Thursday, May 10, 2012

Milt Kahl - Alice In Wonderland Pencil Tests

Milt Kahl did some amazing work on Alice In Wonderland. I came across the full res scans for these pencil tests on the awesome Michael Sporn Blog, but found the pencil test and scans he had were really out of register and some of the timing was not what was used in the final film.

So I decided to put together some pencil tests of the scans with them back in register and in the timing from the animation in the film. I have included the original scans and with the background from the film.

Original Scans

With Background

Original Scans

With BG

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Video Reference

Video reference has always been a very important part of the animation process and has become much more of an understood tool with people like Jeff Garbor and his great reference for Blue Sky's Horton Hears A Who and Ice Age. Interestingly, it is something that has not really been spoken about or seen in the same light in relation to 2D animation. 

But i think with further research and understanding, the way in which video reference was often used by Disney in the old days is very similar to how it can be used today in 2D or CGI animation. 
(Once again, please remember I am also just an animation student and I am still learning like you. These are just things I have found that have worked for me and I am sure there are many other great ways of working.)

The first person to make use of and come up with the idea to use video reference for animation was Art Babbitt. In the mid-1930's, Babbitt was working at the Walt Disney Studio on the original lot in Hyperion Avenue (which is unfortunately now a parking lot for a grocery store!). These guys were creating an art form and where pushing each other to constantly improve. This included Babbitt bringing in an art teacher (more on that in a future post) and purchasing a 16mm camera for him to shoot film reference to study movement. 

Frank Thomas and Art Babbitt talking about video reference. 
From the fantastic Babbitt Blog.

Often at Disney comedians, vaudeville actors, and the voice actors themselves where shot on a stage in costume for the animators reference (Cinderella was the first Disney feature where the whole film was shot in live action prior to animation). However, when the frames of the reference was traced, the resulting animation was lacking in life and felt flat (which is the same result you get when importing the video reference into a CG package and positioning the character over the reference). 

Snow White Video Reference

But the animators found it extremely helpful in coming up with different or unique acting choices, understanding how difficult shapes turn in space, costume follow through and overlap and to study the body mechanics. 

I love these two clips from Alice In Wonderland which show the comparison between the live action reference footage and the final animation. This really made me understand how I could best use video reference. You can see in the first clip (at 20 seconds) where the animator has found great inspiration in how the foot drags along the floor, the hands coming up and then dropping to her lap in frustration and the little head shake. But you can also see where they have pushed the poses, made the hands clearer as she holds them up before dropping them back into her lap and how the timing and spacing is different to get more spark and life. 

This second clip from the mad hatter tea party is fantastic (they actually ended up using the audio recorded from this session for the film as it was better than when they got the actors back in to record it in the booth). Its also great to see animators like Freddie Moore and Ward Kimball working away on set. 

Another great clip of reference is from Sleeping Beauty with Marc Davis and Milt Kahl drawing at the boards and doing studies of the hands, poses and dress movements of the actress. 

Video reference continued to be used in the more recent Disney 2D features including The Little Mermaid. This clip shows Glen Keane directing an actress on what he wants and he talks about what he was able to utilise from the reference in his Ariel scenes. 

This is a process I have found really helpful in my animation where I shoot video reference (sometimes of myself, and sometimes of a person I know that I think has qualities similar to the character I want to create). I then go through the following steps:

• I take screen grabs from the reference of the keys where there accents in the dialogue, changes in emotion, contacts and changes in direction in the movements. 

• I draw out these key poses and really try to push them. I find the line of action and go further. I tilt the head more, I push the shoulders etc. I usually do quite a few drawings of each pose and simplify and exaggerate the pose until it is as clear as possible. 

• I then use the drawings as my reference in Maya to pose out my animation.

Lots more to come in the coming days with some very cool Disney pencil tests. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Milt Kahl - Jungle Book Pencil Test

Jungle Book has to be one of my favorite Disney animated films. The characters are so well established and have personalities that you just want to spend time with and watch them interact with each other.

The King Louie musical number is just one of the amazing classic Disney songs in the film. Milt's animation of King Louie is fantastic. I loved the character designs that Andrea's Deja posted on his blog that Milt did along with some of Frank Thomas' animation too: Andreas Deja Blog

I decided to put some drawings I have together as a pencil test against the pan background from the film. These drawings are full res scans from the fantastic Michael Sporn Blog.

