Tuesday, April 24, 2012

First Steps of Short Film Number Five

Here's the critter I'm building right now to animate in 3D. There's some unrelated panels in there as well.

I only have a rough idea of the story so far, but I'm moving forward with the parts that interest me and trusting that it will all come together. That's the way I've done most of my films. I start with a little seed and work on it until it grows into a bigger thing. This seed is definitely growing.

(This is a bit of an animator-specific post, so apologies if some things don't make sense to everyone. I tried to write it out by explaining everything, but it was going to turn into a very very long post.)

My plan is to animate the characters in this film with straight-ahead motion, frame-by-frame, as though I was moving and animating a stop-motion character. I like the rough and fresh look that stop motion and hand-drawn animation gives. 3D computer animation can be endlessly refined and tweaked, so you end up with very nice animation, but there's no feeling of the process in the final animation, if you know what I mean.

An analogy would be painting a photorealistic image with a tiny brush - the final image is amazing, but you don't get any of the feeling that it's a painting. There is no liveliness of the brushstroke, or of areas that are rendered differently than in other areas, or that the painting is a recording of some kind of exploration.

Stop-motion animation (like Wallace and Gromit, sand-animation from Sesame Street and stuff like that) feels like a constant miracle when you're watching it. The animator knew what was supposed to happen, but he wouldn't see the whole shot until it was completely finished. Like developing film, a lot more of the art is in the moment of creation. You press the button to take the photo, whether its a single image or one-twelfth of a second of a film, and there's no going back. When I see that creation and re-creation, twelve times a second, in a stop-motion film, it completely captivates me.

So I'm building this character with those sorts of things in mind. I'm trying to get out of my head the standard workflow for 3D computer animation, and trying to suit the process more towards my own style and way-of-thinking. Maybe he won't have a smooth surface - maybe I'll leave him polygonal and jagged-looking. I would like to play with frame-by-frame shape animation as well. Instead of relying on the underlying skeleton for all of my movements, I want to experiment with moulding the surface like clay on a frame-by-frame basis.

The biggest challenge, and a restriction that I'm looking forward to imposing on myself, is to animate straight-ahead without going back and fixing frames indefinitely. If I decide that frame 17 out of 50 doesn't look right, I'm either going to leave it or redo the whole shot, like you would in stop-motion. I think this is going to make the process very intensive, and force me to be totally present when animating each frame. (I feel like I can get lazy with 'traditional' 3D animation and just muck around until it feels right.)

I guess that means a lot of detailed storyboarding, pose-sketching, and timing sheets. So be it.

I'm scared! Which is a good sign, I think.

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