Friday, 27 April 2018

Framestore: Live-Action Reference & Animation

Ross Burgess and Oz Gani acting out some dinosaur action
Framestore are a London based animation and VFX company that keeps raising the bar for animal and creature animation.

Paddington 2, was animated at Framestore, and they out-did their own work on Paddington 1 in terms of the quality and believability of the animated performance.

Last week two senior Framestore animators (and the head of talent development) visited my classroom at Escape Studios, to check out our students' work and give us some insights into the Framestore animation workflow.

The importance of using reference
Animation supervisor Oz Gani and Head of Animation Ross Burgess explained that the secret of the Framestore animation process is "all about finding great reference". This involves filming your own reference for a shot, or - more commonly with animal and creature work - searching through YouTube to find the perfect clip - which can then be used to create convincing and believable animation.

Head of Talent Development, Andrew Schlussel (left), and Oz Gani
Finding the right reference
Oz said that he spends about "50% of his time searching for great reference".  Often, it's a question of finding a series of clips, trimming them, editing them together, and splicing them together to create the perfect shot.

This "Frankenstein clip" gets shown to the client, so that the client can approve the basic moves.

Reference is blocking
As Ross put it, you "show your reference as blocking", because "if you can get the right reference, you know that the shot is going to work".

Dreamworks workflow
Ross explained that he learned this technique while working as an animator at Dreamworks, where he filmed his pregnant wife walking, in order to capture just the right reference for a particular shot. "As animators", he said "the most important thing is to observe; we are all observers of life".

Andrew Schlussel, Oz Gani and Ross Burgess
"Frankenstein" clips
Oz talked about "Frankensteining" different bits of reference, to combine different clips of animal business and use this as reference.

Oz explained how he learned this technique at ILM, on The Revenant, where the animators who worked on the grizzly bear created an astoundingly realistic performance. And the secret of getting this right was all about finding the right reference.

Boss Baby 
Ross showed an example of this process, featuring acting filmed by "Boss Baby" animators Anthony Hodgson and Rani Namaani, who cut together a progress reel of their acting on the movie, juxtaposed with the final shots, showing how much work went into the acting and preparation of each shot. 

Boss Baby Animation & Reference Reel 1 from anthony hodgson on Vimeo.

Ross also gave a demonstration of how he imported reference video into Maya, directly onto an image plane, in order to have the reference footage in the shot.  This process is "all about satisfying the vision of a director", which is "the hardest thing to learn as a junior - how to get into the head of the director quicker". And, "once you have the right footage, and the right action, it's so much quicker to animate".

Using reference is a smart way of working because it saves tons of time in blocking animation, and also ensures that the animators' work is rooted in the real world.

To see some examples of recent animal and creature work done by our students here at Animation Apprentice - almost all of which is based on live-action reference - watch the video below.

And to read more about how to use live action reference to create great animation, follow this link.

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