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Monday, 18 February 2008

Animals - Part 1; 2-Winged - Week 5, 6 & 7

If anyone thought it was/looked difficult to animate a human character, then try animating an animal..
Our assignment was to animate a bird, going through it's whole range of flight motion. This was split into 3 parts:
  1. Take off
  2. Flight cycle
  3. Landing

As always the first thing is to determine which bird you are going for. As our bird had to be able to go through the whole flight motions, then our choises were somewhat restricted. E.g. we couldn't choose a orstritch or a penguin, as these are non-flying birds.

At first I did not have a clear idea of which bird I wanted to do, so I just started on researching random birds. In my research I stumbled apon a lot of video reference of doves in slow-motion. When I first saw that dove's way of flying, I was immidiately hook on that. The dove's flight is actually very graceful, therefore I don't want to try and describe it with my halfbaked vocabulary so I'll show you;

The dove's wings has a very wide range of motion which I imnidiately found interesting, though this would actually be the ting that would be biting my behind later on.

The whole research stage was pretty straight forward; find video and still image references. On the net there is a lot of reference material for a dove in slow-motion. The primary websites I use is;,,
These are great for getting video/still images references of any kind of motion, and the material is royalty-free. The first week went with only doing the research part. In the Computer Animation class we were kind of forced to only do the research for the first week, as they didn't teach us how to rig our bird untill after the first week. In my opinion this was a good forced choise, as it forced us to do all the research and planning for both 1. and 2. part of this project. The second part is about 4-legged animals, but more on that in 3 weeks:-)

In the same week as the research we went to Bristol Zoo Gardens with our lifedrawing class, which was a great oppertunity to get some first hand references material. Unfortunately for me it waas hard to catch the dove they had on camera, though they had an outdoor cantine area which provided the oppertunity of catching some pigeons on camera. Whenever you cant the first hand reference, then expand to animals/motion thats near the one you are lookng for.

After the research there is the planning of the animation, and here there is no shortcuts. Get the best reference you have got and start drawing your keys (key-poses). Personally I get the best understanding of the motion, by analysing each key then analyze and write down the motion between the keys. This kind of relieves you from drawing the inbetweens, but you still have the motion down on paper which is easier to look at when sitting infront of the computer instead of shifting between programs.

If anyone is interested in the research and planning, click the image below:

With the research out of the way, we can start animating!!!! BUT no, we need a rig first. In this part of the project we are going to build our own rig from the bones in 3Ds max. For this stage it is extremely important to have some proper reference material of the proportions and the skeletal system of your bird/character.
Understanding how the bird's skeletal system is build is going to help you very much when making the rig. Not only do you then know the proportions of the birds wings, spine and legs, but you also know how each bone interacts with the next one.
I learn quite a bit from rigging this bird, and I now can seen how rigging as a specialisation could be fun as you decide how the character should be able to move.

Now for the animating. Nothing special to tell here except for the usual; pose the keys > do the inbetweens > space the keys > time out the animation > polishing > done:-)
Sounds easy enough doesn't it?? Well it would have been if I wasn't so stupid as to forget some basic stuff, like proper spacing of the keys. I tell ya, if I were training to be a ninja I would get a beating from the master for forgetting the basic stuff. Luckly I am only training to be a ninja animator, where it is up to yourself to beat yourself up for poor animation:-S
Well enough about the mental pressures of strugling animator, time to show the labour:

The copyright is reserved for the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries.

If you want to have a look at any of the tests, here is the link;

In my opinion the level of quality animation increases from take off to landing. The take off is far from getting my own recognision of a job well done. This is of course my own fault, and I know where the problem occured; in the research stage. I did not have good enough reference material for the take off motion.

The flight cycle is decent and I dont terribly mind handing that in for assesment, though there was a big problem here aswell. In this stage I did actually have the proper reference material, the problem lied in the speed of the wings flapping. If you time the wings of a dove/pigeon flapping, you will probably notice that a whole wing action is 4-5 frames or 1/6 of a second long. If I had to hold true to this, and make the wings complete it's motion in 4 frame, it would be so fast that you would only see a blur of motion where the wings should be. So I had to compromise and use 8+ frames for the wings flapping, though this still kind of works. It doesn't scream dove/pigeon, but more of a generalized bird flight.

The landing is the best animation that came out of the last three weeks. I wouldn't nesseceraly say that it screams dove/pigeon, but it comes quite close to the real thing. That is not so much for the landing, but more for the small step after the landing which gives the animation that extra touch. Definately going to remember that for part 2 of this project:-)

Well, thats was everything I had to say. Hope you enjoyed the reading, and Ill scribbling some words down in 3 weeks for part two of this project...