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Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Animation Workflow

[Instead of having you guys wait until I fix my stupid computer and post the whole thing, here's what I had so far and the moment I get more I'll post it]

My workflow

First, I obviously think about what I want to do. A clip I wanted to do for grading examples was a guy crawling on the ground or climbing up a hill, so I could show details in terms of hands and fingers and physical strain reflected in his facial performance as well as how the environment gets affected by his crawling around and vice versa.
So for this demo I started with that idea and thought about adding sound so I can really nerd out and use all the sound cues to my advantage. Going through my audio library (which is getting bigger and bigger - you can find a good audio piece in most movies, start building a library yourself), I wanted an action piece with lots of sound and little bit of dialogue/monologue.
I wanted to do animate something like that for a while so I already had recordings from "Saving Private Ryan". Famous movie, so you can't pick obvious and well known parts from the movie. I just wanted firing and shooting and screaming, which "Ryan" has plenty of and I'd hope wouldn't work against me (like picking "Choose the red or blue pill" thingie from "The Matrix" - THAT will work against you because it's so well known, you will fight against people's preconceived ideas and memories of that movie and the actors in that scene). I also wanted to include that sweet spaceship model we saw in class (from your rig library). That would also help me changing the setting a bit. I don't want to make the characters and the set look like what they are in the movie, so no WWII stuff. I love sci-fi, so something futuristic look-wise will do and I can use the said space ship. Yes, I get into Starship Troopers territory, so I need to avoid that look as well.
What I also like to do is to re-edit the audio. Most of the times I cut and paste things together, to further distance myself from the original and because I also have the freedom to do so. Exploit that freedom as a student or when you do your own animation at home. Once you are in a work environment, you’re stuck with the audio, the frame range, the live-action background plate, etc. etc.
So I went through my "Ryan" clips and was looking for something short so that I can polish it and have it ready for you guys in a timely fashion. I found one with lots of shooting and screaming. I listened to it over and over and picked out a few things I could combine. There's something at the end where you can hear a faint screaming and before that, maybe a spitting? I couldn't remember what it is in the movie so I checked, which you should do anyway. If you find a piece of audio online, always check from which movie it is. If you happen to have the same ideas as the director and your shot/sequence looks like the one in the movie, people will think you just ripped it off, you're unoriginal, etc.

As you can see, it's a blow on the mirror, not a spit. Now, given the sound and words, it dictates a bit your surrounding, meaning that the clip will include shooting, screaming, probably a war type setting, etc. You could have guys playing a war type video game or something more creative and technically that’s what I should do, but I always wanted to a war scene a la Starship Troopers, so here’s my chance. 
What I had in mind is a guy crawling on his belly towards his military objective, trying not to get shot with all those bullets flying around. There’s a close-to-camera-ricochet sound and I wanted it to be a shot to the ground close to him, spilling up dirt and stones and have that hit his face (maybe he
even gets wounded a little bit). So with all that in his face he spits out the dirt/blood and continues crawling forward. Then more shot impacts close to him but this time passing by and hitting a fellow soldier in the background. In "Ryan" it's just a moan/scream off-screen, but I wanted to show the guy being hit. The main guy looks back, sees that, gets furious/panicked and starts shooting. That's it. It was about 4 seconds long, nice and short. But then again, I really liked the "Covering fire!!" part, so I edited the whole thing around and ended up with a 10sec. piece (damn it, that always happens, I never settle on something short...). So here’s the audio only:

Click here to listen to the .wave file

Now that I have the sound in place I listen to it over and over until I see the whole animation in my head. I really can't draw, so any thumbnails wouldn’t be able to reflect whatever I thought of or only in a very limited way. So I plan it out mentally until I have a clear image of what I want to do.
BUT. I would still act it out so I can get a feel of what's going on body wise and film it so I can see how I'm acting out the whole situation. So for this clip I let the sound play over the speakers and started to make a fool out of myself. I can only speak for myself but I need to do it over and over in order to forget that I am "acting". That way I get the happy accidents and the more natural spontaneous stuff.

What I imagined for the shot is still better (hopefully) than what I acted out, but there's some interesting stuff here and there that I could use.
I like the different variations of “Cover fire!”, the way I react to the bullets, cleaner silhouettes as I roll over, etc.

