30 July, 2010

Workflow ~Mike Walling

Alright, I know that I've posted work flow threads before. But work flow is one thing when you're learning animation is definitely a 'growing pain'. Each animator has their own unique work flow and determining what that is is a 'to each their own' type method is what it's all about. I get asked a lot by students that I've been lucky enough to Peer Buddy at Animation Mentor regarding work flow and what work flow is the right one. There's really no definitive answer, because every ones' work flow is different. This is why I'm posting yet another interpretation of another awesome Animator's work flow. Hopefully it will give you some tips in honing your own work flow. I've been animating for about 2.5 years now and I feel like I've developed my own work flow that works for me. Thanks Mr. Walling for sharing!

Workflow (shot progression)

By Mike Walling

This is the simple process I use to break down a shot from concept to finished piece. It is based on the step curve method of animation and is in my opinion the closest to 2d you can get in 3d.

  • The Kickoff – Getting direction and thinking about continuity.- The kickoff is where the director discusses the sequence to all of the animators and covers the content of each shot. This is your chance to see your shot in continuity and ask the director any questions you may have about your shot or the sequence.
  • Preparation

a. listen to the audio track about a hundred times listening for the beats and inflections in the voice. I like to write out the dialog on paper or a dope sheet and then draw little arrows to get a visual of what the voice is doing.

b. Thumbnail out some story telling poses or shoot reference. I have found that for complex acting or action shots reference is the only way to go. Without it you will never get the dynamics of the action. Thunbnails are also a great way to start thinking about poses you might want to use. I was always taught that animation is 90% preparation and 10% execution; although I have to admit that most times for me it is about 40% prep and 60% execution out of fear of the ever looming deadline.

  • Time management.

- This is a pretty big one to me. As an animator at a major studio you have two major responsibilities. The first one is to produce quality animation. After all that is what you were hired to do right? The other is to get the work done on time. This is what I call “walking the line” or “pleasing administrative and creative”. Animators that have a hard time with this don’t usually last long in a feature production because they just can’t adjust to the constant changes from the director and getting the work done on time with the quality that is expected from the supervising animators, not to mention that the team you work with is a competitive team and everybody wants the ‘good shots”. This leads me to….

  • Workflow

- What steps do you take to get your shot done? Well we have covered some of them already. We already talked about listening to the audio track and shooting reference footage and drawing thumbnails. Now what?

- Blocking! When I start blocking my shot I’m only concerned with the story telling poses. We will put all of the details in later. For now we are just interested in making the poses feel right when we run a playblast.

- Put everything you want in the acting. Don’t hold back because you’re not sure how to get from pose to pose. Just go for it!!

- Key the whole character! Why? Because later when you start splining you might miss stray keys and it’s a pain to wrangle them when you could just lock everything down on each pose. It also makes it easy to shift timing around on the fly. One other reason is when it comes time to spline the shot it is easy for me to spline sections of the shot instead of the whole thing at once.

- Your blocking should include finger poses and good facial. Don’t worry about lip sync; this should be done almost last!

Now that you have blocked out some poses it’s time to flip your animation and see what you have. This is the time to adjust your timing since you have all of your poses on one frame each. Now that you are happy hopefully) with your blocking it is time to start thinking about the transitional keys (breakdowns). Don’t let the computer do too much of the work for you and have an idea of what character will look like going from pose to pose. Remember we are still in step curve mode. No splining yet!

- Put breakdowns where needed. I usually put them in to describe a move

between poses or an antic. I learned from my friend Mike Thurmeier to put

a anticipation key and then a stretch key.

- Start thinking about your slo-in’s and slo-out’s. For example if my pose is

on frame 120 and I want my pose change to take place over 8 frames then

I’ll key the whole body at 116 and at 124. Then I’ll back off the pose on

frame 120 which will cause a slow-in from frame 120 to 124.

- Splining! To me this is the hardest part because you have this nice neat

tight package of poses and now you have to tear it all down into fluid

motion. I think the key is to take things in small chunks and work through it.

- I think the best way to go is to spline the gross movement of the

Character first. Usually the torso, neck and head. I like to make layers in

Maya so I can hide the limbs. This way I can see only the parts that I’m

animating. Once I feel like the torso is tight I will turn on the limbs and start

working through them.

- Your animation might look a little strange now, with lots of holds and

simple transitions but that’s ok because now your going to go into more

detail and start breaking things up big time.

- Start to drag spline curves of movers that you want to overlap.

- Insert more breakdown keys on individual movers (not on the whole body)

- Start to get the fluidity in the motion breading away from the pose to pose


- This is a great time to start to add little moves and gestures that you didn’t

put into the blocking. We are moving past the story telling poses to fluid

movement. You want you acting to feel natural and human so don’t be

afraid to tear down the old keys to make new ones.

- Listen for the littlest of inflections in the voice and add little accents and

moves that will add to the performance. ( I’m still only working on the

torso, neck and head.)

At this point you should step back, watch your playblast (movie file) over and over

and ask your self these questions.

1. Is the timing feeling right?

2. Do I have good slow-in’s and slow-out’s?

3. Are there “dead zones” where I’ve gotten lazy and under-animated my character’s nuances.

4. Is the animation stiff or fluid? If it is stiff, do I have the keys of the body all landing on the same frame too often? Is it floaty, is my timing too spread out?

Now it’s time to do the same thing for the arms and legs.

- Follow the same procedure outlined previously. You will put more overlap

in the arms and legs in general and make sure you beef up the arcs and

transitions to make them look a little more interesting.

  • Facial animation

- I follow pretty much the same principles for the face and lip sync as I do for

the rest of the body.

- Since you have the face blocked in from earlier and is now simple splines

you can easily go in and tweak the timing for your facial transitions. Of

course the face will be much more subtle so you will have to be sensitive to

the acting and emotion you are trying to convey, after all this is what it is all

about right?

- As far as lip sync is concerned you will have to start at frame one and set a

pose on all of the mouth movers for the shape you want. Work your way

down shape by shape until you are done and then run a playblast. Now you

can look at it a few times looking for problem areas you can tweak. I find

this to be fairly easy but spend them most time tweaking. Over all if my shot

is scheduled for 5 days I will try to spend at least one day or more on the

face and lip sync.

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