By: Roland Hess                Categories: Animation

This excerpt is from Roland Hess’ Blender Foundations.  Here Hess explores use of the sculpting tools in Blender as an alternative to traditional 3D modeling techniques. Comeback for a great excerpt from Roland’s newly published Blender Production later this month.

An Alternative to Traditional Modeling

In addition to modeling in Edit mode, Blender has integrated sculpting tools. The sculpting workflow allows you to work with a mesh as though it were clay—carving details, pushing and pulling the surface, imprinting it with textures—all with an intuitive, brush-based interface. The two main uses for sculpting lie in detailing and adjusting existing models, and creating new forms from scratch.

Basic Sculpting Tools

Figure 8.1 shows our character’s head mesh (created from exercises in the book), with Subdivision modifier level 1 applied to it, raising the density of the mesh. On the 3D view header, you’ll see a new mode: Sculpt. In the tool shelf are the sculpting tools. As sculpting uses the same brushlike interface as weight and projection painting, several of the tool shelf panels directly related to brushing should already be familiar.

While sculpting, the standard paint tool shortcuts apply in the 3D view. The F key interactively changes brush size. Ctrl-F changes brush strength. LMB drag executes whichever sculpting tool is selected (i.e., you “paint” with these tools just like a regular brush). Holding down the Shift key while painting reverses the effect of the tools, as we’ll see in a bit. Let’s run down the different sculpting tools, with gratuitous examples on the head.

● Draw: “Draws” a raised path on the mesh, as shown in Figure 8.2. Holding down the Shift key cuts into the mesh.

● Smooth: Evens out local geometry.

● Pinch: Gathers any geometry within the brush area toward the center of the brush. Holding down the Shift key pushes geometry away from the brush center.

● Inflate: Kind of like Draw, but this brush blows everything up like a balloon, as shown in Figure 8.3.

● Grab: Like an interactive G-key grab tool. Use it to LMB drag portions of the mesh around.

● Flatten: “Squashes” geometry toward the center of the model.

● Clay: Builds the mesh up as though with layers of clay.

Figure 8.1 The basic head, with sculpting tools shown.

Shaping Existing Models

One of the techniques for generating a head was to start with a default head structure and push it around to match reference images. While you can do this in Edit mode using the O-key Proportional Edit Falloff (PEF) technique, a more intuitive way to work is with the sculpting Grab brush.

To use this technique, select the model and enter Sculpt mode using the mode selector on the 3D view header. While in Sculpt mode, the standard view trans­formation tools are available (MMB rotate, Shift-MMB pan, and mouse wheel to zoom). Make sure the Grab tool is selected in the tool shelf. Now, just LMB grab a portion of the mesh and drag it around. Since sculpting doesn’t work in Wire-frame display mode, you can’t see the reference image through the mesh like you can while hand editing. For that reason, it isn’t the best choice if you’re trying to exactly match a refer­ence. However, there usually comes a time when modeling from a reference when you have to “let go.” You’ve hit the reference as closely as you can from a technical standpoint, but when you go into Camera view and hit Render, it lacks life.

That’s when you pull out the sculpting tools. Put the reference out of your mind, and try to think of the current 3D version as the original. I’ve found the sculpting Grab tool to be a much more intuitive way of doing the final tweaks on a model than working in Edit mode.

While you’re doing this, here are some hints. First, the Grab tool moves geom­etry in the plane of the view. Figure 8.4 shows this. The Camera view that is seen is represented by a plane. Grab sculpting from the view on the left will move geometry only within the plane. It will not go “into” or “out of” the display plane. So, if you want to pull a cheek away from the face to make it a bit rounder, you will have to find a view like the one in Figure 8.5 in order to so. This is one of those things that sounds complicated, but is fairly intuitive once you start actually doing it.

Blender Foundations

Figure 8.2 Drawing on the face

Second, the size of the brush on screen is important. A brush will affect whatever falls inside its boundaries. So, the same “size” brush will affect a different amount of geometry when zoomed in as it does when zoomed out. With the entire head within your view, you can easily change the whole shape at once with a large brush.

Blender Options

Figure 8.3 Using Inflate on the nose.

