Sunday, 29 December 2019

Hang on to Your Character's Eyes

Characters must look at one another
One of the most common mistakes made by junior animators is to animate characters who aren't looking at each other.

When we speak, most people tend to look at each other when they are in conversation. Actors know this, and when another actor is talking, they listen - and react.

Eye Direction  Matters
Eye direction can be a tricky thing to get right, but it's vital that your characters need to engage with one another. Most of the time, this means that each character needs to look at the other character's eyes. Not all the time, of course, but most of the time.

Hold on to the eyes
As Michael Caine puts it in his famous 1980s tutorial "Acting in Film" (see video below), the number one lesson for stage actors is to "hold on to each others' eyes". And, what is true for stage actors is true for animators.

Michael Caine - Acting in Film
You can watch Caine's advice in the video below - the important part is all in the first 5 minutes.

Avoid Zombie Eyes
Try to avoid your character's eyes wandering meaninglessly around the screen. "Zombie eyes" don't make for good animation; they make the character feel stiff and lifeless. And it's important to remember that a person's eyes are what we all look at most of the time - this is where our attention goes.

Look See Control
Character with "Look See" control
Most character rigs have something called a "Look See" or "Eye direction" controller, which you can move into position, and this should (in theory) control the character's eye direction.

Create a second character - and lock the eye direction
One of my favourite tricks when animating a character in Maya is to create a simple cube, turn it into a tall slender column, move it off screen, and name it "character2". This is the person that character1 is talking to.

So, all you have to do is move character1's eye direction controller, position it onto character2, and - hey presto - character1 is now looking at character2 throughout the shot. To see how it works, watch the video below.

Create a Face Camera
We also recommend creating a Face Camera when you animate characters in Maya. A FaceCam allows you to select the character's face with a single click, and adjust the facial expressions or the lipsync.

To make a Face Camera, go to: Create/camera, name it faceCam, and parent it to the facial controls. Then tear off the faceCam (Panels/tear off) so you can return to the faceCam whenever you need it.

Creating a Face Camera will save you a lot of time when animating facial expressions. To see this process in more detail, watch the video below:

Fine-tuning the eyes
This doesn't mean you won't have to fine-tune the eye direction at the end of your shot. Whenever you tweak your animation, you will - inevitably - slightly mess up the eye direction. So, when you do your final animation pass, you will always have to check the eye direction to make sure that the character's eyes aren't wandering around.

Blinks and Eye Darts
And, of course, don't forget to add blinks, and also eye darts. Keeping the eyes alive is how we create the illusion that our characters are actually thinking and feeling - not just a bunch of dead pixels.

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MArt, now recruiting for September 2019, follow this link.   To apply, visit the offical page here

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