Archive for the ‘academic’ Category

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Art Education: The Dreyfus Model

Hello everyone I’m Taber, Vice President of Animation Resources. I’m going to be making a series of posts focused on the more academic side of artistic instruction and learning in general. This sort of information can be helpful to both teachers and students as you push yourself to improve and practice your discipline.

Preston Blair instruction

As a beginning artist it can often be difficult to objectively judge your own progress or the quality of your own work. Being able to place yourself in an accurate position of skillfulness can help you to recognize your past growth and current deficiencies so you can better target areas for improvement. But what if you can’t tell exactly what the differences are between your work and the work of more highly skilled artists?

The Dreyfus model focuses on work practices and approaches as a measure of skill acquisition. This can be helpful to both students and instructors as it tends to be entirely non-judgmental and easy to identify objectively. The model uses four qualities to determine work habits:

  • Recollection (non-situational or situational)
  • Recognition (decomposed or holistic)
  • Decision (analytical or intuitive)
  • Awareness (monitoring or absorbed)

These attributes stack one at a time to provide a framework for evaluation:

dreyfus_chart

(click image to enlarge)

For an accurate measurement, ask yourself these questions regarding the above attributes. Because some of these attributes can flip between a more advanced and a less advanced state, I recommend relying on the lower state. For an example if you were trying to decide if you are an intuitive decision maker, or a rational decision maker but you do both part of the time, put yourself down as rational as a rule of thumb.

  1. When you recall knowledge about the subject, is it always in a related context with other information, or is it sometimes rote memorization?
  2. While thinking about an aspect of the subject, can you clearly distinguish between relevant and irrelevant aspects of the work, or is it sometimes difficult to tell what’s important?
  3. When planning your own work, do you need to carefully and analytically lay out the steps beforehand or can you see the entire project as a whole task?
  4. When making decisions in your work, do you have to do any problem solving, or do the answers come to you intuitively, without effort most of the time?

Once you’ve answered these four questions, find the lowest tier which corresponds to your answers, even if you choose an attribute from a higher tier. Read the Needs column from the above chart and try to focus your learning on the types of practice listed in that section. Don’t cheat yourself by practicing projects which are too complex or unstructured! That sort of practice is really only for very highly skillful artists.

This system is similar to the surface to core concept illustrated by Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics which I highly recommend! In the book, McCloud describes how a person who is initially drawn to be a fan of an art-form must undertake a journey to the core of that medium before being able to master and thus give back to that medium.mccloud_understanding_comics

Additionally, this same artist’s journey from surface to core is echoed in much of the advice and instructional material given to artists throughout time, from Zim to Richard Williams. In essence, this is what an “old masters” approach is. This struggle is ultimately the best way to gain skill in an artistic medium, however it is difficult and it does take time.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” -Ira Glass

I have some personal theories about the types of artistic practice activities which benefit artists the most when trying to improve aspects of their work, and I’ll be talking about that next time!

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Thursday, August 4th, 2016

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

 

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Monday, August 1st, 2016

Art Education: Warming Up

An often overlooked aspect to your daily drawing exercise is the warm-up period. Athletes and musician both have standard warm-up activities which they engage in before each performance or practice session, but for some reason this type of thinking isn’t widely circulated among artists. If you struggle to begin a drawing session, don’t like the initial quality of your drawings, or are trying to establish a new Drawing Habit, then warming up is for you!

Choose Simple Drills

When deciding what sort of warm-up to do, make sure you don’t pick an activity which will take a great deal of effort and time. The point of warming up is to get your body and mind into gear so that you can effectively spend your efforts on a more important piece of work. Make sure that each drawing for your warm-up takes only as much as 2 minutes to complete before moving on to the next. In my suggestions below, several of my activities take under 10 seconds to perform.

Fill an entire page with 1 type of drill before moving on to another activity. If you spend your warm-up time rapidly jumping to different exercises, you’ll never truly get the benefit that repetition can give you. Instead, focus on doing 1 drill correctly and resist the temptation to let boredom drive you off too soon. While you certainly don’t have to do that same type of warm-up every day, you should have a small rotation of activities that you come back to frequently which represent your weaknesses.

Winsor McCay Little Nemo 1911

Practice Good Technique

There’s little point in practice if you don’t draw correctly. Very often students fall into the trap of repeatedly drawing the same things over and over in exactly the same way. This is the trap which produces the bulk fan-art websites’ content, and explains how someone can draw voraciously for years without ever improving. As a rule of thumb, you should be slightly uncomfortable when you practice good drawing technique unless you’ve already mastered it. After all, if you’re not comfortable, then you’re not changing the way you draw, in other words, you aren’t learning!

Set a Hard Limit

Make sure that your warm-up doesn’t take up all of your drawing time. The point is to get yourself going and to motivate you to begin your drawing session, but the longer your warm-up lasts, the less it functions as a warm-up. You can set a limit by using a timer, or setting yourself a goal of a certain number of drawings, or as I do, set the goal to be filling the page. Any finite limit will keep the warm-up short enough to do its job, while still forcing you to move on to your real drawing session once completed.

chuckjones_police_doodle

Suggested Warm-Ups

Remember that these are only suggestions, and that your skill level will vary from my own, and that of other artists. Ideally the activity you choose should be some minor but important aspect of your primary focus, and allow you to strengthen your understanding without becoming overly taxing.

warmups_st_line

Straight Lines

Being able to comfortably free-hand straight lines consistently is a core skill for any artist, but it’s particularly useful if you want to make quick perspective grids for storyboarding.

warmups_cu_lines

Curved Lines

This exercise will help build your confidence while drawing or inking. Make sure that the line is put down only one time, and with a clear, clean stroke.

warmups_circles

Circles

Circles are one of the most fundamental shapes which is used in the construction of characters, scenes and objects. Although you might think you can draw circles already, try to carefully control their size, position, and relationship to other elements on the page.

warmups_ellipses

Ellipses

By adding dimension to the circle, we can draw discs in 3D or play with the squash and stretch of a ball while trying to maintain its volume. Be precise and don’t settle for misshapen or crooked ellipses.

warmups_cylinders

Cylinders

By adding two ellipses together, you can create a 3D volume. Cylinders are a great way to practice some easy perspective drawing and also to play around with more exaggerated effects like fish-eye distortion.

warmups_form_tubes

Form Tubes

A great way to get a better handle on how ellipses move in space is to make some snake or slinky shaped tubes. This can be a big challenge depending on how you want to manipulate the appearance of depth.

warmups_3D_forms

3D Volumes

If you’re already comfortable with vanishing points and linear perspective, you could construct some cubic solids on your page in various positions within the same space. For added challenge try combining complicated volumes like spheres, wedges, cones, etc.

warmups_tumble

Tumbling Objects

Take any object which you can comfortably draw and rotate it slightly each time you draw it. Make sure that the sequence of your drawings can be viewed almost like a flip-book, or you could always animate the object as your warm-up.

warmups_gesture

Gesture Drawing

For those who are already fairly accomplished at drawing the human figure, doing simple fast gesture drawings can be a great way to get your arm moving and re-familiarize yourself with the body before you begin a drawing session. In the absence of a live model, there are online resources such as stock photography which you can use. If you want to try random gesture poses at your computer, I recommend quickposes.com.

warmups_draw25

Draw 25

If you aspire to be a concept artist, you may want to try this simple warm-up of drawing 20 variation of any object. This can help you to engage your imagination and test your knowledge of a given subject. For beginners I recommend having an image search handy for reference.

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