Sunday, August 10, 2008

A question from an APT student....

I just had an email with one of my APT students and I thought that it was an interesting one- so I thought I'd share it with you. It's a super common problem in animation. You think everything is OK in one phase of the scene, and then you move on to the next phase and suddenly the stuff looks like crud! Problems, problems everywhere. It can be discouraging if you let it. So in an effort to kinda "see ahead" and fix things before they get ugly my student asked...
How do I avoid running into the kind of problems that I faced on that scene? I ask because I couldn't see some problems in stepped mode. Is "more breakdowns" the answer? Then again, is it normal to see so much junk once we go to linear mode?
I remember this being perhaps the biggest struggle for so many CG animators- and I mean pros working on films. Everybody has that "Aw geez, this looks like crap!" stage right after blocking. When you watch your finished blocking in stepped mode things look like they have life and are so "right". Then you throw all the tangents to linear or spline and it seems like it all falls apart. Everybody wants to know some secret or trick to avoiding that ugly stage. Such a trick has always eluded us. The reason why is simple- it doesn't exist. Here's what I wrote in reply to the student's question...
I think there's a point where you can see what you see in a scene and you can't see anything more until you move on. Animating scenes is like exploring a wooded territory. You can fly over it with a plane, you can study maps, you can plan and practice- but until you start getting into the woods you don't really know everything that's there. And even when you get 1/3 of the way through the territory you can see ahead, you've learned some things and you can now make a solid plan of progress, but until you go forward you'll never really know what you have on your hands. Scenes are like that sometimes. You do what you can do in blocking and then when you're happy with it- allowing that you've thought it through and have worked it to your satisfaction- you move on. You'll find new things every step of the way. It's not a failing or a problem or a weakness that needs to be fixed. It's just animation. Funny, it's also exactly like life. :)
 There will always be problems in a scene no matter what stage you're at- even when it's "done". Just keep moving forward.

13 comments:

zenner said...

The worst part of it is that it makes planning look like a time waste to newbies like me :(

`sai

Daniel Huertas said...

I think what it helps me to switch from stepped keys to linear or flat right away when i have my Golden keys.. and use and adjust the computer "spacing" so i could work it out in stepped mode again.. then change into flat and pose my antic and overlap stuff then repeat the same process.. probably could sound a bit messed up but it works for me :P

Thom said...

This is one of the reasons I don't work in stepped mode anymore...

Randy said...

Avoiding stepped mode seems like an odd solution, Thom.

You don't actually avoid the "aw, geez, it's crap" stage, you just wander in it longer, and you lose the contrast of how good it looked in stepped mode. To me, it's better to have a scene work in stepped mode, then explode itself in spline, because then I at least know the gem is in there. All my drawings I had in stepped are in there, so all I have to do is make the other drawings show them off. It gives me more confidence to go forward.

But hey, lotsa good animators work in spline, so to each his own.

:)

Thom said...

Randy, to be more precise, I should say that I've found one of the side benefits of not using stepped mode is that I'm never surprised with a big mess and/or a shot that simply won't work in full motion. I make it nice and tidy from the get-go and I almost always work straight ahead, which is a lot more fun.

The main reason I quit the stepped key work flow was that it was superfluous and I get better results without it. It's really just an evolution of my technique. But I benefitted from using it for a long time.

I'm ALMOST as old as Keith.

Keith Lango said...

"I'm ALMOST as old as Keith."

Maybe so, but you are definitely better looking than me. ;)

Everybody has their way of skinning these cats. But skinning cats is an ugly business and more often than we like we get a stinky one to skin. That's when things get messy and my metaphors start to break down...

3ds.mad said...

Yeah..
this is a nice topic.
I had one bad experience using stepped mode in one technical test.

I know almost everyone knows it, but for new guys, plz read this also:
http://www.navone.org/HTML/Tutorial_Splines2_3.htm

Kent Alfred said...

One thing I have noticed from going from stepped to spline lately...is that once you have done it enough times, you learn to anticipate what your stepped keys will look like in spline, before you even physically convert the keys. It really pays off to be organized with your key-setting while in stepped. Keying every key on each pose and breakdown is also very helpful in avoiding stray spliney disasters.

Thom said...

My worst experience with stepped keys was also my last. I had a shot that looked simply fantastic in stepped mode. Everyone thought it was going to be great. I was very careful to be neat as Kent suggests, but as soon as I freed the splines, it looked like trash and I was never able to recapture the feel that it had in stepped mode. There was something about the jerkiness of the stepped keys that deceived me. I don't remember exactly what it was anymore, but I remember it being no fun.

Anyways, it was so bad I would have had to start over completely to really fix it but there was no time for that. So I did what I could to patch it up and moved on.

However, if I could have seen what my poses looked like in the context of motion, even without overlap and the ornaments that sell an animation, I would have taken a different approach that would have worked from the get-go.

I figured out after this episode that it is not a big deal to key everything twice to mark where my key poses roughly begin and end (hint: melscript helps here), and leave it in "clamped" or now, even better, "plateau" mode. Then it's easier to make breakdowns because the character is often already close to where needs to be between keys -- so the breakdowns get made on the first pass too.

As you get better, you learn how to build in overlap, and even those ornaments, all on the first pass. I could go on and on about this but my comment already rivals the original post in length. Guess it's time to start my own blog! :)

emc300 - Emanoel Castro said...

Hi Keith!

Very good article!
Cya! "Stay the curse!" :)

Virgil said...

My way of dealing with this issue - I plan in detail, and even in stepped mode I try to see the end result, I work with that in mind all the time. I add poses for every extreme, every important bit of something (no polish details of course, like I leave out staggers or small events like that), every major arc should be considered, and then, watching my detailed blocking in stepped mode becomes pretty close to an actual animation... and when I go into splines, which I often do directly, the animation is watchable, maybe after a few tweaks, and I almost never have to struggle with monstrous arcs :P When you have enough keys to describe a movement, you shouldn't have a problem moving into splines.

I think the most important thing is visualizing and planning things right, creating a solid blocking and obviously not waiting for the polish phase to get an animation looking right...

Femi said...

I personally agreed that doing stepped keys tends to create the illusion the your work is complete before it explodes when converted to splines, but a though just struck my "all 2d animation is done in stepped key" so I was wondering if i put more poses in could i get smooth animation without going out of stepped keys...hmm it's something i should try

Leander said...

Greetings. Here my hybrid approach to this:
For blocking out animations, I've stopped using stepped curves, but block out with linear curves between the keyframes. At the same time I have my shortcuts setup so I can toggle from one keyframe to the next or last.

So I can emphasis on the poses with stepping from key to key when I want and check the initial flow and very rough timing and compatibility of the poses when doing a playback.

After that I usually change my keyframes to Bezier and work from there cleaning up.