“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.
Word count: 2,500
Roger Deakins was born in Torquay, Devon, England. He attended Art College and the National Film School. He started in documentaries, shooting many in Africa as well as covering the Whitbread Round the World Yacht race that required him to work for more than 9 months as a crew member while filming a documentary.
Roger Deakins went on to feature cinematography, starting in England and then later shooting in the United States.
His primary hobby is taking still photographs and fishing. Before he entered the National Film School, he spent a year in North Devon, England, documenting the way of life on the farms and in the villages. This cemented his passion for still photography that continues to this day. On the rare days that he is not in his boat while in Devon, he enjoys traveling to various places to augment his growing series of images.
Roger started this website to provide a forum dedicated to ongoing a discussion of cinematography and filmmaking. Only registered members can post but anyone can be register. Check in the forum for the registration procedure.
Cinematography: Pixar’s The Incredibles
The procedure taken to get each animated shot completed is a long and tedious one. Here’s a basic summary to give you a hint of the many steps taken to produce a shot from concept to completion:
Layout & Key Animation
Surfacing, Set Dressing & Final Layout
Shading & Lighting
via Flooby Nooby
Fresnels Units are lights with Lenses. Most Film lights employ the stepped Fresnel type lens, with a few exceptions that use simpler plano-convex lens such as a Dedo or an ellipsoidal (Leko). A Fresnel lens is a stepped ring design that reduces the thickness of the lens to save on the cost and also prevent heat build-up in the glass, which can cause cracking.
LED Lights A new and very popular source is LED lights, which are small and extremely energy efficient, which also means that they produce much less heat than tungsten lights (where the electricity produces 90% heat and only 10% light). LEDs have been incorporated into all types of units, although few of them have the long reach of PAR or a fresnel. For lighting fairlyclose to the scene, however, they have many advantages. Their compact size means they can be hidden in many places on the set and also makes them easier to handle and rig on location. There are also many LED lights that run on batteries – these can be very useful for handheld work, camera mounting and other conditions where AC power may not be available or it is just not practical to run and AC power cord. Certainly a hand-held camera operator is not going to want to be dragging a power cable around all the time.
Motivated Light Light in a scene may come from many sources, including lights that are actually in the frame such as practicals, windows, skylight, signs, and so on. In some cases, these sources are visible but do not provide enough output for proper exposure. In this case, the sources may only serve to motivate additional lighting that is off-screen. Some cinematographers and directors prefer that most or all lighting in a scene be motivated in this way – that the viewer somehow understands where the light is coming from. In these frames from Honey-dripper, the light is motivated by the lamps, but the actual illumination comes from sources not shown in the frame.
- Avoid flat front lighting. Lights that come more from the sides and back are usually the way to accomplish this. Any time a light is right beside or behind the camera; this is a warning sign of possible flat, featureless lighting.
- Use techniques such as backlight, kicker, and backgrounds, accentuate the actor’s features, and create a three-dimensional image.
- Beware of shadows and use them to create chiaroscuro depth, shape the scene, and mood. Don’t be afraid of shadows; some cinematographers say that “…the lights you don’t turn on are as important as the ones you do turn on.”
- Whenever possible, light people from the upstage side.
- When appropriate, add texture to your lights with gobos, cookies, and other methods.
Continuity of content applies to anything visible in the scene; wardrobe, hairstyle, props, the actors, cars in the background, the time set on the clock. As discussed in the chapter Set Operations, it is the script supervisor in conjunction with the various department heads who must ensure that all of these items match from shot to shot.
These kinds of problems extend from very obvious – she was wearing a red hat in the master, but now it is green hat in the close-up – to very subtle – he has a cigar that was almost finished when he entered and now he has a cigar that is just started. While the script supervisor, on-set wardrobe, and prop master are the first line of defence in these matters, it is still up to the director and camera man to always be watchful for problems.
As with almost anything in film there is a certain amount of cheating that is possible; the audience can be very accepting of minor glitches. Absolutely perfect continuity is never possible and there is a large grey area.
Story, Storyboards and Animatics
Linear and Non-Linear Storytelling A linear story progresses from A (beginning) to B (middle) to C (resolution) in sequential time. A situation is established at the start, a composition arises in the middle section, and resolution of some kind comes at the end. Most feature-length animation works in linear format.
Linear stories can also work in reverse, as seen in Piet Kroon’s short film T.R.A.N.S.I.T. The film opens as a man is immigrating to Argentina after a murder. It progresses into the past to show how the character’ relationships made this outcome inevitable.
Non-Linear animation concentrates on creating an effect or mood rather than telling a carefully plotted story. Many short experimental films fall into this category. WAKING LIFE is a rare example of a feature-length non-linear film conveying moods or emotions, re-search different artistic styles, colour, sound, music and effects that will create the desired impression in the viewer’s mind.
You may not wish to make an autobiographical film, but elements from your life can add a dash of reality that strengthens the situation and characters.
Comic Boards and Animation Boards Comic and graphic novel artists also use storyboards to rough out their projects before creating the finished artwork. There is, however, a major difference between film and comic storyboards. The comic artist has complete freedom to design frames and panels on the page. Panels may be vertical or irregularly shaped. Effects can be added to the panels borders, or characters can burst right through them.
David Chelsea in Love by David Chelsea
Motion pictures and computer graphics are more restricted in their staging. The motion picture screen or computer graphic is an unchanging ‘frame’. The animator creates variety in staging by moving the camera, animating the characters within the frames, or cutting to a new camera angle. The frame is always horizontal.
Academy Standard – 1.33:1
Wide Screen can be up to – 2:1
The animation storyboard artist must first foremost be an excellent actor. While it is true the voice actor give 50 percent of the character’s performance, it is the storyboard artist’s work that determines the acting that we see on screen. The animated characters are developed on the storyboard before the voices are recorded. The animation storyboard artist performs all the character parts; he or she creates dramatic pacing and cutting and indicates the settings and emotional moods that layout artists and animators will develop in the final film. In addition, storyboard drawings are frequently used as acting and design reference for character designers who may be working on the production at the same time that the boards are created. So the animation artist is also a bit of a casting director!
Here is a list of animals and their symbolic meanings. Some animals have been used to represent more than one human trait and opposing traits are sometimes represented by the same animal.
- Lion (brave, the king of the beats)
- Lamb (meek, mild, innocent)
- Mouse (timid and defenceless)
- Rabbit (clever and resourceful or timid and defenceless)
- Bear (brute strength, brawn without brain)
- Cat (sly, cruel, deceptive, and self-centred)
- Cow and Sheep (unintelligent, docile, a follower)
- Dog ( loyal and brave or a fawning servant)
- Surface appearance can be deceptive. People come in layers, like onions. – Shrek
- A freak turns his defect into an asset, redeeming himself and his mother. – Dumbo
- Magic comes from personal initiative and the working of conscience. – Pinocchio
- A callow youth learns to accept his responsibilities. – The Lion King
- There is some good in every character. – Lilo & Stitch
Music cannot directly communicate narrative in the same way that dialogue can. However, it can provide a backdrop to visual events and dialogue and it is this subtlety that may position an audience in a way that dialogue cannot. Music is representative and emotive. It can engage an audience at a different level and capture their emotions rather than their conscious mind. It is difficult to avoid the emotive of a well-executed score.
Ways of Working with Music
There is one mode of storytelling that exists in cinema beyond that of showing and telling: music. This facet of cinema can have a dramatic effect on character. Music can impact on our emotions and as such can limit what emotional impact a scene has upon us; and this is different in every film. It doesn’t matter whether it is the incidental music, a popular soundtrack or a themed score; it all affects us as an audience. This use of music has been treated by theorists as an aspect of narration, but it cannot tell, it can merely aid focalisation in relation to that which is being shown and told by affecting mood. This is the aspect of film that acts as a backdrop and some film-makers, such as Ingmar Bergman, feel it should not be included as it clearly breaks with presentation of both characters and events in terms of relating them directly to the real world.
Whatever the use of music is within any film it is complex to identify its precise meaning – such is the nature of music. However, to ignore it is to ignore a powerful part of the signifying practice of cinema.
Manipulating sound – Redubbing a film is always an interesting exercise. In doing this you can see how the replacement of, say, a specific score with tangentially related popular music tracks fundamentally impacts on your ability to read the film, even down on the point of being able to view who the main characters are and what they do.
