I am curious to know how, or if, the rest of you are using video reference.  I occasionally film myself to plan a shot and pick my favorite poses and retime them to better suit the animation.  What I am really looking for is to see how to not only study the primary movement but the secondary actions that better describe the inner character and deeper emotion of the character.  I feel like that is the next step in my animation path but am not sure of how to move forward.  Advice? Experiences? 

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I've shot video, or found existing footage, only a couple of times, and that was for pure physics rather than character work.  Like for a puppet playing pool, I had no idea how many frames it would take the cue ball to travel to the other end of the table and hit the balls.  ((Hit by cue stick one frame, whacking the balls the next frame, as it turned out.)  Or a falling tree (found a shot, didn't go out and fell a tree just for that!)  Because with physics you can tell when it looks wrong.  And I guess that secondary animation falls into that category, because it is often involuntary, just following on from the momentum of the main actions. I am thinking here of how a hopping rabbit's ears dip down just after it lands and is starting to come up again, they are really acting like little pendulums.  They will obey the laws of physics, how stiff or floppy they are, how long they are,  and how heavy, and as such there is a small range where it will look believable.  

A rabbit drooping it's ears because it is sad is a different thing, and the rabbit can do it as fast or as slow as it wants to, so it's acting, and it isn't so likely to look "wrong".  But it may or may not express the emotion you wanted to get across.

I looked on Youtube for some flying references, mainly bats, before shooting a batwinged harpy creature flying.  But since you can't click through the frames on Youtube, I couldn't count frames to get the timing.  It did help with the way the wings fold on the upstroke and open out more on the downstroke.  I could have downloaded and converted to QT mov files, and probably should have.  Again, this has more to do with the mechanical actions and the effect of air resistance on the wing than the character of the creature.

There are times I probably should have acted something out and videoed it, where it was all about the character  -  I might have got a more expressive shot.  (Although with my awkward and self-conscious moves when there is a camera pointing at me, it might not have helped that much.)  

But yes,  it sounds like a good plan!  I know there is a level of animation, seen in recent feature films, that I have not reached, and this is probably what it would take to get there.

Thanks Nick. Yes, it is these new feature films that are inspiring the new use of video reference.  I am often seeing the guys at Aardman, Laika, and Disney in the past use extensive video reference and actual people acting out the shots.  I would like to get my animation up to that level. 

I really appreciate getting your feedback as some of the shots you have posted also have a very high level of finesse to them and I was wondering how you planned that into the shot.

I love my video reference. Sometimes perhaps a bit too much!
I began using it with smp then dragon. I found it gave me just what you're after, but if you're not careful it can really bog you down.
I found I lost some spontinaety and got really caught up in the smallest of anticipation and follow through moves.
I got stuck in a few hospital waiting rooms with an iPad and the Lego movie maker app and a few toys and had onion skin and 10fps. I must say it was very liberating to go straight ahead without video ref again.
Having said that, I still use it for 'proper' shots.
Just use it when you need it and like everything else, it's a tool you can use when required.
Just my thoughts!

Thanks for the insight and advice Jason.  Is your video reference mostly of you acting or do you use other types as well?

I had the privilege of meeting with Lloyd Price of Aardman the other day and he stressed how much they use live-action video on every shot.  They even dress in costume to help them get the physics and acting right.  It was an eye opener.

The extent to which Aardman and Laika use video reference blocking gets almost into the realm of rotoscoping. But It pays off with great realism in movements.

When leading an animation after school program, I continuously emphasize the need for blocking, because it helps new students so much more in understanding the motions they want to execute.

I video myself blocking moves, then import the files into FCPX, cut them up and use the retiming tool extensively to get everything how I want it. I find it very handy for 24fps productions, but not so necessary for anything shot on twos. It all depends on how invested I am in a production, because as others have said, you can get really bogged down in the pre-production planning, but the rewards for that planning can be the difference between casual and enthralling.

This is nothing new... Will Vinton Productions really pioneered it (with film reference) in the 70's. I also think blocking is important, as it can be very difficult to see what is going on in a storyboard or animatic if an animator (like myself) can not draw well. Blocking out a shot with reference has not only helped for timing purposes, but also for getting the general direction of the shot into a concrete visual blueprint that is absolutely limited by physical space and the real-world rules that impose upon movement.

Blocking works best on one's, because you are looking at a slice of time in smaller and more realistic increments in terms of spacing, and every other piece of the puzzle is not missing from that action,  but for two's where that is the case it's better to rely on the X-sheet, because you can see what frames a movement begins and terminates on (or must begin and terminate on, if you are synchronizing with pre-recorded music or dialog) and how that relates to the timing of other things going on in a shot. It's like a series of "spreadsheet marionettes" that dangle next to each other and move independently of one another, but whose movements overlap in places as seen in follow through and secondary motion.

Steven Topham said:

The extent to which Aardman and Laika use video reference blocking gets almost into the realm of rotoscoping. But It pays off with great realism in movements.

When leading an animation after school program, I continuously emphasize the need for blocking, because it helps new students so much more in understanding the motions they want to execute.

I video myself blocking moves, then import the files into FCPX, cut them up and use the retiming tool extensively to get everything how I want it. I find it very handy for 24fps productions, but not so necessary for anything shot on twos. It all depends on how invested I am in a production, because as others have said, you can get really bogged down in the pre-production planning, but the rewards for that planning can be the difference between casual and enthralling.

Video references are a mystery to me. If I have to do character animation I act it out. Even in these instances I tend to let the characters have a major say on the timing as their bodies are different to mine;  Sometimes fatter, always smaller, all with different degrees of flexibility.

The old masters never had a problem conveying emotional content with the crudest of puppets. So I guess the argument for getting closer to the inner depth of a character by using a style based on video references is flawed.

How close we may want to get to reality is a personal choice. Not an obligation or the standard to strive for. The world of animation would be such a boring one if all it amounted to was the ever closer depiction of the world as we see it.

I completely agree Gustavo.  So much of my favorite animation has nothing to do with reality.  Stuff like a Town Called Panic, or Max Winston's Mr Whoop is so inspiring.  Right now, I am trying to learn how to get to the point that I  understand how to get my animation to feel like real life.  I have just finished a film based on 1940s style cartoons with much less "real" timing.  This is a skill I would like to acquire now so I can decide to use it or not to in future projects.

Hi Adam. I misunderstood the original question. I thought we meant live reference from the camera. I do love that, However I did work at Aardman on curse of the wererabbit and we used it a bit on that. It wasn't really as much rotoscoping as much as the director ensuring you had his vision in mind whilst animating.
Like nick has mentioned, it's great to understand actual movement but not so much for stylised or imagined moves. I think a good grounding in the 12 principles of animation goes much further than video reference.
On Mary and max, we used it for 3 or 4 shots, but definitely acted the move out constantly during each shot.
I much prefer the acting in front of a mirror method when needed.
Sorry to confuse:)
Cheers Jason.

Thanks Jason.  I am just finishing a masters degree in animation and am trying to figure out how to improve to the point that I can start getting work.  The people that I have talked to at Aardman sware by video reference so I wanted to know how to use it best as I haven't done much with it myself.

Oh, and sorry for the slow reply.  I'm trying to finish up my final film this week and soon move back to the states.  Busy times.

Sounds like you're having fun and in the end, that's why we do it! Just take your time and my best advice would be to have a good overview of the shot and its context within the sequence and film, but during the shot, think of where you'd like to be in 12 frames time, or your next 'key' frame or pose.

Thanks for the advice Jason.  Yes, I'm loving it.  I can't wait to get my next studio set up and start another film.

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