Week three has just passed, and my second assignment is on it's last week before moving on to a final assignment which will be a dialogue piece. But until I want to show you the evolution of my second assignment which was to animate, in about 150 to 200 frames (around 8 seconds), a specific pantomime action where there is some kind of change in emotion. For example, a character anxiously waiting at the door for a special delivery, and when the doorbell rings, he opens it expecting the package but finds it's his landlord looking to collect rent. Okay, a little more detailed of an example than I needed to give,but you get the point. Needless to say it's a great and challenging exercise for any level of animator.
I will get into this more later and how it relates to my assignment, but I realized how much I really need to break down an entire shot and think about not only the action but the underlying attitudes and purpose behind the actions. Each action has it's own story beat, a reason or purpose for happening, and it should alway convey something necessary to way that character thinking and feeling in that particular moment. Understanding what the character is thinking/feeling and why, is an important step in making choice in how you move the character.
There is a hierarchy of those beats that start with your key poses, and then break down from there to the transitions between the key poses, and then broken down even further to how you begin and end those transitions. You have you're main poses which in themselves say one thing, but how do you get to each of those poses, whether it is deciding whether to lead with the head, or torso, trail the arms, to antic, or overshoot, to zip into A from B, or ease in to one or another...whichever choice you make will have a direct impact on the translation of your main poses, because the character's body language during those transitions says just as much about how the character is feeling as do the key poses.
This is something I realized that I need to think about a little harder when planning out my shot, and Stephen suggests coming up with an interior monologue for a character in situations where there is no dialogue. By giving the character it's own thoughts and words in relation to his actions, it will help in making the right choices for the beats within your scene, and thus create a clearer picture for the audience as to what and why the character is feeling a certain way.
So now on to my assignment. I went through a whole list of pantomime actions, and ultimately settled on a character sitting at a table carefully putting the last card on a house of cards, just as he is about to release the card, the entire thing collapses. I figured for this post I will start from the beginning.
So once I decided on a scene, i stated to roughly thumbnail some poses, I knew I wanted to go from having him be really careful and determined, to becoming angry and frustrated. And my original plan was to end with him resting his head on his head and very casually wipe the cards off the table with his free arm. I didn't end up sticking with that on the first pass, but instead went with a much broader and ultimately poorer choice as you'll see in the first video.
After thumbs I blocked out my first pass...
Like I had mentioned I had chosen to go with a much broader ending, which I wasn't all that happy with. And Stephen agreed, in that he says it is such a common thing to see in reels from people. People tend to make choices that feel show off that they can animate, however often it lacks the thinking the is behind the animation. Which brings me back to what I was mentioning earlier about the attitudes and thoughts behind the poses and the movements. Ultimately it is much more impressive to watch a subtler, more sophisticated approach to an action in which it is clear to the audience what the character is thinking and feeling from one moment to the next.
Sure you may say that my choices for the end are clear. He is pissed and throws the cards with conviction and purpose. But the point is that it was the superficial choice. The one most people will come to first in their thinking about anger and frustration. Stephen suggested something more sophisticated, because in the end it STILL NEEDS TO BE ANIMATED WELL. And a well animated piece that shows a clear and subtle thought piece will be more impressive to the audience, in this case, potential employers, than the broader less thought out piece...regardless how well it was animated.
So then came this next pass...
" Second Pass"
As you can see I lowered, and tightened the camera angle to get the shot a little better. Now you can see his torso THROUGH the cards, whereas before some of him was obstructed by the house of cards. I was really happy with the flicking of the cards at the end, and was excited to animate that. Here is the same shot broken down a little further, and the torso during its first stage of polish, which is sort of like clean up. This is where keys are broken down, and offset to get overlaps and dragging in animation. Basically getting it to look smoother and more natural.
" Second Pass,plus a little polish"
At this point however, 2 problems arise. One, the movement going into his "clenched" pose isn't working, and the clenched pose itself is starting to not read in terms of the attitude of the character. This is where the part about the heirarchy of attitudes comes in. I need to start thinking about not only how the main poses read for the scene...but also how do the transitions read as well. This may have been fixed of I simplified the motion a lil more and has him just twist slightly to his right, and get him into the "clenched" pose quicker, rather than the loopty loop way I chose. But who knows. Once thing Stephen said about his own work, he sometimes just tries multiple things out, constantly questioning whether or not its working, or whether there is a better choice for a pose, or action. This is what I need to work on but I think it helps understanding the ideas I mentioned earlier about knowing the story beats and knowing you character and how he needs to move in order to convey his thoughts and attitudes within each moment.
Now the second problem, is we are running out of time for this tutoring, and we still need to get to one more assignment with the weeks remaining. So Stephen chose a smaller chunk out of my last one to make it more possible to finish animating by our next meeting. Basically he cut it down to roughly 30 or 40 frames where he felt there was a clear story to be told, and that we would focus on just that little chunk. So here is the lastest which at this point is only blocked out...
" Third Pass - Blocking"
So as you can see it was condensed to a) puttin the card carefully on top, b) the cards dropping c) his reaction.
Stephen stressed the I focus on the beats of the story and making sure to get the attitudes across clearly. He had chosen roughly 30 frames from the original, but said that it would be necessary to spread it out and adjust the timing on things, which was fine, because this is now a more manageable piece to animate with the time left. So by the end of our session, we had broken down the story beats of this new chunk and ultimately decided on a few new poses, and much simplier action.
This time I am leading with the head into the "new clenched" pose, and then he deflates into the next before giving the cards a last look. Then after putting it down for a while I went back into it to adjust the timing one more time on a few things....and ultimately I ended up with this.
" Third Pass - Revised Blocking"
I adjusted the moment between when the cards drop and when he lets go of the last card, as well as the final head turn, which I felt needed to be slowed down and delayed a little bit. I am still a little uncertain about his last facial expression, so i need to play with it some more. And I am not sure it is there yet, but it certainly has come a long way so far.
If I don't get notes on it before meeting with Stephen next, I am gonna take it a little further and start polishing. In the meantime, thanks for checking this out, and I hope it has been at least a little be helpful to those who are interested. I know some of the ideas and concepts I am mentioning may be a little vague at times, I am going through a similar learning process and absorbing a lot from the hour I spend with him and can only reiterate so much at one time. So once again, I hope it's made sense so far and now that I am more or less caught up with blogging about my sessions I hope to post more frequently and hope that in the end I will have some nice finished pieces as well.
Comments and crits are more than welcome, and please notice that I added Labels to my posting on the side of my blog. These posts were getting long, and becoming frequent so I didn't want anything to get lost in the shuffle.
Til next time!