View Full Version : Reference exercise: A Bug's Life

06 June 2004, 01:23 AM
Hey y'all,

A friend of mine has an instructor who said "Try to animate a scene from any major animated film, and you'll learn a whole bunch about animation in the process." I decided to give it a shot.

I used ikJoe to try to mimic a 2 second scene from A Bug's Life. It's taken me about two weeks (with a little slacking in there), but I'm finally ready for some critiquing. :)

It's not perfect--and I didn't try to get the animation copied EXACTLY, but I'd like to be at the point where Joe looks good enough to fit right in there--like an understudy, if Manny the Magnificent got sick.

I have two versions:

Joe and Manny together ( (6.5 mb)


Joe by himself ( (3.3 mb)

I look forward to hearing any comments... I've learned a lot from this exercise, and I'd like to try another one. But I'd like this one to be as good as possible first. What d'ya think? :)

- M

06 June 2004, 01:35 AM
hey, I think it looks pretty good. A little difference I notice, if you're trying to make it look exactly like Manny, is the wrists need to flop a little bit more before the fingers start wiggling. Give then a kind of secondary floppy action. But all and all I'd say nice job.

Did you learn anything about the animation process like your friend said?


06 June 2004, 06:47 PM
Good eye there, afgncaap! I'll see if I can play with his wrists anymore. I'm not totally concerned about doing it EXACTLY like Manny... (the reason I included the Joe Alone version is to see if the animation stood up by itself... sans reference)... but attention to details is important. :)

As far as what I learned with this exercise... let's see.... I don't think I leanred much about the "process" of animating. But I did learn:

1) Arms don't move like you'd expect them to. In order to flip the arms from the back to the front required a lot of tweaking.

2) Arms REALLY don't move like you'd expect them to. Doing that circular-extended-arm-flippy thing was tough! But I think it's started to open my mind to new possibilities.

3) Fingers can really add a lot of arc and smoothness to your animation if used properly. (I like how his right arm does this big swooping arc from the front to the final back position. If you scrub through it backwards, it's even more noticeable)

4) I tend to set my curves too quickly. I'm afraid of things looking "slow." As a result, my animation looks either floaty or weightless. Slowing things down, in the right way, helps add the feeling of weight.

5) Arms and spines flop around successively--like a whip. But one should also keep in mind that there's an internal muscle structure working against the floppiness.

6) The details need attention. Everything moves. That's the way it goes. Spend the time on it.

7) If something doesn't look right, it's not right. Fix it. Figure it out and fix it.

8) Each frame individually is not as important as the way the frames relate to the ones before and after it. There was some arm jittering that I couldn't fix for a while because each frame looked okay. Nothing seemed "unnatural." But when I scrubbed through to see that a forearm was moving one direction for five frames, and then the opposite direction for one frame, then back in the original direction for the next five frames--it became clearer what the problem was.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. The epxerience alone was worth it, and I'd like to try it again. But if anyone here sees other things that could use fixing (especially in the Joe Alone version), I'd love to hear suggestions. The head and spine still don't quite feel natural to me. I still don't get much of a feeling of "weight" from the animation--is it there and I'm too close to see it?

(on a similar note: is it possible that a playblast doesn't feel as weighty as a full render? I know most of the weight comes from the animation, but is any of the illusion carried by the look of solid, shadow-casting masses?)

Thanks again for looking and reading! :)

- M

06 June 2004, 09:49 PM
Nice man,
Congrats, it seems like you learned some things. One thing I noticed was the spine doesn't seem to arc in the same way. Joe's seemed kinda stiff. I mostly noticed it when he pulls back in the beginning and again when he pulls back and settles into his stance at the end. I think with a little more bend as he comes back and then go slightly forward at the very end (and flattening your curves in the GE) then you'd be spot on.

Just my 2cents

06 June 2004, 11:43 PM
anothother thing you could try is to completly exaggerate every movement. Once it looks good from there (and it will probably be really ridiculous) but then just take it back from there. Tone down the curves and what not. Just something to try, might not help any but you could get a funny animation out of it.


06 June 2004, 01:25 AM
looks great so far mooncalf... and a great idea as well... now that you have it pretty well copied... try to out-do them!!

recreate the scene... but figure out another way that manny could do his "flair"

btw.. how did you get that video into maya?

06 June 2004, 06:35 AM
Hey, thanks again y'all for the time and the advice! :) Here's an update: (3.8 mb)

I didn't include the reference in this playblast since I'm just concentrating on the animation now. Not copying, just animating.

