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Monday, May 21, 2007

These are the 13 questions asked by Central Saint Martins as part of our Final Project Presentation.

1. From which painting did you get the inspiration for your project and how did it influence your animation.

The painting from which I drew my inspiration was The Battle of San Romano by Uccello. I chose the painting because the painting had a lot of characters in it and it seemed to me that knights would be easier to animate than other characters because of their jointed armour, which would be more forgiving than robes to animate. Also, I wanted to have another piece of work incorporating a 4 legged run cycle. A battle is also the scene for lots of action and so I thought I could make my animation quite a lively piece. The idea of the painting was to romanticise the idea of chivalric daring and so the knight in my piece personifies this.

2.Describe the development of your central character and answer the following "Seven Questions" for the character.

a. Who am I?

The characters in my work are a knight and his horse. The knight is an upper class twit of sorts. He is used to getting his own way and people following his every command. He is also a bit of a sadist, he actually enjoys violence and is a rather gruff character, so in a way he is the antithesis of the romantic image of what a knight should be, though he doesn't recognise this. He thinks he is a great knight, and is rather vain.
The horse is quite a simple character, stubborn in nature and apart from things which are really obvious, he is unable to work out anything too complicated. However he is not just a dumb animal, he is more like a stupid human being in nature. I have given him the ability to portray emotion as a human character would in his character rigging, so really this piece is a battle of wits between a stubborn horse and an intolerant knight.

b. Where am I?

They are at the Battle of San Romano, somewhere between Sienna and Florence. The knight is a captain in one of the armies but not in overall charge.

c. When am I?

Circa 1435

d What do I want?

The Knight wants to engage in battle and lead his troops to victory. He glories in his self image and takes it as a personal insult if he is made to look a fool.

The Horse doesn't want to fight. It wants to eat grass and be left alone.

e Why do I want it?

The knight is a romantic, in love with the idea of chivalry and honour and wants to be seen by his peers to be heroic, possibly so that he can get promotion and wealth.

The horse wants to eat because thats pretty much what horse want mostly. He's a passive creature usually when not being kicked or threatened. He just wants an easy life. Though he will react if provoked.

f. How am I going to get what I want?

The knight, being quite an intolerant sort of chap decides to get his horse to move by threatening violence, he figures a good jab up the rear with a lance should get his horse to do what he wants. When this fails he decides to pull the horse into battle.

The horse intends to get what it wants by stubbornly resisting the knights attempts to make him move. A well placed kick seems to do the trick!

g. What gets in the way of what I want?

The knight and the horse are at loggerheads, each is preventing the other from getting what they desire.

3. What animation techniques did you use?

I have used several new techniques in this animation. I have mainly tried to follow the tutorial by Victor Navone on handling splines. Firstly I created my main keyframes from a video guide track. This was done in stepped keys. After I was happy with this I moved to linear keys and again looked at the timing and keyframes. I worked pose to pose for this stage, looking at whether the keyframes were strong enough and how long they were held for. Once I was happy with this, I changed my keys to clamped and starting with the pelvis of each character worked on the acceleration of joint over time, adding overshoot using free tangent weights and extra keys in order to bring the joint to rest. After this I began adding accents and anticipation before and after the key poses. I decided to work firstly on the physical aspects of the animation, for instance the walks runs and jumps, as these are really systematic, in order to get them out of the way and concentrate on the acting side of the piece. Using these methods has made it much easier to stick to the timing I set out at the beginning, however in terms of efficiency, at this time I think the method is just as time consuming. With experience this would hopefully be reduced. Although for most of the animation this system worked, In some parts the movement was too complicated. This is probably bad staging, but in these instances I had to add more keys, such as fixing a hand in a spot as the body moved or if there were a complicated series of keyframes close together. In these instances I found it easier to feel my way through the movement by eye than to tweak curves.

