November 26, 2004

Learning New Software

The next film I will be working on I will be using Maya. I haven't touched Maya in well over four years, so I'm going to have to re-learn how to use it. So software is weighing heavily on my mind right now.

Warning bad analogy alert:
To me animating with software is like learning to play the guitar. With the guitar you practice the same chords, scales and finger positions over and over again so that they become second nature. It's not until you can forget about the finger positions and focus on the music, feel the music, it's not until then that you will you be able to play the guitar. Before that your just practicing.

Animating with software is like that to me. I have to allow the software to become second nature so I can focus on the animation. If I'm hunting and pecking for buttons or tools and not thinking of the animation then I'm not really animating. I want to focus on the poses, the timing and the spacing. I want to feel what the character is felling.

As I've said in the past I've used a lot of different software packages, sometimes I've had to learn them quickly so that I can be thrown into production quickly. I've come up with a method that lets me do this quickly:

First I try and figure out how the software is similar to the software I've used in the past. What are the new names have they given the same tools that other software uses. What tools are missing?

Second I learn how to pose the character and set keys in time. Once you have posing and spacing down your half way there.

How do I see my animation in real time.

This is when I look to see what curve types are available to me. What curve type works best for this software package. (Not all software packages interpret curves the same way, so if you have a favorite, don't expect it to be there when you change software.)

Last I don't try and learn the whole software at once. That would be too much all at once. I take a few tools that allow me to get the job done and I focus on those few tools. Once those tools become second nature, I'll add a few more tools. As I start to feel comfortable with those tools I'll add in a few more and so on over and over again until I learn the whole software. This is a never ending process.


Chad said...

I think you've eluded to this in this post, and maybe this topic desrves a post of its own, but what is your process for animation once your not "just practicing" anymore?

It seems to me preplanning, refrence video, and thumbnailing are important regardless of what software an animator uses. I wish I did more preplanning, each animation I try to do more (I just got a camcorder). That way I can just focus on several tools during the course of animation in the software.

However for new animators, it is so easy to get caught up in the shinny buttons and sassy tools of the advanced packages. At least I did, when I was new to the game. To this day I try to focus on preplanning and then the keyframes, curves, and dopesheet tools in applications.

Working on a film as a pro may focus you on the job at hand, but do you find that your trying to many bells and whistles during your work outside the office? Who was it that said "Keep your animations simple and clear"? Don Graham?

Ethan said...

To be honest I'm never done "practicing" I'm always finding new ways of using software. But that initial stage of using new software is like putting on new shoes. Your just not comfortable untell you can forget you have them on. (I'm just full of analogys)

Mostly what I was trying to say in this post is: "The more things change the more they stay the same." The process of animating and the basic principles of animation don't change from software package to software package. If, as an animator, you focus on being an animator and not a software user you can jump to any software package you want without even thinking about it. Or you could jump to any medium you want. The basic approach to animating changes depending on the medium, but the result that you are shooting for stays the same.

I've seen people become so focused on having just the right tools or just the right setup that they forget to animate. These people use the tools as a crutch. If the body isn't set up just so they freak out. I have seen people quit or get layed off because of this.

As far as how I approach animation, well, each shot is a bit different. I try and do as much planning ahead as I can depending on how much time I have. Ideally the less time I have = more planning ahead. But I can't honestly say that's true. Some shots are just easy, you know what has to be done just by looking at the boards. Others take some work.

I do use video reference, but I only do that in order to see how things work, mechanically. Or sometimes I'll video myself to work myself out of a problem.

I had one shot in Shrek 2 where a character was supposed to turn around and walk away. I did the shot over and over again and for some reason I just couldn't get the mechanics of turning the character around. I video taped myself turning around and annualized the action, then it made sense. I must have done that one dumb action twelve times before that, once I saw it done right my mistake was obvious.

Sometimes I'll video myself or someone else doing the shot if I'm fishing for ideas. Sometimes that's good to break yourself out of doing generic animation. Sometimes it's a waist of time and you get nothing out of it. It depends. I'd say the video camera can be a great tool, but don't use it too much. Sometimes thumb nailing out is better. Sometimes it's not.

But once I'm in there I'll approach the animation just the same as I would with traditional animation. I'll consider the frames as drawings. I'll work pose to pose, sometimes I work straight ahead. Right now I'm working on a heavy action shot with lots of characters and I'm animating it straight ahead, first one frame, then the next, then the next. Then I'll go back and clean it all up once I reach the end but right now I'm just trying to feel the action.

OK I think I got way off topic. Let me know if this rambling answered your original question.

Chad said...

Your response made sense to me completly. I used to teach at a small little cg school, and it was hard to ge the students away from the tools and on to the theory and principles. They didnt have much time in front of the computers, and they wanted to milk every penny I suppose. Of course the better student figured out what your were discussing in your post - planning and principles are key.


tweedledeetweedledum said...
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