Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Instruction: Animation Reference

Muybridge_race_horse_gallop

Muybridge – Horse Gallop

Today I’m going to be showing everyone my planning process for using photographic reference to plan and execute a naturalistic horse run cycle. This process has been used by generations of artists to help analyse and capture the motion patterns of real-world objects and creatures. This type of study is invaluable for building an internal “motion library” in your mind, so that when you have to make guesses about how something impossible might move, those guesses can be as educated as possible. For the beginning animator, doing motion analysis can also help give a stronger sense of what motion details matter, and which are best to remove to get an optimal stylistic motion.

First up, here is the finished animation: Horse_gallop

In a complex cycle like a horse gallop, there are many things to understand, and without experience animating similar creatures it would be difficult to plan ahead for this animation considering that we have so much to keep track of.

Get Video Reference

If you can film your own reference, then that’s a great first step, but if you can’t, the first place I search is the BBC Motion Library at Getty Images. This collection has thousands of real-time and slow-motion shots of sports, nature, vehicles, and much more. It’s free to view and download, which is ideal as we will need to carefully go through our shot frame by frame in order to analyse it.

Here is the shot I used for reference. As stated above, it’s free to download (non-commercial use of course) by right clicking the clip and choosing Save as.

A few notes about the shot:

  • It is playing in real-time, not slow motion, so we can use it for timing information
  • The shot isn’t stabilized, so we can’t use it to track body parts necessarily
  • The whole body is visible, including the feet as they touch the ground
  • The speed of the run is relatively stable for a few seconds, ideal for a cycle

Use A Frame by Frame Video Software

Next we need to be able to see each frame of the video one at a time. You can do this by importing the footage into any video editing software if you  have it. I prefer to use a much simpler method by opening it in QuickTime.

quicktime

QuickTime interface

To my knowledge, QuickTime is the only freely available video software which allows you to step through a video one frame at a time (using the left and right arrow keys). Many others allow you to skip several frames, but none that I’ve found allow this level of precision. Another benefit of this software shown above, is the ability to switch the timecode to frames, so we can easily count and locate keyframes in our action.

Before using the shot for any timing information, you’ll need to know the frame rate of the video. I figure this out by going to 1 second in the timecode, the switching to frames to see how many have elapsed. This shot is in a standard 25fps for european PAL broadcast. This will effect our conversion to our frame rate. In my case, I’ll be animating at 24fps (see the conversion math later on at the bottom of my Xsheet).

Get Additional Reference

Although we could use a single source of reference, it’s better to have several similar sources to draw from, and the plates from Edward Muybridge’s animal studies have been a source of inspiration to animators for a century. We have an extensive library of Muybridge here. These images (shown at top) are invaluable because they show a flat sideways perspective of a horse galloping with extracted frames to display the entire cycle of motion. The only problem with this is that we don’t know how fast it should be moving, a problem we’ve already addressed with our video reference.

Here is a playback of the muybridge_horse set to a realistic 40fps.

By comparing the frames to our video, I determined that the approximate speed of the original Muybridge shot was a brisk 40fps. I also adjusted the frames to stabilize the ground, put vertical and horizontal lines in to help track key parts of the body, and finally tracked each hoof with a colored ball. All of this information provides almost everything we need to put together our plan.

Horse Gaits

basicsGaitsGallopR or basicsGaitsGallopL

The last bit of information we need is an understanding of the pattern we hope to find and reproduce. This information I found easily on an equestrian website, along with footfall patterns of all the primary horse locomotion speeds.

muybridge_tracking

Path of feet shown in color code through cycle duration.

