3: Lines Talking In Process Workflow experiments

Animation approaches techniques and process

Animation is a process and the malleability of time is its primary material.

‘Time is what prevents everything from being present all at once’ Henri Bergson. The animator seeks to control at what pace, rhythm and direction things appear.

“What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame” Norman McLaren, Computer Animation
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.

Key Resources
  • You Tube
  • OCA Moving Image 1: Animation
  • Howard Wimshurst YouTube channel and tutored courses on Animator Guild
  • Proko – A channel which specializes in teaching observational figure drawing.
  • FilmMaker IQ – So much of Animation is linked to Film Making. This channel is a fantastic resource for film makers of all kinds.
  • Striving for animation – for those who are specifically focused at working in the Japanese Anime industry, this channel gives excellent advice and training.


  • Animator’s survival kit – Widely considered to be the cornerstone book for animators
  • The Illusion of Life – This covers the principles of animation in a lot of depth as well as being a valuable insight into classic Disney-style animation and drawing.
  • Drawn to Life – Another good book for learning animation and drawing
  •  Framed Ink – A fantastic book on dynamic composition
  • Framed Perspective – A lot of people get hung up on perspective. If you are one of them, this book explains it very well and gets pretty advanced in book 2.
  •  Force: Dynamic life drawing for animators – This book helps you to understand gesture – getting energy into your drawings!
  • Directing the Story – Highly recommended. Explains very simply how to tell a story with drawings – it shows you that you don’t need to have mad drawing skills to be able to convey a compelling story.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – For breaking bad drawing habits and learning to draw what you see.
  • Atlas of the Human Anatomy – contains good pictures and diagrams if you want a deep dive into anatomy and proportions.
  • Color and Light – an inspiring book which teaches all about colour and lighting for artists.

Types of animation

Early 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

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.

Traditional Cel animation: to reduce the amount of drawing required each image was constructed using multiple overlaid layers of drawings on transparent sheets of celluloid (cels). In this way, the background scenery for say, Mickey Mouse could be drawn once for use in a scene, while Mickey would be re-drawn multiple times. Typically, an animated feature would require over 100,000 hand-painted cels. These would be photographed one by one onto a painted background using a rostrum camera – a specialised camera used to animate still objects.

Contemporary animation

There are two main forms of animated movement: manipulation and replacement. These can be used in a number of different ways.

  1. Traditional cell animation. Frame by frame flip book. Requires very good drawing skills.
  2. 2D vector-based animation eg Flash. Can create rigs for tweened animation.
  3. 3-D computer animation or CGI . This can by hyperrealistic or output in various illustration styles.
  4. Motion graphics moving elements in space
  5. Stop motion frame by frame capture of moving elements using eg Claymation, Cut- outs, Silhouettes, Lego.
  6. Rotoscoping drawing on and manipulating video or photo sequences.
  7. Scratch video

Many of these types can now be simulated using Aps on tablet, smart phones and iPad as well as computer software. The different types can also be combined in different ways. See posts:

Animation techniques


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?
Frame rate

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.

Cycle, loops and layers

Cycles can loop, oscillate, or even appear to be stationary. The use of cycles is often motivated by economy because it saves on drawing time. But the type of cycle that you use also make up the meaning of your film.

Looped cycles are most commonly employed on particular layers within a frame. Sergei Eisenstein described this layered looping within a frame as ‘vertical montage’:
“The simultaneous movement of a number of motifs advances through a succession of sequences, each motif having its own rate of compositional progressions, while being at the same time inseparable from the overall compositional progression as a whole” Sergei Eisenstein, Eisenstein Volume 2: Towards a Theory of Montage (London: BFI Publishing, 1991)

  • ‘Dumbland’ (2000), David Lynch purposely used cycles of animation to represent the breakdown of social structures depicted in his film.
  • Francis Alÿs, Jordan Wolfson and Owen Land work extensively using loops to communicate meaning.
  • Katie Dove’s Luna, 2013
Eye trace

All animation is an exercise in applying the principle of ‘eye trace’. This is a principle of film- making in general but one that is essential for the illusion of animated movement to work. ‘In The Blink of an Eye’ by Walter Murch, (1995) sets out the principle that the viewer’s eyes will focus on a particular position on the screen and editors exploit this to allow less jarring edit when one shot follows another by ensuring that the action or image is located in the same part of the screen.This is also known as ‘registration’ in animation. A keen awareness of eye-trace allows the animator to play with the audience’s expectations and surprise them. The registration protocol was developed for hand-drawn animation to ensure that each subsequent drawing uses the same co-ordinates so that the illusion of movement between frames is not interrupted. In other animation the registration is looser and is intended as such to draw attention to the variation that ‘eye trace’ allows.

Do more research on using photographs

Technical note: resize and don’t overload software, particularly on iPad.

Animation Steps and Principles

Animation Steps
12 cel animation principles

from Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson:
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


Norman McClaren

Smooth versus flow

Difference between fluid animation and smooth animation:

  • Smooth is about the frame rate – how many new frames occur per second of animation.
  • Flow is about the gesture of the drawings, the arcs, the drag and follow through of a movement.

To get smooth animation, you just need to draw plenty of in-betweens until all of your animation is on 1s
Flow is more complex to get right than smooth.

Stick animation

See also Ross Bollinger: pencilmation

Howard Wimshurst

Animator Guild: