|Having spent several years building and animating
both stop-motion and CG puppets I can honestly say that not all characters are created
equally. With today's software the same character model can be set up many different ways
but, only a few will be useful to the animator. I've made a lot of mistakes and learned a
lot of lessons the hard way when it comes to creating puppets for animation, so here are a
few of the pitfalls to avoid and tricks to learn that will make your job as an animator, a
lot more fun.
One of the most basic rules of character animation is that great animation doesn't happen FROM point A to point B, It happens AT point A and point B (meaning the key POSES and anticipation and overshoot are where the good stuff is really going to happen). Some important things to keep in mind when creating a pose-able puppet for the animator are:
|1. A method to control knee direction
independently of the foot and hips.
|2. Feet should be able to rotate 180 degrees in
|3. A method to rotate the heel independently from
|4. A method to rotate the ball of the foot.
|5. A method to rotate the toes independently of
|6. A method to tilt the hips side to side without
having to re-adjust the torso.
|7. A method to tilt or rotate the upper torso and
neck without having to re-adjust the head.
|3. The right hand should be able to easily touch
the left shoulder without shoulder creasing and vice versa.
|8. Both hands should be able to easily touch the
top of the head without shoulder creasing.
|7. A method to twist the forearm.
|9. A method to control elbow direction
independently from the shoulder and wrist.
|10. A method to place to hand on a surface and
lock it there.
|11. A method to slide a hand across a surface.
|12. A method to control the arc line of action of
the hand separately from the body.
|Another important thing to keep in mind is that
automating actions, (i.e.... Hip placement, toe, heel roll) will often result in fighting
with the puppet instead of posing it how you wish. Exceptions to this are situations where
it will help you POSE the character quickly (i.e.. a slider for rotating all the fingers
into a fist for example). Automated actions sound great on paper and look great when your
moving a character around to test the puppet but, when it comes time to animate they
usually get in the way. When I'm posing a character and I move one of the feet, that
doesn't mean I want the hips to move or the other foot to rotate. I'm going to
keyframe those motions anyway so let me do my job.
I've seen many experienced animators struggle with a puppet because it wasn't set-up properly (I'm one of them). It seems that many technical directors have been told that setting up a simple, easy to use character, means automating many of the controls so the animators don't have to waste their time looking at extra tracks. THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE. A simple, easy to use character is one that is easy to POSE and, doesn't fall apart between POSES. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably has very little experience animating stop-mo or CG puppets. It's important to realize that computers, expressions, math and the most sophisticated algorithms can't produce great character animation. It's the artist using the the computer that creates a great performance. Character animation on a computer is exactly the same as character animation with cels or Stop-motion animation with puppets. Let the animators decide how the characters should move.
|Another important factor in character setups is
making the system easy to read and understand. Bones and control nodes should be easy to
see and select. Also, the animator should be able to read what the characters skeleton is
doing at a glance. I shouldn't have to guess or select a node to see its orientation.
Believe it or not, this is a very important issue in many off the shelf software packages.
|The points I'm trying to make here are:
|1. Provide yourself with a puppet that is easy to
|2. Give yourself a puppet that's easy to read,
understand, and FUN to work with.
|Here's a few tips for creating your own puppet
that's easy to work with.
|1. The hands, instead of animating each joint in
the hand separately, create one control or slider to bend each finger. Or better yet,
create a system that allows you to capture a hand gesture for later use.
|2. The arms, using forward kinematics is a simple
approach that gets the job done and provides most of the functionally needed in this area.
However, it won't allow you to lock a characters hand to an object. If your software has a
good IK system and you need your characters arms to stay locked in place, take advantage
|3. The torso, again FK. Does every thing you NEED
it to do. This is one area that probably shouldn't be automated.
|4. The head should rotate independently from the
neck. There are two reasons for this. First, if I want my character to stare at something
while he's moving I don't want to constantly have to readjust the head. The second goes
back to the traditional principles of animation:
Generally in a head turn, the head will either lead the action or follow the action like a whip. Also the head should generally follow a slightly different arc than the neck. Head turns and eye blinks are one of the most important elements used to convey character and produce the illusion of life.
Best solution: Use the skeletons root orientation in world space to orient the head
|5. Collar bones, believe it or not this is
something that a lot of people overlook. Ever try to raise you hands above your head
without using your collar bones and shoulder blades. It doesn't work. Make sure you've got
a way to shrug the shoulders and raise those arms up high.
|7. The knees, there has to be a method to control
knee direction independently of the hips and feet or this entire area will be very
difficult to work with. If you can't control where the knees are pointing, how do you pose
|8. The feet, this is a very important area of your
puppet, after all, if your using IK to control the lower body of your puppet this area is
going to drive most of that action. There are two different schools of thought regarding
setting up the feet. Working from the heel of the foot and working from the ball of the
foot. I prefer to work from the ball of the foot for a couple of reasons.
|Regardless of which school of thought you choose
to work with here. Give your self a method of rotating your puppets foot at the ball and
the heel. I.e... If you work from the heel, make sure you can still get your character up
on their toes. If you work from the ball, make sure you can easily get your character to
rock back on their heels for those strong heel strike poses.
For a diagram of how I set my feet up, go here.
|Hopefully a few of these tips will be helpful when you start building you own puppet. Happy animating.|