Personal Animation Production Critique

I feel it is only right I rip into my own work just as I did earlier with work of others.  So here is a personal animated short movie of mine from 2009 and critique for it.

Animation

I made the animated short Flight or Fight in spring 2009. It was a technical exercise that got out of hand, big time. It goes against what I recommend, to begin with I had no story to tell. You can read about the production process here, a sort of an making of. I’m a bit ashamed to show this short for it is anything but my best work, but having said many times that I’ve learned by doing I think I am obliged to show this, too, as I learned so much from it.

Short is also available in HD(recommended) at Vimeo.

Critique

I will judge the animation on how it achieves the illusion of life, or not – following the animation principles which I wrote about here.

Story takes place underwater.  One of the top animators in game industry told me, kindly, that it was an extremely silly choice – very hard animate.
Underwater setting provides water resistance which acts like a brake and a force, both at once.  It will have effect on Dynamics, Balance, Follow Through and in small ways pretty much everything else. In short it will make the animation look floaty, artificial, which is a problem already with normal 3D animation and underwater setting only adds to it.

[styled_table]
IMPRESSION PROBLEM AREA DEFINED
All animation seems to forget water resistance except when convinient. Underwater, especially with any type of current, holding balance and staying still would take far more of an effort than shown here. Moves are also too effortless and he Fishman stays on the bottom like glue when he wants to and he sinks too fast. Dynamics, Dynamic Balance, Anticipation
Fishman movements lack fluidity, the round flowing feel and and up’n down and side to side movement you’d expect from underwater motion. Arcs, Variance, Anticipation
Fish movements in particular lack weight and strenght – the speed and acceleration and decelartion is not quite right. Dynamic, Anticipation, Arcs, Timing
Neither character changes their volume in motion. Lack thereof is best seen where the fish is caught under the big root and fights free. Squash and Stretch
[/styled_table]

In addition to the above, my animation has acting problems.  The fisman doesn’t convey his thoughts well enough.  Stronger poses and better timing would help – and really better acting, too.

Post scriptum

Regardkess of the short not meeting my standards in animation, I’m quite happy with it as a technical achievement – that I got it done despite the problems.  The colours are nice too and the mood works sometimes. Of course the most important thing is I learned a lot.
What about you – any production experiences to share, or anything related? Feel free to write below.

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Character Story

Previously I introduced the coming tutorial and shoved a timelapse of base head modelingThis one is about the character design, about character backstory.  This was supposed to be a video as well, but I’m having trouble with my computer – can’t do video edit just now.
Giving your character history is part of character design and a good place to start.  You need to know WHO the character is to make an animation with him/her.  The following is a bit of story for the tutorial character.

Our character, I call him Curt, was an orphan and grew in time of unrest – grew to violence.  And just when Curt became an adult the unrest became a war.

War needed strong men capable of violence, and Curt was a perfect fit.  He was mayhem on the battlefield, a bloody champion.

However since he never was much of a thinking man and was most useful as a human weapon, he was used as such and was never rewarded for his dedication.

Eventually, after many years fighting and death, the war ended.

Suddenly there was no more work for Curt.  Also unlike many other champions he was not knighted or rewarded in any way.  He was just a man with lots of blood on his hands and a problem to his superiors.  He was told it was better he left.

For long years Curt traveled, took odd jobs and slowly took stock of the bloody work he had done.  He began to drink his sorrows away.


Then, in a border city in the middle of nowhere, where Curt’s war record was unknown, he finally had a bit of luck.  He was hired as a guard – was a man of uniform again.  It was something he knew how to do.

This is where our backstory ends and visual character design begins.  Thanks to thinking up a story I know better how he acts and thinks.  I know he wants to do his job well and perhaps someday redeem his past.  Maybe the animation, if I were to do one with this character, could be about that.
I know, I know – this is no revelation, just a simple point I wanted to make.  Character design should  include a story and I think making one up is a lots of fun (even one as dark as the story above).

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Teaser

This has been requested enought times, so here I go, finally. This project is loads of fun to work on and really time consuming too. I hope you’ll like it as much as I do.

You can also watch it in HD at vimeo.