Third, the controls in the Options section of the tool shelf can save you a lot of time. When working on some­thing like a face, enable X Symmetry so that changes made to one side of the head show up on the other side as well. Of course, you might want to sculpt asymmetrically as a final pass on your model to make it more lifelike. No one is perfectly symmetrical.


Figure 8.4 Grab moves within the view plane.


8.5 Finding the right view to move your geometry.

Using the Grab tool to alter your existing models can add a nice organic touch to an otherwise rigid structure.  In fact, we deal with adding different morphable shapes to our face in the book – we use Grab sculpting to do it.

This is an excerpt from Blender Foundations Blender Foundations can be purchased at Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found

Roland Hess

By Roland Hess, working with graphics and imaging software for over 20 years, Roland is the leading expert for Blender software. As one of a handful of people involved with Blender who is both an active user of the software as well as one of the developers, he brings a unique perspective to Blender instruction that helps to bridge the difficult gap between technical knowledge and artistic endeavor. Hess wrote: Animating with Blender for Focal 2009, and The Essential Blender, No Starch, 2007

1 Comment


By: admin                Categories: General

Tom Bancroft, former Disney animator/director whose credits include Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan and more, recently hosted Focal Press’ Character Mentor contest.  In Tom’s new book Character Mentor, he illustrates that the core of a character’s personality is not just communicated by its form, but also by how it emotes and where it is staged. In the contest, Tom challenged young animators and illustrators to draw a full body pose sketch for each of the descriptions below for his character design (Fig. D) which was purposely left without much of a facial expression and posed blandly.

Congrats to Sandra K. of Selangor D.E., Malaysia for submitting the winning entry (Fig A.) as well as Kristin C. of Bayside, NY and Andrew C. of Memphis, TN for receiving honorable mentions (Fig. B & C).

Tom also wanted to mention that everyone did a great job and he truly enjoyed reviewing all of the entries.  We enjoyed reviewing at Focal Press HQ as well.  Its amazing to see the variety of all of the entries despite the fact that you were all working with the same source materials and pose/expression descriptions.  Good work to all and Congrats to Sandra – hope you enjoy the $100 in Focal Press animation books and the autographed copies of Tom Bancroft’s Character Mentor book.  Stay tuned for future Character Mentor contests.

Winning Entry
Sandra K. (Fig. A)

Honorable Mentions

Kristin C. (Fig. B)

Andrew C. (Fig. C)

Assignment (Fig. D)
POSE/EMOTION descriptions:

1) Theodore nervously handing a small, fragile vase to someone.
2) Theodore confidently looking over at someone page left (trying to look cool).
3) Theodore sadly walking/ turned away from someone, but looking back over his shoulder (at them).



By: admin                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInspiration

Tom Bancroft, author of Character Mentor and former Disney animator/director recently sat with the Animation School Blog and discussed his career at Disney, shared insight from working on great films like The Lion King and Mulan, and provided a few character design tips and tricks.  This is part four but please visit Animation School Blog for the complete series.  Also, visit Tom’s other posts on our own blog.

Tom shares tips and tricks

Tom outlines his drawing process for pose-based illustrations

1 Comment


By: admin                Categories: General

SIGGRAPH 2012 is less than two weeks away and my mind is already abuzz with visions of kick-ass CG, motion capture, and countless interactive technologies.  As always Focal Press will be in the house ready to meet new friends and connect with old friends.  We are looking forward to sharing our latest books and finding out what you want from us next!

Make sure you stop by our booth – #825 – for some great show-only discounts.  This year we’ll celebrate our first year at SIGGRAPH with our sister imprint CRC Press – booth #929.  We are giving away some books, posters, and one show attendee will win an Ipad – but you have to pop in our booths first!  There are some great new titles you won’t want to miss out on, like How to Cheat in Maya 2013 and Blender Production.  We look forward to seeing you in LA!

No Comments


By: admin                Categories: Books

Former Disney animator and director, Francis Glebas will publish The Animator’s Eye in August with Focal Press and in celebration he shot a short video demonstrating how to draw one of his character designs, Iggy.

