New Narratives

12 Principles – Character Design

The Twelve *Gods Principles of Animation!

*Skyrim Reference*

Numero Uno – Squash and Stretch

Squash and Stretch is used to apply a sense of gravity to a character, or to show collision. It is done by “squashing and stretching” the character proportionally to the force it is experience, for example if an object had fallen a great height and landed on the ground, he would squash quite a bit. The style of the animation also controls this attribute, as it is important to decide whether or not you want things like metal to squash/stretch. One of the key things about making squash and stretch believable is to attempt to maintain a sense of volume in the character, so ensure that their squashing and stretching is proportional to the parts of them that are squashing and stretching.

Number Two – Anticipation

Anticipation is the build up to an action. If a character is about to throw a punch, they might wind up their fist before hand, perhaps lean back before lunging forward. Anticipation makes an action flow more naturally as opposed to just happening. It takes away that jarring sudden motion and adds an element of realism to the action while also directing the viewer’s eye and where to look on-screen. It allows the viewer to “anticipate” the next action.

*On a side note, the above gif  from Popeye uses DryBrush smear animation which I remember Mike had posted about on the facebook wall before of Elmer Fudd thrashing Buggs Bunny. Interesting technique to show motion blur.*

Numéro Trois – Staging

Staging is the presentation of an idea to make that idea clear to the audience. This can be an action, character, mood or anything that the director is trying to portray. This takes a number of factors in to consideration, such as camera placement, object movement (or lack there of), camera movement, silhouette of the action etc. Staging also works with anticipation in guiding the audience’s eye to allow the scene to flow more clearly.

4. – Straight Ahead and Pose-to-Pose

Straight ahead action is drawing each frame right after one another. It is best used to create realistic motion due to its precise nature. Pose-to-Pose is when key poses are filled in first and then the remainder is filled in at a later point. It is best used when trying to capture more dramatic scenes with more advanced camera movement.

E) – Follow Through and Overlapping Action

This section is two different parts that work together. Follow through is considering how an object behaves once it has moved and performed its main action. It is the termination stage of the action. When a wire antenna on a car is travelling with the car it is curved backwards to imply drag, but is rooted to the car. When the car suddenly stops, the antenna continues to move, bending forward and backwards decreasing its oscillations exponentially over time until it too comes to a halt. The speed at which it does this can indicate things such as the speed it was moving, the abruptness of the stop and the mass of the antenna.

Overlapping action is simply the beginning of one action whilst another is ongoing/finishing. It is used to keep the flow of the actions more natural and keep the audience interested.

VI) – Slow In and Slow Out

Slow In/Slow out is in reference to how an object behaves with motion. For example, a ball rolling to a destination is more believable if the ball slows down over time rather than travelling at a constant speed and then halting. This is an important attribute to consider when attempting to portray the impact a motion might have. This is controlled in Maya through Velocity/Time graphs in the Graph Editor.

(I’m gonna be a nerd here real quick)

Velocity is the speed of an object in a particular direction. When using Maya’s Velocity/Time graphs it is important to understand that Velocity and Speed are different things, as well as Distance and Displacement. Velocity and Displacement are the vector equivalents to Speed and Distance. A vector depends on relative distance.

This means that if I start at a point and walk 5m to the right and then come back to my original starting position, I have travelled a total of 10m, but my displacement from my original position is 0m. Using the same example, if I walk at 2.5m per second to the destination and the same speed back, my speed was a constant 2.5/mps. However, my velocity would change halfway, from 2.5/ms to -2.5/ms showing that I am moving in the opposite direction. This is an important idea to grasp when understanding the Velocity/Time Graphs in Maya and mastering “Slow In, Slow Out.”

七 – Arcs

Arcs reference the natural path an object should follow in order to appear normal. This can range from anything such as a ball being thrown and following a parabolic arc, to the motion of a hand waving. The curve of the arc tells things such as the speed of the object, for example a fast moving ball would travel in more of a straight line over a short distance, in comparison to a slow ball over a long distance which would arc more. If an object moves outside of its motion arc too much then it will appear erratic/unnatural.

∞ – Secondary Action

Adding a secondary action helps add meaning and emphasis to an initial action. For example, a character looking for the source of a delicious smell would swivel his head while looking; to bolster this you can have the character lick his lips and perhaps drool to show how desperate he is to find it. It is important to remember to not overshadow the main action with a secondary action, and also to not add secondary actions where they will not be seen. For example, do not add a “wink” when the character is turning their head fast.

Nein – Timing

Timing is used for two key reasons. The first is to attempt to elicit and emotional response from the audience in how a scene is timed. A character’s death, for example, should have more screen-time and build-up than a character throwing an apple in the bin. The other use is portraying the properties of an object and how they obey physics. For example, a 100 ton weight will fall extremely quickly compared to a feather. Timing is ensuring you don’t lose the audience’s attention.

