A quick post before the final hand in. As I wasn’t satisfied with my final animation, and my character in general, over the last few weeks I was working on improving it. One of the changes that I did is slightly remodelled character’s head and his face. I’ve also gave him different eyes. As we can see his faces isn’t as “boxy” as it was before. His face looks smoother, at least to me. Removing few edges from his face and keeping it quiet low when it comes to edge count also helped when it came to creating blendshapes, something that I’ve struggled with with the previous model. The eyes bring completely new appeal to the character, actually having an iris makes him look more alive and in my opinion is just more aesthetically pleasing to everyone. Their shape changed as well, as you can see below. They’re much more spherical than before.
The question that I’ve asked myself at the beginning of this year, after my first term on this course was How can facial expressions help communicate character’s emotions and inner monologue and therefore make the audience empathise with him/her? Even that I had some basic understanding of the subject it was a challenging task. First, what is empathy and why is it important in film or animation? Well empathy is simply our capability to understand feelings of another person, ability to put ourselves in their shoes. It doesn’t always mean that we like the particular person, but we somehow care. As an animator ability to make a wider audience care is important to me. Without making them care people would not be interested in watching my work. In his book “Acting for Animators”, Ed Hooks says that “We humans empathise only with emotion. Your job as a character animator is to create in the audience a sense of empathy with your character” (2011). So if we’re only empathising with emotions, what really are they? It’s really difficult to come up with a definition of emotions, I would say they’re a response or a reaction to what is happening around us. Later in his book Hooks says that “it is impossible to express emotions without thinking” and that’s hard to disagree with. How do I, as an animator show that the character is thinking? Probably the easiest and the most popular way of showing a thought process in a character’s mind is blinking. Blinking makes a character stop for a second, it’s like a mental punctuation point. So that’s what I did in my short animation, whenever the character was changing a thought or was making a decision I made him blink. Blinks are also a great way of adding life to the character. There are different types of blinks in animation, they can be fast, slow, there can be half blinks, there’s even something called “the Pixar blink”(when the one eye blinks few frames earlier than another one). I tried using different lengths of blinks in my animation to add some variety into it. In my research and observation of short and full featured animations and film I’ve noticed that characters blink differently when they’re happy and differently when they’re sad.
Quickly into my research I’ve realised that reading expressions and emotions from still images isn’t really the best way of researching empathy in animation. Facial expressions are motions and motions can’t be caught in a still image. I’ve also then realised that the narrative will be a major part of my research, as it would be rather to achieve empathy in a character without a story and motivation behind characters actions.
While working on my project I came across few obstacles. Early on I made a bad character design decisions, I was being cautious with the style that I was trying to portray, balancing between realism and cartoony style didn’t give me satisfying results, even that I only realised that at the final stage, when I couldn’t do any changes. Design and style can also play an important role when we’re trying to achieve empathy and in a narrative. Establishing a world that the character is can also help with making the audience care and empathic toward our character. We need to inform the audience of what kind of the environment the characters are in, so the audience what be distracted and confused and would rather focus on character’s actions. Another problem that I came across happened while I was doing blend shapes. Exaggeration is important in animation, it is considered to be one of the principles of the art form, that’s why I was trying to get as many exaggerated and over the top expressions as I could, but it was pointed out to me that some of them aren’t appealing at all and don’t work. Again it was the design fault, as I’m confident that it would work with a cartoony looking character. Some of the limitation came also from mistakes that I did the modelling phases. To get the shape of the head that I wanted I’ve used too many edge loops, which later make my work harder as I’ve spent too much time doing blend shapes, with the results that weren’t always satisfying. However, in a way, these not so perfect moth shapes emphasised the role of eyes, eye brows and eye movement in my character.
Early on I was looking at Paul Ekman’s research about facial expressions and his six, or seven universal emotions (anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise and contempt). Few of them are hard to recognised in a still photograph, without any context. As I’ve mentioned earlier, expressions are motions, so presenting them in a still image wasn’t useful for my research. However these basic, or universal emotions were a good start and from them I could move on to other expressions that I could want to achieve. Pixar in their latest film “Inside Out”(2015) decided to portray 5 of them and anthropomorphise them as characters in this movie. What is interesting is that they’ve achieved different emotions by overlapping some of the main one.
Pacing and timing is an important part of animation, especially while doing a series of transitions of the emotions, like I tried to in my short animation. The result could have been better, some frames should been hold for longer, some transitions should have been smoother, it would really improve the final product.
Hooks E., 2011. Acting for Animators. 3 Edition. Routledge.
VanDerWerff T., Chart: How Inside Out’s 5 emotions work together to make more feelings, 2015, [online] VOX Media, Available at: http://www.vox.com/2015/6/29/8860247/inside-out-emotions-graphic? [Accessed date: 30 June 2015]
Recently I’ve rigged my character using The Set Up Machine. As you can see below I had to tweak few things, such us influences on the skin, so the jacket would act naturally and wouldn’t dissolve in the character’s body. What’s ahead of me is the final animation. I’ve decided to slightly change my story. Now I want to do it in one camera angle and completely focus on characters faces. He’ll be sat by thinking about his past. I want the expressions to be clear to the audience and want the audience to empathise with the character.
Recently I was working on blendshapes for my character. As I’ve previously mentioned, most of the expressions that I wanted to portray were suppose to be illustrate sad and rather negative emotions. I was trying to make some expressions asymmetrical, as in my research I found out that asymmetry brings interest to the character and gives the pose energy. It seems that the expressions are symmetrical mainly when character is either bored, or in a position of authority, or has no emotions.
Norm, Tuesday Tips – Asymmetry in facial expressions. 2014 [online] Griz and Norm blog, Available at: http://grizandnorm.tumblr.com/post/79975572030/tuesday-tips-asymmetry-in-facial-expressions-a
In my research I found that exaggeration plays an important role in animation, it’s even considered to be a part of 12 basic principles of animation. Realism can be considered to be dull and static, especially when it comes to movement in animation and exaggeration takes it to certain extremes to make it appear more entertaining and exciting, especially when characters are designed in a cartoony style, rather than photo-realistic. I’ve noticed it in my work from my undergraduate degree when it was lacking exaggeration and the results weren’t as good as expected. But exaggeration doesn’t always improve the work straight away.
For my final project I’ve decided to design a character with exaggerated facial features, and while large eyes and bigger, overemphasised eyebrows bring some results and make a character look more interesting, more appealing, but in my design I was too concious and instead of focusing on one style, I was trying to balance between photorealism and cartoony, caricature style. This started to cause some issues when it came to doing blend shapes. Getting some particular mouth shapes turned out to be harder than I’ve initially assumed. Character’s high and emphasised cheek bones give him some charm, make him look slightly different than a typical character, but they also limit some of the facial movement. That’s something that I didn’t considered while designing the character.
Recently I’ve been working on modelling the environment of my scene and on blendshapes for my character. The entire animation will take place only in one room. There are two floor lamps, but the main source of light is going to be a window on the right. I want to set this to be happening around the dusk time, so there wouldn’t be too much light coming in, just enough to lit the scene. There are photo frames laying around everywhere, the idea is to put the pictures of the main character and his dead wife in it, to foreshadow, give a hint to the audience. Below you can see a screenshot of me working on blendshapes. As it’s a rather sad story a lot of expressions will be portraying sadness, hopelessness, anger, despise etc.
Last week I covered large eyes, but what about another facial feature that is also expressive and can be used in improving facial expressions and character performance? There is something about the eyes and eyebrows that draw our attention to them. . In “The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expressions”, Gary Faigin says : “ We instinctively feel that the eyes provide our most direct link to the person within. The brows too seem to have a life of their own”. As opposed to the eyes, eye brows are capable of bigger shape change and they also can change the shape of the eye. Later, in the same book, Faigin says: “Considering how much can be expressed by the eyes and brow, it is surprising that there are only five muscles responsible or it all (…) Our control over these muscles is so fine-tuned that we can express virtually the whole range of emotions with just a little twist here, a little lift there: our perception is so practiced that we can instantly recognize the differences.”
Eyebrows can be useful in exaggerating the performance, like in this example, from Ace Ventura(starts around 0:20):
But they can also be used in more serious performance, not as exaggerated, but still noticeable:
But let’s focus on animation, in this short clip from Pixar’s “Ratatouille” we can see that a lot of emotions is communicated through the eyebrows. Clearly the exaggeration works, we can especially see it in chef Skinner performance. Even that his brows are almost hidden under his huge hat, we can see how much more alive his performance is because if the brows:
While doing my research about eyebrows I came across a good advice provided by Pixar’s animator, Victor Navone, which says that to make the brows stand out and make sure that the audience won’t miss the movement, it is a good idea to have the brow animation preceding any head or body movement. It also can be used to show that character is thinking. He also mentioned other tips such us:
- As the pitch of the voice raises the brows go up
- As the pitch of the voice lowers, the brows likewise drop
- When asking a question where the answer is already known, the brows raise
- When asking a question where the answer is truly unknown, the brows lower
- Spontaneous facial expressions (surprise, fear, pain, etc.) tend to be symmetrical, where as expressions we choose to make (curiosity, suspicion, contempt, etc.) can be more asymmetrical.
Faigin G., 1990 The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expressions