Release. Pressure. Animate.

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Release. Pressure. Animate.

PRESSURE. RELEASE. ANIMATE.

How to hold a better creative flow, so improving productivity and intuitivity,

by using a customized toolset for 3D character animation?

Roy Nieterau

Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht

Faculteit KMT – 2010

Begeleiders: Yvonne van Ulden, Bobby de Groot


Summary

The development of technology has changed animation in 3D software quite significantly

throughout the latest years. More techniques, more complex rigs and way more

possibilities have been giving great control and power to the animator. But, often

development towards intuitivity, efficiency and productivity seems to be overruled by the

constant urge to developing more breathtakingly complex techniques. Flow, as described

by Mihály Csikszentmihalyi as a state of awareness that optimizes any and all human

activities, seems to be absent and totally not important for software developers

nowadays. Though animators need to constantly struggle and work their way through

this increased complexity and higher amount of difficult technicalities.

With a field study on how animators in different fields of animation work, keep focus

and are able to get and stay in a flow of animating this thesis will present key ingredients

that animators need to work productively and creatively. Overall pipeline of professionals

and starting students give insight in their perception and need for flow resulting in a clear

and globally interchangeable list of needs important for all. It‟s a key starting point to the

key ingredients for development towards flow-enhancing tools for animators.

This thesis revolves around the center question: How to hold a better creative flow,

so improving productivity and intuitivity, by using a customized toolset for 3D character

animation? The result presents a rule set for creating tools to enhance flow and creativity

in the act of animating in 3D software by increasing the focus and simplicity of the tasks

at hand and decreasing any interference. For this the tools come down to working more

in 2D space, focusing on a single act in the production and automating the unnecessary.

Furthermore they are based on familiar instinctive designs with a high speed rate so all

stages of animation from planning and character handling to management can be

handled more efficiently and more intuitively. With these guidelines towards flow-

enhancement this thesis provides a generous amount of concepts and designs that are

interesting for near-future development towards an easier 3D work environment and will

introduce a work towards a future for animators where flow will more likely be present.


“Art challenges technology. Technology inspires the art.”

John Lasseter


Preface

I have been intrigued and touched by the developments of moving images and art

throughout my whole life. What started with a kid-like interest in animation and games

ended up in a continuing drive to know and develop more within the field of 3D software,

with the focus on animated films. The act of animating has been, ever since I tried

touching it for the first time, an amazing experience as I‟ve made virtual characters come

alive and become a personality. But never have I felt comfortable or been able to acquire

a constant focus on the process alone. I‟ve always faced difficult technicalities in software

and the production management. This has, ever since I felt able to make a difference,

been my greatest motivation for learning and thinking about new techniques and

technologies.

I‟ve also been constantly motivated and inspired by everyone I‟ve come in touch with

through school and the research of this thesis. I would like to thank Yvonne van Ulden for

her constant belief in my research and her effort with helping me progress. The people

who have been willing to cooperate and aid me with the process of my research in the

fields of traditional animation are also greatly appreciated: Niels Beekes, Hilde Buiter,

Davor Bujakovic, Junaid Chundrigar, Sandro Cluezo, Anna Elisabeth Eijsbouts, Tiffany

Ford, Adrian Garcia, Victor Maldonado, Witte van der Tempel, Alfredo Torres, Kasper

Werther and Thomas Hietbrink. I would also like to thank Jasper Brekelmans and Hans

Walther who were kind enough to discuss their motion capture workflow and pipeline

with me. Many thanks go out to those that shared their insights and knowledge on the

computer animation workflow with me: Mark Bazelmans, Denis Bouyer, Nanda van Dijk,

Nick Groeneveld, Gijs van Kooten, Dimitar Dimitrov Kralev, Job van den Linden van den

Heuvel, Yann de Preval, Guido Puijk, Jeroen Ritsema, Edwin Schaap, Vincent E Sousa,

Percy Tienhooven and Tashina van Zwam. Also thanks to Jan van der Tempel for sharing

his thesis on flow in computer music with me. In special I would like to thank Bobby de

Groot, Dimitar Dimitrov Kralev, Arjan van Meerten, Sven Neve and Jean-Paul Tossings

for their openness, kindness and talks about their pipeline, technology and their thoughts

on the future. And I‟m very grateful for the love and support from my family who helped

motivate me to work as hard as I‟ve ultimately done.

With the aid of this research I‟ve been able to focus more on where the problems in

the workflow and pipeline of animation occur and how to deal with it personally, but even

more improve it by enhancing or developing tools for the 3D animation environment. I‟ve

been able to get a lot of new insights and ideas for the 3D animation future and even

have found ways that I feel much more comfortable in the 3D animation software. I

really hope that anyone going through my paper can get at least some of such an

improvement or be inspired towards even further development of the ideas presented in

this thesis.


Table of Contents

Table of Contents .................................................................................................. 5

Introduction .......................................................................................................... 1

1. Creativity and Flow ............................................................................................ 4

1.1 What is Creativity and what is flow? ................................................................ 4

1.2 How can a flow be maintained or broken? ........................................................ 7

1.3 What makes for intuitive creativity? ................................................................ 9

1.4 Creativity and flow within workflow and production. .........................................11

2. The difference in Animation fields ...................................................................... 14

2.1 Animating like a puppeteer. (Stop motion/clay/puppet) ....................................15

2.2 Flowing lines as animation. (Drawn animations, 2D) .........................................22

2.3 The 2D digital style. (After effects, flash, TVpaint) ..........................................38

2.4 Capturing a life performance. (Motion capture, rotoscoping) .............................44

2.5 Concluding the productivity workflow. ............................................................52

2.6 Concluding the style difference. .....................................................................56

3. The 3D Animation Workflow .............................................................................. 60

3.1 The development of 3D software ....................................................................60

3.2 The solid creative workflow of professionals ....................................................62

3.2.1 Animators at Pixar ..................................................................................64

3.2.2 Animating on Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010) ...........69

3.2.3 Animation in smaller sized productions ......................................................72

3.2.4 Animating with the use of new techniques. ................................................76

3.3 The open creative workflow of starters, students, hobbyists. .............................78

3.4 My personal pick on a 3D workflow. ...............................................................81

4. Developing a toolset......................................................................................... 88

4.1 What makes for an intuitive tool? ...................................................................88

4.2 Guidelines for developing flow-enhancing (animation) tools. ..............................91

4.3 The needs for improvement...........................................................................95

4.3.1 Improvements on preplanning. .................................................................97

4.3.2 Improvements for character handling. .......................................................99

4.3.3 Improvement for notations and logging. .................................................. 104

4.4 The tool concepts. ...................................................................................... 105


4.4.1 Concepts for preplanning ....................................................................... 107

4.4.2 Concepts for character posing ................................................................ 112

4.4.3 Concepts for notations and logging ......................................................... 123

5. Stress testing the toolset ................................................................................. 132

5.1 The Mac „n‟ Cheese (2011) production .......................................................... 132

5.2 Using the tool together with other animators ................................................. 135

5.3 Productivity test......................................................................................... 137

5.4 Does it influence my/our style? .................................................................... 143

Conclusion ......................................................................................................... 145

Reference Sources .............................................................................................. 149

Attachments ...................................................................................................... 153


Introduction

Not a very long time ago I had a discussion with one of my best friends, to be more

precise my girlfriend, who is also into animation. I remember the discussion clearly

because it has been a life altering discussion and ever since, getting dressed and

undressed has been a pleasure. Sometimes even without her around there has been

some improvement in the act of dressing and undressing. It all started when I was

getting undressed after a long day of work and I heard her laugh from across the room.

I, of no wrong doing aware, asked her: “Why are you laughing?” She answered: “It‟s the

way you take your shirt off. It‟s a boys thing. Girls do it differently.” She told me she had

noticed this through the years out of her interest in body movement and motion. At first

the discussion was pretty pointless, as there was just „that‟ difference. But after a while

and after trying out the different techniques I‟ve found out that the man‟s technique of

taking off a T-Shirt is actually a lot slower than how a girl does it.

The girls‟ style is a gentle approach, where the arms follow a nice curvature and give

flow to the body where she can proudly, and if she wishes be sexy, shake her hips while

she undresses. Think of a woman walking towards you while she is undressing on some

striptease music and you‟ll understand the basic motion. Men on the other hand have a

different approach; it‟s not at all based on smooth lines and fluent motion but is pretty

straight forward. It might be just me, but my instinct tells me that if you want to move

something you just pull it, and it doesn‟t really matter where you grab the object you

want to move as long as there‟s just a result of your action. Here, the removal of the

shirt. Ever since I‟ve been switching gender on the matter of this subject I‟ve been able

to make a choice on how I want the resulting motion of the act to be. Sometimes it

doesn‟t matter at all how you undress, but it might be, sometime, the most important

thing of all. Say you‟re getting undressed in front of the girl you love, you wouldn‟t want

to screw that up, would you? Or, you might be an animator. And the motion, the

curvature, the result and speed of any approach that differ might have a function in your

work and its results.

Introduction

1


Within projects at the Utrecht School of the Arts I‟ve learned that not only speed of

the production is influenced by workflow. But I‟ve learned that a correct workflow, even

more finding and holding a creative flow while working also increases intuitivity,

creativity and best of all makes for a better work environment. I‟ve learned pretty soon

that almost all of the final result depends on the way you approached it. Art is an

evolvement as much as it is an involvement. But both the involvements as well as the

evolvements have been a result of the workflow through all my previous projects.

Though I‟ve found pros and cons in different approaches I‟ve dealt with through these

years at this school, I‟ve always felt there was a type of barrier between my flow and the

software. It being technical boundaries, visual boundaries or speed boundaries. The

result of this research, the toolset, is meant as a solution for this. By changing these

boundaries, changing this workflow, I‟m trying to change and eventually be able to

choose on how I want to put on my clothes as an animator.

For this research I‟ve felt the need to get a good grip on what creativity is, how to

produce a creative flow, how creative flow is maintained and try connecting it with the

creative processes. Especially because this is what I‟ve felt that has been corrupted by

current limitations. Therefore I‟ll first delve into that part of the matter. Then I‟ll do

research to other animation fields to get a good grip on possible approaches and the

different styles of workflow it has produced through the years. The result will be a

handbook on possible workflows and approaches that have been developed through a

way longer period than the field of computer animation even exists. Then I‟ll check and

see how this differs to the way 3D Computer Animation has evolved and how it is

currently being used. The result will give light on matters that could certainly be handled

better, giving less stress on the mind, a more intuitive approach to the act of animating

and relieving some of the pressure on animators in the field of 3D Computer Animation in

general.

While doing the research I‟m the technical director and lead animator (as well as

supervisor) on an animated short “Mac „n‟ Cheese”, created together with Tom Hankins,

Gijs van Kooten and Guido Puijk. Development will constantly be discussed within the

team and will eventually evolve into a partly testable product of which I‟ll finally conclude

the results of my research and discuss the improvement of creative flow and the results.

The part of the toolset that remains untested (in practice) while working on this short is a

resulting workflow from what we used with Mac „n‟ Cheese leading us to things we still

missed. The designed concepts will be discussed with small studios, students and some

freelance animators while going through the chapters, as animo test for the designs as

well as for providing thorough tips on the designs and concepts.

Introduction

2


This is all evolving around the main question:

How to hold a better creative flow, so improving productivity and intuitivity,

by using a customized toolset for 3D character animation?

This paper is possibly of much interest to recently starting animators that are in search of

a creative flow in their way of working, but can also provide improvement in the

structure of business professionals trying to look for a fresh or new insight into the

workflow of animation. The results will be especially useful for students and small studios

where animators don‟t only copy line tests and create animations as if working in a

factory (working by blueprint.) Because the resulting toolset relieves stress on handling

the animation shots in production as well as the act of animating it is not only interesting

for animators that do nothing but animating, but even more those that deal with

production, shot management, data wrangling besides animating a shot. Mostly among

them are students, small studios or animation supervisors in medium sized studios.

The resulting conclusion of this paper will not be, by any means, the only correct way

on how to create good quality animation. Even more so, it will be a way that has worked

in the process of this research and has thus resulted into being a working workflow. And

despite the resulting tool development in this paper being based on the field of 3D

Computer Animation the research itself may also be of interest to other animators or

even other artists that are seeking more insight, or another sight, on a workflow

providing creative flow.

Introduction

3


1. Creativity and Flow

1.1 What is Creativity and what is flow?

Let‟s start simple and grab the dictionary for a definition of the word creativity.

Creativity is the state or quality of being creative. (Dictionary, 2011)

Where creative is being explained as: “resulting from originality of thought, expression,

etc.; imaginative: creative writing.” (ib.) Meaning that once I lay down my pencil on a

piece of paper, draw a line as I‟m imagining it will mean that I‟m in the process of being

creative. Hence, than that is my creativity. For me, drawing just a line as I imagine it

doesn‟t make my current artwork my new masterpiece. I feel that to be able to do so. To

create. To build a foundation for the art that‟s in my head, maybe even for art to come in

my head I need a certain state of mind, I need a flow. Without actually trying to mock

the English dictionary let us again grab one of the actual references from the dictionary,

but now on the word flow. Flow, to proceed continuously and smoothly: Melody flowed

from the violin. Or, to circulate: blood flowing through one‟s veins. (ib.) This would be

two descriptions that would fit what you need to have to draw lines. Combine these two

to be able to produce art. (Not necessarily your masterpiece.) So let us just flow a little

bit more information about this all.

… creative capacity may to some degree be present in all of us. (e.g. Amabile,

1996; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Eysenck, 1993; Guilford, 1950; Sternberg &

Lubart, 1995). (Weisberg, 2006)

It‟s debatable if everyone has the capability to be fully creative (and to be innovative

within this creativity) and is able to create a masterpiece, whether it be animation, a

painting or an innovative new technology they invent.

There is also a minority view in psychology (e.g. Perkins, 1981; Newell, Shaw, &

Simon, 1962; Weisberg, 1980, 1986, 2003), to which I [Weisberg] subscribe that

proposes that the thought processes underlying the production of innovations are

the same thought processes that underlie our ordinary activities. (Weisberg,

2006)

But both of the above come down to the same principle. People, in general, are able to

come into the state of being creative and produce original products from or containing

their imagination of thought, expression and so forth. As mystical as art has been

through all the years with even artworks with this explicitly as expression like René

Margritte‟s Ceci n‟est pas une pipe feels closely related to creativity based on their

mystical and subjective interpretations of the matter.

1. Creativity and Flow

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There are two difficulties in discussing research on creativity. Some people, even

people with very deep knowledge of psychological phenomena, come to the

subject of creativity with the belief that the topic is so mystical and/or subjective

that it could never be captured by psychological methods (Sternberg & Lubert,

1996)

It‟s just noticeable how seemingly almost everyone that feels creative with the word

creative, amongst this everyone are writers like Mihály Csikszentmihalyi, Ken Robinson

and Graham Wallas, is willing to write a book about the topic, as there are many opinions

about the matter. Some even contradicting the dictionary, for which I can't really blame

these authors, as the dictionary seems to be lacking for its description of the word

creativity and some of the related. For the matter of this research it's not important

whether everyone is able to be creative, but what is important is to notice and know that

anyone could be creative and what is needed for this to efficiently be true. Coming down

to what has been referred to as flow.

Flow is the state you‟re mentally in when you‟re fully immersed in an activity and

you‟re getting closer to the goal with a fully energized focus, full involvement and

success in the process of the activity. Flow should not be mistaken with the expression to

go with the flow, which means to act conform to common behavior patterns with an

attitude of calm acceptance. Flow is complete focused motivation, where emotions aren‟t

just contained and channeled, but remain positive, energized and aligned with the task at

hand during the undergoing of the state. Flow can be recognized by a feeling of rapture

during the performance of a task but has also been described by Mihály as a deep focus

on nothing but the activity itself, where not even oneself or one‟s emotions are in focus.

Meaning there is no distraction from how you feel or what you think, and all focus is

purely in the act of the production. Even more, being in flow changes your perception of

time, it seems to pass much quicker. I‟ve always learned that enjoying something in a

day makes it feels like it passes relatively quick, time seems to go faster. The changed

perception of time can be linked to the intrinsically rewarding process. So flow. Or what

is also called, being in the Zone. For programmers referred to as Hack Mode. Stock

market operators have used the term in the pipe not that rarely for just being in the flow.

Flow is positive and is noticeable by others as an increased work environment (happier

co-worker), improved productivity (speed goes up) and a better ending (better results).

In short, being in a flow results in the following:

1. High level of concentration

2. Merging of action and awareness

3. The loss of self-consiousness

4. The transformation of time

1. Creativity and Flow

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5. The process is intrinsically rewarding

Personally I‟ve experienced such a flow in personal brainstorm sessions, but I have

also experienced similar flow-like feelings while sketching out different styles for a

concept. There has also been one animation project, which was created at a high speed

in a limited amount of time, where almost the entire animation was done in one flow.

This was a 2D animation made in Flash. For me, flow can be induced by others in a

project in which you work together. How this happens will be discussed in the next

paragraph. Being in a flow gets good results, great productivity and it feels great. A flow

getting broken is therefore a waste, it is important that when flow can be reached and

gets reached that it should be maintained and used to your advantage for the longest

possible amount of time.

The word flow with the meaning as described above has – so I feel - a bit of a

philosophical touch to it, which for me dissociates it from something that improves the

production in the way that it does, namely positive. For me, what works to let this

„philosophical‟ meaning of the word flow go is to adjust it into calling it: “workflow.” This

makes it more personal and makes it correspond to the idea that you want to create

something. So. Workflow. It‟s to keep in mind that the word workflow – which will be

described later in this chapter - in itself already relates to part of the production instead

of the state the user is in while producing. Even more, for many others the word flow by

itself might just be what they want as reference to the definition as mentioned and thus

will be used in the remainder of this paper.

1. Creativity and Flow

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1.2 How can a flow be maintained or broken?

According to Mihály a Flow will only be achieved when you‟re in a field where your skill

level (at that moment) is in balance with the challenge of the goals. If you would perform

within a high skill level, but the job would be easily doable you would be in control or

even in relaxation. If you‟re trying to achieve something extremely difficult (high

challenge) but don‟t have the skills you‟ll get to a point of anxiety. If the challenge for

you is less you‟ll pass the flow channel and get to boredom. (Csíkszentmihályi, 1997)

Left: the relation of challenge relative to skill clarifying the resulting states. (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008)

Right: the relation between challenge and skill clarifying the flow channel. (ib.)

The right image shows that performing a „low‟ challenge with „low‟ skills still results

within the flow channel, but it should be noted that the challenge then is still high for the

user. He‟s still being challenged on his skills enough to get in the flow. The images can

seem contradictory, but it is really more about balance than the challenge level or skill

level on its own. Mihály also states that flow can‟t be initiated (as in forced) by the user

and is unpredictable. Though, he mentions that there are a couple of conditions that

remain necessary for getting to the state of a flow.

1. Have a clear goal.

2. A balance of challenge and skill. (images above)

3. Task must have immediate and clear feedback.

4. Sense of control.

He says that if there‟s no goal, there‟s no way to check if you‟re going in the right

direction and know that you‟re creating the right thing. There just doesn‟t seem to be

„flow‟ in not going anywhere, you‟re just being merely lucky. With point two he means

that you must have confidence in being able to do the task. The immediate and clear

feedback gives the ability to adjust the performance to maintain the state of the flow.

1. Creativity and Flow

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The third condition might seem simple, but is the main point that focuses on losing the

flow. For animators, when you‟re feeling the character should do this, move this way,

then go up, move around and start dancing it‟s already like you‟re in a short state of flow

where you know what you will be doing, know what to adjust and what your next short-

term goal is. And at that moment, you‟re thinking (with a smile) I‟ll do this. You

straighten the chair, open your eyes, stare at the screen. Click-click-click, position here,

move that. Ah, getting closer for this pose. This takes time. Then, ok. Some frames later,

here. Yes, that‟s what I want! Ok. Play, and check. You watch. Stare. Think. Take time to

feedback the work. Once you notice something is off, not working right, you‟ll step back,

rethink and retry the initial step. For now, this sounds like not that big of a deal. But if

you‟re going to have to reposition to a total different pose, sketching out a whole other

way of your flow it takes too much time to stay in the flow. You lose the immediate

feedback of a visual image of what you‟re trying to create. Even more you lose a sense of

direct control. That‟s probably why most 3D animator return back to pencil and paper to

sketch ideas out and check if things will work.

As stated in the previous subchapter I shall provide some explanation on how a flow

can be induced - or better said maintained - in a team. Like mentioned, for a flow to exist

there should be immediate and clear feedback. This is hardly obtainable on your own in a

group project where opinion on the matter from other group members is of high value. At

moments like these immediate and clear feedback is only available when working closely

with the team members and the feedback is provided at a constant rate and is clear to

the one actively working on the matter so his flow will not be broken.

The cycles of rest, production, consumption, and interaction are as much a part of

how we experience life as our senses - vision, hearing, and so forth - are. Because

the nervous system is so constructed that it can only process a small amount of

information at any given moment, most of what we can experience must be

experienced serially, one thing after the other. […] Thus the limitations on

attention, which determines the amount of psychic energy we have for

experiencing the world, provide an inflexible script for us to live by.

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, pp. 5-6)

Like Csikszentmihalyi states there is a maximum amount of information we can

productively filter and use to our advantage. If this is generally perceived as true, than I

would consider 3D animation in its current state to be beyond our abilities. This totally

depends on how small this amount of information precisely is. As, at any given moment,

the 3D animation software processes a lot of information (of which much isn‟t really

meant to be given to the user and is to be done in the background, but it still is a lot of

information to process) which could make the user lose sight on his actual work. The

animator will have to switch between looking at the end result – the actual piece of art,

the characters pose, the line of motion, and so forth – and the actual process of creating

1. Creativity and Flow

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this piece of art – posing the character, moving the camera, selecting controllers. This

complex process makes even real-time results appear to the animator as a non-

immediate feedback, resulting in a break of flow.

Sketching, the try-out. Trials. The audition for your idea of the character

(representative for each shot on its own) should be more easily manageable within the

3D software. It's not necessarily about literal sketching tools within the software, but

even quicker ways to pose the character, faster selection and an overall more fluent way

to things. It‟s like 3D animation software is not the extension of my arm like a pencil is,

and for animators (or even anyone in the 3D business) the software package should be

just like an overpowered pencil and paper. Once the user has the feeling that he‟s being

held or blocked by a limitation or the software crashes there‟s a great chance that his

state will suffer and he‟ll lose flow as this most likely produces a break in his positive

productivity state. Therefore the user should be allowed all control only where he needs

such control to be the direct director of the act instead of having to look for a

workaround or think on how it could be done. Being blocked from working the way you

want to influences your emotional state shifting more focus to oneself or one‟s emotions,

thus breaking flow.

1.3 What makes for intuitive creativity?

Intuitive creativity is creativity where the act of being creative feels natural and normal

as if it is your preferred and standard comfortable workflow. Being intuitively creative

brings the results of a flow like high productivity and speed, good results and a nice work

environment. But even more, it‟s a standard that should be maintainable throughout

almost the entire length of the project, where moments off the project and any rest at all

is still contributing to the end product of the creative process. Graham Wallas presented

the four-stage model of a creative process. Wherein lie the stages of preparation,

incubation, illumination and verification. Within preparation is the definition of the

problem or need and prepares us with criteria for verifying the solutions acceptability.

Incubation is the moment we step back and away from the problem for our minds to step

it through. Then illumination is where ideas arise from our minds to form a basis solution

to the problem. This idea can be pieces of the whole or the whole itself. Unlike the other

stages, the stage of illumination is often very short where big amounts of insights can be

gained in small amounts of time. Then, verification is the stage where we check the

results of the illumination against the criteria we gained at the preparation. As explained

now it may seem a logical chronological process but this is not necessarily true. In the

creative process we may many times step back into previous stages or skip one or

multiple stages for a while.

1. Creativity and Flow

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One of the first models on the creative process is this model by Wallas. Since then,

there‟ve been numerous others that wrote about the creative process, like Barron,

Rossman, Osborn, Koberg and Bagnall. Some show similarities or like Osborns model it

even seems to be an expansion on Wallas‟ model. Others have a different basis, though

most of them have the same standards. Nevertheless, the model by Wallas is a well-

known model and for me seems to pinpoint the basics of a creative process. The four

explained stages are all able to be within a flow and are all really needed for a flow to be

able to exist at all. As mentioned a flow needs a goal, which is the result of the

preparation stage where we define what we need. The incubation can be recognized by

taking a long time, which does seem unrelated to a flow. But, as explained, it is the stage

where we sit back and rethink actually what we‟re trying to do and what we want to

achieve. An animator can have such a moment within a flow. Say, he takes a piece of

paper and moves away from the 3D software to just re-sketch ideas on paper (and

rethink the pose he‟s trying to create.). Though this looks a lot like the verification stage,

where we check if it is what we need, but it isn‟t. The animator will not know if it will

actually really work until he has produced it within the animation itself. The verification

therefore comes each time the animator is producing his new thoughts in the 3D

software and checks if it works out. The illumination is within this whole flow and now

seems to be everywhere in the process, where the animator constantly thinks about his

next steps while being unaware of the act of thinking about it. In a flow the animator

should be fully focused on the act of working out a shot, instead of having to think about

techniques and spend too much time on the process of evaluation so that it breaks his

flow.

For intuitive creativity therefore we need to take on a challenge, something new and

something that is constantly asking the most of us. So we can get in a flow getting the

feeling of rapture instead of feelings closer to relaxation. We must constantly be aware of

what we want to produce and must be able to act full focus on that production instead of

being aware of our mental state, ourselves or any technical limits that influence the way

we would like to work. Through this, we must be able to „kill our darlings‟ and step back

into the process of preparation to recheck our criteria if they are still correct and change

them where needed. Intuitive creativity is a constantly changing act, and we must always

at least be aware of the changes this act should bring upon us when needed in the work

environment. Within new programs, with new toolsets, with a new producer, with a

director with different ideas or within just a completely new project it is always important

to evaluate correctly, than act and evolve accordingly. The workflow of this intuitive

creativity is not a constant. The only basis there always is are the tools that provide the

ability to create what is needed for the preparation‟s resulting criteria and your personal

workflow with these tools.

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You know that feeling when you watch a movie, stand up from the couch with a clear

picture in your mind of something to eat you‟ll grab from the kitchen. You open the

refrigerator and you find yourself standing there not remembering what you were going

to get to eat. The mind seems to fail us at times. At first sight it doesn‟t look related, but

it shows that despites the brain‟s impressive abilities it has a maximum capacity of

information it can process. This can happen with anything you focus on. The Magical

Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing

Information is a highly cited paper in psychology published in 1956 that argues that the

average human can hold about 7 ± 2 pieces of information at the same time. (Miller,

1956) But since then researchers found that the actual maximum is somewhere around 3

or 4 pieces of information that can be processed simultaneously in the working memory.

(Farrington, 2011) And I had already shortly mentioned – previous paragraph – that

Cszikzentmihalyi also mentioned the influence of the amount of data we can hold. So, the

amount of data that can be processed effectively by the human mind is really small.

Beyond this point our focus starts to be lacking and thus it is important that intuitive

creativity keeps away from mind stress as much as possible, coming down to simplicity.

Conclusive I would like to say, or just repeat what I‟ve stated earlier. I feel, to be

creative there is need for a certain workflow where you won‟t be delayed or your

workflow gets altered, adjusted or hindered by the way the software works. And yes, a

workflow is personal and is something you‟ve learned to work with. (Like the software

package) But there should be no reason what-so-ever to not work in your own way

within the software‟s structure. It‟s your workflow, your way of creation, therefore

customizing and personalizing is needed to feel comfortable. Hence, If there‟s a better

way in this path, if you at least feel that there‟s a better way, then you should use the

tools in that way you feel most comfortable and productively.

We cannot expect anyone to help us live; we must discover how to do it by

ourselves. (Csíkszentmihályi, 1997, p. 2)

1.4 Creativity and flow within workflow and production.

Through the chapters I will be using the words workflow and pipeline to dictate certain

parts of the production. A small explanation and introduction will give you some insight

on how these words work together and can make an introduction towards developing and

improving workflow and the pipeline for creativity and flow.

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This picture shows the difference between pipeline and workflow. Also „Animator Interest‟ is depicted to show

the field of interest (for development) of an animator (that only does animation.) This image can also be found

in the attachments in a bigger size. This is a simplified example of a 3D production; therefore some stages may

be missing.

The pipeline is the overall line of production and the order and connections of the

contained building blocks. For example a production pipeline could contain modeling,

rigging, animation, rendering and compositing. For pipeline development there are a

couple of points that are of high interest:

- Flexibility,

- Simplicity,

- Accessibility,

- and Scalability.

The scheme depicts a straight line and although the mentioned blocks basic structure is

often in that order it almost always happens that steps back and forth will be made

throughout production. Therefore parts of the pipeline should be easily interchangeable

and thus be flexible. Even more it should exceed at its simplicity by being organized,

clean and non-redundant. So, the whole pipeline should be easily manageable and

accessible. And, any pipeline that will be developed should be flexible enough to scale up

and down based on the needs of its production. For this all to work smoothly it is

important that the pipes between the building blocks – hence the word pipeline – are

organized and streamlined.

This picture shows an example of the workflow of animation for 3D animators. A workflow is one of the building

blocks for in a pipeline. This image can also be found in the attachments in a bigger size.

A workflow is one of the building blocks in a pipeline and depicts how such a building

block is done from start to finish. For example an animator might use references as

inspiration and building blocks, and then work out ideas working towards and with

sketches and testing the developed ideas. Then he‟ll start working on the character in 3D

by selecting, posing and managing this and will end-up with a stage of clean-up and

tweaking. A workflow can be very personal as one - for example - might even work

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without any reference or sketching. As long as the workflow provides consistent quality

and speed throughout its progression it is reaching its primary goal, which is high quality

delivery in time. But a good workflow constantly consists of a clear goal and constant

progression in as well the product as the user‟s skillset. A workflow needs efficiency in

speed, organization and simplicity. And it should provide a constant vision on the current

task, what step is next and how he‟s (easiest) able to complete these tasks. Besides, the

way the animator works should constantly motivate and bring inspiration and clarity to

himself and (possibly) others. Even more, as discussed for flow, the choices of the

animator should provide a good challenge to skill ratio so he can reach flow (as described

by Csikszentmihalyi.)

An animator in big productions will solely focus on animating. But in most school

project, at small studios and also with the production of Mac „n‟ Cheese the animator isn‟t

just the animator. I, for example, was the lead animator, animation supervisor and

technical director. For this I did supervision, animation, rigging, troubleshooting,

techniques testing as well as pipeline building. But besides just these general descriptions

I‟ve been dealing with concept art, story development, cinematography, data wrangling,

editing and promotion as well.

An example picture of the Mac „n‟ Cheese pipeline (compressed to the biggest parts only) showing the division

of my personal time and tasks throughout its pipeline. This image can also be found in the attachments in a

bigger size.

As you can see things add up and often this can make the user needing to deal with

multiple tasks at the same time. To be creative, feel free and intuitive at the same time a

structured and consistent workflow is required. As we‟ll see in the coming chapters

there‟s room for improvement for almost all 3D animators. And even more in line of this

research, there seems to be very much room for improvement in student productions

(and small studios) and their pipeline, workflow and flow.

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2. The difference in Animation fields

There‟s quite some difference between 3D Computer Animation and the more traditional

styles like 2D and Stop-Motion. It‟s digital, relatively new and seems to be quite

technical. Though at least one thing they seem to have in common is the need of a

workflow. This chapter will discuss these workflows of the different animation forms and

will be discussed in comparison with the 3D computer animation workflow. This is to find

structure and default procedures in an animator‟s workflow that have been defined in

these fields through a (often) significant longer period than those in 3D Computer

Animation. We‟ll be able to compare the differences, but even more learn about the room

for improvement. Furthermore we‟ll acquire a mindset on animation that‟s often hard for

3D animators to wrap their head around instantly, providing these insights are of great

importance for any development. Thus, besides just delivering a small background of

animation and its workflow in these field there‟s a lot more relevant information and data

we can extract from this.

There is a lot of difference in the habits between different studios even only within the

field of Computer Animation. Even among students there is a different way of

approaching the same thing, which makes generalization of „the workflow‟ hard or almost

impossible. The same thing happens to be with the other forms of animation, as even

some studios say they don‟t have a workflow, but a variety ways of starting a project

depending on the needs of the project. A workflow for them is better defined with the

word blueprint. By checking the development, the variety in workflows and the

techniques used for animators to achieve their results in the variety of forms we can gain

a better understanding of animation in general and find clues, tips and guidance towards

ideas on how to animate that have been developed through a longer time period than the

development of 3D Computer Animation.

Also insight in structure of production, shot layout, shot staging, character

personalities and character development can be gained and we‟ll see in this chapter how

individuals divide this up, but even more how animators fit into the bigger studios‟

structure. The differences in productions as described in this chapter lead up to an

extraction of the base of production environment gaining insight and info on productive

workflows and pipelines. From this I‟ll constantly try to compare this with 3D computer

animation. At the end of each paragraph I‟ll shortly conclude my findings which will form

the basis for the concepts designed and presented later in this thesis.

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2.1 Animating like a puppeteer. (Stop motion/clay/puppet)

A happy puppeteer

The above picture represents a puppeteer as we probably imagine when we think about

one. But this chapter is less about this guy and more about puppet, stop motion and clay

animators, the production surrounding them and the resulting animations. The

movement of a character by adjusting its body parts is rather similar to 3D animation,

where you‟re actually moving around a virtual puppet. Therefore it‟s a good starting point

for this research.

The animation style is a result of real world objects being altered slightly frame after

frame inducing the effect of consecutive motion. One of the main benefits which stop

motion is acclaimed for is the artisan feeling it has. It feels like craftsmanship. It feels

touched and moved, which gives it more of a mesmerizing feel. Like the fingerprints that

appear in clay animation; they really add to the feel and visuals of stop motion

animation. Most of the time these animations lack motion blur and present a clear sharp

picture, because it is - most of the time - based on non-moving objects being

photographed. Although this lack of smoothness sounds like a downside it is actually one

of the points stop motion is most acclaimed for by fans. Beside these, in many cases,

there is a choppy result in the overall motion, because after taking the picture there isn‟t

really a way to go back and adjust it besides reanimating. A fluent motion is only possible

with good planning of the animation in advance and requires an in-depth workflow or

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eally experienced animators that have acquired a feeling for it. Though this „imperfect‟

quality of the media and the others described before are a favored upside for most of the

fans of Stop Motion just like the lack of motion blur. It‟s what makes it Stop Motion,

figuratively speaking. Furthermore, low-budget animations often lack camera movements

and have a „staged‟ feel to the animation as moving the camera should be done on a

special track that‟s complex to build and/or expensive to buy. The camera movement

should be planned out beforehand and as we‟ll discuss later the whole animating is often

done on a basis of in-depth preproduction and strict planning.

Kasper Werther, student at the Utrecht School of Arts, mentioned the WYSIWYG 1

(What You See Is What You Get) quality of stop motion which for him was one of the

main upsides to stop motion animating. Pedri Animation‟s producer Thomas Hietbrink

also confirmed that this was one of the primary benefits of this field of animation. What

they mean with this quality is that the stage, lighting and characters – when set up -

directly closely resemble the „rendered‟ result of the shot. As opposed to 3D animation

where the final look, lighting and rendering of a shot is done after the animation or

opposed to traditional 2D animation where after the initial animating there‟ll be clean-up,

coloring and often in-depth compositing. This quality of stop motion gives the animator

constant vision on an almost final composition, having influence on the poses and

characters, thus the way he animates. He can directly see the result combination of

colors of the character and background and how this is affected by lighting. He will be

able to notice color clashing (between background and character) in this stage and can

choose to change the animation totally or play down his animation in high contrast areas

and vice versa so that the character feels right overall on stage. Arguably depending on

person he might or might not be influenced by these things, though I‟ve noticed in 3D

Animations that once rendered a character that was blending in the background in color

and luminance a slow movement feels even slower, as there‟s less change the human

eye will register because of the low-contrast in the area. And vice versa was for high

contrast areas.

Another effect affecting stop motion animating is the „life‟ that the character starts to

have when being touched by the animator physically. The bond between the puppet and

the animator gives the puppet a life of his own. According to stop motion animator Anna

Elisabeth Eijsbouts they start to live from the moment you start working with them. The

end result is just as magical for the audience as the process of creation is for the

animator. As Hans Hofmann, a German-born American abstract expressionist painter,

once said: “A work of art is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist‟s

world.” (Hoffman, Weeks, Hayes, 1967, p. 59) The effect of the animator‟s focus and

1 WYSIWYG is short for What You See Is What You Get, a term used in computing to describe a system in

which content displayed onscreen during editing appears in a form exactly corresponding to its appearance

when displayed as a finished product.

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ond with the character often creates the personality of the character almost

automatically because of this. The character involves the animator and vice versa. It‟s

often said that animators are actors with stage fright and I‟d like to think about

animating as acting. This „acting‟ for animators is important as the animator should

constantly be aware of what the character will be doing, how he is feeling and how that

makes him move. Being in touch with a physical character that creates this bond and

brings over these emotions can help the animator stay „in character‟, thus keeping the

right driving force throughout the shot. Although this was answered by stop motion

animators I interviewed I‟m still on the edge of whether believing this makes that much

of a difference, if influencing the state of the animator at all. Harry Harlow, a prominent

American psychologist in the 1950‟s questioned the then commonly held theoretical

position that affection is an innate drive developed through the repeated association of

the mother with reduction of the primary biological drives, particularly hunger and thirst.

Harry instead focused his research on bodily contact and attachment formation. (cf.

Mullaney, 2009, design-emotion.com) He discovered that this – bodily contact - was an

overwhelmingly important variable in forming a bond, hereby highlighting the importance

of touch and sense for forming emotional attachments. (Harlow, H.F., 1962) We

instinctively know that a metal chair should feel colder than a wooden chair. Even such a

physical touch can introduce emotion – or even memories – based on just the

temperature, texture and mass creating a possible bond between animator and puppet.

