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Wednesday 22 December 2010

Making of Legend of the Guardians

I believe this video is one of the extras from the DVD of Legend of the Guardians which was released in the US last week.

The clip shows a few of the animators acting out their scenes for reference, and some have a real talent for performing as well as animating. Sadly I'm not featured but I think there is probably enough footage of me 'acting' on the internet already.

I feel I should mention that although this was a process favoured by many animators including myself, not everyone did it or found it useful. Some would get frustrated at their inability to capture the performance they wanted or were not comfortable in front of the camera. They would prefer and were perfectly capable of finding a great performance internally or through drawing. There is no one way of working that is right for everyone and all animators have to find what leads to the best end result for them.

Merry Christmas and a big thank you to everyone who is following this blog.

Friday 10 December 2010


If you're an animator around Soho this Monday night you might want to stop by the Jewel Bar for the Bring Your Own Animation event being organised by Double Negative Animator Samy Fecih.

It promises to be a pretty spectacular, there will be recruiters from Double Negative to take reels and chat with people who have questions about the company, Senior Animators (such as Oskar Urretabizkaia, Rob Bekuhrs, Paul A. Davies, Stephane Mangin and myself) available to offer advice and review work, and even a lightbox for anyone brave enough to attempt some public traditional animation. You can just stop by for a bit of networking and a beer, or bring your work along on a usb stick and get feedback on it.

More information can be found on the website or facebook page.

It starts at 6.30 and costs £1, hope to see you there.

Sunday 5 December 2010

John Carter of Mars

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I've been rather busy relocating to London but I've now settled in and hope to get some interesting things up here soon.

As for work, I'm very excited to be back at Double Negative, animating on the feature John Carter of Mars which is being directed by Pixar's Andrew Stanton.

Saturday 16 October 2010

The Name's Digger ...

As some clips from the film Legend of the Guardians have been released I thought it might be interesting to choose one that I worked on and explain the style of the animation, how I approached my shots and the techniques I adopted for the process.

The scene I’ve chosen is the introduction of the character Digger.

This scene has a simple structure. The characters Soren and Digger meet, they argue, Gylfie intervenes and the aggressor, Digger (who's driving the scene) reaches a turning point where he changes his mind about our main characters and agrees to help. Conflict is the essence of drama and all stories requires drama to entertain the viewer and to succeed. It makes the animator's job easier if the conflict driving the scene is obvious to them.

This scene was lead by James Cunliffe and animated by his team which composed of Andrew Hunt, Jerome Dernoncourt, Thomas Price, Tim Rowlandson, and myself. It was animated early in production - it was my third sequence, but for Jerome, Thomas and Andrew, who had just arrived on the project, it was their first scene. I'm sure it was a little daunting for them to be given such an important character piece straight away. I remember Andrew's frustration as he was allocated a significant shot in the middle of the sequence which he was trying to animate whilst also getting to grips with the project's software and tools. However Andrew's talent prevailed and he achieved what was required, producing one of my favourite shots of the film.

Andrew's shot, much longer in the film than in the youtube version above.

Coincidentally this scene was not only the introduction to the character Digger, but it was the first shots of him to be animated. We were therefore given the responsibility of defining his character and laying down the foundations of how he would be animated throughout the film.

There was some interesting physicality to the scene and it was a good opportunity for us to explore how the owls would move. The brief was to keep them as naturalistic as possible in their movements, but we still had to use these movements to convey the character's motivations and feelings.

Digger is a burrowing owl and therefore written into the scene were a couple of examples of a burrowing owl’s behaviour which needed to be animated. Firstly, as a burrowing owl he lives in a hole in the ground there was a point in the scene where he had to dig and spray dirt onto Soren. Secondly, prior to this there was a pose he had to adopt, which is based on genuine owl behaviour, where he brought his wings out to his side and tilted them forward - this is a stance adopted by owls who feel threatened to make themselves appear larger and therefore more intimidating to a would-be attacker.

Beyond these two scripted behaviours myself and the rest of the team wanted to bring as much of a burrowing owl's timing, poses and attitude to the character as possible. For example, burrowing owls naturally have a very staccato way of moving, a type of movement which fitted Digger's eccentric personality. Actor David Wenham, who provided the voice, had already done a great job of adding this to his performance.

Some footage of a characterful burrowing owl.

I was given the first two shots in the sequence where Digger emerges from his hole and says the line. "Ow, nice hunting. Catching a moth that's already been caught."

I had to animate both characters in the two shots. I thought it might be interesting to contrast the two owl's actions against one another, by keeping Soren as naturalistic as possible while making Digger's performance broader in range and more cartoony. In the start of the first shot we saw Soren catching a moth in his talons (unfortunately mostly missed by the movie's fade-in from black) so I researched this action thoroughly. By observing this action of owls it was interesting to see the way they keep their wings back during the attack, their talons come forward from under their chin and how they reach out in front of their face.

I looked at a lot of footage of owls pouncing and the final animation was an amalgamation of many of them, but these are three that I found particularly useful. The first two are barn owls, the last is a hawk owl

Soren with flipped image from reference footage.

Here is some footage I used for Soren's reaction to Digger jumping out the hole and saying "Hey". Although I feel a little sorry for these owls being chased around by their keeper, I really liked their faltering steps and the a-symmetrical pose of the wings. This sort of action seemed to suit Soren at this point- his surprise had made his actions appear primal and naturalistic.

Flipped image from footage.

Soren in similar pose.

I then filmed some reference shots of myself acting out Digger's line, I’m not purporting to be an actor but I do find this process useful. Like I've set out before in my post 'Capturing Honesty', I try not to plan too much, I just try to gauge the personality of the character involved as much as possible and concentrate on the emotions of the shot. I knew Digger would be moving forward towards Soren but I tried not to focus on this. Also the acting room was too small to walk the distance I needed, so I knew I'd have to add more steps to the performance during animation.

I apologise for the quality and the sound of the movie, this is because I filmed it at 3/4 speed then sped it back up to the right frame rate afterwards. This is a tip I picked up from James Cunliffe. The extra time enables you to relax and not rush your performance, it also helped to make my movement sharper, something that would suit Digger’s character.

I decided upon a combination of two takes. I liked these because my attitude felt about right for the moment and my body action seemed to match the rhythm dialogue - something I decided to exaggerate during animation. I also liked the expression at the end. It changes briefly from anger and annoyance to something close to hurt and fear. I liked this as it shows a chink in Digger's armour. Digger is in fact not a real threat, and is unlikely to attack Soren. His aggressive reaction to Soren is nothing more than bravado, although we don't know Digger yet, Digger is harmless and he is simply upset at the loss of 'his' moth. The expression just flashes briefly across Digger's face, making it less obvious - an emotion he was trying to hide.

Expression I tried to recreate from reference.

This sequence was the first one in which I used this way of working - looking through bird footage for actions I could use, then filming myself performing the line and then marrying the two together to create a mixture of a character and naturalistic performance. Therefore this scene also helped me find and define my way of working as this became an approach I adopted throughout the rest of the film.

Digger out of sight. Shot animated by Tim Rowlandson.

I also animated a Gylfie shot later in the sequence, this was a little more straight forward. However, in the storyboards and animatic of the sequence Digger's back was still visible as he hid in his hole, but we decided that it would be funnier and easier to have him completely hidden from view. The animation director, Eric Leighton, then had the idea that Digger should not just be idle in the hole but moving around, doing something odd, out of sight of the audience. This would therefore have to be conveyed through the reactions of Soren and Gylfie as they peered into the hole.

My shot showing a confused Gylfie.

My first take of Gylfie was more straight forward, Gylfie just earnestly delivering her line - "We didn't mean to take your moth". But after Eric suggested the idea in relation to Digger, I added to the shot her looking around and expressing confusion.

As with almost all my animation, time and distance from it and hindsight mean that I now look back on these first few shots and wish I had done a few things differently.

