The article has served many people well, and many working animators today tell me they are thankful that I wrote it at a time when they needed to know how to get things done. So for this I am grateful. However the original article was not meant to be the end of the discussion, and as such I have come to understand that there's a problem with this approach. The problem is that this method of creating overlap and drag introduces too many motion problems to be used very effectively without requiring significantly more time to clean up later. It was originally posited as a "quicker" way to do offsets, but time and exprience has taught me that in fact the opposite is quite true. Namely, working this way requires more time to clean up, not less. Let's explore why.
Example 1: Shuffle key method
And here is the motion (for the sake of clarity we are leaving the curve tangents in linear):
Indeed, it's mechanical and in need of some help. It has some nice breakdown ideas, but you'll notcie that all the body parts leave and arrive at the same frame. We want to build some more overlap in here to lossen things up a bit. Using the method I outlined above I would shuffle the various keys around to create overlap. Here's what the dopesheet would look like.
So far we're right on course with my earlier tutorial. But let's look at the motion...
Uhh...Kinda junky. I mean, it's hard to say that it's any better than the flat linear version before. Some things are indeed offset, but there are problems with the motion. It needs more work to smooth out the little hitches and pops and junky bits of noise in the movement. What went wrong? In the old days I'd just dive into the f-curve editor and start scrubbing the timeline and the tweaking the curves to try and smooth this stuff out. Eventually I'd get things working OK. However after a few years of this I realized that I was spinning my wheels a bit. My work took a lot of clean up and the results weren't as strong as I wanted them to be. That and my wrists hurt from all the scrubbing and tangent handle tweaking in the curve editor. The low, dark stink of fear crept in as I realized that I was well on my way to carpal tunnel syndrome if I didn't fix things. So like other times in my career when I came across a problem I decided that there HAD to be a better wasy to do this (that's the impetus behind all the tutorials on my site in the first place. I am driven to find a better way to do this stuff- and then share it. :o)
They didn't have little magic widgets to push around on a computer. So how did they manage this? How indeed.
Old Becomes New Again
As you may have guessed, hand drawn animation has no magical little black squares to slide around on a computer screen to get the feeling of drag or overlap when their drawings are projected at 24fps on a big screen. Hand drawn animation didn't have timelines. No f-curves to tweak. No free inbetweens to look at. All they had was their brains, some paper and a pencil. So how did they get overlap into their work?
The same way they got everything into their animation. They drew it.
Yes, absurd as it sounds, I propose that you can solve this problem by making better drawings. Ahh but the cries rise up: "This is CG, you idiot! There aren't any drawings!"
So says you, my quick tempered friend. Yet look at your computer screen when you're working in Maya or XSI or whatever it is you use. What do you see? Right there, sitting in front of your eyes? It's a picture, no? A picture of a single moment in time. A single frame. A... drawing? Yes, a drawing. Not drawn by hand, but drawn by the computer. Yes there's lots of wizardry and magic behind all those glorious pixels, but the basic essence of what lies before you on screen is this: the computer is representing a drawing of some mathematical construct we call a "character". It will faithfully draw this image according to your exact specifications. Meaning this: if you want the result to look different than it does right now, that's YOUR responsibility. It's just a dumb computer. Ultimately if you are a CG animator you are manipulating a clumsy, mechanical pencil to create drawings. These drawings then are projected at 24 frames per second onto a screen to give the illusion of life. Hey, just like hand drawn animation!
So, what does this mean for us now? I think we threw out the baby with the peg bars. We need to think of these things as drawings, not magical pixel fairies that can be mushed about with spaghetti strings of math.Ok, back to our original discussion: How do we create good overlaps and drags in our animation if we don't use the above mentioned "keyframe shuffle" approach? You know the answer already. By making better drawings- drawings that put the overlap right into the image. Let's explore...
An Example: Drawn Overlap
Good. Everything lined up like ducks in a row. And again as a reminder, here's what that looks like moving, sans overlap in the drawings....
So we've re-established that this isn't so good looking. Now, let's get down to business.
Nothing special, but that's OK. Now, before I get too far into this, let me say here that this method will most likely require you to create additional "drawings". That is, you're gonna have to do a little bit more work here. "More work?! I thought you said this was better?! You suck, Lango!". Ahh yes. At first that sounds like a total raw deal. But remember the previous method? Look at that shuffled offset dopesheet again. Go ahead, I'll wait. You see all those offset and shuffled keyframes? You have to clean all those, and you have to get the motion all smoothed out, too. So it's not like there's no work in the other way. The difference, and this is key, is where you spend the time.
Now let's look at the scene again. Here's the first breakdown (this was in the original "blocking" that we started with)...
This was achieved just by editing the one that was already there. No new keys were added.
OK, now the second breakdown drawing.
Again this was in the original, all we're doing is changing the position of the character's body parts here. No new keys being added.
Do you see what I'm doing there? But now we want to create some extra drag at the front of the move and at the end, but I also want to build some ease while I'm at it. Let's kill two birds with one stone. So I decide that I need a new drawing at the begining fo the move before the previous breakdown drawing we originally had. Just a little something to help define the ease and the overlaps a bit. Here's what I do for this new breakdown drawing....
And much like the beginning of the move, I want to better define things at the end of the move. More ease, more overlap solutions. So here's what I did for the last breakdown drawing.
Like the first this is a new one that I decided to add to again help sell the overlap and the eases. And again, the last pose, which I didn't touch at all.
Simple, clean. Nothing crazy here. It has two extra keys, but I showed why I wanted them. Yes, the extra drawings were more work, but they're the right kind of work. I tried to explain all the thinking in each JPEG so I hope you read the words and didn't just look at the pretty pictures.
So, now, here comes the test. How does it look when we let this thing play? Well, look for yourself...
Hmm. Not bad. But is it better? OK, side by side.
One last caveat. This way of working does require a little something extra. Namely, it requires that we actually know what we're doing. I can already hear the cries of lament: "Hey, no fair! You suck, Lango!" Yes, sad as it may be, we have to grow up and learn how to animate if we want to work this way. But that's a good thing. I mean, think about it. This is the only way you could do this for over 80 years. The only way. Generations of animators have come before us. They learned this. They eventually learned to animate. Let's not be content to be merely talented discoverers of happy accidents, but really, truly know how to animate. And hey, if you disgaree with me, that's cool. But we are a new generation of animators. Are we serious about knowing what we're doing or are we going to be prisoners to a technological crutch? If the electricity went out, would we still know how to animate? It's a fair and honest question for this generation of animators. If we're smart we'll pay attention to those who have gone before, even if they went with only a pencil and a stack of paper.