We live in an animation world where chances are if your an animator
you're doing CG and if you still draw for a living you're doing design or boarding. I know not everyone falls into these catagories, but it seems to be the overwhelming majority. I've seen such a sparse amount of hand drawn animation info out there, that I felt for those who genuinely still love this art form and don't want to see it die.
Secondly, and I say this with respect for the art form of computer animation (and those in it), but I was pretty tired of hearing and or reading of CG guys saying things like "CG is cheaper than 2D", or "we don't need models that squash and stretch because motion blur is the CG equivilant", or the worst one is "CG is more subtle than 2D". I could bark about these sadly misguided opinions all day, but that wouldn't be my point. My point is that those opinions are formed from people whom have either no 2D experience or who do not understand it at all. The people that do have experience with the art form ( Pixar, Dreamworks, Sony, Disney guys) probably wouldn't say such things. As the SplineDoctors have said on their
site, I find it alarming when my students have heard more about people with famous blogs than they have about the nine old men. As convoluted as this is getting, here is the second point: I wanted to put accurate information out there that would inspire, inform and correct minds on the topic of hand drawn animation. I also feel that the legacy of the Nine Old Men is precious... nuff said.
Thirdly, and lastly, I wanted to get back to doing tutorials because of how much I've changed and grown as an artist in the last year or so. I have been doing A LOT more than animating. As I have said before, the more you know about the whole process the more
you can give to the specifics of it. My true life example is going from animation to design, and now back to animation. You see things differently once you've designed a few hundred characters in different styles. Certainly ones dratsmenships improves, but the way you think about things like staging, clarity, posing , all change. So as I work my way through a shot I hope to bring new light to the process as I talk (or write) out loud about it.
FOR GOODNESS SAKE, THINK BEFORE YOU ACT
That's a little refrain I've heard innumerable times in my life. For those who know me I can be, uh, a slight bit absent minded. When I was a little kid, I got into a few pickles because of it. But never from malicious intent, it was always innocent at it's core. I just wasn't thinking about things before I did them-- and thus I heard this refrain over and over in my life until I finally started to see why it was important.
This refrain can so easily be adapted to animation as well! I think the number one thing I don't see in a lot of student work (and sometimes pro work) is thought. If you d
on't think before you act, you're gonna end up in a world of trouble. If someone asks you WHY you chose the pose you did and you cannot answer that question you probably haven't thought out your shot well enough. As always you have to temper this kind of advice with "... and everyone works differently...", but the point isn't HOW you do this it's THAT you do this.
Ironically this is the most important part of the process and yet it's the part we spend the least amount of time on. Now obviously if you sat around for 4 days thinking about a shot that you only have 5 days to do that's no good, but I know from personal experience sometimes I'm just way to excited to draw! Even if you have the shot crystal clear in your head, at least think it through and make sure your instincts match up with what is being asked of the shot.
Randy Haycock was kind enough to come and do a lecture for my CalArts class. Sometimes people with more experience than you are able to put thoughts into words that you have felt before but not known how to describe verbally. He said something his kids ask him all the time is "why"... it's endless, and irritating at times but should we not be as curious about our own shots? Here's a series of questions to always ask yourself BEFORE you start your shot:
Is this shot in the movie?
Does the character feel this way?
Is the context of this shot in the whole of the story?
Is the entertainment value of this shot?
Is the subtext?
Is this shot about?
Now that's certainly not a comprehensive list but it will definately get you into the right place
mentally before you start your shot.
FEELING YOUR SHOT
This is a topic that's a bit more on the cryptic side. Something you can't tell someone how to do, they just have to have the ability to do so. It can all be summed up into this
thought: Are you able to feel and empathize with the character you are performing? You have to have some sort of emotional connection there. This doesn't necessarily mean you love your character in the sense that you'd be best friends if they were real. It more means you can relate to them. What makes a character relatable? Well, I think a primary one is flaw. A flawed character is one we can all identify with because we are all flawed. We see, sometimes, the same struggles in our own lives (wanting to be loved, fear of something, etc.) and can therefor put ourselves into their emotional journey. This is why the token villain that just wants to be rich or rule the world are not compelling in the least. We don't identify emotionally with those motives-- yes, we even have to identify to a degree with the "villain". What if he's the kind of villain who was just like you or me at one point and took a wrong turn? What if he's looking for love in all the wrong places, that adds sympathy which adds empathy and helps
to make you care about them. The animator AND the audience!
So now, assuming you've got the first 2 under your belt you can start planning your shot which means, yes, DRAWING!
Everyone knows this step-- but so few of us really take advantage of it. Planning is everything, whether you do it on paper or in your head it's essential to the clarity of your performance. This step is like everything else in that you will make it your own eventually.
Duncan Marjoribanks and Milt Kahl basically animate their shots twice. One in small size, and then for real. I mean, litterally every little arc, blink, everything was planned before hand. Others just thumbnail out their main story-telling poses and let the shot, as they animate, tell them where it wants to go. And a few don't thumbnail much or at all and plan it all out in their heads. The point is that all the great PLAN in some fashion. I tend to favor the second option highly. The reason is that I have to have the structure of my story telling poses to guide me, but want permission for spontinaity. So here are my thumbnails for this recent piece of animation:
As you can plainly see my objective was not to make masterful drawings. I was completely focused on gestures and poses that could sell the main ideas for my shot. Essentially, what
these will end up being are my foundational drawings for my shot (storytelling poses). My shot will revolve around them. That's why it is so important to experiment at this point, because the further down the road you get the harder it will be to reinvent your shot if need be.
In the next post will start to go into roughing in a shot... there is a lot to talk about in terms
of how to think about things but also just the practicality of "how do you do that"? A lot of it involves layering you thinking. So, as always, please please please ask questions for things that are unclear! Hope everyone gets something out of this! Cheers!