The mentioned effect can, on basis of the argued cause, hardly be introduced in the

virtual world of 3D computer animation. Though, the coming of new tangible interfaces

where virtual objects (and thus possibly characters) are controllable and perceivable by

respectively touch and resisting forces - like a mass you would touch in the physical

world - could make this possible. Though this development is interesting, and of course

makes room for an elaborate philosophical debate on future changes, it‟s not the

development I‟ll be creating with the toolset. But keeping in the back of our minds what

will „ever‟ be possible, thus thinking out of the box of what we now perceive as the

possible, enables us to think beyond this limited extent. Outside todays ordinary box can

be room for extraordinary concepts which could introduce new interfaces for interaction

and alter the way we look at 3D animation completely. I will try to touch most new

technologies and inventions that I deem relevant and which I know off to provide the

most up-to-date information for current workflow and future possibilities. The concepts

developed could then be based or discussed on basis of any discussed technology

becoming available or possible in the near future. Some could (in simpler extent) already

have an implementation nowadays or in the near future with the help of a bigger

programming team (instead of a simple animation student without any well-educated

programming background). Thus, concepts that are impossible to be developed by me -

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with my current programming knowledge and/or available time - are still inclusive for the

conclusion as the research is a work towards this near future.

Though, as mentioned shortly, stop motion animation is always animated in a straight

forward method applying changes to the character chronologically on a frame-by-frame

basis. This method is maybe, so I feel, an even more important reason why the animator

feels the bond with the character while animating. The WYSIWYG effect of a stop motion

character on set is amplifying this bond even more, as the animator starts to „feel‟ the

poses in an almost similar state as to how the audience – who watches the animation in

the end – will be affected by the character as it‟s already looking like a living character

with his own mind and story on screen. This constant awareness while chronologically

posing the movement of the character is crucial for believability, personality and high

quality animation.

Movement can easily be achieved by drawing the same thing in two different

positions and inserting a number of other drawings between the two. The result

on the screen will be movement, but it will not be animation. In nature, things do

not just move. Newton's first law of motion stated that things do not move unless

a force acts upon them. So in animation the movement itself is of secondary

importance; the vital factor is how the action expresses the underlying causes of

the movement. With inanimate objects these causes may be natural forces,

mainly gravity. With living characters the same external forces can cause

movement, plus the contractions of muscles but, more importantly, there are the

underlying will, mood, instincts and so on of the character who is moving.

(Halas, Whitaker, 2002)

For believable 2 animation any motion on screen should obey to rules that either we know

from real-life or the rules that have been explained and made believable to the audience

by watching the (rest of the) film. But – especially if he chooses not to obey the rules -

the animator should always be aware of the fact that a large mass can‟t suddenly come

to a hold. If he chooses to do so anyway he should be aware of the fact that he‟s

breaking the rule. If he does it as stylization throughout a whole film, for perceiving a

certain effect or any other reason he should still know what he‟s bringing over to the

audience in effect. In animation the animator should constantly be aware of the

character‟s mood and how he will „pull the next move‟ in correspondence with his

thoughts, emotional state and personality at that moment. Even more he should keep in

mind the style of the film, continuity of the scene and progression of the story as well. In

effect there‟s a lot for the animator to focus on. If the animator starts to animate without

any planning whatsoever he‟ll have to constantly be aware of all these and any

technicalities or problems that might come up. Focusing on so many things at the same

time can distract from the focus on the actual movement and living of the character.

At Pedri-Animation they have their own strict pipeline and workflow for getting

2 Believable refers to the realism as developed at Disney like the principles of animation. An in-depth discussion

on this development at Disney and meaning of realism can be found in the following paragraph.

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everything done smoothly at the moment of animating. While asking Thomas Hietbrink,

producer at Pedri-Animation, about their stop motion workflow I was astonished by how

fast he said the actual animation part was. He said their animators created about 10

seconds (final animation) a day, which compared to the field of 3D Computer Animators

where Pixar animators do about 4 seconds a week is quite a big difference. (Howell,

2009, www.thestar.com) About 30 seconds of animation per week difference to be exact

(based on 5 workdays.) And don‟t forget that often these are full-time animators that

only do animation in the production. At Pedri-Animation the actual process of animating

is done based off of a line test 3 and a strict storyboard where almost everything has been

set as fixed points. Being in the production and recording phase literally means just

„building‟ what has been set as a goal. He also told me that it almost never happens that

there is reshoot. Meaning, for stop motion, that there‟s almost never a fault in the

animation so big that the whole shot has to be redone. This is only possible because of

the strict preproduction. The animators constantly have a clear goal of what to create

and because everything is preplanned they don‟t deal with other things on their mind

besides just creating that. Flow is then achievable once the animator feels the pressure

of creating animation as awesome as possible to his skills, giving challenge to the act.

Hence, reaching the upper right flow as depicted in the chart created by

Csíkszentmihályi.

Left: Commercial for Moneyou by Pedri Animation. Right: Loekie by Pedri Animation.

The created puppets at Pedri Animations contain different kinds of rigs and joints

based on what the character needs to do, based on the script. This limitation to only the

necessity actually makes animating easier. Derived from good reference (the line test or

storyboard) the animator copies the motion to the extent of what is possible with the rig.

If the character was a penguin, then a happy pinguin is the character with a happy face

plugged in. The speed of the animator is high, because the whole time the animator

knows exactly what the next pose will be, thus knows what pose to create. This kind of

preplanning can increase the speed a lot, but is not necessarily the core of the tools I‟m

trying to produce. What I‟ll be creating is not only a toolset to increase speed in posing,

3 A line test, as referred to here, is a short example of the movement in a shot done as a

series of 2D drawings, like a 2D animation.

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ut also for a smoother, efficient pipeline (less memory overhead) and new ways to

touch, adjust or deform the character are of high interest for involving the user with a

better creative flow as will be discussed in later chapters.

The strict workflow as provided for the animators at Pedri-Animation gives a clear

goal that can be checked instantly almost every frame providing some requirements for

getting into a flow. Though working from a line test as strict reference (almost rotoscopy)

isn‟t asking too much from the animator, making him work in relaxation. Besides,

copying something isn‟t really that intuitive or creative, is it? That would be true if the

animator was doing a one on one copy of the line test, but he‟s not. Hietbrink stated that

though the line test showed the dynamics, line of action and the overall (estimated)

timing of each individual action it was only the actual stop motion animator that could

put in the character, personality, emotion and final touches to the animation. Even more,

the animator has to do this in quite a short time, still asking much of his skills. Flow is

achievable here because of this time-pressure and needed injection of the characters

personality and emotions. An animator focuses only on the characters movement – and

is „magically‟ forced to do so by the physical touch of the character – with a clear goal

which helps this focus. Camera movement is done by another person and sometimes

there‟s an assistant animator to help on extra things of a character or other parts in the

scene. This makes the animator focus only on the character and not the world around it.

This increases the possibility on full focus and makes it easier to „forget‟ the world around

him to forget oneself or one‟s emotions, bringing flow 4 .

It‟s this kind of focus on one single thing that is often missing in 3D Computer

Animation. Most of the time handling the camera is also part of the animator‟s job (on

complex shots where the camera follows the animation.) Often in smaller studios the

animator works off of a storyboard (no line test) and the line test gets replaced by a

blocking done by the animator himself, this could be a line test or 3D blocking of the

shot. Though, at Pixar there‟s a department for shot layout and another for animation,

also dividing this up more. Again giving more focus. It‟s important that the toolset

provides, emphasizes and helps this focused and „one-goal‟-oriented workflow. Since the

resulting toolset of this research is for a student project (small team), which is less like

Pixar or Pedri-Animations‟ production size. It‟s therefore interesting to note that though

the team is small every bit that could introduce more focus (by workflow customization

and a provided toolset) and fewer distractions should be an aim for this research.

A downside with stop motion is the inability to step back and readjust a frame,

whatever you do often is permanent unless you do a reshoot. When the animator knocks

over a lamp or hits the camera it‟ll probably be hard to reposition these exactly the

4 Forgetting oneself or one‟s emotions has been described as one of the results of being in a flow according to

Mihály Csikszentmihalyi.

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same, hence a „tick‟ of the lighting or composition onscreen resulting in the need of a full

reshoot of the shot. Though, this downside could be a benefit for reaching flow. The

required carefulness and planning raises the difficulty and gives excitement. The

animator needs focus on the animation and needs to stay alert on what he is doing. He‟ll

learn by mistakes (which often end up dramatically needing to reshoot) to work alert and

focused and knows that whatever he‟s aiming for will always be of a high challenge. If we

step back to the discussion about flow it was stated that for being able to achieve a flow

these was one of the exact requirements.

Stop Motion Animations in general show us the facts as provided before about the

lack of motion blur and the (most of the time) choppy movements. Furthermore it has a

mesmerizing magical feel to it, as real-life (and often non-living) objects appear to move

in a surrealistic way. Also Stop Motion has the ultimate benefits of a physical touchable

object that can be moved. After positioning you directly see the result, the pose, how the

lighting affects the character and you can directly see the final result on screen which

resembles the final composition (if you won‟t be adding a significant amount of post-

effects.) Though the animator needs to stay alert and work with focus on the animation,

which as stated is also a benefit (and requirement for reaching flow) once the animator

has learned to work like that. The main requirements for the found stop motion workflow

were good planning (line test or strict storyboard) so the poses and way you‟re going

with each frame is as clear as can be. This clear goal can help the animator stay in focus

and with progress towards the final goal continuously, like flow. Finding the right

motion, timing or movement often has been done before the actual stop motion animator

starts posing the character.

Since I‟m trying to create tools that also affect this part before the actual animating,

like „sketching‟ and „trying‟ in 3D instead of constantly reverting back to paper or other

software or tools for adjusting timing or amplifying poses, there‟s not that much we can

get from stop motion in that area. Though, the way the animator was relieved from

stress by strict planning and full focus is one of the most important assets in an

animator‟s workflow. Also, there seems much to say for tools that change how the

animator can see the characters. The WYSIWYG effect can hardly be introduced to 3D,

but this can guide us into other ways where the animator could easily check the

silhouette of the character or flat shaded to see color clashing (without lighting) and so

on. But more importantly I‟ve felt their attitude, their mind of work and this has given

me more insight on what I actually do want or should need in production.

Some things to keep in the back of our heads based on the provided arguments of

this paragraph are these:

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- Direct results (WYSIWYG) affect the act of animating by influencing the

animator‟s choices. It‟ll be easier for the animator to bond and relate with the

character as well as seeing how it will end up in the movie. The close resemblance

of the puppet to the final result in the movie will help the animator to see what

the audience will end up seeing. But on the other side it is important to remember

that stop motion is always done in a straight forward fashion and already

animated frames can‟t easily be adjusted. The influence of that effect on the

overall animation and its style is arguable but – so I feel – not deniable. Since it

introduces at least AN alteration to workflow trying out „different ways of „seeing‟

– even more feeling perhaps - the character.

- The direct control and physical touch help bonding with the character and allows

the character to „live its animation‟ for the animator. It helps the animator keep

focus on the character‟s personality and emotions throughout a shot as the

character starts living a life of its own. Closest in a virtual environment would be

the briefly mentioned tangible interfaces. The next closest and most important

within this is the direct control and instant feedback. Not feeling limited by

technicalities but instead feeling like the direct and limitless controller of the

character‟s act helps making the character live out its actions almost

automatically for the animator influencing the quality of animation positively as

well as the state of mind of the animator.

- The animator always needs to have full focus on the character and his means of

movement. The animator should always keep in account attitude, personality,

emotion, mood and action of the shot. As this solely already requires lots of the

animator, his focus and his mind it is important to note that every bit that could

introduce more focus (by workflow customization and a provided toolset) and

fewer distractions should be an aim for this research.

- According to our findings in this paragraph one thing that can provide great

assistance is a clean preproduction, the reference and tests should be thorough

and extensively so the animator has a clear goal and knows what to focus on and

solely focuses on only what is exactly then of utmost importance. Intensive

testing and trying before the intensive portion of actual animating provides a

higher quality and speed in production.

2.2 Flowing lines as animation. (Drawn animations, 2D)

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This paragraph is about what in general is being referred to as traditional animation or

classical animation. Simply said, it‟s the pen and paper kind. Traditional animation has

quite some different techniques according to Wikipedia, but this chapter is not focused on

these different techniques. It‟s more about what the workflow is for traditional animation

in general.

An obvious pick for workflow references of traditional animation workflow is that of

Disney. They are extremely popular and their popularity has survived the decay of time

through the years. Besides, Disney and its productions is (for most) the founder of the

principles of animation and is therefore a good subject for an inspection of their

workflow, but even more their development. Through the years team spirit, collaboration

and discussions have been an important part of the development at Disney. Since the

beginning Walts persistence on creating better animation has been great motivation for

all of them and kept every individual on the edge of his seat and focused on finding out

new types of wheels, checking which worked and which didn‟t. These experiments and

developments were one of the main reasons why they were having discussions to begin

with.

Occasionally one individual disagreed with another over interpretation and even

recollections, but, then, arguments were always daily occurrences where we were

making the pictures. That was an important part of the team effort. (Thomas,

Johnston, 1995, p. 9)

Even more, in The Illusion of Life it‟s said that these discussions were one of the main

reasons they were getting their hands firm on perceivable realism in animation and made

them so accomplishable with the principles of animation development. Milt Kahl, one of

Disney‟s Nine Old Men (Canemaker, John, 2001), mentioned that the Disney animation

(in the older days) differed from others because of its believability. At Disney things had

weight, the characters had muscles and they were giving it all the illusion of reality. (cf.

Williams, Richard, 2001, p. 5) This is exactly what they‟ve developed and learned to

exaggerate with their development of the principles of animation, realism. „Even

"cartoony" work needs to be grounded in reality (both in physical motion and in a

believable acting performance) for an audience to identify with it. I think that's really

important to keep in mind.‟ (Kelly in Freeman, 2011a, shaunfreeman.com) But

rotoscoping real-life motion in animation always feels off and floating. (Williams, Richard,

2001) So copying real-life one on one wasn‟t really the way to go. Although the principles

of animation were based on realism the animation really started to „live‟ when it got

exaggerated. Dave Hand was once doing a test of Mickey riding along in his taxicab,

whistling, with everything on the car rattling and bouncing. Dave was sure that the

animation he created was a laugh and showed it to Walt Disney. Walt disliked it. Six

times Dave corrected it, redrawing until he was nearly through the paper and still Walt

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did not like it. Dave got fed up. “The only thing I knew to do was to do something he

wouldn‟t take – to make it so extreme that he would say, „I didn‟t mean that much! „” He

showed it to Walt and Walt said, “There, Dave, that‟s just what I wanted!” (cf. Thomas,

Johnston, 1995) Walt wanted animation based on realism, but this was only made

perceivable in animation when exaggerated. (cf. Thomas, Johnston, 1995, p.66) Thus,

important for an animation workflow is not to copy the exact lifelike motions but

exaggerate real-life‟s principles and essences. Walt believed in going to the heart of

anything and developing the essence of what was found. If a character was sad, make

him sadder. This kind of development often starts from one strong key pose that

progresses this storytelling. As we‟ll see when we discuss the methods for animating this

is one of the greatest benefits of pose to pose animation. Though, for a general workflow

this means that even the small (quick „n‟ dirty) thumbnail sketches of a character should

be able to bring over the emotions and action of the character clearly. For this to be

possible the animator needs to find the essence and build on top of that instead of

instantly thinking of a pose that portrays the emotion as a whole. With the use of

reference, checking frame-by-frame and actually researching what makes the character

look sad gives the animator the ability to portray a pose that is a caricature of this

emotion. (Thomas, Johnston, 1995) Reference of real-life is thus often of big

importance. There‟ll be more on the use of reference later when discussing other

animation fields.

Squash and stretch, one of the principles of animation.

The constant discussions at Disney lead to constant progression and got animators

making signs to remember what they‟ve learned. Keeping track of new rules and things

they should check in their animations. Writing this down resulted in less „memory stress‟

trying to remember it all while working and being in the flow. Helping with staying in the

flow for when they had to check their animations against a certain goal. Some of the

signs that were found throughout the studio in those days said things like:

“Does the shot „read‟ or not?”

“Don‟t confuse them. Keep it simple.”

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“Too much action spoils the acting.”

“Mushy action makes a mushy statement”

“Say something. Be brave.”

“Why would anyone want to look at that?”

“Really now, would anyone other than your mother like it?”

(Thomas, Johnston, 1995, p. 23 & 37)

Note that these signs weren‟t rules for everyone to obey, but were written by animators

themselves to relieve their memory from the need to keep this in their heads for every

second through the day. The workspace of an animator is the drawing board and the

layout of his drawing tools surrounding that and often these notes were on top of their

desk, above a door or in the hallway. Most of the time stuck in places where they looked

at occasionally. Not distracting them from their work constantly, because of the absence

of it in their direct work space. This helped them to see it only once they take time off

from what they are focusing on.

During the creation of Mac „n‟ Cheese we had two pieces of paper on our main wall. One saying: “Does it tell

what we want to tell?”, and the other: “Can it be sicker?” This was to constantly remind us to check if the shot

was progressing the story and if it (especially the physical intense shots) was as intense as possible. This really

seemed to help development.

This separate location of the notations might seem irrelevant or unimportant, but it isn‟t.

As mentioned while discussing creative flow there is a limited amount of information a

human mind can handle simultaneously. Keeping this notations separated from the

constant mind helps relieving the mind and making room for what it should be full focus

on when in the act of animating, the actual animating. This also shows that it‟s important

to not try to digitize everything and try putting all information constantly on screen for

digital artists, because this is an intrusion of their direct workspace and can collide with

their memory span and emotional state. Thus, their flow. Milt Kahl, had already

mentioned this minds limitation a long time ago when he agitatedly answered someone

who asked him how he planned out the counteraction on a character: “That‟s the wrong

way to look at it! Don‟t think of it like that! I just concentrate on giving the performance

– that‟s what‟s important! The play‟s the thing. You‟ll get all tangled up if you think of it

in a technical way.” (Williams, 2001, p. 9) And Richard Williams first word in Lesson one

in Animator‟s Survival Kit is “UNPLUG!” He tells you to take of your head phones, turn off

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the radio, switch off the cd, turn off the tape and close the door. (ib., p. 41) He mentions

how he learned it from the genius Milt Kahl and quotes him with a drawing where he

himself asks Milt Kahl if he listens to music while animating. In this picture Milts answer

is: “Of all the s-s-s-stupid god-god-god-damned questions I-I-I-I‟ve ever heard! I-I-I-I-

Never heard such a-a-a-f-f-f-f-stupid question!” Which Richard William explains with a

continuation of this quote: “Iy-iy-iy-iy-I‟m not SMART enough to think of more than one

thing at a time!”, explaining exactly what it comes down to. Creative and good animation

requires focus of the creative mind. “Animation is concentration.” (ib., p. 41-45)

Besides pure focus and intense teamwork traditional animation was done with

drawing tools you can probably come up with, like pencil and eraser, but it‟s worth

mentioning those you might not know. At the same time it‟s interesting to see its

influence and extracted abstract of what it comes down to

for the animator. And this is also a good starting point to

what an animator‟s desk looks like and what he has lying

around.

The traditional animator doesn‟t only animate, but also

logs the images with corresponding image numbers on a so

called X-sheet. The layout is created to contain information

about each frame in the movie where each row in the table

resembles a frame of the animation. The first column

depicts the action of that frame; the next column named

sound (or dial) is for writing down the dialogue or the

breakdown of the music into beats. Then there‟s the frame number, a couple of columns

numbered five through one and one for the background resembling the layers/levels of

the shot (think of characters for example.) Herein the animator writes down what

numbered drawing should be there. A six-frame character run cycle could go 1 through 6

over and over again. Though through time, complexity sneaked in with most animators.

Numbers got prefixes and suffixes like 1-C for “cat” or even worse “Y2B-2½” for “„Yak

Running‟” [sic]. (Williams, 2001, p. 74) (Yes, I got confused too!) As animation is

collaboration – it is teamwork - it is important to work in a structured and clear way.

Writing down that the layer is for the cat is unnecessary; because the camera guy can

see that the layer IS the cat. Ken Harris never missed the importance of simplicity. He

used only numbers and the occasional letter here and there, which actually meant the

same thing every time. Richard William writes about Ken Harris: “Nobody could figure

out how this sick old man could produce so much work – and of such high quality. He

just kept everything as simple as could be.” (Williams, 2001, p. 77) And Richard praises

Kens workflow saying that it is about 50% of why Ken was able to produce such high

quality animations in such short time periods. Controlling such data management by

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working clean and keeping your head fresh really helps - according to Richard it helps a

lot. The kind of logging and keeping track of images is different in 3D animation, as

there‟s no real need to track every frame since it‟s in a single file. But it can be very

useful for the animator to keep track of the overall action and its continuity in the

sequence it will end up in. An animator should take full responsibility for the logging of

the 3D scene, which in 3D animation accounts for keeping track of the progress of a shot

and doing so accordingly. Again, in big studios they can provide production assistants

that will log and keep track of progress in production, but within smaller projects and

studios this is most likely not the case. Probably multiple people - among them can be

animators - must log and keep track of status and progress of shots and the full

productions in such cases. A tool or system that would ensure consistency in method and

would provide clean organization and tracking of the production is one thing that could

keep the mind of the animators – those that are required to do a some of this managing

as well – much more focused on the act of animating. In short, any adjustment that

would provide significant positive change in organization, planning and the mindset of the

animator would thus proof to be a worthy asset.

Above: excerpt from The Illusion

of Life. Photo by Dave Spencer.

As drawn characters should align frame-by-frame holes

were made in paper. The paper was then placed on a

special made peg bar fitting in the holes perfectly. This was

often placed upon an animation disc, so the paper could be

easily rotated. As seen on the image to the left. The image

also shows that the holes in the paper could go on either

top or bottom. At first everyone used them on top. It made

sense because on the bottom it would make you have the

peg bar buttons pinching into your arm whilst animating.

Though, later they learned that with the peg bars on the

bottom the animator could roll through about six images

back and forth. With the peg bar on top - with flipping - the

testing could only be played one way, instead of back and

forth. The rolling technique made it possible for animators to see the movement in a

more consistent timing for testing the motion. They learned to live with the buttons on

the bottom for the use of this benefit. Animators that learned working with the peg bar

on the top often had a hard time switching or didn‟t feel the need to switch, and vice

versa. “Why the heck would they want those buttons (of the peg bar) sticking into your

arms while drawing?”, is what many are critiquing about the bottom peg bar and, “How

could you check the motion if you can‟t see the images rolling back and forth?”, is the

other side‟s response. They also didn‟t feel the need to switch because they had already

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learned how to flip (or roll). Already knowing how to flip made switching seem useless as

you still needed to learn to roll and again the same was for the other way around, being

able to roll didn‟t mean you‟re already able to flip. Thus trying it out once or twice

wouldn‟t really show you the benefit or affection that would commit you to changing your

work style. Switching therefore felt unnecessary for them. This is an interesting insight

for tool development. Animators are open to new tools, but will not switch if the benefit

isn‟t initially believable. The fact that the animators couldn‟t roll made trying the rolling

technique pretty pointless as it didn‟t provide them with the benefits instantly. They

didn‟t notice the difference, because any benefits would only be noticeable once

mastered the technique. The animator thus only switches tools or techniques if it proofs

to be useful even without thorough knowledge or practice. Or if it provides a new

technique not currently possible and hence will proof useful almost instantly if the

animator was looking for that specific task or thinks it might be useful.

Often in the animation productions character sheets were created, providing sight on

what were strong general expressions for a character (expressing their personality best

and providing a „line‟ in the animation of that character.) This wasn‟t only for portraying

the character‟s personality as a test, but remained as a reference for the characters

general poses and often contained a front and side view of the character to see the

overall posture and form of a character. Often it would also provide the height compared

to other characters and notations for the drawers to keep in mind. This model sheet,

again, was to the side of the animator to look at it once he felt the need to. It should be

close but not distracting, like the notations described earlier. The model sheet was also

very useful while animating, to check if you‟re still on character or are drifting too far

away from its original form and/or size.

Left: Character Sheet for Jerry (Tom & Jerry). Property of MGM Cartoon Department.

Right: Character Sheet for Goofy. Property of Disney.

You might think that such a character sheet would „dumb you down‟ and decrease your

creativity as you‟re trying to mimic/copying the drawings, but this isn‟t exactly true. A

character sheet can often make you remember the stronger poses or even inspire you to

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think in the ways of those strong poses. Having these distinct images and notations with

the character remembers you of his personality and can help you in planning out a shot,

and can help the inbetweener (explained later) with a guideline for the character. Again

we see a movement towards relieving memory stress and the creation of strict guidelines

and goals for the character. In 3D animation a model sheet is often delivered to the

modeling department only for model reference and will be modeled accordingly, this

model sheet often only provides details about a generic front and side view of the

character. A library of poses that the animator can constantly refer to as inspirational

work and the reminder of the character‟s personality (seeing him live) is thus often

missing. Though, facial animation is often done one basis of so called blend shapes 5 ,

which are a limited set of facial positions the face can blend towards. As these shapes are

pre-existent there‟s actually a base for the animator to work off for facial poses – which

could be compared to the character sheet. But with the need for more subtle movement

and control the poses nowadays are often broken down into partial expressions, for

example a smile could be extracted towards the adjustments for the mouth, the cheek

and the brows. This has given the animator more control and the overall animation the

possibility for more finesse, but has made a consequent resemblance in personality and

expression throughout the movie – especially with different animators – harder to keep

alike. Now, more than ever, the use of a character sheet or character reference is

becoming more and more important as 3D animation is coming to the point where

deformations are not as much limited as before but become liberated and free to the

animator. This sets a better environment for animation, but an even harder environment

to keep track of and the downside to lose sight on the character on basis of different

sliders and possibilities is becoming more eminent. Thus, a character sheet and/or pose

library can provide a measurable and significant change and I‟ll discuss this more when

discussing the 3D workflow as well as possible concepts for tool development.

So, quite elaborately I‟ve now discussed the work environment setup and tools of the

animator in general. Let‟s discuss some more about what ways there are to animate or

plan out the animation. According to the Animator‟s Survival Kit there are three broadly

accepted (mainstream) approaches:

- Straight forward,

- Pose-to-pose,

5 Blend shape deformers let you deform a surface into the shapes of other surfaces and are often used for

facial deformations. The blendshapes are most often applied in an additive manner where multiple shapes could

be on simultaneously adding one deformation on top of the other. For example, adding two of the same blend

shapes and applying them both would exaggerate the difference in position to twice the amount, doubling the

effect additively.

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- Mixed (a blend between Pose-to-pose and Straight forward.)

(Williams. 2001, p. 77) (Thomas, Johnston, 1995, p. 57-58)

As each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages I‟ll walk through them first

quickly mentioning for each what it is and how it works, then I‟ll come down to writing

about its (dis-)advantages and after that there will be a summary of how it all comes

down in practice, how they deal with it and what it does with the animators workflow.

Let‟s start with straight forward animation. With straight forward animation you

simply start drawing and see what happens, you would work frame-by-frame in a

chronological order and let the movement and momentum lead the action.

Advantages Disadvantages

A natural flow of fluid, spontaneous action Things start to wander.

It has the vitality of improvisation Time stretches and the shot gets longer

It‟s very „creative‟ – we go with the flow -

taking all of the action as it comes along.

Often the unconscious mind starts to kick

in: like authors saying their character tells

them what‟s going to happen.

and longer.

Characters grow and shrink.

We can tend to miss the point of the shot

and not arrive at the right place at the

right time.

It can produce suprises-„magic‟. The director hates us because he/she can‟t

see what‟s happening

It‟s fun. It‟s lots of work to clean up the mess

afterwards – and it‟s hard to assist.

It‟s expensive – the producer hates us.

It can be hard on the nerves – mad artist

and nervous breakdown time as we

creatively leap in and thrash around in the

void – especially with looming deadlines.

The list on straight forward from Animator‟s Survival Kit. (Thomas, Johnston, 1995)

In the list above the first advantage is right away one of the greatest benefits of straight

forward animation. The animator animates frame-by-frame and just moves the previous

one towards what he thinks is needed in the next keeping in mind the overall velocity of

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the motion and action of the character. It builds on top of the last pose and literally

creates fluid and spontaneous action you wouldn‟t have come up with otherwise. No in-

depth preplanning, but just a simple “The character will move from A to B happily” can

be enough and the animator literally has to go with the flow of the motion. Seeing how

the character feels and comes to life is really inspirational for the poses that still have be

drawn and for the moves he‟ll be making, he comes alive. The unconscious mind kicks in

as the character‟s motion tells the animator where it‟ll be going next. This constant

exploration and bonding with the visuals of the character can be comparable with the

bonding as seen with stop motion. Even more, as I was already on the edge of really

believing that it was because of the physical touch, this is somehow convincing me that

the straight forward approach is what makes the bond instead (or at least helps

significantly.) The animator starts to think as if he‟s the character, “What would I be

doing next?”, and, “Where shall I go?” It comes alive as the animator acts it out

chronologically with the pencil. It‟s also a lot simpler on the creative mind than pose-to-

pose. The animator sits down and just thinks: “I‟m here, standing like this,” while I‟m

extremely pissed for example, “and want to get over there.” The animator becomes the

actor by constantly thinking what he‟ll „act out‟ next from where he is now. This

awareness of where the character is now and where he‟s coming from (physically and

mentally) is really important. This is what drives the action.

On the opposite side we have the pose-to-pose method which is more of a planned

out way of approaching things. The animator starts to decide the most important

drawings – the storytelling drawings, the keys – and puts them in. Then he creates the

next most important poses that have to be in the scene, the extremes and any other

important poses. Then he starts working out the transition between the poses, the

breakdown and passing positions. After that it could often easily be send to an assistant

animator with clear charts to cushion and ease in and out the motion with any additional

indications only when required, because the main line and most important poses are

already well laid out.

Advantages Disadvantages

We get clarity. But – and it‟s a big but: we miss the flow.

The point of the scene is nice and clear. The action can be a bit choppy, a bit

unnatural.

It‟s structured, calculated, logical. And if we correct that by adding a lot of

overlapping action to it – it can go easily

the otherway and be rubbery and squishy

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We can get nice drawings and clearly

readable positions.

It‟s in order – the right things happen at

the right time and in the right place in the

overall time allotted.

The director loves us.

It‟s easy to assist.

It‟s a quick way to work and frees us up to

do more scenes.

The producers loves us.

We keep sane, our hair isn‟t standing on

end.

We earn more money as we are seen to be

responsible people and clearly not mad

artists. Producers have to deliver on time and

on budget, so brilliance is not rewarded as

much as reliability. I speak from experience

working both sides of the fence. They don‟t pay

us for „magic‟. They pay us for delivery.

– equally unnatural

It can be too literal – a bit cold-blooded.

No surprises

Where‟s the magic?

The list on pose-to-pose from Animator‟s Survival Kit. (Thomas, Johnston, 1995)

With pose to pose everyone in the teams knows pretty soon what the end resulting poses

will be like and the animator himself has a better focus on timing and positioning. This

makes the director happy and the team happy as they‟ll be able to see what you‟ll finally

produce pretty early on. It can also relieve some stress of the animators mind as he

knows what the character will be doing at those key moments. Creating the key elements

and storytelling poses first will make the animator try to tell everything in that one frame

clearly. If he‟s able to do so he has often made a good pose which he can work from,

likely an exaggerated essence. Because these key elements are extremely important for

the story, one might put some more time into them and really focus on what they tell;

taking the form of the character, believability of the pose and attitude into account. Then

in pose to pose the animator starts adding in the next most important poses, and the

next important poses, again and again until he‟s done all frames in-between. Although

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this can be a reliable way for „inventing‟ the movement from one place to another; it is

often less creative. Choosing where the character is in-between two key poses can seem

easy at first sight. You would guess it‟s somewhere in the middle. But considering the

mind of the character – he might be rushing up to somewhere increasing in speed, or be

happy and dance all over the place between the poses – finding out where‟s he going

from the previous pose while considering attitude and acting forces this can become

extremely difficult to be done creatively. Because the animator leaves empty places for

drawings between the important poses that would only act as inbetweens 6 an assistant

animator could easily take over the drawings in-between, and this is often done so with

the help of a curve or small chart as guide alongside the drawings. This freed up time for

the lead animator making it possible for him to do more work. In this it‟s noticeable that

the key poses and extremes are considered the ones that „make it live and magical‟ and

the inbetweens are for filling the gaps and playing it through. They are generally just less

important. 3D animation software allows for automatic inbetweens. Add to that the ability

of playing through the quickly posed character easily. This combination often develops

the habit to adjust the inbetweens at the early stages, thereby missing the importance of

first tweaking the storytelling key poses. The importance of finding essence, thinking out

the key poses and developing these to carry the story is often missed – especially with

recently starting animators. I‟ve seen this happening quite often, with others, but also

myself. I noticed that if something wasn‟t coming over right straight away that giving the

inbetweens more smoothness and power it would empower the key poses that were

lacking initial quality. Though, over a long time – including time still even in the

beginning of this research – I‟ve never felt the need to focus more on the key poses

solely. A change in workflow – of which working in „stepped‟ (see chapter 3) keying mode

seems a good start – should, if possible, try and help releasing this habit.

In-between the two previous explained methods – straight forward and pose to pose -

is a combination of the two. We‟ll see in the related table below that it‟s designed to have

the benefits from both of the approaches and – according to Richard Williams – have no

disadvantages at all.

Advantages Disadvantages

Working in this way combines the

structured planning of working from pose-

to-pose with the natural free flow of the

None that I know off…

6 Inbetweens are the drawings between the extremes for going from one extreme to the other. One might write

in-between but the word is often written as inbetweens by animators. In this paper inbetween will refer to

these drawings between two extremes whereas in-between will refer to being in the middle and not necessarily

refer to the drawings at all.

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straight ahead approach.

It‟s a balance between planning and

spontaneity.

It‟s a balance between cold bloodedness

and passion.

The list on straight forward and pose-to-pose combination from Animator‟s Survival Kit. (Thomas,

Johnston, 1995)

Combining these is really the best of both worlds and is widely used in bigger

productions. The animator generally starts by planning out the action of key elements in

small thumbnail sketches, finding good convincing poses for the character. If these small

sketches can portray the emotions, he works them out as bigger drawings and makes

them the storytelling drawings, the keys, for use in the animation. Then he adds in all

those others that really have to be there, called the extremes. Up to now it resembles

the pose to pose fashion. Then the animator uses these as guides for things, poses and

places he wants to aim for as he starts doing straight forward animation. But he‟ll do one

thing at a time, taking the most important things first and skipping parts that need follow

through like a tail or hat, but even arms or the head might be skipped. There‟ll be

several runs on the different parts of the character and he may have to change and

revise parts of the drawn keys and extremes as he goes along (making them even

better.) But first he focuses only on the important parts. When that‟s done there‟s a

„primary‟ animation that can be tested and run to check timing, storytelling and so forth.

So he‟s checking whether the general concept is there. Now he‟s done a full straight

ahead run on the primary thing and he should do so for every part ending with the hair,

tail or other flapping bits at the end. After the first pass showing the general key

elements of the shot he can already show the director, supervisor and/or team members

exactly what he‟s aiming for and what he‟ll be creating. He‟ll then work intuitively –

straight forward - to create what he‟s planned out while aiming for those strong key

poses on the right place and right time. Since he knows beforehand what the character

will constantly do next there‟s more information already laid out for him. So when he‟s

straight forward animating his mind is relieved from remembering what he was aiming

for or what timing he should aim for. Adding the planning (thumbnail sketches and the

keys from pose to pose) at the start for general testing of the ideas he has in mind is

extremely useful. This is an extremely useful blueprint for animation, comparable to the

line test stop motion animators use as their blueprint for animating. Blending the

methods like this really makes for the best of both sides and can also easily be – and is

sometimes already – adopted by 3D animators.

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It‟s hard to have a clear distinction between the traditional (analogue) animation

workflow and the digital (paperless) animation workflow as many bigger studios have

switched towards a digital paperless pipeline for most (but not all) parts of the

production. So, because of that I‟ll now be introducing some of the digital productions

and comments on the workflow as an outro for this paragraph and a small intro for the

next. About every traditional animator has switched to the digital environment for one or

more stages in production. Sandro Cluezo, a traditional animation veteran (26 years),

scans his drawings to get them into digital software for pencil tests, inking and painting

(coloring.) His overall workflow stays the same: rough drawing/thumbnails, testing,

cleaning, recording (scanning), ink and paint, etc. If it were fully traditional, ink and paint

would‟ve been done before the recording. Cluezo mentions that he‟s rather traditional,

but as we‟ll see in the next chapter it‟s quite the same as being used nowadays on digital

2D animation as well. But planning and organization stays key in production; with first

the storyboard and character sheets then the layouts and animation start kicking in,

where after the coloring process comes in. When the animator starts animating much is

already set as distinct goal within the storyboard and tests. Often timing is already rather

precise and definitive. This helps the animator with keeping focus as I‟ve already

discussed before.

Through the years Disney also switched to the digital animation world with the

creation of their system called CAPS (Computer Animation Production System, developed

in the late-80s), because of the related benefits the digital workflow has. They started

digitizing their drawings and inking them on the computer as this was easier and cheaper

compared to the traditional way. Later Disney even stopped making 2D animations in

favor of the 3D animation department and sold lots of their 2D equipment already.

Though, with Princess and the Frog (2009) the animators were having trouble with the

digital workflow (with Wacom Cintiqs and Toon Boom Animation‟s Toon Boom Harmony

software) and chose to do it with paper and pencil drawings, like they did in the good ol‟

days. The way the „digital‟ pen of a Wacom cintiq slides is made to mimic the feeling of

drawing on paper, though for some – especially the old and experienced – it just doesn‟t

cut it compared to some good ol‟ pencil and paper they‟ve grown comfortable with. We

can easily see the rustiness of an old comfortably working man who doesn‟t want to

switch „trades‟ and rather goes analogue instead of digital coming in here. Again, he‟s

willing to try, but if the new approach starts taking too much time to feel comfortable

with it‟s hard for anyone to adjust or try believing it will be beneficial at all. Especially

when achieving a certain effects is easier with a more traditional approach there‟s a clear

reason to choose for one over the other.

