Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Obs: You look at what you want

Observation: You look at what you want. For the most part, this is very true - where your eyes are looking will determine what is currently in focus or of interest. You can pick up many things from looking at people in the train station, bus stops, etc. Most people who travel alone like their own space and mind their own business. Many will resolve to mp3 players with headphones plugged in or reading books. These people tend to have their eyes down and away, often signifying their desire to not be disturbed and left in their own little worlds.

Then there are others who are without any media distractions, travelling alone with nothing to do. Observe them. You can tell a lot about a person by looking at where they are looking. If their eyes are constantly scanning the room, their brains are active, they are receptive to their surroundings and are alert. Perhaps hoping to meet the gaze of another interested individual. Generally, if you're looking around you or at people, you're opening yourself up for conversation and subconsciously inviting friendly talk. If your gaze is down and away, it's the eye language equivalent of "leave me alone". Of course these are all variable depending on the situation but I'm just talking about general observations here.

As I was travelling in the train one day, I caught myself becoming a victim to this observation. I'm usually either reading, scanning people, reading them or when I'm tired, look away in a corner and try to fall asleep. What was unusual in this instance was that I needed to use the toilet. First thing I did was try to identify where the nearest toilet was without getting up. It was at the end of the corridor. Next I determined whether or not it was vacant without getting up so I studied the light switch above it. I couldn't really tell if it meant vacant or not.

What I did notice was 2 other ladies sat uncomfortably near the toilet with quirky movements. It told me they were waiting for the toilet. Soon I realized I was no longer doing the things I would normally do, lie in a corner or falling asleep. I was constantly checking for the toilet to be available, scanning the area, seeing if the ladies had already had their turn. So much so that my body had tilted itself to a unusual position, my head leaning to the side  giving me full vision of the situation in front of me. This got me thinking. Would I have been in this position if I hadn't needed to use the bathroom? No. It was an uncomfortable position, with my head tilted to one side and heck why would I be staring at the aisle in front of me for? At which point, I got a little subconscious because I thought the ladies in front caught my eye and they must be thinking the same thing, "this guy needs the loo". Hah!

Naturally I tried to fake it and look away returning to a more comfortable position. But it was difficult to go back to doing something more casual when you really needed the bathroom. I soon found myself back to the original leaning position, with my eyes on the toilet scenario.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and suddenly their eye darts to something behind you and eventhough he/she is still talking, you know they are now focussing on something else? More often than not, you'd be so intrigued by what has intrigued them that you too will turn and see for yourself. Our eyes can be so revealing sometimes.

This ends my observation for "You look at what you want". Your eye looks are directly connected to your brain and will look at what you are currently interested in. So I guess this is why we look at people's faces when talking to them (mostly eyes) to read them because it is shocking what you can find out with their gaze and direction.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Watery eyes part 2

Ok, I wrote the last post in a bit of a hurry and have had some time to reflect on it since.

I think I'll format these observation posts in a more meaningful manner next time, starting with my main point and then elaborating on it based on my experience.

Here we go!

General observation: Some elements of emotional state can come from the design/look of the character and does not always rely on the animation itself.

Specific observation: Watery eyes/redness is a powerful tool that can be used to make your character appear sad/in-tears.

As an animator, I've always had to rely on my animation skills to push the emotional state of the character and to find ways of making him connect with audiences through movement. The truth is, this skill - as valuable as it is to an animator can only be taken so far. The fact is there are also a lot of contributing factors that can help make the character/scene more convincing.

Take shot layout and camera movement for example, the primary factor of how we connect to an audience is surprisingly overlooked by many animators. A well placed camera and/or controlled movement can have more of an impact than you think. A slow zoom into a character often helps the audience connect to the character better, often used when the character is in deep thought for example. The animation could be the best in the world and incredibly subtle perhaps, but if the camera is in a full body shot or a long shot; the effect is completely changed.

Colour design and theory will also add to how we feel about the characters/scene. The scary thing is how our brains pick up these clues so unconsciously that we take them for granted. This is certainly an area I would like to explore further when possible.

