• sam

Catchy Characters and Making my Daughter Laugh

My daughter is my biggest critic. She's 8, and has no problem wondering into my office and telling me the bricks on my 3D wall look fake or "I just don't believe it dad". So when one of my animations makes her laugh, I know I'm on the right lines. More than that, I use making her laugh as a goal when I'm creating my work.


So when a couple of weeks ago she saw my latest animation and laughed, I knew I was onto something. Her's a couple of early development shots. You can see the errors around the mouth with the fur, but overall I was happy with the look and I didn't want to spend too long on the character as that was not the point of the exercise.





I wanted to create a showpiece that used the animation and the idea to open lots of questions for the viewer. Questions like, "will he ever get free?" or "how did he get there?" I find it useful to start an idea with questions.


Good character animation (and I'm not saying this is, it's my own stepping stone to something better) can carry a lot of sins. Poor texturing, or simple backgrounds can be forgiven if the characterisation is believable, and nine times out of ten, that's achieved with good craft of animation. If you don't believe me, look at some of the earlier 3D films (or some of the lower budget films) They carry great stories not with amazing environment detail or perfect character models, but with the motion of those characters. Look at Luxo Junior for an example of this. Anyone reading this could create those characters, but what makes the film great is the characterisation and the struggle.


So the story is important and the struggle within the story, so I needed to give my character a challenge, one that raised the initial questions. I though back to my daughter's sense of humour and came up with this:




It's quite a cruel thing to happen to him, but it reminded me of cartoons when I was growing up. There was less political correctness and shorts like Tom and Jerry were full of humour like this. So how was the character to react to this predicament? I filmed a couple of videos of myself to try out a few scenarios and one of them was the clear winner. It was the initial shock and disbelief at what he's looking at, the classic double take and resulting reaction, followed by acceptance, and the timing would be everything to carry this off.


There are no shortcuts with classic character animation (excluding motion capture:), you just have to get your head down and do revision after revision. Constantly building the shot until you have what you want. Here's the next step:





There was something missing here, and I left it for a couple of days an then added in the acceptance, the last few frames as the character takes a few breaths, it finishes it off nicely.


My top tips for creating a successful character animation, long or short are:


  1. Always film yourself doing what your character is doing, it really does help with the timing, you can literally count the frames if that's what it takes

  2. Get a mirror, put it by your work area so you can check out expressions as you go

  3. Sleep on it. If you have the time I find it useful to leave a day or two and then re-visit the animation, you get new ideas and a new perspective.

  4. Keep revisiting your ideas, build on them, develop them over the years

  5. Always show your animation to your daughter, and if you don't have one, show it to a young at heart friend. If you don't like their reaction, start again, tweak it, whatever it takes.


Why did I make this animation? Well, mainly to make my daughter laugh:) Mission accomplished. Here's the final version:




Where next for this? Well I've been working on pulling the tongue more, a few seconds where the character resists the idea of being stuck, finally to give up. Here's the test work so far:



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