A tutorial on animating a character lifting a heavy object, created for 3D Artist. The tutorial was created in 2014.
01 Take in the reference
Open up ‘00_start.ma’ to find the Box Boy rig, a sphere, a pillar and a ground plane. Put the pillar and ground plane on a layer called ‘environment’ so we can show and hide them if needed. Go to Panels>Orthographic>New>Side to create a new camera and call it ‘referenceCam’. With the new camera active, go to View>Image Plane>Import Image and select ‘atlasStonesREF_000.jpg’ from the ‘referenceImages’ folder that accompanies this tutorial. Under Image Plane Attributes, edit the Display to looking through camera and also check Attached to Camera. Now translate the reference camera away from the main scene and also have the view as a floating window by going Panels>Tear Off.
02 Set up a camera
Go to Create>Camera>Camera and rename that new camera ‘renderCam’. Position it and when you are happy with the view, lock all the Translate and Rotate attributes. This will be the view that we will mainly work with to check our animation and also do all our playblasts from. Although we recommend that you check the poses from every angle, working with a camera will also enable us to cheat some things to get stronger silhouettes if needed. For example, the arm further away from the viewer is slightly distorted, which was a deliberate move to get a better silhouette. Now go to View>Camera Settings and turn on Resolution Gate. This will help you frame your animation as well as make it clearer what is in and out of the shot.
03 Weigh it up
Begin by loosening up the main character and breaking away from the default T-pose. Add some weight to the initial stance by moving his weight to one side, relaxing the fingers and adding some curvature to the spine. This is the first pose the audience will see so let’s make sure it has some interest. Start adding in the first set of key poses, using the reference as a guide to help with the timing. Analyse how one hand moves faster than the other and observe the slight roll of the ball towards the character as he begins to weigh up the challenge.
04 Move down
As he moves down to get closer to the ball, think about where his centre of gravity is. Move his hips out to help his balance and stop him from toppling over. Once you have him at his lowest point, really wrap his body around the ball and get the strongest C-shape through the spine that you can. Spread his knees to really bring the ball closer to his hips and get both holds firmly below the ball. Remember the principles of the bouncing ball exercise and consider this to be the squashed pose that will nicely contrast the big stretched pose coming up.
05 Move up… slightly
Before you have him lift the weight up, slightly lower him to anticipate this move. Then begin the up movement, leading with the hips working down the spine and running down the arms. Continue to keep the ball close to his chest but also straighten the arms slightly to help sell the weight of the ball and the effort needed to move it. We’re translating both IK hand controls and the ball together and setting keys so as not to cause any ‘floatiness’ between them. Having him rest the ball on his knees will also help to reinforce the idea that this is a heavy ball, as will the character’s need to rest and reorganise his grip for the final push. Try to bend the legs as much as possible to again contrast the straight legs of the approaching stretched pose.
06 The push-off
So with the ball resting on his legs, we should now be ready for the big final push. You could also reorganise his feet slightly to show the audience that he has to redistribute his weight to manage this large mass on his legs. Once his hands are firmly placed, again lower the body slightly and really get his hips under the ball before moving up to anticipate this big move ahead. Continue to add contrast by switching from the C-shaped spine to a U-shaped spine and begin to use the legs to help lift this ball by straightening them out slightly.
07 Wave motion
With the hips leading and pushing the ball up, we now want to create a wave-like motion running up the spine that rolls the ball up as opposed to purely lifting with the arms. Really arc the spine backwards and straighten the legs, slightly lifting them onto the balls of the feet. We’re really using the entire body now to get this ball up so we can bring it down onto the pillar. This should be the pose where the body is at its most stretched. We’re using this broad shape, while before we saw the small squashed pose to really add contrasts and texture to the animation. Also, think about the line of action: is the pose clear and strong?
08 Add the breakdown poses
At this stage, the timing should be firmly set and the animation reading well. If not, I recommend you rejiggle the poses till you are happy as it will be more difficult to make the any broad changes later. Next, open up your Animation Preferences and change the Default out tangent to either Spline or Auto. Select all the controls and open up the Graph Editor and convert the stepped curves to Spline or Auto. Now go through the entire animation again, adding in the breakdown poses. Here you can add further anticipation to the poses if needed and also start delaying parts of the body.
09 Check your arcs
When checking the arcs, start at the hips and work your way out, as most of the motion for the entire character will feed off from there. Bear in mind that any changes we make to the hips will generally have a knock-on effect on the rest of the body. As we are using Inverse Kinematics for both the arms and the legs, it will be important to check our arcs, as IK will have a linear interpolation from one pose to the next. Also, check the arcs created by the ball itself and if the path of action is clean. To do this, select a control and go Animate>Create Editable Motion Trail.
10 Clean up
To keep the hands firmly on the ball, create two locators and hold down the V key on the keyboard, point snapping them to the hand controls wherever they need to hold the ball firmly. Parent these locators under the ball geometry so they follow the ball correctly and then point snapped the hand controls to these locators. This helps reduce the odd sliding that can occur. When dealing with the hands, try to keep them fairly close to the ball – almost penetrating if need be. Sometimes it’s better to penetrate the ball rather than have the hand slightly floating off the ball. Last, add some rotation to the ball so it feels as if it is being rolled up the chest with more conviction. Happy animating!