AM Class 5 – Polishing Pass (Week 9)

Week 9 is over and I’ve just posted up my latest polishing pass for my shot. If you noticed, I did not make a post last week as my life has been extremely busy lately. If you have been following the progression of my shot you will likely notice some more changes to some of the acting choices. Every week my mentor always has such awesome feedback and I really feel like my shot just continues to get stronger with each note. I have been learning so much this term, and while it has been the most challenging term yet at Animation Mentor, I am enjoying every minute of it! Every week I’m learning so much stuff. The term is rapidly approaching the end and I only have a couple weeks left to really push my shot as far as possible! I cannot believe that shortly I will be starting my 6th and final class at Animation Mentor… the time goes by SO fast.

As a side note, I got a chance to video chat with the Purdue University Student SIGGRAPH chapter this past week. My self and good friend/fellow animator Erik Wright talked about our experiences both as alumni from Purdue’s Computer Graphics Technology program and our experiences at Animation Mentor. We got to meet many new aspiring animators and give them some information about their options for furthering their education in character animation. It made me really miss going to the SIGGRAPH meetings myself as a Purdue student but it was a ton of fun getting to share my experiences with the students.

Well that is it for this week’s update, below is the latest version of my shot. Enjoy!

AM Class 5 – More Refining

Well, week 7 has just come to an end at AM and it was another busy week with some big notes to hit. After getting my eCritique from last week, my mentor still said I wasn’t getting the right idea across in the beginning of the shot. She wanted the girl to slowly and gradually step up to the male character as the shot progressed. I had her pretty much just walking right up to him and then delivering her lines. So I went back in and re-blocked it again and really try to hit her notes as close as I could. She was very helpful in the critique and actually drew out some really good poses for me to try to incorporate at the exact time in the dialogue. She also suggested I hold her initial pose for quite a bit longer before starting to move into the male character’s space.

On top of her notes, we were told to try and get 1/3 of our shot to 80% complete. She is pushing us to aim for Week 10 as a final date so that we can have that actual final Week 11 be there for any last minute tweaks. She has pushed me a lot this term and it has been a very challenging shot for me but each week I am learning a lot and really pushing my shot. That is all for this week, I’m going to keep it pretty short. So take a look and let me know what you think!

AM Class 5 – Refining Pass

After an extremely busy week animating I’m back here with an update! This week you should notice some pretty substantial progress on the shot from the last update. My mentor wanted us to move into adding more facial performance and lip-sync to our shot and also be out of stepped keys and well on our way into refining the shot. I also had to implement some pretty big notes that I got during the previous week’s eCritique. My mentor really wanted me to get more of stepping action into the opening shot with the female character. She wanted her to start further away and step up to the male character. This made for some serious work on my end. I essentially had to re-block and animate a good 60-70 frames of the shot. It’s something that is never really fun but in the long-run you have to do what is going to make the shot the best it can be, and honestly I think after doing it, the shot feels better.

One of the big concepts they teach us as AM is that you have to do whatever the director/client tells you when you are a professional animator and in our cases, our director is our mentor. In a studio setting you should never get too attached to work because there are always going to be changes and big notes even late in the progress of a shot. Luckily, by having a pretty clean workflow it made addressing these notes not a total nightmare and I was able to get it mostly worked out in about 1 day of animating. Her other notes were to really play up the amount of flirting these characters are doing. The class is all about advanced acting she wanted to see my characters really act and not just feel like they were going through the motions. So I worked really hard to add in more flirty emotions and thought to both characters. Finally, I did a rough first pass of the lip-sync.

It was a very busy week for me, and I’m sure to have many more until this class is over. That’s all for this week, take a look at the latest update and let me know what you think!

Refining Pass

AM Class 5 – Blocking

It’s the end of week 4 already and we are starting to get busy! This week was the first real week of blocking for my class. Our mentor suggested we focus on getting the body blocked out in a lot of detail and if we had time to get some basic facial stuff worked in. Next week I plan on adding in a lot of facial work and lip-sync. This shot is certainly a step up in difficulty from my previous one. Adding a second character really starts to slow the process down because there is now twice the amount of things to think about while animating. We have had some great lectures on keeping characters “alive” while another character is the main focus.

