Thursday, September 29, 2011

Animating a Shot: Part 4 (End)

A still from a my Dialogue Piece

      It's funny how different you can feel in a span of ten minutes. Before your work is done you are begging, "No more, let it be done... take it away.. take IT AWAY" ..but ten minutes later when you realize you are done, you discover a craving for more; Another idea, another project, the sole possibilities of what might be your next art piece, is too much to bare. You'll find yourself nose first in your sketchbook roughing out and brainstorming your next big idea..

     So here is my finished piece of animation. I do like it but I hate it as well. 3 weeks it took me to complete it and I'm pretty proud that I kept myself to a constant pace of work. I always learn more form completing a piece than I have things to boast about it. IT's always possible to FINISH, just set your mind to it. the more you follow through and finish, the easier it becomes.

-I wont fill in the characters unless I have to, it's a personal choice. I like seeing the lines. I personally like rough animation and pencil test more than I do finished "tied down' drawings of animation.

     -A few explanations of my choices in this animation piece. 

     Why a sunset background? The mood wouldn't be the same with a bright sunny day. The audience would be questioning the setting if I staged it at 4 in the morning, 'Why are they out there that early?' I chose sunset because it is the END of a day. It's when you have to call it quits and accept that theres no more daylight. similar to how my character is accepting that, "It's not for me." He too is accepting his fate.
      When making small decisions such as background and setting, The amount of attention you give each choice can only improve and add depth to your art. It was a conscious choice of mine to keep all shots of my Main character clear and just leave sky in the background. He has his mind made up, he is thinking clearly and knows exactly what he wants. So I chose to represent that with a clear background of the sky.    
     On the other hand I chose to crowd my secondary character's composition as much as I could with out making it obvious. I added power lines in the first shot and a expensive car in the background. Not only do they crowd the composition and made it 'busy' but the power lines added a diagonal that I enjoyed. With the secondary characters next shot I crowded him yet again in the composition. A little bit more to show some progression. I am mainly crowding him to contrast the main character's composition. The secondary character's mood is a bit more sour, aggravated and indifferent. I think a crowded composition with a few diagonals represent that just fine in comparison to the main characters shots.

(diagonals, straights and other visual story telling vocabulary are all real elements that animators, directors, and other artist use when making an art piece. If you didn't know, go out and educate yourself on it. It'll change your perspective on film dramatically)

      I added one subtle thing I'd like to point out. I had established in the opening shots that my main character was Screen Left and my secondary character was Screen Right. But in one shot I switched the main characters orientation in relationship to the screen. I put him on screen right. 'Whats the big fukn deal DANNY!!!!!??' you ask. Well this is an example of emphasizing a point within your shot.
      In the beginning I listened to this dialogue and tried to figure out where was the POINT, where was the Umph and climax of the line of dialogue. It had to be "It's not for me." That part of the dialogue seemed to me to carry the most weight. So without doing a cliche' gesture and over the top acting to point out and say,"Hey everybody look at this, its the most important part!" like how most people tend to do, I took step back and asked how else can I emphasize this part. While taking a story telling class with Mark Andrews back in college I remember one thing story boarders tend to do to emphasize a point in the scene, it was to mess up a pattern or a 'Normality' that has been established. So decided to break up my screen direction. It didn't bring attention to itself or disrupt the flow of the animation piece so it was a success to say the least. It's not a big deal BUT, it does add that layer of complexity to the pice and keeps it from looking bland.

     So I will turning this in for this months contest at If you'd like to participate and vote be my guest. We'll see how it goes. I do not believe it will win on the count of how limited my animation is, people tend to like the cartoony stuff and appealing acting. If I could do this again I would not change it, I felt this line of dialogue called for a limited acing role and performance that in some cases might be more powerful than overacting. What will I work on next? I don't know... actually I do know. But I wont finish it till June or July of next year. 

I hope you enjoyed and found these 4 post helpful or at least insightful. Don't stop sending me work, I always love critiquing and giving advise back to you guys through email. I liked it so much I'm doing it professionally now. I just started at Animation Mentor as a mentor. But you could still send me your work for me to critique here for free :) like how I believe all information should be.

-Daniel Gonzales

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Animating a Shot: Part 3


     Happy first day of fall! So I'm just about over the hump of the hardest part of completing an animation piece. Yes yes, I had the beard going, blood shot eyes, the zombie stare, the anti-social anti-food anti-TIME feelings flowing freely in my mind. I was in the Zone. It doesn't look pretty from the outside (ask my girlfriend haha) but on the inside, it's wonderful, my mind was 100% on creative mode.

