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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Bouncing Ball - The key to all animation

Here's a question that I got over the week-end:

Hey JD, I had a discussion with a friend of mine yesterday about how the bouncing ball is really the key to all animation. You had mentioned that in class as well, but I must be missing the link between the two. I get that with the ball assignment we can see the relationship of timing but it seems like a big jump between the ball and animating a human. So, how do I break the human down into its bare essentials so it looks like a bouncing ball? Do I look at the arm and see how that looks like a ball, then the torso like a ball and so on?

If you master the bouncing balls, you show that you have a good understanding of timing and weight. Everything that you will animate relies on timing and weight (great poses with horrible timing are useless).

Now let's say you do a walk. Then you have your body going up and down, which could be like a bouncing ball. Or you do a jump, that's kinda like a bouncing ball. But I wouldn't oversimplify it by trying to find an actual bouncing ball in your character. It's more about the understanding of spacing and weight to me. The momentum of a ball, how it reacts when it hits a wall or the ground, etc. all that needs to look and feel right and you have to adjust your keys and curves in order to get that look and feel. It's the same with more complex characters, the same principles apply, there is just more to think about).

If it takes you 15 weeks for the balls to look correct, then you will have a hard time animating in general. That's a harsh statement, I know, but I still think that's true. Of course you'll always have exceptions, plus with hard work you can train your eyes and sense of timing, or it might just click one day in your head and you get it.

It's not just about the technical side of adjusting keys but about your eye and if you can judge the timing of your animation correctly. And the bouncing ball assignments are great for that. Sometimes I see bouncing ball assignments and the balls just move around with complete disregard of physics and timing. And the person thinks it looks correct. That to me raises a red flag. It's not like the complex nature of a human character or creature, where you have to really think about how one body part influences everything around it, it's just a ball going up and down and side to side. So if the timing is totally off and the person thinks it looks ok, then there is hard work to be done in terms of observation, studying reference and training his/her eye. A lot of it also has to do with dedication. When I suggest that the person buys a rubber ball, films it and studies the timing of the bounce and all I get back is a chuckle, then that worries me. Yes, it's a lot of work for just a ball, but if the animation looks wrong you have to do whatever you can to understand why and to figure out how to fix it. You need to be pro-active, motivated and dedicated. But that ramble is for another post.

So if you master the bouncing balls, you're off to a good start, because like you said, the bouncing ball is the key to all animation.

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