Tests and Experiments

Production and Pipeline Test

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With my armature ready to go and my set design taking shape I wanted to test the production process of my animation for this particular project. There are things I haven’t tried before such as animating with an armature in a larger set, so I wanted to ensure I understood the process a bit better before beginning to animate the final animated short.

While building the set and armature I was aware that I’d be working on a bigger scale than I am used to. I didn’t realise how big until placing the camera and setting things up for filming. My initial setup didn’t leave much space for the camera so I rotated the table giving me more room for the camera while still keeping adequate room for the set pieces.

Next I wanted to consider my lighting. My usual setup is two lights on either side which I move around to get a good even lighting across the set. I also have a third light on-hand if its ever needed. This animation is different in that its actually okay to show the lighting setup since the story focuses around an actual animation set so I didn’t need to position them too far away. I wanted to ensure that the set was well lit so that the wire armature stands out from the background. Moving the lights can achieve different effects.

I didn’t have anything in mind before animating other than a few simple actions. I made a lot of it up on the spot but wanted to focus more on simply becoming more accustomed to moving a wire armature over other materials I’ve used before. I stuck down the legs at first so I could get to grips with the basics without worrying about the armature’s balance.

I ended up animating seven seconds of the character trying to unstick its feet. The very first movement was unscripted so it can feel detached from the rest of the short narrative, it was after the first action I decided the armature character was going to attempt to pull up its leg.

The movement I was able to achieve with the character was quite overwhelming, with most parts of the armature being able to move without any set limb size or points of rotation that you get from 3D. Like with clay there can be a tendency to have more fluid and bendy movement that can contrast with reality. More professional armatures don’t have the range of movement available but are constricted to defined limbs. As I wanted to have my armature appear more rigid as outlined in my storyboards I will need to make sure I do not move too many parts of the armature at this point in the story.

I also tried out some balancing with the armature. With one foot tied down balancing the rest is relatively easy. During my final animation I will either hide the foot that is tied down or hide the thing that’s keeping it held down.

The animation quality itself isn’t the greatest. While there are some points I am proud of, there isn’t a lot of consistency in the timing of the animation and some of the techniques such as “easing in and out” and “anticipation” could do with some work. However this animation test wasn’t particularly concerned with quality and was more to test the pipeline so there were corners I did cut and things I that I would normally correct or focus more on were ignored for now.

Finally I brought the animation into Sony Vegas and used the colour correction tool in addition to the brightness/contrast tool to alter the look of the animation so it was more readable by reducing the reddy-brown tone and highlighting the armature more.

The animation I did was useful in allowing me to complete a shot from start to finish. I was able to identify where I might have troubles with when it comes to working with the armature. It also gives me a starting visual so that I can add-to and amend the set and overall visual look to the set design.

While this was one approach to filming, I will also consider the other options for camera angles and staging. I took a few shots of potential ideas.

Two Materials, Two Frame Rates

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I wanted to do a little more exploration with clay and animated a short scenario involving a clay monster and my own hand interacting with it.

As my project is moving more towards “materials and movement” I wanted to use a contrast in materials and see how the movement of those materials are different.

In this animation test I animated the clay creature at 15fps (frames per second) and my own hand at 30fps. I wanted to emphasise the difference between the two animated subjects, utilising a lower frame rate to bring out the animated charm of stop-motion in the character, keeping my hand feeling “more real”.

A challenge of the pixilation technique (stop motion with live subjects) I found was animating my hand  required me to keep my hand motionless in-between frames. This is was something I didn’t foresee as I animated my right hand, so was left to do all the clay manipulation with my left hand.

While I didn’t get stronger animations from the clay character because of this, I do notice the difference in the quality of motion between the two subject materials. The clay still gives the imperfect and very unique movement where the maker’s mark can be noticed

Animation – Skeleton Walk

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Continuing further into the exploration of lighting and darker atmospheres, I created a short scene involving a skeleton walking down a corridor. With the factory scene, the LEDs were nice to work with but I felt needed something more. After looking at Corpse Bride, they also added green lights in addition to the red in one scene. I didn’t have any green lights so went with a standard torch which helped to add more depth to the scene; however I only used this for brief flashes.

I chose to animate an undead character and try to utilise the quality of movement you get with stop motion animation and use this to my advantage to create a stylised jerky walk. It turned out okay but I think this would benefit from a better character model.

Animation – Factory Scene

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From observing other animated movies, I wanted to explore the use of lighting in my animations. Taking some influence from my earlier exploration into machinery and clockwork parts, I wanted to create a factory scene. I wanted to use stop motion here to get the quality of motion often associated with the medium. The imperfect consistency in movements is a natural product of the process, and this gave the machinery a slightly mechanical movement to it which I liked. I used a set of Red LEDs which I also moved and animated in each frame. The light that hit off the walls and machine parts quite well for the visual effect I wanted to achieve.

Animation – Paper Cut Out

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I really liked how the technique of layering materials over a lightbox turned out for the rice animations so I tried adding layers of paper to create a simple environment.

I made a simple character made from cut-out card that had a limited degree of movement and animated him walking across the screen.

The camera was set to give a contrast between the light and dark. I turned up the exposure and contrast, while reducing the colour saturation. Positioning a light beneath the table illuminated the set well and each additional layer of paper reduced the light shining through.

Overall I like the visual look of this appears. I was inspired by the likes of Limbo, a game which has a similar aesthetic. While the animation doesn’t have a lot going for it due to the limited character movement, I like the quality of movement it has as it walks across the screen. It was challenging to keep this character’s limbs in position while moving others and sometimes the layers of paper would lift up preventing the character from sliding across the surface.