Dancing, Hip-Hop Dancing

If you’re looking for last weeks Lip-Sync tutorial, go HERE, or use the navigation in the panel to the left.

NOTE: Due to high demand and traffic, some of my vimeo files appear to have locked. I am remedying this situation and will have them back up shortly. If any video doesn’t work for you, please try refreshing your page. If it still does not work, please email me for a link to the quicktime file.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was not able to film myself describing this weeks tutorial. I do, however, have LOTS of video reference of our subject!

Boy, this weeks tutorial is a tough one to grasp. Dancing in itself is so varied that it’s extremely difficult to put a workflow around it, or speed it up with some magic tip. What it really boils down to is the fundamentals of any animation: Foundation (Planning), Structure, Details, and Polish. Here is what we end up with:

I also animated this one just for fun, but it does show off some nice overlap and the wave principle:

Not bad for a days work!
Ok, before we get into animation – as part of our Foundation, let’s take a closer look at weight:
Rather than explain what happens when you shift your weight from one side to the other, let me show you!

Notice how far the body needs to shift in order to take the weight off of one foot.

Also notice how much the knees need to bend in order to change the angle of the pelvis, AND notice how the pelvis can pivot almost independent of the spine.

Foundation, or Planning: With dancing, planning is just as important as ever. While you’re not planning an emotional performance as in acting, it still is a performance that conveys a message. You need to plan the exact choreography and attitude of your dance. Hopefully you can get video reference of the exact moves you will be doing, USE IT! But don’t forget to, at some stage, detach from your reference material and look at your animation for its own weight, timing and poses.

If possible, sketch out the key poses of your scene, and note the breakdowns and inbetween action.

Here is the dance clip I used as my reference. It’s a Justin Timberlake sequence with pretty subtle moves. I wanted this to show how even subtle moves can be animated using low-quality reference (I got it off YouTube and the camera is panning/zooming).

Now, how do you use the reference footage? Well, I never put it in my scene as a background! I open it up in quicktime player or Media Player Classic so that I can step through it frame-by-frame. I also run it through Premiere or some other program to get a timecode on it, frame numbers are a life saver!
Next, its a good idea to go through your reference frame-by-frame and sketch out some key poses, making a note of the timing. If you’re too lazy (like me) or time is of the essence, just write down the frame numbers of your reference instead of sketching. This is the most important part of your animation process! Plan plan plan!
Blocking: Now I go into my animation package, in this case 3ds Max with Character Studio (quick and easy rig).Make sure your scene frame rate is the same as your reference footage (if you’re going to be using the same timing as your reference).

This is basically getting your character to “go through the motions” of the dance. No details yet! This is just the framework to hang our details on. It looks pretty bad right now (partly because it’s difficult to get biped to let you “step” the keyframes), but that’s ok. We are adding on lumps of motion that we will later carve our details into:

Structure: You need to have a firm grasp of weight in particular (see reference above, and much more in the members reference section), before you can animate a convincing dance sequence. You also need to understand the rhythm of the music. I won’t give you any formula’s for working this out (I’m an animator, not a mathematician!!), I just simply animate a bouncing ball to the rhythm. It’s much easier to shift the keys of a bouncing ball around to match the music than it is to shift the keys of an entire character.
Details and Polish: The Structure and Details stages on this animation are very subtle. You really can barely tell the difference, so we might as well skip to the end and look at the Polished piece:

I really hope that this breakdown of a dance workflow helps! Again, your reference will depend on the dance style you are animating and also the final style of output (Cartoony, realistic etc…). If you would like to see these reference clips in Quicktime format, then head over to my Reference Page by following the link I’ve emailed you. I’ll also be uploading the weight shift videos from every angle, and even some torso movement and shifting.

I hope you found this tutorial informative and inspirational! If you really want to take your animation to the next level, then check out the Guardian Animation Program! Doing so will also help support this animation community.