Workflow notes
For this week’s blocking, I tried out a new method of blocking which I am enjoying. Essentially I used Maya to my advantage to help me figure out more breakdowns. I would block in stepped keys like usual but then pretty regularly switch everything over to splines and see what areas needed more breakdowns. I would let the computer do the work of getting me a basic breakdown pose to start with and then go in and push it more to my liking. This was a workflow tip I got from two of my previous mentors (Steve Cady and Mike Stern) both mentioned how they have done this at times depending on the shot they were working on. I found it has helped speed up my blocking process, but it does take some getting used to. I might not use this method all the time but I wanted to keep experimenting with my workflow, in hopes of improving my speed in the blocking stage. One thing all my mentors have mentioned is that workflow really changes quite often depending on the shot and your deadline, so I think it is good to have tried different workflows and learn what works best in certain situations.

That is all for this week, take a look at my blocking below!

AM Class 5 – Rough Blocking

This past week’s assignment at AM was to create a Rough Blocking Pass. The rough blocking pass is focused on getting the main idea of the story across in as few poses as possible. Our mentor wanted us to really just rough in the poses and not focus on too much detail. We will get more detailed and broken down with next week’s assignment as we move into actual blocking. For this shot I am also trying out a new workflow where I more frequently switch over to spline’s even during blocking to help me figure out which areas need more breakdowns and also to get a better understanding of my spacing.

Anyway’s I am very busy already blocking away for the current week’s assignment but I wanted to get this post up before it was too late. I’m going to keep it short, but stay tuned as my progress will keep getting further each week!

Rough Blocking & Proof Concept

AM Class 5 – Layout Pass

I am back! It has been a crazy couple of weeks for me and the start of the new term at Animation Mentor has been keeping me busy, a long with some really great new things going on in my life. (I got engaged to my beautiful fiancé last week!) First I want to briefly talk about how class 5 at AM is structured and who my new mentor is. Class 5 at Animation Mentor is called “Advanced Acting”. This class is different from the rest in that we only work on ONE shot for the entire 12 weeks of the term. However, this shot is comprised of two characters interacting and and the length of the shot is much longer it has to be between 15-25 seconds. It is really going to be a challenging, exciting and fun term.

The mentor I chose for class 5 is Nicole Herr. She has been in the industry for 16 or so years and has animated at some of the biggest visual effects and feature animation studios. She has a very impressive list of projects that she has worked on and I absolutely love how enthusiastic and engaging our Q&A sessions with her are. Currently she is a Freelance Animator, but prior to becoming freelance she worked for studios such as Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain, Rhythm & Hues and many more.

Class 5 started last week but I did not make a blog post as the first week assignment was just to gather different options for dialogue to use in our scene. Our mentor then reviewed our choices and chose the best clip for us to do based on our current skill level and strengths. The clip my mentor chose for me to animate was a piece of dialogue that I found while watching the movie “Stranger Than Fiction”. For this week’s post I am going to post the “Layout” pass. This pass is prior to blocking and focuses on the cinematography of the shot. We had to focus on staging, composition, camera cuts. There is very little animation in this pass as it is all about staging the shot properly. We also had to record video reference and create some thumbnail sketches and provide a back story analysis for our scene. Our mentor really wanted us to get into the minds of the characters and think about all the details leading up to our shot and why our characters are in the situation they are in.

I think that is enough rambling for one post so here is a look at my layout pass.

AM Class 4: Complete & New Progress Reel

Well it has been a very busy few weeks and I have not gotten around to making an update post. Last time we looked at my shot it was in the blocking plus stage. This time, it is the final version of what I had to submit for the end of the term. I do plan on going back in and polishing a few more pieces of it after getting the final critique from my mentor. I also will be practicing my lighting skills eventually to make all my shots lit and rendered for my demo reel.

