Animation Rig Test
I'll be soon starting a project to create a short animation narrative that involves a squirrel character and an acorn. I'll be looking into the various Ice age squirrel scenes, as they seem the most immediately relevant clips for research. Anyway, in preparation for this I have started familiarising myself with one of the squirrel rigs (from Animation Mentor http://www.animationmentor.com/free-maya-rig/ ) and to further practice animation principles and the use of Maya.
My initial plan to get used to the rig was to animate straight ahead. Boy was that a terrible idea, too many movements to work with at the same time and no idea whether it would work out or not. Scrapped the project and started again. Keeping in mind the various animation passes I might want to make.
I started with the timing and movement of the squirrel through the scene. I had him jump onto a box, move across the top and jump off, to keep things interesting.
Once I was happy with the movement and curves, I started going into the squash and stretch, anticipation and follow-through. Giving the character life and energy. Along the way I made some minor timing changes to the movement I created before, but it was quick and easy to do. After the first pass, I went through and added overlapping action and follow-through to the ears, as it was a simple aspect to add.
Next, its time for the tail. Much easier to do now that the character motion is in place. though initially I was dreading the process, once I got into it I was having a lot of fun. Really adds a new level of believe-ability to the animation. I have previously looked at squirrel tails closely as their movement is quite unique, but to refresh my memory I did look at reference videos.
I focused mainly on how the tail followed the squirrel more than the subtle stationary movements. I started by establishing an idle position that the tail would pull back to. This happens when the squirrel is both stationary with no anticipation for movement and during times of little movement. While the squirrel is moving quickly the tail drags behind more.
I am surprised at how happy I am with this movement. It turned out much better than expected. There are some minor aspects of the tail I would change, such as the jerky fast movement on the second jump. The overall look of the movement is nice as it waves through, but the execution isn't quite as smooth as I'd like. I also tried to tie the tail into the anticipations, almost pushing the squirrel off of the ground. Of course, also tied the tail into the follow-through as the tail is the defining follow-through aspect.
My next thought was how I could further add to the animation. I created it with mainly rotations and movements on a single axis so my thought was to add some minor rotations in another axis. Sounded like a good idea, I may give this a try in a future experiments. I decided I would look into the facial expressions, nothing too complicated, to see how it may affect the animation. I did this because I was thinking about what this particular rig had to offer that the other one didn't and it would be a shame not to use some of the extra features.
Creating the facial expressions was fun, nothing too complicated, only a mouth. But definitely adds a little extra character. I had him smile before jumping, open his mouth in the air and after landing, a look of fear as he regains his balance after landing. I did the same on the second jump, opening his mouth, in a more extreme manner, it looks as though hes catching something in his mouth in the jump. The change from a worried expression to a happy one is perhaps a little quick.