Study what?

I’m gathering my thoughts about this right now for something more detailed, but I thought I’d share for the moment.

A lot of sources say that when you get reference for your shot, you “study the heck out of it.” Maybe it’s just me, but I find that vague. It’s like if you want to be a chef, you’re told “well, just cook a lot” as if the added experience and time taken in the kitchen will somehow magically make you a chef.

It won’t.

So, in order to “study the heck” out of a piece of reference and not spin your wheels, it helps if you have a question you are trying to answer. Now, I haven’t fully categorized the kind of questions I find myself asking, but the following list is a good start.

Of all of them, the most important two are:

Why am I studying this reference?
What does this performance express to me, and how does it do that?

The first gives some focus to your line of inquiry. The second gives you something to think about and is where the artistry, the expression of an idea, really comes out.

Basic principles and Performance Inspiration
What is the FEEL of the shot?
Why did I initially choose this as my reference?
What did I find engaging about this performance and what makes that engaging to me?
What does this performance express to me, and how does it do that?
What is the overall timing?
What is the overall spacing and how does it work with the timing?
What lines of action and arcs immediately stand out to me?

Body mechanics
How does the body achieve this particular motion?
What muscles are engaged in achieving this motion?
Where are the stretches and tensions? How do they oppose each other?
How must the skeleton and muscles articulate to achieve this motion?
What is the relationship between the body parts to achieve this motion?
Where is the COG in relation to the body, and how does that tell me what the balance and weight of the figure is?
What is the line of action of the figure?
What is the arc of travel? How does the anatomy create/affect this arc?
What is the spacing? How does the anatomy create/affect this spacing?

Balance and weight transfer
Where do I feel the weight? How do I know it’s there?
Where do I feel the balance? How do I know it’s there?
When and how are the feet planting?
How long is the foot on the ground?
How long does it take the foot to transition from on the ground to traveling?
How long does it take the foot to travel?
How long does it take the foot to plant?
What is the foot’s relation to the COG at any of the above moments in time?
How does the COG shift in relation to the foot to create the motion?

Is there squash and stretch on this? How does this communicate the weight or fluidity of the character? When does it occur? Why does it occur?

How do the hips turn in x? In y? In z? How far do they turn? When do the hips start and stop movement, and do the limbs lead or follow or overlap

Where do curves and reversals happen?
How does the environment of this specific scene alter any of the mechanics? Is this significant to keep in mind (i.e. correct for) in my shot?

Finally, I like to follow the Rule of 5: Watch at least 5 min of footage from 5 different sources. Why? It allows you to determine what is “typical” behavior and what is “atypical”. It also clues you in to why the variation is what it is. It’s important to keep this in mind because you could leap to a conclusion about a movement and have it be wrong. Many years ago when scientists were studying a prehistoric skeleton of a caveman, they found he walked stooped over. since then, cavemen were depicted as stooped. Except the one example they were studying happened to be a guy with some severe arthritis. They learned this when they found more skeletons later on to compare with the one they had.

I hope that gives you a foundation to branch off of to start thoroughly studying reference on your own. Good luck!

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