Working on this shot taught me so much. This was my first attempt ever at doing a full acting shot with dialogue. I learned how important having a clean and focused workflow really is. One of the biggest challenges for me on this shot was incorporating facial animation into my workflow. Prior to this assignment the faces of our characters were very simplistic and limited so having to think of all the minute details like eye darts, blinks, lip curls and everything in-between added a whole new level of difficulty and fun! As I move into the next Class (5), with a two character dialogue shot I will be tweaking and refining my workflow even more. Below is progress reel for Class 4. As for now, I’m going to go and enjoy the rest of my vacation before Class 5 with begins!

Class 4 Reel:

Classes 4-1 Progress Reel:

AM Class 4: First Spline Pass (Blocking Plus)

Another quick week has gone by and it was filled with a lot animation! This week we were asked to begin the Blocking Plus stage of our shot. We have two weeks of blocking plus and then one week of polishing before it is to be turned in. My mentor encouraged us to try and get into smoothed out curves aka “splines” this week if possible. This is the stage of animation where you find out if your blocking was done well enough or if you probably need to go back and breakdown your poses some more. This week, was spent mostly “tying down” the shot as many say. After switching from my stepped keys over to splines, I decided to follow the workflow that many of my mentors have recommended — focus on the core.

My workflow was as follows:
I started out with focusing only on the hips, and center of gravity. I wanted to get the weight shifts and overall base movement all worked out, from there I moved up the spine to the head and then I moved outwards to the arms, hands and fingers. Finally, I did a basic face pass where I added some overshoots and subtle eases on the facial expressions, mouth shapes, blinks and eye darts. The face and hands still have much more work to be done on them. So hopefully next week will be spent doing more work on those areas.

That is pretty much all for this week, stay tuned for next week’s update!

First Spline Pass

AM Class 4: Second Blocking Pass

Whew, I’m glad this week is over. It was a stressful one as I dealt with the stresses of technology failing. On Wednesday morning, I opened my file only to realize all my animation data I had worked on from the night before didn’t save! Maya 2012 was causing my file to get corrupted every time I saved. Luckily, thanks to the AMP Pipeline tool from Animation Mentor all our work is saved on the cloud in their servers. This is great because it has a versioning feature so I was at least able to roll back to my second most recent version of the file. This meant I only lost about 2-3 hours worth of work rather than ALL of it. After working with tech support we found out that it was an issue with Maya 2012, which is known for being a pretty buggy version of Maya, so I opened it in Maya 2013 and I was able to save animation data again and continue working.

After that set back and a couple long nights and days working on my shot, I was have completed my second pass of blocking. This week, I worked in the mouth shapes for my lip-sync and also added many more breakdowns to my poses. Next week, I’ll be moving into my first pass of blocking plus where I will really get down to work on smoothing out the animation and working in splines. My biggest hurdle aside from fighting technology on this shot has been getting used to that fact that the body and the mouth will be moving at different timing from the body. Up until now everything all moved as a “whole”, but now we have to animate essentially two different timings and keep everything feeling as if it is still part of one cohesive character. It is a tricky situation at first, definitely a process that is just going to take some practice to get used too. Either way, I’m learning so much going through this process and am eager to see how this final shot turns out.

And now, my second pass of blocking:

AM Class 4: Story & Initial Blocking Pass

It is the end of week 6 and I’ve just gone a head and submitted my first pass of blocking for my one character dialogue shot. This pass can also be called the “story” pass because its main goal is to just get the essential key poses and breakdowns in. It is important to make sure that the idea and the acting beats are selling the story correctly. It was a busy week and posing a complex rig like Bishop takes time. There is quite a steep learning curve to this assignment because we have now added the face to the character. Not only are we making sure all the body mechanics are spot on but we have to start thinking about proper facial expressions, eye darts and everything else that goes on with a characters face.

For this pass, we were told not to worry too much about the actual lip-sync but to just get the general facial expressions down for the main beats of the dialogue. Given that this is such a big step up in difficulty, this assignment is going to progress much slower as we are given 8 whole weeks to work on it so we get a lot of extra time in the blocking stage. Next week, I’ll be addressing all my mentor”s notes and moving into a second pass of blocking where I will add more breakdowns and really try to solidify the poses more, as well as more lip-sync.

Until next time, enjoy!

Story & Initial Blocking Pass: