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Mastering Body Mechanics: A Student Showcase Behind-the-Scenes

by | Mar 14, 2018


Onward in our behind-the-scenes look at the 2017 Animation Mentor Student Showcase! This week, we take a look at the stellar body mechanics animation tests by Andrew Currie, Frank Morales, and Tom Engelhardt. Meet the animators, find out where they’re working, and learn more about what it takes for students to create showcase-ready animation.

Body mechanics shots are about mastering anatomy and human behavior. They’re about expressing believability through convincing weight and allowing your characters to freely explore and interact with their environments.

They should feel effortless, with the hand of the animator not even being noticed. A truly great body mechanics shot tells a story in clear and simple terms, with an emphasis on action, great posing, and clear staging. And that’s what Andrew Currie, Frank Morales, and Tom Engelhardt delivered for this year’s Student Showcase.

Andrew Currie

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

This shot has it all: A great sense of weight throughout, good use of contrast in timing and contrast in characters, and fantastic narrative. It goes beyond a simple mechanics test and is elevated into engaging storytelling.

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your process for creating a showcase-worthy shot.

Andrew: As far as inspiration, I always loved Spider-man and growing up I learned what I know about anatomy and posing from drawing the hyper-extended poses of Mark Bagley and Todd McFarlane comics.

More recently, I saw this quick animation test done by friend and AM alumnus Kyle Bunk that was itself inspired by Attack on Titan. I love that snappy and frenetic movement, and I was inspired to try something stylistic with my shot. I shared the idea of a swinging superhero shot with my mentor, Drew Adams, and he encouraged me to go further with it—to add some kind of twist or story to make it more entertaining. He mentioned an idea for a superhero who wasn’t very good at it, and it clicked for me to contrast a strong, elegant superhero with a bumbling sidekick (mostly Minion-inspired). Stan and Pinky were perfect for this. Of course no idea is completely original!

I shot some reference jumping around my basement but had to rely on sketches for the super-heroic stuff. The challenge with this shot, besides animating a bunch of rope, was cheating gravity in a stylish way, without it looking “wrong”. I did some experiments with that and used a layered approach starting with the COG to get the broad movements figured out.
As the shot progressed, Drew would give me such detailed notes, he really helped me go for the style I wanted by pushing my poses and timing, like having me add or remove frames to exaggerate the timing, which was so important to getting the right look.

AM: What made you want to become an animator?

Andrew: I grew up struggling to see how I could combine my interests in art but also technology, so computer animation was the perfect combination of those things for me. I work as a camera and layout artist, and I love the storytelling aspect of that, but animation really lets you get into the heads of the characters.

AM: What will you remember most about your time studying with Animation Mentor?

Andrew: The incredible community that the school has—students from all over the world just helping each other out, all getting better together. The excellent mentors who give so much. Mostly the fear of never having done something before, like a walk cycle, then the feeling of accomplishment after getting through it.

AM: Last but not least, what’s your favorite animated movie?

Andrew: Prince of Egypt—it has such beautiful, artistically-inspired 2D animation; wonderful music full of culture and heart; a sense of reverence and respect for the source material while still existing as a unique character-driven story of its own.

Frank Morales

Madrid, Spain

This shot had such an interesting and unique feel to it. The character moved around in such an unusual way, but it was done in such a way where it feels correct and believable. That plus really solid weight, and a strong sense of drama caught our eye!

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your process for creating a showcase-worthy shot.

Frank: I wanted to use a biped character and see how far I could push the rig to turn it into something new. I was attracted to the idea of a monster guarding an old temple in the forest.

I used two animals for reference: a gecko (for the way it crawled in the wall) and a gorilla (for the way it pounded and swung across the temple). It is a heavy and agile creature, so the most challenging part was getting the timing right.

AM: What made you want to become an animator?

Frank: Since I was a child, I always wondered how my childhood cartoons were made—Tom and Jerry, Duck Tales, etc. I knew very early in my life that I wanted to make cartoons for a living, but I wasn’t even aware that it was a career at all.

Then, as life went on, I ended up studying electronic engineering… only to realize years later that my inner child was still wondering how those silly Saturday morning cartoons were done. So I quit my job and started studying animation. It was the best decision of my life—to pursue what I really love.

AM: What will you remember most about your time studying with Animation Mentor?

Frank: I will remember Animation Mentor as the school that changed my life. I’d been trying for many years to break into the industry but with no luck at all, but after 18 months, I can say that I’m finally ready and confident enough to start my career in the animation industry. I’ve learned so much thanks to the awesome mentors and the huge AM community that’s always willing to help.

AM: Last but not least, what’s your favorite animated movie?

Frank: My favorite animated movie is Perfect Blue from director Satoshi Kon. This movie, regarding the editing of space and time, was so ahead of its time when it was first released that many live action filmmakers use this film as inspiration.

Tom Engelhardt

Henderson, Nevada, USA

This shot had a playful and fun vibe to it that immediately had us laughing. It’s a great animation test exploring weight, timing, exaggeration, and personality. There’s some showboating going on here that didn’t quite go as planned, and that’s a great way to engage the audience.

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your process for creating a showcase-worthy shot.

I actually wrote a post about the process on my own blog! You can read all about it here.

AM: What made you want to become an animator?

Tom: I used to love to draw when I was a kid. I remember having The Little Mermaid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit on VHS tapes. I would pause the movie on a frame I liked and then I would try to draw it.

I wanted to learn animation, but the technology was just too expensive back then. Since I also loved music, I chose to go down the music path and drawing/animation was left behind. Music has been my career in some way, shape, or form for the last 20 years or so. But about 3 years ago, I was going through a tough time and I discovered drawing again. It was like therapy for me. I loved it! I bought books (Animator’s Survival Kit, The Illusion of Life, Character Animation Crash Course), watched online tutorials from Aaron Blaise (creatureartteacher.com) and the Bancroft Brothers (taughtbyapro.com), and I listened to the Bancroft Brothers’ Animation Podcast.

I got bit by the animation bug and remembered that passion I had as a child. I tried to teach myself, but finally realized that animation was just too complex for me to learn on my own. I needed a mentor. I reached out to Tom Bancroft, and he invited me to lunch. He went over my work and said that my animation skills were better than my drawings. He saw something in me and encouraged me to keep learning 3d animation. That was all that I needed to decide to go for it! I signed up for Character Animation Courses at Animation Mentor (although I didn’t know how I was going to afford it), and I’m so glad I did! It has changed my life!

AM: What will you remember most about your time studying with Animation Mentor?

Tom: The camaraderie between classmates for sure. I’ve gotten to know and respect many other aspiring animators, and we have continually encouraged each other. It was great to finally meet some of them in person at CTN this year!

My mentors have been absolutely amazing as well! They shared a gold mine of wisdom and information. They also demonstrated their skills and workflows. My time at Animation Mentor has been well worth the investment!

AM: Last but not least, what’s your favorite animated movie?

Tom: Gosh, I have a few. My absolute favorite hand-drawn animated movie is The Emperor’s New Groove because of the cartoony animation, the design style, and mostly the humor! I could watch that over and over again…and I have! I’ve even started studying it frame-by-frame recently.

My favorite CG animated movie is Tangled. To be able to see Glen Keane designs and his style in 3d animation is amazing! Also, I love the music in the film. I love the heart of the film. When I saw it in the theatre, as the credits rolled, I remember thinking, “It’s back! That’s what a classic Disney musical feels like.”

Want more? Here are some other posts we think you might like:
Creature Animation: A Student Showcase Behind-the-Scenes
Animating Musical Shots: A Student Showcase Behind-the-Scenes

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