Animation Mentor is finished!!!!

to who ever has been reading this blog in the past few months, I have to apologise for not putting any updates.
I was doing my last Animation Mentor class, and by far this has been the hardest.
It's all finished now, I'm really excited for the things to come but extremely sad as well because of the AM community that I'm already missing. It has become like a family.
I'm not here to talk about sad things anyway :), the last class has been awesome and my mentor, James Chiang, had a very unique way of teaching that really helped push myself RRRREEEally hard.


Class 5 Progress reel

Here is my most updated reel, with most of the work I've done so far at AM except the very first tests of the first class. Those are probably the shots I'll be polishing in the last term to have my final animation demo reel ready.
Thank you for whoever's watching this :)

2 Characters acting shot

Here is the 2 characters acting shot that I did in class 5. Soooo much things that I've learned with this challenging exercise, most of the things have been mentioned in my earlier post. Any comments are always very welcome.
Thanks for watching.

Facial study

Here are a few tests that were done in the previous term. The aim of those exercises wasn't just to copy some random images but to get the essence or emotion of those images and try to have a 3d rig express the same thing.

Class 5 summary + Tips on animation

I think that my 5th class at Animation Mentor was the hardest of the programme.
I kept learning from the first day of the class and I realised even more how being an animator can be difficult.
To keep it a bit short, here is a small list of the things that I think I really learned during that term:

* The hands : they're super important and can give a lot of character to a piece of work. I think that I made a good choice trying to animate a woman character because it helped me see more details in they're hands. For those of you who may be reading these notes, next time you watch people, pay close attention to their hands, you may be surprised at how much detail they can give.
One of the best advices about animating woman's hands was to avoid to keep them wide open. As soon as you do they tend to lose their feminity. They work a lot better with closed shapes.

* The face : during my time at AM I started to become comfortable with body mechanics, but something that was still a big challenge for me was the face. Altough I think that I've learned a lot from my 1 character shot , when I looked back at it I couldn't help noticing this character that really feels lifeless whatever it was trying to do. Then I realised what was actually missing. The face is really complex and requires a lot of craft to have it look like one single piece instead of different parts moving at different times. A lip sync that's slightly off, eyes that are not expressing the mood of the character, eyebrows that are moving independently of everything else and the illusion is gone.
A few things that I've learned here :
     - Try to get some clean arcs in the corner of the lips when the character is talking
     - You can get a lot of fluidity into the lip sync by moving the entire mouth up and down when necessary
     - When the mouth goes up, thing about moving the cheeks and maybe squashing the eyes a little bit too
     -  Don't forget to shape your eyes to your eyebrows. This one really adds a lot to the character
     -  Think about offsetting the eyebrows and eyelids movements. For most of the time the eyebrows start the movement then are followed by the eyelids one of two frames later.

That's it I think , there is a lot more but these points were really important to me as I wasn't considering them before. Thanks for reading :)


End of the 5th class

This blog has been inactive for some time, the reason being that the work at AM has been extremely intense. I can breath a bit now that the 5th class is finished, and will try to resume what has happened in the past few weeks, not right now but on my next post :)


Class 504 - One person dialogue final

Finaly!!! I was really staring to feel sick with listening to the same sound over and over and over and over..... for the last few weeks. I'm happy to say that it's finished :)
This was submitted to my mentor last week, and today I had my critique
There are even more things that need to be improved :(
My hand shapes are working nicely but could still look more feminine.
There are also a few weight shifts that could be refined and well as some of the facial shapes that are not strong enough.
I will probably have a extra refined version for my final reel.
Any thoughts are always welcome


Class 503

Here is a revision of my shot with most of the suggestions applied to it.
The lipsync is a bit better but still needs a lot of work.
The eyebrows don't really feel connected with the rest of the face.
I'm still being told that the gesture for "honest " feels late. This will be corrected in my next and final version of the shot.


Lipsync blocking

The serious stuff has finally started :)
Last week we were busy with the facial animation blocking of our shot.
I tried to have all of the basic shapes working, but haven't really started to animate the eyebrows.
Here are the main things that I still need to change :
- My hands still feel masculine. The character rig has big hands, so I was suggested to avoid to show them in a completely open position
- My hips could be moving a bit more, especially when she says
- The breathing at the beginning doesn't look natural at all. What I did was just scalling up the upper part of the spine, which isn't really what's happening when somebody is breathing.
- My mouth shapes are a bit exagerated, especially with the "o" sound. Toning them down by not rolling the lips so much will probably help.
- I think that changing my last pose so that it doesn't look like the first pose in the shot will work better too.

