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.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Computer Animation

Computer animation encompasses a lot of different thing, especially with the unstoppable force of 3D film. But I will be talking about computer animation in terms of creating limited 2D animation with the assistance of a computer. A lot of scenes can easily be brought to life or destroyed completely by computer animation. The trick is to use it sparingly or use it well...if you can do both then you are fantastic.

In Flash you can tween objects. This means you can set there start place, there finishing place and then let the computer do the rest. You can use masks, motion paths and good drawings skills to do this quite effectively and if you think about things carefully you can make things look exceptional. I have seen some truly fantastic work done with tweening, but I have also seen (And made myself) some really terrible stuff.

Because tweening is so quick and easy, there is a temptation to use it everywhere and you can do it so why not? Well, it is hard to make it look like it wasn't done with a computer. The trick is to and keep things as organic as possible by knowing what you can get away with. You can create a walk cycle within a symbol and tween it across a stage...there will generally be some slippage (Where the background moves on a different timing to the character or vice versa) but it is an effective and time saving technique. For things like rain, falling leaves, snow, wind or a shot with something flying through the air, you can't go wrong, but with character animation you are gunna have to have stylised content otherwise you'll end up with a robot.

Here are some effective uses of computer animation in some of my shots:


In this scene there is a lot of speed and action, it creates a lot of movement. But there is only one drawing. The computer moves the character about and the flashing lines are only on/off frames. The Japanese manga style background also helps to push the idea that things are moving so fast you can't see the background.


In this scene there is only one drawing again, but because in the previous scene we see the boy jump out from behind a log, we know the character is in the air. So when we see him enter above the tree line its OK and float on down towards the camera, we believe it because we know he's in the air. Add a bit perspective blur and have him crisp up as he comes into focus and add some sun shine flaring up the camera and you've got a great shot without having to make more than one drawing.

Computer animation does have its advantages. But you couldn't use it all the time. I have seen plenty of animations that just have a single drawing sliding in front of a detailed background...but it still looks like what it is and this style of animation earned the name 'radio with pictures' in the mid-sixties because budget cuts meant there was so little animation.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Planning Vs. Straight Ahead

There are three main ways to animate. Planning a scene second by second, motion by motion and drawing it out to plan. Knowing your scene and just plunging in getting wild, funny, big exciting results. Or a combination of the two. I have tried both and I really do like the second way, but the best results are always gained from doing both together. With planned movements you know where your character needs to be for the shot to make sense, then you can fill in the gaps with some over the top actions straight from your imagination. This way the scene makes sense, but it doesn't lose the fun spontaneous element of plunging straight in.

Animators working to a tight deadline often have to just crack on and churn out as much as possible in as little time. These days that means less action, more talking, more still shots and less animation. But you can make cartoons quickly and cheaply with good thorough planning and a bit of effort and imagination.

Here are some examples of straight ahead animation, then some planned shots and then some using both. Let's see which look best.


This scene is animated completely straight forward. The way Uber enters the scene was done frame by frame with no planning and I think it looks hilarious. I really like this bit of animation, its genuinely funny and if applied appropriately this kind of animation really lends itself to overacting. To counter this over the top action...which is then followed by not very much animation I made Pervert Man's lips completely over the top as he spoke. They look like flags blowing in the wind. It all adds up to a very amusing sight...but not particularly professional.


This scene was completely planned. I drew the keyframes and then put the inbetweens and in and added it all together...with a elongated exit frame for panache.

This shot is also completely planned like the above one. It makes up for a fine looking shot because nothing more is required of it. This kind of animation is a necessity, rather than fun.


In this shot I used both methods. I planned the shot, but then I drew it straight forward to get a sense of spontaneity in it. I think with them both working together you get a great looking shot overall with a lot of action and some clever use of traditional animation effects in a limited animation environment.

The argument for the best way to animate was solved years ago...but certain ways are more fun that others. Lip syncing isn't a passion of mine...but it is integral to creating believable animation...whereas making my characters do silly things is something I really enjoy, but something you might not get to do in the industry with the strict stylised looks that dominate modern cartoons.