The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Character Animation - Part 1
It is also important to remember that starting any animation exercise with a minimum eight-frame hold at the beginning is vital to let the audience’s eye acknowledge the character before he starts moving. If the character starts moving on frame 2 or 3 of a scene, you are starting the action much too early for your audience, and their brains may explode trying to catch up. Start moving your character on frame 9, 13, or even 24. Holds are a good thing, so do not be afraid to hit the capture button a few extra times. The nice thing about shooting a long hold is that you can always cut frames if it does end up being too long for the timing you want. Putting frames back in is a bit harder. Holds are also your friend when you are animating a long sequence that has a lot of complicated movements, and you can gladly welcome any moment when your puppet can slow down and pause for a few seconds.
The other general rule to remember regarding holds is that they should always be a minimum of six frames. A six-frame hold is still very short, and is often used only for very quick glances or pauses in a character’s thought process on screen. At two frames, there is only enough time for an image to appear on screen before being replaced by another image, where the brain does not register the images as being separate. At four frames, the eye just starts to notice the separation between sequential images, so a four-frame hold in the middle of an action will always look more like a camera mistake and cause a jerk in the flow of the animation. An entire character should never hold for only four frames, and the same principle applies to any individual part of a character as it overlaps with the rest of the figure. For example, if a character is being animated and several parts of them are moving perpetually at the same time (head, arms, eyes, etc.), if any individual part stays in the same spot for four frames, it will cause a little “stick” in the animation and will look choppy. It is important to keep track of all these different parts of a character and make sure that every little gesture, as they overlap with each other, takes at least six or eight frames to happen on screen.
If any part of your puppet is moved accidentally for only two to four frames, it is best to try covering it up by just adding three or four more moves in the direction the part is moving (unless you go back, delete the frames, and re-do them). For example, let’s say you are focusing on animating the head and left arm of your character without paying attention to the right arm. A few frames into the animation, you realize that the right arm has shifted to the left for four frames, and your intention was that it should not move at all. From this point, it is better to cushion it farther to the left for at least four more frames and write it off as a subtle secondary action. Any tiny move or hold on a puppet that lasts only four frames will not look right, but if it lasts at least six to eight frames, it will at least appear more natural.
Overall, timing is a discipline that you can continue to experiment with until you get a sense of how long it takes to achieve a certain action. In many cases, it will be through timing things too fast, slow, or even that you will learn your own sense of timing. Try to apply what you’ve learned to each subsequent piece of animation you do.