Saturday, 9 May 2009


Techniques and Processes in my third year has really helped me develop my knowledge of the skills involved in the industry I am most interested in: the Animation Industry. I have always been interested in Animation, but in my final year I have taking my work, research and practise to a much higher standard. I have learned how an animated film is created from start to finish, from concept to editing and I have done so by actually producing my own cartoons. However, it would not be possible to have done this without learning the fundamental skills required to make things move on screen in a convincing manner and that is where techniques and processes has come in.

Run, walks, jumps, sneaks, jogs are all standard things in cartoon animation, but learning how to do them and perfecting takes time and practise. I have studied all of them and have practised many industry standard techniques all year, before applying them in my studio work. The most fundamental thing to learn in animation is the bouncing ball technique. This is simple to draw a ball that bounces up and down on the ground convincingly, with weight and conviction so that you ‘feel’ the bounce as it were real. Although this sounds relatively easy, it isn’t quite as simple a it sounds and many times I have had to go back to this necessary skill to re-learn the timing. Each ball looks like it is made out of something else. One ball with be made of rubber and squash up, the other will be made of wood and just hit the ground and stay rigid. After all if you were watching a cartoon and a bowling ball sprung around like a tennis ball, you wouldn’t believe it.

Learning to make a character walk is one of the most difficult things to do, but it is a necessary skill. As a child it can take you up to two years to learn to walk and after that it can take you a lifetime to perfect it. I have always tried to run before I could walk and it is the same with animation. I am still learning walks of all kinds, I am still practising runs and doing them well is very difficult due to the movement that the whole body takes when it lends itself to the activity of walking. Later in the year I read a document that has stuck with me since, “The Twelve Basic Principles of Animation.” Squash, Stretch, Secondary Action, Weight, Timing, Balance…all these new theories to apply to my work. I took each one in and practised them in my T&P so that when I applied them to my studio work, they were rehearsed.

But wasn’t just skills I learned about in T&P, I learned how the industry worked and how each department within the industry contributed to the final piece. I learned about storyboarding, layout artists, background design, special effects, directing, editing, sound recording, foley and I tried them all myself. By separating the jobs, I didn’t feel like I was doing it all by myself, I felt like I was working in all the different departments and facing all the different challenges that each department sees everyday. This gave me greater understand of how they worked together, with one another to produce a final product.

Techniques and Processes this year also provided me with the opportunity to research and discover certain resources that have become invaluable to me. Forums, websites, people, blogs, books, documents and articles have helped me further my understanding of what it takes to make a great piece of work. Without the opportunity to make mistakes in an open environment, I would never have learned from them and I would never have discovered all of these great resources from which to learn and take inspiration.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Flour Sack

There is a teaching technique used in the Disney studios that uses the a Flour sack to display how any object, no matter how inanimate can be brought to life through animation. I read about this in one of the books I have researched from whilst doing this project, The Illusion of Life.

The principle is simple...animate a sack of flour that conveys different kinds of emotion and realism. It's a simple idea, but a clever one because it forces you to think outside facial expressions and use body language combined with different animation techniques to put the emotion over to the viewer. I think this is going to be a valuable skill and one that I will be practising for the next little while.

This is a scan from the book...there are many drawings of the sack with a description underneath each of the emotion. They are so good though that you don't need to read the description, you know what the sack is feeling, which is the idea.

Here are a few sketches of the sack that I did myself.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Experimentation 2

Here are some more experimental pieces that I have done to practise or make purposeful mistakes to learn from.


This run was intended to have more of cartoony feel to it that previous efforts. Almost like a 'dad run' its only a simple bounce step, but if I repeated it and finished onto the other foot with the same amount of feel I think it would amount to a good little run. I didn't plan it too well though and ran out of screen before he could hop to the other foot :P


I drew this funny little dog and decided to give him a quick walk. I had been watching some French test reels and had really liked the way that the images seemed to move...but you could see they were staying on the spot. It was a really stylised looked...but with a sliding perspective background this walk is quite fun, even though its pretty untidy.


This may look like a walk with no inbetweens and that is because it is. I wanted to try and experiment with how much action you could get between key frames without any inbetweens, so that I knew in future how much I could get away with. It turned out not much, as I expected. Still it was a valuable lesson to learn.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The 12 Principles of Animation

THE 12 BASIC PRINCIPLES OF ANIMATION Paraphrased from the "Illusion Of Life" by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston.(pp.47-69)

1. Squash and stretch

2. Anticipation

3. Staging

4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose 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

12. Appeal


This action gives the illusion of weight and volume to a character as it moves. Also squash and stretch is useful in animating dialogue and doing facial expressions. How extreme the use of squash and stretch is, depends on what is required in animating the scene. Usually it's broader in a short style of picture and subtler in a feature. It is used in all forms of character animation from a bouncing ball to the body weight of a person walking. This is the most important element you will be required to master and will be used often.


This movement prepares the audience for a major action the character is about to perform, such as, starting to run, jump or change expression. A dancer does not just leap off the floor. A backwards motion occurs before the forward action is executed. The backward motion is the anticipation. A comic effect can be done by not using anticipation after a series of gags that used anticipation. Almost all real action has major or minor anticipation such as a pitcher's wind-up or a golfers' back swing. Feature animation is often less broad than short animation unless a scene requires it to develop a characters personality.


