Directed by Andre Øvredal - Produced by FIlmkameratene
I worked on this project vinter / spring 2010. This is an attemt to shed some light on the prosess. Last autumn I started with Rune Spaans on the bridge sequence. He designed both the one armed Raglefant and the gigant Jotne troll. The Jotne later went to Filmkameratene whom I also joined for animating, and Gimpville for rendring. The tree-headed Tusseladd was done by Storm Studios, apart from a couple of shots that we did at FK. Supervisors at FK was Nina Bergstrøm and Øystein Larsen.
As character animators we tryto communicate an idea across to an audience through acting and movement. Staging and timing the actions in a wayso that the viewer understand whats going on.What is the character thinking, why he/she behaving in a spesific way?
When the animation prosess starts on any given project, you usually get a feel for what kind of characters you`re going to animate by reading the script. The ideas you get might not always be in sync with what the director had in mind, so its often helpfull to look at something visuals aswell. On this project we looked at everything from dinosaurs, gorillas, elephants, other creature animation and hobos, to find inspiration for how to animate the trolls.
It became apparent that the kind of trolls we had in mind had not been done before, so we had to experiment alot to begin with. Having done mostly cartoony animation before there were a few mountains to climb getting our heads arround how the trolls should behave and move. What we got from the reference material was how to do the physics, finding the characters was done by trail and error. We didnt copy or rotoscope any of the reference or mocap material we had but had some of it in the back of our heads while animating.
Quick rig-test of the Raglefant
Since we were to put the trolls inside live action footage interacting with humans, we knew we had to do realistic animation. We didnt want the trolls to be to human or to animal like, but we knew they were to be simple minded creatures who reacts on instinct, so we ended up somewhere inbetween.
The one armed Raglefant is a simple minded predator. Explosive and agressive, and now even more on edge due to the beating he has gotten. His long trem goal is go heal, but he has to rest and eat in the prosess. His eating is being interupted, this aggitates him even more, and when he sences christian blood he gets furious. This is a troll chased out of its habitat. Normally he would be some what calmer as he dont have alot of enemies,he is more physicaly fit and aggile than most of the other trolls.
You simply dont mess with him, unless you have the upper hand. He will eat just about anything,including you :)
Layout / Block Scetching out the story
The filmed material is edited so that we have a desent staring point for doing a block. A low resolutionverson ofthe trolls is used to get the key poses, timing and layout of the scenes in place. By keeping things simple at this point, its easy to change things arround any way the director wants.
After we had the first blocking in place we started doing mocap tests. We didnt exactly know what to expect from mocap, if we were able to use some of the data on the trolls or not. It turned out to be a very helpfull layout and blocking tool for some of the animation. We got to try different ideas out quickly and edit a more detailed animatic that we used as a base for timing the animation.
Although we try to nail as much of the edit as possible before we start doing the animation, the editing is and should be a continious prosess as long as were in production on animation.
With the mocap video as reference we did a rough pass at the animation. This was the time to finetune the overall timing of the shot, as well as making sure the poses/silluetes and overall readability worked. A sence of mass and weight is also important at this point. If the troll should later needs 20 more frames to start moving at some point you might run into trouble down the line. Especialy if you need to follow the timing of the bg plate.
A big challenge on some of the shots was giving enough room for the viewer to digest key storytelling points. Theres so much that needs to be told, and youre often left with a limited number of frames at your disposal.
Does the shot have solid entertainment value? If not, what can be done with the acting and the motion to make it more interesting. Since the trolls act on impulse, they should be a bit unpredictable. We tried not to give to much away in the setup, keep the viewer guessing, and surprise them. The humor was a bit tricky some times, because everything had to be underacted. Doing cartoony takes was not an option, so we had to rely on pauses, and the stupidity of the trolls to be entertaining.
If there was to be key storytelling vfx in a shot that would be added in post, it was important do make a previs of those along side the animation.This helps the Vfx department with layout, storytelling elements and timing.
Before we started working on clean, we had to make sure that the movements vere propperly motivated. Often times we had put too much into the scenes, and the shots benefited alot from stripping them down a bit, leaving the trolls time to think. A less is more approach was the way to go.
Example of reference filming for animation. I have seldom done this in the past, but found it useful in some cases on this project
Rough / Clean Animation Realism is not that clean :)
At this point we start to fine tune the rough and add more subtle movements.Actions and reactions is tuned to that the viewer reads the trolls taught proses. Does the body support whats going on in the face and vise versa. Is he breathing? What are the eyes saying?
The overall esthetics of the shot is taken into consideration, weight, physics and the texture of the animation comes into play. Are the size and speed of the movements varied enough? How is the follow through, overlap, arcs working. We tried not to make arcs to smooth to give the motion more realism. It has a tendency of looking to handcrafted if every move is too clean. Adding a layer of noise at certain points helped break things up a bit.
Since we made a digital double for the biting shot, the director found we could use him in another shot as well. We animated him walking under the bridge, to help tell the story of Hans approaching the troll the second time better.
Since we work on a computer, its enevidable that theres some hickups. It was very important to do a thorough check of every scene to find flaws in the animation.Popping, motionblur issues, penetrations, ground contact etc could easily have ruined a shot.Thankfully the geometry was cached out fixing alot of motionblur issues, that simplified our cleanup work a great deal.
Images from some of the other shots I animated.
This was a first time voyage for all of us. Working out the behaviour and motion patterns of these trolls were both challenging and rewarding. I think we managed to find the characters, and make them believeable. Most valuable lesson learned is probably how time consuming this type of animation really is. We´ll hopefully have more production time the next time arround.