For People Crazy About 2D Animation!

Acme Punched! is for people crazy about 2D animation. It may be enjoyed by beginners and others, but it is aimed at animators who know already something about the process of animation and the basics of character animation. In large part, it will attempt to provide a deep look into the problem solving that goes on in my head as I work out a scene, often in step-by-step posts that I will sometimes enter in "real time", without knowing in advance what the outcome will be. Mistakes and false starts will not only be included but emphasized, so that the creative process of animation will be portrayed realistically. And, while my own bias is for 2D drawn animation, many of the effects and principles discussed here can apply to CGI 3D animation as well. I hope the blog will prove useful and instructive for all.

-Jim Bradrick

Saturday, June 21, 2014

No. 68, The Animator's Thought Process

What I try to do here in this blog, in part, is to set down some of the thinking and decisions that an animator makes which are not usually recorded at all.

These consist of the more fleeting and detailed things that pass through an animator's mind as she or he works.  Ask an animator a year after a scene is animated about that animation and what he was thinking when he did it, and it is likely that he will not be able to say.  It might be possible to say, "Oh, that walk cycle--well, it has a nice rhythm, don't you think?" But the steps of planning, of paths considered and discarded, of things tried that did not work because they were too subtle or too over-the-top for the problem at hand--these things are most likely forgotten unless noted down or  unless committed to long-term memory by a discussion or some other event that forces the thinking to be articulated or recorded.

Thoughts of an animator.

But my belief is that these thoughts can be useful,  just as seeing the crumpled false starts from the waste basket or dustbin of a writer or illustrator can be useful, because they show to the aspiring animator that the path to a satisfying result is often not straight and smooth; that it is okay not to get it right the first time, and that a hard working and self-critical method of procedure can lead to success just as surely as the inspired stroke of genius of some Michelangelo of animation who seems to always get it right the first tiime.  If there really is such a thing.  Milt Kahl may have been a genius animator, but it is known that he would shut himself in his office alone for days or weeks at a time as he worked out his scenes.  It is fair to assume that he was testing and discardiing, homing in on his solutions more or less as the rest of us do.

And so the message of my step-by-step blog posts is: if something you animate is not working right, it can probably be fixed, and here are some of the many ways that can be used  1)to figure out what is wrong, and 2) to fix it so that it is working right.  Moreover, having established these critical habits in yourself, you may find that you do get to the right solution more directly and quickly in the future.

Let's hope so.  As for myself, I feel that I am still learning more every day and improving as an animator.

How about you?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No. 67, More About Animating 4-legged Animals

Four-footed Movement

It is worth pausing here to talk a little about animating animal legs.  You might suppose that if you've seen one four-legged critter moving, you've seen them all, but this is far from true. Once I assigned the animation of a little cartoon goat to one of my animators on a children's game.  She did a perfectly acceptable job on it and I approved it, but a week later I happened to see a goat walking and was struck by how the goat appeared to be walking tip-toe, like a woman wearing 5-inch heels and having to bend her knees slightly.  That's how they walk! It would have been a charming touch to have included in the scene.

In my last post I mentioned a book, Dog Lomotion and Gait Analysis, by Curtis Brown (Hoflin Publishing) that is a favorite reference for this kind of thing.

Dog Locomtion and Gait Analysis, by Curtis Brown

If you are interested, I find that this book is still available.  I also see that there are now some others on the same subject, but I cannot speak about them.

Even within a single species, not all animals move alike.  That is especially true of dogs, which have been bred to take so many different forms and proportions. Tall dogs, for example, tend to use the pace (moving both right legs forward together, then both left legs) instead of the trot (a front leg moves forward with the opposite rear leg).  Terriers will never move like greyhounds, even walking and standing.  The book goes into all this and more in great detail--in fact, probably in more detail than one would ever need.  But if I were animating a Lady and the Tramp or a 101 Dalmations today, I would certainly want this book at my desk.

A typical double-page spread from the book.
 I discovered Dog Lomotion by chance, and I have had my copy for many years.  In fact I wrote a review of it for Animation World Network back in 2000. Here is the link if you would like to read that review.

Of course now there is a wealth of movement reference of animals on the internet, most of it free as in YouTube, and I recommend that you take advantage of it whenever your assignments call for some realism in animal movement.

