Animation is something that plagues me a bit. It’s extremely long, arduous and at the end of it you either have magic or a failure.
The magic shows itself sometimes though, often by accident rather than design, an offset twist of the wrist, or a grounded weighty hip thrust can bring a robotic set of movement into something relatable, even beautiful. Whether or not I’ve achieved any of that is really debatable, I think I still have a long way to go.
The first thing you start out with in animation is a walk cycle being both the easiest to learn and the very hardest to master. I’ve done a crotchety old man, walking with a cane, hating his peers and what his neighborhood has become, an extremely excited gay man who just met Barbara Streisand,a frog boy, a shocked reaction to the horrors of cable television, a weak man who looks for the sympathy of others, a sneaky thief and a Gangsta.
I had a very hard time picking which ones to rework and perfect because at the moment at least, I feel a bit overwhelmed and a touch burnt out. I think the realities of animation and it’s execution is the main driving factor that is making me go towards Graphic Arts next year as opposed to continuing with 3d animation and design.
There are so many things I love about animation as well, particularly it made me appreciate body language so much more, so much in fact that I’ve become hyper vigilant in observing micro movement in others and even in myself.
I’ve used a lot of methods to facilitate the whole process, watching reference videos, making my own reference videos, looking at stills, watching old animation techniques and sometimes just using intuition.
I would say that the circumstances in which I relied heavily on reference videos, even my own ended up usurping the whole process and the final result ends up coming across more mechanical and floaty than it ever should have been.
The first entry in the video featured below is a walk cycle, in this particular case a sneak cycle. It’s simplistic looking but a lot went into getting a movement that looks natural within the exaggerated confines required in animation. So much is required of each section of the body – there dozens and dozens of controllers on a rig like the one I used (Blue Dude)and each has to be tweaked just so in order to get even a remotely natural flow. So much is in the hands, particularly in a walk cycle – the hands truly give the most honest portrayal of who the character is, as do the feet.
Here is the initial breakdown of the movements:
The thumbnails initially showed the character as a girl but as I started, I decided to create a gender-less walk. If I had really been determined to make it feminine the steps would be more exaggerated and pointed and the hands more finicky. If it were an obvious alpha male, his posture would be reversed, have very steady arms and hands and would probably smoothly cross-step instead of point step. I guess what it ends up being is a ‘self aware’ sneak, like a performance at sneaking (because truly real sneaking is a compilation of waiting and slow movements that are just not theatrical enough to be interesting). It is as if you are playing charades and the ..uh ‘high energy’person in the room gets the word ‘Cat burglar’; they would undoubtedly do this overly affected performance to REALLY drive the idea home, whether it was warranted or not.
The second animation is of a Gansta walk cycle or Confident Male walk cycle. I had the unique experience of going to school with some Italian and Irish kids who likened themselves to Crips and Bloods. The majority of their time and energy it seemed, was devoted to trying to project a persona, one of being larger than they really were, tougher than they really were and more notably ‘very important people only you don’t know about it’. Now of course this is all a ruse, it’s affected but I always thought it was kind of fascinating from a social anthropological point-of-view. Now, excuse me while I rinse my retainer.
Their walking styles for instance – we’ve all seen the gangbanger shuffle but there are SO many variations of it and they all serve a different purpose or are a side effect of the culture they inhabit or are trying to inhabit). It varies from trying to make themselves look bigger by making wider, duckfooted strides, wider sways, having hands ready to ensure swift access to a “concealed weapon” (banana), having rhythm, peculiar movements and postures are created as a side effect of their clothing choices or grossly restricted hip and leg movement due to having a very tight belt hitched very low…It all culminates is a varied physical language that serves as a type of birdcall to others, telling a story not so much on their own character or lives, which is their intent, but instead on who and what is important to them.
In my animation the effect is subtle, as if he’s a former OG but now he wears a moderately priced suit, has a desk job with Lockheed Martin or something. Has a handsome collection of pens. All that remains is a residual stain on his gait from his ‘nær ‘do well’ past or whatever.
His right arm and hand have rhythmic dominance and deftly guides his strides. It swings gesturally from his back (palms out, fingers relaxed), arcs around his body, his fingers begin to stiffen slightly, he lazily extends his index finger and curls the others to almost gesture to the ground, claiming his dominance over it. His left arm is slack and acts solely as a counter balance, his left side serves almost as a slave to the dominant right, this creates a rhythmic sway – all this is culminated with a confidently bored yet self assured head bob that corresponds to the apex of the arc of his right hand.
The Red wedding
The third animation was from a thematic choice of three, one of which is shock at something being shown on TV. We were instructed to conceal the face to focus on actual body language as opposed to facial cues.
The first thing I thought of was the wave of reactions people had to an episode of the fiercely popular Game of Thrones series episode ‘The Rains of Castamere’ which featured the infamous ‘Red wedding’ scene.
My reference for this animation was watching several hundred reactions of people being shown a particular scene from that episode – there are literally thousands of ‘reaction’ submitted online after it aired.
Suffice it to say George RR Martin, the hateful old curmudgeon whose sadism outweighs only his love for fat man hats, wrote this scene in his books (later depicted in the show) to blow convention out of the water and emotionally scar children and adults alike. A lack of all human decency,that’s what he has – a trait that is invariably demonstrated by the characters he conjures up in his broken, tweed-bedecked noodle.
The majority of the reactions were very intense, a lot of agape mouths, wide eyes and looks of sheer horror donned the majority of them – but without access to a facial rig, how was I going to convey the reaction convincingly?
Some reactions were much more physical, when the climax occurred people would bring their hands up to their mouths, stand up, scream, hide, clap their hands once loudly in protest, swore, threw stuff at the TV, left the room in disgust or anger and everything in between. A common reaction was a covering of an agape mouth, an attempt to hide or shield the eyes and JUST when they thought they were safe…BOOM another shock, suckers. The conventions of narrative have no place at this grand feast.
For the animation I modeled a rather rigid looking table and couch, swedish made, of course. I modeled a TV, cut out the screen face and fitted it with an area light inside. To make the TV flicker I keyframed the colour channel (red/blue) and intensity/length.
He starts off looking pretty relaxed, scratches himself absent mindedly and then a sense of disbelief, covers his mouth, realises ‘he just can’t even right now’ and vaults himself over the couch, but his hand slips a bit under his weight and he falls to the floor. He slowly peeks over the couch then BOOM! Sucker.
When I fist submitted it I wasn’t that happy with the movements – I have fixed a lot since, particularly sharpening some curves on the graph editor but it STILL feels to floaty to me, I just don’t feel I’m nailing it entirely. I changed his final shock to be less ‘on a rail’ looking and more ‘human’ in motion. We are creatures of little grace though, we move in juts, surprisingly quickly, far quicker and more abruptly than one would ever imagine and still I just don’t feel it’s fast or jutty enough despite all the work that went into making it more believable.
Either way, here is the video of the two walks and the Red Wedding animation – remember, there is music!