This was in the latest and greatest Animation Mentor newsletter... as far as work flow goes, trying to explain proper work flow to someone who is learning to animate is nearly impossible. Every Animator animates different (I know that I've mentioned that before in my posts) and it takes a lot of time to hone in your own personal work flow. Here are some great insights from Travis Tohill. He talks about the importance of planning out your shots, I recently posted the free Plastic Animation Paper which is a great tool.... not to be too redundant here, so here it is....I've definitely learned that there is no "right way" to animate a shot. I've seen people animate in ways that seem insane to me, but somehow they get amazing results. I've also had some co-workers look at my method with puzzled looks in their eyes, but it works for me. So anyone that tells you there is one way to animate hasn't been exposed to enough animators yet.
However, there is a right and a wrong way to plan your shots. It's very simple. ALWAYS PLAN YOUR SHOTS!!! I have been guilty in the past of trying to rush through my planning and start on a shot to save time. Inevitably, I end up wasting more time stumbling through my animation, and my work never looks as good.
My work flow has become pretty consistent since I've started working. If my shot has dialogue, I will listen to it repeatedly until I have a very solid feel for the timing and dynamics. No matter what kind of shot it is, I always shoot video reference. I try to take the time to do many different takes so that I have a lot of options to choose from. It is a lot quicker to explore ideas in front of a camera than it is to animate them. One thing I always try to keep in mind when filming myself is to try to not be too conscious of what I'm going to look like on screen. I've found that if I am thinking about how I am posing myself my reference will end up looking unnatural and will also be filled with generic animation ideas. However, if I simply try to put myself in the mindset of the character, forget the camera, and actually react to the situation in a natural way, my reference will be full of little ticks and behaviors that I probably wouldn't have thought of. It makes for more believable and interesting animation.
Once I have a direction that I am happy with, I thumbnail out my key poses and take notes for myself. I don't worry about whether the drawings are good or whether anyone else can understand my notes. They are a blueprint for me to be able to build my shot, and the process of drawing them forces me to really study what is happening in the reference. I always make sure to pay attention to not only the main poses, but how the different body parts move from pose to pose. I often find it is the spaces between the poses that can make the difference between a character feeling real or animated. Clean arcs are of course one of the fundamentals of animation, but sometimes you need a little messiness in the movement. This is especially true in visual effects animation for live action films.
At this point, I can finally jump onto the computer and start my blocking. My first blocking pass usually sticks very close to the thumbnails and reference. I personally like to have my first set of keys be a performance that I know is already solid before I start deviating. My final animation may end up vastly different than my original reference, but it gives me a great foundation to start with. Once I feel like that is working, I will begin pushing the poses, tweaking the timing, and exploring ideas. Also, this is around the point when I try to get feedback from my leads or co-workers to see what they feel is or isn't working well.
After that, it is hopefully (but not always) a painless process of getting notes and making revisions until you end up with a fantastic final product!