I started the sequence before some of the other animators, and had a block of my shots approved quickly. I later saw how Andrew and James had animated the character of Digger - making his movements snappier and adding more secondary expressions. This, I feel, was more successful than mine and would have liked to have gone back into my first shot and amended it. Unfortunately, however there wasn't enough time to do this.

Images from James' shot (left) and Andrew's (right).

And although I still quite like the feel of Gylfie's shot, I feel the idea of her following Digger in the hole was not as clear as it could have been.

However, the animation director commented positively on my performance of Soren in the first shot and showed it to many animators as an example of his movement to follow, so perhaps I helped define some of the film's style there.

I still like the scene overall and I'm very glad I was able to work on it. It was fun to make and was carried out during an exciting point in production where deadlines were a little more forgiving and there was much to discover - from the characters and their movements to the resources and animation tools, as well as ways of working with them.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I would like to thank all those who have read, passed on and mentioned my flight tutorial on their website, I've been blown away by the reaction to it. And welcome to the new followers of this blog, I will endeavour to make my posts as interesting as possible!

Saturday 25 September 2010

Bird Flight Tutorial

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I've been enjoying some time off and also moving home - from Australia back to Europe. However, I'm going to try and atone for my absence now with something I hope that you will find was worth the wait.

As Guardians is officially released in the US this weekend, I thought I'd share something relevant to the film. I feel my main area of influence in this animated film was in the design of the bird flight. I created many of the hero characters' flight cycles which were then used by the rest of the animation team.

I'd been lucky enough to animate many flying creatures prior to being appointed to Guardians. I therefore had a reasonable understanding of bird flight, so for the benefit of others, I attempted to write down my thoughts and tips on the subject in my spare time.

It quickly expanded into quite a long and detailed document as I sought to further my knowledge by drawing on all the sources I could - from video footage to websites and books on flight and ornithology. The following pages represent the finished document which was shown to all new arrivals on the project to help them quickly get up to speed and avoid the many pitfalls of animating bird flight.


This will probably be most helpful to anyone who is currently animating a bird or other flying creature but hopefully others will find it an interesting insight into how I break down an animal's movement. When animating animals, especially realistic ones it is important to avoid animation clich├ęs and preconceived ideas as to how the animal moves as well as learn from others who have attempted it before you.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Owls No More

Animation has now wrapped on Legend of the Guardians and the film is scheduled for release in the US on the 24th September.

I would like to congratulate the entire animation team here at Animal Logic, it's been a real pleasure to work with such a talented and friendly bunch, and they've produced some simply stunning work.

Legend of the Guardians animators, I'm in the left third of the picture in the middle, wearing a grey top with orange t-shirt.

I've worked on the film for the last year and seven months and produced over 3 minutes of animation for the film ... which both sounds like a lot and not very much at the same time. It's been a tough production and myself and the rest of the department are definitely looking forward to some well-earned rest. But it's also been very enjoyable, I've definitely learned a lot and would like to thank James Cunliffe, Eric Guaglione and Eric Leighton, they have been a great source of inspiration and knowledge throughout.

I would also like to say a big thank you to my team - Wings of Desire who have been awesome. They have produced some really great work for the very challenging sequences we were given.

Left to right - Jerome Dernoncourt, Tim Rowlandson, Daniel Harris, Tonya Tornberg, Myself, Simon Ashton, Thomas Price. (missing Hunjin Park). As you can see I've been working so hard I've been unable to get a haircut recently!

Thanks guys! And good luck to everyone still working to finish the film.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

New Legend of The Guardians Trailer

Here's the latest trailer for the film I'm currently working on, Legend of The Guardians : The Owls of Ga'Hoole

I was lucky enough to have some of my work featured in it.

My shot from the previous trailer of an ominous group of owls makes a re-appearance ... but now the main character shouts "Get Them", and remarkably she does this without moving her lips!

My other shots appear near the end when the cutting gets faster.

I animated a large portion of a chase sequence for the film which you get a glimpse of here, in the first shot we see two owls bearing down on a blue bird.

