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Book Review: 'Animation from Pencils to Pixels'

Known mostly for its CG entertainment work, Indias emerging animation industry is increasingly adding vfx projects to its portfolio. Karen Raugust reports. Includes QuickTime clips of vfx showreels from Prasad EFX, Paprikaas Animation Studios and Rayudu Vision Media Ltd.!

Animation From Pencils to Pixels covers a lot of ground on the business and artistic sides and is useful for reference.

Tony White, in his book Animation from Pencils to Pixels, has paid a great deal of attention to the business side of animation. But that's not all this book has to offer. It covers chapters whose titles range from, "Animation Step by Step" to "The Paperless Studio" to "The Rules of Filmmaking. It promises, after a forward by Roy Disney, "EVERYTHING that an animator could possibly ever need to know to practice animated filmmaking comprehensively." (The caps are the authors). This book covers so much it is rather hard to talk about everything in it.

Pencils to Pixels is well illustrated, with both drawing and photographs all the way through. In each section, White, who has 30+ years in the animation industry, relates what each chapter is about to his own work Endangered Species and uses drawings and problems from that production to illustrate as he goes along. This is a book that you can keep for reference. A book where you can read chapters out of sequence or just to bone up on something you are curious about. It includes a DVD, which has a scene-by-scene look at the creation of Endangered Species.

The Business of Animation

The book starts not with drawing as so many animation books do, but with the business of animation. Under the heading of "Development, White explores purchasing, options, public domain, confidentiality and many other subjects dear to the heart of the businessman in artists. He then gets into storyline and scriptwriting and then character design. In the section headed "Project Financing, he talks about various outlets for your work, including movies, TV, advertising, games, the Web and direct-to markets. He covers scheduling and budgeting, cash flow and contingency planning. Under advice on marketing and distribution, he covers pre-sale distribution, financing, agents, and gets into legal advice. What an enormous lot of ground to cover!

In this same section, White explores getting financial backing for your project. Here he gives some good advice on how to package your presentation and what to put in it. Story synopsis, concept art, sample storyboards, your development budget, your key personnel and a project website are covered. He also advises on giving evidence of your ownership rights and intellectual property rights. He also covers the same ground for independent film developers, including the story bible and your "game plan.

The Technical Side of Animation

The section called "Rules of Filmmaking" gets into the technical side of animation as well as the technique. White explains what the different camera positions are all about, including wide, ultra-wide, mid- and close-ups and extreme close-up. He talks about how to combine the various shots and this section is very well illustrated with actual camera shots. He then discusses camera lenses and what they can do for you, lighting and filters and camera moves.

In discussing staging, he gets quite detailed on how to do a cut away shot, two shot, shots for more characters and how to make them interrelate, "The Line" and eyeline. He discusses the cut, the dissolve, the fade and the wipe and special effects. There is an illustration of the various screen aspect ratios.

The Soundtrack

The next section is on soundtrack recording and editing and includes talent selection, voice recording (with his take on how to do it), recording for animation, plus music and effects recording. He admits that most animators won't be able to afford a Foley artist, and shows how to do some effects. He discusses the final track breakdown, film speeds and conversion ratios.

Next is "Storyboarding and Animatics. Here White tells you about storyboard formats, and gives lots of tips on how to do a good one. He tells you how to create an animatic and how it helps you see what you had visualized. It is also great for fine tuning your timing.

Desktop Animation

Now White gets into "Digital Desktop Production" and very clearly goes through the steps in producing your own animation on the computer. He covers not only the actual animation, backgrounds and special effects, but checking, scanning, coloring, compositing, editing, dubbing and digital to film transfer as well. He discusses raster vs. vector, layering and line quality.

Under the heading "Production Team and Workflow," White talks about who and what various people do in the animation process. The director, producer and production manager are discussed on the one hand, and, in the creative personnel, he talks about the character modeler, production designer, animator and his assistant, inbetweener and cleanup artist. Then he gets into the duties of the environmental modeler, background artist, checker, scanner, cameraman, inker, colorist, texturer, lighting artist, compositor and sound editor. There are a great many jobs available in the digital animation field!

How to Manage Your Production

Under "Project Management, he gets into the all-important fields of progress charts (to keep your project on time) and route sheets (like a spreadsheet that tells what the output of each person the production is). This is something that could be under the auspices of either the producer or the production manager, depending on how big a work force you have.

In the section "Principles of Animation, White discusses some of the technical aspects of the art of animation. He talks about timing, extremes, arcs and paths, hold, anticipation, weight and flexibility, overlapping and walk cycles. Under generic walks, he discusses key poses, inbetweens and passing positions. In this well illustrated section, walk and run cycles are shown and he also discusses timing of the cycles, lip sync, laughter and takes.

Everything You Need to Know

"Animating Step by Step, "2D Animation Overview, "2D Animation Basics and "Finessing 2D Animation" give you a pretty comprehensive course in how to do animation. From the script to the end result, White discusses everything from peg bars to exposure sheets, to pencil tests, to camera instruction and a lot more. Under camera moves, he talks about panning, side peg pans, curved pans, camera shake, strobing problems and rotoscoping. You need to know all this to know how to put it in your animation.

In "2D Vector Animation," White gets into "The Value of Limited Animation" and its application to web design. He discusses writing and storyboarding for the Web, designing web characters, the soundtrack and more. "Vector Film Production" gets a chapter of its own, and includes non-web vector animation and game production.

In "The Paperless Animation Studio," White admits that the time is not yet. Technology has not gotten quite that good. The hand-drawn animation still has a look that the computer can't recreate yet. He also discusses the Mirage program and the Cintiq drawing pen.

3D Animation

White then gets into 3D. He emphasizes the importance of drawing first and then gets into the areas that only the computer can do. He talks of Cartesian space, polygons and primitives. Character modeling gets into rigging and weighting, forward and inverse kinematics, the bone hierarchy, control points, manipulators, nels, lighting, texturing and environmental modeling. He discusses blocking, key poses, inbetweens and fine tuning your animation. Timelines, f-curves, sliders and lip sync all get their due. White gets into the difference between the caricature of your subject and motion capture.

At the last, White has a chapter humorously titled, "Oh, I Almost Forgot " where he gives job hunting advice, what to put in your portfolio, reel or website. He gets into networking, recruiters, what it takes to be a success and the value of experience. He ends with a few works of how to conduct yourself in job interviews. There is a glossary of terms and an index.

Animation from Pencils to Pixels by Tony White. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2006. 528 pages includes DVD. ISBN: 0-240-80670-0 ($49.95).

Libby Reed started out at Walt Disney Studios in the 50s on Sleeping Beauty as a painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a color designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren.