Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Life in motion

These past few days have been weird for me, but a ton of things have gone on. I imagine this post will be a long one. First off:

This is some amazing stuff. There are a lot of details that can be worked on but the general idea shows how much potential it has. Ron put this video up on Vimeo where you can download it (much better quality than rip off of youtube) and I've been studying it frame by frame. I don't want to expose any work secrets but I believe I know how the motion capture was done... I could be wrong of course. I do know how I would do it at least.

Live action camera movement can be tracked in post and applied to any layer (in this case the puppet animation) as well. It's important to shoot higher res in this case because camera shake will involve a black outline until you reverse-track and composite the animation together with the video. I did the exact same thing with the little fireball test, I'm just not sure how Paul did it per-say. But here is the example of the footage alone being motion tracked (and pointing the plots automatically for you!):

Notice the outline. Doing animation and putting it on top of a shaky video will automatically put it out of frame and break the illusion of integration. With the test done by the gang I hope they used some kind of program to track the camera movement - frame by frame point plotting would be really tedious to do. If you use a program all you have to do is plot the general path for the puppet, in this case an L shape around the corner, animate accordingly, apply the motion track to the animation and it should fuse together well. If there are any areas you feel don't fit you can go in and nitpick at individual frames. I've shown this before but here is the animation on top of the tracked footage I did:

Next up is the motion blur and from Paul's posts it suggests he did them frame by frame. That's a lot of frames to individually motion blur. For Moe's Disco Dance I only had to blur out a wire each frame and that was hell to do already. Paul being the compositor though, he could have done something else.

With After Effects you can literally drag a motion blur effect and calculate how much of it you want at specific times and animate it accordingly depending on the speed of the animation. There are plug ins that are already created to near perfection for cases like this - just insane how fast you can get things done now (and with quality I might add). Some say that using a plug-in for motion blur is too "perfect". I think it needs to be pretty darn perfect. It's not something someone can hand blur easily. Motion blur obeys certain rules and it coincides well with the rules given in a program like After Effects.

There are other details like the lighting (which I'm no expert on), the animation, the shadows and color correction, small hiccups with the motion blur and there's actually a split second where the puppet doesn't align with the footage correctly and gives it a floaty feeling. Small details Ron, Paul, Nick, Mike and LIO along with the rest of the community have discussed in length I'm sure. Moving on.

This is Chuck Duke on what I assume is his own personal film. He recently worked on Fantastic Mr. Fox and has some hefty film titles under his belt. He joined up at like... 4 days ago? And already has given me such great advice and insight into my own future. I feel pretty lucky that folks like Chuck and you guys and gals here would take the time to teach me. He even worked on Mr. Resistor!

If you have a minute or two head over to and take a peek at his photos. This guy means business :)

Edit: Don sent me this link: for this film. Entitled "Rung". Check it out for more info.

Princess Leia arrived yesterday and I gotta say, the detail that goes into these toys is an amazing thing. I haven't even touched it yet I felt so unworthy. 30+ points of articulation. I hope it works well with me in the animation process. The weapon she came with is gigantic. It's as tall if not taller than the doll itself (stretching over 1 foot long). I'm hoping that doesn't cause too many balance issues later on. And the last note is that she only comes with a set of hands. Usually toys come with replacement hands... a pair of open ones and closed ones. There's ways to cheat it of course and I'm not complaining about it - I'm happy with it thus far.

My sister bought Chun Li for me the other day as a gift for the big 24 and it's on the way. To get over the guilt I called it a "career investment". When I was plotting out the shots, there were a lot of complications involved. Transforming 2D into real 3D can be extremely tricky. I want it to have its edge but I don't want to stray too far from the original design. I've always been drawn to the artwork that went into the following:

The gameplay is extremely fast paced with effects left and right. Not only that but they're big and flashy. I don't know if I can or even want to incorporate all of it but it'll be fun to try. Sometimes keeping it simple can yield the best results. Most of the questions are if it should / can it be done during the animation phase or in post. Furthermore, studying the clip frame by frame shows a lot of frame-blending. It's used in the game as a way of keeping continuity because the moves are so drastic. When footage gets to the extremes of slows or fasts frame blending is usually implemented. Here is a single frame:

And here is the next frame with blend:

This was done in the older versions of the game but the new version achieves the fast pace and is completely clean... only it's shot on 30fps. I've seen this game in play for a long long time and never knew it blended frames in it's animation until I dissected the video. It's really interesting stuff and that's another thing I'll have to experiment with. I really hope to achieve the fast pace feel. I don't know if I should shoot at 30fps or not. At 30fps the animation is clean but it is wildly fast. Would using the video as a straight reference and toning it down to 24fps without frame blending be so bad? Another thing to experiment.

After all of that I haven't even thought of exactly how the animation would be handled. I won't really know until I hold the doll in my hands and do some test animations. How do you animate about 20 kicks in a second and keep it somewhat smooth? Are loops possible in this case? How do you integrate the effects with the animation smoothly? So many questions to be answered and only experimentation and practice will tell.

Sidenote: Mike favorite-ed a Sara Bareilles song "Gravity". I really love her but I've never heard of this song till now. So thanks Mike haha, you've got great musical taste! Learning it on guitar and I've just about got it... it's one of the toughest songs I've ever attempted - so many funky chords. The mood of the song really fits how I feel at the moment. Till' next time.



  1. Tony, I admire Ron's work. His film "In The Fall of Gravity" was amazing and so does this video you put up here.

    Thanks for the info about motion capture with After effects here. I use After effects but have not explored these features yet. Will check back later when I experiment different things for my film in After Effects.

    By the way, "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles is wonderful! I have been listening to the song since I saw your post.

  2. "Would using the video as a straight reference and toning it down to 24fps without frame blending be so bad? Another thing to experiment."

    Yes, because you are throwing away 6 frames every second. That shows up as a jerk, like dragging a camera dolly over some rocks.

    Frame blending bridges the gaps between the frames that was left by the missing ones.

    20 kicks per second might have to be animated in sub-fields and rendered that way. I don't have experience with that.

  3. I think you are very right about the quality of the 3D tracking tools available today, Tony. I stunning what can be done at home that is far and away superior to expensive special effects in movies a short while ago. I think the tracking test you made is perfect. Did I say that already?

    I liked Mr. Resister. There were a lot of very creative choices made in it that I thought worked very well indeed. Thanks for showing it.

  4. Nice Tony!

    Man, when you make up your mind to do something, you don't screw around, do you?

    Hey, I was a little pissed myself that I had never heard of Gravity before!! It's been out for like 2 years. But what a great discovery though, huh? It puts me in a trance listening to it.

    I don't know if you noticed any of my other recent faves, but you MUST discover Sharon Little!!! Absolutely incredible artist... and a her voice is a perfect match for her guitarist Scott Sax's incredible work. You must hear them live. Try this to start with:

    Most powerful and soulful voice I've heard in many MANY years (make that decades actually).

  5. Woah hey guys!

    Yaz - Yeah After effects is such a power tool, but it sure can be overwhelming at times and is really demanding on your computer. is a great way to learn for free!

    Don - I meant "straight reference" as in animating frame for frame and effectively just slowing the pace down. I'm starting the animation new and not converting already created footage so it will be clean :) The problem is if slowing it down will hinder the fast feel or enhance it by giving the audience time to take it in.

    Shelley - I've always thought Mr. Resistor was a classic and then the guy who helped animate / design him shows up on! I always feel starstruck, kind of how I felt when I found and realized so many of the creators of videos I watched on youtube were right there chatting away :)

    Mike - Can't thank you enough for putting attention to that song hehe, it was a really fun challenge to learn on guitar as well. And I'll definitely look into Sharon Little!

  6. Hey Thanks for the nice words! I was just doing a Google search for me just to see how many people hate me and I've been pleasantly surprised. :) For the record, that shot of the demon chasing Paul had no help from tracking software at all - I did it that way precisely to create a worst-case-scenario and just deal with it. So when Paul went out to shoot the live action, I specifically asked him to just shoot it hand held and I matched the puppet's position in frame on a flying rig for the exclusive purpose of proving that it could be done successfully and I think it worked out pretty well.