WarLord's WarBlog

The Magic Camera

by on Mar.20, 2013, under Production

The “Magic Camera” is not a joke… it’s not a hope… it’s not a failure to work hard but instead it is a tool like any other when used properly eliminates the need to do those pesky everyday animations and motions that when done poorly kills the scene and loses focus.

Where is this application? Is it open source? Where do I get it? Well… if you are an animator then you already have it. The camera system that comes with your flavor of 3D software can and “WILL” be your magic camera and best friend. It will step you around minor and in some cases major animation obstacles with uncanny ease.  All it requires is a deft touch. Don’t let the “deft touch” thing scare you either… because all you have to do is not overuse it or abuse it and you find yourself completing scenes you used to loathe and possibly even enjoying it along the way.

More than anything what I’m talking about is something we all know about but tend to forget in the animation stage… camera cuts. That’s right… simple little camera cuts.

In my world some of the hardest animations to key frame (thank God for mocap in most cases) are everyday things… and in particular… setting down at a desk or table. Then there is picking up a pen and possibly a drinking motion or opening a door and walking through it. Some animators can do these in their sleep but I’m not one of them and poorly animated versions of these motions can lead to disaster in terms of viewer focus and quality of the production. I used to hate seeing these everyday motions in the scripts I would be get but everyday motions are what fleshes out an animation and makes it fuller unless you are a minimalist.

The Magic Camera has saved my butt more times than I can say and all it really takes is a common sense approach to the camera angle when setting up the cut shot.


  • A man gets up from the kitchen table…
  • grabs his keys and coat…
  • walks out the door…
  • gets in the car and drives off.

For some of us the inclination to show this entire sequence of events IN FULL is too strong to resist. Some of us don’t consider an alternative and by animating the entire action we actually pushed ourselves off an animation cliff. Some of you reading this are already thinking of animating the entire sequence, you aren’t alone until you get a little more time under your belt. Most of us fall prey to this tendency.

I’ll tell you how I’d break this sequence down and this is just my method… there are many ways to accomplish the same thing but in a nutshell we are going to turn our camera into a Magic Camera and let it do the heavy lifting with the implying of an action rather than actually animating the action.

Getting up from a table can be as problematic as sitting down. Its a difficult job to do it smoothly. Curves in the timeline help but the more key frames we add the more convoluted it can become if those key frames aren’t managed. Part of that management is when to key frame it and when to camera cut and imply the action instead of showing it.

Wide View:
Man at table

Usually from the waist up showing the man straightening up… a few seconds of him going from a slightly seated position to slightly standing with a tight frame for the shot. Linked to the camera for smoothness of movement. All I have to do now is animate a few seconds of a partial motion. Camera framing makes or breaks it. We are at the precipice of the cliff but haven’t stepped off.

Wide View or Medium:
Man walking toward door… in this case to exterior door so we don’t have to do any more interior shots if possible. We backed away further from that animation cliff and we can use this as an opportunity for an “establishing” shot showing our door, wall, table, key rack or whatever is called for.

Hand reaching for keys on wall or door side table or whatever. Do NOT animate picking up the keys… that’s over the edge of the cliff at terminal velocity for most of us even with a provided motion.

Hand/arm reaching for coat hanging on coat rack or laying on a table. We are now getting comfortably away from the cliff edge and are starting to enjoy the view. This ain’t so bad after all!

Wide or Medium:
Man walking through open door framed in a manner that hides the door opening side of the body and arm. Shield it from view and leave it alone. You have just ordered your favorite adult beverage and starting to relax. The cliff isn’t even in site anymore.

The car door opening. Notice I said nothing about the character opening the car door. Use camera angle even an interior view if necessary to shield the hand and that portion of the door. This way you only have to make a little arm movement to look like they are closing the door without attachment to the door and that is only if you can’t mask it entirely with the camera angle. We may have just looked up from our comfortable position and glimpsed a view of the cliff… but we didn’t advance towards it.

What do we have left to do? Leaving… kiss my butt we don’t even have to think about that… wide… medium… close…. a shot of the car leaving, backing out, going down the street… whatever your preference is and you are done!

The Magic Camera just saved our butt. Machinima tools still lack fluid animation and anything we can do to eliminate animating it at all will be one less problem to contend with. Keep it simple… real simple.

Now write or interpret that freaking script like you CAN instead of “OMG… how will I do this!.





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