If you haven't done so already, go to CG-Char and read through the "Ask the Pro" sections, there are a lot of goodies in it. What prompted this was an email from Sow Hussein Dembel, giving me a best-of from the Mike Belzer questionnaire. Thanks!
As far as process goes I think the number one thing to do is be clear about your actions/ideas. If you are not clear than your character and your audience will not see it either.
So take time to figure the best way to approach your shot. Understand the story of what is going on, where are you coming from and going to. Act it out, thumbnail, video reference. The point it do more than go with your first impression of what you think the character should do. Don’t cheat the audience by taking the easy way out.
After I thumbnail, act out and sometimes video record I’ll do a phrasing pass. This is where I block in the key poses to the shot to see how it is working. I’ll most likely go back in to strengthen the poses later but this will be the building blocks of the shot.
I work linear but shoot out my images with keys only. This way I see it in what looks like stepped mode but once I put breakdowns in the linear process gets me closer to the poses I’m looking for.
From here it’s adding breakdowns, refining main poses and adjusting timing.
Once I feel it’s pretty close I switch to spline mode and spend a fair amount of time cleaning up the crap that the computer gives me.
Then it’s onto the final steps of finesse and refinement of poses and checking arcs and whatnot.
That’s it in a nutshell as far as my approach. That said I don’t thing there is any one way that is right or wrong. If the results are on the screen, that’s all that matters.
As far as inspiration… it comes from so many places for me. My children are a constant library to draw from. I can’t get enough film… watch all kinds of films. Live action, animation and don’t forget CHAPLIN!!! I get inspired from his work every time.
For animation specific… I just love doing it and constantly pulling people in to help better my work. I’m also very inspired by students. I teach at Animation Mentor.com and I’m constantly blown away at both he quality of work and pure energy that comes from that school. I also love going to different festivals, schools, and studios and just geek out and talk about animation. I don’t grow tired of this art form. When I do I guess it’ll be time to go into another line of work. Till then I’m loving animating.
Q: I love to draw and it is a massive part of my process I believe in great design and character, yet I hear advice given to "CG" animators to only concentrate on animation like it is a seperate thing.
WRONG!!! It certainly is true that you need not be the strong draftsman that you need to be in 2-D but there is so much to communicate with drawing. To be able to explore your shot before staring thumbnails is so important. This is a weakness of mine and I wish someone had told me “LEARN TO DRAW!!” To be able to communicate a quick idea to a co-worker, supervisor or director is very important in this visual world we work in. Also if you =ever get in the role of supervising a character it is very important to communicate what you want the character to move like for rigging, facial shapes for modeling/rigging. Talking about them can take you so far but as they say a picture is worth a 1000 words. Right now my pictures are only worth about 89 but I’m continuing to work on it.
Q: I believe drawing and "seeing" enrich animation and should not be discarded. It seems to be a product of the CG age.
Agree with this as well. I believe through drawing you learn anatomy, composition, line quality for posing out a character and appeal. It’s such a rich tool it should not be discarded because you are in CG or even puppet animation for that matter .
Q: I know the CG process is a long one so even more reason to have a strong sense of design and character I feel. People may misread this advice "only concentrate on animation."
To be a well-rounded artist will only strengthen you. I thin those who say you don’t need to draw have issues themselves with drawing. Again I am one who struggles with drawing… but I see the great importance it has in a visual medium that we work in.
Q: You mentioned before to watch all kinds of movies, specially Chaplin, but I usually get a little lost in what to study in those films, can you give us some advice for some key elements that I should look for in movies? Again, thanks a lot.
Be open and be a sponge and soak up all that film has to offer. Look at the film as a whole. Look at it frame by frame, in slow motion, without sound… these are all ways to see things in different ways. One other trick that is interesting to try is listening to a film without looking at the picture. Plan it out in your minds eye as to how you would approach a scene and then look at how the actors chose to act it out. The results will surprise you.
Q: Do you do any 3d modeling and rigging? Do you even have time for personal projects at the moment?
I wish I did now how to do that kind of stuff. I have an understanding of it so that I can communicate my needs but not enough knowledge to actually do it.
As far as a personal project… I am in the process of creating some DVD’s that I believe will be of great interest to animators and students especially. No firm date as to when they will be done.
I’d like to do a short film one day but with work and family it’s a tough balance to find time. Perhaps more coffee and even less sleep.
Thanks for the questions.
Q: Hi there Mike,Thanks a lot for staying with us for a bit.My questions would be:
1: Why and in which conditions animators use linear interpolation in a Final Shot?
2: Far too many times in various animated movies I have noticed that Body Language,Head Tilts,Expressions,even Poses...etc...are dramaticaly over used.....or who knows...reused....just like a stencil. If you know what I mean.
Lately,the animation didn`t evoluate for a bit.Only got polished. Is that the Students are molded in that manner and they`re just happy they can emulate X or Z animator? I know the fight with the clishee is not easy,but is not imposible either.
Using a linear interpolation for final shots would come in two areas that I can see. One is that is that if the style of the show wanted that harder edge feel (which I don’t so much care for) or if they basically key frame just about every frame. This is where I’ve seen success. If the animator is keying every frame it does not matter if it is spline or linear because the end result from frame to frame is controlled. This is a lot of work with my workflow so I don’t work that way.
I don’t see this as an issue with the medium more than it is with the animator. The same held true back in the golden age where you had say 9 incredible animators at Disney and others who may have been good but not up to that same level. Not cheating the audience and coming up with fresh new ways to show an action or pose is key. I think many animators today go with their gut reaction and animate what first strikes them. The need to thumbnail, act out and look at reference is something that is not always done. Yet it’s through this labor intensive process to determine what the best action for the shot is what can separate some good animators from average ones. I hope that addresses your question.
Thanks for the questions,