Animators Blog: Draw-date 1.25.13

I’m taking a break from some animation work I’ve been doing, and the last few days I’ve been doing test animation for a project.  Unfortunately, I can’t show any of what I’m doing, at least not for now, but it’s been a great joy for me getting back into a medium which I was unable to do for so long until now.  My animation medium of choice is traditional hand-drawn animation.  For as great and wonderful as all the things CG can do, 2D animation is what I fell in love with, and it’s the medium I choose to stick with.  It’s been about 4 years since I last got to do this kind of animation, and it’s surprising how it’s just coming back to me…and really, it’s better than ever.  

I was forced through circumstances that kept me from being able to animate, and my talent in that area lay dormant for awhile.  But thanks to this program I’m working with, Toon Boom Harmony, there are several things I’m getting to do which I rarely attempted in the past, such as layering and limited animation.  Everything up to this point has been full animation, and while I’m still practicing doing stuff that’s more limited, it’s my goal to find a balance.  For TV animation I would love to see more techniques applied where if full animation can’t be utilized, you can at least give the “appearance” of full animation, but in a more inexpensive way.  There are some shows that attempted that in the early nineties, such as much of the Spielberg produced Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, and Pinky and The Brain.  But those shows also had much higher budgets than your average TV cartoon.  I’ve known a lot of creators who don’t really care for the actual animation process when they inevitably have to do some animating themselves, but I feel quite the opposite.  I just love the process of animating in general, and the sort of zen like quality that can come out of the character your animating.  

I prefer in many ways to just let the character do the talking, where you find the right movements that accentuate the action.  Animating gives you that feeling of self discovery.  I try to do very little in the way of actually planning a scene and try to leave more room to improvise.  I’ve followed the Richard Williams method for awhile, which is a mix of pose to pose drawing and straight ahead animating.  The idea is that you do all the key drawing poses first, and then do separate straight ahead passes on all the features, the head, body, arms, hands, etc.  What I’ve found I like to do is animate a first pass straight ahead, not doing drawings for every frame, but getting a feeling for the action first, getting to the end of the scene, and then timing it out.  Sometimes I will add more drawings to support certain poses, and I’ll keep doing this in other areas where I feel there’s an opportunity for the acting to be accentuated further.   Once I feel comfortable with the overall action and I feel I have a handle on the scene, then I start doing straight ahead passes on the different layers.  But again, it’s not straight ahead with every drawing, I’m still always playing with the timing of the different body parts.  It depends if I want that layer to be held in a certain place, but then I may go back later and decide I want to add more drawings to that section.  The head may be on twos when the body is on ones.  If I’m doing a straight ahead pass on a certain body part, I still want to keep playing with the timing to find the right moment, and I may animate it on 2’s and then jump to 4’s or 6’s in certain areas while I’m still fine tuning the timing.  When I’ve figured it out I can go back and do inbetween drawings on those passes.   The same applies for all the other body parts when I animate them.  

I guess you could say my preferred technique is to take different paths and jump around to different sections until the entire performance starts to take shape.  The point being that I never want to lock myself down at any given moment until I’m certain I know I have exactly what I want.  Then I start getting into Tie-Down when I’m ready to finish the drawings.  
But even then, Tie-Down isn’t really just that.  The lines still have to keep a flow and a quality, otherwise all that work will become stiff.  It’s a lot to sort out at any given time.  

I can see where most animation people would rather concentrate their effort on story. But at the same time, I think even if you’re a creator or a director, it’s very important to have a strong understanding of the process of animating and having your own signature process to tell other people how you want the drawing and the acting to work.  Because if you don’t know the kind of approach you want for the movement of the characters, the other animators are going to do it for you.  It’s not nessicerely a bad thing, but it also gives you less control over the overall film.  You can tell sometimes the lack of quality of animation in certain films, because the directors don’t see themselves as animators.  So the animation is not as strong as it could be.  The animation director is usually the one who has to dictate the performances.  But it can be a setback if the director doesn’t have enough experience to know what they want.  


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