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Pose to Pose Pop-Through Animation

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Date Added: 30th December 2010
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What is Organized Keyframing?

Just what it sounds like. The goal is to arrange all your keys in an easy to edit, easy to read fashion.
The one draw back of straight ahead animation is that keys tend to end up all over the place. As time goes by and the work progresses, the keyframes get messier and messier to deal with. Need to shuffle a pose at the director's request? Fine. But which keys define that pose?
What if you did fCurve bias editing to get that particular ease in that he liked? Now the difficulty lies in finding the keys and editing the fcurves again. With popThru pose to pose, much of this is difficulty is bypassed.

The First Pass

Have a look at this first pass popThru animation.


This is where I settled on the basic poses that I wanted for this animation. I had my fCurves with zero inbetweening.
In Maya it's called a stepped key. In Hash it's a held key. Most programs have this feature. It will hold the keyframe
all the way until the next keyframe, where it 'pops" to the new pose in one frame. Thus the name "pop-thru animation". There's no messy or ugly inbetweening to deal with just yet. Right here, in this simple popping pose test I know the basic components of my animation right up front. Pose and timing. I can show this to my director and get immediate feedback about my pose choices and my timing. He can tell me if he likes where things are headed or not. He can tell me if the acting choices are what he wants or not. Right here, in this very first look on the computer, are the building blocks of my entire animation, all achieved within a few hours of work.

Look at this screen grab of the dopeSheet....

Click to Enlarge

Notice that all the control objects for my character are keyed ALL ON THE SAME FRAME. See how organized it is? I'm treating each keyframe as a piece of paper. In traditional animation for each keyframe you draw the whole character, so I pose the whole character here.
Nice and easy to edit the keys around if I or the director feel an action is happening a little too slow or fast. Or if a particular pose needs revision, I can do it all at once and key everything. By keeping everything very organized I can quickly make changes without having to re-interpret my previous work. Again, we're looking at two main things here: Pose and timing. Pose and timing are KING.
Every other aspect of animation is secondary to pose and timing. No amount of follow through or overlap or anti-twinning or secondary action or fancy flesh simulation and dynamic fat jiggling is going to overcome bad poses and poor timing. With pose and timing you convey emotion, weight, energy, power- the very core of animation is locked up in pose and timing.
So until we're happy with these two things, we don't do anything else.

Click to Enlarge

The Second Pass

Now, the first crack at my pop-thru was pretty rough. There's a few things lacking. Like breakdowns on transitions, and defining the inbetween arcs. Since again I've got a pretty well established "traditional" brain, I can think of my breakdowns and arcs without having to see the tweens yet. Here's the second preview animation with some of these things added.


Notice there's a little more definition to the action. The arm sweeps have some arc, the end part where he says "Ten! Ten commandments!" has some anticipation and transfer breakdown keys added. Also, I've blocked out my moving holds. I do this by generally estimating how long I want a movement to take. Again, I add these new keys with just held frames with zero inbetweening by the computer.
Already we're starting to see how things are fleshing out very quickly.

Sidebar on How To PopThru Your Moving Holds:

Let's say the a character hits a pose on frame 10 and from my first pop thru I find that I like that he hits his next pose on frame 24.
There's 14 frames in there between these 2 poses. Now I know I want that action where he hits pose 24 to be fairly quick- let's say 5 frames.
So I count back 5 frames from 24 and know that the END of my hold for the pose on frame 10 will occur on frame 19.
(read that again slowly if you didn't get it.)
I could just dupe the frame 10 key at 19 to get the boundary of my hold established, and in my first pass I usually will. But in this second pass I went a little further. I slightly adjusted the pose, settling into it. This is called a moving hold. Most computer animators are familiar with the concept of a moving hold. When a CG character stops dead and doesn't move, it just dies for some reason. So we have the pose move slightly as it's held for the duration.
So as a matter of course I add that in my second popThru pass, so I can get a better feel for how fast or slow my transition moves are.

The Third Pass: Linear is as Linear Does

Now that I've defined my poses and timing even more in my second popThru pass, adding arc and transition breakdowns as well as defining my moving holds, I'm ready to see what the computer thinks about it. So in my fcurve editor (graph editor in Maya-speak) I change all my keyframes to have a linear interpolation. This means there's no ease in or ease out from keys, it's just going from one to the next in a straight fashion. Computers loves this phase. It feels so...CG!

Here's a look at the above animation switched to linear....


Not bad, but certainly not good either. Here I can see a few things that I didn't see in my pop-thrus. One being the transition on "has given unto you" is way too slow. The second being the hand rotations are pretty ugly and the arcs need more definition in places. There's also a few little things about the pose timings that I'd like to adjust, especially in the part where he looks down at the dropped tablet. That moving hold moves a bit too much. So I make a note of every thing I want to fix and I fix it. This is a good habit to get into: find everything wrong that you can, note it and fix it. THEN do another preview. The temptation is to twiddle each thing in detail and preview every fix as you're making it. But that can just eat your day away waiting for preview animations trying to fix one little thing instead of fixing them all at once, then previewing and working in more detail afterwards.

So anyhow, here's a look at some of the things I did to tighten stuff up after seeing my first linear pass...

Click to Enlarge

Fourth Round: Hey, this looks sorta like animation!
Here's my next pass after cleaning up some of the junk my first linear pass revealed to my eyes...


At this point I've pretty well nailed the core of my animation. I like the poses, I like the speed of the transitions, I like the arcs, the breakdowns. Generally I'm ready to start loosening things up.

Remember I mentioned earlier on that pose to pose animation can tend to look stiff and robotic? Well, this fourth pass is just that: good timing, good poses, but a little dead, a little stiff. Here's where the rest of the '12 rules" comes into play (or not). We need to loosen things up a bit, to let it breathe and live some more.

Now lots of folks have different ways to loosen up their work. I'll share what seems to work for me. It helps me put out good animation at a pretty decent clip (which my employer appreciates, and my kids benefit from. After all, I gotta make a living, and being good AND fast is a nice combo in a tough animation market). I have some shortcuts and
tricks that I use that may make some animators gasp in horror. That's cool. Whatever works for you.
Having said that, here's some things I like to do...

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Aerys Bat on Fri, 10 February 2017 6:55pm
Thanks for the awesome tutorial!
Antoine on Wed, 23 March 2016 11:15am
Thank you for sharing!
Sebastian on Mon, 09 June 2014 10:31am
wow, thank you for creating and sharing this really helpful tutorial!
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