Character Animation with Pixar Animation Studios Films

Character Animators are responsible for breathing life into a character through actions and expressions. They utilize the Twelve Principles of Animation in order to create believable characters that stirs some form of response from the audience, whether positive or negative depends upon the individual character’s role within the story. 

If you would like to learn more about these principles please refer to this post. These principles were developed by the original Animators back in the infancy of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Though 2D animation was not created by this studio, they certainly established animation an innovative artistic medium whose ripple effect has been felt throughout the entire world. When 3D Animation came into existence during the late 20th century it was established as a major digital art form by Pixar Animation Studios. As with Disney, Pixar did not create 3D animation, rather they revealed its incredible potential through the release of the first 3D feature film in 1995, Toy Story. Being a CGI blog, this post will be going only into 3D animation - as a side note all three categories are 2D, 3D, and Stop Motion.

The responsibility of a Character Animator is to convey physical movement and emotion through their character, whether that character is a biped (two legs), quadruped(four legs), multi-ped (More than four legs) or even an inanimate object. In a feature film production setting different responsibilities are handed to each Animator, this condition depends on both the size and pipeline of the individual studio. For example, an Animator could be given just run and walk cycles, or they could be responsible for every single one of a character’s movements in a particular shot. The studio factors in the individual Animator’s experience level in their shot distribution. 

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In the early stages of production animation tests are conducted upon character models. This is done to lock-down a character’s individual physical pattern of behavior so other Animators can maintain consistency. Examples include how they walk, how they stand, and their habits. The individuals who establish a character’s behavior and oversee all the animation that occurs within the production are Animation Directors, with the interchangeable term being Supervising Animators. Depending upon the pipeline, they are in charge of a single character or a set of characters. If you watch the credits of Monsters University you will notice that there was one Animation Manager, who was in charge of everything under the Animation department. Under her were three Directors of Animation,and working under all of them were well over one-hundred individual Animators. Further more, the Animation Manager, Animation Directors, and Supervising Animators do not necessarily animate during production. Overall they establish the initial animation style, distribute shots, and review the animators’ work on a daily basis. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Director of a film and the Animation Director are not the same thing at all.

You can view an example of Animation Tests for Pixar's Brave right here.

During production Character Animators are given a shot and are told what should be happening within that moment to their character, such as dialogue or an action sequence.The Animators behind one main character could vary from a handful to well over a dozen, depending on the length of the production. It is crucial that the character looks like it was animated by one person, consistency is key in believability. At a studio the higher positions described in the previous paragraphed are worked up towards, they do not directly hire Animation Directors, Animation Managers, and Supervising Animators. These individuals began as Animators then were promoted through their quality of work and professional experience.

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It is important to keep in mind what portions of a character’s body are animated by a Character Animator. The lip syncing, emotions, and bodily movements are all done by Character Animators. When it comes to the character’s clothing, accessories, and hair, those are all handled by Technical Directors, or TDsThe TDs add in these factors after the Character Animators finalize a character’s animation. 

So I do not turn this post into an even longer novel, please refer to this post that describes the misinformation that surrounds what Animators do in a feature film. 

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The animation of a film is done within a process that begins from storyboards all the way to final animation. Here is a visual demonstration of this process using Pixar's Ratatouille. After storyboards are complete the animators create a Layout, and if you watch the video you can see that this looks silly. Regardless it is very important, the characters are placed within the scene to establish timing. Then comes the Blocking Pass where the animation is starting to be developed. When the final animation is complete the Animator will move on to a different scene. After this you will notice the addition of clothing and hair simulation, which all depend upon the character’s movements just like in reality. During this entire process the Animation Directors/Animation Supervisors are constantly critiquing each shot every single day for every single Animator. 

Below on the left side is what the models looks like when they are handed to the Animators, the right side is the final product.

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There is no denying the fact that Animation is incredibly challenging and requires much time and dedication. Character Animators must make changes constantly or even be told to throw out everything they’ve done and start all over again. It is a lengthy process that takes hundreds of people and years of work, since this section of the pipeline can last from one to over two years. Though difficult it is so rewarding to see the character come to life on the big screen in the end.

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