Sound in the Cinema
Loudness – The Sound we hear results from vibrations in the air. The Amplitude, or breath, of the vibrations produces our scene of Loudness, or volume. Film sound constantly manipulates volume. A dialogue between a soft-spoken character and a blustery one is characterized as much by the difference in volume as by the substance of the talk. In many films, a long shot of busy street is accompanied by loud traffic noises, but when twp people meet and start to speak, the volume of the traffic drops.
Loudness is also related to perceived distance. All other things being equal, the louder the sound, the closer we take it to be. This sort of assumption seems to be at work in the street traffic example already mentioned: the couple’s dialogue, being closer to us, is sensed as louder, while the traffic noise recedes to the background. In addition, a film may startle the viewer by exploiting abrupt and extreme shifts in volume (usually called changes in dynamics), as when a quiet scene is interrupted by a very loud noise. Changes in loudness may be combined with cutting or camera movement to reinforce our sense of moving toward or away from the source of the noise.
Pitch – The frequency of sound vibration affects pitch, or the perceived highness or lowness of sound. Certain instruments, such as tuning fork, can produce pure tones, but most sounds, in life and on film, are complex tones, batches of different frequencies. Nevertheless, pitch plays a useful role in helping us pick out distinct sounds in a film.
Timbre – The harmonic components of sound give it a certain colour, or tone quality what musicians call timbre. When we call someone’s voice nasal or a musical tone mellow, we’re referring to timbre. Timbre is actually a less fundamental acoustic parameter than amplitude or frequency, but it’s indispensable in describing the texture or “feel” of a sound. In everyday life, the recognition of a familiar sound is largely a matter of various aspects of timbre.
Filmmakers manipulate timbre continually. Timbre can help articulate portions of the sound track, as when it differentiates musical instruments from one another. Timbre also comes forward on certain occasions, as in the clichéd use of oleaginous saxophone tones behind seduction scenes. Loudness, pitch and timbre interact to define the overall sonic texture of a film. For example, these qualities enable us to recognize different characters’ voices. Both John Wayne and James Stewart speak slowly, but Wayne’s voice tends to be deeper and gruffer than Stewart’s querulous drawl.This difference works to great advantage in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where their characters are sharply contrasted.
Knowledge Nugget: When Bernard Herrmann obtained the effects of shrill, birdlike shrieking in Hitchcock’s Psycho, even many musicians could not recognize the source: violins played at extraordinary high pitch.
REFERENCE BOOKS: Film Art An: Introduction, Tenth Edition, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. The Language of Film, Robert Edgar-Hunt, John Marland and Steven Rawie.
SOUND EFFECTS ARTISTS
An American sound designer who has worked on various films including: the Star Wars and Indiana Jones film series, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, including the “voice” of R2-D2, the lightsaber hum, the sound of the blaster guns, and the heavy breathing of Darth Vader.
Burtt also used a recording of his wife, who at the time was suffering from a minor cold and was sleeping in bed, for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He created the “voice” of the title character and many other robots in Pixar’s film WALL-E (2008), about a lonely garbage-compacting robot.
Sound Effects Artist and voice of Mickey Mouse (1947 – 1977). Sound Effects Bambi and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Score Composer has to be focused on the story and the emotional content of the film. All the artists have worked hard to tell the story with their performance or artistry. If their work does not evoke the desired emotion, the composer won’t be able to help it much, but if everything is working well, then music can take the project to a whole new level.
Diegetic – this use of music was the only type used in films in the early sound era. Any background music, which did appear, was used during the transition from one scene to another. The first is that the coming of sound added a further layer of reality to film: characters became more fully realized; sound effects, such as everyday noises, created a verisimilitude which audiences had not encountered before. Within a few years, however, background scores were added to restore the emotional involvement which had been removed by its omission.
Scratch Track – Final music composed after completed animation – rough soundtrack (scratch track) created before the animation begins. Scratch Track is timed to animatic – example of an animated feature film specifically composed to music is Fantasia – entire point of the film was to create an animation that reflected the story the music told. – easier to edit the animation to better fit the music than it is to completely re-compose a track to fit a change in the animation. – sound effects added to later – not part of the scratch track – full length scores, easier to plan the animation to match the music.
Mix – The adjustment of individual sound elements to create a pleasing, final combination of sound.
Dub (also called Dubbing or Mixing) – Process of combing sound together until the right balance of dialogue, music and sound effects is achieved.
