Starting with the basics of frame-by-frame animation, spacing and timing, Williams explains the procedures and the use of key drawings to define animated action. He then jumps (pun intended) right into human movement, with more than a 100 pages of everything you ever needed to know about walks and runs. He examines all kinds of walks from various angles and analyzes how parts of the body move during a walk. Walks are a great example to show us because they are basic, cyclical and work as a formula of keys that can be evenly divided for inbetweening. When you understand walks, you understand keys and inbetweens. Williams starts with the formula and then adapts the keys and timing to create personality and feeling. His simple but clear, appealing sketches and his attention to detail show many of the ways you can create unique personality and mood for specific characters.
Walks are a great example "because they are basic, cyclical and work as a formula of keys that can be evenly divided for inbetweening."
After covering everything possible on walks, Williams moves on to one of the most important aspects of character animation: Flexibility. For beginners, making characters look loose and flexible is the toughest thing to master. With a variety of examples that show the movement of joints and how to overlap actions, Williams makes it easy to understand.
The sections that follow show the reader how to animate weight, anticipate an action and the standard procedures for creating a "take" or reaction as well as how to use staggers and animate a wave. The next section explains how to animate to dialogue; however, unlike the walks, Williams skips the basics that are so clearly described in animator Preston Blair's earlier book, How to Draw Cartoon Animation.
The original version of the book then finishes with three short sections on acting, animal walks (a variation of the biped walk formula) and directing. One of the best things about The Animator's Survival Kit is that although it is a technical "how-to" manual, it is also a very entertaining and enlightening memoir. The anecdotes, photographs and quotations of Williams' mentors, including Art Babbit, Grim Natwick, Emery Hawkins, Ken Harris and Milt Kahl, make this a fascinating read.
"For beginners, making characters look loose and flexible is the toughest thing to master."
It is difficult or in this case, impossible to write for every kind of animator. You almost need to have separate sections for 3D animators, 2D animators and stop-motion animators. Things like exposure sheets and numbering pages, dialogue breakdown and peg bars are becoming unnecessary, even for classical animators and some readers may find that information confusing.