Chapter 4: Animation Tech-Talk
The technology of animation has changed somewhat over the past 35,000 years, when it was first attempted by cave men, but the basics remain. Here they are in specifics:
Technically, the production method of film animation remained basically unchanged since Raoul Barre patented peg-holes, and pegs to fit into them. In the same year pioneer animator,J ohn Bray first used transparent cels.
It was1914, ten years before I was born. Basically the same methods were used for nearly 80 years, until the advent of computer animation, when scanning, coloring, and digital compositing became the norm. We were still producing our little animation movies on Bray's cellulose-acetate sheets until the end of the 20th century, and were still using Raoul Barre's peg holes with drawn animation on paper until the end of our production careers!
However whichever way it was done, is done, or will be done technically, the principles of cinematic animation remain the same. 12 principles were developed and codified in one incredibly explosive decade, between 1930 and 1940 at the Walt Disney Studios on Hyperion Boulevard in Hollywood.
Whatever we may think of the artistic taste of Disney, we cannot discount the incredible advances of animation technique that evolved during that golden decade in his studio; hardly surpassed to this day. The 1930s brought animation from the crude STEAMBOAT WILLIE to the highly polished FANTASIA! How much better is character animation today?
Every animated film made today uses those same basic animation principles, no matter which technology is used. They may be difficult to understand without demonstration, but they were all printed and explained in Frank Thomas' and Ollie Johnston's landmark book, “Disney Animation, The Illusion of Life."
Here they are:
1. Squash and Stretch. (Shape distortion to accentuate movement)
2. Anticipation. (A reverse movement to accent a forward movement)
3. Staging. (The camera viewpoint to best show the action)
4. Straight-ahead vs. Pose-to-pose action. (Two basic procedures)
5. Follow-through and Overlapping action. (Nothing stops abruptly!)
6. Slow-in and Slow-out. (Smoothing starts and stops by spacing)
7. Arcs. (Planning the path of actions)
8. Secondary Actions. (A head might wag while the legs walk!)
9. Timing. (Time relations within actions for the illusion of life!)
10. Exaggeration.(Caricature of actions and timing, for comic or dramatic effect)
11. Skillful drawing. (Learn good drawing to be a good animator!)
12. Appeal. (If our characters are not appealing, then all is lost!)
If I may quibble, I would add:
13. Mass and weight. (preserve volume!)
14. Character acting. (Thinking of the character as a real actor)
It's not my purpose to explain or illustrate these principles here, that's all in Frank and Ollie's book. I only want to make the point that though we have an art here, we also have a craft, and that there are basic laws and principles that guide us, just as we have the laws of gravity and motion. Within these laws, there is room for infinite variation and invention. That's where the creativity comes in. Those rules apply mainly to character animation. Graphics animation is unlimited; in that area virtually anything goes, though it doesn't hurt to keep the principles of arcs and timing in mind!
Up to the time I was sent to Prague in 1959, I assumed that American cartoon animation was the only kind that really mattered, and that all others in the world were merely copying us. I hadn't taken in the fact that what we were doing at UPA in the mid-forties was not just revolutionary American animation, but was in fact an international absorption. Up until UPA, the basis of American Style Animation had always been the striving for realism. In Prague it came into focus for me that the main difference between the American and the European approach to animation was exactly that.