This subject has come up more than once in my class, and has been a much heated discussion amongst animation professionals and students. The use of live action reference is always the ten ton elephant in the room. I have posted previously about the use of reference and it’s advantages and pitfalls. We will dive deeper into that side of our addiction when the shot progression post unfolds in the near future.
The focus of this post will be on the need to go beyond the ref and craft something unique. The most common problem I see occurs in both students and pros. The animators/addicts tend to rotto the motion onto their respective character, not analysing the motion and the mechanics. In short, it bares a resemblance to the 2D method of rotoscoping. Both result in what I like to call “Carbon Copy Animation”. Its motion that ends up looking soft and, unless the character is similar in proportions and build, could give the feeling of a human in some kind of suit or costume.
Don’t misunderstand me, I do use reference, hell, I use it pretty much for every shot. It’s a powerful tool to help plan, analyse and pitch my shot. When I shoot reference I go in with thumbnails and a good idea of what the shot should look like. I shoot multiple takes and then pick the one that best serves my addiction. I block using the reference as a guide not only for the performance but for the mechanics and as a jumping board for what the shot could and will be. I spoke about my blocking method in the post on where blocking ends, so I won’t cover that again, but be sure to go back and read it if you haven’t already.
After blocking has been approved by the animation gods or what passes for them in a production setup. I sit down, freak out for about oh…10 minutes, then turn on some heavy metal to drown out the noise from my fellow cubicles and my addiction (over animating) trying to get the better of me. I set aside the reference, turn off all appendages and focus on the root of the problem, being the root motion.
I always find that I need to retime things a little here and there, as well as pushing the value of the motion to…well…make it feel animated. We’ll dive more into this when I post on the shot progress section that deals in spline and polish.
I have found that students and pros who don’t do this end up with motion that is mechanically faulty and is soft due to the animator not focusing on what their character is doing, and simply following the reference to a T. Reference is a jumping board, building block, good foundation (choose your metaphor) – it’s there to help you, not to control you. You can use it to help build your tool set and strengthen your understanding of animation mechanics.
Be smart and control your addiction don’t let me overwhelm you and fall off the wagon. There’s a lot of info condensed into this post, if you have any questions post them! I will respond and might learn some.