Planning an Animation – Squid Rig

Before beginning our foray into the world of animation, we were asked to think about a few questions concerning the making of a story:

  • What does a story need? It has to have some kind of structure; there should be a discernible beginning, middle, and end. There should be some kind of rising action that kicks off the story, a reason for what’s happening. Finally, there needs to be characters (these don’t have to be humanoid, even a box can have characterisation) that fill your story.
  • How could you plan your story? Storyboards are one of the best ways to plan your animation. This allows your to envision key moments of the story in advance, as well as decide on what key frames you’d like to use for your pose-to-pose actions.
  • Why do you need to plan a story? You need to know where you’re going and have an established narrative before you begin your animation. Typically, this is where the changes can be made and you might go through multiple drafts of your story before you have a final product to take to production.
  • What would it be like if you didn’t plan properly? If you don’t have any kind of plan, you could easily lose the story’s flow or your story will lack any kind of development. You’ll begin to favour straight-ahead animation rather than pose-to-pose, causing more work for yourself in the long run. You also won’t have a definitive goal in mind; your animation could have unnecessary parts before reaching a lacklustre conclusion.

There are five key parts of planning your animation, which we were ask to go through in class and think about carefully after coming up with an idea for our stories. I knew I wanted to use the squid rig that I made in the last class and that I wanted to include some special effects if I could, to add some extra life to the animation. Overall, I had a vague idea in my mind of what I wanted to do (that utilised the squid inking at the camera), but I needed more. That was where the first aspect of planning came into effect.

Research

This is likely the most important step in the process, since it’s what kicks everything off. While you might have an idea, you need to put some time into looking at other sources for inspiration, mechanics, ideas, etc. This can be done through watching videos or other animations (we were shown some idents in class). While we’d already done research and planned our characters last class, it was part of this step as well; you need to have reference material for your characters and story.

The above ident for CBBC from over 15 years ago would be my ideal scenario. If I could animate something like this, I would be thrilled, but I’m setting my sights a little lower while using the tools I have at my disposal. Instead, it’s the general feel of the ident that I wanted to focus on, where the squid comes on screen, inks, then zips off to leave behind a nice logo (or in my case, it could be my name).

I just think this little ident is adorable and shows that something simple can still get its point across. While my squid doesn’t currently have eyes, the connection you have to the character and that you can change where he’s looking makes all the difference, so I think I might have to model some eyes after all. The ident doesn’t have loads going on in the background, which draws the viewer’s attention straight to what’s important: the squid and the logo.

I really liked this quick SyFy ident, which has the channel’s name in the middle of the frame, but then tentacles come out from beyond view to grab the words. At this point I was starting think of ways to incorporate the squid, an inking reveal, and this tentacle grab into my animation. Maybe there could be two squids? A squid and something bigger off screen?

These two videos (above and below) were ideas on how I could use After Effects with my Maya animation to make the squid inking work. I think I prefer the look and feel of the first video; with the right colours and filters, the smoke could be made to look like ink in the water. I’ve kept the video below more as a back-up, in case I wanted to do something more simple like in the Happy Squid Logo video.

At this point I felt like I had an overall plan, so it was on to the next part of the cycle.

Synopsis

This was where I would flesh out the idea as if I were explaining it to someone via the back of a movie box or book cover. As far as a synopsis is concerned, it’s your whole story in a paragraph, the overview of your animation captured through a quick read. I came up with the following:

This is a quick ident to showcase my name in a 10 second clip. It shows a little squid swimming into view, but he becomes scared by something the viewer can’t see and swims off. As with most cephalopods, he protects himself with his ink and this reveals a word. From out of frame, a giant tentacle (likely what scared the squid in the first place) latches onto the name and drags it off screen.

I found that the synopsis and treatment (the next part of the cycle) were extremely similar and I had to rewrite this paragraph a couple of times. I constantly found myself writing out a blow-by-blow of the actions that were going on in the 5-10 second animation, rather than a generalisation of the plot. If we were making longer animation, then perhaps this step would be a lot easier because there would be far too much to put in the synopsis that you would have for your treatment (including dialogue, all your actions, etc.).

Treatment

This seemed like a rather straight-forward part of the cycle. The treatment is like a script, where you list everything that is going to happen in your animation in the order it will happen. For all intents and purposes, it’s a script without the formality. My treatment only ended up being 10 lines, which seemed about right for what likely was going to turn into a 10 second ident.

  1. Start with a blank scene, possibly with some water bubbles floating around to give the sense it’s underwater
  2. A squid swims into view from the left side of the screen
  3. He makes it to about a third into the visible scene before stopping
  4. The squid looks up at something off screen
  5. He’s startled, showing fear and anxiety
  6. With a quick motion, he darts off the scene to the left where he originally came from
  7. This produces a cloud of smoky ink
  8. As the ink dissipates towards the right of the screen, it reveals 3D text that spells the word “Kelly”
  9. Once the letters have finished forming, a tentacle from above reaches down to grab the word
  10. With an easy motion, the tentacle drags the word off screen

Asset List

Creating an asset list seemed extremely easy for such a simple animation, but I could imagine that this sort of list would be pages long depending on the length of the production. I planned on keeping the scene relatively clutter-free, only using the squid I’d already created, a large tentacle (which was going to be a re-purposed, resized one from the squid), and a few other bits for scenery and effect.

Opening up Excel, since I thought working in a spreadsheet would be easiest for something like this, I came up with the following list and added some notes for future reference:

assetlistsg

Story Board

Towards the end of class, I began working on the storyboards for my animation. While they’re not complete and I think I may need to work on the timings after actually stop-watching myself going through the motions (where no one could see me feeling/looking rather ridiculous), I think I have the gist of it nailed down.

The story boards for an animation are so important because they show where things are going to be in the frame and could even be taken as your key frames once you start the animation process. This is why I think I may need to add a few more in between the ones I currently have, as I might be skipping through the scenes too quickly.

Since this is a class project, I’ll wait for further feedback during our next lesson.

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