Do Me A Favor…
Favors, Eases and Other Mysteries of Space
One of the pitfalls of the educational experience for many CG-first animators is that we are, by and large, completely divorced from the traditional roots of animation. Few animators who begin animating first in CG have a firm grasp of the workflows, terminology and principles of animation that have been in existence (and working just fine, thank you) for well on 70+ years now. It’s like we are living and working as citizens in a country where we know little to nothing of the history, language and culture that came before. (kinda like Americans, I guess. But I digress). That ignorance can’t but hurt us in the long run.
One such area of confusion for many CG animators (myself inlcuded for many years) is the concept of spacing and timing. Once you get your head beyond the revolutionary (!?) idea that timing and spacing are not the same thing but are two sides of the same coin, then you are faced with the struggle to understand another seeming paradox- that of Favors and Eases. These two elements of animation are the primary means to help define spacing (irrespective of timing). Many think that Eases and Favors are the same thing (if they even think of them at all), but if you think about it they really aren’t. Let’s look at why.
The time it takes for any object in motion (arm, leg, ball, can of spam, etc.) to go from resting in one position to resting in another new position (pose).
How the object in motion covers that distance incrementally from one position to the next. Each new frame shows the object in a new position in two dimensional screen space. The space between where the object was in the previous frame and where it is now in the current frame is the core of spacing. One can manipulate this element to give motion a unique flavor and style as well as the illusion of velocity.
When the spacing of the object in motion has a greater number of frames (drawings) that are more like one position or the other then it can be said that the move “favors” that position more.
Spacing that either gradually increases between drawings or gradually decreases between drawings, specifically toward the beginning and end of the transition. This change defines the incremental acceleration and slowing of motion between two positions.
OK, that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. So let’s look at some pretty movies! Ok, they’re just grey, but they illustrate the idea.
Example #1: Even Spacing
Here is a ball. It moves from one rest position to another in 20 frames. So the timing is 20 frames. The ball moves the same distance for every frame (1/20th of the distance between the first and second position). Thus the spacing is linear.
Below is a snapshot of the ball’s movement where we record the position (spacing) of the ball for every frame.
Example #2: Spacing with Eases
The timing is still 20 frames. The ball moves from rest to rest in 20 frames, so we have not changed our timing at all.
The spacing is different because we have added the perception of acceleration and decceleration as the ball moves. Here’s a snapshot of how the spacing looks..
The ball covers less distance the first few frames (less distance covered in the same time, or less space between the drawings = slower). The the ball covers more ground through the middle of the move (greater space between the drawings = faster). Then the ball slows down again (less space between drawings = slower). These slower parts are called Eases. You are either Easing Out or Easing In. Which one is which? Depends on how you look at things. Most folks talk in terms of the poses (positions). Thus the beginning of the move the ball is Easing Out of the first position. Then the ball Eases In to the second position. In case you need to see something in the curve editor to explain the idea, here you go!
In neither of the above examples have we added any favoring at all. How can we tell? The end of the move covers the same amount of distance in the same amount of time as the beginning of the move. This means that there is no favoring at all. Remember the definition of favoring?
When the spacing of the object in motion has a greater number of frames (drawings) that are more like one position or the other then it can be said that the move “favors” that position more.
In the above two examples we have the same number of drawings/frames where the ball is closer to position A as it is closer to position B. Thus you can have motion that has eases but has no favoring. How? Because Eases and Favoring are NOT the same thing. They are related, but they are not the same. So what does favoring look like?
Example #3: Spacing With Favoring & Eases
Here is another move. The timing is still 20 frames. We have the eases from before, but now we have added a breakdown or two that helps define the favoring.
Here the move favors the beginning pose, or the pose in front of the move. Thus the name front favoring. Here is a graph that might help us CG f-curvy types to see what’s going on.
What does this look like if we favor the other pose?
The nature of the move feels different. It has a different kind of energy as it is now favoring the second (or back) position. But the timing is still the same, and the eases are very similar as well. We’re just favoring the second pose more. So just by chaning the favoring (but not the timing) we get a very different kind of move. Here’s another graph thing to help explain what’s happening.
Favoring combined with eases go a long way to adding a dimension of snappiness to a move without it feeling harsh or stiff. So if you ever wanted to know the secret to snappy animation that doesn’t jar your eyes out of your skull, it’s almost all found in the favoring combined with eases.
Can we have a move that has favoring but has no eases?
Sure. It’s not exactly pretty, but you can do it. Here’s how it looks.
We still see from the spacing snapshot that there is a definite favoring, but there is no ease out/in at the beginning and end of the move.
All Together Now
OK, so let’s look at the mother of all spacing movies. The timing is the same for every ball. The only difference between them is how they’re spaced and this is determined by how we apply favors and eases.
As you can see all the moves have the exact same timing, but the spacing in between for each one is very unique. Some have no eases, some have no favors, others are different combo of both. Favors and eases define the nature of spacing and by in large spacing defines the flavor of the motion (as well as the style in many cases).
