Monday, February 8, 2010

A Trip to the Digital Playground

Developing my Animation Motor Skills
All the great animators out there seem to effortlessly make characters move around and emote so well that we forget that we're even watching digital (or drawn) figures and not real, breathing beings. This is because all character animators are at heart actors, and the things an animator does to get "into character" are no different than the preparations and practices that film actors do. Constantin Stanislavsky, the great Russian theater actor and director, authored a book entitled "An Actor Prepares" in which he explains in detail how an actor may physically, mentally, and emotionally inhabit their characters. Becoming totally immersed in your character is not an easy thing to do (but, like most things, those who do it well make it look easy) when you're using your own body, let alone when you're trying to learn how to use a digital avatar.

Acting through animation involves far more than just learning Stanislavsky's system - it first involved learning how to move again. It takes time for a young animator, even if they have natural acting instincts, to learn how to move a character properly. Your body isn't your medium, an new computer program is! You also have to master principles of animation, work flow, new buttons... all kinds of things. This is where my frustration in my own animation has come from recently. It's very difficult to recite a poem when you're still learning how to talk.

A Trip to the Digital Playground
For a child, playing on a jungle gym is an extremely valuable experience. They not only get the exercise that they crave, but they also spend valuable time developing their motor skills. We're not born knowing how to walk, jump, climb, or run - we have to learn. Learning to animate is exactly the same way - it's learning how to perform the most fundamental physical actions all over again. This is why bouncing balls, walk cycles, and weight lift assignments are an integral part of any animation education. The hard part is being patient.

So I've decided, as an animator, to put Stanislavsky on the back shelf for a little while and re-invest some time on the playground. The following video is a first pass of a physical animation. I was encouraged to do one by my friend John Paul Rhinemiller, and he has been extremely helpful as far as offering advice and encouragement. I came up with this simple idea after watching some video reference of parkour, sometimes called "freerunning".

I plan to have my updates of this animation posted regularly - so check back soon!