Monday, October 10, 2011

Animation School - The Beginning

So far, this blog has been mainly concerned with self taught art study.  Now that I am in school, I still believe all the same principles this blog was about before still apply.  The only difference now is instead of self-directed study, I will be posting about my study under the direction of the staff at Capilano University.  Whether teaching myself or being taught by someone else, I still need to develop skill through acquiring knowledge and putting it to practice until I have mastered it.  My years of self-teaching have given me insight into why my professor give the assignments that they do.  The teaching philosophy at Capilano is also based on giving knowledge and assigning practice to develop skill.  It has allowed my to learn a great deal in only about a month.

In this post I will cover my progress in developing the skills of animation.  I have spent a lot of time animating and receiving critique on my work.  I will skip the first exercise, which was just to get used to the procedure and using the equipment.   The first real exercise was the bouncing ball.  This is a classic animation exercise designed to teach the basics of timing and a little stretch and squash.  I had done this exercise many times before coming to school.  In fact, I did this the first time when I was only fifteen.  It is not a hard exercise but it does serve an important function.  To make a ball bounce look realistic, the ball must follow an arc, ascending and descending on a symmetrical parabola.  The drawings must be spaced closer together at the top of the arc and further apart on the way up and down to give it the appearance of accelerating and decelerating.   The ball should also squash when it hits the ground and stretch when it moves fast.  This is an exaggeration of what happens in real life to give the animation more life.  I do not have a video of the bouncing ball I animated.

The next animation exercise was slightly more complicated.  This time, the bouncing ball has a single leg.  It jumps and lands instead of just bounces.  On the first jump, the ball had to perform a movement of anticipation.  This is where the subject makes a smaller move to prepare for a larger move.  In this exercise the ball squats down before jumping up.  This is necessary to make the action look realistic and also lets the audience know the action is coming.  Since the ball lands and jumps, it must show the point when the foot first contacts, followed by the ball crouching to accept the force of the landing.  Then, it must show the last point of contact as it leaves for its next jump.  These three key drawings are necessary for the action to read.
I feel my jumping ball moves somewhat stiffly.  It could use less drawings on the assent to make the action seem faster.

The next exercise, again slightly more complicated than the last, is a jumping flour sac.  This "character" is a little more complex than the ball with a single leg.  It is basically two balls enclosed in a bag.  The flour sac was originated at the Walt Disney studio to train young animators.  In addition to jumping, the exercise was also to have it rotate.  He must ascend and descend, stretch and squash, and anticipate just like in the previous exercises; But now it is with a more complicated character and must rotate in addition.  This exercise was also an introduction to using key frames.  Instead of animating the drawings in order, one at a time, (this is called animating straight ahead) the most important drawings are done first.  These are the drawings that define the motion, called key frames or keys.  Next, timing charts are drawn on the keys to indicate how many drawing will be between the keys and how they are to be spaced.  Then the less important drawings are added.  I am much happier with the results of this exercise.

The last assignment I will post, is our first major assignment of the semester.  The previous exercises were leading up to this.  In this assignment the flour sac must perform two jumps before jumping onto a platform on a spring.  The platform swings back and forth, swing the poor flour sac with it.  This tests our understanding of the previous principles and adds another, overlapping action.    This is where different parts of an object start and stop at different times and move at different rates.  In this example, the bottom of the flour sac is pulled by its connection to the moving platform.  The top of the flour sac trails behind it.  When the platform changes direction, the momentum of the top part continues to push it forward as the bottom part changes direction, until it pulls the top to the other direction.  This is also called drag.  I am pretty happy with this assignment, however I feel the first jump moves too slowly.

I have been learning much faster and much better than I had been when teaching myself.  I think this is because I know exactly what knowledge I need to learn and what I need to practice to develop the skill.  Getting feedback from the professor is invaluable to I know exactly what I am doing right and should repeat, and what I am doing wrong and should avoid.  Also, it is very helpful to see the work of my fellow students, seeing what they do right and learning from their mistakes as well as my own.  My fellow students are a talented bunch.  Seeing their work pushes me to do better. In learning to animate, as in learning to draw, learning to see things critically is important.  In this case it is important to be able to look at your animation, see what is not working, and be able to understand WHY it is not working;  then it can be corrected and improved.  I have learned so much in the first month and this is only the beginning.  I am excited to learn more and continue to improve my skills.

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