I meant to do this a while back, but now’s a good a time as any I suppose :) Diving right in ~
When I get a dialogue shot, I listen to the clip on repeat for a good long while. I’m looking for a few things: the physical rhythm, flow, and beats in the way it’s being said, and the feeling behind the words. First thumbnails usually look like this:
Up at the top, I mapped out the ups and downs in the dialogue, articulating the accents and the flow as clearly as possible. It’s good to look for contrasts! Sharp short beats followed by flowing sections. There is always texture in the audio, and it’s a good guide of how to texture your animation.
The thumbnails below that combine three things: the timing of how the poses/expressions I want fit with the dialogue, the poses themselves, and an articulation of how the character is thinking/feeling at that exact moment (all the stuff written in blue). That last part is super important, at least in my experience. What a character is saying is just the surface level - how they feel ABOUT what they’re saying, the motivation for those words, is a more accurate guide for making your acting choices. As an animator, you are a performer! Getting stuff to move in an appealing way is important and great, but if the performance isn’t genuine, then you’re not telling the story as effectively as you could. For me, this is what comics, story art, and animation is all about :)
Once I have this road map, it’s time to rough out the first keys:
Keeping it super rough. My drawing quality at this stage is usually somewhere between dubious and awful, but as long as I can get a clear feel for the timing, the acting, and the energy, I know I can build from there.
Things get, if possible, even rougher in this next stage:
Titmouse has this amazing system of symbolized heads, which I first saw used in MotorCity (moment of silence for its tragic cancellation, god that show was great). Above, I was working in a first pass at the head movement and rotation, scribbling in a temporary face to indicate what expressions I’d eventually want to tie down.
After several more rounds of cleaning things up a bit and picking/placing symbols for the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth, I had this:
So Niko is getting there! My primary focus has been on him, since Mandok’s motion will all be reliant on the way Niko moves. The final pass is when I returned focus to Mandok and the relationships between the two characters’ movement. I wanted Mandok to be thrown around in a funny way, but not so much that you couldn’t have a few beats to read his expressions/reactions:
And that was that! Once the shot was at this point, it was ready to be handed off to cleanup and color.
Hope you guys had a chance to see Niko and the Sword of Light when it was up over at Amazon - it was an awesome pilot, and as usual Titmouse knocked it out of the park. I still feel really honored to have gotten to contribute.
Also, hope this is helpful or interesting for anyone out there! Let me know if you have any questions - I’m by no means an expert but I do love trying to learn and figure this stuff out, and if I can help anyone along the way, so much the better :)
Here’s a scene I did the rough animation for from the Hanazuki short a couple years back. Seth Brady started it off with a few monster keys. Rachel Gitlevich and James Sugrue did cleanup/color and Travis Simon did slobber and efx. Not sure who comped this one, forgive me!