Progression sketches of Francis Glebas' Iggy
The Animator’s Eye
uses Glebas’ recent animated short – In search of the Lost Fountain of Ideas as a case study for adding life to animation with timing, layout, design, color, and sound.  The animated short follows the shenanigans of Iggy and Scared Bunny.  Francis took 20 minutes out of his schedule to review illustrating Iggy in several poses.

The Animator’s Eye can be purchased at Amazon, BN, and wherever fine books can be found.  Enjoy this previous post from Glebas where he breaks down the “design equation” and the instructional video on illustrating Iggy below.

1 Comment


By: Tina OHailey                Categories: Animation

This is an excerpt from Hybrid Animation by Tina O’Hailey.  In Hybrid Animation, Tina discusses integrating 2D and 3D assets into a single project.

In this example we will put together a scene with 2D and 3D assets (and review key considerations when  deciding whether the 3D or 2D asset leads the scene). While going through this hands-on portion, we will cover some of the pipeline issues: registration, timing, and line look. We will also look at various ways to combine 2D animation on top of 3D images. From these methods you can find what fits your pipeline best or come up with one of your own. Remember to post your findings on the forum at www.hybridanimation.com. You can read more information in the book about the forum.

Who Leads?

In the first scene we will do, a small character climbs into the hand of a larger character and is lifted. You can use Iron Giant as your reference. The first question to ask then is, “Who leads?” In other words, whose movement is moving the other? In this case, the larger character will be lifting the smaller character; herefore, the larger character leads. Which one is which medium? The boy character will be 2D and the robot character will be 3D. So in this case, 3D will lead 2D. Please visit Chapter 3 in the Gallery section at www.hybridanimation.com for images displaying the pipelines that we will need to use.

This pipeline has 2D animation being done digitally. This means using Photoshop, Corel Painter Draw, Toon Boom, etc. You can draw with a Wacom tablet or use a Cintiq tablet. It isn’t advisable to think about 2D animating with a mouse. I’m sure it can be done, but I wouldn’t want to do it.

What if you do not have a fancy Wacom tablet and needed to draw the 2D on paper? Then you would need to print the 3D animation, peg it up, and use it as reference for your 2D animation. It is a cheap pipeline, but it instantly causes  registration issues at the printing stage. The 3D character is printed onto paper. That paper is hand-pegged, meaning someone sits at a light table, lines up crosshairs that were printed on the animation, and tapes a peg strip at the bottom of the page. One by one each page is pegged up. A pencil test is shot to see if the pegging process was acceptable. Then the animator can begin to animate using the 3D images as reference. Once completed, the 2D animation needs to be scanned back in to composite with the 3D animation.

Take Note:
Beware. The printing and scanning process adds more time to your pipeline and most likely introduces bad registration between your 2D and 3D characters unless absolute care is given to the pegging process.

You might ask, “What if the order were reversed? What if the boy character was 3D and the robot character was 2D?” Then we would need to use a pipeline where 2D leads 3D. I’ve added the option of the 2D being traditional paper or digital. When traditional paper 2D leads, it isn’t as problematic unless the last stage of tweaking 2D to 3D is needed. In that case, there would be aprinting and pegging of the 3D assets and possible registration issues.

In scenes where one character is definitively leading the other one, it is an easy pipeline. However, what if this scene was a dance or a fight between characters? What if they had to tango? That would take more coordination between animators. More than likely one animator would lead and rough in where he or she expected the other character to be. The second animator would then take over and match where the first animator indicated the character to be. If there were any discrepancies, there would have to be a back and forth between the animators.

Anytime the animation goes from one animator back to the other for tweaking, it can be considered a redo. It costs extra time and usually worries the art production manager. It is the first part of the pipeline to be avoided. That does mean that usually each animator has only one shot to get the acting, registration, and timing correct and hope it matches to the character’s animation. However, if it is an “A” scene (a scene that is very important, like a moment scene with high emotion and story importance) or a scene where no discernable character leads the other, then the redos/tweaking should be allowed (within reason) to make sure the animation is acceptable.

Take Note:
Remember, any tweaking between media means much more time will be needed to finish the scene. Factor that in when you are budgeting time for your personal films.

