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?
Per usual, I started my study with thumbnail sketches of fighters in action.
I was pretty happy with them. Fighters can be as graceful as dancers I found.
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:
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.
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.
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.*
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:
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.
Then I used the video ref to create help with the timing of the stepped blocking and came up with this:
With a bit of re-timing and polish, I finished with this:
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:
Guess when it comes to finding power in fighting you could TORQUE about hips all day huh? AHHHHHHH *badum tsshhh*.
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:
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!