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Back from CTN part I

Posted on November 26, 2012  10 Comments
Filed under Animation, Education

[disclosure: This blog post might be biased as Mike Makarewicz gave me a free Tshirt to thank me for supporting Animation Collaborative ;-) ]

So I am back from CTN-X. CTN 2012 was a great success this year again with some really good guests like Andreas Deja one more time and CTN first timer Glen Keane.

Some of the conferences were a bit too generic especially the ones hosted by people who didn’t know the guests very well but there were plenty of great ones that went into the nitty gritty part of the animation process.

Animation Collaborative had a one of a kind demo this year with their “4 different approaches to Acting : context and creativity with Michal Makarewicz, Victor Navone, Rob Thompson and Aaron Hartline“. For that presentation they used a pretty bland audio clip that sounded like a Brian Tracy unless it was a Napoleon Hill audio book, and they went on explaining their tought process for animating a character to that audio clip. Michal had to shorten his presentation unfortunately but the presentation was really interesting. Ah, Victor was the only representative of the Step Key workflow, all the others used the Spline method.

I also attended an other demo with Michal Makarewicz which was way more insightful than the title implied: “Animate a take like a pro”. I know Michal pretty well as I attended Animation Collaborative last year, had a pretty long chat with him at Siggraph few years ago and he was also featured on several Animation Mentor lectures. Mike is also known to be one of the fastest animators at Pixar so it is always very interesting to see him animating and this time, despite the issues he had with Maya and one TV dying on us (compatibility issue with the Cintiq we got told), his demo was great.

As the title implied, using a Norman mod that looked like Sulley from Monsters Inc, he showed us how he would animate a take, using as reference, the shot from the famous Chuck Jones tribute sequence were Sulley fears Boo is being crushed in the trash compactor.

I knew Mike was a “layer animator” but I didn’t know how much he relied on properly setup hotkeys and additional scripts. As he said, all the interactions with the keyboard should be very intuitive and rely on muscle memory instead of having to look down where you fingers are going everytime you want to do something.

As such and with great difficulties, he set up all his Maya hotkeys to be on the left side of the keyboard. “You don’t want to cross the keyboard” he commented. If you have been following this blog for a long time you know I share the same views and I posted several workflow tips on how to make Maya more animator friendly. [Having only recently used Maya 2011 and 2012 I have had to face some incredible issues with the new hotkeys interface and eventually found a fix which I will share it with you very soon, I hope this was fixed in Maya 2013]

His other tip and probably the core of his fast workflow is to work in spline and copy the graph editor curves from one channel to an other as often as possible and scale, mirror or offset the curve when needed.

In the demo for example, he took the Hips TY (translation of the hips in Y) and copied it to the shoulders after inverting and offsetting it. There was also some nifty graph editor value operation using the *=.25 expression which was an “ahah moment” for a big part of the crowd and a never seen, at least for me and a good chunk of the audience, lattice graph editor scaling script which he used to create some residual energy for the head Y rotation on the settle.

He also explained that we shouldn’t “mess with the math” in the graph editor and never create kinks or overshoots with the tangents (Mike uses weighted free tangents only) instead you want to flatten the tangents and play with their weight. Here is an example of what he would do for a bouncing ball.

Alright that will be it for today, ah just to finish, I went to see Wreck-it Ralph at Disney’s El Capitan theatre on Hollywood boulevard and it was very good. I was expecting something a bit commercial with all the pop culture references and product placements but there was a great surprise with a specific scene I don’t want to spoil for you. Let’s just say, there was some of the magic from Tangled in the form of some very hearful moments were we couldn’t help feeling for the characters.

Talkback :
My post already brought some questions so here are the answers.

What is this *=.25 thing?

In the Graph editor, it is possible to adjust the value of a selection of keys by entering some expressions in the Key stats box. Here is how it works (click to enlarge the pictures):

And by checking the Maya online documentation, I realised the Lattice key deformation tool he used is not a script but actually part of Maya. Here is where you will find it and by double clicking on it you will access more options


10 Responses to “Back from CTN part I”

  1. Olivier Ladeuix on November 26th, 2012 21:17

    on the topic of splines, Victor Navone had a great blog post a while back

  2. Geoff on November 26th, 2012 22:15

    “…and a never seen, at least for me and a good chunk of the audience, lattice graph editor scaling script which he used to create some residual energy for the head Y rotation on the settle.”

    Could you explain a little more what this script does? Does it make the lattice in the graph editor slightly more usable (which can’t be hard as it’s awful in its current state)?

  3. Olivier Ladeuix on November 27th, 2012 01:13

    Hi Geoff, well this lattice thing was unknow for me so I am only discovering it. If you double click on the button you can access few more options. The only thing Mike did with it was to taper the entire curve which I would have found really useful in the past.

  4. Karim on December 18th, 2012 14:41

    Ah ouais?!?!? M’sieur Lad’hou au CTN… comme ca, ni vu ni connu, on dit rien au frelu!
    Gotta skype you soon for more infos ;)

  5. Olivier Ladeuix on December 18th, 2012 18:31

    ah je suis comme ca moi ;-) On n’avait pas de boulot aussi j’en ai profité. C’est pas parcequ’on est mal payé qu’on doit pas se faire plaisir ! ;-)

  6. Jason Campbell on July 11th, 2013 13:08

    Curious if you recall where he copied that inverted TY curve from the hips to on the shoulder, did he place it on one of the rotate channels? Did he do a lot of this copy paste of curves? I’m dying to hear more, I would like to get faster and I’d love to hear more of these tricks.

  7. Olivier Ladeuix on July 11th, 2013 16:01

    Hi Jason, I can’t remember exactly where he put the Hips TY curves for the shoulder but my guess would be on the Shoulder TY or one of the rotation axis that makes the shoulder go up.

    At the end of the day, the overal idea of the demo was to show how fast you can animate a shot by copying curves and using flat weighted tangents. As such, the Hips TY was copied on the torso, shoulder, head TX and probably RX, with offset or inverting/scaling the curves to obtain the result needed and it is better to start too big than too small.

    I hope this helps.

  8. Jason Campbell on July 12th, 2013 05:59

    It does, and it is what I imagined it to be. Funny enough I’ve moved away from using weighted tangents the last month or so and animating with non weighted keys on linear and sculpting my curves more in the editor. Have you adopted this flat weighted approach? If so have you felt an improvement?


  9. Olivier Ladeuix on July 12th, 2013 12:49

    Working directly in weighted tangents makes a lot of sense to me. In the past I was blocking my shots in step and would go all the way to set keys on pretty much every single frames. The shot would be so dense that I would eventually do a final polish pass where I would use the weighted tangents and the buffer curves snapshot to clean up the curves. Having a dense graph editor is also a pain when you want to speed up an action by scaling the keys,

    By working directly in weighted tangents, my curves are already clean so this makes the graph editor much easier to work with.

    At the end of the day it depends on how you like working. Whatever works for you or the situation. A friend was having the same discussion with his Blue Sky coworkers on a social network and most of them seemed to be more into the non-weighted tangents mindset.

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