My staycation to learn more about animating in Maya and put together an animated show piece has ended, but my work on said show piece is still very much in progress.

I took the last Friday and Monday off in September this year to use as my last Staycation days. That gave me a second long weekend to research and animate a shot in Maya. Over the course of this weekend I doubted my first idea and came up with two entirely new ideas! I spent time researching these ideas and even started to animate one of them. When I went back to work that week and stepped away from the whole experience I ended up deciding to go back to idea #1. (This is the scene of a man chasing a squirrel up a tree.) Sadly, I couldn't get the Gunter rig I was using to cooperate with me. I love it's design and really wanted to use it, but it wasn't working out. So I switched over to the Malcolm rig and ended up learning how to use a rig picker which is awesome! AnimSchool created this picker for it's custom Malcolm rig and you can even make you own buttons. So I made a whole set of buttons for the Squirrelly rig I'm using too which is excellent. I just know there must be a few ways to work more efficiently than I currently am and I just don't know what they are yet. I've picked up a few great tips and shortcuts so far and using the picker is a fantastic new tool for me to use. It lets me animate faster and easier.

The climbing piece that I've decided to animate had to take a couple steps back before I could move forward. One fellow animator I showed the animatic (leica) to felt that the first camera move crossed the axis line. While I think that's up for debate since I believed the transition was clear, I sure don't want anyone who watches this piece to get hung up on something like that. So I had to pick a new camera angle for the first scene of the shot and it gave me the exciting opportunity to get some more squirrel screen time in. Happy accident! So I had to storyboard and thumbnail poses for that. And then, because I had switched to a new rig for the human, I had to start the animation over for that guy and consider tweaks to his personality since it's a completely different character.

Here are some of the pose thumbnails I did for the squirrel. They're super scribbly and rough but they're enough for me to get started. I like being able to get broad ideas out quickly and clearly. I refine my ideas from the point of brainstorm.
Here's my animatic so far! It's only the first scene of the shot. I've already got a pile of fantastic revision notes from my best critique resource! It's pretty awesome to have someone like that, that you can show work to and get a really honest and helpful critique.
I'll share more when I have more to show!
I've done further research for my climb animation sequence. I considered further the emotional state of the old man and felt as though he would be angry and at a breaking point. He's foolish to be chasing a squirrel into a tree. I felt like he's got to a point where an animalistic nature is taking hold of him. I figured that if he portrayed the characteristics of an animal, he might act like a tiger. Big cats are comfortable climbing trees. They have grace and raw strength. They are very wild and instinctual. I found some amazing reference of tigers climbing trees, attacking and growling. One thing I'm interested in is their paws, the way they use them.
I've done 7 pages of thumbnails for the man and the squirrel!
This first page here I did while putting together the camera moves and animatic (leica reel.) I was considering appealing and revealing camera angles and staging issues.
 When the skeleton of my scene is figured out, I start thumbnailing emotionally. I create very rough and simple doodles of my characters taking the shapes and poses that I feel could convey their emotional state.
 So then I get more analytical about emotion and physicality. I studied the way that big cats move and started to break that down.
 I'll definitely write down as well as doodle ideas and thoughts to get organised and get all my ideas out. I do believe that drawing this way is a snowball process; it brings more ideas when you see a visual.
 some squirrel gestures:
 big cat jump and attack:

Now it's time to start rough animation blocking!
I was getting pretty caught up in doing research for my pencil test today in terms of action. HOW do you climb a tree without gear? I can think about how I might climb a tree, but what about a manic middle aged man chasing a squirrel? So I spent some time looking for reference and even considered heading out to a park and filming some footage of myself climbing. I decided not to bother since I'm probably not as fit as my character and I'm pretty sure I can figure out how a character would climb a tree without actually doing it myself. I can find a bit of footage of people climbing to study and then consider how this particular character would climb this particular tree in this particular instance.
I found this video on youtube which was the most helpful in terms of the physical action of climbing trees without gear:

Now I believe that it's going to be more important for me to consider how the characters feel instead of how they can get around. The old man is feeling manic, spurned, determined, he's experiencing an adrenaline rush and he's a bit winded. The squirrel moves only when she needs to, she is scared but scatter brained enough that she forgets to stay scared. Her movements go between smooth and bouncy runs to frantic and twitchy little movements.

The old man character in my animation exercise is, well he's not that old... About 40 years. I found this great video on youtube called "Sikkimese energetic old man ". I can't tell what is being spoken by anyone in the video but it looks like some young men, possibly grandsons or sons or friends of an older man are filming him being active. The old man is from Sikkim. The old man seems very sharp and he's quite stylish too. I love the way he holds in his energy when he's not showing off. And he stores a beanie in his fedora!

As for Squirrelly, I've been watching videos of squirrels just being squirrels to learn more about how they live and act. As far as movement goes, this video has a bit of everything, in slow motion:

Some interesting squirrel facts:
-they can fall 100 feet without injury
-they are constantly looking around and aware of their surroundings, even while eating
-they have great eyesight via their huge glassy eyes
-must always be wary of predators since they have few natural defences, save flight
-sometimes ground squirrels work together to warn each other of approaching danger with a whistling call
-they have four front teeth that never stop growing so that they don't wear down from constantly gnawing.
-grey and red squirrels do not hibernate in the winter
-grey squirrels tend to be shy but when they are fed, their feelings of bashfulness tend to disappear
-grey squirrels are inherently friendly and curious
-red squirrels are very solitary and defensive of their territory
-red squirrels are considered aggressive, moreso than greys
-a red squirrel is about half the size of a grey squirrel, around 12 inches from their nose to the tips of their tails - the average length of a gray is 18 inches and half of that is the tail
There are lot of famous animated squirrels out there, including Scrat, Sandy, Secret Squirrel, Foamy the Squirrel, the ones in Sleeping Beauty and in my mind most notably; the squirrels from The Sword in The Stone. The part of the film when Merlin and Wart become squirrels is super entertaining and emotional! Loved watching that. Andreas Deja put together a fantastic post discussing the squirrel sequence from Sword in The Stone on his personal blog here. He links to these thumbnails that Frank Thomas did and they are scribbly but just what Frank needed to do to think out the scene. They're so clear!

I've actually got a ways to go on my thumbnails for this scene, I'll share those when they're done.

I found this Disney confession astonishing: