Last Notes: Animatics and Animation
Time to start blogging about the masters project (and boy is this going to be a massive one!) The past 3 months have been incredibly stressful, productive and amazing! Our team has worked so hard to complete this final film and despite bumps in the road, we were able to complete Last Notes and hand it in on time!
Because of the scope of this project (and the fact I haven't posted anything about it in 3 months) I'm going to be splitting these blog posts up into 3 sections, that I'll put up over the next few days! (Animatics and Animation, Production: because it deserves a whole thread of it's own and an overall roundup, like I did for Munchin Monk that includes the final film and some teeny bits I did for the project that don't fit anywhere else!
If you previously read my pre-production/capt blog post and viewed the whole document, you'd have noticed that by the completion of CAPT we had a storyboard animatic completed.
Our CAPT document was approved and all of us passed, thankfully, but we were told the animatic was far too long and we were being too ambitious with the project and needed to scale it back (which I think most of us agreed with, our animatic at the time nearing 5 minutes in length)
Our original animatic is below, storyboard frames were drawn by Ana, based on some rough camerawork ideas and it was edited together by Will, the director of the project.
During a team meeting at the start of the masters project, we discussed ways to shorten the length of the film without hurting the story and several new animatics came of this. Our favourite of these (and the one we chose to take to pre-visualisation is below)
Myself, Will and Vlasis took the shortest of these (and the one everyone liked the most, shown above) and split the pre-visualisation of it between us. Meanwhile work had already started on final assets for the film and we almost had a completed character and several completed buildings to show.
Below is our first pre-vis (to show camera angles and basic layout/movement in the scene.)
and below are my contributions to the pre-vis (1/3rd of the previs)
During this project we were given several great mentors and one of these was a great lady named Gio Ferrari who works at Cartoon Saloon in Ireland. She works as a storyboarder and was able to give us invaluable advice on the timing of our work, our storytelling methods and our camerawork, particularly during the previs stage where we were struggling to shorten our work down. Through several meetings with Gio and other mentors for our project, we were able to further shorten the pre-vis and change some of the camera angles/storytelling methods to better fit the film.
Our final pre-vis before we started production/animation is below. Getting the pre-vis sorted quickly was invaluable to us as it allowed us a rough layout of the town and to figure out how many buildings/background assets we would need. Gio's advice really helped us a lot with our storytelling and the pre-vis is much clearer and more concise because of this!
Animation wise, I took 12 out of 31 shots in the film, with a focus on the animation of the beast and reaction/facial shots for the violinist. I really enjoy facial animation and so felt quite within my comfort zone with that, but the animation for the beast was very new to me and took a lot of getting used to. I'd used quadruped rigs in the past, but never something with such a complicated wing/hand setup. The membranes were tough to get used to, particularly on the proxy rig we used (where they weren't skinned) so I had to go over my animation for these, several times in order to ensure nothing was clipping (from proxy rig to final rig)
Two of my shots got cut because they were unnecessary to the film (when we had 33 shots in the film) but several of my shots were also lengthened to keep with the atmosphere.
Below are the shots I completed for the film and I'll explain a little about each of them/what I liked and disliked about them, etc :)
SH10 (the beast running past the wall) and SH20 (the beasts eyes dilating) were two shots that had to be changed to fit the films style. Originally our beast character was planned to have whites of it's eyes when subdued, to show that it was once human (similar to how Merida's mother in Brave had the cornea to show that she was still a human trapped in the bear). This was great in theory, but when put into practice it made our beast look non-threatening and way too cute (see below)
Because of this, we changed our plans and opted for an entirely black eye, which made the character much more threatening, bestial and harder to relate to.
In shot 20, the plan was to animate the beast snapping out of the trance she was in, when the violin bow drops. Nathalia rigged the iris to be able to expand to show her becoming less human again.