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From the following citation we can get more about this reboot of Disney‟s 2D

apartment for their animated feature Princess and the Frog.

Once they received the green light, the directors began looking for animators who

could draw 2D performances. “Because hand-drawn animation was gone, it was

almost like building the studio again,” Clements says. “Some of the 2D artists had

become 3D stars, but many had left. Yet, just about everybody who did draw

wanted to come back. We put together an all-star team of animators.”

In addition to current and former Disney animators, the production crew, which

topped 300 at its peak, included recent graduates from the California Institute of

the Arts. “They had studied hand-drawn animation without knowing if they‟d have

a place to apply their learning, and they blossomed into real talent,” Musker says.

Clements adds, “With this type of animation, you have to work with a mentor to

learn how to do it and get proficient. It‟s a craft and an art that requires a lot of

dedication. But, there‟s an intuitive connection about drawing, from the brain to

the hand to paper, that people miss with computer animation. With just the flip of

a pencil, you can change an expression. That casual interaction is much tougher

with 3D.” (Robertson, Barbara. 2011, http://www.cgw.com/)

In this elaborate paragraph I mentioned many different parts of the workflow.

Summarizing, it all comes down to the following key points for workflow:

- Make it easy. Try focusing on one thing at a time and make everything seem clear

at first eyesight. Amplify those key numbers that are more important (key poses

and extremes for example.)

- Don‟t be ambiguous. Don‟t try doing different things at the same time while you

are in need of focus.

- Planning is very important. You can‟t just wing it.

- Clear guidelines. Having a character sheet and/or working in the pose-to-pose (or

mixed) method gives the ability to constantly continue working with guidelines

and creating guidelines for what to do next. The same accounts for acquiring

reference footage, it can be very beneficial, but should not interfere constantly

with the act of animating, but should rather be a step before the actual animating,

thus the planning. It also helps with the review process with the director or

animation supervisor, as they can see where you‟ll be going. The supervision

combined with a clearer guideline on a regular basis sets a good start for checking

constant progress and knowing whether you‟re coming closer to the goal, again

such direct feedback and a clear goal are very important to work intuitively,

creatively and most importantly in a creative flow.

- No distractions. Focus on what is important – the play‟s the thing – instead of

being distracted by thinking about it in a technical way or a song that‟s playing in

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the background. Any distraction at all for that matter should be diminished or

hidden away from the animator‟s senses. Again, remember that animation is

concentration.

- Notations and reminders should be present, but not omnipresent. They should

only be noticed by and reminded to the animator once he‟s taking the full focus

off of the act of animating. This comes forth from no distractions, but builds on

top of it that sometimes more information can help, once there is a special-built

release hatch for it somewhere, obviously releasing it to the animator once he‟s

not in full focus or creative flow.

- Finding essence. It‟s a must for any animator to come to the essence of what he‟s

trying to do and tell to the audience. The „if he‟s sad, make him sadder‟-principle

is a good example for the need of essence. We can only exaggerate what we want

to tell once we really now the essence of what we want to tell. For this it‟s

important to have a division between the thinking, preplanning and the actual act

of animating.

- Layering. For the animators it‟s extremely beneficial to animate the characters in

layered parts. First a sort of bodily mass/skeleton is sketched out for the duration

of the animation. Then (if not drawn already) the animators works on that doing

the arms, legs and head taking into account the follow-through, overlap and

overall forces. After that comes the pass for clothes, drapery parts, tails or long

hair, each one after the other. Focusing on one part at a time.

- Changing to another workflow that has its own obvious downsides can be hard for

animators that are already accustomed and comfortable with their old workflow,

especially if they can‟t see or feel the benefit of the new workflow themselves.

Any toolset created must provide obvious benefits and closely resemble the

already accustomed workflow making switching tools easier. (Keeping both ways

of working as an option without any „reminding how the other works‟-hassle can

be very useful.)

- Experiment. Always try to innovate and think outside the box. Be critical on your

own work, discuss and collaborate with things and progress with the new

knowledge. (For example. If you try something, find something new in it. Make

notes for what you‟ve learned for at least until you can remember it by heart or

even instinct.)

- Animating is teamwork. If you want to get somewhere, want to improve what

you‟re working on and get the best out of the animation and yourself it all comes

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down to good planning, discussions and similar goals. Thus teamwork is of high

importance; everyone should be on the same line constantly.

2.3 The 2D digital style. (After effects, flash, TVpaint)

The digital workflow can look much like the more traditional 2D animation field but with

the logically added undo option (CTRL+Z, anyone?) and the option of having an

automated in-between here and there. But, in reality there‟s much more to it. The same

accounts for the style, it can look a lot like traditional animation, but often can (easier)

provide a more slick and clean feel to it or can even look totally different. It should be

noted that there‟s a lot you can do with a computer and 2D animation combination.

There‟s the more traditional approach, cut-out, scripted/programming, particles with

sprites and so forth. I‟ll not explain every type and will not discuss every one of them by

itself, but I‟ll show the basis of digital animation (only of the kind where the animator

actually poses the character himself instead of (fully) scripted or simulated animations)

and its workflow and results. Consider this to be a continuation of the previous described

workflow with its own adaptation and changes as it has many similarities to begin with.

The incredibly effective Wacom

Cintiq 21UX interactive pen display

is helping “paperless” animation

become a reality.

All Cintiq 21UZ images courtesy of

Wacom.

Toonboom mentions that there are several methods for

creating digital animation, but two that remain widely

used are:

- Frame-by-frame paperless animation

- and cut-out paperless animation.

(Toonboom, 2011a, toonboom.com)

Let‟s start and elaborate on the first one.

The workflow of an animator that does frame-by-frame drawing without automatic in-

betweening is very similar to the analogue traditional 2D workflow. Though, he will not

have to „flip through pages‟ to check out his animation, but can quickly play back and

forth his animation test (this also accounts for paperless cut-out versus paper cut-out).

There‟s much cost and time efficiency in this, as there‟s no scanning time and paper

costs involved for a good timing or motion test. (Toonboom, 2011b, toonboom.com)

He‟ll also be able to choose between a pose-to-pose approach as well as straight forward

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or the mixed approach as described with traditional animation. Though it‟s made simpler

to just quickly sketch out motion on a layer, put that on 50% opacity and then draw the

characters clean over it as you would only have to „add a layer‟. This added easiness in

testing ideas can really help with defining the strongest poses for the action.

Verne on Vacation (2009) – Cartoon NetworkTurner Entertainment Networks International Limited

The tools digital animators use as replacements for pen and paper are also closely

based on the traditional tools. These are often either a Wacom Intuos paired with a

screen (and computer) or a Wacom Cintiq (attached to a computer.) With the Intuos the

user looks at the screen, but draws with his hand on the Intuos as opposed to the Cintiq

where the user looks at the Cintiq and draws on there too. Though, both have downsides.

With an Intuos you‟ll have to learn and adapt to not looking at where you‟re actually

drawing which, for me, gets better over time but never feels as natural as drawing on

paper. On the other side the Cintiq creates a workflow without this hassle, though as

your hand is over the character while drawing (just like with paper) the constant clear

sight – that Wacom Intuos users learn to love – seems missing. But for the most natural

feeling the Cintiq wins as we‟ve learned by instinct to look where we are drawing.

The natural feel of the pen on the drawing surface of the Cintiq is quite amazing,

and the ability to rotate the entire tablet much like an old school animation disc is

also a huge asset. (Gilland, 2006)

The tools for artists are being designed by standards of the traditional tools and the

Cintiq comes quite far with mimicking drawing on paper. As artists have grown

comfortable – almost instinctively – they are able to adapt to drawing on the Cintiq in

most cases. Junaid Chundrigar, a dutch freelance animator, switched from using a Intuos

to Cintiq about a year ago and says he‟s able to work a lot faster and that the only

downside is that he can‟t just take it anywhere (bigger screen size than a laptop). A

customized toolset in 3D software will not have such a problem. It is just a customization

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inside software or the addition on software, and can be done with very small files that

have to be installed or set-up. Often so small it can easily be taken along on a small

webserver, attachment in an e-mail, USB stick or even your phone.

Working digitally in general though didn‟t stop him and others (among them are Niels

Beekes and Tiffany Ford) from using other things on the physical desk space. Junaid

always keeps his character sheets close to check if he‟s still on model and Tiffany

mentioned using post-its almost everywhere for reminders and small comments. Again

we can see that the analogue workspace - the space that the animator will only „connect‟

with once he stops focusing on-screen – is often used for checklists, remembering ideas,

reference for character sheets and small thumbnail sketches of poses. The same

accounts for cut-out animators, the task of planning and notations is just as much

needed for them.

In the digital environment there‟s no more need for the extensive bulk of pages of

drawings and corresponding x-sheets as the sequence of drawings for a shot are bundled

in one file. Some organization is thus already done by the software itself, but file

management and a good pipeline are still very important. A checklist on what to do and

to check when something is completed is still very useful as we‟ll see when discussing

Niels Beekes‟ workflow. Especially if you need to focus on the motion and really live the

character it is important to not be disturbed by anything else.

You suffer quite literally cognitive overload. You‟re overloading your memory and

when that happens you‟re never paying close attention to anything. You‟re never

focusing on one thing for an extended period of time. (Carr, fora.tv)

By creating a good strict planning, like a to-do list or checklist you can reduce the

amount of things you need to remember. This leaves more room in the mind for creative

thoughts and focus on the animating. Niels Beekes, owner of Aniforce – specialized in

flash-style animations, deserves a honorable mention for funniest workflow for staying

motivated to work hard and to achieve the best you can every time. He rewards himself

points for each task he assigns himself and finishes satisfactory. He keeps track of the

amount of points he has, how many he gets a week and his current high-score. Ever

since he‟s introduced it to himself he‟s been trying weekly to reach a new high-score or

to get just those extra points at the end of the week. But besides this geeky game-like

rewarding system he uses to keep himself focused and having fun at the same time he

has been dealing with working as efficiently as possible. He mentioned the data

wrangling involved with a project and he hinted at using a Google Docs Excel sheet, an

online hosted document for maintaining data. For him, going through a project closely

resembles writing a book. Books have chapters, paragraphs, words and letters. You start

by looking what you want to write in general (the subject) and choose the chapters that

fit accordingly. Later on you expand this with subchapters and the paragraphs;

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customizing and tweaking the whole book overall while you go along. Divide everything

from preproduction, production and post-production down to their chunks as small as

possible, the essence of the creation. The chunks make it easy to divide the time you

have for the project and choose how much time you need for every part of the

production. His setup is said to work great in team projects, as it‟s easier to specify what

everyone is working on. Besides, for Niels it is rewarding to check parts as finished as he

assigns himself points. What we learn from Niels, as he is owner of a single-man studio

he often focuses on everything in the production, is the importance of creating

manageable small tasks (as chunks) and the need for checking them off when finished.

He stays fully focused on the task at hand, because he knows he is done with previous

chunks and doesn‟t have to worry about the coming chunk because he knows he‟ll have

enough time. This is because he listed and checked it all in the checklist and assigned the

available time accordingly. Besides, the checklist is an extremely goal-oriented approach

and the – kind of geeky though efficient – leveling system makes him raise the bar for

himself every day. This constant challenge for reaching his clearly set goals with the best

possible use of his skills makes it so that he always knows where he‟s going, what he‟ll

have to do and how he‟s going to do it. This system seems to be built for flow. The

criteria are met and the process is there.

The cut-out style (which could also be done analogue and sometimes still is) is not

based of a new drawing every frame. The benefit of this is that characters can carry very

rich graphical treatments like texture, decoration, etching effects and shading. Often the

mood and texture in a cut-out animation is what makes it so magical and is exactly what

fans adore of it. (http://minyos.its.rmit.edu.au/aim/a_notes/01_cutouts_project.html,

June, 2011) In 3D animation textures are created once for each model (before

animating) making detailed textures become part of the character without any added

complexity, time or cost overhead whilst animating.

An example of the richness in texture within cut-out animation. This is done traditionally.

Yuri Norstein – Hedgehog in the fog (1975)

Even more, cut-out animation can even be created in 3D animation software and by

artistic choices doesn‟t necessarily need the richness in texture, an example of this is

South Park (1997, Comedy Central). They tried to mimic original paper crafted animation

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and worked on doubles in stepped mode. Furthermore, because they use digital 3D

animation software and the animation is done in a simple 2D fashion it is often easily

transferrable from one episode to the other, increasing speed. (Stough, 2002)

South Park is an animated tv series that is created in 3D animation software.

South Park © Comedy Central.

Animating the cut out way is based on changes of „cut-out‟ pieces of character on a

frame by frame basis in (often) 2 axes, X and Y. The parts are repositioned, rotated to

show movement and replaced with another cut-out piece for significant silhouette

changes. The 2 axes design of movement makes it easier to keep track of arcs and

motion on screen and makes it easier for the animator to work with this. It‟s not to say

it‟s simple, but its simpler design positively affects the mind stress of the animator.

There‟s less going on. Though, things are getting far more complex when trying to

achieve a 3D effect in this 2D space, for example a character running towards the screen.

Especially with the traditional (analogue) cut out making this was rather complex (there‟s

no easy way to resize your piece of paper), although digital paperless cut-out animation

also suffers from a little complexity with this. It comes down to perceiving such depth in

animation through scale. As additional axes and variables are being introduced the

technicalities involved can easily sky-rocket. By design 3D Computer Animation is far

more complex than this and you can probably see where I‟m going with this. Complexity

takes time, thus logically costs money, but also influences the involvement with the

actual art. It involves the animator with technical stuff. You wouldn‟t want to draw with

some high-tech pen built by aliens if you would have to deal with all kinds of forces

acting on the pen or strange buttons you‟d need to press and things to keep in mind

while using it, it would only distract you from what you‟re trying to do. Which is

animating! Again I‟m already summarizing: Keep it simple!

Cut out animation feels less stretchy, bendy and has less of a fluid flesh-like behavior

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as the character parts don‟t actually deform frame by frame, but are rotated and

repositioned per part instead. It is actually comparable with the style of stop motion.

Analogue cut out animation could even be considered stop motion as inanimate paper

comes to live by frame-by-frame repositioning in physical space appearing to move on its

own. By mentioning this we can really see the significant difference working digitally can

have on the workflow. The animator can easily change already animated motion, work

pose-to-pose and have easy controls for copying motion. It‟s often because this increase

in speed, decrease in material costs and direct feedback why many studios have switched

to a digital environment through the years.

In this paragraph many similarities with the already discussed workflows were found,

but it gave more insight in some and also provided insight in other. To summarize here‟s

a list of new important information gained:

- 2D thinking is easier than 3D thinking. The extra axis makes for a hard time

planning out stuff on screen or creating the poses. First focus on what character

with what personality is doing what at what moment, then extract the concept of

its motion to key poses in screen space (XY axes) first. Adding the extra axes or

thought on depth later on might create extra overhead, but the beneficial increase

intuitivity at first when working on the 2 axes system, 2D, is worth this extra time

and involvement.

- The time or difficulty involved with a style or choice affects the choice itself. We

see more rich textures in cut out animation, because the complexity and overhead

is much less. Though, even then style choices can overrule (like with South Park)

those things that are simpler in this animation field as opposed to others. We see

that we rather go for things that are simple and quick, so tests and sketches

should come over easy to create besides just being good and strong poses. We

avoid complexity by nature but should create simplicity instead. This allows us

more freely to choose and create whatever resulting style we want.

- Altough extensive data management is less necessary it seems to be just as

important. It is less prominent and thus you might be less pushed towards staying

organized and doing the management it may be even more important to be

remembered to doing it correctly; it should be clean and simple throughout the

whole production.

- Feeling rewarded for tasks helps motivating, raises the bar, but also helps

knowing/feeling that you‟re achieving the task and reaching your goals. A feeling

of rapture can thus be amplified or the state of flow can be held in even better

ways as the animator clearly knows he‟s reaching the goals he set and this

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knowing of progress shows off as immediate feedback. Both important for the

state of flow.

- Important reminders are sometimes (not always) still placed and used in the

physical space out of the animator‟s screen space and should still not be

omnipresent. Informational data (like reminders) should not constantly interfere

with the task at hand but only present itself on user-defined moments. The user

should choose to switch instead of being forced to read or remind the data like

I‟ve already discussed in earlier paragraphs.

- Speed, cost, simplicity and clarity of feedback can be important reasons for

switching to a new workflow or adjust the workflow to work better with the

animator‟s and the pipeline‟s needs. A good example is the switch many studios

have made from traditional to the digital environment, which often had a

prominent positive effect on all of these.

2.4 Capturing a life performance. (Motion capture, rotoscoping)

Motion Capture is recording information of an object‟s position and orientation to a

computer-usable form by measuring its position and orientation in physical space. (Dyer,

Martin, Zulauf, 1995) The capturing of a human performance can be done in multiple

ways, with optical, magnetic or other technology depending on the job. (Motek

Entertainment. 2011) Capturing can also be done with inanimate objects like The Monkey

designed by Digital Image Design which was a desktop input device created as a 24” tall

biped armature. Though we will discuss The Monkey shortly it will not be one of the main

focuses of this paragraph. Real-life motion capture, also called the devils‟ rotoscope by

traditional animators, gives the finesse of human movement and the reality of real world

physics. It is often used in computer games, digital doubles and kinesiology 7 because of

this. Motion capture has also been used in a Dutch animated TV series called Café de

Wereld and used in the series called Sprookjesboom created for the Efteling – a Dutch

amusement park. They chose to use Motion Capture because of the speed and quality to

price ratio. The quality of animation is relatively high (life-like) for a relatively low

amount of time investment. Relative to most other types of animation it‟s rather cost-

effective, especially if you already own the hardware needed for recording.

7 Kinesiology, also known as human kinetics is the scientific study of human movement.

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As with traditional animation and many other arts, mocap 8 [sic] is actually

composed of a number of phases. Dancer Lisa Marie Naugle, an Assistant

Professor at University of California, Irvine, identifies them as follows:

o studio set-up (she typically uses 8 cameras, with up to 24 for multiple

capture)

o calibration of capture area (she uses a cube and wand to prepare cameras

for capturing data)

o capture of movement (which of course includes the actual performance)

o clean-up of data

o post-processing of data (it can appear as two-dimensional or threedimensional

objects)

(Furniss, 1999)

Left: A shot from Sprookjesboom. Right: A shot from Café de Wereld.

The same process is still being used today, but motion capture has improved a lot since it

once started. There‟s often still some noise or missing data and the need for a clean-up

round afterwards. At Motek Entertainment, Holland‟s biggest motion capture studio, they

automated most of the cleanup process reducing even more noise easily making it

possible to produce many clean animated data in short periods of time. Besides that,

they make use of custom scripts to support real-time character control (WYSIWYG

anyone?), facial puppeteering, lip-sync and camera switching scripts to increase the

speed and efficiency of their pipeline.

Hans Walther, director of Café de Wereld and Sprookjesboom, had Motek

Entertainment develop a specialized comment system called ShotTracker for directing the

pipeline. The system is built to streamline the supervision of the artists working on the

production. ShotTracker works around a database containing all episodes, scenes and

shots wherein items are added with a small description, current status data, additional

comments and difficulty of the shot. The user can simply and quickly adjust any of the

mentioned data and has the possibility to assign the task to a certain person or team

specifically. The main purpose of the system is keeping track of the progress and data as

8 Mocap is an abbreviation of Motion Capture.

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well as keeping order in the overall pipeline. This is made simple by a color coded system

(for each part of the partline and progress) and the possibility to filter and order the

database to your own needs. There are other commercial systems providing such

assistance out there (Shotgun for example), but they chose for a proprietary custom

made one because the others were lacking simplicity. Simplicity increases the speed and

intuitivity of the usage and seems to be of the essence. And this is exactly what they‟ve

reached with this system. Though Shotgun is, of course, also developed to provide speed

and intuitivity but the amount of features in the program made it especially hard to

introduce it towards less technical people at Motek Entertainment. The creation of their

own tool was designed to introduce the simplicity and primarily focus on the functions

that were requested by these people and were needed in the production.

A small screenshot of Motek Entertainments proprietary software ShotTracker for increasing speed and

efficiency with controlling and supervising the production.

The projects directed by Hans Walther are not all projects done by Motek Entertainment.

Jasper Brekelmans, their technical guy, explains how different projects fit differently in

their pipeline. He mentions projects coming in with a full previz 9 and storyboard, where

others just have a basic script. Some projects need real-time previsualization and others

need it sparingly. Some use only the Motionbuilder pipeline and others add in Maya with

simulation and effects. The projects they do at Motek Entertainment can differ from

taking on the full pipeline or delivering just a part of it for a bigger production. This

needs them to be flexible. Jasper says it often consists of separate building blocks, for

9 Previz is short for previsualization and both are jargon in the 3D animation business for „an attempt at

visualizing the scene before the actual production begins.‟

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example you could divide the pipeline into previz, mocap, Maya, effects, rendering,

compositing and delivery. Some projects would require more blocks and others could

even use only one or two; it all depends on the clients‟ needs. But all these tasks are

clearly separated and tracked in the ShotTracker and even assigned to different

individuals as well. There‟s much to say for a separate director and a production assistant

that could take care of this type of progress checking, reports and data management. But

even with a director the tool is a useful collaborative environment for team members to

check the overall progress, what they need to do and how to do it. The overall

management overhead is much less. With Mac „n‟ Cheese I often kept little excel sheets

updated with notes for each team partner about what to fix next and it was necessary

and helped, albeit on a low level. A smoother management tool as described would‟ve

really changed the Mac „n‟ Cheese management for the better. This really is a must for

production – especially for the size of productions like Mac „n‟ Cheese - and will therefore

thoroughly be discussed when talking about concepts for improving the efficiency,

intuitivity and the holding of a creative flow.

Above: Excerpt from Mars needs Moms. A motion captured feature film released on March 11, 2011 by Walt

Disney Pictures

It‟s worth mentioning that the resulting motion with motion capture is really distinct from

other animation fields, there‟s a lot of subtle movement and twitches in the movement

which are hard to achieve within the others. Some subtle motions come from faulty

capturing and cleaning up, but most is just because human beings make a lot of subtle

movements. Though, when discussing the Disney development I argued, on basis of

Richard Williams statement, that rotoscoped animation that was supposedly to look

lifelike always felt off. The same is the case with straight Motion Capture.

[…]the Disney guys found the rotoscope stuff to be lacking a lot of the vitality,

energy, and "life" of their regular work. That's actually something that many

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companies have also discovered about straight mocap. Same principle, different

medium. (Kelly in Freeman, 2011a, shaunfreeman.com)

Also, Masahiro Mori, a Japanese researcher, introduced the hypotheses for something

that was called the uncanny valley effect. It states that the audience‟s empathy will

increase as an anthropomorphic entity becomes more humanlike but will decrease

significantly when the entity becomes close to human, effectively becoming creepy. This

sharp decline in empathy was strong in pictures, but is magnified three-fold in

movement, thus affecting animation even more.

Adapted from Mashiro Mori and Karl MacDorman. The image depicts the empathy of the audience on basis of

the human likeness of the entity in still and moving images. (Autodesk Whitepaper – The New Art of Virtual

Moviemaking, 2009, autodesk.com, p. 9)

“Neuroscientists have used fMRI scans to observe the human brain‟s response to various

types of computer-animated characters confirming both the effect and its correlation to

increasing anthropomorphism…” (Autodesk Whitepaper – The New Art of Virtual

Moviemaking, 2009, autodesk.com, p. 9) Motion Capture nowadays offers more finesse

where a „floaty‟ result often becomes less of a problem than with original 2D rotoscopy.

Even more, as likeliness is possible to increase even more as technology advances; the

creepy effect could be overcome. The current detail in motion already seems to fill

(most) gaps of believability. But still it has its own distinct style and for now – also

because of the rendering techniques – still isn‟t real. For me, this isn‟t really a problem as

its just one wonderful new medium that delivers amazing aesthetics that has a

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ecognizable style on its own, but for others it‟s still the devils‟ rotoscope and has its own

distance from the audience in effect.

With the coming of the Kinect for Xbox 360 we are being introduced to new ways of

gaming, but also consumer priced technology capable of motion capture that is now

already widely used inside consumer‟s houses (for gaming.) This shift from expensive

hardware to a relatively low-cost electronical peripheral for a gaming console makes for

interesting new opportunities. There are many communities that are already „hacking‟ the

hardware for use on a PC to record motion data at home. Even more, Microsoft already

released the SDK for Windows recognizing the Kinect‟s uses for PCs. The coming of

cheaper hardware that can register human movements doesn‟t mean Motion Capture

studios soon will become redundant. As quality of the resulting data from such cheaper

hardware is often inaccurate and can‟t compare to data coming from professional motion

capture equipment and one that has set up a pipeline for it through the years, like Motek

Entertainment. Though, it could be used by animators as three dimensional references

for animation instead of just recording themselves with a webcam. This data could be

imported into the 3D software and can introduce new ways of analyzing and using

references for animators. Using it as quick reference to build from can increase the

animators speed for finding the essence, though he should still be aware not to only

rotoscope on top of the reference, but exaggerate the essence of what should be

progressing the story – as discussed with traditional animation rotoscoped animation will

appear to be off. Or it could simply be used for an animatic as previz of the characters‟

motion and can help with figuring out the timing in a scene. Among one of the technical

advancements with the Kinect is Jasper Brekelmans‟ technique to introduce real-time

streaming into software like Motion Builder and thus it can easily be used to capture this

data to 3D software already. (Brekelmans, Jasper. 2011) Overall, the development is

rather new but can help animators gain more insight into human motion, timing and

introduce new workflows in an overall production with benefits in the area of previz and

reference footage as we‟ll see next in the discussion of the mid-range priced Xsens

system.

As said, for the better results a rather high price ticket still is to be paid for hardware.

Another downside of the optical system (which is most often used) is its mobility. The

setup needs many pricy cameras (around 12 for good results) and good lighting

conditions (no interference). A new innovation from Dutch grounds which solves most of

this is the development by Xsens towards – what they call – a wireless inertial motion

capture system. (http://xsens.com, June, 2011) Instead of optical sensors it works on

MEMS inertial sensors, which are often used in the airbags of the cars nowadays. Since

MEMS are in mass-production, thanks to the use in airbags, price has gone down and the

system is becoming relatively affordable. (Bartelson, 2009) Xsens customers include ILM,

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Sony, Blizzard, NASA and many more big parties. (http://xsens.com, June, 2011) The

overall system is relatively clean, has no issues with occlusion (from cameras), extremely

mobile, low cost and quickly to use. This has made it extremely useful for testing and

visualizing concepts of a director or drawn storyboard.

“Through the Virtual Moviemaking process we are able to optimize the entire film,

to make it more creative, and to insure that more of the budget ends up on

screen. That‟s where all the technology – all the hardware and software – comes

into play: to make sure that the vision of the director is preserved throughout the

entire process.” (Chris Edwards, CEO The Third Floor – Previs Studio)

At The Third Floor, a studio specialized in providing previsualizations, their pipeline is

becoming extremely fast and intuitive with the use of this system.

“Using the latest 3D software, gaming and motion capture technology, they can

explore, define, plan and communicate their creative ideas in new, more intuitive,

visual ways helping them reduce risk, eliminate confusion and address production

unknowns much earlier in the filmmaking process.” (Autodesk Whitepaper – The

New Art of Virtual Moviemaking, 2009, autodesk.com, p. 1)

Having such a quick way to test out a shot can provide an significant change in the stage

of preplanning. Different acting choices can quickly be acted out by the animator and can

even be observed instantly on top of the character. This results in a quick and simple,

but very effective way of testing out ideas. As the technology is relatively cheap it‟s still

too expensive for a student production like Mac „n‟ Cheese, though it would‟ve helped

especially at the stage of storyboarding for previewing the story and testing out camera

positions or actions for cinematographic purposes as well. But on the other side, I feel

that the way Mac „n‟ Cheese was produced and progressed at that stage helped with the

overall style of cinematography, chosen animation style and constantly educated us

towards better cinematographic insight in its own way.

In the past there‟s also been development towards using motion capture as a system

to create animation instead of „recording motion as animation‟. As said, Digital Image

Design tried to mimic the stop motion type of control allowing the touch of a physical

object to control a character. They did this with the development of The Monkey, an

inanimate physical „puppet‟ that could be used to control the virtual character in 3D

software which would be a familiar interface for stop-motion animators. (Bradford Paley,

W.; Esposito, Chris; Ong, JueyChong. 1995) Though, they never got quite that same

touch as touching the actual real puppet just because this WYSIWYG feeling (of stop

motion) was lacking in the virtual scene. Also there‟s the difference of working

somewhere and seeing the actual results elsewhere (like the difference between Wacom

Intuos and Wacom Cintiq described earlier.) I already described that these effects make

for a less intuitive and efficient workflow as we‟re feeling less comfortable with it by

instinct. Besides, quality, durability and maintenance issues were at that stage a big

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issue. “While early production models have had quality, durability, and maintenance

issues associated with them, these issues continue to be addressed in production

models.” (Dyer, Martin, Zulauf, 1995) And it seems that the production issues never

were really fixed and never got The Monkey to hit the big market as it‟s – as far as I

know – not for sale anywhere anymore. Though priced at $10.000 US back in 1995 it

was at that date the most affordable input device for motion capture although it is

incapable of capturing actual human motion as opposed to the others that were.

As motion capture is becoming cheaper and is gaining quality and speed in a high

rate interfaces for any computer software might change in the near future allowing the

full body to control software on a computer, this could also introduce a new way of using

3D animation software. A couple of things that could easily pop up into the mind is the

ability to puppeteer the character (like a real puppeteer does) or grabbing a part of the

character and moving it as if you‟re moving around a life-size puppet. Though as such

technology is still in rather early development it can take even more time before we start

using this comfortably and let it adjust the way we work, if we let it at all.

Overall Motion Capture seems to be a quick way to capture lifelike performances and

actually comes to down to acting as there‟s not really an animator, but a man in a suit

really acting out the movements.

In synthetic animation, the animation end-user controls the path and attributes of

scene elements explicitly (usually through keyframes or motion paths) or by

numerical simulation techniques. Motion capture-based animation uses recorded

motion to augment the synthetic animation process by providing baseline

information for object paths, event timing, or attribute control.

(Dyer, Martin, Zulauf, 1995)

Though as mentioned there‟s a round of clean-up and fixes afterwards possibly to be

done by an animator. Motion capture is not meant for those noise and faults in capturing,

but really focused on capturing the full life-like performance. As technology will progress

the cleanup round will be of much less importance and the overall finesse will become of

higher quality, thus can possibly start differing from synthetic animation even more.

Once again the elaborate discussion, now of the Motion Capture pipeline and its ins

and outs, has given broad pipeline guidance and workflow information from many

productions and summarized comes down to the following points:

- The faster the preview of a close to final result can be achieved the more intuitive

and involved the director feels. As the director‟s position as described in this

chapter was mainly supervision we can state that supervising animation is easier,

intuitive and more creative when speed in testing out and previewing is increased.

As the animator is supervisor of a character an increased speed in involvement

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and interaction with the character will introduce the effect of increased and more

stable creativity and intuitivity.

- The management and data wrangling overhead in small production is often

assigned to members of the team that might be involved with many other tasks

and could easily be the animator as well as many other things. Having a good,

easy to use and fast system that provides assistance and even improves

supervision on any or all progression of the movie production can release much

stress from the animators mind creating more focus and save time. Even more,

the system can easily provide easier and better supervision for all of the

production‟s team members and their tasks at hand. For animators, this accounts

for better supervision for the shots they work on and results in a much clearer

goal and vision for the current shot they are working on.

- Simplicity is key. Adding features that might be used once in the million times

should be checked on effectiveness and question whether it‟s really useful once

it‟s only used in those rare occasions. Adding-features-mania 10 is one of the top

things that should be avoided and all features in the concepts should be created

with simplicity in mind. Therefore, tools should always be introduced and designed

in such a way that the user should know what to do and where to do it.

- The coming of technology that introduced easier and more importantly cheaper

creation of quick 3D data as reference or previsualization showed us that the

speed and ease of testing increased the creativity and intuitivity of finding ideas.

This showed the importance of quick tests and previews (for trying ideas) as it

aided in finding more and better ideas in these productions. Depending on the

style of the movie it is debatable whether 3D tests or 2D tests are more

productively interesting. Nevertheless speed increase in general and testing

closely within the production environment (software) are key points towards this

speed and ease of testing.

2.5 Concluding the productivity workflow.

Through this chapter I‟ve extracted important aspects of an animation workflow from

many different fields of animation. I‟ll now list and discuss the most important once that

were found and discussed throughout.

10 Adding-features-mania is the trend in software development that newly added features are hyped and

introduced just so they have new features to present and sell the newer version of the product even though the

functions are useless or rarely used. In effect the software gets cluttered with controls, inefficient in speed and

extremely difficult to use.

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There‟s a need for a strict goal as discussed when talking about flow. Animators

achieve this with strict planning and good reference. In the process the first step is a

storyboard or line test to work as clear guide for the animators. The next step is to be

inspired and guided by this when sketching ideas and trying out ideas in a fast method.

This is especially important for finding the essence of the character, which was

mentioned to be very important as well. In short, there‟s a need for quick testing and

sketching wherein the basis should be acquired of the emotion and storytelling, namely

the essence. A simple and fast testing environment seems to be needed.

Another important aspect is reminders and notations. We‟ve learned that animation is

a world of daily improvements. We learn something almost every day. It‟s hard to

constantly remember everything we‟ve learned recently and apply to our workflow the

whole time. We‟ll get distracted by technicalities or „how should I do that‟ instead of

focusing on flow and movement. Therefore distractions should be limited as much as

possible and a seperated space for notations and such reminders is very important. A

space where animators could share such notations (as if it would hang somewhere in the

room for everyone to see, but especially focused towards a single animator) and focus

accordingly could be provided digitally. Such digital notations would work especially well

with projects where all team members can‟t work together at the same place, because of

living in different countries for example. The internet makes it easy to share reminders

and lists comfortably as well as a system for reviewing animation with the team could

work extraordinary well too. Though, keep in mind that it should not pop up in front of

the animator and constantly disturb him from his flow of animating. But more get

presented to him at the occasions he would ask or look for it possibly, so when he

chooses to do so.

This kind of „team sharing‟ that I‟ve briefly touched here is really part of the greater

phenomena that animation is teamwork. Brainstorm sessions, animation reviewing

sessions, sharing inspirational ideas or comments are often part of production. And that

is for a reason. Especially in smaller studios where there might be one or two animators

it can be helpful to blur the division between them and the others (modelers for example)

by creating a reviewing system for the whole team, or especially the director, to easily

approve or disapprove any animation with the guidance of notes and comments. Even

more, guidance towards animators with clear notes or approval from the team members

makes it simpler to all be on the same line as you‟ll know what everyone wants. The

goals become much clearer, the bar gets raised in quality (because of constant feedback)

and by knowing where to go the feedback is more appropriate and immediate. Even

more, being in line with each other leaves less room for being ambiguous. Regular and

clear feedback that is written down can be easily referred to and discussed in that same

regularity making sure that everyone knows what is meant with the statements. The

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same accounts for planning the shot. If we start planning with simply key poses (instead

of working straight forward) the director, supervisor and/or other team members will

know what you‟ll be creating early on, before you‟ve invested too much time on it. This

makes it easier „to kill your darlings‟ and improve the animation towards a higher level.

Animation is collaboration.

The focus we‟re able to creatively use seems very limited; therefore animators often

work in a layered system. They focus only on the most important parts first and think

about arms, hands and all the other parts after that. This process of separating the

character in parts and focusing on one of them at a time gives us the ability to really

track the arcs of that movement and apply to it the momentum and physics with

perceivable realism. In 3D it‟s sometimes hard to focus on a part as cluttered controls

can make you lose sight on just a part. Quickly hiding any irrelevant parts of the body

could help focusing on just a single part of the character. Complexity makes it hard.

Again this looks like something that would work especially well when working straight

forward. We‟ve also seen how pose-to-pose and straight forward differ in the creation

process, but also in final delivery.

When discussing straight forward, pose to pose and the combination of these two we

found that by combining the strongest points of both we could work in the best

productive way possible. First we need the essence, the idea and concept for the shot.

The animator does this with key poses and the most important extremes. The next step

is to do a straight forward pass, frame-by-frame thinking what will come next in effect of

motion, physics and character‟s choices. It seems to be a very intuitive and creative way

to „live‟ the character. It feels most „direct‟ to the character and comes close to the

feeling of bonding with the character as described with stop motion and its puppets. It‟s

important to think about tools and concepts that could initiate working this way easier in

3D software and can provide such consistency in the workflow. Animating in 3D software

makes it easy to work with the automatic in-betweens where the next pose will

automatically „be like the previous.‟ This makes it hard to just let go of the previous

moment and think about what pose would be strongest on a certain point, because

you‟re thinking about how to get there, if that‟s realistic and possible while keeping in

mind physics, personality and emotion. If you do keep all those things in mind it can

influence any creative thinking and also the ability of creating that pose that tells the

story best and exaggerates the essence clearly. Again, it is really important to plan

creatively first and start thinking about how to get there later. Thus, first limit yourself to

what to tell and how you‟ll tell it and then start thinking about how you do this from the

one time, place and pose to the other. Even more, coming to the point where you know

what you‟re up to and what has to be done can end up in simplicity; sounds like a to-do

list or check-list.

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Simplicity is what animators seem to need or where they focus on at the beginning.

Staying simple is among one of their initial goals. If you start with an unorganized hard-

to-use system at the beginning it will be even worse at the end. Starting simple and

organized is one of the main principles for having focus – for example the explained

layering also brings simplicity. We‟ve seen this with the x-sheet. Logging or managing

shots in not the easiest way possible easily ends up in extreme difficulty working with the

data. Especially with computers removing the hassle it can become simpler and

automated, but it‟s also easier to get forgotten. A system that saves to the right place,

with right names and exports accordingly to the pipeline without any folder clicking (or

even searching) and file renaming from the animator can speed up and simplify the file

management system. Even more, it removes the possibility for human error. This could,

for an extensive pipeline, introduce an extensive speed-up and increase in consistency.

