Tuesday, May 31, 2016

5 Reasons to Shoot Video Reference

Finally, after spending hours on YouTube and audio clip sites, you have finally found an amazing audio byte that you think is perfect to make an awesome animated shot. You are excited. In your head this would be your "THE shot" to apply for jobs with. So excitedly you open Maya and start animating. But as you progress, your enthusiasm begins to fade away and you realize that even after laboring over this shot for days, it is nowhere as good as it should have been. It was perfect in your head, what went wrong?

The answer is may be simple: you didn't plan your shot well.

Pre-planning a shot is an important step that we 3D animators tend to forget. In our quest to jump into Maya and start blocking the shot, we leave a lot to our imagination. Things like camera angles, character position with respect to camera, storytelling poses and the character's thought process become a subject of whims and moods. The shot starts with a lot of energy, but then as we start questioning our acting choices, the shot begins to reflect our frustration. There are parts of it that work and parts of it that just don't. In other words, it is nothing like your imagined shot.
"Shooting video reference is one of the most important tools  at your disposal to add believability to your shot . "
How? I am glad you asked.

Reason#1: Experimentation

Video references help you to experiment with a lot of ideas. In this fast paced global world, having a good animated shot is not enough to get a job. You have to be a good storyteller and must have some good original or interesting story ideas. Usually it is said that after getting a dialogue shot, you need to understand the subtext of the scene and know where your character is coming from and where it's going to. Then you'll probably need to scratch the first three ideas for they likely will be cliched. For the rest of the ideas, experiment with them. 
With video camera on a tripod, start experimenting with the ideas, and see which one works best for you. Check the camera angles you think are interesting, and act standing in the character's position and move around to see how much freedom of movement you can have without compromising the clarity of poses and silhouette. In other words, this is your time to be loose and check all the ideas that you have for your story without making any serious commitment to any. Use props, be an alien-- heck, become a stranded pirate in desert. Everything is allowed.

Reason#2: Body mechanics
Hips certainly don't lie and neither does every other part of the body, especially in an animated shot. They have to work together to be believable. One tiny movement out of ordinary and every person will notice that. You can't take a risk there.
So when you shoot a video reference, acting a shot out the way you want it to be, it helps you to study how the body moves from one pose to another. You then bring that knowledge to your poses and suddenly poses and transitions begin to work. 
There are many ways you can translate the body mechanics aspect of your video reference to your shot. One of the ways is to bring all the movements of the body into your poses. You might have to essentially block in 4's for that. Then get rid of the reference, and build on the existing body mechanics. With a strong body mechanics base, exaggerating poses and pushing them to the cartoony side becomes easier--without getting out of the realm of believability.

Reason#3: Acting choices
Once you refine a pose in Maya, it becomes harder for you to kill it because you feel committed to it. You have spent hours on it and it is "perfect" so you become attached to it and try to keep it in your shot even at the expense of the storytelling. Shooting video reference and experimenting with acting choices are much easier and less time consuming.
A general tip to follow is to go as non-traditional as possible. Bring in acting choices that are interesting to look at and are different from what anyone else is doing. Don't go too random, but try to bring in something that is unique to your shot. So if you are acting standing up, sit down. If you are sitting, try to move around. Will it be ok for your character to move his hands a lot or just use them only once? Every idea that you get, perform it and then perform the opposite of it. Within the parameter of your story idea and character's personality, test as much as possible. Figure out the beats, the motions and the poses. Go with the choices that get the point across as clearly as possible and still bring out the personality of the character you are going to animate.
Try to work within the pose as much as you can. New animators tend to overact and move the character too much. Hitting a few strong storytelling poses and working within them results in much clearer and  more appealing acting.

Reason#4: Nuances
Sometimes while shooting reference, our body subconsciously brings out movements that we never plan. Maybe it's subtle breathing, a certain way of moving hand, a micro eye-movement, or a subconscious gesture during one of the pauses: all these small actions bring the 3D rig into life. They make the whole shot seem very natural and effortless. Without reference, you're not likely to get these moments no matter how good you are at animating characters.

Reason #5: Time saving
Having a deadline often makes the idea of ditching reference shooting plausible, but the truth is that this 2-3 hours of video shooting saves you from spending hours later in your shot. It is far better to open Maya with everything mapped out than "planning as you go". Never underestimate the power of pre-planning your shots. Experiment and have fun.

So next time, don't skip the video reference step. There is no reason why it can't be fun. AnimSchool instructor and Disney Animator Tony Bonilla must have been having fun when he shot this video reference for one of his students. Enjoy!

Join us at www.animschool.com to make great animation shots.

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