After this change had been decided, we considered cutting this shot entirely, but decided to keep it, as it worked well in keeping the flow of the film and showed that she was snapping out of the trance.
The shot was kept, just without the pupil animation.
My second 'cut' shot was on Shot 10. The beast runs past an alley and its shadow is projected onto the wall behind. Our original plan for this was to have a full run cycle projected on the wall, but after test rendering and playblasting it, the shot was way too fast to allow this to look good. We decided instead to use a plane to cast the shadow, without movement, which worked a lot better in the long run. Below is my (very rough) run cycle of the beast, before it was cut.
SH10 (cut animation)
This didn't need to be too detailed as it was going to be projected onto the wall as a shadow and blurred. stretched based on perspective. After seeing our test render before it was cut, it was definitely the best choice to cut it as the speed at which the shadow moves past made it very hard to see what was going on anyway.
The next few shots I animated were close up shots on the violinist character's body (as we were still waiting for the bat rig and facial rigs to be finalised)
Above is a shot of the violinist grabbing the crossbow in a hurry (I was unable to find a playblasted version of this shot) this shot, although fairly simple, took quite a few attempts and discussions to figure out. When creating our LAV references for the shot we originally had him knock the crossbow a little before picking it up, as we felt this clumsiness would show desperation/panic. When put into the animatic, however, we found this actually slowed down the pace of the shot and made it feel less desperate.
After a few more LAV references and a lot of discussion we went for a simple, fast grab of the crossbow as we felt this better fit the pace of the scene (and it does, this is the fastest part of the film where everything is leading up to the beast being shot, so the snappiness works well)
Above is another snappy shot of the crossbow being fired, this was originally a longer shot also (with the crossbow recoiling more) but when put in the animatic we decided collectively that it needed to be shortened and only a hint of the recoil needed to be shown to get the point across.
The next parts I animated for the project were facial animation shots for the violinist. These were the ones I was most comfortable with in the project because a lot of previous animation work I have done has been facial animation work (Particularly on headless) the biggest challenge with the facial animation on this film is that it needed to be subtle and as life like as possible, whereas all of the previous projects I've animated on have been cartoony and over-exaggerated. Eye darts were something I added to improve believability along with subtle facial movements in the corners of the eyes and the cheeks. My personal inquiry on facial animation movement zones helped a lot with this too!
In this shot, the music the violinist has been playing has stopped and he and the beast are face to face in the town square. Our plan for this shot was for it to be an incredibly emotional moment, where he's decided what he's got to do and closes his eyes. As you can see, I animated a lot of subtle detail into the areas around the eyes, the skin pulling as he closes them. I wasn't sure exactly how this would be in the final render but I'm quite pleased with the shot overall. I think it conveys the sadness pretty well.
Above is a very fast shot where the beast is falling towards the violinist and he's looking shocked. Positioning the character so the pre-made cameras worked with this shot was a little bit of a struggle but for a short shot I'm pleased with how it turned out in the end, I think it conveys what it needs to convey in the time we had.
The next few videos are my shortest shots for the beast character. SH17 and SH27 which accompany the above short violinist shots.
This shot was pretty simple, as it's just the beast staring down the violinist. I think the most complicated part about this shot for me was that the beast's facial rig was nowhere near as developed as the humans (because of time constraints) so getting her to look like she was staring him down and thinking was tough compared to the animation on him.
I actually ended up really happy with the above shot. It shows the bat falling in the air towards the violinist. It took me a while to figure out how to make the character appear to be falling, as my original blocking made it seem like camera was simply zooming into the character, rather than the other way around. I was able to solve this by having the character fall in a less linear nature and with advice from the rest of the team. Another detail that really helped this shot feel believable was the bats head tilt as it gets close to the camera.