It‟ll release lot of the management overhead on big projects (with a bad pipeline) where

the right file always seems to swim in a big pool of unclear files (often even with lots of

different file formats) making the needed file hardly traceable or even untraceable. On

the other end it should be noted that such a system would work on a defined basis of the

pipeline. As many studios have their own pipeline it‟s hard to make a universal system,

but there might be a process in this management that could easily work universally. We‟ll

keep that for later. Again, simplicity is an important starting point.

We‟ve also seen that with animators taking on things part by part and getting to the

essence first really helps the quality of the animation and the efficiency of an animator in

the end. The simpler it is, the easier to wrap your head around it. It sounds logical, but

let me explain a little bit more. As said, 2 axes are simpler to manage than 3 axes and

we can come to the conclusion that testing and getting to the essence is just easier in

general if you work by sketching or tweaking in 2D fashion. Therefore sketching and

more traditional approaches (which seem to exceed in its simplicity) should be applied to

the 3D animation workflow where possible. We‟ll see in the next chapter that 3D

animators often sketch ideas and create thumbnails still on paper because of this

simplicity. Tools or techniques that improve simplicity are what seems to be needed by

most animators. Therefore one of the main core rules is keep it simple, accounting for

both the usage of the tool as well as the resulting techniques and workflow of the tools.

The getting inspiration, finding ideas and sketching out for testing should all be based

on reference. Often animators have a character sheet aside, which are often missing for

3D animators but should be present to aid the creative flow. They lead to inspiration, but

especially guide towards ideas and poses relevant to the character and his personality.

Furthermore, when dealing with multiple animators, a character sheet can provide

consistency between the ideas and even animations of different animators. Also any

barrier between finding, sharing or creating any reference material (including sketches)

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should if possible be removed, and preferably become smooth, joyful and comfortable to

produce. Animators should first get lots of ideas, plan out and constantly improve

towards better poses and action before starting the complex animation process. Having

constant inspiration and motivation gives guidance to the act and thus creates a sense of

control and a way to work towards a predefined goal.

Animators do switch to new tools or workflow, but not every single adjustment that

comes to their field is used. There seems to be a couple of rules to get people to switch

or shift towards trying new tools and actually have animators to start using them in

production. Of course, the usage of a new workflow, pipeline or tool should be beneficial;

preferably it should even seem to be so at first eye-sight. And/or it should provide new

possibilities and techniques that wouldn‟t have been possible without. If something new

becomes possible with it that you need in production you‟ll have to use it anyway,

because it can only be done this way. Nevertheless the animator should quickly feel

comfortable (like Wacom Cintiq vs. Wacom Intuos.) Again, preferably it should be

instinctively more comfortable, because as with paper versus the Wacom Intuos the old

and rusty can have a hard time switching and will (if possible) choose to not switch at all.

If it simplifies tedious daily tasks or helps being consequent the animators already start

getting interested.

As you can see there‟s already a lot of useful information in the discussed animation

fields. The usefulness of ideas and the similarities and differences between these key

points and those that will be found throughout the next chapter will be distilled into

useful guidelines for our tool development later in this thesis.

2.6 Concluding the style difference.

Within stop-motion, 2D traditional animation, 2D digital animation and motion capture

I‟ve mentioned and explained the pretty different styles of animation it results in. There

are a couple of differences we can find in the style. The following list portrays the

contrasts that have been found.

Versus

Choppy Motion Clean and Smooth Curves

Intuitive „magic‟ Literal planning

Rotoscopy/Performance capture Exaggerated essence

Rich textures Simple shading

Graphical Sketchy

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Simple thinking Complex effects

Full redraw Frame-by-frame part positioning

Stop motion is acclaimed for its non-smooth motion and clearly falls in the choppy

motion part. But, stop motion can be clean and smooth, like with Coraline (2009).

Though, most often you‟ll find stop motion to have a somewhat choppy motion. This is

because the animator can‟t smooth out or clean up the animation afterwards and

everything is animated in one straight ahead run. The same accounts for traditional cut-

out. For 2D animation, traditional as well as digital, creating clean and smooth curves is

often easier as the animator can tweak parts of the animation whenever he wants. Even

if the basic run is done in straight ahead, the clean-up and touch-up afterwards can

smooth out the overall motion. This extra pass then cleans up any hiccups or unwanted

choppiness in the animation, whereas stop motion doesn‟t allow for that. This is also very

well possible within the 3D animation workflow, as the data can easily be adjusted

anytime. There‟s also motion capture, which takes a real-life performance as input data

and outputs that as data on a virtual character. Often this has a little bit of both sides; it

offers great texture/finesse in the animation from human motion creating choppy motion

combined with clean and smooth curves. This added detail can be a benefit, but a

letdown as well like we‟ve seen with the uncanny valley effect. Often the flow of 3D

Animators leads towards the smoother - starters often end up with fluid feeling animation

- motion, because of the inbetweening of the computer. I‟ve also seen this happening

with bad digital cut-out animation as well, but its watery motion is generally accepted as

a bad thing. We, the audience, prefer exciting motion which we perceive in the

combination of hard and fast curves opposing with smooth curves. Avoiding this is best

done by not allowing the computer to control too much of your animation, thus needing

you to plan out the animation before allowing the computer that control.

With animating there‟s a style difference coming from pose-to-pose and straight

ahead. Working straight ahead can make the animator go along with the action and

movement as he draws and go to places and poses the animator might not at first had

intended to go for, it‟s magic. Though, good planning is needed for good timing with

voice acting and clear storytelling as straight ahead can stretch to a way longer time than

you originally intended to. But still, straight ahead gives good follow-through and motion

in mass as you constantly think how everything will react on touches and emotions while

keeping its current velocity in mind, it really gives a feel for action. Whereas planning

often leads to great poses and predictable timing, but can lack the „magic‟ for as well the

animator as the audience. Often a combination of the two is used, giving the best of both

sides.

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The style differences between rich textures and simple shading mainly occur because

of differences in difficulty of each in a medium. For example the difference in texture

between most cut out and frame-by-frame animations. The difference in time, complexity

and costs of adding details in texture is what seems to make the difference. It‟s possible

to add extreme detail and texture in the characters shading but if every frame the

texture has to be drawn again corresponding with the characters position is extremely

complex and would require an extensive focus on detail after detail to be able to pull it

off. Such an extremely tedious task would be utterly useless to try on longer – feature-

length for example – films. Within 3D animation the detail are in actual textures that

don‟t need to be redrawn each frame and thus can easily be applied. Thus it can provide

rather detailed environments and characters with little effort from the actual animators.

Frame-by-frame 2D animation can create depth in its animation, but the overall

motion can still be drawn in a simple 2D method and the perception of depth is done by

drawing such depth. The complex side with cut-out animation that creates such a depth

is the extra added axes, instead of drawing believable depth with a 2D image the depth

comes from added technical stuff that renders the perceivable depth. Often such added

complexity is being avoided and therefore cut-out is more often animated in a 2D fashion

to keep it simple. Animators will often go for the simplest solution, which is not

necessarily their own choice. Often a director or producer will go for the cheaper option,

thus easier option. In 3D animation you‟re bound to the complexity of all these axes

almost all the time, unless you go for a 2D style wherein you could limit the depth and

some rotation axes. An example of such a style where this is seen is South Park (1997,

Comedy Central).

Another difference in style is between animation that is fully redrawn frame-by-frame

and those where parts of the character (cut out) are repositioned frame by frame. Often

fully redrawn animation has no limit and total freedom and the possibility to go beyond

extremes whereas the other has limited deformation and motion – though Claymation

could provide rather cheap extreme deformations as well. Within 3D computer animation

a character‟s motion is often limited by the rig, just as with stop motion armatures.

Though the coming of more complex rigs give more artistic freedom and allow for

squash, stretch and even rather extreme deformations. Also additional digital deformers

can add additional deformation. Still real „free‟ deformation in 3D is significantly more

complex than the traditional 2D drawings that don‟t suffer from added technicalities and

data. You could consider 3D animation therefore more as a part positioning system

instead of a full redraw style.

The difficulty and complexity in techniques seem to result in stray of the animators‟

focus and interferes with his flow. Complexity in an animator‟s task makes it hard for him

to stay constantly intuitive, creative and motivated in the act of animating. Though,

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creating a thorough plan that doesn‟t portray this complexity can create good reference

for the final animation. Clear guidelines can relieve stress from the described complexity.

With a good focus and flow on just the essentials, instead of complex and high amounts

of information to process, the animator can actually work towards art and the creation of

high quality animation. This is the case for the described animation fields, but 3D as well.

Once the animator can focus on the motion, the life of the character and the essence of

the storytelling he‟s able to animate an actual „living‟ character instead of a character

that feels just „animated.‟ An „animated‟ character could portray motion or even depict an

emotion too, but a living character makes the audience believe the character is thinking

and acting accordingly. We can bond with a living character and a character that is

perceived in such a way can create strong empathy with the audience and is perceived as

good animation.

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3. The 3D Animation Workflow

There are many different ways to design and produce a sequence of threedimensional

computer animation or a visual effects shot. There are as many

production methods as there are different types of projects with different resource

allocations and different creative goals. (Kerlow, 2004)

This high amount of different ways to design and produce a sequence of animation

seemed to be true in other animation fields that have had many more years to develop

than the field of animation. Almost everyone‟s overall workflow differs. Besides

differences in tools, there is the different work environment, desk layout and creative

goals. Though, it is not truer for those fields than it is for 3D Animation. Besides the

„build-up‟ of a team and its workflow there are many differences in software (3D software

as well as operating system), hardware (Mouse, Wacom or other peripherals) and

available plugins to the software already available to give extra functionality. To sum it

up, there‟s just a lot of ways to do it. But, and this is quite big but after saying all this, if

you look at it all in big lines you can see what‟s important for almost any animator. And

they all do keep to their own different schemes, but the basic needs stay the same. For

example, I‟ve already discussed that it‟s very important for an animator to have focus

and simplicity, and many create this by working in a layered structure (animating part

after part.) The following paragraphs in this chapter will again start discuss the workflow

of animators - now for 3D animation, divided up in students and professionals - and

discuss these based on my personal ideas in combination with my findings thus far. We‟ll

create the foundation for a blueprint or set of rules that will guide the creation of ideas

and toolsets delivering improvement in the workflow and flow. First I‟ll show some insight

into how 3D software has developed through the years as an introduction as well as a

backbone for knowing how it might progress in the near future.

3.1 The development of 3D software

Through the years the 3D animation workflow has changed a lot to get to its current

form. At first Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) were rare and the actual modeling was

done by programming the position of each vertex. The only animation possible was just

placing more programmed models after each other. This took a lot of time and was

logically not even nearly as effective as it is now, where we can interactively see an un-

rendered 11 preview of the character and see the results of alterations we make real-time.

11 Technically speaking the preview is a render. Though, the rendered state I‟m referring to is one that at least

closely resembles the final outcome rendered state from the 3D rendering software.

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Because using the early computer systems to create animations and images was

not easy, many of these early creators had to put more effort into the process of

creating the works than into the form and content of the works themselves.

(Kerlow, 2004)

This difficulty of making 3D Animations made it hard for traditional animators - which by

that time already started to be well educated in the principals of animation - to switch

fields and start creating 3D animations. Therefore, the development of the principles of

animation in this field started to get attention much later when the way of working in the

software actually was becoming more intuitive and interactive. When John Lasseter

became involved with 3D animation in those evolving days he wrote a paper wherein he

said:

Early Research in Computer Animation developed 2D animation techniques based

on traditional animation. Techniques such as storyboarding, keyframe animation,

inbetweening, scan/paint, and multiplane backgrounds attempted to apply the cel

animation process to the computer. As 3D computer animation research matured,

more resources were devoted to image rendering than to animation. Because 3D

computer animation uses 3D models instead of 2D drawings, fewer techniques

from traditional animation were applied. Early 3D animation systems were script

based, followed by a few spline-interpolated keyframe systems. But these systems

were developed by companies for internal use, and so very few traditionally

trained animators found their way into 3D computer animation. The last two years

have seen the appearance of reliable, user friendly, keyframe animation systems

from such companies as Wavefront Technologies Inc., Alias Research Inc., Abel

Image Research (RIP), Vertigo Systems Inc., Symbolics Inc., and others. These

systems will enable people to produce more high quality computer animation.

Unfortunately, these systems will also enable people to produce more bad

computer animation. (Lasseter, 1987)

The speed and intuitivity had increased with its development, but still people had a hard

time to use the principles of animation – that were already well developed by Disney and

others. John‟s paper focuses on these principles, but not necessarily on „how‟ to do this in

3D animation instead he argues that it should be done. He does shortly introduce how

they approached this within Luxo Jr. (1986) – among more - but he concludes that the

animator should always at first hand have the goal to entertain. For that, he needs two

things: a clear concept of what will entertain the audience; and the actual tools and skills

to produce this. This is where Lasseter mentions that these principles are in fact part of

the animator‟s tools that are here to help creating better animation. There can be gained

much structure and quality from learning the principles of animation by heart. But this is

not necessarily the kind of toolset I‟ll develop, though any developed tool should always

help the animator to give him more elegantly the ability to produce what he needs

unambiguously. As stated by Lasseter, computer animation software has been developing

towards spline-interpolated keyframe systems and that‟s where we are now. This is

currently the established way on how 3D software works while animating. For now this is

a given fact, and I feel that this is not where freedom is missing. Spline-interpolated

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keyframes may be hard to oversee on many keyframes, but it‟s generally accepted and

as I and others have been taught this way it‟s just the way we work and how it works

behind the scenes. Nevertheless, I will discuss the graph editor, timeline or any other

part that involves these parts if I think it could - if it can it should - still be improved

towards more intuitivity.

There‟s a tendency in the latest years to give more control to the animator, almost

giving him the possibility to tweak every vertex to his own will. Nevertheless the control

interface is still based on the types of rigs that work extremely well with less complicated

schemes for deforming and adjusting a character. In productions they are constantly

looking for the best tech savvy riggers that can put in the most complex functions into a

rig, constantly adding more and more controls on top of the character. The creating of a

rig is becoming more and more complex as new controls, techniques and ideas keep

being added to the rig, but also the animator has to face this increased amount of control

and complexity in the management. More levels of control, more complexity, and the

amount of controllers and attributes an animator has to deal with have been skyrocketing

in the past 4-5 years. Even in bigger studios they often end up with complex rigs 12 , with

the same elaborate control scheme and managing for the animators. (Animation Mentor

on Youtube, 2011) The same starts to account for the student projects that are creating

these higher-complexity rigs which are becoming standard in this field. Managing and

controlling a character should get introduced to a more intuitive and easier to oversee

way of controlling the character to make the animator focus more on the poses and

motion instead of any technicalities.

3.2 The solid creative workflow of professionals

One of the ten career tips for computer animators and digital artists given in The Art of

3D Computer Animation and Effects (Kerlow, 2004) is to be prepared for change. Kerlow

mentions that the production environment of these digital artists is in constant flux,

referring to the constant development and never-ending improvements in workflow. It

seems that we, the professionals in this field, stay in constant movement and drift on top

of the waves of new inventions and workflows to constantly improve almost anything that

influences our field (software, hardware, references, knowledge and more) to stay

competitive and work the best we can. Altering our workflow is what we do based on new

developments and passed projects. We search for changes where we think it is needed in

our workflow. Every project addresses you with things that go wrong and could go faster.

"It‟s funny how 9/10ths of improving is understanding what‟s deficient about the current

12 Dreamworks animator Mike Stern mentions that the rig of the dragons in How to train your dragon (2010)

contained up to 4.000 controls.

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work you‟re looking at, regardless of medium." (Girard, 2011,

polygonspixelsandpaint.tumblr.com) And this is true for developing new tools as well. If

you would solely take the time to write everything down that works against you or what

you would‟ve done more efficiently if possible even then you would already see the

importance of creating the animated short Mac „n‟ Cheese in conjunction with this

research. Besides the testing of beta versions of ideas and concepts, we can actually see

and feel how it influences us, and what is useful or not. Even more it‟ll help finding just

those problems that should and could be easily be addressed with a customized toolset if

one was to be created. A digital artist that survives in this field will not suffer from

insularity, but will be open-minded and able to adapt.

A while ago I went to a master class on animation given by industry professional

animator Keith Lango (in Rotterdam, Netherlands) where he provided some insight in his

general workflow and gave tips on what ways there are in animation, and how to

improve. Keith Lango stated that when he started in the industry animating went quite

differently. There were no real controls that you could move or pose, but you had a

graph containing the spline-interpolated keyframes and all you could do was adjust this

and see how this updated in the viewport. This helped him master „the flow of the spline

curve‟. He meant that he had learned how the direction of the curve influenced overall

speed, direction and movement of the animation before he had adjusted it. A lot has

changed, but nowadays animators are still able to learn this, because the actual graph

editor still exists, is still considered important in the animator‟s workflow and is thus still

used throughout production. Starting animators often know how it works, but learning by

heart, feeling comfortable and intuitive is a long way from there. Nevertheless the arcs

and curves in the graph editor can really help the animator to clean up and finish his

animation. We can see that getting accustomed to a certain workflow helps improve

speed, intuitivity and efficiency. Nevertheless Keith mentioned that he did not have a

hard time switching, because adjusting the controller by directly manipulating it instantly

in the viewport on top of the character felt more intuitive. Furthermore, Keith showed a

trick to quickly mirror a poses by using some small code-snippets within the dope sheet

in Maya. Ever since, when I needed the quick trick I‟ve done the exact same thing, and

I‟ve seen a classmate who went there as well adopting this same technique in recent

projects. So, students are willing to adapt new techniques in their existing workflow as

well, once they think it proves useful. At my internship at House of Secrets I noticed that

they were also constantly keeping sight on new innovations and technology that could

improve anything within their workflow. I‟ve seen them quickly trying out plugins or

checking videos of techniques dumping some really quickly, holding some in the back of

their minds and some even now being used in almost every project they do depending on

what improvements and increased efficiency it brings. It‟s actually because of this search

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of them that I got interested even more in the developing technologies and new ways to

do things.

The workflow, but even more the pipeline of 3D professionals can be seen in studios

as big as Pixar, but can also be discussed on the basis of a single freelancer or a small

studio that works professionally. Both can differ a lot, but the basis shows similarities and

guides us to the basic needs of any animator in this field.

3.2.1 Animators at Pixar

At Pixar they have the following simplistic overview of their pipeline towards the outside

world:

- A story idea is pitched

- The text treatment is written

- Storyboards are drawn

- Voice talent begins recording

- Editorials begin making reels

- The art department creates the look and feel

- Models are sculpted and articulated

- The sets are dressed

- The shots are laid out

- The shot is animated

- Sets and characters are shaded

- Lighting completes the look

- The computer data is “rendered”

- Final touches are added

(2011, pixar.com)

As you can see the storyboard and reels are created long before the shots are laid out

and animated, which really is a good important thing. This relieves the animator from

constantly needing to think about overall timing, continuity and action while animating,

because most timing and key poses are already in this reel. The animator has a clear

reference that sets a goal and inspires to do better. There‟s more room for focus.

Knowing what you‟ll be making sets a clear goal, and even knowing how you‟ll approach

it makes you in control. Good planning and organization is what makes this possible as

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we‟ll see. According to a job description for an animator at Pixar the responsibilities for

an animator are as follows:

(ib.)

- Receive with each assigned shot: storyboards, story reels, recorded dialogue, set

layout, and direction. The Director shows each new sequence in layout and

describes what is expected for every shot at a "blocking meeting"

- Read soundtrack and plan shot

- Block in movements in rough animation and show for the Director's approval in a

daily review

- Finish work for Director approval in a timely manner

- Attend animation dailies

In here we really see the animator‟s provided workflow, even though the reel already

shows a lot of strict timing and action it isn‟t just inbetweening from there on. The

animator gets the storyboard and story reel, showing him the idea of the overall

continuity and storytelling that needs to be done at key moments. And the set has been

layout before too. These combined makes the animator focus solely on the character and

his motion with clear guidance. But even then, he still needs to use this as reference and

plan out his own idea on top of it. This planning is a personal stage for the animator

where he gets inspirations, sketches out ideas quickly and creates quick thumbnails for

testing the poses quickly. This makes the character live and gets the animator to bring

over what the audience will see in the end. It is extremely useful for the team, but also

for the animator himself, to know where he‟s going and what he‟s going to do. Creating a

clear and reachable goal is extremely important for creative flow. Knowing what you‟ll be

making and knowing how you can get there creates a sense of control. This sense of

control can only be achieved when directly posing out and checking the ideas the

animator comes up with quickly; this is easiest and fastest to do within quick small

sketches. Because the actual animating (in any field) requires too much time too quickly

test out ideas such a simple and fast way for testing is of utmost importance beforehand.

Once the animator as well as the team (like director) are satisfied with the idea, the

animator will block in rough animation – often starting with key poses like pose to pose –

and gets the progress approved by the director (and the team) in so called animation

dailies. These are meetings where they show the days progress of all animators and

discuss the made animations. This feedback from the team is what the animator should

keep in mind, think over and check in his animation. But also watching the animation of

other animators doing the same character or even another character will inspire and

motivate.

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Dailies are always humbling, It's almost like watching the work of these people

makes me tell myself "would you look at that? Now go back to your desk and let's

try a little harder, come on...". It really pushes you. (Baena in Rickard, 2003,

3dtotal.com)

Within every meeting they raise the bar (for higher quality animation) and the feedback

sets a clear goal for the user for the following day, which could almost be written down

like a checklist. Again, this type of regular feedback is of great help for any animator.

Victor's original planning sketches for Wall-E. (2009, planit3d.com)

Pixar animator Victor Navone likes to spend at least a day (schedule allowing) to think

about the shot, the characters and how it fits into the film. He starts drawing ideas,

looking at research, and/or acts it out to find ideas. (Navone, 2011, strutyourreel.com)

We had model sheets to show us how to design the facial expressions and poses.

We had video of the voice actors performing their lines (which was sometimes

useful, often not). And of course we had the whole movie in storyboards and John

Lasseter telling us what he wanted. (Navone in Fitz, 2006, planit3d.com)

In this pipeline some references are already a given, but even then the animator himself

would create thumbnail sketches - like the planning sketches above – to work out and

test his ideas quickly. When he works pose to pose he tries to find a sequence of poses,

the essence, that he thinks communicates the acting ideas as clearly as possible with the

least amount of information, again finding the essence and focus on that.

Then I go about putting those poses onto the 3D character and timing them out

on the computer. I usually start with held splines or I double up my poses to

minimize to minimize[sic – typo was in original] the amount of computer

inbetweens. Then I start adding breakdowns as needed until I have keys at every

4 or 5 five frames. Then I start smoothing my splines from the hips out, adding

ease-ins and -outs, offesetting keys to get lead, follow and overlap, and adding

more keys where necessary for texture and better arcs. I spend at least a whole

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day polishing splines, arcs and spacing at the end. (Navone, 2009,

strutyourreel.com)

The 3D animation workflow should allow animators to easily sketch out and try ideas

first. This preplanning, again, is extremely important. Victor then applies these ideas

onto the 3D character, testing if it works and adding more important poses to minimize

the computer inbetweens and get a better flow in the motion for a sense of control. After

he has set the main poses and added breakdowns he works part by part to add easing,

offsetting, follow-through and overlapping. Such a layered approach, doing part after

part, we‟ve seen before with 2D animators as well and helps fully focusing on the motion.

Then he starts adding adjustments where he deems necessary for extra texture and

better arcs. Though this describes his general workflow it‟s not necessarily this strict.

For abstract characters like Wall-E I tend to rely more on drawings. For acting

shots I usually work pose-to-pose; for more physical shots I may work layered. It

all depends on my mood and the requirements of the scene. (Navone in Fitz,

2009, planit3d.com)

For Navone there are a couple of methods and his method of choice depends on his mood

and the scene itself. But we can see his general usage of quick drawings, the pose-to-

pose method and the layered approach. Almost the same accounts for Carlos Baena who

worked on Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004) and other Pixar movies.

Furthermore he‟s one of the founders of the popular top-notch animation school

Animation Mentor. He also states the importance of getting ideas and setting a goal

before „running into‟ the computer barrier. For his inspirational and motivational

references he looks at and/or creates:

- Previous animated shots with the character

- Storyboards

- Layout

- Film Footage Reference

- Personal Video Reference

- Posing Reference

- Thumbnails.

(Baena, http://www.carlosbaena.com/resource/resource_tips_planning.html )

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A series of thumbnail sketches for the sequence where Mr. Incredible jumps from one building into another

grabbing someone in mid-air along the way, from The Incredibles (2004). Image from carlosbaena.com

Carlos also mentioned that he sometimes relied on the skills of others, letting them make

a thumbnail or sketch of a pose and use these as inspiration and guides as well. Any

reference footage that might inspire or motivate choices is more than welcome, even

preferred. Even feedback in the form of big brainstorm sessions or as small as tiny

notations or hints can help the animator get motivated and inspired, but even more get

fully focused on what he needs to change, needs to do and how he will do it. Animation is

teamwork.

It's such a collaboration process, that it really helps to get constant feedback from

the other animators. I start out by studying the shot, the moment when it takes

place in the film and storyboards if they are available. Then I'll listen to the

dialogue if it's a dialogue shot, and try to rough some thumbnails and write down

ideas for the shot. Then I'll do a blocking pass with these ideas, and I'll try to get

feedback right away from other animators to see if things read right away and

people follow where I'm going with the shot. Because of other animators, I'll

realize that I'm not pushing a shot enough or that maybe I'm going a little crazier

with it than I should. I also try to animate the least number of things at first. I

find it hard to change things on a shot if there is a lot of work put in it, so it's

much easier to keep things simple right away. If the director likes where you are

going with the shot, then awesome, you go ahead and start putting details in it

and polish things up. (Baena in Belgrave, 2003, cgsociety.org, p.2)

Baena also mentions that because of other animators, their comments on his work and

their work at the animation dailies he realizes that he‟s not pushing his ideas and the

character – as in exaggerate - far enough. The dailies seem to be a good thing for

pushing that, but are also very important for playing down the animation when needed

and help reviewing it on basis of the whole film. If the shot‟s overall place in the film is

forgotten the final animation can easily end up having to be reanimated or adjusted,

which takes a lot of time. (Baena in Belgrave, 2003, cgsociety.org) Especially the review

process of the director and/or animation supervisor is very important. The animation

dailies are also a great way to deal with the inputs from them as well.

In the end, the director is the one always thinking about the film as a whole,

sometimes concerned about how the film cuts, other times concerned about

staging and other times concerned about the acting. (Baena in Belgrave, 2003,

cgsociety.org, p.2)

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It‟s important to allow supervision from the director and the team at a regular interval so

you‟ll always know what your next deadline is as well as be aware of any feedback

rounds to come. With the production process of Mac „n‟ Cheese there was no real distinct

director, but as I was supervising animator I often had to check it in the edit and guide

the other animators with their animation. The overall supervision often went slow and

came out to be a tedious task as we hadn‟t planned regular meeting or times for those

and for me often ended up interfering with my task of animating in the middle of the day,

often even a couple of times a day. If such a task could be more streamlined or better

planned the task for lead animator and supervising animator can be done with greater

result and in a shorter amount of time. Also if this is done at preset times I wouldn‟t have

to interrupt the animator because he would be ready to receive the feedback at those set

moments. I would like to end this with a quote from Victor Navone on what the

animators focus on at Pixar.

Animators at Pixar just animate. (Navone in Fitz, 2006, planit3d.com)

3.2.2 Animating on Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

(2010)

Brendan Body, lead animator on Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)

discusses the crunch time 13 of animating on this movie in his blog. He states that even

far into production parts of the story changed and influenced the way shots had to be

animated. Shots were already starting to be animated, but changed later on – which

often ended with needing to re-animate the shot totally.

One major change to the film that affected the scene was the decision that the

hero (Soren's) parents should not be killed during the film. Up until a few months

before the end of the film's production the story had Soren return home to find his

family's hollow burnt and abandoned. It was a sad but very beautiful and powerful

scene. This was also where Soren was reunited with his snake nurse mate, Mrs.

Plithiver (or Mrs P.) who would then accompany him on his mission to find the

mythical Guardians of Ga'Hoole. Now that Soren's parents were not killed and he

didn't return home, there was the dilemma of how to reunite Soren with Mrs P. As

removing her would have impacted too much on the rest of the film. It was

decided that she could be reintroduced in this sequence by Twylight bringing her

into his home as food for him and his hollow-mate Digger. Who had just met

Soren and offered him shelter. (Body, 2011, http://brendanbody.blogspot.com/)

This resulted in shots being reassigned to senior and lead animators that could quickly

pick up the job and could take responsibility for creating high quality animation in those

last minutes nevertheless. Brendan got one of those reassigned shots and took the

13 Crunch time is the interval of time just before a project is due and the production is reaching its deadline. In

animation production people often work from early to late at night in the last few weeks of production to be

able to get to the product‟s final state in time.

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altered shot described above. His workflow for building the idea and concept for the

altered shot was as follows:

- Planning

- Basic poses

- First tweaks and in-betweens

- Send to director for notes.

- Tweaking and checking with director daily for comments

- Delivering the final

Brendan wanted to try some funny ideas he‟d come up with and sketch out the

combination of this with the guidelines of the shot. He really wanted to play with the idea

of Soren (the snake in the movie) grasping the owl in the shot, but it had to come over

as a hug instead of an attack. But he also wanted Soren to accidentally squeeze the owl

when she became angry. The essence of this is really important, and to get to this and

check if this can come over to the audience he started creating thumbnail sketches.

Some thumbnail sketches for the discussed scene from Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)

by animator Brendan Body.

They are supposed to be done very quickly and rough as a way of testing and

remembering the ideas for a shot. They also serve as a guideline of what works and what

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doesn‟t. For him they were mainly used as a means to visualise the physical movement

of the snake throughout the shot. (cf. Body, 2011, http://brendanbody.blogspot.com/)

After thinking through the ideas for poses and storytelling he used these as a guide for

creating basic poses to check if the character could do a similar thing in 3D with

believability. This basic poses served as a trial and error for getting to the best possible

pose for Soren to hold and squeeze the owl in a believably friendly manner. Again, this is

part of testing out the idea before starting in working out the actual movement in the

animation. He‟s still focusing and working in a distinct pose to pose manner. After that he

took a day to refine poses, add a couple of breakdowns and put in some of the facial

animation to help sell what the final characters emotion would be. Then, for the first

time, he submitted it for review towards the animation director. Who would review it,

send up notes and would later be available for questions, clarifications and additional

reviews around lunch time. The director states what he likes and dislikes, giving hints for

things to add or remove in the shot. Then it‟s time for the animator to adjust his

animation based on the director‟s comments. The review and tweaking stage goes back

and forth between the animator and animation director while passing the stages of

blocking, rough and towards final. A confirmation on blocking approved or rough

approved acts as a checklist that the corresponding things work fine and animation can

be tweaked into the later stage, adding more detail and finesse. This daily and quick

review system really improves creative flow. Each day the animator is able to get a fresh

look on the animation with the help of clear notes from the animation director. There‟s a

constant clear goal for the animator to work towards. For flow there‟s also the need for

immediate feedback, although it is not evident in this workflow it is actually present. The

regular interval of feedback by the director makes for a to-do list on an almost daily

basis, which is used as guidance towards the goal. When it‟s not reaching those goals the

animator himself perceives direct feedback from checking the animation previews he

creates (to check timing and motion) against the set goal, resulting in perceivable

immediate feedback. Furthermore it‟s best to not constantly have new notes from an

animation director as constant introduction to such information interferes with the act of

animation (or any act at all) and could easily break ones focus, thus flow.

While discussing the WYSIWYG effect of stop motion I‟d already briefly mentioned

that 3D animation is affected by the opposite. The end rendered result can appear very

different from the preview the animator works with. Within the production of Legend of

the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010) they had this same problem. In-between

stages they did small renders with motion blur to see the effect that motion blur would

have on the motion and clarity of the poses and emotion and thus create a preview with

reduced difference from the final result to use for reviewing purposes. Sometimes

animation had to be altered that would‟ve looked fine in the animator‟s preview, but

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came over differently in the test-rendered version. (Body, 2011,

http://brendanbody.blogspot.com/) Adding this check-up adds towards the clarity of the

animator‟s goal and also helps looking at the animation in a different way, giving the

animator the possibility to pinpoint other flaws in the animation as well. Such check-ups

and supervision in-between can be of significant importance when the final rendered

result differ an extensive amount from the preview version. We‟ve done such test renders

in the production of Mac „n‟ Cheese as well and it guided the animators as well as my

own supervision on them on certain points that looked fine in the previews but needed

extra attention when seen in the rendered version. It was very helpful and made us able

to see problems before the final rendering, thus taking a significant smaller time of

production and help to direct us more to our final goal with this increased speed in

feedback.

Because the shot Brendan was working on got altered from the original version the

animator had to also adjust the camera, which was normally not the case in this

production. These were normally initially laid out by the studios lensing department. For

this shot the camera would still have to be refined by this same department. (cf. Body,

2011, http://brendanbody.blogspot.com/) Again we see that such things are released

from the animator‟s mind. This creates more focus on only the animation of the

character. Even more, having this clearly laid out beforehand doesn‟t only keep the

animator from other tasks to do, but also give him a more controllable limited space to

work in. The animator has a clearer goal and it‟s easier to oversee what motion he should

aim for. Again, defining scene layout and creating plans accordingly before starting with

animating are important for a constant focus and reduced mind stress of the animator,

increasing flow.

3.2.3 Animation in smaller sized productions

At smaller studios the animator might be a story artist and editor as well. Also the

amount of money that is allocated is often less and this creates less time space for the

animator to work in. There might not be enough time and manpower for creating an

elaborate storyboard or reel before animating begins. A simple overview from some

smaller projects I‟ve worked on, discussed or have read about look like this:

- An idea or story comes in from advertising agency; sometimes with a storyboard.

- Time allocated for each part in production is being discussed.

- Animator captures any references, works out ideas and tests. (if possible within

the assigned time.)

- Applies his ideas onto the 3D character as key poses.

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- Discuss with supervisor.

- Animating. Keeping in mind the continuity and storytelling, because those aren‟t

strictly laid out as reference.

- Put into edit to check for continuity and storytelling.

As you can see the animator often is the one planning out most of the action, taking care

of continuity, storytelling and timing while his task is to animate at the same time. The

distinction between planning and starting to animate can be very blurred and it is hard to

see or know when to actually start animating or even more importantly to know when to

wait with animating. Over time many animators learn that planning is a key ingredient

for good animation, but the workflow of 3D software doesn‟t initiate such a flow because

it doesn‟t allow for quickly testing. The (experienced) animators therefore often refer

back to pen and paper for thumbnail sketching and creating test poses because of its

speed increase and separation (as in non-omnipresent.) Customizations that provide

sketching in 3D software itself would be very welcome and can provide a more direct (in-

scene) approach to sketching. The same accounts for creating small thumbnails for the

frames, if this could be done in 3D software there could be a huge change in the planning

stage of 3D animation. And will also introduce a better reference connection with the

plans the animator creates.

But there are no rules that govern the best way to develop the creative goals of a

project. […] A word of caution: Changing the creative goals of a project once

production has started almost always has a negative ripple effect that leads to

delays, complication, additional expense and frustration. (Kerlow, 2004)

The best way to work, for both professionals in the 3D industry as well as other fields is

to limit everything to only that freedom that is needed. Creating a strict storyboard or a

line test for complex shots can, as seen throughout this thesis, definitely safe time while

animating. But it‟s not only that, giving a direction for the animator gives him a better

clear goal (remember, this is a requirement for getting into a flow) and makes it easier

for creative artists in a team to be coherent when they talk about the animation of a

shot. Everyone knows what will happen and the essentials of storytelling that is to be in

the shot shall at that time be the same in everyone‟s mind. This can be seen really strict

(as with Pedri Animation) or relatively loose (House of Secrets.) This difference possibly

comes from the difference in size of the studios. While Pedri Animation admitted to be at

least „some kind of a factory‟ and working off of a line test for most of the animations the

contrary happens at House of Secrets. The animation department is given freedom most

of the time limited by just a simple „couple of pictures‟-storyboard (often from the

advertising agency) and some quick words on the approach from the animation

supervisor. But it is not to say they don‟t have a structured animation workflow as well.

The overview at the beginning of this paragraph depicts House of Secrets‟ animation

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workflow pretty well. The animator goes to work often with a couple of pictures that

show the idea or a small storyboard. The animator plans out his idea or shows the

supervisor the ideas for the poses and he‟ll get comments on it if necessary. Because

they do commercials instead of features the length of the animation and its place in the

full sequence is often easier to oversee. Though, the director still stays in control to

manage the animator‟s goals and give him notes and comments for better focusing. This

focus and concentration is really needed for the animator to be able to achieve flow and

stay in that state as well.

Percy Tienhooven, one of the founders of a small animation studio called FUBE, has a

great passion for animation but has also been getting more and more interested in

keeping up with friends on facebook and checking other social media. Even checking

some blogs and game pages came into his daily workflow. Especially sites like facebook

had him checking up the notes by friends constantly throughout the day. He noticed the

interference - but even more the breaking - of his flow. Once he popped out of his work

to check and read some other stuff (or even the idea of switching to do so) introduced

self-consciousness, which for flow should not be present. When you keep switching

between multiple tasks you are thought-juggling 14 . This external and internal

interference is one of the biggest problems many more people are facing nowadays.

Percy initiated to block all websites on his work computer that kept him and his mind

from fully focusing on work. He mentioned that ever since introducing this adjustment

he‟s been able to be more productive, feel more efficient and feel better in general. He

also had trouble separating from work when he got home. He would go home, turn on his

laptop and started doing a bit of this and a bit of that from the works‟ chores, but again

while he was trying to entertain himself with facebook, games and/or a movie

intermittently. He now stopped taking his laptop home and uses only his iPad at home.

