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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5BEKRtvKA0


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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yglYQFvEig


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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWwO-h7ZSlw


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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCoJvu8PF7Q


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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goAZQDhi0Is


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?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM8fXYZ-6u0&t=1s


Lesson: Biomechanics and Balance

This is part of a series I have started of lessons from my class lectures. I will choose a topic from time to time to expand on. If you have ideas for a topic please contact me with topics.

Dancer

86ee44796df1e3663dfc28a73e80e3b3****One of the biggest issues I find with newbie animators to CG is understanding balance in their poses.  Balance is the only way to illustrate weight.  if your character looks like they are going to fall over in their pose, you have not done your job as an animator to illustrate weight.  before describing weight and it's relation to balance, I need to explain a few more facets of biomechanics.

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Understanding Kinematics: You must ask yourself these questions to understand how far to push a pose and find the balance line within the pose.

  • How limber is the individual?
  • How long are limbs?
  • Stamina?
  • Weight and Balance?

There is an invisible line that runs from your character's head and neck to the feet.  This plumb line defines the balance in your poses. To check this line in CG you must look at your poses from all angles.TIP5

b32c18043671651a155350d812afa16d standing-postures

Gravity:

  • Gravity is constantly affecting the body in both static and dynamic movement.
  • Gravitational downward pull on an object.
  • Understanding gravity, the COG (Center of Gravity) will help you create solid poses.

20120708-001859 Cirque-Du-Soleil gravity-with-hip-flexion

COG and Balance:

  • The COG is the point of a body at which all the mass may be concentrated.
  • The force of gravity acts vertically downwards from this point.
  • Basically, the body balances around this point.
  • The COG of a body is at its geometrical center.

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Etienne-Jules-Marey-Examples

muybridge jump

NancyOutside
skanna0001

Chronophoto-Tennis-Series-for-BKRW-Magazine_1-640x387

tumblr_m6arkjsq7p1qe31lco4_r1_500

Some tips for posing:

  • Don’t move anything unless it’s for a purpose.
  • Don’t move anything unless it’s for a purpose.
  • Don’t create a pose without knowing why.
  • Do get the best animation poses by exploring all avenues.
  • Do picture in your head what it is you’re animating.
  • Do think in terms of creating an entire pose, not just the head or eyes, etc.
  • Do keep a balanced relation of one part of the character's pose to the other.
  • Do stage the camera for the most effective poses.

Lesson: Biomechanics and Balance

This is part of a series I have started of lessons from my class lectures. I will choose a topic from time to time to expand on. If you have ideas for a topic please use the Ask me anything widget on the right. 

*** these are not my images. Copyright on these images belong to their respective owners. I just use them for educational purposes.

Dancer

86ee44796df1e3663dfc28a73e80e3b3****One of the biggest issues I find with newbie animators to CG is understanding balance in their poses.  Balance is the only way to illustrate weight.  if your character looks like they are going to fall over in their pose, you have not done your job as an animator to illustrate weight.  before describing weight and it's relation to balance, I need to explain a few more facets of biomechanics.

af020eb6dc5e0d701d49ddb71f34fc68

Understanding Kinematics: You must ask yourself these questions to understand how far to push a pose and find the balance line within the pose.

  • How limber is the individual?
  • How long are limbs?
  • Stamina?
  • Weight and Balance?

There is an invisible line that runs from your character's head and neck to the feet.  This plumb line defines the balance in your poses. To check this line in CG you must look at your poses from all angles.TIP5

b32c18043671651a155350d812afa16d standing-postures

Gravity:

  • Gravity is constantly affecting the body in both static and dynamic movement.
  • Gravitational downward pull on an object.
  • Understanding gravity, the COG (Center of Gravity) will help you create solid poses.