The harder/longest shots I had for the project are below
Animating the beast, particularly on this shot was a huge challenge for me, I had animated quadrupeds before, but always animals the exist in the real world, such as tigers or dogs. Animating a character that had such conflicting anatomy (front arms like a bat, back legs like a big cat) was something I found incredibly difficult. When planning for this animation in CAPT, I conducted a lot of research into how different animals move and decided on a movement style for the beast based on that. My plan was for the beast to move like a big cat from behind and like a fruit bat/vampire bat from the front although, when putting this to the test, it wasn’t quite as easy as imagined to combine the performances of two different animals. Because our beast has very long front wings, I wasn’t able to have the creature as low (fruit-batlike) as I was hoping (without the back legs looking out of place) and the back legs size in relation to the front of the body (and the fact we only ever see them from the front) made it difficult to get a feline-like performance out of them. Because of these difficulties I conducted further research into already existing fantasy creatures similar to our creature, in film and television. I studied the movement of Wyverns, as an alternative to our creatures movement and settled on this for our creatures final movement.
Animating the beast was a difficult, but fun challenge. The wings were the hardest part to animate, as I often found it difficult to get the shapes I was looking for when the character was on the ground and I had to fold up the membranes on the arms. I am pretty pleased with this shot overall! It took a while for me to get the beasts movement looking right (particularly the back legs which were tough to get a nice silhouette with from the front view) I'm also very pleased with the violin bow dropping in the foreground and thing the final render with the camera focus pull works really well.
One thing I would change with this shot if I was to go back to it or start it again, would be to lessen the movement after the focus pull as I feel it's quite distracting (it was hard for me to visualise how much would be too much before compositing started, so I should have ere'd on the side of safety and started with less movement to begin with! But heh, hindsight)
This was the shot I spent longest polishing out of all my shots and I feel it shows.
This is easily my favourite shot I completed for the film. I feel like the intensity of the roar worked really well and I was happy with the work I did on the lip movement, using the controls we had. I feel like this film could have done with some VFX work in the final render, to have slobber coming from the mouth, to give it that final layer of polish/believably, but it unfortunately wasn't something we had time for.
This was the last shot I animated of the beast on the film, it was a complex shot to begin with and I'm sad I didn't have more time to dedicate to it, as it feels a little unpolished and is definitely one of my weaker scenes in the film. The original plan was to have the creature begin galloping towards the violinist, but after discussion and a few attempts, we felt this lengthened the shot more than needed (and was difficult to get looking right from the front angle)
I feel the biggest issue with this shot is the wing membrane movement. This shot definitely needs more overlap and animation working into the membranes to make it appear realistic. The wing spread definitely gives the power we wanted, but I feel it could just do with a little more work before it looks as nice as the other shots!
Shot 25 is the shot I'm the least happy with out of the longer shots. It is a shot in slow motion which was difficult from the start (trying not to over exaggerate it and make it feel floaty/unintentional) but it also involves the beast in an upright position and both characters movements. In order to keep the characters both seeming to slow down at the same speed, I first animated this in real-time then extended my frames to make it appear slow motion. I'm not completely happy with how the legs of the beast look upright and struggled a little with the twist joints on the wing membrane flipping when they were moved in an upright position. I also struggled to get the wings to look convincing in slow-motion and thing the membranes could have been worked into a lot more.
This was one of the last shots I finished, when we needed to begin sending things to render, so it's not quite as polished as I'd have liked it to be. But overall I am reasonably pleased with all the animation I produced for this film. Working in a more realistic style was a welcome challenge. I feel I was able to match the other two animators on the project and the feel of the film well for the time we had. I feel my beast shots could all do with a little more polish especially SH22 and SH25 (rearing up and the slow motion shot) but due to rigging setbacks, we had less time for animation than initially planned and I’m still happy with the work produced in the time we had. I think the best piece of work I handed in was probably SH21 and SH19.
The next post I make, in a couple of days time will be about my role on the production side of the project! (and be warned, it'll be a big one! This was quite an ambitious project from the start, so a lot of effort went into tracking it and getting everything working to plan!)