Creature Animation (CA)

This assignment is focused on creating a piece of realistic, non-cycling, creature animation. The video above is a sample of work by Keith Sizemore.

Please refer to FOL for assignment weighting and due date

Checkpoint (CA) This submission will be a block-in of your creature animation. A rough 3d animatic showing the overall timing of your creature performance, the camera movement (if any) overall composition, and reference/planning (on image plane in scene). Some simple audio: Foley or music is also required. The environment can be very simple using basic primitives and simple shaders. No lighting is needed.  Hand in parameters will be the same as the final, with the exception of the naming:

<Your last name>_<Your first name>_<assignment code>.<file type>

What I'll be grading on this assignment:
  • Staging, Tech and Documentation (camera, layout, file name/format/resolution)
  • Planning and Note keeping (Reference, Markups, Thumbnails, Sufficient Detail)
  • Timing and Mass (Ease In/Out, Changes in direction, Offset and Overlap)
  • Performance (Audio, Scene Mood, Clear intent.)
  • Feedback Applied? (Show progress, follow direction, make revision based on feedback)

Creature Animation. (CA) Using a fully articulated creature rig, create a non-cycling performance. Your creature must be interacting with varied surface angles and elevations. The animation should feature photo realistic subtlety and complexity. A layered approach to animation is highly recommended. Careful use of reference is required. You should depict behaviour appropriate to the creature in the scene. 6-8 sec. long (144-192 fr.) Featured principles: Anticipation, Staging, Overlap/Follow Through, Slow In/Out, Arcs, Timing, and Exaggeration

Hand-in file parameters:
  • Movie file type must be .MOV  or .MP4
  • Either H.264 or MPEG4 compression
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution 
  • Animation controls, resolution gate hidden
  • Frame counter (current frame) visible
  • File size must be less than <250 MB
  • File must be named as follows:
       <Your last name>_<Your first name>_<assignment code>.<file type>

What I'll be grading on this assignment:
  • Does your animation move smoothly with no-pops or hitches evident?
  • Is the scene comprised of non-cycling behaviour?
  • Is there photo-realistic subtlety and complexity?
  • Do you have interaction with uneven surfaces or varied elevations
  • Have you made good use of reference to create an authentic performance?
  • Does the performance convey a clear sense of personality and purpose?
  • Have you observed rules of good staging?

Here is another good example by Ken Craig.

Part 1

I will be looking at your planning and reference: be prepared to show it.

Pick the creature rig

A few resources to help you search:
JD Haas' website, Animation Buffet - creature rigs 
Truong CG Artist - Maya, Creature rigs
Morgan Loomis' excellent Tiger rig on - CG Spectrum
Animation methods, Maya rigs -
Nico Rig by Chad Vernon -

WARNING: Audit the rig carefully as some rigs do not work very well. Find something you think might be fun to work with and test it out thoroughly before you commit to using it. 

If you are working in a production make note of issues you find: these lists are used for revisions and are a normal part of an animator's responsibility within a studio.

Make a Plan

Sketch out the sequence with thumbnails, or rough it out in 2d on SyncSketch. Keep more complex ideas in the 8 sec range, especially if you have multiple creatures. Write a quick paragraph describing what happens in the scene (description of the shot) and the personality and mood of the creature. Camera cuts are fine, just be sure to showcase the animation well.

Reference is the key!

Gather reference of animals that may serve as an analogue for fantastical creatures (Gorilla reference for an Ogre, Cat or dog for Nico, etc.) Determine if you want to work with a background plate and match-move or within an entirely CG environment.

By end of part 1 you should have all your planning and reference finished along with a rough environment to work with: simple primitives, nothing elaborate is needed here. Have a 3d layout with basic *pawn animatic. If you're using a live action background plate with match-move make sure that everything is locked down and tracked properly.

(*pawn animatic = animation on the root only of your creature to show it's approximate position and orientation in space and time throughout the scene.)

Pro-Tip: The 'Pawn Animatic' is a great way to quickly try an idea out in 3d and share it for feedback. A lot of the performance can be conveyed simply with timing and directional facing. Pauses are powerful! Be sure to get approval/buy in from the director before moving forward. Showing 2-3 different versions is a great way to zero in on the desired performance. 

Pro-Tip: Reference is essential. Finding a real-world analogue for a fantastical creature gives the performance a level of believability that is essential for creature work. Ask yourself: what is the closest animal equivalent to your creature? Consider not just physical proportion, but exhibited behaviour. Common animals work best as finding video reference of them is much easier. Videos of domestic Dogs, Cats, Horses and Birds are widely recorded by their enthusiastic owners.

Part 2

Use your pawn animation as a guide to position and timing, and sort out the foot placement

We're using a layered approach here. You'll want to make sure your timing from the pawn animation matches your intentions. The further along you get from this point the more complicated timing changes become. Give consideration to head/neck angle - where is your creature looking? What are they thinking and feeling? Conveying personality is a core requirement of this assignment: a viewer should already be able to feel the mood of your creature. Are they wary and suspicious, bloodthirsty and hostile, or silly and playful? The timing and placement should already be starting to tell that story.

We'll begin this section with body rise/fall and twist through hips/torso. This will have an impact on your limb reach so we need to figure this out first. Once we have core torso mechanics roughed in we can sort out foot placement. Remember to justify rise and fall in the body with thrust from the limbs. Pay careful attention to your reference for locomotion mechanics. Check limb angles against your reference and watch for hypertension.

Part 3

Based on feedback from class and blog, tighten up your timing and fix core mechanical issues.

At the end of this stage, we want to have a fluid and organic performance on the core of the character. The timing should not just be a slavish copy of the reference, but something that captures the sense and the spirit of the creature you're referencing. Tighten up the footwork as you make these timing changes. At this stage you want to lock down the placement of the creature in time/space as revisions after this point will be difficult.

Part 4

Improve sense of mass and weight.

At this point, you should have the movement of the core (hips/chest) and footwork all laid out. there should be a good sense of twisting and rippling appropriate to the movement you're depicting. Now we start to improve the sense of mass and weight by refining the shoulder and hip movement to help with the reach of the limbs and the feeling of weight shifting from one foot to another. We also want to improve the feeling of thrust on the planted feet that are moving the character. Create a sense that the limbs are driving the action of the character. Any last adjustments to the rise and fall, twist and roll need to happen now, because it will be a lot of trouble later.
Further steps include: 
Building offset and overlap.
Cleaning up Arcs, path of action.
Adding Noise layer.
Final polish pass, 'pick the low hanging fruit'.