Traversal Animation - Dota2 Rig Test

Wes also animated this progression breakdown of Lily jumping.

BBoy Animation Test

Better When I’m Dancing

Dog Animation Test

Round 1… Fight!

Lesson: Tips for Creating, Finding, and Using Reference for Animation

Many of my students push back when I bring up using reference. For some reason they think it is “cheating.” Using reference for your animations is no more cheating than Norman Rockwell using photo references for his paintings.

Using reference for your animation to get an idea of timing, weight shifts, poses, and nuance is a time old tradition that goes back to the early days at Disney. Using reference is an industry standard today for working professionals.

When I first started out animating in the 90’s reference was not as easy to come by as it is today with smartphone cameras and youtube. Why not use every tools at your fingertips to get the best possible performance?

Reference provides you with:

  • Body mechanics solutions
  • Better planning & saves time
  • Acting choices
  • Appealing shapes
  • Assists in the learning process
  • Why not use it? Why not use every tool at your disposal
  • Observation will create a believable performance
  • Good reference is your road map!

Here are some tips on creating, finding, and using reference for animation:

1. Reference is your roadmap. If your reference is poorly executed or misses the mark for the performance, then your animation will as well.

  • Take the extra time to create good reference.
  • Plan by listening to the dialog until you understand the beats and subtext.
  • If the scene is body mechanics or pantomime driven, equally write down the emotional process behind each movement and record important beats.
  • Make sure your scene is lit well when recording.
  • If research involves finding content on youtube instead of trying to commit the action yourself, find many clips to choose from and study.
  • Frankenstein the clips that work best from your recording or content found online to create the best select to work from.

2. Have fun researching and explore every possibility for your scene to get to a genuine choice.

  • Sincerity comes from exploration.
  • Your first ideas will be trite and overused.
  • Film a friend and see what they give you that is outside of your baseline in acting.
  • Sit with a friend to choose the best clips. Sometimes you look at it too long and need a fresh eye.
  • Give any idea at least 15 minutes to breathe. Do not stand in the way of the creative flow while making reference.
  • You MUST stop and watch the reference recorded to asses what is working.
  • If you keep acting things out without stopping to watch, you will have the same take over and over again.
  • EXPLORE the possibilities!

3. Using reference does not mean copying exactly what is there.

  • Many times you have to plus the action beyond what is in the reference.
  • Do not copy frame by frame.
  • Understand the choices made in the reference and apply the same force to your character.
  • Too much of you in the scene can be bad. Stay true to your character’s baseline.
  • Most likely you will have different proportions than the character. Compensate.
  • Overacting = bad

4. Get all of the technical stuff out of the way.

  • 24 fps on camera, if possible. Phones are usually 30 fps, so convert before using.
  • Camera should be secured on a solid tripod.
  • Check the angle (similar to the shot), is there enough light? etc.
  • Take shades off lamps for better light.
  • Shoot a wider angle than the original staging in Maya.
  • Shoot a close up too, for facial acting.
  • It’s hard to get good acting when you have to stop to fix the lights, tripod, etc.
  • Create the stage, props and furniture first.
  • Set up camera, no lower than a 50 mm lens for camera if you have control.
  • Create marks to look at. Place a teddy bear in front of the actor to look at.
  • Costumes, wigs or clothing can help get into character.

5. Shoot A LOT of reference footage!

  • Try it where you are only speaking, not the actor.
  • Think about the subtext while acting the scene out. Write it down.
  • Speak the subtext and not the actual lines of dialog.
  • Take your best takes and compile them into one, if you don’t have one solid take.
  • Maybe film a friend, who is better and direct them?
  • Sometimes I ask friends to do a take or two for me.
  • Other people can come up with surprising acting ideas for a shot.
  • If it’s not working, maybe it’s not the right clip? Are you forcing it?
  • Reference is easy to make! Redo it if it’s not working.
  • Watch out for clichés. Do not overact!
  • Write down words as you watch that illustrate the emotions, verbs are best.

6. Thumbnail from your final cut of footage to figure out your story poses and work out the important reversals.

  • Study timing and adjust if needed. You can even change the timing in the video.
  • Timing can always be compressed and elongated to plus the action and heighten entertainment.
  • Study weight shifts in the video from hips to shoulders.
  • Analyze specific movements of the situation and idiosyncratic actions.
  • Simplify the movement if it makes the scene stronger, edit the video clip.

Below is a video explaining an approach to re-timing reference footage presented by Cameron Fielding that might work for you to get the timing you want for the scene. By simply bringing in the footage as an image sequence and animating the frames in the graph editor you can re-time the footage on the fly while animating. You could even figure out the blocking poses and re-time them before ever setting a keyframe on a puppet!

