Over the last eight months I've been teaching myself Autodesk Maya. I've nearly completed my first animated short using the program, a 1 minute, 20 second film featuring a troll kid climbing a large tree. Learned a lot doing it, and now feel confident enough that I know enough about how Maya's animation tools work that I can experiment a bit.
I've always been a big fan of Japanese animation. It has a certain "snap" to it, a certain intensity to the movement that American shows and movies seem to avoid in favor of fluidity. You can see how the American penchant for fluidity affected Japanese animated films in the early days, like in Toei's "Panda and the Magic Serpent" but was gradually filtered out in exchange for more stylized action. This was probably due to budget issues, but I think it produces more interesting looking animation that causes frames to be placed where they really matter, as opposed to very evenly.
The style of CG animation, coming from Disney through Pixar and out into the broader marketplace, has always been very fluid, very western, and kind of boring in my opinion. I want to get some of the Japanese sense of stylized movement into my CG work, but I wasn't exactly sure where to turn to for guidance. No one is teaching that, though some Japanese studios, like the people behind the new Cyborg 009: ReCyborg movie, seem to be making great strides in that area. One former animator said that he didn't think it was really possible to get anime-style movement into CG, because so much of what makes Japanese animation great is how the animators distort the characters in between the on-model poses. This is definitely true in the case of animators like Shinya Ohira, Hisashi Mori, and Shinji Hashimoto. But there's other guys, like Hiroyuki Okiura and Mitsuo Iso, who do really really on-model animation that still has a lot of the "snap" that I'm after.
And that leads me to Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. I've loved this movie for a long time. I think it's the best Batman movie out there, mostly because of Mark Hamill's performance. But the animation is also great. It was storyboarded and pre/post-produced in America, but the animation was done at TMS in Japan. The characters are drawn in Bruce Timm's very boxy, rigid style, which means not a lot of squash-and-stretch or distortion goes on. But the animation has that "snap"! My hypothesis is that by studying and adapting a scene from that movie into CG I can learn exactly what makes the animation so appealing, and get to a kind of fusion between eastern and western styles of movement.
My first step has been to break down the scene I'm concentrating on into key and breakdown poses:[link]
My next step will be to actually begin transitioning this performance over to CG. Already, from looking at the scene frame-by-frame, I've picked up that the animators are very comfortable with shifting from one extreme pose to another without much in between motion, as long as there's a fair amount ease-in, ease-out on the extremes. That could be one of the secrets to the "snap" I'm after, but I won't really know until I go through the whole scene myself and see if I can make it work in CG without having to hand-key every frame. Cause if I can't let the program do at least a little of the in-between work, then there's no use in doing it in CG in the first place.
It'll be interesting to see what the result will be!