Tutorial Details (in short)

Contents

Covers a bit on character design, then goes deep to modeling a character for animation, uv-mapping, sculpting, texturing and finally quick posing and to a promotional render. On the way I tell you why I do things the way I do.  Tutorial video duration will most likely be 10+ hours.  The base head & eye-modeling alone is around 1 hour 40 minutes.

Software used

Luxology Modo (for 3d) and Adobe Photoshop (2d). However no part of the tutorial needs just those two softwares – you can use any similiar software to get the job done. I will list 3D-tools used(such as bevel) in the tutorial details, so you can see what your software can do and what, if any, you need to employ another software for. And instead of Photoshop you can use any capable bitmap painting/editing software.

Aimed for / Level of difficulty

Anyone who knows how to operate a 3D-software. I’m not explaining very basics – software manual and generic tutorials can tell you that. However I do go over what tools we will use and where.

Format

Tutorial will be in HD720P video, quicktime-files, and with a menu to easily access them.

Delivery

Tutorial will be available from a reputable online vendor as a download or on a dvd.

Cost

The price won’t be low but not scary either and the value for money will be high.

Future plans

Tutorial is planned as the first in a series that goes from design all the way to animated short film production and finish.

That’s it for now.  More will come, at least a trailer, before the tutorial releases.

What would you like to have in such a tutorial?  Please feel free to write comments and questions below.
Update: Tutorial is delayed for unknown time -a LONG time- due to other work taking my time. I rather not set a date for release and miss it again. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the release without coming back here to check over and over, subscribe to site RSS feed or Email Updates.

Personal Animation Production Hell

This is a story about how my animation production came about, and it wasn’t the way I recommend.  Read the following brief journal and see why.  This was done on the side of occasional freelance work and other on-going projects(movie and game).  I didn’t sleep much for half a year.

You can view clips of this animation production at the start of my 2009 demoreel(hd).

January 2009

Fishman, old design from 2007My HD-demoreel needed some current generation game characters, animated.  I decide to go with a fishman who I had earlier modeled a preliminary head for.  For his nemesis I chose a nasty looking deep sea fish (enlarged many times over).  Plan was low-poly game-models with Zbrush-sculpted details applied as normal-map.

Fish low-polyI didn’t spend much time on design, just went ahead modeling animation-ready base meshes in Modo.  Polycount (triangle faces):  fisman 7532(including eyes, teeth, clothes and equipment), fish 4572.

This large image shows the fishman construction, simplified.

Fishman new designAfter 3 or so weeks I had both characters modeled, sculpted, textured and rigged.  Rigging was the slowest step, for it is the most technical and not my favourite.  Last days of the month went to finding a way to make Messiah animation work in Lightwave with Zbrush-based displacement.  I’ve later done a tutorial on this.
Plan had changed:  Game character showcase now had a short high-detail animation production added to it.  Oh boy.

February 2009

Action takes place by ocean coast, underwater.  Fishman escapes towards the light and the demonic fish chases.  Enviroment creation was next.

I modeled an underwater bay with massive roots coming from above.  The more I built, the more the story wanted to grow.  Dangerous thing, that.  Suddenly I was doing particle effects, great mats of flowing seaweed and water caustics, colours, shadows and light projected from world above.  It was slow work, endless testing.  Early February was also when I started production rendering, my one computer laboring 24h hours a day – with limited power of course while I work.

scene modelingscene particles

scene layout, polygonsscene layout, textured

After that I could finally begin animating and of course discoved issues in the rigs and and meshes that needed tweaking.
animation production scene example, final look

The tiny animation production had grown to unestimable size.  And silly me went ahead optimistic.  I knew it would take some time, though.

March – June 2009

These 4 months were all divided somewhat like this: 1 week for animating, 2 for trying to make renders happen, and 1 for other technical problems.  My ambition was too much for my computer, or, better said:  My goals were all wrong –  high detail & HD instead of good story and animation.  Had to drop many cool features, optimize the scenes and renders, find workarounds and segment the workflow as much as possible to render at least one layer at a time.  This in turn caused problems when things separated to several scenes had to interact with each other(shadows and more).