My next shot has been cut into two, in the first part we see the two owls from the previous shot collide. Then after the cut, one of the owls reaches forward about to grasp the bird.

Look out for the trailer in cinemas. It will be playing in 2D and 3D in front of Toy Story 3 which will be released in the US on June 18, and in Australia on June 24.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

New Website

The new design of my website is finally finished!

I've wanted to update my first somewhat garish attempt at website design almost from the moment I'd finished it. I learned a lot from designing the original site but I think the main problem was that I created it in lots of little pieces which then I put together without much thought as to how the various elements worked together. This site, however, has been designed as more of a whole. It's still brightly coloured and in a similar style to the previous one but I've tried to make it cleaner and keep the colour palette limited and cohesive. Although, the old version still lingers on, should anyone particularly want to revisit that colour scheme.

I'm reasonably happy with it, ideally I would have liked the pages to load a bit faster, but after working on it intermittently for over a year sometimes you just have to say enough.

Content wise, I'm afraid there isn't a lot of new animation to see. Although I have added a couple of the commercials I worked on at Framestore. There are still a few things I need to add, and hopefully I'll have some more animation tutorials to put up soon.

Check it out here.

Monday 17 May 2010

My Showreel

My Showreel is now available to view on Vimeo.

Showreel from Brendan Body on Vimeo.

Unfortunately it doesn't feature any of my latest work from Legends of the Guardians, however I'll be showing some exciting stuff from the film later this year.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Eric Guaglione's Roger Rabbit 2 Test

Animal Logic's Head of Animation, Eric Guaglione, has had a long and varied career in the film and animation industry. He started out in traditional drawn animation and miniature work, from there he moved over to computers and worked at the forefront of 3D animation. Before Eric came to Animal Logic he worked at Disney Animation Studios where he was involved in project development and animation supervision.

He has been a part of many interesting projects but one thing he showed me that really blew me away was a test for Roger Rabbit 2 he helped create in 1998 while at Disney. I'd never seen the exaggeration and fluidity of drawn animation mixed with the solidity of 3D animation work so well before. Here's a low-res preview -

Eric Guaglione's Roger Rabbit Test from Brendan Body on Vimeo.

Roger Rabbit Test: property of Disney Animation Studios

For a better look, head over to Eric's website where there is a high quality Quicktime to step through, as well as more of his work.

Recently I was inspired by the work of Clay Kaytis over at Animation Podcast and decided to conduct a few interviews of my own. I was fortunate enough to record one with Eric which I've been hoping to turn into a series of animation related podcasts ... or bodcasts if you will, but haven't yet found the time. However, I thought it would be interesting to post the part where Eric talks about this test - why it was created, the problems encountered and what eventually happened to the project.

Hopefully I'll get time to post the rest of this 'Animation Bodcast' as well as others soon (I've added an extra link to the topics).

Huge thanks to Eric for agreeing to the interview and a big thanks to the subscribers of this blog. 25 now! I am seriously amazed.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

The Weight Problem

Probably one of the most consistent comments from leads and animation directors during review is that a character 'needs a little more weight', and frustratingly it's not always easy or obvious how to rectify this. Sometimes it's down to posing and balance but often it's just that the character feels too light as they are moving around.

weight through posing by Wayne Gilbert

How to make things look heavy in animation is something that even experienced animators struggle with. I touched on this subject in my bouncing ball lecture but I think it would be good to go into more detail and really figure out how and why objects feel weighty or not when in movement. In the lecture I showed how to vary weight in the bouncing ball by altering the 'gap' - the distance between the last drawing of the ball falling and the 'squash' frame when it first impacts the ground.

These balls appear to have different weights; the one on the left feels like a ping pong ball, the one in the middle, a tennis ball, and the one on the right feels more like a bowling ball. Why does this work? All I have affectively done is slightly evened out the spacing of the heavy ball and lessen the distance the ball falls, which affectively makes the ball fall slower than the other balls. How does that make something feel heavier? Common sense would tell you that a heavier object would fall faster and accelerate more quickly, surely that is the way to make things look heavier? It seems counter-intuitive to have something you want to feel heavier, fall slower than something lighter.

