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Additional Animation Principles

The following sections finish up the discussion of the basic animation principles you'll need to know as a foundation for your continued development as a max animator. After this discussion, you'll move into the workshop portion of the lesson and complete the animation for the fireflies and the bug layers.

Setting Up the Visual Story: Staging

This principle can be thought of as the master principle of animation, combining elements of all the other principles. Staging refers to the clear, unmistakable visual description of the emotion, expression, personality, and attitude of a character as it relates to the important plot points of a story.

The intent of staging is to create clear communication. If a story calls for a scene of dramatic anger, staging requires that the camera angle of the shot; the expression, attitude, and so forth of the character; and the camera movement, objects, lighting, and sound in the shot all conspire in unison to support the feeling of anger in the story point.

Staging is also about showing the focal point of the story in a view most likely to eliminate anything not needed to tell the story. In animation, this translates into the use of strong shape silhouettes, in which the parts of character's body—hands, face, and so on—important to the shot can be seen.

Inertia, Momentum, and Gravity: The Science of Follow-Through and Overlapping Action

Follow-through is what happens to an object when it goes from a state of motion to a state of rest, and conversely from rest to motion. The effect of acceleration and deceleration can be seen in the way that the energy of motion affects the object and its disparate parts when it moves from one state to the other.

An object's functional parts move at different rates during acceleration and deceleration, depending on their individual place in the physical structure of the whole. This is why you will see that the beginning motion of a leg will overlap the middle portion of the motion of an arm, which will overlap the forward movement of the hair, and so on. The ability to see and understand the phenomenon of follow-through and overlapping action is critical to creating the illusion of movement.

The Natural Way of Things: Using Arcs

You've seen the drawing shown in Figure 20. This sketch by Leonardo da Vinci is famous and epitomizes the idea of arcs in animation. Arcs describe the path of movement for animation of most creatures. It is the use of arcs that gives a character the feeling that he is moving in harmony with the restrictions of an actual musculoskeletal system, not some robotic linear construct. Using arcs to animate your characters makes it easier for the eye to follow their movements by avoiding abrupt, stiff transitions from one movement to the next.

Figure 20 From his extensive study of anatomy and kinesiology, da Vinci knew that all human movement could be described by the use of arcs.

Subtle Reality in Secondary Action

Secondary action takes place while the major motion is happening. If animation were a sentence, the primary action would be the verb and the secondary action would be the adjectives. The primary action in the bouncing ball is the up-and-down movement; the secondary action is the squash and stretch.

The Rhythm and Balance of Timing

Timing is everything; and it is where most animators miss the mark. Think of timing as a beautiful piece of music with some passages that move slowly, others that move faster, and transitional passages that exhibit the extremes of both speeds. Like songs that drone on with the same beat, animation that moves along as if it were following the beat of a metronome becomes predictable and boring, and is devoid of the soulfulness found in well-designed timing. Design your animation timing to create mood, emotion, and tension and to accentuate the visual experience of the audience.

Creating Visual Interest Through Exaggeration

Exaggeration means pushing the poses, action, and expression of a character to extreme limits. However, getting too extreme can result in some over-the-top imagery, as seen in the baseball player with the whirlwind windup shown in Figure 21. Over-the-top exaggeration can work for you or against you, depending on its context in the story. A more subtle use of the principle of exaggeration is shown in Figure 22, where the figures' poses are just slightly exaggerated. Such subtleties won't necessarily register in the viewers' perception but will create more interesting and entertaining imagery in your animation.

Figure 21 Because of the power of extreme exaggeration, you may be tempted to use it too often. However, it is a good place to start, and it's sometimes easier to pull back from being too extreme than it is to push out from being too timid in your animation.

Figure 22 The way most people stand, sit, and move can look too stiff in animation imagery. Some subtle exaggeration in the poses of your animation creates a more appealing character.

Creating Visual Mass, Weight, and Volume

3D animators have no advantage over 2D animators simply by virtue of the use of 3D software when it comes to the creation of solid-looking characters and objects. The problem is that many 3D animators don't understand how to create the feeling of weight, volume, or center of gravity in their animation, thinking that the dimensionality created by their CGI tools is enough. Sorry—it doesn't work that way. You can see this in examples of characters that don't feel solid or grounded, appearing more like marionette puppets dancing without weight. The laws of physics, such as gravity, momentum, and inertia, apply to the virtual world in the same way they do in our real world. You can break these laws for effect when appropriate, but do it at the risk of losing the feel of solid weight and mass as seen in your animation. In TheEnd.avi, the bug carries the feeling of weight by the way it hangs from its wings, as shown in Figure 23.

Figure 23 The weight and mass of the bug are created by how it appears to hang from its wings. Gravity is still in effect and must be kept in mind when creating the pose of a character.

Taste Is Everything: Creating Visual Appeal

Appeal is the sum of the parts created by the other principles discussed in this lesson. The psychological appeal of a character is a combination of many factors. The body shape, posture, animation, facial expression, and so forth give form to the feeling you are trying to communicate about this character: Is he sad, happy, angry, evil, and so on? As a character designer, you want your heroes to attract the audience and the villains to repulse them. The intent is to give form to feeling by using the simplest methods possible.

The visual aspects of creating an appealing character have to do with its appearance, design, color modeling, proportion, and so forth. Some artists will try to articulate formulas for these visual characteristics, and there are some principles that can be applied, but it is really mostly about taste. Unfortunately, taste cannot be taught. It can be learned by experience and by working with people who are endowed with the attribute, but you either have it or you don't.

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