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2DFrameByFrame 4: Animation Strategies: related posts Digital Media Physical media

2D Animation Principles

2D animation in particular is inevitably a process of abstraction. It is not possible for the human eye and brain to follow infinite details in moving images. Even in video, motion blur between frames. a process and the malleability of time is its primary material. It is not the image, drawing or shape of each frame that matters in animation, rather it is the difference between the frames that generates the illusion of movement in animation.

It is the animator’s ability to control and play with these intervals between frames that matters. It is important to think in terms of intervals, rates of change and flux, rather than thinking in terms of still images or compositions.

The Illusion of Life

Early ‘cel’ animation

  • Winsor MCKay 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur was one of the earliest animations made on film. Each drawing was redrawn on each page and captured on film and then projected at a rapid rate. McKay presented his animation as a stand-up show with live narrative. Written text is also included on some of the frames.
  • JR Bray Dachshund: introduced the background shot and discovered use of celluloid sheets for layering where only certain elements changed each time.
  • Raoul Barre: Dreams of Hercules and Crazy Cat uses write on text.
  • Willis O’Brien stop motion animation of a prehistoric world.
  • Paul Terry move the background to show movement.
  • Fleischer rotoscoping to create realistic movement Clown and ink
  • Pat Sullivan Felix the Cat

Typically, an animated feature would require over 100,000 hand-painted celluloid ‘cels’. These would be photographed one by one onto a painted background using a rostrum camera – a specialised camera used to animate still objects.

Common visual conventions include:

  • Use of lines radiating from eye to show noticing something.
  • Lines out of mouth for noise
  • Dream bubbles.
  • Use text screens and build-up text to drive the narrative. These screens move up and down to continue the feeling of movement from the animation.
  • Music of different moods and tempo
  • Whole screen moves up and down like camera shake. On old films the grit and scratches also flicker to give movement.

Depended on a huge studio of different animation departments. Men did the design and better paid jobs. A large army of low paid ‘girls’ did most of the repetitive drawing and painting that provided the profitability. This gender power imbalance led to gender stereotyping of characters and narratives and is also replicated in much of the contemporary Disney-style animation in Africa and elsewhere.

In order to reduce the amount of drawing and work required:

  • each image was constructed using multiple overlaid layers of drawings on transparent sheets of celluloid (cels).
  • images can be presented as looped cycles that are repeated and/or transformed to stagger or reverse timing to create complex animations.
Gertie the Dinosaur, Winsor McCay
1914 Produced for a Vaudeville Act it took McKay a year to draw the thousands on pictures needed for this film.
Uses cycles and loops. When Gertie raises her feet, right and left in a little shuffle dance approximately 8 minutes into the film, the same sequence of drawings were used in a loop.
Mickey Mouse; the background scenery is drawn once for use in a scene, while Mickey is re-drawn multiple times.
Here the layering is even more complex, with multiple loops for the dance of each skeleton.

Disney principles

Disney and many other animation studios are concerned with animating figures for story-telling. Disney animation is often pointed to as the ‘gold standard’ – noticeable in comments on African animations that those refer much more favourably to smooth Disney-style animation than more obviously African graphic styles.

Over time Disney developed a series of principles to train their animators to produce their distinctive cartoon style.

The 12 principles of animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson have been particularly influential in animation training courses today.

1) squash/stretch
2) anticipation and leading attention, can have multiple levels
3) Staging/exaggeration/sequencing to make things clear
4) straightahead/pose to pose drawing
5) Follow through and overlapping action
6) slow in slow out
7) arcs
8) secondary action
9) timing
10) exaggeration
11) solid drawing
12) appeal

There was also a lot of experimentation by Richard Williams with walk cycles.

Walt Stanchfield’s ‘Drawn to Life’ is much more exploratory and less dogmatic in guiding the animator through a wider range of exercises in perception and gesture drawing.

See my work in Sketchlog 3: Illusion of Life.

