Top Essentials in Animating Creatures to Think About (Part 2 Continued…) – Austin Visuals Animation Studio
We here at Austin Visuals are going to look at the top reasons that knowing how to animate creatures is an essential skill in the marketplace right now. You can find Part 1 of this article HERE. It can be very time-consuming and challenging to create realistic Animated Creatures. Enjoy these tips so that your Animation can greatly improve. For an example of some great creature animation, see this Behind the Magic, the Visual Effects of “The Avengers”
Top Tips in Animating Creatures Continued….
3. Reality needs to be the basis of the performance.
There absolutely needs to be a connection between the creature you’re designing and an animal in the real world. You might have created the most wondrous fantasy creature with an abstract design, and layer on top of that movement and behavior that no living creature on this world has, and you’ll find that your audience will never make any kind of meaningful connection with it. They’ll never feel any kind of sympathy for it, nor any kind of empathy.
The moment you start drawing even the slightest and subtlest of parallels to existing and known creatures, your audience will be able to hook together your creature with the real-world one, which will then ground that fantasy creature in reality. A common, but good example, would be ogres. If you want to have ogres in your feature, then a good real-world animal to study would be gorillas – similar behavior, no? Or dragons, say. Are your dragons’ wings powerful and used for flight, or are they more vestigial, and used for movement on the ground? If the latter, then perhaps bats would be good reference material. If the former, then you might study raptors or birds of prey.
Another fun thing to do is to combine the behavior and mechanics of multiple animals. Still, be careful to not just pick an animal just because it looks the same as your creature. Environmental influences and size discrepancies are two very important things to consider. Your creature might look similar to an eagle, thus you’re likely to use the timing characteristics and flight mechanics of that animal. But what if the creature you’re designing is a lot smaller than an eagle, or a lot bigger? Then the timing will be way off. Also, you might really like how a hummingbird darts to and fro, but would that type of movement work on a creature that’s as large as a house? (Perhaps it would, on a low-gravity and/or low-density planet, but that’s something else.) Maybe your fantasy creature is going to live underwater, yet look like a land-based creature. So is it going to swim like an elephant? Or maybe like an alligator?
Also consider the environment in which the creature lives. It might be continually exposed to heavy winds and storms, so keep in mind that its ground locomotion and flight mechanics are going to be influenced by creatures that endure such conditions, and not that simply share visual characteristics.
Of course, there is always going to be the situation where the time comes to throw all that advice out of the window, and the main objective becomes to simply “make it look cool,” but we would say that 99 times out of 100 it’s extremely effective to add real life behavior to a fantasy creature, simply in order to make it feel more real.
4. You gotta get the weight right.
We think any animator would agree that good physics are one of the cornerstones of competent animation, regardless of the style. Sure, the more stylized the animation is, the more freedom you have to play with the physics, but when you start to ignore proper distribution of weight, dissipation of kinetic energy, and conservation of momentum, then your believably starts going down the drain. That’s why you started with bouncing balls when you were a student – it’s utterly crucial to master the illusion of weight. When presented on the screen, a bowling ball, a basketball, and a balloon are going to look much the same. Can you, as the animator, make them behave differently through weight and timing? Can you make your audience believe that these are actually different objects they are looking at? Honestly, a lot of complex creature animation comes back to being able to show proper weight through timing and spacing – in other words, it can be reduced to bouncing balls.
Let’s look at one specific area that can really make the difference in a shot. It’s something that we almost never see in student reels, and rarely see in feature movies, but that is one of those subtle things that a viewer will pick up on, even if they’re not thinking about it. It’s the difference between muscle driven movement and physics driven movement.
Take an ogre, for example. A typical behavior, inherited from the gorilla, would be for it to rest on all fours, then rear back to smash his fists against his chest, then fall back down. This set of actions gives a very clear separation of muscle driven movement and movement that is based on gravity. When the animal rises up at the beginning, the motion is all based on the strength of its muscles. The speed is decided by the muscle groups and mechanics of the body, which gives a certain amount of flexibility with the timing and weight. Yet when the the upwards movement hits the apex, and the creature starts falling back down, it’s all physics at that point. Your creature can’t fall any faster than gravity dictates. The only exception to this would be is if the creature is pushing himself down for some reason, or if some external force is pushing or pulling him down.
Regarding feature movies again, if you happen to be dealing with live action plates, then may have to take the existing camera move into account when planning your animation. The camera may tilt down too fast, thus causing you to quicken your creature’s drop so as to keep him in frame. There might be a certain live-action element exploding at a certain frame, which will then dictate the timing of your character’s movement. These are just a few of the limitations that have to be considered when dealing with live plates. But if times permit, and camera motion allows, ensure that your creature isn’t breaking the laws of physics – even stylized physics.
5. Creatures don’t live alone!
It’s hard to pull off any kind of meaningful contact between two or more characters in CG animation, and that’s likely one of the reasons you hardly ever see it on student reels. That’s understandable, though, as it’s difficult enough to make all work with one character, much less two! Still, the landscape in animation today is quite competitive, and some kind of interaction between characters is a superb opportunity to go the extra mile, add more complexity to your shot. What’s a better way to do that than with a simple creature? Just one example would be that of the interaction between a mother and her kids. They don’t have to be human; they could be crawling all around her, resting on her back, hanging on to her, whatever. And you could scrpt an entire performance with this – you could have the mother attempting to shot something to the father, but the kids are crawling over her face while she tries to talk. You’re combining interaction, performance and animalistic behavior. This would make a very entertaining and impressive shot!
Fighting is a part of life, and movies. It’s going to have many interactions between the creatures. It’s a disservice, though, to limit yourself to just kicks or claw swipes or punches, though. Have your creatures really get into it – have them hanging on to each other, tackling one another, ripping limbs off, and so on. Granted, these interactions are more difficult, and less clean. Punches are pretty clean as there is nearly no contact time. If you have a small creature jumping atop a larger creature, though, and attempting to tear some eyes out, that’s going to have a lot more contact time. The shot is going to be a lot more complex, as there is going to be a lot more interaction than a simple punch.
Any type of fighting is going to have interactions between the creatures. But don’t limit yourself to just punches and kicks or claw swipes. Try to have creatures tackling each other, hanging onto each other, ripping apart limbs, etc. These type of interactions are much more complex and less clean. A punch is fairly clean due to minimal contact time. But a smaller creature jumping on top of a bigger creature and trying to claw the bigger creature’s eyes out is going to necessitate a lot more contact time and the complexity of the interaction is going to increase by a lot.
Also try combining humans with creatures. If you have a human character, maybe they have a pet rat or lizard. That creature can then move over the human’s shoulder down his arm, on to the table, while the human talks to another character offscreen. As you see, it’s in your best interest to lean the animation of creatures. Your demo reel will be more diverse, which will then set you apart from the competition – and thus make it much more likely you get noticed by recruiters.
Isn’t it time you invested the services of a professional video company like Austin Visuals to create a video for you? We have several top-notch animators on staff, ready to help you out with video-related need you can conceive of. Give us a call at 512.591.8024 and we can talk about your needs and the best way to fulfill them.
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