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Animation Step 3: Tackle the Big Problems First

May 25, 2007

Animation, by definition, is a problem.  To be more precise, it’s a collection of many problems rolled into one.  These problems don’t mix well. The primary problem that you want to be able to focus as much attention on is performance.  And you won’t be able to focus on performance if you are constantly working out more technical problems.  So, before you begin to address the actual performance in the animation process, you want to take care of any other problem beforehand.  The problems that can often be extracted and addressed first are technical.

The most common problem that is worked out before any other has to do with character paths and feet placement.  Orchestration of the feet can be very troubling and take some serious analysis.  In 2D we draw guides, mapping out all the feet placements, just like an old fashioned dance pattern of footsteps.  We also draw boundaries to guide the up and down motion of a character in a walk cycle, sometimes also for the hips too.

Dance steps, repetitious movements, complicated patterns of motion and difficult choreography should be worked out as much as possible before animation.  I recall having to animate a character rolling his fingers, as if he was waiting to grab some delectable treat (usually sugary cereal).  Before I started animating I would test the animation of the finger movement so that once I got into the scene I would know what I was doing, and wouldn’t be sidetracked by that particular animation problem.

Sometimes a prop would have a movement that was constrained by a specific timing, such as  a revolving door or a rocking boat.  This timing pattern would have to be analyzed and factored into the orchestration of the shot.

Often, you will realize that you have to cheat your way through a problem, and hide it in fast motion, a blocking pose, or let it hang in the air with supreme confidence and hope your bold confidence will ‘sell’ the cheat so that no one notices or cares.

Whatever the issue and whatever resolution you choose, the idea behind this step is to reduce the payload of difficulty so that you can fully attend to the problem of performance.

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