12 Principles of animation: detail

Frames of Movement

Experiments in visual music

“What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame”

Norman McLaren, (1914 – 1987), Scottish Canadian animator, director and producer known for his work for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

In parallel to developments in US from the 1930s animators like Norman McLaren  at Canadian Board of Film were experimenting with other areas of animation and filmmaking, particularly the relationship between space and time in perceptions of movement.

Their experiments included more abstract hand-drawn animation, drawn-on-film animation, visual music, abstract film, pixilation and graphical sound that have become very influential in contemporary digital animation. They are particularly relevant in discussions of frame rates and ergonomics, animation of objects and motion graphics used as complement to figure animation.

Time, Space and Flow

It is most common in animation to draw on twos, this is both because drawing on ones is double the amount of work and because working with twos lends a smoother appearance to slower actions, avoiding unnecessary jitter that can accompany shooting on ones. It is generally thought that working on twos adds a particular liveliness to a fast action rather than working on ones, which can make an action appear more leaden.

Howard Wimshurst tutorial Adobe Animate. Focus on end and extreme poses first, get these right and flowing. Then in-betweens. 24FPS on 2s, or 1s and 3s, or even 3s and 4s.
Howard Wimshurst tutorial Adobe Animate. If two characters are interacting then draw them at the same time going back and forth, but on different layers, so the interactions can be fully developed together. Make figures move and swing. Add motion blur lines. Bring in energy streaks like Ross Tran. Do streaks on ones, character on 2s and 3s, with redrawn resting poses that ‘breathe’. Can add lightning flash with reversed colours.

Contemporary 2D principles

Most, but by no means all, contemporary independent animation uses digital software. A wide range of approaches and styles can be produced. This can use frame by frame digital drawings that follow the same principles as traditional animation. It can also use vector drawings for tweened animation and Inverse Kinematic skeleton rigs that can be manipulated like puppets. The main professional software is ToonBoom Studio, TVPaint and Adobe Animate. With free software like Flika and tablet software.

Mark Baker
Pencilmation using Adobe Animate

From art and graphic design

Lines of Communication

Much of the power of animation comes from the drawing style and how far the type of line supports the emotional and narrative content.

Clean outlines lines for manipulation of rigged characters have become the norm. They are easier to read, clearly separating characters from backgrounds and are easier and faster to replicate as part of animation studio production lines.

Hand-drawn lines in natural media, or digital lines that attempt to replicate natural media, convey emotion and feeling.

to recall the reality within the drawing rather than thinking the drawings themselves are real

Isao Takahata

There are many different line styles that can be used expressively: thick lines, thin lines, variable width lines. Choices to be made about the colour of lines and how far they affect colours of shapes. Different types of line can be used for different characters. Or can change with a character’s emotions.

It is also possible to omit lines all together to give greater freedom with palettes. But this requires attention to tonal contrast and negative space so that figures continue to be readable against backgrounds.

Joao Solemo
Joao Solemo

Experimentation with different types of line. Japanese. Scratchy line

Lines on the ‘boil’

In traditional animation when an object, character or scene is at rest it is not still or motionless, it ‘boils’. Boiling is the term used to describe an animated effect in which the outlines or surface of an otherwise still character or object are made to wiggle or quiver in drawn animation. This is achieved by the looping together of several tracings of the same image (usually between 3 to 8 drawings). Boiling movement is used to sustain the illusion of movement in the animation overall and provide the impression of life or liveliness.

Questions about boil

  • What ‘boil’ technique is used? Why do the lines move and what elements, if any are allowed to be still?
  • Does the pace of the boil emanate throughout?
  • What emotional or narrative purpose does the use of boiling serve? Does it make for a more lifelike effect or is the boil deployed humorously?

