Animate with context

Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is crucial to animate a strong performance.

When we are animating, either on personal or professional projects, typically, we work on shots which are part of sequences. In turn, these sequences fit together to tell a larger story.

Since animation is such a slow process, it is easy to get so focussed on the specific shot we are working on that we start to lose sight of the bigger picture.

A common issue

To highlight an issue I have often encountered, I want to give you a fictional example.

A junior animator is given a shot in which a character has just seen something and reacts in a startled fashion.

Now, this is a relatively simple shot but the animator, keen to impress and have something juicy for their showreel, throws their all into the shot.

They film reference of themselves acting out the reaction, loosely based upon the storyboards. Whilst the result is functional, it doesn’t really seem very fun so they have a rethink.

After experimenting with a number of different approaches, and having heard all the advice about pushing your animation, the animator settles on a new idea and creates an incredibly funny and extreme reaction shot.

When the work is reviewed, the shot gets a big laugh but ultimately has to be completely reanimated.

The problem is, the story requires the character to go through a series of reactions, each more extreme than the last, and this animator had the first reaction in the sequence. By failing to consider their shot in context, the animator left the character with nowhere to go.

Now, this might sound far fetched, or the result of poor communication, but I have seen it happen over and over with animators of all experience levels.

Getting the context

In the productions I have worked on, all animators watch the full animatic before starting to animate anything. This ensures that they are familiar with the entire story and not simply the sequence of shots they are working on.

Throughout production, they have access to the animatic at all times in addition to the completed work of other animators in order to view their work in context.

Despite these facts, I will often still have to remind animators to check their work against the surrounding shots.

Think like a filmmaker

As animators, we want to put our best work on screen, we want to create funny or exciting sequences, and performances rich with emotion. These are all good things.

The problem is, we often focus so heavily on the specifics of our own shots that we start to forget about the needs of the overall story.

The reality is, not many of the shots we animate are showreel worthy. Not because they have been poorly animated but because they are functional shots. Shots designed to serve the story and move things along rather than look impressive in their own right.

When you think of your animation as contributing to the wider story and the development of the characters beyond the confines of the shot you are working on, it actually opens the door to create more interesting and nuanced performances than you might otherwise.

Inbetweens by Into Animation

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