Monday, 29 June 2015

Marion Strunck Reveals FrameStore Animation Secrets

On Friday 29 May I brought Framestore's Marion Strunck to teach some of my animation students at Buckinghamshire New University in High Wycombe.  Marion is a graduate of the excellent Animation Workshop in Denmark and an expert in character and creature animation. Every animator has their own workflow, and it was fascinating to gain some insights into how a top London VFX house approaches the art character and creature animation.

What was this masterclass all about?
The class was about learning animal and creature animation the Framestore way, learning the latest techniques and tricks. Production workflows are always in flux, as animators and VFX artists try out ways to make their work better, more authentic and more efficient.

Marion Strunck
Marion Strunck showed us her excellent demo reel, plus some clips of the the projects she has been working at Framestore for over a year. Her recent credits include Paddington, and a number of other VFX projects.

FrameStore did the animation for Gravity

What did Marion teach?
Animal and creature locomotion - the Framestore way. Every studio (make that every animator) has their own particular workflow, a method that works best for them. One of the most important challenges for digital artists is to keep an open mind and always learn from others' best practice.

Below are some of Marion's tips and tricks for making great animation, and breaking into the industry.

1. Always use live action reference.
Marion showed us her approach to animating walk cycles - focusing very closely on the use of live action reference. This involves getting some really good, clear reference (YouTube is a great place to start), downloading it and then importing it into Maya.  How do you get video reference into Maya? There are several ways, two of which are discussed at this blog post here, but below is Marion's method.
  • First, import an image plane into Maya by going to Create / Free Image plane
  • Then press Control A on your keyboard
  • Under the Image name, find the live action reference, and Click on image sequence
  • Now Right click and delete expression
  • At frame 1 in your timeline, under the image number, set a key: Right click set key. 
  • At frame 2, click again and right click set key.
  • Select your “frame extension” curve (it's the purple one) and turn on infinity/linear
  • The reference shd now play in your viewport in real time. You can adjust the second keyframe up and down in your Graph Editor to speed up or slow down the reference.
FMX is held every year in Stuttgart

2. The importance of internships, and of attending festivals

Marion's big break at Framestore came through an internship, which she was able to sign up for at FMX in Stuttgart. The advantage of meeting recruiters in person at big international festivals is twofold - first you show them a level of committment by seeking them out in the first place, and secondly they get to meet you personally, and get to know you.  Marion said that she would most likely "not have got the internship at FrameStore if she had not been to FMX".

3. The importance of using online resources and websites

Nowadays there are tons of online resources to help keep your skills as an animator razor sharp. Some of the best ones that Marion recommends are:
Animators never stop learning. Standards are rising all the time across the industry - and a good artist keeps honing their skills.

4. The importance of using Animation Layers

So you've done your walk cycle, now you want to add a bit of a performance on top. You could bake out your curves, and start adjusting the animation.  But better yet (and far simpler), you can use the Animation Layers in Maya to add a performance of top of what you have done. This way, you get to make some changes to your work, show it to the director and,  if the director doesn’t like it, you simply mute the layer, or delete it.  That way you haven't messed up your original animation. Marion described Animation Layers as being "very useful for Motion Capture; you can add layers of animation on top of the MoCap".   The Animation Layer tool allows you make changes to your work and save a lot of time.

To find out more about Animation Apprentice, click here for a link to Frequently Asked Questions. To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link. For more information on finding work and surviving in the animation and visual effects business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we arehelping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films. Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business. Also see our post about freelancers and taxes.

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