Thursday, July 07, 2005

Snap-imation Overload

There's a thread over on Cg-Char about the preponderance of "snappy pose" CG animation being done these days. I agree, there's a bit too much pose-hit-hold-pose-hit-hold-pose-hit-hold being done and shown in online forums and student reels for my tastes. And while I greatly desire to downplay it as much as possible, I somehow feel a little bit responsible for this trend. For better or for worse a lot of CG animation schools around the world have used my original Pose to Pose animation tutorial as a part of their animation curriculum. And hey, that's cool I suppose- not that I ever intended it to become the de-facto means of approaching CG animation. I, an admitted self educated hack, could never hope to be so bold. To this day I physically cringe whenever I read some post in an online animation forum that describes the "Keith Lango Method" of animation. Ugh! Dear Lord, please, no. Sure I'm glad to help give back to the community and all. I remember when I was starving for info on how to do this stuff. But at the same time, years after that article first appeared online and has found its way into so many corners of the world I've got this nagging ambivilence about it.

I feel a bit sad. I mean, I'm glad that something I wrote 5 years ago helps beginners get a grips on CG animation, but there's soooooo much more than pose heavy snap-imation. I feel like I've not contributed to making people quality animators so much as I've reduced the deepness of this great artform to a bit of push button formula. Some days I feel like a manufacturer of those Paint By Numbers Kits you buy at the dollar store. Art for the masses, codified, reduced, simplfied and ultimately expunged of depth and meaning. Follow these steps, get McResult. Yet people seem appreciative of it all the same. I suppose that's got its place, but I wish I could somehow get across the depth of what animation is, what it could become. This is ultimately about doing something truly magical- bringing an inanimate thing to life. It's one of the the neatest expressions of being made in the image of the Creator. We've got this built in need to bring this stuff to life. It's not just a collection of motion gimmicks. Sadly that's not as easy to distill into a checklist kind of thing that makes for easy teacher print outs and happy students (which is why I'm glad I finally jumped in and started my Video Tutorial Service. At least I can take the time to go over this stuff somewhat properly).

It all comes down to two words, really: observe and experiment. How can you put that into a simple "How To" article? Here, I'll try...
Step 1:
Well, first you look with your eyes and try to notice things with your brain that you normally take for granted.

Step 2:
Then you try to find ways to put the distilled, interpreted and expanded understanding of those observations into your work so your characters become alive to the audience.
Easy. Two steps. Should keep us busy til we die.


Richard Hopper said...

I'll admit I fell into that sort of snappy pose trap when I started to dive more into character acting, but it was at a time when my previous acting animations were really bad and I did not feel comfortable with the approach I was taking to them, just animating straight ahead all the way. I knew of the old skool technique of making sure you set up your key poses first, however, I only thought that applied to 2D animation and had no idea how to do it in 3D. Then I stumbled onto the pose to pose tutorial you wrote(after it was like 5 years or so after you first wrote it!) and it just hit me and I felt like that was my missing ingredient. I think I also fell into the trap of calling it "your" technique. I felt so dumb for never even knowing about stepped tangents or what they were for in Maya. It helped me out alot, as far as my approach and made choosing my acting choices a bit more easier. Then it just eventually got to the point where the more acting animations like that I did, I was just adding poses that didn't make sense and I added them just for the sake of adding them. So some more recent acting animations I have done have required more subtle acting choices, and I don't think you can just get away with that by doing pose to pose. I have struggled a bit to get some serious acting down, and I am still currently working on one scene that I am trying to nail down, but I just don't feel I am at that point to tackle something so big, like I just need more experience with the basics. So I have gone back to playing around with more physical animations, but still trying to figure out how to make that "serious acting" look just right. And now I am finally starting to notice in some animations, especially in the 10 Second Club, of some people just going completely overboard with the pose to pose stuff. It's like a character's doing a mixture of karate and disco dancing while doing a line from Gone With The Wind or something.

Ethan said...

I like the pose to pose method you explain in your tutorial. But I don't think it's the end all be all of animation. I block out in pose to pose and then do 2 or 3 passes with the pose to pose, adding in breakdowns and adjusting the timing. Then once I get a sign-off on the performance, I roll up my sleeves and do a solid straight ahead pass on the animation, here there's no holds back. At this point, if I did my job right, my posing, performance and timing are working so I I can then focus on is the flow, forces, and arks. My keys are a ripe old mess when I'm done with this pass, so I clean up, do another straight ahead pass, clean up, straight ahead.... on and on until it's done or they take it away from me, which ever comes first.

I think pose to pose can work, but you have to be smart about it.

Rod said...

I have recently graduated from a one year diploma in animation (and you may very well imagine that one year isn't enough) and found your tutorial to be a candle in the darkness when it came to getting my head around this concept.

It enabled me to grasp a basic workflow from which to grow. A solid foundation to build layers of subtlety onto.

It is a marvelous service to our community.

Michal D. said...

Hey Keith!

To counter it you should write an article about how to animate everything between poses straight ahead or any mix between the two :) I think I remeber reading in Survival Kit, that combining these two works the best. With my little practice , I just have to agree.

Hardcore pose to pose is also good when you have very short time to finish your animation, if we think about it in more practical, daily job way.

Animator-Boy said...

I think an important thing to remember in pose to pose animation is that the poses are not end points. Take a piece of film, of say Tom Hanks, cut it up and then pick out the 4 or 5 main poses. Now tape the film back together and run it and chances are Tom doesn't stop on those poses, he pushes through them and on to the next. I think pushing through the poses is something that people struggle with.

Of course there is a place for snappy, posey animation. It all comes down to being true to the material. Are you going for pure gags and humor or are you trying to connect with an audience. There is a place for both. It's like Jim Carry in Ace Ventura and Jim Carry in The Truman Show. In one he is going for the laugh a minute, he never makes the audience feel anything beyond laughter. In the other he is trying to make the audience feel something, to connect with them. The acting choices need to be true to the material.

patmcnabb said...


The thing to keep in mind, I think, is that when students learn to animate they need to do it incrementally. Just like, ironically enough, animation. You need to get the basics down first, then fine tune. Your infamous tutorial has provided the basics to a great many people. If they become serious about their craft, they will very quickly realize that the basics is all it is and they have a lot yet to learn! I have also found when teaching, that you can talk and talk and talk about observation and experimentation and planning and many of the wonderful complexities of animation, but until a student gets their own epiphany on the subject it is like talking to a wall. When they do, though, it is pretty cool. They come to class and start telling you about this guy they saw limping down the street and how his COG was moving in kind of a figure 8. Makes me smile.


alan said...


Thats my thread! : )