Chapter 3: Animation For Dummies
OK, here’s where Deitch the teacher addresses a classroom of wannabes, laying down the basics. If you can’t get this stuff into your head, you might as well go into another line of work.
The best thing I could do to teach you how to make animated movies would just be to help you find your own way.
There are unnumbered ways to make animation. The only limit is your own imagination. When I was a young animator, in 1949, a mindless "veteran" of 10 years in the craft said to me, "Gene, when you've been in the business as long as I have, you'll know you can't get away with those kinds of crazy ideas!"
A lot of my "crazy ideas" of those days are already yesterdays’ ideas today. I worked well over half-a-century in the craft and I know that "crazy ideas" are what keep us all alive!
But there are some rules that do stay. They are basic to any kind of movie animation. If you can learn just the basic rules of how to harness the technology that gives the illusion of life to still drawings or objects, and how to string together individual shots and scenes to tell a story, or create a homogeneous, meaningful sequence or mood, then you can use these rules in your own personal way.
The whole thing about making animated movies is to somehow find a way to always keep in your mind the amount of time any action is going to play on the screen. You will of course be working incredibly slowly in comparison to the time your drawings, models, images, or whatever, will actually be seen. The one rule you cannot break is that in standard cinema, 24 individual pictures go whizzing by on the screen each and every second.
(In Europe, where 50 cycles per second is the electrical standard, the video and TV projection rate is 25 frames per second. The difference is visually undetectable. 24 frames per second has long been the internationally standard projection rate, except for special presentation systems, such as IMAX.)
If you are going to make drawings or objects that appear to move on a screen, you will have to register a series of images, one phase at a time, on some form of image capturing device, exactly numbered, that will allow them to be played back at a rate of speed faster than human persistence of vision. That, in a techie nutshell is the essence of movie animation
But how are you going to know which drawing goes with which frame or frames? Well, the answer to that will make the difference whether your movie will just move or whether it will seem to live!
I can tell you how to gradually find the answer. You have to start with the idea that you are an actor, a mime. You will need to have a stopwatch for timing.
Just as any movie application records a standard number individual images per second, so can each story or action be broken down into sections, which we can call sequences, scenes, shots, actions, bits of action, or poses. When you are planning your movie, you will gradually break it down into smaller and smaller bits. You can do all of these things by acting it all out with a stopwatch; doing it over and over again until you are sure that it has just the timing you want. When you get it right you must enter the timings into finer and finer bits. This usually is done on paper forms called exposure sheets or the virtual forms on computer animation applications, with lines representing each phase of the action.
You can then create the images of the key positions of the character or object you are animating. The key positions, or "poses" are the main "way-stations" along the line of action, from the beginning to the end, of the scene you are animating. The frame or phase numbers assigned to these key poses are attached to specific film or digital frames, and establish the basic "acting" and timing of the scene. To connect those poses, "in-between" images must be filled in, so that there will be a specific phase of the desired action on each and every recorded frame. This may seem simple, but improper inbetweens can completely destroy the best animation. Invisible arcs connect one pose with another. The inbetween images must follow those arcs. But that is just one aspect of proper inbetweens. The spacing of the inbetweens is where either "living" or mechanistic movement is achieved. It must be the animator who indicates the spacing, with little pips marked along the arcs. Wider or closer spacing will make the action faster or slower, because the projection speed is constant. The deftly spaced phases of action become a counterpoint, a shifting obbligato to the rock-steady ostinatto of the projection speed. Therein is the illusion of life!
There is another way to animate - actually the original way in the development of cinema animation, and that is "straight-ahead" animation - just making one drawing at a time, without predetermined poses along the way. An individual animator, making a movie alone, may get away with this, (an indeed it can be more fun), but it is not practical in a studio situation, involving assistant animators and inbetweeners. Straight-ahead animation requires a lot of advance thought to be sure you know where you're going! It is useful in purely fanciful animation, with changing shapes and bizarre graphics. Which method would be the best for you will require experimentation and experience, and will vary according to the requirements of the project you’re doing.
How to animate? (How to build a house?)
Every job can be broken down into steps.
Have a plan. Think ahead. Make sure every action is in accordance with the plan.
When you animate a scene in a story film, know what comes before your scene, and what comes after it. Make sure your action fits into the continuity. Know the character. How is he, she, or it is supposed to think and act? Find the character’s idiosyncrasies. How would the character walk, move?
Are there some special gestures, body attitudes, quirks, disabilities, facial expressions you can build on? The recorded voice — (if there is dialog) — is a strong impetus to an animation key. Make sure every move is in character.