Hi! I’m Yi Chong, a recent graduate from 3dsense Media School. For one of our school assignment we had to chose an audio clip from a movie and apply it to acting in a shot. I selected a short audio clip from Madagascar, where one of the characters Alex says: “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! This is not the best thing that’s ever happened to us!” I will be sharing the process of how you can create your own Madagascar Animation today!

Understand your dialogue

When I first receive a dialogue, I will listen to it a few times to understand what it is the character is thinking at that moment and whether there are any changes to the emotional state. I will then start to think of a situation that fit the character’s emotional changes. I will write down the dialogue word for word, break it down, and decide where the accent is or where the change of emotion is.

For this shot, the context is that the main character and his friend are lost in the jungle. The main character is anxious while his friend is easy-going, preferring to explore the jungle. Our main character eventually snaps when his friend becomes insistent on exploring. 

> When I first receive a dialogue, I will listen to it a few times to understand what it is the character is thinking

References

This is the most important step! You cannot be lazy about collecting references, or your animation will suffer greatly. Even if you are not the best actor or you camera shy, you still need to take reference of yourself with a camera. It can take days to get the reference you are after, but it is worth it! Relying solely on YouTube will not get you the full range of reference you will need to make an impact with your animation.

Finally, when you are taking a video reference, try to match the layout of the shot as close as possible.

Blocking

Usually, I will use the image plane in Maya to map my video on it and start to block the key poses out. I will block everything in a single frame in stepped mode, almost like drawing in 2D. With everything in a single frame, it is easier to edit the timing just by dragging the frame on the time slider around.

Related link:7 steps to create a game environment

Once I am happy with the key poses, I start to pose the breakdown pose to connect key poses together. Always keep in mind the arcs and the amount of rotation and translation in each pose, since you would not want his movements to be too random and illogical. Sometimes, I will remove some poses even though it is in the reference video because I want the facial animation to read better without the character moving too much. As the saying goes, less is more.

It can take days to get the reference you are after, but it is worth it!

When I’m happy with my timings, I will start to add the “ease in, ease out” and moving hold in blocking stage. By applying these during blocking, the result will not be drastically different once you come to transitioning to splining.

Splining and Polishing

I then move on to spline mode and play blasting.  At this point, I will list down what needs to change while watching the play blast. Then, I will start clearing the checklist. The first pass will be to tidy the spacing and timing of everything. After this pass, the shot will look much cleaner and closer to what I’m looking for.

The second pass will be to refine the arcs of everything, down to the finger. I will also see if there any suitable spots to put in squash and stretch. The secret to squash and stretch is, that it should not be seen but able to be felt, by the audience. After I’m happy with it, I will add “blinks” to give the character more life. Last but not least I clean up the graph. 

The shot is done!

Huge thanks to 3dsense Media School for teaching me all the skills I am developing. Special thanks to Gyuhyun Kim for his guidance.