“Alley of Dreams” was one of the projects where I learned the most. Not only did I get to hone my animation skills, but I got to do several other things during the production cycle. I specially got a bunch of advice on rigging from my coworkers, and can now say it's part of my skillet.
Animation and Mo-cap
At IF, to begin our scenes, we were given three things: The storyboard, a MotionBuilder file with all the mo-cap clips ready, and a video recording of the mo-cap actor as reference.
The IF animation pipeline mixes mo-cap with key frame animation.* Face and hands are animated from scratch, while the rest of the body is modified mo-cap.
The process has the benefit of allowing the animators to focus more on the facial expressions. This results on a swiftly animated scenes that still capture the emotion of key frame animation (pun not intended). A month's work is reduced to merely a week. Most of the animators time went to detailing the face and hands in order to achieve the right emotions.
*Because we only had access to human mo-cap, all the animals, like rats and pigeons, were fully key-frame animated.
Because animation was done in both MotionBuilder (mo-cap) and Maya (key-frame), a rig that worked on both was of essence.
The first step was to set a bare bones skeleton (pun intended) in Maya that could be easily imported into MotionBuilder and the other way around as well.
Next, the rig at MotionBuilder is set with IKs, tweaking each character to their needed specifications.
Lastly, a more complex rig is set up in Maya. Besides the base skeleton, the Maya rig included rigs for the...
Face rig:linked to both, joints and blend shapes.
Hair: With the option of animating it manual, or setting up a simulation.
Clothes: Depending on the type of clothes, it could be a simple rig for things like sleeves; or a more complicated one, similar to the hair for objects like skirts.
Squash and Stretch: Applied to the head, to give the characters a more cartoony look.
The animals were more of a challenge. We had an established pipeline for all the human characters, but each animal required a different kind of rig. E.g. The pigeon required an independent head joint in order to achieve their distinctive walk.