A pose or action should clearly communicate to the audience the attitude, mood, reaction or idea of the character as it relates to the story and continuity of the story line. The effective use of long, medium, or close up shots, as well as camera angles also helps in telling the story. There is a limited amount of time in a film, so each sequence, scene and frame of film must relate to the overall story. Do not confuse the audience with too many actions at once. Use one action clearly stated to get the idea across, unless you are animating a scene that is to depict clutter and confusion. Staging directs the audience's attention to the story or idea being told. Care must be taken in background design so it isn't obscuring the animation or competing with it due to excess detail behind the animation. Background and animation should work together as a pictorial unit in a scene.


Straight ahead animation starts at the first drawing and works drawing to drawing to the end of a scene. You can lose size, volume, and proportions with this method, but it does have spontaneity and freshness. Fast, wild action scenes are done this way. Pose to Pose is more planned out and charted with key drawings done at intervals throughout the scene. Size, volumes, and proportions are controlled better this way, as is the action. The lead animator will turn charting and keys over to his assistant. An assistant can be better used with this method so that the animator doesn't have to draw every drawing in a scene. An animator can do more scenes this way and concentrate on the planning of the animation. Many scenes use a bit of both methods of animation.


When the main body of the character stops all other parts continue to catch up to the main mass of the character, such as arms, long hair, clothing, coat tails or a dress, floppy ears or a long tail (these follow the path of action). Nothing stops all at once. This is follow through. Overlapping action is when the character changes direction while his clothes or hair continues forward. The character is going in a new direction, to be followed, a number of frames later, by his clothes in the new direction. "DRAG," in animation, for example, would be when Goofy starts to run, but his head, ears, upper body, and clothes do not keep up with his legs. In features, this type of action is done more subtly. Example: When Snow White starts to dance, her dress does not begin to move with her immediately but catches up a few frames later. Long hair and animal tail will also be handled in the same manner. Timing becomes critical to the effectiveness of drag and the overlapping action.


As action starts, we have more drawings near the starting pose, one or two in the middle, and more drawings near the next pose. Fewer drawings make the action faster and more drawings make the action slower. Slow-ins and slow-outs soften the action, making it more life-like. For a gag action, we may omit some slow-out or slow-ins for shock appeal or the surprise element. This will give more snap to the scene.


All actions, with few exceptions (such as the animation of a mechanical device), follow an arc or slightly circular path. This is especially true of the human figure and the action of animals. Arcs give animation a more natural action and better flow. Think of natural movements in the terms of a pendulum swinging. All arm movement, head turns and even eye movements are executed on an arcs.


This action adds to and enriches the main action and adds more dimension to the character animation, supplementing and/or re-enforcing the main action. Example: A character is angrily walking toward another character. The walk is forceful, aggressive, and forward leaning. The leg action is just short of a stomping walk. The secondary action is a few strong gestures of the arms working with the walk. Also, the possibility of dialogue being delivered at the same time with tilts and turns of the head to accentuate the walk and dialogue, but not so much as to distract from the walk action. All of these actions should work together in support of one another. Think of the walk as the primary action and arm swings, head bounce and all other actions of the body as secondary or supporting action.


Expertise in timing comes best with experience and personal experimentation, using the trial and error method in refining technique. The basics are: more drawings between poses slow and smooth the action. Fewer drawings make the action faster and crisper. A variety of slow and fast timing within a scene adds texture and interest to the movement. Most animation is done on twos (one drawing photographed on two frames of film) or on ones (one drawing photographed on each frame of film). Twos are used most of the time, and ones are used during camera moves such as trucks, pans and occasionally for subtle and quick dialogue animation. Also, there is timing in the acting of a character to establish mood, emotion, and reaction to another character or to a situation. Studying movement of actors and performers on stage and in films is useful when animating human or animal characters. This frame by frame examination of film footage will aid you in understanding timing for animation. This is a great way to learn from the others.


Exaggeration is not extreme distortion of a drawing or extremely broad, violent action all the time. It¹s like a caricature of facial features, expressions, poses, attitudes and actions. Action traced from live action film can be accurate, but stiff and mechanical. In feature animation, a character must move more broadly to look natural. The same is true of facial expressions, but the action should not be as broad as in a short cartoon style. Exaggeration in a walk or an eye movement or even a head turn will give your film more appeal. Use good taste and common sense to keep from becoming too theatrical and excessively animated


The basic principles of drawing form, weight, volume solidity and the illusion of three dimension apply to animation as it does to academic drawing. The way you draw cartoons, you draw in the classical sense, using pencil sketches and drawings for reproduction of life. You transform these into color and movement giving the characters the illusion of three-and four-dimensional life. Three dimensional is movement in space. The fourth dimension is movement in time.