Since he‟s now unable to do any 3D animation from work at home he can fully focus on

entertainment, totally separated from any thoughts of working. Taking time off can be

very important, like we‟ve seen in Wallas‟ model of the creative process. Incubation is an

actual part of the creative process.

Even more he said that he learned that flow and noticeable interference is not only at

oneself, but also on how you work with others. How a team works can easily interfere

with a task at hand, or simply said interfere with one‟s flow. Quickly asking a question or

discussing a minor detail while someone is focused on a task will change his focus from

the task and thus interfere with his focus and flow. Again, this is a very clear thing to

remember. Anything the animator should do or anything that would do something with

14 Thought-juggling is when you switch tasks while multitasking. You throw the information of one task up in

the air switch to the other task and later go back to the first task hoping you can catch what you threw up

without losing or missing any of the critical pieces of information. This can only work when the information

consists of low-complexity.

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the animator (like reviews by the supervisor or the animator‟s notation) should not

interfere with the task at hand, best is to have it at a decided time so everybody will

work towards it and be ready when it starts. This is really an essential part of keeping

flow and staying creative – and happy - while at it. Especially in smaller studios where

someone is often involved with more than one task it is important that this person can

easily focus on a task separated from the other, instead of having to switch both

constantly and introduce thought-juggling.

Mark Bazelmans, animator at animation studio Lemonade, says he uses small speed-

up shortcuts and buttons while animating. His examples were a button that acted as a

quick selection method for the whole character, a script that corrects overshoot on a

curve and one that helps with adding inbetweens. These things that resolve some of the

daily hinder from controlling the character and working with the keys can have an

extensive positive impact on the animator‟s workflow. But before he starts working on

the hard work he sketches and works out the ideas of the shot beforehand.

[…]your blocking should clearly convey your ideas about the character and the

poses, and that extra time spent at the beginning (even thumbnails) can greatly

improve the outcome and save a lot of time. If your ideas differ from the

animation supervisor or director it‟s better to find out in the sketch fase[sic] than

when your[sic] knee deep in keyframes.

(Bazelmans, 2011)

Mark uses a small to-do list to write down and remember the comments made by the

supervisor and/or director. It‟s like a little checklist to check off the made notations. Once

he starts animating he‟ll often set keys only on a limited amount of frames, having keys

for the full pose without key offsets for as long as possible, this helps keeping the

timeline clear and simple to oversee. The amount of data 3D animators work with – from

all controls and axes – can become hard to oversee, therefore it‟s best to have a

structured and organized approach that keeps it as simple as possible for as long as

possible. As said Mark also creates simple presets and shortcuts to easily change Maya‟s

default behavior. Marks workflow shows that he as animator wants a quick ready-to-use

suite to work with it that is as clean, organized and simple as possible and allows him to

work in that same way. It‟s important when creating and designing tools to enhance flow

that the default settings for things that require control optionally have default settings

that are most likely set to the animator‟s most likely intended usage. Having it perform

as intended by the animator out-of-the-box is what makes it instantly beneficial for

animators. The same as how setting their own presets and defining their own layout

setup helps with feeling comfortable with the interface and get up to speed on a daily

basis in the long run. Complexity as well as not feeling instantly comfortable interferes

with efficiency in the creative process. Animator Nanda van Dijk uses similar scripts

designed to help with a certain task – like the inbetweening mentioned by Mark - and

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says that the usage of such tools really make it a lot easier and make it possible to work

more intuitively. Looking at tasks that show some complexity or take a lot of time to do

seem very good starting points as it are improvements the animator is actually hoping

for and has probably even already been searching for.

3.2.4 Animating with the use of new techniques.

Visual Effects studio Double Negative has been working on Paul (2010) and provided the

main character with the similar name. Paul is a grey-alien, like how we „know‟ aliens, and

had to set a lifelike and believable performance for this movie. (Failes, 2011,

fxguide.com) For the creation process they used new techniques in their pipeline, like

motion capture. Real life actor Seth Rogen provided the voice and basic movements for

this animated alien character. But his captured data wasn‟t directly used on the

character.

Seth donned the Xsens MVN suit and performed the role on-set as a reference for

the animation team, allowing them to reflect his nuances and mannerisms onto

the titular character. (http://www.xsens.com/paul)

The captured data was used as reference for the creation of the actual animation. The

motion capture provided an on set reference for where Paul would be or what he would

be doing and thus the director could instantly see a relatively thorough previz of the

scene, like the workflow of The Third Floor described in paragraph 2.4. Since the director

was able to instantly supervise the real-life actors combined with Paul‟s basic position,

movements and timing simple adjustments could be made relatively fast and early on –

when actual synthetic animators weren‟t even in the picture. Thus by the time the

animators start working on it the director has already approved its main guiding

animation reference. This thorough motion reference (3D motion capture data) and the

actual shot as guidelines combined resemble the basics of the shot immediately. Such

clear guidance (which already has been approved by the director before) makes that the

team is always on the same line and knows what has to be done. Even more, the

animators can get inspired by the detail, finesse and motion in the material already

delivered as guidance. Any additional quick ideas or tests from the animators were also

done with the Xsens system.

Animators further relied on reference footage of themselves – some shot on

flipcams – and motion capture data generated in-house. “That Xsens MVN suit is

really flexible and affordable so we had one here in several sizes,” says Beer. “We

would set up sessions where animators could jump in the suit and then capture

their performances in 3D. You could block things in so quickly and see it on Paul,

and get a choreography that the director could buy off on. Sometimes with video

reference it‟s harder to imagine a person who looks completely different to Paul

working in the scene.” (Beer in Failes, http://www.fxguide.com/, 2011)

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By now I‟ve presented the importance of strict preplanning numerous times, but here

speed is being addressed clearly as well. The increased speed in trying out different

things and testing out ideas seemed very beneficial within creating the animation for

Paul, even important. A more direct result, especially when testing and experimenting,

really helps the performance of the animators and thus the performance of the animated

character. Although the motion capture data was purely used as reference and guidelines

it helped quickly trying out ideas, finding small nuances in motion as well as showing the

director and the team what you‟ll be creating rather extensively early on. The animators

were able to get to the actual character handling process in 3D relatively quick, while

maintaining the creation of consistent planning beforehand, because of this speed

increase. Other technicalities involved in this process are thus (for the animator) mostly

in the character handling, posing and actual „usage‟ of the 3D character and data. For

helping the actual character handling they used hand- and face-pose libraries to quickly

let the animator choose/test poses in a clean and very interactive way. (Beer in Failes,

http://www.fxguide.com/, 2011) A pose library with pictures for the poses might

resemble some of a character sheet for the animator as it provides good (standard)

poses within reach. Even more, a good pose library can help the animator focus on parts

of the character as it could provide poses for only parts of the character as well (thus

work layered.)

Two pictures showing (developmental) pictures of a pose manager for Maya called PoseMan2. It provides

thumbnails for the poses, and sections and groups for a layered approach. Note that this is not the system

created by Double Negative.

It provides possible consistency between animators but also a speed up in the workflow

of any animator. These techniques used by Double Negative shows improvements in

speed of setup, testing and choosing the right poses and getting direction on a shot. This

seems to really help the animator in a positive way with working out his animations and

the gaining of creative ideas.

Another issue they came across while working on Paul was the missing WYSIWYG

feature in 3D animation for the animators. Especially because the exaggerated lifelike

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performance should come over correctly it was important that it would end up being

readable as how the animator intended it to be.

“As soon as we started to try lighting him up with sub-surface scattering and all

the beautiful components that make him feel physically in the shot,” says Beer,

“the details that we‟d put in to make him read as a character – the emotional

landmarks – became suddenly invisible.” […] “So we went from these playblasts,

which are grey-shaded representations with high contrasty lighting, to a lit version

of the character that looked like Clutch Cargo – basically just a talking mouth. But

DNeg has a lot of talented guys and we just kept dialing everything in to get

movement back and the feature lines to read again. The animators and lighters

had to push it harder than they normally would.” (Failes,

http://www.fxguide.com/, 2011)

The animators and lighters had to take steps back, tweak and fix those parts to make

sure everything would come over correctly. The benefits of having a WYSIWYG

environment for animators have now widely been discussed within stop motion, the

production of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010), Paul (2010) and

throughout been mentioned in Mac „n‟ Cheese (2011) references as well and will be

discussed further later in this chapter. This indirect control made for a tedious back and

forth process of fixing and tweaking. This takes time and even worse reduces the flow.

The best setup would be, in such a case where instant feedback isn‟t possible, one

wherein regular and even more a constant stream of such feedback would be made

possible. Like that is done within the production of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of

Ga'Hoole (2010) where they introduced early render tests to check and see early on what

the rendering would end up doing with the animation. Planning this with regular

intervals, like animation dailies, makes for clear moments of feedback and progress and

helps working focused to the final goals.

3.3 The open creative workflow of starters, students, hobbyists.

The overall pipeline and workflow for starting animators, students and hobbyists is

often rather similar to those already discussed and there‟s no general difference in

preproduction, production and postproduction either. Therefore discussing the basics

again would be a reconfirmation of the already elaborately discussed points. This

paragraph will thus focus more on its differences and additional ideas found in these

animators‟ workflows. The biggest difference is how the animator is assigned to his tasks

and what his tasks are. Animators at smaller studios, starting animators (like students)

and hobbyists often don‟t have a strict predefined workflow and even more often aren‟t

only focusing on the part of animation. For example, students are part of the whole

production. Creating story ideas, storyboards, character designs, modeling, layout,

animation, lighting, rendering, compositing and are often even involved with exporting

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the final movie too. They might seem to be working on a project for a long time „creating

animation‟, but in that time they deal with preproduction, production and postproduction.

Instead of having a strict division between each stage in the pipeline the border between

each stage of production is much more blurred and this makes it hard to separate tasks

from one another. Even more, these animators have more tasks at hand: data wrangling

is a daily task, as well as supervising the overall structure of daily progress. The same (in

smaller amount) accounts for supervising animators in small studios who might handle

the layout of a shot, the actual animation and supervising other animators, which might

seem logically to his job description. Though, often, this same person deals with at least

some of the data wrangling, like checking to be sure the latest playblasts are in the right

place with the correct names containing the elements it needs and nothing else (as a

frame counter is often useful, but the cluttered view of controls overlayed on the

character is a no-go when previewing your animations.)

Such interfering tasks can really disturb flow as have been thoroughly discussed, but

taking time off can also be part of the creative process, like incubation. Edwin Schaap,

student at the Utrecht School of Arts, keeps himself enthusiastic and creative by shortly

doing something else when he‟s getting fed up with the task at hand. He‟ll switch to

rendering for example, when he feels he‟s losing enthusiasm or fresh sight on the

animation he‟s working on. This helps him to take a step away from the task of

animating and allow for incubation. It‟s important that he chooses to switch instead of

being forced to do so, as that interferes with his flow. There‟s a difference between this

forced switch and the chosen one, where respectively the first introduces us with a bad

workflow and the last can be a personal good habit. I say „can be‟ because being aware

of wanting to switch increases self-awareness and reduces focus of the task at hand, and

it might be at a moment when there‟s no need for another task to be completed or there

might be none at all. Still, in the good version taking time off is part of the creative

process (in Wallas‟ model.) But if the user is introduced with interference by other tasks

and ideas he‟ll be facing lack of focus, thought-juggling as well as a break in flow, or will

have no flow at all.

Another interesting thing to notice with starting animators is the willingness to

customize and adjust the interface and buttons to their own needs. Although Maya allows

for customizing the interface in numerous ways it still seems lacking compared with the

customization possibilities of other software. As for Gijs van Kooten and Tom Hankins

who talk about Zbrush and its capabilities of creating a really customized interface in a

relatively very simple way.

In Zbrush it's really handy that you can easily (drag and drop) make your own

menus and grab functions from different menus and put them together. Then you

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can bind it to any hotkey and have it appear near your cursor at any time. (van

Kooten, 2011)

Allowing you to easily combine functions and create a single button or shortcut for

elaborate tasks (as well as simple tasks.) In Autodesk Maya the user can create similar

possibilities though it often requires you to do at least some programming in its native

programming language MEL or in Python (especially when stacking/combining functions.)

Many animators are unable to program and thus unable to create such shortcuts in a

simple way. Creating such shortcuts (of multiple tasks) should be provided in the

simplest way possible. Again we can see that animators are likely to go for a solution

that provides them with an improvement in speed and simplicity. The setup of such

customization also takes some (even if it is just a little) time in Zbrush as well, but

nevertheless is being greatly used as its introduced speed increase greatly outweighs its

setup time. Still there‟s a fall-off in efficiency, according to Fitt‟s Law 15 , when using on-

screen buttons that have to be pressed based on visual feedback, even more when

they‟re becoming relatively small or far from the animator‟s direct work space. Therefore

it‟s interesting to provide interfaces for the user that can stay close in proximity of the

animator without interfering with on screen space (for animating) or provide the

possibility of customization (in keyboard shortcuts for example) to work around such

efficiency decrease at all. As it is hard to introduce a big amount of shortcuts to

memorize 16 the focus of the produced tools for this research lies at producing a visual

interface allowing direct control, because it presents direct feedback and control without

the need of learning and remembering functions by heart. Nevertheless, allowing the

user to use the toolset‟s functions as a shortcut (when possible) can make a tool much

more production worthy for all animators and should be kept in mind when developing

such tools.

Many of the students I‟ve spoken with stressed the importance of planning for

animation. The storyboard should be clear (and close to final) before creating the rig, so

the rig can contain the functionality it needs on basis of choices made from the

storyboards. We‟ve seen a similar approach with stop motion where the puppet‟s rigs are

created with only the needed freedom based on the needed motion limiting the rig‟s

movement to only the necessary control for the animator. The storyboard and process

before the actual animating should conceive a clear picture of what has to be created and

what will possibly fit as animation in that sequence. These same student animators

stressed the team effort of discussing the concepts, story, and ideas for animation and

15 Fitts's law is a model of human movement in human–computer interaction and ergonomics that predicts that

the time required to rapidly move to a target area is a function of the distance to the target and the size of the

target.

16 Gijs van Kooten also stated that when working in one program for an extended period of time and then

switching back to the other made it hard for him to remember his set up shortcuts in that particular software.

3. The 3D Animation Workflow

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progression of the shot before starting to animate. Again this is introducing the concept

of teamwork within animation as a primal need. Thus important is that everyone

constantly has the same goals for the final animation and knows what his current task is

and should easily be able to check off and show when it‟s done or in need of review.

Especially students or starters might not have the ability to cooperate with team

members at one location all the time and will end up doing discussion and management

over the internet. A tool to likely introduce a positive influence on this – for online but

also for teams working in a single location together - would be a system providing easily

accessible and widely shared data and information on the full project, like goals, progress

and current tasks with the aid of small notations or possibility to comment/discuss the

project clearly as well. An example for such a thing already discussed is the ShotTracker

created by Motek Entertainment for usage in their production pipeline.

3.4 My personal pick on a 3D workflow.

My own personal experience with 3D animation started with an unbelievably slow start

and I‟m actually still in the process of really starting to feel comfortable and intuitive as I

am still searching for a better held flow, hence this research. I‟ve had trouble picking up

the importance of planning, setting a goal and knowing where you‟re heading constantly

when I started learning to animate. I often started animating with a simple idea of what

a character was going to do and ended up with complete rubbish over and over again.

Even when I‟ve been told and read about the importance of reference and planning I had

a hard time actually using it and doing it myself. Back then I‟ve tried using the pose-to-

pose method, but freedom in the software allowed me – and my enthusiasm forced me -

to adjust poses in-between the important poses rather early on instead of creating strong

key poses. I often ended up with a moving character that moved from one place to

another in indescribably weird ways, which was fun at times but I‟ve never felt that I

actually reached any goals I set beforehand. Just doing whatever suits you best at any

moment is not the way to go in production.

Before going into the negative things of 3D animation there‟s also a lot I consider as a

useful functionality in the software. Simple things like being able to undo, redo, copy and

paste with or without offsetting provide simple and fast functionality for testing and

experimenting with the animation data. Also working in such software makes it possible

to create perceivable depth and believable depth as it works on a basis of three

dimensional data. This also allows for simulations to run in such 3D space and create

believable simulated effects, like water, explosions, gas, but also parts of or the whole

character could in theory be simulated. And often things like hair or fur are already being

simulated in 3D animation productions, sometimes even allowing the animator basic

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control over the motion and letting the dynamics create its final nuances and believable

realism. Though, this 3D space also makes for far more complexity than working with 2

axes, like 2D. Therefore working in this 3D space and its complexity of managing the

data gives most animators – as we‟ve already seen too – a hard time for quickly testing

ideas and focus on only the necessary because many technicalities and complexities are

often interfering with tasks at hand.

For a 3D animator animating all starts from the rig as it provides an interface for the

animator to control the character. Jason Schleifers‟ Animator Friendly Rigging emphasizes

that it‟s important to create rigs that don‟t bite. (Schleifer, 2010, jasonschleifer.com) The

rigs should feel friendly, simple and comfortable. I totally agree that this is important,

and this actually accounts for the whole software and everything in the pipeline as well.

You should work in a way you feel comfortable and are not afraid of unexpected

technicalities that might come up. It all should be easy to use, fast and simple to

oversee. Many rigs - almost all - these days are pretty fast in usage. But their increase in

complexity give animators the need for better tools to manage the rig and animation,

otherwise this increased complexity will interfere with the animator‟s mind, focus,

creativity and flow - possibly in that order. Though, the way a rig works and how it looks

also influences my animation. Working with a proxy rig 17 sometimes gave me better

results than looking at the full quality character constantly. Also looking at a silhouette of

the character was interesting for me as guidance towards better lines of action and

creating better readable poses which was especially useful on physical action shots.

Sometimes playing backwards, inverting or doing anything at all that made it look

different gave me a fresh view on the animation and helped me to allow incubation while

continuing to work on the shot as you start focusing on different things and let the

previous things sink in. And this experimenting with form and color is only a part of what

really helps me to „look‟ at my animation. Besides that, I also really love having control

over the timing or smoothness of curves in a simple manner. I often retime animations

just for checking and testing ideas or smooth out parts to see the difference. “Would it

work better if it was faster? Or slower?” As I feel that it‟s hard to know this if you

wouldn‟t have checked it I find being able to do so very important. Another thing I

happen to do often to check overall motion and work layered is zooming in on just a part

of the shot and thus a part of the character. This going close into the shot forces you to

look at just those specific parts and helps keeping focused on just that, just working

layered. Tools that quickly provide me with a fresh different sight or even a more focused

sight on the animation of the shot are – in my opinion - highly recommended for aiding

creativity.

17 A proxy rig is one that allows you to work with a lower-quality version of the character that should resemble

the character in its most basic form, often used for more interactivity as the lower resolution version is often

faster in usage than a high quality one.

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In management I‟ve noticed while working on Mac „n‟ Cheese and other productions

I‟ve worked on it is extremely important to be able to check off what is done. It‟s ok to

step back in production if it is really needed to, like when the rig doesn‟t work how it is

supposed to. But in whatever stage the animator is he or she should not be distracted by

any other parts of production. With Mac „n‟ Cheese we chose to start the process of

animation even when some parts of the movie weren‟t final in storyboards, because of

the time constraints we had. As the same people were responsible for multiple parts of

the production we‟ve all had to deal with switching between multiple tasks. At first we

really had trouble progressing with the process, but once we all learned how to divide

these stages of the production we could finally start seeing progress one step at a time.

Two or more parts could be in process simultaneously, but you should never feel

responsible for more than a single task at the same time. What I mean is that you

shouldn‟t feel like you‟re busy doing both at once. Focus on one task completely, check it

off and then switch. You can only do this if you work strictly with a checklist and can

hand over to the team what you‟ll do first, how you‟ll do it and tell them how much time

it takes. This can only be done by setting a clear goal and by also making clear what your

end resulting product will look like early on in the process. The initial step for this is good

planning, lying out of the overall idea and discussing this with the team. Then discussion

and review makes sure that everybody gets on the same line and knows what will be

created. The first layout of the idea should be held as simple as possible - like 2D

sketches or a quick discussion of the shot - because starting to work with complex 3D

stuff where the computer takes over can interfere with the animator‟s possibility of

processing creative ideas.

“Letting the computer do too much of the work too early on in an artist‟s

development may severely stunt their[student animators] ability to process

creative ideas thoroughly in their imaginations before committing them to paper”

(Gilland, awn.com, 2006)

Therefore it is really important to take away as much as possible of the influence of the

computer that creates not directly intended results at the beginning stages, for example

its inbetweening. Gilland is definitely not saying you should not be using a computer, me

neither, but you should be aware of what it will do when you choose to let it do

something. You should have direct control over everything and the usage of the

computer should be a tool to create your ideas instead of a tool that creates your ideas.

The difference might sound subtle, but the results will vary greatly.

Through the years I‟ve found out that good thinking and careful planning of the ideas

make for way better and even more creative animation and allows you to take over the

control of the program instead of letting it develop (bad) ideas for you. Even more, the

first thing you‟ll come up with for the shot, any idea that might seem good or fun that

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came up first, will probably be the first idea the audience thinks of too. Generally this is a

bad thing. You want to constantly surprise the audience with a unique and rewarding

experience, showing them something they wouldn‟t have come up with while watching

the shots before this one. Therefore it is extremely important to sketch out multiple

ideas, sit on it for a while and discuss it with others. Again, quick sketching, getting ideas

and collaboration concludes to be the top most important things in animating. It‟s not in

how slick a movement is for (most of) the audience, but what you‟re telling them and

how they feel involved with it. The animator should bring over a living character instead

of (just) a moving character.

How it moves is more important than what moves […] what the animator does on

each frame of film is not as important as what he or she does in between […]

(Mclaren in Wells, 1998, p.10)

What helps in this process of working towards better ideas (and thus animation) is

teamwork and good collaboration. A brainstorm session or even a simple discussion can

give you many ideas you would‟ve solely never come up with and thus more likely the

audience wouldn‟t have either.

Thus, I start in 3D by creating key poses in a shot that I‟ve thought out beforehand.

Though, after setting the initial key poses I prefer working straight ahead, often

removing/replacing the older poses I had come up with, with something better. The

planning and poses that I‟d thoroughly thought through and created beforehand are an

essential guide for my straight forward runs, reminding what the character should be like

at those important moments – which the director probably even approved too. Like we‟ve

seen many times before key poses instantly serve as great guidelines and my method

closely resembles the combination/blend of pose-to-pose and straight ahead (as

described in paragraph 2.2) giving the benefits of both. There‟s a difference between

shots where acting is most important and other shots that thrive on physical action.

When focusing on acting you would work your ideas from the character‟s mind, what

would he choose to do and how would he do it, keeping improvements to the line of

action and „sickness‟ of the shot for a later time. Whereas the shots with the focus on

physical action often start from what is the action, how can this look slickest and what

line of action is most intense where we start thinking about the acting and how would the

character choose to do so much later. But for both, and I would say all, animation it is

important to think it through and plan it well before you start investing time in complex

stuff and let your mind run off with the bad things that can come along the way. Or even

worse, let the computer introduce things in the animation you did not originally intend to

have in there.

Do yourself a huge favor and figure all this stuff[action in a scene] out on paper

FIRST before you ever save a key. Ideally, by the time you touch a mouse, you

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already know exactly what pose happens on what frame. You already figured out

your paths of action and your arcs and anticipations on paper - then just get into

the computer and plug that stuff in! (Kelly in Freeman, 2011b,

shaunfreeman.com)

The same accounts for the visuals the animator sees that can differ greatly from the

final result, the non-WYSIWYG feature. It should be controlled directly instead of being

magically created by the computer without some direct influence. While discussing Stop

Motion animation I mentioned the almost true WYSIWYG effect of animating stop motion

and how beneficial this is as opposed to 3D animation, where lighting effects and motion

blur for example are only visible after the rendering process. The 3D animator works with

the visuals in a raw state – à l'état brut 18 – that can offer an indication of texture and

color but misses complex lighting, motion blur and so forth. Hence, the pose created by

the animator can differ a lot from the final rendered result. This difference in pose and

motion must be in the back of the mind of the 3D animator. He must remember that

motion blur will likely „smoosh out‟ his animations making it less staccato 19 and more

legato 20 . Also the layered ambient occlusion, lighting and shadow effects can make

touches (between characters and objects) pop out more than in the preview which was

how the animator saw it while creating it. Within the production of the mostly physical

action based animated short Mac „n‟ Cheese we were downplaying many of the actions

because they would feel too fast or hard while previewing, though they seemed too slow

and legato when rendered. On the other hand high contrast areas often felt exaggerated,

making it look faster and harder compared with the preview. Hence some parts ended up

feeling harder and faster as opposed to others that felt smoothed out and slower. This

ended up needing us to adjust the animation afterwards and re-render those shots based

on the renders without direct feedback. The animator learns over time how motion blur

and the additional effect adjust the overall motion of the shot somewhat guiding him to

some extent when to overplay or downplay the movement. This is similar to theater on

stage, where the actor is schooled on how to act out the emotions efficiently for everyone

to see. The actor learns when to overplay his emotions to make it visible to the audience

in a clear way, the same as how the animator should learn when to choose for a faster

motion instead of a smoother motion. Nevertheless the animator is still „guessing‟ instead

of being in direct control with direct feedback. For now there‟s still no way to let the

animator easily check out his animation in a more rendered state, but in-between render

tests can show most of the difference already and is thus an important aspect of being in

control. Currently development in 3D software is constantly adding support for more

18

à l'état brut is French for in raw state. The sentence here is emphasized to refer to its raw state later in this

paper.

19

Staccato is Italian for “detached” and the word is used in musical compositions for a performance

characterized by notes that are abruptly disconnected.

20

Legato, like staccato, is a kind of articulation and is Italian for “tied together” and used in musical

composition as opposite of staccato: smooth and connected; without breaks between the successive tones.

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elegance – higher quality visuals and rendering effects – in the viewport that thus can be

previewed for testing the animation, though its considerable speed difference (a lot

slower) and reliability (crashes) makes it a doubtable option. And often it‟ll need a certain

workflow, as layers will still not be shown in the way it‟ll be layered in proprietary

compositing software, if it will even show the separate layers layered in the viewport.

Even though computer speeds and the supported preview shaders are increasing fast,

we‟re also increasing the amount and complexity of the rendered effects. So for some

time to come the preview - à l'état brut - and final render are likely to differ for quite

some amount thus render tests can and should be part of the process. Especially when

working with a style that looks completely different when rendered compared with the

preview. A regular interval for previewing a more final version allows for a more regular

level of feedback and measurable amount of control for the animator. Even more, having

such constant level of clear guidance for the shot provides the user with a clear goal,

even if it is only on a daily basis or so, like with dailies.

Another problem with the 3D software and its WYSIWYG missing features is the

animation playback. Within Autodesk Maya the playback often isn‟t exactly the amount of

frames per second you‟ve set up. The complexity of the scene can introduce slow-downs

and hiccups in the playback, even in relatively light scenes a playblast (preview of the

animation) can look different from playback within the software. Therefore to accurately

check timing and motion it‟s needed to create such a playblast, or even a preview render.

This comes down to exporting a video and opening it with a video player that can play

the exported file format, so there‟s no way to accurately and quickly check out the

motion within the software itself. Exporting to preview it elsewhere is useful for reviewing

purposes with the team, but is a tremendous slow-down when you constantly have to

check your own small tweaks and adjustments. There‟s much room for improvement

within this process of character handling and checking the animation. Quickly caching the

playback in Maya and scrubbing through it back and forth in real-time allows for much

less software switching and a more direct – and possibly comfortable – work

environment. Furthermore, quickly being able to draw over it to check arcs or motions

will really help being able to track the arcs, but even more test out different arcs on top

of the animation as well. Because 3D animation consists of positional data in a 3D space

you can also show such arcs in the software automatically, as the positional data is

already present. This provides an accurate and instant feedback on the arcs and can

prove to be very useful, but an automated system can have its downsides as well.

One advantage of digital technology is that it removes physical constraints. While

this is truly liberating in terms of creativity it is also a source of potential error,

especially if the scope and impact of the technology is not fully understood.[…] a

solid understanding of how to guide technology to produce the desired creative

outcome – a problem sometimes referred to as maintaining creative intent.

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(Autodesk Whitepaper – The New Art of Virtual Moviemaking, autodesk.com,

2009, p. 2)

If the animator doesn‟t know what he actually wants to do with the arc, the feedback

from the computer can be utterly useless. Whereas actually drawing an arc over the

character allows the animator to test and experiment with the actual arc itself. 3D

Animators therefore sometimes still use dry-erase markers to draw over the screen and

track the arcs of the character‟s motion by themselves. Allowing such an arc tracking in

the software itself by actually drawing the arcs in a 2D fashion can thus be an

improvement over an automated system as it brings a level of control and creativity back

in these parts. This brings us to the point that automation can help the animator, but

only when it helps creating his own creative ideas instead of letting the computer create

the ideas for him. As mentioned before the system should be a tool to create what the

animator wants or needs instead of letting it magically try to create something on its

own. The animator should always be in direct control. This directness should be managed

and maintained throughout the process as much as possible, because there‟s already a

lack of physical visual direct touch - no physical space touching, yet – and the missing of

a WYSIWYG environment that introduces similar downsides. Any improvements that can

be made on this end - and all the others discussed introducing better efficiency,

productivity and flow – should be top priority for developing towards a flow-enhancing

and intuitivity, productivity and efficiency increasing customized toolset.

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4. Developing a toolset

The reasons for creating a toolset have been well discussed. Through the chapters I‟ve

found great inspiration and motivation for creating tool concepts and the toolset itself.

Even more, the discussions gave sight on the room for improvement, what would be

effective as improvement and how we should approach such a thing. We‟ve seen

differences and similarities between the workflows in different animation fields. For

example, it is now pretty clear that animators in student projects and smaller studios –

like with the production of Mac „n‟ Cheese – aren‟t only animators. They often deal with

more than just posing the character and creating the movement, but have much more

influence on the whole project and often have a handful of tasks to complete aside of

animating. Before elaborating on ideas and work towards them on basis of the previous

chapter I‟ll first extract guidelines – or blueprints - for tool development on basis of the

findings.

4.1 What makes for an intuitive tool?

The intuitiveness, speed and overall efficiency of a tool are top priorities for designing

and creating tools that animators actually want to use and really help them to get to the

next level and endure more flow while at it. Obviously the user must know where to click

and should know what everything does; most preferably this must be at first eye-sight.

It‟s also important that once clicked it does what it needs to do, and works in a way that

is convenient or at least as convenient as possible. Where the tools usability is

measurable by the extent of how more convenient it is compared to how it was without

the tool existing. This difference is noticeable by the increased speed, quality and

increased direct control. As you can see it‟s a circle that should make sense.

Though, besides these the layout or setup of a tool isn‟t just that logical. There‟s

often a lot of different ways to tackle the same thing 21 . Because what I‟ll be providing are

concepts and a customized toolset for Autodesk Maya it should work like the basic way

Autodesk Maya provides the user with as means of interaction. This is because the user

is already accustomed with that and should feel at home when opening up the toolset the

first time and every time after that. It can introduce new tools, but these tools should be

build up or work (for the user) in the same way as the other tools in the Autodesk Maya

environment.

Feeling intuitive also has to do with the focus you‟re able to have and how your mind

is able to cope with that. I had already discussed the fact that the brain can only work

21 The differences in 3D animation software like Autodesk 3ds Max, Autodesk Maya and Autodesk Softimage

are a good example.

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with a limited amount of information at the same time. It is extremely important to relax

the mind from the tremendous amounts of information and data that goes through the

mind of 3D animators, especially those in smaller productions who have a bigger part in

overall production and deal with more than just one task – sometimes even

simultaneously. I‟ve also discussed the need for silence (for some animators) and the

need for overall rest and „peace‟ in the mind that every animator seems to be seeking.

We all want and should work our way around any interference.

An intuitive tool should not interfere or preferably even release any interference

where possible. Let‟s discuss the different forms of interference, in short:

- External

- Internal

o Distractions (irrelevant stimuli)

o Interruptions (multi-tasking)

o Intrusions (mind wandering)

o Diversions (multi-tasking)

(Gazzaley, 2011)

The first external interference, called distractions, is irrelevant stimuli that could be

coming from visuals or noise you‟re literally distracted by and are introduced to your

awareness without your own intend and is thus out of your own capabilities. Like an

animating animator being distracted by the ringing of a phone. The other external

interference, interruptions, is when you think you can do multiple things at a time. Like

when you‟re animating while team members are talking to each other and you‟re trying

to follow their conversation while you keep on animating. A human being can‟t actually

do two of such complex tasks at the same time, you would need to constantly switch

focus from one onto the other and back to be able to work with both. This introduces

impact on task performance as well as a time delay because of the constant switching.

(Gazzaley, 2011) The same can happen with listening to music while animating, like

we‟ve seen throughout the chapters. We‟re speaking of intrusion – an internal

interference - when the mind starts to wander off breaking any focus against our will. It‟s

traveling to places we did not intend it to do. The other internal interference can also be

described as multi-tasking, while animating you might be thinking about what you‟ll have

for dinner tonight and you‟re already allowing yourself to let your focus drift away. A

well-known problem we‟ve already discussed before is social media, for example

facebook or twitter, but also e-mail or text messages could introduce such interference.

Some people are in contact with up to 6 media at any given time. (Gazzaley, 2011)

We‟ve seen with Percy Tienhooven in the previous chapter how he personally initiated a

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more focused workflow by blocking certain media while at work and thus removing much

of the interference. This really is a personal thing and might seem irrelevant to tool

building, but the distinction isn‟t that big. I‟ve already mentioned that any notations and

reminders should also not constantly be in sight of the animator and interfere with its

flow, this comes down to the same principles. Even more, a bright pink layout constantly

on screen is distracting as well. Therefore, when building a tool it‟s very important to

keep away from distracting things that break the user‟s focus from the task at hand.

The constant access to communications, computers and such social data has changed

much social expectations. We expect immediate responsiveness and continuous

productivity. (Gazzaley, 2011) But this is not how animation works, or any complex task

for that matter, because we need time to focus and get ourselves into the task at hand

before we can fully become creatively productive. As Percy also learned to not interfere

with team members‟ flow this is an interesting learning point for a tool that has intuitivity

- even flow-enhancement - as its core. Occasionally I already mentioned the idea of a

review system. When comments are added it should not immediately notify the animator

(unless the animator is waiting for it.) Because such a notification can really introduce

interference, and will break any possible flow that the animator might be currently

undergoing. Looking for information or the usage of such reminders should be used at

only the times the user chooses to do so. Though, possibly it could be presented at a

regular interval (like dailies) as it will be scheduled and will make sure the animator is

waiting for it and it doesn‟t interfere as an unscheduled interruption.

For an intuitive toolset, as said, it‟s important that it does what the user thinks it‟ll do.

But if we go even further with that, what we actually want to give the user is the ability

to adjust something and know how it‟ll end up. It‟s not necessarily WYSIWYG, but even

more it is common sense that something is not useful if you don‟t know how to use it or

can‟t wrap your head around. Therefore it is important to – if tools of such complexity

would be created – that the user can learn how to use it easily. A “read-me” can be a

starting point, but thorough documentation is a good idea in general. Even more,

annotations -where possible - corresponding to buttons should be clear and simple to

understand. This also helps to make the animator feel more comfortable as he works in a

more understandable and recognizable environment, thus an interface that doesn‟t „bite‟.

Animation is teamwork. So, an intuitive toolset created for animators could heavily

support this point. Any toolset that would help something in the pipeline (where multiple

people might be working on) should be easily accessible at all times - preferably at the

same time. Even more, it should be clear who made the changes (if needed) and the

distinction should appear at first eye-sight. Again speed and simplicity are very important

in this.

Another significant point is that if there‟s a lot of data to be managed or even a lot of

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information to be (possibly) present within the use of a tool, the user must be able to

search through or filter out easily the information he actually needs. A good focus can

only be held on a limited amount of data, therefore if the animator could easily limit the

amount of data or find the things he need in large amounts of data the overall benefit

would be great. It is also very important that no matter what the amount of information

or data is it should be clear and give the precise information the animator actually needs.

Data that is unnecessary for the animator, or even data that could make something look

hard or introduce unnecessary worries with the animator should be hidden from the

animator. The animator should not need to care about the technical stuff under the hood,

but should be impressed and happy with the overall result of a tool or function while

feeling and staying in control.

It‟s very important that an intuitive tool is direct and fast, if the user wants to change

something he must be able to do it quickly, especially when he‟s experimenting and

testing ideas the quick checking of his tests is a must, as he can create more tests in a

short amount of time he‟s more likely to do some more experimenting. He‟ll come to

better creative ideas if he takes the time and thinks it through. We‟ve seen it in the

second chapter: „You can‟t just wing it.‟ Therefore it is very important that the tool is as

simple and direct towards the user, and vice versa, as possible.

“If the repositories of thought are already full, what can they receive?” Samuel

Johnson (1759) That is a good question. It seems that the mind can easily be disrupted

or held back by complexity. Therefore simplicity is a key principle for all of the mentioned

things in this paragraph. Focus on simplicity. And I feel like I‟m coming down to the same

principles constantly, because everything is so related to each other. At first it should be

fast and almost direct in use. Direct in use also means being in control, thus knowing

what it does. This is connected to WYSIWYG, which is part of user-friendliness. We‟ve

learned throughout that for animators – and probably for everyone – simplicity is the

highest priority. If it can be simpler, make it simpler. Again, it doesn‟t end there. If

something could be done faster, it‟s probably simpler. If something is easier to

understand or to use, it‟s probably faster and simpler. So it‟s hard to derive a strict list of

notations from this, because everything is related and can arguably influence one

another. But for the sake of this research, knowing what we‟ve dealt with now

throughout this paragraph should be enough to help and guide us towards creating an

intuitive tool based on the animator‟s needs.

4.2 Guidelines for developing flow-enhancing (animation) tools.

Since the creating and designing of tools that enhance and raise the possibilities and

capabilities of flow are greatly based on the level of intuitivity for the user the previous

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paragraph is a great introduction to guidelines for flow-enhancing animation tools. Also

all the findings from the previous chapters in addition to these help us come down to a

couple of key points for creating such tools for animators.

