October 4, 2007
I read a great little article yesterday on textual gui’s and whats really need for user flexibility – the biggest problem I’ve seen working with animators everyday is that there control rigs have so many ‘options’ tucked away, they get lost looking for what they need. Spending half a production day just looking for the option to do something is pretty bad in my opinion.
When I first graduated, I got hired as a junior animator at Framestore in London – the first tool I used was Softimage 3.7 (this was before most of Soho moved to maya). I had to learn the tool in about two weeks and remembering now, the biggest help was the gui (and well ofcourse the beautiful f-curve)
Soft’s gui back then was purely text based (as it is now to some extent), and this imensly sped up learning not only the tool, but the rig i was using. The biggest issue when building a rigging/animation gui is should it be textual or image based.
One way is to look at it is as language, and how when understand it’s nouns, verbs, plurals and adjectives. For example:
‘green hill’ first implies a descriptive color, and secondly an image. The problem here is that hill as noun isnt strong enough a word to be a good description in our heads. I.e is there a sterotypical hill everyone knows? Where as ‘Dog’ or ‘Tank’ – hold so much sway in there descriptions we dont need to describe them with images (there in our heads)
Culturally this does change however, I dont think Amazonian tribes have ever seen tanks before, but if you treat your animators as the culture your aiming for, you can save lots of time. A good real-world example is the foot. If we imagine the foot has a keyable pivot and several positions around the foot we can key, we can make these ‘positions’ either as a textual gui or as an image they can pick areas of.
Should its text buttons, drop downs etc or an image you pick – is it not a strong enough image (for example heel), that we dont need an image to describe it. The other problem is too many images we assume, heel could be an high heel, trainer, animal heel if we make it textual. But if all these images are strong enough to mean the same thing then we really dont need an image.
Images are great for clarification of complexity too – take for example ‘knight’ and ‘night’.On brief examination, i.e you opened the rollout and you see these text buttons, you brain isnt going to understand quick enough – where as seeing a picture of a knight in armour you instantly understand. (this is where the image holds more stereotypicalness than the text version)
Our brains tend to treat both images and text inputs as keys to a fond image, feeling or idea. Animators tend to be ‘click-and-understand’ people, seeing what a button does before they know what it does – in a way building that relationship with the gui in there brains. This is similiar to when visiting a new place or country, we walk around getting a feel of the place. But whats key is that the sign posts give us good directions.