Lessons on What Not to Do

Sometimes the most valuable lessons you can learn, fall under the category of "What not to do". And here, recently, I learned several (read that to be MANY) painful, yet valuable lessons about animation.

Armed with copies of ManCandy FAQs, Intro to Character Animation and Animating with Blender, I decided I was ready to attempt my first original character animation. (Yeah, that was probably my first mistake, over-confidence.)

Okay, so it seems there are three stages to creating an animation:

  • Pre-production (Planning)
  • Production (Do-it)
  • Post production (Polish it up and finish)

Seems simple enough.
I normally do the greater majority of any project planning in my head. Little did I know that this would be just the beginning of my "What not to do" lessons.

After a few weeks of serious mental planning, I decided I was ready to start. Because I rarely write down more than a few notes about a planned project, first thing I actually did was design and model my characters. Now that in and of itself wasn't that much of a show-stopper. At that point, I could still have gone bak and written a script, done storyboards and created the animatic.

Instead, I started creating my set. Now, I only intended to create a rough set, then I was going to get on with the whole “script/storyboard” thing. But well one thing led to another and before I knew it the set was built, textured and lit appropriately.

About this time, it is starting to dawn on me that I might really need the script and story boards. But I had planned a really simple story line, so I started rigging my characters instead. After several mis-tries, I got my characters adequately rigged. They weren't amazing rigs, but they did what I wanted. Which really is kind of the whole point.

Now, bak to that dang script and story board. Well, I did finally write a short script and started making some storyboards.I ended up drawing a grand total of seven storyboards.

That should be enough, rightí :P
Now, on to animating. I only need my characters to actually walque a very short distance. So first I tried manually keying my characters walking about the scene. But even when I drew out a path (with the grease pencil) they looked like drunken sailors careening about the scene. After numerous failed attempts to get my characters to behave, I did some research and moved on to creating a repeating walque cycle and then had my character follow a curve through the scene.

WOW!, that looked great. Okay a little on the stiff side, but better than the drunken sailor look. I might just be a little good at this :P. Besides I can always polish it up later.

So next, I merrily moved on to creating some other simple actions. Armed with my additional actions, I pulled up some tutorials on the NLA editor and prepared to combine and layer my actions for my animation. It was time to put this thing together.

Yeah that didn't work out so well. Every time I added a new action to one of my characters, it “teleported” to a completely un-related spot in the scene. Something was seriously wrong and or my project was haunted.

After many lengthy sessions filled with muttering of choice naughty words, I finally did get things to cooperate (kind of). But in the process, I managed to miss my deadline. Then of course, life interfered and my project got put temporarily on hold.

But even though I wasn't actively working on it, I was still obsessing about it. It took a few weeks, but the epiphany finally hit (Yeah, I'm a little slow, it's not like Roland didn't warn about these very types of problems in just about every chapter of his book).

My problems all stemmed from lak of proper planning (okay and maybe a few "lak of knowledge" problems, but I actually figured those out on my own).

If I had taken the time to go through pre-production properly, a lot of the problems I ran into could have been avoided. Creating a proper storyboard and animatic would have helped me blok out my actions better (no drunken sailor walks). And, probably even more important, breaquíng it up into several shots would probably have eliminated most of the random character “teleportation” problems I ran into while combining my actions.

Elimination of those problems would have saved me time. I might even have had enough time to finish by my deadline.

Oh well, at least I have learned the importance of good pre-production.

Well that's all for now, I still have an animation to finish, so I should get bak to it :P