This is an excerpt from Hybrid Animation . Hybrid Animation can be purchased at Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found

Tina O’Hailey

Tina O’Hailey works at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus as the Associate Chair of Animation. She has taught as a professor at SCAD since 2006. Prior to being a full time professor she was the artistic trainer at Walt Disney Feature Animation’s Florida studio, Dreamworks and Electronic Arts – Tiburon studio. She has been involved with many feature animation titles, including: Brother Bear (2003), Lilo and Stitch (2003), Mulan (1998), and Prince of Egypt (1998).

1 Comment


By: Francis Glebas                Categories: Books

In Directing The Story, former Disney animator and director Frank Glebas teaches classic visual storytelling techniques. In this excerpt he discusses the “design equation” and how to avoid confusing and boring designs with its application. Glebas will also publish his new Focal Press title The Animator’s Eye in August.  The Animator’s Eye teaches animators how to add life to animation with timing, layout, design, color, and sound.

So what was the mysterious design equation that the wizard created? The elements of design plus the principles create the magical effects of design.

Elements: What is actually on the page

Points, Lines, Planes, Edges, Shapes, Values, Sizes, Colors

Principles: How are the elements organized

Balance, Position, Dominance, Unity, Alteration & Repetition, Contrast & Similarity, Symmetry, Rhythm

Effects: The representational illusions that the viewers complete in their own minds

Design is a very important tool to help make sure we present one idea at a time in a pleasing way.

Elements of Design: What Is on the Page

The elements of design are what are actually on the film frame, such as points, lines, planes, shapes, and colors.

Principles of Design: How to Organize What Is on the Page

The principles are how the elements are arranged for aesthetics and dynamic excitement. Principles such a unity, balance, and dominance require that multiple elements be subordinated to a greater principle. The most important design principle is contrast. It is extremely important to note that the principles of design are not just for visual design, but apply to every aspect of film, including actors ’ performances, lighting design, story design, and sound design.

Effects of Design: Illusions Created by the Elements and Principles

The effects of design are the illusions created on the flat screen such as light, depth, volume, form, motion, temperature, and atmosphere. These are created by the elements organized by the principles.

Good design is based on our own body’s experience. The body contains rhythms, balance, grace, and directions; it reaches upward defying gravity. Let it be your guide. As we saw with gesture drawing, each activity has a dominant thrust, and all of the muscles are subordinated working together toward the main goal. The body also needs room around it in order to move. There needs to be negative space, or breathing room. Balance and counterbalance work throughout the body. Architecture is often a metaphor for the body. Landscapes are spoken of in terms of the body: foothills, shoulders of roads, mouths of rivers, and legs of a table.

The 171 Enemies of Good Design

My design class never taught me that there were enemies of design. The two main enemies of good design are boredom and confusion.

Boring! Evenness creates a lack of visual interest or excitement.

Better: The simplest change begins to create interest, in this case a simple gradation of tone.

Boring! Repetition or predictability can create boredom. We know what to expect.

Better: Variety can create interest and a feeling of motion and surprise.

Boring! Symmetry can be boring.

Changing the angle can bring it to life.

Confusing! Bad tangents flatten space and catch the eyes.

Simple realignment creates interest and restores depth.

Confusing! Chaos, unless you are artist Jackson Pollack.

Work for clarity.

Confusing! Crowding.

Leave breathing room and negative space.

Confusing! High contrast and spottiness is hard to read.

Provide transitions and cluster darks together.

Confusing! Without a center of attention you don’t know where to look.

Lead the eyes through the picture and make sure there is time to read it.

Use the design principles to avoid boredom and confusion.

This is an excerpt from Directing The Story. Directing The Story can be purchased at Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

Francis Glebas

Francis Glebas worked as a story artist for Disney Feature Animation on Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dinosaur, Treasure Planet and Hercules. He also directed Pomp and Circumstance starring Donald Duck in Fantasia 2000 and Piglet’s BIG Movie. Francis is also an award-winning independent live action movie maker with almost 40 years’ experience. He currently teaches storyboarding at Gnomon School of Visual Effects. Francis also works as a creative consultant, having worked with the Irish Government, Korean Government, General Motors, Los Alamos Labs, Walt Disney Imagineering and other film studios.

