Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"He can be taught!" Or can I...er, he? (My epiphany on timing)

First off, if you haven't ever checked out Mario Furmanczyk's Cal Arts journal, he's got some great interviews and summaries of the fantastic guest speakers they get at that school. I wandered over there to read his interview with James Baxter, and ended up continuing to read his notes from Pete Doctor and Angus Maclaine's lectures. They're old posts from January, but he took really good notes from all of his sources. Worth a look if you haven't read them.

But that isn't tonight's real post. The real post is about learning, and the sheer amount of things I still need to learn about animation, and working in animation. I was reading The Illusion of Life on the train tonight, cause after the Spline Doctor's post I've been trying to read the entire thing. I started reading Chapter 11: The Disney Sounds, eventually getting to "Timing, Spacing, and the Metronome", and I had an epiphany! Exposure sheets! Why the heck have I not been planning out the action of my shots based on both time and action?

This is a timely lesson for me (no pun intended), because working on Happiness Factory 2 has brought up a ton of timing challenges for me while planning shots. I get these "great" acting ideas, block them out, only to find out that my actions really don't fit in the shot length--and there is a lot of story to put into every one of these shots to begin with. So I spend a lot of time grabbing a frame here and a frame there, all in a vain effort to squeeze the action I want in there, when in the end a lot of it has to be left out (and hence, a lot of the acting I had intended to be in there). It never seems to fail that all of my shots could stand another 24 frames...48 frames...73 frames! Because I want that beat in there, right? That beat that allows the character to live in the moment...the beat that there's not enough frames for! So along come Frank and Ollie telling me how they planned out timing with a metronome, to make sure they have a plan for how long each action will take, and consequently if they have time to do all that action. "Why don't I do that!!" I yelled in my head! I've been griping and complaining to myself, wishing I had 6 more frames to do the action, instead of planning my action based on how much time I have to work with. I'm tellin ya, I haven't had an epiphany like this since I read Keith Lango's Pose to Pose tutorials back at SCAD. Of course I don't have a metronome, or a stopwatch, but I do have an iPod that has a stopwatch function on it!

Think about the headaches I could avoid, if I just acted out the timing of the actions I want to do, so I could decide what acting choices could both fit the shot length and emotional requirements best? Think about the possibilities of keeping the feeling of the action in the shot, because I've planned acting choices that fit completely in the frame range?

I also realized why I never even thought of doing this before. When you don't have shot length requirements, as you don't in school, you really do have all the flexibility you want to take as much time as necessary to communicate your action. It's taken an extremely fast paced edit for me to come to the realization that because I don't have that luxury in production, my planning has to be that much better so I can really take advantage of every frame I'm given. I spent a full day last Friday working on about 5-12 frames of animation...it's never been more clear to me that every frame counts.

Another reason why I've never done this is because computer animation has a distinct lack of X-sheets. I was never really taught how to use them, only was suggested once or twice to use a stopwatch, and never knew the value of planning your timing and being stuck with X number of frames to communicate everything. It's super easy just to block things in, and time it out later, which is exactly how I've been working. The only problem with this is that I block stuff in that I later discover will never fit! When you have really short shots, it's very hard to even have time for 2 or 3 poses, depending on the timing. Even when I thumbnail out poses, I haven't taken the time to figure out if I have the frames to do all of them.

So, my goal now is to use the stopwatch on my iPod (when previously I'd thought "why the heck is there a stopwatch on here?"), to plan out anything from the basic timing of poses and action to timing of gestures--and hopefully get a much better sense of timing in reguards to frames in the process.

So to try to sum up this entire post, in a statement of the obvious...there is SO much to learn about animation, and on top of that, working in animation. I feel like a lot of the past year for me has been learning about production, working with a team, under a director, how to interpret notes, how to make it through crunch time, etc etc etc. There's enough for a young animator like me to learn just about the job, and add to that all the staging, posing, acting, physics, and timing of animation that I'm far from getting a handle on...and you've got one big textbook to read. Luckily The Illusion of Life does cover a lot of the entire spectrum, and I suggest you don't skip Chapter 11.

That's enough for now ;) Time for bed!


- Tim - said...

This may be massive overkill, but After Effects can be a great tool for timing your shots.

Bring your audio into a new composition and then add a bunch of solids so you have about 10 layers that last the duration of your audio clip.

By this point you should have listened to your clip over and over a few hundred times and come up with some ideas and thumbnails.

Now, play the audio clip and "watch" the animation in your head. Tap your finger on the desk for each imortant beat/pose etc. in your shot until you've got a decent idea of what you want. If you're tapping furiously and there's no time to fit everything in then modify your plan.

Once you've got a decent idea of what you want go back to After Effects and choose your first "take" (solid 1). Do a preview and as it's playing tap the asterisk key to put ticks on the timeline. Do this several times (once on each solid) until you've got what you want timing wise. Now you can see almost exactly which frames to put your poses on.

There are mel scripts and a couple of flash programs to do this sort of thing, but I really like the ability to visually compare several takes at once.

Kyle said...

Cool man, thanks for the tip! Maybe I'll try out both methods and see which works best for me. Right now I don't have audio to work from, but I imagine I could still visualize the beats in my head and tap away.

Lawrence Lam said...

yeah, the good old x-sheet never fails. Great advice, as always.