The Secret To The Perfect Reference
The Secret To The Perfect Reference
The secret to the right reference

When you start any animation shot it is always best to start with some reference or inspiration to help guide your choices. Inspiration can come in many forms; videos, photos, drawings, and sculptures. The list is endless as it is all about what inspires you. With references we need to be more aware of the movement and posing when assessing them.

Why Do We Need Reference

Why do we need references in the first place? Let's first look at the definition of a reference:

mention or refer to.

Meaning to refer back to something. When creating any art you need something to help ground your work, references can provide this.

Finding The Right Reference

When looking for the right reference you need to consider a few things; mood, action and medium. Finding the right mood is key to keeping the authenticity of what you want to portray. Trying to extract a happy mood from a reference that is dark and moody won't be authentic to the mood. This alone can easily sway your feelings for your shot. Finding the right actions can be hard especially when it comes to more acrobatic movements. Splicing your own videos with an online reference can be an effective way to build your reference. Don't feel like you need to get that one perfect reference. Create references that work for your shot. 

Reference vs Animation - Sherwood By Laura Picallo

When looking at the above reference you can tell they spent time planning their takes. When needed they have sliced in other takes or adjusted the timing to fit the mood.

Where To Find Reference

If you are unable to create your own reference you have plenty of options to find great references online. Here are some of my top tips when looking for references.

Find More Than You Need

When gathering references it is crucial to store as much as you can and widdle down later. I am sure you have come across some references that you aren't 100% sure about. However, save yourself the time and just save it. This will avoid being frustrated when you cannot find that reference again.

Always Look for Live Action Reference First

When starting off you might quickly be drawn to look for other animated references. While this can be helpful it isn't the best reference, as animation is only someone's interpretation of their own reference. Live action references will always be more helpful in the long run.

Reference Contact Sheet

Once you have found your material, try making a contact sheet of all your references. Contact sheets can help find commonalities in your references, making it easier to choose your primary reference.

Monkey Contact Sheet Reference
Monkey Contact Sheet Reference

Expand Your Reference Search

When you are looking for references you shouldn't only focus on video reference. Photo reference can be just as helpful, especially when posing out a creature for the first time.

Where To Find Reference

References can be found anywhere, from online to walking down the street. When looking for references be aware of what you can find online and what might be easier to gather yourself. Here are a few websites I find useful when looking for a reference.

Youtube can be a great place to find references, with a massive video library. YouTube relies on users to set titles and add tags, sometimes making it difficult to find the appropriate reference.

Vimeo provides high quality videos, often more organized than YouTube videos. Be cautious as Vimeo does a good job with protecting users videos from being downloaded. This can make it hard when collecting off-line reference.

Shutterstock unlike the first two sites is very well organized. Built on the idea that videos and photos are categorized to a microscopic level. You can quickly find a large selection of high quality references. It can be pricy to buy each video but they offer both subscriptions and the ability to download videos with watermarks.

Rhino House was designed for animators. With high quickly video references of animals, they are organized into actions with great tools to help analyze their movement built into the website. This is however a pay to watch service, but at only $6.50 per month it is a great deal for the service.

Body in motion is a unique site that offers high speed photographs, that when combined show the action in stop motion. Great when looking for body mechanics and pose references.

How To Use Reference

References are key but don't overuse them. Overuse? What can I mean? Let's go back to the beginning, do you remember the definition of a reference? To refer to, we don't want to trace or roto-animate the reference but use it to help influence our choice, choices on the posing, timing and spacing for our character. With all this in mind take your time, study the reference allow it to consciously and subconsciously influence your work, then you will see the effects of using references.

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