The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Character Animation - Part 1
In another version, Head Turn 3.mov, an added element of overlapping action is employed by animating a blink before the basic eye movement, and then leading into the head movement (Figure 7.10). Blinks often add more life to the movement of a character, especially on a head turn. When the head moves, it is very common for the brain to send a signal for the eyes to blink as it happens to help control the sensory overload that can occur when shifting the eyes’ whole perspective.
The same principles of overlapping action are demonstrated in some other exercises, which extend the simple motion of a head movement into the entire body of the puppet. Take a look first at Body Turn 1.mov, where the whole body turns from left to right without any overlapping action (Figure 7.11). Everything moves at the same rate, from the eyes to the head and through the arms and hips, starting and stopping on the same frame. The end results are not very believable, and feel very stiff and robotic.
Now, compare this first body turn to the next one, Body Turn 2.mov and you will notice what a difference the overlapping action makes. In this example, the eyes move first, followed by the head; the arms and hips follow afterward (Figure 7.12). The arms themselves overlap in their timing and spacing, with the right arm settling into a hold a few frames after the left arm. There is a scientific and anatomical logic to overlapping action that occurs in the whole body as it turns from left to right. The idea to turn in the first place is simply a signal triggered by the brain that shoots very quickly down the spinal cord, sending that signal to the rest of the body. The eyes are the closest thing to the brain, so they are the first parts of the body to receive that message from the brain that says, “Turn!” The next part to receive it is the neck, followed by the shoulders, arms, and hips. In the blink of an eye, the simple act of turning around is like a memo being sent from management to all the floors below it. Animation needs to break this up, slow it down, and overlap the body parts getting this signal frame after frame.
Another set of movie files on the CD shows the difference anticipation can make to an action, combined with proper timing for the eye to read the various poses in the animation. These animated exercises show Goth Mime performing the simple act of picking up a ball from a table. The first example, Pick Up Ball 1.mov, is deliberately animated much too fast, with very little thought put into animation principles (Figure 7.13). The hand does grip the ball for at least six frames before picking it up, which is important to read as him actually gripping it. Otherwise, there is very little life or proper staging in the way it is posed and timed. The biggest problem is that there is no anticipation for him grabbing the ball, and it goes by much too quickly for the audience to fully appreciate and be prepared for it.
The next version, Pick Up Ball 2.mov (Figure 7.14), is an improvement in that there is easing in and out, overlapping action in both arms, and, most importantly, the left arm comes up for a short anticipation before coming down to grip the ball. There are drag and overlap in the elbows and wrists of the puppet, making it feel much more flexible and believable.
Ken A. Priebe has a BFA from University of Michigan and a classical animation certificate from Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). He teaches stop-motion animation courses at VanArts and the Academy of Art University Cybercampus and has worked as a 2D animator on several games and short films for Thunderbean Animation, Bigfott Studios, and his own independent projects. Ken has participated as a speaker and volunteer for the Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter and is founder of the Breath of Life Animation Festival, an annual outreach event of animation workshops for children and their families. He is also a filmmaker, writer, puppeteer, animation historian, and author of the book The Art of Stop-Motion Animation. Ken lives near Vancouver, BC, with his graphic-artist wife Janet and their two children, Ariel and Xander.