Archive for May, 2011

It seems with the ability to create animation on computer more easily than in the past, and the advent of 3D animation, that an important working relationship has been lost, that of the master and the apprentice.

The way most animation is created these days is that each animator is assigned an entire scene. They animate all the characters in that scene from layout to completion. In this environment one of the biggest battles is dealing with different levels of skill and experience amongst animators. Scenes can be allocated to different animators based on their strengths, but a noticeable difference in the animation quality between scenes is almost inevitable. As animation supervisor I’ve struggled with this in the shows I’ve worked on, and I see it in almost all 3D animated tv and all but the best feature films.

So what can be done to address this problem?

One solution is to re-introduce the traditional master and apprentice relationship. Not only used for animation, the master and apprentice relationship has existed for thousands of years in almost every craft and trade. So why has it recently fallen out of favor for animation? To answer that we must first look at the roles of master and apprentice for animation before computers, when every frame was drawn by hand.

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I wrote a couple of books a few years ago: Cartoon Character Creation – Volumes 1 & 2.
I always planned to post some excerpts here, but never got around to it. Last year, working on Chuggington with the fantastic animators at Motion Magic in China, I realized that while I have changed some of the ways I work since writing the books, the core information and methodologies remain the same, and is still very useful information that many animators aren’t aware of.

Since Chuggington is animated using Maya, and those animators were benefiting from this knowledge, it further impressed upon me how universal the information is. I was always disappointed that the books were tied to LightWave 3D 8 since so much of the information applied to 3D characters and animation in general, regardless of which software was being used. I guess this is also my chance to share that information with a wider audience.

Continuing from part 1, I’ll discuss each of the eye morphs.

Note: In LightWave, morph targets are called ‘Endomorphs’, in Maya they’re called ‘Blend Shapes’ and in Blender they’re known as ‘Shape keys’. For simplicity here I’ll just refer to them as ‘Morphs’.





Eye Morphs

The eye morphs include the motion and expression of the eyelids and eyebrows.

Before we move on to the morphs, let’s take a look at the base models for the characters used in the following examples.

I’ve included a range of characters for the examples. Each character has slightly different requirements, so you can see the differences for each morph. For the eye morphs I’ve included Taylor (top-right, Taylor appears courtesy of Live Bait Productions) to show examples of the eye morphs for a character without any eyebrows.

When you’re creating your base character, try to make its expression as neutral as possible. Often the concept sketches for a character show it smiling or showing some sort of emotion. If you model emotion into the base character it makes creating and animating the facial features much more difficult, so remember to model it in a neutral expression, allowing the morphs and animation to do the job of expressing emotion.

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In an interview with the West Australian, Keith Chapman (Bob the Builder, Fifi and the Flowertots, Roary the Racing Car) says of Little Charley Bear:

“this pilot came in which was one of the most impressive things I’d ever seen and I just fell in love with Charley”.

I’d assumed Chapman Entertainment liked the pilot, as they picked it up to produce the show, but for Chapman to specifically say that about the pilot that I designed and animated is a great compliment.

The first 26 episodes have now aired here in Australia on ABC2. Charley was the only character in the pilot so it’s nice to see he’s got some new friends. I have noticed there are a few problems that I resolved when working on the pilot that have managed to slip back into the episodes, such as Charley being very washed out, posing/motion problems, and some other issues. Making the transitions between Charley’s real world and imaginary world seamless would also do wonders. If anyone from the production is reading this and wants to know how I was able to solve those problems, please send me an email. I’d love to help.


In Australia you can see repeats of Little Charley Bear on ABC2 at 1:20 and 6:15 every day.