1 Comment


By: Catherine Winder Zahra Dowlatabadi and Tracey Miller-Zarneke                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneral

An Overview of the Core Team

When you are taking the first steps to start an animated project, a select number of staff members need to be in place prior to the start of production. This skeletal group is what we call the core team. In most cases, the producer is the central person, pulling this team together based on the fiscal and creative needs of the project. The formation of the core team typically starts during the development phase with the initial creative group, which includes:



Creator/originator of the concept

As the project gets ready for further development into the story and the visual realm, it is necessary to add the following members to the core team:


Visual effects supervisor (if applicable)

Production designer/art director

Visual development artists

Stereoscopic supervisor (if applicable)

Pending the size and scale of your production, it is also important to loop in personnel handling recruiting, legal and business affairs, human resources, accounting, training, and technology. In larger studios, some of these individuals may already be on staff, in which case the producer brings them into the mix as necessary. Based on the scope of the project, budget limitations, and the expertise of the producer, he or she can personally take on some of these roles while delegating others. For example, a common practice in a boutique studio is for the producer to fulfill all human resources duties, such as negotiating fees with new hires and facilitating personnel issues.

Each individual on the core team plays a significant role in getting a production up and running. On a feature production with a larger budget, a typical example of this process is as follows: the project has become solidified in terms of script and the overall art direction concept. It is ‘greenlit’ to proceed further into the pre-production stage. Next a director, if he or she is not already attached, needs to be hired to guide its visual development and to collaborate on the story with the producer, buyer/ executive, and writer. The recruiter helps identify potential directors.

The producer interviews all candidates and, in partnership with the buyer/executive, makes a final selection. The legal and business affairs departments negotiate the director’s deal. Once on board, human resources coordinates the director’s orientation and fills out the start-up paperwork. The production accountant processes his or her payment. The director works with the recruiters to cast and hire the most appropriate visual development and storyboard artists. If necessary to bolster the artistic team when there’s a shortage of artists, the recruiting department scouts fresh talent and the training group starts organizing classes for the new hires. The technology group is instrumental in developing the production strategy and pipeline as well as researching and developing the tools to create the look of the project. All of these steps are overseen and managed by the producer.

This is an excerpt from Producing Animation 2ed. Producing Animation 2ed can be purchased at Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

Catherine Winder is a veteran animation producer and creative executive who is currently President and Executive Producer of Rainmaker Entertainment, one of Canada’s largest producers of CG animation. Winder was most recently at Lucasfilm Animation where as Executive Producer she set up the studio and produced the feature film and television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. She has worked with many of the industry’s major entertainment companies including Fox Feature Animation, Blue Sky Studios, HBO, Warner Bros., MTV, Hanna-Barbera Productions, The Cartoon Network and Disney.

Zahra Dowlatabadi is an award-winning animation producer and a consultant based in Los Angeles. Dowlatabadi has worked with many major studios including Disney, Warner Bros.,Cartoon Network, and Universal Cartoon Studios in addition to collaborating with numerous internationally acclaimed animation studios and talent.

Tracey Miller-Zarneke earned her production experience on the feature films Chicken Little and The Emperor’s New Groove and has gained a unique perspective on the industry by having authored five books on the art of animation, including those for DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon, Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Disney’s Meet the Robinsons.

1 Comment


By: Lee Montgomery                Categories: 3D Animation

This is an excerpt from Tradigital Maya by Lee Montgomery.  Here Lee explains thumb-nail sketches and how they can be useful resources when working in 3D.

Thumb-nails are quick and simple sketches, which help to establish or layout the motion in a shot. The definition of a thumb-nail sketch is a small (thumb-nail sized) sketch of the motion or framing. You can use traditional media such as pen and paper when creating thumb-nails or alternatively use a graphics tablet on the computer. Using a graphics tablet has the advantage that you can also quickly make revisions to animation through using screenshots or renders of the animation with the action re-drawn as an overlaid layer in painting package. Let’s take a look at a couple of different areas you can apply thumb-nails when animating.

