The world of animation is an imagination playground. Because if your mind can conceive it, you can bring it to life through animation.
To create flying super heroes in live acting takes lots of camera trickery. But for animators, it’s simply the stroke of a pen. Okay, today, it’s more likely a stylus pen on a computer tablet and the manipulation of those drawings through various software programs. And it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds.
But you get the point.
So here are five tips for those entering the exciting field of animation.
START WITH SIMPLE ANIMATION MOVEMENT
Again. It might look easy…creating animated characters that defy the laws of gravity and physics. And there’s lots of technology to assist in the process. But your artistic skill still drives it all. And like anything else, you must develop those basic skills first and hone them to perfection.
It sounds archaic, but animation begins in drawing with paper and pencil. It’s the foundation on which you build. Your goal is to create natural movement. So start with something simple like animating a bouncing ball. Creating that movement involves a technique called squash and stretch.
This is how you create the illusion of weight, volume and gravity as your ball moves. In this simple exercise you’ll gain the basic elements contained in the more complex movements of characters with body weight that walk…or fly.
REFERENCE AND OBSERVATION IN ANIMATION
Creating natural movement often includes the little things. Slight movements you don’t normally pay attention to. Like the crook of a finger, the smirk in a smile or a raised eyebrow.
So start paying attention as a keen observer. Scour the internet for videos and photos to use as reference points. Use wooden models or even capture yourself on video and animate off that.
But you are your best tool. Watch how people move in real life as they interact with other people or the environment. Facial expressions that communicate emotion, actions that demonstrate purpose and intention.
As you imprint those images in your mind, they become a mental library for creating a natural reality that so engages your audience they forget your animation it is not real after all.
STRONG KEY FRAMES IN ANIMATION
When you boil it all down, animation is one pose after another. Each drawing an individual frame in a strip of film that you combine to create movement and storytelling.
Your key frames represent the first and last movements in a particular action sequence. As an animator, you determine the first pose that starts the movement and the last pose that ends it.
So for example, if your character jumps from a rooftop to the ground, you’ll start by illustrating the initial pose of the leap to the final image of how the character lands. Does he land safely to his feet or squash on the sidewalk?
Those two visuals form the bookends that help you determine what happens visually in between. So you want them to be bold and visually memorable.
STRONG LINE OF ACTION AND EXAGGERATION IN ANIMATION
Exaggeration is what makes animation fun, exciting and adds emotion and drama. Because animated characters are not limited by the laws of the universe. You can break them all and your audience will totally buy it as long as those movements and actions have a sense of natural realism.
So when Superman leaps off a tall building and lands on the ground, the earth splits with the force of his impact, which demonstrates his power and strength. And when Wylie Coyote falls off a cliff because he missed grabbing Road Runner, he doesn’t just hit flat, he creates a Wiley Coyote shaped hole in the ground that goes clear through to China.
Or perhaps, it’s the physical exaggeration of the character himself. Like the huge, expanding chest of the big bad wolf as he huffs and puffs to blow the little pig’s house down.
It’s this strong line of action and exaggeration that conveys energy and feeling. How much exaggeration you use will depend on the particular style you want to achieve. Less exaggeration creates realistic action and greater exaggeration creates more cartoonish action.
TIMING AND FRAME RATES IN ANIMATION
There’s a sense of rhythm in animation. A natural beat. You must find the right balance to create that natural flow of movement you want to achieve. The nuts and bolts of this is contained in the timing and frame rates.
Timing and spacing between frames is what creates the illusion of movement in animation. Timing involves the number of frames between poses. So if it takes your ball 24 frames to move from point A to point B, that’s your timing.
Spacing involves how the frames are placed. In other words, how the ball is positioned in those 24 frames. If the spacing is close together, the ball moves slower. Further apart and the ball moves faster.
The tendency when you’re starting out is to animate too fast or too slow. But don’t worry. It’s normal when starting out. You’ll get the right balance with experience.
Animation + Digital Art is a course of study here at Flashpoint Chicago where we specialize in training digital media art professionals.