Saturday, March 05, 2005


If you've not yet done so, or if it's been a while, head on over to
These guys have a wealth of treasures stored up for perusing. It's a great way to blow a weekend. I've been digesting the notes from Eric Larson about Entertainment. (part 4 here and part 5 here)
One may read those two Larson links and say "He's just talking about drawing. I don't draw my animation, I'm a computer animator. The computer does the drawing." Fool!! Who decides what the arrangement of controls should be? Who determines how the pose should look? Who determines the relationship of volumes? It's you, the animator. If you think that notes from old timers about drawing don't apply to CG animation then you're sunk before you even begin.
I've been taking the word "drawing" that Mr. Larson talks about and translating it's purpose into my work in animation. Ask the guys at work and they'll tell you. "Yeah, Keith's always going on about 'drawing the puppet into shape'". That's how I see our work as computer animators- our job is to arrange this puppet rig of a character and it's various control systems into pleasing drawings. In the end CG animation is exactly the same as traditional- flat images on a flat screen. The characters are the same results- flat shapes on a flat screen. So if this is true (and it is) then we as CG animators need to put as much thought, care and effort into our "drawings" as anybody with a pencil must. If we don't, then we neglect the fundamental nature of our craft and we get lazy, relying on the rig or the model to do too much of our thinking. The result is what some have called "stiff animation". Why stiff? Because we let the default shape of the model and rig define too much of what we're doing. The evidence is all around us- stiff poses that have upright vertical torsos, arm flailing, palms and pointing gestures, feet planted in cement, IK floaty movements, poor use of volumes, poses that have no sense of kinetic movement in them, odd and clunky relationships within the body, etc. It's all around us- see it. We need to get beyond the pixels and realize that Cg animators are making drawings. We just use a far more expensive pencil than in the past.
With the advent of more free-form character rigs (for examples see the 2004 SIGGRAPH sketches showcasing the tools that Disney Feature has developed or see the experimental rigging work being done by Jason Osipa) it's going to become more and more vital that CG animators understand the need for expressing solid "drawing" in their poses and in their work. And when the day comes (and it is coming) when we're no longer constrained to positioning these arbitrary rig controllers one at a time in the old click and pick paradigm, when the tools for posing will be a drawing a line on screen with a Wacom and not mugling things into position with a mouse - then those who understand the primary elements of what makes for a pleasing drawing are gonna be the ones who survive. The more the technology moves forward with Cg animation, the more we as animators need to move backward- back into the foundational aspects of our craft. We need to diligently search out and crave those fundamental principles established decades ago so that we can be prepared to take full advantage of the freedom of expression being afforded by our technical brethren. We need to know how to draw our characters into shape. More and more the rigs will be able to allow this level of freedom. If you're not prepared for it, you'll be left in the dust.



Anonymous said...

You know, I've been to Animation Meat off and on, but have never dug very deeply. Thanks for the reminder! Browsing through some of the Eric Larsen PDF files, I found a killer quote that ties in perfectly with your recent comments...

"We must recognize both the validity of tradition and the necessity of exploration and discovery. We need a knowledge of the past and a basic and realistic understanding of the present, so that our creative energies can be fully geared towards our desired goals."

I'll openly admit to being one of those fools who initially thought I could do CG without drawing. My pencil skills still need a lot of work, but hopefully with practice I'll improve both on paper and on screen.

Now stop reading my comment and get back to work! ;)


Anonymous said...

In the Phrasing of action and dialouge, Eric Larson says "...ask yourself, if my character on the screen were in silhouette, would it still have a good dialouge sync?"

Also, the Walt Stanchfild lecture notes on drawing could become useful to CG animators as well, "Capturing the esscenece of pose" and "angels", you could do yourself a favor and print them all out and read them when you have some free time, instead of surfing Cg Char ;) just kidding'!