Wednesday, February 20, 2008


  As I have done this type of series of tutorial post's before some might be wondering why I am doing the same thing again. Well, the answers kinda several fold I suppose. First, the original intent of this blog was for hand drawn animation information. 
  We live in an animation world where chances are if your an animator 
you're doing CG and if you still draw for a living you're doing design or boarding. I know not everyone falls into these catagories, but it seems to be the overwhelming majority. I've seen such a sparse amount of hand drawn animation info out there, that I felt for those who genuinely still love this art form and don't want to see it die. 
  Secondly, and I say this with respect for the art form of computer animation (and those in it), but I was pretty tired of hearing and or reading of CG guys saying things like "CG is cheaper than 2D", or "we don't need models that squash and stretch because motion blur is the CG equivilant", or the worst one is "CG is more subtle than 2D". I could bark about these sadly misguided opinions all day, but that wouldn't be my point. My point is that those opinions are formed from people whom have either no 2D experience or who do not understand it at all. The people that do have experience with the art form ( Pixar, Dreamworks, Sony, Disney guys) probably wouldn't say such things. As the SplineDoctors have said on their
 site, I find it alarming when my students have heard more about people with famous blogs than they have about the nine old men. As convoluted as this is getting, here is the second point: I wanted to put accurate information out there that would inspire, inform and correct minds on the topic of hand drawn animation. I also feel that the legacy of the Nine Old Men is precious... nuff said.
  Thirdly, and lastly, I wanted to get back to doing tutorials because of how much I've changed and grown as an artist in the last year or so. I have been doing A LOT more than animating. As I have said before, the more you know about the whole process the more 
you can give to the specifics of it. My true life example is going from animation to design, and now back to animation. You see things differently once you've designed a few hundred characters in different styles. Certainly ones dratsmenships improves, but the way you think about things like staging, clarity, posing , all change. So as I work my way through a shot I hope to bring new light to the process as I talk (or write) out loud about it.

 That's a little refrain I've heard innumerable times in my life. For those who know me I can be, uh, a slight bit absent minded. When I was a little kid, I got into a few pickles because of it. But never from malicious intent, it was always innocent at it's core. I just wasn't thinking about things before I did them-- and thus I heard this refrain over and over in my life until I finally started to see why it was important. 
  This refrain can so easily be adapted to animation as well! I think the number one thing I don't see in a lot of student work (and sometimes pro work) is thought. If you d
on't think before you act, you're gonna end up in a world of trouble. If someone asks you WHY you chose the pose you did and you cannot answer that question you probably haven't thought out your shot well enough. As always you have to temper this kind of advice with "... and everyone works differently...", but the point isn't HOW you do this it's THAT you do this. 
  Ironically this is the most important part of the process and yet it's the part we spend the least amount of time on. Now obviously if you sat around for 4 days thinking about a shot that you only have 5 days to do that's no good, but I know from personal experience sometimes I'm just way to excited to draw! Even if you have the shot crystal clear in your head, at least think it through and make sure your instincts match up with what is being asked of the shot.


  Randy Haycock was kind enough to come and do a lecture for my CalArts class. Sometimes people with more experience than you are able to put thoughts into words that you have felt before but not known how to describe verbally. He said something his kids ask him all the time is "why"... it's endless, and irritating at times but should we not be as curious about our own shots? Here's a series of questions to always ask yourself BEFORE you start your shot:
  Is this shot in the movie?
  Does the character feel this way?
  Is the context of this shot in the whole of the story?    
  Is the entertainment value of this shot?
  Is the subtext?
  Is this shot about?
  Now that's certainly not a comprehensive list but it will definately get you into the right place 
mentally before you start your shot.

  This is a topic that's a bit more on the cryptic side. Something you can't tell someone how to do, they just have to have the ability to do so. It can all be summed up into this 
thought: Are you able to feel and empathize with the character you are performing? You have to have some sort of emotional connection there. This doesn't necessarily mean you love your character in the sense that you'd be best friends if they were real. It more means you can relate to them. What makes a character relatable? Well, I think a primary one is flaw. A flawed character is one we can all identify with because we are all flawed. We see, sometimes, the same struggles in our own lives (wanting to be loved, fear of something, etc.) and can therefor put ourselves into their emotional journey. This is why the token villain that just wants to be rich or rule the world are not compelling in the least. We don't identify emotionally with those motives-- yes, we even have to identify to a degree with the "villain". What if he's the kind of villain who was just like you or me at one point and took a wrong turn? What if he's looking for love in all the wrong places, that adds sympathy which adds empathy and helps 
to make you care about them.  The animator AND the audience! 


  So now, assuming you've got the first 2 under your belt you can start planning your shot which means, yes, DRAWING! 

  Everyone knows this step-- but so few of us really take advantage of it. Planning is everything, whether you do it on paper or in your head it's essential to the clarity of your performance. This step is like everything else in that you will make it your own eventually.
 Duncan Marjoribanks and Milt Kahl basically animate their shots twice. One in small size, and then for real. I mean, litterally every little arc, blink, everything was planned before hand. Others just thumbnail out their main story-telling poses and let the shot, as they animate, tell them where it wants to go. And a few don't thumbnail much or at all and plan it all out in their heads. The point is that all the great PLAN in some fashion. I tend to favor the second option highly. The reason is that I have to have the structure of my story telling poses to guide me, but want permission for spontinaity.  So here are my thumbnails for this recent piece of animation:
  As you can plainly see my objective was not to make masterful drawings. I was completely focused on gestures and poses that could sell the main ideas for my shot. Essentially, what
 these will end up being are my foundational drawings for my shot (storytelling poses). My shot will revolve around them. That's why it is so important to experiment at this point, because the further down the road you get the harder it will be to reinvent your shot if need be.
  In the next post will start to go into roughing in a shot... there is a lot to talk about in terms
of how to think about things but also just the practicality of "how do you do that"? A lot of it involves layering you thinking. So, as always, please please please ask questions for things that are unclear! Hope everyone gets something out of this! Cheers!



Derek said...

Sweet! I'm looking forward to the next post!

Anonymous said...

What a read. Thanks...keep this eating it up :)

Joel Beaudet said...

Awsome post! I cant wait for the next one. Keep it up.

James L. Cook said...

Thanks for this matt. Loved your other animation samples and your lessons. The last string of lessons on the bear was really great and insightful. Can't wait to take this one in too.

Cameron Fielding said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Fielding said...

cheers Matt - waiting for the next post...

would love to know how much detail you take your story poses to in thumbnailing and how much you let the details evolve in animation also.

another thing - by working more freely between story poses, do you find you try and lock down the story poses fairly rigidly? or do you find they change and shift around a bit depending on the actions that lead in and out of them that you didnt plan 100% in planning ?

Matt Williames said...

Tim: Awwww, no insult! I was hoping for a good one :) I am so glad you find these useful, that is encouraging!
Derek, Anthony, and Joel: Thanks for saying that man!
2ames:Thank you! I hope these are equally helpful!
Cameron: That's a great question! I basically use thumbnailing so that I can nail down what the storytelling pose is exactly. I don't necessarily commit to every little thing about them (arms placement, expression, etc.). Sometimes as I animate things happen spontaneously that make my shot better. Things like cool breakdowns that I could never have planned in advance, the way the overlap will work, eye darts, etc. But i do not deviate from those poses, however all of the extra bits' all seem to evolve as I am animating. So no, I am not 100 percent rigid with my keys, but I am rigid with commiting to an acting idea.

Cameron Fielding said...

Thanks Matt... makes perfect sense.

Chris Bivins said...

Cool man. Im definitely following this tutorial from beginning to end. I really need to brush up on my 2D skills. Animation skills in general really. Lol


Alvin Aquino said...

hey matt,
been following your blog for a while and it's been a great inspiration. just a question: do you change the way you do your thumbs for more subtle acting? for example, concentrate on facial expressions, hand gestures? I just find it difficult to thumbnail, let a lone animate a scene that does not involve very dynamic and pushed poses. any tips?

Alvin Aquino said...

sorry for the double post, but i have another question. for a design that doesn't lend much to secondary action. i.e: short hair and tight clothes, and skinny body, how do you suggest i keep interest from pose to pose? or do the poses have to be that much stronger in order to make up for it?

Frankie Stellato said...

Just found your blog tonight and I'm really liking it! Very insightful stuff. Can't wait for the next post! Thanks!

Vincent Gorman said...

Hey Matt, I would like to echo Alvin's question about the difficulty in thumbnailing subtle gestures. I also struggle with knowing when enough is enough when it comes to thumbnailing. I guess it's a personal gut feeling, but this post definitely helps clear up a lot of my questions. Thanks for the good, post, looking forward to the roughing tutorial.

Matt Williames said...