Those are the main things that I'll be refining for my next version.


Class 5 started

Last week I started my 5th class at Animation Mentor. This term we ll continue with our previous shot and add the facial animation to it, and we ll have to animated a two characters dialogue.
My mentor for this term is Michelle Meeker, and she is seriously awesome. I really hope that I ll be able to push my boundaries even more for the weeks to come.


Small update

I've worked a bit more on my last shot, and here are the main things that I've updated
- I've refined the fingers a bit more to make them feel more alive
- Reworked the timing in some parts, especially where she says "....because you're honest ?... ". I had many comments about the gesture happening a bit late, so I had to review that.
- The hips part have also been refined to feel more natural.
- The most difficult has been to have the left arm a bit more 'present' in the shot but without distracting the main acting. Hope this works better.

I'm sure that there's still a lot that can be done but I'll keep it as it is until I start working on the face.


End of Class 4

This is becoming very alarming!!! Where is all the time going? A few posts earlier I had just started my 4th class and now it's finished. This class has been the hardest so far.
What I learned before was like a small warm up session compared to the acting class. All of the animation principles have become a lot harder as well.
Depending on the mood of the character for example, the arcs, overlaps, settles and everything else have to be used in a certain way. Too much of a gesture or not enough of it makes the animation feel unnatural. That is where most of the great animators advice are to look at the world around you and observe all the time.
I've posted below the final submission of my acting shot, without the facial animation.
Right now I'll be relaxing a bit and in one week from now we'll start our next class where we'll be continuing with the present shot and add the facial animation to it.

Still a few things to fix here and there. Not particularly happy the the "... because you're HONEST ? " hand gesture. I'll probably post another update before I start the facial on this one.


First AM dialogue shot

Well, after the pantomime shot, we started our first dialogue shot. That's what I've been waiting since I started the course, and one of the main reasons me taking the course.
This time we're animating a fully rigged character with facial controls, although the facial animation will be done in the next class.

I've already experimented with some dialogue animation before with the 11second club monthly competition, but that was way before starting AM and I really needed to learn the basics at that time.  Right now I don't even know if I'm ready, but I'll need to dive in to get the answer :)

For this assignment we're free to animate on any sound as long as it doesn't contain any profanity and isn't from another animated movie. My final choice went for a clip from the movie American Gangster, with Denzel Washington.

Below can be seen my blocking as well as my blocking plus version of the shot. For the blocking plus I decided to go into splines a bit early to be able to clearly see the subtleties of the animation. I also made the arms invisible to focus on the mechanics a bit more , particularly in the spine area.


Pantomime shot

(I've updated this post and added one more version of my shot at the end )

In the past few weeks at AM we were busy animating a pantomime shot, which is an acting shot without any dialogue or sound.
I've really learned lots of things again, but I also realised that there's still so much left to become an awesome animator.

You can have a look at my previous shot below. I've posted the different stages of the animation process until my final submission. There are still a few things to refine like the hands which I think are a little stiff, but that will probably be done in a couple of weeks.


Some thoughts on acting in animation

Long time no news :(
I haven't forgotten about this blog but the work at AM has recently kept me really busy.

Anyhow, a few weeks ago I started my fourth class there, which concentrates mainly on acting. Our first assignement was supposed to be a pantomime shot where the character is having a clear change in emotion, like for eg. having him happy in the beginning, and sad at the end.

The term started really well, I was trying to develop an idea that wasn't too overused. I wanted to animate a happy boy playing with his toy and then getting very panicky when he accidentally breaks something because of his clumsiness.

To summarize a little bit what happened in the last few weeks, I'd say that I see animation in a completely different way. I've realized that what we did in the first 3 classes was only focusing on body mechanics , and that acting brought a whole new level to what animation really is.

When I looked at my favorite animated films like those from Pixar and Dreamworks I always wondered what was the thing that was giving to these films so much appeal compared to my work. I clearly saw that whatever the quality of my shots there seemed to be a clear difference between my work and those animated movies. Then a few weeks ago I think that I had found the answer or at least some part of it. Acting!!
What is acting?  Acting is defined as the performance of a part or role in a drama. Good acting can make a simple performance shine.
For us animators I think that our acting choices can clearly make the difference between a good and an excellent animation.

I've reviewed what I did in my previous classes and could clearly see that I have many animation test where the character feels lifeless, where the body mechanics are okay but the acting is nearly absent. That was only half of the wok done. The other half is about good acting choices. If the audience can read the character feelings, what's he's about to do before he has actually done it then I believe that the acting is on a good start.