For this project I also used character sets for the first time. This is a really useful tool for blocking out animation as you can move all the keys for one character at the same time, making tightening up timing much easier. Certainly up until the pose to pose stage I almost constantly did things in this mode, and it was only at the stage of offsetting keys that working with character sets became obsolete. Another important trick I used in this animation was cloning the state of the characters by middle clicking and dragging on the time line and pressing "S" to set a key. In terms of setting pose timing this was a real time saver, especially teamed with character sets as keys for all controls could be set at the same time. I also used character subsets to look at just part of the characters' controls. This was useful when offsetting keys as you can look at just a few controls in the dopesheet, clean up erroneous keys created by cloning, and drag the keys to offset them.

In terms of the models I did use expression for quite a few areas. Shoulder and elbow guards are animated using expressions. I also used clusters parented to controls on the reins. The clusters were actually singular points on the IK Spline controllers for the rein joints, and pairing them made it easier to key both sides of the reins in tandem.

As well as this I have made full use of referencing objects into scenes for this project. Using this method, the actual model files are kept seperate from the scene files, allowing changes to be made to the model and then being able to reload them back into the scene. This means work on textures and controls can continue on the character seperate to its animation. Having had technical difficulties with the horse's reins, it was definitely a bonus that changes to how the reins were controlled could be made on the fly without having to lose any animation. I was able to light my characters in their reference files so that they were not affected by scene lighting. This meant I had more control over where shadowing would occur.

The final new technique was the use of particles to create the dust cloud I found this quite straghtforward having followed a tutorial on how to create clouds and other tutorials found on the web.

4. Did you use any techniques or processes that were new to you?

Blocking out and changing from stepped, to linear, to clamped keys is new to me, but it is an industry standard and makes it easier for an animation director to keep a coherent style throughout a piece of work so I wanted to attempt it at least once while still a student so that I got more of a feel for controlling splines without adding extraneous keys, which can become complicated and time consuming. Also the use of character sets and key state cloning was new to me, but easy to pick up and utilise.

I also researched use of dynamics for the dust cloud, but also for rigid and soft body dynamics animation, as I thought this might be able to be used to drive the reins animation, however I found the compexity of showing dynamic effects meant that many dynamics could not be viewed at the same time and therefore could not be used in a controlled manner and I went back to hand made animation.

5. What technical difficulties did you have in realising your project?

I think using the spline controlling method has been the hardest part. I have really had to ditch the theory and get stuck in. I spent a lot of time cleaning curves and tweaking accelerations, only to find I had lost the liveliness of the movement, so I went back to square one and used my eye when adding the anticipation and overshoot key to the key poses. There is some use of spline tweaks however in the horses kick which is largely achieved simply through my original keys and curve tweaking.

Coming up with a method for animating the reins was rather difficult, and still not perfect. Also expressions in the scene file carried in from a referenced file were in some cases lost. This was due to carelessness over what was selected and keyed.

In the last part of my animation the file became corrupted and I ended up with several empty meshes where the polygonal data was lost.

6. How did you solve them and what did you learn from that?

To solve the problem with the reins I attempted to create dynamic controls for them. I have experimented with both soft and rigid body dynamics with various constraints, to guide the reins and make them move more realistically than keyframing alone. However I learned that using dynamics is really processor intensive, and if you have several dynamic objects in the scene, the computer doesn't show what they are doing, so its impossible to use them as controllers. I went back to the normal method, although I did realise I could key the joint in my reins in their x translation to achieve a stretch effect, which solved the problem of the reins being too short in some of the shots, so it wasn't all a waste of time!

Also when my file became corrupted I looked into the use of the Trax Editor to export the animation from one scene into another. This worked pretty well though there were some offset control issues that I couldn't resolve. However from solving this problem I realised that you can parent meshes to referenced objects so I just imported the missing pieces of armour and the horses eyelids and parented them to the bones. Although I had lost some of the expression scripts from the original model file, I don't think the end result is too noticeable.

7. What else did you learn from doing this project?

When rendering I wanted to look for ways of lighting that could be controlled. I had separate lights for my environment, and each character but I also wanted shadows. I learned how to create render layers and render different passes for shadows, depth etc. If I have time I will render my shadows in separate files and composite them together with the other footage so I can control how well they show up.

I have also learned that I should take a simpler approach to what I decide to animate. I seem to always use shots which take take the maximum amount of effort to achieve instead of using cuts in order to minimize the amount of technical details I have to attend to. Some of the shots have really pushed my rigs to their limits instead of maximizing what they are good at. I have also learned to lock everything that is not to be animated. I lost expressions on the shoulders of the knight by changing a value by mistake early on. When using referenced files I have learned its best to make any changes in the file itself and not go tweaking things in the actual animation. It leads to problems later on. Also, locking animation that you are happy with is a good idea as adding keys by mistake can set you back hours!

I think I've also learned that a minute's worth of animation is a heck of a lot, especially if you have two characters, which essentially means two minutes of animation. I think if I'd spent more time constructing and rigging in the holidays I would have given myself more time overall.

8. From where did you get your information?

I google searched for information about the painting and found plenty of information about the artist, the era and the work in particular. I used the painting to inform the character design, and the description of de Torentino as a nasty kind of guy to inform the knights character, but also the romanticism of the subject, which was the reason for the paintings creation, as the way the knight sees himself at the beginning of the animation. This falls away as soon as he doesn't get to join the battle.

I also found decent websites about period armour which inspired my design. I simplified obviously as real armour would constrict movement, a constraint I didn't wish to have in my cartoon.

For technical information I consulted the help files and found relevant websites (see my blog)

9. What was the most successful part of your project?

I'm really happy with the facial expression for the knight character. Because it was built well, I was able to increase the values of the different blend targets and create expressions I hadn't considered before. I'm also happy with the model I created of the knight, and the expressions I used to drive the fingers, shoulder guards and elbow guards. I think it is a good 3D representation of my character design, however once created in 3D I started to envisage the character as an older man, which changed his motivations and personality in my mind. This wasn't a bad thing, in fact I think it makes the plot a little more believable.

10. What was the least successful part of your project?

The reins haven't worked as well as planned. I had to do a lot of work to make them look right, and it drove me nuts! Neither has the rigging of the horse's front legs, which could have benefitted from IK handles. I also don't think I achieved a great amount of expression with the horse's face. I think I could have made this better in order to achieve more, but it was difficult to add human expression to an animals face. The problem being that the eyes have to do much more of the work.

11. What would you do differently?

I think I would have worked out the timing better at the outset.
I would have made the plot simpler in terms of the animation required, nothing to do with reins!
I would have used IK in the Horse's front legs and looked into IK/FK blending to give more control over the knights hands.
I would have spent more time rigging the characters and experimenting with the blenshapes, especially for the horse.
I would have liked to have the music at the animatic stage to inform the pace of the cartoon.
I would have locked all parts containing expressions and finished animation.

12. Looking back over your production process, how do you rate your work in terms of the following (1-10)

a.Time Management/Planning 10
b.Problem Solving 10
c.Character Animation 10
d. Technical Skills 10
e. Industry Practice 10, although I've never worked in the animation industry, so this is a guesstimate.

13. Any other comments you would like to make about your final project?

Though the plot is not that great I am happy with the challenges I set myself in terms of animation. These include:

A jump and landing.
A run cycle.
A Horse kicking.
A fall.
A horse jump.
Pulling a heavy object.
A horse gallop.

So regardless of the story, these things will all translate to my showreel.

I also have two new models which can be reused.

I was not impressed by the participation of the royal academy of music. I think its a shame they weren't involved at any earlier stage and able to give us something to time our work to. Adding sound after the animation means the two don't synch up well. I expected more, like the use of bar sheets and so on, this would have been a real learning experience for all involved, as it is its an opportunity missed.

I also think 1 minute of animation is a lot in the time we had. 20-30 seconds would have been better. I think the work may have been more solid with less other factors to consider overall.

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