Afgncaap: I tried flipping the hands a little more to match Manny. I think it was a good decision. Plus, the hands look a little more unified now. Not twinned, but unified.

I also exaggerated some things here and there, like you suggested:

1) Obviously, the step forward is a bigger step, and a bigger anticipation for it.

2) Because he steps further, he leans further forward.

3) He also bends his spine a lot more when going into the lean, and ducking out of it.

I tried to exaggerate the arms, but they seemed pretty extreme already... any further and it just didn't look natural to me.

Kevin: I was feeling that spine stiffness as I watched. I tried exaggerating the spine movement this time around, plus I think I got a little more successive breaking when he lands into his lean. Also when he pulls back.

I think his weight doesn't feel quite right when he ducks back out of the lean... perhaps it just needs to take a little more time. I haven't decided whether I'll play with this scene more or start a new exercise. Maybe something original. :)

Matt: Funny you should ask about the reference movie. I looked around very hard for any direct information about how to do it, but I couldn't find any. I ended up piecing together the steps from a few different sources. Because of this, and because I figured some other people might be similarly trying to figure out how to get their reference movies into Maya, I decided to write a tutorial. It's not quite finished yet, but the text is all there if you want to check it out:

It still needs more pictures, and a bit of organization to make it pretty... but if you have any suggestions, or notice anything that's left out, please feel free to say something. I'd like to be able to give at least something to the community, y'know? :)

Thanks again, y'all, for the comments!

And to anyone starting out in animation, I'd feel comfortable recommending this kind of exercise. It really makes you focus on the details of what makes professional animation look good, and where yours may need a little tweaking. For those times when you say "I know it looks wrong, but I can't tell why," I think this sort of thing helps reognizing the "why."

- M

06 June 2004, 06:23 PM
Hi Mooncalf - the animation looks very smooth and physically believable. I think the motivation or action which underlies what the character is doing could still use a little work. Obviously the bug has a little help, what with the bg and the props but the core of animation I think is to put as much meaning into the movement as possible. Sort of like poetry in motion - in poetry the words are pregnant with meaning. Blah, blah, blah.

Nice work though and nice idea with the tutorial.

06 June 2004, 08:23 PM
Thanks for the comments, ereitz. I totally agree with you that my Joe animation seems to be missing the "life" that Manny the Magnificient has. And I don't think it's simply context... but I can't figure out how to get the underlying intent into him. I assume this will come in time, and I'll just keep praciting and getting better until then...

But if you have any tips along the way, I'd be glad to hear 'em. :)

- M

06 June 2004, 09:54 PM
But if you have any tips along the way, I'd be glad to hear 'em.
Hi Mooncalf - well, I've never seen a bug's life, but looking at this preying mantiss do his thing I get the idea he's trying to cunjure something out of the paper box he's motioning at. He's casting a spell at this foreign object and then he's drawing back with anticipation waiting for a response. All of these active things are what he's DOING (at least as far as I can tell). Waving his fingers or steping out onto his extended leg are technical explainations of what he's doing but really, inside he's trying with all his might to make something happen! There is no self-commentary about his motion - he really believes something is going to come out of that box.

Technically this would be why his fingers are taut like a kung fu masters claw, the other up as a threat or to silence his audience, his body in a twisted ready stance: his spell has whatever it is that's in that box by the throat, dragging it out into the light.

My tip would be to analyze any scene by looking for the underlying action the character is trying to achieve and look for ways to tell that story physically.

These ideas come from the theatre but I think they could be helpful in animation as well. Cheers :)

06 June 2004, 03:19 AM
The whole thing looks good. My only comment: It looks like your rig settles to quickly at the end. Your torso/body stops and Manny's continues to settle until the end of the clip (which is a great example of a moving hold).

Good sense of weight and balance in the shift forward and backward.


06 June 2004, 05:59 AM
ereitz: What a wonderful anaylsis of the action! You obviously have some skill at finding what's important to a character. I still have a way to go, but I loved reading what you wrote--it's definitely a standard to live up to. :) I'm fortunate enough to have friends in the theatre, who I intend to bother with a whole bunch of questions as to how they approach a character... I absolutely see how this kind of analysis can bring a character from "moving" to "living." Thanks!

Gloom: Yeah, moving holds/settling are still something I'm working on. Thanks for your attention to detail in where my Joe stops short in some places--you've got a good eye. :) I'll see how much smoother I can get him.

- M

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