Sound Reading – A frame-accurate transcription of vocal performance. The sound reading will be used by the animator to move the character in sync with a line of dialogue.
Foley – Process of recording live sound effects while the film is being projected. A Foley Artist performs sound to match the picture. Footsteps, movement of cloth or paper, and any other sounds that have to synchronize closely with the picture are often recorded this way.
Sync (short for Synchronous) – Elements of picture and sound being played together at the same time.
Monologue – A long speech by one actor in play or film, or as part of a theatrical or broadcast programme.
“Songs are everything in a true musical, because they are used to express the major turning points in the story. In fact, the story has to move ahead of the songs, or it will seem as if the movie has stopped dead just to give the characters a chance to sing.”
Reference: The Alchemy of Animation: Making an Animated Film in the Modern Age, by Don Hahn.
The Fundamental Principles of Animation
- Squash and Stretch
- Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
- Follow Through and Overlapping Action
- Slow In and Slow Out
- Secondary Action
- Solid Drawing
– Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, Hyperion ed., USA.
Squash and stretch
Illustration of the “squash and stretch”-principle:
Example A shows a ball bouncing with a rigid, non-dynamic movement. In example B the ball is “squashed” at impact, and “stretched” during fall and rebound. The movement also accelerates during the fall, and slows down towards the apex (see “slow in and slow out”).
The most important principle is “squash and stretch“, the purpose of which is to give a sense of weight and flexibility to drawn objects. It can be applied to simple objects, like a bouncing ball, or more complex constructions, like the musculature of a human face. Taken to an extreme point, a figure stretched or squashed to an exaggerated degree can have a comical effect. In realistic animation, however, the most important aspect of this principle is the fact that an object’s volume does not change when squashed or stretched. If the length of a ball is stretched vertically, its width (in three dimensions, also its depth) needs to contract correspondingly horizontally.
Anticipation is used to prepare the audience for an action, and to make the action appear more realistic. A dancer jumping off the floor has to bend his knees first; a golfer making a swing has to swing the club back first. The technique can also be used for less physical actions, such as a character looking off-screen to anticipate someone’s arrival, or attention focusing on an object that a character is about to pick up.
For special effect, anticipation can also be omitted in cases where it is expected. The resulting sense of anticlimax will produce a feeling of surprise in the viewer, and can often add comedy to a scene. This is often referred to as a ‘surprise gag’.
This principle is akin to staging as it is known in theatre and film. Its purpose is to direct the audience’s attention, and make it clear what is of greatest importance in a scene; Johnston and Thomas defined it as “the presentation of any idea so that it is completely and unmistakably clear”, whether that idea is an action, a personality, an expression or a mood. This can be done by various means, such as the placement of a character in the frame, the use of light and shadow, and the angle and position of the camera. The essence of this principle is keeping focus on what is relevant, and avoiding unnecessary detail.
Straight ahead action and pose to pose
These are two different approaches to the actual drawing process. “Straight ahead action” means drawing out a scene frame by frame from beginning to end, while “pose to pose” involves starting with drawing a few key frames, and then filling in the intervals later. ”Straight ahead action” creates a more fluid, dynamic illusion of movement, and is better for producing realistic action sequences. On the other hand, it is hard to maintain proportions, and to create exact, convincing poses along the way. “Pose to pose” works better for dramatic or emotional scenes, where composition and relation to the surroundings are of greater importance. A combination of the two techniques is often used.
Computer animation removes the problems of proportion related to “straight ahead action” drawing; however, “pose to pose” is still used for computer animation, because of the advantages it brings in composition. The use of computers facilitates this method, as computers can fill in the missing sequences in between poses automatically. It is, however, still important to oversee this process and apply the other principles discussed.
Follow through and overlapping action
Follow through and overlapping action is a general heading for two closely related techniques which help to render movement more realistically, and help to give the impression that characters follow the laws of physics. “Follow through” means that separate parts of a body will continue moving after the character has stopped. “Overlapping action” is the tendency for parts of the body to move at different rates (an arm will move on different timing of the head and so on). A third related technique is “drag”, where a character starts to move and parts of him take a few frames to catch up. These parts can be inanimate objects like clothing or the antenna on a car, or parts of the body, such as arms or hair. On the human body, the torso is the core, with arms, legs, head and hair appendices that normally follow the torso’s movement. Body parts with much tissue, such as large stomachs and breasts, or the loose skin on a dog, are more prone to independent movement than bonier body parts. Again, exaggerated use of the technique can produce a comical effect, while more realistic animation must time the actions exactly, to produce a convincing result.
