It was movie night for me (treat yo’ self!) and I decided to watch the movie “Trolls” by Dreamworks just because I hadn’t yet and also to get some inspiration for animation, which I did! It was a nice, feel-good movie (contrary to mine) and the animation was top notch, as usual. I took another look at my polish progress and thought, “Why are their faces so… ugh?”
I realised, I hadn’t drawn any facial expressions for the characters and just based it off my reference. It lacked APPEAL. So, I took a step back again and looked at every facial expression to see how I could exaggerate it and make it more appealing.
The Facebook page, “Let’s Animate” provided this image by Jeff Williams about tips on appeal, which I found super helpful in checking my expressions. I also referenced a lot of Disney characters and observed how they’d pose their characters in 3D and also their individual facial sheets.
By reshaping the eyebrows, exaggerating it more, utilising the invisible eye shaper buttons on the Malcolm rig and pushing his lips inward I could make his expressions look better.
It was really this shot in particular that got me cringing slightly but with these minor tweaks, his expression change was clearer as well. It definitely could still use some tweaks, there’s always a way I can push it further.
Ah, animation. The most meticulous yet, my most favourite part of this entire project. Honestly, if I were to skip everything and jump straight to it, that would be great.
But not wise.
I had spent a great deal of time recording reference for my shot and even RE-recording it as I felt there were elements of the character’s acting choices weren’t right anymore. But of course, I didn’t get this all on my own, I had a little feedback to give me some perspective.
After moving into the spline phase of animation, I let my peers review my story so far. Just when I thought the story was clear, the character motivations were not, much to my dismay. After racking my brains again, I figured the best way to figure out Zeke’s character was to revisit his backstory and how he ended up in my scene. This is where things may have gotten a little… intense.
Prior to starting my video reference I had done a lot of research about acting, reading books by acting masters like Constantin Stanislavski and Michael Chekhov and they all boil down to a simple rule: LIVE YOUR CHARACTER. Because I utilised this principle, it ended up with me crying on my bedroom floor.
I did what had to be done and ended up shaping the characters better. I managed to figure out what they were doing before this, how the ended up here and why the react the way they do. Plus, I had real emotion to refer to when I animated! Before the rewrite, Zeke was merely depressed and suicidal as see below.
But after the re-enactment, I figured that Zeke had been in hiding since the accident, in the middle of nowhere and unable to contact anyone for fear of the consequences hence, probably a bit tired and prone to hallucinating. Although, I still worked in a sort of depressed bit there with him pressing his wounds, wanting to feel euphoric, almost using the pain like a drug.
In the end, it’s the words of Guilt that would drive him to try and end his life. Comparing this to the old scene, I personally find his thought process a bit more interesting and it gives him a better range of emotion. In the first version as seen below, he was gonna do it, no questions asked.
It’s amazing what a little eyebrow raise could do.
So this would more or less be the final story and personality for each character. Although I initially thought I’d have to make major story or shot changes but it was merely his thought process and reactions that I had to reconsider. Granted, it’s quite late in the process of animation (is spline a bit too late?) I think it was a good move as it tied everything together and it made a little more sense to me and the people watching it. Really grateful for those who helped me see that, can’t thank them enough.
Things have happened since the last time I’ve written here. For a while, I’ve been feeling as though there was something lacking in my story and there were a lot of concerns regarding the clarity of the film and who each character was, since they’re all the same person.
So, after a lot of reviews from peers and lecturers, I’ve made the necessary changes to the story to make it more clear in terms of storytelling.
Above are some modified storyboards from the new story and within those are more modifications, albeit minor ones.
Initially, the era was set in a post-disaster world in which humans were at war with creatures, but that was all in my head and nothing in the sequence or environment gave the impression that this story was set there. So, I dropped the idea of that backstory though I didn’t have to do much in terms of environment and character design, since it wasn’t properly implied. Instead, I gave Zeke a simpler origin; he’s simply part of a small gang and he got his friends killed by accident (hence, it wasn’t his fault!).
Following the advice of one of the lecturers, I introduced a new element to act as Zeke’s visual choice to choose life over death; a photograph of his friends. On that photograph, would be a note from them which tells him something that he holds dear and would push him to move on. Admittedly, I haven’t drawn the picture yet but I have acquired a free paper rig to use as the photo prop.
The good news is, I’ve already filmed my video references with the help of some friends and I’ve begun animating!
That’s all for now, until next time with more updates!
Allow me to shed some light on the tale of poor, unfortunate Zeke.
