Just thought I’d write about animating shots with very many characters.
Usually it’s not so cool with crowd-shots. It’s a lot of work, little screen time and it’s rare that you can use it in the showreel
But this scene was a challenge since it is very much action, and all the birds was to be animated more or less from scratch.
The thing with crowd-shots is that you do not represent the individual character but rather the mental-ambience of the group as a whole. George Miller very clear about what he wanted. “This is the first time we see them in the film, and we really need to show how rambunctious they are.”
“They are like scavengers”
That means noisy, mischievous,squabbly and rude scavengers etc.
So shot-direction was: all 20 + birds was to fly, land and begin to squabble about the fish on the ground.
If we break up the action, Flying and landing are the elements it is possible a copy and use cycles etc. I had previously made some and put them to good use. Fighting had to be made from scratch.
First thing I did was to divide the 20 + birds in groups of 2-5. And that’s where the creative process is in crowds-shots. You can really challenge yourself with the animation within the groups, no one will see it, but everyone will feel it.
Here are the groups:
RED. One picks up a fish as another pick on, breaks out in fight
GREEN Two birds having a“tug of wars” over a fish, whilst standing on the head of a third bird.
BLUE A bird lands … Another land upon the first and jumps up and down, rolling on the ground, etc.
YELLOW In the background two lands and chases away a third that comes flying
PINK Two birds lands and eats fish, a third comes and chases them away.
Of course you’ll have to see the scene several times over before you notice all this. You can catch the two or three first birds landing before it gets too noisy visually. At the very end I also try to make them all move as a group upwards to form a pyramidal shape as the last bird swoops in.
When I plan I usually just close my eyes and try to imagine anything that could be interesting. I probably spend a good couple of minutes on this, but I’m not a planning-maniac so I’m rarely bothered to plan poses, only actions.
I drew some rough sketches for action and arranged the groups these groups downThen came the quite time consuming process to put all the characters into the Maya. The Skua rig was pretty heavy. It is much my fault, as I asked for lots of features, but I think it was worth it. The wings were very complicated, but had some good features such as auto-folding and several different parent-space combinations.
To place them in the scene I first used a boxes to determine more or less where they would land. Then I loaded the bird-rigs into maya and placed them on the box that I had made earlier.
This animation was pretty fun to make. This is a pipe-line test for the Skua-character within Dr.D.I’ve never animated landing before, so I spent a lot of time studying gulls coming in for landing (great beaches down here in Sydney. Lots of seagulls). And what happens all the time when the gulls lands is the characteristic forward-and-back wing-strokes(as opposed to up and down). This is enough for both to stop the forward-progress while keeping the wings from smashing into the ground.I got a lot of feedback from animators from Legend of the Guardians on this stage. We were probably 10-15 people from LOG team at Happy Feet 2, so there was always plenty people around to ask about flying animation.
Nevertheless, just to get the bird “in place” took three to four days due to the amount of data my poor workstation had to shuffle around.
I contributed to the skua-character earlier in production. I was involved in the rigging and the interaction between the animation department and the other departments and made some tests of the bird before it went into production, Of course not spending time on shots make your reel suffer a bit in the end, but it was a very funny part-take in some more administrative-work, for once.
Then did I first pass on all the birds and referred to animation-director who approved the block. And I could quietly spend the next four weeks finishing the shot.