Following the colour design, lighting also plays an important part. Having a character very well lit or not can mean so much in ways I can't even describe. There are many examples out there of how good lighting affects the mood and atmosphere that you can probably look up.

Character design helps tell us who these characters are that we are animating. With just a generic default character rig, it tells us hardly anything. Why is this important? Surely a well animated character can shine without fancy designs. That may be true but again, as I mentioned above, there is only so much you can do with animation. These are plusses, bonuses, add-ons, icing on the cake, if you will to not only make your animation stand out but more importantly help the audience connect better with your animated character. A good design will immediately establish a good understanding of your character before he is even moving. Is he a cowboy? Is he a waiter?

The generic rig tells you very little about the character
Customized rigs tell you more about the character and their personality

I suppose the goal of every shot is to immediately tell the audience the story, the scenario and what's happening in just the scene layout/designs itself. That way, when the audience watches the animation, they spend less time figuring out who these characters are, where they are, what time it is, etc and spend more time concentrating on what's important - what's actually happening in the scene.

Ok, I appear to be drifting off topic now. OH yes, back to my main point, the watery eyes and the impact! I guess this new found discovery made me realize a new factor that can contribute to the performance!

I'm not actually sure what category this will fall in to be honest, maybe under character design? It's just additional things we can do to make the performances more convincing. In 3D, with good rigs, we can often use squash/stretch, rotations, translations and even scale to deliver our performances. Now that I've discovered this watery eye concept and how much it affects the character's looks, it really got me thinking just how much more of these little details I've missed out.

I know this isn't anything mind-blowing or new in 2D, because I've seen many great examples of 2D animation where they include a ton of details but a lot of which are only possible due to the nature of the art form. 2D is great because you can make anything happen, a transforming character, deformations, eye pops, explosions and what not all limited to just your imagination. With 3D however, it is a lot more work to get those results and as such 3D characters tend to have that rigidness.

Can you think of other examples of what we can do to push the characters designs further apart from maybe changing the colours of the eyes?

Watery eyes

So I only just got up a few minutes ago, and as my eyes got a little watery from the morning wake, instead of wiping it off with my hands, I squeezed my lids shut. When I opened them (while in front of the mirror), and as my eyes and its surrounding areas become moist, it almost becomes inevitable that I had to blink a lot more and it stung a little. I do like to act in front of the mirror sometimes, and in this case, I pretended to shed a tear or be sad.... what I found was shocking. It took such little effort to sell this emotion when you have watery eyes!

When your eyes are watery, it seems you'd naturally blink more anyways and that adds even more to the whole sad/insecure emotional state. I tried a couple of different things like smiling and wiping a tear and the result was spectacular. It was all on-top of the in-tears emotional look which I could not hide regardless. Seems the watery eye look is just that powerful. As much as I tried hiding it, it just appeared as if I WAS consciously trying to conceal it but still appearing sad.

I think I'll try this again in future to see what more I can get from this!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Jobs and Summer plans

I will be working as an animator at Cubic Motion in Manchester, UK from June to October 2011. Then I'll be starting my animation internship at Framestore in London, from November onwards.

I have also officially finished with my final year at Teesside University studying BA Digital Character Animation. Over the last 4 years of education (including placement year), I have been very active in improving my skills and practicing. Often so much so to the expense of my social life which is a little sad. It has however paid off with jobs and fantastic opportunities :). I want to take it a bit easier this summer and make up for lost time. Go out a bit more, enjoy the sun, meet new friends, spend less time in front of the computer for a change!

Of course this doesn't mean I'll stop learning or being productive - no no. If and when I do have the time, I would like to return to the basics of animation and start nailing those animation principles down to the core to strengthen my basics. I have been tackling a lot of advanced acting and performance related animation recently and as much as I love doing those, I feel I've been neglecting my basics a little bit. So you can expect some mini animation exercises and tests in future. I'm also keen on tackling some creature animations in preparation to my time at Framestore.

Quite recently I've joined Linkedin - click to see my profile and add me if you know me!

I'll try and post a bit more as well. I have many animation questions, theories and observations that I've been meaning to post about. Until next time, keep your heads up and happy animating!