How do I approach my animation…great question.
I used to be a strict pose-to-pose guy. I’d block out all my poses w/ stepped keys, shift them to linear, add more poses, etc…and continue.
The problem is, alot of times this apporach will suck the life and spontaneity out of your animation. Everyone wants that “cartoony pose-to-pose snap” in thier animations, but what alot of people misunderstand is that this is not appropriate for every shot/scene you are working on. Sometimes zippy pose-to-pose is great, sometimes fluidity is needed, but you should always be prepared to incorporate both into your shot. For a great example of this, look at the scene in Bug’s Life where Flik discovers that the warriors are circus performers. When he’s trying to think of an excuse to get away from the princess ( a hilarious scene…“trapeze…TRAP them with ease…”) , look at the shot when he says “no…HAHA…strictly BYOB…” He starts off hitting these amazing poses, and then as he walks backwards, things start to loosen up quite a bit. Terrific example of poses and fluidity working together.
So…that being said, here is how I approach my animation.
Reference (assuming you are using Maya) your rig into a blank scene. Block out all the poses that you would like to hit with stepped keyframes. Refine the timing of these poses to your liking.
Import the referenced rig, and BAKE the skeleton or BAKE the mesh and destroy the rig. If your geo is too high, bake the skel and make sure you have some low-res geometry parented to the joints. The idea here is that you are taking the poses you’ve created, and you are making a non-editable reference, a sort of 3-d animatic that will exist in your scene, but that you won’t touch again.
RE-REFERENCE the rig, and with no keyframes on it, begin to animate in a straight-ahead/layered approach. Using the BAKED character for reference, try to hit the poses you’ve created with soft or hard accents. Start from the root (hips) and work your way out, hitting the spine and feet next. Pay attention to the fluidity and movements most at this point. Try to hit the poses you’ve created, but don’t obsess about them…some poses you’ll want to hit hard, others you’ll want to have some action in.
What you will find by working in this manner is that many of the poses you initially created work much better as actions that keep moving. In addition, this method still allows you to hit strong poses and hold them, without being limited by pre-existing stepped keyframes. It may seem like an extra step, but having a stepped pose-to-pose character in the scene as a reference will allow you to work with the motions of the character more, and will keep you from thinking of movements just as ways to get from one pose to another. My animations have gotten alot more life in them using this method…things keep moving, poses are hit and held, and everything has a decent amount of fluidity.
That being said…I still use the old Keith Lango method now and then (www.keithlango.com). He has some truly excellent tutorials on animation that every aspiring animator should definitely read.
Hope that helps, I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on this as well!!