#1 03-07-2009 3:55 pm

eric s
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New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

It's the beginning of a new month and the beginning of a new 11 Second Club competition.  Time to listen to that audio over and over and over and think about acting choices and poses and staging and all of that good stuff that will eventually become your final submission.   

In this edition of Helpful Hints, we'll examine one of the most important stages of the process: Blocking.   

Blocking is one of those terms that means different things to just about any animator you talk to.   To some, "Blocking" is the stage where you merely place the main poses into your scene; to others, "Blocking" is simply used to figure out the general movement and gestures of the characters; to still others "Blocking" encompasses almost the entire time they're animating up until the point where they concentrate on the tiniest movements from frame to frame.

Rather than try to tell you what I think Blocking is and what Blocking is not, or providing an instruction manual for how to block (we all find our own individual techniques that we're comfortable with), I want to focus on why we block our scenes at all.   

So hop on over to the new Helpful Hints article, Why We Block, and then pop back here to talk about any thoughts and ideas you have on the subject.  smile

Cheers!


(note: all 11 Second Club Helpful Hints are available from the Resources page)


The world is full of diamonds; go out and find them.

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#2 03-07-2009 4:27 pm

comicsserg
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Nice smile very helpful
thanks


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#3 03-07-2009 7:25 pm

threedsnack
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Thanks Eric big_smile! Some really awesome stuff in that helpful hint wink


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#4 03-07-2009 8:01 pm

Maldroid
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Great article Eric! Thanks! I'm curious, when you changed the timing on the arm movement, do you use the graph editor or dope sheet to move the keys? I have no idea how to use [and have not even opened] the dope sheet yet. Curious how it works. I know a lot of people use it to cheat a lil keyframe offset for overlapping action, but i haven't gotten into it yet. Right now i move keys around in the timeline, which works for initial timing, but sucks when it's things like 'the walk cycle is right gotta change the timing on just the arms' etc. On the plus side i try to never let the computer win so i'm keying a lot which gives me back a little control.

again. thanks for the insightful tips!!

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#5 03-07-2009 8:16 pm

artur
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

It's really great post!

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#6 03-07-2009 9:06 pm

eric s
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Howdy everybody,

I'm really glad that you're finding this HH useful.  It was fun trying to figure out how to convey all of this information in a way that made sense.

Maldroid--   Boy oh boy.  You know what?   You caught a huge mistake of mine that I didn't catch on any of my proofreading.   I'm gonna have to keep an eye on you, fella!     Let me explain:

You asked whether I used the graph editor or the dope sheet to adjust the timing of those gestures.   As soon as I read that, I realized my mistake: I never actually adjusted the timing, I adjusted the spacing!   Essentially, "timing" is how we refer to the frames that the poses hit on, and "spacing" is the difference between the distance that different objects (or body parts) travel.

I've adjusted the article to reflect this idea, including adding frame counters so you can see that, in fact, the poses are all still hitting on the exact same frames--the only change is where the left hand and head are on those frames.   The timing has remained the same, the spacing is different.  I hope this makes sense.

To answer your actual question, however, when I do want to change my timing, I usually do it in Maya's timeline.  I've never actually used the dope sheet, though as you said many people find it valuable.  (another testament to the variety of workflows out there)    As for retiming just the arm, in your example, I like to have all of my body parts posed and keyed on a frame.  So if I needed to retime an arm gesture from frame 5 to frame 8, I would also readjust all of the rest of the body to the pose it will be on frame 8 as well.   Again, I do all of this in the blocking stage so it's all set out as a foundation for the keyframes and spline curves that will come throughout the animation process.

Let me know if this makes sense--I can take another stab at making it clearer.   smile   Until then, thanks for keeping me on my toes!


The world is full of diamonds; go out and find them.

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#7 03-07-2009 9:27 pm

Maldroid
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

haha! Well in that case i do things the same way you do. I try to keep all the movements [in the blocking stage] keyed on the same frame to keep my timeline and graph editor from being a total mess later down the line.

wasn't trying to slip you up man! I was mostly [and am always] trying to see what kind of workflow other people use. seems like most the time i'm doing something the same way as other people, but since i'm new to maya i'm still not 100% confident in my approach and always on the look out for other methods that may or may not benefit me.

As an aside, while this might be off topic and maybe [at least to my benefit] a good subject for another helpful hint... How do you deal [generally speaking of course] with spline curves? I understand setting it to that mode, and have a sense of WHEN to switch to it, but how much teaking of the fcurves is invloved? Do you tend to let the computer do it's thing, or do you find it's totally subjective? Is there any kind of general rules of thumb you tend to follow?

Sorry if i'm straying off topic, feel free to digitally slap me or refer me to starting a new topic, but I didn't even know about stepped keys until i came to the 11 second Club and coming from 2D it's changed my life! I'd really like to see how people deal with the spline stage of animating to inform my own work and progress.

thanks Eric!

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#8 03-07-2009 11:08 pm

eric s
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Not a problem, Maldroid.

I think that a lot of people get tripped up on splines because it takes a shift in how you think about movement.   Suddenly, instead of what you're seeing on screen, you have to imagine things having a specific coordinate system in space, and rotational value and all of this other stuff that can make your head spin.