Overall Motion Planning

Thumb-nails can be used to block in animation from Pose-To-Pose in sequence. For example, for the jump animation and run-cycle thumb-nails were used to pre-visualize the overall posing and motion. Thumb-nails were used to establish both the overall distance of the jump over the sequence (see Fig. 5.1.1) as well as specific posing, weighting, and balance at the end of the sequence (see Fig. 5.1.2). When working on rough thumb-nail sketches to establish overall motion, the sketches can be pretty rough as detail is not required. Simple block figures or “Stick-man” style drawings can be sufficient when blocking out character animation with thumb-nails.


FIG 5.1.1 Thumb-nails – jump sequence.

character movement

FIG 5.1.2 Thumb-nails – run cycle.

Character Posing – Rig Balance and Weight

Thumb-nails can also be used during the editing and refinement phase of animation. Where more detail is required, they can be used to figure out the pose at a particular frame. Figuring out the line and angle of the shoulders and hips for character animation is critical in planning out poses that look weighted and balanced. Shifts in the shoulders and hips need to correspond with the major weight shifts on the foot plants. For example, for the run-cycle, they were used to figure out the pose and rotations on the character’s spine, hips, and shoulders during the major contact poses when the legs and arms are fully extended (see Fig. 5.1.3). Overall, thumb-nails should be considered as an extension of your thought processes and are really just a tool to help figure out what work needs to be done or revisions made.

Character Posing

FIG 5.1.3 Thumb-nails – run-cycle – establishing weight/pose.

Reference for Animation

When working in 3D, it is important to have a game plan when working out the character pose or shot. For character animation, you can use thumb-nails as reference, to block out and validate the posing as well as to make revisions while animating. This can be really useful when working on the posing of major areas such as the angle or curvature of the spine as well as the rotation of the torso and hips during a run (see Fig. 5.1.4).

Animation Movement

FIG 5.1.4 Thumb-nails – run cycle – spine curve and torso offset. Side and top views.

Roughing out some quick thumb-nails while animating can also be a great aid when you’re stuck on the posing for a particular shot or need to make revisions. You can quickly make comparisons and revisions when evaluating the animation in 3D while sketching out the major changes to the pose for the character and rig. For detailed refinement, it can be worth appraising the posing and thumb-nails from several angles to make sure the poses look balanced and poised (see Figs 5.1.4 and 5.1.5).


FIG 5.1.5 Thumb-nails – run-cycle – spine curve and torso offset. Front view.

Life-Drawing and Study – Figure and Form

For character animation, it is worth in considering life-drawing classes to study human anatomy and form in more detail. Most life-drawing classes include a warm up section, where you work on a series of shorter sketches. This can really help in sharpening up your drawing and observational skills when it comes to animating (see Figs 5.1.6 and 5.1.7).

It can also improve your skills when it comes to quickly blocking in a character pose, whether it is as a quick thumb-nail without reference or in 3D in Maya on a complex character control rig.


FIG 5.1.6 Life-drawing – quick studies 1.

quick studies

FIG 5.1.7 Life-drawing – quick studies 2.

Video and Photo Reference for Thumb-Nails

When animating, it is important to have as many tools or aids at your disposal as possible to help in analyzing and refining the motion. This is especially true if you are new to animation and particularly true if you are new to computer animation.

When working in 3D animation, it is easy to create animation quickly due to the tools that are available – you can quickly block in a shot and let the computer handle the key interpolation between frames. This isn’t the case with traditional Cell Animation, where animators are required to draw each individual frame in sequence. Due to this, it can be easy to forget the traditional skills of thumb-nailing and draughtsmanship when animating in 3D. Sometimes 3D animators feel that they should be able to get quicker results that are more final without the additional prework traditional animators would need to do in planning a shot or motion through thumb-nails. In addition to using thumb-nails and reference from life-drawing for character animation, it is also worth using Video or Photo Reference in conjunction with thumb-nails to block out major poses for character motion.

Video or photo reference is ideal when working on physical or extreme motion such as animations of characters performing fast actions or sports. For several of the exercises in the book, such as the baseball sequences, video and photo references were used to help in blocking out thumb-nails. This helps in understanding the major poses and contortions of the body, which can be pretty extreme when the motion is fast (see Fig. 5.1.8). When animating, you need to have a clear understanding of the overall mood and feel of the motion you’re working on. Having great reference and thumb-nails for extreme motion is critical in allowing you to feel out where the major shifts in weight and balance are.


