• Blocking Followup

    Sorry its been so long since a post. Its been busy at work. As you can imagine, things are in full crunch on UP and I am busy on TS3. I wanted to address some of the questions that came in.

    A question came in about what I meant about blocking on 4′s. Basically, when I block something, I try not to let the computer inbetween more than 4 frames. Its not a rule, I just find that 4′s is what I lean towards. Some people block on 8′s, some on 3′s. It all depends on your work method and what the scene calls for. To be honest, I only start with 4′s. Sometimes I shift keys around as needed.

    Victor Luo wrote in some interesting stuff about how the computer either helps or hinders us. How many keys should we be doing? I think this really depends. The computer obviously does not understand animation principles. Its up to us to throw in the breakdowns. Where the computer gets good, is at the minutia of detail. A head shake, and eye flutter, an ease in, etc. We have to be smart about how we use the computer. Most of the magic lies within the Spline Editor. Regarding your question about who the guy was who used linear knots… It was Steve Hunter back on the days of Toy Story 2. He switched over after much peer pressure. I cant talk for Steve, but I suppose animators use linear knots because they don’t want any surprises. Linear knots can be good for alot of things, but give an almost stop motion feel. I am not sure, but I think many scenes from Chicken Little were animated using linear and you can see it in some of the animation. Some scenes had a bit of a stocatto feel. Having seen some of Bolt, I can safely say that it seems that Disney has embraced the Spline. The animation on that film looks amazing! Not to say that Chicken Little did not have amazing animation as well. I am mostly talking about linear vs. Spline.

    Abel Salazar wrote in to use step keys on 4′s and 5′s, then go linear, then go spline. I imagine that this method is used by many animators who prefer the xsheet “step key” method. I can’t speak for this because I don’t really use this style of blocking. The whole reason I have not switched over to the step key method is because I prefer to see every frame of animation I am doing. This can be tough on the front end, but better for me on the back end when I am polishing. At that point I am familiar with my curves and know what to fix.

    David Beer asked if I key all the major body parts on every 4 frames. Actually, I only key the things that are changing. A Lot of this has to do with the fact that I can see the controls I am blocking very clearly. I’m not sure if I would key every body part if I were using Maya. In general, you want to block with as few controls as possible. Block the core controls on every 4th frame like the hips, torso, neck and head. Again, you can clean up your curves once you get into the spline editor.

    Rob Somers wrote in about off setting keys. Hey Rob, I think the question was answered by David, but offsetting keys can work for certain things like how a limb of an arm overlaps or how a body turns. You either have to build it into the pose or let the curves do the work for you. This method works more with the layering approach.

    Oliver L. wrote in about blocking arms. Use IK to solve a joint angle. Meaning, if the character is contacting something or holding an object it makes sense. FK is for acting and for general movement. I usually block the arm with some sort of world align on. This give me even more control over the acting patterns and general movement of the limb. It makes it so that I don’t have to counter animate if I am moving the body around. Ultimately, these are all tools, not rules. Whatever works for you is the best method.

    Well, thanks again for all the great feedback. Keep it coming. I know the site is still broken in places and I need to know where its broke so I can fix it. I appreciate all the support.


  • Clean Blocking

    I am always impressed with certain animator’s clean blocking. Sometimes, I end up putting in to many controls or in general too much before I show for a review. I can’t stress the importance of clean, clear blocking. In this day and age of computer animation, the best thing you can do is to simplify. Many times when I look at a past scene I did, I always like the ones that are simple in their idea and approach. I am from the old school of blocking on every 4th frame. I like to see the detail and even include my breakdowns in that first showing. I’ll also even flesh out things such as a head shake in the spline editor. The tough part is that if I get a bunch of direction, I have to tear down the wall and rebuild. Some of the things that save my butt are trying to keep as many of my controls on the same frame and not offsetting things until I have that clear path. I also believe in showing early, rather than later. The more information I have, the better. I don’t need to hide away until I feel everything is perfect. It’s good to take a swing at things. I also think that if you are in a place where you can show your work in some sort of dailies, the first blocking pass should be seen in that forum. If you are going for a laugh, or trying to get a response, that first showing is your change to sell your idea. As I work on this next production, I really do want to try new methods of blocking a shot. I have never really worked with the exposure sheet method, ie. step key blocking, but I think its time to learn. Essentially, if I want my poses to be stronger, I need to start with strong ones to begin with. With the old school method, your poses evolve and get better. The flip side is that they feel more organic. What ever your method, its always important to keep the perspective that no one way is right or wrong. Heck, I used to know a guy who blocked all his arms with IK no matter what. It looked OK to me. Another guy used only linear knots… That might be a little crazy… The spline is your friend.


  • Start Your Engines!

    Ahhhh, the summer was so nice, relaxing, travelling, having fun with family and loved ones.. Well now its time to get back to work! Pixar just finished its internship with 12 animation interns who did an amazing job. So much was learned, not only by the interns but by fellow animators. Its always inspiring to see what new interns can do and how they come up with good ideas. As I prepare to go back to school and teach again, what I am most interested in doing is trying to not only teach the core principles, but also prepare the students for more complex assignments. Acting, pantomime, thought process and so forth. In talking to one of the interns that came from California College of Art, I asked him what were some of the things that prepared him for the internship. He thought that knowing the principles of animation backwards and forwards is key. Also having a basic understanding of how spline editors work and the whole process of 3d animation as opposed to 2d was important. Things like layering and polish.  All in all, it was the students ideas and acting abilities that ultimately got them into the internship, of which most received a job from this experience. In looking to this semester, I think its important to develop those principle muscles, but always be thinking about the core ideas. What will be entertaining to watch? What type of characters will be fun to animate? What can the new blood bring to this medium? I wish everyone an exciting new year of learning!


  • Olympics – Food for Animators

    If you are an animator, it should be required that you watch the 2008 Olympics. It has everything related to what we do. Weight, Physicality, Beautiful Arcs, Slow Motion footage, Inertia, etc, etc etc. I always find the most interesting parts to be the reactions from the close family in the stands. Its also amazing to watch some of the medal ceremonies.  The emotion going through the athletes is so visible. When I am watching the Olympics, I find myself rewinding certain parts to watch them again, and again. Take for instance, when an athlete falls or trips, its always interesting to see how this happens, how the body comes to rest, and so forth. The opening ceremony was amazing in so many ways. It had so many elements that are of interest to us. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in its scope and precision. My hats off to China for blowing away any other opening ceremony in history. Since the games are in High Definition in many parts of the world, it is tough to record them for reference. I have been recording them right off my TV with a camera that has the same aspect ration. You dont get the same quality, but its still very good. Its all about inspiration and reference when watching. We should look at it with our animators eye and figure out how to use it in our work.


  • Doug Sweetland Part 2

    Here is Part two of the Doug Sweetland Interview. In this part we talk about how music relates to animation as well as his directorial debut on Presto. This podcast is also available on iTunes

    Part 2 – Doug Sweetland

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.