To pencil test or not to pencil test?

I haven't been showing much of my planning work yet on this blog, so here's an effort to share a bit of that side of things. Maybe in part because it's a rather more chaotic process, maybe in part due to the natural tendency of any artist to want to show only finished work.
This is the first blocking pass on my second shot of Class 4. We are using the famous AM Bishop rig for the first time this week. It's nicely integrated with the former rigs, with control names and methods remaining consistent to minimize confusion. He's still got a massively big head and awfully narrow shoulders. Dealing with his big hands is also a challenge in its own right. Unlike Stewie, there may not be a practical or straightforward way to shrink his head.  Ya just gotta run with it.
Prior to this was a process of simply selecting an appropriate audio clip (which I mulled over through the course of a few weeks: good to look ahead and get an early start on this, something that my mentor, Wayne, also encouraged the class to do). This was followed by the filming of video reference (I filmed about an hour's worth, then narrowed it down to 10 seconds for each of four finalist ideas). Of these, with feedback from Wayne and the class I selected one and ran with it. So there's a lot of work prior to this stage in this particular shot. In a studio environment it may be that a lot of this would be "served up" for the animator. But this is where, as a student, you are still in many ways both director and animator.

After finalizing video reference, I then did a pencil test study pass of this, followed by the in-Maya blocking. So the 3D animation you see here is blocking, in splines. In this case, about 32 starting key poses in a 240 frame timespan.
Based on this week's critique, a lot of things will need to be changed already. I planned for a clothing tug gesture, which is just going to have to be ditched I think because there's no practical way of going there at this stage and in this context. The background I chose led me to use  a wide angle lens, about 20 mm; this needs to be revised up to perhaps 70 mm instead. A lot of what needs revision is simple pragmatism. 
One thing that has surprised me about Wayne is that he doesn't seem to show interest in pencil testing. This contrasts with Pete, my previous mentor, who considered it a valuable step in the planning process. I included a pencil test planning step in my last 3 assignments, and I feel it does yield stronger results. At the same time, I notice that opinions are divided regarding the value of doing this pass. It seems that the majority of students don't pencil test at all, and that many of the mentors don't pencil test either; though many also do.
The matter was brought up explicitly again in a school-wide Q&A last night, when a student asked Drew if he used pencil test and rotoscoping in his workflow. The answer was no. However, he emphasized pushing poses when blocking, and distributing motion through many joints: being very careful to avoid making changes between poses that are isolated to just one joint (particularly in the spine, which will quickly produce lifeless and robotic results, as well as broken unorganic poses). Essentially, a building of strong poses via a more sculptural way of thinking. 
I'm still trying to figure this out.
In many ways I think pencil testing will be more reasonably bypassed when next generation 3D input devices and 3D displays become common. The task of working in 3D still remains a bit of an abstraction as things are currently done, and a certain amount of planning is a matter of coping with this.
I put quite a lot of work into my pencil test this week, but I still ran into some problems in the figure with balance. I would attend to this, but I think that doing the pencil test actually put me a bit behind in my workflow.
This leads me to the lingering question of whether the industry supports the extra time taken by pencil testing. With the tight deadlines in the industry, our personal animation workflow, as aspiring professional animators, needs to become efficient while still producing good results.
Pencil testing is not explicit to the prescribed workflow at AM. You're free to do it, sometimes encouraged to do it, but not required to do it and special time is not allocated for it. Though I should point out that pencil planning IS required, and this is not too different in nature. A fundamental difference between pencil planning and pencil testing is that pencil testing also involves more precise timing and spacing consideration, being done directly within in a 2d animation environment. This has its own ups and downs. For example, I did 2d planning in perspective this week, which led to me wrongfully applying a wide angle perspective from my planning to my 3D scene. I also followed my spacing planning a bit too closely, in that I didn't balance the rig correctly within the 3D environment during this first blocking pass. Timing and spacing can be resolved a bit on either side of this fence, but once you're in the 3D environment, they certainly must be revisited exclusively for this "reality", (along with all the other principles of animation, all continuing iteratively through various passes until the eventual point of completion).

To help resolve the conundrum I think I need to back off of pencil testing a bit next time around in my own personal workflow, and see how well I can plan directly within the 3D environment. It may be that timing and spacing are better passed over to the 3D environment at an earlier stage. The pencil work, in turn, can still remain valuable for the broadest strokes of planning.

AM accommodates people from non-visual-artist backgrounds, and this is part of what I'm observing here. A visual artist and a non-visual-artist will likely approach their work differently. But it is interesting to see how both can achieve success in 3D animation. Would there be a noticeable style difference between the two? Probably. But it is interesting, and for many surely encouraging, that this area of creative work really is open for people of many sorts and from many types of backgrounds.

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