Overcoming hurdles for teaching and learning Spacing - Part1

Spacing is one of the hardest issues I encounter as a teacher. Its so vague and hard to pin down compared to its cousins Timing and Posing. Students can display a reluctance to sit down and break bread with spacing, instead opting for the more familiar and easier to understand rellies at the other end of the table. Spacing is a beautiful nuance, a powerful subtext, but in an age where capital letters and more exclamation marks are the standard fall back for extra emphasis it can be hard to communicate its importance.

If you are not aware what spacing is yet, then you can check out our resource page HERE

I think one problem is that it can be quite hard to find a good example of spacing..... Ok Ok, calm down. I know there are some amazing animators out there executing spacing with breathtaking precision and examples of their work all over YouTube. But the problem is that its hard to find an isolated example of spacing that is truly powerful on its own while I can easily find specific examples of great posing and the impact of timing is so clear (relatively speaking).

So examples of good spacing tend to fall into two categories in my experience.

The First is to take an abstract example, the bouncing ball is the classic. Everyone who has ever studied animation and taught it has been through the bouncing ball thing, and with good reason. Every animation teacher is in furious agreement that the bouncing ball is a great example in that it clearly demonstrates the two extreme applications of spacing, easing in and easing out (Here is the kind of thing), I certainly have no intention of trying to remove it from the course I teach in.

There are other good abstract examples too, I love this piece by Michel Gagné as an example spacing used to great effect.

But what I have observed is the creation of a disconnect in the mind of some students, a notion that there are specific contexts for considering spacing, and that when it comes time to animate a character acting it is put aside. Sometimes I would even say students get the impression that spacing is all about weight and gravity, when in my animation I find it to be an integral part of portraying emotion too. Now just to be clear, none of that diminishes the importance of the lessons to be learned by animation bouncing balls and exploring the use of spacing in abstract contexts. I just wonder at the wisdom of so many teachers sticking to the one kind of example, it potentially creates the impression that it is about the bouncing ball its self, instead of the tools used to create it. A student of mine found this great quote from Kevin Koch.....
"Slow-ins and slow-out are important, but they’re a specific spacing solution to the problem of making something decelerate to a stop, or accelerate out of a stop, in a pleasing way. They’re a subtopic of the subject of spacing."
So I guess I'm saying that while abstract examples are a good starting point, there is still a longer conversation to be had. That conversation doesn't fit into a web tutorial, blog post, or promo video for an online school very well. I for one am hungry for a deaper conversation.

The second kind of example is to find a an excellent scene from a movie or something, where the spacing has been used to great effect.

But this represents a problem from the students point of view as well. As I said at the start, the student is pre disposed to looking at and understanding the power of posing and timing ahead of spacing. This scene is firing on all cylinders, not only is the spacing great, but so is the posing and timing. When I try to break down a complete scene and discus the effect of the spacing with a student I am often greeted with a blank stair or discordant statement that leaves me inclined to deduce that they are actually giving the credit for the impact of spacing to the timing or posing. So I suspect that some students have trouble seeing what the spacing achieves when it is presented within a complete context.

So I thought I would try to create an example of my own. The goal is not for these videos to show how to do spacing, but to provide a clear and relevant example of how spacing is going to be important in your animation. Its tricky, I want it simple enough for it to be clear what effect the spacing is having, but complex enough to try and open some doors in the mind of a student. I also want it to be clear that spacing is related to attitude as well as weight. I've decided to try a walk, but have put my ego aside and kept its simple and unpolished. So you will see there are some off balance frames and IK pops in the legs etc, but that's ok because I want the focus on spacing alone (plus time is a factor :P)
An important note, I'm taking a risk here by breaking one rule to demonstrate another, in your own work I think you should always nail your posing and timing before moving on to spacing.

Its quite confronting for me to post work on the net that is structured this way, it could easily be taken out of context and used against me, maybe that's why I haven't seen much like this around anywhere else :P

There are only 4 key frames, extremes (where the feet are furthest apart) and passing points (where one foot is passing the other). The timing and posing for these keys is exactly the same one each walk. All I have changed is the spacing between the keys.

Hopefully you can see that the feel of the walk can be completely changed through the power of spacing alone. In the angry walk I have as a general rule made things accelerate towards the extreme poses and slow down when approaching the passing points. The Strutty one is the opposite. slowing down as it approaches the extremes and speeding up as it approaches the passing point. Just as with the bouncing ball, these are two extreme solutions, there are limitless variations between them. Remember that the time taken for each step is exactly the same in each walk.

I think it helps also to look at some parts of the walk in isolation and focus on one thing at a time to get a feel for its impact.

With some points the difference in the feel of the movement it's so dramatic that it is hard to believe the timing is the same. For example look at how hight the foot coming forward seems to be coming up off the ground in the middle walk and now focus on the same thing on the feet on the right. The key frame where the foot is up off the ground is exactly the same on each example I promise, and yet the character on the right seems to be shuffling his feet along closer to the ground, all because of the spacing.

Now I'm hoping you can fill in the blanks, imagine if you combined this impact with your own specific poses and timing. Just imagine how much more powerful your animation could be.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ian,

Thanks for the post, lately spacing has become very interesting to me. It's slowing becoming clearer to me. Every now and then it seams to seperate it's self from Timing.

I look forward to that in-depth conversation about spacing.

Harvey out!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! Thanks!

Michael Williams said...

Thanks so much! I was having real trouble with this, and you made it very clear! Very helpful examples.