In my last post I mentioned I'd got a job working for Aardman on their next feature film, and some of you wanted to know more about it and get some 'behind the scenes' information. Unfortunately I'm contractually obliged not to talk about a lot of stuff, but I figure I can mention a few things. So:
Working at Aardman is, first and foremost, totally sweet. The wealth of creativity and raw talent there is frankly astonishing, and what's great is that you see every part of production every day. What I mean by this is that the huge studio where we're based houses everyone involved in the film, so if you walk around the studio you'll come across animators, editors, VFX guys, the rigging crew, and of course the big man himself, Peter Lord. We even have huge model making and art departments where you see puppets, props and bits of set being worked on in meticulous detail.
Perhaps the only bad part of the job - or at least the most sobering - is when you see just how good everyone is at what they do. Now I've never been the best artist or animator (just watch any of the Steve episodes to see what I mean!) but watching some of the best stop-motion animators in the world at work is both amazing and completely deflating. The sheer level of knowledge these people have in regard to animation is astonishing - they know pretty much everything there is to know about timing, weight, humour and believability in character animation, which makes me realise how little I really know! However, what's great about this is that everyone at Aardman has been extremely friendly and so many of the animators have offered to teach me stuff and watch anything I've put together for tips and advice. I've had very little time to do my own work since getting the job, but this is an opportunity I can't afford to pass up!
As for my own job, right now I'm working in production which involves anything from making sure animators and crew are in the right places to helping put set together and picking up equipment. One of my favourite jobs is acting in the LAV (live-action video) - this essentially involves watching a very rough CGI cut of a shot with the finished soundtrack, and then acting it out with some of the crew while being filmed. The animator then uses this as a reference when animating the shot with puppets, but of course the best animators will exaggerate the movements and make them more 'cartoony'.
In terms of animation, I've been given a few excellent pieces of advice, some of which I've put below:
1) Keep everything fluid and understand how one movement relates to another. Often people have a habit of animating one movement, stopping, then moving to another one. In other words, always know where you're going to be in 12 frames' time.
2) Using a reference for every shot is an excellent idea, whether that means using a mirror, having a marionette on your desk, or even dropping a video into the timeline. Remember though that you will never get far in animation if you literally just copy real life - cartoons are supposed to exaggerate and emphasise things more than live action, which is where a lot of their charm comes from. With that said, the underlying anatomy and movement of even the most cartoony, ridiculous characters must be grounded in reality! It has to be believable but exaggerated at the same time!
3) Anticipation and reactions are vital. If a character is going to dramatically thump his hand on a desk, the movement is infinitely more effective if he first raises his arm slowly and then brings it crashing downward. Furthermore, the action could be even more dramatic if his fist bounces slightly after impact to fully suggest the strength of what he's just done. This is the same as pointing - if a character sharply points at something, his arm should straighten entirely for a frame before slowly easing back a little, to suggest the power behind the movement. So often in amateur animation characters will immediately go from one action to another in a very robotic fashion (I am very guilty of doing this!) and nothing is given weight. Which leads me into...
4) Every character moves and acts differently. This is probably the number one thing I see that is wrong in amateur animation and which I have done awfully myself for years, where every character walks the same, moves the same, and acts with the same weight. We can tell so much about a character from the way they interact with their environment and unfortunately I am guilty of neglecting this fact for years, just re-using the same walk or run cycles for every character and not really caring. Is a character heroic? Are they shy and weak? Fat? Thin? Athletic? Young? Old? These aren't just attributes we give to our characters, they are our characters! Animation is an inherently visual medium, and if I were shown any of the scenes in the Aardman film we're working on I am confident I could pick out any of the characters from their movements and actions alone. Bring out the character of everyone in your cartoon in every shot and emphasise what makes them each unique and you will start producing amazing work!
I realise I've just written an essay, so I think I'll leave this post there for the moment! I'll keep you guys updated in the next few months, I'm sure.