Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Thumbnailing Mrs Copperbottom from "Robots"

Robots - Mrs Copperbottom
Learning to thumbnail animation is one of the hardest skills for junior animators to master, but being able to do rough thumbnail sketches is a very helpful skill because it helps the animator plan their work.

You wouldn't build a building without architectural plans. And you shouldn't start animating a shot without a clear plan of where you are going.

Below are some of my thumbnail sketches of Mrs Copperbottom from Robots. I had to find the right body poses and facial expression for the character, who is feeling ashamed that she can't afford to buy her son decent clothes. She is talking about giving her child hand-me-downs, and her expression is one of anxiety and shame.

The line of dialogue is "I...I.. think we got rid of most of the smell...". The storyboard artist had already come up with the idea of Mrs C stirring a pot at the stove while she is talking - a kind of displacement activity that allows her to concentrate on something else while she is speaking - and not actually look her son in the eye.

The first step was to import the audio into Maya, and see where the big accents are falling in the shot. You can see this by looking at the waveform in the audio channel.

The next stage was to write down the line of dialogue.

I also made a note of who was doing the following shot (Dave Figliola) and the previous shot (John Wilson), as I had to make sure that my animation hooked up with theirs. Checking your "hookups" is an important part of the animator's job.

The little arrows show whether the head accents are going up and down. In this case, Mrs C's head went up on "most" and came down on "smell".

The thumbnails are shown below:

You can see that most of the effort was going into finding the right facial expressions. She's trying to put on a brave face. The final drawing is the one I went with for my final pose. Her mouth is smiling, but her eyes are showing something different - anxiety and fear - fear that she is a bad mother.

The secret of good animation is in the planning. If you get your thumbnail sketches right, and plan the shot thoroughly, you'll generally find that the animation itself goes smoothly.

The shot of Mrs Copperbottom came out well, though that didn't mean it made it into the movie. Like many, many other shots, it got cut out during late re-writes of the film.

To see more about how to plan your work with thumbnail sketches, follow this link.


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