• IK or FK?

    A Lot of time students ask if they should use Inverse kinematics or Forward kinematics on things like arms. It all has to do with the shot and what is going on. Lets say a character is leaning on a desk, then gestures and picks up a cup of coffee and drinks it. it makes sense to use inverse kinematics until his hand leaves the desk, then switch to FK for the gesture and picking the cup and drinking it. But this is not the only way to do it. Ultimately it will come down to making it look natural. We want to avoid the look of a puppet on strings. Sometimes IK on arms can cause this look. That is why the gesture is animated using FK. When the arm is on the table it makes sense to have the joint solved by IK. It would be a compositional nightmare to do it another way. Being able to control the pick up of the cup and putting it to the mouth is up for debate about when and if IK is really necessary. If you can pull it off with FK, then it is a good approach. Its important to keep things as simple as possible. Turning on and off IK can be difficult especially if you have to change the scene. Another thing to take into consideration is when to use arm alignment. Basically, arm align gives you a bit more control over the patterns of your acting. If you rotate the characters root, the arms will not be as affected by that rotation. It gives you a bit more control, especially for acting shots. I usually have this on. It tends to make the character look a bit more organic but can also cause a bit of a head ache if you are doing alot of rotations with the characters body.

    I used to know an animator who animated all his gestures using IK. I never understood how he did it. The point is that people will use what they feel comfortable with. There is no one way, but you can save yourself a lot of headaches if you use the right tool for the right project. I’d love to know how people work and what has worked for them.

    -Andrew

    23 Comments |
  • My (not necessarily THE) Principles

    What is it about animation that moves us so much? Why do I love one scene in a movie and feel less strongly about the next? What is it about the animation of those scenes that speaks to me, and how can I incorporate those things into my work?

    Some time ago I decided I’d try to boil down my process into a simple set of broad principles. And while these aren’t as specific as the fabled 12 or 20 or however however many principles from whatever list you subscribe to, I feel that for myself, they’re a pretty good start at understanding what I look for in animation. Everyone needs their own set of criteria; these are mine. It’s by no means a complete list, but anything else I can think up thus far I’ve found I can slip under one of these umbrella categories.

    My five in order of importance, least to greatest (at this point in my education anyway):

    DESIGN — or perhaps another word for appeal. I hate putting this guy at the bottom of the list, really I do. But in the shower this morning I decided that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Imbuing a character’s image or motion with a solid sense of graphic design, making it appealing, is no doubt of great importance. It makes the scene easy on the eyes and intriguing to look at. It’s also one of the hardest things to put your finger on in any graphic medium. What makes a Milt Kahl drawing so damned appealing? You can go into lengthy mathematical discussions about proportion, straights against curves, arcs and arrows, you name it. But I defy anyone to come up with a formula that explains how to draw (or pose) appealing dogs, or apes, or puppets, the way Milt, or any other great animator can. As important as design is though, it comes in behind:

    PHYSICALITY — The audience’s belief that a character lives and breathes starts in the belief that a character moves right. Every great animated film or scene conveys a set of rules that govern the characters and objects which reside within it. The world of My Neighbor Totoro has different rules than Pinnochio’s, which has different rules than that of The Incredibles. But each film’s characters move and behave in a way that’s consistent with their peers. This is not to say they all move the same (cardinal sin, if you ask me), but that in their own way they obey the rules of the same world. It’s important, no doubt. But not most important. Next up is:

    ENTERTAINMENT — Even if an animated character lacks a sophistication in design or a sense of weight in his surroundings, you can get away with it if it’s entertaining. It’s another hard one that’s hard to explain in simple formulas. And one that many artists and studios are only too often seduced by. These scenes and films seem to cry out, “love me! I’m gonna entertain you!” You know the animation I’m talking about. The stuff that leaves a sour taste in your mouth, and a sense in your gut that you’ve been taken advantage of. Nevertheless, a scene that’s entertaining will linger in one’s memory longer than the next. That’s important, and not just to your reel, but to the audience’s sense of satisfaction after having sat through your film. The right balance is key. Pick your battles, but do not under any circumstances allow it to supersede:

    CHARACTER — The illusion of life, as it were. And only #2 on the list? Sit tight. By this I mean, are the thoughts going through your character’s head consistent with their place on that character’s arc in the film? If I, the audience can’t make out what exactly is going on in that character’s head, and understand why he or she feels that way, forget it. You’ve lost me. Will an impartial audience member be shaken out of their suspension of disbelief by your scene? Are you substituting cliche for subtext? This is the point where “entertainment” will start to elbow its way to center stage if you let it. It’s so tempting to squeeze as much out of a scene as you can, but you cannot let it get in the way of your character’s clear, rational thought process, and you certainly can’t let it interrupt numero uno:

    STORY — no surprises there. The single most important criterion that you must not let suffer under any circumstances. More important than any character’s consistency, more important than any scene’s entertainment value or appeal, if you fail to convey the story point of a scene, you fail to tell the story. And that’s really what this medium is all about: telling a relevant story that will affect an audience. It’s the whole reason animation and indeed movies themselves were invented in the first place. An audience must be able to follow the story. And this is where showing your animation to your peers is vital. You can find ten different people that will give you ten different opinions on your animation’s appeal, but if half of them can’t understand what’s going on, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

    So I’m sure many of you disagree with the set of criteria here, and probably with the order of importance I’ve decided upon, but hey, that’s what the comments section’s for! Happy animating….

    Dr. Hathaway

    22 Comments |
  • A Great Animation Resource

    Carlos Baena just updated his website and it has loads of great animation resources…

    Check it out

    Carlos Website

    5 Comments |
  • Great Quote


    Here is a Quote from Milt Kahl, which is from the “Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation” by John Canemaker. My friend Billy Merrit pointed me to the other day.

    In a talk to students in 1976, the year he retired, Kahl was unusually articulate in summing up his thoughts about the art of animation. “it’s a very difficult medium,” he refelected. “Animation requires a pretty good draftsman because you got to turn things, to be able to draw well enough to turn things at every angle. you have to understand movement, which itself is quite a study. You have to be an actor. You have to put on a performance, to be a showman, to be able to evaluate how good the entertainment is. You have to know the best way of doing it, and have an appreciation of where it belongs in the picture. You have to be a pretty good story man. To be a really good animator, then, you have to be a jack of all trades. I don’t mean to say that I’m all fo these things, but I try hard. I got accused over the years of being a fine draftsman. Actually, I don’t really draw all that well. It’s just that I don’t stop trying as quickly. I keep at it. I happen to have high standards and I try to meet them. I have to struggle like hell to make a drawing look good.”

    How about them apples?

    –Dr. Stephen G.

    11 Comments |
  • Who opened the flood gates?


    Sorry guys,

    Now that I’m on this “Illusion of Life” rant I just can’t shut up. A couple of posts ago I mentioned that there is a section I would read before every shot I did on Toy Story 2 and Monster’s Inc. Combined that’s about three years worth of production and about 60 to 70 shots, worth of reading. The section I would read and still do although not as much, even though I should, was chapter 16. “Animating Expressions and Dialogue”. Now there was a comment made somewhere that said “The Survival kit” told you how to animate and the “Illusion of Life” told you why. I don’t know how that comment came about because this chapter is all about how to do it not why you should animate. I’ll agree there are not a bunch of pictures showing you every frame exactly where it might be on a given frame, but there are still a bunch of great pictures that relate to the text. Like on page 454 and 455, the animation drawings of Stromboli by Bill Tytla. Where they talk about the face and how the elements of the face work together when creating expression, or just being animated that everything is related to each other. Or on page 465 Frank Thomas’ drawings of the door knob from Alice and Wonderland and how he used the design of the lock to create new and interesting mouth shapes while still creating lip synch and how this mouth keep the viewer still believing it’s a door knob and lock. Well there are too many wonderful drawings that tell you more about how to animate than why to animate.

    I agree the book does do a great job of giving you history and the art behind animation the heart and passion of the individuals working in animation at Disney during the early years but that is just one part of the book. I see the Illusion of Life as an animation manual not just a great source of inspiration.

    Just a note the principles of animation section is at chapter 3 that’s a whole 13 chapters before chapter 16 so if you just keep getting stuck there maybe you should move forward in the book there is a whole bunch of how to animate chapters beyond that one.

    -Dr. Stephen G.
    My belief’s may or may not reflect those of my fellow doctors.

    9 Comments |