Production Hell Crash screens
In short most of the entire production was spent fighting limited resources, trying to make the render at all possible, and then render and re-render because it crashes over and over.  I count my computer rendered 5 months(!) around the clock giving me 12+ gigabytes of hd720p animation frames: characters, scene and effects all on separate layers.  Combined it is 5-6 minutes of animation.

July – September 2009

I spent a week or so combining animation frames to video clips in Vegas.  Doing this it crashed 9 times out of 10.  HD editing with more than 2 layers was again too much for my computer.  The rendered clips revealed many faults in the animation, but there was no way I would go through the test’n crash-hell again to fix them.
I edited the animation down to 3 and half minutes. Following removed scene was an easy cut.  It doesn’t fit overall story pacing and both continuity and animation are lacking.  In the clip the fish looks for the fishman but finds his discarded lamp instead.

A sound-savvy friend did the sound effects in August.  I also had a musician working on the music, but our sensibilities didn’t meet this time.  In September I found another musician.  One of his compositions was almost a perfect match for the film pacing and lenght.  So, on September 29th the final movie was complete.

Results and things learned

The movie is now going to festivals.  The first it was accepted  to is  Short Film Festival of Los Angeles.  So even though it wasn’t a sensible story-based production, it has some merits – people like it.  I’m glad 🙂  This festival tour is why I’m not sharing the film online, yet.

So what did I learn?  I knew this is not the way to do an animation production but couldn’t help myself.  It was a technical challenge I set myself to finish, no matter what.  I learned not to do production this way ever again.  Also the process taught many practical things – some I’ve been sharing as tips.  And finally I learned doing production the hard way doesn’t necessarily mean the result is bad.  But doing it ‘right’ would improve end result a lot and make whole process a great deal easier.

Please don’t get carried away with some half-baked project like I did.  Be a realist and plan well to get the most out of your story and animation.

What about you, what’s your story?  Have you made your own production(s) or tried and crashed & burned?  I’d love to hear about it.

Animation Production Reality Check

Here are some things good to think about before going into animation production for the first time.  Main message is just this:  Think what is doable and how you can reduce the amount of work.  I’m not saying don’t do anything cool – just make sure you can finish it too.  The following is bound to stomp on many toes, egos and dreams about animating wonders, but I mean well.

Animation production is literally producing everything in an animated movie, not forgetting the managerial part, marketing and all the rest. Usually the studios doing these things have from tens to hundreds of people on they payroll and still they outsource tasks.  Even smaller productions are epic in work hours.  One has to be nuts, absolutely loco, to go at it alone.  Yet some people do.  Someone like that needs to be a generalist with very wide and adaptable skillset or have unlimited production time.  Even then I would not recommend doing it alone.

My team for a small production (5+ mins, final cut 3min 33s) was a sound guy for sounds and a friendly musician gave me song of his to use.  I did everything else.

The tough decisions – kill your darlings

Many personal animation productions are born from big ideas and die for the same reason. Please be a realist.  Scrap all big plans and start with a short story.  Also don’t aim for the production values big studios buy.  Rather make many effort saving choises with your storytelling, cinematography and overall design – create something less grand but still absolutely wonderful.

Some questions for those planning animation production

  • What’s the problem your protagonist has, how does he solve it and what challenge(s) does he face on the way? That and the main message of your story is all you need. Anything beyond this is likely just extra your short story can do without.
  • Do you really need many characters? Try staying with just protagonist and the antagonist. 3 characters is the effective maximum for short story – more is just a distraction.
  • Could all take place in one room or other limited enviroment?
  • Could the story happen within one day or even an hour or less? Make that one momentous occasion in the life of your protagonist.
  • What could be said with less?  Often non-flashy way of getting information across has more impact.
  • What do you really need to show to tell the story and what can you leave to the imagination of your audience?  Comic books rely heavily on imagination – most of the story takes place between the frames and the frames you see and read have only some key moments.  Film and animation can do similiar things.
  • What design is the most effective in telling the story and capture the hearts of your audience?  Don’t go for realistic characters just because you think or know you can.  There are reasons why even the great Pixar avoids that.  More stylised the design is the more forgiving your audience is towards the faults in any visual elements. Also the more cartoony/stylised you go, the easier it becomes to design sympathetic characters.

