CGI Animation Clothing Limitations
August ’22: When modelling CGI characters for animation, clothing is added as an outer ‘skin’. Characters can be re-modelled with different clothing, of course, but items cannot be added or removed during an animation sequence without VERY complicated procedures using separate part-complete clothing, and characters modelled both wearing and not wearing that clothing item. CGI producers, therefore, try to avoid any changes of clothing within a scene. As an old-school ex-animator from the hand-drawn era, now learning about CGI, this really frustrates me.
Jacket Example: My very first CGI script required a guy to take off his jacket several times and hang it on the back of a chair, because it was important to the story that the audience recognize that jacket. But, to do that, I needed models of separate jackets in several different forms, some attached to the character, some not, some partly incomplete. That seemed too hard to do, so I scripted him wearing his jacket at his front door, but entering an inner room carrying the jacket. We never saw him take it off.
Lots of stories require this sort of simple clothing interaction, and the method most commonly used by CGI producers is the one that most annoys me! They show the character wearing a clothing item, then suddenly not wearing it – snap! That absolutely ruins the story continuity – a classic movie fault – thus the credibility of using animation for telling that particular story.
Audiences all know that animated characters are not real people. They are artistic substitutes for people, necessary for telling a story. It really isn’t necessary to show adding or removing clothes in exactly the same way that we see with live actors. That includes many awkward-looking or inelegant movements, and also takes up precious screen-time. For animated characters, a SYMBOLIC method of adding or removing clothing, taking no more than one second, but still telling the story just as clearly, makes good sense. This can be done with CGI very easily – by duplicating an animation sequence exactly.
For any symbolic adding or removing of a clothing item, a bold, clothing-related gesture is needed. Something that looks similar to how that clothing item might be added or removed in real life... plus an end gesture suitable for continuing with the story. For that same jacket example, the character would walk close to the chair, then make his gesture (twisting his body away and also pushing his open hands away would be suitable), then turn back to face the chair and stretch out his hands, now closed as if holding something. That’s all that is needed.
That simple one-second action would be animated with the character WEARING his jacket, then exactly duplicated with him NOT wearing it, but holding a separate jacket by the shoulders so it swirls around convincingly with movement. Finally, a dissolve between the two identically-animated sequences would make him appear to simply twist away, then back, now holding his jacket ready to drop onto the chair. Like a short time-lapse sequence, speeding up and greatly simplifying the jacket removal action.
No complex, time-consuming fiddling with buttons, zips, laces, straps, buckles, belts... With one decisive gesture, either male or female characters could add or remove a garment quickly. Audiences would see this as a deliberately stylized presentation – using artistic license to accurately show normally time-consuming or awkward-looking actions in a simplified and shortened way – possible because the characters are animated. The action could be depicted as smooth, flowing and deliberate. MUCH better than a visually-jarring instant snap-cut, because the audience SEES the action happen.
This technique would suit CGI short films, music/dance videos, or TV ads, where telling a story quickly (and cheaply!) is a prime need. This symbolic-action system could become an accepted way of showing complex clothing actions WITHOUT including unnecessary details, which simply slow down the story-telling. Click on the rough sketch here to see the sort of action needed for the jacket example – [X] to close.