Monday, February 22, 2010

Let 'em Breathe

 One time an animator way better than me told me,  "Sometimes people ask me how I get my characters to feel like they're alive, and one of the things I do, is I let them breathe."

Simply obvious to most but I don't think I ever did this at AM.  Let your character breathe, even if it's subtle, even if it's not so evident in the dialogue, even if they didn't just finish running a marathon.  Let's try to find places to incorporate a sense of inhaling and exhaling.  Chest expansion, nostril flares, shape change on the lips,etc.  And it's more than just energy expenditure right?  Like the idea that someone might start to hyperventilate when they're nervous.  Play it in degress, appropriate to the action.  If I neglect to consider this in my initial blocking, I'll always make sure (and by "always", I mean I've done this one time, on my last shot, two weeks ago) ,  I'll make sure to do a "breath pass" before I get too far.

Here at Blue Sky, without singling out any one animator, I would hear that, "With His/Her scenes,  the characters are just...ALIVE!"   I would scour the animation tests that were being done for the characters before I came on board.  I picked out a simple dialogue test, and among other things, I noticed that the character's chest would expand and contract right where you'd expect, and I freaked out!  It was suuuper subtle too.  I was like, "Man I'm gonna do that!"  So I did!  I did exactly that on my shot.  Since it was all pantomime,  I blocked in the my acting, then went in and looked for opportunities to put in breaths.  Varied them up a little.  And when I showed the Anim. director my blocking,  he called it out!  Swear to God he's like,  " I like that breath he takes right there , that's good thinking."  Which felt pretty nice because I'm usually not too smart about these things.  This whole thinking thing.

It makes a world of difference, and people might not notice it but they'll feel it.  And it's one of those things that'll help you inject more life into your characters.



  1. Breath pass. I am gonna add that to my anim checklist. Thanks for this little gem, Bobby!

  2. Haha, with some of my most amazing animation instructor, they did trained us to think about those all the time in our animation. JD (Jean-Denis Haas) is one, he is always teaching us stuff like these. :) Breath pass is tricky, it has to be very subtle sometimes because you don't want it to become distracting. And it's better to put them during the polishing stage unless it plays an important role in your shot. Thanks for the reminder too!! Always great to revise these! :D

  3. Awesome post :) This post's making the rounds on AM ;) Never even thought about it but it makes so much sense.

  4. Smear- No problem! Just passin on some good info!

    Hammy!- Yes JD's the man, and I'd probably listen to him first. Thats right, playing it appropriate to the scene. Everyone will work different, but for me I guess it helps if I incorporate it into the shot before polish, because, physically at least, it will always play an important role in the mechanics.

    Mariya K- Hey thanks for stopping in. Best of luck at AM!

  5. you'll have to tell me who's work you're lookin' at and who gave you the info. I love studyin' that stuff!

  6. Oh no, haha I didn't mean to criticize the way you work on the pass during blocking/ splining stage! :) Sorry about that.

    I guess what I meant was like say, Scrat from Ice Age, I often notice he is breathing intensively like a real small, nervous little rodent would. Those fast beat breathing are often there! Or during an idle state. But yeah, in terms of mechanics and sometimes acting, a breath during blocking or splining stage is definitely called for.

    I think often when a character talks, and suddenly does a stop or pauses before continuing, those pause moment are normally some of the best moment for breathing time. And for those, I suppose it's better to do those during the blocking stage, or at least the splining stage. Just my 2 cent from observation! :D

  7. its funny you say that. my mentor Mr navone just gave me notes about keeping the character alive using subtle breathing, animation is like an infinite learning book. Sigh.......

  8. Woah! that's amazing, but it must be difficult to keep it subtle. thanks for the tip bobby!