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Animating a Talking Mask

In my 15 months working for OtherSide Entertainment on Underworld Ascendant, I created whole animation sets for at least 10 different characters and creatures.  There were undead skeletons, lizard men, ghosts, even a massive slug.  All fun stuff.

However, one of the tasks I enjoyed the most was making a static mask move as though it was speaking.  I love bringing simple, inanimate objects to life.  Plus, this gave me a very focused way to practice and study head movement during dialog.  I found it fascinating.

With over 4 minutes of dialog to animate and a limited time frame, I knew I had to be pretty efficient.  I didn’t want to just jump in and make it move around as though it was speaking.  I wanted to try to get across some of the sub-text of what Cabirus was saying as well as how he was speaking.

For me, that process always starts with recording myself delivering the lines.  I shot multiple takes of each phrase and then cherry-picked what I thought was the best performance, often editing clips together.  Click on the image above to view reference with the finished animation.

When animating, I quickly settled on a very different approach to my usual ‘pose-to-pose’ method.  Moving straightforward through the reference, I would key one transform at a pass.  That means that I would start by just keying the head translation in Z – to and away from the camera.  Then, separately, I keyed Z rotation (side to side tilt), Y rotation (twisting) and X (nodding).

At this point, I would stop to do a quick, overall polish pass.  I would push any extremes and adjust timing to give the performance as much life as possible, without going over the top.  I would also focus on making sure the nose and chin were following nice arcs.  I would wait to adjust the overall timing to better match the dialog until the very end so I could more easily follow the reference.

Then, I would key the Y and X translations – up and down, side to side.  These translations really helped give life to the mask and make it seem like maybe it wasn’t so disembodied after all.  Finally, I would slide the keys around a bit so the movement better matched and accentuated the dialog, punch things up a bit more and remove any sort of hiccups in the movement.

I found that by keying each transform individually, the masked moved more like our own heads do when we talk.  Sure, the movement is all coming from a single point, but not every rotation hits extremes at the exact same time.  Things are offset a bit.  By focusing on each one individually, the offsets are built right in to the initial animation and I could move quickly through the set  while still creating a good performance.

A seemingly simple task, but an enjoyable one and a great exercise in head movement.  I can’t wait to apply this technique to a talking head that’s actually attached to something.

Cheers!

Forward to the Past

I’m excited to let you know that my personal project, 1979, is now ready for production and up on Artella.com .  First, is the search for an illustrator to draw all of the characters in the music video.  Then it will be up to me to make the paper cutout puppets out of the drawings and then animate them.  It will be a completely different challenge for me, but this is an idea that’s been burning in me for a while, so I can’t wait to finally realize it.

You can follow the process here.

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FlexShopper T-Flex Holiday Spot

I had a great time working on this spot with Brickyard VFX.  It was up to me to take the dialog and action notes to break it up into shots, set the camera and action within each action, fine-tuning with feedback from Brickyard and the client.  Then, I got to work with the modeler/rigger on developing a strong rig that could be used for this and future spots.  I always take great pleasure in telling riggers what to do.

Last but certainly not least, was animating this fun, t-rex character.  It was a good challenge to determine how he should move and to strike a balance between realistic and cartoony.  As noted, I animated the first three T-Flex shots and Ed Hull animated the last two.

Enjoy!

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Hardees & Cheetos – Thickburger Spot

I have yet to try adding Cheetos to my hamburger, but I did have fun working on this spot.  Again, working as Lead for Brickyard and with the very talented animator, Ed Hull, we churned this one out in record time.  The most challenging shot, weird as it may seem, was Chester behind the bun rack and deciding what his reaction would be once he was revealed.  For some reason, we just couldn’t nail down the right response.  I’m happy with the one we ended up with.

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Cheetos: Ranger Danger

Here is the first of fives spots I animated for Cheetos. I worked as a contract animator for Brickyard VFX who have been doing the Cheetos commercials for a few year. Working with the team at Brickyard and the creatives on the spot was an amazing experience. I had a great time and had the opportunity to give some uniques spins to Chester’s personality.

Good times.

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Toy Halls of Fame

Click the image above to see highlights of a project that I recently worked on.  The animations are featured on several screens – one screen 26 ft. tall – at the Toy Halls of Fame at the Strong National Museum of Play.  The work was done through Northern Light Productions over a 5 month period and I created over 5 minutes of animation for such classic toys as Raggedy Ann, G.I. Joe, Barbie, Teddy Bear and others.

Needless to say, animating such iconic toys was a dream come true and the project itself was a joy to work on.  It was probably one of the smoothest projects I’ve been a part of.  Not least of all, I got to work with some wonderfully talented people – friends both old and new.

We spent a few hours at the museum recently and I highly recommend it.  Beyond the Halls of Fame is the classic arcade, the comic book section, Sesame Street and a number of other fun, interactive exhibits.

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Ben Franklin Museum

Now that the Ben Franklin Museum has opened in Philadelphia, I can share some of the work I did for it.  Under the direction of Salvatore Raciti at MemoryCollective, I built several animations using Maya and After Effects to educate, in an entertaining way, the many aspects of Franklin and his impact on history.  I learned a lot about Franklin and enjoyed the process of animating the different pieces immensely.  I developed a great workflow to build these 2 1/2D animations, using illustrations by Katherine Streeter, rigging and animating them in Maya, then composting them in After Effects.  I hope to do more work like this in the near future and even have plans to try the same process but with paper cut-outs stop-motion animated.