Have you ever had information overload? There's so many helpful animation websites, blogs, and various resources out there, many times I feel like I can barely keep up. Then when I do spend a lot of time reading everything I can find, I start to feel like I can't even process it all.
Such is the case with many of the "animation checklists" that people talk and write about. The old Disney animators had their 12 principles of animation, that they used to critique their work, and many animators today have their own checklist that they use to finesse their shots. Many of these checklists talk about the same things, just in different terms that make sense to the animator writing it. A good example is Travis Hathaway's post on Spline Doctors. I think animation checklists are very personal, and you have to find your own vocabulary that makes sense to you. After all, we're not really re-inventing the laws of physics or human emotions that have been around for ages, so unless you're brand new to the animation thing, nothing on these lists usually come as a surprise.
But after reading many different lists, I've kinda wondered what mine is, but have never come up with one. Victor Navone's recent post on Posing and composition inspired me to think about it again, especially since he posted Walt Stanchfield's 28 principles. I don't know about you, but I can't recall 28 principles on command. I need something more elemental, that is easy to remember, and applicable in all situations. Magic number? 3.
So here we go, with my 3 descriptive elements of animation (subject to change)
Victor Navone's analysis reminded me of how much I want to get that sort of visual element in my animation. Sometimes I'll see a shot that's animated beautifully, very naturally--but almost too natural. There's no spice in it, it's just fluid movement, and straight poses. There's no contrast in them. There's no rhythm in the lines of action. There's no directing of the audience's eye. There's nothing very interesting going on visually. Victor's post, however, reminded me that even in natural poses, there are very extreme lines of action, composition, and graphic elements. (Check out his examples if you haven't yet). So reguardless of if the style is cartoony or naturalistic, you can still bring a very graphic quality to your character's poses and staging. I could put nearly anything visual in this category, but I'll probably dedicate it to composition, staging, design, appeal, silouette...the list could go on and on. It's easier for me to remember "graphic", and then break it down from there.
This is the human element to the shot. You've heard all of this stuff before too. What is the character feeling? What is the point of the shot in the story? Do I feel for the character? Do I understand or recognize something about it? Does it cause an emotional reaction in me? Not every shot is an "Oscar" shot, but hopefully I can find something emotional, relatable, and entertaining, no matter how small. Even if it's only a setup for what pays off in the next shot that another animator is working on. This is the stuff that people care about, this is what people go to movies for.
Wall-E immediately comes to mind as an example of emotional animation. His character is so appealing, and so emotional! When Eve takes him to the escape pod and is entering in commands on the panel, he looks at her hand, and quietly asks "...Eve?..." You know from seeing him watch Hello Dolly and from his previous actions around her that he wants to hold her hand. It's so simple, yet so powerful! This is the stuff that really gets my animation inspiration going full steam ahead.
Is the movement believable? Are the breakdowns interesting? Am I showing weight and anatomy? Of course, the lines begin to blur between the physical and the graphic, since both play a huge role and affect one another. A great composition can really accent and show off the weight in a character. In this case, I think I'll look at this category when I'm trying to figure out movement, timing, spacing. Of course timing is often affected by emotion too ;)
That's why I chose these 3 things--all of them are extremely important to consider, but general enough to remember. The lines between them are pretty blurred, many things could go into multiple categories, but I think these three concepts together cover the bulk of things I should be checking in my animation. (Did I just say that?...well, I did subtitle this "subject to change".) Like the elements of nature that are present in every living thing, I want to remember these elements of animation.
Take a look at this drawing from "Pecos Bill". Sorry, I don't know who the artist is.
The line of action is incredible, going all the way through Pecos' body, and continuing down through the horse's front legs. Secondary and complimentary to that is the line of action of the horse's spine. It's a very a graphic composition, very rhythmic. Lots of attention to detail in the silouette.
From an emotional standpoint, you can see (and feel) the strain on Pecos' face as he pulls on the reigns, and on the horse's face as the bit pulls on his mouth. There's also emotional tension in this drawing alone--will they stop? Why are they stopping so suddenly and forcefully?
From a physical standpoint, you can tell that they were moving, probably at a good pace, and are coming to a sudden stop. The anatomy of the horse is clear, the bit is pulling at the corners of his mouth, Pecos' shoulders are pulling much of the force along with his arms. This legs have thrust downward into the stirrups as an opposite action to pulling backwards.
That's a pretty short description of a great drawing, but I think it makes my point. If I can get all of those elements working together, then hopefully my work will improve to a clearer, more emotional, entertaining, and visual standard.