An animation created in Autodesk Maya, depicting the traditional Shao Lin Kung Fu form, Wu Bu Quan (五步拳 – ‘Five Stance Fist’) as a study of its powerful movement.

Wu Bu Quan Stances
Source: Le blog de Kung Fu Wushu Club

Inspiration

As I have been taking Shao Lin Kung Fu classes since January 2019, I became fascinated by how challenging the movement and coordination really was. I learned that kung fu translates into “hard work” and encompasses mind, body, and soul. It uses energy and core strength as the base of its power, with a focus of always being uncomfortable to grow. By creating an animation inspired by the traditional movement of kung fu stances, I can gain a better insight on how to be a better martial artist and animator at the same time. For reference, I asked my instructor to perform the foundational Wu Bu Quan (五步拳 – ‘Five Stance Fist’) routine.

Presently, many kung fu-based animations exist in the entertainment industry, especially for youth in the form of comedic indie shorts and movies. However, there is a lack of 3D animation done specifically for the martial art itself. As a result, I wanted to create something to highlight the traditional culture of kung fu and its flexible, yet powerful movement.

About the Project

Created rough character design for the animation.
Sketched front and side views to use as a cross-section to reference. Final outcome left out the clothing details (socks, robe detail, and hair bun).
Hand rigging
Rigging hands in order to manipulate the form of the hands.
Painting skin weights
Painting skin weights to fix deformed fingers.
Setting driven keys
Setting driven keys for the fists to turn open hands into closed fists.
Early animation
Early process of animating character.
3D modelling clothes
Duplicating faces of the body mesh and increasing Z transform to create clothes.
3D modelling hair
Modifying vertices and edges to loosen fit. Used same duplicating method to create hair and pants.
Rendering final animation in Premiere Pro
Rendering out the final animation in Premiere Pro.

Process & Challenges

In terms of the process, there were a plethora of challenges I had to face. When I used a pre-rigged character for my leica reel and animatic, the rigging was incorrect, meaning it had to be redone. Unfortunately, that was not the last time I had to redo a process, as there were several times where I had to start over elsewhere. Due to time constraints, I decided to focus more on animation and went with a default female biped mesh, modifying it to better fit my character design. Using auto-rig, I started to animate it only to realize that the finger rig was missing. I made several attempts to add finger joints, paint skin weights, and set driven keys to form a palm and fist for each hand until it worked. When animating, I encountered weird blips where there would be unwanted movement in between identical keyframes.

After completing the rough animations, I created clothing and hair using the duplicate faces method, but had trouble with clothing going through the mesh. The Ncloth method was too taxing on my computer. In between the clothing process, I used a few motion paths and set keys to animate the camera. Camera Sequencer was used to plan out the scenes, I rendered the sequences in Arnold separately by camera, and used Premiere Pro to put it all together.

Outcome

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the result. It was very useful to gain a basic understanding of how to rig and animate the movement of humans and their hand forms in detail. There were a couple of nuances, but they could be fixed with more time and research. I was not able to complete the entire routine (missing two final stances) as something went wrong near the end in which adding new keys caused the character to shake left and right unnaturally. Although the animation is imperfect, with regular palms instead of kung fu palms, and some stances being too difficult to replicate without messing up the mesh, I was able to capture the essence of kung fu through it. 

My work displays my appreciation for the martial art and I hope it moves people to feel the same way.