“Is it a trick? Yes! What is the trick? Illusion!”
What is animation? There are definitions that claim, it is “The state of being full of life or vigour; liveliness.” Another, (one that I am more accustomed to), is that, “the technique of photographing successive drawings or positions of puppets or models to create an illusion of movement when the film is shown as a sequence” (Google, 2014).
The evidence of artistic depiction of figures in motion can be found in early Palaeolithic cave paintings; animals in these paintings were often depicted with multiple sets of legs, in superimposed positions. One example includes a 5,200-year old earth bowl found in Iran in Shahr-e Sukhteh: the bowl has five images painted along the sides, showing phases of a goat leaping up to nip a tree.
(Fig 1, Google, 2014)
Animation, before film introduced numerous devices which displayed animated images depicting the art of motion, has always been a very early intrigue; many more intriguing devices soon emerged: The magic lantern (c. 1650), Thaumatrope credited to Sir John Herschel (1824), Phenakistoscope by Joseph Plateau (1831), Zoetrope by William George Horner (180 AD; 1834), Flip book by John Barnes Linnett (1868) and Praxinoscope by Charles-Émile Reynaud (1877); each one displaying more successfully the art of motion.
(Fig 2, CAWorld3, 2014; Fig 3, Herbert, McKernan et al., 2014; Fig 4, Morbid Anatomy, 2014)
Animation has been labelled The Persistence of Vision and The Illusion of Life; within Design Discourse One, we were given numerous lectures by our tutor; this provided the basis for discussion, debate and to inform our understanding of animation. The first set of rules we were given were the twelve principles of animation: 1. Squash and Stretch, 2. Anticipation, 3. Staging, 4. Straight Ahead and Poses to Pose, 5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action, 6. Slow-in and Slow-out, 7. Arcs, 8. Secondary Action, 9. Timing, 10. Exaggeration, 11. Solid Drawing and 12. Appeal.
(Post Link: The Twelve Principles of Animation)
Every animator must know these rules if they want to fully understand animation and look beyond the common idea that animation is the illusion of movement; it is not – animation is the illusion of life. We have to strive for the most effective and clearest extreme poses, to strategize the rhythm and manoeuvre the illustration of expression, emotion and ideas.
- Let the whole character tell the story, not just the eyes or the head.
- Get in and change it till it is right.
Think clarity: could you follow the story in the scene even if the characters were silhouetted? Simplify, simplify, simplify; most new animators move the character too much without letting the character think. (Hahn, D, The Alchemy of animation, Disney Book Group, New York, 2001)
Perception: “perceiving: the process of using the senses to acquire information about the surrounding environment or situation” and “impression: an attitude or understanding based on what is observed or thought”.
In our first project for Design Discourse One, we were given the task to create a 2 min film, based on the theme Perception. The idea of perception is a person’s view of the world or event; expressed by ideas, thoughts and emotions. Visually the challenge was to capture an essence of perception, which would convey: meaning, inspiration or spiritual, toward an audience. My team and I planned to take the risk, and create a 90 sec (2 min) animated short film; this we did through the help of Adobe Flash; most of the team were unfamiliar to Flash, and I had only dappled with the software in my Foundation Year, and was still getting to grips with understanding it completely.
What I (and many others) found helpful was a series of animation exercise projects, organized by our tutor; in these lessons, we fully discussed and experimented with all the Twelve Principles of animation. The first of these exercises was to animate a bouncing ball, the second was to animate characteristics of a bunny, and the third was a series of three different gravity sources; a bowling ball, a balloon and a bounce ball. With the help of these little tests, I feel I have managed to look at animation in a more tactical approach, thinking not only of manoeuvring the object from A to B; by bringing a spring of life to the performance, it creates a much more effective animation.
The feedback I received has furthered my understanding, and opened my eyes fully to realise that it takes a lot of hard focused attention, time and effort, that must be taken seriously. Each individual movement of the character must be timed correctly to fit within the scene; scenes most flow naturally and not confuse. This I fear has been the most formidable challenge of all. There is a saying by Paul O’Neill (2014) that goes, “Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tagline.” This should explain any method of story-telling; whether it is a book, animation or live-action film: we are storytellers and the audience is our flock; we have to guide them through hurtles and slopes of a story.
(Post Link: Perception Project)
Story is the quintessential essence of a good animation/film; without the story, you have no character development and no real meaningful point in telling it.
- What is the purpose of this scene in the movie?
- What is the most entertaining way to show the action?
- What is the character thinking and feeling?
- Where is this in the plot?
- Why am I here? I can’t do this.
(Fig 5, Kinkiat.blogspot.co.uk, 2014)
Story has theme; and many of the greatest and biggest animation/ film industry companies has a theme, (except DreamWorks). One example of theme driven story would be Pixar animation; their storytelling method is… “Everything was fine…until!” – This is the main structure of their stories, and one they stick too when creating any animated film.
(Fig 6, davewesselscomix.blogspt.co.uk, 2014)
Walt Disney developed the use of storyboards around the 1920’s for his classic Mickey Mouse cartoon – Steamboat Willie (1928); and this became the ideal routine for creating a story; storyboards resemble comic strips – little pieces of artwork/sketch ideas for a scene would be placed on a bulletin board, demonstrating the continuity of the story. Storyboards allow the filmmakers to see a blueprint of the movie, before animation production actually begins. This process allows for rough staging and camera potion concepts that structure the scene for the movie, plan outs for the action of the characters, and the dialogue (display underneath).
- Visualize the scene in your head first; animate last.
- Act out the scene… what does it feel like physically?
- How does the scene connect with the shots before it or after it?
(Hahn, D, The Alchemy of Animation, Disney Book Group, New York, 2001)
We were shown a clip during one of our lectures; this clip was taken from Walt Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977); our tutor sat the class down to watch the clip, while discussing various camera angles and potions, character actions and dialogue. We were to take notes from the scene, and later asked to storyboard that exact scene without referring back to the original clip. I misunderstood this point of the task and thought we had to refer back to the clip to annualise the camera angles/potions; anyway, my tutor saw this and thought I was cheating; I did not refer back to that clip again.
We were asked to create fifty frames for the storyboard. It was a challenge to take this clip out of context; I started with some rough storyboard templates, and managed to create an idea of what I wanted to demonstrate within the story. I had attempted a first draft and was left unsatisfied by my result; I therefore sought to redo every frame of the storyboard for a second draft and found that too was lacking satisfaction, (I was even a few frames short); on my third attempt, I thought I had managed to present an acceptable and clear story; however, this too I do detect might have some needed adjustments. However, for now I feel like I am beginning to see the importance of storyboards; I have read in books that a storyboard can be redone numerous times, before a satisfied result is achieved.
(Post Link: Winnie the Pooh: Storyboard Project)
“Sound” refers to everything we hear in a movie – words, sound effects and music. Sound is used in film to heighten the mood, provide the audience with information about the location of a scene, advance the plot and narrate characters within the story. There are two categories of sound in film: Diegetic and Non-Diegetic. Diegetic sound refers to audio elements which come from sources within the world, projected on the screen. Non-Diegetic sound refers to all those audio elements that come from outside the world, projected on screen (thecinematheque.ca, 2014).
The art of Foley ‘recreates’ sound effects, it is the Foley Artist’s job, using many different types of props: shoes, car-fenders, plates and glass, etc. to create sound effects similar to the object’s actual sound to be synchronized into the film. Almost every motion picture and television show you have ever heard or seen contains a Foley track (marblehead.net, 20014).
We were given the task to research sound and experiment with it in our next project. Our tutor handed out clips, with the original sound edited out; it was then our task, in groups, to re-create those sound effects. Using garage band allowed us to experiment with music, and to create our own soundtrack for the clip; we also used freesounds.org, to collect the sound effects of guns, trains and whatever else was needed; dialogue was recorded using recorders on our phones.
(Post Link:Frank Sinatra: Sound Clip Project)
I feel that through this experiment I now understand the importance of sound effects; also how much fun it can be to create sound. I researched a Disney Legend in sound effects, Jim MacDonald. Sound is an important process to filmmaking; it is there to inform the audience, and it also narrates the story along; it is a communication technique that originated in a film called The Jazz Singer (1927); this, I discovered, was the first film with sound.
Sound helps to progress the film and the story; without it, all we as an audience would perceive would be a series of soundless images projected on screen. With no sound, there would be no emotion to capture the soul of the story; and things would be unclear to follow. The use of sound in films was a revolutionary idea, which has only bettered the experience of films, for the better.
Continuing with the experimenting of sound we were asked to choose a clip from a well-known film; we were to take the dialogue out of context and write it up in a script, without mentioning character names or the title of the film. This we then gave to another team to animate the scene into an animatic.
Up until just a few years ago, animatics were produced by filming or videotaping storyboards. Over the last ten years, animatic production has become much more sophisticated. Animatics are now produced with the aid of computer animation (2D or 3D), with special visual effects once reserved for high-end Hollywood productions (AboutAnimatics, 2014).
Like storyboards, animatics are used as blueprints for the film – they are the development of a scene; unlike storyboards, an animatic can be animated – used mainly to test out the sound effects and dialogue: the last story development step before the final animation production begins. It has been a fun process to create an animatic; the script my team and I were given, was unknown to us; we envisioned a 1920’s style gangster genre, with feline main characters.
(Post Link: Like Some Other Men Do: Context Project)
What? When? Where? Who? How? These were the words we were given in order to help us structure our plan out of the story we wanted to tell. The script we were given was rather short; the dialogue was sparse and it seemed that most of our scenes would have to visually narrate the story. This provided my team and I with a challenge, as we had to invent/imagine most of what happened to the characters between the dialogues.
Our story developed quite gradually into a gangster, 1920’s style genre involving feline main characters (this idea was influenced by a piece of dialogue in the script… “Garbage cans, Rats Galore!”). The problem which we faced a lot of the time with this animatic was – what our ending/ conclusion would be. We had many solutions to this problem; but, each one ended up not fitting with the story, or explaining how it would happen.
Eventually we found our solution; though with our feedback, we soon discovered that this ending did not fit visually with the story, as a small continuity problem occurred. This was the scene with the car of the feline girlfriend returning from a party; when she left in an earlier scene, her apartment was right side of the road; and when she returned in the car, she parked over the other side of the road…. Why? This just made the animatic slightly confusing as to where the scene was occurring.
What I learned from this flaw is that continuity within an animatic most be annualized over and over again, before a satisfactory result can be achieved. Even the slightest mistake can create confusion with the story. It is not bad to make mistakes; professional filmmakers make mistakes on films too; just make them unnoticeable to an audience.
“When we consider a new project, we really study it… not just the surface idea, but everything about it” – Walt Disney (2014).
Animation is a fascinating profession; I believe that it is the most artistic of any art form in existence: my experiences and involvement within projects have shaped my understanding, and have developed me – from mainly a person who enjoyed watching cartoons, into an animation maniac. I have not only watched animations and films – I have learned to observe them closely: thinking about camera angles, lighting and analyzing composition of a film. I am always very excited when we are given information and resources. I value times when we all discuss and analyse animated shorts; the lectures are a fascinating way to understand others’ observation of a film – how they observe them and what they feel about them… it really shapes my own understanding of what animation is and how it is. I have always discovered something new during these discussions, or I begin to observe something in a way I never have before.
Never before have I understood and learned so much within a space of one semester; I feel like I am beginning to see myself improving, both with the knowledge I have absorbed… and artistically – I have never thought more technically and analytically towards my work as I do now.
Animation is systematically progressing; countless new inventions, tactics and methods have been introduced: the knowledge I have of this profession is only just the peak of the mountain; I am eager to discover more.
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