Illusion of Life in 3D Character Animation. Part 2.

What are the most common mistakes new animators make and why?  Could it be that the mistakes come from ignoring the classic rules of animation? In part 1 we examined what makes good animation.  Now lets check what animation helping tools are available that novices may use.  Then lets see, via a case study, if novice animators make mistakes and if so where (with some insight into why as well).

Animation helpers in software
Most major animation softwares have some helpers included.  New animators are likely to use these to get their productions up and going.  Note that I refer back to my research in 2003 here, so things may have changed.  Probably there are overall a lot more helpers which can be good or bad – depends how you use them.

  • Autorigging.  The software autorigger lets you sketch out the driving skeleton with few drags and klicks, and one may think that should be it.  In truth every character has problem areas, usually at joints, where you will need to either add bones or corrective morphs, or adjust bone weighting.
  • Walk/Run with routes and steps.  You draw a route of footsteps to tell character where to go and can adjust the walk with variables like speed or step lenght.  Problem is the generated motion is just a sketch and should be treated as such.
  • Character dynamics.  Character rig can automaticly maintain balance.  Hips twist and tilt in the walk and top part of the character balances this out.  But again this gives only a sketch, lacks personality and doesn’t know things like how heavy or asymmetrical your character may be.

Analyzing animation – a case study

Lets look at how a novice level animation meets the criteria of lifelike animation.
Moriar Ubi Sum screenshot, copyright is Moriar Ubi Sum creatorsConsidering I had no group to test with nor the resources for several test subjects, I chose just one animation and only the main character to analyse.  My selection was Moriar Ubi Sum, a short movie made by a team of 3 people in 2002 using 3DS Max 4.  Luckily it is still on-line.  It would be bad manners to leech their stream here, so please go to the site and see animation there.  The image is from Moriar Ubi Sum.
http://moriarubisum.free.fr/
It is a curious short because pretty much everything else is of good or even better quality except the main character and his animation.  That contrast is the reason I chose just this animation.
The most obvious problems and their connections are as follows.

[styled_table]

IMPRESSION PROBLEM AREA DEFINED
Movements are too precise and the guy moves like on tracks Variance or chaos.  May have used footstep routes to direct the character and did not edit the resulting animation sketch.
Poses and moves too stiff and mechanical and not all parts of the body move Arcs, Squash & Stretch, Tilt & Twist
Main character looks off balance and doesn’t shift his weight when doing something Balance, Tilt & Twist, Anticipation
Movements don’t seem to require an effort and stop or start too abruptly. The character often acts like a marionette doll rather than doing the action himself. Dynamics, Squash and Stretch, Anticipation
Character’s limbs deform badly at knees, elbows and shoulders. Clothes or hair don’t react to movement. No Overlapping action. And may have either used an autorigger and left it at that and/or didn’t bother/have time/know how to fix joints.
His eyes are not alive and hands and fingers have this ‘frozen in death’ look to them – they are in a rigid pose and rarely move. Overlapping + Subcouncious action
Movement in general is too lazy or lacks ‘punch’. Overall Timing, Dynamics

[/styled_table]

For Moriar Ubi Sum creators reading this I wish to say:  I don’t mean to offend.  Rather I wish to make a point.  Would you agree with my critique now, 8 years after your animation release?  Rest assured I will be equally harsh when examining my own work.  That’s coming later.  Edit:  Watch my first animated short and read critique here.

Results

The example animation did lack ‘life’ and showed the sympoms of tool reliance.  We should conclude novice animators often don’t pay enough attention to animation principles and may use the software helpers as a crutch.   You can find more examples of this in large animation archives.  Look for other than the most popular animations as popular clips usually have little to fault in this regard.  And forget ‘first’ works by Animation/CG school graduates put out – there is nothing novice or about work being supervised by professionals.  Really this study applies to beginner animator’s(often self-taught) first productions the most.

Does this mean any animation with these issues sucks?  Definitely not.  If the animation is entertaining(story, acting etc.), people usually like it.  What you can take from this is just that applying the principles and remembering software helpers don’t do all the work for you makes for better animation.

Does this seem pointless or useful?  Does knowing the principles  help you see the problems and how to fix or avoid them?  What is your experience?

Postscript
So what happened with the study of these articles are based on?  It was rated 2.5/3.  The critique is what I really like.
[blockquote]”Has practical approach, like learning material, which is positive but also negative as it takes away from the merit as a research paper.”[/blockquote]
I hope to keep this blog just like that: plain but practical.

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