     If you think physical/acting animation is alone the toughest part of the whole process, you haven't animated dialogue yet. Not harder but it's almost the same level of difficulty as acting and physicality. I believe it takes the most amount of attention and concentration. Your background music, podcasts and side conversations must be put on hold when you are listening and drawing mouth shapes for dialogue. So in tradition of the first person story telling style of the last 2 posts, here I go:

     I know mentally this is the most draining part of the process. So as I prepare my desk by setting up 2 mirrors and an extra pillow on the seat of my chair, I'm mentally thinking of all the mouth shapes one see's through out the day. The funny thing I noticed is that YOU DON'T SEE mouth shapes. You kind of interpret the shape when it flashes by. And in a sentence you only see the Major sounds take shape in the mouth.

e.g: "Fuck"
-You will see the 'F' shape very clearly and is mainly the only shape you have to nail when generally animating the word. The rest is just jaw and a general 'UGH' mouth shape.

     So I'm going over all I know mentally before I start. When I start animating, I initially want to exaggerate EVERY LITTLE SYLLABLE. But a quick trick where you put your hand under your jaw, and say the line of dialogue and take note how many times your hand dips. The points when it dips/or opens wide, are the points to exaggerate the jaw opening. This keeps me from animating my characters mouth opening on every syllable. So I first draw in the key poses when the jaw opens in my animation. I time those poses out to match the dialogue perfectly. Then I move on to other major mouth shapes such as the M's B's F's P's V's. I make those shapes very clear so that they can be read at a moments glance.

      While animating the mouth you always have to be aware of a very important thing. That the mouth is connected to the face. If you are just animating the mouth and not moving the head, nose, or jaw; your mouth would look like it is floating on the surface of the face. So all it takes is a small stretch of the nose, or a blink on a hard accent, or countless other tricks to make your mouth feel connected to your face. Also (to those 2D animators out there) always check the distance from the top lip to the nose and bottom lip to the chin and try to stay consistant. Many times I found my mouth drifting closer and closer to my characters chin with out my knowledge.. Lots of erasing... lots of finger cramps..

Here is a video of the dialogue (90% finalized)

     If dialogue was the biggest mental drainer, then finishing up and 'inking' of a piece is physically draining. As i finished up doing my dialogue I was OVER my piece. I wanted it does, I wanted to be done, I was ready to start on something new. It's a very trying time. I took two days off my work. Went outside and got some sun, I went to Santa Cruz and visited my brother, caused some trouble and just messed around. I was not eager to start the process of drawing wrinkles in clothing over and over again for 150 frames straight. I was not eager to draw an oval of a head 500 times and keep it consistent, I was not eager to sit 10 hours at a time and kill my hand tracing and erasing and tracing over and over again...
      But I went online, read a book (King Lear), watched a movie (The INSIDER) and went on a campaign to inspire myself again. And that's all it took, at eleven at night after watching a movie with my lady, the surge and energy of inspiration hit me and I immediately took advantage of it because i know in the morning the inspiration it would be gone. 'Aren't you coming to bed?" she would ask, "No, I feel like [I gotta work] work, I have to get it out of me."

     When I animate and I'm nearly done, I POLISH as I INK. which means as I am outlining my animation with black, I take notes on what can be pushed or tweaked. But I don't always fix them as I come across the mistakes for fear of ruining the momentum I have at the time. If I was to stop to solve the problem I have found, it drains the clock and it also drains my motivation. One hour and finishing a scene of 5 seconds? or spending an hour fixing 4 frames (5 percent of a second)? What makes you feel like your being more productive?

SO here is me while I am finishing up, hopefully I have time to really polish the hell out of it. It's the last push so I'm going hard: more hours, harder concentration, and keeping constant pace.  I do still see mistakes in my animation but I'll try to finish first then go back and fix them.

How I feel right now: tired, motivated, and a urge to push until I break which comes from insperation

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Animating a Shot: Part 2

 100Th Hubble
Universe showing off it's still the best at creating beauty

     So it's easy to DO the work in your head. Like right now.. Bam! just created a master piece. (in my mind).
     But to actually start on your work is a very crucial step that most artists never get to. Last post I talked about 'planning' your shot and making it specific conceptually. But now it's all about planning your work technically and executing your animation. Last post I talked about the very very first stages of starting an animation piece, here I will continue that post..

