You Will Like the Character
The first word of this project came in a phone call from Dale at Thre3. Shane took the initial meeting and his recap email afterward was pretty straightforward. It said, "Dale is looking for a 6 sec CTA of a character named Burnie. You will like the character." For Shane to compliment a character design says a lot. Enough that I stopped everything and immediately followed a link to the company's site. And was he right, I liked the character right away.
There were a lot of reasons I loved this design, but I think one of the biggest reasons is that it just feels like this guy has an attitude. He immediately felt gruff and mischievous. This one illustration was our touch point throughout the production.
As awesome as Burnie's design was, he presented challenges for animation. His massive hands and feet with tiny little stubby legs meant that walking and moving naturally would be difficult. So we took a couple creative liberties with proportion during modeling. We also decided that we would clear some of the hair away from his mouth, and allow more of his face to be visible so that he would be a bit more relatable.
A few hours (just a few) of pushing vertices and cutting faces later, Burnie starts taking shape.
It can be hard to talk about how critical character rigging is to this sort of project without people going glassy eyed. Say the words "Inverse Kinematic" or "PlusMinusAverage Node" in front of a class room full of students and watch how many of them just immediately fall asleep. Seriously...I've done it. They fall out like those hilariously sad fainting goats.
For the most part the only people who will ever see a character rig is the animator working on a scene. To everyone else (and I guess even to some of those animators) the process of rigging is just technical gobbledygook. However, it is important to know is that a poorly built character rig can sink an animation because it severely limits an animator's options. Nothing sucks more to an animator than wanting to put your character into a pose only to find that the wrist is in gimbal lock or the deformation is just unbearably bad.
But when its right, the animator's job is so much easier. They can spend less time fighting the rig and more time becoming their character. There is a benefit to being a small shop where usually the same person animating a character has to rig that character. When I create a rig I know I'll be animating I can focus on areas that are important to me and my animation goals without worrying about unnecessary stuff.
Becoming a Fat Viking Lumberjack
There has been plenty written about animators becoming their characters and the methods to sympathize and empathize with their emotional and physical state. Ed Hooks has an awesome book called Acting for Animators. While those concepts are massively important in narrative animation, they can be really useful in the commercial world as well.
In this case, our direction from Thre3 was pretty simple and straight forward. Burnie lights a match, tosses the match onto the grill, then says three words, "Light, Grill, Done!" That says everything we need to know about what will happen, but it doesn't say much about how it will happen. To figure that out...you have to figure out how a fat little viking lumberjack like Burnie would act. And to figure out how a fat viking lumberjack would act...you have to try your best to become that fat viking lumberjack. So in that spirit, I thumbnailed out some basic ideas to get an idea as to what poses might look interesting. And then I may have stuffed a pillow in my shirt, put a bucket on my head, and acted out the scene once or twice. Or maybe two dozen times. And no, I'm not posting that video. Ever.
Anyway, the point is that I liked this character enough visually that I genuinely wanted his personality and acting to be on par with his design. So when it came time to start blocking, refining, and finalizing the animation, I had already felt what it was like to be Burnie.
Animation for this project was actually relatively quick. The thing that really took the most time were all of those little dangly bits. That big beautiful mustache, beard, and even the tail of his shirt all had to be simulated so that they seemed to be there the entire time. If you want to see a little more about that you can check out the process video. But I mention it here because those dangly bits are essential to Burnie's design and getting them right was a priority if his personality was going to be as strong in motion as it appeared to be in the initial design.
Its Only 6 Seconds!
So why, why, why, would would we put THIS much effort into just 6 seconds of animation? There are actually a couple reasons.
First, I think that any brand willing to give us the trust and budget to bring their mascot to life deserves this level of effort. Second, we LOVE character animation. 8 years ago when we founded this company, we did it because we had a mutual love of telling story through character. Along the way, client work has moved us into video production, motion graphics, and other kinds of design centered production. So when we get these chances to touch our roots, we tend to go a little crazy. Did I mention I put a pillow under my shirt and bucket on my head?