Let's do this! I said I would upload old tests and talk about the lessons I learned, so what better time to start than tonight as I upload the site for the first time...
So first shot up... the oldest animation clip that I could find. Here it is! Breakdown to follow...
Blown away by the supreme awesomeness of that animation? I know. I am cringing, but look at the refraction in that glass and ice cube eh!? Let's go back in time!
I got ahold of my first copy of Maya in the summer of 2004 as I was heading home for summer break after my freshman year at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was determined to do as much as I could. I had 2 jobs that summer, but spent every minute between jobs playing and (maybe some time on the job) researching tutorials so I could learn how to use this massive software. The first project I did was to model a car (easy right?). An Audi TT! While it turned out like total trash, I learned so much about modeling, shading and rendering. After weeks of noodling to no real improvement, I moved onto other small tests and then discovered the 10 second club.
The 10 second club is the lesser known grandfather of the http://www.11secondclub.com/ . Remember this is back in 2004 before fancy schools like Animation Mentor were giving amazing feedback and people were supplying feature film quality free rigs on the internet. Your free rig options were this robot looking guy I turned into a clown, or a blue troll looking dude that will show in a later post. I didn't quite understand the rules of the 10 second club at that time, so I thought I had to model and rig my own character for the competition... so I did! They were incredibly ugly, did not have IK, and the mouths were mostly just an open and close blendshape, but gosh darn it! I made them and I loved them! Unfortunately, you will never see their beauty as I apparently burned all record of them.
I learned a ton with that first test though. I learned that having dialogue does not mean that the timing of your animation is any easier! I had no idea that you could video record yourself and bring it into Maya... I don't even think I had a camera capable of shooting reference at that time. Disposable cameras weren't shooting 24fps... But the best lesson I did learn is that no matter how bad your animation is, you can still connect with people. I remember showing my broken, ugly animation to my parents and getting a laugh and a "wow! You did that!?" out of them. It was all I needed. It felt exactly the way I had hoped when I saw "For the Birds" before "Monsters Inc." and said, "I am going to be an animator."
For my second massive failure, I decided to try on a subtle acting piece. That brings us to our good friend the clown upstairs. Once again I had no idea that video reference was an option, so I tried my hardest to feel out the timing of my animation as I acted it out for myself over and over and over and over. Pose to pose animation was also not a concept I had embraced yet as I didn't know about stepped keys. I tried animating the shot the only way I knew how, by moving things around and then going back and forth in time and moving things around again. The graph editor? Slow down there, buddy! I had never heard of it.
So how bout that glass? How is that going to work? His fingers will just contact the... WHA!? They just go right through?! How do I get it to stay in his hand? I generally knew that constraints were a thing, but could not for the life of me get them to work the way I wanted, so I resorted to key framing the glass to try to make it look like it was in his hand. The ice cube.. that was an easy parenting exercise! Nailed that one. My biggest victory in the clown test was simply learning how IK limbs worked. My hands weren't sliding all over the place. I could lock it down and let the focus of the shot go to my characters face. That was my big lesson on this shot as an animator. Sometimes, less can be more. While my poses and polish were pretty awful, I was starting to see how to direct the audience's eye and get them to go a direction with me emotionally. Hopefully, on my next shot I could actually make the motion look sort of real! It would end up taking me many moons to start to learn the concepts of ease ins and outs, timing and spacing... but I kept trying!!
What was your first shot? What do you remember being the hardest part about it? New to animation? What are you finding the most challenging? Let's talk about it!!