Thursday, September 01, 2005

"It's not animated yet...."

OK, I've got a little pet peeve I want to take out for a walk. Don't worry, I'll scoop up after him. :)

When I was supervising I'd always get a bit tweaked when CG animators would show me their blocking and say "It's not animated yet, this is just blocking."

Just blocking? You mean like "This wound is not serious, it's just a great white shark bite."?
Blocking is worth way more than being labeled with some throw away moniker like "just blocking".

I'd often reply- "Blocking is animation! Blocking has more to do with good animation than anything else you'll do. So yes, it is animated. It's just not done yet." Even now when I'm not supevising I still cringe everytime I hear an animator say "Oh, it's not animated yet, it's just blocking."

Excuse me while I slap my forehead.

To me the art of animation comes down100% to having great ideas with sincere acting. However I think that the craft of animation comes down 85% to pose, breakdown and timing. You know, that "blocking stuff". The other 15% is nice and it can often elevate good fundamentals to a great bit of animation, but that other 15% cannot rescue poorly posed, poorly patterned and poorly timed work. So in my mind planning and blocking ARE animation, and I'd propose that blocking and timing have far more to do with real animation than clean up and polish.

If you ask an old timer traditional animator what he's doing when he's drawing his keys and breakdowns and working his timing charts he'd answer "Why, I'm animating. What does it look like I'm doing?" You'd get nowhere trying to convince such a fellow that he's not really "animating yet", he's "just blocking". He'd look at you like you were an idiot. So why do so many of us in CG treat this foundational element of our work with such disregard? Because the motion isn't all spliney yet? So who's the animator? Milt Kahl who draws the keys and breakdowns and works out the timing charts? Or is it his assistant who inbetweens the work? Or is it the clean up artist who preps the drawings for inking? The way some of us talk in CG we'd give more value to the clean up artist or the assistant than the animator. No wonder so much of our work is bland and lifeless, stuck in a rut of sameness. We don't think we're really animating until we're cleaning up, but by then it's too late to fix anything. We are an army of clean up artists masquerading as animators. And I'd dare say the work shows it sometimes. We can't see the forest for the leaves, never mind seeing the trees.

I think those of us who have been animating in CG from the start need to get beyond this idea that noodling curves and doing endless previews and tweaks is "animation" while planning, thinking through and constructing solid poses and figuring out great timing is "just blocking". When we understand this I think the quality of our work will grow by leaps and bounds.


jason said...


'course I just did what you're talking about in my current shot, and damn.. it looks like total poop.


it's been one of those weeks..

MattG said...

Great rant. I agree 100%. A friend of mine showed me something when I was first considering getting into this field. He was drawing a pose, scribbly and rough, lines all over, getting the body shape down in the pose he wanted. It was fast, the pose was dynamic, I knew exactly what it was, but there were no details in the picture.

Then he stopped and said "If I do this..." and started to draw a hard line, the beginnings of the cleanup outline of the head, "...then I am no longer animating, I'm drawing." The animation is the poses, the planning, the essence and the form, that gives a piece life. The details just make it look pretty at the end.:)

Keith Lango said...

"I'm not animating, I'm drawing." That is so awesome! Your friend did you a huge favor with that one sentence. Thanks for sharing!

And Jason, I feel bad for ya. Seems we all get a little sloppy every once in a while. I know I do. I think it's good cuz it forces me back to my roots with the taste of humble pie on my lips. My most recent one was a little while back. Doh! Why *smack* am-I *smack* so *smack* stupid! *smack*


bclark said...

great post Keith! I know that feeling and
it seems to be worse at game studios cause the people looking at your work don't know what they are looking at anyway so if it is not all smushychueasy done looking people freak out.
Maybe it is no so much that the animators feel that way is that they have this built in defense response "just blocking" because of having to work for so many people that don't know what they are looking at but are in charge...just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with you Kevin.

I've never understood this (having come from 2D). I mean, I understand the reasoning behind it - that it takes so long to get a scene "started" that you want some kind of confirmation or approval from the directors early on - but coming from the artist's respective, I don't see the purpose in it.

I always make sure that the first "blocking" I show the directors has ALL the ideas I intend to put in the scene - this includes the facial expressions, dialogue, overlap - EVERYTHING. Otherwise you're just asking the director to fill in the blanks and you'll end up chasing his tail for him.

It takes much longer before the first time you show, but I think the result is that your scene has more of "you" in it - and therefore, is more enjoyable to watch!

Anonymous said...

Amen Bruddah!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Yes!
And now to reflect this in the sign-off pipeline: first-off, not stepped curves but scribbles?

Bill Robinson said...

Very well said Keith. I hear this a lot at school and I am sad to see that it continues on into the real world.

RayChase said...

It's kinda like saying "that's just the foundation, I haven't started building yet"

RayChase said...

(sent it before I was finished).. the foundation is the most important part of a building. It is the building block on which everything else depends. Poses tell the story. They create the road map of the shot. Everything else depends on strong, solid posing.