Concept to Creation: Key Animation

Mark Simon continues his series of 12 excerpts from his new book Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film.

All images are from Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Reprinted with permission.

This is the sixth in a series of 12 excerpts from Mark Simons book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film. This book is a full-color, concept-to-pitch guide that teaches animators, students and small studios the art and business of producing short, cel animated films. Animation producer Mark Simon has detailed the process in an accessible how-to manner using his award-winning series, Timmys Lessons In Nature, as a guide. This 432-page book contains more than 600 full-color images, interviews and a CD-ROM containing sample animation, animatics and sample software described in the text.

The real fun begins when truly talented animators take a scene and make magic with it. Animators will often adjust the original timings of scenes while they are animating to take advantage of the inspiration they get while drawing. The better prepared each scene is, the easier any potential changes are. The only timing animators shouldnt change is the lip-synch.

In key animation, the animators take the character sheets and start roughing in the actions of the characters (Figure 1). Rough animations allow animators to quickly capture the characters motions without worrying about the details of the character. While working, they place the background layouts under their animation to make sure the characters line up with the proper background elements.

[Figure 1] Rough animation of the foxs head talking to Timmy.

Animators use either the top or bottom pegs when they animate. Each style has its value. Using the top peg allows you to draw without your hand hitting the pegs and tightening a screw on the bottom. It also allows you to flip as many sheets as your pegs will hold (Figure 2). Many golden age (1940s-1960s when most animation shorts were produced for theatrical distribution) animators could flip the drawings at the exact projection speed of 24fps. Animating with the bottom pegs allows you roll the drawings while you work. This is helpful for keeping a good feel of the motion while youre working. However, you can only roll about five pages at a time (Figure 3).

[Figure 2] Example of flipping sheets. (Note: Normally the art is right-side up when flipping from the top peg, but we didnt have any scenes that were animated on the top pegs.)

[Figure 3] Example of rolling pages.

As the animators finish roughing in the main key poses, they start tying down the drawings, or making them look more like the approved character design. They also add in the subtle animation touches such as follow-through, hair movement, subtle emotions and more (Figure 4).

When just one animator is working on a scene, he will do all the drawings and possibly the clean-up himself. If there are other artists working on a scene, the main (also called supervising, lead or key) animator may just draw the key poses showing the motion extremes. The animator will chart (Figure 5) where the inbetweens should go. This chart shows how many drawings need to be drawn between the keys and how close each drawing needs to be to the next or previous one.

[Figure 4] Tied down key poses of the fox. Animation by R.B.

The chart in Figure 5 shows that the key drawing is 52 and the next key drawing is 56. Drawing 54 will be the inbetween. Drawing 54, then, should be one-third of the way between the keys. This is an example of easing out from a keyframe. The closer the drawings are, the slower they seem to move. The farther apart drawings are, the faster they seem to move. Easing out means that the motion starts more slowly and picks up speed as it eases out of a keyframe. Easing in means that a move slows down as it eases into a keyframe.

[Figure 5] The animators will chart how close the inbetweens need to be to the keys.

The remaining chapter describes the animators notes and dope sheet. To learn about other topics, check out Producing Independent 2D Character Animation, published by Focal Press. It can be purchased at any bookstore or online.

Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2003. 432 pages. ISBN: 0-240-80513-5.

Mark Simon founded and owns A&S Animation, Inc., an award-winning cel animation house in Florida, which develops and produces character animation for commercials, TV, training videos and the Web. He also owns Animatics & Storyboards, Inc., the largest storyboard house in the southern United States, which has provided work on more than 1,200 productions. Marks accomplishments include owning an award-winning advertising firm, being a syndicated cartoonist, production designer for film and TV, writing entertainment industry books and lecturing on both animation and storyboards. Winning more than 30 animation awards for his efforts, Mark has directed Timmys Lessons In Nature (which he sold as a TV series), My Wife Is Pregnant, numerous commercials, training videos and television series special effects.