Different Techniques of Animation
The principal animation techniques are:
-Traditional animation, also known as Cel or hand-drawn animation.
-Full animation, including Limited animation, Rotoscoping and Live Action animation.
-Stop Motion, including Puppet, Clay, Cutout, Silhouette, Model, Graphic and Object animation, Puppetoon, Go Motion and Pixilation.
-2D animation, including Analog, Flash and Powerpoint.
-3D animation, including Photo Realisticm and Cel-Shaded animation, and Motion Capture.
-Drawn on Film, Paint on Glass, Sand and Pinscreen animation, and Flip Book.
-Character and Special Effects animation.
Traditional animation or cel animation or hand-drawn animation is the process of piecing together individual frames which are drawn on paper. Each drawing is slightly different than the previous one (made by way of tracing part of the drawing). This form of animation is not only the oldest, but also the most popular, although a large propotion of the ‘hand drawing’ aspects are now completed on a computer. Productions using traditional animation techniques usually follow a process:
1. Storyboard – a sort of script including images, given to the animators who plan and compose the plot and imagery. A storyboard may be re-done several times before it is finally approved.
2. Voice recording – an initial soundtrack, or ‘scratch track’ is recorded and the animators synchronise their work to the soundtrack. The soundtrack includes the basic sound effects, dialogue, vocal songs and preliminary musical score. The final touches are usually added in post-production.
3. Animatic – or story reel which is made after the soundtrack has been done, but before the animation starts. It consists of pictures from the synchronised storyboard, which can be amended, and allows for timings to be worked out. Editing at this stage prevents the possibility of animating parts of the film that would later be cut out of the film. Advertising agencies use Animatic to test their commercials prior to full production. Video storyboards have moving pieces, and Photomatics are another option but cost more.
4. Design and timing – designers prepare ‘model sheets’ that show how characters and props will look from different angles, from the animatic and storyboard. The background stylists work on the settings and locations, art directors and colour stylists work on the colour schemes. The timing director works with the animatic to work out poses, drawings, lip movements, etc will be needed and creates an ‘exposure sheet’, which is a table that breaks down all the elements frame-by-frame. If there is a lot of music, the timing director may also create a bar sheet.
5. Layout – once the designs have been completed and approved, camera angles and paths, lighting and shading, and background layouts are drawn for each character. These, along with the storyboard and audio, are spliced together to create the final animatic.
6. Animation – once the animatic has been approved, the animation starts.
The lead animator draws the key parts of a scene, a frame at a time, using the character layouts, and these drawings have to be synchronised with the soundtrack to avoid any difference between sound and visual. The lead animator will also produce a ‘pencil test’ of the scene, i.e a preliminary version of the final scene, which are then linked with the soundtrack to make sure it all works together. It is then passed to the assistant animators who add all the details and any minor missing frames. Most of the time, animators will have to re-do scenes several times before the director is happy with them.
Once the animation has been approved by the director, it moves over to the ‘clean-up’ department who take the drawings, trace them (including all the details of all the animators), add any missing details or frames (known as ‘tweening’), and then these are pencil-tested and ‘sweatboxed’ (or reviewed) until approved. At each stage of pencil animation, when it has been approved, it is spliced into a Leica reel.
Pencil tests and layouts are predominantly done using video cameras and computers nowadays. There are four main elements: Digital Pencil Test, Digital Layout, Digital Storyboard and Backgrounds. Because of the widespread use of computers, the traditional forms of animation are being used less and less, and although you need skill to create computer generated images, the art of traditional animation is dying.
However, because of computers and animation software, the scope of animation has become much more widespread. It has reduced the time it takes to produce an animated film, programme or cartoon and has greatly enhanced the special effects that films can now create.
Full animation is the process of producing high-quality traditionally animated films, which regularly use detailed drawings and realistic movement.
Disney hired animator-director, Mike Jittlov, to experiment with stop motion using Mickey Mouse toys. To commemorate Mickey Mouse’s 50th anniversary in1978, they produced a short sequence as part of a TV programme called Mouse Mania using stop motion. Mike Jittlov went on to produce some very good multi-technique stop motion work for Disney, and also produced a number of short animated films. A well-known British animation team – John Hardwick and Bob Bura – were the principal animators in many TV shows and the Trumptonshire trilogy.
Eliot Noyes Jr., an independent clay animator in the 60s and 70s, was Oscar-nominated for his ‘free form’ clay animated film Clay or the Origin of Species, as well as for He Man and She Ra in 1972. He also used stop motion in his film Sandman to animate the laying of sand onto glass.
Go motion is a type of model animation which uses techniques to create motion blur between frames of film, (not shown in traditional stop-motion). The technique was invented by Industrial Light & Magic for the movie The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
A computer is programmed to move parts of a model during each frame and, combined with hand manipulation, produces a realistic motion effect. A manual version of Go motion was pioneered in the silent film era by Wladyslaw Starewicz, and was used in his film The Tale of the Fox.
Since the introduction of computer generated imagery (CGI), stop motion has become almost obsolete, but not quite due to the fact that it is a less costly option, and that it has a ‘unique’ look on film. There are still some directors, such as Tim Burton, that believe that CGI cannot produce the real textures and feel created by stop motion techniques.
Most recently, there has been a surge on the internet (YouTube, Google Video) of clay animation. Although simple in design, i.e. ‘free form’, they are very effective and portrayed predominantly in either as a comical character or in crime/violence scenes. But clay animation and stop motion has also been used in online music videos, such as Oren Lavie’s Her Morning Elegance.
Stop motion has been used in computer games, creating characters and animals using clay and latex rubber over wire frames. These were then shot one frame at a time and incorporated into the game via digital photography.
Stop motion is also used in astronomy to observe diurnal motion. For example, the photographing of the solar analemma takes over a year, and the camera needs to remain motionless for that time but take pictures at the same time every few days.
Since computer generated imagery was developed in the 1990s, making animation more realistic, controlled and faster, it has also brought about an added dimension, that of 3D, or 3-dimensional, and not just in the film industry. 3D animation is also extensively used in the gaming industry, such as video games, computer games and hand control games, as well as for simulators, particularly flight simulators, so that in training what the pilot sees outside the cockpit is as realistic as it can possibly be.
3D combines models and programmed, or ‘key-framed’ movements. The models are made geometrical lines, edges and faces – similar to that of clay modelling – using the computer softwares extensive range of sculpting tools. The model, or virtual marionette, is allocated handles or and controllers which are then manipulated to create the illusion of movement, i.e. walking. This process is known as ‘rigging’ and some 3D models can contain thousands of different control points, i.e. Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia had approximately 1,851 controllers.
Drawn On Film
Over the years, so many different variations of animation techniques have been pioneered by independent animators, film studios and artists. The technique of Drawn-On-Film animation is creating the images directly onto film stock, while Paint-On-Glass animation is manipulates slow drying oil paints on sheets of glass. Using traditional 2D, Erasure animation is where an image is photographed over a period of time as the artists manipulates the image.
Pinscreen animation is a screen of movable pins, either in or out, by pressing an object onto the screen. The pins cast shadows as the screen is lit from either left or right, and creates the sort of textural effects that you wouldn’t be able to achieve with cel animation. Sand animation is where you have a backlit or front lit piece of glass for each frame, on which sand is moved around, to create a contrast of light effect.
The technique was originally developed by Alexandre Alexeieff and his wife, Claire Parker. Their first pinscreen had 240,000 pins which were pressed one at a time, thereby creating a frame at a time, each one slightly different to the one before. As each frame was created, it was photographed and the photos were then put together to create an image without any gaps. This technique is time consuming, expensive and can be difficult to do, hence its unpopularity.
However, in more recent times, computer programs have been developed so that you can create the frames digitally. The images can also be stored, retrieved and altered without having to re-create that particular frame.
As well as animating objects, characters and backgrounds, there are other elements to creating an effect on film or in theatre, i.e. changing the visual appearance. These are known as Special Effects. Before the wide use of computers, special effects were produced by hand using a range of techniques. Animators used drybrush, airbrush, charcoal, grease pencil and backlit animation, but these special effects could also be produced during filming by the camerman using different exposures, filters, gels and diffusers. The use of computers today gives animators and directors far more scope in the quality and type of special effects that can be created, as well as accelerating the gaming industry.
Animatronics is the use of electronics and robotics in mechanized puppets to simulate life.
12 Principles of Animation
During the 1930s, animators at Walt Disney Studios (including Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas) developed a set of principles for producing animated objects, characters, backgrounds, etc. Based on their experiences and accumulated knowledge, these became known as the 12 Principles of Animation which have since been adopted and used as a general guideline since then. Despite the rise of computer generated imagery, the principles laid down in respect of traditional animation are still relevant today.
The 12 principles are:
1. Squash and stretch.
4. Straight ahead and pose-to-pose animation.
5. Follow through and overlapping action.
6. Slow-out and slow-in.
8. Secondary action.
11. Solid drawing.
Squash and Stretch
Squash and Stretch is probably the most important principle and is to give the character an illusion of weight and volume as it moves. It is also used to create facial expressions as well as animating dialogue. Depending on how extreme the effect you want to create, using squash and stretch the character can take on an almost comical appearance. This technique is used in all types of character animation, from a person walking or running, to a ball bouncing or being thrown.
Anticipation is a technique used to create the scene for the audience, capture their attention, before a character performs an action, i.e. before it jumps or runs or an expression changes. Usually a backward motion happens, and then the action occurs. This is probably more effective to see in comical characters.
So that the audience can clearly see the pose, action or communication of a character on screen, i.e. attitude, mood, emotion, the director will use long and close-up shots or camera angles to show this and direct the audience to that particular action. This is known as Staging. However, the director must make sure that the background effects or animation do not overshadow the action of the character.
Straight Ahead and pose to pose animation
Straight Ahead animation is worked on from the start, from the first drawings and through to the final approved version, but using this technique can mean that you may lose the visual proportions, volume or size. Fast actions scenes are usually completed using straight ahead animation. Pose-to-Pose is much more planned and drawings are done at certain points during the scene. It is much easier to control proportions as well as the action. A lot of scenes will use both of these techniques, and are usually completed by the lead animator.
Follow through and overlapping action
When see on a computer screen or on drawings completed by hand, as the main part of a character stops, the other details of the character then catch up, such as the hair, clothing, tail or ears, and this is known as Follow Through. However, when the character goes in a different direction but his clothes or hair continue in the other direction, this is known as Overlapping Action. If you then decide that the clothes or hair will follow the character in the new direction a couple of frames later, this is known as ‘Drag’. To use these techniques, timing is everything.
Slow out and slow in
The fewer the drawings, the faster the action; the greater the drawings, the slower the action. So you could have more drawings at the start and end of a pose, with only a couple in the middle, which softens the action and creating a more life-like image. This is known as Slow-In and Slow-Out. To show surprise or shock (a ‘gag’ action), some the slow-in or slow-out actions will be taken out.
The majority of actions follow a circular path, or an Arc, particularly human and animal figures. The Arc gives the action more fluency, flow and are more natural visually.
To be able to add another dimension to characters or to back-up a main action, i.e. making a walk aggressive, or to add dialogue, or to swing the arms to and fro, is known as Secondary Action. These actions are supporting or emphasise the main action so must not distract the audience from the main action.
As mentioned above, Timing is essential and is only truly learnt with experience and experiment. Varying the timing throughout the production adds texture and keeps the audience interested, but is also important in creating a character’s mood or reaction or emotion.
To avoid stiff or mechanical looking action, and particularly in making facial expressions appear as natural as possible, Exaggeration is used, but avoid too much as you don’t want the character to look cartoonish, except in cartoons! Exaggeration is an effect useful for animation, as perfect imitation of reality can look static and dull in cartoons.
Solid Drawing is utilising the basic principles of drawing weight, volume, solidity and the illusion of 3D. Drawing is classical, using pencil sketches, which are then transformed into colour and movement. Illusion is three- and four-dimensional – movement in space is three-dimensional, movement in time is four-dimensional.
Animated characters need to be appealing, from cute and cuddly, cruel and villainous, to comical and heroic, something that will capture the audience’s attention and particularly with the lead character or characters. It is developing the character and the storyline together, creating continuity, reality, believable and likeable.