Included is the recreated pan BG which I pieced together in photoshop which is well worth a look at apart from the animation.

I have a bunch of pencil tests from The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Fantasia, 101 Dalmatians and Pinocchio which I will start to post soon as I analyse and break them down. So lots more to come soon!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tying the Face Together

Based on my last two posts about the brows and mouth, I wanted to talk about tying it all together and getting the face to feel more fleshy and the parts all working together.

Getting it too all work together:

Something that really stands out to me in Disney 2D animation is how well the facial expressions are designed so that all the parts work together. When I first started dialogue shots at Animation Mentor, I found in my own animation there seemed to be a tendency for the top and bottom halves of the face to feel quite separate. 

So I asked one of my mentors about this, and he said; "Make sure you get the entire face involved". What I found that meant was that all the muscles in the face are connected and when you make an expression on your own face, or on your character, all the parts are effected by each other. 

I recently bought a little camera that allows me to shoot slow motion video up to 1000 frames per second. The quality is really low at that speed (and its too slow anyway for facial stuff), but at 240fps it looks great. I recorded a line of dialogue with me acting out the words so that you can see how much is going on in the face and will be the basis of what I am talking about (don't laugh at me!)

Slow Motion Video Reference at 240fps

So this is how I have been trying to get that feeling more into my work. Remember, I am still just learning this stuff too and I am sure there are many other ways to do this. None of these things are rules, but just things that I have found has worked for me along the way. 

The brows and upper eyelids:

When the brows press down or stretch up they seem to have an effect on the upper eyelid. This eyelid is pushed and pulled into shapes by the brow. 

This however does not mean that the eyelids must always follow the brow, quite often they can lead the action prior to the brows movement.

The mouth corners and cheeks and bottom eyelids:
As the mouth corner raise in a smile the cheeks also push up under the eyes. The same happens when the mouth corners drop, the cheeks drop too. In CG animation I have found you can copy this animation from the corners the cheeks and scale it down to make sure they are related (and some instances delay it by a frame too).

When the cheeks raise and lower the seem to push and pull the bottom eyelid as well. In a big smile the bottom eyelids would push up and the same in a big scream the cheeks pulling down would also pull on the bottom lids. 

The jaw and nose:
As the jaw opens and closes it also seems to pull and push up on the nose. Go on, try it! No one is watching. Hold your finger against your nose and open you mouth and you will feel the nose pulling down. 

All of these things combined can really make you facial animation feel much more fleshy. Have the skin being pushed and pulled, squashed and stretched and making sure these elements are all effecting each other really makes it all feel tied together. 

A great example of all of this working in animation can be seen in the Disney film, 'Tangled' (I know, I keep showing it, but damn, the animation is so good!) This shot is of Mother Gothel:

The Eye and Mouth Zipper AKA Making them Sticky:
When watching a lot of live action and animated footage frame-by-frame something that really stands out is how the eyelids and mouth seem to be naturally sticky. Once they are closed together they seem to want to stay that way so that when they opening it feels like you have to really pull them open. 

I know some CG rigs have an eyelid or mouth zipper control, but unfortunately on Bishop from Animation Mentor it does not and we have to do it manually. (Which actually helps when learning how this effect works - so its a good thing!)

As the eye opens, one section is chosen to pull open first. The lids lift up and then one part pops open before the rest following in a zip like action. Take a look at this great example from Ratatouille:

The same thing happens with the mouth. Usually it is the middle section of the mouth that pops open first and then is followed by the outside edges. But if someone is talking out of a certain side of their mouth you can open the edge first as well. 

There is an extra part of the mouth and eye pulling action that also needs to be explained. The lids and lips need to feel like they are stretching and pulling prior to unzipping. In the mouth this is done by pulling the jaw open, but keeping the lips closed and having the corners and lips pull down as seen in the diagrams above. 

Head Squash and Stretch:
Finally, something that I think really helps to make all of this tie together again is a small amount of head squash and stretch. Some rigs allow the top and bottom parts of the face to be handled separately, but even with rigs like Bishop a global squash or stretch can add a lot too. 

These Preston Blair drawings from the book 'Advanced Animation' really explain this well: