When an animator is asked what drives the passion in their work the most, the answer is always ‘bringing the characters to life’. What other medium allows the artist to not only design and flesh out their own creations, but have them move and interact with a world of their own? Or give them the chance to add fantastic creatures to real footage, as if they were real themselves? With possibilities stretching out endlessly in front of the aspiring creator, the only restriction is his own ability to bring that creation to life.
The first obstacle of animation process is how the motion will match the design and detail of the cast. If the leading male has limbs shaped like elbow macaroni, and eyes that take up half his face, then movement will look best when exaggerated and goofy. If he had been modeled realistically, right down to creased knuckles and dilating pupils, then the motions will naturally look better subdued and straight-laced. The average audience member has come to expect certain visual consistencies, so experimenting with these principles should only be done if confusion is the desired effect.
After the style of motion has been pinpointed, the actual 3D character animation work may begin. Now, care must be taken to not only keep to the style, but to keep in mind the limits of the medium as well. When drawing out an animation frame by frame, the pictures have a tendency to vary at least slightly, but this at least adds motion to even the stillest of shots. When a 3D animation project is first set up, the basic scene consists of static objects and environments, and thus has nothing but the motions put into it. If an animator forgets to add motion to the eyebrows when portraying a very expressive character, something is going to be noticeably off to the viewer. Even the most experienced artists go through their work after completion, to make sure that nothing was missed.
Of course, just emulating emotion and expressions is not enough to spark interest in the average viewer. Even if they are not aware of it, the little secondary motions will be what keep their eyes on the screen, and their mind on the shot. Add a lingering swish to a woman’s skirt as she turns around, or that flow of motion from shoulder to fingertip as a walking man swings his arms, and the shot will seem that much more natural. Little pieces of realism like that will even help the audience accept more abstract plots, because they will have something concrete to attach the concept to.
This ability of 3D character creators to adapt more difficult concepts into a simpler format has earned the industry quite a bit of professional respect in recent years. After all, it is a lot easier to explain a complicated process through an instructional video than a lengthy, text heavy document. Whether it’s converting an employee handbook, or explaining a complex medical procedure, the use of related 3D characters interacting with the information further cements the ideas, and drives the concept home on a much deeper level than words alone can deliver. Animation simply presents the vehicle to make this magic possible.