Animators are constantly trying to work in a comfortable and familiar way. 3D

animators are often comfortable with a tool when it has a design structure similar to the

proprietary software or creates a result that they expect as the outcome, thus the

interaction becomes useful. For animators to feel comfortable with any additional tool or

enhancement the changes should be made aware to the animator, but even more look

and work as if they are an actual part of the program. A customization that adds new

techniques or technology should provide a – as close as possible - recognizable pattern in

the interaction and structure of the interface, but when impossible to do so – like when

the tools idea is to create a new form of interaction – it is important to keep it simple and

document and guide the animator along the path that is at first rather unfamiliar. Feeling

comfortable and in control is really important. This also accounts for the following point.

Something that is rather similar, but doesn‟t necessarily come from being familiar

with a software interface, is the need for an instinctive usage design. Especially when

introducing new techniques creating something that works in a way we can simply wrap

our head around the essential interactions is an important starting point. We‟ve seen that

switching from paper to a Wacom Cintiq can work for animators that have felt

comfortably drawing on paper before that. This is possible because the design is created

to highly mimic the traditional feeling and thus works in a way we‟re all instinctively

familiar with. Everyone has learned to draw.

The user of a tool should feel in direct control. The user should be doing something

with the aid of the tool instead of letting it do something where he has no or limited

control over. For direct control it is important for a tool to allow for such control, but also

be simple so the animator will know what it does when he does something with it. Also, it

should be fast to use by the animator. For the holding of flow it‟s important that the tool

should align with the task, help him out and helps keeping focus on the task. This will get

interrupted if the animator has to think about setting up a tool or think about the usage

of the tool, it will break any focus and creative flow.

For extremely complex techniques or adjustments it should automate the process of

its functionality under the hood as much as possible. Control to the user must be given

only to the parts where it‟s necessary. Hundreds of optional buttons to click can be a

tedious way for the animator to work his way through, especially unnecessary if the tool

was going to provide help with just one simple thing. The tool should provide an

improvement instead of just combining things in the animator‟s workflow by creating

numerous buttons that might be able to do it. Therefore it should be noticed that what it

provides actually speeds up the process and give him the control the animator is asking

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for. Sometimes it is necessary to allow for optional control, especially if the tool at hand

can provide numerous speed-ups that really should work combined in one tool. If that‟s

so it is important that the default actions/presets of a tool work in a way the animator

most likely intended it to work. Thus, unnecessary control should be hidden and the

others should be easily manageable and quick to use.

A tool that helps with keeping flow should work fast, give direct and clear feedback. It

sounds logical that the animator would want a tool that‟s fast in response, but as we‟ve

already seen in previous guidelines speed decline can come from many parts some

might‟ve not originally thought of. The fast response is needed when the user does

something or better if he tries to do something and wants feedback on what‟s happened

or will be going to happen. A faster response and clear feedback really helps with a more

direct control as well.

We‟ve seen that animators were only likely to switch to a new tool or start using it

when it introduced an innovative technology that introduces a big speed, a completely

new technique or an increase in creative – or fresh - sight on the focused matter. An

instant speed-up can only be introduced if the animator can find his way through the use

of a tool and feels comfortable while using it, for this it should have a recognizable design

and introduce all buttons and functions in a clear and simple matter. Anything that

introduces a new technique far different from the ways of working the animator is

accustomed to it is best to introduce new possibilities that wouldn‟t have been possible

without the usage of the tool. If a tool works in a way that is hard to be understood at

first eyesight there should be a clear easy-to-use starting guide for first time usage.

For creative flow it‟s necessary to have focus on the task at hand and nothing

surrounding it. The tool should allow and even help with raising focus and the removal of

distractions. For this it should not interfere with what the animator is doing and when the

animator is using the tool it should not be to obviously present. Bright contrasting colors

should be avoided, the same accounts for pop-ups and irrelevant information. Also it

should – if even necessary – use the smallest amount of screen space possible for the

tool and its information, keeping in mind the clarity of its functions and provided data.

If the tool works with much data and some of it should be managed by the user or

overseen by the user it should be limited to just the essential information, even more it

should be given to the user in a way that‟s easy to understand and direct to pick up at

first eye-sight. Reading over irrelevant information and clicking through a list of data to

get to the right one should not be necessary. The tool must be able to present data in a

direct, fast and simple way and in such a way the animator needs it and asks for it. The

simplest example of this is the filtering in a database, but it‟s also really important to let

the animator work with many keys in Maya, but these should always be presented in a

way that is comfortable and easily overseen by the animator.

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It‟s important that whatever a tool does its useful outcome should always be

measurable almost instantly. The user should come closer to his goal within a shorter

amount of time, with more certainty and/or should not feel unhappy or discomfort with

the tool and its functionality. Therefore it must work as a means to build and progress

towards his goal in clear and unambiguous ways. The animator should be able to choose

when to use a tool, based on his own judgment of its usefulness. This all comes from a

noticeable increase in speed, efficiency and simplicity. Which thrive the user towards

more productivity, creativity and the achieving and holding of creative flow. In short, the

animator should feel the measurable progression with the tool and thus have instant

gratification. Deferred or delayed gratification is also a means towards such measurability

as well. It means that the user is able to wait to obtain what he wants – like when he

knows he‟ll get what he wants but later on. Most important within this all is that the

animator will know what the tool will do when he does something, even if it takes a time

before he‟ll be able to notice or see it. Therefore its functionality should be clear and

direct, even if a direct result (as in instant) is missing.

For an animator (or anyone at all) it is good practice to have a clean and organized

pipeline overall. This simplicity creates for an easier and clearer sight on progress of the

task at hand (or even the whole pipeline) and makes for better and clearer goals as a

result. With good organization and simplicity in the start you can work within strict limits

and set clear goals, which helps to focus the creativity to only the necessities and the

clear easy to read goals make for ones that are easier to check up against and work

towards, hence more focus. In an overall workflow it‟s important to have such

organization, but this accounts for the user‟s tools as well. Any tool should provide a

clean and simple form of interaction that creates similar oversight at the task at hand,

gaining focus. Since 3D has its own layers of complexity it is even more important to

keep to this simplicity as best as possible. But to help simplifying, restructuring and

organizing to its simplicity when things start becoming complex, if possible, can create an

ever better consistent clarity and focus and should – if it could – be part of the tools

functionality. Thus, anything that relates with working towards and creating a better

clean organization should be amongst the goals when designing tools.

Helping an animator to customize his work environment can help him feel more

comfortable but organized and clean as well. A tool that allows functionality that will be

used throughout production (thus more than once) should be customizable and should

allow for personal adjustments to its interface. At best functionality should be able to

become transferred and set for shortcuts and custom button. Furthermore being able to

rearrange big parts of the tool (like blocks) should be important when the tool provides a

great functionality or even multiple functionalities.

There‟ve been many guidelines and the one resemblance between it all that seems to

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pop out is simplicity. For every task and function it should be purely focused on

simplicity. Once we start feeling comfortable and familiar, we‟ll say that it‟s simple. If it‟s

fast and direct in usage, it‟s simple. If it helps keeping focus, removing distractions and

complexity it‟s coming towards simplicity again. Many of the guidelines mentioned need

simplicity in its core and its results. Therefore it is important to mention simplicity by

itself. If it can be brought down, limited where possible, only controllable where

necessary and organized from beginning to end it helps the animator to keep it simpler.

Once things start becoming simple we can wrap our head around it, plan things out

easier and start working with it intuitively and creatively, and even more can try to

experiment with its possibilities in shorter amounts of time. Hence, increasing efficiency,

productivity and flow.

In final it comes down to the following rules:

- Familiar interface.

- Instinctive usage design.

- Direct touch / direct control.

- Automate the process wherever control is unnecessary; user must feel to be in

total control, but don‟t have to worry about what‟s going on under the hood.

- If much optional control should be possible default settings and presets that make

a tool work should be set to how the user would‟ve most likely intended to use the

tool.

- Fast in response.

- Introduce innovative way that introduces big speed-up and/or new technique.

- Raise focus and remove distractions: release stress from the mind.

- If data management is a must, make it as small and simple as possible.

- Instant or deferred gratification.

- Possibility for customization. (as in paragraph 3.3)

- Clean-up and organization.

- Simplicity.

4.3 The needs for improvement.

Since I‟ve brought quite a lot of different things to the table on animation, there‟s

quite a lot I could simply go in on and discuss. But rather first let‟s get down to

subdividing the things the animator actually does. We can divide character (and props)

handling and management into parts. We can subdivide the 3D character posing into

selection of parts of the character, posing of the character, maintenance of the

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keys/timing, checking of the animation, reviewing poses on parts, and new possibilities.

Even more there is the logging, reviewing, supervision afterwards and in-between.

Before this all there‟s the getting inspiration, sketching, using reference and so on.

- Preplanning (Getting inspiration / Creating ideas and references)

o Video reference / Performance Capture Reference

o Quick thumbnail sketches

o Character pose drawings

o Motion testing / timing testing

o Character Sheet

o Brainstorm session / notes from director

o Storyboard / Reel / Line-test

- Character posing

o Selecting parts of the character

o Moving the actual character

� Pose creation

� Tweaking

o Managing keys and data

� Managing timing

� Managing arcs/curves

o Reviewing poses and motion

- Notations and logging

o Animation dailies

o Supervision

o Tracking shot status

o Reminders and notations

As noted in the chapters before, there‟s a strict workflow in big studios where the

layout artist essentially lays out the scene and defines the scene setup before the

animator touches the scene. The animator is released from most of the technical stuff

(besides adjusting the character and props) and any of the data wrangling involved in a

production. The animator in such production most often does only the animating (posing

the character) based off a strict storyboard, a good layout and often under the sight of

an animation supervisor. The benefits are pure focus on the act of animating (no

productional disturbances or data management), direct and clear guidance and clear

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goals (based off of storyboard and the words of the supervisor) giving more flow in his

general workflow. In smaller studios and in school productions this is lacking, because of

the limited amount of people to which these different parts of production can be divided.

Because I‟m most known with smaller productions – in small studios and school

projects – I‟ll focus rest of this discussion on the needs for improvement in such

productions. Therefore, the discussed improvements in this paragraph are defined

towards such smaller studios and productions – like Mac „n‟ Cheese – as a basis.

Nevertheless they are often applicable to almost the same extent for all animators in 3D

animation productions.

4.3.1 Improvements on preplanning.

The animators preplanning stage requires him to get inspirations and work out ideas

to test and discuss. I‟ve discussed video reference as well as motion capture as

reference. Good reference can really help finding ideas for the shot and the character. It

can provide small subtleties and finesse that the animator could‟ve hardly come up with

by just thinking. Although a one on one copy of the movement can make for a lesser

quality animation, because of the uncanny valley effect. The reference should not be

used for mere rotoscopy, but used for finding ideas, inspiration and small additions and

use that to create an exaggeration of the found essence. The current technology allows

us to quickly capture video reference and check it frame-by-frame quickly as well. Since

it‟s not necessary to directly adjust or tweak the reference footage it‟s better to improve

on tools that help creating the ideas and use the acquired inspiration from the reference.

Such tools are tools for sketching, brainstorming and any tool that speeds up the testing

and tweaking of ideas the animator has in its mind. We‟ve seen that creating sketches to

test the idea of a pose quickly is being done within all fields of animation. Though, the

quick thumbnail sketches and character pose drawings of 3D animators are often still

done on paper. But, doing this in the 3D environment could be a joy and really efficient

benefit as well – especially with a Wacom Cintiq. You could draw over the character, or

turn his visibility off and try motion out as an overlay on top of the scene‟s layout.

Drawing on top of a background and at the same time have these sketches end up in the

scene also makes for less data management (less paper notes) and the ideas and tests

will likely work better because they are in the scene layout. For this to happen in 3D

software there‟s a need for a system that allows drawing in the viewport, preferably in

layers on top of the viewport, which can be turned on and off for the animator‟s needs. It

should be possible to choose different colors, brush sizes and anything that could make

the animator feel more comfortable and give him the ability to create clear small

sketches. You could already capture the scene layout (print screen), put it into

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photoshop, draw ideas on top of it and somehow use this as reference image in 3D

software. Though, the extra unnecessary steps and complexity of the setup should be

avoided. Even more, doing it within the software itself makes it possible to paint ideas on

a couple of different frames with camera movement as well.

The possibility of sketching like that in a digital environment that supports a timeline

– like Autodesk Maya - can make motion testing easier too. Cameron Fielding, currently

animator at PDI/Dreamworks, did something like this and called it „draw your timing.‟

(Fielding, 2011, fliponline.blogspot.com) He would draw in a program that made it

possible to capture his „drawing‟ while it played, leaving a trailing line on each frame. He

mentioned how it helped him with testing timing and finding ideas; helping him getting to

better lines of action and the creation of better arcs. This increase in speed and efficiency

in testing out and finding these timing and action can be really beneficial. Especially if

this system would work on top of the viewport and could easily be used as clear direct

reference at any chosen moment. This simple sketching is very important and introducing

this so close into the software makes it easier for animator to quickly switch to it and

scribble a sketch. The efficiency and intuitivity will increase while creating ideas and

formulating clear goals. Hence, flow will be enhanced.

Also the usage of a character sheet has proven to be very useful in all animation

fields when in preplanning stage, but it is often lacking in smaller studios production.

Since I‟ve already mentioned its benefits of keeping this „next to you‟ and separate from

the digital workspace all I can hint to is to create such a sheet, with the model in size

relevance the other characters, his most important poses and write notes besides parts

that require extra notations for the animator. This is not necessarily an improvement in

digital space or as a toolset, but it‟s a reminder for production pipelines and animators‟

workflows to have such a sheet besides them. It will increase productivity, creativity and

even help reaching flow. It is possible to stack this in the 3D Computer Environment (on-

screen.) But I feel that handing over a character sheet on paper can provide more

assistance to the animator. Constantly being remembered by seeing it on screen can

remove the possibility of fresh thinking. The animator would miss strong „out-of-the-box‟

approaches for a shot, because of the interference. An animator should not feel totally

limited and feel lacking of freedom as this interferes with one‟s creative ideas or even

one‟s passion. Again, interfering breaks flow. Though, before – in chapter 2 - I said that

a character sheet could deliver inspiration towards even better poses which is exactly the

opposite. I believe this difference comes from the separation of the workspace. As the

animator chooses to check the character and see these „living‟ poses is a totally different

form of seeing the character than being interrupted by it while working, constantly

interfering with the process of thought. This is not to say it can‟t work on the computer.

I‟m just saying that if it is, it should be somewhere the animator needs to click to open it

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up and shut it down instead of a constantly opened visual on (one of) the screens.

Working from director‟s guidance and the guidance from a storyboard and line-test

can really quickly (in a good way) limit the animator‟s ideas onto those that are actually

required for the shot, creating a better focus. Such guidance would come from already

produced material and thus is not part of any toolset that will be developed. Though, the

pipeline could be smoothed out to deliver shots and data corresponding to the shot

easier, removing any file searching and data wrangling at this point. Within Pixar the

animator would be given such information and data by someone, but with Mac „n‟ Cheese

the animator had to get most files himself, open it and discuss it with the team. Since the

time to find a file corresponds with the complexity of the pipeline and how difficult or

complex the file structure and management is built, a toolset by itself can‟t introduce any

significant change. But, because animators - in smaller productions – are often involved

with these tasks as well I‟ll try and produce an example pipeline with a documented tool

that could provide significant release of the stresses, which I‟ll discuss within concepts for

notations and logging.

4.3.2 Improvements for character handling.

The selection is currently based on selecting controllers in the viewport – currently it

is the most intuitive way available – where the controllers are placed around the limbs of

the character. A downside of this is that sometimes (based on the pose) some controllers

might be obscured by the actual limbs of the character or other controllers in front of

them might make selecting harder. For example selecting multiple controllers for all the

fingers is done by doing a marquee select over this controllers, but you‟ll need to make

sure to not select other controls that might be behind or somewhere near that can get

caught up in the selection, because you‟ll have to deselect them afterwards. Especially

with the coming of more complex rigs and higher amount of controls this takes a lot of

(unneccesary) time and a lot of checking and clicking which is also prone to human error.

A system that would provide consistent selection and the creation of adjustable quick

selection sets (for when the animator focuses on a part of the character) could provide a

significant change. Through the years systems have been developed that run in the

viewport or somewhere aside in a menu. These menus are often cluttered, big and lacked

many features. By designing such an interface based on the guidelines we can improve

the concepts of character selection towards more intuitivity and flow based on the

animator‟s actual needs.

The actual positioning of a character is done by translating and/or rotating the

different body parts‟ controllers. This comes close to the moving of a real-life puppet

(except you‟re doing it with the mouse on screen) or the positioning of digital cut-out.

4. Developing a toolset

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But this direct touch could be simplified even more. A simple what if: “What if you would

draw a line, and the arm would position accordingly?” This question has been keeping me

busy quite some time and can show an interesting intuitive way of posing a character.

I‟ve also discussed the charts that 2D animators make for their assistants; creating such

charts makes the animator think and focus on spacing and timing. If the animator could

draw a 2D chart - 2D thinking is simpler than 3D thinking – focusing on this time and

spacing and can make the rig position accordingly it would be this same relationship. The

computer will be the assistant and the animator will be in control while planning things

better and focusing more as he works on parts of the character. This charting is meant

for spacing and timing, but if we go on with this concept and create a system for posing

by drawing a curve for parts of the character – like the arm, spine or even the fingers -

we introduce a new intuitive (based on instinct from drawing) way of posing the

character. The animator would draw a 2D curve on top of the viewport and the arm could

be repositioned accordingly. A downside with this is that this 2D approach does not allow

for instantly posing in 3D (as it is 2D), but this instantly has the benefit of simplicity as

well. Making such a system work on the actual controllers allows the animator to tweak it

afterwards in any original way he‟s comfortable with, but the tool does allow him to

quickly test - even sketch - any ideas for poses. It‟ll introduce a new possible technique

for posing, but even more a possibly huge speed up while at it as well.

Adjusting the arcs and curves can be done from within the graph editor easily. You

select the keys you need and then press the button for your required curve‟s tangents.

But this is not possible within the timeline, and thus impossible without the use of the

graph editor. Even more, selecting the keys first should be unnecessary if whatever you

want to do is adjust all keys (on selected objects) at the current time (or a time range),

because then an indication of the selected time range should be enough. Even more,

setting the default in and out tangent in Autodesk Maya can be a tedious task as it

requires you to go into the options menu and set it accordingly. Often you‟re switching

default curve tangents a lot in the process and setting (and easily being able to the see)

the default curve tangents could really help with this process.

Another enhancement could be in the tracking of the arcs. The user should be able to

click a single button and then click somewhere on the character as a point which he

wants to track (not necessarily a pivot point) as if he chose to draw with it on every

frame. I‟ve already discussed the usefulness of actually drawing arcs over it yourself, but

keeping track of the arcs while you adjust is can really help as well as you have direct

feedback on your changes and the changes that occur to the arcs by it. Allowing the user

to change the arc itself to adjust the motion (instead of the object) gives you an even

more direct approach to the managing of the arcs and tweaking it, and this is already in

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development 22 . Since the tracking and managing of the arcs are an important part of the

character handling this‟ll be in one of the concepts as well.

Another improvement is on managing the keys and data. There‟s still some

functionality towards easier inbetweening and timing adjustments that aren‟t standard in

Maya. Some animators 23 have set shortcuts for moving a key by one frame to the right

or left. Shortcuts can bring a lot of these tricks into the personal workflow, but especially

for starters it can be hard to find their way around and know-how on how to create these

shortcuts. Even more, shortcuts also provide a limited use (often just a single

functionality), and they need to be remembered as well. For managing keys and data I‟ll

also discuss tools that can helps making adjustments to timing faster, especially useful

for tweaking and testing out the timing in your animation. Often you‟ve to see and feel it

to know what is the best timing, spacing and amount of follow through. As such tweaking

and testing can be done simpler the overall investment of time should be a lot lower,

hence increasing efficiency. For the management part simplicity is of utmost importance

as well for keeping focus and goals clear, and thus introducing tools or ways for cleaning

or managing the data in simpler ways are more than welcome and will be discussed

within the concepts as well.

Another quick testing concept could be coming from real-time capture from the

mouse (or even a motion capture suit) to introduce quick ways towards a first pass for

the motion. It could be easily used as a starting point for aiming of the eyes for example.

The character would look where the mouse is while the timeline plays and the eye‟s aim

is being recorded. You might‟ve seen similar things on websites where the eyes of a

character in a flash video are constantly following the mouse. It should be minded that

such a technique could hardly introduce final animation, but could again help with testing

timing, attitude of the character and so forth. Any increase in inspiration and creativity is

a worthy addition.

A big problem while animating is to pivot (rotate) around another point in the scene

instead of the object‟s own pivot point. There are numerous scripts out there that create

complex set-ups so you can key another object to let the controls rotate or move about,

but they are extremely hard to oversee and often can produce problems if you don‟t

know how they work. Introducing a technique that can let you rotate around any point as

well, but instead apply these effects directly to the controls‟ keys makes the extra

overhead go away. Even more, such a system would provide a way to move all keys (or

a chosen amount of keys) with the same transformation. Making it way easier to

reposition the whole animation, especially when the global controller already has its own

22

Since Autodesk Maya 2012 there‟s a feature in the software that allows the user to adjust the arcs of a

motion in the viewport.

23

Animator Aaron Koressel provides a simple yet effective script on his website that creates such functionality.

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keys this can produce quite the complexity at the moment. I‟ll try to explain the

differences and possible improvements as thoroughly as possible when I‟m going into the

development of the concepts in the following paragraph.

We could also introduce an additional cleaning/tweaking pass to animation. This has

already been tried with anisculpt for Blender or gDeform in Autodesk 3ds Max; both are

plugins to add final tweaks as an extra layer on top of the character by sculpting and

modifying the actual vertices – often applied as some kind of blendshape. Such a tool has

not been produced freely for Autodesk Maya, but designs are on their way 24 . Such a tool

right within the software can introduce a new era in style of the animation. The animator

gets released from thinking technical and thinking about controllers, but instead focuses

on the form and pose of the character. Even more, the complex rigs could possibly stay

simpler as the animator can easily sketch and deform the final tweaks over it afterwards,

instead of trying to achieve this with numerous controls that need to be part of the rig.

Since these introduce major new freedom and techniques for the animator I‟ll discuss

this as one of the concepts and will evolve the idea of it based on the guidelines and data

gathered throughout this thesis. Thus, design such interface on guidelines aimed at flow-

enhancement.

The usage and benefits of a character sheet have been well discussed and a feature

with similar functionality I already tipped earlier in this thesis is the usage of a pose

library. Such a system where an animator can quickly store poses in an organized and

clear manner can improve a significant increase – like the re-use of footage with South

Park (1997, Comedy Central). There are numerous scripts 25 that provide features for

storing poses and reusing this for Autodesk Maya and some that provide an efficient and

organized workflow for this, but I‟ve seen none that have been widely used. Often

custom-made proprietary systems are created on a per-project basis. Since no extremely

popular pose library is already (freely) available (to my knowledge) I‟ll try to define the

core needs for such a tool and how to keep it clean and organized on basis of the defined

guidelines as a concept in the next paragraph.

Another thing found throughout this thesis is the creation of a fresh look on the

animation for the animators to help looking at it in a different way. Sometimes time off

can help, as well as watching animations from others in-between to see where you could

also be going and get inspired. But as discussed there‟re also some direct in-software

possibilities for this. Looking at the silhouette, flat-shading or a proxy version of the

character instead of the default version can help you look at the animation differently.

24 A plugin called Lbrush introduces similar possibilities focused on facial expressions. Though, the developer

has mentioned that more anisculpt similar features planned in the development for future releases.

25 There are many scripts on CreativeCrash (a website that contains many downloadable scripts and plugins for

3D software and such) that provide such functionality and a lot are even designed to be used as pose library as

core functionality.

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The same accounts for playing the animation backwards, or even back and forth, a

couple of times. Anything that can help you look at the animation differently can help you

find and see things you might‟ve been missing every time before that. Also mirroring the

shot can help as your mind will register it as a different animation you can suddenly look

at it fresh for a moment, again seeing different things. Anything that changes how you

think about the animation or a new way of looking at things can keep the animator from

becoming blind-sighted from the constant viewing of the same thing over and over again.

Even more, looking at the silhouette can help you focus on the actual readability of the

pose and looking at flat shading can help you see color clashing, both helping you with

the shot as well. Important is to note the shift in focus, like how watching the silhouette

helps focusing on the readability of the pose(„s silhouette.) Simple, yet effective. As

mentioned zooming into the shot on just a part of it can help focusing on single body

parts or just a part of the screen space allowing you to focus more and get less

distracted by other things going on in the shot. These all allow the user to quickly look at

„different‟ versions of the animation and thus allow him to get a fresh sight on his current

task. This can help raise focus and gain more control over working towards the final

goal, the final animation.

For previewing the animation with Autodesk Maya you have to create a so called

playblast, which comes down to an export of the viewport of each frame in the chosen

time range. At best the video will automatically open in the video player that‟s associated

with the exported file format. As I had already discussed in the previous chapter this

exporting should be unnecessary. Allowing a cache playback in Maya, to quickly playback

the scene for its timing and motion in real-time should be possible for the animator and

can help creating a much faster and direct workflow. At some times in the process of

animating you might be exporting a playblast almost every five minutes. At moment such

as those it‟s even crucial that being able to check and see the animation quickly and

direct after small tweaks. This combined with instantly being able to draw over it in the

viewport for drawing lines of actions, arcs, notations and so forth on top of it allows for

an even easier and more efficient quick tweaking process.

The exporting to a saved video file format from a playblast should be an optional

choice 26 , like exporting the cache once you like the current version so you can use it for

reviewing purposes with the team or export it for use in the animation dailies. Once

chosen it should provide a system that automatically uses the correct naming

conventions for the pipeline and exports corresponding notes from the animator with it

clearly as well so everyone knows what‟s changed and what the current stage of the

animation is. With the ability of quickly and easily drawing notations and extra

26 Actually saving the export is already optional as playblasting can also be done in the temporary files folder

which can be cleaned up after previewing. But still this lacks a preview option inside the software itself.

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information on top of the animation in the viewport the animator can quickly choose to

export the version with or without the notations for review, or both. Exporting this

information easily and automatically into a management tools (like a database) allows for

easy and clear supervision, direct comments and notations from the supervisor to the

animator. This creates a better overall organization while staying consistent with file

naming and folder structures throughout the whole production without much need of

(direct and constant) human control.

4.3.3 Improvement for notations and logging.

There‟s no real tool in 3D software that is meant for actual notations and/or comments

for animators. Neither is their standardly one present for managing the pipeline and

production progress. And the need for it to be inside the 3D software is not necessarily

that great, but a tool within or outside of the 3D application that can work well together

with it, like showing comments on the current shot the animator is working on (or even

others) or a checklist in general and reminders from the animator himself within the

pipeline is a great improvement for the amount of data the mind constantly has to

process. We‟ve seen that checklists and reminder post-its can solve a lot of this already,

but with the coming of a bigger „culture‟ where animators aren‟t necessarily at a single

production location with the rest of the team a system that can work globally (online)

could introduce way more benefits besides this. The most important thing is that the

animator should feel comfortable with the software and that it should be linked with the

3D software, but it could be running alongside the software instead of inside the

software. This might even be preferable so quick reminders and notations are easily

accessible even without the opening of a big 3D application. The same would account for

a project manager in general. The improvements in many small studios can often be

great in the data management and progress tracking of the team as the management is

still often done on a lower-profile basis without much optimization and automation. But,

for such a tool there‟s another need. As mentioned the improvements that try to

minimize file management, data wrangling and progress tracking should‟ve a strict

pipeline at its basis. In the next paragraph I‟ll try to come to a concept pipeline that

introduces simplicity, but even more good organization within the team. Even more, it‟s

one that can work together with concept tools that can easily combine comments,

progress reports and task assignments with the corresponding files. On basis of this

pipeline I‟ll define in the next paragraph I‟ll try to lay out a basis for such pipeline

management tools as well.

The discussed dailies seem to be used around the world in many of the biggest

animation studios. The same concept could (and should) easily be introduced in smaller

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animation studios, and if it were up to me I‟d say that they need to add it to their agenda

on a daily basis. Even more, the sharing of comments and task assignments really help

setting a clear goal for the animator to work towards. Besides, knowing what everyone is

working at the moment can introduce a more productive work environment. In the next

paragraph I‟ll discuss a couple of ideas and concepts on how this could be inserted in the

pipeline and workflow of animators at smaller studios as well by creating tools that allow

for sharing such data easily and keeping track of notations and comments as well.

4.4 The tool concepts.

The concepts provided in this paragraph have been developed and

designed based on influences and guidelines presented throughout

this thesis. With the use of the guidelines combined with the need for

improvement this paragraph presents tools that can aid animators

towards a better holding of flow. It should be noted that I‟ve had

some concepts in mind before even starting the research, but those

that aren‟t concepts coming directly from the research can be

The “Pressure.

Release. Animate.”

icon.

judged, tweaked and critiqued based on information and data I‟ve gotten from the

research. But most of the concepts are coming from the ideas and perspective I‟ve

developed since the beginning of the research and are based on points and ideas I‟ve

discussed throughout the paper and thus might seem more in order to the overall line

I‟ve followed throughout. Also note that I present an extensive library of concepts that I

deemed to be a worthy addition. Despite this quantity they‟ve still been developed and

designed in-depth on my findings and I feel that they all have a profitable quality.

Animators all have their basic needs that – according to my findings - all seemed to

have the same foundation, but they also all build their own personal workflow and usage

on top of that. This same personalization should be allowed with a toolset designed for

animators. The user should be able to reorganize the layout and functionality in such a

way he feels most comfortable and he‟s able to work most efficiently with in his own

workflow. Even more he should be able to add or remove functionality on basis of his

own choices. Thus, the ability to reorganize, add and remove functionality is greatly

appreciated. For this it‟s best to introduce a system that consists of small modules that

can be rearranged and changed to the users‟ own needs. Some more technical stuff

briefly: with the coming of the Python programming language and the better support for

PyQt4 such a system within Maya becomes more easily possible. With this we can create

a consistent and easier achievable user interface for different operating systems. With

good object oriented programming each module could just be an extended object (class)

supporting the dockable options. Such a module could then easily be docked in the whole

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toolkit as well as support standalone functionality and therefore the complexity of the

customizable and user-friendly work environment would only be programmed once (for

the toolkit.) From there adding custom modules or adding more functionality can be done

by creating a class that inherits from this superclass. Less technically this comes down to

allowing to add extra modules with minimal amounts of code, possibly adding and

modifying about 5-10 lines of code to any existing code. By providing simple

documentation on how to create a custom module the small scripts and tools animators

already use should easily be added to the toolkit without any extensive adjustments to

the tool. Therefore it provides the ultimate customizable environment, even for

professional animators that already have an extended list of tools. Any list of tools

already owned by the user can then become even more organized and easier accessible

from within such a toolkit with this functionality.

For this customizable interface and toolkit it‟s important that the personal preferences

and modules can be saved and easily transferred to another work environment so a

single user is mobile with his own workflow, and can easily use the same system at home

as well as at work (or in class.) Switching between users on a single computer should be

easy as well. For this the system keeps track of who‟s working on the computer by

making the user „log in‟ to his own account in the „Pressure. Release. Animate.‟-toolkit,

from now on referred to as PRA. This seems like adding more work and thus inefficiency

– the logging in - but this process should only be done once (in a work environment

where a single user uses a specific computer) and even if it has to be done more often

switching can be done quickly and easily, as comfortable as logging into your own mail

provider. When the system runs only on an intranet a security layer might not even be

necessary and thus a password would be unnecessary, then switching account can easily

be done with the press of a button and becomes even simpler. The small inefficiency that

might possibly come with the system‟s logging requirements – the user needs to log in -

are far outweighed by the organization, personalization and productiveness the system

increases.

Furthermore working on a per user basis makes it easy to set all preferences to the

user‟s own needs when switching work location. The user can create personal (though

shareable) layout presets for the toolkit with the tools he uses mostly or needs in his

close environment while working. He can create a clean arrangement for his screen

space, on that he works best in and can set it – Maya‟s interface as well as the custom

modules – to the places he likes, even multiple presets if he wishes – like for each stage

of animating. The same account for the settings of each tool as they can be set to user

defined default settings or his personal last used settings. Even more, for organization

and automation, logging can be done quicker as well and introduce even more

organization automatically. Saved files can contain the name of the last user that worked

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on it, as well as use it automatically when submitting for review or managing personal

notes and reminder. This creates an environment where the animator knows everything

will be set the way he likes it and this helps him to feel comfortable when getting to

work.

In Autodesk Maya there‟s a lot that can be improved, like adding new techniques or

better efficiency and productivity in older techniques based on the discussed needs for

improvement. Many of the improvements can be used in the customizable interface as

described. Therefore I‟ll distinctively name the two main covering systems now:

aniToolbox and aniViewer. The aniViewer is a separated viewport with its own timeline

and contains functionality for planning, playback, previewing and reviewing. The

aniToolbox is a more empty design by itself but is acts as a parent window for modules

that will be presented in the following paragraph. More information on both systems can

be found in the online documentation (pressurereleaseanimate.com) Note that some

concepts are not created to be used directly within one of these systems. Often these are

tools that are not used on a daily or repetitive basis. Nevertheless all of the concepts will

provide an improvement towards more and a better held flow on a basis of the developed

guidelines and findings in this research. For more information about the and a view at the

current state of development I recommend you to take a look at

pressurereleaseanimate.com which provides an up-to-date representation of the tools

and concepts in the coming years. For all of the concepts I‟ll now go into how they were

defined and designed based on my findings in this research and how they developed into

a flow-enhancing tool based on the guidelines.

4.4.1 Concepts for preplanning

For the first concept for preplanning I‟ll be discussing an environment for sketching and

testing, almost like a sketchbook. Therefore I‟ll refer to it as the sketchbook module.

This module is part of the bigger customizable interface called the aniViewer. The

sketchbook is part of its planning functionality. Being able to quickly, intuitively work out

ideas for a shot is really important for the acquisition of flow for planning, testing and

experimenting when animating. Sketching out in a simple 2D „quick „n dirty‟ way really

helps to quickly test out many ideas and get inspiration for new ones as well. Introducing

sketching over the 3D viewport in 2D space can make a big difference for drawing out

the flow or creating guidelines for animation. Animators starting out might not see the

importance in doing it yourself and thinking it all out beforehand – at least I had this for

a long time when I started -, but the actual improvement is well worth it as seen

throughout this thesis. It‟s really helpful to do the sketching in a 2D fashion on top of

your scene. Especially because the technical 3D stage‟s accumulating complexity per

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frame can be hard to keep track of intuitively and efficiently the experimenting in a much

simpler 2D space helps being much more creative. There‟s often just too much data to

create, to process and to keep track of in a 3D space. The simplicity of this sketching

allows the mind to focus more on creative intent making the animator‟s creativity – by

planning, experimenting and testing towards improvements - rise.

Left: In

respectively

Adobe Photoshop

and Autodesk

Maya tools are

presented on the

left side of the

screen by default.

They contain

functionality for

selecting,

drawing, moving.

Photoshop also

has a text tool

and the current

colors in this

toolbar.

Digital drawing is easy and instinctively familiar because

tools for drawing are often present in the 3D animators‟ work

environments, like Adobe Photoshop with the use of a

Wacom device. Therefore they can instantly feel comfortable

by mimicking those familiar interfaces. For this it‟s smart to

take a look at the applications many 3D animators use, like

Photoshop for drawing. Adobe Photoshop is one of the best-

known software packages among digital artists (3D

animators as well) and is among the top in its class. In

Photoshop the main drawing tools are to the left by default –

same is in Autodesk Maya; in this toolbar are the brush,

pencil, eraser, color picker, pen tool, text tool, selection tool,

the color settings and more. The brush size can be adjusted

at the top in Photoshop, but an even more direct feature 27 is

to press the right mouse button over the drawing area to pop

up a little window with adjustable settings for the currently active brush. This decreases

the distance to move with the mouse and thus makes for a higher efficiency according to

Fitt‟s Law. Introducing these familiar interfaces creates for a more comfortable

environment from the start while introducing a fully new technique to the 3D software.

Since many animators are already familiar with the benefits of sketching and quickly

experimenting (on paper) they will probably be able to see the benefits of being able to

do so in the 3D software straight away. Thus these take away two of the biggest

boundaries users face when trying to switch to a new tool and technique.

There are some basic features we expect from drawing a tool that should allow us to

experiment and sketch quickly. We want the ability to do simple drawing, make notes,

use colors, erase, pick used colors and undo/redo done operations. Extra useful features

would be layers to try out different things on top of each other as well as being able to

control the opacity of each layer to keep a half transparent sketch on top of the viewport

while animating for example. But, since it should be a tool to aid with animation it should

27 In photoshop the [ and ] keys alter the size of the current brush respectively shrinking or enlarging its size

with each key press or while the key is being held. In Maya this is done with holding „b‟ and left mouse button

while dragging for changing its size. Differences between applications and their shortcuts can be hard to

remember and keep track off. Therefore the use of shortcuts is not directly discussed and used within the PRA

tools. Nevertheless setting up a user-defined shortcut is possible like with any command in Autodesk Maya.

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offer functionality for this in a recognizable way. A recognizable timeline and seeing keys

on frames where a drawing is all can quickly help with feeling comfortable. Onion

skinning is a well-known requirement as well. Even more, introducing a way to draw in

the viewport while the timeline is playing and thus doing motion capture of the mouse,

tracking its velocity and speed to create a real-time captured line of motion will allow

quick experimentation with the line of action and timing.

.

The animator draws a continuous motion as the timeline plays creating a timed line of motion useful for quickly

testing arcs, the timing and lines of action.

The spacing, timing and arc could all be portrayed in one continuous line easily. Since

this allows for very quick intuitive testing and experimenting this seems like a must-have

feature for the tool to introduce just that.