Record Observations and Refine

Finally we are ready to utilize all of this information into a formal plan for animating our horse. By stepping through the video and referring to the Muybridge plates, I record all of the pertinent information I can onto an Xsheet.

xsheet3D_Horse_Gallop-1

Modified Xsheet for planning CG animation

By examining the sheet above, you can see that I’ve sought out the most important aspects of the motion and spaced them out in time so that they flow fluidly. Here is a list of the things you should look for before continuing:

  • Key Frames – These should be the most informational single images for the action, without which, none of the remaining actions can possibly hope to illustrate the action properly. In my case, I chose the Squashed mid-air position, and the Stretched leaping position of the horse.
  • Extremes -The foot contacts must all be present, as well as the maximum and minimum vertical positions of the chest and flank.
  • Breakdowns – Wherever necessary, plan for the passing or half-way positions of body parts and poses, so you do not miss the nuance of the motion pattern.
  • Small patterns– Note the path and notes about the head, these patterns are important and shouldn’t be missed. Make notes of any details you might easily forget later.

For one reason or another, the use of Xsheets has never fully translated over to computer animation, which I think is a major loss. Although these sheets were originally used to plan for the exposure of cell levels in traditional animation, they can find a valuable second life in helping to plan body part motions and musical timing.

Execute Plan

With all of this preparatory work, the only thing left to do is to use this roadmap to complete your animation. By this point, you should have such a solid idea of what your animation is going to look like, that the actual work of animation is almost an afterthought. In The Illusion of Life, as well as The Animator’s Survival Kit, the authors tell stories of their lengthy and strenuous planning procedures, and how once planned out, an animation scene was practically complete before pencil ever touched page. This method allows you to keep a solid focus on your scene even between work sessions, and frees you to focus on the details without becoming lost in the larger patterns of motion.

 


 

Taber Dunipace
Director of Membership
tdunipace@animationresources.org

 

Friday, May 1st, 2015

MEMBERS ONLY: Last Call For The Current RefPack

Calling All Animation Resources Members! This is the last call for members to download the current Reference Pack. The H. M. Bateman E-Book, the Jugend Bonus E-Book, the Tuberculosis Industrial Film and the Cereal Commercials Reel will be replaced with a new Reference Pack the first week in May. Don’t wait. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

http://animationresources.org/membersonly/

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Art Education: Your Practice Habit

While practicing your craft you may find yourself wanting to devote time to practice, but finding either little available time, or a lack of motivation to begin work. Commonly, many artists will wait for inspiration to strike before they begin working, and then will feverishly work for hours on end while the inspiration lasts. Later these same artists many times leave their work unfinished, forever waiting for their fickle inspiration to return. Others are frequently paralyzed by indecision as they wrestle to find the right idea to work on in the right way. Even productive artists can suffer from their habits, working themselves sick by missing out on sleep and meals.

If these scenarios describe the way you work, then what you need is to form your own Practice Habit. Consider the many daily activities you do without any prompting: eating meals, brushing your teeth, watching a show, etc. For almost all of us, our daily lives are filled with activities which we perform at the same time in the same way every day, which we no longer even think about. We want your artistic practice to be one of these automatic activities (or at least we want starting practice to be automatic, not the work itself).

The Habit Loop

The_Habit_Loop

The core loop of habits

We can use certain psychological tricks to establish and reinforce behaviors until the become second nature. Doing this takes time and discipline, but once established, makes work pleasant and regular. I have experimented on both myself and on students in using this method and have had much success altering our habits for the better over a period of about a month before the habit was solidified.

It’s important to note that replacing an established habit with a new one is much harder to do than institute a fresh habit without competing. Therefore starting this process immediately following a vacation or the end of a school quarter is particularly effective. Additionally, any disruption of your routine which lasts more than a week may destroy your current habits and force you to establish new ones.

Cue

Firstly, you need a signal to activate your habit. This can be as simple as an alarm on your phone or computer, or you can piggy-back on an existing cue such as the end of work, class or a meal. Make sure that the cue is unavoidable and clear so that you don’t accidentally miss it.

Routine

This is your actual practice. You should set up your work space and materials in the same way, preferably in the same place every time you begin work. As we’ll see, the work itself shouldn’t be exactly the same day to do lest you risk artistic stagnation, but the circumstances under which you work should be as consistent as possible to reinforce  your habit and reduce distraction.

Reward

This is the positive feeling or result of having worked. You can also use a material reward on yourself if you find it necessary such as a snack or a game. With artistic work, this is usually not needed because the work process itself is quite rewarding on its own.

