Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Power of BLOBS!

As I have been helping the second year students get under way with their major projects for the year I have noticed a few struggling with certain aspects. Things to do with mass seem to be causing some issues, I think it because we are dealing with things in a more elaborate contexts, more elaborate movements, more character interaction and layouts with a more cinematic feel (perspective).

Now this represents quite an issue, if you are going to cut the mustard out there in the industry then you will need to be able to apply the techniques and principle we have explored in the first year of the course within any context.

In all of the cases I saw it was when the student was first drawing up the animation either at the light-box or with a tablet that I think they were struggling. Basically it was the challenge of drawing the action that was making the student work too messy, too stiff, or even balk at having a go because it just looked like it was going to be too hard.

So I thought some second years, and lets face it all of us from time to time, could do with having a look at whats important in a rough animation drawing and how you can come up with the right drawing for any moment if you set your priorities straight.

Generally speaking if there is a moment with your scene that you think you will struggle to draw it is because you are still thinking like an "illustrator". An illustrator first thought might often be," if I was to draw that thing there from this angle then what would it look like?" While an animator is mainly trying to answer, "were is the best place to draw this thing on this frame if I am going to capture the action or emotion?" In other words, "where dose everything go?" instead of," What dose everything look like?”

The resulting drawing is quite different, generally an animators drawing is about planning a pose. You have to be focusing on the action and pretty much no-one can concentrate on that and creating a "nice" illustration at the same time. Not that your frames shouldn't end up well illustrated if you are making traditional animation, its just that its a separate thing to consider later, and that the planning of the pose (the animation drawing) feeds the illustrative part of the process. So if you have some faith in the system and do things in the right order the "illustrations" may not be as intimidating as you expected by the time you get around to thinking about them.

Enter the mighty BLOB to save the day. Lets have a look at an example...

Click HERE to download a Quicktime version of the animation.
So a whole action outlined without a fancy illustration anywhere to be seen. Lets have a closer look at one frame.
What are we really looking at here? You have already watched the action so you're probably thinking its a man, but try to look beyond that. Its just a bunch of wobbly shapes arranged along a line of action. Its functional and it shows where all the bits go. When I draw like this I am hardly aware of the character design at all, I'm concentrating on movement, arcs, weight, energy and emotion. It only took a few seconds to draw so I'm not attached to it, I will happily come back and amend it later, but for now I'm concentrating on where things are, where they are going and why.

There are so many advantages to breaking up the drawing process this way, too many for me to go into in great detail here. But some of my favourites are. . . .

  1. That without all that distracting internal detail its easier to focus on what the characters entire mass is doing. When I look back at this test now, squint my eyes and focus on the overall shape I already see parts were I could add more up and down movement or sway the character more or less out to the side at different times. Students who start with an illustration in mind rarely stop to consider these big picture issues, they are simply lumped with the action the put down first time.

  2. Because it so much easier to imagine how a simple shape will change as it gets closer to us or further away animators who consider the simple shapes first are far more likely to use depth within their animation. Often if you see animation that is flattened out, moving along a two dimensional plane, its a give away that the animator works with a lot of detail in their animation drawings (illustrating).

  3. Foreshortening is another great way to add depth to a scene, but if the first though you have is how are you going to illustrate it then it can seem very intimidating. With simple blobs its so much easier, draw one blob, draw another blob in front of or overlapping with that blob and wala! Foreshortening.

  4. Speed! Sometimes the period of time before you actually get started with your animation, when you're thinking about what you are going to do, can be painfully long. Not that planning isn't very important, it just that students in particular have a slight tendency to get bogged down in it, perhaps again because the thought of actually putting the plan into action can be quite intimidating. Terry (one of our other teachers) has a great description for it, he calls it the paralysis of analysis. But its amazing to see how the flood gates can open when the student finally gets some animation down. Ideas start flowing and there is a point of reference for conversations with your teachers, directors, or pears. This system, working with rough shapes (a shorthand version of the character) can have you watching your animation in next to no time so the learning about movement can get under way.

Everyone's "shorthand version" is slightly different, that you draw it like Jason Ryan's stick man, or frosty the snow Man. What matters is what you are thinking about when you draw it. If there is anything that distracts you from the actual animation then you have to make a change. Animating believable movement encompasses an understanding of physics and the human perception or expectations of it. Its a bios topic to get your head around. Don't make your life harder (and animation poorer) by trying to focus on illustration at the same time.

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