Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Animation Scripts

I planned to write a blog post about scripts for a while, but either totally forgot or...totally forgot. My good animationer friend Kane wrote a great blog post about scripts today and reminded me that I was planning on doing the same. So here we go!

Like Kane, I've only really been using animation scripts since I left university and even then I didn't really find out about them until I started at iAnimate. They can save you a ton of time, and they're not cheating either. They way I see it, they fight the silly things that your software is trying to do and give you smarter results. Or at least, results that are closer to what you want (you still have to click them to tell them when to do things so it's not like you can sit back and relax whilst the computer runs an "animate" script).

These are the scripts that I use the most:

AutoTangent - Download
This is my most used tool once I'm working with splines. Maya has a tendancy to throw overshoots everywhere and do weird things. For example after you've finished your blocking and have everything looking awesome, Maya might throw this curveball at you:

Overshoots and pretty linear looking curves. Slap autotangent on it and it looks much closer to what you probably want:

This isn't the best example but you can see the difference, especially on the first 4/5 frames. You'll still have to go in and fiddle around but using this script will get you much closer, much faster.

[I have autotangent set to a hotkey, so that whenever I want to use it I can press a key instead of moving my mouse/pen away from my rig to press a button.]

Tween Machine - Download
This is a great one, and it's a script I've not been using for all that long. Basically, you can use this it to favour certain poses. Have an example:

I want to animate a ball travelling from left to right. The orange balls show my start and end poses and the blue ball shows what Maya gives me I hit spline.

Now, I want my ball really slow out of its first pose. I certainly don't want it to have an even spacing as it does right now. What I can do is open TweenMachine and move the slider to the left. This indicates that I want the new pose to favour the last one I had.

As you can see, from pulling the slider to the left it has given me a pose that is 75% closer to my previous pose. This will give my ball the rough spacing it needs to have a long slow out before it speeds along and quickly slows in to its final pose.

That's a very basic explanation of how it works and how to use it. I like to use it as a rough guide for spacing during my blocking stage. If I know I want a slow out then I can dial a number in or pull the slider to where I want the certain part of the rig to be and I can change things from there. You could use it on a foot, a limb, a whole character or an eye lid. The point of it is to help you quickly hit a rough area of where you want your character (or part of your character) to be so that you can correctly pose it out from there.

If you're clever, you can use it to great effect on a full character by choosing different percentages for different controls of the rig to create lead, follow and so on.

AS_motionTrail - Download
This is the same kind of thing as Motion Trail but a little different. I couldn't tell you the differences because it's been so long since I used Motion Trail but I found this script to be much faster and easier to use so I stuck with it. This script is used for tracking arcs and checking spacing. It gives you a visual representation of your motion and the path that it's taking as well as the spacing.

Here you can see the arc of the hand on a walking character.

Zoomerator - Download
This has been around for a while but I only discovered it last month. It allows you to zoom in to any region of your camera without actually changing the camera settings or messing anything up. This is great if you have a locked off camera and need to zoom in to, for example, check out an arc/path on a really small object or on a small movement.

Take a look at the witch craft in action:

I've applied the motion tracker script to a hidden sphere I parented to the nose in order to track my arcs. She's moving her head really subtly so you can't really see anything right now. But, if I start zoomerator up and use its powers to zoom in...

I can see the arc her nose is following! It's not moving much but at least I can get close enough in there to make sure it's following a nice path and isn't doing anything weird. Once you're done, you hit the reset button and your camera goes back to how it was. Magic!

Those are pretty much all the scripts I use. I make my own for smaller tasks such as opening the outliner, script editor and graph editor. I also have one for playblasting. These are really easy to make and I'm sure most people know how to set small scripts like this up but if you don't drop a comment on this post or send me an email and I'll share my ways.

If you have any awesome scripts that you can't live without then please feel free to share! After reading Kane's post I am definitely going to try the ShotView script. There are a ton more scripts out there, it's all about finding what works best for your workflow/s and utilizing them.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Reward

This has probably been posted all over the animation related parts of the internet already but I HAD to share it here just in case anyone who reads this blog has somehow missed it.

The Reward is an amazing short film from The Animation Workshop. It contains lovely animation, character development, emotion and a ton of awesome. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

DmC released!

Another project I had the pleasure of working on has finally been released! That's right, DmC is currently sitting on shelves (and hopefully within the safety of peoples consoles) across the UK (and other places?). I think America get it on Friday. Either way, it's out, it's awesome, it's sexy to look at, it's sexy to listen to. What else could you want from a game?

I had a great time working on it and will forever be grateful for Ninja Theory taking me in under their wing and showing me how things are done. Please check this game out if it looks like your kind of thing. It's a remarkable achievement and absolutely visually stunning. Not to mention it was scored by Noisia!

