Saturday, 21 August 2021

How to Achieve Snappy Animation Timing

One of the most common mistakes made by junior animators is to have even timing and spacing on their character performances.

Even timing and spacing produces soft, floaty animation, lacks definition and feels mushy.  This is particularly the case when the animation is based on live action reference. Reference, if followed too closely, can end up feeling floaty and weightless.

The solution to this problem is to tighten up your key poses, and spend more time in the key poses, rather than transitioning slowly from one pose to another. Animators call this approach "snappy timing", or "tightening up the poses". Your goal is to make the motion feel dynamic and crisp.

Thumbnails from "Open Season"
Planning Animation
The key to successful animation is to plan it properly. This means doing rough thumbnail sketches to plan out your work. Thumbnail sketches show the key poses in the shot, which correspond to the "accents" within the lines of dialogue. To see some examples of how to use thumbnail sketches to plan a dialogue shot, follow these links:

Shoot live action
We also recommend that our student animators shoot video of themselves acting out the shot. This is important as it helps to make your acting feel believable. Once you have some useful footage, you can import this into Maya onto an image plane, and find the key poses within the performance.

I shoot live action reference of myself acting out the shot, using a light, inexpensive tripod to mount my phone.  The trick is to do multiple takes, trying out different ideas, then pick your best performance.

Import the video into Premiere
Thumbnail sketches "I can't take it anymore
Then, import the video into Premiere, select the best performance, and trim the edit to the frames you want. These can then be imported directly into Maya onto an image plane.

Blocking out Key Poses
Now it's time to create your main poses on stepped curves in Maya: start, middle and end. This is the most important stage. Ask yourself - do you the poses make sense? Do we know what the character is thinking and feeling? Always do the first pose, then the last pose, then the middle pose.

Video Tutorial - How to Animate a Dialogue Shot

The Tween Machine
Once you have the main poses blocked out, use the free Tween Machine tool by Justin Barrett to break down your poses. This process can go pretty quickly; the Tween Machine speeds up your workflow dramatically. Make sure to stay in your key poses. Your goal at this point is to avoid doing in-betweens on spline curves. Stay in stepped curves, and keep your timing as snappy as possible.

Spline and refine
Once you've got your poses broken down to - roughly - around one pose every four frames, then (and only then) spline the shot. To see how to do that, read this blog post. Then, it's a question of refining the shot to tweak it and make it look pretty.

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