Lamp Animation (part 1)

Playblast link for the current work: https://vimeo.com/189815481

Today we continued our practice in animation by taking an object and giving it a personality/emotions. We had the choice between using a lamp (like Pixar’s famous shorts) or a sack. I wanted to keep the exercise simple enough to start with, so animating the lamp jumping, landing, then being surprised by something seemed to be a good idea. It would allow me to continue exploring the various principles of animation, but also there are enough references of jumping motion to help me make the animation more realistic.

We could use the information we learned before the mid-term break as a base and Matt then showed us some more useful tools in Maya that would help us while working on our small project. These included the graph editor (which we could change to step tangents to help us place our key frames) and the dope sheet (which can be used as a more powerful timeline than the default one in the main window).

It’s important to always keep in mind that we need to set a project for Maya, otherwise issues could occur down the line, but also that we set up Maya for animation. This includes verifying the timeline goes from at least 0 to 100 frames and that the project is set for 24fps (film animation standard). It was also extremely useful to be told about the character set: when you insert a key, even if you only have one part of the rig selected, it will create a key on the timeline of each part of the character set rather than (if you didn’t have one) going in and manually adding them to each part of the model.

Using pose-to-pose, I inserted the key frames of the jumping motion:

  1. a normal stance before choosing to make the jump, a look at the viewer to assert it has your attention
  2. the preparation for the jump, crouching down and gathering energy, perhaps with a tail wiggle
  3. a push-off from the ground, accelerating into the air in a forward motion
  4. slowing down at the peak of the jump, bringing the body close together
  5. propelling forward for the landing, stretching towards the ground
  6. crouching into the landing, perhaps having a bit of a wobble from the action

I was a bit over-eager with the positioning of the lamp at certain points, forgetting that the model doesn’t contain colliders and the back of the lamp’s head would sometimes clip its neck, or the bottom of the hinges would clip the base. I had to go back and adjust the control curves so the “body language” still worked, but it wouldn’t defy physics and the limitations of the lamp itself.

With this in mind, I was able to show some of the principles of animation, including…

  • Anticipation: Preparation for the jump with a wiggle and the crouch, showing that an action was about to happen.
  • Pose-to-Pose: Choosing the key poses I wanted to include in the animation and then inserting the rest of the keys afterwards.
  • Staging: The lamp makes regular eye contact with the viewer, asserting that it’s the main focus of the scene around it.
  • Arc: Being that the action was a relatively small jump, the lamp would move in an arc across the screen.
  • Slow in and slow out: The is acceleration at the start of the jump, a slow down in the middle, and then he speeds up again once more on the way down for the landing.
  • Appeal: The lamp is adorable, in it’s own way. We anthropomorphise it and attach empathy to it, which makes it a charismatic character.

lampgif

The above .gif isn’t as smooth as the playblast (link above), however it shows the general idea and motion I was trying to achieve. I think I’m pleased with the start of the animation. The general concepts of animating isn’t lost on me and I didn’t have much trouble inserting the key frames – I do think the lamp looks a lot more realistic in his movements than when I first started working. It was also obvious to me that constant checking, playing, reversing, and playing again is the best way to capture the motion you’re trying to achieve – I was regularly sitting back contemplating the lamp while watching it on a loop, which I was told is normal and a good habit to develop while animating.

As always, there are a number of things I would like to improve on:

  1. It feels like the animation is moving too quickly and there isn’t enough time at each key frame. It’s easy to confuse the playback range in the timeline for realtime. The animation is currently 107 frames, but only 4 seconds long. There needs to be more time spent at the peak of the jump and a fast easing out on the take-off and landing.
  2. The movements still seem a little too rigid – I need to remember that nearly every part of the lamp will be moving (except the base in certain situations) and that there needs to be more fluidity between the key frames. This will take some time and tinkering to see what looks best.
  3. I want to add more emotion to the little lamp, showing his surprise at seeing something once he’s landed on the other side of where he’s going. I was thinking he could notice the sack walking towards him, perhaps wanting to see him, and they accidentally collide at the end.

Once again, I was reminded of Richard Williams’ Animator’s Survival Guide. I think I will start bringing the book with me to class for reference, as the content is exceptionally useful while we’re learning movements and timing in animation. For example, there was a perfect picture depiction of the jump I was trying to capture:

animatorssurvivalkitjump

I hope to continue adjusting the lamp’s motions with this kind of sketch in mind.

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