I’ve had a really successful summer working in my Oregon studio, completing two and a half minutes of new animation for Seed in the Sand! The goals with this sequence are to show the excitement and emotional ties of the group and the romantic affection between The One and his Mate as the sprouted seed grows into a tree.
So, how do I go about bringing my puppets to life and making them appear to emote in a way that the audience can feel?
Sometimes the greatest emotional impact can be achieved with the smallest of movements like a subtle tilt of the head, or simply a long pause with no movement at all. Many of the shots I have been working on don’t involve very complex movements. The pair may only move slightly as they look at each other fondly. In some ways this can be more complicated than a walk or big movement. The subtle tilt of a head may need to continue for a second or more. At 24 frames per second shot on twos, that makes 12 movements per second. Each frame requires a movement so small that I can only tell I have moved the character by checking it against the previous frame in DragonFrame and if I move the character just a little too much it can be a real challenge to get back to the correct pose.
While long shots where the characters are barely moving are a normal part of live action filmmaking, in animation the impulse to keep the puppets in constant motion must be held in check if you want to create an emotive or contemplative scene. This level of restraint took me a long time to learn. Even now it may take a few times watching a shot to see how long the pause really needs to be. If I haven’t made it long enough when shooting I will repeat frames in Adobe Premiere until the pause is long enough but not so long that it feels like a freeze frame. The action can usually be paused for at least a half second before it starts to seem unnatural and sometimes even a second can work.
Well timed blinks add an important element to a character’s reaction to events or suggest that they are considering what is happening at the moment. Also an occasional blink helps them to seem to be alive. Most basic blinks that I animate are four frames long.