A live performer has charisma. An animated character has appeal. Appealing animation does not mean just being cute and cuddly. All characters have to have appeal whether they are heroic, villainous, comic or cute. Appeal, as you will use it, includes an easy to read design, clear drawing, and personality development that will capture and involve the audience¹s interest. Early cartoons were basically a series of gags strung together on a main theme. Over the years, the artists have learned that to produce a feature there was a need for story continuity, character development and a higher quality of artwork throughout the entire production. Like all forms of story telling, the feature has to appeal to the mind as well as to the eye.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Animators Survival Kit

The Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams has become my bible since I first picked it up a couple of years back. Where Illusion of Life teaches you to think like an animator and consider what you are doing, the Survival Kit just says, do it and learn from your mistakes. An approach that I genuinely like and that has both advantages and disadvantages.

What I really like about the survival kit is that it is right in your face. It says..."look this is how you do stuff, so just memorise it and get on it with it". That's what it would be like in the studio, you would be shown something, told to learn it and then repeat it. This is a great introductory book because it gets you away from static shapes and teaches you to work like an animator, considering mass, shape and balance in all of your drawings.

This book is full of techniques and little things to remember, tips and tricks that you would only learn from years of experience given to you right from the start. How lucky are we to be able to gain 40 years of experience in less than 500 pages. Richard Williams further emphasises certain other techniques and things to learn that you might not consider, such as life drawings. I have never been a fan of life drawing, but I know that if I am to become a better animator I need to follow his advice and study the way things move around me. I took that in from the very start and I often just sit and watch people walk by. My friend has the funniest walk I have ever seen and I have tried to draw it several times without avail. I think when I do get it right I will know that I moved up a step on the ladder.

The principles and techniques are all here from a man who has decades of experience and two Oscars to boot. The fact that he has put it all in a book for the rest of us is nothing short of the nicest thing in the entire world. Now if I can just master it :P

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Illustion of Life

The Illusion of Life by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas is every animators dream. A book that teaches you the inside tips of the greatest animation studio in the world. But it does more than teach you tips, it helps you to understand what you are trying to achieve by creating animation, by making things move and the title of the book perfectly sums it up. When drawing cartoons you are creating the illusion of life, you are not creating drawing after drawing, or sequences or comedy you are trying to convince the viewer that what they are watching is real and did actually happen.

I have read this book from front to back and frequently refer to it for tips. Each section is well articulated and broken down, making things understandable and simple. Who would have thought animation could seem so easy, but I guess after working at the Disney studio it becomes second nature to talk about and communicate your ideas concisely and precisely.

The Twelve Principles of animation have become my 10 Commandments and once I saw all of the techniques listed and read each of the ideas, my animation improved on the spot. Suddenly, thing weren't static. They have blood, veins and arteries and I could see the sinew and muscles moving beneath their skin.

Along side all of the great writing there are hundreds of examples of different practises, skills and drawings from the animation studio, including hundreds of original sketches and drawings from Disney animated classics. Seeing these images that went on to become shots and drawings in full colour movies was incredibly inspiring and it sent me on a huge research craze across the Internet and through the library. I have collected over 500 hundred research images of original drawings from all of my favourite studios, including pictures of storyboards, layout shots and examples of lining.

This books has been a fantastic resource for me for over a year now and I pick it up everyday. With time constraints and deadlines I feel I haven't been able to spend as much time learning from it as I might like. Hopefully this will change when I finished College and can spend more time doing exercises.

Thursday, 19 February 2009


Last year I started collecting other animators original sketches and works as part of my ongoing learning curve. I didn't realise just how research I have done for this project because I haven't posted it. I have been researching in private and then doing some test and posting the results. This is bound to lose me marks because well, tutors like research. So I am going to post some of the images I have collected here and tell you how I have studied them, deconstructed them and learned from them.

My collection has surpassed 500 images and I collect more everyday. I have original sequences from Disney, Warner Bro's, Spumco, Fox Studios, Blue Sky and hundreds of other studios including storyboards and layout sheets. These have allowed me access to the world of animation in ways I never dreamed of.

Getting to see animators notes scribbles onto their drawings has provided a real insight for me in how to do things properly. These kind of images are in abundance, but I scanned these in from a Disney art book I sourced in the library.

Action, character and realism. Disneys character can be as tiny as a cricket but have as much character as you or I. I have a lot of Disney picture because well, 1. they are more available than any other studio and 2. they were on of the greatest studios to ever exist - why wouldn't you want to learn from them?

Preston Blair's Book teaches you a lot of great initial mechanics, but it is learning to use them in every shot that is the difficult part. Preston Blair animated Red Riding Hood in Tex Avery's 'Red Hot Riding Hood', often sighted in the animation world as the sexiest animated woman. His animation has effected every female animated character ever drawn since.

Classic Goofy skit from when the gang go on Holiday to Hawaii in one of their cartoons. The amount of detail in this scene is impossible to calculate. How can the animator possible have concentrated on so many things at once, it is just incomprehensible. This is one of the most inspiring sequences in animation for me.

You know exactly what this shot says. The pose, the way the hair is half covering one eye. The life in the drawing. I try every time I animate to get somewhere close to images like this. For each image to say all of the things I want it to say to the audience. It is absolutely incredible.

I have literally hundreds more images like this and I look through them for inspiration nearly everyday. I copy them and try and learn from them and I am getting better and better because of it.