Animation Body Mechanics: The Importance of Video Reference
Character animation at its very basic level is essentially recreating real-life movements, whether it's 2D animation, or 3D. Sure, much of this consists of exaggerating these real-life actions to increase appeal and to create something more entertaining to watch. It's our job, as animators, to understand how the human body moves and reacts, not only that, but also how animals and even inanimate objects behave. To understand animation, and to create believable movements, we must study how things in the world move. Take a walk cycle, for example, if the hips are moving incorrectly, and the weight is off then the animation is going to suffer. Sure, you could argue it's trying to be more of a cartoony style animation, but even so, you need to have some sort of believability in the movement. While the walk cycle may be extremely exaggerated, and over the top, that doesn't mean things like weight, and essential body mechanics can be overlooked. In the Animation Fundamentals Series, you learned about the very basics of character animation, and how to utilize many of the principles of animation to achieve believable movement. (Catch up on the previous articles in the Character Animation Fundamentals Series: Timing and Spacing, Overlapping Action, Squash and Stretch, Anticipation). In a sense, we are still going to be studying the fundamentals of animation, but applying it to more advanced animations. Things like Ease in and Ease out, and Exaggeration are going to be taught, but taught through body mechanics, rather than simple objects like basketballs, and pendulums. Even though the basketball bounce is an essential animation exercise that every new animator needs to master, it only gets you so far, and at some point you will need to apply what you learned to a full character. However, before you can jump into more advanced animations, you must start with the basics of body mechanics. You need to learn how to study the real-world, and apply what you see into your animations, so that the animation, whether it's a character jumping, or a baby walking for the first time is animated in a convincing way. Without a strong understanding of the way we move, your animation is going to suffer. For this first part in the Body Mechanics series you'll learn about the steps to take that will help you have a better understanding of body mechanics, and the best way to do that is through video reference. Video reference is really an animator's best friend. Video reference plays a key role in nearly every single animation that you do, at least it should. It's important not to think of video reference as "cheating" because it certainly isn't. Video reference is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal, and with the Internet, you can find excellent video reference for just about every action imaginable, whether it's someone doing a back flip on the ground, or a person sprinting. Video reference is just as important to an animator as the photograph is to the portrait artist. It gives you a guide to follow, and an understanding of how the action is actually accomplished in the real-world. In addition, it gives your animation believability, and a stepping-stone to build from. As you learned in the Five Steps to Animating a Cartoony Shot article, you can use video reference as a building block, even if you are tackling a very cartoony shot. That is another vital thing to keep in mind, even if you're trying to tackle something more exaggerated and stylized, it doesn't mean video reference can't come in handy. You just need to learn what to look for in the reference, and what to push and exaggerate.