“FINAL” thoughts on Refining and Polishing a shot.

My thought process when I’m refining and polishing animation.

With 3D animation today, we as animators are able to reach an entirely new level of performance because of the ability to control the most subtle of details, tiniest performance quirks, and it is all visible at 24 animated frames a second. Now with films being released in IMAX, and then on Blue Ray high def DVD, the level of polish in an animated shot should be pushed to the highest mark possible. I can’t stress how important it is for an animator to take charge of his or her shot, and make sure that it is held to the highest level of the animators abilities.

Polishing an animation is my favorite part of the process. This usually means that your nearly finished with the animation. Now its time to relax because the performance is at the right place, and now it only needs refining. This is the time to really dig deep and make sure you can be proud of every frame of animation. Taking this extra care with your shot will make your shots exceptional, and really show a deeper skill set.

These are some things I think about when I’m going about refining and polishing my shot.

I make sure I have a solid foundation to work with.

-Am I hitting all the right beats clearly.

-Is my phrasing helping my shot move forward.

-If there is dialogue, is it leading to a point, is it stagnant or boring?

-Are the physics in the shot working and believable.

I make sure the actions are smooth (if they need to be) and there are no hitches in the shot.

-I’ll track the nose through the shot to make sure the arcs are smooth.

-Depending on the action and what Is moving I’ll track all the arcs of the movement. starting with the base of the movement and working my way out from that. So the elbow, then wrist, and fingers, so on and so on.

-Along with tracking the arcs I’ll check my spacing to make sure there are no hitches in the spacing aswell. Sometimes you can have a clean arc, but if the spacing is messed up it will still read as a hitch.

-I’ll plus all my ease ins and outs to make sure there are no hits or floatyness.

Then I’ll do a facial pass.

-I’ll make sure my facial poses are appealing. I’ll usually start with the eyes, and brows since they are somewhat connected to each other. I’ll make sure all the lid shapes are appealing, and work with the brows.

-Make sure I have asymmetry in the face. I treat the brows and mouth like the shoulders, and hips. I offset them to each other when I can to keep the expressions more dynamic.

-I’ll make sure all my mouth shapes are clear but interesting. I usually off-center the mouth shapes to give a little more asymmetry and organic-ness to the expression.

-Animation wise, I track the corners of the mouth to make sure they’re traveling in arcs, and not hitting walls etc. This makes a huge difference in the readability in the lip sync.

Final Polish

-I’ll usually start to offset things in the face. With the brows, in most cases I’ll have them lead when the eyes are opening, and drag when they are closing. Sort of like they are pulling the eyes open, or the eyes are pulling the brows down when they close. Offsetting them slightly helps get a more organic feeling to the face. I’ll also lead with the inside of the brow when bringing them down, and the outside when raising them. This will also break things up. Be careful though so that you down get wavy brows. Sometimes its only a matter of sliding the curves over half a frame to get the feeling you need.

-I’ll go through all my blinks and make sure I don’t lose the pupil. I’ll also add a compression frame on the closed position so that you read that upper lid pushing down on the lower lid. Sometimes I’ll also lead or drag one side of the lid or the other to help get a more fleshy feeling.

-eye darts!   Usually this is the last thing I’ll do. I’ll add eye darts when I feel they should be. I usually do eye darts on two frames. The first frame favoring the end position about 60-80% or so. This keeps them from feeling to clicky. I’ll also add the lower and upper lids following the eye dart. I usually do this in three frames. I really make sure the lids follow the eye dart so the eye ball feels connected with the lids.

-Sometimes I’ll copy the jaw animation curve to the nose and cheeks. This helps me get the tip of the nose, and the cheeks following the jaw animation. After I get that working I can go in and refine the animation but it gets me most of the way there quickly.

-The last thing I do usually is start offsetting the keys in the face. I’ll offset the brows and lids depending on how I want to lead the eye of the viewer etc. I’ll usually only offset things by half a frame, and usually only on the breakdowns. I still want the lids to open and close at the same time, but everything in between I like to keep offset from each other.

So These are some of the things I think about when I’m polishing and refining a shot. It’s so important that you start off with a strong animation or all the polish and detail you put into the shot will be wasted. If you have a hitch in the arm, nobody will notice the detail you put on the fingers etc. Another thing I think is very important is that you don’t polish just to polish. Everything needs to feel supported. You don’t want to just noodle the curves to death. This can cause a shot to lose all its punch and energy. So it’s a fine balance between polishing a shot, and sanding it down to nothing.

I hope this is interesting for some people! Its my favorite part of animation so I really wanted to share my thoughts on it. This is only the tip of the iceberg on whats possible! So thanks for reading and let me know what you think!

Malcon Pierce

Some great examples of animation with wonderful polish


human animation at its finest!

-Horton hears a who

Excellent cartoony animation!

-Runaway Brain

(hand drawn, but still by favorite animation to date)

-How to Train your Dragon.

Very nice subtle creature animation

-Ice Age 3

anything with scrat!

and many many more.


5 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for posting this Malcon! It’s always so nice to hear the little bits of detail that people add in as they polish a shot. Every time I hear stuff like this I always end up going “Man! I never thought of doing that before!”

    It’s interesting that you mentioned offsetting keys by half-frames to get some overlap. I usually tend to do things the hard way and just structuring my breakdowns so they’ll already have some of that overlap. Do you think it’s something that saves you time when you’re working? It’s something I never thought to do before and as a matter of fact while I was in school I was always told never to do it at all. Definitely something I’ll experiment with now though 🙂

    Thanks again!


    • Hey Keith!
      Thanks for the comment man!
      I’m not offsetting curves to really get overlap into much. At this point in the animation All of that is already in the shot. I’m offsetting curves break up some of the movements in the face so that they aren’t perfectly mirroring each other. I always block in all my overlap in the shot. I think of you block everything in and then add the overlap afterwards (on and arm for example) your going to get a very even, and a sort of mathematical feel. So I’m just talking about the last little bits that an animator can do to plus the shot. All of the polish stuff I talked about is more or less the last thing you will do in the animation. I hope that sort of Clears things up a little bit. Sorry if I was unclear.
      Thanks again

      PS: Every shot is different. So to have somebody say “never do this” seems a little restrictive. I’d say try things out, experiment, and have some fun.

  2. […] Malcon Pierce Posted in Animation, References | Leave a Comment » […]

  3. Wow! Thanks so much for taking the time to share this Malcon! So many good nuggets in there to consider while polishing!

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