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  • Writer's pictureZAP!

Worst day of my life!

Man! I have been slacking! My goal was to post as least once a week... life has sorta gotten in the way, but I am back and I wanna break down another shot and experience. I have no idea if anyone is reading these posts, but hopefully someday it is helpful. The reason I am going back through my old work is that I really hope my experiences as a young animator can help any budding animator realize that everyone goes through ups and downs as they are learning. Even though we LOVE doing this stuff, sometimes it makes you so so so so so mad. Sometimes you want to give up, but then sometimes a tiny little things gives you the energy to keep going and try another shot. Sometimes it is as dumb as the overlap of an arm, or the pop of an eyeball during a take. That is why I wanted to talk about this shot for a second:

This was my third attempt at a 10 Second Club entry... spoiler, I still didn't win. I was so excited about my story idea for this dialogue clip! The original is from Office Space where Ron Livingston's character speaks to his therapist. I felt like a groom talking to a priest on his wedding day was a really fun twist on the dialogue, and I was really feeling like I was getting better with my animation as well. I had figured out how to record video reference on a crappy point and shoot camera (this is 2004 by the way), and get it into my computer to analyze. I had tried a few small shots to try and work on lip sync since it was still really really kicking my butt. I found that less shapes were better most of the time... but I was still really struggling with forming just the right ones. I read a lot of books about making my shapes 2 frames before the sound, but I couldn't really get the shapes to look right and the sync always felt off. I was years away from learning the appeal of Disney mouth shapes, and the beauty of arcs and flow of mouth corners and jaw drops.

There were a few breakthroughs with this shot though! Even though I knew my lip sync wasn't great, I felt like the jaw up/down was coming in a bit closer, and because I spent a LOT of time working on my video reference (I wish I still had it!), I discovered some nice phrasing, that I think even holds up to some degree today. While the spacing is clunky and everything feels a bit robotic, I feel like the acting holds up decently. I like that the eye is directed to the groom, and then his acting becomes smaller and subtler when the eye needs to be directed to the priest. The side step of the priest also helps to pull the audiences eye up to his face.

The end reaction with the priest was clearly the part that I had the most fun with. I remember thinking that my acting reference was pretty funny, and for the first time I could see how I could exaggerate beyond my acting. It felt like a clear moment to get a bit cartoony (albeit pretty tame in retrospect). I was pretty low as I tried to work out the mechanics of the side step of the priest and the fingers to the mouth pose on the groom, but when I splined that take and got a goofy cross-eyed expression in there... it was that little boost I needed to get out of the animator slump. That and I thought I had finally cracked follow-through with his limp arm.... clearly I hadn't, but I vividly remember the lightbulb moment where I realized that if I looked at the curves of the upper arm, lower arm, and wrist in relation to each other and then did a systematic offsetting, it resembled overlap. At the time, I thought that was it!! Boom. Done! Easy! It looks pretty crappy today, but I wasn't that far off. A bit more polish and a little finesse of the timing and there was something to that silly arm drop!

All in all, it was a great learning experience. I went through some serious lows and at times felt a lot like the groom in this shot, but every shot comes with those little moments of light. You just gotta hold onto those moments with all your might. Wrangle them to the ground. Stuff em in your toolbox, and bring em to your next shot.



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