This is a walk cycle WIP from a short scene I’m animating. It’s the first time I’ve animated with the Mery rig (available from meryproject.com) and it’s been a lot of fun to use.
This is a short animation I created while a Trainee Animator at Aardman. I wanted to push my animation and go for a more cartoony style. For reference I watched a lot of Tex Avery takes! However I still struggled to push the rig (even Morpheus) to get the same exaggeration as a drawn figure while keeping it looking good.
I’m glad I tried to replicate part of the Popeye test a few months ago, because what I learnt doing that (see here) was very helpful with this.
Here are some of my favourite frames:
This is actually the hardest stage to describe, I think; there are so many small things that I do it’s hard to summarise them. But I’ll give it a shot!
I normally don’t use the graph editor all that much before the polishing pass as I know I’ll have to come back to it again anyway. What I do is pick a point on my character (in this case, illustrated by the horse’s head).
I then open the graph editor to see how the head moves. As seen by the graph below, the curve begins and ends smoothly but in the middle it changes direction quite sharply with the points all over the place.
What I do is adjust the points until the whole curve is smooth. I try not to make it perfect, otherwise everything will move evenly. The idea is to keep the general shape while smoothing out the kinks.
It’s at this stage that I make sure to get rid of all evenness and stiffness in the movement. I adjusted the horse’s feet so that the hooves don’t lift off the ground all at the same time, and so the hind legs don’t kick out at exactly the same time. I adjusted the tail so it follows the movement of the body. The ears were looking pretty stiff, so I added a little flick in there – hopefully just enough to keep them alive. If you look really closely, you’ll also be able to see the horse briefly open its mouth.
There are many things like that which have been tweaked and adjusted since the last video I posted. The aim is to recreate life, to make it believable – an illusion people want to believe. By rolling the body from one side to another as it lifts and lands, I’m making the horse look like it has real weight.
As seen by the graph editor, smoothing things out is important. This is also seen in the arcs of the character – how the hoof moves across the screen, for example. Below I’ve used Maya’s handy sketch tool, Grease Pencil, to examine how the left fore leg (on the right) picks up and then sets down. I’ve already adjusted this leg in terms of timing (slower as it lifts and falls, faster in the middle) and the arc is getting there. You can see by the purple line that it is quite straight in the middle, and wiggles around at the end.
Using a different colour I add another line to my sketch – this is the arc I want the leg to have. (The leg is now on the left.) I’ve picked out the keys I want to change the position of: 16 needs to be slightly raised, 18 needs to be shifted quite significantly to the right, and 19 needs some adjusting to fit between the new 18 and the final key. Once these are changed, I’ll get that nice smooth arc.It is possible to use Maya’s editable motion trail, but I prefer the old-fashioned way because then I can measure the arc against exactly what I want to, in this case the point of the hoof.
Here, then, is the final animation:
The problem with the polishing stage (and 3D in general) is the ability to go back and revise and revise again. Even while making this post I discovered more things to change – and I certainly can see many more things in previous animations I’ve done! However I’m pleased with this little project and I hope to use this rig again.
What with Christmas, applying for jobs, and so on, it’s taken me longer than I hoped to do some more work with my horse animation. Today I’ve had the chance to do so! To find my first post about this animation, click here.
I began by looking at my reference video again. My first pose (horse crouched down) was from frame 2,
and my second pose (horse in the air) was from frame 6.
I found my breakdown pose on frame 5.
This is important for describing the action because it shows when the feet lift from the ground. Rather than the horse drifting upwards, it will lift up suddenly.
I repeated this process of “breaking down” the movement between each set of key poses for the whole animation. I also adjusted the posing and timing of the keys when necessary. Once I had all my keys and breakdowns, my Maya file looked like this:
The graph editor shows how the horse moves between keys. In the image above, the position holds until the next key: it’s stepped. This is somewhat like 2D animation (which is often shot on “twos”, or twelve frames a second; in other words, held for two frames) which I’ve found familiar and very helpful.
When I’m happy with the keys and breakdowns at the stepped stage, I spline it. That means taking the stepped graph editor and turning it into this:
You can see the different stages of the animation in the video below:
Version 6 is the first four key frames, stepped. Version 13 is the keys and breakdowns, stepped. Version 14 is (almost) the same keys and breakdowns, splined.
The next stage is to adjust the timing (getting rid of any evenness) and to polish (like fixing that wobbly knee).
One thing I’m determined to do is to keep animating in 2D and 3D. There are lots of free 3D rigs available online, so I downloaded Tomasz Jurczyk and Carlos Contreras’ horse rig from here. I want to add variety into my reel with some four-legged creatures. Today I found some videos of horses rearing and bouncing about. Then I sketched some quick key poses. Next I opened up Maya and, after struggling for a while with the controls (I like mine to be in layers most of the time, so it usually doesn’t look like what’s below – I prefer to only look at the controls for the head, tail etc. if that’s what I’m moving) I posed out the rig using the sketches as reference. If you’re interested in learning Maya (or other software), I’d recommend starting with a simple rig. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but once you’ve learnt a couple of controls adding a few more is much easier. There are many fantastic tutorials online to learn from. Below are the key poses for my animation – they tell the story. The horse crouches down, pushes up, kicks out, and settles to a standing pose. Though there’s an overview of what happens, there isn’t yet enough detail to show how the body moves from one pose to another. When Maya splines between these poses, the horse moves evenly between poses like a PowerPoint on a default setting. The next stage is to add breakdowns (poses between two keys that describe movement) which I’ll be working on soon.
I’ve now finished the Aardman / NFTS Character Animation course … twelve weeks over already!
And now for something a little different … we had some free time at the very end of the course so I tried to recreate some of the very poppy Popeye test animation (you can see the original here, at about 2:05).
I’d like to try more animation similar to this – with a rig that’s a little more suited to it!
Character provided by Aardman, animation by myself.
The last few weeks have taught me a lot. There have been a few difficult days when I’ve really doubted my ability: “I’ll never be an animator!” Somehow those dark moments were followed by days where everything worked beautifully.
I wanted to show a little of the referencing I’ve been doing for my assignments. You also get to glance a small part of Aardman!
Animation by myself, characters provided by Aardman.
I’m now about to begin my fourth week on the Aardman course. This video’s made of the assignments I completed over the last two weeks.
The lunge is the first character animation I’ve done in Maya. I had lots of helpful comments on how to improve it, and after a week on the other assignment I now see other things I’d change.
We began the baseball exercise using the stepped function in Maya, something which felt familiar to me after 2D! I felt much more confident with the controls this time around. I’m really pleased with the result. (Let’s see what I think in a week … )