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!


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.

Link: A huge searchable database of reference videos for animation!

Just a quick post today, but I wanted to share this one with you all:

It’s an excellent searchable (by tag or category) database of videos with actors performing various actions, often with multiple camera angles. When one is creating animation, it is invaluable to film yourself performing the action for the shot, as it grounds you in what is possible & natural. When you have a solid base like that, it becomes much more legitimate when you push & exaggerate the motion, as opposed to just free-forming it without any prior planning & research.

But often the shot/sequence calls for a movement that isn’t possible (we animators may be a crazy bunch, but we’re not all stunt performers!) for you to film yourself doing. Or you might be constrained for time or shyness! I have gotten used to the looks of incredulity when I’m demonstrating some in-game animation! Well comes in as a great alternative.

I still recommend finding some empty meeting room, back alley, closet, roof top, forgotten hallway, and doing the performance yourself, as the memory of how it felt definitely adds to your decision-making for your work.

Link: Flooby Nooby’s The Cinematography of Pixar’s The Incredibles

Pixar’s The Incredibles is one of my favorite animated movies, and this post is an extremely straight-forward and valuable breakdown of the cinematography involved. From live-action to animated to comics, the composition of each image (be it moving or static) is essential to know for every visual medium.
Yes, rules are made to be broken, but you can’t break a rule effectively if you have no idea what the rules are in the first place. Also, breaking a rule is only effective if it actually has an impact, which best arises as contrast to the other UNBROKEN rules. If all the rules are broken, then it’s just a directionless mess.

Flooby Nooby’s “The Cinematography of Pixar’s The Incredibles

(Click the image below)
Color script to The Incredibles

Link: The 25 Fastest Ways to Fail at Animation

For both my benefit, and yours, I must share this excellent post about the animation process.

Thumbnails of Animation

The 25 Fastest Ways to Fail at Animation
Article by J.K. Riki.

Many of the points touch on how the animation process cannot be forced into greatness; you have to follow discrete steps, including PLANNING, before you can truly tackle the task before you. Overcomplicating your shot with fancy tricks/techniques is a sure-fire way to lose sight of what you’re aiming to achieve with your animation. It’s ludicrous how often K.I.S.S. shows up in the creative fields, but it always bears repeating, as it’s still ridiculously easy to lose sight of it: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Storyboarding even the most ‘basic’ of shots is always worthwhile. Who cares if the ‘storyboard’ only takes 20 minutes to create – it becomes the foundation of what you plan to do with the given shot. Don’t worry if your storyboards are barely more than stick figures in 1-inch doodle boxes. You’ll be ahead of most of the competition already.

Happy Animating!

Link: Art Directing the Effects of InFAMOUS: Second Son

This is a really excellent in-depth look into what kind of challenges & processes there are when defining the look of a feature. In this case, it’s defining the language and the ‘rules’ of the visual effects marking out the different elemental powers in Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS: Second Son.
It’s important to note that the developers were fortunate enough to be able to engineer the software to match their needs. Larger studios are often able to do this, and with great support from the programmers and clear goals like this art direction, you can really create some fantastic worlds. Smaller projects with licensed engines don’t have that much flexibility, but that just means the challenge is finding out how to get what you want with the existing toolset. That said, an engine that allows your own programmers to at least tweak & add new rules is the better kind.

Art Directing the Effects of inFAMOUS: Second Son

Concept FX art for inFAMOUS: Second Son