So remember, favoring and eases are both related to spacing, but they are not the same thing. You can have one without the other, but together they both effect spacing.
I’ve already covered the importance of favors for adding snappiness to your motion. Another thing that favoring is useful for is in defining the flavor or style of a move. This movement flavoring helps differentiate meaning to different motions. Let’s use speech as an example. If you think about it there are many ways to say the same phrase, but each way has a slightly different meaning. Let’s take a small phrase as an example- “I was here yesterday.”
One way you could say that phrase is: “I wuhzzzzz hhhhhhhereyesterday.” In this way the person saying it lingers or almost pauses in the transition from “was” to the finish of “here”. And “yesterday” tumbles out quickly. Perhaps this is a guilty person being asked by the police where they were yesterday during a crime. So the fellow struggles to find an alibi, they linger as they try to think of a good one. As they search their mind for a good answer they are slow to get to the word “here”. This is similar to a front favored move. The speaker doesn’t move very far in words for some good amount of time, but then they quickly finish the sentence. So a slow-fast favoring in speech occurs.
Now let’s say that an innocent person is being asked the same question by the police. Their response will be more empahatic. “Iwas heerrrrrrrrrre yesterday.” In this version the person quickly moves to the word “here” and holds it as a way of emphasizing it’s truthfulness. This is like a back favored move. The speaker quickly moves through the first part of the phrase and lingers on the second half of the word “here” for emphasis. Thus you get a fast-slow flavor to the phrase.
Both phrases take roughly the same amount of time to say. They use the same exact words. But the way the speaker emphasizes a different part (by the use of favoring a sound in a word) indicates a very different meaning. Thus is the power of favors in animation. You can take the same move, with the same 2 poses and the same exact breakdown drawing with the same exact beginning and ending timing and just slide the favoring from front to back to drastically alter the spacing (and thus the mood) and meaning of the motion. Kinda cool, huh?
Anyhow, I hope this has helped. No go forth and animate with understanding!
Added: November 8th 2004
Submitter: Mike Seymour
Not perhaps the first thing you would think of, but it is the first thing someone sees. You would be amazed how many people do not have good presenation and most importantly their name and contact details clearly shown on the front, and side spline of a show reel. It is commercial suicide to not have your name and contact details permanently attached on both the cover and on the tape or DVD. Over the years we have actually been sent reels were we could not find the phone number of the compositor to ring them. In several cases they only included their details on the covering letter, in one case their phone number and email was only on a post-it note attached to the VHS - and I swear one guy only had it at the end of the actual tape after 10 seconds of black. Not only are your name and contact details vital but so is presentation, for two key reasons. First, the reviewer will use the packaging as a quality clue to the sort of work you do. The very style of the design will frame the viewing of the material - rightly or wrongly. If you're after a design position, presentation is naturally vital, but even if your not, a hand written label speaks volumes about your attention to detail and your attitude to your own work, "if he/she can't even be bothered with their OWN work - how will they deal with my project ?". The second reason is the desktop clutter of the person your sending the tape to. Anyone who professionally looks at show reels - looks at LOTS of show reels. You need your reel to leave an impression but also to be able to be found again should a job or project come up, "where was that reel of that new compositor... it had a sort of funky lime green label and a big,... ahh there it is". Hard as it is to accept, - whoever you're sending your reel to has a lot of other things on their mind - other than remembering all your details and where they left your reel. Make the packaging professional and distinctive. Do not use the labels of the tape house who ran you off 15 VHS, - the reel will blend in with 100 other animatics, offlines and client review tapes in their office and you'll never hear from them again.
What position do you really want, if you can't answer that then no one will hire you as anything but a runner. I once got a reel from a guy who "specialized in 2D, 3D, design, animation, special effects and compositing", - and worse, his cover letter said his skills covered, "Flame, Maya, Softimage, After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, Henry, AVID and HTML web authoring". This might impress your friends but post houses don't hire generalists, they hire specialists, of course it helps if that specialist has a wide knowledge. So make it clear what position you want. If you want to be an animator call yourself one, if you want to be a compositor - say so right up front, do not claim to be a colourist, who composites their own character animation from their own motion capture data, for characters they design using charcoal and sometimes clay. It may well be that you are a modern genius but you need to approach people as an expert in one area, or at the very least someone passionate about learning a particular craft, and never - ever - write you want to direct. The scene you need to imagine is a bunch of people sitting around an office and someone saying, we really need an X, and someone else saying - "hey I have maybe just the guy, - I got their reel the other day - this is right up their alley - they would be perfect for that". If you can't articulate that position - the one you'd be perfect for - then you can't make a reel that shows your the right person for that job. People do not say - and trust me on this - "this guy is multi-talented - knows everything and we should just have him round the office to work on anything that comes up".
