Sunday, March 09, 2008

Approaches to Timing in Animation

There are many ways to approach animation and the timing of movements. There are many approaches other than fluid ultra-realistic motion. Many animators feel that the strength and the beauty of animation is in its interpretation and caricature of the real world and not in trying to directly mimic or duplicate reality. I suppose it is a similar argument to that of the world of painting. Most painters feel that photo realistic work is not as pleasing as work that contains more emotional aspects. After all, that’s the province of photography to capture reality, a painting should expose more of an interpretation rather than just to act as a mirror. And so it is with animation that the animator should bring to the art more than just an attempt to replace live action, except in the case of certain forms of CGI that are intended to be seamlessly integrated as a part of a live action production.

Rhythm in movement is usually not natural or realistic and yet in animation rhythm is so desirable. Sometimes to achieve rhythm the sequence needs to be a jerkier and almost spastic motion with downward antics and upward thrusts. Sometimes you want a tick-tock way of moving which helps point up the rhythm of the scene and is needed to sell the gag. Other times you may choose to focus on extreme poses and facial expressions. You also might prefer a style which emphasizes characters constantly in motion, and able to change shape on a moment's notice using "smear" animation to get characters from one pose to another very quickly. The point being that cartoon animation isn’t just one style and there are many ways to animate. The important thing is to interpret, to exaggerate, to distort, and to caricature movement so as to being something more to your animation than just a direct copy of the photo-real world.

Some people seem to think that animation means moving all the time. Animation can use holds and still be animation. Holds are an important part of timing.

Perhaps the most essential parts of animation are drawing and timing. A single well done drawing, the pose, can convey attitude and emotion; where as the timing of a sequence of drawings will give you weight and speed. Characteristics can be conveyed by either the poses or the timing or both. A single great character pose drawing can be very expressive.

Timing involves two things:
1. How fast something moves.
2. How long it doesn't move. (The holds)

The shortest amount of screen time for a hold (or moving hold) to register is 6 frames. 12 frames is enough time to read a facial expression, but 16 frames are better if you can afford the screen time. 24 Frames is probably too long. (These are screen times based on the standard 24 fps frame rate)

Lots of animators use the moving hold technique to make a pose “read” but still give it life. The character can be held with one or two moving bits; eyes, ears, whiskers, hair or some sort of secondary foot or hand movement. Or, a moving hold can be achieved by a really slow cushion into a pose for the equivalent duration of a static hold. Chuck Jones was a master of the subtle moving hold where a character like Wyle Coyote would slowly stop and turn toward the audience and make a slight shifting of his eyes as if to say “do you really believe this is happening to me”. Remember, from an earlier article, that an animation cushion is a term relating to the easing into or out of a pose. By its very nature the spacing between drawings gets closer and closer as your cushion into the hold is created. When animating, it’s desirable to use broadly spaced inbetweens and then cushion into a hold of a strong key pose rather than going past the key pose and coming back.

When animating an important principle to keep in mind is the principle of contrasts. Contrasts exist everywhere in nature and they should be prominent in your art as well. There are contrasting speeds, fast, slow, stationary. There are contrasting colors. There are contrasting shapes, and contrasting characters both in appearance and personality. And there are even contrasting scenes and camera angles. Contrasts are what make things more interesting. So look for opportunities to apply the principle of contrasts continuously as you work and certainly your approaches to the timing of motions is a great place to start.


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