Post Magazine

JUNE 2011

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higher learning Animating believable animals and creatures B By JAMES W. BROWN Animation Supervisor Tippett Studio Berkeley, CA eing an animator is awesome. It’s my love of motion that keeps me com- ing back to animating animals and creatures. I love the beauty of a lion launch- ing itself onto a wildebeest or the grace of a gibbon jumping from tree to tree. Animals have an unbelievable ability to control their every action in a highly efficient and fluid manner. Animal movement anima- tion has a certain aesthetic that is difficult to make believable but rewarding to achieve. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way. To learn more, I recommend checking out Animation Mentor’s new course for professional animators: Animals & Creatures: Master Class. This Tippett artist offers some tips. other wolves? Me neither, at least, not with- out reviewing reference.Watch for how one animal interacts with the other animals around it. The moments where you can clearly see the intention of an action or their emotion are pure gold. So, what happens if you’re asked to ani- mate a creature that doesn’t exist? Revel in it.Take your research plan and attack animals that move like your creature. Audiences are more likely to accept your character if something is familiar, so look for details in real life to base your creature on. But don’t stop at reality. Get inspired by watching movies! See how the masters did it. How did Ray Harryhausen approach the Cyclops? make sure you’re being clear to the audience. After you’ve put in your key poses it is time to do breakdowns and find out what’s happening between those poses.The trick for me is to keep flipping between the key pose, the breakdown, and the next key and back again.You will start to see what’s work- ing before you’ve finished that breakdown. TIP #4: DON’T LET THE FEET SCARE YOU, BUT DETAILS DO MATTER The first thing that scares most people about quadruped animation is all of the feet.A simple way to think about quadrupeds is they generate most of the power from the hind legs, which push the weight of the animal for- Brown helped create wolves for and creatures for . TIP # 1: STUDY THE REFERENCE The first step to animating, for any char- acter, is study the reference. If you’re animat- ing a human who has to deliver a line, you’ll most likely look at reference of people. Ani- mating an animal or creature isn’t any differ- ent.The first place to go is images… starting with anatomy. Look at the skeletal structure of most quadrupeds.You’ll soon start to re- alize that their skeleton is a lot like ours.The front legs are very much like our arms in their concept; there are shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers.This realization helped me feel less nervous about animating an extra set of “legs.” Also, pay close attention to the different postures of the animal as you study. Be aware that animals, even within the same species, might stand differently. For example, some hold their head lower while others hold their chest out. Video reference, especially if you can move through it frame by frame, is an im- measurable resource for what is going on in locomotion and behavior. You may know how to animate a wolf run, but can you ani- mate a wolf running and wrestling with 42 Post • June 2011 How did Phil Tippett make ED-209? TIP #2: BUILD A ROAD MAP The next step to building your road map to a believable animal or creature is the map.Thumbnails and planning your shot will help you remember all the big movements and little nuances that make your animal special.Thumbnails don’t need to be fancy or anatomically exact. The point of the thumbnail is a gesture to remind you how a pose is supposed to feel.When you’re ani- mating you want to be able to look at your paper full of thumbnails and hammer out poses.You don’t want to have to go back through the reference and find that frame you loved so much. TIP #3: ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS WHEN POSING YOUR CHARACTER When posing your character in the com- puter there are some questions you need to ask: Where did the animal come from? Where is the animal going? What is he doing in this pose? Where is the animal’s weight? What is the overall pose saying? You want to ward.The front legs are more like the steering column, guiding the animal.When posing out your feet, look to see if you feel power in the back legs and steering in the front. In the end, it’s the little details that are going to make your animation feel believ- able. For example, the way a cat flicks its ear, where a chimpanzee’s hands fall in relation to his feet as he walks, or the squish of an elephant’s foot as it takes the weight.The au- dience may not see your attention to detail, but they will definitely feel it. TIP #5: LEARN, DON’T DWELL Learn, but don’t dwell.Take what might not have been successful with this creature and put it in on your list for the next animation. Now is the time to sit back, watch your hard work roll by, and enjoy the audience’s reaction. Good luck and have fun animating! James W. Brown’s credits include Priest, Sea- son of the Witch,The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen and En- chanted. He is also a contributing lecturer for Animation Mentor’s new course for animators, Animals & Creatures: Master Class. New Moon Priest

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