animated the squirrel, it was the main body control first, then spine, head, mouth, ears and finally the tail. When animating the tail, I tried to copy/paste the curves of the first joint down onto the second joint, but the result was a big wave that wasn’t even following the arcs that I wanted, so I pretty much tweaked the whole tail as one once the key poses were in. This is what it looked like in the end:

Thanks to stepping away from the animation and coming back, I think the results are much more satisfying than my previous attempt. Maybe a month from now, I’ll see even more areas for improvement.

In short, if you have a shot that you think is polished and you can’t see anything wrong with it, give it time. Move on to something else, grab a croissant and come back when you can view your piece like new. Maybe something will reveal itself as an area to fix. Then you can grab another croissant and get to work!

Bon appétit!

Animation food!

Animation food!

How I Animate a Lie

For my final assignment at Animation Mentor (aww!) I was tasked to pick a 10 second piece of dialogue to animate to. After rifling through various movies, how could I go past the brilliant young Saoirse Ronan in this scene of Atonement?

It’s a SUPER subtle scene (*background context provided below) that has everything you could ask for in a character performance: hesitation, conviction and also – A LIE.

Ughhhhh. That’s the sound I made when I delved deeper and discovered how hard it is to create a good lying reference.

As with all assignments at Animation Mentor, it’s crucial that you have video reference of yourself or others acting out what you want your animated character to do in the scene. For my character Briony (Ronan), I had to put myself in her shoes and think what she would think while trying to convey deception.

“No duh Stephanie, that’s acting 101. What’s so hard about that?”

The tricky part was this: you can’t be too good at lying.

After my first attempt at lying:

– the feedback I received from my mentor Erik was that the body language looked nervous but too convincing. If you want to show deception, you have to let slip hints of the truth.

The ultimate question you have to ask yourself is:

How good of a liar is your character? Will they give it away very easily or can they hide the truth pretty well?”

Lie_ranking

If I had to set it on a lying capability scale from 1-10 (1 being Cindy Brady who can never hide the truth and 10 being the sly deceiver Hannibal Lecter) I would say my character should be about a 6. She’s a doubtful ten-year-old girl who is hovering between believing the lie and confessing the truth. She can look the person in the eye while lying but at some point she’s going to give the game away with a few pieces of hesitant body language.

So to gather a better video reference, I had to study the shifty body language that gives the game away, commonly called “tells”. This was weirdly fun and interesting to do. Think of watching videos of poker players who bluff their way through high stakes and President Bill Clinton shifting in his chair when questioned about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

There are also various videos (eg. How to Read Hands) and writings (eg. I Can Read You Like a Book by Gregory Hartley) analysing what certain gestures or expressions mean. These interpretations were fascinating to study but also conflicting depending on the source, so I took any analysis with a grain of salt and tried to be merely an observer of body language.

What my research led me to conclude was that everyone deceives differently and I don’t think there’s a definitive guide to lying. Sorry Samuel L Jackson, but when you look left I don’t believe it ALWAYS means you’re lying.

However I do believe some deceptive behaviours can be repeated amongst different people, like this picture shows here:

524dc7abe691b226d3c4428d_736

Source: LittleFun.org

I found the best thing to do when researching lies is to watch a variety of lies in progress and pick some behaviour that a liar exhibits which you can replicate. I liked the idea of my character shifting her body weight, rubbing her hands and darting her eyes around.

With a bit more knowledge in mind, I set about to re-record video reference. And man oh man, did I live in front of a camera:

The reason I have so many pieces of reference is because when I was on camera, it was hard to remember all the details I’d planned for the action, like wringing my hands while shifting my eyes and frowning. Compartmentalising the actions of my hands and face helped me to overlap them later, even if I didn’t use every piece of reference in the end.

Once the action was roughed out in my animation, the main piece of advice I kept receiving was: “Contain the action.”

Huh? CONTAIN the action??? What the heck does that mean?! As far as I know, when you want to show off your animation chops, you create big, broad pieces of action that loop-de-loop all over the screen like this:

Lie_loopdeloop

Doing subtle performances where your main focus is the face is the complete opposite of what I’d been encouraged to do previously. In short:

Big actions = comforting.

Subtle actions = TERRIFYING.

However, Erik was right. You can hear in her voice that she doesn’t need to prance around like a unicorn and you can see from the original film performance that Briony is almost completely still in her chair. If she had sounded more nervous, I might make her move around a little more, but minimalism was what this piece required, so no muss, no fuss.

And there it is! As you can see she began by moving around a little too much in the early stages but I eventually stripped it back at the polishing stage. I still have some more passes to get through to refine the action further, but at least I now know that when you animate a lie you should:

  1. Determine how good the character is at lying.
  2. Research different lies and pick behaviours your character could exhibit.
  3. Compartmentalise your reference if it’s difficult to act out all at once.
  4. Strip back the action if it doesn’t suit the dialogue.

P.S. If anyone else has ideas for improvement with my animation or tips about lying, please feel free to comment! It’s always very much appreciated :D.

 

*SPOILER SIDE NOTE: This is a scene where 10-year-old Briony is testifying that she saw the groundskeeper Robby (James McAvoy) rape her cousin. However she never saw Robby’s face, she has just misjudged his character and assumed it was him.

Raising the Dead: AKA Me

Source Image: Tumblr

I’m back on the grid! Like Mushu here, I’ve risen up from the dead to freshen up my blog with the news and the olds.

 

What’s old?

  1. I finished Term 3 of Animation Mentor in March under Scott Lemmer (DreamWorks). He was (and still is) briliant.

 

What’s new?

  1. I have begun Term 4 of Animation Mentor under Erik Morgansen (Industrial Light and Magic) *screams excitedly*.

 

Other than that, all I can say is that I’m here to stay. Stay tuned for more updates!

 

Playful Poses

Sloan Play Poses

 

These are my final poses incorporating quadrupeds at play.

It’s inspired by this great video I found of two dogs playing but which I now can’t remember the name of. My brain is doing that whole “I might have Alzheimer’s, but at least I don’t have Alzheimer’s” thing. I’ve tried to bribe my brain with chocolate in exchange for the memory of the name but alas, no luck.

Stephanie_Tomoana_sloan03_v01

This is my initial version of the playful poses. The great thing was there wern’t too many changes! Basically the critique was to bring the screen left dog’s head down and push his legs back. With the screen right dog, it was more about adjusting the front legs and finding the right interaction with the other dog.

I’m pretty happy with it! Hooray for satisfaction!

 

Move it!

Eeeeekkk! Get away from me!

Eeeeekkk! Get away from me!

Yeah, I didn’t know dogs pull carts with weights either. I thought that service was purely limited to horses or that Strongest Man competition but nope, it’s a whole sport called Weight Pulling. The things you learn, right?!

These are my final poses with the rig Sloan that incorporate movement. My first version looked like this:

Stephanie_Tomoana_sloan_movement_v01

 

Critique: (Shying away pose) Dogs don’t draw their front paws under them. That’s a human thing. Dogs put their paws in front of them. So revise those paws and the line of action to curve up.

(Weight pulling) The cords to the cart aren’t making sense visually as to where they’re connecting (due to the fact I left a strap out on the harness). Move the cords up to strenthen the line of action of the body and move the hips up. Tilt up his nose as he looks sad and make that very front paw reach for the ground to add strain.

The result of the changed poses is much better, even if the shying away pose looks quite horsey :D.

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