Cameron: Your very welcome!
Biv: Great man, I hope you find it helpful!
Alvin: That's a great question! The answer is no, I do not necessarily plan differently than I would in the sense that I still find poses to work with. The difference is (say in the case of a close up) you don't necessarily have a gesture to work with so you are relying more on the angle of the head, expressions, blinks, eye darts, to get your acting across. In the case of a close up I will thumbnail very general expressions and head angles. I will not thumbnail every single blink/eye dart. it's kinda like I said earlier, I like leaving room for spontaneous thinking but I still need a road map of clear poses. HOW I work into those poses, and WHAT I do in those poses to keep them alive is what I leave to impetuous thinking. So that alsoe kinda answer your second thought about having difficulty animating something that's not broad. It's the things you do within that pose that keep it alive. But all WITHIN the pose... the temptation is to add more poses so it doesn't die, but the irony is that more poses make it feel less concentrated a statement and less alive.
As far as a design with a character that has minimal overlap, you don't need overlap to keep things interesting. It can help, but it can also be really distracting when it's not tastefully done. You can always tell a shot when an animator was bored because there's a lot of "fluff". Basically a lot of things that don't need to be there and are distracting. As I said earlier, your poses should be entertaining enough on there own. How you get into them and what you do in them is what makes them shine brighter! Thanks for the great questions man!
Vince: Yet another good question. Yeah, it is slightly a personal thing as to how much someone thumbnails there shots out. It's something that you develope as you learn the most comfortable way for you to animate. I was just suggest getting everything you personally need to have to be prepared to animate your shot. Me, I really only want to have my main poses planned because I hate stifling the process with over-thinking and deleting room for spontaneousness. Other really want to know exactly ever little detail of what's going to happen where and when.
So experiment and find what exactly it is you need to be prepared to animate your shot. Hope that helps!

Thanks again everyone for the wonderful comments, and awesome questions!

Kevin Koch said...

Hey Matt, great post. I'd love to check out some of your earlier tutorial posts. Maybe you could tag them in some way so they'd be easy to find.

Alvin Aquino said...

thanks matt! i didn't expect such a detailed explanation but i really appreciate it. hopefully i'll be able to apply what you've said to a scene i'm working on. thanks again for the help!

Unknown said...

Cool thumbnails, I don't do that nearly enough. How rough is your first pass, if the character has complex movements like coming at the character, or turning, or handling props? Is it more important to capture the gesture, or to plan the action?

libra bear said...

Hey Matt, havent commented on your Blog in a while. If you recall you did a a post a while ago regarding far apart inbetweens, and how to bring them closer together with tape, and paying attention to peg holes, paper blah blah. I remember saying i didnt get it. I just started a job as an inbetweener, and now I get it, its such a great tip. Works like a charm. Just wanted to say thanks man. You saved me a lot of trouble. Just seen your baby by the way, congrats man, she's lovely.....

Matt Williames said...

Kevin: Thanks man! I'll try and figure out the whole "tagging thing". I'm kinda a computer retard-- that's why I draw I guess :)
Alvin: No thank you! Glad it all helped!
Austin: Thanks man, I always love going to your blog and seeing great drawings and cool science/dinosaur stuff ( I LOVE both of those).
How rough are my first passes? You can actually check out my first pass in the post below. Those are some great questions though! I think, for me, I can't do stick figure animation and then go straight to tie down. I just need more information in my ruffs for me to accurately tie things down, plus it's really hard to get any sort of emotion from a stick figure. Plus, as you know, that leaves a lot out and surprising your director when the shot is all tied down isn't always a good thing. So I get thing's to a place where there's enough information there to show what I am trying to say, clearly, without being too focused on all the "detaily" bits. When it comes to doing things like a character slowly turning, or handling a prop I just try and nail down what I need to in order to get the point of moment across. Like if it's a close up I am not going to ruff in any "axis" heads (character that have circles with axis' for heads) because the point of the shot will probably involve what the facial expression is doing.
Wow, great question! "Is it more important to capture the gesture, or to plan the action?"
I'd say they are both important but plan the gesture's first and action second. It's sort of a double edged sword because unless you move into your gestures (the action) the right way your poses won't have the feeling you intended. If it's purely a shot of a character running through frame and not stopping to hold for a gesture, I still think of those shot's as having gestures. The gesture, to me, becomes how they run or hold themselves in the action, their posture and what not. I hate it when people say demeaningly "oh, well that's just an action shot". I think action shot's have a lot of potential for acting to them! But yeah, I do also think it's really important to plan out the action as well. But I try to think of it in the framework of gestures if at all possible.
That answer feels sorta convoluted, does that make sense?

Matt Williames said...

Libra bear: awww man, that just makes me so happy to hear!! I love knowing that this is helping some people out there and it's not just me ranting! And congratulations for getting a job doing hand drawn animation! Your one of the privileged few! And thank you for your kind words on my daughter-- she is a real blessing to us.

Alexandre Augusto Ferreira said...

Hi Matt.
Great blog!!I see all the archive and i found amazing drawings,videos and informations.

Unknown said...

Cool, Matt! That made complete sense. Though it wasn't a fantastic film, Sinbad had some really cool attitude/ gesture in his movements, and his style of action was pretty character-specific (deep bow to James).
As for acting stick figures, I can see how you'd like to develop the drawings, not only for the director, but just to remind yourself of weight and mass. There are ways to get really nice performance with minimal lines, like Tony Fucile's work in the praying scene in Iron Giant. But again, he's a friggin master. Great discussion man. I'm glad you appreciate the dino updates. I'll be using my blog to develop characters more in the future (after copyright registering them, of course). So keep checking in, and keep animating, my man1

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