Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Why Thumbnails Need Facial Expressions

Copy an Emoji
3D animators don't necessarily need strong drawings skills (I know many excellent 3D animators who don't draw well at all), but an ability to draw at least a little bit does help, especially for creating rough thumbnail sketches to plan out your animation.

One of the most common mistakes made by student animators is to leave out the facial expressions on their thumbnail sketches. You'd think that it would be obvious to include facial expressions, but many students don't - probably because faces can seem hard to draw.

In fact, adding rough facial expressions doesn't need to be that difficult. Think of the emotion you want to convey, and then copy an emoji. Is the character happy? Sad? Angry? There's an emoji online for every expression.
Thumbnail sketches: body expressions only
Why thumbnail sketches are important
Thumbnailing a shot is one of the most important stages in the animation process.

Many students feel anxious about their drawing skills and, since faces can seem hard to draw, they often leave them out. But the face is important - it's what gives our character their attitude and personality.

To the right is a series of thumbnail sketches with body expressions that are working OK. But the artist has left off the face, so we really don't know what the character is thinking and feeling.

The problem with this is that, when you go into Maya and start to craft poses, you have nothing to work from, so the shot is likely to feel underdeveloped.

Think in terms of Emojis
The solution is simple. Write down what the character is thinking and feeling. Are they angry? Are they sad? Google an emoji that matched the emotion you want to convey, and then copy it.

Think Emojis. Is the character happy, sad, angry, afraid?
Simple expressions that convey an emotion aren't that hard to draw, and it will help make your thumbnail sketches much, much more useful in planning your animation.

Thumbnails - but no facial expressions
Below are some thumbnail sketches done by one of our newest students. In the first version below you can see that the thumbnails have strong poses, but lack facial expressions.

Thumbnails - some facial expressions
In this second version below, he has improved the thumbnails by adding facial expressions. This improves the storytelling, but also reveals some of its weaknesses. What is the story about?

Thumbnails, facial expressions - and clarity of storytelling
Finally, following feedback, he did the thumbnails below. These are much clearer, using both body language and facial expressions to tell the story clearly. These are thumbnails that can be used to create poses in Maya, and should lead to a strong piece of animation.

Below are some of my thumbnail sketches from Robots, a project I worked on back in 2004 (it was my first proper experience with CG). The key thing in the shot was to try to find the right body poses and facial expression for Mrs Copperbottom, who is feeling ashamed that she can't afford to buy her son decent clothes. Her expression is one of anxiety and shame.
Good thumbnails are good planning
The secret of good animation generally lies in the planning. If you get your thumbnail sketches right, and plan the shot thoroughly, you'll generally find that the animation itself is a breeze.


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