Here's the launch trailer:

And here's my name chilling out with other awesome names in the credits:

Sunday, 13 January 2013

LEGO: Lord of The Rings Cutscenes

Last year I was lucky enough to be a part of the LEGO: Lord of The Rings video game. TT Games took me in under their wing, sat me down at a computer and threw cutscenes at me for seven months. I had a great time, but more about that in another post...this one's just for the cutscene videos.

I'd been planning to put my work from TT up for a while now. Then, the other day my fellow animator James Hobart threw his cutscene reel online, which egged me on.

So, here you have most of the work from my time at TT. I realised that I actually hadn't rendered all of my scenes out, which is why there are a few playblast videos below.

Main Outro A

Council D #1

Council D #2

Towards the end of the game I was given the chance to animate some in-game fetch quests. These were really fun and challenging because I had to do one a day. 12 and 14 seconds a day was scary but fun.

And here's a test animation I did on my first day at TT. We had little to do after arriving so I played around with Boromir:

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Workflow Toolbox

Animators are obsessed with workflow.

Ok, ok, I know it's not fair to generalise but a lot of animators I know/have met/have spectated on forums, twitter and facebook seem to be, in my opinion, overly concerned and worried about workflow. Not that workflow should be overlooked, not at all. But I'm of the mindset that you should just do it. Get on with animating the way that feels comfortable and do what works for you.

I think it's healthy to look at how other animators work, especially if they're professionals or very skilled. And even to try and emulate that workflow. But sometimes it just won't work the same for you and it's not worth trying to force it.

The truth, at least for me, is that there is no such thing as the golden workflow. There is no one workflow to rule them all. At least not when you're working within a professional environment. That's where workflows get interesting. You are given deadlines and are expected to deliver high quality work by a certain day and time. I have found that sometimes to be able to do that, you have to have what I call a workflow toolbox.

The Workflow Toolbox

What is the workflow toolbox? Well, let me explain...it's not really a thing. It doesn't exist, because I made it up. But, it is something that you can develop if you're adventurous enough. I say adventurous because, unless you're at a big studio where the production requires you to have a certain feel to your work that can be more easily attained by a certain workflow then chances are nobody will care how you create and deliver your animation as long as you do it.

I've always been a blocking guy. I don't know why but I love blocking, just something about it. My usual workflow goes like this:

Block all the story telling poses > block the breakdowns > block the secondary breakdowns > block until I'm on 4's >  block until I'm on 2's if I need to > hit spline and be happy that hardly anything changed > clean curves up and polish


This is how I worked for a long time. It's very fun but I was only blocking so much because I was scared of hitting spline and polishing. I hated that I freaked out every time I hit spline because all of my lovely animation suddenly became a giant mess that I had to fix all over again. Imagine you paint a lovely landscape then smudge it all with your hand and have to fix it up but make it look even better than before you ruined it. It's not a fun concept is it? Obviously, this isn't really what you're doing when you go from blocking to spline/polish but that's how it felt.

Long story short...I started a new job where I had to animate cutscenes and have one done for pretty much every two weeks. I was having an awesome time but whenever it came to hitting spline and polishing I'd completely stress out for days and wouldn't enjoy myself. Then it struck me, I really wasn't enjoying myself...and that's not a good thing. Not when you're doing the job you've always wanted to do. I had to change. I pinpointed that it was splining and polishing that was causing me this stress and decided to have fun with my workflow to snap myself out of it.

I made myself go into splines earlier to start with. That got me feeling more confident outside of blocking and got me used to making changes after blocking. That fixed everything, I no longer felt that all my fun was over when I hit a certain part of animating.

After making this breakthrough, I decided to go further and try something else. I was given a lengthy cutscene that was mainly two characters talking and walking small distances. So I splocked the whole thing. To anyone who doesn't know what splocking is...it's blocking but you stay in spline mode the whole time. It makes polish shorter and can get you some nice results quickly as long as you feed the computer enough information (you always should). By this time all fears of splining and blocking had totally blown away.


But I haven't stopped there. I started a new personal shot before Christmas and decided to try a workflow I've never tried before. The layered approach, it's hard to explain. Or at least I find it is. You don't use animations layers, that's a big misconception. It's more that you feel it out from the root whilst in spline mode,  building the motion from the root outwards. So far it's been a lot of fun despite no blocking at all. And it's confirmed that I no longer fear the dreaded spline and/or polish stage. In fact, I love polishing now. It gives me a chance to add even more to what I already had. And who doesn't want that? I remember when I used to think that polish was only cleaning up curves in the graph editor and deleting keys that I didn't need. How wrong I was, it's so much more. A huge thanks to Mike Walling and Kevan Shorey for showing me that.

