Photo by Animation Collaborative
First, a disclaimer. Mike is a straight ahead animator and so he focuses on motion instead of poses. This is one way of animating and his way of animating. Animators all have different workflows and it is not necessarily that one method is superior to the other; each has their own advantages and pitfalls. Mike always claims that he can't draw and instead of focusing on creating a golden pose, he is more interested in the action of getting in to or out of a pose; timing is the most important principle and the most important part of animation and the poses can always be tweaked later after the action itself is solid. It's also important for working in production, too, as you want your conversation with the director to be about ideas and performance and not to be spending time on attempting to explain a vague idea of what is suppose to be going on in the scene.
To begin, use your hotkeys and scripts. Don't leave Maya to the defaults because you want to be using the program as a tool to the utmost of your advantage instead of trying to work around it. Check out aaronkoressel.com for some awesome scripts and be sure to get the pushpull script as it will allow you to quickly amp or dampen your curves in the graph editor.
For this evening, Tea Time prepared clips for Mike to choose from to animate to. Before beginning animation, it is important to think about the context. Not just what is being said but other exterior influences that may affect how the shot needs to be animated. Consider if the action is taking place in a private or public space, the time of day, if there are people in the vicinity, etc.
Nope, you're not animating yet! Now is the time to act it out for reference. The important thing about acting your reference is to look for the major ideas, get the main parts in, you don't have to worry about every single little movements. The reference will act as a road map for you to animate to and ultimately change. Remember, you're an animator and not a rotoscoper. Make your motions somewhat larger than normal so you can see what you're doing when looking at the reference, but more sure not to overact as the actions themselves need to be appropriate to the animation.
Now is the time to begin your animation. Yay. Find the largest movement, or what body is leading the movement, and start quickly posing through the animation. Focus on that driver first as that body part is what will lead the rest of the body in its actions. If you get stuck in an area, you don't have to be working forward; instead, jump ahead to another section and you can work backwards from there to find the actions. Get those big movements in, the sexy overlaps can happen later.
A great tip for keep alive is the "drop and tilt". Instead of having a flat tangent to hold a pose, drop that key down and tilt it up so there's some slight movement of the pose. Don't drop it down too much though as you don't want to destroy the pose or the animation. It's just a little thing so that nothing is completely still.
Always think about "what should I do" instead of "can I do it". "Can I do it" is easy. Yes, you can. Everything is just a bouncing ball and that is the basic animation practices that animators master. If you can find the bouncing ball in everything, the technical side of "can I do it" becomes easy so focus on the what and why of your acting choices.
The eyes are the most important. It may not be as glorious as all those waving torsos and arms with their overlap and arcs but eyes are where everything lives and often a contrast point which draws the audiences' eyes. Therefore use those eyelids to intensify emotions! Sculpt those eye shapes and don't just have them be animated up and down as blinks.
That was a very pared down write up of what we all learned that night, particularly since a lot of the information was also visual. If you like what you learned and want more from Mike, he teaches at the Animation Collaborative in the evenings along with other amazing industry professionals. If you're interested, go on over the animationcollaborative.com to check out some of the classes that they offer!
Don't forget to join the conversation at www.teatimeanimation.com
Questions? Don't hesitate to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org