Finally, I think that great animators have to be great artists and technicians at the same time. Technicians because that's what body mechanics really are , they consist of the techniques to use to get good movement. And artists because there are millions of possibilities to do one single thing, some are better than others, but I don't know if that can be taught or if it's just a matter of personal taste.


AM Class 3 Progress Reel

Here is my new progress reel, which includes updated versions of my work done in the 3rd term at AM.
Hope you'll enjoy :)

Posing your characters

During my third term at AM there's really been a lot that I've learned.
One of the things that I can see with new eyes is posing. Posing a character is really important and can make or break your animation. Even if everything is nicely moving, if the poses aren't strong then something will definitely be missing.

By strong poses I mean readable silhouettes and clear lines of action. The character's personality has to be seen in as many poses as possible, if not all. If a character is running because he is scared, you have to pose your character postures so that they clearly show what's happening on that moment.

I remember the work I did for my Hiding Stewie shot. I had lots of comments telling me that the animation was flowing nicely but I could see that something was missing especially in the first 100 frames , and clear and strong poses was one of those missing ingredients.

I hope that my notes make some sense, and to illustrate that , below you can watch my old work compared to the updated version, with clearer poses, and I think that this works better now.

AM Class 4

Hey everybody,
Sorry for no being able to post anything for the last few days.
The Animation Mentor course is doing great, and I finished my 3rd term there. This week we went straight to the 4th term. It's time for acting now, so things are going to get very interesting.
The other news is that I have the honour to be mentored by T.Dan Hofstedt , an amazing animator who's animated on many big projects including Disney's Alladin.


Soccer kick refined

This is my refined shot of the soccer kick. I reworked my arcs and changed a few more things. Unfortunately the final shot seems to have en even texture in the timing. We still have one extra week doing this shot and I'll really focus on trying to change that.


Soccer kick planning

Here is the planning of my next animation. My main idea was having a character sitting in a bench and being hit by a soccer ball, then having the character kicking on the ball because of his anger.


Class 307 : High bar accident - Final polish

I finally finished this exercise last week. I've really tried to push it from what I had the previous week and thanks to the many feedback that I received a lot of things are looking better now. I wish I had an extra few days to refine it a bit more, especially at the very end where the body crashes on the floor. I'll probably do it on my free time.


Class 305 and 306: blocking and blocking plus

Here is the blocking and blocking plus version of my high bar exercise animation.
This assignment had me learn a lot of new things that I'll be explaining in my next post.


Maya tip : launching an external application from inside Maya

It is possible to launch an external application right from the Maya shelf. That could be useful when using an external tool like Photoshop, Mudbox or even Screen marker that I've talked about in here.
The way to do it is quite simple. Right in Maya, create a shelf button with the following code:
system("start C:/folder_location/sofware.exe" );

folder_location will be replaced by the complete folder adress where the software is located
sotware.exe will be the name of the software you're targeting.


Class 304: Polishing of my first animation and planning for the high bar accident

Here is the polished version of my recent animation. It's been one of the hardest thing I animated so far, doesn't look perfect but it helped me learn a lot. My next animation exercise will be animation a character having an accident during a gymnastic exercise.
Below are the video reference and rough thumbnail planning I'll be using for my next animation assignement.


Hiding Stewie blocking plus

Last week has been spent refining the my first blocking. I decided to move from stepped to splined keys and started adding breakdowns. A bit too much I think because in some areas I ended animated on 1s already. A big mess in the graph editor again.
During that stage I also decided to reblock the second part of the animation ( the pull until the end ). I had some early feedbacks saying that my poses weren't strong enough so sadly, I had no other choice than to redo it.
I was also lucky this week to get an early feedback from my mentor. Awesome notes again. So much had been suggested to change, changes mainly focused on the timing of the shot. I was told that there are certain areas that are too smooth. That's a great thing to know about my work, and I'll be struggling against this weakness.


Class 301 : Planning

This first animation will be part of a 3 shot animation, where my character ( Agent Stewie ) is trying to hide from an unknown danger. Here is the planning of the shot.


AM Progress Reel Class 2

Happy new year to everybody!
It's been a while that I haven't posted anything. My days were kept busy trying to finalise my AM progress reel.
I've reworked most of my shots trying to apply everything that I've learned so far.
During this week I also started my third term at AM. I had the pleasure to see my new mentor, Josh Book
(another awesome mentor), as well as my new classmates. It's all looking full of fun for the days to come.

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