Veteran animators don't always agree on the mechanics of how to animate a sequence because there are so many techniques available. Factor in whatever software package you are using and the variations grow exponentially. However, there is one thing that most animators in my circle agree on and that is… don't overdo it. Or… don't overthink it. Those two are not mutually exclusive of each other.
This isn't the only time we've covered this as I can't count the times I'm asked about it. They are legit questions, how do I do this or how do I do that involving some of the most difficult motions to animate by keyframe. I'm talking about everyday motions like turning a doorknob or pickup up an object. A recent question asked about placing glasses on a person.
That is not an easy thing to do smoothly for experienced animators as motion capture is usually employed in these types of situations. And you must have a grip on the curve editor for almost any good keyframing. If you are on a tight budget or a recreational animator that wonders what a curve is then how are you going to pull this off?
That's right. Don't animate the entire motion. Use suggestion and camera cuts to achieve your purpose.
For this keep in mind one piece of advice that I was given a long time ago… don't reinvent the wheel. Tease parts of the motion interspersed with camera cuts then let the viewer's mind connect the dots. The audience's imagination will do the heavy lifting if you lead them in the right direction.
Mundane actions define everyday life and are important to selling a good animation but that doesn't mean you have to animate every detail. This is a common mistake of inexperienced animators. We've all been there at one time or another before grasping the concept of planting the seed and letting the imagination take over.
Just as you would never recreate the actual real-world population and makeup of a big city establishing shot you need to use the same mindset on your motions.
You have a character sitting down drinking coffee or whatever, and they need to go to another room. Are you really going to have them put down the coffee cup, get up, walk over to the door, open the door, and walkthrough?
Ok… but that seems rather boring from a cinematic standpoint.
Instead, consider showing a close up of the coffee cup plunking down on the table showing only a part of the hand or fingers that grip the handle? It's an easy pose that can use the coffee cup to drive the motion since almost all of the character is off-camera, and the hand is attached to the cup. IK is NOT an Ikea accessory… it's there or a reason.
Cut from here to the character already standing up or last bit of standing up. Another easy fix using the IK of the character by crouching it a bit then lifting up later down the timeline. From there cut to the walk to the door or better yet, leave that out and cut to the hand on the doorknob pulling the door open. An IK driven motion once again. From there cut to walking through the door. Mix in cuts to a view out a window, a shot of the clock on the wall, the family pet, whatever.
Just try to keep it interesting. Like adding a novel piece of art or statuary to a shot. A little misdirection never hurt anyone in this circumstance. Ask magicians.
Next time you are challenged with animating a mundane task then go to your friend… the magic camera cut and let the viewers mind do the animating.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.