All films will become animations. That prediction is based on the rate at which special effects become standard effects in big-budget films. Even a “live action” movie these days is composed frame by frame, and the skills and logic of animation take over. An ordinary digital camera, a hi-end PC or Mac, with iMovie software or equivalent, gives anyone the tools to do cinematic animation without tears. The Complete Animation Course is the best of many recent books riding the re-newed popularity of animated films. This guide is a great how-to orientation for making your own animated film using affordable technology. It introduces you to classic animation basics, and the many methods which combine old fashioned techniques (cartoon, paper collages, claymation) with computer based tools. I found it had just the right level of detail — sufficient to get you going without bogging down in how to do what’s already been done.
The Complete Animation Course is not as thorough on basic technique as the new Digital Edition of Kit Laybourne’s classic The Animation Book, but it is far more up-to-date and digitally oriented. The Animation Book goes deep; there’s none better for grasping the secrets of traditional cell animation. Many of those techniques are still essential. The Complete Animation Course goes fast: there’s none better if you want to use a digital camera, scanner, and home computer to make an animated short.
The Complete Animation Course: The Principles, Practice, and Techniques of Successful Animation
2003, 160 pages
The Animation Book: A Complete Guide to Animated Filmmaking — from Flip-books to Sound Cartoons to 3-D Animation
1998, 426 pages
Twelve Principles of Animation
1. Squash and Stretch.
2. Anticipation. This is setting up the action before it happens, usually with a slight movement in the opposite direction to the main one.
3. Staging. This is related to the way the film as a whole is “shot,” considering angles, framing, and scene length.
4. Straight-ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose. Straight-ahead action starts at one point and finishes at another in a single continuous movement, such as running, whereas pose-to-pose is a variety of actions in one scene requiring clearly delineated key frames to mark the action’s extreme point. How the in-betweens are executed can alter the whole rhythm of the action.
5. Follow-through and Overlapping Action. Follow-through is the opposite of anticipation. When a character stops, certain parts remain in motion, such as hair or clothes. Overlapping action is when the follow-through of one action becomes the anticipation of the next one.
6. Slow In — Slow Out. This means using more drawings at the beginning and end of an action and fewer in the middle. This creates a more lifelike feeling to the movement.
7. Arcs. These are used to describe natural movement. All actions create circular movements because they usually pivot around a central point, usually a joint. Arcs are also used to describe a line of action through a character.
8. Secondary Action is just that, another action that takes place at the same time as the main one. This may be something as simple as turning the head from side to side during a walk sequence.
9. Timing. This is something that can’t be taught. In the same way that comedians who rely on it to get the most from their gags have to learn it through experience, you too will get it right only through practice. Timing is how you get characters to interact naturally. Timing also has to do with the technical side of deciding how many drawings are used to portray an action.
10. Exaggeration. This is the enhancement of a physical attribute or movement, but don’t make the mistake of exaggerating the exaggeration.
11. Solid Drawing. This conveys a sense of three-dimensionality through linework, color, and shading.
12. Appeal This is giving personality to the characters you draw. If you can convey it without the sound track, you know you are on the right track.
These are not hard and fast rules, but they have been found to work since the early days of animation. Bear them in mind at the storyboard stage and your animation will definitely have more fluidity and believability.
In these two shots, from Rustboy by Brian Taylor, we can see the dramatic effect shaders and lighting can have on a scene. The top picture is the flat model produced by the software while you are working on it. The picture below is a fully rendered scene, with all the shaders, textures, and lighting added to give it depth, atmosphere, and believability.