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New Character Animation Rig: Sloan

by | May 22, 2013

dog rig easy animate

Our CEO, Bobby Beck, recently introduced us to two new members of the character tribe: Stan and Stella. Bobby returns today to introduce us to the loyal pooch, Sloan — and discusses a student shot that showcases Sloan at his adorable best. And remember: Stan, Stella, and Sloan are available to all Animation Mentor students — including alumni and creature students.

— The Animation Mentor Crew

What was the thinking to bring Sloan to the character tribe?
Bobby: We wanted to bring a quadruped to the learning experience within the Character Animation Program earlier. We have our Animal and Creature curriculum, and that’s a very in-depth study of quadrupeds and creatures. However, our students are realizing that character animation isn’t just about bipeds — so many films have quadrupeds. Ice Age is a great example. Some of the main characters in that movie, like Manfred and Diego, are quadrupeds. So four-legged acting is something people would love to have experience with early on. Sloan provides that — a fun, appealing character to get their feet wet with.

What features did you want Sloan to specifically have?
Bobby: In four-legged acting, the clavicle and shoulders are really important. Sometimes, when these characters are rigged, those body parts don’t come across so well. We wanted to make sure that Sloan showed the proper anatomy in this important area. The rig is also simple to work with. We didn’t want it to be too intimating where our students would struggle. The rig is robust and simple — a hard balance to achieve.

How will working with Sloan help Animation Mentor students?
Bobby: Many of our students want to do character animation and they think it’s all about bipeds. It’s not. Then they try animating a quadruped and sometimes they find that they actually really enjoy it. We’ve seen this in our creatures program, too. Students try it out and then they see different career possibilities that they didn’t entertain before, (creature animation, for instance) and many of them go on to be successful creature animators. We like knowing that our students have a lot of options.

Anything final you’d like to add about Stan, Stella, and Sloan?
Bobby: We’re not done. There’s a whole pack, a whole clan still waiting to be released. I like our concept to provide iterative releases so that we can properly test and ultimately produce incredible quality rigs. We’re excited about the next batch, which will be The Imps.

Student shot featuring Sloan: Martijn van den Akker

Bobby: The shot is personable and super adorable. The whole shot is a great stage for contrast and texture in timing, which are things that make for great animation:

  • Contrast. Sloan is very still, you can see him breathing, he’s just chilling … then BAM, quick move here, quick move there. This is a great example of contrast.
  • Texture. There are really good beats here. It’s not just fast. You see the layers of visual (posing) and textural (timing) quality. You see good posing and footwork, you see the tail wagging more rapidly in areas, you see Sloan sniffing, and you see him get really excited. It’s a fun and really appealing shot.

Martijn van den Akker: I’m honored you chose my animation to highlight
Animation Mentor student Martijn van den Akker joins us to talk all things Sloan and Animation Mentor:

What is it like to think “character animation” and yet animate with a four-legged rig?
Martijn: I’m honored you chose my animation to highlight the new Sloan rig.

Since I never animated a four-legged character before, I really tried to approach it the same way as I would a bipedal character. (You have to ask:) What is he thinking? What is his character? How would he react to certain noises around him?

I really tried to focus on the character and not so much on the fact that he happens to have two extra legs. I also didn’t want to limit myself in having Sloan walk and act exactly like a real dog would. Therefore, he may not always move the way a real dog would — but you do clearly feel the energy and the character of Sloan.

How did you concept your shot and how was it to animate a four-legged anatomy? What controls were particularly helpful?
Martijn: The concept for the shot came from my parents’ dog, I always loved the way he reacted when something sudden happened.

So one day, I decided to follow him around with my camera and see what happens — and I got some great footage of him reacting, running around, stopping suddenly.

From here, I went (to) sketching poses and ideas — (and then I) finally came up with the shot. But during the blocking phase, I found that the ending (which was different at first, with Sloan jumping off the couch and sniffing his way toward the camera) was taking away energy from the shot. Therefore, I deleted that entire section and came up with a new higher-energy solution for the end.

Now animating a four-legged creature was a little different. During the blocking phase, I tried to get the footwork somewhat figured out but not 100% nailed down. (That’s) because I knew during my first splining pass, that I would focus on getting the body working first — and after that, work out the exact feet positions.

The controls that really helped me were the IK/FK spine controls — I worked out the main movement using the FK controls and then used the IK controls to layer in some overlap. This way it was all very clean and easily manageable.

What is the best part about sharing your work with the Animation Mentor campus?
Martijn: The best part is all the feedback you receive from people all over the world — other animators with fresh eyes or ideas on your shot can really help it move forward.

If the best thing for your shot is something someone else came up with — don’t be annoyed or too proud to accept it. Do everything you can to make the shot the best it can be.


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