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Book Review: 'Thinking Animation, Bridging the Gap Between 2D and CG'

Joe Strike looks into the art and artists behind classic and contemporary movie posters.

Thinking Animation, Bridging the Gap Between 2D and CG by Angie Jones and Jamie Oliff attacks the changing world for animators with humor and experience.

Thinking Animation, Bridging the Gap Between 2D and CG by Angie Jones and Jamie Oliff attacks the changing world for animators with humor and experience.

Thinking Animation, Bridging the Gap Between 2D and CG by Angie Jones and Jamie Oliff deals with a great deal more than animation, in either form, with humor and experience. An introduction by Richard Taylor poses the question, How does one become an animator who is adept at the latest technological advances, yet still create with the spirit and freedom of traditional hand-drawn animation? Or as the authors put it The Digital Age is here. No, seriously, put down that pencil or youre fired.

Floyd Norman, noted here as animator and story guy, does an introduction, as well as a lot of the illustrations, and tells how he was first enchanted by Bambi. Floyd was (and still is) one of the early successful crossover artists between 2D and CG. He spent a great many years at Disney and other studios, to as he says, create, for lack of a better word, magic. The authors answer for how to do that is in education, history, networking and to never stop learning. And self-discipline. You draw every day, you do your art constantly, you put in the energy, and you think about your art.

The Things They Are a Changin

They start off the book with the history part, telling of the evolution of animation. With the reminder that things are changing for the CG animator, too. Along the bottom of most of the book runs a timeline of the important events in animation, from 1824s Persistence of Vision to the newest King Kong in 2005. Printing deadlines preclude anything newer from being included, obviously. Through out the book boxes emphasize bulleted points and interesting facts. If you are a Readers Digest type, you can just read the boxes. One of their points is that studying the history of any field helps you predict the future of that industry. You need to keep up in the animation industry! Some of the illustrations (by a variety of animation artists) are very nice sensitive sketches, more are just plain funny.

Pithy quotes and some personal interjections by people in the industry are lined off and worth picking out to read. The authors talk about how visual effects influenced audience perception and how that changed animation. How the studios just didnt get it and how artists resisted the change. As Troy Saliba put it, I miss my pencil. The box office (there is a chart) made everyone realize that rather than giving up the craft 2D animators had struggled so long to perfect, all of the principles of traditional animation also applied directly to animation on a computer.

Stop Fighting

The authors get into details of the CG process; a complicated process intended to, ensure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit. They say, If you stop fighting the cold nature of the machine, you will recognize that, in time, you will learn how to drive it very easily. They talk a great deal about how to create a story for animation. What works in animation vs. what works in live action, character arcs and backstory, storyboards, animatics and previz. The inserted paragraph by Gordon Vernon telling how they came up with the idea for the Gingerbread Man in Shrek makes wonderful reading.

Then they get into post, saying, Editors are well paid for a reason. Then they tell you why and what you have to learn and pay attention to so the editors can do their job without killing you. Storyboards for television versus film is one of the subjects, where they get into the need to understand aspect ratios, camera shots, beats, and composition. And if you dont think this has a bearing on post-production, you should be in a different business.

Great Headings

The chapter on how to create characters is entitled The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Annoying. The sub heading on villains is, The Fine Art of Being a Bastard. The authors discuss what makes a memorable character and how they come from your own personal observation. You need to make the character relatable, believable. Character is the core of what we do as animators The animator needs to create a connection with the audience. Creating a character bio is one way of finding out who your character is according to the authors. The list of questions you should have your character answer runs to three pages.

When the authors get into translating your 2D drawing into CG, they admit that, 2D has a kind of freedom that is difficult to reproduce in CG. Your drawing has to be simple enough for the rigger to understand where to place the points to make him move, and the authors give you lots of hints on just what to do. Cheats are hard to do in CG, so get it right in the first place. The book talks about how the rig equals solid drawing and how you have to have a good relationship with your rigger, because you dont create the character without him or her. You confer with your rigger constantly to avoid problems.

Think It Out First

Part Two of the book gets into the thinking part. Specifically, how to approach the scene you have in front of you. They emphasize planning, and thinking it all out before you pick up the pencil. There are a lot of quotes from animators that keep saying this over and over. The authors recommend acting the scene out. This is a good chapter to read if you are just starting out, because it applies to any kind of animation. The chapter winds up with a bullets summation of things to remember.

Next comes a chapter that deals with the frustrations of moving from 2D to CG. It introduces computer animation tools and explains how to apply the traditional animators tools to CG, as well as tools the CG artists have developed. They tell you what not to do and say dont let the computer do your animation for you. The graph editor is discussed at great length, a tool that offers the same information as tradition animations timing chart does. As the authors say, It just looks like spaghetti. A lot to the quotes by the pros in this section are really practical help. As Eric Goldberg says in one of the quotes, My approach to CG is, what can I break? And then the authors say before you break anything, run it by your rigger. The limits of your rig will affect what you want to do.

The Trouble With Computers

After telling you all the things you will have trouble with on the computer, the authors proceed to tell you the advantages. How easy timing is; how the tool of waveform can help in dialogue timing. Motion blur, squash and stretch, and the moving hold can be well done. Then some advice on how to get through the approval, revision and cleanup processes are given, with some real time experiences by animators. There is a whole chapter on acting, where among other things, they talk about motion capture. Say the authors, The problem with motion capture is that it strives to look too real, and the computer is too perfect in how it records the data Cartoony animation is all based on real-like motion but it still requires the character animators touch to heighten what the computer records.

Survival, or, Pay Attention to This Chapter

There is an entire chapter on how to survive in the animation field. The authors say you have to be aware of office politics, and try to walk you through some sticky office situations. A quote by Cathlin Hidalgo-Polvani says, You just have to play well with others. The chapter discusses workflow, dailies, criticism, multiple art direction, mentoring, the director who says I dont know what I want, but I will know it when I see it, competition, and pigeon holing. And then on the more positive side, communication, problem solving, freelancing, and networking. Then back to mass production, a section called Death, Taxes and Outsourcing, scheduling and production speed. Pay attention to this chapter, there is some real help here!

The book winds up with what are more than your usual appendixes. Appendix A are short bios of what must be every one who contributed to the book, a nice touch. The bios are divided up by the area the people work in. Appendix B is a list of productions from 1994 on that impacted the change over from 2D to CG. Including their respective box office receipts. Appendix C is a listing of studios and their important films. Appendix D is five pages of cartoons and quotes that will have you laughing and wincing. Appendix E is a dictionary of general animation terms. Appendix F is a dictionary of character animation terms; Appendix G is computer animation terms. Appendix H is titled Further Reading, a bibliography. Appendix I is Javier Solsonas blog of how he made the rig for the clown used in a lot of the illustrations in the book. Other credits for the clown are in the Acknowledgments in the front of the book. Appendix J is a bibliography for the timeline. And then there is an Index. Whew!

The authors have plenty of background in the animation field, both 2D and CG. Angie Jones has worked on everything from Stuart Little 2 to Freddy vs. Jason. Her website is Jamie Oliffs credits include The Ren & Stimpy Show, Kangaroo Jack and National Treasure, to name only a few. No website was listed for him. A publishers note at the front of the book says CD-ROMs are available, but doesnt give specifics. No CD is included with the book.

Thinking Animation: Bridging the Gap Between 2D and CG by Angie Jones and Jamie Oliff. Boston, MA: Thomson Course Technology PTR, 2007. 345 pages. ISBN-13: 9778-1-59863-260-6 ($39.99).

Libby Reed started out at Walt Disney Studios in the 50s on Sleeping Beauty as a painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a color designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children, (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren.