Some of the first reports are already coming out about the hot new stuff being presented at Siggraph this year. Perhaps of most interest to me personally has got to be the stuff discussed in this FxGuide article though, about the Dreamworks facial rigs and the new tools that Pixar has got in their in-house "Presto" software!
In particular, the most exciting parts of this are the sketch-based and silhouette based posing tools in Pixar's Presto. What probably isn't widely known (but which I have dropped hints about here and there) is that these are exactly the tools that I've been working on for Blender over the past few years. (Truth be told, if I didn't have to do anything else, right now, they'd be what I'd be spending most of my time working on). My first attempt at this was 3 years ago back in 2012 with the Pose Sculpting tools (experience gained from that work is now powering the new GPencil Sculpting tools). More recently, I've been looking into some more powerful/useful "line of action" sketching tools (though this is all still relatively early-stage work, so there's not much to see just yet).
If you read through the article, you'll see many examples of the benefits that these kinds of tools can offer to animators. Just to rattle off a few examples of things that these tools would be really good for:
* Posing ropes, tails, and anything else that's long and string-like that needs to be able to be easily posed in smooth, flowing curves - 'Nuff said if you've watched the Gooseberry animators at work :)
* Quickly blocking out full-body poses - Line of action + Limb shapes + Silhouette-Contour
* Achieving finer control over facial expressions - just draw the eyebrow, mouth, eyelid shapes you need!
* Applying tweaks and refinements on top of the existing animation/poses
Basically, the idea is that we bring back some of the flexibility and ease of posing that you get from 2D (i.e. a single continuous curve can describe a lot of complex shape information, vs having to perform multiple tweaks on multiple controls/segments to get the desired shape), while maintaining the benefits of having a traditional 3D puppet + rig still available. This should be obvious to anyone who's ever watched someone like Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg, or James Baxter animate with nothing but a graphite pencil and a stack of drawing paper (the amount of expressive control you can achieve by just simply drawing it is incredible), and is really driven home when you then load up a modern production rig and start trying to get it out of the rigid rest-pose into a somewhat interesting/natural looking pose yourself... It's hard not to think: "There clearly has to be a better way! A way that we can harness that expressive power and transfer it on to the rigs we currently animate with".
The tools they've described sound exactly like what I've been working towards introducing for Blender. But, being Pixar, they got there first ;) While I would've liked to be first to build such a toolset, it's cool to see that you're working the same groundbreaking/state-of-the-art tech that the leading animation studio is doing. It's encouraging to see that Pixar have realised this potential too, and have finally acted on what IMO is absolutely the next frontier in terms of where our tools should be headed. (It's also slightly relieving to see that even they are only just starting to ease this into production... there's hope still that we may still be able to be the first wide-released animation tool with this built in :)
Also, I should also add that while these tools have enormous potential for getting the initial poses into the computer, there are still many many more exciting directions of tools that we can build for doing the other stages of animation production - that is, the stuff we're still using the same old 90's tech for today!
PS. If anyone has video from this session of this stuff being demonstrated, I'd love to see it. (Even better would to get to play with it for myself ;) Sigh, I'd have loved to be at Siggraph this year but couldn't go...)