Sunday, February 26, 2012

Animation Exercises

Last week, Jesse Winchester, from Schoolism, came to speak to our class. It was a very inspiring presentation. One of the things he encouraged us to do were daily exercises that isolate specific drawing skills. I know from experience how powerful that can be; so I took this idea, and applied it to animation. This week I did a quick animation exercise every night before going to bed. These took between 15-30 minutes. The specific skill I am trying to isolate is moving-three dimensional objects realistically in three-dimensional space.  I plan to use simple forms, so I can draw them quickly. The idea is to focus on the movement, not the individual drawings.  What I hope to achieve through these exercises, in addition to all the other animation I do, is to reach a level where moving objects in space is second nature, so I can focus more on the character and performance when I animate.
The theme for the first week is a cube. I figured a cube would be good to start with because, by definition, it is three-dimensional and must be drawn as so. The first day, I dropped the cube off a ledge. It bounced slightly, then after coming to rest, pulled itself back up. In the next exercise, the cube does a flip. The third and forth exercises featured the cube twisting one way, then twisting back in the opposite direction. I did this one twice because I was not happy with my first attempt. The problem was, I started animating without a clear idea of what I wanted it to do. As a result I ended up with an unclear action. On my second attempt, I knew what I wanted and was able to achieve it fairly easily. The next exercise was the cube jumping off into the distance. For my sixth exercise, I tried to give the cube a little personality and had it do a take then faint. My final exercise was the cube falling away from the viewer looking downward into a well.
It is early to say whether these exercises will give the desired result, but I am very optimistic they will. I plan to keep doing these exercises every day as long as I can find the time. Each week I will chose another simple shape and gradually get more complex while staying simple enough to remain focused on the movement.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


These were assignments for my layout class.  I enjoy layouts.  I like composing a scene.  Having the whole frame to work with, and with tones and colors allows me to create contrast.  Working with perspective appeals to my logical side.  Even though I often fudge the perspective, since I know the rules, I can logically figure out which way an object should sit and which planes should be visible.
Layout is important in animation, not just to give the characters a stage to act on, but also to set a mood.  The feeling of the environment can have a profound effect on the mood of a scene.  The look of the layouts and backgrounds is an important element and must match the look of the piece.

For these first layouts, the assignment was to create a composition with two characters, a briefcase, an animal, and a vehicle.
The next assignments are perspective assignments.  The first being in one-point.  I may have 'fudged' the perspective a bit much in this.  I moved the vanishing point away from the center to create a stronger composition.  This means technically it should be two-point perspective, however I still handled the lines as if it were one-point by keeping the horizontal lines parallel to the picture plane.  While technically this is wrong, I think it makes for a stronger composition, which is more important than getting the perspective correct.  For the color, we were aloud to use one or two hues.  The idea was that it would still be similar to greyscale.  Color adds to the feel of the piece.  One color also adds another dimension.  Greyscale can range in brightness.  One color can range in brightness and saturation.  Saturation being the strength of the color vs grey.  I took full advantage of that in this layout to contrast bright, saturated glowing lights, against a dark, desaturated backdrop.  The composition still works in greyscale but looses some of its punch.
The next assignment was two-point.  To create the circular shape of the room, I measure the room as a rectangle, then created a larger rectangle around it.  From this larger rectangle, I plotted out the circles in perspective.  I used a desaturated orange, to contrast the saturated blue of the sea.  I didn't push the contrast quite as much as the last one since I felt it would be distracting in this composition.
 This assignment was three-point perspective.  This was to be the exterior of the two-point perspective layout.  I was told to stop using so much color, since the class was supposed to focus on line and tone, so I kept all the color equally desaturated.

The final assignment to focus on perspective was to use measured perspective.  This means using perspective grids, and evenly spaced elements.  For this I went for a classical look.  I created a lot of contrast by using black against while to highlight the geometry.  To keep this contrast through out, I used only black, white, and 50% grey.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Special Effects Animation

In this post I will cover the two weeks we spent on special effects animation. Any animation that is not a character is considered effects animation. It usually refers to water, fire, smoke, and explosions. Special Effects animation is very different from character animation, yet follows the same principles. The first thing we covered was a flag waving in the wind. In this exercise we animated the wind, as seen by its effect on the flag. The flag follows a wave pattern. This is important because that pattern comes up again and again in special effects. The waves are created by eddies of air as it pushes the flag. To animate the wave, animate the eddies and draw the wave on top of it. Here is my flag waving cycle. The mistake I made here is having the eddies shrink in size further down the flag. This means the trough and peak of the wave are less pronounced further towards the down wind end. These should be the same size as they are on the upwind side, giving the end a snap to it.

 Next we animated a water splash. Special effects animation can be very detailed. It is important to start by animating very general shapes to get the motion down before adding the detail. For this splash, I studied a slow-motion video of a rock being thrown in a lake. Also, as in all my special effects studies, I referenced Joe Gilland's great books: Elemental Magic both Volumes one and two. A splash creates sheets of water, in a shape determined by the shape of the object causing the splash, and said object's angle and rotation. When the object first hits, the water is propelled with a lot of force. This force begins as a hydrological explosion and quickly forms the shape of the splash. As the force dissipates the splash slows at the top of it's arc. Next, the water shape breaks apart as the splash falls back to earth. A secondary splash occurs as the water displaced by the object rushes back into the air pocket created by the object breaking the surface. In many cases, including the splash I studied, this is actually larger than the primary splash. It follows the same pattern of movement as the primary splash, shooting up quickly, slowing at the top of it's arc, then breaking up as it falls. Animating water is difficult because in order to make it work, it must be abstracted yet still look like water. I feel that the biggest flaw in my splash animation is failing to make the splash really look like water.

Our final special effects project was left up to us.  The following clip is my project.  To animate the fire, I first animated the air currents.  Then I created a layer of fire shapes on top.  Next, I animated red and yellow soft layers above and below those fire shapes, based on where I thought the heat would be, to flesh out the flame.  The process lead to a very stylized fire.  I feel my skill were not up to creating a realistic one.  The motion of the explosion is similar to the splash.  The initial force is very strong and creates the smoke shape quickly.  The smoke shape slows down and then breaks up.  It dissipates and flows upwards instead of falling back down like the splash.  The smoke follows the exact same pattern as the flag wave.

I enjoyed special effects, but I am glad to be done with it and back to character animation.  If I were to really devote myself to effects animation I would study fire, smoke, water, and explosions, both in motion and still images.  It would take years to really learn to draw these forces, even longer to animate them.  I will not be doing this study because it will not make me any better at character animation, which is my goal.  However, I do feel like it is important to have at least an understanding of how special effects animation works.  In the future, if I am called upon to produce effects animation, I will have some idea of how to do it.  Also, there is something useful, as well as beautiful in studying the pure physics of these elements and the forces behind them.