‘Boil’ is the term used to describe an animated effect in which the outlines or surface of an otherwise still character or object are made to wiggle or quiver in drawn animation. Even when an object, character or scene is at rest it is not still or motionless, it ‘boils’.This is often achieved by the looping together of several tracings of the same image (usually between 3 to 8 drawings). Boiling movement – in combination with unlooped variation in drawings as figures move – is used to sustain the illusion of movement in the animation overall and provide the impression of life or liveliness.

In traditional animation (like Winsor McKay’s Gertie below) boiling is almost inevitable because of the nature of the analogue drawing and/or filming process. In old film there has been some degradation in the film chemicals that make us aware that this is an ‘old’ film, evoking a sense of nostalgia. In drawings there are always variations in thickness, tone and colour of drawn lines and colouring in some media. These variations can be emphasised or exaggerated eg in the textboards and specific parts of the dinosaur drawings below to direct the eye.

In contemporary animation like Peter Millard and John Hodgson where technology gives greater control over production and editing there is often very conscious use of boil to direct the eye in ways that reinforce the narrative, and for emotional effect. Sometimes this is ‘boil’ in the sense if looped animation, other times it is variation in drawings as frames are drawn and/or painted. It is often quite difficult to separate the effects of the two or make out what is due to drawing, and what is achieved through processing with filters in digital software. Often there is a combination of all three types of flickering in an animation.

The eye would be drawn to very still objects if everything else is moving. So in Millard even the blank background at the beginning boils to maintain interest and give a sense of anticipation. Probably the only true looped boil. The apparent boiling in the thin pencil drawing of the face is probably not always looped. But the effect of the continuous small variations as it moves across the screen makes us try to constantly see and interpret emotions in every slight variation in shape and size of outline, eyes and mouth. But as there are several sources of movement happening we cant quite grasp it, emphasising the feeling of powerlessness and transcience in the title.

In ‘Dogs’ Hodgson varies the type and extent of boil significantly in his expressive drawing to create feelings of nervous anticipation, energy or chaotic movement and lack of control. But for moving objects central to the narrative, boiling in outlines is reduced with more subtle variations in colour shading and crosshatching to create atmosphere without detracting from our understanding nuances of narrative and expression.

Questions about boil:

  • What ‘boil’ technique is used? Why do the lines move and what elements, if any are allowed to be still?
  • Does the pace of the boil emanate throughout?
  • What emotional or narrative purpose does the use of boiling serve? Does it make for a more lifelike effect or is the boil deployed humorously?
Peter Millard, Since the Better (2015)
Peter Millard, Since the Better (2015) This animation starts with a blank screen that shimmers with slight variations in white/cream while a shrill cild/female/robot/alien? distorted voice sings a vaguely familiar melody. This creates tension and anticipation waiting for something to happen. Then the voice suddenly changes to the more familiar deep male opera voice as the childlike simple pencil drawing of a man’s face moves slowly at the same speed and horizontal position across the screen. This drawing ‘boils’ with slight apparently random changes in the drawing as a whole – size and shape of the face circle, eyes and pupils and length of the line of the mouth. This creates a real poignancy of sameness, thinness of the line and blank expression in contrast to the heavy emotion of the ‘we will overcome’ vincera aria that also references the masculinity and tribalism of football matches as well as the operatic strength itself. The title ‘since the better’ then adds a layer of loss and past ‘glory’.
Jonathan Hodgson, Dogs (1981): In this animation all elements are on the same layer and constantly in motion but at different paces of boil. The drawings seem to pulsate with the anticipatory and upbeat music. There is a constant shimmering/flickering of expressive crayon lines based on variations of the thickness, tone and colour of the drawn lines and crosshatched shading. Occasionally the figures are quite and the lines quiet. Other times the figures are still but the lines vibrate energetically to show anticipation. Sometimes the figures move and there is less pulsation on the lines to throw attention on the narrative. Sometimes cthe colour shapes pulsate and shift more than the lines, sometimes figures, shapes and lines all move energetically and dissolve into chaos.

Shape and effects???