     I had just finished story boarding my shot so I know what camera angles I want. The next day I sit down at my computer and think about my acting. I do rough poses and draw them into my storyboards. Then I play them to see if they 'feel' right in the time given. 'FEEL' right referes to, does it feel aesthetically correct, is the timing rushed rushed? Do I read the acting as a viewer? Is the tempo of overall movement complimentary to the tempo of the dialogue.. All these things have to come into play.
      Think about it, if the tempo of my movements in my animation are beat for beat that of my dialogue, then on each word or accent I will have movement. First off, that is not natural and it will be too distracting. So After an our or two of getting the beats and acting right, I came up with this (you might call this BLOCKING):

     The timing is pretty close to what I had originally proposed with my initial storyboards. The cuts work, the characters are not over acting, every choice I made checks back to the very specific background story I had came up with. This part of the process did not take that long, but I still stop working for the day because I know the NEXT step is the most difficult....

     "My project is 24 frames per second but for every frame I make I duplicate it so that it comes off as 12 frames per second. But when there is a movement or an action I will not duplicate and animate all 24 frames per second thus giving me more control over my timing and the ability to make the action read better."

    I'm thinking this to myself as I get out of bed... I 'm recalling how Disney animators use to animate during the golden age of animation. Mostly on 12's, but on 24's when the action was complex. If you do not know you're multiples of 12's, 2's, 6's and sometimes even 3's, you are going to be animating blind when it comes to planning out movements and timing. Math plays a SMALL role in animation but a crucial time saver if you use it correctly.
     For example. In my first shot I want my character to lift up it's head. I do not want it to happen in one frame as it is right now in my story boards but in a normal like manner, but not too slow that it feels mechanical. So I think in my head, "one second is too long for a head lift, so maybe half a second.. (I try lifting up my head at the speed I want) It took a little less than half a second to lift up my head. So that means when animating my head lift it should be 3-4 Frames. Why 3-4 frames? 4 frames is 1/3 of a second. It's not quite half, which would be 6 frames (because 6 is half of 12.) 12 frames being one whole second. four frames would be pretty damn close to the timing I am looking for.

If that was confusing, that should be a red flag.

       (This is the part of the process where all new animators rush too and they skip all the prior steps I have done.)

My Order of Operations:
Movement, Stills, Facial, Mouth Dialogue, Specifics (clothes, hands, hair etc)

      So I animated. I animated all day. The first things I animated were the movements. Movements are the most eye catching elements in animation and they have to be timed out right so that they do not catch your eye at unwanted moments after your dialogue is done. (I DO NOT start animating dialogue yet) So once I get the physicality and acting believable then I would move on to dialogue.
     When I animate I will usually draw out the first and last pose, (lets look at the first head lift again) I will draw the down position of the head and the final up position. Then do in-betweens. BUT LET ME TELL YOU ONE THING, I actually tried to takle this with straight ahead animation but I re-did it many times (5 times). Because when you do straight ahead you do not have constraints and limits. So each time I would play what I had just animated, It would over animated. I had way too much of an anticipation, or I had an overshoot I didn't even need, or worst, I threw in an arc that was totally unnecessary. I was getting very frustrated, because it all looked good but it wasn't the FEELING of acting I had in my story boards. I asked my self what did my storyboards have that this animation does not. It had simplicity. The story board JUST had a simple head raise, not some fancy dance move of a head raise. I stood up in front of the mirror and did the head raise, I was right, not a lot happens during the head lift. So after an hour and 37 minutes I animated the correct head lift in 9 minutes.

     Remember to not be satisfied with you're work UNTIL YOU GET WHAT YOU DESIRE. That said, there is another side to that piece of advice. While I was doing the part, "you never, cross the finish line.." I had other ideas come up as I was animating... a lot of ideas matter of fact. I had thought of many more acting choices that my character could be doing on that line instead of a head shake. So I animated them to see if they were better than my current idea. They looked good, but again, in the whole big picture, it didn't feel or compliment the whole project very well. But I still had ideas and I kept animating them out. If you have time, always explore other solutions. At first I did not realize they were not working because they didn't flow with my animation piece as a whole, I thought they didn't work because of my animation ability, and I re did it and re did it soo many times I almost threw my pencil at my cat. Everything gets better when you walk away from your computer and come back later :) 10 minutes later or an hour later, it all does the same good... My original idea ended up being the best solution, so after 4 hours.. I finished animating the right solution in 1 and a 1/2 hours.

Duchamp, animating within a painting? hmmm.. think about it..
      So this is where I am at now in my animation process. Here is a video showing what animation I have done so far. The things I have not mentioned about my process are things I take for granted. I should be telling you:
      I ALWAYS check that my drawings are somewhat consistant, that my forms hold the same volume in each drawing and if I'm in doubt, use guidelines on the face to help out with the construction of the character.  I tend to draw past the edges of the camera to make sure my pose and proportions are right. I try my hardest not to hold frames. and if I do they are only to show timing bookmarks and not to be left in my animation for the final product. Try cycling 6 drawings before you EVER hold a frame.                      
     I also write notes to my self on the page. Timing quirks I come across, notes on the eyebrows I did not want to waste time animating right now (remember I'm only doing physicality, even though I have a big urge to start animating the face and mouth I have to keep myself from doing so.)
Sometimes the notes have nothing to do with animation. I write down things I think of for futre projects or write down ideas that inspire me. You might also just see things I wrote down because I want to wikipedia them later!

