Temper your Animation Expectations

Nov 12, 2020 at 09:59 am by Warlord720

With all the new animators out there, particularly those looking for a diversion from COVID-19, there are some high expectations coming along with their software of choice. Doesn't matter if it's Poser, iClone, DAZ, Blender, or any other number of animation capable apps new animators are popping up in forums, chats, and messages with a startling revelation.

These newbies (and we were all newbies at some time) are finding out something all of us that have been in animation for any length of time, already know… it's not easy to make good, smooth, engaging animation of high caliber.

Now I don't mean to deter anyone from giving animation a try. It is a wonderful way to pass the time and tell a few stories. It is not rocket science as software like iClone does make a lot of animation chores easy but, like all software, it can't do it all. One needs to temper their expectations of what animation software can do. What it will produce versus what you have in mind.

Let's take a simple example… having your character walk from point A to point B. Nothing to see here right? Wrong. Walking is perhaps a bad first example because it is one of the most difficult to animate actions like most everyday motions. While it is true you can click on an area of the screen and character will walk towards it you discover a couple of limitations right away.

Foot-Sliding and turning. If your character is walking in a straight line it's much easier but how often do we walk in straight lines? Doing so would be a bit artificial for most viewers and set off alarms that would trigger closer scrutiny that could uncover more flaws in the animation.

Apps like iClone can deal with this by stacking motions end to end but these motions need to have actual movement in them… not walking or running in place (rooted) as some motions are. If you are stuck with rooted motions then you have to, at minimum, figure out the distance you need to move the character in the direction of travel. Get it right and all is well but get it wrong and you'll have foot sliding because the distance covered doesn't match the gait of the character.

Everyday motions like picking up or setting down a drink can be very difficult without canned motions or mocap (motion capture). To get this smooth there is a curve editor that works this out by shifting or blending curves on the screen. If you don't have a clue what a curve is then your motions might have abrupt movements particularly at the beginning or end of the clip until you figure it out. It's not difficult by any means but necessary in decent animation.

A new animator can make up for this with several methods like actor placement, camera cuts, and misdirection on-screen to deflect attention from a poorly animated bit. We all have animated poorly at one time or another no matter how long we've been doing this. Just don't get discouraged.

Mainly… don't bite off more than you can chew your first time out. Don't retell the Bible or the entire Greek Mythology without a little more experience. Choose something a bit simpler like a conversation between two people seated at a table. Like a child and its doll in a dream type sequence where motions don't have to perfect.

Which is another thing new animators find out the hard way.

There is no dead time on the screen in good animation unless the story calls for it. We don't freeze in time when we finish a sentence. We still continue to move so that means no character on screen can be motionless unless they are dead. Idle yes… motionless no. Lack of motion in any character is simply a no-no but there are idle motions to combat this, just don't forget to use them!

There is a learning curve… usually 6 to 9 months to get a grip on the basics, produce a short (a few minutes or less) that is watchable, and be ready to move on. You will never stop learning as an animator and that is the real draw for some of us.

There is no easy button but there are tools to make things easier. With some software, you drag and drop characters and motions. The trouble is there is not a motion for everything so you have to be creative when you don't have the animation skills, but it can be done. Most importantly, with tempered expectations, animation can be rewarding, gratifying, and loads of fun.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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