No mans land is described in war as the area between two trenches. I always find that when I don’t do the planning, I get lost in blocking no mans land, the area between layout and good blocking. The ideas are not that clean and I am basically just searching for something. Lately in dailies I find that most animators seem to work in the step key method of blocking. I am more of an old school blocking guy. I find the good pose once I flesh out the acting and timing. Sometimes this is difficult becasue its more like sculpting. One of these days I do want to try the step key method…. So, what then are the best ways to get out of that no mans land? Here are a few things I tried when I was having issues on a shot recently.
1) The Acting Buddy – Everyone should always have his 5 goto people. The animators, or other people you just trust to give it too you straight and help you make the shot better. Whenever my lovely wife comes to visit, I show her one of my shots and she always has something to say which lets me know that I need to step up the game a bit. As a dancer, she understands physicality and I guess from hanging around me all these years, she can spot lame acting. The point is, get someone who can make you really think about what you are doing.
2) Go back and do the planning you didnt do in the beginning – This is an obvious thing but not many people will take the time to really think about things. Think about the point of the scene, the subtext of the lines and so forth. Do the video and drawing reference. Grab those clips that inspire you.
3) Work on an aspect of the shot which is meditative – Sometimes I will work on an aspect of the shot which I think is working and polish it up a bit, like a head turn, or some facial work. That at least lets me clear things up a bit. It also gives me time to think about the choices I am making for the characters I animate. (acting choices that is)
4) Wipe the slate clean – If the shot is in a state of disrepair, sometimes its just best to start fresh. I always find that I work so much faster when I do it this way. I wont usually start fresh, but the times that I do, I find to be more productive and have a sense of urgency which pushes me.