Besides providing extensive time-based experimentation tools it should also allow

actual sketchbook and post-its functionality for separated reminders and notations.

Instead of working on a frame-by-frame basis the user should be able to switch towards

a real sketchbook mode for containing some quick scribbles that could resemble the

overall stages of the shot as well. The pages made in this mode should be easily

accessible and can then be used as a side-reference like a character sheet would be on a

physical desk for the overall shot. Giving it all the essential features from drawing

sketches on paper and applying digital features to it literally gives the best of both

worlds. A lot of complex functionality is in the tool but none that the animator has not

grown comfortable with through the years of creating drawings and doing animation,

therefore he‟s able to instantly use it effectively.

With quickly sketching out in the 3D software the animator can quickly sketch an

arc, and then starts positioning the character towards that arc. Thus, it can be used as

reference - clean and simple. Furthermore it can be used for the sketching and testing of

ideas introducing an extensive in-software environment for developing the ideas while

drawing over the actual scene or the characters. Furthermore there‟s no more need to

carry physical sketchbooks around to all work places and logging is also no necessity, as

the drawings can simply be saved with the scene itself. Nevertheless allowing exporting

and backing up of versions is an important feature. Exporting and importing allows the

user to create backups, import sketches from co-workers or even import notations and

comments from a review by the director. Even more, with exporting backups the

animator would be able to save out and back up older ideas he‟s had for the shot and by

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opening them later remember how he‟s approached the shot at the beginning and find

back the essence of his original ideas. It would be as if you were going back and forth

through your sketchbook. Even more, allowing for quickly saving out a version makes for

a much less destructive environment as the animator will feel like he will always be able

to get back to his previous experimentation or idea.

The sketchbook module is part of the aniViewer. Its functionality and usage is

therefore described in the online documentation as part of that. The aniViewer is a

separate window with timeline and features different modes among which is the actual

sketchbook mode as explained here. The sketchbook mode should not be implemented

as an additional tool or plug-in, but as a required feature that should be added as default

functionality to the software. Because it‟s extremely important to allow such control on

the animation within the stage of planning, and the later stages of tweaking, notations

and review as well it‟s important that it is widely available and easily accessible from

anywhere in production. Therefore the aniViewer is the encapsulating parent containing

the functionalities for sketching, writing notes and having a clear playback/preview while

working on all these stages. The aniViewer provides functionality for this sketching,

previewing animation quickly, using references, reviewing of animation and functionality

for adding custom modules (like the animation toolbox) as well. The supporting of a

better overlay on the viewport and drawing and stacking pictures/references there

creates a direct and effective planning tool as well as helps with tweaking, testing and

even the review process as we‟ll see when discussing those parts of the aniViewer in

more of the tool‟s concepts. This is one of the aniViewer‟s core features and should

actually be implemented in Maya‟s default viewports out of the box.

Another module, now for the aniToolbox, is one that allows you to beat out the timing

with key presses, called the beat timer module.

With this tool the animator can initiate a mode

wherein his key presses are recorded over time and

he can use the data that becomes visible in the

Maya timeline (and optionally viewport) as

reference for timing. Many animators tap out the

timing/beats of a shot when planning it. Recording

A picture of the beat timer module in its

early stages of development.

this information directly and using this as a clear and organized reference within the

software allows the animator to quickly test out different timings and tweak the planning

of his shot. Since many animators do this tapping by instinct it‟s an extremely

comfortable way to test and try different approaches for the overall shot.

Furthermore an animator will often adjust the timing of a shot multiple times to try if

it works better and to literally „feel‟ how it will come over for the audience, instead of

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guessing right away what the best timing is. This is a tweaking procedure that‟s similar

to a trial and error approach, which works best in environments that allow high-speed

testing. With the beat timing module the animator can retime his currently created key

poses based on the tapping of the beats. It allows him to test out different timings

quickly and intuitively for his already created animations. This automates the process of

tapping the beat for your key poses and setting the timing accordingly. Best of all, it‟s

really fast. This tapping out of timing by instinct combined with the incredible speed and

simplicity of the tool‟s usage makes for an intuitive and direct approach to planning,

testing and tweaking among different stages of the act of animating.

Since an animator often taps out a beat based on video or audio reference it‟s

necessary to add such functionality. The animator should be able to choose an audio file

and/or video file to play back while recording. This gives a more direct „tap‟ and influence

from the inspirational source which the animator was aiming for. Furthermore, after

recording the beat both can be played back simultaneously to check the differences and

similarities. The animator can then choose to make small tweaks to his recording or

choose to create a new timed beat. It‟s extremely easy and fast to do one play through

(real-time) allowing the animator to test different timings quickly while keeping direct

control and creativity. Nevertheless recording in higher speeds or slower speeds should

be possible to allow for more control when something needs to play faster or slower than

you feel comfortable with tapping out. Thus this is useful when the animator needs to tap

out some complex movement and likes to do it at half the speed.

Another concept for testing and planning

based on speed for testing, a 2D space interface and

a form of real-time control is the aniRecord module.

It‟s a simple little tool that allows you to record your

cursors position and use that in real-time to change

an objects position or rotation. Quickly recording

such motion is useful for testing out the movement

of the eyes or trying out a camera shake. Also it can

be used to test out the movement, arcs and different

timings of a hand or simple object. Because the

resulting motion often isn‟t very clean and useful it is

The aniRecord module allows you to aim

or position an object to the cursor‟s

screen-based position. It allows a quick

interactive way to test out the movement

of an object. The picture is illustrating the

aiming of the eyes to the mouse‟s

position.

best used for creating reference material or testing in the earliest stages of the shot. It‟s

like some sort virtual directing or virtual motion capture directly applied to the character.

The benefits of such a real-time testing environment have been well laid out and

discussed, like with the production of Paul (2011). The tool automates the process of

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trying out positions over time. And like the 2D space designs it‟s simple and fast in usage

making it even more interesting for testing and experimenting.

4.4.2 Concepts for character posing

Selecting the character‟s controls in the viewport that are

over the character make for an intuitive direct approach

to select whatever you need as you actually click what

you want to reposition. Nevertheless I‟ve discussed many

of the downfalls of this setup, like the obscuring controls

and cluttered view. An interface to allow for easier

selection of the parts that introduces no obscuring of

controls, less complexity and a consistent layout can

provide an increase in efficiency as the animator becomes

comfortable with the consistent design and its clean

organization. This character selection system, referred to

as aniPuppet from now on, should help the animator

with focusing on working layered, staying organized and

provide the animator with a direct and clear visual

feedback on the selection part.

For the discussion of this concept I‟ll walk through it based on a biped and its

controls. The animator should be allowed to address all of the selections possible for the

character, but especially those (combinations) that are hard to select in the viewport

should be designed in an organized and easily selectable manner. As you can see in its

design I‟ve chosen for symmetry and clear alignment. Especially for often used

combinations to make sure it‟s clean and simple to select them in a single drag. Like the

fingers (including the thumb) should be selectable with a single selection. This creates a

simpler and faster selection while providing a cleaner organized interface at the same

time.

We‟ve seen that focusing on parts (working layered) is important for animators to

keep track of arcs and motion. For this the aniPuppet provides two approaches. First it

has tabs for different focuses on the character, like „all‟, „arms‟, „legs‟, „hands‟ and „face‟.

Each tab contains only the necessary controls for that part. The tabs are at the top and

can be easily reordered, hidden or added by dragging or using the corresponding right

mouse button menu. The second feature that improves focus is the zooming in on the

system. The zooming is controlled by a Photoshop-like navigator so the control is familiar

for those that have worked with that software. By zooming in on a part of the character

the controls become bigger and others are moved out of the visible area, both help you

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to focus on only these parts and make selection even easier.

Optional control is allowed in the interface by toggling between IK, FK, auto or both

modes. By default it‟s set to auto mode so the selection scheme is based on the currently

used mode at the current time set in Maya, thus is the most likely intended usage of the

user. Removing unneccesary controls automatically makes sure only necessary data is

presented. Nevertheless the user can optionally use the IK-only, FK-only or „Both‟ mode

if he needs to focus on other stuff. Furthermore the aniPuppet contains different selection

methods. The rectangular selection (default Maya selection), lasso tool and paint

selection. This respectively selects anything within a box, everything within a custom

drawn shape or everything that you‟ve brushed over. This makes even complex

selections quick and simple. Nevertheless if you constantly keep working with certain

sets of objects the following is a nice addition.

It is what I like to call the quick selection bin. A button that functions as a depository

that when clicked selects a user-defined combination of controls. The best of it is that it‟s

easy and convenient how the defined combination can be altered and adjusted any time

by clicking the right mouse button and choose replace, add or remove. This will

respectively replace its content with the current selection, add the current selection to it

or remove the current selection from it. The usage of quick selection bins allow for easy

focusing on a defined set of controls and thus help working layered, gaining focus. When

he constantly needs to tweak the fingers and hand it‟s best to set the quick selection bins

to contain those controls. Then he can select this with the use of single button that he

can rename accordingly. This makes sure he‟ll focus and work on the correct combination

of the hand and fingers. Time is of the essence and simplicity is the key, this way both

are taken in account. Note that all of the aniPuppet‟s selection methods support the uses

of all modifiers‟ (ctrl and shift) selection changes and provides a familiar means of

interaction while giving a clean and quick approach to selections. This familiarity adds to

the direct control and simplicity that makes far better organization and speed the core

power of the aniPuppet module.

Another feature is the highlighting of selected objects. You‟ll always be able to see

what‟s selected within the viewport and the aniPalette as well. Since the system provides

a simple, organized overview of the character it allows a great way to directly see what is

currently selected. For this the tool requires fast and direct results so the animator can

use it efficiently and will know the presented information is correct. Since the highlighting

is familiar from almost any application (selected things are always highlighted) on the

computer this is about as familiar as it can get.

For character handling we can also improve much on the actual posing and moving of

the character. As explained working in 2D space is a lot simpler than working in 3D

space, there‟s much less hassle going on and it‟s easier to wrap our heads around. This

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makes sketching very efficiently. Another concept for character handling is based on this,

the aniPen. The aniPen allows you to pose the character‟s parts with the simplicity and

speed of drawing a single arc. It allows the animators to quickly pose the arms, legs,

spine and more parts that could be simplified towards a line by easily and instinctively

drawing an arc or line for it. The animator will draw a curve and the character‟s limb will

reposition accordingly. Since the drawing of a single arc can be done simple and fast this

introduces interesting quick and simple ways of interaction with a virtual character for

animation. It‟s almost like you guide an actor by saying, „Hold your arm like this line‟,

and the character acts accordingly. The character really comes alive based on your

instinctive directions.

By selecting the arm and then drawing a curve the aniPen tool will reposition the arm according to the drawn

line. You literally sketch the new position in a 2D space.

You want freedom in sketching, but not necessarily freedom in the posing. You might

want to lock the length of the arm or limit its bendiness. Therefore the aniPen module

allows locking of the length of the limbs and limiting its bendiness. Doing this allows you

to draw quick long arcs without messing up the length you intended to have. On the

other end unlocking the length will make the limb position to the full length of the drawn

curve so you can exactly and precisely draw what you need. Furthermore interactivity

and speed is important, but the possibility to tweak as well. For this the tool has the

ability to instantly apply it to the limb after drawing or keep a curve that can be

interactively altered and tweaked in the default way Maya users are accustomed with for

editing curve‟s points (CV points for the Maya users among you.)

Though, a problem with posing a 3D character this way is depth. It‟s simple to draw

an arc within two dimensions in one go, but adding depth is rather hard. It could be

added by pressure sensitivity (Wacom or Touch-screen) or by a new input device that

creates the possibility to intuitively assign positional data in 3D space. This could already

be possible with a motion capture suit or with the use of Microsoft‟s Kinect as these

produce 3D space data based on human movement. Three dimensional interactions have

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een developed through the years for virtual reality systems of all kinds; nevertheless

we‟re still far from good intuitive techniques, mass production and (cheap) mass usage.

On the other end we‟ve seen that the complexity of working with 3D data can introduce

tremendous slow-downs and hiccups in flow whereas working in 2D space allows for free

creative control because of its simplicity. Therefore this „lacking‟ feature that can seem

like a downside can also be one of the top beneficial features of the tool.

Another concept on this same core principle is aniCharts. It‟s a module inspired by

the traditional animators who created small charts alongside their drawings to set their

timing and spacing for themselves and/or assistant animators. The module allows the

user to draw a chart (curve) next to an object in Maya (in 2D) and give the animator

control on the spacing and timing along that curve. The animator can draw the lines on

the charts just like laying out the spacing on traditional paper and use that to apply that

timing for the chosen range of time.

The look of an animation is greatly induced by the smoothness and speed of the

curves and motion. Therefore direct sight and control over the arcs and spacing is

extremely important when working on animation. You need to distinctively keep track of

the arcs and spacing of the different body parts to keep fully focused on the actual arc.

Over time you might miss smoothness in the animation, that‟s when little bumps and

hiccups start appearing in your animation and you need to smooth or clean them out in

the long run; the best way to see these out of order parts is to address them as clearly

as possible and literally follow the arc.

Drawing an arc with its spacing will be an organized overview of the motion and timing (left), yet will present

much information we can get from it on timing and feeling of the motion of which some is described in the

image above (right).

I‟ve seen digital animators draw on their flat-screens with dry erase marker to track their

arcs or sketch a subtly different arc quickly to see if the arc would fit. Pick a point on the

body, or a locator and track its motion with an expo dry erase marker on screen. See

what shape arc you are making and check the results. Not only do you need a dry erase

marker it‟s also a strange situation to draw on your screen. Therefore the already

introduced capabilities of sketching of the aniViewer would again be a useful

functionality.

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Instead of drawing the arc yourself an automated tracking visualization of the arc is

useful as well, which is another side of the aniCharts module. It allows you to choose an

object or any point on it and track its position. It will create the curve automatically with

a point on it for each frame. Also, since this is based on the actual 3D positional data of

the objects the arc can quickly update when you adjust one of the timings or spacings.

This way you‟ll automatically see how changes influence the full curve of the object‟s

motion.

Visualizing the arc is a useful method to focus on the actual curve of the motion.

Nevertheless noticing that something is off is still a step away from knowing how to fix it

or knowing what the better arc would be. Thus, improving the arc can only be efficiently

done when you know what the better arc is. For defining the better arc the simplest way

is sketching/drawing it out quickly. This allows you to experiment what curve looks best,

again creating some sort of plan and setting a goal to focus on. The problem with

allowing the computer to visualize the arc is that you‟re not intuitively experimenting

with the arc. This can make it hard to find the right arc, especially if you‟re not an

experienced animator. Therefore it‟s recommended to use this freedom where possible.

Nevertheless the automated arc tracking visuals are a great way to keep a clear

organized focus on the curve‟s motion while adjusting the animation to your needs.

Autodesk is developing technology for Maya making it possible to track an arc and adjust

its curve by manipulating the point of the curve itself 28 , which brings a little bit of both

worlds. Nevertheless I recommend the experimenting and testing with the arc by

drawing our the curve yourself.

There‟s also much to change in Maya‟s way of key

management and the functionalities it contains to control it,

like better controlling of tangents to tweak animation curves.

A module that helps managing the flow of the curve is the

Quick Tangents module. Controlling the curves ins and out

forms – like stepped, linear, spline and so forth – can be a tedious task. Especially with

the coming of more complex rigs which introduced an increasing amount of keys and

28 This is listed as one of the Autodesk Maya 2012 new features at the official product release website.

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data to handle through the years selecting the right keys or finding the right moment in

time becomes a troublesome job. The graph editor is a great place to edit the curves, but

looking through and selecting the right keys can still become quite a task if you‟ll have to

go in, select and adjust accordingly. This system provides a way of altering this part of

the keys data without the need to select any keys in the graph editor and/or even

without the need to select a time range at all which is exactly what you need if you want

to adjust all ins and outs for the current frame. But it can also be applied by highlighting

a time range and applying the change accordingly for the indicated time range; it is

selection based.

A picture of the small yet convenient Quick Tangents module

The system is designed to be familiar (looks like the graph editor buttons) and is

conveniently small so it can be placed anywhere without capturing too much screen

space. Even more it provides a direct sight on the currently set default tangent which is

used for each new key that gets created; it‟s the most right icon in the module. By

clicking the button it turns into a red question mark to let you know you can then choose

a new default setting. You can do this by clicking on one of the others icons that

represent the tangent in and out you want. This way you always have the direct control

you need over the tangents and have a constant clear sight on what is currently set as

default.

The animator often „plays‟ with the timing by making small time adjustments of a

couple of frames and checks the results quickly to see how it feels with the different

timing. This animator‟s technique has been used in the core of the beat timer and is also

the main reason why the Quick Retime module is so extremely effective for animators

as well. This module is again one with an extremely small design and has only a few

buttons to adjust the timing of the keys by moving them quickly respectively -3,-2,-

1,+1,+2 or +3 frames.

A picture of the Quick Retime module

This is one of the simplest additions designed, but it creates a great and simple interface

towards controlling and checking the overall timing. Even more, it pushes you to

experiment more with timing as it becomes much easier and quicker to alter it. Like the

previously described module it is selection sensitive. It will adjust all keys after the

current frame if no time range or keys are selected. If a time range is selected it will

move that range by the chosen amount. When a single or multiple keys selected it will

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move only those. This is no standard Maya functionality, but it is far more convenient

because it uses any type of selection you create. This way it will end up doing what you

expect it to do, the influencing of only your selected keys.

Traditional animators‟ pose to pose method introduced inbetweening to the animation

world. This inbetweening was the basis for developing the Quick Tween module. It‟s

focused at creating inbetweens between poses in an interactive way with the ability to

favor one pose over the other. This way you can quickly create a key that makes sure it‟s

more like the previous or next pose on basis of your chosen value. I‟ve chosen to use a

range of -100 (previous pose) and 100 (next pose), because it gives us enough control

without the constant need of working with decimals for tweaking. Also you can look at it

as percentages for favoring towards each pose which makes it a familiar calculable

method.

A picture of the Quick Tween module

For a more direct control and faster response the animator can enable the interactive

option. Now the effect will automatically be applied while dragging the slider allowing you

to tweak or test out different values by sliding back and forth. It introduces a big speed-

up in testing out different easing ins or easing outs. When enabling overshoot the values

will go beyond the 100% percentages to set a value beyond the previous or next pose.

Values beyond +100 for example will amplify the value beyond those from the next pose

based on the difference between the previous and next pose. In effect it will create an

overlapping motion quickly and easily. The system allows you to do quick testing of

spacing and easing without needing to tweak the tangents of curves in the graph editor

for the results you‟re looking for. Its incredible speed and interactivity allow you to

quickly test and check inbetweening possibilities.

There‟re numerous scripts available for download for Autodesk Maya that provide

complex yet in-depth ways to rotate an object around a custom pivot point. Nevertheless

most are complex to handle and create technical setups many animators don‟t feel

comfortable with. With the complex data it‟s hard to oversee what‟s controlling what,

especially when using it more than once in a single scene. To solve the issue that you

can‟t rotate around a custom pivot point I‟ve developed the aniPlacement for Autodesk

Maya. It‟s a tool that allows you to reposition any object moving it around and rotating it

from any chosen point just like many of the other freely available tools. As opposed to

the others the aniPlacement is not adding any complex data in the end, it‟s literally

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applying it to your objects animation curve. Furthermore the aniPlacement provides a

totally safe tweaking environment; while adjusting and tweaking the position you can

choose to revert or apply the changes at any time. This non-destructive environment

combined with the ease of use creates a great plug and play environment without

worries.

Sometimes you need a custom pivot point to rotate around. That‟s when you use the aniPlacement module.

Without the use of the aniPlacement module you would have needed to both translate and rotate to mimic the

rotating around a custom pivot point. The aniPlacement does this all for you, providing you with clean data.

Furthermore it works on a single frame, selection of keys, selected timerange or all keys.

Therefore you can use it to reposition parts or the whole of the animation on a controller

within matter of seconds from right within the viewport without adding any additional

complexity once applied. Note that you can adjust the translate, rotate and scale as if

doing those operations from the custom point, this is because it is – when in use – just

an ordinary familiar transform node the animator has grown accustomed to.

The Quick Display Modes module contains a sets of functions to quickly alter your viewport settings to change

the way you look at the scene and get a fresh look at your animation.

After hours and hours of animating on a shot it‟s hard to see flaws in your animation

or to stay creative with your ideas. Therefore it‟s really important to allow yourself a

fresh and a different look at your animation when needed. The Quick Display Modes

allows to quickly change your viewport settings to useful predefined options as well as

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customizable presets for display options you like to personally use once in a while.

Getting a fresh look on your animation can have a big impact on your focus. When

looking at the silhouette you automatically focus more on readability and dynamicity of

the poses whereas flat-shading can help you find clashing colors in a scene and lack of

depth in colors without shadows. Every change made to how you look at the animation

allows you to focus on different things, hopefully allowing you to miss flaws or lacking

parts in your animation you‟ve been missing all along. Having such quick control over the

look of the animation while working on it gives you the ability to stay focused and keep

such a fresh look throughout multiple stages of animation by switching back and forth

between those views that work best for you.

The complexity of the character rigs nowadays are skyrocketing. An extensive

amount of bend and stretch controls is often being considered as part of a mediocre rig.

The „better‟ rigs often provide a clean interface, but an even bigger amount of controls as

well. As explained this makes it more complex to handle as more key and data is being

created and should be managed. It‟s not impossible, but it just can be hard at times.

Going back to simplicity there‟s a couple of steps we can take to manage this data. First

of all we can work more structured by ourselves, like settings keys on every other or

third frame instead. This approach is only maintainable for a certain amount of time as in

the end you‟ll still need to tweak and add in extra detail in the movement; therefore it

works only at the starting stages of animating. We can also clean up the already set keys

without altering the animation by removing keys that don‟t have any influence on

altering any values. This Remove redundant keys is also part of the PRA toolkit and

usable in the aniToolbox. The remove redundant keys module deletes redundant keys

based on a tolerance value. It will delete keys that provide less movement than the

provided tolerance between the surrounding keys on that curve; only necessary keys will

remain. After this you‟ll have less data to manage and most likely a less cluttered graph

editor.

Instead of adjusting the ways of setting keys or removing redundant keys we can

design tools that allow for the same quality animation with less complex rigs to begin

with. This brings us to aniSculpt, the module that allows adding an extra layer of tweaks

to animated meshes that can blend in and out over time. You select the meshes you

want to tweak and apply it for the current frame and it will make the mesh editable

without breaking anything of the rig‟s deformations, it‟s an additional layer that adds

deformation. With this the user can sculpt/deform the character to more extreme poses

and/or tweak small areas on a frame by frame basis to any extent he deems necessary.

This tweaking can be done with almost all of Maya‟s default modeling tools that apply

changes to the vertices without introducing object history. Therefore you can use Maya‟s

default Sculpt Geometry Tool and custom tools that allow similar like deformation. This

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allows you to quickly sculpt tweaks and deformation as if providing clay-like adjustments.

There‟s no need to focus on axes interpolation since its interpolation is just like a

blendshape. For control it‟s a single value ranging from zero to one to turn on or off the

created adjustments. It is extremely simple and generates really small amounts of key

data (at most one key per frame per mesh.) In the end this allows for much more control

(not based on the rigs limits) and creates much less data to manage. A complex rig setup

wins only at the automation - which is impossible with the aniSculpt module – like the

automation of creating a nice curve of a complex bendy arm, though automated results

can also be unwanted or create unexpected results (especially with complex setups.)

Simplicity and speed are important for creating quick small tweaks in overall pose and

form, for this it‟s best to use screen-based deformations that work in a 2D space. For this

there should be a brush that mimics the action of the smudge tool from Adobe Photoshop

or the move sculpt option from the open-source platform Blender. By painting over the

mesh it pulls vertices within the direction of the input in screen-space, thus sculpting in

2D as if smudging in Photoshop. This introduces the speed and efficiency of 2D space.

Also, when tweaking the actual mesh it‟s important to notice that the controls can be

hidden and full focus can be used on the actual character instead of its controls. Since

the aniSculpt module allows you to change the actual mesh as if modeling and sculpting

it‟s the most familiar way of tweaking vertices and creating adjustments and increases

the directness of controlling the character compared to using the character‟s controls that

are limited by the possibilities of the rig and can become hard to oversee because of the

complexity of the rig.

I‟ve mentioned the use of pose libraries in production and said that many are

available but are lacking necessary features and simplicity. Based on the needs of the

animator and the extracted guidelines we can distill the requirements for a good pose

library. I‟ll refer to the library designed for this research as the aniPalette. I‟ve not

developed and used this in the production of Mac „n‟ Cheese (2011). Again this is a

module that should be usable in the customizable interface (aniToolkit) or used as a

standalone product within Autodesk Maya. For organizational and clarity its best to have

clean thumbnails to show what each pose is instantly. This way you instantly see what

it‟ll do once pressed. Besides this clarity there‟s some basic functionality we need from

the aniPalette to keep it clean, simple and efficient for the animator. It needs an actual

library to work, and it should be easy to fill the library with poses you‟ve created and

rearrange, replace or remove any poses already in it. The libraries should be easily

accessible and shareable, preferably automatically finding the most recent and complete

version of the character‟s library. This is best done on a server, but without a server or

for backup we need the ability to import and export the library which at best should be a

single file per character.

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A library can grow and especially for a TV series or big production the amount of

saved poses can become huge further into production. Therefore we need the ability to

filter and search through the library so we can quickly find the pose we need. Also it‟s

important to allow the creation of a personal library with your own poses and favorites

instead of constantly working in the global production‟s library. This is all important to

minimize unnecessary search times and limit, order and customize the data to your own

needs. To organize and clearly separate parts of the character the aniPalette contains

tabs and submenus. This is important for working layered and helps keeping focus on

only a part of the character constantly. It‟s also very important that it supports both

single poses and sequences of poses (animation.) The difference should be clearly visible

(play icon above sequence) and the animator should be able to show only still poses or

animated sequences so he‟ll only be looking at what he needs. This makes it more

organized and reduces the amount of data he has to go through while effectively still

showing all that he needs.

For a pose library to „pose‟ effectively there‟s a couple of requirements for control

needed by the animator when setting a pose. He should be able to blend in a pose, apply

it interactively to test what looks best and tweak the result. This interactivity increases

the directness of controlling the character and returns a faster response at the same

time. This direct result provides instant gratification. Furthermore when selecting a pose

it should be possible to apply it only to the selected controls to quickly adjust only a

portion of the character and work directly on what we‟re currently actually working on,

thus helps staying to work only on the parts you‟re actually changing. Also poses are

often stored as absolute values, but you don‟t want the character to instantly move to

totally somewhere else. The animator should have control about what stays where and

let the pose be assigned to that current position, thus relatively. This way the pose will

always fit and be at the position you intend it to be. For more information about the

aniPalette and its functionality I recommend reading its documentation.

One of the things we need as animators is a reliable way of testing out the animation,

for traditional animation you had to master flipping/rolling. For computer animation you

need to playback the scene in real-time. Maya‟s standard playback will not play with a

constant frame rate and is thus not a reliable source of reference. Reliable playback of

the animation is currently only possible by creating a so called playblast. This creates a

preview file to be played back in a video player that supports the exported codec. Tools

for creating clean playblasts are available to download from the internet, both against

payment and free. (TragidiTools and ShotView both contain a playblast script for

example, but there are also separate scripts for download.) Though many provide

convenient options they always still need to export to a separated video player. Since

previewing is a constant process it should be interweaved with the software so you can

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quickly and easily check your animation without constantly needing to switch between

software. The concept for this is presented as functionality of the aniViewer in the

documentation. The first step is to allow cached playback in Maya‟s viewports so we can

playback the video in real-time within the software itself, no matter the complexity of the

scene. Furthermore the aniViewer should allow to zoom in and out on the shot (without

changing camera settings) so you can quickly and easily focus on a part of the shot and

focus on that continuously. Also the different view on the animation as discussed with the

quick display modes module accounts for previewing as well. Therefore it‟s good to allow

screen options that allow you to see the animation in a new and fresh manner, like

mirrored/flipped or with others color. Also how you play it back with the timing can help

you see different things. I often prefer playing it backwards a couple of times or let it

ping-pong back and forth to keep focusing on different things. Also it‟s good to look at

your animation on a big screen, preferably cinema size, once in a while. But, as with Mac

„n‟ Cheese production, you don‟t always have the privileges to play it back on such screen

sizes. A neat trick I learned from an animator was to place some cut out silhouette

characters in front of your screen (small) so your screen would look relatively big. I tried

this couple of times and every time it magically allowed me to focus on the shot

differently thus was an interesting option. Based on this I would like to introduce the

need of playing back the scene with an overlay around its frame and maybe even a little

over the video to see it in a different perspective, faking a cinema environment on-

screen.

For organizational purposes the exported preview requires on-screen information, like

a frame counter, shot name, camera name and optionally a small notation. This should

be set up once and be consistent throughout production, therefore it should be a setting

that is set for the full production (from a database) instead of per single user or

computer (though overriding should be possible.) The on-screen setup should

automatically switch to the preferred preview mode and set all options accordingly. This

way all previews will be consistent throughout production without the possibility of

human error. Because this is all part of the aniViewer it comes with the tools for

submitting for review, sketching and notations. Combined this wonderful suite of tools

creates magnificent planning, tweaking, previewing and organizational improvements.

4.4.3 Concepts for notations and logging

Since there‟s no real management and supervision that comes with Maya there‟s a lot

that can be improved and linked with it by creating it. Based on the findings and the

guidelines for flow-enhancement I‟ll present three tools that above all should able to

work together, share data and communicate making sure that the right data is in the

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ight place and is always correct and accessible. This is best done within a single

database so changes in one tool also automatically update in the other and vice versa,

because it is the same informational source. This database should contain information for

all shots, like description, current status, supervision comments and more. I‟ll not in-

depth discuss the actual content of the database; neither will I explain how to connect or

create the database technically. Yet I‟ll present a way of interaction that should be

familiar, organized and simple for the animator. Even more, it‟s designed to be fast in

use, easily shareable and built up in such a way that the overall production management

is delivered in a consistent manner. For this organization it‟s important to work on a

clean and organized core, hence the pipeline and workflow should be so as well. The

discussion of a pipeline and its management core have been discussed with the tech

team at House of Secrets, FUBE and Polder Animation to make sure all the necessary

requirements are met and it‟s based on actual production necessities combined with the

guidelines I‟ve already thoroughly laid out throughout this thesis. First I‟ll introduce an

effective production pipeline and structure, and then I‟ll go into discussing the three tools

that work on this core which are aniReminder, aniReview and briefly introduce the bigger

brother of the two called aniManagement.

To oversee a pipeline you need clear sight on progress and current status. This means

you need to know what department is working on what shot and exactly who‟s doing

what. Furthermore they need to be able to notify you once something needs approval or

when they have any questions without interrupting your other tasks. Meanwhile you

should be able to approve or give comments on their work even while they are animating

(or doing other tasks.) Knowing where you are and what has to be done today raises

your focus on the current tasks and gives instant gratification when a task is completed

since you‟ll be able to see the production progress when checking it off. Without any

complex tools that allow overseeing the production‟s files and folder structure quickly it‟s

best to start with a clean and organized file structure so that even browsing the

operating system‟s native explorer through the production‟s files and folders becomes

simple yet effective.

The most important things we need from a single file are name of object/scene, date,

creator name and revisions (thus backups.) For example: “12a_20110601_Roy_01.mb”

This resembles shot 12a created on 01-06-2011. The date is represented in this

backwards order because now when explorer is set to order by name the last will be

most recent. The next important information we need is who created it, here Roy, so we

know who to address about the file. At the end is the revision number and here we see

this is the first revision.

Since the pipeline is often used with references to files, like a single file to be used for

the character in all animation files, it‟s important that it always links to the latest version

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without worrying about what and where the most recent file is. You also don‟t want to

automatically pick the latest file saved because someone could be testing something out

in a more recent version that should not (yet) be replaced in the references in other files.

Therefore it‟s important to have a clear distinction between the file other people or

departments can use and the current tweaking/testing file. Best is to use different

folders. The file that‟s ready to be used in other stages of production is called the

published file and are in the folder titled publish. Whereas the current work in progress

files and history revisions are in the work folder. Note that the published file will also be

in the work folder at the same time as one of the revision or latest version. The revisions

are placed in a subfolder named history whereas the latest work file is placed directly in

the root of the work folder. It comes down to the following folder and file hierarchy:

- Work>

- Publish>

o History>

� 12a_20110601_Roy_01.mb

� 12a_20110601_Roy_02.mb

� 12a_20110603_Tom_03.mb

� 12a_20110607_Roy_04.mb

o 12a_20110608_Roy_05.mb

o 12a.mb

As you can see you‟ll always have a single file separated with a clear name that

represents the latest version to be used in other stages of production as reference. The

other files are actual working files with the information of who created it, when it was

created and its overall revision number. While this is already a lot of data in the filename

there‟s still information we miss in the long run like clarity in progress (how far is it),

comments on the latest approved version and information about latest changes. This is

where the use of a database comes in; this can be either on the internet, intranet or

even locally on the pc, though it should be easily accessible and shareable. Therefore it

should be accessible from a wide range of locations, preferably anywhere. The database

contains all information in a hierarchical structure like:

Pipeline � Full Film � Scene � Shot � File

Where the file contains information about latest tweaks, last modified date, username,

stage, comments and need for approval status. The overall shot information should be

the same for all of the different revisions, because it‟s the same shot. Therefore shot is

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the parent of this list of files. At „shot level‟ the information is provided for the description

of the shot, link to voice clips, reference videos and global notations. By making this a

child of the scene we can easily find important neighboring shots that are important for

the film‟s continuity in the same scene. The same accounts for making the full film and

overall pipeline parents of this. It‟s almost like the book with chapters, subchapters and

paragraphs Niels Beekes described. It‟s clean and organized, even more we can see and

check off progress on a per paragraph basis while being able to see the full book

(pipeline) come together nicely.

The simplest setup to help with the correct file naming is to use the PRA overall

design of allowing the user to log in and use that name for within the filename

automatically. The current user information can also be used to keep track of task

assignments as well as who submitted something for approval or review. This way you

can easily keep track of who is doing what, who needs what and about what you can

address someone. This helps finding the right person without disturbing people who

haven‟t worked on the file recently or even at all. Also the clean file naming conventions

and folder structure help knowing what are the most recent files. Even more, in

combination with a database for the descriptions and comments it helps to keep track of

recent changes and notations without the need of opening complex files or asking

someone in person. The simplest design for this is to change the default saving and

opening procedure so that it saves the scene with the corresponding information without

the need of any manual naming. Even more, this system could contain the necessary

functions to quickly publish the current scene or save it as a new revision making sure it

will back up and save everything to the right location within matter of seconds.

As animation supervisor of Mac „n‟ Cheese I‟ve had to guide the other animators often

towards better movements, more fluent motion or just more spontaneous action. No

matter what you need to explain or point out in a scene, there‟re a couple of stages you

have to go through for reviewing an animator‟s work. First you need to acquire the

footage, you need to know what it is about and where it‟ll fit in the film and what he‟s

trying to do with the shot (since previous versions.) Then you need to sit back and watch

it a couple of times and focus on different things in the animations as you go through.

While going through you find out what you think can be done better or work better if

done differently and try pointing that out with short notes. Then, at best, you come

together and go through the shot and explain the things you‟ve noticed, because only

giving a list of notes doesn‟t really work that well. It‟s often hard to explain in words

what frame what things are moving a bit off, therefore best is to point it out or even

draw an arc over it. For improving the speed and efficiency of the reviewing process I‟ve

designed the tool I named aniReview.

There are a couple of necessities in this reviewing process: submit for review, allow

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viewing and commenting accordingly and then sending it back with clear notations. This

all should be provided in such a way that the communication about what is submitted

and the reviewer‟s comments is clear and consistent at all times. When the animator

submits a piece for reviewing it pops up a small interface wherein the animator describes

his recently made changes, name, duration, priority and assigns it to who should approve

it. With the use of the PRA toolkit the username will automatically be filled in with the

currently logged in user. The duration and priority will all be taken either from the scenes

information or latest submission (from database.) Also it will automatically be assigned to

the person who‟s in charge of reviewing the submissions of the category of the current

submission. All the animator has to manually do is comment what his changes are, what

he wants reviewed and how the process is going. By automating most of this the data is

always up to date, consistent and most likely correct. Even more, it will be much faster

to submit a shot for review and get it in time at the right person. Note that the

submitting can be done from within the aniReview tool, but also quickly from within the

PRA toolkit menu or aniViewer so it‟s always in the direct environment. It‟ll always pop

up the corresponding submission form with most of the data automatically entered.

For the supervisor it‟s important that he can see and find what shots need approval

and see the corresponding notations and comments made throughout its progression,

this way he‟ll always know what he said last time which allows him to also focus back on

those things without readdressing any points that have already been brought up before.

This is the design for the aniReview tool. It provides the most general features for making consistent and quick

notations and comments for the review stage.

A comment/supervision system should automatically e-mail or notify the director or

supervisor that a shot has been animated or has seen big alterations and is in need of

approval or review of its current state. This is very useful, especially if it should be

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approved by a client that‟s not inside the same studio. Directing him to a form where he

can put his own comments and notations makes sure that he knows how to respond on

the alterations and show him that it‟s time for approval. Even better, this system could

send a reminder when the shot has been sent for approval but has not gotten any reply

in a couple of days. Another beneficial feature is to be able to check the older versions

from there as well so they can easily check against older versions and read their older

notations as well. Thus, searching for earlier sent data manually is unnecessary and

becomes easily accessible for the supervisor, client and the animator. Nowadays when

you order something online you can often track the package that is being sent. You can

always look up in what state it is, if it is currently being handled and if it‟s been

processed. You can estimate when the package will be delivered. Giving these same

possibilities with the creation of the 3D shots can really help the efficiency of the pipeline,

because you‟ll always know where the file is in production and what‟s happening with it.

