Monday, January 19, 2015

Peabody & Sherman Process

For this post I'll be talking mostly about the first scene of Peabody saying 'I Love You' to Sherman.  I was fortunate enough to be able to animate both this scene and the b side shot of Sherman reacting.  This shot was much more focused on the facial performance, basically its just one pose in the body, with many poses going on in the face.  The range overall is a lot more subtle and contained, but even with up close, subtle shots, all the same rules and principles will still apply, and my process is quite similar to a shot where I’m dealing with the entire body.

Jason Schleifer, who did work on Gollum for the first Lord of the Rings, later came to Dreamworks and did a lot of the work on Julian for the first Madagascar.  Pretty much polar opposites in terms of style and look.

He's of course done much, much more since then, but back when he was still sitting amongst us lowly animators, I asked him once ‘how do you go from animating something so focused on realism, then come and do something so pushed the movement feels completely inventive, but of course still believable.

He said, and I still remind myself of this often, that its all the same.  The same principles still apply, just in realism all those principles of overlap, squash and stretch, secondary motion, are a fraction of what they are when we do something cartoony and are pushing those principles around to have something funny and caricatured.

For this shot I really wanted to pay attention the believability and subtleties of Peabodys performance so the audience could connect to the emotion of the moment.  Not sure how effective it was, but thats at least what I wanted to do with the scene.  Its not a shot that lends itself to thumbnailing it out first, so I went straight to reference.

In the past when I’ve had an emotional shot, say where one of the characters needs to feel like they’re crying, I’ve tried things like dousing my eyes with eyedrops in order to have them swell up and look as IF I was crying, or about to cry, before shooting my reference.  I wasn’t really planning on any character crying, or about to cry, for this scene.  

What I needed to convey in Peabody is that this wasn’t an easy thing for him to do.  He’s not the type of character that says soft, emotional things like ‘I love you’, but at this point he needed to.  It was a line that didn’t want to come out, but because of all the things these two characters have just been through over the course of the film, he needed to say it, and needed Sherman to hear him say it.  

Maybe it was because I was about to have a son myself (my wife was 8 months pregnant when I was working on this seq), but I did a take where I completely lost myself for a brief moment.  For a split second, I worried about Sherman, thought of his cute face and big spiky hair, his oversized glasses, and goofy smile, and thought how much it would hurt to never see him again.  My eyes started to well up and I actually wanted to start crying, but held it back.  Because men don't cry!

I tried to build on this take and do it again, seeing if I could get a better version, but I couldn’t fake the honesty that I feel I found in that one particular take.  Showed that to the director and he luckily gave me the go ahead to move in that direction with the scene.

It originally cut back to Sherman right after he said that line, like right on the nose.  In my reference I did this small breath at the end that I felt was important to stay on Peabody for.  For me it gave us a sense of what he was saying to Sherman meant to him, and that he wanted Sherman to know how important he was to Mr. Peabody.  Got the buy off on that and we extended the scene for an extra beat.  Small victory, but I was glad they went for it.

So now, how do you dissect this reference of small changes in the face and hardly anything going on in the body?  Well if you look close, theres a lot going on.  I looked for small changes in the head angles, when the nose nodded down, when it nodded up, when the brows tensed up, when did the blinks happen, when did the mouth press together, when did the jaw drop, etc etc.  All these little things are the same as an arm move or a change in angle of the torso.  They’re just all contained within the characters face.  But most importantly, what did each key I was looking for mean to the scene, and how did it drive the acting and movement I was intending to go for?  Did a brow raise initiate a head movement, or did a blink initiate a compression in the mouth or a small smallow?  All these things played into what I chose to look for when going into my blocking pass...

I unfortunately don’t have my first pass of this scene with me, couldn’t find it, but its worth mentioning anyways...since it was my first go with the animation of the scene coming out of my blocking pass.

At the time, a lot of folks at the studio were capturing a high level realism that they had went for on Rise of the Guardians, and I was constantly seeing animation with all these tiny micro movements and tiny little eye darts that felt so damn nice and sophisticated.

I wanted to try and get that into this scene, so I meticulously looked at the tiny little adjusts in the body and worked that in.  Showed it to the director and got the note ‘he looks like a marionette puppet’  which he did!  It could have been for many reasons..bad animation, movement of the body that wasn't being driven correctly by the eyes and facial performance...but I'd like to think it was because of his design...ha!  Because everyone knows its never any of us animators faults, now is it?!

But to speak to the design quickly..his overall shape and proportion wasn't meant for that type of movement.  I mean, his head was pretty much as big as his torso, so having it wiggle around just made it feel light, and fake.  The weight of his head compared to the weight of MY head has a HUGE difference there!  The movement had to be interpreted differently.  So I went in and thickened everything up, while still trying to keep the subtlety.  Here’s how it came out

So copying to exact from your reference, without any interpretation regarding the design of the character or the style of the show, just won’t work.

Remind yourself when your going off of reference for your scene, that your trying to capture the essence of what the performance is, not the details.  The details are the icing on the cake.  I mean, imagine having to draw all those tiny micro-movements in 2d animation, your lines would be squiggling all over the place and it’d look like Mr. Katz or Home movies (if anyone knows those shows from back in the day).  Always ask yourself how you would have approached the scene if you needed to draw it rather than use a computer, and what few key things you would need to have focused on to get the performance right.  Keep it simple and clean, and your scene will practically, and hopefully, lay itself out for you and be a joy to animate.

Here is the lighting....take care!


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