And before you ask, I do listen to music and podcast while I animate. but when I do dialogue I do not have anything else playing.  What podcast? Today was the podcast "Things You Should Know".

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Animating a Shot: Part 1

Once you start something, you have to commit. Like Ajax here preparing to fall on his sword.

       Animating a shot can be just as challenging as starting a painting, turning on your camera, sitting at a piano, or even picking up a pencil as you are looking at you blank pagel...

..because after you grab your tool... then what.. where do you start? HOW do you start?

      So instead of telling you a few pointers I will take you along how I go about starting a piece, in this case animation. But the same amount of thought and detail of my procedure can be put to any art form. Since I had mentioned the 11 Second Club last week, I will be using the dialogue segment they provided for this months contest. The clip is roughly 12 seconds long. I will have about 4 posts of my progress and problems I encounter and finish by the end of September. So lets get started then shall we?

So Get Your Dialogue... 
      How many of you out there do this: You get your dialogue or assignment and your ass giddy as Richard Simmons on a treadmill, you think about what you are going to do, you toss out the first 3 ideas because that's what you where TOLD to do, then you ask EVERYONE what they think about your fourth idea, you take ALL the good ideas you heard and mush it into one super idea, then start working!
Only to find out that half way through you lose all motivation and drive to complete the assignment you have now lost interest in...

      Sound familiar? I bet it does, especially to you animators. Painters and others are mostly by themselves any way but animators, as natural collaborators constantly go to each other. And they usually fuck themselves over. So before I go into how I go about starting a piece I want to just say, that I am not saying by any means MY WAY is the right and only way. There are millions of ways to come up with good pieces of animation but this is a way I find highly successful. Take it for what it is and hopefully it helps you out.

      -I went to the website and downloaded the dialogue. ( I read in the description and it said it refers to football since football season is about to start and they wanted to be festive about it. (First unintended obstacle I encounter: I read an interpretation of the dialogue, and now have to try to stay un-biased when I hear it.) So now I'm thinking of footballs and helmets and stadiums... this is a bad start already. The line of dialogue reads:

"There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the football, and do your touchdown dance.. Never. It's not for me."

       So I start cussing out loud because the line has NOTHING to do with actual football but now I'm stuck visualizing 50 yard lines, players and locker rooms. The line is a metaphor. For what? I don't have a clue, I do not know any context or a hint of what the hell I'm dealing with. I sit down and think for 5 minutes. What first comes to mind? Stupid ideas, like always. So I get up and forget about it. I have to! And I don't plan on revisiting it till tomorrow because what I'm doing is setting myself up to listen to it again with a clean un-biased plate. I let my girlfriend listen to it, she doesn't say anything because she is use to the routine and lets me be.


      As the day goes on, I'm in the middle of washing dishes and NPR plays in the back ground, I think about my line of dialogue. It sounds like the man talking is giving advice.. He is using 'you' in the first part of the sentence. Who is he talking to? Better yet, who is he??? These questions plague my brain through out the day..  maybe he is giving advice to a guy who is about to get married?

      I am content with my conclusion that he is giving advice to some one else. So the next day I sit down and start to write down on my 'X-sheet' (for the non animators, this means that I am starting to map out what words and sounds land on which frames of the animation. In other words, a tedious process) But as I finish and walk away, I'm thinking about the dialogue in my head.. WHY DOES HE SAY "IT"S NOT FOR ME?" I try to forget about it and go along with my day. What I am doing here is trying to let as much time go by so my ideas 'marinate' in my head. The longer they stay in my head with out me acting upon it, the more chance I can think of something critically about the ideas and solve potential problems..

