Saturday, February 25, 2006

A sad loss...

Don Knotts passed away this Friday. In addition to his famous role as Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show, he did a lot of animation voiceover work, including T.W. Turtle from Cats Don't Dance (one of my favorite movies!). He had such a distinct voice that you could always recognize him in any animated film he was in.

On top of that he was always just a funny guy to watch on screen in live-action. His facial expressions were cartoony themselves. My sister, cousins, and I used to watch "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" and "The Private Eyes" every other week. We never got tired of them! He really knew how to make us laugh.

Don Knotts was one of the actors we grew up watching, along with Peter Sellers, Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. We spent summer afternoons at my grandparents' house watching the same movies over and over again, pretending we were those characters, putting on skits for our families... so yeah, Don Knotts was a really big part of my childhood. Perhaps I shall watch Cats Don't Dance and The Private Eyes in his honor.

Rest in peace, Don. The world will always remember you.

4 legs are trickier than 2

I have come to the conclusion that the difficulty of animation is exponentially proportional to the number of legs your character has. It's funny, you'd think the difference between a character with two legs and two arms versus a character with four legs would be less than it really is. I mean, after all, it's still 4 appendages each.

I suppose it is because as bipeds ourselves we are used to knowing how weight is carried on two legs. The weight distribution on a 4-legged animal is more foreign and requires a lot more study.

The nice thing about arms is that you don't have to worry so much about which one is the "weight bearing" one, because neither are (unless the character is on the ground or in some acrobatic position like a handstand, etc.). This frees up the hands to make gestures or swing or hang limply by the sides. But legs are always working. And if you have a 4-legged character that has to start gesturing with a paw, then you have to make sure the weight has shifted off of that paw in order to lift it up. It's all quite complicated.

So, major props to any animator who's tackled the 4-legged creature!

I'll try to post an update to my wolf animation soon...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

a little playblasting does an animator good

So I've been working on a little piece to practice quadruped animation. It's in very early stages right now, just barely working out breakdowns and such. There was a discussion a while ago about which works better for blocking an animation, splines vs. linear. Well... I use "stepped." I find it's the most like traditional animation and gives you the most control, as opposed to having the computer interpolate it all funky.

A friend of mine who used to work at EA always blocked everything out using stepped keys, and at first I was hesitant to try it myself (because I was a lousy animator back then and liked having Maya in-between for me) but I grew to like it more and more.

Not that using stepped keys makes me a great animator. :P But I figure, learn from the pros, right? Next step: finally learning to use FK! I find myself tied down with IK and I think it hurts my animation, especially with things like arms and tails.

Oh yeah, the quadruped thing. You can check it out here!

Basically the wolf is prowling and spots a squirrel in the foreground (squirrel not yet started). Oh, and ignore that music there (it's from Howl's Moving Castle, BTW). For some reason the .wmv creator I have HAS to have an audio track to work right.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A little love :)

For those of you who aren't adamantly opposed to it... Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Straight out of Star Trek

Okay, so this isn't directly related to animation, but I saw this new piece of technology on Slashdot this morning and thought of all the possible ways we as artists could take advantage of it! Check it out:

I, for one, have encountered many instances where I would have liked to have, say, two mouse pointers on the screen for accomplishing two tasks at once (color picking vs. drawing, etc.). I think the resizing/rotating idea using two fingers is pretty neat as well, it eliminates the keyboard commands or pulldown menu commands we usually use and makes it an intuitive one-step process.

I can see how this would be quite neat to play with in a 3D environment, too! It might make animating and modelling more intuitive, more like stop-motion and less like math.

What other ideas can you guys come up with?

The most promising and exciting thing about this is that Apple has apparently patented the technology. Meaning... something like this may be available in our homes sometime soon??

Friday, February 10, 2006

Oswald's back!

Well! I thought he had been lost to the sands of time, buried underneath years of history. But here he is, back from the dead, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has been "traded" to Disney in exchange for Monday Night Football sportscaster Al Michaels. Perhaps it is only a business move to capitalize on the small burst of popularity Oswald enjoyed overseas...

But then again, perhaps this is a sign that the Mouse House still remembers the importance of its roots, its own history, and the legacy of Walt Disney. But then... what IS the importance of Oswald? Why is it important to remember where animation came from? What can we learn from the old cartoons?

I mean, certainly the quality of animation we've come to expect from modern day films wasn't there yet. Can an old black and white cartoon teach a budding animator how to do proper anticipation, ease ins and outs, keeping volume the same, moving in perspective, etc. etc.? Perhaps not.

So why do we buy those DVDs packaged in tin cases and watch the old shorts? What can the animators of the past teach us today? What can we take away from the patience, effort, struggles and challenges that they faced?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Alright already!

Gosh, I just barely started this blog and already people are asking me to put artwork on it. I guess I have to start drawing more, because I don't have any new work for you to see! Haha ok, so here are some random sketches I drew during a meeting at work today:

Some little kid bein' all happy. Yeah, happy he didn't have to go to the all-hands meeting later that day... ;)

I dunno, some type of dragon-y lizard-y thing. Definitely needs to see a chiropractor.

Realism in animation

Andrew Gordon from Spline Doctors raised some interesting questions today about the future of animation and its relationship with high definition formats. Does animation need to get more detailed as hi-def becomes the standard?

After thinking about it, I guess I'd have to say that it depends on the animation. The amazing thing about cartoons has always been the range of styles, the freedom of expression that can't be achieved with live action alone. Animation doesn't have to be "realistic" to be entertaining. Just watch any 6 year old as they enjoy a Looney Tunes short and you can see that some animation withstands the test of time regardless of how high the resolution on the television gets. Does Bugs Bunny need to be modelled in 3D with all of his individual hairs showing, in order to keep being funny?

On the other hand, animation used for special effects should definitely evolve with technology. The visuals we are able to accomplish now are already blurring the line between reality and fantasy, and that line will only become more hazy with time. After all, the goal of SFX animation in relation to live action is to fuse seamlessly with actors and the "real world." If it is done poorly, the result is jarring and pulls the viewer out of the suspension of disbelief.

Of course, sometimes that jarring effect is exactly what the director wants (think Mirrormask).

So, back to the question; does animation need to be more detailed with hi-def? I think it WILL become more detailed, sure, but I don't think it necessarily NEEDS to be. I'm thinking in particular of the example of art, back when the first photography was introduced. Art kind of went two ways: those that tried to mimic the detail of photography with ultra-realism, and those that went their own route completely separate from reality all together. I think that as long as the story is strong, whatever style that story lends itself to will work, whether it be stylized limited animation or super-realistic hi-def movement.