7. How to choose which take from all of that footage?

  • Critical eye, ask a friend to watch with you.
  • You will know the right take, trust your gut.
  • Look for specific actions that do not feel overused.
  • Learn your own idiosyncrasies. If you point a lot make sure that is something your character would do, too.
  • What is successful and how can you plus it?

AnimatorSteve - Stephen Vyas - Breakdown of Fight Animation

Animating a fight with multiple characters is tough.

For every contact, the silhouette needs to be extra readable with a clear line of action.
I think this fight is a good example if you want to animate one!

Stephen Vyas drew over some of the contact poses to show the importance of line of action and silhouette.

Clip to study from: Fight VII animated by Stephen Vyas

Clip to study from: Fight VII animated by Stephen Vyas

Animating a fight with multiple characters is tough. For every contact, the silhouette needs to be extra readable with a clear line of action.
I think this fight is a good example if you want to animate one!

I've drawn over some of the contact poses, enjoy :)

Clip to study from: Fight VII animated by Stephen Vyas

Posted by Frame by Frame on Monday, October 16, 2017

Study of James Baxter’s Animation

The artist will not let me embed the video but here is a link

and here is another one

11 Best Animation Drawing Resources

If you want to learn to draw, draw better to become a better animator or improve your drawing skills overall... These are the 11 Best Animation Drawing Resources - IMHO ~ Angie

11. Ryan Woodward Drawing For Animation

This guy really understands how to create a moving drawing.

Ryan Woodward, 2012 SoDak Animation Festival from SoDak Animation on Vimeo.

10. The Art of Aaron Blaise

Lots of cheap tutorials.   Aaron specializes in creatures.

9. John K Animation School Lessons

...a wealth of information from John Kricfalusi

8. Tom Bancroft Blog

I worked for Tom's twin brother Tony on Stuart Little 2 many years ago and these guys are both full of experience and information.

Tom has released several books to help artists get better at drawing for animation. Tom's daily drawings on his blog feed are fun. He also has a podcast with his brother Tony you can check out here.

In addition, he has a bunch of lessons on youtube.

7.  Gesture Drawing Tutorial By Prem Sai

This is a terrific explanation of line of action in a gesture drawing.


6. Karl Gnass - Spirit of the Pose

I studied with Karl Gnass when I worked at Sony.  He is AMAZING.  He truly understands anatomy and movement and can explain it where you begin to draw better in minutes. His blog is mostly announcements about his classes. 

You can also google his name and find plenty of his past student's posts with content from classes like this.

His youtube channel is a tremendous resource.

5. Proko - Stan Prokopenko - How to Draw

Stan has provided an insane amount of free content in videos on youtube.

and... more.

4. Draw the Looney Tunes Book 

This book can be hard to find. I swear by it.  Concentrated effort of training in a beautiful book.

3.  James Gomes Cabral Tutorials

Gorgeous drawings with informative tutorials.

2. Drawing Force - Mike Matessi

Mike also has forums you can join, private mentor ships, books, and more.

1. The Youssef Drawing Syllabus - Movement & Form

Ok, this is not really a website, but I highly recommend this book to improve your drawings skills. Her twitter account is also pretty informative

Duality Redux | Slow Motion Cats Phantom Camera Series

A study in duality, a domestic cat and a jungle cat embody the civilized and the wild.

Great reference for animators.

17 minute animation process with Richard Lico

Richard demonstrates what its like to animate Quill, the mousy hero from Moss. He gives her a quick look around animation, as you get to see some of the basics behind the Maya tools workflow.

More about the Moss game here

Direct Registering Cat Gait

Cats are capable of walking very precisely because, like all felines, they directly register; that is, they place each hind paw (almost) directly in the print of the corresponding fore paw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This also provides sure footing for their hind paws when they navigate rough terrain.

Animal Gaits for Animators

Ducktales teaser - Frame by frame animation analysis

I love the way this guy says cushion.  Also, great action analysis.

The Artistry Of 'Samurai Jack'

If you were watching Cartoon Network in the late '90s and early 2000s, you probably have Genndy Tartakovsky to thank for some of your favorite cartoons.

But one of his cartoons stands above the rest as a visual and animated masterpiece — "Samurai Jack." With it's unique drawing style, distinct minimalist feel, and perfectly choreographed action sequences "Samurai Jack" has gone down as a seminal work in cartoon history.

Never having received the ending it deserved, "Samurai Jack" is finally returning to Adult Swim this weekend to finish the epic animated tale started way back in 2001.

Sword and the Stone Shot Analysis by James Chiang

Sword and the Stone Shot Analysis by James Chiang

Rodney Mullen Debuts New Tricks, Captured in 360 Degrees | Vogue

Beautiful Reference and motion studies – Look at the weight absorbed at his knees!