In this chapter we present the twelve basic principles of physical animation based on their descriptions in the book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.
As we already mentioned, this knowledge was developed by generations of great animators, using their experiences and input from other arts. These principles are a real treasure that has influenced all major works ever since and became the answer to Walt Disney's wish: realistic and entertaining animations that could capture audiences with the "illusion of life".
Even so, avoid seeing them as rules that should naively be followed, broken or ignored based on one's attitude towards standards in general. That would be a very limiting view.
Try rather to understand each one as an inspiring theme to be explored, discussed and experimented with. That alone might already expand your ability to appreciate and create stills and animations. They are also powerful keys for analysing character movement in any available animation, breaking it down and further comprehending what is good, bad or surprising about it. Having this vision is a small bliss, cartoons will never be the same again.
Relevance to 3D
Although the emphasis in our reference book is on traditional animation, these principles are independent from the medium. With at most very minor and obvious adjustments, they can be applied to any type of animation:
Also known as cel or hand-drawn animation, without a doubt the most used form for tv and cinema during the last century. It is still very popular, specially with the help of computers for later stages of production, but is naturally losing ground to them.
- Stop Motion
Set of techniques where still objects are posed and photographed frame by frame. The best known example is clay animation ("claymation").
Simple robotic machines capable of executing prerecorded moves and sounds. Originally developed in the 1960's by the Walt Disney Imagineering company for Disney theme parks and movies.
Greatly simplifying the whole process of assembling an animation, computers have indeed revolutionized the field. First by making the final production stages -- compositing, editing, sound synchronization -- much easier (in comparison to the old traditional methods, of course) and bringing a plethora of other tricks and effects. And finally by making it affordable and feasible even for amateurs to realize their visions using one of the many forms available:
- 2D - image manipulation, pixel graphics, vector graphics.
- 3D - keyframed, procedural, simulated, motion captured.
Naturally, our focus is on 3D computer animation with Blender. This is emphasized in our treatment of the topics.
And with this last remark we are ready to explore the twelve basic principles of animation throughout the following sections.
The 12 Basic Principles of Physical Animation
Considered the most important principle, it's about achieving the illusion of weight and flexibility with characters and, in general, any pliable material. Well executed, it brings liveliness to your animations. There are many functionalities that can be used for this purpose, from simple object transformations to mesh deformation and proper armature posing while animating.
Anticipations are short actions performed right before main ones, like crouching a little before jumping or swinging your leg back before kicking a ball. There are two main reasons to use them: a) to catch the audience's attention for the main action that is to come and b) to mimic reality, since anticipating is, e. g., how a body prepares (builds momentum) to execute a demanding action.
Right from Theatre and Cinema, Staging deals with communicating clear and effectively to your audience the ideas in your animation: each gesture, pose, attitude, feeling, etc. The audience needs a clear view of the actions and also needs to be told and hinted about what is going on and what is about to happen (unless when you're preparing a surprise, naturally). Staging involves multiple areas: posing, cameras, lighting, scenery.
We learn the principles of animation and master the software at our disposal. Then we finally get all resources we need (script, 3d models, sounds) ready at our hands. Now... how do we actually animate? This principle is about two animation methods, two ways of approaching and working through a scene. Straight Ahead Action favors spontaneity and creative freedom as you go. Pose to Pose is about careful planning and working in layers. Animators can mix the two methods to have the best of both worlds.
When characters come to a stop or start moving or even change direction, not all their body parts and appendages do it at the same time. Some will continue moving or lag behind for a short while. Accounting for this is vital to produce belieavable, lively animations.
The more frames a given action takes, the slower it is -- and vice-versa: the less frames, the faster it seems to happen onscreen. Decelarating into a main pose (an extreme) or accelaration out of it, if well done (and even skipped sometimes), brings frequent variations in pace that make the movements look more interesting and realistic.
Most movements follow arced or roughly circular paths, mechanical devices being the main exceptions. Thus, motion in arced trajectories is necessary for natural, life-like animation.
There are main actions: walking, talking, jumping, etc. and secondary ones, that complement, enrich or reinforce the main action. Examples: tilting and turning the head and gesturing while speaking; swinging arms while walking. True secondary actions should add to the overall impression, not steal attention from the main one.
Timing is everywhere in animation, from the technical details of keyframing to the reproduction of real movement to the heart of good acting and storytelling. Timing is everything.
Exaggerating works well in animations, in fact better than if we try to mimic reality 100% -- a little exaggeration makes things more lively. Different artists have different views on how we should exaggerate. For Disney's classical animation it should be extreme, but rather an appealing caricature of reality. Other approaches include superpowers, acid humor, social criticism and so on as main driving force.
The principles of drawing and design will always be important to animation, even with advanced 3D computer graphics. Knowing them can dramatically improve one's ability to create good, strong poses and compose them with well crafted environments.
Animated characters must appeal to the audience. They don't need to be lovely, cute and nice, but they must be interesting, somehow attractive. This is achieved with good overall design: the way they look, move, feel and think. At the very least, a character can be anything but ignored.
The Illusion of Motion
What makes a sequence of images projected at a given speed give us the illusion that things are moving?
The widespread explanation among live and animated film professionals is "persistence of vision", but scientific researches go against it, in favor of something called short-range apparent motion.
For more: persistence of vision (check links at the end for counter arguments).
Summer of documentation 2006 -- Willian 02:06, 29 June 2006 (CEST)