[Using The Toolbox]
If you've made it this far, you'll know that I tried a few different approaches. The awesome thing that I discovered was that none of them were the perfect workflow for animation in general. Depending on what I was animating, there was a worflow that fit it best. By the end of my job I developed a hybrid workflow method where I'd use different workflows within the same scene. I found that blocking worked well for wider shots containing body mechanics and splocking was great for medium close ups and close up shots. It was great, it felt like I had a toolbox full of different workflows that I could choose from based on the scene or shot that my director threw at me.

Don't be scared to experiment if something doesn't feel right. But don't get obsessed with finding a single awesome workflow either. And there's nothing wrong with only having one method and sticking with it. What ever works best for you is what's best for you. Just because Jason Ryan goes blocking > linear > spline doesn't mean that you need to. And if there's a part of animating that you don't like much or that scares you...grab it by the face and give it a good talking to. Tell it "NO! BAD! BAAAAAD!" and show it that you can master it.

I forgot to mention that this blog post all came about from an email conversation that I had with my good friend Michael. Here's a quote from the good man:
"It's funny you mention your approach to workflows as, over the last workshop, I've (finally) realised that different workflows work for different shots. As you say CUs & MCUs are great for the layered approach and I definitely think those wider shots are more suited to the blocking approach. So I'm now more open to the idea of different workflows. I guess after reading books like Animators Survival Kit and the like, that it was easy for me to think that there was just the one way of animating. But it's cool now to think that not only do people have different methods, but that people use multiple methods themselves, depending on the shot. Kinda like having a handy little toolbox I guess."

[Thanks to Rachelle Fryatt for the workflow toolbox picture at the top of the blog. Click her name to check her out or have a looky at her facebook page here.] 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Golden Rules of Acting Review


First thing's first, as Andy mentioned in the video above, this book isn't about acting. It's about how to be an actor. Big difference, and I didn't realise that when I bought it. I wasn't sure what to expect, I assumed it'd be a decent sized book with lengthy chapters on acting formulas. I was completely wrong, and glad. Instead, it's perfectly sized and packed with complete gold.

Some people might have been put off by what I said earlier. The part about it being about how to be an actor. But here's the thing...at least 95% (if not more) of this book applies to animators/artists/creatives/freelancers.

The whole thing is laid out in lovely bit sized chunks of easily digestible information with Nyman covering some of the following subjects:
Going to drama school (higher education animation course), auditions (interviews), the business (the industry), agents (agencies), living the life, directors (directors and leads), surviving, how to make it happen and how to take reviews.

It's all very similar to an animators life and the things we have to do and think about. Not to mention, that the whole text has a positive undertone, with some tips are as simple as:

"Be happy, you'll work more."

As well as Nymans own tips, the book is dotted with charming illustrations of actors and directors along with one of their inspirational quotes. One of my favourites is George Burns:

"I'd rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate."

In conclusion, this is a lovely little book full of positive hints, tips and thoughts. You can read it in no time and revisiting the text for inspiration isn't a chore. Andy Nyman points out some really obvious things, things that sometimes are too hard to see when our every day worries are bouncing around our heads. You'd be crazy not to buy this book, especially since it won't break the bank.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Welcome to 2013

This post is a little late, since it's the second of January and all that business but hey...I was busy animating. Anyway, manners, HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! I hope you all had a great Christmas and that Spliney Claus brought you lots of fantastic animation/art/anything related gifts.

The header has had its yearly update and the blog is looking a bit fresher for it too. I normally make a few resolutions, but they're mostly always the same. They're really no different to my normal day to day drive but it's always beneficial to look over the past year and decide what you'd like to change to make the next one even better.

My resolutions boil down to the following two points:

  • Do more
  • Get better

That is, to do more of everything I want to get better at. Or to get better at the things I want to do more. I do have more detailed ideas of what to get better at and what to do more but that'd only bore you...nobody wants to know that I'd like to walk the dogs more.

One resolution is to start posting here more often. I have a few things I'd like to talk about but finding the time between animating, drinking coffee and walking German Shepherds can be tough. I'm gonna force it in there! Here are some subjects that I'll be covering:

  • My time at Travellers Tales
  • Thumbnails (thanks to all who've contributed so far)
  • The workflow toolbox
  • Animated film reviews
  • Updates on the short I'm working on - Cold Day In Hell
  • Sharing useful scripts and tips

That's all I can think of for now, hopefully some of it sounds interesting.

Another resolution is to draw more, so to sign off...here's a caricature I drew of myself: