“When I Drive” Progression

It’s kind of hilarious/embarrassing how small the acting is in my reference and blocking (and even my early spline passes). I’ve always struggled with pushing poses and if there’s one thing that this project has taught me it’s to keep pushing at every stage.

I think one of the symptoms of working with your reference on an image plane in Maya is that you feel like you are pushing things enough because (for me, anyway) the acting in the reference is so small. When in reality you need to be pushing things 2, 3, 100 times as much. It took me a lot of passes to get it to the level that it is – and looking at it again, there are still areas where it can probably be pushed more – but I think going forward I’ll be much more mindful of how much I need to be pushing things earlier on in the process.

Polished… ish

Or should I say, in a state of constant-noodling. I’ll be leaving it here for the time being while I move on to other things. I’d like to have a couple more pieces finished before CTN but hopefully I’ll find time in the future to return to this and finish off the beginning and end.


So this was kind of a light-bulb moment for me. I thought I understood what spacing was but I don’t think I realised how powerful it could be until polishing this little section. I’d always thought of timing and spacing as being different ways of thinking about the same thing… but that is completely wrong.  Here, the timing is exactly the same. But changing the spacing of the foot totally changes the feel and force of the movement.


I think there are a number of things that make the animation on the right more successful…

  • Cleaner and more dynamic arcs
  • Spacing that favours the build-up and follow-through making the action more forceful. From Eric Goldberg’s book (a must-have): “Even if the spacing is quite wide in the middle of an action, if you prepare an audience to see the action (with cushion-outs, or an anticipation), do the action, and then follow it up with enough drawings for the eye to adjust (recoil or cushion-in), you give the audience the chance to “read” what has just happened – even if the major part of the movement has occurred quickly.” 
  • Clearer silhouettes
  • Greater contrast and change in the whole pose
  • Squash and stretch


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Deep into splining now. I think it’s coming along although there are a few areas that are giving me trouble. In particular, the interaction at the beginning of Shot 3 is going to take a lot of work. I also don’t think the jump going into Shot 6 is working as well as it was in blocking. I may have to rethink that section a little.

I’m also finding it difficult getting breaths in… It wasn’t intentional but I think I’ve put the cuts where he would naturally take a breath and as a consequence they’re not reading very well. I’m not sure how to get around that…

Most of the notes I’m getting at this point are to push things – poses, ideas, timing, mouth shapes. I always feel like I have pushed things as far as they need to be pushed but whenever I get a note to push further it invariably ends up looking way better.

Only 3 weeks left! Eek!

Blocking – 2nd Pass

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My mentor liked the way I had Shot 3 so I didn’t make any major changes, just continued refining and fleshing out the whole sequence.

I spent a day at the start of the week framing through some progression reels trying to figure out where and how they’re pushing stuff. How far things are pushed can greatly affect the style of the animation. A lot of Jeff Gabor‘s stuff on Epic is almost frame-for-frame reference to animation, lending to a very naturalistic style. Whereas his work on the much more cartoony Horton Hears a Who is pushed to the max.  I’m going for something in the middle but probably closer to the naturalistic.

Pushing things means exaggeration. Exaggeration in timing (longer holds, faster moves), spacing, poses, appeal, simplicity. But after watching a few progression reels, the things I saw pushed the most were the anticipations and the holds. So I’m trying to get a bit of that into my piece.

I think it’s easy to get into mocap territory if you follow reference to closely, which is fine for VFX work but for feature animation I find it off-putting and kind of beside the point of animation itself. The beauty of animation is in its design principles. It’s an abstraction, not reality. I think Gabor gets away with staying so close to his reference in Epic because he has such an appealing way of acting on camera. He knows how to use his body and his face and how to move in a way that translates well into animation. I can’t say the same for myself, so I’m going to have to push things even to get a naturalistic performance that still has an animated feel.

Anyway, from here my plan is to attack each shot individually, taking them into spline. I’m gonna set Shot 1 aside for now and start with Shot 2, just because I probably wont get through the whole sequence before the semester is over and I’d rather get my mentor’s help on Shots 2 onwards.


Here’s my first blocking pass.

The biggest note I got from Sean last week was to make the acting bigger, so I spent a couple of days shooting and editing some new video reference. Character design took up another day so I only managed to spend 2 1/2 days on the actual blocking. It’s a little sparse and iffy in places but I wanted to get the whole sequence down. Facial poses are rudimentary.

I think it’s working okay so far. Shot 3 (F325-407) is feeling a little messy/weak to me at the moment. An alternate idea I had was instead of picking up the trashcan lid, he could grab the other guy’s hat and use that as his steering wheel. It would require some restaging but could be fun. I’ll see what my mentor thinks.

Huge thanks to Sergey Berengard for offering to rig the car for me!  It’s totally wicked and way more functional than I would have able to achieve (it also would have taken me all week :p). Owe you one, buddy!