Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More on planning

There have been a few questions about my thumbnail post below in the comments and by email, so I thought I'd elaborate some more here.

Hans Brekke asked:
On a few of the pages you mention that you used other movies for inspiration, like the shining. I thought that was very interesting and its an approach I haven't tried before. How do you make a scene, that is from another movie, relate to your scene, and what do you look for in those scenes? It would be very helpful to hear how you plan your scenes by using material from other movies.
This is a good question. Let me start by saying that I'm not looking to steal someone else's performance for my scenes. Rather, I'm looking for ideas that I wouldn't have thought of on my own. I can only go so far on my imagination; pretty soon my characters will all start to move and behave like me! Therefore I find it important to look outside myself for inspiration and reference, be it in other films or in real life. When doing research for a character I try to find live actors who resemble the character somehow, in personality and/or physiology. In the case of Syndrome, Brad Bird had suggested several actors, including Jack Nicholson. Nicholson's performance in The Shining is over-the-top, perhaps even cartoony, so I thought I might find some interesting ideas in there. I was looking for poses, facial expressions, gestures, bits of timing, anything I could find to make Syndrome more creepy and threatening (and a jerk). For the scene where Syndrome says "I'll give them heroics; I'll give them the most spectacular heroics anyone's ever seen!" I drew inspiration and reference from The Shining, Paul Gleason in The Breakfast Club, Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective, and of course, my own imagination.

Jonathan asked:
Maybe this is too in depth, but how do you decide how far to take a thumbnail? I mean, many times I have very loose thumbnails, and i wonder if it is better making them more refined. Like, even the stick figures have all of the motion etc defined and of the correct proportions for the character.
The purpose of a thumbnail is just to communicate the important facts about a pose. For instance, the angle of the hips and shoulders, the curve of the spine, the placement of the feet, etc. Some rudimentary facial expressions may also be in order, depending on the shot. As long as you can clearly communicate these things to yourself (and anyone you may need to show them to) that is far enough. I think it's also important to convey the basic proportions of the character you're animating, otherwise you may draw poses that the model can't really achieve. That said, as someone who likes to draw I often find myself embellishing my thumbs with more detail than they need, just because I enjoy the process!

Jorge "Jay" Garcia asked:
Once you get your boards, how close must you follow them when planning and thumbnailing?
It depends on the story boards. Sometimes they're very specific and indicate exactly what the director wants, so I try to match them as best I can. Other times the boards are loose and just suggest the main beats of the shot, so I try to make it my own. The director and I will discuss the scene before I begin planning, and he'll let me know what he expects and how closely I need to follow the boards.


  1. Anonymous2:52 PM

    Thanx Victor! Some really insightful stuff! I know my mentor always stresses for me to get the line of action in the thumbnail. If I have that it will show clarity in the shot.

  2. Nice! That's so awesome... I'm so totally geeking out over this as Syndrome says.

    That's such a cool idea to draw out everything first via thumbnails before animating.

    Do you do it before every scene that you do? Do you ever work "straight ahead" without posing everything first?

  3. Thanks for the answer Victor! :)

  4. James, thumbnailing your scene before animating it is a pretty common practice. I don't ALWAYS do it; sometimes I will just act the shot out and feel it in my body / watch it in the mirror. Other times I will do a few exploratory drawings, but not completely plan the shot on paper. Other times I'll just jump right into the computer and do it. Usually my best shots are the ones I've planned the most, but sometimes a shot is simple or small enough that it doesn't need a lot of thought and planning, and I want to save my energy for something else.

  5. Thanks a lot for the great post, Victor!
    ... Helped a lot!! Thanks for sharing! ;)


  6. Thanks so much for sharing your sketches. I’ve seen a couple of the syndrome sketches in real life; I saw them as part of the 20 years of pixar exhibition in the science museum in London. They were so insightful. And now I have a whole gallery to look at!
    It’s so cool that someone with such a strong knowledge is sharing such amazing information.

    Thank you so much for sharing

  7. Great post - and appealing thumbnails. Great to see the CG guys keeping drawing alive! And that was a real nice shot in the film, too :)

  8. Hey Victor,

    I was looking at your Dash thumbs again while watching the Incredibles last night..and I was wondering.. during the 100 mile Dash scene, when he's running pretty much in straight lines for short periods of time, was his run animation a cycle (at least for hands and feet), layered animation, or all hand keyed? I'm just amazed at all the movement, how fun it looks..but how challenging it must have been to animate! :)

    Thanks for your time!

  9. What are the things that you add to make your shot look a different from the inspiring stuff. How you incoporate your acting style in to it.

  10. I am a great admirer of your work, it.every time i see it is better.I hope one day I'm capable of work at a great studio.