Plan it, Test it

Get your story core down to few sentences.  Run them by your friends, family and your cat, and get their opinions.  When you have something that really works, write the rest.  Remember to take brakes from writing, days or even a week, to regain sense and perspective.  When you and your testers are happy, draw the few key story moments.  Here is a good moment to define the style you are going for.  If it the key moments work and connect both visually and  storywise, continue.

When pivotal moments are pictured, draw all important moments between them.  It doesn’t have to be art, just something understandable.  When you have all main things pictured, as if it were a comic book, put them in order and on a timeline(in Flash, video edit – any software with a timeline).   Soon you should have a storyboard you can watch as a video – an animatic.  This is the true stress test.  If you story still works and resonates, you have something worth creating.  This is also where you can pre-cut your movie, try different pacing and order for things – shape the movie before ever going into actual production.

I’ve written a few stories(most about nice goblins) and made animatics for some of them.  Most tests soon showed the story wasn’t working and the animatic was never completed.  I think I’ve only finished one which passes the stress test, more or less.   I’m including pictures from different animatics.

Animatic screen shotAnimatic screen shot

Animatic screen shotAnimatic screen shot

Animatic screen shotAnimatic screen shot

Focus

It is easy to lose focus in production.  Maybe you want to add one more cool enviroment, a bit of backstory or just a little more detail in that one rock to make things more interesting.  Don’t do that.  Rather finish what you started they way you planned and tested it and only after, if you still feel like it, add things.

That’s it for now.  So, did I do my animated movie like this?  Nope.   But I should have.  The details are here.

Do you have an animation production experience to share?  How well did you plan yours?

Modeling for animation – Test

Earlier I wrote why surface flow matters and a bit about why model for animation. Here I wish to show the benefits with visual examples.

I will compare how two character meshes deform in animation.  To make this comparison mean something, I have selected one of the best base meshes I could find without directed edgeflow.  This mesh is made by unknown person.  It has nice even division of polygons – good for sculpting.  Second mesh, seen on the right, is mine and built for both sculpting and animation.  It is almost exactly the same size and shape as the first.  I have rigged both meshes in Messiah with one rig – they both do exactly same motions.   I haven’t done any weighting of bones to the mesh – Messiah bones have a good effect on the mesh by default. Point is that with this setup the only difference you can see comes from the meshes.

Modeling for animation Test - the meshes we test with

Here are the meshes in rigging pose.  My Edgelooped-mesh has different head and no toes as I was lazy and many characters will be wearing shoes anyway.    The edgelooped mesh has about the same number of polygons in the body as the ‘normal’ mesh, but more definition because the flows define shape.  The flow also helps maintain shape in extreme motions, like seen in the stretching example.  Observe the general form, especially upper shoulder and chest area and the hip.  See how the edgeflow helps to keep the shape and how it deforms it a bit better?  Difference is not notable everywhere, but it is there and it is important.

Modeling for animation Test - stretching

Modeling for animation Test - arms

You may argue the first mesh would show the same definition if we just pushed points around and added a few polygons.  But that’s just it – unless you add those polygons as carefully placed loops, you will have to add a lot more than ‘a few’ to get the same definition edgelooped mesh Modeling for animation Test, knee examplehas with less polygons.

Some might also say that the flows don’t matter that much in animation production, because when final mesh is subdivided to gazillion polygons at rendertime there will be more than enough for joints and to keep the definition.  I disagree.  Base mesh is the one that gets animated, it sets base grid for the final – any problems in the base are still present in the final.  And I dare say they become more visible in a highly detailed mesh.

Last examples show how the edgeloops help in joint areas. With the knee I’m using the loop shown here (see image with lots of loops).  Same works at elbow and at shoulder-top.  The loop ‘binds’ the parts together and provides material for both sides of the outward bending limb – keeps the volume.

Modeling for animation Test - finger loops

With fingers I’m using a simpler ‘loop’ to keep polycount low.  It adds one more edge on the out bending part and helps to keep the volume.  It also introduces triangle-polys.  If triangles are a problem, add a full around the finger loop instead.

