Notes from Animation Talks: Ted Ty

Feature Animation Performance

Just a bit of a preamble: This is a collection of notes I took from a presentation given by Ted Ty, an experienced Dreamworks animator with many great feature films under his belt, back in 2014(!) – The pages I’ve written them on are getting quite faded, so what better way to keep them alive is to share them.

  • Body mechanics for performance! Even in shots that don’t show the character’s entire body, animate it! If you want accurate believable movement, you have to make sure that off-screen is natural and is alive. Don’t “puppet show” your character. Mike Sez: Also this helps with those last-minute shot changes/adjustments.
  • Plan, plan, plan – thumbnail ALL of your work. Do not ever start animating without a solid plan of what you’re doing.
  • Dreamworks uses Motion Capture to block in the layout, including the camera rig – this saves massive amounts of time on shot composition & timing/duration/camera moves, as well as provides reference for the animators.
  • Speaking of Reference – Reference is NOT cheating!
  • When filming your reference/motion capture, do try to do the following:
    • 10 takes of how you think you want it
    • 10 takes of “What-if” experimentation
    • 10 takes of your friends/coworkers – you may be surprised!
    • Film the voice actors as they give their performance – include their body/hands
  • Shooting reference of your friends and coworkers will bring new insight to possible takes and acting choices, plus it helps minimize your own personality quirks from showing up often in your work.
  • Blocking your poses and key frames: Your goal is CLARITY of communication! The viewer shouldn’t be struggling to figure out what your character is doing at the keys stage.
  • Acting with Emotions: You cannot skip the REASON for the emotion; your planning of the animation needs to consider what choices you are making for the character in the context of your animation.
    • The point is not simply “how far can you push a pose” – you have to have a reason.
  • Knowing who your character is in the story allows you to be more specific, more direct on how to project that identity & the character’s intentions.
  • Very few motions/actions are done without a thought or motivation behind it. Never move just for movement’s sake.
  • Exercise the self-discipline and self-control to animate ONLY what’s needed for the shot, and not blow past what’s needed to sell the story’s progression.
  • If the animator doesn’t plan, and/or is uncertain about their work, it will show in their work as a lack of accuracy, a lack of genuine energy, and a lack of conviction/intent behind the movement.
  • Speed is the enemy of animating acting shots. You can’t rush life. Ted Ty references the following quote:

“You sit and you dwell and you wait and you read and you think and you meditate. It takes time to think and ponder, and the work is never done because it just continues. It’s looking for evidence of things.”
– Tom Hardy

  • Bad acting can also arise from unclear or inconsistent direction.
    • Doing too much in too little time – “Hit. Every. Note. Possible.”
    • Enthusiasm (over-abundance) can blind objectivity/critical judgement, and lose sight of the overall big picture, the flow of the story.
  • Shooting acting reference: When shooting your video reference, take the time to do the “As-If” exercise…
    • Do or say it neutrally first.
    • …But how would it go “Happily?”
    • …Or as if you were confused?
    • …As if your computer just crashed, losing your work?
    • …As if you had a great morning and a lucky streak?
    • …As if the flu was setting in fast?
    • …And so on.
    • You can even include your consideration & thought process as part of your acting video reference – a spring-board to trigger the reaction.
  • If a given situation isn’t lending itself to visualization, then try to think of another situation that has the desired reaction.
    • For example, instead of your PC crashing but finding out your work is safe, try when your oft-late friend arrives early for a change.
  • Body language, hand poses, finger gestures can be powerful symbols, but if used carelessly, it can totally screw up your shot.
    • Watch out for cross-over/repeating the same quirks across different characters! Mike sez: I call this ‘Jeff Goldblum’ or ‘Matthew Perry’ – always playing the same personality quirks in every film/show

Finding the acting spark in a given shot, through planning, filming reference, pre-thought, will make even drudge work more rewarding & satisfying to do.

Good animation is technical; Great animation FEELS great!

  • The emotion of the mouth shape is FAR more important than perfect lip synced dialogue. Mike sez: Humans are LAZY. We mumble and mush – we do not enunciate every single phoneme nor syllable.
  • The EYES by far tell the most about the emotions going on in your character.

Thanks to Ted Ty for giving this talk, and I hope that his words inspire you to push yourself to higher heights of your animation skill. Remember: you have to work on the stuff you’re not strong in – discomfort means you’re learning!

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – gameplay trailer

During E3 2015, Eidos Montreal (where I’m currently working) released a 25 minute gameplay trailer (yes, twenty-five minutes) of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
In this footage there’s a fair chunk of what I’ve been working on, including the Walk & Talk in the train station in the beginning, and the Debate with Talos Rucker near the 2/3rds mark, after the ARC living quarters & the ride up the elevator. It’s been a long 1.5 years with lots of hard work – I’m glad to finally show what I’ve worked on. It’s been good to see the positive reactions, comments and theories from the fans as a result of these video releases.

The game I’m working on at Eidos Montreal – the TRAILER!

Finally at long last, I can declare aloud that I am working on DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED
Seriously, this is a badass trailer – kudos to the marketing team and the studio that put this together for Eidos Montreal.

What’s amusing is that during the summer after I had been laid off from my previous job, I borrowed a friend’s PS3, and caught up on some games I hadn’t played – and one of them was Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Great game – and then I get hired to work on its sequel a couple months later. Absolutely nutty sequence of events!