I utilised a lot of mid and close up shots to show more of Zeke’s facial expression as most portrayal of emotion would be in his face and medium and over the shoulder shots for Guilt and Redemption as they speak to Zeke. As Guilt and Redemption are merely a figment of his imagination, I have also played with camera tracking movements to allow the characters to enter and exit their scenes seamlessly, sort of like a stage play, but with cameras.
For this sequence, I also took inspiration from the character, “Zuko” from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” who also has a scar on his face which symbolises his inner struggle with his destiny. In the episodes which focus on said turmoil, the camera would face his scar to show his dark past and how it’s affecting his decisions. Contrary to that, when the camera shows the unscathed side of his face, it is to show that he has changed and made the right decision. Using this technique, I’ve broken the 180° rule and crossed it, although with a purpose and (hopefully) seamlessly.
After finishing the storyboards, I took them into Maya and created the 3D previs, adding camera shakes using a script I found on Youtube Maya 2016 Tutorial: Camera Shake to show emotional intensity as commonly seen in films.
Currently, I’m in the process of getting my video references done before I start blocking animation. That’s all from me today, stay tuned for more!
Where would a depressed, suicidal person go to escape the world and the pain it brings?
That was one of the questions I asked myself when figuring out where in the world to place Zeke. Another question was if I really wanted to spend more time designing a complicated interior and having to model the assets when my focus really wasn’t on 3D modelling?
So, a warehouse was where I stored poor Zeke. Pun intended.
I looked at old abandoned warehouses for some inspiration, thinking it would be a good hideout for Zeke as he seeks refuge from the mutant beasts that search out human flesh. But some of them were almost empty and I had this idea that there would be old crates and wood planks lying around that could sort of act as a cage to become a visual representation of his emotions. So, I referenced factory crates and steel beams commonly used in construction.
I kept it simple and sketched variations of crates and duplicated them throughout the scene to add to the clutter. Eventually I created a fortress of crates and boxes for Zeke to dwell in.
I arranged the mess in a way that would look like it caged Zeke in his own depression and depending on each shot, I’d move stuff around again, making sure to point any steel or wooden beams towards him, much like that shot from “Frozen” where Elsa’s ice shards point towards her to display the fear she feels towards her powers and how it affects others.
This was the thought process behind this simple environment. I hope that through this, the story and his emotional state would be enhanced. Stay tuned for more!
In order to understand his behaviour and emotional state in the scene I’ll be animating, I gave him a simple backstory, which will also influence his design.
He’s in his mid 20’s.
Made a decision that cost the life of his friends for the sake of the lives of many more.
Blames himself for that decision, therefore depressed and suicidal.
Tough leader, a serious guy for his age.
Tries to be strong for his former team, contains his emotions.
Has a scar across his left eye from the battle, symbolises his guilt and remorse.
Now, let’s put a face to the name.
I’ve designed some outfits that would suit him and his environment, seeing as he lives in a post-apocalyptic creature war setting. As my skills don’t lie in modelling and rigging, I’ve used the free Malcolm 2.0 rig from Animschool to modify into Zeke and his counterparts. Once I chose the outfit I liked, I gave him different colour options to see which would suit him.
I’ve looked at several references from real life and concept art to get an idea of what people would wear in this era. Below are some of my references of what I envisioned for Zeke’s design.
Guilt and Redemption (renamed from Comfort, will possibly rename him again.) are counterparts of Zeke and would therefore have little costume changes. However, their facial features would have a slight change in terms of face shape, scarring and facial hair.
Younger, immature, condemning.
No facial hair, rounder face.
Has a fresh wound, indicating how Zeke constantly thinks about his mistakes and that his past always comes back to haunt him.
Older, wiser, calm.
Square jaw, has a goatee to show age.
His scar has healed, symbolising forgiveness and that he’s moved on and found peace despite his mistakes.
That’s all for now, I hope through this you, dear reader, would get a better insight into Zeke’s character and his counterparts.
Despite naming this blog, ‘Me, Myself and I’, it really isn’t about me but it’s the title of the 3D animated sequence that I’ll be working on for my final year project at Teesside University.
MM&I revolves around Zeke, a survivor in a post-apocalyptic war between humans and mutant creatures. He has just lost all his comrades in their final siege against the beasts and faces his personified Guilt as he torments Zeke with regret. However, personified Comfort comes wanting to offer him some solace.
The sole purpose of this blog is to document my process in making this sequence, from pre-production to the final product. I’ve decided to take on the challenge of making an emotional piece because I think it would be interesting to explore the more subtle side of character performance, instead of just conventional comedic animation.
Hopefully with a lot of blood, sweat and tears (but mostly tears), I’ll be able to pull off a believable emotional piece that would show the inner turmoil of a character facing guilt and regret. Enjoy the ride! 🙂