Friday, 16 May 2008

The Trying Labour of Coffee & Conversation

Many things fascinate me about the animation process, not least of which are the challenges that present themselves without warning. Shots that seem simple can turn out to be overwhelmingly complicated, and shots I dread can in turn be surprisingly easy to execute.
The last few days have been dominated by a case of the former instance, with a series of shots that feature the Hunter and Duck simply chatting at the kitchen table. I would never have predicted that this would be one of the most complex processes in the entire film, second at this point only to the nightmare of rotoscoping those tracking shots.
This is a consequence of an accumulation of little embellishments which are vital on one hand (I didn’t want the two of them to simply sit and stare motionless at one another - this is animation after all) and a tremendous memory drain - the computer’s and my own - on the other.

Firstly there’s a little bit of leg movement going on. The Hunter nervously jiggles his right leg (a mannerism inherited directly from my good self) while the Duck nonchalantly swings his remaining leg over the side of the chair. For this animation I need two independent cycles that go at different speeds.

Another perpetual loop is the tiny background detail of the clock pendulum swinging. This needs to be timed specifically to the ticking sound effect that will be eventually thrown into the sound mix.

Then there’s my old nemesis, the rain layer. I was certain that I was forever through with the dreaded memory-sapping rain effect, but I’d forgotten the frickin’ kitchen window. Each time we cut to this wide shot there’s a different batch of character animation going on. A few wing and arm movements can be recycled but in sticking to the storyboard I’ve created lots of minutae that the audience probably won’t even register.

On top of all this there’s the lovely task of lip sync, which makes the overall layer count come to…well, take a look for yourself:Animation is generally a harsh medium - there’s a lot of in for not a great deal of out - but when you wind up with a great piece of footage it’s all worth it. When it takes the same (or more) effort to achieve something that is visually banal (albeit necessary) it burns a little more.
These are times when I grow concerned about both keeping to my production schedule as well as maintaining a high level of interest in the project as a whole. Peaks and valleys, I suppose.

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