SFM: Setting the Scene

Once I was certain of my decision to use the mtt_heavy map for my animation project, using my notes I started to place the actors and props in.

There was some trial-and-error with the different tables and chairs available in the Source Filmmaker model library, but I feel I’ve got the right ‘compromise’ – honestly the compromise is better than making the perfect table/props from scratch – it forces one to think on the fly and adapt the storyboards to what’s actually available.

Also swapped out Engineer-Champ’s construction helmet for a rather appropriate Texan cowboy hat – plus has the bonus of freeing up his face a little more for expression.

Once I was done the initial layout (minus cameras), I decided to go ahead and fill the background a bit with some props to keep the sequence interesting. When the cameras are in place and the key poses are sketched in, some of these props may move, or even be removed. Or switched out for something else, if that. It was a good refresher in the object translation/rotation controls in Source Filmmaker!

Work-in-Progress shot!
Scene with actors and background props

SFM: Location, location, location scouting…!

Long time between updates – crunch mode over the last few months (okay, Summer, Fall, and this Winter ongoing) will devour one’s energy reserves.
That said, I’m pushing myself to make something new with dialogue and multiple characters acting, as well as explore how I like step-key animation during the blocking stage. Regarding the step-key animation process, I’ve noticed a lot of great SFM animators publishing their work-in-progress, using this method. An example from Jesse Baumgartner

Primary Animation Goal: Multiple characters with multiple lines.

I already found a line of dialogue that would be fun to do, and gave me a range to play around with. The full “that escalated quickly scene” from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was crying out to me to tackle.
Naturally, by using the great Source Filmmaker tool from Valve, I was going to be using the Team Fortress 2 characters, as they have such great expressive rigs and such appealing designs.

Lots of planning notes, and a really rough breakdown of story-thumbs:
Thumbnail storyboards are fun!

Listing out the characters I wanted to use (I had already used the Medic and the Sniper from Team Fortress 2, and I wanted to use different characters before I started repeating), as well as forming what kind of staging I wanted, it was time to go…

VIRTUAL LOCATION SCOUTING.

It was actually more involved – I know some would just go “who cares” and plunk their work down in the middle, but I wanted two things: Room to move & place the required props (meeting room table, chairs) and an interesting yet not noisy environment with decent lighting, as I didn’t want to spend a lot of time lighting the animation manually. (Might still need to throw in a key light or two though)

Screenshots are from the Team Fortress 2 game maps – there are some really cool environments, so it can take a while to ‘wander’ the library of maps in search of a good location – rather like how live-action film location scouts work.

Checkpoint Fast Lane
CP_FastLane
This was my initial choice, but it’s looking pretty drab. I liked it as it had a ‘meeting room’ vibe with the rocket launch chamber outside the window, but as you’ll see, it’s pretty spartan and dark.

Checkpoint Junction
CP_Junction_Final
CP_Junction_Final
CP_Junction_Final
A nuclear launch bunker – multiple areas in this map could work, though compared to later ones, I’m not as strong on this choice of staging.

Checkpoint Mountain Lab
CP_MountainLab
CP_MountainLab
CP_MountainLab
Now we’re talking. Not too cluttered, yet totally workable as an interesting ‘meeting’ or ‘planning’ room for this conversation to be in. I’m actually torn between one of these areas in this map, versus the following…

Meet The Heavy set
MTT_Heavy
Given the subject of the conversation, and there’s just enough light that I could add a few simple key lights for readability. There’s some great props as well that I can further ‘hem’ the stage in (including a great chalkboard covered in strange designs), the only “negative” about this stage is that it could be too recognizable with anyone that’s seen Valve’s “Meet the…” TF2 shorts. Looking at the “Meet the Heavy” short, I’m likely over-thinking this too much.
When I make my choice final, then I will begin the step of placing the props and rough staging of the characters & camera. I’ll go as far as to add the audio and time the camera shots, with any necessary splicing of the audio to add just a tiny bit of breathing room. (A lot of western comedy movies tend to be very static in cinematography, as well as break-neck in their pacing – too few directors will experiment with camera angles like one of my favorites, Edgar Wright.)

Stay Tuned! Though it may be quite a while before the next update…

Link: A close look at BAD ACTING and GOOD ACTING

A short post from me, it’s been crazy busy at work, and I rarely get much coherency for my own work these days. Anyways!

A very well put-together post by Daniel Gonzales, on the subject of acting in film, which has a huge amount of reference & study material for animators.
A close look at BAD ACTING and GOOD ACTING

Tons of video examples of each of the points, along with the theory on why it works so well (or why it goes so badly) – even if you’re not an animator yourself, anyone that appreciates film would enjoy this blog post.

Speaking of animation, I am very very slowly working my way towards my next animation project – I want to focus on character acting with dialogue to better sharpen my skillset. I’ll document more of my process, as per request by some of you out there, and keep y’all posted.

Learning from Film: The Art of Editing in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Came across this a while back, and I finally got around to making a proper post to share this excellent breakdown of the composition, editing and cohesive storytelling that is present in one of my favorite influential films – Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

That score from the composer Ennio Morricone, “The Ecstasy of Gold” (Italian: L’Estasi dell’Oro), during the frantic search of the cemetery… Absolutely haunting.

The Art of Editing in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from Max Tohline on Vimeo.