All animators start with a blank screen, and as professional artists we need methods that we can rely on to produce work we can be proud of, every time.
In this excellent documentary about the making of How To Train Your Dragon, DreamWorks animators talk about going to Flight School, analysing reference, and making sure that their animation was based on real, credible material that helped to bring their fantasy creatures to life.
Many of the animators talking about their methods are artists I know personally from my years at DreamWorks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Simon Otto and Jacob Jensen are both supervising animators with a huge range of experience in character and creature animation.
Use of live action reference to bring your work to life isn't just fancy talk by animators for the cameras - it's how these artists actually work to deliver their character and creature performances.
Watch the dragons flying and you can see, beneath the surface, the many different animals and creatures that the animators are looking at, such as birds, bats, lizards and alligators - whose movements can be used and analysed to create a believable performance.
DreamWorks take this stuff so seriously they even bring in paleontologists like Stuart Sumida to help make sure they get it all just right, from the modeling and the rigging all the way through to the animation.
Dragons are fantasy creatures, but their skeleton and muscle systems have to be based on real, believable animal anatomy. As Sumida put himself at a recent VFX festival:
"Flying things are hard because it’s tough to get the feel of weight and mass. Creature things may look like fantasy creatures but in reality they are things we know. A centaur is just a man’s torso stuck on a horse’s body. The question on a creature movie is 'do we know enough about the component parts to know where and how to sew them together?'"
The film above runs about 90 minutes. Lots of it is showbiz fluff, but inside videos like this you can find - if you dig around a bit - some real gems, valuable hard information that is truly insightful in terms of how animators approach their work.
Every time an animator approaches a shot, they face a blank screen. Learning a system to produce reliable results every time is what we teach at Escape Studios.
PS to get started with some dragon animation of your own, try out this free dragon rig here.
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 starting in September 2016, follow this link. To apply, visit the offical page here.