Elegant Anatomy

Let me draw your attention to one particular detail of four-legged anatomy that I think is common to all digitigrade mammals: the pastern.  Digitigrade means walking on the toes, as distinct from plantigrade, which means walking on the flat of the foot. (Bears and humans are plantigrade animals.) Most notably,  horses and dogs and cats have the pastern, as do all their close relatives.  It is a flexible joint in both front and rear feet that allows great energy to be suddenly released in running, and visually it is an animator's delight.

In the drawing above, from left to right, you can see the changes in the pastern joint of the front leg of a dog.  First it is compressed as it bears the full weight of the animal and propels him forward; when it is released and carried ahead it makes a sudden and beautiful flip, dragging the foot behind it; then as the whole leg is brought forward the foot drops down from the pastern, ready to make contact with the ground; and finally, pressure on the foot reverses the angle of the pastern once again.

Of course this all happens very quickly as the animal moves, but to include this action in the animation of dogs or other animals always adds a snappy elegance to their movement, and it is a prime example in nature of what the great animator Art Babbitt called "successive breaking of joints." You can exaggerate it; you can have fun with it; but you should never leave it out.

Here are 4 consecutive drawings from my fox's trot that show the pastern working.

Next:  Thought Process and the Animator

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

No. 66, Creating a Four-legged Walk Cycle


A short while back ( Acme Punched posts No. 60 thru 62) I showed you my approach to creating a walk cycle for my character Albert.  Now here is a walk cycle, or rather a trot, for the little fox character.

First, a bit of re-design was in order.  I made the original model sheet without much attention to the real anatomy of a fox.  This is a cartoon and you can do that, but he does walk on all four feet so I have now decided it would be good to have him move something like a real fox, and for that, he has to be constructed a bit more like a real fox.

In the original model sheet, above, he is rather swaybacked and holds his tail erect.

The revised design makes his spine arc upward a little, as in real canines, and shows him holding his tail almost straight out behind him when moving.

 The Animation

Once again I wanted to try something I had read about but had never actually done: to animate the head, body and tail before doing the leg animation.  This is effective in animating dance and other controlled movement such as sword fighting.  Disney animators have used the technique in animating such semi-realistic creatures like deer (Bambi), though others actually did the reverse, animating the legs before the body. (I would cite a reference for that, but can't recall exactly where I read it.)

Anyway I thought it might work on my cycle of a fox trotting.


This was the first test.  It was made using just three drawings, with the middle drawing favoring the highest one in its spacing (see Fig. 1). I thought the rhythm was fine, but since the fox will sometimes be quite small on the screen, I decided it was too subtle.

Now for a broader movement, in which I simply let his body drop down farther.


At the time (we will come back to this) I thought it was fine, and went with it. Here is the spacing.

Then I was ready to add in the legs.  This is a basic canine trot.  I referenced a favorite but little-known book of mine: Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis, by Curtis M. Brown.  Brown is not an animator but a dog breeder and dog show judge, but the sequential drawings of the gaits of various breeds are a gold mine for anyone interested in how dogs move.

Here is the test.

Hmm.  I sort of liked it when I saw it, but...something was not right.  Can you see what is wrong without reading further?

If you said that the head was moving too much, you would be right.  I had lowered the head along with the torso.  It is the same as it was in the second version without the legs (see Figure 2 again also), but somehow it was not apparent to me until I saw it all put together.

Solution?  Leave the torso as it is but just space the head much closer to the other heads.


Now it is working right.  Many animals avoid movement that bounces their heads up and down very much, because either they need steady vision for pursuit of prey or to detect danger.

One more thing I thought to do was to see if I could vary the speed--make him move faster--without removing any drawings.  (He may have to trot quickly to keep up with Albert's brisk walk.)  The slow speed is 8 drawings on 2's, or sixteen exposures, thus: 1, 1, 3, 3, 5, 5, 7, 7, 9, 9, 11, 11, 13, 13, 15, 15.  The numbers in bold are the lowest position.  The obvious thing to try here is to see if it will simply work on 1's: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15.  But it looked too fast and also jerky, so I am not even showing it to you.  Although it does not always work to have some drawings of a walk cycle on 1's while others are on 2's, because of the danger of "slipping" against the steady movement of the background, I decided to try this: 1, 3, 3, 5, 5, 7, 9, 11,11, 13, 13 ,15.  In other words, I dropped the second exposure on drawings 1, 7, 9, and 15--just four frames fewer, but look at the result:


It seems to work!

Next: More about working with 4-legged characters!