So to give you guys a visual idea of what I’m thinking of, here’s combination of things that I liked and elements I want to include.

Now it’s time to translate all that into Maya and a working animation environment. First a little rundown of my Maya settings and tools that I use:

- scene is set to 24fps unless told otherwise
- animation curves are defaulted to “linear”
- hotkeys are set up for nurbs curves visibility on/off & previous/next frame
- dry erase marker is ready
- autokey is on

Let’s elaborate on those:

In film you work with 24fps, so whenever I work at home, I do the same. I don’t see why I should use 30fps unless told by the client.

During my blocking phase I set all my keys to linear, no spline, no stepped, etc. because that's how I learned it at first and haven' t really liked working any other way since. That's obviously very subjective and I'm not enforcing this method in any way. I don't want the animation to be pose to pose through stepped keys, because I like to see how long it takes going from one pose to the other and what the whole thing will actually look like early on. With a character popping around I don't get that. Yes, you can just add more breakdowns in order to get rid of this but I want to keep the amount of keys to a minimum (at least at the beginning). When I'm happy with what I'm seeing I convert specific areas to spline.

Hotkeys: one great time saving hotkey is the nurbs toggle on/off move fingers around in order to access the functions, I rarely lift my hand off the keyboard. So nurbs on/off as well as stepping through frames is quick and easy. My "Undo" is also on on "u" and not "Ctrl+z". Click here for the tutorial on how to set it up and here for the previous/next frame hotkey.

Dry erase marker:
super handy tool to check your spacing. Yes, there are scripts that do this as well, but not every computer is set up for it or you get plagued by technical issues. The marker is uncomplicated and works everywhere.


[Rest Coming Soon]


Trevor Hsieh said...

God, the last composited one is so funny and awesome...
May I steal it and animate? :D

jefffffff leeeeee said...

You gotta watch that war movie I was talking about in class. Sooo goooood. It's called Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War. Netflix it...do it~!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

You can steal it, I'd have to fail you, then hunt you down and force you to watch ... a crappy movie?

Jeff, I added the movie to the 2nd spot of my queue (Mr. Brooks is currently #1). Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

HAHA! Thats awesome! You really act like believable.

Looking forward to the rest!

Anonymous said...

The part about being able to visualise the whole animation is gold!

I have often wondered why some of my work was pretty good and at other times mediocre no matter how much time I spent on it and now I know!

Being able to see it clearly in your head first makes all the difference.

Cheers for that insight!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Glad it's of help, first pass blocking should be done by Sunday night (hopefully - my pc has been better, no more freak outs).

Anonymous said...

nice stuff! Love to see some good video reference. Any news on the second part? i'll love to read it.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

I'm sorry for the delay... The PC died and I'm working on my laptop right now, which is just not able to handle the file. I need to export separate pieces because one file with all the stuff in it is just too heavy. It's part of my workflow anyway, but getting everything together is a pain and my laptop is freezing up. So I'm getting a new PC soon.

Again, I apologize for the wait, especially to me students. Hopefully it will be worth it at the end. :)

Pierre Crot said...

please, it was so interesting...

Jean-Denis Haas said...

New PC is coming soon, so hang tight for an update!

Cameron Fielding said...

Jean this is great. Keep in coming man... dead keen to see what happens next!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

No new PC in sight for a while, so I'm reformatting my old one. Let's hope it won't crumble again, I really want to finish it.

Anonymous said...

hope you'll finish it!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Man, I'm close to starting it again. :)

First I need to do work for "No Continues", so those shots have priority. But the moment the time is there, I'll get to it.

It will actually be interesting to get back to the shot after so much time.

Matthew said...

Blocking in linear. I like this too. Sometimes i feel strangely paranoid like i should be using stepped keys for some reason, but i find what you say is true its true, linear feels more flexible, you can set less keys or keys as required and even do a bit of ofsetting here and there without different body parts jumping away from each other when on different frames.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

I just never got into using stepped on my shots. Linear to spline in the initial blocking phase still works for me.

Bruno Andrade said...

Hi Jean, very nice post. Did you ever get around to finish the shot? very interested to see the rest of the article.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Unfortunately no, I never got around it. I have more material though and I will post all of that soon.