Be Consistent

We want to create a daily artistic practice, meaning that if at all possible, you should pick a time to work which is available seven days a week, every day of the month. Because of work and family obligations, working on your art everyday may not be possible. Obviously we want to skip as few days at possible, but if you must skip a day, try to make it the same day every week or try to pattern the days to skip the fewest number of consecutive days. The worst case scenario which will still work for establishing an art habit, is to work on your art every other day.

Weekly_Planning

Take the time of day into consideration as well. Most people have a particular time of day which is best for working, so try to think hard before choosing your’s. In the past when you’ve worked on your art and felt good about it, was it early in the day? Was it immediately after lunch? Late at night? Whenever it is for you, try to make that time your work time.

Similarly, you should pick a work space which is consistent as well. Being in the same place will help to reinforce your habit by making the physical location a part of the routine. Try to pick a place which is always available to you and free from distraction.

Plan to Begin

The goal for habit forming is to start working. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if you then proceed to work for an hour or for 10 minutes, the important thing is to establish a time to begin working and allow for time to continue if you feel like it (in my experience, most artists will happily continue working, but starting work is the hard part).

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Why shouldn’t I plan to work for a few hours?” Forcing yourself to work, although necessary in a professional environment, is not what we should do for our personal practice, and the reason why has to do with the Reward step in the Habit Loop.

Imagine that you begin work and can’t do anything right that day. You try and fail, and force yourself to keep going for the whole duration of your planned time. You feel awful right up to the end of the session and exasperated, quit when the allotted time is up, happy to be done with it. How will you feel the next day when you have to sit down to start work again? Do you think those negative feelings might influence your attitude when you start working the next day? For me, and for many of my students, it does, which is why I never recommend forcing a set duration of work.

Instead, I recommend planning a start time only, providing available time to work in if it happens that day. The benefit of this is a lower amount of pressure daily and permission to fail to work on a given day without heaping guilt on yourself. So you didn’t get anything worth while done today? So what? You worked yesterday and you’ll work again tomorrow due to the daily component of your practice habit. Consistency is very freeing, as it ensures that regular progress takes place, while providing forgiveness for work lulls.

Don’t Distract Yourself!

Remember that the purpose of this time is for personal work only. This means don’t turn on the TV or Netflix, don’t listen to podcasts, don’t start an hour-long phone call while working. Concentrate on only your art. As stated in Richard Williams’ “The Animator’s Survival Kit” this advice alone has the power to radically increase your productivity.

milt_kahl_richard_williams

Milt Kahl on working while listening to music.

The compound problem with working while distracted is that we’re trying to establish a practice habit. This means that if you establish a habit of working while watching Netflix, you will always need to work while watching Netflix! Don’t make a distraction a part of your habit.

If you’re working at home or in a school lab, set yourself up for success by letting people around you know to leave you alone at this time. Turn off your phone if you have to. Sequester yourself in your locked room if you must. Do whatever it takes to get time with just you and your art, you wont regret it.

Use Motivation Tricks

Get others to monitor your progress. If you promise your friends and family to show them your work daily, then you must have work to show daily. This little trap can make it a lot more important to you to work consistently than working alone.

Work near other artists (or at least in parallel). If you can arrange it, have someone else establish a practice habit at the same time you do. You don’t have to work in the same room, but you should frequently check in on the other’s progress. There’s nothing wrong with a little competition.

Keep track of the amount of work you’ve produced. This is very simple, whenever you finish an animation, or painting, or page of drawings, add 1 to the total you’ve completed and keep the total number visible. Human beings love watching numbers tick upward, and this tiny effort can have a noticeable impact on your throughput (especially when combined with the previous method).

Set a numeric goal for your work. Anything will do, such as 100 drawings, or 50 seconds of animation, etc. A medium to short term goal is a great way to push your work forward and keep the wheels of progress turning.

Finally, remember to set small goals which you can maintain. When you realize that your previous goal has become second nature, set another small goal which builds on your first. If you are able to incrementally ratchet your work upward by small degrees, you’ll find that before too long, you’re much more productive than you were before.