3. Play the reel first
If you are meeting to show your reel, show it early, and let the work speak. If you play the reel it will give you something to talk to and discuss after it is finished, but avoid the desire to talk over every shot, people will normally stop watching your work and turn to hear whatever your saying - not what you want. Also avoid the desire to grab the remote and pause, rewind and fast forward. It is likely that much of your work is new to the person your talking to, give them a moment to take it in. You know it backwards but no one else does. If it is not clear what you have done (since your work is so seamless) - then edit in a section of before & afters or print out some high quality stills showing what you had to work with. These can be great to talk to and discuss and much more friendly than jumping up and down and pointing at the screen with the remote.
4. Put your best material first
All show reels are watched with one finger hovering over the fast forward button, you job is to so knock them out with your first set of images that they put the remote control down and sit forward to watch more closely. Forget building to a climax - you have one chance: the first 5 - 10 seconds, after that they will either be watching it or scanning their desks for the next reel. This is why montages are great at the start of reels - immediate and quick visuals to signal a range of work and a reason to keep watching. Montages are not without their flaws, but so long as the editing is not too quick and the quality of the work sustains it, a montage is a good idea. The exception to this is directors or character animators. In both cases the viewer is looking for story telling and thus a montage works against showing you can tell a story. I would recommend selecting music that isn't too fast - so the images have time to breath, and also music you like. You'll see this reel alot and if your cringing as your reel starts it can send the wrong signal.
5. Don't point out faults
If you're present when your reel is played, you'll know every problem - every fault - but just shut up. Constantly we see people put on a reel and almost immediately say, "oh this was a horror of a job, - the director made me grade it like that, those matte edges were not my fault - if we'd been given more time we could have..." Shut up. Be proud of your work and only if they comment or ask should you make a brief comment, do not get side tracked into canning the director, the agency or the client - chances are the person your sitting with is their best friend and if not, you just look unprofessional.
6. Make it consistent
Do not show loads of character animation and a logo design, if you want to be a compositor. Show a reel that backs up the image of the position your after. You might have 30 great wire removals but they are not relevant if you want a job doing broadcast design.
7. Keep it short
8. By all means, try anything innovative
If you have a great idea for your reel - so long as its done well - include it . Sometimes a clever idea can make a reel stand out. Perhaps it is a graphical device, like the countdown, or a graphical theme you repeat throughout the reel. It might even be a piece you shoot yourself as a 5 sec intro or a 15 sec closer. It was once said that if you write a personal CV list one really odd thing at the end under personal interests, like "my interests include skiing, movies and underwater football". - The theory is that later people will say "oh yeah the underwater football guy"... similarly you might composite 12 versions of yourself packing up the studio - leaving and turning out the lights at the end of the reel, or a cute intro piece direct to camera to open - but make sure it is professional quality, - if it looks amateurish, dump it.
9. Do not start your reel with space footage or space ships unless you're ILM
Come to think of it ILM doesn't lead with spaceships... Every major facility will have done major space shots, unless your work is exceptional beyond Star Wars and then some, forget it. It is tempting to want to show the sort of work that company is famous for, and to a point this is relevant but it can so easily backfire, I know of designers who have been offended to see their work copied on someone elses reel. Try and show relevant material but not a copy of their house style - originality is rewarded, so is a range of work. I once sat looking at a reel of an animtor who only animated dolphins. That's it. If I wanted an animated Dolphin - I should call him - otherwise he wasn't interested. It is desirable to know as much as you can about the company your sending the reel to - or meeting with, but genuine original work, and a good attitude are the most vital.
10. Be honest
Do not claim to have done work you didn't do. I once used a freelancer to do a small amount of particles - we were full up - so we outsourced this one element, a year later this guy sat with in a director's office and explained that they had done the whole job - everything - himself, - this director let him go on for 5 minutes and then cut him off by commenting that it was funny but when he was personally directing this spot he never met this guy... needless to say that cut the meeting short. Never claim to have done work you didn't and don't claim to know things you don't, people can sense these lies a mile away and you'll never be trusted again. I once had a guy tell me he knew everything - I mean everything about particles in flame, as we were in the flame suite I innocently spun around and started building a set up in action and invited him to explain further. He went white and confessed that actually he'd seen it demoed once and not much more, - to this day I feel badly for the guy - but that is what happens.
One last point if you have the resources -- log every reel that goes out. Note on paper or in a database what was on that reel, - when you call that client back a year later and someone says that they think they already have your reel - you'll be able to explain that while the reel they have has X, Y and Z on it - it does not have A & B - which your really keen to show them, - this will impress them as you remember exactly what you gave them so well and it will allow you to re visit and remind them of your skills and talents. If you keep an accurate history reel, you can easily make new reels- if you don't then putting a reel together can be a nightmere of lost audio tracks, half finished tests and missed opportunities.
Every reel is different but the best ones are simple, stick in your head and are easy to find on your desk a week later.