I know some people who never use the graph editor at all when they're animating--from the beginning to the end, they do everything in the viewports.   I know other people who spend most of their time in the graph editor and hardly ever look at the actual character.   It's all a matter of whatever works for you.

What works for me is something in between, but close to the idea of hardly ever touching the graph editor.   I block my scenes using stepped-tangents.   Not everyone does, and not everyone is fond of reading the way stepped-tangents look when you do a playblast.  But it works for me.   If I had my choice, I don't go into spline mode until I have keys on every control on every other frame.   If you think of that scoreboard example again, in a 100-frame scene the score would be 50-50.   Imagine selecting all of your keys there and then setting their tangents to spline--the computer is VERY limited as far as its own animation choices.   Those animation choices belong to me!

Of course, my curves won't always be super pretty.  So I tend to look at every single controller, bit by bit, and I start deleting keys that seem redundant, or keys that I don't need if I can adjust a tangent handle to get the same curve.   The important thing is that I keep those curves on essentially the same path they were on when I blocked them in.  I don't want to lose any of the snap and subtlety I've built into my scene.

I do plan on having a tiny section in a future HH about splines that may address what you're asking a little closer.   But the short answer is that I look at every single controller and every single curve, one at a time (yes, that means the X axis, then the Y axis, then the Z axis... not all at once), usually for about a span of 20 to 30 frames.  Then I move on to the next 20 or 30 frames and do it all over again.

For a more in-depth look at splines, check out [Pixar animator] Victor Navone's great two-part post on the subject:

Splinophilia Part 1
Splinophilia Part 2


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#9 03-07-2009 11:57 pm

Maldroid
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

this is excellent. thanks Eric.

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#10 03-09-2009 5:42 pm

clockwerkz
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Awesome article, Eric!  I was cracking up with the computer vs. you scoreboard.. dude, that is gold.  That is an awesome way to put it.  Great read.. hey I think the front page of 11 Second Club should have something to direct viewers to your section of articles?  Maybe there's a link or something, but I didn't see it..  I came across the link via Alonso's blog, actually.  Just a thought.. it should definitely get more front page status because they're very well written.

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#11 03-09-2009 6:03 pm

aja
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Yeah Carlos, we definitely need to get Eric's articles highlighted on the front page.  The whole front page needs some re-tooling, really.  We're working on it!  smile

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#12 03-11-2009 5:41 am

eric s
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Thanks, Carlos.   smile   I'm glad you like the scoreboard idea--it just seemed to make sense, you know?   I've heard people talk about CG animation as being like a battle between you and the computer for control over the scene, and this seemed like a really efficient way to visualize it.

By the way, I've been listening to the audiobook of those Shirley Jackson stories you were telling me about and enjoying them very much.  Thanks for the recommendation!


The world is full of diamonds; go out and find them.

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#13 03-16-2009 2:01 pm

elfenomeno
Registered: 07-07-2008
Posts: 19

Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Hello eric;
awesome thread but i had some interrogation about key pose.

if i have a character that would take 5 steps then hit with foot a ball,i should put the starting postion at frame one and the the kick postion at frame 80 let say,how can i know if the inbetween footsteps will match with last.
thanks to clear out this for me.

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#14 03-16-2009 8:12 pm

MTracer
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

Elfenomeno: When breaking stuff down, always breakdown halfway between two existing keys. This keeps you from getting lost in the timing, say starting at the beginning of a move, and favoring to much, continuing to favor too much, and finding that the end of your move is messed up.

So, start with the halfway step, and then the 1/4 and 3/4 steps, and then the 1/8, 3/8, 5/8, and 7/8 steps, and so on until you feel you have the right number of steps.


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#15 03-16-2009 8:39 pm

eric s
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

elfenomeno wrote:

Hello eric;
awesome thread but i had some interrogation about key pose.

if i have a character that would take 5 steps then hit with foot a ball,i should put the starting postion at frame one and the the kick postion at frame 80 let say,how can i know if the inbetween footsteps will match with last.
thanks to clear out this for me.

Hi Elfenomeno,

I'm glad you found the article helpful.   smile

For your question, I would suggest two things:

1) Watch some reference of a footballer walking/running to kick a ball.   How do they move?   If the ball isn't an exact number of strides away from them, how do they adjust themselves?  Perhaps some steps are smaller, maybe one step is more of a tiny "hop" before kicking the ball?   Figure out how the motion works and that can help you decide on your poses and then where to place them.

2) Ask yourself if you need to limit yourself to certain boundaries.   Do you really need this footballer to take 5 steps, no more, no less?  Why not just as many steps as it would take to reach the ball?   And how about that ball--does it need to be where it is right now?   What if you moved your character 5 steps forward and THEN placed the ball wherever he ended up?   There are always many variables you can play when when designing your shot.   Once you figure out exactly what you want to see on screen, you'll be a lot closer to knowing how to research it, plan it, and get the character where they need to be on the frames you need them to be there.

I hope that makes sense.   I know it's not the easiest thing in the world, but once you get into the planning stage of things, and then block in the things you've planned, you'll find your shot moves along a lot easier.   smile

Good luck!


The world is full of diamonds; go out and find them.

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#16 08-14-2009 2:46 am

jebo87
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Re: New Helpful Hint: Why We Block

very nice!! i've been looking for an article like this for a long time big_smile thank you!

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