Term 2 - Week 18 - Character Performance
I used the character performance project as an excuse to try a lot of new ideas I hadn't utilised before, and was quite a steep learning curve, that I had to consider a lot for in a short space of time. I thought maybe I could pursue a more fluid facial animation through the use of shape paths in after effects, instead of a drawn mouth that I inserted with each syllable. In researching this I came across an extension of after effects called 'Joysticks n' Sliders', which, in short allowed for a physical handle on the transition between shape layer paths, allowing for things like a joystick that could control the direction a face looked, and contains similar aspects to 3D face rigging, but with a 2D aesthetic. Although the controls can be limiting without a plan, if you know what you want to accomplish, it is possible to bake the extremes right into the controls. The process of making the face rig was quite arduous, especially being the first time I had ever done this, but the final rig was easy to control, and I was able to quickly create a face animation. It takes the time spent on animating a face frame by frame, and puts it all in the preproduction stage, allowing for efficient animation later. It was also interesting to animate the mouth of the character this way. You gain a lot of control over the dynamics of the mouth, without the inefficiency of having to draw the mouth. It does, however, have a different kind of skill requirement. You have control over many aspects of a mouth in the way I rigged it, but they also require a lot of getting used to, and you end up having to craft every frame of movement anyway, in a way that isn't as deliberate as drawing each frame. I fell into the pit I described earlier with the mouth animation, of not planning exactly what I wanted from the rig, and the mouth doesn't quite have the ability to emote how I would have liked, the character consequently not seeming quite as angry as perhaps they could have.
I hand drew every frame of the body at 24 frames a second on 2s, and animated the head at 24 single frames a second. The result I think can be quite jarring, especially if you are looking for it in particular motions, like when the king sits up in his chair, his body having to catch up every two frames with the head as it moves across the screen. I showed it to some people and they didn't have a problem with it, so perhaps it is a result of having spent so much time with it, but in the future I think this is something I definitely want to avoid. I tried bringing the face animation down to 12 frames a second, but the animation looked sluggish and wrong, and certain fluid characteristics of the face rig that shine at 24 frames a second were ruined, like the blinking, and certain mouth movements. I chose to keep the final animation at 24 frames a second, as this was the less jarring of the two to me, and this was really how it was designed to be viewed. If were to make the final animation 12 fps, this would require reworking the entire face animation, which would be a lot of extra work, and I anticipated the payout wouldn't be spectacular enough to justify the time.
I think the process of drawing one part of an animation, and animating the other part in an entirely different medium required a lot of commitment. If you discover that, for example in this case, that the head did not fit the predefined movement of the drawing, you would have wasted time drawing frames that now needed redoing. I planned as much as I could to avoid that, using place holders in the drawing stages, that I adhered to when creating the head rig, to make sure it fit where I had originally intended, and it worked out.
Similar to the Character Bestiary project, prompted by my thoughts in the Inanimate Objects evaluation, I put extra focus on the perspective of the scene, trying to make the entire scene as coherent and believable as I could. Even in the quite simple composition of this project, I considered the perspective, and built this into my characters movements, which I think tie them in with their surroundings, and makes the entire thing a lot more believable. I also made the characters limbs move over quite a few layers, hands going as far back as the back of the chair, and going beyond and around the magic ball in the centre.
I focused a lot on secondary action, trying to add to that believability factor. I was quite proud of how the King's right hand tenses up over the arm of the chair as he sits up. It's a tiny detail, but I think the effect it has, should you notice it, really helps draw you into the scene. I found secondary action wasn't just something to consider when animating the face, but was almost required in some cases to make the face not seem dead. Things like the moustache shaking, and the goatee moving up and down with the movement of the mouth helped to bring out a more alive quality in my character. That being said, I don't think it's perfect in this respect, the character seems a little predetermined and robotic. I think something like individually moving eyebrows, and eyes that squinted, as well as just blinked, would have helped. I may have breached the uncanny valley a little, with the smooth, dynamically moving head and features, but lacking secondary action to make it as believable as it could be.
I exported the individual layers of the drawn animation as png image sequences, to allow for transparency where I hadn't drawn anything, so I could create the depth of movement I described in the previous paragraph. I added the image sequences back into after effects and layered them in the order I wanted, a long with the extra precomposed head animations. There was a little oversight that required a frame of masking, but otherwise this proved surprisingly easy to accomplish. The oversight simply entailed something in the hand drawn animation overlapping the face rig, and this could be easily avoided in the future, but again, was also pretty easy to fix anyway.
I think perhaps I could have focused a little more on the other character as well, but I found myself unsure of how make them add to the situation. I tried to make them react to what the King was saying, as perhaps an elder, adviser like character would, keeping to the entire theme I had created. Yet I still find the overall acting of the character lacking, and still I'm unsure what I could have made them do to really add to the scene. I also feel like all the time I put into the main character drew away from how long I allowed myself to focus on the secondary character, a pitfall I feel like others will have fallen into. I could have perhaps made the entire animation style more coherent, hand drawing some of the adviser's features, and animating others as motion graphics.
I used a few tutorials provided by the creator of the Joysticks n' Sliders extensions on the process of rigging a mouth and face, in order to guide my own work. I found I took the general concepts they provided, that the joysticks could be used to merge shapes and paths to allow for the illusion of a 3 dimensional object, but instead I used solid object path masks, which were less intensive on my CPU, especially with such a complex composition, which would have been unusable were they shape layers. I did use shape layers to create the mouth animation, which wasn't as complex as the entire face rig, but could probably have been done in a similar fashion in order to diminish the load on a CPU.