Monday, April 18, 2011

Squats and Stretch

Yeah, I know, it's Squash and Stretch, but that's not the point.

This past weekend my training involved squatting, and I can think of few other exercises that so perfectly demonstrate the 12 principles of animation than the competitive back squat. There's squash-n-stretch, ease in/out, arcs, timing, exaggeration, etc., each having its own part in performing not only a mechanically sound squat, but a squat that will be successful in competition.

To perform a mechanically sound squat that will get white-lighted (judged as successful) in competition, you generally have the following to consider:
  • Staging - You are standing on a platform in front of 3 judges
  • Anticipation - Unrack the bar and wait for the "Squat!" command. Popping my hips back to start the squat. Waiting for the "Rack!" command at the end.
  • Ease in/Out - slow the descent of the squat, accelerating on the way down
  • Squash & Stretch - Going from standing (stretched) to squatted (squashed) position, and going from squatted (squashed) position to standing (stretched)
  • Arcs- actually, here there is a desire to remove arcs- keeping your back stiff and not rounded, and keeping the bar moving in a straight line up and down
  • Solid Drawing- holding your form is very important, and akin to keeping solid volume with animation- if the volume is bad, the move is bad. Good form prevents injury!
  • Exaggeration - Going deeper than is necessary on the squat (below parallel) so the judges have no doubt you hit depth.
  • Secondary Action - it's always entertaining to see the facial expressions on people who are squatting.
  • Followthrough - the heavier the weight is, the more the bar will bend. You get some cool overlap of the bar post-squat. You also need to bring the bar to a standstill post-squat to get the "rack" command
  • Timing - on top of only getting 1 minute to perform the action (which usually takes 3-4 seconds), your speed to the bottom of the squat and explosiveness up factor heavily in a successful attempt.
  • Appeal - The overall look of your squat, when judged as a whole
  • Straight Ahead/Pose to Pose - The whole squat action itself is very pose-to-pose driven, while unracking and racking is more straight ahead.

Here, I've thrown in the principles as they are executed in one of my squat attempts:

In animation, we can look at the bouncing ball test to learn the above principles. This animation would obviously be considerably faster than a squat movement, but the principles and mechanics are generally the same:

When used properly, the principles as applied to animation guide an animator in creating an appealing, successful animation. Breaking down my squat in terms of those same principles helps me understand the mechanics of the human body, and allows to me see where, why & when I should use each principle when creating my animation.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On Failure

Today, my training session was for Maximum Effort (i.e., 1-rep max) bench press. I felt good going into it, but I failed on my last attempt. What's worse is the weight of the last attempt wasn't even my PR (personal record/best)- I've done better and I know I CAN do better. It was just one of those days where it didn't happen.

The same thing happens for me with my animation. I'll plan a move, think it's going to work great, and then when I start working on it, I just can't get any traction with it. Sometimes, I'll get a move done, get it in game, and realize that it just doesn't work for the art direction we have. Other times, I think I've nailed it, and I'll get feedback that it just doesn't work and needs to change.

All of these things are "failures," just like my last attempt was today. Failing sucks, big time, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing- in fact, it's just the opposite. Without failing, you can't learn why something doesn't work. Without breaking down and learning why something doesn't work, and identifying what needs to change, you are bound to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

It's important to not get discouraged by failure. When you can't quite figure out how to animate something, approach it a different way. Use mirrors, video capture yourself doing the move, animate it backwards, walk away from it for a bit or just talk to someone about it- I've found that verbalizing a problem usually makes my brain kick in and find a possible solution.

In the case of my bench press, I have video capture of the attempt that I can break down. I can identify what I did wrong, and I will correct it the next time I train my bench press. The same goes for my animation- as long as I can break down the motion and determine why it doesn't work - from a planning, execution or design aspect- I can start again and be successful on my next attempt.

Failing sucks, but there's no better feeling then coming back and kicking its ass.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Know Thyself

"the process of knowing my own body continues to be a source of learning and the source for improvement" - Brad Clark

"3D is all about the body. Knowing how it works because you're using it is going to make you a better modeler, rigger or animator." - John Neumann

Both of these quotes are excellent examples of what I hope to achieve with my new blog format. I even have a story that relates!

I remember one project I was on where I performed video reference for many of the in-game moves. One was pulling myself up from hanging on a line by the hands only, to hanging upside down and prone on the line for shimmying. I animated to the reference, punched it out, and got it in game. A few days later I had someone tell me that the move was unrealistic- I believe his words were along the lines that no human could possibly move that way. I quickly pulled up the vid ref, explained what I did and how I knew that a gymnast could do this move. Given that our main character was a thief with gymnastic abilities, the move fit within the design of the game. With that ensued a discussion after which that person moved on more educated to my process and my experiences, as well as to the goals for the animation design of the game. Without having had that knowledge before I animated the move, I may have second-guessed myself or just done it wrong to begin with, and I certainly would have had trouble engaging in a fruitful discussion with that person.

The same goes for me now- I'm still not an amazing animator by any means, but I still refer back to my training when thinking about how a body would need to behave to perform a move. It's not always easy when I only have 15 frames or even 5 frames to work with, but at least I can get those few frames working properly. If I don't know how a person would move, I get the other animators to throw out ideas. When all else fails, we either find vid ref, vid ref it ourselves, or even animate it backwards.

During this whole process though, I'm constantly thinking of how not just I would perform the move, but how the character in game would- what his motivations are and how his physical ability would allow him to perform not just that move, but all the moves that are related.

It goes the same for my strength training- how do all of the exercises and lifts I do contribute to my current goals? Once I am able to map that out and execute, I find myself successful at achieving them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Tonight was DE Bench day, but before I get into that, I'm going to vent for a sec. I'm not sure who has seen those Planet Fitness ads (I've only seen them on YouTube), you know, the ones where they basically make anyone who is serious about strength training out to be a muscle-bound mentally challenged idiot. Like this one:

Sure, this guy is a caricature, but the commercial effectively makes all of us who are into strength training out to be idiots who just like to lift heavy things (and grunt a lot in the process). I don't care in this was meant to be tongue in cheek; these perceptions bother me.

If anyone knows strength training, they know that there is a level of intelligence needed to succeed. That intelligence doesn't necessarily need to translate each athlete knowing exactly how to eat, how to train, or how to rest to succeed- a lot of the times it's know who to talk to and how to learn in order to succeed. Picking things up and putting them down is a part of this, and it IS the fun part, but it's not the only part.

This gets me to my point- A month or so ago, I started a separate blog about my video game animation career. I specifically stated that I was going to keep my training and my animation career blogs separate. In effect, I was separating my life not into work and play, but into smart and stupid. I made the poor decision, in retrospect, to ignore that each of these aspects of my life actually affected each other in ways other than how I spend my time. I'm going to change that starting now.

I'm still going to post my training log on, but I'll be discussing both my training and my animation career on My goal is to shed light on and discuss how animation and my career parallel my training- how successes and failures in one affect the other, and how I learn from those success and failures in one and apply that knowledge to the other.

I have no idea how well this will go, and I hope those following me and those clicking on my links will give me feedback so that I can continue learning while I try to teach them something. This should be fun :)