.."it's not for me"...
       Without these few words the line would be a straight forward advice sentence. Some guy would be sitting next to another guy, slaps him on the shoulder, and basically says there is no happy ending. That's that :) but these last four words.. (it's not for me) hint of something deeper, some subtext of: been there done that. What situation could you be in to say something like that? A specific one. I fall asleep staring at the ceiling and say screw it, I'll just do a cinematic close up of a mans face and make him deliver the line. Forget trying to think of a context and a setting. I'm losing time over this planning shit... I nod off to sleep.. (First Mistake, settling for something sub-par)

      I go the whole next day with no new ideas and here comes night time so I sit down ready to animate. I haven't tested my idea yet.. but I already know it's crap. That's why it's been ten minutes and I'm just staring at my screen. (by the way I animate using a 2D program called TVPAINT.. it's cool) I need to bounce my idea off someone. Someone I trust. Not just any thinking piece of meat out there, I need someone who knows what they are talking about. When you go to idiots for advice you get just that, idiotic advice. So don't ask them. I look across the room at my girlfriend and say, ok im ready.

THE BRAINSTORM (warning. this is an unedited rant)
      So we stand up in the middle of the room, I tell her my idea, she says that's lazy and we start to talk about ideas. back and fourth.

     -What if he's like Clint Eastwood? -No first off ,what is he doing? -Maybe he's a coach and is about to quit! -No I see him outdoors. -Out doors doing what? -Walking. -NO DOING WHAT? where is he walking to? -His car as he's talking to a young football player? -Why? -Bc the kid needs advice! -Why is he walking with the coach? Is he his son? Are they going out for ice cream, or did he just catch coach as he was walking home? This is going to affect the acting
-Maybe he's not giving advice...
     WTFfasdsafdsfdsg?? We were getting somewhere! -No think about it. Why, if he's giving advice to some other person, then go around and make it about himself by saying "It's not for me."?
 -ok you are right.. -maybe the kid is asking him to do something. Like come continue coaching for us?? -can we make him talk with a cigar? -What?? -Yes a cigarette or something. I see him cool like Clint Eastwood saying, yup been there done that... not for me. -I saw him more modest, old and fat. -No he has to be cool! -Maybe he's WAS cool and a hot shot, that's why they are coming and asking him to coach again. -Who are they? -The kid. -No it can't be a kid now. Listen to the dialogue, he doesn't even sound like he's talking to a kid.- Fine another old guy. Does he know the guy or is it a stranger? -He knows him, nobody gives meaningfull advice to strangers :) -So they are in a field? doing what? -Maybe the guy came to his house. His house has a field next to it. -ok ok. so man at home. guy comes to visit.    
-Make him wear a suit!!!! -YEA!!! Contrast! one guy is in everyday work clothes and dirty, other one is out of his element he doesn't belong in the field.
     -So regroup. this guy is asking the other guy to come join coaching the college team again, our 'clint eastwood guy' is saying no, he likes exactly what he is doing, he doesn't want to go BACK. It's not for him. -What is clint doing when they are talking, NO CIGAR bc if he was athletic he wouldn't be smoking. -Working on his field as they talk? -Isn't that rude? -Maybe but he's making a point that he doesn't want to go with suit guy so he doesn't even look up from his work.-Hmm. I see him just standing there talking but is about to walk away form suit guy to go back to work. Lets listen to it again.

-ok standing up it is.

      So after this LONG brainstorming session, I decide to work on what camera angles will best represent my idea and context. I was happy that we came up with something SPECIFIC and not generic for my actors and story. Now I need specific camera shots. When you have something specific you can make specific choices in regard to acting and camera angles.
     The context that we came up with reminded me of a Clint Eastwood movie called 'Unforgiven.' It has a scene similar to mine where one young cowboy is asking a washed up cowboy to join him, but the old cowboy declines the younger cowboys offer. I go to the movie and study the directors camera choices in that scene. I do this because I want a sense of cinematic story telling to my piece. A lot of the times you get 'one camera shots' of animation exercises and it looks sort of.. bland. Animators do not change camera angles a lot bc they like to see the ANIMATION carry the art piece. but me, not being an animator but an artist, think it's very foolish to leave the camera out of the equation. the camera is a powerful tool to use, if you know anything about Alfred Hitchcock you know what I'm talking about.

      So after an hour I came up with this. I drew and timed out my shots in story board form.  just to represent the shots I want. I think it works and my go to person (my girlfriend) agreed as well :) So here it is. My next step would be to start animating. That will be another post. I know this one is already terribly long.

Remember not to go with your first intentions if you have not already thought out your idea inside and out. Planning and inventing a context will set the foundation for creativity and specific spontaneity in your animation. THINK, brainstorm, and THINK some more, research your idea. Then start to animate.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

11 second club


Here is a quick post about a community that holds an animation contest every month.
They are called the '11 second club' and they provide a sound bite that is roughly 11 seconds
in length at the beginning of the month. And tons of animators from all around and from all different levels make animations in 2D or 3D! If you are ever out of exercises or things to do, the 11 second club is always a good place to go to motivate yourself or test yourself if you are an animator.