Decem – Exaggeration

Exaggeration covers a broad range of areas but in its essence it is used to exaggerate an action or idea. For example, in this scene from Tom and Jerry the artist has exaggerated the point that Tom is a “jackass” by literally transforming his reflection in to an ass. This robs some realism from the short, but it was never intended to be strictly real.


((6^2)-25) – Solid Drawing

This is in reference to the skill of the classic animator. It involves being able to understand proportion, physics, depth, 3D Space, perspective and a range of other things that boil down to being able to understand how to draw something as you intend it to be viewed. In John Lasseter’s interpretation of the Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation he has chosen to omit this section due to the technology that has replaced it. This may be true when it comes to actually animating, but I feel that other fields such as storyboard art, concept art and more that this section is incredibly important when attempting to portray an idea or concept.

High Noon – Appeal

Appeal is the broadest area on this list. Appeal does not need to necessarily be a positive thing. For example, an evil person can be appealing as a villain, the audience needs to feel the character belongs in that role by the character’s actions, voice, design and pretty much everything else. Appeal, when it comes to character design, is the same reason why Hugo Weaving usually plays bad guys, or why Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is consistently playing comedic characters. In Hugo Weaving’s case, he looks like a bad guy. His stern face and arched brow just scream “villain”. Whereas with the Rock, it’s a juxta-position to his past career as a professional wrestler and large, muscular body (paired with his charming smile) that allow him to be cast in these roles and fit.


The Design



Gun Crazy – Artefact

For our artefact, we were trying to think of something that would be a good way to represent the film. The film itself did not seem to have much implicit depth, and so we initially were unsure of what approach to take. I suggested that we create an investigation scene from the view of the FBI/Police characters in the film who were often unseen. The group liked this idea and everyone seemed on board (pardon the pun).

This project was very much a mass collaboration from the group. Sarah created incredible stylised portraits and supplied a few props such as the coffee mug, license plate, scarf and tickets to the ball which I added further texture to by tearing either edge with a pin repeatedly to give them that “ripped” effect. Jessica created a lot of police sketches of characters that were made to looks similar to the main characters as well as supplying some photographs found online that looked similar to scenes from the film. The two girls also worked on creating fake police reports.

Michael bought some toy guns and went full Adam Savage to weather them and make them look real. He did a fantastic job. Sarah supplied the map and newspaper headlines (which she pulled directly from the film) and I bought some red yarn. Michael and I pieced the board together using a list of locations and their chronological order Sarah had compiled. I supplied an old camera to add to the FBI look, and we also had a box of half eaten donuts on the table (but they didn’t last long).

A lot of thought went in to which props to include and how they should look. We had to imagine what sort of things would the police be able to acquire that belonged to the characters in the film. The scarf can be seen being dropped by Laurie in the film, the license plate was shot during a car chase scene etc. And so I think that the overall finished product is something that boils down the entire “behind the scenes” portion of the film quite well and I’m very proud of my team for their excellent work.


Links to my team’s blogs on this project:





30 Sec. Animation

In this post…

…I’ll be talking mainly about my work towards the project (The design and making of the main character) and how our team collaborated on these aspects. For a look at the work from the rest of the team:

Molly’s Blog

Dermott’s Blog

Ruxandra’s Blog

Early Thinking

When we first began this task we knew that we wanted our singer to appear female. Initially our design was to be focused on suiting a Jazz bar but after some decision making we had decided to change the venue to an opera house. This changed the effect we wanted our opera singer to have, and so instead of going for a sultry appearance the design came to reflect a more comedically rotund singer.

Board Doodles

Molly’s Whiteboard sketches of our “Jazz Singer”

Due to the plot of the short involving dial up internet sounds from old modems, Conann recommended that we try to incorporate a modem influence within the design. Specifically, we looked at phone coupling devices and their shape became the main influence for the head of our robot.


Throwaway sketch I doodled during a brainstorming session – inspired by old Looney Tunes episode and classic opera singer tropes.  The idea was to comedically sexualize an object which did not have any sexual appeal, similar to what is done in Futurama. This went with the plot of our short, which was to reinforce that even if something seems odd to you of a different background, it might hold more value to a different culture that has grown to appreciate it.

Ruxandra created a sketch of the character that our team took a liking towards, and so I began to build on that. I looked at Robots (2005) for influence for our character since we had decided to have our character move on wheels rather than legs so as to allow for easier animation. Initially we had the character moving on a singular wheel, but this was a placeholder design until we had something more “solid” for the character to balance on. This is what led to Ruxandra’s design of a single ball that the character’s torso sat on top of, similar to the design of BB-8 from the latest series of Star Wars movies.

Illustrated, Main Inspirations:


Mood board including BB-8, Big Weld, Aunt Fanny and Modems with Coupling Devices


Initial Sketch by Ruxandra

From this design that we had liked, a prototype model was made by Ruxandra. It captured the basic shape of what we wanted and set a good foundation for the design.

After this I drew up a basic turnaround for the character, to try and understand how she fits together and her dimensions. This also helped with modelling due to having front and side planes to work from.


Character turnaround by myself.

This was the design that we used in our second animatic and was looking fairly solid at this point. During modelling I opted to exclude the cog designs under her torso due to lack of modelling experience. I also attempted to refine the torso to mimic the original ‘heart-shape’ we were going with.

Some of my animatic frames:

This shot was cut from the final animation due to the camera stretching the boundaries of the 180 degree rule. The group felt that a frontal close-up image would have been a good shot to include due to the facial expression being the main punchline. In one of the animatics I had even edited a jaunted camera zoom in to a canted angle to make the impact of the singing more forceful, but Mike pointed out that he felt this was too forced. In the end we opted to exclude this shot, but went with a more subtle version as a substitute.

Early Modelling Development

At this stage I had modelled the basic shapes of the character and performed a brief movement test. This helped with understanding parenting, which sections needed to move independently from each other and those that relied on each other. We displayed this stage during the second presentation and Mike told us he loved the design. From here I finished modelling the torso and added a ring around the central wheel for clarity and functionality. Ignore the slimy looking texture:


At this stage it was Easter Break, and Dermott and I both left the country for 4-5 days. I handed the model over to Molly to see if she could rig the arms and face since she had previously toyed with it.  When we got back she had explained she was unsure how I had structured the arms and found them difficult to work with and so she created a face rig and textured the model, turning the forearms and hands black to simulate long gloves which I thought was a nice touch.

Render 2

She was starting to look really good visually. I was constantly playing around with the rigging and parenting. I attempted an IK rig with the arms with varying degrees of success (sadly I didn’t bother to save any of them so you’ll just have to take my word for it) but in the end I decided that I would get more fluid movement if I just rigged the pivots at each joint instead.

Main Character Rig Demonstration

Above is a video displaying the controls of the rig and what each nurb is used for. I tried to make the rig as intuitive as possible, with crescent shapes representing joints and turn directions and with “cog” designs to represent pieces that could turn (the upper body and ball).

Madam Mo makes her way to the stage; animated by Me

To break up the shot of our singer entering the stage, I suggested that we add a close-up shot of a bolt vibrating on the ground as she rolls past it. Dermott agreed and so I got to animating it, however upon doing so I realised that it was difficult to tell that the ball was rolling which lead to us including a ring of bolts on both sides of the ball for clarity.

Final Result and Feedback

Main Character model by Me

Pictured above is the final version of Madam Mo, aside from her face which Molly had made. In the end, I was responsible for:

  • Modelling this character.
  • Animating the key scenes of the Madam.
  • Editing the final film.
  • Most of the sound design which I worked on with Dermott.

I think from the input of everyone on the team we produced a really good robotic design for our first animation and I am quite proud of the result.

Another key shot I was responsible for animating. Looking back, the arms move pretty quick at the beginning. There was also some anticipation beforehand but it was cut due to timing issues.

In the end, the main two criticisms with our final short were:

  • The timing for the gag was slightly off
  • The scene didn’t feel “alive” enough

In regards to the first point, I had explained to Mike after he had said this that we as a team agreed that the timing of the joke could have been improved, and that it was a joke that relied heavily on timing. However, we also explained that Dermott and I had tried several different iterations of the gag with different timings and the one that we had settled upon was the most optimal we could create. Mike understood this as we were only allocated a limit of 30 seconds.

As for the second point, the simple remedy Conann had suggested was to add a film grain overlay on the footage to “give every pixel a spark of life” as he put it.

Here’s the version before we applied the filter:


Additional stuff to check out:

Normally, hard-surface art and the sci-fi genre are both outside my comfort zone. I love both of them, but I’ve never been much good at creating within their realm. This semester, I’ve been working with them quite a bit to challenge myself to learn how to work with them, as can be found in these projects:

Final Year Concept Art

Sad Robot – Personal Project

Christopher Vogler – The Trickster

Oh boy, a presentation assignment.

We’ve been sorted in to groups by our order on the rota, and so I’ve been put in group 4 with Sarah, Michael and Jessica. Each group has been given a section of Chris Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” and tasked with researching and putting together a Pecha Kucha style presentation. Our group has been assigned:

  • Character Archetype; The Ally
  • Character Archetype; The Trickster
  • Plot Anchor; The Ordinary World

I asked the group for ‘The Trickster’ portion to research and then got looking in to what exactly the Trickster was.

“The Trickster archetype embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change. All the characters in stories who are primarily clowns or comical sidekicks express this archetype. The specialized form called the Trickster Hero is the leading figure in many myths and is very popular in folklore and fairy tales.

– Christopher Vogler, the Writer’s Journey