But as Galileo Galilei famously proved gravity accelerates all objects at the same rate.* He demonstrated that if he dropped dropped a ten-pound weight and a one-pound weight off the Leaning Tower of Pisa they would hit the ground at the same time. Gravity acts on all objects equally despite their size and weight. This gives us quite a headache, is it therefore impossible to make a character seem heavier through gravity? If all objects fall at the same rate how can we make some feel heavier than others?

Maybe we're missing something, lets look at how gravity affects an object falling from different heights.

*Obviously there are other factors to consider the main one being air resistance if you had an object that was very light but had a large surface area, such as a feather then it will obviously fall much slower than a something of greater mass but with less surface area such as a cannon ball, but in a vacuum the ball and feather will fall at the same rate. In animation we are mostly dealing with characters - human or animal which are made of the same stuff - bone, muscle, fat, skin, and will therefore have about the same weight to surface area ratio. We can therefore take Galileo's law to be true - an elephant will fall as fast a mouse.

Ball Tests from Brendan Body on Vimeo.

Here I'm dropping a ball from 30cm*, 100cm, 200cm and 400cm and on the right of the screen I'm counting how many frames the ball falls for.

The results are as follows -

30cm = 6 frames
100cm = 11 frames
200cm = 16 frames
400cm = 23 frames

* not quite as accurate as I would like because I couldn't see what I was doing too clearly.

Here I have created a composite image of the tests, I've drawn a circle round the ball to help clarify their position. I've also adjusted the images so all the start and ground positions are at the same height on the screen.

If we simplify this further so we can just concentrate on the spacing, we can see the greater the height the ball falls, the more frames or longer it takes but interestingly the more even the spacing becomes.

In fact the spacing only appears very extreme at the start of the first test. Although this extreme spacing occurs at the start of the other drops, it is over such a short distance that it becomes hard to perceive that the ball is moving at all. Also look at how more even the spacing gets the further the ball falls, the spacing at the bottom of the last drop looks almost equidistant - the overall effect is that if the ball is falling from a great height it's motion is more even than if it's falling from a small height.

So we can deduce that the further an object or character falls, the longer this will take but also the more even the spacing will become.

Now, try and apply this information to an animation problem. Let's say we are given a scene to animate were a tyrannosaurus walks across frame.

We want this creature to appear realistic and obviously big and heavy, but we are unable to simply copy it from nature, there is no bipedal creature alive today that is as big as the Tyrannosaurus and therefore nothing we can use as reference.

However, we might look to a large bird from today like this ostrich, and try and scale up it's walk. Let's say we find a piece of reference where an ostrich walks through frame like above. You'll notice that like the ball images, the two creatures appear the same size in their respective shots. Although we know this to be false, it's easy to get sidetracked by the size of something in screen (or 'screen space'). In our computer scenes and on our pieces of paper there is often very little to help us get a good idea about how big something is or how far it's moving. Even though the ostrich and the Tyrannosaurus appear the same size in the two images, we know that the ostrich is 2 meters (6½ ft) tall were as the Tyrannosaurus is double the size at 4 meters (13ft). There is also a huge difference in weight between the two, the ostrich weighs just 45 kg (100lb) were the Tyrannosaurus is around 6.8 metric tons in weight.

To apply our ball information, let's look to the part of the body that falls during the walk cycle - the hips. We could take the range of movement in the ostrich and apply it to our Tyrannosaurus.

Let's say upon studying the ostrich we found that it's vertical hip range was 30cm*, we could then determine the tyrannosaurus' range. But how would we show this extra distance in movement? Well, we can use what we've just learned from the ball, for an object to fall 30cm will take around 6 frames. We know the Tyrannosaurus is double the height of the ostrich and therefore it's vertical hip range would be 60 cm. We know that it would be impossible for the Tyrannosaurus' hips under gravity alone to fall this distance in the same time, and we could probably make quite an accurate guess as to how long it would take to fall this far (8-9 frames) we also know that since the hips are falling further the spacing will appear more even, again we could use our ball images above to apply quite an accurate result.

