3D animation is the process of generating a sequence of 3D images by manipulating 3D models and objects the give the illusion of life or movement. It is created using a 3D software. Softwares like Autodesk Maya, 3DS Max and Cinema 4D are some of the softwares that are commonly used for creating the animations.
3D animation is also based on the 12 principles of animation that were established during 2D animation. The principles of animation are important for 3D animation and anyone who wants to become an animator should learn them by heart. Here is a link for a video that explains the 12 principles of animation : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDqjIdI4bF4. Anybody here at the etc who is wants to learn animation and is interested in pursuing it as a career should buy books The Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams and The Illusion of Life (Disney Animation) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. These books are considered as the bible for 3D animation and are highly recommended to anyone who is interested in learning about 3D animation and pursuing it as a career.
Project Sirena (Spring 2019)
Project Sirena is a part of the year long animation studio where the goal was to produce a 3D animated short that tells the story of the transformation of a girl into a mermaid based on the Legend of Guam. This animated short was traditional animation piece(keyframe animation) and was produced in 15 weeks. Since this was traditional keyframe animation piece with VFX and hair simulation the team had to spent a lot of time together to ensure that they figure out the pipeline. Here are some of the lessons learned during the project for animation by the 3D animator Niharika Jain on the team.
- For traditional keyframe animation one should follow the 12 principles of animation and incorporate them in their animation.
- For cinematic animation, always animate what is in front of the camera. It helps save a lot of time. But keep in mind while animating only what's in front of the camera, make sure that the mesh is not breaking or deforming in a abnormal way because of not moving controllers for the different body parts not visible in the camera.
- It is very difficult to plan your animation before especially when there are only 3-4 weeks to animate. Therefore it is always better to keep looking for references for the animations that you know you would be doing. For example if you know there is a drowning sequence then look at references for drowning, or if there is creature like a mermaid involved then study fish movement and anatomy. Keep looking for references even though they may be from different camera angles it helps a lot when there is less time to have the references ready and be able to look at them when animating. Remember always have a reference.
- Apart from reference if you have the script or the storyboards then get your camera locked in as soon as possible and using that camera angle as a reference act out the sequence so that you can use it as your reference. Even if it is cartoon animation or creature animation try and act out how the body will move or how the person/creature will be reacting. This is what most animators do and it is highly recommended to act out and feel the emotions behind the sequence as it helps you in animation.
- For the rig work with the rigger to ensure that you are properly using the rig and ask the rigger if there are any problems or issues that you have. Always coordinate with each other to ensure that with the rig you can create the animations that you want. Before the rigging start make sure you talk to the rigger on the team to let them know what all controls would you like and what all do you want to do with the rig.
- When you are creating animations in Maya make sure you reference the rig and then work on the animations. This is the best way to work as it allows the rigger to make any changes to the rig or add any blendshapes without the animation being affected. The way to refer an asset in Maya is provided in the following link: https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/maya/learn-explore/caas/CloudHelp/cloudhelp/2018/ENU/Maya-ManagingScenes/files/GUID-3C0A2745-36CA-46C3-83BA-7E55FC7C1A83-htm.html
- When you get the rig make sure you do a pose test and try and do different poses or different facial expressions for the rig. Even though if there is no time and you have to start animating do pose tests on the side. It helps you test the rig and allows one to understand the controls on the rig.
- Start your animation by blocking it in stepped mode. This allows you to create poses and makes it easier to get feedback. After the first blocking based on the feedback add in inbetweens and go into advanced blocking still in stepped mode. Again get feedback on the advanced blocking and then after polishing start splining and adjust the timing and spacing to get the desired animation. This is the workflow that is usually followed in the industry. It gets sometimes hard to follow the exact workflow when the animation has to be done in 3 weeks but try to start the animation in stepped mode and then start splining. To explain how shots are done in the industry here is an animation progression reel from the film tangled: https://vimeo.com/44181679. Here is the link for animation progression reel for our short film and how we did this in 3-4 weeks : TBA.
- Sometimes when there is interaction with external objects or another character it is always better to use a placeholder. For our project for animating shots above water where there is interaction with waves, Niharika had to use the placeholder for the ocean to be able to make the character move and interact with the waves. Here is a link for a video of how this shot was done in Maya using an ocean placeholder provided by our VFX artist Yikai (Kevin) Han.
- For shots that involve interaction with a character or an object it is better to always start with blocking out the interactions first rather than the animation for the character. For example for our shot it would have been lot better if we had blocked out the interaction of the character with the waves first. This was a lesson that we learned but due to less amount of time we had to add the interactions in the end.
- Animating cameras is very hard and make sure if the shot needs camera movement you should create a reference by using a real camera and then replicating that movement as cameras in Maya tend to work differently and can cause jumps if the camera is moved too fast. If time provides it is always better to create a camera rig that allows you to animate cameras in a better way.
- Make sure that when you are polishing the animation you are adding in overlapping. This is one of the most important principles of animation and it makes the animation a lot better.
- When the animation has to be handed over to the next pipeline like hair simulation or cloth simulation it sometimes gets very difficult to polish the animations in very less amount of time. One thing that we did was to prioritize the shots that needed polishing. This can be done based on team discussion or discussion with faculty advisors. After prioritizing the shots make sure you lock the head movement or chest movement that affects the simulation and hand it over. This way the simulation does not get affected and you can polish the animations. However this should be done only for priority shots and make sure that the schedule is planned in such a way that you provide the polished shots.
- Animation is very hard and it can be very easy to give up. Never give up and keep going. It can be very draining but if you are passionate then just keep doing it. Always learn to let go of the shots, as an animator and an artist you would want to keep polishing and improving your work but when there are other people waiting for the shot then you have to stick to the schedule and after the project you will get enough time to polish the shots for your portfolio. You may not realize it but while working on the project you would have learned a lot in a very less amount of time.