Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Simple animation: curtsey

I couldn't find a curtsey animation or texture in among the freebie animations, and I wanted to play and explore in a fantasy sim. So I wanted one.

So I went to the NCI (New Citizens Incorporated) 'sign maze' in Nova Civis Caledon, and checked out their animations lesson-sign. Grabbed the notecard, did some reading, and downloaded Qavimator.

The tutorials and documentation for Qavimator are fairly easy to understand, and the main problem I had was getting used to the idea that you rotate joints, rather than dragging them where you want them. The pelvis is an exception: it controls the position of the body.

But I made a curtsey for myself. It wasn't too hard.

The big trick to remember is that arms move from the belly, legs move from the hips.

Arms don't move just from the shoulder - if you're moving an arm, put yourself into the starting position and pay attention to how your spine, belly, chest, neck and head move too.

Not all arm movements move the spine, but the kind of 'sweep in then sweep out' movement that the arms do in a curtsey, do move the spine. You also bend forward, to keep your balance while your legs do their movements.So I did the legs first - they're easier for this.

Lift the left thigh up slightly, then curl the foot under while the leg is lifting. Twist the left thigh slightly outwards, so the knee becomes a bit bow-legged. You'll need that to get the foot behind the right leg.

Bend the left knee, then lower the left thigh and keep curling the foot and bending the knee while the left leg goes behind. Adjust the lower leg and foot constantly while the left thigh is moving back, so the foot stays just above the ground as it sweeps back, then let it touch the ground once it's at the end of its position. (Some of the fine-tuning of the left leg and foot was done after I did the right leg and the pelvis-lowering.)

The right leg is comparitively simple: it just bends at the knee and ankle, lowering the pelvis as it does. It might twist slightly bow-legged as well, to help with balance. This is optional - some curtseyers do this, some don't.

Fine tune the legs and the rate at which the hip lowers. You'll need to be patient and keep an eye on the details, and you'll need to frequently adjust the sliders to get the relative timing of each step right.

Then you've got the upper body to do. Do a bunch of curtseys. Or if (like me) you're disabled but have a willing accomplice, have her do a bunch of curtseys.

Watch how her arms and upper body move. Even while she's bringing her arms in to gather her imaginary skirts, her torso is starting to lean forward. By the time her arms are back out with her imaginary skirts held to the side, she's in that head-lowered torso-down position of respect.

Watch the timing of that with her lower body. Her left leg finishes its move at about the same point that her head is at its deepest point, and her arms out widest. She holds this for a second or so, then rises.

Now start rotating the belly before you start moving the arms, but only a tiny fraction of movement yet. Then start moving the arms at the shoulders, then upper arms, then lower arms, and only then the hands.

Twist each joint so that the hands are just in front of the avatar's thighs and the head has just started to get in on the action at the point where the legs are 1/3 of the way dipped.

Bring the arms back out - shoulders then upper arms then lower arms then hands - and keep lowering the torso from the belly to the head.

Everything should come to the 'pause' position at about the same time: but do experiment with the timing. I've found that sometimes a staggered finish is better, so the belly finishes before the chest, which finishes before the neck, which finishes before the head.

Then reverse everything (sort of) to return to the standing position. The arms and hands should come in just slightly before resuming their rest position, everything else can be a pretty smooth reverse.

But do a lot of curtseys - or have your accomplice do them - and study what the human body does. I'm not completely happy with my curtsey animation, and maybe its because I've got some part of the movement wrong. You might get that bit right.

Once you're happy, upload your animation. Here is your only chance to make it a 'stop in this position' animation, and your only chance to have Second Life smoothly go into or out of the animation.

To do a 'stop in this position' animation, set both In% and Out% to 100%. (You don't want to do this for a full-cycle curtsey, but you might want to make a 'down-curtsey' and an 'up-curtsey' as separate poses.)

To control how Second Life goes into and out of the animation, set the Ease In and Ease Out controls. This is an art - just keep playing with them until you're happy with how the model in the upload dialog looks.

At this point, I didn't understand all the elements of the animation dialog. But I know some of them now.

- Loop, of course, is how you get things like walking animations.

- Priority controls which animations override which other animations. Keep it low unless you're certain your animation should run before others. There's a guide in the Second Life forums Animation Tips.

- Second Life doesn't let you animate hands or expressions, other than by using the 'Hand Pose' and 'Expressions' dropdown menus in this uploader. So use them. Again, picking pose and expression is an art.

- 'Preview while' is self-explanatory.

- The 'In%' and 'Out%' are really intended for loops: it designates which percentage of the loop is your 'first step' and 'coming to a halt' (or equivalents for non-walking loops).

- Ease in and ease out I explained above.

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