Saturday, 26 November 2011

Digbeth project- the blacksmith scene

My most recent contribution to our Digbeth animation has been to create the scene in which we witness a blacksmith at work during the industrial revolution. In-keeping with our chosen visual style, the animation was made using a combination of different programs with a range of different techniques. Since our animatic, we have worked to make the animation more interesting by adding more variety and humour to the piece, as evident here; where the blacksmith has a clumsy accident whilst distracted by the main character!

At this point, forgive the repetitive looping at the beginning and end. When included in our final piece, the camera will zoom in on this scene, and zoom out at the end. It was necessary as such to keep the video playing during the zooms, though it is likely that the beginning and end of the above version will not be seen in the final animation. Better to add more than I need and crop the video, than have to find the source files and add to them later!

The animation of the blacksmith himself was created with Photoshop. Of course, with the ability to copy frames with ease for a digital medium, there was a temptation to create the animation as easily as possible. I did however feel that I had not had much practice recently doing full hand drawn, traditional animation, and emulated this process as close as possible. Initially, a series of line tests helped to ensure that the animation was smooth and the movements accurate:

As you can see, tweaks were made to the animations prior to making the final, sharper version. Originally, the blacksmith's mouth opened a little to show the stress of his physical work, but ultimately I decided from the line test that this really didn't work as I had imagined, looking odd due to the fast and unnaturally even spacing as a result of the hammering animation being looped. The timing was also changed in several places, helping the animation flow better and appear more believable and consistent.

With little body movement at the beginning of this scene, being on-model was a concern. When the legs shouldn't be moving for example, a single frame can be severely out of place. All of this changed for the final part however, where I had far greater freedom to animate creatively! 

Once the blacksmith drops the hammer on his foot, and jumps around the room comically, each frame featured a lot of full body movement. I seized the opportunity to be a lot looser with the drawing style, exaggerating his expression and motion. Looking closely, you can see that his apron flaps in the air as he jumps and falls, and his face features a great deal of squash and stretch when the force of quickly changing direction takes its toll. As he falls, his hat floats away from his head slightly, before he jumps upwards, and back into it! Timing and spacing, anticipation and reaction were critical to get a true sense that the character is landing and leaving the ground, with a proper sense of weight.

Due to the nature of this animation being effectively a publicity video for Digbeth, there haven't been many opportunities to really use the principles of animation effectively. That is why I felt it was so important to consider them with regards to this scene, whilst I had a chance!

The background of the piece was assembled using the 3D capabilities of Adobe After Effects, from a series of source component images:

The majority of these assets were remastered from the blacksmith scene from our animatic, to save time. Something which I was interested to try was combining a real video and an animation. You no doubt noticed that the fire in the final video above was real! I recorded my own fireplace at home, since similar videos online are typically several hours long and take a while to download! Aside from trying a new technique here, which I feel worked very well, I was able to use even more of the toolset within After Effects, using the manual video tracking tools to stabilise the video. Despite my best efforts, it was still a bit wobbly, but this wasn't a problem at all! The image of the fireplace wall was saved as a PNG file with alpha enabled, thus the fire video was simply positioned behind the transparent hole in the middle. 

Whilst compositing this piece, I was also able to try masking in After Effects for the first time. Due to the floor being arranged in 3D, and the animation of the blacksmith having already taken some sense of perspective into account, I found that once the hammer was on the 'floor', it intersected with the floor image. To get around this problem, I added the animation a second time. The first one was masked to remove the dropped hammer, and the second one to remove the blacksmith. The hammer video was then positioned closer to the camera, and resized appropriately.

Overall, I am very pleased with this scene, from which I have actually learnt quite a few new tools and techniques. We will be hard at work over the next week or so to meet our final deadline for this project, so I might not be posting much for a short while! Nevertheless, check back soon to see the final piece coming together!

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