How to Succeed in Animation
If we stand on a bridge and look down at a river, it flows past us. If we come back the next day, or even an hour later, that river may still have the same name, but it is in fact an entirely different river – all new water. If we jump into the river, we may flow with it, but in the case of time, we cannot flow with it. It is always flowing past us. So there is no such thing as “now.” We cannot grasp at “now.” “Now” is constantly becoming “Then.”
So “time” as we know it is an inexorable, constant flow. But there is a counterpoint to time, and we call that Rhythm. There are broad rhythms we know as geological cycles. The Ice Age came and went, and may come again. There is the regular rhythm of the seasons, the rhythm of the moon as it waxes and wanes, never pausing in its beat – the rhythm of the days, the sun marking day and night, day and night. And there are our personal rhythms – the beating of our hearts, our breathing, the regular pace of walking. Is there any doubt about why we humans created music? There is rhythm and counter rhythm all around us. In Bali and Java, they have a belief that music is going on constantly, and that musicians simply join in on the beat from time to time, and when the musicians stop playing the beat and flow of the music continues unheard until they join in and give it voice again. Each culture has its own patterns of rhythm, and I think I know why our American musical culture has over-ridden everyone else’s. When I first came to Czechoslovakia in 1959, I became conscious of this. I had mentioned that I was a jazz fan, and I was taken to a Dixieland jazz concert in Prague. I noticed that when the audience became excited by the band they would clap on the beat. “Clap-clap-clap-clap-clap.” That kind of clapping goes with their own national folk music, but it effectively deadens jazz music. American audiences learned to clap on the after-beat, “boom-CLAP, boom-CLAP, boom-CLAP, boom-CLAP.” It’s the lift of the after beat, that we got from the African slaves, that became the core of jazz and syncopated music, all the way down to today’s rock music – the infectious beat that conquered the world. The way the Czech people clapped to jazz music really bothered me, and I’m happy that by now they’ve learned mainly to clap on the after-beat.
What that after-beat actually represents is contrast. Contrast is the essence of all art, musical and graphical. Large-against-small, dark-against-light, straight-against-curved, near against far, loud-against-soft, slow-against-fast. In film work, we call that rhythmic contrast, “timing.” Timing is something I try hard to work with. Timing is the element of motion that creates the effect of life.
So that’s it. Motion/Timing is what we live in, and Movies and Music exist in motion – and motion and timing are basic cinematic tools.
That is our kind of magic trick. I mentioned that Magic requires that the Moment of Action and the Moment of Effect must always be different. When the magician says “Abracadabra, POOF!” there may be a puff of smoke, or a pistol shot, a flash of light, or whatever, but the actual trick has already taken place. The magician - if he is any good – has diverted our attention from the actual place and moment where the trick has happened. There were two different events involved, and you only saw one of them, the effect, not the actual action.
Again, in movie work, we use exactly the same principle. We only let you see the effect. We don’t let you see what we’re actually doing. What we are doing of course is making the film at a much earlier time than you are seeing it. That’s obvious. But what may not be obvious to you is the truth about Special Effects. Special Effects are on a roll these days. Nearly every movie we see is loaded with special effects that constantly up the ante, gasp-wise. What you may not realize is that every single ordinary shot in every movie is some sort of special effect. Consider the old cliché, “The Camera Never Lies.” The truth is, the camera always lies!