Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How I Approach My shot

When I get my assignment and kick off from the director, I usually spend a whole day away from the computer planning my shot. I refuse to lay down one key until I can see the whole animation in my head. Now I know not everything in my head may work during my execution, and I know some other things may evolve, but it's important to have a clear plan before messing around in the computer.

Here is my own personal checklist put into a rough sequential order. I say rough order, because different shots call for different things.

• Know the character(s) you are animating. Look at their model sheets for expressions. Read their character packet to know their arc (storyline) in the movie, and understand their personality traits and their limitations.
o Also understand the type of animal they are and how they move.

• Study the sequence - what is the pacing throughout the sequence. Think of the sequence as a roller coaster. What part of the ride does your shot fall on? Is it building to something else? Is it the peak before the fall?

• What kind of moment is it and what is the point of my shot? Happy, sad, calm, crazy, is it a reaction shot, or a bridge to another shot. In my opinion, this is the most often forgotten thing. There are many ways to nail a point, but there are even more ways to miss it, or overdo it. As animators, it’s in our nature that we want to do something awesome, fresh and new, and sometimes we tend to overdo some of those simple moments.

• Look at the storyboard panels. Amazing artists work long and hard on capturing each beat of a sequence. What I always find amazing, is that the artist manages to capture some of the most complex actions and feeling in just a few drawings. It’s that simplicity and clarity that we need to study.
o Keep in mind these guys and gals are really good at drawing, so we can also learn a lot from their drawing skills in how they design the character and capture the essence of that particular feeling they are going for.

• Toggle around the set. When you get your assignment, you usually get your camera and set along with it. I always find it very useful to toggle around in it to get a sense of the characters scale and what limitations they have within camera. For instance, you may find a tree is in the way, or that you only have enough room to move their head around. Whatever you find will help in planning your shot.

• Listen to audio. Listen over and over again. Try to listen for just the lyrical rhythm, then try to listen to the words and the accents, and what importance those accents have over those words.

• Draw from personal experience. Nothing paints a more vivid picture than picturing your own personal experiences. So if you’ve gone through a similar moment, draw from that.

• Thumbnails. Do lots of thumbnails. A lot of people tend to do only one thumbnail per beat in the shot. NEVER settle for your first thumbnail, no matter how in love you are with it. Explore several different variations of one pose. Its not just the pose you are looking for but what the pose looks and feels like amongst the other poses.
o After Milt Kahl would thumbnail out the full character, sometimes he would go in and do thumbnails of individual parts like hands and legs, trying to see if within those he can find a pose that gives the feeling he’s going for.

• Acting it out before a camera is really good too. It may help you see the performance a little clearer. For me, I use reference to see little happenings that I may not have thought of.

• Using movies as reference. If you can remember a scene in a movie that you thought captured the moment you are going for, study it. Find why it was successful.

• The 12 principles of animation laid out by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson.

• Some additional principles learned along the way:
- Pantomime: How would you get the point across if no dialogue available
- Texture to timing
- Rhythm of the dialogue: Use the rhythm to see how you lyrically move the character around.
- Show characters thought process
- Visualize patterns of movement within the 2D frame
- Reversals: Getting reverse curves in the body.
- Shot context: Achieving the purpose of the shot. Don’t overdo it!
- Contrast
- What is motivating the movement
- Silhouette and shapes in front of shapes. Think about color and patterns as well.
- Avoid tangents
- Develop a method of approaching your shot. How are you going to tackle the problem?
- Know what you want the audience to see and what not to see
- Direct viewers eye
- Control the head and eyes. The viewer focuses mainly on the eyes, catches the rest of the performance in their peripheral.
- Choreograph between characters
- Avoid twinning
- Don’t let the action overpower important dialogue.

• After my first pass of blocking I always analyze it using all of the principles.

Then you’re done! It’s just that easy! Hehehe.