  11. Mr.Navone I'm all ways blown away by the content on your website. Great, Great stuff really makes me feel like there are people out there that still looks out for and goes out of their way for, those wanting to learn.
    Thank you again for great work and a wonderful website

  12. Jorge,
    Early on in production one of the animators built a run cycle for Dash on one's, then that cycle was scaled down in time to be super fast, putting keys on non-integer frames. We would use these cycles as a starting point and layer animation on top or tweak the run as needed. The rendering team also did some custom motion-blur tricks on his limbs, but I can't remember off-hand what and how they did it.

    Spline Sculptor,
    It's not so much that we do things to make the performances look different from the reference, it's that we only take small parts of the reference and graft them together with other ideas. I never use anything verbatim, so the idea gets translated into my acting style naturally.

    Ivan and Mr. H,

  13. Thanks again for your time, Victor! :) I was curious as I am doing this crazy little roadrunner-esque footwork (or at least attempting to)... It'll probably fail, but I'll give the keys on non-integers a shot!

    Hope to see more of your awesome work! It's always an eye opener!

  14. Hi Victor. I love seeing planing stages. It gives me delicious insights into the brains of the artist. I have a question though. How much time do you budget for planning? I know a lot depends on the type of shot, the production time constraints, the level of acting involved etc. But I find that the more planning time I have the more I get out of the test. Lets say if you had 100 units of time to do a shot, how much of that would be sufficient to get to a good idea and still let you have time to execute it well?

  15. Hi Victor! Thanks for all the great notes and the thumbnail gallery. its inspirational.

    I have one question. Eyes are a big part of acting. My shortfilm is very subtle (by my choice) and a lot of it is heavily dependent on eyes and eye-darts and lids and brows. A lot of the time, my character is thinking..

    I wanted to know how you plan your animation for the eyes. The problem I face is that if I try to draw eyes, they always end up looking uninspiring unless i draw the same old preston blair ones (which usually dont match the character I am animating) and the cliche eyebrow poses. I am looking at a lot of reference, but I was wondering how you would plan them.

    My second question is about brow twitches and eyedarts. I am doing eyedarts, but im basically eyeballing it and experimenting by putting them in, seeing how it looks, taking them out and so on. Either there will be too many or there will be too less or I end up having even timing between eyedarts (having an eyedart every x frames) without knowing and then sliding keys around and what not. Same with the little twitches in the brows. Either they make the shot look very busy, or the eyebrows feel dead. Basically, I am depending on happy accidents now. I wanted to hear how you approach and plan and execute them.

    Sorry for the lengthy post.

    Once again, thanks for all the Gold.


  16. Scott, I generally try to dedicate about 1/3 of my allotted time to planning the shot. That will vary based on the complexity of the shot, but I try to spend at least one day thinking before I start setting keys. After 7 years at Pixar I have a good feel for how long something will take me to animate, so I've gotten good at budgeting my time.

  17. DJ, the way I plan eyes will depend on the shot. If it's a closeup acting shot I will probably build the rough eye expressions and directions into my thumbnails and blocking, but I don't usually plan every little dart and change. I try to get the broad strokes in planning and blocking, then I will experiment in the 3D shot until I find a texture and a pattern that feels natural. I will also spend a lot of time trying to act the scene out to see what my eyes do, though often real eyes move a lot more than you would want in your animation - you don't want them to become too busy. It's hard to find the balance. I think it's best to put too much in, then start pulling it out until it feels right. Getting lots of feedback and taking a break from the scene (if possible) also helps.

  18. with planning, how much do you act out the scene? When I try to "act" it looks wrong. do you have a solid idea of what you want first,then a thumb it to acting, vice versa or a mixture?

  19. hi Victor!
    Can you please share your work flow of animation(very shortly) with us?

  20. Mr. H, I don't have a routine for planning. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I act. Sometime I do both, sometimes neither. When I act I try not to hit poses that I've drawn - that would make the performance feel unnatural. I just try to get myself into the character and the moment and see what my body does naturally. It's best to have a video camera for this, because if you're acting in front of a mirror then you're trying to observe and act at the same time, which can be difficult. If you find that your own acting is not giving you what you want, look elsewhere for reference (there are plenty of great actors out there). Taking acting and improvisation classes may help as well.

    RD Sarna, it would take too long to outline my workflow here in any useful detail. Sorry!

  21. this is such inspiring stuff. i'm only at college so have really just started to discover and enter the world of animation. being able to read and understand a bit more about the workings of a pro is great and really helps me to get going.
    cheers victor :D


  22. Very informative and helpful. I was searching for this information but there are very limited resorces. Thank you for providing this information

    Essay on Breakfast club