FIG 5.1.8 Video and photo reference in conjunction with thumb-nails – extreme motion.

Thumb-nails – Cartooning, Character Detail, and Self Portraits

In addition to the use of thumb-nails as a tool to study extreme or exaggerated body motion, you can also use sketching or cartooning to study more nuanced or detailed areas of human motion. For example, if you’re working on secondary motion for hands on a character or want to add more nuance to the performance take a look at the types of poses your own hands can make (see Fig. 5.1.9). Quick thumb-nails or cartoons showing the poses can help in the planning and refinement phase for the animation. As with other areas of character animation, it’s really worthwhile to act out the motion yourself to get a feel for how the body moves and range of motion you can create. Many animators like working with a full-length mirror close by, so that they can perform full-body motion and use this as a mental note for reference when animating the character in 3D space.

cartooning detail

FIG 5.1.9 Cartooning – hand poses for animation.

For facial animation, a lot of animators recommend to have a mirror beside the monitor to compare the range of facial poses to real life while animating. Studying the facial poses from a mirror can also be used in conjunction with thumb-nailing and cartooning to create a reference sheet for the range of poses you want for the character (see Fig. 5.1.10).

facial poses

FIG 5.1.10 Cartooning – facial poses

As with full-body motion, cartooning or thumb-nailing can be used to work out specific shapes for facial animation for detailed areas such as the eyes, eyebrows, and cheeks (see Fig. 5.1.11). This really helps when you’re working out the range of motion the character will need when creating and refining blend shapes for facial animation. As mentioned before, having a game plan for what you want to achieve at each stage of the work helps clarify what you’re doing and the direction the work’s headed. For example, will the character’s personality demand that he is quizzical, surprised, shocked, or angry? – can acting out these poses in front of the mirror and creating reference thumb-nails help?

Rig Design

FIG 5.1.11 Cartooning – facial poses – detail, eyes.

Skeleton and Rig Design

Another area of production that thumb-nails can be used on that a lot of people overlook is in planning and creating a character skeleton or control rig. In fact, thumb-nails can be used for any rig design or control setup to plan out which controls are needed and where they should be placed for ease of animation.

For a skeleton rig, it is really important to be aware of where the skeleton joints should be created for the character to follow the proportions and form of the character model. Skeletons that are badly placed or misaligned can create bad deformations on the character when animating. For this, you can use thumb-nailing to draw over a print or screenshot of the character model viewed from several different angles in Maya. Photoshop or any other modern digital painting application allows drawing on layers. You can use this to block out the joint placement relative to the proportions on the character then use this as reference when creating the skeleton rig in Maya (see Fig. 5.1.12).

joint Proportions

FIG 5.1.12 Thumb-nailing skeleton proportions and joint placement.

Similar workflow can be used to design effective control rig objects for character rigs. For example, you can quickly thumb-nail out where the control rigs should be placed for the character for logical ease of selection and manipulation (see Fig. 5.1.13). As with thumb-nailing for animation, you can use this when working on detail areas for the skeleton and rig to figure out how you want the setup to look and work.

As mentioned before, the thumb-nailing process should be considered as a visual mental note to help in planning and revision. Time spent working out how you want the rig to look and work will lead to a more effective setup and less time spent making revisions when it comes to actually creating the rig and control object setup in Maya.


FIG 5.1.13 Thumb-nailing control objects and finger joint placement

This is an excerpt from Tradigital Maya. Tradigital Maya can be purchased at Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

Lee Montgomery

Lee has worked professionally within the 3D Animation and VFX industry for over 9 years. Prior to joining Autodesk he worked as a Senior Animator and Artist on a number of high-profile AAA video game titles for well known studios. Notable titles he’s contributed to the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt Video Game series for Rockstar North. His background in production also includes experience in setting up mo-cap pipelines for game cinematics from shoot to edit and in-game implementation utilizing Vicon/MotionBuilder/3ds Max/Maya