Sunday, 7 July 2019

How to Animate Eye Darts

Above is a short video using the free Eleven Rig, on how to animate eye darts - fast moving micro-changes of eye direction. Animators should always remember that eyes are the window to the soul - it's the thing the audience will look at most, and one of the most common mistakes made by junior animators is fail to pay enough attention to their character's eyes.  Our eyes are very expressive, and the eyes are what we look at when we seek signals for how another person is thinking and feeling. The human eye is directly connected to the brain, and the audience will watch your character's eyes. There are endless variations on eye expressions, and it's important to get it right. So, how do animators animate a character's eyes?

Thumbnail drawings showing eye expressions
Eye expressions
Human eyes are very expressive. It is important to draw thumbnail sketches before animating a shot to make sure that the animator makes positive choices about the eye expressions. What is the character thinking and feeling? The eyes will tell us a huge amount about what is going on inside the character's head. 

Changes of eye direction
How should we show a change of eye direction? Usually, when we look from one thing to another, we blink. Nine times out of ten it's a good idea to add a blink when your character's eyes change direction.

Animate the brows
When you animate the eyes, don't forget to include the characters brows as well. Our faces are plastic, with many muscles acting to create expressions. Eyes and eyebrows should work together. Don’t forget that on a blink the eyes and eyebrows tend to open and close together.  So when your character blinks, add some motion in the eyebrows as well, to add flexibility. 

Eye Direction
Bad eye direction will let down your work. When characters talk to one another, they look at each other, into each others' eyes.  The general rule is to make sure your characters are looking at one another, to maintain the connection between them.

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.

The look see control is your starting point for controlling where your character is looking. Anchor it on the person the character is talking to, and the characters will feel connected.  But don't rely on the eye direction control to do the whole job - they are often inaccurate. You will likely have to fine tune the eye direction to make sure the characters really connect. 

Eye Darts
When people think, their eyes often dart from side to side. For example if they are talking on the phone, they are thinking, and their eyes move around rapidly. These micro-darts are often very fast, just one or two frames - rarely three.  CG eyes tend to look dead if they go still, so animators use eye darts” just to keep the eyes alive. If the eyes move too much they look soft and floaty. But…too little movement and they seem dead and lifeless.

To explore some of the theory behind animating eye expressions in more detail, watch the video below.

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