Friday, 29 November 2019

Animators Always Start With a Story

Animators are story tellers. Every animation should have an idea behind it, one that tells a story.

Junior animators focus on learning technique - and technique is very important. But it is also important to think carefully about the story behind your shot.

Who is your character, and why are they doing what they are doing?  What is the scene about? What do they want, and what do they fear?  These things are important because if your shots forms part of an interesting story, it will be much more interesting to watch.

Start with an idea
Animators need an idea
Every Shot Needs an Idea. Animators are actors, with a pencil, or a mouse. Like stage or screen actors, animators must always think carefully about what their character is thinking about. Who is the character talking to, and what is the scene about? What do they want, and what do they fear?

These things are important because unless these questions are asked, and answered, the scene will tend to feel empty of meaning, and lack compelling interest.

What is the character thinking and feeling?
Animators working on a movie don't wrestle with these problems; someone else writes the script, and figures out what each shot is about. But when we are working alone, without a script, just relying on our own imagination, we have to find the meaning in our work ourselves. This means figuring out the back story to the scenes we are animating.  Crucial questions we should always ask ourselves include:
  • Who is the character talking to?
  • What is the context of the scene - what specifically is going on?
  • What do the characters want? What do they fear? 
  • What are they feeling? What is their primary emotion?
Write down your story
Write it down first
Write down the story of your shot in a line or two. Give your character a name, and write down what they are doing and why. If you are animating a character throwing a ball, why not give it some character and personality? Make it into a little story.

For example, rather than "a man throws a ball", why not "Fred - who is 10 years old - throws an old tennis ball ball at his neighbour's greenhouse window. He doesn't think anyone is looking....". This way you've already got some material to work with, beyond the basic mechanics of the shot.  Fred is a person now, not just a mannequin.

Shots that tell a story
Consider the shot below, by Elena Scala. The shot works well in part because Elena sets the scene in a child's bedroom, a place that we can all relate to.

This is a shot that works on an emotional level. We care about the girl, and what she is going through.

Find a set and some props
Where can student animators find free sets and props for animation? You don't always want to spend time modeling the things you need for your animation shot - sometimes you just need some free stuff in a hurry.  Good places to begin are and  Both sites have plenty of free resources for animators to use; you can import sets, props, all sorts of useful items that will help bring your animation to life.

You will have to register first, then search for what you want. Not all of it is free, but sort by Lower Prices in the drop-down menu and you will find all the free stuff first.

What kind of files can you use?
For Maya users, any Maya file will do - that is any file ending in .mb or .ma. You can also use file types ending in .fbx, or .obj. Both of these file types can be imported into Maya.

How do you import these assets into your shot?
You will have to Register and Log in to Turbosquid and, and then download the files you need. These will appear in your downloads folder. From there, simply open up your shot in Maya, go to file/import, and import the objects you need into your shot.

Tidy up
You will likely have to scale the objects in your shot so they match the size of your animation rig. Also you may have to do some cleanup in the Outliner, grouping geometry together or combining it into one polygon mesh under edit/combine in the Polygons menu in Maya.

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days, take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK.

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