*I've exaggerated the range in this example for clarity, in reality an ostrich's hip would on raise and fall around 2 inches (5cm).

But why stop here? We could take this further, we could exaggerate these values for the Tyrannosaurus and imply that he's even bigger than he is. If we use a few more frames and make the spacing slightly more even, we will give the effect that the Tyrannosaurs is actually even bigger and HEAVIER than it might actually have been.

And this is really the point I'm trying to make, the animator actually has a great deal of power over the physical world of their character. They can create a false gravity to imply the size - although the audience gets the impression that gravity has stayed the same and the object has got bigger.

We cannot use gravity to make an object seem heavier, instead we must create our own gravity to imply things are bigger and therefore heavier.

If we go back to our bouncing balls again we can see that what we've actually done. By reducing the final gap before the squash, this implies that the ball is bigger. So, by reducing the amount it's falling, we are effectively making it fall slower and by lessening the 'gap' we've evened out the spacing. All these things imply that the ball is bigger (as well as heavier) but further away.

For more confirmation of this theory let's look at something truly massive falling from a great distance - a huge piece of ice falling from the end of a glacier.

The ice in this video is traveling around the same distance in frame as our ball tests, but look how long it takes to fall this far. It looks almost as though it's in slow motion, when in fact, the ice is falling at around the same rate as our ball. As we are further away it seems much slower, and look at the spacing, it's even more even, the ice looks like it's falling at a constant speed, only very slightly accelerating.

But weight is not only a gravitational, vertical issue. As things move horizontally or in any direction around the screen, they can feel light. Often it's our inability to determine actual distance in our shot or 'screen space' that is conspiring to confuse us once again.

Let's look at two animals we might animate. The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah can run at 60 mph, however the cheetah is still a big animal so we also need to show it's weight.

Let's compare it to a small animal, like the squirrel, which can run only at 20 mph. However, the squirrel is much lighter and if we compare speed for their size - by seeing how long it takes each creature to run it's own body length.

We find that the squirrel for it's size is actually quicker than a cheetah.

Weight is a fine balancing act. Often we want big, heavy things to move fast but we always have to keep in mind that they are big and to show that size (and weight) they have to move slower through shot comparatively than something that we want to appear light.

Also, as we found in our ball test, our acceleration or spacing on a small creature like our squirrel, can be more extreme. Because of it's tiny weight, a squirrel can accelerate to it's top speed very quickly (over just a few frames) which means more exaggerated spacing. Where as a big animal like the cheetah takes longer to reach it's top speed and therefore has more even spacing.

But keep in mind animation is not about recreating reality. We can also play with weight, making some characters feel heavier which can give them a greater presence in a shot and therefore a greater sense of importance.

Yoda is a small yet powerful character. His movement is usually slow and considered which subconsciously tricks the audience into thinking that he's larger and therefore more important. When Yoda jumped around during his light sabre duel in Star Wars : Attack of the Clones his character was made to look light, this destroyed the illusion for many, he suddenly felt weaker and less important at precisely the moment he needed to look strong.

This weight theory is not just about making big characters seem big, it can also be used to give weight and gravitas to small light characters when they need it.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Legend of the Guardians Trailer

Yay! I finally get to show something from the film I'm currently working on - The Legend of the Guardians, directed by Zack Snyder of Watchmen and 300 fame. It's based on the book series The Guardians Of Ga'Hoole by Kathryn Lasky.

I was fortunate enough to animate two shots for the trailer, one where an ominous group of owls adopt an attacking formation.

And the shot at the end were a heroic owl rises, carrying a burning lantern. I've been animating a lot of shots in slow motion on this film, something I've never done before. It poses quite an interesting challenge, I'll have to write a post about it soon.

There's a lengthy article about the film here for anyone who wishes to find out more.


Friday 19 February 2010

Broken Computer

Apologies about the lack of posts recently. Unfortunately my home computer is currently not working and it'll be at least a week or two until it's fixed, but I should have something really good to post very soon ...