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Creative Research

Presentation 3 – Feedback

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The third and final presentation for Creative Research is a wrap-up of the last year’s work. In the presentation I summarised what work I did last semester and how my vision statement adapted to fit this semester’s work.

The vision statement has remained more or less the same since deciding I was focusing on an animation heavy project and was using Acting for Animators as my main source of inspiration and reference.

I then discussed what parts of Acting for Animators I was focusing on. Last semester I was mostly looking at the workshops Ed Hooks did with his classes, whereas this semester I had been looking at his seven principles of acting. I showed some responses to these principles as well as comparisons to where my work was earlier and more recently. I also mentioned my research into animation style.

My presentation slides are available to view on Dropbox.

Feedback was generally positive from both students and mentors. In particular they liked comparison of earlier animations to newer animations and my evidence of applying research into practice. There were no major concerns about the project and any questions were mostly asking for clarifications.

I was asked to consider how I present my animations in future, with considering what camera angles I’m using and why. Camera positioning and cuts can serve as a powerful tool for narrative but I have been putting that among other cinematography to focus on animation instead.

I was particularly interested in the reactions people had to my animations. For the “face slap” animation there were a few chuckles and for the “waking up” animation there was a noticeable reaction from people where they could relate to being in that situation and understood exactly how that character is feeling. The word “subtle” was mentioned in describing my animations which has been a lot of my focus this semester.

For all of my animations shown there was no confusion what the animations where about, the scenes read across quite well. I was surprised to see people reacting positively to my animations. When you work on something for so long, sometimes you can forget that seeing that for the first time can be entertaining.

Overall I’m quite happy with how the presentation turned out and the project as a whole.

Character in Walk Cycles

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In professional project I’ve been working with a series of character rigs I’ve built using models designed by classmate Ryan Shearer. The design of the character is a small robot which I’ve come to admire. This robot in particular has been fun to animate and I’d always made him feel like a young and adventurous character in his animations for our game.

I wanted to explore why the way he moved made me come to this conclusion. I started by animating a walk cycle that I thought would fit the character.

For a robot, I found myself wanting to give it as much character as I could. His head sways and his antenna follows, he moves his body around as he walks and swings his arms up pretty high. But as a robot, this character model could be made to achieve different results.

I tried making other walk cycles that toned down his body movement and increased the stricter and more military stance.

One of the inspirations for this character was Wall-E (2008) who is a perfect example of a robot with an adorable character. Later in the movie when he needs to be repaired, there is a scene where he forgets who he is and reverts to his default robotic programming. With Wall-E, his eyes were mostly used to emphasise the difference in character but he also restricts his body from going out-with the straight back and forward motion (as seen in his neck and head).

This walk cycle has a “happy go lucky” personality as his walk cycle is quite bouncy. His power centre lies somewhere around his chest. I made the head look outwards to emphasise the power centre as the character is not as concerned with what he is seeing in front of him but rather what is around him.

This walk cycle has the character looking straight ahead. His knees rise slightly higher and arms still swing moderately. The robot seems more focused on what he’s walking towards but still feels characterised rather than a robot.

The third walk cycle could be considered the “least characterised” but I think his stance says a lot about him. The static head and look upwards suggests an “empty” feeling in his head, as if following orders mindlessly. The arms are more rigid and the walking more uniform. Simply raising the arms would create a nice zombie walk.

Note: the rigs and character models were made for Professional Project, however all the animation posted here was made for this module.

A Scene is a Negotiation

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This acting principle was originally created by playwright David Mamet who claimed “If you look at a scene and cannot find the negotiation, the scene is in trouble”. Ed Hooks uses it in Acting for Animators and describes that overcoming the conflict and sticking to a goal without necessarily knowing the steps to get there creates greater interest.

Ed Hooks says there are three types of conflict:

  • Conflict with self
  • Conflict with the situation
  • Conflict with another character

This echoes Robert McKee’s this look into conflict in his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. Below is a graph from that book which visualises the different levels of conflict.

In the following video which I created for another project, I was very considerate in putting this particular acting principle into practice. In my previous animations I often felt I was animating actions for the sake of animating actions.

Going back to my old post on Context in Animation I designed a scene around a character waking up in the morning. I didn’t think too far ahead and decided to animate it in chronological order and consider what actions to play depending on the action before it (taking into consideration the Your Character Should Play an Action Until Something Happens to Make Him Play a Different Action acting principle).

The first action in the scene starts the first conflict, an obvious attempt at trying to hit the alarm clock to stop it ringing. The negotiation is simple, our character will need to leave his bed in order to have a productive day, however we relate to that morning battle where our mind still wants to sleep a bit more. The character raises up in attempt to become aware of his surroundings, he negotiates his inner conflict whether to get up at that moment or maybe lie down for another few minutes.

He then attempts to sit up and succeeds this time with visible drowsiness. To add a little humour and life into the scene I then animate the character spinning around before collapsing back into his pillow for another snooze.

