Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Using Live Action Reference for Animation

Live Action Ref by Eilin Berrio Pena
One of the skills that junior animators must master is how to use live action reference to inform their animation.

When you go and watch a Pixar or Disney movie, you see animation, not live action. But there is plenty of live action there - it's just behind the scenes. Animators typically film themselves acting out their shot, and then use that reference to create animation. Below is an example from two students, Eilin Berrio Pena and Paloma Zhu, showing how they filmed live action reference to enter the monthly 11 Second Club Competition. 

The 11 Second Club
The 11 Second Club is a monthly character animation competition in which aspiring animators compete to win prizes and get their work noticed. Animators from all over the world participate, animating a character speaking a line of dialogue, sharing their progress with one another and critique each other's work - just like in a real animation studio.

So how to succeed in the 11 Second Club? One dependable method is for animators to film themselves acting out the line of dialogue - using live action reference to guide the animation.

Paloma and Eilin ranked #3 and #4 in October 2019
Live Action Reference
In the October 2019 11 Second Club Competition Paloma Zhu and Eilin Berrio Pena ranked 3rd and 4th in the Competition. How did they do it? They both used live action reference to animate their scenes. 

Paloma Zhu - Traffic Lights
Rush Hour by Paloma Zhu placed third in the competition. Paloma's very inventive animation skillfully imagined the two characters as a set of traffic lights.  

To get the acting and the timing right, she filmed herself acting out the shot.

Eilin Berrio Pena - Zombie Dinner
Eilin Berrio Pena imagined the scene as a cosy dinner a deux with a zombie and another guest, who isn't too keen on being served brains for his tea. Again, a very imaginative performance, well executed. 

Live Action Reference
The secret of success in character animation is good planning. Both Paloma and Eilin worked hard to secure good live action reference, filming themselves acting out their shots and using the reference for their animation blocking. You can see examples of their live action reference below.

Paloma Zhu - Live Action Reference
Paloma filmed herself acting out the shot and imported the live action into Maya, working from an image plane to ensure that she had all her animation planned out from the start, a practical method widely used in industry.  Even in the 1930s Disney animators on Snow White used live action to help create their animation performances.  

Eilin Berio Pena - Live Action Reference

Eilin acted out both roles in the scene, filming herself acting out the scene, then editing the footage in Premiere so that it perfectly matched the line of dialogue. Then, she used her live action performance to create her animation blocking. 

You can see how much trouble she took to match the camera angles and the props so that her animation could be matched directly to the reference.  

How to use live action reference
To see how to use live action reference to create animation in Maya, read this blog post. All you really need is a tripod and a smart phone. To get started, find a quiet spot (your bedroom will do), close your bedroom door and do multiple takes until you feel comfortable. Delete the bad takes, import the best take into Premiere, sync it with the 11 second club audio, and then export the footage into Maya. Now you have a basis on which to start planning your animation.

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