Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Video Reference

We came across a fairly well done test animation online at work today. It had all kinds of nice flourish to the details, decent weight, good overlap, decent arcs, thoughtful poses, etc. It certainly had the mark of someone who shot a good amount of video reference and then used it to create the animation. Not rotoscoped, no. Just the animation made heavy use of the video reference You could just feel it.

And that's kinda where it fell flat.

Despite all of the little things in the animation that should have made it just amazing to watch, it kinda was just... I dunno. Just kinda OK. In that same way that girl in high school would dismiss you by saying "Oh him? Well, he's nice I guess." Ouch.

One of the dangers of video reference is becoming blind to what it doesn't have- namely- it lacks the exaggeration and artfully chosen emphasis that can only be expressed in animation. Video reference needs to be taken beyond what is seen in the video. You need to bring an animator's sensibility to what you get from the reference. You have to pick out the parts that are good, push them. Distill the information down. Push poses, build contrast in the poses, go inside then outside, reverse the line of action, play with the texture and the pace of the timing, pick the best staging for the moment, etc. If all you do is grab still frames from the video and make those your thumbnails then you're not doing the full job of an animator. Now you're becoming more of a motion stenographer. The Milt Kahl audio intervews you can grab over at Seward Street blog bring that home. In track 09 titled "Lazy Bastards (Live Action)" Milt says about some animators who used live action reference heavily in their work....

They'd use it because they didn't have to think. They'd draw the character over the damned photostats. And that's what you'd get. You'd get the same performance you got from a second rate actor.

And in Track 15 titled "The Crutch of Live Action" Milt also says

At least if you're gona use it for reference, use it just for that, use it for reference. Don't accept it blindly. ... No, the only reference I had for Medusa (a character he animated) was by watching people all my life.

Now Milt was known as a salty and somewhat gruff fellow, a man of very strong opinions. However he makes great points. Listen, the reason I'm an animator is because I'm not able to physically pull off the kind of believable acting that Kevin Spacey can when a camera is rolling. Trust me, if I could, I'd do that for a living. There's a LOT more money in being able to do that. Heh. So when I shoot live action reference of myself acting out a scene I have to understand and realize that my own ability to physicaly portray a scene is limited. As such I need to bring an animator's eye to the work. I have to pull out of my experience all the things I know that go into making an animated performance something special to watch. It's not realistic. My clumsy acting in the video reference is realistic. Nobody wants to watch that. No, what I need is to pull it into some other level, someplace beyond merely replicating the reference footage. You need to push it, pull it, make it better than real life. More real than real. Else, why animate it?

So yeah, I like live action reference. I use it, especially for physicall stuff. I think it's a helpful tool. But like money, live action reference makes a fine servant, but a harsh and uncaring master. Make the reference your servant, not the other way around.


Anonymous said...

So THAT's why polar express is so .... blah.

David Alvarez Carrascal said...

Wow Keith! What a coincidence! I'm been thinking about all this things the last week. Recently I take video reference of myself, acting for the April competitions in 10 second club (probably I can´t finish at time because of very important things about my family needs all my attention). The video references help me a lot to developed the characters acting but I'm worried my animation finally looks flat if only use the video reference. So I'm trying to combine the reference I get from the video with my habitual direct-thumbnailing aproach (with strong pose, contrast between thouse pose, reversals etc)but I'm having troubles. I think the reason why, it's because there is a very subtle acting involved in this April's clip. I'm trying to work specially in eyes and little head movements while the character hold the same poses (with very little variations). That thing it's the opposite I read in one chapter of Ed Hooks' book "Acting for animators" but I have had the opportunity to see some clips of people working in the same clip and I feel like the characters was doing too much (in my opinion).
This night I've been watching over and over the car dialogue scene between Frozone and Bob in The Incredibles movie. That's movie have a lot of scenes where the animation is very subtle and I'm searching some clues to work in the right direction...
Well I think I'm a little messed :) and finally I don´t find if I'm wrong or not until I finish and show my animation.
Wow I need to tell someone just all the thing have turning around in my mind this last week. Sorry

Ethan said...

I think your right. Video reference can be a great tool, or it can be a crutch depending upon how you use it. But I would like to point out something about Uncle Milt's talk. Back when he used Video Reference they actully filmed someone, and developed 8x11 photo-stats of each frame of film. They then pegged each photograph so that the animators could flip through them like animation. A lot of those animators drew right over the top of the photographs to get their main poses. When ever you hear one of the nine old men talk about pooh-poohing the use of video reference, I think it's this practice that they're talking about. Not just tapping yourself and looking at what you are doing.

I know a lot of Pixar animators who swear by video reference. The way I use it is to figure out little acting bits. I don't use all the video, I just look for little flourishes, or subtle actions that i would have never thought of on my own. One example, I was animating a shot where a character had to act out this really angry line, turn and stomp out of the room. I could animate the acting bit quite "easily". But I had a lot of difficulty animating the turn. I couldn't figure it out for the life of me. I couldn't look in the mirror to get it, because I'd lose sight of myself as I turned around. So I video taped myself, and stepped through the reference. When I did that I was able to pinpoint what my mistake was and fix my animation. I think video reference is great for this kind of thing.

Darrin Hofmeyr said...

Very interesting, I was thinking the same things over the past few days - my train of thought was also along the lines of Underwearninja's comments. Motion Capture is fancy video reference. If it isn't staged right, or if there is no emphasis on the action the animator wants you to see, it will look bad. Same with video reference. Ollie and Frank said it in "The Illusion of life" talking about film reference: -
"No one knows for sure why a pencil tracing of a live action figure should look so stiff and unnatural on the screen, unless there simply no reality in a copy. The animators had learned this in art classes, but, somehow, studying film of a moving model made them think that live action was different. The camera certainly records what is there, but it records EVERYTHING that is there, with an impartial lack of emphasis. On the other hand, an artist shows what he sees is there, especially that which might not be perceived by others..."

bclark said...

Keith, can you post the link to the animation?

p.s. mocap is a bit different but along the same lines.. bad actor/bad direction = bad final result in mocap you want to capture as close to the final result as you can get so that you don't have to hand alter the shot later.. just sweeten, mix/choreograph/ and animate replace last. Most video ref. is just that.. reference to be used for checking/working out problems or just getting a feel for the animation you want to do. Not trying to start mocap vs. keyframe just saying that people misunderstand and misuse both and if all you do is use mocap as 3d reference then your wasting a lot of your time and money.
And also a huge part of why lots of mocap looks bad, no direction,not even captureing an actor and then sticking it on some character it was not ment for..thinking you don't need an animator/motioneditor to make the move work and feel right for the scene or charcter.

Keith Lango said...

Nah, I won't link to the animation. that'd be pretty poor of me to do so. The person who did it is a good person, tries hard and is still learning. No need to make things difficult for them. It's a mistake we all make. Heck, it's one I've made. That proximity to my own mistakes is what prompted me to post.