Tuesday, 1 May 2018

How to Block out and Plan Creature Animation


This short video ten minute explains how to block out and plan an animal or creature animation shot.  What do animators mean by "blocking"? We mean the process of establishing the main key poses in a shot, using stepped curves (i.e., single poses without any smooth transitions), so that we can test whether or not the shot will work. Having a good, organised workflow is an essential part of the animator's toolkit. Long before you start making key poses in Maya, you want to plan the shot out in your head, on video, with thumbnail sketches and/or storyboards.
What is blocking?
"Blocking" is the process of planning out, or blocking out, the key poses in an animated scene. On a high-end feature film, such as at Disney or Pixar, an animator might get a day (two, at most) to block out their work before showing it to the director.  For an animator on a TV series, with much tighter deadlines, you might be expected to block out a shot in an hour or so.

Getting feedback
Once you have done your blocking, typically on stepped curves, showing all the key poses, you show this to the director.  After the director gives notes (there are always notes), the animator adds breakdown poses - the Tween Machine is a great free plug-in for Maya that helps with this process. At this stage the animator starts to add detail, but is still concentrating on the main performance.

Blocking Plus
The director is then shown this more detailed version of the shot, sometimes called "blocking plus", and gives further notes. By now the shot is taking shape and the direction is - hopefully - pretty clear.

Spline and refine
The next stage is to move to spline your curves in the Graph Editor, and add the in-betweens. At this stage it's a question of tidying the curves and adding detail like overlapping action, eye darts, and any other small bits of business.

In summary
The basic process is always the same
  1. Look at the storyboards, watch the reel/animatic, and think about the shot. Try to see it in your head.
  2. Film yourself, or someone else, acting it out, or find reference online. Acting the shot out yourself can be a huge help. 
  3. Draw thumbnail sketches of all the key poses, to plan out the shot.
  4. Turn your thumbnail sketches into key poses in Maya
  5. Show your blocking pass, and get feedback for your peers, and/or the director
  6. Blocking Plus - feedback
  7. Spline and refine - approval
---Alex

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