Thursday, February 24, 2011

Further Studies

Been awhile since I've posted on the animation's actual progress, so here's what I was up to in January.

On the animation, I ended up running straight into a roadblock. I was trying to animate subtle head movements, and realized that I really, in the end, didn't have much of a handle on Virgil's face's underlying geometry - Ruth, somewhat, but Virgil in particular.

So I broke down their faces into their simplest parts:

And then did expression studies of those faces from different angles to get more comfortable with drawing them.

(the bottom Virgil's are a bit iffy, but I'm probably going to revisit them later.)

When I first started doing these studies, I found that the faces I'd previously painstakingly gotten the proper likeness of, while perfect for reference, were TERRIBLE to try and reproduce many times. I had to simplify them down, figure out what was most important. I sketched the two of them from the ref sheets, and from my head, and had Erin draw Virgil as well, just to get an idea of what was the most crucial components. Virgil, notorious for being a pain to draw, actually was quite cooperative this time, a tracing from the ref sheet by hand turning out revealing:

Ruth on the other hand was proving to be harder to understand - whereas the swoops added to Virgil's face came naturally as stylization, Ruth was an exercise in simplification and softening. I had to do a series of sketches, until I arrived at something like this, that still looked like her in the simplest components-

and that's what I built from.

Here's the final result - the top image being the most accurate and detailed, and the bottom two being variations, simplified and exaggerated - the middle for 'close ups,' the bottom one for long shots.

I researched character designs and simplifications, everything from Disney to Satoshi Kon's work, observing what they emphasized, to arrive at these conclusions. I found that Ruth has an actually somewhat Disney-ish "thin girl" body, but her face is actually more similar to male characters. In the least, she's no princess-type. I did take some hints from the females, however, in making her eyes ever so slightly larger, and de-emphasizing lines on her face, making her seem younger in contrast to Virgil. Virgil's simplifications mainly came in the jaw shape, trimming up the beard into one shape with it, and making it more angular. He still needs wrinkles, but the focus needs to be on the important ones.

While I was at simplifying things, I quickly re-emphasized the silhouettes on the simplified body sheets, which had become to round, cluttered, and general, so I can have a stronger idea overall shape in mind as I work. These are what I'm looking to the most for the key frames, so this is very important for all of the rest to be built upon. Looking at Disney character sheets, and seeing how they broke down shapes - such as this - was extremely helpful, and caused me to turn back to my own silhouettes once again. While both characters are thin, Ruth is short and angular, whereas Virgil is tall and long, and those differences need to be constantly kept in mind.

This site is a phenomenal reference, by the way - it's where that one Little Mermaid sheet is from.

I also started on a few horse studies, since I realized I'm going to have to animate a horse, and I have no idea what their anatomy is like. I will be the first to admit that I have a terrible sense of anatomy for any animal other than humankind. So I quickly set about to solving that.

I was looking at medical illustrations and various photo references for these, the three horses being a series of frames from Muybridge. The first bone and muscle studies were mostly clueless, but as I keep working, I'm developing a much better sense of proportions - how big the head should be, the thickness of the neck, lengths of legs, figuring out what muscles are important to draw to get a sense of realism. I was encouraged to look at the movie Spirit for that - and it's interesting to see their interpretation.

That's all I have for now, besides a few doodles in my sketchbooks, practicing faces and poses even more. I'm probably going to do a sketchdump of them when I work up enough, and I'm going to try to finish the Virgil part of the expression sheet, as well as continue my horse studies. However, the time for studies has passed. I've definitely learned a lot more from them - and drawing Virgil's and Ruth's face geometry has gotten FAR easier because of it. I have a better handle on them, and drawing them is quicker - so these exercises were critical.

Oh, except for this sketch. Pretty much the culmination of all this work! This is probably an accurate descriptor of what my mind looks like by now, with focusing so much on them. I also used it as an excuse to play with film grain texture, but that's for another time.

Along with considering music, I'm thinking ahead to presentation - overall texture, color, lighting, if I'm going to scan or shoot the frames with a camera, etc. - how best to imitate or use old film methods for effect. But, like the music, these are background considerations for the moment in comparison to the actual animation work.

I've returned to doing key frames, and the production of the animation itself. I hope to have a decent sample of what the piece should look like by midterm critique, which is coming up in a week, so I'll post some of that process work shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Musical consideration 2

Short post -
This short IS essentially a comedy, however. So perhaps the feel I was looking to get in the last post was far too serious for that, and some cheerier music would indeed be more appropriate.

I think what needs to be done is to look at the piece, once more fleshed out, and see what fits. It brings up the need to find where on that line between drama and comedy it lies. So we'll see where this turns up in the end.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Musical Considerations

I've been thinking about the soundtrack for the Western short off and on as I work, and my ideas for it have been changing.

Originally, I had imagined doing something very traditional to the silent film format - snappy piano music, with ragtime influences. I was learning to play keyboard in spare moments, and had picked up some very old sheet music (from around the turn of the century! And not the recent one!) out of sheer luck at a library sale.

However, once I got good enough to somewhat noodle around with the pieces, I found that it was wholly unsuited to the entire thing. While it's absolutely accurate to the time, the feel is all wrong. These are far too cheery for what I'm trying to accomplish.

This makes a very good example, all popular songs from 1890 (the setting of the Western) to 1902.

I feel like such sounds would entirely mask the action on screen, even though now, looking at it again, it would lend a sort of charm to it.

I think the reason for the disconnect is the fact that this wasn't the sort of music I've been listening to the whole time for this Western while we were working on it anyway. It's been soundtracks to things like Red Dead Redemption, There Will be Blood, even Hellsing (the original anime,) and lots of hard rock influences - everything from Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer to Johnny Cash, Queens of the Stone Age to Nine Inch Nails to Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top.

Accordingly, I feel like hard rock, some blues and country, and Western/Spanish/Mexican guitar music, as well as general acoustic sounds would be far more fitting. Guitars factor extremely heavily into the sound of this story for me.

But for this animation, it's not at the point of the story where strong, gritty, down-and-dirty music is called for, like I had been listening to. I found some very good questions to ask yourself about composing music for film on this site - here - and promptly asked them of myself. Because some composing is what I'll have to do. I'd like to score this piece myself, but I know I don't currently have the skill, so I'm probably going to have to work with someone who knows better, or record bits and pieces and somehow fit them all together. But, I do know how I'd like it to sound, however I get there.

I want to convey with the music Ruth's emotional state- because although her physical stance tends to be aggressive, inside, she's shaking with nerves. That nervousness should provide the background tone, and Virgil, the outside stimulus in the equation, is accented, given weight and presence from the music. Ruth is a reactionary character, and so the music would reveal his effect on her. In contrast, Ruth's actions are de-emphasized - the music almost dissolving into fuzz or white noise, in the rage and nerves. That's the way her head sounds, and visually, she'd seem to move even more frantically. And in moments of confusion, the music would blank out into silence.

That's the thought, anyway.

So now it's back to the drawing board. I bought a classical guitar (a lucky, cheap find), and have started learning a few tabs, and how to play in general. In the least, I can figure out how I want it to sound, and record the tabs for someone else better to play, if I can't do it all myself. Of course, these musical considerations are merely thoughts for now, but we'll see once the animation itself starts nearing completion.

In the meantime, here's some examples of the kind of sound I'm after - more typical of Western soundtracks, I suppose, but also far more isolated, contemplative, and empty, save for the underlying tension I was talking about. I can only hope to create something as beautiful as these.