20120708-001859 Cirque-Du-Soleil gravity-with-hip-flexion

COG and Balance:

  • The COG is the point of a body at which all the mass may be concentrated.
  • The force of gravity acts vertically downwards from this point.
  • Basically, the body balances around this point.
  • The COG of a body is at its geometrical center.

b9dc3ad312899ee1b2f2ac9d4d6ac911

Etienne-Jules-Marey-Examples

muybridge jump

NancyOutside
skanna0001

Chronophoto-Tennis-Series-for-BKRW-Magazine_1-640x387

tumblr_m6arkjsq7p1qe31lco4_r1_500

Some tips for posing:

  • Don’t move anything unless it’s for a purpose.
  • Don’t move anything unless it’s for a purpose.
  • Don’t create a pose without knowing why.
  • Do get the best animation poses by exploring all avenues.
  • Do picture in your head what it is you’re animating.
  • Do think in terms of creating an entire pose, not just the head or eyes, etc.
  • Do keep a balanced relation of one part of the character's pose to the other.
  • Do stage the camera for the most effective poses.

Andrew Silke - Full 3d Training Courses

Andrew Silke, has set up some great courses on his website.

I encourage anyone studying with me at USC to sign up for a memebership and check out these sourses over the summer if you are at all interested in modeling, rigging or getting better at animation for next year!
Full 3d Training Courses By Andrew…
create3dcharacters.com/


OpenToonz

Animation software OpenToonz, which is used by many studios, most notably Japanese Studio Ghibli has been made open source and available for absolutely FREE! And you can also download the same tools that Studio Ghibli used for their process!

“With one announcement, the animation software game may have changed forever. Toonz, the software used by Studio Ghibli to produce films like The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo and The Wind Rises, will be made free and open source to the animation community beginning March 26, 2016. The deal, which could have a potentially profound impact on the animation industry, was made possible after Japanese publisher Dwango acquired the Toonz software from Italian tech company Digital Video, which has been producing the animation package since 1993. Ghibli has been using Toonz since the production of Princess Mononoke, and the new OpenToonz is dubbed “Toonz Ghibli Edition” because of all the custom-features that Toonz has developed over the years for the legendary Japanese studio.  Atsushi Okui, executive imaging director at Studio Ghibli, explained that they initially chose Toonz back in 1995 “in order to continue producing theater-quality animation without additional stress,” and a desire for software that had “the ability to combine the hand-drawn animation with the digitally painted ones seamlessly.” 

However, Toonz is not exclusive to Ghibli and is used by plenty of other studios, including Rough Draft, which produced Matt Groening’s Futurama with it, and Folimage, which used it for its recent feature, Phantom Boy.

Simon Hayes provides a peak into using Studio Ghibli’s OpenToonz Plastic software feature to create cutout 2D characters animated using bones and joints. OptenToonz plastic feature is similar to After Effects’ puppet pin tools, however, OptenToonz is a bones or joint based system that surpasses Ae’s rudimentary puppet pins. For one, a bone and joint system will inherently have a hierarchy to them, making them ideal for character rigging and animation. A skeletal system is also the foundation for more advanced systems such as constraints and IK (Inverse Kinematics). Here, Simon Hayes lays out the basics and steps for easily creating a 2D cutout character using the Plastic tool.


How To Draw Adventure Time -Pendleton Ward

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Adventure Time's Pendleton Ward made this extensive guide to the rules for drawing Finn and Jake, even while encouraging people to break most of them. The Style guide for Adventure Time allows anyone drawing Finn to occasionally break rules of the style guide itself (and physics) if it allows for a better animation on the character. Style guides usually make it online after being distributed by the show itself in some sort of blog or in an “Art of” book. Occasionally, animators who worked on a show will let the style guide go after they conclude their work on it.

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Staggers -- Cartoon Character Animation with Maya By: Keith Osborn

From the guy you gave us the rig for Mr. Buttons… here is how to animate a stagger.


IBL for animators

IBL for animators

IBL for animators from Stephen Melagrano on Vimeo.

Want clean simple lighting without the fuss using mental ray and IBL?

Stephen Me4langrano explains how in this tutorial.

 


Aaron Blaise

Animation Lessons from Aaron Blaise

Learn animation in TV Paint from a Great Animator!
Aaron Blaise
Aaron Blaise posted his “Hippo Funk Dance” with the description:
“I’ve finally finished my dancing Hippo animation. I’ll be using this animation for two upcoming tutorials, one on animating to music and it will also be part of my upcoming course on character design.”