So on the whole, our scene is a negotiation. A negotiation between our character and his thoughts, a conflict between whether to wake up or go back to sleep. His inner conflict makes the scene, it is the narrative and it gives meaning to the actions animated, telling us a little bit about his character (that most of us can relate to).

Your Character Should Play an Action Until Something Happens to Make Him Play a Different Action

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This acting principle may make total sense and sound unnecessary to even mention. An animator controls everything the character does on screen and portraying human behaviour is a very difficult thing to do. Human behaviour isn’t predictable, as well as our actions we are constantly moving in small subtle ways. Body language, eye movement, changes in posture over time, subtle body movements, they all play a part in making up someone’s character. It should only make sense that as animators we pay attention to even the smallest detail to what our character is doing.

A character should play an action until something happens to make them play a different action. Every action we take is for a purpose, a goal. For example waiting at a bus stop, the action we are performing: sitting, has a goal behind it. The goal being to take the bus to our destination. The conflict in the scene would be that the bus hasn’t arrived yet and our character may be impatient, maybe he has something important to go to or a friend to meet. So our character would be performing an idle action until something happens to make him play a different action, in this scenario it’d likely to be the bus arriving. That’s what we’d expect to happen but perhaps there are other conflicts that come in the way of this goal (car splashing him with water, dropping money, etc.)

This is an acting principle that’s harder to show during my smaller animation exercises but it is applicable. I tried applying this acting principle to an animation I made this year for another project. The scene consists of a man typing away at a computer, he gets noticeably more intense with the typing until he presses the last button where something happens which causes him to flip a table.

The main in the scene is typing something, with the obvious goal of finishing whatever he is typing up. It could be something important or something he wants to say. I wanted the character to get angry so I made sure as he’s typing you notice he is visibly uptight: high shoulders and arched back which increases as he gets close to finishing the write-up. He then plays a different action upon noticing something go wrong (a blue screen, or crash, we’ve all been there).

I wanted his reaction to speak for the scene without showing what happened on the screen. Considering Ed Hook’s other acting principle “Acting is Doing, Acting is also Reacting”, I left the computer screen out of sight and had the character’s reaction tell the story. Other characters may react differently but as I had set-up the previous action with the character showing signs of irritation, this is the way I wanted this particular character to react.

The unseen action on the computer screen is the “something” that happens to make our character play a different action. As Ed Hooks remarks “the situation needs conflict to be theatrical” otherwise you only get “regular reality”.

Acting is Doing, Acting is also Reacting

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“Acting is Doing, Acting is also Reacting”, one of Ed Hooks’ seven acting principles for animation. Different people react differently to the same action. Ed Hooks gives an example “I lean over and gently touch your cheek. Your reaction might be to fondly place your hand on mine, or it might be to jerk away with indignation that I would be so presumptuous to touch you.”

Reactions are an important part of acting, as well as animation. A reaction will tell the viewer what that character is thinking or feeling, in regards to an action another character is performing. Movie editing tends to focus more on the listener than the talker. This helps us to get into the head of this character, and understand how they are reacting to the scene, as opposed to us making our own reactions in reaction to the speaker.

I wanted to explore this in an animation. I chose to animate a character confrontation involving a slap in the face. In the scene we see the two characters mid conversation. The female character (Mery) is listening to the male character (Mike), she is holding her hands and keeping eye contact. We don’t see the Mike’s face or hear what he says, but we understand the scene through Mery’s reaction.

I always wanted to do a face slapping animation, just because it sounded fun, but I did want to animate it using techniques I had been reading about. Mery is holding her hands and nods intently to the conversation she is having with Mike. Her reaction introduces the conflict into the scene: something inappropriate was said, and Mery does not like that. She gasps (eye brows raise, mouth opens, eyes widen) and moves her body back.

Her eyebrows then turn to a frown and eyes begin to squint in anticipation for a slap in the face towards the other character. She rotates her body around as her arm follows and makes contact with Mike’s face. I decided to make it a quick and relatively heavy contact. This is followed by quick follow through on her arm and of course Mike’s poor face. The impact makes Mike head jolt strongly in the direction of the impact and the force also feeds back into his body.

They both return to their original positon however Mery’s body is now leading with her right shoulder with a slight side-on stance, this shows a more defensive pose and suggests she retains her offence taken and does not regret the action.

In this scene one character slaps another. Just like real life, different characters in an animation may react differently. Mery may not have hit Mike under other circumstances, and Mike may have avoided or been more aggressive afterwards. It all depends on what character you are trying to convey.

Along these lines, I have looked into examples of this acting principle in other media. “Euphoria” is a procedurally generated animated artificial intelligence software. In the video below, its shown that the same action on an a character will produce a different result each time. For example getting hit in the chest, one character flinches and holds the area of impact, while another stumbles backwards. The software is designed to be used in games and allows for the break up of repetition. Characters that react differently become more interesting and unique.

In future animations I will consider how the character I’m animating will react, and how it might be different to another character. All of that is up to my choice but making informed decisions based on the character’s background, personality and emotions at the time will greatly enhance my performance in animation, especially in animations where the character is in more than one scene.