Conclusion

Mesh with evenly spaced polygons does well in animation and a mesh with planned edgeflow does even better.  No suprise there, but I needed to test it anyway.

What’s your take on this?  Is edgeflow really that important?  What is your preferred flow – care to show it?  I know mine is just one way to do it.

8 Animation Production Tips – Modeling and Animation

I wish to encourage lunacy that is Personal Animation Production.
This is Animation Production Tips collection 1.  These were born from problems I’ve faced, from the neurons burnt.  Read and save yourself a great deal of trouble.

Note that these are Tips.  Many could be expanded to full tutorials.  You may find futher info on some of these tips somewhere – maybe even here, later.  Important for now is to get the ideas across.

Tips for animation production

  1. Use each software to their strenghts.  Build a ‘pipeline’. May sound like a costly solution but doesn’t have to be(Wings for modeling+Blender for animation, effects and video&audio editing= all free).  You can build an affordable pipeline even with commercial software and have it all under the price of one Max or Maya licence.  One example of such a combo would be Silo, 3D Coat, Messiah and Vegas Pro.
  2. Model your characters for animation – use edgeloops to create surface flow that deforms well in animation.  See the above picture?  Your model has to be good to get that range of motion without problems.  This is crucial especially in the joint and face-areas.  In short your polygons should mimick the major muscle flows under the skin.  Surface flow is a major topic by itself.  If it is a new concept for you, I suggest you start from the following classic modeling document.  http://www.theminters.com/misc/articles/derived-surfaces/index.htm
  3. Don’t go super low-poly with your character models.  I’m very familiar with the obsession to optimize, but if you go exceedingly low in polys your character deformations become too large – no longer in your control.  A bit more polygons is better for displacement too – it displaces with more reliable results.
  4. Use displacement for detailing.  Sculpt or model the detail in a software that lets you bake it into a displacement-map.  In production use less detailed models and use displacement-maps to bring the detail out at rendertime.  Advantages are a lot lighter animated models and scenes meaning generally better animating conditions, faster manipulation and hopefully less crashes too.  Also you get faster overall rendering as detail is generated only where and when it is seen.  Most software should allow linking displacement to, say, camera distance.  Or you can set the amount of subdivision happening per pixel – meaning only the area that shows well in your current camera frame is subdivided for detail.
  5. Use as few bones in your rig as possible. Unless you’re creating the ultimate in realistic muscle deformation, you can get by with very few bones.  The less you have the smoother deformation created by them can be.  You know, organic.  In reverse the more bones you add the more you have to adjust bone influence or use muscle bones between them or corrective morphs or what have you – all to get rid of the too sharp deformations many bones bring.
  6. Transfer animation from one software to another with MDDs.  MDD is an universal way to transfer Mesh Deformation Data.  It transfers every deformation of the mesh in your animation software, even morphs, meaning all animation, to another software.  This way you can animate in animation specialized software and do the rest in whatever software you like. MDD-support should be common.
  7. Brake your animation into sequences.  Don’t try to animate all in one project-file and don’t try to export long animation mdds. The files can get corrupted and then you lose all at once. And long animations, especially with complex meshes, become huge as mdd-files.
  8. Set your character rig up so that you can do mesh or rig revisions with ease in production.  Lets say you find, right in the middle of production, that you have to change geometry in your characters shoulder area.  It will be an absolute pain if, to get the changed model moving again, you have to re-weight it and set the your mesh-based tricks(morphs and such) up again.  Instead use an animation software that gets by with bones and weight fields and such – so that all is in the rig and not tied to the mesh in any way.  Then you can change the mesh around the rig as much as you like, change to other characters even.  Messiah works like this.  Your software, if other, might not but may have some other way to save you from re-weighting-hassle.  Find it out and test it before you start animating.

Do you use these tricks in your productions?  What would you change?  What would you add?  What tip would you like to see expanded to a tutorial?

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.

Illusion of Life in 3D Character Animation. Part 1

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? Back in 2003 I did a study wishing to confirm just that. Idea was to find what makes good animation and then, via a case study, see if new animators can hit the target – and if not see where they fail and why. Study was in Finnish, title translates to “The Illusion of life in 3D Character Animation” – my final thesis in Multimedia studies. I shall examine this in 2 articles though without the ‘scientific’ style and constant referencing. References are listed at the end.

