Monday, 12 March 2018

Why Eye Direction Matters

Characters must look at one another
One of the most common mistakes made by junior animators (and sometimes senior ones) is to animate characters who aren't really looking at each other.

Eye direction is a tricky thing to get right, but it's vital that your characters need to engage with one another - and this means looking in the right direction, at the other character's eyes.

Hold on to the eyes
As Michael Caine puts it in his famous 1980s tutorial "Acting in Film" (see video below), the number one lesson for stage actors is to "hold on to each others' eyes". And, what is true for stage actors is true for animators.

You can watch Caine's advice in the video below - the important part is all in the first 5 minutes.

Avoid Zombie Eyes
What we are trying to avoid is the character's eyes wandering meaninglessly around the screen. "Zombie eyes" don't make for good animation; they make the character feel stiff and lifeless. And it's important to remember that the eyes are what we all look at most of the time - this is where our attention goes.

Look See Control
Character with "Look See" control
Most character rigs have something called a "Look See" or "Eye direction" controller, which you can move into position, and this should (in theory) control the character's eye direction.

One of my favourite tricks when animating a character is to create a simple cube, turn it into a tall slender column, move it off screen, and name it "character2". This is the person that character1 is talking to. So, all you have to do is move character1's eye direction controller, position it onto character2, and - hey presto - character1 is now looking at character2 throughout the shot. To see how it works, watch the video below.

Create a Face Camera
We also recommend creating a Face Camera when you animate characters in Maya. To do this, follow these steps. Creating a camera, name it faceCam, and parent it to the facial controls. Then tear it off (Panels/tear off) so you can return to the faceCam whenever you need it. This will save you a lot of time when animating facial expressions. To see this process in more detail, watch the video below:

Fine-tuning the eyes
This doesn't mean you won't have to fine-tune the eye direction at the end of your shot. Whenever you tweak your animation, you will - inevitably - slightly mess up the eye direction. So, when you do your final animation pass, you will always have to check the eye direction to make sure that the character's eyes aren't wandering around.

Blinks and Eye Darts
And, of course, don't forget to add blinks, and also eye darts. Keeping the eyes alive is how we create the illusion that our characters are actually thinking.

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.

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