Thomas and Johnston also developed the principle of the “moving hold”. A character not in movement can be rendered absolutely still; this is often done, particularly to draw attention to the main action. According to Thomas and Johnston, however, this gave a dull and lifeless result, and should be avoided. Even characters sitting still can display some sort of movement, such as the torso moving in and out with breathing.
Slow in and slow out
The movement of the human body, and most other objects, needs time to accelerate and slow down. For this reason, animation looks more realistic if it has more drawings near the beginning and end of an action, emphasizing the extreme poses, and fewer in the middle. This principle goes for characters moving between two extreme poses, such as sitting down and standing up, but also for inanimate, moving objects, like the bouncing ball in the above illustration.
Most natural action tends to follow an arched trajectory, and animation should adhere to this principle by following implied “arcs” for greater realism. This can apply to a limb moving by rotating a joint, or a thrown object moving along a parabolic trajectory. The exception is mechanical movement, which typically moves in straight lines.
As an object’s speed or momentum increases, arcs tend to flatten out in moving ahead and broaden in turns. In baseball, a fastball would tend to move in a straighter line than other pitches; while a figure skater moving at top speed would be unable to turn as sharply as a slower skater, and would need to cover more ground to complete the turn.
An object in motion that moves out of its natural arc for no apparent reason will appear erratic rather than fluid. Therefore when animating (for example) a pointing finger, the animator should be certain that in all drawings in between the two extreme poses, the fingertip follows a logical arc from one extreme to the next. Traditional animators tend to draw the arc in lightly on the paper for reference, to be erased later.
Adding secondary actions to the main action gives a scene more life, and can help to support the main action. A person walking can simultaneously swing his arms or keep them in his pockets, he can speak or whistle, or he can express emotions through facial expressions. The important thing about secondary actions is that they emphasize, rather than take attention away from, the main action. If the latter is the case, those actions are better left out. In the case of facial expressions, during a dramatic movement these will often go unnoticed. In these cases it is better to include them at the beginning and the end of the movement, rather than during.
Timing refers to the number of drawings or frames for a given action, which translates to the speed of the action on film. On a purely physical level, correct timing makes objects appear to obey the laws of physics; for instance, an object’s weight determines how it reacts to an impetus, like a push. Timing is critical for establishing a character’s mood, emotion, and reaction. It can also be a device to communicate aspects of a character’s personality.
Exaggeration is an effect especially useful for animation, as perfect imitation of reality can look static and dull in cartoons. The level of exaggeration depends on whether one seeks realism or a particular style, like a caricature or the style of an artist. The classical definition of exaggeration, employed by Disney, was to remain true to reality, just presenting it in a wilder, more extreme form. Other forms of exaggeration can involve the supernatural or surreal, alterations in the physical features of a character, or elements in the storyline itself. It is important to employ a certain level of restraint when using exaggeration; if a scene contains several elements, there should be a balance in how those elements are exaggerated in relation to each other, to avoid confusing or overawing the viewer.
The principle of solid drawing means taking into account forms in three-dimensional space, giving them volume and weight. The animator needs to be a skilled draughtsman and has to understand the basics of three-dimensional shapes, anatomy, weight, balance, light and shadow, etc. For the classical animator, this involved taking art classes and doing sketches from life. One thing in particular that Johnston and Thomas warned against was creating “twins”: characters whose left and right sides mirrored each other, and looked lifeless. Modern-day computer animators draw less because of the facilities computers give them, yet their work benefits greatly from a basic understanding of animation principles, and their additions to basic computer animation.
Appeal in a cartoon character corresponds to what would be called charisma in an actor. A character who is appealing is not necessarily sympathetic – villains or monsters can also be appealing – the important thing is that the viewer feels the character is real and interesting. There are several tricks for making a character connect better with the audience; for likable characters a symmetrical or particularly baby-like face tends to be effective. A complicated or hard to read face will lack appeal, it may more accurately be described as ‘captivation’ in the composition of the pose, or the character design.
Glen Keane Life Drawing
Luís Figueiredo, found this on Facebook; absolutely amazing, an excellent display of S curves and C curves.
Demonstration of S curves and C curves