It‟ll reduce the time to submit for review and to submit comments by the reviewer. Even

more, progress of production is then always managed in a clear database containing all

the necessary information on current state as well as its progression. For this we need a

database (data management, allow filtering, clean data) and make sure that the

submitting for both the submission for reviewing and the returned comments can be sent

and added to it as easily and quickly as possible.

With the system all shots that need approval can easily be filtered and a list for

animation that needs to be reviewed and discussed is easily accessible. Such a simple list

is a great starting point for animation dailies without the need of constantly asking

around what versions need to be discussed or reviewed. Even more this could be linked

to a more global system as well that manages and controls the overall pipeline and

progress. Once the animator sends it for review the shot‟s status gets updated to

„Blocking – approval needed‟ and get another color within the color coded system and be

filtered in the database accordingly. The supervisor will approve or disapprove with

comments and set the state to „Blocking‟ or „Rough‟ to guide the animator to stay in

blocking or start working towards a rough. Automatically with this he also logs the overall

progress of the shot at the same time, without any manual overhead. Linking these

systems together can be a complex setup to think through, but once done correctly it will

provide notations and logging of the production on a much bigger level while only

manually entering lower-level information like submission for review and the comments.

At first I‟ve thought of directly connecting the system with facebook or social media.

This came together with the idea of adding a reward system where everyone would be

rewarded for each part in the production. This was to motivate to work harder, as

everyone wants a high score like with Niels Beekes‟ workflow. It would add some sort of

teambuilding to the process, but such an addition that works mainly as entertaining

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stimulation might interfere with actually working. Especially connecting it with facebook

or other social media seems to blur the border between work and such things, making it

harder to focus. Nevertheless, the system could reward each day‟s work at a chosen

interval that does not interfere with current work. Like at lunch time or at night. This

makes sure it will not interfere with the task at hand while introducing a bond and

challenge between co-workers to push everyone even harder while feeling good about it

at the same time. Since I‟ve not done in-depth research on linking it with social media or

creating the reward system I can‟t really tell how rewarding the system will be on team

spirit and/or efficiency in production therefore I‟ll keep it at this.

The next tool I‟ll discuss is the aniReminder, a concept coming from the usage of

post-its, notations above the desk, sharable reminders and to-do lists in animation

productions. With the use of a database that‟s widely accessible and contains all

information and tasks from all users and all reminders and notations. By connecting to

this database and using the information of who‟s currently logged in the system can

acquire a list of personal notes, shared reminders, his tasks and possibly reviewer‟s

comments on the currently opened and present this in the aniReminder toolset.

The aniReminder module is once that can contain your tasks, latest notes, review comments as well as any

other stuff you need to remind. It allows color coding, scene specific notes as well as sharing with others. Also

attachments of any kind can be attached to notes quickly.

There are a couple of methods for the aniReminder to notify you about any updates, like

new reminders or the supervisor‟s comment submission for your shot. Within the PRA

toolkit you can set options to receive e-mails once updates are created for you and

you‟ve been assigned new tasks or reminders. Also you could choose to let the PRA menu

item (within Maya) to subtly show the amount of unread messages, the menu item will

read PRA (2) when you have 2 unread reminders. This way it will not interfere with your

current work but will be noticeable when you take a look at it. You can also turn

automatic reminders off and only let it update when you choose to refresh from the

database to work around any possible intrusion to your workflow at all.

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The items presented can be sorted, searched and filtered freely so you‟ll always be able

to find your needed task or reminder, even if you‟ve lots of reminders. Also completed

tasks and reminders can be moved into the history so you‟ll always be able to refer back

to tasks you‟ve completed or done a long time ago, this is filterable, searchable and

sortable just like the normal items. Also you can choose your own color codes that can be

assigned for each different category tasks automatically. This way you‟ll always have

clear distinctions between reminders, tasks, comments and notes. For the finest

prioritization you can prioritize comments so they will always be shown at the top no

matter what. Another especially useful feature is the aniReminder‟s functionality for

scene specific notes. These are notes that will only pop up when you currently have the

scene open or have listed it as your current scene. This way comments from the review

will always be accompanied with a scene and scene information will always be available

to you from the aniReminder. Also you can create notes as personal, global or assigned

to a team or person; this way you‟ll always know that the notation is viewable by only

the necessary people. This really helps everyone to be at the same line in a production

and thus improve the team‟s work environment and collaboration. Also if you prefer to

work within a single task within the interface you can create a tabbed task, this will make

it possible to create tabs within a single task so you‟ll always have enough space to write

down separated notes in a single block.

Since often you work with a variety of data, from text notes, e-mails, contact

addresses, videos, sounds, scripts and more the system allows the attaching of files to a

reminder. These attachments can contain any file format and will show thumbnails or

important information alongside it for the most well-known formats. Like thumbnails,

resolution for jpegs and even more information like duration and codec for video formats.

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A picture depicting an overview of a possible management tool.

The next step in management is to provide a way to oversee the progress of the film

and all of its parts. The aniManagement tool is designed to oversee who‟s working on

what file, what he‟s currently doing and provides a means to estimating how long each

part of the production will eventually take. Since this is what is needed to keep a big

production running. It uses the hierarchical structure of production (like a book) and

makes every bit of production easily accessible and findable without the need of opening

your operating system‟s browser. All comments are related to the file and shot, where

the revisions of the files are related to the shot and going further up in the hierarchy like

that. A good management system provides accessibility to the database and its

information in the most direct way without ever asking yourself where you can find

something. Since this comes down to database management which is not that relevant to

the main line throughout this thesis I‟ll keep the explanation on the aniManagement to

this. For more information I recommend to take a look at the online documentation for

the latest information about the development of the aniManagement and all the other

tools discussed from the PRA toolkit. (www.pressurereleaseanimate.com)

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5. Stress testing the toolset

The research on the different fields of animations and their workflow has given insight in

different ways of working. One of the benefits I‟ve had because of this was that it made

me think outside the box of only 3D animation and its workflow limitation. It has

provided me with ideas and tools I would‟ve otherwise never come up with and would‟ve

completely missed. Even more it gave me insight on how to combine, where to place and

how to design the functionalities of the interface and technology for and in the toolset.

Besides it has shown me techniques I had only heard of vaguely or heard of not at all.

Within the previous chapter I‟ve developed guidelines for developing flow-enhancing tools

and have presented numerous designs of concepts that are all developed on my findings

throughout this thesis. For the development and usage testing of the presented

guidelines and the concepts I‟ve been working on the animated short Mac „n‟ Cheese

(2011). While doing the research in conjunction with the animation production I‟ve been

developing the tools and started developing new concepts as well. Therefore some tools

as discussed or mentioned in this chapter might seem different or in earlier stages. Also

many concepts provided in the previous chapter have been developed on basis of my

findings of the Mac „n‟ Cheese production, thus can be missing or lacking in-depth usage

reports in this chapter. Nevertheless the creation of Mac „n‟ Cheese was a perfect

opportunity to test out what I‟ve had in my mind in the past, improve and work on what

I‟ve found out in the beginning of my research and test, use and further improve the

significance, intuitivity and usefulness of such a toolset as designed.

5.1 The Mac ‘n’ Cheese (2011) production

The creation of the animated short Mac „n‟ Cheese as part of this development has been

great for my research and improved many thoughts and ideas for the tool development.

Through production we‟ve had many setbacks and delays on things that could‟ve been

way faster or easier and we‟ve discussed this throughout the project to improve on it as

much as possible. Sometimes resulting in quick fixes, but often resulting in part of my

research for future designs. For Mac „n‟ Cheese we used Autodesk Maya 2011 as 3D

production package. On a daily basis it felt that Maya‟s standard design slowed us down.

Maya‟s tasksplosions 29 often led us into frustrating moments doing some simple tasks

over and over again and thus taking too much time.

At first I thought that speeding up or working around just these little annoyances

would provide a significant improvement by itself. And by discussing daily on what (part

29 Tasksplosion; The unexpected and natural process whereby a simple, single task requires you to complete a

whole set of tasks, some of them unrelated to the one at hand.

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of the animating) could need this type of speed improvement resulted in me doing a

quick „button‟ for the animator to release most of the overhead of a task. Ending up with

buttons for just those specific tasks did relieve some pressure on our brains and often for

just a day or two we would feel less task saturated 30 . Though, often when the specific

task was completed it was not being used anymore (because of its specific function on

parts that only occurred that once or twice.) The functions were not helping our overall

animation process and the row of buttons was quickly getting to feel less useful.

Within the production of Mac „n‟ Cheese I came across a single thing that annoyed me

very much which I needed to do over and over again. It‟s the setting of the selection

masks to only curves.

Image depicting the difference in efficiency with the enhancement for the selection mask menu.

This is one of the default top row buttons of Maya (multiplied by three) that sets the

currently active selection mask. When everything is enabled you‟re able to select

everything in the scene and when nothing is selected you are unable to select anything.

By default when you change scene in Maya or close it down and open it again it resets

back to its default. As an animator you almost always want to only select curves. Thus

you needed to deselect all the buttons except for one, 7 clicks, or press right mouse

button and select the „deselect all‟ option from the menu and then click the one you

need; 2 clicks. It was annoying to do this every time. I changed the script in Maya that

was linked to the buttons; my fix: allow control + click to focus on a single one instantly.

This was in the end one of the most used changes I‟ve made while in the production of

Mac „n‟ Cheese. This change taught me how much influence the slightest changes can

have. Noticing this helped me finding the way towards better tools and made me starting

to define the basic guidelines for flow-enhancing tools production as part of my research.

For Mac „n‟ Cheese I started by creating an autorigger that could help the character

setup stage, I‟d started creating and designing it even before production of Mac „n‟

Cheese started. I had done research towards animator friendly rigs and had already

reviewed other popular rigs with the team members beforehand to get a clear idea of

what we wanted. Later when development of the story for Mac „n‟ Cheese started I

already had a structured system for developing the rig, but pretty early on – while

discussing the story and action of the film – it came to my attention that the rig needed

more and easier controls. We needed many complex features in the rig, like stretchiness,

30 Task saturated: Complete shutdown while multi-tasking, often resulting in catastrophe.

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scalability and bendiness in all of the body parts. The setup created contained many

controls (like most rigs nowadays.) Back than I thought that developing tools for the

character handling process would be the best starting point for development since this

seemed to become the most overwhelming task at that stage. Thus I chose to develop

tools for the selection of the character, the actual posing of the character and managing

its data. We needed speed and simplicity while the rig contained an extensive amount of

complex features. As already explained this makes it even more important to have tools

that help with posing and the management of the characters. This was my initial thought

and this was the main reason why I focused on developing character handling tools for

Mac „n‟ Cheese.

With a small introduction into our pipeline and file/folder conventions for Mac „n‟

Cheese I‟ll introduce our initial planned overall workflow. We had set strict file naming

conventions and folder structures. Furthest down it looked something like this:

- Work>

- History>

o Shot6.mb

� Shot6_01.mb

� Shot6_02.mb

� Shot6_03.mb

� Shot6_04.mb

This was our file/folder structure for a single shot. We thought that by separating

revisions we could always easily find back the file we needed. The same principles were

used for playblasts of the animation. We also divided global tasks, like Gijs van Kooten

was head of story, Tom Hankins was art director, Guido Puijk was our main assistant and

I took the tasks of lead (supervising) animator and technical director. Since we had

designed our file/folder conventions and global pipeline beforehand I focused even more

on the character handling with my tool development, because we felt that the strict

conventions we had discussed for file naming and folder structure would take away most

of the management trouble often associated with production.

From this focus I started focusing on the development of already presented ideas and

tools focused on the character handling. But as more and more of the concepts actually

came from the production process of Mac „n‟ Cheese it was hard to incorporate even all of

the presented tools within only the character handling session in our team‟s workflow.

Nevertheless, I‟ve tried to create working proof of concepts of the ideas and tools

presented which I felt that at that moment in production was still useful to invest

development time in. From start to end in the production I‟ve focused on the creation of

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tools that really helped with the character posing and the character

handling/management that is part of that. The concepts explained within the

preplanning, notations and reminders mostly came from the mindset I got from

researching the other animation fields and the creation of Mac „n‟ Cheese. Thus these

came in later stages of production and it would‟ve been hard to introduce or even

develop these production tools to be still used in our production. Nevertheless the tools,

especially what we‟ve missed and would‟ve loved in production, have been discussed

thoroughly within the team and with other animators as well.

5.2 Using the tool together with other animators

The toolset that has been created was tested and used by me and the team members

involved in creating the animated short Mac „n‟ Cheese. The proof of concept toolset has

thus been tested by me, Tom Hankins, Gijs van Kooten and Guido Puijk. At the beginning

of production we‟ve all worked without the toolset (while I was developing the base of it),

then I started solely using it for first testing. After a while the rest of the team followed

and started using it too when most simple bugs were removed.

The toolset we used for the longest period of time in our

project – as seen to the right – contained the functions listed

below. Note that sometimes I refer to the name of a tool

mentioned in the previous chapter. In our project we made

use of the following functions (solely from the toolset):

- Easier character selection in a compact but efficient

system. This was really one of the first things the

animators praised. Also options for setting keys and

in-betweens and deleting those were added. As well as

an option to reset the controllers.

- The simple inbetweening system (Quick Tween) as

explained in the previous chapter that allows

interactive control – with overshooting – for the

selected objects.

- The small but very useful retiming section that allows

the adjustments of timings between -3 and +3 frames.

This is a picture showing

one of the toolses versions

we„ve used in production

pipeline of Mac „n‟ Cheese.

- Small shortcut sections with presets for selection masks and viewport view

options. Often opening a new animation scene resets the selection masks and

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esets the selection mask back to default. With these shortcuts animators just had

to click once and everything is clean and ready for the animators to use in the

software.

- There were 3 buttons in the shortcut section that allowed the animator to see the

characters instantly in normal mode, silhouette or flat shaded mode. This is like

the described „quick display modes‟ module from the previous chapter. These

were intensely used for checking if the pose would read easily by just its color

difference in textures or in silhouette. This really helps creating stronger poses

and making smarter choices for the movement.

- Of course, 2 small buttons for making the Graph Editor and Dope Sheet pop up

when you needed them. Nothing that special, but useful though. Many animators

put it up on the Maya Shelf, myself included, but adding those functions simply in

here made it possible for the animator to „live‟ without the shelf at all.

- Clean-up keys function (see Remove Redundant Keys in the documentation.) For

removing all those unnecessary keys that do nothing except for cluttering your

graph and timeline with keys keeping you from getting a nice overview on the

important ones. It also helped removing keys in-between frames which often

really is troublesome in Maya.

- Multiply/Average function to overplay or downplay certain actions (see Amplify

Keys in the documentation.) This seemed to work especially well on controlling

camera shakes, eye darts and other twitchy like movements. This helped

adjusting (and supervising) animation as I as supervisor could easily say, “That

shake should be about half as strong!” Finally this proofed to be very useful in our

production!

- The aniPlacement as described in the previous chapter was a working proof of

concept at that time that I‟ve used with great efficiency in at least a couple of

shots reducing management overhead of the characters arcs and rotation. Though

the proof of concept was a pretty quickly developed (some bugs) it still managed

to provide a good working solution with significant speed improvement and thus

delivered very satisfactory results.

- The aniPen tool was developed pretty early in the production of the short film,

though development to full working version to be released to the full team went

slow. I‟ve used it myself for sketching out the arm pose sometimes quickly looking

for something that „might‟ work but besides using it as an inspirational tool I

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never really ended up using it as full constant production tool as there were still

some little bugs in the system at that time.

A screenshot from our animated short Mac „n‟ Cheese.

This shot contains animation created with the toolset and 2D drawn post-effects.

Besides these modules in the interface there were some separated tools created to

streamline the placement of the cars quickly and make sure they would move nicely. You

would draw a curve, select the car, select the curve, run the script and the car would

nicely move along it. It would have a controllable speed attribute that updated the

changes automatically. Also it had values to let it bank automatically in turns and to let

its engine shake the car while driving automatically. Since this automated most of the

cars‟ control scheme the following paragraphs will not mention the influence this had on

the animation. Instead the next paragraphs really focus on the improvements on

character handling and animating. We also had some other small scripts to fix small

things quickly or randomize some frames, but since these were often for a single or

couple of uses they will not be discussed in the next paragraphs as well.

5.3 Productivity test

Let‟s start out by saying that we completed our short to full satisfactory of the teachers

and many others 31 . And of course, in time. It‟s funny to note that as I started using the

toolset created earlier then my teammates I often was already feeling satisfactory when

they yelled something like: “Why is this – problem X - so hard!?” It‟s because for me

many problems they were yelling about I had already had a significant change or speed-

31 Within 12 days after the online release the animated short Mac „n‟ Cheese was viewed over 650.000 times

and received more than 5.800 likes on Vimeo. Also it was featured in a national Dutch newspaper, numerous

magazines and linked to or embedded on numerous websites. (Vimeo.com, 2011) It had gone viral on Youtube

where duplicates were uploaded numerous times in a variety of languages by a wide range of users.

(Youtube.com, 2011) To watch the animated short go to: http://www.vimeo.com/27127177.

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up for. When I installed the toolset to all computers and everyone started using them

they actually hated me for waiting to release even the earlier beta versions to them. (But

they would‟ve been set back by the technical difficulties and bugs back then.) Another

note is that although we finished in time we weren‟t always on schedule. We scheduled

the animating part of the production to start way earlier and take a lot more time than

what it finally took. There are a couple of reasons for this delay. We were having

problems finishing the story. Then, when we had that checked, we had a hard time

finding the right camera angles and finding how to achieve a certain progression in the

story. We started a little bit late with modeling and rig testing. We also planned time for

animation testing (as none of us was an expert on animation, even worse none of us felt

like he could animate what we were going to animate) to get the feeling back that we

could create and achieve high quality animation. The style development took a little

longer than expected and gave us some delay in the start of animation testing. Though,

once we started animating it went faster than we expected.

The time we planned for animating was quite a significant part of production.

Nevertheless we felt like we had to work hard and started as if we were in crunch time

straight away. We would work long days with little breaks, at first to start feeling

comfortable with animation again and later to create the actual intense animations

needed for the film. At the beginning we had a rough start, because we were having

trouble managing (especially selecting) all the controls of the rig. Therefore the first

introduced tools focused on the selection of the character.

The character selection system I introduced within our

production wasn‟t nearly as elaborate as the concept described

in the previous chapter. Nevertheless it provided us with the

most important selection combinations and allowed us to

quickly switch between characters. There was no possibility to

customize any of the buttons, but I did customize it along the

way to the needs of the animators in production because they

kept asking for changes. As I changed the combination and

order accordingly they started to feel much more comfortable

and literally didn‟t want to animate without the system

anymore. One moment someone needed to change a single

control on a single frame while I was changing something in the

system (so it went offline shortly.) He refused to change it without the selection system,

because it would take too much time. Though the compliment was great and the increase

of feeling comfortable with the character was very big as well there were still some

problems we faced with the system. The system could not be mirrored, so from the back

of the character the system would be similar to how the character would be on screen.

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But looking at the character from the front in the viewport would make his screen-right

arm be left in the interface. Despite that they were color coded we found ourselves

clicking on the wrong side of the interface numerous times. That‟s also why I added the

mirroring option in the concept presented in the previous chapter. Still the selection

system improved a tremendous speed up. Something I liked as well was that I could

even turn off the controls visibility in the viewport but still animate the character, this

way I could totally focus on the character‟s form without looking at a lot of controllers at

the same time. Though it was hard to know what you had selected when everything was

hidden, because we had no highlighting of selections in the interface back then. Even

though there were these downsides I would have to say that the speed went up more

and more as we grew more comfortable with the tool. Also we were able to work more

efficiently. Most noticeable was the influence it had on the team‟s spirit and enthusiasm.

Overall we would be happier and driven to work, because we just felt more comfortable

while working. We had less stress what gave us more focus on the actual animating,

hence more and better results.

The inbetweening and timing tools introduced some tweaking improvements. I

noticed that the system to create inbetweens (Quick Tween) wasn‟t being used that

much, probably because many shots were already beyond the stage of blocking and

rough animation when the concept was fully introduced into our toolset. And that‟s

especially the stage it‟s extremely powerful in, that‟s what it‟s designed for. Nevertheless

it was used on occasions to do some quick rough posing for follow through or tweaking

the spacing in-between to keys. On the other hand the far simpler retiming module was

being used a lot more. It‟s simplicity and clear usage made it a very effective quick

experimentation tool. Even more it provided much easier supervision towards the

animators. I could just tell them to “play with the timing.” They would end up moving

around frames with this module to check what timing worked best. Its simple design and

the actual simple thing it does made it extremely comfortable to work with. It would do

exactly what you expect it do. That‟s a very rewarding experience.

Furthermore we had the small shortcuts for setting the selection mask and viewport

settings to a comfortable preset. Also we had shortcuts for opening the Graph Editor and

Dope Sheet quickly. Because the interface contained many useful features you would be

working close to these most of the time making it feel very comfortable to use them. This

made selecting the shortcuts just a small move away making it a very effective location.

This was the same with the buttons that changed the shading mode from normal to

silhouette or flat shaded and vice versa. They were so close that switching felt natural

and fast. Many times I‟ve seen Gijs and Guido quickly checking the other modes to focus

on (literally) the silhouette of the pose or the depth the pose was creating. The flat-

shaded was a very useful function for us. Because we had a rather 2D-style shading that

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made the depth perception often end up looking much less than in the preview. Looking

at the flat-shaded version once in a while made us able to compensate a little for that

and thus helped us reaching our goal of creating the animation we wanted. The use of

simple presets for this kind of things became extremely useful, because the fresh look

became easier achievable. This made us just quickly choose one of the viewing modes

once we felt were losing inspiration or fresh sight. Changing the view almost always

instantly helped seeing different things in the movement or poses that could use

improvement or subtle change. Therefore having these to quickly and comfortable

achieve such improvement in efficiency proved to be very useful for the focus in the

production.

The clean-up function that was in the toolset was not used that often. But when used

it was especially useful when we felt we had to take a step back in the shot, like when

something wasn‟t working right. It would help deleting all the unnecessary keys so you

could begin with focusing only on deleting keys that actually matter, because the

irrelevant would already be deleted. Making the step back sometimes became a lot

simpler just because of this and allowed us to quickly „kill our darlings‟ and work towards

something better. Going back a step was very helpful at moment you were stuck and

noticed you weren‟t progressing towards the goal; hence you were feeling down and felt

unfocused. Since this took away some of this negative attitude it helped raising chances

for achieve flow.

The multiply/average (amplify keys) functionality on the other hand has been used

much more throughout the production. It made directing the animators much easier,

because if the director said that something should be half as hard we would just throw it

through this module, see what it looked like on half its amplitude and work from there. It

was often used as experimentation tool as well, sometimes amplifying or reducing the

effect of a camera shake or big movement to see what would work better. This has been

an extremely important part of adding subtlety while keeping our intensity throughout

the full animation. Sometimes things would go way too fast where others would go way

too slow or had less impact. With the multiply/average options we were able to fix this

quickly and intuitively by experimenting with values really fast.

The aniPlacement tool was one that we‟ve used about 5-6 times in total throughout

production but it must‟ve taken at least two to three days off our animation time. The

tool introduces a tremendous speed increase and simplicity in what otherwise is one

complex and annoying process of translating and rotating to fake a nice arc. Instead,

with this tool, we could just rotate the character around a certain point and have it all

dealt with. I used this within the first scene I animated where a big guy is sliding off a

cliff, half-way comes to sort of a stop and then flips over with its head as pivot point,

ends up standing up for a while and falls further down. The actual creation of making him

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otate around his head took me at most ten minutes. While otherwise this could‟ve easily

been an intensive tweaking process of a day or so to create a clean and nice fluent arc

while making sure the head stays in position. Because the pivot point is somewhere else

you‟ll often notice much annoying sliding of the pivot point, which should be solid.

Therefore it is important that the resulting motion looks correct, and that is what the

aniPlacement provides instantly without adding complexity.

The aniPen allowed us to sketch a line and let the arms of the character position

accordingly. Since development of the tool stayed in beta stage for a very long time,

some bugs were hard to solve, we were never really able to use it extensively throughout

production. Nevertheless I‟ve used it on some occasions for testing out some extreme

arm positions. The posing of the action was relatively fast, which allowed me quickly try

out different rough concepts. This helped me with experimenting towards better ideas.

Nevertheless I‟ve been unable to provide real production measurable circumstances for

this tool, because I had only used it occasionally.

After a while we noticed that we were faster with animating than planned and that

the toolset was speeding up things in production. We were making up for the delay not

only because we worked our asses off but also because the toolset made a significant

change in efficiency and work spirit. The animators started enjoying working with the

toolset and working in that way that was made available through the use of the toolset.

Especially the speed increase in selection of the parts made a significant change because

it was one of those „minor‟ things you would constantly use. Also that it featured the use

of modifiers (Control and Shift) to have full focus on what to do with selection when a

button was pressed was extremely useful, this way we could add, remove or toggle from

the selection in a familiar way while using the organized character selection menu. Small

tweaks you can use often seemed to make the biggest difference in work spirit since

you‟re constantly working in a better way. Others introduced more speed increase but

were used a lot less and therefore weren‟t so prominent improvements, nevertheless the

team still felt that shots would‟ve taken much longer and would‟ve been much harder

without the use of the designed tools.

So the designed tools increased our productivity a lot, but there were other things

that slowed us down and have been taking a lot of our enthusiasm at the same time. The

management and organization seemed much harder than initially planned. As explained

we had set ourselves some strict naming conventions. We thought what we had set up

would be a good folder structure that would hold the full production. We used it

throughout our full production, but there were some minor things we had missed that

influenced our efficiency. Since the file saving and correct naming and exporting was all

done manually it was very sensitive to human error. We would end up with multiple files

in the work folders and files without file revision numbers in the history folder. Also in the

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process we added a final folder which was the one that was being used at that moment

as the published file, but since it was introduced later in production and we were having

trouble to know who was working in what file we had a hard time finding the right „last‟

file almost every time. This is what we would end up with:

- Work>

- History>

- Final>

o Shot6.mb

o Shot6_01.mb (newer than the one in history folder)

o Shot6.mb

� Shot6_01.mb

� Shot6_02.mb

� Shot6_03.mb

� Shot6_04.mb

� Shot6.mb (unclear what version this is)

As you can see there‟s a work, history and final folder containing a similarly named file.

Which in itself is not that bad, but sometimes you would forget which one you were

working on. Also it was hard to remember if you saved it onto the correct one as there

were multiple files with the same name. That was very dangerous. We often also opened

each other‟s files to make some small changes and in the end we never knew who

altered the file last and what files were most recent and most important. Once you‟ve

lost sight on this it‟s a really difficult process to get back organized again and find the

right files in the end. We‟ve lost much time in discussing who‟s been working on what

scene. For this we often needed to interrupt team members asking them whether they

had used the file recently and what file to take. There was a week in production where

we would just ask anyone if they knew what file we should use even before opening one,

because that ended up taking less time. Nevertheless this did create a lot of interruptions

from the task at hand delivering a noticeable decrease in production quality and quantity.

That‟s when we took a day or two to work through all files again, finding the right files

and renaming everything accordingly. From that moment on everything went a lot better.

But we did learn that the overall structure of production and the organization has much

more influence on flow and efficiency than any character posing tool could introduce as

positive influence. This is one of the main reasons and driving forces why I‟ve been

researching more into notations, logging, pipeline and production management at the

end of the production.

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As stated we worked faster and were happier overall. I‟ve noticed that when working

with the toolset on screen I‟ve been doing the things mentioned faster, but I wasn‟t still

happy with my own overall performance. I started thinking whether I still felt I wasn‟t fit

to be an animator or still just had a lot to learn until I started finding in the research

what I had missed all along. At that moment in production I was lead animator as well as

animation supervisor for the team members. On the side I was the technical director

fixing any problems that would occur in the pipeline and was doing the editing and taking

care of the sound guys. I was doing a lot of finalizing for the film and the toolset besides

purely focusing on the animation of a shot. This was not because we had a small team,

but because our production and pipeline could be much more automated and

streamlined. I feel that to achieve flow, stay in a flow and produce even higher quality

animation in even shorter times we need to combine the currently developed tools with a

production pipeline that is managed, organized and automated wherever possible so

focus can really fully be at the current task at hand.

5.4 Does it influence my/our style?

I like to believe that the style we animated in with Mac „n‟ Cheese was a clear art

directed choice and for the biggest part it was. We wanted hard and intense motions that

would come over powerful and fast. For this we needed to create high speed movements

often with a snappy feel to it. Nevertheless the first animation tests we did made us

somehow roll into the animated style we ended up having. Namely it is one that feels

progressing and moving constantly, which is part of its intensity.

The tools that mostly had a part in this were those that adjusted timing or positional

data like the quick retime module. This allowed me to quickly experiment if my animation

would still be clear if it was even faster, or if it would still look as intense but more

pleasing to the eye if done a little bit slower. The same was with the usage of the amplify

keys module, which had great influence and our camera shakes. I remember that half

way our camera shakes were often way more intense. Since we were able to quickly test

different intensities of the shake we were able to find out that it was taking a lot from the

intensity of the actual character animation. Therefore we ended up reducing the intensity

of many of the camera shakes between 25-50 percent.

There were also tools that made me change poses I had set up and was already

feeling happy with. Especially the tools that gave a „fresh‟ look on the animation altered

how I approached a shot and I feel it made me end up with stronger poses and better

reading animation overall in the end. And I‟ve seen Guido and Gijs improve their poses a

lot as well by looking at the silhouette when I hinted them to do so. The tools allow you

to consistently and clearly focus on certain parts of the character, like with the often

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mentioned silhouette mode. Often it made me positioning the legs and arms in such a

way that they would overlap less in silhouette. In the end result you can still sometimes

see this and it adds to the readability of the poses, which is extremely important with

such fast motion as in Mac „n‟ Cheese (2011). I feel that these changes made because of

the usage of these tools were always a personal choice and improvement. It just showed

us flaws or lacking poses in the overall sequence which allowed us to pinpoint better

what needed improvement. Therefore this changed the overall animation for the better

while staying true to our own style choices.

The use of the aniPlacement tool, which has not been used often throughout the

production, did introduce me with big changes in plans and ideas I‟ve had for shots. It

allowed me to think out of the box as if anything would be possible to create. This made

me feel less limited and it felt good to allow such freedom in thinking and posing. This

introduced me often with more exaggerated and less dull movement while creating it.

These shots all ended up working extremely well, but it‟s hard for me to see or pinpoint

whether the aniPlacement has had that much of an influence on the overall style. Since it

introduced me with totally new ideas and made me end up with different (better)

animation I would say it improved the overall animation and the look of it for the better.

Although many tools influenced how we approached things or how we tweaked the

motion we would always tweak and work so long on a shot that the impact of the tools

diminishes to very small – if even noticeable – differences in style choices. Also since we

were constantly providing comments on each other‟s animation and tweaked our

animation based on those guidelines the actual influence coming from how we posed or

worked with the characters became much less as we started working towards what we

actually thought would look best. Therefore I feel it indeed closely resembles an

animation style and feel that we intended to create, with or without the toolset. It‟s just

that with the toolset we felt more comfortable and efficiently creating the animation it

has become.

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Conclusion

The main focus of my research was to find the answer on how 3D Animation software

could be improved by creating a higher chance rate for holding a creative flow, increasing

the productivity and intuitivity. This was coming from the understanding and pure feeling

that I love animating, but have been unable to creatively fully enjoy the immersion of

myself in the character and his means of movement while animating in 3D software. My

personal hypothesis was this could be done by changing the way 3D animation software

works by creating a customized toolset, thus my research was focused around that.

Through most of my research – where the biggest part is a field study involving

interviews and checking how people animate – I‟ve found that there‟s still a lot that can

be improved in 3D animation software, but even more in the pipeline of smaller studios,

towards a smoother interaction with the user with the goal to increase creative flow.

I‟ve found that there are two sides to the story. There‟s the direct character

manipulation, the control of the character and its keys the animator has to deal with just

to be able to animate. And there‟s the production management, logging, notations,

reviewing and production streamlining. I‟ve always felt that the first, the way of

controlling the character, the Maya setup and the way this part works really is what was

breaking my flow while animating. That‟s why I initially started off with this idea and the

development of these concepts for Mac „n‟ Cheese. I had been searching, researching and

evolving into a sort micro-management of developing. Looking for small fixes at first,

developing tools that sped up the small things you often (daily) do in animating as an

animator. It definitely worked and even these micro-management types of functions that

ended up in the toolset were quite a significant change in „our lives as animators.‟ Things

went faster in general, so speed was influenced. Also the character, the posing and the

actual act of animating got more focus. So it‟s certainly to say this worked. The

developed and beta tested toolset seems to help with focus and flow, though as found

through this research it is just the tip of the iceberg.

There‟s so much more to streamline in student or small studio productions. And

through the answers from other studios (especially from out of the 3D sector) I‟ve found

that structure in the pipeline is what I as animator have often been in conflict with. The

fact that the animator in a student project or small studio often deals with data

wrangling, supervising some of the story, checking shot‟s composition, its continuity in

the edit and even doing the editing himself is just as much or even more part of breaking

the flow in the act of animating than the technicalities involved with the character posing

and handling. If an animator in a small studio is dealing with a lot of other stuff besides

animation, it‟s best to keep what he does separated by fully completing the things before

and don‟t be interfered with the other things - that could also be done afterwards - while

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animating.

As core needs the main things that can help the animator with better animation is the

following:

- Animation needs focus.

- Direct control, fast response. (WYSIWYG)

- Clear goal (reference, storyboard, line test all help)

- No distractions.

- Possibility to quickly test out ideas, concepts

- Have inspirational and clear references.

Focusing on this allows us to see that the animator needs to plan out, set a goal and

have direct controllable means to progress towards that goal. Therefore I developed the

animation toolkit as used within Mac „n‟ Cheese (2011) that presented more direct

control and ways to experiment and pose quickly to create concepts and planning at any

time. The speed and efficiency in the character handling and the corresponding flow at

moments that we could fully focus on a single animation went up with it. Though, what

I‟ve missed beforehand is the importance of no interruptions and the organization of the

pipeline. The animator should‟ve constant focus on the task at hand without being

interrupted by supervisor‟s comments, other tasks in production or any project

management at all. This can, as done at Motek Entertainment with their production

management and comment system, be helped with a system providing an easier

oversight on progress, shot assignment to animators, descriptions and comments.

Simply said, did the developed part of the toolset help? Yes. Did it help with flow?

Yes. Was it enough? Arguable. It definitely showed an increase in work enthusiasm and

efficiency, but there‟s room for much more improvement. As shown with the concepts

and results created and found at the end of the production of Mac „n‟ Cheese there‟s

much more to streamline in small productions. Though, introducing these pipeline tweaks

that would‟ve made even more of a difference at that stage would‟ve been inefficient.

Changing your workflow mid-project is asking for trouble. Besides, that far in production

you need a pretty stable management system (from the concept) because there‟s a lot of

data already to be added. Although the used toolset in Mac „n‟ Cheese created an

improvement in speed and efficiency I‟ve still been bouncing against a flow-breaking wall

of constant interruptions and simultaneous tasks that were hard to separate from the

task you‟re actually working on. This resulted in constantly losing focus on the current

task and getting drawn attention by the other tasks. It‟s best to build a base for the

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management, start using it and tweak it on the way which is what was also done with the

management system at Motek Entertainment. The toolset that was developed would

probably make as much difference to animators on bigger productions as it did with us.

Because it actually speeds up exactly those things those focused animators are also

dealing with. Which could make them even more efficient then they are already. Though

again, do they need it? The main part of lacking focus and flow came (for me) mostly

from all of the mind-stress from data-wrangling and production management while

needing to animate at the same time. This is something I‟ve learned through my

research instead of having felt this all along.

Nevertheless the guidelines presented a true working base for developing towards

flow-enhancement. We can introduce a better flow environment for animators by creating

tools they feel instinctively comfortable with. Therefore we need a recognizable and

comfortable interface and way of interaction. This can be done by creating tools that

work in a way they‟ve been taught (by usage of software) or introducing a form of

interaction with close resemblance to that in another field of animation. The focus here is

on the direct response and result where the animator can interact with, he must always

know what he wants to do, how to do it and how it well end up. Technical limitations

should therefore be lifted up to a point where any unnecessary control is done under the

hood and the animator can use the software with high speed and without distractions.

And thus, the core for creating animation tools that work inspiring and motivational is

there. But even more, it allows for far greater focus and much clearer goals. As long as

complex technicalities can be avoided the state of flow becomes manageable. Albeit the

complexity of the rig, the management of data or testing out quick ideas. For all, speed

and direct control with the least amount technical overhead is of utmost importance.

But before any tool could introduce a better flow the disruptions and other

interferences should be lost. This is at a personal level at first. Thus the temptation for

looking up messages on facebook, your phone or singing with the lyrics of a song should

be avoided. But after that, even more importantly, this interference should be avoided

within the production itself. You should be able to focus on a single task and should not

be disrupted by other tasks while doing that task. The first thing is thus to remove any

distractions where possible. This is what in most of my 3D animation work has been what

was breaking my flow and was still not fixed with the tools used in the production of Mac

„n‟ Cheese (2011).

In the end it all comes down to: Yes, it worked. The already developed toolset is

efficacious 32 . As the toolset created on basis of the guidelines were introduced in

production the enthusiasm and overall mood of the animators shifted towards more focus

and moments of rapture. The ideas presented deliver at least some increases in flow‟s

32 Efficacious: producing or capable of producing a desired effect.

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presence, but in the end I came to find a lot more possible ways to introduce more flow

to 3D animators. With all these designed concepts I still feel there‟s room for future

development, but thanks to the research, the creation of the short film and the

developing of this toolset already I‟ve started to see what kind of research investments

are worthwhile. With this I have found key principles for creating better than great tools.

Besides I‟ve now quite a list of more things that could speed up the film production, as

described, and I‟m really looking forward to work on those in the (hopefully) near future

and I hope they might be someday useful to all animators among us.

Conclusion

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4

8


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1. Workflow and Pipeline clarification.

Attachments

Attachments

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Workflow and Pipeline clarification. (relevant with Chapter 1.4)

Attachments

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