Rig Iteration III

Following my last post, I then went back to the workshops and created a third iteration of the rig, continually focusing on just one finger. This was much more successful as the parts moved much smoother and bend just like the joints of a finger, where the tip of the finger can bend all the way down to touch the palm of the hand (the only problem being that it can also bend the other way too as if to touch the knuckle but this is something to be worked on). In this iteration I used steel instead of aluminium so it is harder to bend out of place. I also measured each of the three parts to the size of my own finger so it would be more accurate, and I adopted a batch production style where I used the tools in the workshop to create a set of parts for many fingers – not just a one-off – then took the parts to the next tool and so on, so I would end up with a few of the same parts that could each be tested using different methods of joining. The images below show the first finger I put together, the others are still in bits at the moment and will be used to try different joining methods.

The image above shows the process of making each joint for three fingers. To begin, I cut strips of metal 1.8cm wide. I then cut the length of two strips to the size of the three moving parts of a finger and punched two holes in each part, making sure they would align finding a centre point. I then rounded the edges of each part avoiding sharpness of the finger and labelled each finger e.g. Forefinger one = F1, Middle finger 3 = M3 so I could remember which part goes where.

My next step will be to make a fourth iteration using a different style of joining. My aim is to get one finger absolutely perfect and moving just like a real finger, I will then be able to produce a few of different sizes and eventually make a whole moving hand rig.

I suppose the question to ask here is for what reason am I making this? At first, it was an experiment to use a different style of animation – stop motion, and to make a rig that could be used for it. However, I feel as though this small experiment has taken on a life of it’s own in becoming a replica of an organic moving part. So far, the most satisfying part of this small project has been seeing the images of the latest finger attached to my own – i think the depiction of mechanic next to organic is quite striking and almost depicts what looks like a piece of medical apparatus in it’s brace-like quality. This reminds me of something I read just the other day in Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Understanding Media’. (p.310)

‘In England the movie theatre was originally called ‘The Bioscope because of it’s visual presentation of the actual movements of the forms of life’

‘The movie is the total realisation of the medieval idea of change in the form of an entertaining illusion.’

‘On film, the mechanical appears organic’

I believe that when moving image was first produced, it was in fact the merging of the mechanic and the organic that sparked the interest of so many. Watching Eadweard Muybridge’s capture the galloping horse set the trend for inquiry into how things move. Yet it has become clear to me that this is not so much the case anymore, instead of looking through the ‘bioscope’ into the natural world and our quenching our thirst for understanding how things move, we now look through the screen to an endless amount of entertainment divided into infinite genres with millions of images moving all the time on endless reels that merge into one another constantly – It seems as though it has become impossible to tell mechanical from organic, on or off screen.

Rig Iteration II

In progression of the human hand rig I attempted to make back in September, this week I started to think about how I could develop the idea into a successful and fully working human hand rig.

The cardboard rig was a good starting point in line with the ‘trial and error’ model as I could clearly see where things had gone right, but more importantly, where things had gone wrong.

The wrist, unlike the weight of the hand, was made out of thin wire and pipe cleaners, meaning the rig moved freely from side to side, with the bulk of the weight being at both at the top and bottom of the rig. As stated in the original post, this isn’t ideal when trying to control motion. The rig also was not detailed enough. If I wanted the rig to work in the way a real hand works, which I did, I would have to base the design on reality. With the paper designs I had made before, it was clear that I had drawn the joints of the wrist and fingers in a very un-observant and slapdash manner. As my drawings were not proportional, of course, neither was the rig. What I have learned from these mistakes is that the design of the rig needs to be properly executed with a professional approach, basing it on a real human hand and taking into account the materials and how they will affect one another.

My first step was to make one moving finger, an iteration of the cardboard hand rig on a smaller scale. My choice of material is metal because when I was looking back at the original blog, I noticed how professional riggers / animators use metal rigs to hold their work together where motion is made through the use of movement on smooth hinges. I was presented with some scrap metal and based my initial sketches on them.

Sketchbook drawings of possible jointed fingers

I began to curve the strips of metal (luckily thin and light enough to be able to bend so freely) into the shape of my own finger. Referring to the sketches I had made, I then decided to focus on the two joints and drilled holes into two strips of curved metal, adding two short straight bits of metal to attach the two curved bits. Two small nails were then inserted through the holes and I had secured them in place with minute washers and hex nuts.

Already a change of materials and a change in approach to the design has made a massive difference within a second iteration. Although the metal finger does not move exactly as a real finger does – as it doesn’t bend all the way down, I’m happy with the outcome as the method used to make the finger has turned out successful and this inevitable will help me with my next iteration.

Flip book experiment

After the proposition of my last entry – that when presented with a flip book, children will take to the task of creating a short animation – I decided to do just that.

Luckily for me, my mum works in an all-girls primary school as an art teacher and coincidentally, she is teaching her year 6 class all about motion and how motion is depicted in artwork. I gave her the task of getting her class to answer some questions about animation and then, making a flip book of their own, each about 10-20 frames long, using my ‘tentacle’ flip book as an example. The questions were:

What is Animation?

Can you give examples of animation?

How do you think animation is made?

Have you ever made an animation?

What is animation?
Can you give examples of animation?
How do you think animation is made?

The answers that were most interesting regarded how animation is made, as I had primarily thought that maybe it wasnt so clear, but many of these answers proved me wrong. It seems as though these children understand the process of taking images one after the other then piecing them together to make something move, as we can gather from answers like ‘Animation is made from taking lots and lots of pictures that slowly moves on each picture that you take’. A question, maybe to ask myself; why is animation made?

What was the original need for it? I suppose it derives from the need to capture movement which was bought about by legends such as Eadweard Muybridge who set out to discover whether ‘at some point in its gallop, a running horse lifts all four hooves off the ground at once’. The purpose then, was to deconstruct movement as a means of scientific enquiry, whereas now, it feels as though it is used for entertainment, and art, which to me is no bad thing. Others may say however, that this once interestingly technological find has become exploited by people as. means to making money and that the art has become lost in popular culture. In essence, we have become less likely to probe questions about movement and motion and are now more likely to use this form of technology as cheap and mass produced entertainment. https://www.britannica.com/art/history-of-the-motion-picture

Maybe when Muybridge uncovered the true movement behind a horse’s gallop, he felt more advanced compared to other humans as he was able to slow down such a fast paced action, and truly understand the way in which it works. Maybe he felt more advanced as he knew nobody else would notice it.

However, maybe now, the average person feels less advanced as they are not really able to uncover the truth behind moving image as it comes at us so quickly and all the time. Because there’s so much media, and a lot of it constructed by humans and not nature, we have begun to lose track of reality and live our lives at such a fast pace, trying to keep up with everything that is being thrown at us. The creations of Muybridge was essentially an ‘extension’ of Muybridge’s eyes as through this piece of technology, he was able to see more than what he originally could’ve without it. Maybe now this extension has become a form of reversal (in line with McLuhan’s laws of media) as it has lost it’s purpose and now does the opposite of what it did originally.

Understanding Motion

I find it the case that many people don’t really understand animation for what it is and for what it takes to make an animation. As a child, watching something like The Simpsons, or Captain Pugwash or Wallace & Gromit, I never really understood the process of how these fantastic creations were made. Like other TV, I thought it was filmed then published – just like that. My small undeveloped brain couldn’t comprehend the fact that each and every frame would have to be drawn or sculpted and that the shots were made from loads and loads of pictures. But, I recently discovered that children aren’t oblivious to animation, they just have a different understanding of it. As always, it’s only when you make animations that you begin to uncover what is involved in re-creating motion.

For the first time in years, my brother decided to look through his shoe boxes on top of his wardrobe last week that was filled with childhood memories and objects. One object he came across was an address book on a keychain (really rather small for an address book) which he had used as a flip book for an animation consisting of a small black dot bouncing around on the pages. Insignificant to him, I came to realise that children do understand how things like ‘onion skinning’ works and how motion is recreated, just without all the fancy technology and terminology, and without really thinking about it.

My brother’s homemade flip book

This makes me wonder what would happen if children were given the opportunity to create more animations and were taught how motion really works. From my experience, art, technology and science were three completely different subjects. But from my understanding, animation is a hybrid of all of these. You need the creativity from art to think of the character, or the scenery or the idea. But you need technology to put this into practice and science is required, in a roundabout way, when trying to understand motion. For example, when a ball bounces, it doesn’t fall and bounce up at the same speed, it falls quicker, flattens then bounces back up at a slower speed, physics would teach you this with gravitational pull, thrust and the rate of acceleration.

Understanding motion is interesting, and when you realise you understand it, you develop a deeper understanding of the works such as The Simpsons, Captain Pugwash, and Wallace & Gromit and begin to realise just how much thought is put into each and every shot. They become much more unique because of it.

I don’t think many children – especially girls, may I add, as this seems to be a male-dominated area, would sit down to make a flip book but if presented with one, like my brother was with this mini address book, I think children would latch onto it straight away. I’d love to see what a class of children, especially girls, would come up with.

Model Making

Over the past week i’ve been experimenting with rig and model making. My initial aim was to make a rig out of wire that would act as the bones in a hand, keeping in line with my other recent animation attempts. I’d read up about what other animators use for small home-made rigs and most of them, it seems, use a soldering station that they can use to attach a small model to, and be able to move it freely and in all directions.

Use of Soldering Station

Instead of making a rig and a separate model, I decided to combine the two to make what looks like a hand attached to a very long wrist, attached to a weight. To make the rig, I used wire of varied thickness, pipe cleaners, cardboard, gaffa tape, hot glue and risotto rice.

Rig plan
Final Rig

I’m really pleased with this model, although it looks very handmade and quite disjointed, it has a unique look that reflects the main qualities of a real hand; like the wires as veins and the pipe cleaners as different sections of fingers and thumbs. However, as a rig, it doesn’t really work. All the elements are there, the moving fingers, the moving wrist and the weight of the box at the bottom to keep the model stable, but what is lacking is rigidness in the long wrist and fingers. At the moment, the model moves about on it’s own; one touch of the model and it springs back and forth, which is not something desired when trying to control motion and recreate it yourself. To rectify this, i would need to make the model again with stronger wire that would be much harder to move, but easier to control.

After making this model, and realising it wouldn’t work as a rig, I decided to hone in on a smaller model and try and make a moveable object to work with in an animation. Sticking with the hand, I used wire and plasticine to make a new model.

Plasticine Hand

As a means to recreating motion, this worked much better. Because I had scaled the model down to about 6cm, the thin wire I was using worked really well. I made each finger out of intertwined wire then wrapped it with plasticine. I then attached the 5 fingers to a bigger chunk of plasticine to make the palm and then shaped it to look like a hand. When going to animate the model, I could move each finger separately without the whole model moving out of place. For some inspiration, I watched some behind the scenes footage from Wallace and Gromit at Aardman Animations.

Reference at 6 minutes 20 seconds

The most influential part was at 6:20 where you see Nick Park, the head creator at Aardman and God of stop motion animation, acting out a scene so that the animators can reference his movement and replicate it in the form of plasticine. Taking notes from this video, I filmed my own hand making a fist, turning over then spreading out then recreated the movement using the model I had made. This process worked really effectively as I was able to see how one finger moved and how it would affect another. Really understanding movement and understanding what lies beneath the skin in order for the hand to move was really helpful. So, if I am to carry on making 3D models, understanding movement and how bones affect the body’s movement would be something I would like to research further as I think this would lead the way to a successful animation that presents motion in a realistic manner.

First try

Today was my first attempt at rotoscoping, it took me 4 hours to complete (with breaks). I began with shooting a simple 4 second video of my hand on a white background coming into shot then sliding slowly off. I’m now going to document the process of how I turned this video into an animated video using the technique of rotoscoping.

I took the footage to Premiere Pro where I exported every 2 frames as JPEG to my desktop. So for 4.17 seconds of footage (113 frames), I took 55 snapshots so that when piecing it back together, I could animate with 12 frames per second instead of 24 (so I can get away with doing half the amount of work).

55 Exported images

Then, in the style of Benedik Finborud, I tuned my laptop upside down and drew over each image onto tracing paper – even the blank images. I made sure that I wrote the number of each frame on the actual drawing – something I had also learned from Finborud. This makes it easy to organise the drawings if they get mixed up – especially as they all look so similar. I also made sure to draw around the actual frame in the form of a little square; I thought this might be helpful when trying to align the drawings one after the other at a later stage.

55 Images to Draw Over

With two drawings per sheet of paper, I then had to cut round each square so that I was left with 55 square pieces of tracing paper, all drawn and numbered.

55 Drawings

The next step was to take images of each of these drawings. I’d like to mention here the difference between scanning the drawings and taking pictures of the drawings – 2 very different methods to be aware of. With a scanner, you can place your drawing in the machine, and it will come out straight away as a JPEG of a flat drawing, the light from the scanner will illuminate the black lines and every image should be the same. The physicality of this process involves putting a drawing in the machine, pressing buttons, taking it out and repeating. With a camera, you are relying on the weather (if using natural light), for lighting, the surface on which your drawings are laid for the background, the angle of your camera for the outcome of the shape and the quality of your camera for the quality of your image.

To cut the corner of alignment, I attached sellotape to my camera to make a little square so that i could place each drawing within the sellosquare and it would be not too far off the previous image in terms of placement.

Sellosquare

With the photos now back on my computer – I adjusted the brightness and contrast – 100% and 60% using Photoshop, so that the images came out brighter and there was a clear distinction between the black lines and the white background, avoiding a big grey blur. If i were to use a scanner, I wouldn’t have had to complete this step – something to note for the future.

In Adobe Animate, I imported each of the 55 drawings onto a 1000×1000 pixel document, cut them to shape then used the ‘onion skin’ tool to property line the images up.

Aligning 55 Images Using Onion Skin

The onion skin tool is the best in the game – it allows you to see what comes before or after the frame you are on. For this little project, it was most handy to see the frame before the one I was on, so I could move the drawn square box to be somewhat in line with the previous image. I made this adjustment to all of the images so now I had a continuous flow of aligned images. I then used Encoder to export the video to a high quality. 4 hours later – job done. My first rotoscope – 4 seconds long.

What I find most interesting about this project is the process. On reflection, I think the way the boundaries between physical and digital elements blur is so mesmerising. Hand > camera > computer > paper > camera > computer > result = video of hand. This cycle is confusing and includes an array of programs both on screen and off.

Even trying to explain the process through this blog has been difficult and to be honest, I think if I were to read this before attempting a rotoscope, I would’ve been put off. That’s because it sounds so much harder and lengthier than it really is. 4 hours of work for 4 seconds of footage seems long and maybe even a waste of time but I can safely say it’s not. 4 hours is nothing when you think about it. And the result is really pleasing, the 4 hours of labour is gone but the evidence of those 4 hours lives on in the form of 4 seconds – time replicates time.

Rotoscoping

’12 Minutes of Love’ by Em Cooper is a piece of work i’ve always been consumed by. It’s a 1 minute video made from hundreds of oil paintings which come together to show two dancers and their journey through love, lust, then rejection. If you were to watch it from a distance, you would probably think the footage is live action as between frames, there isn’t much difference between colour, shape or shadow. As you look closer, however, you can begin to see the brush marks and movement of paint, especially in the fast transitions that break up each shot 20 odd times throughout the video. At first, the transitions are slow and easy to understand how they’ve been achieved but as the video rolls on, and the music speeds up, the transitions become faster too, making it harder to process how Cooper has created such a seamless changeover between shots.

I don’t know how Em Cooper made ’12 minutes of Love’, maybe I don’t really want to either, as seen in my previous blog, there’s a ‘magic’ in motion and sometimes it’s better not knowing how the trick was produced so the magic can remain.

I do however have a better understanding of how (some) painted animations are achieved, after watching Bendik Finborud’s behind the scenes video. Finborud uses the technique of rotoscoping, where you quite literally trace over each and every frame of real footage you have, so that when put together, it combines realistic footage with hand-crafted, individual paintings. In this video, you see him turning his laptop upside down, attaching tracing paper to the screen, and painting over each frame within a short video. In this sense, I realise this method of animation is not as impressive as say stop motion animation, where elements such as character making, rigging, lighting, and time keeping to name a few, all must come together at the same time while animating. Whereas here, the shots have been established, the editing has been done and all that needs focusing on is simply tracing each frame using paint. In his other videos, Finborud uses pastels instead of paint, and doesn’t fully copy the whole image, this is more impressive, in my view, as creative flare takes place.

Rotoscoping is nonetheless an extremely fascinating method of animation. It requires a lot of patience and creativity in editing, prior to the frame breakdown, and frame output in terms of what materials you use and how you then attach the shots together. Rotoscoping is a good starting point and will allow you just to focus on style, making motion and how to recreate motion obsolete.

Magic in Motion

In Sixth Form I studied Sociology, Media Studies and Graphic design and to get away with doing the bare minimum, I would try and merge the subjects so I could get the most of one piece of work. I established animation as both a design outlet and a film technique quite early on. I remember asking my media teacher if I could base my written piece on the history of animation. I was nervous to ask as I thought she would tell me to get on with something more topical, along with the rest of the class but to my suprise, she really took an interest and even gave me a book of hers about animation techniques.

After spending lesson on lesson in Media writing about Eadweard Muybridge, James Cameron and Peter Lord, I would then spend the rest of my day on Adobe Flash in my Graphics class, trying to get to grips with keyframes and the basics of recreating motion. In 2017, I made an animated music video to the song ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ by Gorillaz which was made up of hours spent in the Media Department, the Graphics department, the library and even my registration block. It’s safe to say I was completely devoted to this music video for months on end and I was so proud when it was finished, I still am. Not because it’s a particularly good animation or even a good video, but because I know how much time was spent in making it, and no one else will ever know. It felt like a big reveal, I was working in front of other people and they had seen what I was doing, but because it moves so slowly with animation, the real magic only uncovers itself at the very end, and its the most pleasing thing to encounter when it comes alive before your very eyes.

I then begun to understand why animators do what they do, why they devote years to creating seconds worth of footage. To some, it might seem like a complete waste of time and much easier to capture footage on a camera, where you can cut, edit and publish relatively quickly compared. But It’s something you’d have to do yourself, properly, to really understand.

I recently rewatched the film Coraline, a film I went to the cinema to watch with my mum when it first came out, I would’ve been 9 years old. At the time, I remember being completely entranced with the film, it was incredibly lovely to watch and so quirky. When I watched it for the second time I felt like the same child, yet more in awe this time of the detail put into this insane movie. What I realised after watching the behind the scenes footage at Laika studios was the extent of the detail they went into, and the sheer scale of the production. As lame as it seems, it almost brought me to tears. I think go on and on about why this 7 minute clip means so much to me but there’s one point that was made in the video that hits home the most. It’s the part when Travis Knight, one of the animators for the film, is talking about his role in animating the cat…

‘I honestly feel like i’m witnessing little miracles every day. I feel like i’m part of something magical every day. When I play this (plays a clip of the animated cat) I don’t feel like I did that. I see this creature moving and living and to me, it happened, I know that i did it but to me, it doesn’t feel like that, it’s a living creature now, it’s not a part of me anymore.’

I think this is the case for many animators, the sense that you are freeing your work so it can go and become its own life form. I can understand that feeling and i’ve only ever really used computer software and dabbled in paint on a very small scale. So for a stop motion animator, this feeling must be even more predominant as you are becoming physically involved with the motion you are making; you are solely reliant on your hands and eyes, no computer program can help with shortcuts.

Having said this, one thing I hadn’t paid too much attention to before watching this footage is the job of the rigger. I always see the word ‘rigger’ or ‘riggers’ in the credits of films but i’ve never really understood what this means. After listening to one of the riggers, Oliver Jones talk about how the job works, i’ve developed a completely different understanding of animation as a whole. With 2D animation, the rigging is sort of already there, you can time things to move on and move off when you want, and you can make paths so the objects you’ve drawn can move in the way you’d like them to quite simply. With stop motion however, the option to breakdown space and time just isn’t available. So the invisible rigger, as oliver puts it, must build frameworks for animators to use that cuts corners and makes it easy for the animators to focus on the detail.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started