What is good character animation?

Illusion of Life in 3D Character Animation, poster for the study

Unquestionably we want to see characters come to life. To seem alive a character has to move like a living creature and show self-motivation in it’s actions. Illusion is based on how it reminds us of life and how at the same time it is a caricature – and imitation of life rather than a copy. A copy of life would be difficult and boring to do, and could not be applied to all imaginary characters. Imitation is enough. What is there to imitate, then? Two things: Lifelike motion and acting.

Since acting is, in my opinion, more advanced than making things move ‘right’, and since it would have expanded study scope greatly, I chose to ignore it. But I did expect lifelike motion. To achieve that one needs to study motion.

Discoveries made from studying motion

  • Balance Origin of motion. Each movement is caused by gravity, or other such major force, or is a reaction to it. A move starts by going off balance and ends by again achieving balance. Character has a center of balance and to move about a character has use energy to get that center moving, actually often falling. For example walk is a combination of controlled falls. Fall, catch, fall, catch and so on.
  • Balance. A bipedal character is in balance when you can draw straight line from base of the neck to A) the leg that has weight or B) to a direct line crossing the two ankles.
  • Tilt & Twist. Gravity gave the need for a rigid supporting skeleton and we move it with muscles. But muscles are expensive to both build and use, so creatures with rigid spine(vertebrate) have evolved a way to move by tilting and twisting. In fact all vertebrate moves are rotation of some sort and every body part involved in creating a motion rotates on three(3) axis.

Tilt and Twist
Look at bipedal walk. Tilt and twist of the hips gets a leg up and going and gives reach to the motion. So also moves the point of balance. Rotations of upper body help to compensate for this. Other vetebrate creatures like lizards have short legs but compensate this with a very flexible spine. Understanding movement and then by training futher bare skeletons can tell you how a creature would move in life.

Principles of the Illusion of Life

Animation professionals, back in the first golden age of animation, studied things like the above and developed principles to achieve Illusion of Life. They still apply. For purposes of my study I’ve chosen 9 about lifelike motion and ignored others that concern storytelling(framing and more) or acting. The explanations are my variations of what you can find elsewhere on the net or in books.

  1. Tilt & Twist As explained before vertebrate movement is all about rotations.
  2. Dynamic balance is having characters mass, inertia and energy in balance. Body parts work together for balance.
  3. Dynamics is making note of the laws conserning mass and energy and applying them to animation so it looks like things have weight. Often dynamics is called acceleration and deceleration.
  4. Follow Through and Overlapping Action means that in nature not all parts of a character get to speed or stop at the same time.
  5. Squash and stretch concern shape changes – all living creatures shapes change in movement in many parts of the body and even as a whole, too, in extreme motions.
  6. Arcs: natural movement goes in arcs. It has to do with rotational joints and gravity. See no 1.
  7. Natural faults and variance, even chaos. This is the spice of life – imperfections in all things.
  8. Anticipation is simply anticipating and action with a counter-action. All natural motions have anticipation.
  9. Subconscious action is what everybody does without noticing, like shifting weight when standing. It is part personality, part chaos that is life and part the fact that living things just get stiff without motion.

All the above principles incorporate timing. Timing (what moves when in relation to what else) creates illusion of weight and more. Think of it as the tool to do the principles with.

As you can see, the principles above come from the real world. Yet using principles with our often unreal worlds and characters gives them the Illusion of Life. It’s the illusion, the touch of familiar we are after, not The Real. Heck, you can have Lifelike Adventures of Mr. Garden Hose by applying these right. And they don’t have to applied exactly like in real life, rather used for good effect. Animation can (and should) go beyond the ‘real’.

I claim using the principles does create lifelike motion and that they are one requirement for good animation. Rest is created with visual storytelling choises and acting.

Do you agree the principles still apply? Have you kept the classic learnings in mind when animating, or do you just trust yourself to get it right, naturally?

Tune in later for part 2 where we examine an animation with the principles in mind.

References used(back in 2003)