Animation – Assessment 2 – Advanced Bouncing Character – Planning and Research

I am beginning to think about the mid-semester assessment to create a bouncing character. I need to choose one of the these 3 emotions-
1/ Happy
2/ Sad
3/ Excited/ Hyper
In the absence of any real ideas at this stage, I decide that I will grab the rig and start to have a play with it – see what controls it has and see if any ideas come to me. I figure that before I start drawing my rough sketches, I need to understand the capabilities of the character (rig).
The rig is fun to use and I do a similar ‘ball’ style bounce to the one we have done in class. I notice that its mass is more fluid than just a ball as it has a waist that can also be animated.
One of the specific criteria for the assignment is to show follow-through and squash and stretch. No problems with squash and stretch, as that is pretty simple to understand. I do decide however that it might be useful to find a clear definition of follow-through and explore it further as an animation principle.
So where better to find some notes on follow-through than ‘The illusion of life’ – the Disney animation Bible.
On follow through and overlapping action, Thomas and Johnson seem to suggest 5 main categories (1981). A couple of these don’t apply to my project because they specifically refer to the characters appendages of which my character has none.

However, there are 2 categories which are totally relevant –
• Category 2 –  which can be summarized by saying that a character does not move all at once – when one part arrives at a stopping point others are still in movement. (1981)
• Category 3 –  “the loose flesh on a figure… will move at a slower speed than the skeletal parts…it gives a looseness and solidity to a figure that is vital to the feeling of life.” (1981)

This has solidified my idea of what follow-through is and its purpose in animation.
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I find some inspiration in the half-filled flour sack drawings from Disney.
Their purpose is “proof that attitudes can be achieved with the simplest of shapes.” (1981)
The one that took my eye is this ‘joy’ illustration –
Joy
(1981) p49
I love the arch in the back, the twist of the lower body and the simple shadow that implies the feeling of being off the ground. In fact, it is the only one of the 15 emotion drawings that even has a shadow, which proves that the shadow has a specific purpose in this case.
Seeing such clear attitude in a form that is similar to the one I will be working with has made up my mind to go with the ‘happy’ theme.
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I have been refining the test bounce I was working on earlier. The weight shift and follow-through direction is not right yet but its just an early test-

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I have had a new thought relating back to the ‘joy’ illustration. I have decided that the ‘kicking out of the heels’ is one of the keys to the success of this picture. It made me think of the Toyota ‘Oh, what a feeling’ line and the people in the TVC kicking out their heels in a similar way.
I now have a clearer picture of how to express happiness in this very short animation so I grab a  pencil and start sketching it, this is what I come up with –
ActionSketch
The staging becomes important – in side view, the viewer would not be able to see the characters ‘feet’ kicking out to the side. So to properly express the action I decide on a low, wide-angle camera to re-enforce receding perspective i.e the character will appear very small when he enters the frame and much larger as he gets toward us. The character will enter view from behind a ‘rolling hill’ vanishing point, bounce toward the camera and dramatically leave the frame top left, hopefully leaving us with a feeling that he just hopped over our left shoulder.
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Using my drawing above as the reference, I build some simple geometry for the background. Then I created a new shot camera and established a camera angle that would best show off the swinging movement and add drama to the scene. For the reason discussed above, I use a very wide angle lens – 18mm in fact. Now I locked the camera’s attributes – kind of like locking the tripod 🙂 I keep this ‘shot cam’ open and begin animating in the side ortho view.
Another thing aided me in creating the animation arcs that I wanted to was to draw the arcs using nurbs curves. This helped me create the entry and exit points exactly where I wanted them and establish arcs that were exciting and visually pleasing.
Then I start to block in the key poses at the top and bottom of the arcs. At this stage I am just in stepped tangents- this is my block pass –

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I have been looking for more reference for exactly how the ‘follow through’ would work on a character this blobby. I decide to take a look at Kung Fu Panda and its a big help. I put together some slow-motion video reference and watching it on loop I realize just how much secondary motion and overlapping action they use to emphasize how fat he is. I wont show the reference I made on here because I am afraid of copyright but lets just say there are lots of action like this that are invaluable-
KungFuPanda
Kung Fu Panda 2, Dreamworks, 2011
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So after studying panda, I move back into maya, select all my tangents and flatten them. This frees me up to really start to add those jelly-like movements.
At this stage I get a bit frustrated, I have to admit to spending way too long on it now and it is starting to drive me a bit crazy! The essence of what I am trying to do is give it the feel of something really squishy and am trying to use follow through to indicate this.
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After week 7 class, feeling a little more clued up as to how to go about ‘polishing’ animation. I have gone through and changed timing on a few things and cleaned up the curves.
As I have put in my week 7 process diary post, there is something to be said for a bit of patience and working with one control at a time. I make sure all the curves in the graph editor are smoothed and the tangents are all balanced. Sometimes this means deleting a keyframe and seeing what change this makes to the timing. Here is my final result-

Summary – This was a really good learning experience. I am not entirely happy with this end result but I would need to go right back to scratch and re-think it to improve it and its time to move on to the next thing.
Now that my eye is improving, I can see that this animation is just over-engineered. There are too many movements without one solid idea and it just looks too messy. I took a cleaner approach with the weight lift girl animation and I think that end result is much more fluid and correct. I have discovered that simple forms can be more difficult to animate as there are less possible ways to show personality.

References
Thomas, F & Johnson, O 1981. The Illusion of Life. 2nd ed. New York: Walt Disney Productions.

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