Planning has been a hot topic for animation bloggers these days, and it's also a hot topic over at Animation Mentor as so many folks are just starting to get their feet wet with character animation. While a lot of the talk is about taking the time to plan in sufficient detail through a variety of techniques, I feel it's important to mention that even when there appears to be no time to plan, it becomes that much more important to take what little time there is and plan anyway.
This point was most strongly driven home on the very last day of animation production for the Robots short. It was a Friday morning, and we got ready for our final video conference call with the Blue Sky team, full of confidence that the last shots were done, and looking forward to nothing but approvals. When the Blue Sky folks got on the line, there were the usual greetings and connection-checkings and such...and then things got interesting.
They announced that they wanted to add another shot.
This is the kind of thing that makes animation supervisors (not to mention producers) cringe a little bit, and I must admit I did my share of cringing when I initially heard this proposal. The key concern was that the shot had to be done that day. We had another conference call scheduled later that afternoon, which meant that there would only be about two hours for someone to animate the new shot so we could get it up in front of them for review. Despite the uber-tight timeline, we committed to it, and pushed ahead to look at the animatic for the shot. As we watched it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the action and staging was constructed in such a way that it might actually be do-able in such a short time frame, even though the shot was four seconds long.
Because I was in the room for the initial presentation and had my eyes on the thing already, I decided to animate the shot myself. I knew that I wouldn't have time for thumbnails or video reference, but I also knew that I had to be really organized with how I tackled it or I'd spend two hours floundering around in Maya. So I began planning it out the only way I could at the time: in my head.
I peppered the Blue Sky folks with questions so I could get a really clear idea of what they wanted. As the animatic looped, I pictured the motion of the 3D characters through the frame. I even pictured (to some extent) how the motion curves would look in the graph editor. I tried to get the clearest possible vision of how the shot should look and what I would need to do to construct that look. When the meeting was over, we had a final quick bit of internal discussion about it, and I went to work.
Two hours later, the shot was done. We posted it for Blue Sky to review in our afternoon conference call, and thankfully there were only a few minor changes to make to take it to final. Those were done in short order, and the shot was approved and sent off to start lighting before the day was out.
Looking back, I know that planning made all the difference. Even though I was limited to asking questions and rehearsing the shot in my mind for maybe 15 minutes, that still helped a TON when I finally sat down and started setting keys on the computer. Without that little bit of planning, I would have been sunk.
"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
(For the morbidly curious, the shot in question is the very last shot in the short, after the credits...)